Friday, November 13, 2009

On neural chains of chance, national prejudice, and the Character of Holland

Image of a shark net, a fabric chain, off of Stanley Beach in Hong Kong.
Dear Gentle Reader,

Be forewarned. Your humble scribe feels that it's time for a ramble; it's time to follow a neural chain.

On my birthday I attended a Scottish ball, a black tie ceilidh, here in Hong Kong.

A ceilidh is a Gaelic dancing social. Quick, nimble Gaelic dancing is usually accompanied by quick, nimble alcohol consumption; ceilidhs generally become more boisterous as the evening progresses.

Conversation, like dancing styles, also grows more fanciful as the evening progresses and the youthful gaiety of the evening reminded me of that Scottish playwright Sir James Matthew Barrie.

Sir J.M. Barrie (1860-1937) wrote Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, in which Peter Pan and Tinkerbell took Wendy Darling, and her brothers John and Michael, to Neverland where the Darlings met the Lost Boys Gang, Tiger Lily, Dr. Hook, and other characters from Sir Barrie's imagination.

I won't spoil the ending. Or the middle.

Of course, and the spoiler might be here, Neverland is not real; Neverland is a land of the imagination for The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up.

But neural chains, like boys who won't grow up, cannot rest.

The Neverland that Michael Darling visited brought to mind both the estate and travails of another Michael, one Mr. Jackson; another boy who never grew up, at least not to the same state of adulthood as others.

Michael Jackson's legal skirmishes in life, and his estate's battles in death, bring to mind the skirmishes of war. But, of course, legal wars. Wars fought in the courtroom; wars with rules.

The rules of war bring to mind the laws of war, and, hence, Hugo Grotius, that Netherlander who wrote the first textbook on the Laws of War, and helped codify warring nations' practices to civilise war, for a while, at least.

"Civilising" efforts, however, are never absolute. (Elizabethan England saw Shakespeare and Marlowe, but groundlings hurled guts onto the Globe's stage during Shakespeare's performances whilst dog fights, cock fights, and bear baiting went on in the streets outside...)

The rule-bound war led, with strategy bound to prior weaponry, to vast slaughter amidst the trenches of The Great War, the War to End All Wars. After the unending orders for men to go "over the top" of one trench to another, to their deaths in the life grinder that was the trench-warfare theater, it was inconceivable that there could ever be another war.

Of course the War to End All Wars was not, despite its over the top death toll--almost 10 million military personnel and almost 7 million civilians by the end.

The appalling deaths of trench warfare, from the War to End All Wars, however, were to be eclipsed, within a generation, by the Second World War--22-25 million military deaths and 40-52 million civilian deaths. (Estimates vary.)

Further, the Second World War showcased the most "over the top" instrument of war yet devised, the Bomb with a capital B (killing 70,000 people in Hiroshima within three days of that singular strike, mostly civilians, and at least that many more in Hiroshima after that three day window).

The Bomb promised, or threatened, depending on your political stripes, to atomise the earth and, further, to rend earth into sound and fury, signifying everything, not the nothing which Faulkner thought.

Normally men fight to take land.

To conquer and then to pillage, or to hold.

But, the Bomb would negate land, and make it never land...

Or, at least, never land that is uninhabitable from the perspective of mere generations of men and women versus the radioactive half lives of atomic bomb fallout.

Too scary.

Let's go back to Michael Jackson.

No, he's too scary, too.

Right. Back to Peter Pan.

And to Neverland.

Land that never was.

The ultimate neverland, to an ancient Sumerian scribe raised in the desert of the Fertile Crescent by towering Babylon, is, of course, the ocean.

The ocean is never land, only water.

And those watery neverlands, with the roaring maw of the sea, are never safe for any desert scribe nor even for most sailors...

Out of your ship, in the rough sea, one finds that there is only so long that you can tread water. (Desert-bred scribes know that you can tread on land for far longer than in water.)

As you can imagine, from the never land, the ocean, the neural chain of chance automatically reconnects with the Netherlands.

The Netherlands; that tiny country sandwiched between the behemoths of France and Germany and then pushed below sea level.

The Netherlands; the Low Lands--a land mass which ought not to exist, as their land lies below sea level (and they abut the sea).

The Netherlands, a land that ought not to be--not necessarily a bad tourism slogan.

The Netherlands, the great synecdoche (where a part stands in for the whole) as many know the Netherlands simply by the name of its biggest, onetime, but no more, province, previously a county, Holland.

The County of Holland was officially recognized by the mid-eleventh century and existed until the seventeenth century.

As the County of Holland contained Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Hague, Haarlem, and Doordrecht, it is well understandable that this economic and maritime powerhouse came to stand for the whole in an ongoing historical synecdoche.

And, of course, with all that maritime, economic might came wealthy sailors.

Sailors who have been at sea a while...

...on perilous and correspondingly lucrative journeys...

...sailors, with money jangling in their pockets...

...sailors who have not been near the nether lands of women for a while...

So, of course, Amsterdam has a famous red light district... alternate origin theory for the naming of the Netherlands? ...

But, away from the bedroom, the red room, and gender politics, backing into geopolitics, the Netherlands, as an economic and maritime power, was a threat to the other, very close, economic and maritime power of the day...


And competition, and jealousy, invoked spite.

An aside.

Gin and tonic was the favoured drink of the British planters of India.

The planters were those fabulously wealthy, though socially shunned, British plantation owners, in India, in the days of empire (Pax Britannica).

Gin was originally a lower-class alcoholic drink for the masses, from the Netherlands, which made it's way to England.

Part of what made the planters in India so socially reviled, beyond their wealth, which generally exceeded their breeding, was that they drank so much, and that they drank that Dutch abomination, gin.

(As a further aside, the Indian planters drank Gin and Tonic for both the soporific effects of the gin and the medicinal effects of the bitter tonic water. Tonic water is bitter because it contains quinine, a prophylactic against malaria, the "bad air" (mal aria) disease now known to be spread by certain mosquitoes.)

Gin was not the only thing, however, despised by Englishmen to come from the Netherlands.

One of the great men of international law, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), came from the Netherlands (although he soon fled, first to France, then to Sweden due to religious and political persecution).

Hugo Grotius not only realized, and codified, the laws of war, but Hugo also wrote a treatise on the law of the seas, the Mare Liberum, in which he promulgated the view that the High Seas are free, or open, to all.

The idea of a free sea was a shot across the bow of Britain, which used its naval might to control the seas.

John Selden (1584-1654), the British legal theorist, responded to Grotius' Mare Liberum with a legal/political tract (as all these tracts were, explicitly, then) called the Mare Clausum, the closed sea.

The Mare Clausam argued that maritime powers might encompass, enclose, and control the sea--to the exclusion of weaker maritime players.

Well, everyone has heard the expressions about the freedom of the High Seas; the open sea argument won out, at least for the next few hundred years, yet both vitriol and animosity remained between England and the Netherlands.

And vitriol brings to mind not just Greek fire, but invective, too.

And this long chain of chance, purporting to end at vitriol and invective, brought to mind the English metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) and his biting invective directed against the Netherlands...

...Ideology wars, circa the seventeenth century...

By Andrew Marvell:

The Character of Holland

Holland, that scarce deserves the name of Land,
As but th'Off-scouring of the Brittish Sand;
And so much Earth as was contributed
By English Pilots when they heav'd the Lead;
Or what by th' Oceans slow alluvion fell,
Of shipwrackt Cockle and the Muscle-shell;
This indigested vomit of the Sea
Fell to the Dutch by just Propriety.

Glad then, as Miners that have found the Oar,
They with mad labour fish'd the Land to Shoar;
And div'd as desperately for each piece
Of Earth, as if't had been of Ambergreece;
Collecting anxiously small Loads of Clay,
Less then what building Swallows bear away;
Transfursing into them their Dunghil Soul.

How did they rivet, with Gigantick Piles,
Thorough the Center their new-catched Miles;
And to the stake a strugling Country bound,
Where barking Waves still bait the forced Ground;
Building their watry Babel far more high
To reach the Sea, then those to scale the Sky.

Yet still his claim the Injur'd Ocean laid,
And oft at Leap-frog ore their Steeples plaid:
As if on purpose it on Land had come
To shew them what's their Mare Liberum.
A daily deluge over them does boyl;
The Earth and Water play at Level-coyl;
The Fish oft-times the Burger dispossest,
And sat not as a Meat but as a Guest;
And oft the Tritons and the Sea-Nymphs saw
Whole sholes of Dutch serv'd up for Cabillan;
Or as they over the new Level rang'd
For pickled Herring, pickled Heeren chang'd.
Nature, it seem'd, asham'd of her mistake,
Would throw their land away at Duck and Drake.

Therefore Necessity, that first made Kings,
Something like Government among them brings.
For as with Pygmees who best kills the Crane,
Among the hungry he that treasures Grain,
Among the blind the one-ey'd blinkard reigns,
So rules among the drowned he that draines.
Not who first see the rising Sun commands,
But who could first discern the rising Lands.
Who best could know to pump an Earth so leak
Him they their Lord and Country's Father speak.
To make a Bank was a great Plot of State;
Invent a Shov'l and be a Magistrate.
Hence some small Dyke-grave unperceiv'd invades
The Pow'r, and grows as 'twere a King of pades.
But for less envy some Joynt States endures,
Who look like a Commission of the Sewers.
For these Half-anders, half wet, and half dry,
Nor bear strict service, nor pure Liberty.

'Tis probable Religion after this
Came next in order; which they could not miss.
How could the Dutch but be converted, when
Th' Apostles were so many Fishermen?
Besides the Waters of themselves did rise,
And, as their Land, so them did re-baptise.
Though Herring for their God few voices mist,
And Poor-John to have been th' Evangelist.

Faith, that could never Twins conceive before,
Never so fertile, spawn'd upon this shore:
More pregnant then their Marg'ret, that laid down
For Hans-in-Kelder of a whole Hans-Town.

Sure when Religion did it self imbark,
And from the east would Westward steer its Ark,
It struck, and splitting on this unknown ground,
Each one thence pillag'd the first piece he found:
Hence Amsterdam, Turk-Christian-Pagan-Jew,
Staple of Sects and Mint of Schisme grew;
That Bank of Conscience, where not one so strange
Opinion but finds Credit, and Exchange.
In vain for Catholicks our selves we bear;
The Universal Church is onely there.
Nor can Civility there want for Tillage,
Where wisely for their Court they chose a Village.
How fit a Title clothes their Governours,
Themselves the Hogs as all their Subjects Bores

Let it suffice to give their Country Fame
That it had one Civilis call'd by Name,
Some Fifteen hundred and more years ago,
But surely never any that was so.

See but their Mairmaids with their Tails of Fish,
Reeking at Church over the Chafing-Dish.
A vestal Turf enshrin'd in Earthen Ware
Fumes through the loop-holes of wooden Square.
Each to the Temple with these Altars tend,
But still does place it at her Western End:
While the fat steam of Female Sacrifice
Fills the Priests Nostrils and puts out his Eyes.

Or what a Spectacle the Skipper gross,
A Water-Hercules Butter-Coloss,
Tunn'd up with all their sev'ral Towns of Beer;
When Stagg'ring upon some Land, Snick and Sneer,
They try, like Statuaries, if they can,
Cut out each others Athos to a Man:
And carve in their large Bodies, where they please,
The Armes of the United Provinces.

But when such Amity at home is show'd;
What then are their confederacies abroad?
Let this one court'sie witness all the rest;
When their hole Navy they together prest,
Not Christian Captives to redeem from Bands:
Or intercept the Western golden Sands:
No, but all ancient Rights and Leagues must vail,
Rather then to the English strike their sail;
to whom their weather-beaten Province ows
It self, when as some greater Vessal tows
A Cock-boat tost with the same wind and fate;
We buoy'd so often up their Sinking State.

Was this Jus Belli & Pacis; could this be
Cause why their Burgomaster of the Sea
Ram'd with Gun-powder, flaming with Brand wine,
Should raging hold his Linstock to the Mine?
While, with feign'd Treaties, they invade by stealth
Our sore new circumcised Common wealth.

Yet of his vain Attempt no more he sees
Then of Case-Butter shot and Bullet-Cheese.
And the torn Navy stagger'd with him home,
While the Sea laught it self into a foam,
'Tis true since that (as fortune kindly sports,)
A wholesome Danger drove us to our ports.
While half their banish'd keels the Tempest tost,
Half bound at home in Prison to the frost:
That ours mean time at leisure might careen,
In a calm Winter, under Skies Serene.
As the obsequious Air and waters rest,
Till the dear Halcyon hatch out all its nest.
The Common wealth doth by its losses grow;
And, like its own Seas, only Ebbs to flow.
Besides that very Agitation laves,
And purges out the corruptible waves.

And now again our armed Bucentore
Doth yearly their Sea-Nuptials restore.
And how the Hydra of seaven Provinces
Is strangled by our Infant Hercules.
Their Tortoise wants its vainly stretched neck;
Their Navy all our Conquest or our Wreck:
Or, what is left, their Carthage overcome
Would render fain unto our better Rome.
Unless our Senate, lest their Youth disuse,
The War, (but who would) Peace if begg'd refuse.

For now of nothing may our State despair,
Darling of Heaven, and of Men the Care;
Provided that they be what they have been,
Watchful abroad, and honest still within.
For while our Neptune doth a Trident shake, Blake,
Steel'd with those piercing Heads, Dean, Monck and
And while Jove governs in the highest Sphere,
Vainly in Hell let Pluto domineer.

Marvell's word choice is wonderful, and his political invective is biting and forceful. Educated, yes, but also bombastic, gutter vitriol.

And thus, possibly fittingly, a neural chain that starts in whiskey-fuelled gaiety and imaginary lands ends up in world wars followed by Marvellous nationalism.

I might now understand why US President Woodrow Wilson died so unhappy.

My ramble is over. Now to find suitable music...


Only one piece of music seems appropriate after a spuriously connected ramble like that, and I will give you the most inappropriate version first.

I say that Thomas "Fat's" Waller's version, arranged in 1940, is the most inappropriate because Fat's Waller's version is the first secular version of "Dem Bones" or "Dry Bones"; it is a complete break in the spiritual chain from whence "Dem Dry Bones" had come.

The earliest musical version of "Dem Bones" comes from 1930 and the Delta Rhythm Boys.

But, the Delta Rhythm Boy's version of "Dem Bones" itself stems from a long line of Christian sermons, mostly from Black ministers in the Deep South of the USA, such as the following excerpted sermon by the Revered J. M. Gates from December, 1926.

This is a short part of the sermon (3 min 35 seconds). It starts slow but, within a minute, you can see where the song would later appear from.

I have lost a few crates of cds in various moves around the world. Imagine my surprise, today, to discover that the cd in question is one which I have lost (hence my resorting to the above web-archived version).

Click here to buy the cd directly from Document Records, the publishing group that brings the Rev. J.M. Gates to us from this Dec 1927 Sermon on wax. Thank you, Document, I'm sorry that I cannot find my original cd. iTunes

And that is truly that. Sorry for being so wordy, today.

I'll try to blame Andrew Marvell for the length of this post. Or my fingers for typing it. But, I will return to shorter posts. It's just that it has been so long. My brain was eager to dance and, I know, it's time to bind the neural chains rather than let them whip around freely.



Cloudia said...

Tour De Force!!!!!

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Richard said...

Hey welcome back and back again. Up to your old tricks of snorting gunpowder off the keyboard, sprinkling ground glass in your grape nuts, and then exploding with prose, haiku, music, and verse. My god, a typhoon of blogging! Thanks for staying in touch on your hiatus, always good to hear from you.

Teresa said...

The e-scribe is back to rambling and scratching wedges in the clay, and all is truly right with the world!!

Your ramblings about the sea and maritime made me think of a poem that I learned as a high school exchange student in Costa Rica at a drunken party in which my host mother began declaiming... Unfortunately, we had all had a bit too much guaro (sugar cane liquor that is pure fire and quite neuron addling), so this is all I remember. I offer it as a toast to the return of the Scribe:

"Amo el amor de los marineros.
Los marineros besan y se van
En cada puerto una mujer espera
Los marineros besan y se van
Un dia se encuentran la muerte
Sobre la ??? del mar."

Barbara Martin said...

Now I see what absence does to your creative side. Well done, my friend.

murat11 said...

Rave on, my brother. (Scorpio brother at that?) Wonderful marathon channel-swim, this - treasures galore. As much a joy for you, I'm sure, as for all of us out here cheering you on. Wicked, nasty Marvell, with This indigested vomit of the Sea: one suspects a cuckolding by a traveling Dutch sailor, but having just quickly surfed for biographical details and speculations, perhaps that sailor was a source of rejection and not cuckolding.

This were a wonderful, boisterous ceilidh all its own.

Steady-as-rain said...

To quibble: the rich and despised planters you speak of were from the West Indies where they raised sugar. The British in India were predominantly civil servants of one form or another.


Sepiru Chris said...


I hate to prick historical bubbles, my good man, except of course for asset bubbles like the South Sea Bubble, or Tulip Mania, but the British Raj also had planters who were reviled by the British for their wealth. When you visit we can go through the history books.

The Brits in India and in the Princely States, the Native States, post Company Rule, were to be found, by status, in the Governor's seat, and his retinue, in the Indian Civil Service, in the Indian Army, in various company work, and planters, who owned vast plantations.

I will take that quibble, Rick, and raise...

Do you really like your position...


Tschuess, Chris

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Cloudia,

And look, no France, or tour of it, despite looking for historical enemies of England!

Dear Richard,


Yes, I am back, and I suspect that this might have been more fun for me than others, but, so be it. :) At least it was an explosion.

Dear Teresa,

Could that have been Pablo Neruda...

Amo el amor de los marineros que besan y se van.
Dejan una promesa y no vuelven nunca más.
En cada puerto una mujer espera;
los marineros besan y se van.
Una noche se acuestan con la muerte en el lecho del mar.

Maybe not...

But, I am glad that all is right in the world, and I always hope that all is right, and left, in your world. With great affection, Chris.

Dear Barabara,

Thank you so very much. Sorry it was so very long...

Dear Murat,

Rave on I do, will and shall, Scorpio brother. I know that you recognize it, although I might need more practice to be as eloquent as you... I also know that you know Marvell well and all the Metaphysical Poets.

I send best thoughts off to Tres Leches.

Thank you, all,

Teresa said...

Dear Chris,

You found it!!! Wow, Pablo Neruda memorized at age 15 (barely) while very drunk on too much guaro. And I only missed one line and a few words... And I didn't see the words. Mami was just declaiming it and making us repeat after her because it was famous poetry. That was one extremely wild and whacky family. But I had a thoroughly good time with them. The ten weeks were really not enough. I wished I could have stayed forever.

Glad I came back to find your comments and finally the proper words to a very good poem. Too bad I don't yet know how to project the movies in my mind. You would be rolling on the floor with laughter.