Sunday Musings

One of the things about walking back from mass on a pleasant Sunday is how much time one has to just muse about things. I found myself quite absently thinking about Barack Obama's pleasant victory last night, and also about the Thames, and about art, in a very convoluted but quite fun way.

Obama's victory was smashing. He's increasingly reminiscent of Woodrow Wilson, a segregationist 'progressive' Democrat in 1912(though Wilson of course was never subject to primaries). Wilson was picked as an unbending and incorruptible university professor who had been born in the South, raised in the North and who served briefly as a sea-green but successful Governor of New jersey. In 1912, he swept past Democrat stalwarts and front-runners like Champ Clark, partly because of his campaign manager, William McCombs, who was a political organizer of genius.

McCombs, born poor in Harlem, powered the man who brought the idea of world government to Europe in the Peace of Versailles but whose stern, somewhat arrogant academic posture as a constitutional lawyer failed at the final hurdle to bring America along. I think if Obama, currently 'on sabbatical' from the University of Chicago, which I worked for for many summers, is ever elected, similar criticisms may ultimately be made of him.

1912 was a four-way race between two candidates who split the Republican vote, and Wilson for the Democrats. There was a major socialist candidate too, and Wilson sneaked through. This year's campaign threatens to be as convoluted. So it's interesting to note who is involved in Obama's campaign.

Obama's media manager, David Axelrod, serves along with his campaign adviser Ray Mabus and Campaign manager David Plouffe. Mabus was a governor of Mississippi and an Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who is functioning very efficiently behind the scenes.

Mabus is quite sensibly keeping behind the scenes and lending weight with the establishment to Obama's cause. Presumably he had some role in the slew of endorsements for Obama from the likes of John Kerry, Patrick Leahy and Caroline Kennedy which have helped enhance his viability in recent days. When I was walking by the river, the name of Mabus made me think in a different direction, however. Mabus is one of those Nostradamian jokes in the sixty-second verse of the Second 'Century' of Nostradamus predictions whose only predictive validity is the effect it has on nutters.

At various times, for instance, Nostradamus' prediction that someone or thing called Mabus will die and then war, famine and drought will follow near the time of a comet has been placed to the proof of just about any theory. My own favourite is that the word is an elaborate play both upon the monastery and nunnery at Maubeuge, in Nostradamus's time on the contested lands between modern Belgium and France, and Mabuse, the painter. The 'prophet' could also have been being vulgar, given the way m'abuse relates to 'he who abuses himself'.

Most Nostradamus prophecies work like that, since he was in effect a political consultant or psychoanalyst. In fact, psychoanalysis and astrology have practically as much in common in terms of their approaches, bodies of research and validity as far as I'm concerned, which is to say, almost none. If there was any prophecy at all, surely it related to 1914, and to the devastating war that coincided with the twenty-six-million year cycle appearance of Delavan's comet and which first engulfed Mabeuge fortress.

The thing about predictions, however, is that, the vaguer you make them, the more savvy your choice of area to apply them vaguely to, and the longer they have to come to fruition, the more successful you will be. Funny that so much ink could be expended on the name of Mabus though, except in the year that a Mabus helps steer the passage of Obama to either a smashing victory or an historic defeat.

Perhaps someone gave Nostradamus a picture of Dr Mabuse from a pulp detective book. Dr Mabuse was Norbert Jacques' riposte to Fu Manchu, who is one of the great if terminally politically incorrect villains. Fu Manchu always wanted to grab power in a devious and ruthless oriental fashion (according to the stereotypes of the time). My favourite of FM's plots is Sax Rohmer's President Fu Manchu, in which the villain becomes President of the US on a platform of change and security.

In that book, Rohmer even gives the villain a torture to get rid of enemies called 'Fu-Manchu's Water-Gate', which, given my theme of misplaced prophecy, is quite funny. Dr Mabuse, by contrast, was an altogether more destructive villain. He famously wanted to burn the world and rule the ashes, which I suppose would win him some votes in a few of the republican primaries, and he wasn't an immigrant either.

Then I thought of the Thames, which I'm sure makes the air around Putney crisp. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, Lambeth was the centre of the seedy resorts to which people headed from across the river, and where 'witches'--a term that could cover any number of early scientists-- not connected with politicians lived. North of the river could be found the more respectable consultants, and it was in that orbit that John Dee,(founder of the Rosicrucians) Simon Foreman and others wandered.

It was easy in those times to meet people. In the seventeenth century, when Hobbes tutored aristocrats, he made a point of taking them on tours of Europe that resulted in one brilliant year in meetings with Gallileo himself, and possibly Mersenne, Descartes and Gassendi. I wonder how the wine tasted over those conversations.

So it's nice to muse. I think that the US is now facing brokered conventions, and if you want to sound clever, start developing an opinion on whether Reagan just lost in 1976 by naming the liberal Senator Schweiker as a potential running mate when he went into the convention against President Ford in 1976, whether Kennedy could really have won in 1980, and how FDR's dramatic trip to Chicago came after the maneuverings against Al Smith in 1932. Drop 'Bull Moose' distinctions between Teddy Roosevelt, Ross Perot and Michael Bloomberg in and you too will be able to sound like a savant.

Or, alternatively, you could do worse than have a muse at the Mabuse painting I've stuck at the top of this blog. It's of Mary Magdalen, a favourite of mine. Contemplation is, after all, meant to be the order of Holocaust memorial day.

I'm off to the gym for a run.

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