Prune

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Not the dried plum, the act of cutting back.  To prune.

to cut or lop off (twigs, branches, or roots)
to cut or lop superfluous or undesired twigs, branches, or roots from; trim
to rid or clear of (anything superfluous or undesirable)
to remove (anything considered superfluous or undesirable)

1400–50; late Middle English prouynen < Middle French proognier to prune (vines), variant of provigner, derivative of provain scion (< Latin propāgin-, stem of propāgō; see propagate)

This is the time of year to prune.  Prune your fruit trees.  Cut back on your finances.  Economise.  Review your insurance, your direct debits, your outgoings.  Choke off the losses.  Lose weight.  Focus on the framework, the fundamentals, review your career.  Springclean your home, clear out the built up dross.

In Chinese Feng Shui the rule is clear, if your career is stalled clear out your attic.

Slash your friends list on social media.  Kill off the lampreys.  This is the time to prune.  Slim down for the year ahead.

Do it.

Do it.

Do it now.

 

Mirror in February ; by Thomas Kinsella

The day dawns, with scent of must and rain,
of opened soil, dark trees, dry bedroom air.
Under the fading lamp, half dressed – my brain
idling on some compulsive fantasy –
I towel my shaven jaw and stop, and stare,
riveted by a dark exhausted eye,
a dry downturning mouth.

It seems again that it is time to learn,
in this untiring, crumbling place of growth
to which, for the time being, I return.
Now plainly in the mirror of my soul
I read that I have looked my last on youth
and little more; for they are not made whole
that reach the age of Christ.

Below my window the wakening trees,
hacked clean for better bearing, stand defaced
suffering their brute necessities;
and how should the flesh not quail, that span for span
is mutilated more? In slow distaste
I fold my towel with what grace I can,
not young, and not renewable, but man.

The strange death of Claude Vivier

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Claude Vivier was 34 when his body was found in his Paris flat on March 12th 1983.   The Canadian born classical music composer was a student of Karlheinz Stockhausen.  His music was concerned with life, death and the afterlife.

When his body was found there was a manuscript on the table for a work titled “Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele?” – (Do you believe in the immortality of the soul?).

The work describes how he takes a journey on the Metro and notices a handsome young man (yes Vivier was openly gay), and he becomes attracted to him.  The music ends with the sung line “then he removed a dagger from his jacket and stabbed me through the heart“.

Vivier had been stabbed to death 5 days earlier by a homeless french gay prostitute; Pascal Dolzan.

 

 

Checkout Checkov

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Search for Checkov on the interenet and you get lots of hits for Pavel Checkov, the navigator of the Star Trek Enterprise! This is Anton Checkov the 19th century Russian playwright and short story writer, born January 29th 1860.  Along with Ibsen and Strindberg he is one of the three seminal writers of modernism in theatre.

Below is a quote from a letter to his brother on how to be a civilized person, advice that is relevant today.

 

“Civilized people must, I believe, satisfy the following criteria:

1) They respect human beings as individuals and are therefore always tolerant, gentle, courteous and amenable … They do not create scenes over a hammer or a mislaid eraser; they do not make you feel they are conferring a great benefit on you when they live with you, and they don’t make a scandal when they leave. (…)

2) They have compassion for other people besides beggars and cats. Their hearts suffer the pain of what is hidden to the naked eye. (…)

3) They respect other people’s property, and therefore pay their debts.

4) They are not devious, and they fear lies as they fear fire. They don’t tell lies even in the most trivial matters. To lie to someone is to insult them, and the liar is diminished in the eyes of the person he lies to. Civilized people don’t put on airs; they behave in the street as they would at home, they don’t show off to impress their juniors. (…)

5) They don’t run themselves down in order to provoke the sympathy of others. They don’t play on other people’s heartstrings to be sighed over and cosseted … that sort of thing is just cheap striving for effects, it’s vulgar, old hat and false. (…)

6) They are not vain. They don’t waste time with the fake jewellery of hobnobbing with celebrities, being permitted to shake the hand of a drunken [judicial orator], the exaggerated bonhomie of the first person they meet at the Salon, being the life and soul of the bar … They regard prases like ‘I am a representative of the Press!!’ — the sort of thing one only hears from [very minor journalists] — as absurd. If they have done a brass farthing’s work they don’t pass it off as if it were 100 roubles’ by swanking about with their portfolios, and they don’t boast of being able to gain admission to places other people aren’t allowed in (…) True talent always sits in the shade, mingles with the crowd, avoids the limelight … As Krylov said, the empty barrel makes more noise than the full one. (…)

7) If they do possess talent, they value it … They take pride in it … they know they have a responsibility to exert a civilizing influence on [others] rather than aimlessly hanging out with them. And they are fastidious in their habits. (…)

8) They work at developing their aesthetic sensibility … Civilized people don’t simply obey their baser instincts … they require mens sana in corpore sano.

And so on. That’s what civilized people are like … Reading Pickwick and learning a speech from Faust by heart is not enough if your aim is to become a truly civilized person and not to sink below the level of your surroundings.

[From a letter to Nikolay Chekhov, March 1886]”
― Anton Chekhov, A Life in Letters

Happy Birthday Hadrian

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Roman Emperor Hadrian is probably best known for his walls and his beard.  He sits right in the middle of the good times as the 3rd of the five “good” emperors: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

One of the reasons the emperors were considered good is because they chose good successors, not family.  On this measure Aurelius failed and the lot is reduced to four.

Hadrian was the second Spanish emperor after Trajan, he was born 24th January, 76 AD   in Italica, which is just outside modern day Seville in Spain.  I visted in the summer of 1978.  It was hot.  There was no shade and I am no daywalker.  Bring water – wear sunscreen and a hat!

After the expanision of the empire to its greatest extent by Trajan there was a period of consolidation by Hadrian – hence the walls.  The most famous of which spans northern England.  Less famous but equally impressive are the walls erected in Africa.

Hadrian is responsible for naming Palestine.  His reputation amongst the Jews is not very nice and his name in Jewish texts is often followed by “may his bones be crushed”.  This is because Hadrian put down the final Jewish uprising in the Province of Judea – the Bar Kokhba revolt.

If you look at it from Hadrian’s point of view it is clear that the Jews were a major problem and the empire had been fighting revolt after revolt since 66AD and the reign of Nero.

After the Bar Kokhba revolt was put down the Romans pulled down the fortifications from 50 Jewish cities, leaving their populations exposed to danger.  The Roman provinces of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were reformed and renamed as “Syria Palestina”.  This is seen as a calculated insult, to rename Jewish lands for their ancient enemies; the Philistines.

The Jews date the Diaspora from the end of the war with Hadrian, and it was the spread of the Jewish people accross the Roman Empire that led indirectly to the flowering of Christianity in the Empire.

Hadrian was also openly gay in the modern sense.  He loved all things Greek, earning him the nickname “The Greekling”.  This love extended to his boyfriend Antinous, a Bythinian Greek Youth who was deified by Hadrian when he drowned in the Nile on an Egyptian holiday (not joking).

The poem below is said to have been inspired by a poem of Emperor Hadrian: Animula, vagula, blandula.

Animula; by T.S. Eliot

‘Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul’
To a flat world of changing lights and noise,
to light, dark, dry or damp, chilly or warm;
moving between the legs of tables and of chairs,
rising or falling, grasping at kisses and toys,
advancing boldly, sudden to take alarm,
retreating to the corner of arm and knee,
eager to be reassured, taking pleasure
in the fragrant brilliance of the Christmas tree,
pleasure in the wind, the sunlight and the sea;
studies the sunlit pattern on the floor
and running stags around a silver tray;
confounds the actual and the fanciful,
content with playing-cards and kings and queens,
what the fairies do and what the servants say.
The heavy burden of the growing soul
perplexes and offends more, day by day;
week by week, offends and perplexes more
with the imperatives of ‘is and seems’
and may and may not, desire and control.
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
curl up the small soul in the window seat
behind the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Issues from the hand of time the simple soul
irresolute and selfish, misshapen, lame,
unable to fare forward or retreat,
fearing the warm reality, the offered good,
denying the importunity of the blood,
shadow of its own shadows, spectre in its own gloom,
leaving disordered papers in a dusty room;
living first in the silence after the viaticum.

Pray for Guiterriez, avid of speed and power,
for Boudin, blown to pieces,
for this one who made a great fortune,
and that one who went his own way.
Pray for Floret, by the boarhound slain between the yew trees,
pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.

 

 

Trader, Missionary, Red Soldier

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First comes the trader, then the missionary, then the red soldier.
Cetshwayo: King of the Zulu, 1879

The “battle” of Rorke’s Drift ended on this day in 1879, the day after the defeat of a British Column at Isandlwana.  The latter was the worst defeat inflicted on a modern army by a native tribe and was a terrible source of shame to the British Empire.  It is perhaps to redress this shame that 11 Victoria Crosses were handed out for the brave defenders of Rorke’s Drift where 150 British & Colonial troops of the Royal Engineers stood firm against about 3,500 Zulus returning home from Isandlwana.

The Trader of the title was an Irishman.  James Rorke, who bought 1,000 acres on the Buffalo River in 1849.  A natural river ford sat on his land and the Boer call this a “Drift” hence Rorke’s Drift.

To the Zulu it was kwaJimu or “Jim’s place”.

For 26 years the Irishman operated a trading post at the ford.  He passed away in 1875 and there are mixed accounts about his death.  I have read that he drowned operating a ferry, that he shot himself and that he died of an illness.  For his wife it was an isolated and lonely existence.  After Jim passed away she sold the trading post to the Norwegian Missionary Society in 1878.

The Zulus liked the Irishman with his trade goods.  They did not like Otto Witt the missionary who wanted to sell them a heavenly eternity.  A year later they liked it even less when Lord Chelmsford used the drift as a forward supply point for his invasion of Zulu Natal.  The Red Soldier had arrived.

 

Night Thought; by Harry (Breaker) Morant

The world around is sleeping,
the stars are bright o’erhead,
the shades of myalls weeping
upon the sward are spread;
Among the gloomy pinetops
the fitful breezes blow,
and their murmurs seem the music
of a song of long ago;
Soft, passionate, and wailing
is the tender old refrain –
with a yearning unavailing –
“Will he no come back again?”

The camp-fire sparks are flying
up from the pine-log’s glow,
the wandering wind is sighing
that ballad sweet and low;
The drooping branches gleaming
in the firelight, sway and stir;
And the bushman’s brain is dreaming
of the song she sang, and her.
And the murmurs of the forest
ring home to heart and brain,
as in the pine is chorused
“Will he no come back again?”

The wretched way.

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Below is the poem of the week courtesy of the Guardian from Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay.  Ireland settles into a second week of political campaigning for the 2020 General Election on February 8th.

In the USA Andrew Yang continues to push his model for Universal Basic Income.  For me this has to be the model for the future.  As robots relieve us of the requirement to carry out boring, disgusting or dangerous work how will we fund the lives of those who lose their jobs?  Without low level workers paying their taxes how will we fund public works?  I believe society is on the cusp of a new economic model.  Tax robots perhaps, and deliver a universal basic income to every citizen.

The old constant growth model of economics is dead.  Climate change and resource depletion are seeing to that.  But also we are seeing a plateauing of population growth.  China is concerned that their one child policy has been too effective and they need to raise their birth rate.  The Chinese are not having it.

We need a move to economic planning on the donut.  Kate Raworth’s economic model has us living in a planned band that lies between delivering on the basics for life without consuming beyond a sustainable rate.  That is a good template on which to plan the global economy.

Most of all we need to move society away from the current capitalist dystopia where the majority are exploited to serve the unfettered desires of the few.  Which reminds me that this week the World Economic Forum gets underway in Davos.

 

Harlem Shadows; by Claude McKay

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass
in Negro Harlem when the night lets fall
its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass
to bend and barter at desire’s call.
Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feet
go prowling through the night from street to street!

Through the long night until the silver break
of day the little gray feet know no rest;
through the lone night until the last snow-flake
has dropped from heaven upon the earth’s white breast,
the dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet
are trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.

Ah, stern harsh world, that in the wretched way
of poverty, dishonor and disgrace,
has pushed the timid little feet of clay,
the sacred brown feet of my fallen race!
Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet
in Harlem wandering from street to street.

Happy Birthday Al Capone

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Capone showing the scars that named him Scarface

Al Capone was a low level criminal born in New York to Italian immigrants on this day in 1899.  Expelled from school at age 14 for hitting a female teacher in the face, he picked up odd jobs and drifted into crime.  He joined an Italian crime gang in the Five Points district of New York, where he was a bouncer in night clubs and brothels.

It was on the door of a nightclub in New York that he insulted the sister of Frank Gallucio who slashed his face.  Capone hated the nickname “Scarface” and pretended to people they were war wounds.

It was as a bouncer in the brothels of Chicago that he contracted Syphilis, the disease that stayed with him for his life, and caused him brain damage.  He died at age 48 of complications arising from tertiary stage syphilis.

What changed Capone from a low level crook to the flamboyant anti-hero of the roaring ’20’s was Prohibition.  100 years ago this week the USA prohibited the manufacture, distribution and retailing of alcohol.  For 13 years the drinks industry was placed in the hands of organised crime, and boy did they have a party.

When his boss in Chicago, Johnny Torio, resigned after being shot in the territorial wars waged between the crime gangs, a 26 year old Capone stepped into the top job in 1925.  Noted for his charisma in the press his real tools were bribery, intimidation and brutality.

After numerous attempts to bring him to justice failed he was famously sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1931 for tax evasion and made liable for court costs and back taxes.  His party ended just 2 years before the repeal of the Prohibition laws.

Capone was an early indicator of what happened in the crime gangs when alcohol became legal again.  When he was processed in the prison he was found to be a cocaine addict.  The gangs switched seamlessly from alcohol to drugs as soon as alcohol was legalised.

I wonder what would happen if we decriminalised drugs?

 

 

Dry Crusaders

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January 16th 1920, 100 years ago today, was the last day on which you could legally get an alcoholic drink in the USA for 13 years.  Prohibition was enacted and America went dry….. dry-ish.

As we now know prohibition serves as a signal example of why you don’t ban things.  Alcohol production, distribution and sale was taken over by newly created organised criminal gangs.  Fortunes were made by criminals.  And yet we continue to ban drugs, wage war on them and treat drug addicts as criminals instead of a healthcare issue.  Can we not learn from prohibition and decriminalise drugs?

What is little known is that prohibition was successful because of World War 1.  With the USA participating in the final stages of the war Germany became the enemy.  Most of the breweries in the USA were run by German-Americans.  Before the war they were well regarded and well funded to defend the rights of access to alcohol.  By the end of the war it was not popularly acceptable to side with “the enemy” and the brewers lost much of their political clout.  This gave the temperance movements sufficient weight to push the dry agenda all the way into the constitution and make it a federal issue.

 

The Workmans Friend; by Flann O’Brien

When things go wrong and will not come right
though you do the best you can,
when life looks black as the hour of night
a pint of plain is your only man.

When money’s tight and hard to get
and your horse has also ran,
when all you have is a heap of debt
a pint of plain is your only man.

When health is bad and your heart feels strange
and your face is pale and wan,
when doctors say you need a change
a pint of plain is your only man.

When food is scarce and your larder bare
and no rashers grease your pan,
when hunger grows as your meals are rare
a pint of plain is your only man.

In time of trouble and lousey strife
you have still got a darling plan,
you still can turn to a brighter life
a pint of plain is your only man.

Strange Facts About Americans During Prohibition

Retreat from Kabul

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Remnants of an Army by Elizabeth Butler

The painting above immortalised the moment, on the afternoon of Jan 13th, 1842, when Dr. William Brydon reached the British outpost at Jellalabad, 140 km east of Kabul.

He was the first survivor of an army of 4,500 troops and 12,000 civilians who left Kabul on January 6th under a promise of safe passage out of Afghanistan.  For seven days they were set upon by Afghan tribesmen as they tried to struggle through snowbound mountain passes.  Their column was broken up, groups became separated, snipers fired constantly and they were subjected to massed attacks when the terrain permitted.

Brydon arrived at Jellalabad on a horse which collapsed and died when it was stabled.  He had a sword cut on his scalp and was saved more serious injury because his hat was stuffed with pages of a magazine in an attempt to keep him warm.  The paper absorbed much of the sword cut.  He became famous as the “only” survivor, although others subsequently made it back to safety.

The subsequent defence of the fort at Jellalabad became the stuff of legend in the British Army and was celebrated in boys story books for the next century.  The 2,000 men of the 13th foot (Somerset light infantry) held the fort for five months until a relief force reached them.  Under the command of General Robert Sale the troops turned an old ruined fort into a defensible position.  Instead of sitting behind the walls they sortied out to raid the Afghans.  On one occassion they stole a herd of sheep to keep themselves suppllied.  Then they raided the Afghan camp and stole all the supplies.  So successful were they in this that the Afghans gave up and returned to Kabul.  Sale also personally freed his own wife and daughter from captivity.

When the 13th returned to India every garrison on their path celebrated them with a 10 gun salute.  Queen Victoria had them designated as a Light infantry and they were called “Prince Albert’s Own”.

 

From “The Young British Soldier” ; by Rudyard Kipling

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
and the women come out to cut up what remains,
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
an’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

First Gay Novelist?

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James Bayard Taylor was born Jan 11th 1825.  A poet, a writer, travel writer, diplomat and a most fantastically travelled man.  Many of his travels were made on foot.  He explored the White Nile, he reported on the Californian Gold Rush and he was at the opening of Japan with Perry’s fleet.  Mark Twain was envious of the quality of Taylors German when they travelled together to Prussia.

A highly successful writer in his own lifetime he has seen a rebirth of sorts.  His book “Joseph and his friend: a story of Pennsylvania” is by many considered to be the first American Gay Novel.

Storm Song; by James Bayard Taylor

The clouds are scudding across the moon;
a misty light is on the sea;
the wind in the shrouds has a wintry tune,
and the foam is flying free.

Brothers, a night of terror and gloom
speaks in the cloud and gathering roar;
thank God, He has given us broad sea-room,
a thousand miles from shore.

Down with the hatches on those who sleep!
The wild and whistling deck have we;
good watch, my brothers, to-night we’ll keep,
while the tempest is on the sea!

Though the rigging shriek in his terrible grip,
and the naked spars be snapped away,
lashed to the helm, we’ll drive our ship
in the teeth of the whelming spray!

Hark! how the surges o’erleap the deck!
Hark! how the pitiless tempest raves!
Ah, daylight will look upon many a wreck
drifting over the desert waves.

Yet, courage, brothers! we trust the wave,
with God above us, our guiding chart.
So, whether to harbor or ocean-grave,
be it still with a cheery heart!