Vienna

Klimt

In 2012 I was in Vienna for a four day business conference.  Gustav Klimt was born there on July 14th 1862 so everywhere you went they were celebrating his 150th birthday.  Any building with even a fleeting association with Klimt was open to the public.

I could have seen the greatest assembled volume of the works of this Symbolist, and frankly erotic painter.  He was criticized in his lifetime for work considered pornographic.

But I had to work, so I saw all the ads but never got to attend any of the exhibitions.  Now that I look back I realise I should have taken a half day sick.  Food poisoning, or a quick stomach bug, very believable.  Carpe Diem, why didn’t I carpe the flipping diem?

 

 

 

Peak Consumerism

Beaujolais_nouveau_wine

If you ask Irish people when they think consumerism was most out of control they will generally refer to the Celtic Tiger years of the early noughties, peaking in the property bubble of 2007 and the subsequent crash.

For me that was simply a repeat of the 1980’s.  My symbols of peak consumerism are Nouvelle Cuisine and Beaujolais Nouveau.

Nouvelle Cuisine was developed in France in the post war years in response to shortages of certain ingredients, but also in a quest for lighter, fresher and more elegantly presented food.  Nouvelle Cuisine attained its height of ridiculousness in the 1980’s when it reached the executive dining rooms of major corporations.  C-suite executives of the day were comparing heart bypass operations and it was clear that the culture of steaks, chips and pints after work was unsustainable.

Enter the Nouvelle Cuisine extreme version:  a fantastically expensive plate of up to a dozen ingredients presented like a work of art, but gone in two bites.

Nouvelle cuisine

Then, to go one further, we had the excesses of the Beaujolais Nouveau races.  Beaujolais Nouveau is a fresh wine, something to be consumed in the year it is made.  One wine critic described it as something unfinished, decadent and a bit naughty, like eating cookie dough.

It is a red wine served fresh and chilled slightly.  It is the perfect foil to nouvelle cuisine, new wine for new money.  Each year the producers set a day to release the wine, in November, and the races begin.  At the peak you would see helicopters delivering wine to restaurants in London, Concorde jetting it across the Atlantic to New York,  and a plethora of sports cars and private aircraft bringing caches to clubs all over Ireland and the UK.

Beujolais Nouveau was, and remains, an excuse to flash the cash for a fleeting fad.  Good wines cost hundreds of Euro because time is money and time in the bottle is required to ripen a claret or a port.  Beaujolais Nouveau costs hundreds because … loadsa money!  If you have it flash it.  Loadsamoney became a stock comedy character in the Harry Enfield show in the 1980s.  A barrow-boy become stock trader with no class but lots of cash.

In November 1984 nine Irish men died in the Beaujolais Crash in Eastbourne en-route to France to collect their stash.  On board were four journalists, a wine merchant, a restaurant owner,  hotel owner, hotel manager and the pilot.  For me that was the day when consumerism went out of control.

Венера-6

Venera6

On May 17th 1969 the Soviet Union dropped the Venera 6 probe into the Venusian atmosphere, one day after deploying the Venera 5 probe.  While the USA were focused on putting men on the moon the CCCP were continuing their series of explorations of Venus.

The Venera program ran from 1961 with the failure of Venera 1 until the successful  Venera 16 stopped sending data in 1984.

The Venera 5 and Venera 6 probes were deemed successful missions.  Each operated for over 50 minutes as they descended by parachute through the atmosphere, sending back data to Russia.

In 1972 the Russians recorded the first successful landing of a craft on another planet with the Venera 8 lander.  Venera 7 had landed successfully but rolled awkwardly and was able to send back only very limited data, so was deemed a failure.

In 1975 the Venera 9 lander returned the first images from another planet.

If Nasa and the Soviet Union had maintained the momentum of the 1960’s and 70’s we would have a colony on Mars today.  Now it seems that Mars may be the story of commercial space exploration.  SpaceX, the Elon Musk led agency is working on the Big Falcon rocket to ship cargo in 2022 with a plan to send men in 2024.

The Russians and Europeans have developed the EXOMARS2020 program combining an ESA Rover and an ROSCOSMOS landing platform.  To this day the Russians are still building the best launch vehicles.  If you want to put a man in space you talk to the Russians.

NASA have a rover mission on the books for 2020.

The Chinese plan a Mars landing in 2020.

The UAE Space Agency also plan a Mars mission in 2021.

It may now be time to start thinking about how the solar system will be carved up.  Will it become a new Antarctica, dedicated to science in favour of national or commercial interests?  Or will the solar system become another “Scramble for Africa” as nations and businesses compete to establish exclusive ownership of areas of planets, asteroids or even areas of space?

 

Emporium

Emporium

For some reason when I hear the word  “Emporium” I always think of a Victorian style sweet shop, with high ceilings packed to the rafters with shelves choc-a-block with jars of the most tempting treats.

An Emporium is more than a shop.  It is a shop with notions.  It is a shop that has ambitions to become a chain, an empire, to gain imperium, a shop fit for an emperor.

The truth is that it has nothing to do with latin terms such as imperator or imperium.  The root of the word emporium lies in Greek, where emporion was the word for a trading post.  Greeks were great traders and most of their colonies began life as simple trading posts.

The oldest city in France, Marseille, began life as an emporion of the Phokaians.  Founded in 600 BC by Greek traders from the Bay of Smyrna, the modern Turkish city of Izmir.  Civilized Greeks from Asia minor trading with the hairy barbarians of the wild west.

So now that I know this I guess when I hear about an Emporium in future I will think more along the lines of one of these.

Trading Post

Weatherglaze

Monoyer

If I ask if you know about Ferdinand Monoyer I’m sure I will get blank looks.  Monoyer was born on this day back in 1836 and you have probably looked at and through variants of his work many times in your life.  He invented two major things in his field of ophthalmology.  Firstly he invented the unit of measurement of the optical power of a lens: the dioptre (or diopter for Americans).

Secondly he invented an eye test chart, properly called a Monoyer Chart.  You will know if you are looking at a genuine original Monoyer chart by two clues.  Firstly the largest letters appear at the bottom.  Secondly if you read from the bottom, first letter of each row is Monoyer, and he has inserted his Christian name at the other end of the line.

Monoyer’s eponymous chart lost the competition to become the standard of the industry to a chart developed by a Dutchman named Snellen in 1862.   This has been refined to become the Logarithm of the minimum angle of resolution and that mouthful is now called the LogMAR chart.

The title of this post “weatherglaze” was the name of the largest double glazing brand in Ireland in the 1970’s when I needed to get glasses at the age of 12.  It was routinely hurled as an insult to us bespectacled boys along with other terms such as “speccy four eyes” and “double-glaze”.  Glasses were vital for me to see the blackboard in school.  I wonder how many boys (and girls) failed to achieve their potential because they could not take the bullying and let their grades slip instead.

These days in the business world we talk a lot about “lenses” as a way of seeing things clearly, bringing data into focus by looking at it through the proper “lens”.  I spend many of my days pivoting data.  So it probably comes as little surprise that when I set up my own business I chose the name Lionsai, which is the Irish Language translation of “lenses” and my logo was based on the concept of using the right lens to focus on the correct target.

FINAL LIONSAI LOGO

The Glimmer Man

GasCompany

One of Dublin’s few Art Deco facades.

I worked for Bord Gáis, the Irish national gas company in the early noughties.  One day in the office a presentation was being made to a retiring employee.  As part of the presentation they gave him a bronze figureen of a lamplighter, a stock figure of Victorian cities.  But on the pedestal of the bronze it was called “The Glimmer Man”.  I could not believe my eyes.

Then today I was listening to a podcast of Blindboy from the Rubber Bandits reading his short story:  “Arse Children”.  He gives a long descriptive passage of Eamon De Valera looking out the Mansion House window as a “Glimmer Man” came up the street extinguishing the gas lights.  Again my stress levels went up to 90 as I wondered what planet he was born on.

Then I thought a bit and realised Blindboy comes from Limerick and they know feck all about Gas down there.  OK they did have towns gas but I think the Glimmer Man was a particularly Dublin phenomenon.

During “The Emergency” as we in Ireland call the Second World War (because we were neutral) gas was made from Coal.  Coal was imported from Britain, and in the war they needed their coal so our supply dwindled.  Dublin was served by a private towns gas company called “The Alliance and Dublin Consumers Gas Company”.  That mouthful was rendered lovingly by Dubliners as “The Gas Company” and when I worked in Bord Gáis the Dubs still universally called it the Gas Company.

In the face of contrained supplies the Gas Company issued a series of ads asking consumers to conserve supplies.  “Don’t waste Gas….not even a glimmer”.

The Gas Company turned off supplies to conserve what coal they had.  Restricting supply to only 10 hours a day reduced consumption by only a quarter.  They had to take more radical action.  So supply was permitted only 5 hours per day, and it was not supposed to be used for home heating.

Dubliners discovered that you could open a valve on your stove and coax a gentle flame out if it using the residual unpressurised Gas in the pipe network.  From the ads this flame got the nickname “glimmer” and Dubliners talked about “cooking on the glimmer”.

The Gas Company hired some inspectors to go from house to house and flat to flat to inspect the facilities.  They would check if heating appliances were warm and during the restricted hours they would check to see if stoves were hot.

These inspectors got the nickname “glimmer man” and they were hated by the Dubliners.  My parents grew up as children in Dublin during the war years and they had vivid memories of gangs of children racing through the streets ahead of the inspectors to warn mothers of the approach of the glimmer man.  Cooking pots or kettles had to be hidden and the stoves had to be cooled down.

The consequences of being caught by the glimmer man were dire.  He had the power to cut off and lock your supply.  He was a universally hated figure.  People spoke of the glimmer man of the war years the way they speak today of commercial car clampers.

Having grown up knowing the hatred of the glimmer man you can understand my astonishment to find that the term is used in loving, warm, nostalgic terms by people who have no clue of its origins.

Lamplighter

This is a lamplighter, not a feckin’ glimmer man.

We are what we do.

Change the World for a Fiver by We Are What We Do

In 2004 an organisation called WeAreWhatWeDo.Org published a book on how to change the world for a fiver.  At the heart of this philosophy is the concept of the “Parlour General, Field Deserter” so beautifully encapsulated by Marge Piercy (Happy Birthday Marge)

The Parlour General is also called a slacktivist.  Slacktivism is defined as: the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.

The Slactivist is the person who constantly forwards touchy feely motivational posts on social media, wears the French Flag and sticks “Je Suis Charlie” on their profile, tags posts with #MeToo or #IBelieveHer but never actually gets off their backside to do anything about these causes.

So today figure out the cause that is most important to you and ask “What can I do?”  Not on social media.  What can you actually do?  The answer today is nothing because you are in lockdown, but prepare for the day you can get out.  Then act.

 

To Be Of Use; by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Gary Whitehead, a mouse and Covid19

Glendalough

Carpark in Glendalough during Lockdown

Monday morning Week 2 of Coronavirus lockdown.

Spring is upon us and the weekend discarded its shroud of rain and wind and blessed us with some sun for a change.  Here in rural Tipperary we were released to walk the quiet country roads.  Dublin was somewhat different.  Given a sniff of good weather Dubliners all collectively head for the same spots:  Glendalough, the Sally Gap, Howth Head, Dollymount Strand, Bettystown, the Phoenix Park etc.  As a result you get crowding, traffic jams, queues for the coffee truck or the chip van.  The opposite of social distancing.

As a result the council steps in and shuts down car parks, exacerbating the problem in the ones that remain open.

Huge cities are not human places.  Now that many of us can work remotely what is the point of crowding millions of people into boxes of glass and steel? So much valuable time is lost commuting too and from the workplace.  Today that time is being used for exercise.  A fit workforce is a productive workforce.

If Covid-19 teaches us one thing it is that we can reverse the flow of people from country to city.  In the modern world it is not necessary to cram your employees into a factory where you can supervise them.  Technology can do that for you.  I predict that many of those working from home today will continue to work from home long after the crisis is past.

 

Mouse In The House; by Gary Whitehead

For two nights now it’s wakened me from dreams
with a sound like paper being torn, reams

of it, a scratching that’s gone on for hours.
Blind in the dark, I think of my father’s

letters, the ones composed but never sent.
They were addressed to his sister, my aunt,

a woman I never met but whose voice,
slurry and calling from some noisy place,

introduced itself one New Year’s eve, late,
before my mother came and silenced it

with a click. She was one of many things
we never spoke of. But when the phone rang

at odd hours, I’d wonder if it was her.
That voice had resurrected the picture

in the silver frame, my parents’ wedding
day: on the church steps the woman throwing

rice, blond and beautiful, showing no trace
at all of malice in her youthful face.

Now the awful sound, waking me again
like a secret, calls to mind the poison

I left out, and my mother on their bed
tearing a box of letters into shreds.

The wretched way.

bowery-new-york-city

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.

Modern Slavery

Prison Labour

The news broke about Florence Widdicombe, the 6 year old from Tooting, south London, who opened a box of Tesco charity Christmas cards to find a note inside:

We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qinqpu prison (China) 

Forced to work against our will.

Please help us and notify human rights organization.

Contact Peter Humphrey (former prisoner and journalist)

The details of the story are all over the news.  Tesco has suspended its supply contract.  But this is the third time in so many years that Tesco has been suspected of engaging in supply contracts where forced labour forms a part of the supply chain.

Tesco will tell us that they, like all other multi-national and global supply companies, regularly inspect the factories that supply their goods in China.  But anyone who knows China and the business world there can tell you that the facilities the foreigners are permitted to inspect are the model factories.  Even there the staff who work 14 hour days are warned to tell the foreign auditors that they work 8 hour days if they are asked.

We, as consumers, are trusting the global corporations to carry out these audits properly.  We do not want to confront the ugly reality that our goods are manufactured by slaves, forced prison labour, child labour and highly exploited workers.

The global corporations are breaching their contract with the consumer, because they are under pressure to deliver shareholder value.  If the “markets” take a dim view of the company they will downgrade the investment rating and the corporation will lose money.

The billionaires who own the shares in the corporations will shift their shareholdings to less scrupulous companies, who will turn a blind eye to slavery, and will win consumers with low prices.

I can boycott Tesco this Christmas, but what do I achieve?  If I take my money to another supermarket, or even to a local store, how do I know that I am not funding slavery somewhere in the supply chain?  I might even be penalising a company that does its very best to clean up the supply chain in favour of a company that does not even attempt to identify the links in their chain.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries boycotts of slave produced sugar succeeded in ending slavery on sugar plantations.  The campaigns were driven not by governments, not by the billionaires, but by ordinary people, small people who fought to make a difference.  We need to recapture that personal focus on consumption.  Our daily consumption decisions can make the world a better place for millions of people, or they can make the lives of those people a misery.

How are you spending your money this Christmas?  In your wallet, measured in dollars and cents, you hold the power to change the world for the better.  Spend wisely.