Growth and Death

Ferguson

Harry Ferguson was born on this day in 1884.  He was born into a world of horse powered agriculture.  Two great leaps forward occurred in agricultural practices during WW1 and then again in WW2.

Ferguson began his career in engineering with aircraft.  He was the first Irish man to build a plane and the first to fly a plane.  He moved from aircraft to tractors just before the outbreak of the Great War.  All through the war he was developing ideas for ways to attach a plough to the tractor.

In the early 1920s he presented his ideas on the three point linkage to that other great Irish engineer, Henry Ford.  Together they created the Fordson.  Ferguson went on to build his own tractors and incorporated his designs into David Browns and Massey Fergusons.

When the second great agricultural leap forward came during WW2 it was powered by tractors designed by Harry Ferguson.  His work revolutionised agricultural production and allowed for the radical improvements in output per acre that originated during WW2.  By the end of the war Britain was able to feed itself.

After the war these innovations were rolled out to the world and sparked the prosperity of the “Swinging Sixties”.

Harry Ferguson never saw the 1960’s.  He died at the beginning of the decade after years of legal battles with Henry Ford II over the illegal use of his patents.  The legal battles cost him half his fortune and all his health and was unsuccessful in restricting Fords use of his work.

If Ferguson represents an era of Growth we can see in the poem below that Williams has experienced an era of Death, Murder, Famine and Dictatorship.  Born in 1936, on this day, Charles Kenneth Williams lived through those swinging sixties.  But he saw the rise of tin pot dictator after dictator pillage country after country in Asia, Africa, South & Central America.  Much of it carried out under the cloak of U.S. Foreign Policy.

Today on the news we see thousands of troops sent to the US Mexican Border.  Donald Trump is addressing voters for the upcoming mid term elections.  He uses the language of the demagogue.  He sounds like another tin pot dictator.  He says his troops will shoot at any migrants who throw stones.  He says that the Democrats want to invite “Caravan after Caravan” of migrants over the border.  When Republicans speak about Democrats they describe them as Communists or Socialists.  From here in Europe the Democrats come over as far right liberals.  We would see them as right wing extremists.  It is hilarious to describe a club of multi-millionaire politicians as socialists.  It is, frankly, an insult to socialism.

The future of the planet lies in sustainability.  Humans must live within our means or we will become extinct.  Politicians who, like Donald Trump, deny climate change are doing so because they are trading personal greed against public good.  They know the world is full of short term thinking greedy people.

The failure of democratic American style politics to plan beyond the next election is the major barrier to long term sustainable planning.  When Harry Ferguson was designing his first tractors during WW1 American saw itself, and was, the saviour of the Western World.  Roll the clock forward 100 years and today, 2018 the USA is the worlds greatest problem.

 

Zebra; by Charles Kenneth Williams

Kids once carried tin soldiers in their pockets as charms
against being afraid, but how trust soldiers these days
not to load up, aim, blast the pants off your legs?

I have a key-chain zebra I bought at the Thanksgiving fair.
How do I know she won’t kick, or bite at my crotch?
Because she’s been murdered, machine-gunned: she’s dead.

Also, she’s a she: even so crudely carved, you can tell
by the sway of her belly a foal’s inside her.
Even murdered mothers don’t hurt people, do they?

And how know she’s murdered? Isn’t everything murdered?
Some dictator’s thugs, some rebels, some poachers;
some drought, world-drought, world-rot, pollution, extinction.

Everything’s murdered, but still, not good, a dead thing
in with your ID and change. I fling her away, but the death
of her clings, the death of her death, her murder, her slaughter.

The best part of Thanksgiving Day, though—the parade!
Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Kermit the Frog, enormous as clouds!
And the marching bands, majorettes, anthems and drums!

When the great bass stomped its galloping boom out
to the crowd, my heart swelled with valor and pride.
I remembered when we saluted, when we took off our hat.

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Miura Anjin

Fluyt

A 16th Century Dutch Fluyt

Born on this day in 1564 William Adams was the first Englishman to reach Japan, and one of the few westerners to become a Samurai.   Immortalised by James Clavell in the novel (and TV series) Shogun.

When his father died he was aged only 12 and was apprenticed to a shipyard, where he learned the skills that later allowed him to build Western Style ships for the Shogun of Japan.

He served in the Royal Navy in the war against Spain, as Master of a supply ship during the fight against the Armada.  In 1598 he joined a flotilla of five Dutch merchant ships on a trading exploration voyage to Japan.  They predated the foundation of the Dutch East India Company.

Adams was hired as “Pilot Major” of the fleet, a navigator.

They were hunted and harried by both Spanish and Portuguese in their voyage, who wanted to protect their monopolies in Africa, South America and the Pacific Islands.

One ship of the five made it to Japan, carrying only 23 men who were sick or dying.  Of these only 9 recovered their health.

Portuguese Jesuits, already in Japan tried to have the Dutch and English Protestant sailors killed as pirates.  The Japanese had other plans for them.  They invited the Dutch to open a trading post at Nagasaki in competition with the Portuguese.

Adams built a fleet of Western Ships for the Shogun which allowed the Japanese to expand their trade in Asia.  While Adams was honoured with Samurai status and given a large farm complete with the retainers to maintain it, he was never permitted to return home.

He married a Japanese girl and had a second family, his original wife and children being in England.  As a Samurai he was “reborn” and given the name Miura Anjin.

How to choose a college course.

College Choice

As one cohort of students begin their first year in college a whole new batch are embarking on their final school year.  Somewhere along the way this year they need to fill in a form to apply for college places.

In Ireland the university and college applications process is centralised by a government body called the Central Applications Office.  So you will hear Irish kids talk about their CAO form and their CAO choices.

For the vast majority of Irish kids the system is entirely meritocratic.   It is a points based scoring system.  If you get sufficient points in your exams you get the place in college.  There is no opportunity to sway the opinions of a “selection” committee with a jazzy video or a fat donation.  There are some sensible exceptions.  Places for art schools generally involve an additional points allocation based on your portfolio.  Music schools award separate points for musical ability, awards and prizes.  But for the most part the selection is based on the results of your secondary school leaving certificate exam.

So in Ireland, when the Leaving Certificate results come out you will hear conversations about the “points race” and the “CAO Points”.  For reasons of social etiquette it is gauche to ask what points someone (or their child) received.  It is OK to ask “did they get their first choice?”  A high performing kid might get 525 points and be disappointed because they needed 550 to get into Law.  Another kid might be over the moon because they got the 300 points they needed to secure their first choice course.

These days it is possible to recover from a terrible leaving certificate and negotiate alternate routes into third level education.  But the leaving certificate remains the simplest and fastest way to get from school through college and into the workplace.

Hence the Venn diagram at the top of the article.  Confucius is supposed to have said that if you do something you love you will never work a day in your life.  It’s a nice idea and it is certainly wonderful to have a job you love.  It makes your days fly by and every morning is an engaging challenge rather than a depressing trudge to a workplace that seems like a prison.  The modern equivalent of the “dark satanic mills”.

Putting an old head on 18 year old shoulders is a challenge.  When I see a college course in data science I see a future of possibility, interesting work and excellent pay.  My 18 year old sees a lot of boring stuff on the syllabus.

Which brings me to the TV jobs farce.  When you look at TV what are the exciting jobs?

Lots of TV shows glamorise a law career.  Those sharp clothes, beautiful people, shiny courtrooms, exciting cases, sexy colleagues.  It all seems such a rush.  For me “Better Call Saul” is probably a fairer view of a law career.  There is glamour and excitement, for the senior partners.  For the grunts there are long days of work that is often boring and tedious, with risk of severe criticism for any mistake.

Law is categorised (Freakonomics:  Dubner & Levitt) as a career that is structured as a tournament.  You have a very wide entry base and a very narrow apex of the pyramid.  Those at the top, the partners, reap huge rewards from the work of their teams.  It is a microcosm of the capitalist system.  You get rich by taking the value of the work of your low paid staff.  Careers structured as tournaments are great if you win.  Not so great if you lose.  Either you spend your life being paid less than you are worth, or you depart from the competition to accept a more stable position, having given your best years to a senior partner.

Big 4 accounting firms are similarly structured as tournaments.  Kids need to be aware that if they enter that race they need to be up for the long haul.  20 years of 50 to 60 hour weeks, breakfast and lunch at the computer, working weekends, cancelling holidays, having kids who think the mobile phone is called “daddy”.

TV is also pretty good at glamorising jobs that do not pay.  TV is filled with interior design shows.  It seems there must be a booming career for interior designers.  But riddle me this, the last time you did a home makeover, how much did you spend with your interior designer?  What?  You didn’t use one?  Why ever not?  Oh, they cost too much.

So you have a handful of well connected interior designers who work for millionaires, who are probably the sons or daughters of millionaires themselves.  You then have a handful of designers who are connected to the right industries, such as hotels or restaurants, but they seem to get ALL the work in those industries.  Each year hundreds of young hopefuls enter college to study interior design and end up working in the restaurant business serving food instead of designing rooms.

My advice to young people selecting a college place, for what it is worth, is this.

  1. Use the Venn diagram above.  Be honest with yourself.  If you get 50% in Maths and you really love maths, but you get 80% in Spanish, you are better at Spanish, even if you hate it.
  2. Add up your points from the last set of exams you sat.  That is your base working assumption.  Unless you plan to really, really work really really hard, you are looking at a good approximation of your final marks.  Look at the courses in that points range.
  3. Search job sites, and the kind of job you would eventually like to have.  Look at the qualifications they specify as mandatory requirements.
  4. If you are selecting a career speak to some people who actually work in that career.  Don’t fall for the corporate literature or what you see on TV.  For instance a recent survey found that most US college students in nuclear physics learned most of what they knew about the subject from watching the Simpsons.
  5. Keep your options as open as you can early in your college life.  What I mean here is select the general rather than the specific.  If you have a choice of “General Science” or “Food science” go with the General and you will find that there are options to specialise all along the way.  If you go too specific too early it can be hard to back out if you hate it.
  6. Finally, don’t stress about it.  Most people end up working in a career that has little or nothing to do with their undergraduate college course.  Life takes you in some strange directions.  Whatever you do choose, stick with it.  Complete the course and get the degree.  Employers are impressed by people who finish what they start, not by people who found themselves on a beach in Thailand instead of sitting their finals.

 

 

Work? You don’t know work.

Keyboard

I worked some pretty bad jobs in my time.  Weeks serving food on grotty ferries.  Long days stacking shop shelves and sweeping grubby floors.  Disgusting days lifting coughing patients in a chest ward, or turning geriatrics with turgid pee bags and soiled pads and all for pretty low wages, but I never complained at that.

I worked some pretty great jobs, running hard from morning to night, days gone in a blink, boxes ticked, tasks completed, a blur of achievement richly rewarded. I certainly never complained at that.

I worked a well paid job in a comfortable office with little or nothing to do.  I watched the hands of the clock march slowly around the dial praying for the end of the hour, the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the month, the end of the year, the end of my life.  I literally wished my life away.  I complained about everything.  I longed for a geriatric to be turned, or a floor to be swept.

That’s not work.  That’s prison.

Fear and Fame; by Philip Levine

Half an hour to dress, wide rubber hip boots,
gauntlets to the elbow, a plastic helmet
like a knight’s but with a little glass window
that kept steaming over, and a respirator
to save my smoke-stained lungs. I would descend
step by slow step into the dim world
of the pickling tank and there prepare
the new solutions from the great carboys
of acids lowered to me on ropes — all from a recipe
I shared with nobody and learned from Frank O’Mera
before he went off to the bars on Vernor Highway
to drink himself to death. A gallon of hydrochloric
steaming from the wide glass mouth, a dash
of pale nitric to bubble up, sulphuric to calm,
metals for sweeteners, cleansers for salts,
until I knew the burning stew was done.
Then to climb back, step by stately step, the adventurer
returned to the ordinary blinking lights
of the swingshift at Feinberg and Breslin’s
First-Rate Plumbing and Plating with a message
from the kingdom of fire. Oddly enough
no one welcomed me back, and I’d stand
fully armored as the downpour of cold water
rained down on me and the smoking traces puddled
at my feet like so much milk and melting snow.
Then to disrobe down to my work pants and shirt,
my black street shoes and white cotton socks,
to reassume my nickname, strap on my Bulova,
screw back my wedding ring, and with tap water
gargle away the bitterness as best I could.
For fifteen minutes or more I’d sit quietly
off to the side of the world as the women
polished the tubes and fixtures to a burnished purity
hung like Christmas ornaments on the racks
pulled steadily toward the tanks I’d cooked.
Ahead lay the second cigarette, held in a shaking hand,
as I took into myself the sickening heat to quell heat,
a lunch of two Genoa salami sandwiches and Swiss cheese
on heavy peasant bread baked by my Aunt Tsipie,
and a third cigarette to kill the taste of the others.
Then to arise and dress again in the costume
of my trade for the second time that night, stiffened
by the knowledge that to descend and rise up
from the other world merely once in eight hours is half
what it takes to be known among women and men.

Yer matey’s a bottle of fun.

Matey

The impact of advertising is that I can’t read this poem.

I can only sing it in my head.  Har har me matey.

A Life on the Ocean Wave; by Epes Sargent

A life on the ocean wave,
A home on the rolling deep,
Where the scattered waters rave,
And the winds their revels keep!
Like an eagle caged, I pine
On this dull, unchanging shore:
Oh! give me the flashing brine,
The spray and the tempest’s roar!

Once more on the deck I stand
Of my own swift-gliding craft:
Set sail! farewell to the land!
The gale follows fair abaft.
We shoot through the sparkling foam
Like an ocean-bird set free; —
Like the ocean-bird, our home
We’ll find far out on the sea.

The land is no longer in view,
The clouds have begun to frown;
But with a stout vessel and crew,
We’ll say, Let the storm come down!
And the song of our hearts shall be,
While the winds and the waters rave,
A home on the rolling sea!
A life on the ocean wave!

Happy birthday Vikram Seth

Vikram_Seth,_in_Oxfordshire

On a day when US policy comes to the fore for stripping refugee children from their parents this poem seems appropriate.  Any country that makes a business of incarceration is on a wrong path.  Nobody should ever profit from locking someone away.

In the past, in Ireland, we paid the Church to lock away our fallen women, to take their children and to sell them into adoption.  The Church made sure we shamed generations of pregnant girls into a life of slavery.  We paid the Church to lock away our insane, and they found more insane here than in any other country.  We paid the Church to lock up rowdy boys who got in a bit of trouble with the law.  Those boys were abused both physically and sexually.

Locking people away should be a costly and painful exercise.  It should not be easy.  It should never be a norm.  Prisons create crime as much as crime fills prisons.

 

All you who sleep tonight: by Vikram Seth

All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hand to left or right
And emptiness above –

Know that you aren’t alone
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.

What could go wrong?

Missilemail

Sometimes you look at ideas that people tried and wonder “what were they on?”

On this day in 1959 the US Postal Service and the US Navy cooperated in the one and only launch of “Missile Mail”.  The Submarine USS Barbero launched a Regulus cruise missile towards the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Florida.

US postmaster general Arthur Summerfield said “before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”

Sadly the idea never took off (boom boom) much to the relief of the modern day Israeli Postal service.  Today mail travels from New York to California in the blink of an eye.  Email is faster than a rocket, safer than a rocket, not as exciting as a rocket.

Time of the Missile; by George Oppen

I remember a square of New York’s Hudson River glinting between warehouses.
Difficult to approach the water below the pier
swirling, covered with oil the ship at the pier
a steel wall: tons in the water,

width.
the hand for holding,
legs for walking,
the eye sees! It floods in on us from here to Jersey tangled in the grey bright air!

Become the realm of nations.

My love, my love,
we are endangered
totally at last. Look
anywhere to the sight’s limit: space
which is viviparous:

Place of the mind
and eye. Which can destroy us,
re-arrange itself, assert
its own stone chain reaction.