Is your pension killing the planet?

Pollution

You are a model citizen.  You recycle your glass bottles.  You separate your household waste.  You don’t run the tap while you brush your teeth.  You buy A rated appliances.  You are doing everything in your power to save the planet, except you won’t give up that foreign holiday and you don’t pay exceptional attention to the carbon footprint of the Asparagus and Avocados you eat.

You are also fiscally continent.  You paid attention to all the good advice not to spend all your cash.  You have been squirreling away a good solid percentage of your pay packet.  If you are lucky your employer has been matching your contributions.  If you live in certain countries the Government is also matching your contributions by making them tax free.  Year by year that nest egg is growing and growing to provide you with a well feathered retirement nest.

What is that money doing?  Did you think it was sitting in a bank, accumulating cobwebs?  You know that the pension fund does something with it, but what?  Do you pay attention to how your money is used on your behalf?  Perhaps you should.

We read news reports about global corporate businesses exploiting people all over the world and how they damage the environment with oil spills, or cutting down rain forest, employing child labour etc etc.  We see these news reports and we are shocked.  We wonder who these evil business people are, and how they can do this.

Wake up, the evil global corporation is you.  It’s your money out there.

Your fund managers are acting on your behalf.  What is their motivation?  The more successful their fund is the more money it attracts and the more commission they make.  In the world of cut throat financial competition the hard numbers are what talk.  Success is measured in financial return, not in how many ice-floes you prevented from melting this quarter.

Are you supplying the guns to child soldiers in Africa?  There is good money in weapon sales.  Perhaps you are funding the expansion of a large tobacco company into South East Asia.  The regulatory environment is not so strict there, so you can sell more product to the under 18’s. Maybe you are heavily invested in farming, and that’s OK isn’t it?  Perhaps you are growing soya beans, in Brazil, in cleared Rain Forest.  And those soya beans are fed to cattle in intensive feed lots, where the run off is polluting local rivers.  Maybe that beef led to an outbreak of eColi in the human population.

Truth is you haven’t a clue, have you?

Truth is, you don’t really want to know.  You kind of know that once you lift the lid on that particular can of worms it’s going to be ugly.  You want to take the empties to the bottle bank, pat yourself on the back, and call yourself a good citizen.

With one stroke of a pen, moving your fund into ethical investments, you can make a larger impact on the planet than a lifetime of visits to the bottle bank.

All those pension brochures show you the picture of the couple on the beach enjoying their retirement.  What they fail to show is the mountain of plastic waste on the beach.  If you want the clean beach you need to do something about it today.

Beach

 

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Happy Birthday Chinua Achebe

Achebe

Featuring on today’s Google Doodle for his 87th Birthday Chinua Achebe (RIP, 2013 age 82) was a Man Booker Prize winning Novelist and also a Poet, Professor, Ambassador, Chieftain and all round African Renaissance man. His first novel, ‘Things Fall Apart’ is the most widely read novel in African literature.

 

Refugee Mother And Child :by Chinua Achebe

No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon would have to forget.
The air was heavy with odours

of diarrhoea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in laboured
steps behind blown empty bellies. Most
mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-coloured
hair left on his skull and then –

singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life this
would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she

did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.

Demagogues

On this day in 1895 two controversial world leaders were born.

Zog

Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli was born to a wealthy landowning family in Albania.  He was appointed a district governor ahead of his older half brother, perhaps because of his mothers royal connections.  He signed the Albanian declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire and was instrumental in creating Albania as a parliamentary democracy.

He was elected first president of Albania in 1925.  In 1928 he turned Albania into a Kingdom and appointed himself King Zog I, King of the Albanians.  He was not recognized by European royalty who looked down upon self appointed kings, but he was well regarded in the Turkish/Arabic world.

Zog relied heavily on loans from Italy to prop up the Albanian Economy.  His military was run by Italian officers.

In classic Albanian style there were 600 blood feuds against him, and he survived 55 assassination attempts.  His Son and Heir, Leka, was born in April 1939.  At the same time the Italians moved on Albania.  Zog cleaned the gold out of the Central Bank, packed up his wife, child and the cash and fled the country.  He spent the rest of his life living in faded grandeur as a King in exile.

juanandevaperon

The other was Juan Perón, thrice elected President of Argentina, husband to Eva Perón nicknamed Evita, star of the Rice & Webber Musical.

Perón was raised from the entrepreneurial classes in Argentina, with roots in Sardinia.  He was sent to Catholic boarding school and joined the military.  He enjoyed a successful career as an officer and was sent to Mussolini’s Italy to study mountain warfare, for which the Italian Alpini were famous.  He was in Italy in 1939 when Mussolini was invading Albania.

In Europe Perón closely observed the governing structures of Fascim, Military dictatorship, Communism and Social democracy and concluded that the latter was the best form of government.  He preferred social democracy to liberal democracy, a view I share myself.

For everyone who expresses positive opinions on Perón you will find three people who hate him.  Throughout his career he focused on three principles.  Government should be democratic, alleviation of poverty and dignity of work.  Again, I happen to be aligned with him on these.

His three presidencies were interspersed with periods of military dictatorship.  His life was frequently at risk and he had to flee the country and live in exile.  The capitalists hated him because he fought against the exploitation of workers.  The conservative Catholics hated him for passing laws permitting divorce and legalising prostitution.  The socialists and the communists hated him because they felt he was too supportive of the entrepreneurial and capitalist system.  The military dictators hated him as a successful military officer who would not back their coups d’état or support the rule of military Juntas.  All sides contending for rule accused him of corruption, living a life of luxury through embezzlement of the public purse.  Meanwhile he was loved by the people, because he fought for them.

Don’t get me wrong here, I know Perón was no angel.  He was anti-education and I have a major problem with that position.  He was in a constant war with third level institutions.  Slogans abounded on the streets such as “Promote democracy- kill a student” or “Shoes not Books”.  His politics made for some very strange bedfellows.  He was on good terms with Che Guevara and Salvador Allende.  But he was a realist about US involvement in the overthrow of Allende and support for General Pinochet.  He warned the Argentinian People that this could happen to him.  He was also accused of having an affair with a 13 year old girl, on which accusation he commented “13?  I am not superstitious”.

He did his best to steer Argentina down a middle path in the cold war, attempting to maintain relations with both USA and Russia and gaining favour with neither regime.  His motivation was to maintain Argentinian independence.

He made Argentina the strongest economy in Latin America, despite overt attempts by the USA to undermine his reform government.  But Perón avoided turning his nation into another Cuba, or Chile.

A complex politician it is interesting to compare his career with that of Zog, who was a perfect example of someone who profited from rule.  Perón worked all his life for his country, despite the hatred and criticism he faced.  I believe he will go down in history as a good politician and a true patriot and that history will remember him well.

He was desecrated in death, his mausoleum raided and his hands cut off with a chainsaw.  His ceremonial personal effects were stolen.

 

Roald Dahl 101

roald-dahl

Today is Roald Dahl’s 101st birthday.  If you want to celebrate the work of this genius then vaccinate your children and teach them to read.  Happy Birthday Roald.

Television :by Roald Dahl

The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set —
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.

In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.

Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink —
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?

IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK — HE ONLY SEES!

‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’

Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY … USED … TO … READ! They’d READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!

And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)

The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.

And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.

Happy Birthday Gerard Manley Hopkins

PeterRabbit8

It must be rough to be a poet of the scale and stature of John Ashbery, to have won every award worth winning, to rise to the very height of your profession and then to find each year that your birthday is best remembered for a master of your craft who died before you were born.  Hopkins was born on this day in 1844 and died in 1889.  Ashbery was born in 1927 and celebrates his birthday under a weight of Hopkins credits.

If that’s not bad enough Beatrix Potter was also born on this day in 1866 which is why Peter Rabbit gets the picture credit.  As a gardener of course I am no friend of Peter Rabbit, nasty large eared rat with a short tail that he is.  I’m with the Farmer on this one.

I love Hopkins because I think he was one of the first writers who grasped the song of word, how the word itself can craft the poem.  James Joyce brought this understanding to prose but Hopkins gave it to Poetry.  The power of words has increasingly been recognized in fields of study such as neurolinguistic programming and nominative determinism.  This poem is an excellent example of how he plays with the word sounds to capture the echo of birdsong through the wood.

The Woodlark; by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Teevo cheevo cheevio chee:
O where, what can tháat be?
Weedio-weedio: there again!
So tiny a trickle of sóng-strain;
and all round not to be found
for brier, bough, furrow, or gréen ground
before or behind or far or at hand
either left either right
anywhere in the súnlight.
well, after all! Ah but hark—
‘I am the little wóodlark.
. . . . . . . .
To-day the sky is two and two
with white strokes and strains of the blue
. . . . . . . .
Round a ring, around a ring
and while I sail (must listen) I sing
. . . . . . . .
The skylark is my cousin and he
is known to men more than me
. . . . . . . .
…when the cry within
says Go on then I go on
till the longing is less and the good gone

Tut down drop, if it says Stop,
to the all-a-leaf of the tréetop
and after that off the bough
. . . . . . . .
I ám so véry, O soó very glad
that I dó thínk there is not to be had…
. . . . . . . .
The blue wheat-acre is underneath
and the braided ear breaks out of the sheath,
the ear in milk, lush the sash,
and crush-silk poppies aflash,
the blood-gush blade-gash
flame-rash rudred
bud shelling or broad-shed
tatter-tassel-tangled and dingle-a-dangled
dandy-hung dainty head.
. . . . . . . .
And down … the furrow dry
sunspurge and oxeye
and laced-leaved lovely
foam-tuft fumitory
. . . . . . . .
Through the velvety wind V-winged
to the nest’s nook I balance and buoy
with a sweet joy of a sweet joy,
sweet, of a sweet, of a sweet joy
of a sweet—a sweet—sweet—joy.’

Happy Birthday Cat Stevens

cat-stevens-teaser-and-the-firecat-inside

1948 born Steven Demetre Georgiou, son of a Swedish mother and a Greek-Cypriot father.  His stage name was Cat Stevens.  I grew up listening to him.  When I learned to play the guitar it was to learn his songs.

His father was Greek-Orthodox, his mother a Baptist and he attended a Catholic school.  Always a man searching for the spiritual something that is very clear in his lyrics.  He found his own spiritual home in the Quran and is now called Yusuf Islam.

He has many great songs and great lyrics.  This one has an environmental message and asks a question we should never forget.  It reminds me of this quote:

Canada, the most affluent of countries, operates on a depletion economy which leaves destruction in its wake. Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”……Alanis Obomsawin of the Abenaki in “Who is the Chairman of This Meeting?” by Ralph Osborne, Toronto, 1972.

 

Where do the children play: by Cat Stevens

Well I think it’s fine, building jumbo planes
Or taking a ride on a cosmic train
Switch on summer from a slot machine
Yes, get what you want to if you want ’cause you can get anything

I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas
And you make them long and you make them tough
But they just go on and on and it seems that you can’t get off

Oh, I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air
Will you keep on building higher ’til there’s no more room up there?
Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?

I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

City

As a writer Poe is more about the macabre than about horror.  His skill is to paint brooding and ominous mental pictures replete with gloomy portent.  He explores the darkest recesses of our deepest fears and does it in style.

Born two years to the day after Robert E. Lee, Poe could, in different circumstances, have become a general on the Union side of the conflict.  He enlisted as a soldier in 1827 and was rapidly promoted to rank of Sergeant Major.  From there he bought out his enlistment as a soldier and entered Westpoint as a military cadet.  Poe did not graduate Westpoint.  Instead he had himself expelled on purpose, and pursued his writing career.

Robert E. Lee graduated from Westpoint the year before Edgar Allan Poe entered the college.  Both of them were artillery men.  Poe’s third volume of poems was published thanks to contributions from his fellow Westpoint cadets and contains a dedication to them.

Poe died at age 40, in 1849, a broken wreck of a man, probably from alcoholism. His family had a bad relationship with alcoholism.  For Poe this appeared to be exacerbated by the fact that the women he loved had a habit of dying on him.  His father abandoned the family with Poe was a baby and his mother died of Tuberculosis.  He was adopted by the Allan family and had a very up and down relationship of spoiling and over-discipline.  At age 26 he married his 15 year old cousin, Virginia.  She died after a five year battle with tuberculosis in 1847.  The darkness of his writing is a mirror of the demons that haunted his life.

 

 

The City In The Sea: by Edgar Allan Poe

 

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
in a strange city lying alone
far down within the dim West,
where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
resignedly beneath the sky
the melancholy waters he.

No rays from the holy heaven come down
on the long night-time of that town;
but light from out the lurid sea
streams up the turrets silently-
gleams up the pinnacles far and free-
up domes- up spires- up kingly halls-
up fanes- up Babylon-like walls-
up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
of sculptured ivy and stone flowers-
up many and many a marvellous shrine
whose wreathed friezes intertwine
the viol, the violet, and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
the melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
that all seem pendulous in air,
while from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
yawn level with the luminous waves;
but not the riches there that lie
in each idol’s diamond eye-
not the gaily-jewelled dead
tempt the waters from their bed;
for no ripples curl, alas!
along that wilderness of glass-
no swellings tell that winds may be
upon some far-off happier sea-
no heavings hint that winds have been
on seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave- there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
in slightly sinking, the dull tide-
as if their tops had feebly given
a void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow-
the hours are breathing faint and low-
and when, amid no earthly moans,
down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
shall do it reverence.