The Seed Potatoes of Leningrad

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There are few stories so hear wrenching they will make me cry, but his is one of them.

I am not going to re-tell it, I will direct you to John Green’s excellent podcast here:

—–>Tetris and Seed Potatoes

During the winter of 1941/42 as many residents of Leningrad were dying EVERY MONTH as the total Americans who ever died in all wars ever.  Mostly they died of starvation.  Amongst this carnage a small and dedicated group of scientists protected a seedbank which has benefited humanity ever since.

In our world today do we find any sense of such self-sacrifice for the higher goals of humanity?

What can I do today to reverse the damage mankind has inflicted on the Earth?

 

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Earthrise

Earthrise

The photo of the Earth taken by Major William A Anders from the Apollo 8 capsule slingshoting around the Moon is called “Earthrise”

It changed the way we look at the world.  Captured in the lens are the lives, loves, dreams, hopes and worries of all but 3 of the entire human race, on that day, Christmas Eve 1968.

To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold – brothers who know now they are truly brothers.” ….Archibald MacLeish

Seen in this way, a delicate ark of humanity, an oasis of life in the vastness of space really makes you think.

What is to be gained by man waging war on man?  We should be working shoulder to shoulder to reach out to the stars.

How can we exist on such a vulnerable sphere and allow it to be polluted, abused, over-expolited and poisoned by our own activities?

Why do short term greed, selfishness, personal ambition and crass materialism drive a society which should be planning for the long term survival of the human race?

If you need a resolution for 2019:  work in what small way you can to reduce the impacts of mankind on Planet Earth.  Badger your politicians.  Reject plastics and chemicals.  Eat less meat.  Opt for energy from renewable sources.  Invest your pension in ethical funds.

You, Andrew Marvell; by Archibald MacLeish

And here face down beneath the sun
and here upon earth’s noonward height
to feel the always coming on
the always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving east
the earthy chill of dusk and slow
upon those under lands the vast
and ever climbing shadow grow

and strange at Ecbatan the trees
take leaf by leaf the evening strange
the flooding dark about their knees
the mountains over Persia change

and now at Kermanshah the gate
dark empty and the withered grass
and through the twilight now the late
few travelers in the westward pass

and Baghdad darken and the bridge
across the silent river gone
and through Arabia the edge
of evening widen and steal on

and deepen on Palmyra’s street
the wheel rut in the ruined stone
and Lebanon fade out and Crete
high through the clouds and overblown

and over Sicily the air
still flashing with the landward gulls
and loom and slowly disappear
the sails above the shadowy hulls

and Spain go under and the shore
of Africa the gilded sand
and evening vanish and no more
the low pale light across that land

nor now the long light on the sea:

And here face downward in the sun
to feel how swift how secretly
the shadow of the night comes on …

Seibo

Nagasaki

Born this day in 1884 Seibo Kitamura was the sculptor of the Nagasaki peace statue which is located in Nagasaki Peace Park, ground zero for the atomic bomb.

His right hand points to the sky from where the bomb fell.  His left is extended in a gesture of peace.  His right leg is in a meditative pose, reflecting the eyes, close in prayer for the dead. His left leg prepares to stand, to help the people.  A plaque on the statue reads as follows:

After experiencing that nightmarish war,
that blood-curdling carnage,
that unendurable horror,
Who could walk away without praying for peace?
This statue was created as a signpost in the
struggle for global harmony.
Standing ten meters tall,
it conveys the profundity of knowledge and
the beauty of health and virility.
The right hand points to the atomic bomb,
the left hand points to peace,
and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.
Transcending the barriers of race
and evoking the qualities of Buddha and God,
it is a symbol of the greatest determination
ever known in the history of Nagasaki
and the highest hope of all mankind.

— Seibo Kitamura (Spring 1995)
Nagasaki should never have been bombed.
When the Japanese commanders saw the devastation at Hiroshima on August 6th and confirmed that it was a nuclear weapon, they should have stopped the war.
Instead Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Chief of the Naval General Staff, estimated that no more than one or two additional bombs could be readied, so they decided to endure the remaining attacks, acknowledging “there would be more destruction but the war would go on”.  American code breakers read these signals and the order to drop a bomb on Nagasaki was given.
On August 8th the Soviet Union announced an end to their non-aggression pact with Japan and began invasion of Manchuria on August 9th.
Even after Nagasaki was bombed on August 9th it took 6 further days before the Japanese agreed a surrender.
I believe if wars were fought as envisaged by Erich Maria Remarque in All Quiet on the Western Front we would have far fewer wars:
Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting. (3.42)
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Tonight’s the night

Guillotine

Tonight’s the night.  Theresa May faces a no confidence motion in her leadership.  The UK parliament faces the vote on the Brexit deal.  The five years since David Cameron first promised the Brexit referendum come to a head tonight.

Westminster is imploding under the weight of imperialst bombast.  Clowns to the left of her, Jokers to the right, Theresa May is stuck in a limbo not of her own making.

I thinks she has done a wonderful job with a terrible hand of cards.  She leads a party split between Hard Line Brexiteers, disillusioned remainers and confused Euroskeptics.  She is reliant on the Lunatic fringe that is the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to prop up the Conservative majority in parliament.

Her opposition is lead by the very confusing Jeremy Corbyn who seems to stand against the interests of his core vote by supporting the Brexit.  But he wants to undermine any realistic deal of a Brexit that is workable for the British Economy because in addition to supporting Brexit he has to oppose Theresa May.

May herself started from a position of “Remain”.  Yet she is the only Tory who seems capable of delivering any sensible exit strategy.

To say that the entire omnishambles is like a scene out of the Office being led by David Brent would be an insult to David Brent.  His managerial capabilities are head and shoulders above anything exhibited in Westmister in the last few years.

It is on days like this we should remember the great words of Winston Churchill:

We shall go on to the end.
We shall fight in Felixstowe, we shall fight in the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confusion and growing strikes in the air,
we shall destroy our island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight each other on the beaches,
we shall fight each other on the stairs and landing,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills;
we shall fall asunder, and if, which I firmly believe may be the case,
this island or a large part of it were penniless and starving,
then the European Union beyond the seas, assisted and guarded by the British Fleet,
would carry in supplies and famine relief, and with all its power and might,
step forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old farts who voted to leave.

 

 

Carpe Diem

Born in the Consulship of Cotta and Torquatus (65BC) the poet we now know as Horace lived through the greatest era of Roman History.  In the year he was born Pompey Magnus was at the very height of his power.  He was fighting Tigranes in Armenia and Mithridates the Great.  Julius Caesar was Consul in Horace’s second year of life, and Cicero was consul in his third year.

He lived through the two Civil wars that defined the boundary between Republican Rome and Imperial Rome.  Too young to participate in the Civil War of Julius Caesar.  He found himself on the wrong side in the Octavian civil war at the Battle of Philippi (42BC) where he was on the losing side with Brutus and Cassius.

Luckily Horace was favoured by Maecenas, Octavians right hand man and an avid patron of the arts.  Horace became an Imperial court poet under Augustus.  He was in the inner circle during the creation of the Roman Empire.  He saw the young Octavian rise to become Princeps and then Augustus.

So, as it is your birthday, Happy Birthday Horace.  Seize the day!

 

Ode I-XI “Carpe Diem”; by Quintus Horatius Flaccus

Ask not Leuconoë for we never know
what fate the gods grant, your fate or mine.
Waste no time on futile Babylonian astrological reckonings.
Better by far to suffer what comes
whether Jupiter grants us more winters or if this, our last
is stripped away like those cliffs by the Tyrrhenian sea.
Be wise, mix the wine, life is short, temper your long term ambitions.
Time is envious of this moment, even as we speak: Seize the day, trust not to tomorrow.

Grandfather Africa

Tatamkulu Afrika translates from Xhosa as Grandfather Africa.  It is the nom de plume of Mogamed Fu’ad Nasif who was born in Egypt on this day in 1920.  His initial publications were under what he called his Methodist name; John Carlton.  This was the name given to him by his Foster parents in South Africa after his Egyptian father and Turkish mother died of the flu.

That would have been the global pandemic Spanish flu which took people in the prime of their lives and left behind the aged and infirm and the small children.

He went back to the land of his birth in WW2 and fought in the North African campaign, was captured in Tobruk.

After the war he moved to South West Africa, now modern Namibia, and became Jozua Joubert when fostered by an Afrikaans family.

In 1964 he converted to Islam and became Ismail Joubert.

He moved to Cape Town and was active in protests against the whitewashing of District 6 under the apartheid regime.  His Egyptian/Turkish heritage permitted Joubert to classify as a white.  He refused.

Grandfather Africa was given to him as an honorific, as the Indians named Mohandas Gandhi “Bapu” and “Mahatma”.  But he was not the pacifist the Indian was.  He was imprisoned along side Prisoner 46664 for 11 years for terrorism, so maybe we should say that his was a Chimurenga name?

Egypt, Libya, Namibia and South Africa, the name fits.

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Nothing’s Changed; by Tatamkulu Afrika

Small round hard stones click
under my heels,
seeding grasses thrust bearded seeds
into trouser cuffs, cans,
trodden on, crunch
in tall, purple-flowering,
amiable weeds.

of my lungs,
and the hot, white, inwards turning
anger of my eyes.

Brash with glass,
name flaring like a flag,
it squats
in the grass and weeds,
incipient Port Jackson trees:
new, up-market, haute cuisine,
guard at the gatepost,
whites only inn.

No sign says it is:
but we know where we belong.

I press my nose
to the clear panes, know,
before I see them, there will be
crushed ice white glass,
linen falls,
the single rose.

Down the road,
working man’s cafe sells
bunny chows.
Take it with you, eat
it at a plastic table top,
wipe your fingers on your jeans,
spit a little on the floor:
it’s in the bone.

I back from the glass,
boy again,
leaving small, mean O
of small, mean mouth.
Hands burn
for a stone, a bomb,
to shiver down the glass.
Nothing’s changed.

Poets and their legacy

Poets

Joyce Kilmer and Osbert Sitwell

Two war poets were born on this day.  Joyce Kilmer, born 1886, was a well known poet before he shipped for France.  He died in July 1918 at the 2nd battle of the Marne.  Best known for his poem “Trees” he has been widely quoted and as widely ridiculed.  His “War Poems” are paeans of sacrifice where he celebrates death and compares troopers to Christ on the Cross.  Well known but no longer well respected.  If you want to read his poetry you will not find it on this site.

Osbert Sitwell was born in 1892 and joined the war in 1914.  He began his poetry career in the trenches and his poems are anything but a celebration of that hell.  He went on to become a well known and highly respected writer.  Well connected in English society and inheriting a baronetcy himself, he moved in illustrious circles in his lifetime.

Today Kilmer is famous, a household name, although often parodied and mocked.  Sitwell, who has heard of him?  His name has faded.  A solid but unremarkable poet.

Fame is a fickle mistress.

This Generation: by Sir Osbert Sitwell

Their youth was fevered – passionate, quick to drain
the last few pleasures from the cup of life
before they turned to suck the dregs of pain
and end their young-old lives in mortal strife.
They paid the debts of many a hundred year
of foolishness and riches in alloy.
They went to the death; nor did they shed a tear
for all they sacrificed of love and joy.
Their tears ran dry when they were in the womb,
for, entering life – they found it was their tomb.