Lincoln was wrong

Gettysburg

I am writing this blog post from a house that was 23 years old when Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.  That imbues me with a sense of perspective in the history of that speech.  Like the walls of this building those words have endured the assaults of time and have embedded to become stronger.  They have transcended the fickle winds of fashion to become rooted in the fabric of society.

On this day in 1863 Lincoln delivered his speech.  In an age when speeches ran to many hours these words seemed curt to the attendees, who never even settled in to the subject before it was done and dusted.  The photographer at the event failed to take a picture of the president delivering his speech.  The speech was over before he was ready with the camera.  He managed to capture a blurred image of the President descending from the podium after concluding his delivery.

The Gettysburg Address is probably the best known speech in the modern world.   Generations of American children have memorized it for school recitals.  It is held up as a model for brilliant speech.  Short, to the point, not a wasted word, powerful and compelling in its call to the people to build a better future.

In one regard it is wrong.  Lincoln said “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here..”

 

 

 

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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.

How Green was my valley?

Aberfan_disaster,_October_1966

Last weekend we had ex-Hurricane Ophelia.  This weekend we are being battered by storm Brian.  The north Atlantic jet-stream is feeding us our annual diet of gales and storms to blow away the autumn leaves and cleanse the land for the winter ice.

It’s nothing new, for all the talk of climate change.  Perhaps we have made it worse, perhaps not.  Ireland experienced a stronger storm back in 1961 when Hurricane Debbie struck.

In 1966 it was relentless rain combined with unsafe practices of the National Coal Board (NCB) in Britain that resulted in the Aberfan disaster.

The NCB broke regulations when they placed a spoil tip from the coalmine on a hillside peppered with natural springs.  The tip then broke further regulations by being overused.  It should have been shut down but was not.  In Sept/Oct of 1966 South Wales experienced three weeks of almost relentless rain.  The combination of the rain from above and the springs below liquefied the spoil.

On the morning of Oct 21st, 1966 the children of Aberfan sat at their desks at 9am and were beginning the roll call.  It was the last school day before the mid-term break.  The coal tip slipped, liquefaction occurred and the wall of shale, stone and muck became slurry that flowed in a wave down the mountain.

The ‘dark glistening wave’ broke into the village of Aberfan and engulfed the school.  Half the students were killed.  Twenty eight adults and one hundred and sixteen children died.

The good news is that some of the senior managers in the NCB were promoted for their excellent handling of the PR side of the disaster.  They did trojan work supporting the future of Coal in Britain.  No employee of the NCB was ever disciplined for the breaches that caused the disaster.   Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“How green was my Valley then, and the Valley of them that have gone.”  Richard Llewellyn (1939)

Where was God? : by Ron Cook.

Where was God that fateful day
At the place called Aberfan.
When the world stood still and the mountain
Moved through the folly of mortal man.
In the morning hush so cold and stark
And grey skys overhead.
When the mountain moved its awesome mass
To leave generations of dead.
Where was God the people cried
Their features grim and bleak.
Somewhere on their knees in prayer
And many could not speak.
The silence so still like something unreal
Hung on the morning air.
And people muttered in whisper tones
Oh God this isn’t fair.
The utter waste of childhood dreams
Of hope and aspirations.
A bitter lesson to be learnt for future generations
But where was God the people cried.
The reason none could say
For when the mountain moved its awesome mass.
God looked the other way.

 

Happy Birthday Harry Hooton

Harry.jpg

Born in Doncaster in 1908 on this day.  He emigrated to Australia aged 16 under a migrant scheme run by the Dreadnought Trust.  From his earliest days, working as a farm laborer, he developed a strong empathy for the lot of the working man.  Later in life his politics moved away from unionism and socialism to anarchism.

It is Great to be Alive; by Harry Hooton

This is an obvious imitation of Walt Whitman, is it?
Well, and wouldn’t that be better than another in sickly rime?
Perhaps you would prefer as more exquisite
some other fellow’s footprints in the sands of time,
or the past perhaps present future of Eliot’s pleasant slime….
But this is not an imitation of anyone: listen to me, I am alive!
Whitman and Longfellow are dead; Eliot doesn’t know he is;
I am for the Great-not the great poet, no matter how true he is;
I say that every man alive is great, no matter who he is,
for it is great to be alive!

The lowest man on earth is a hero and a god with me:
Whoever he is, he is greater than any or all of his fellows;
Means more to me than all the crowned or bald heads of europe;
Cleaner than any dust from greece,
warmer than the bones in westminster abbey;
Greater by far than all that has been before him,
and dwarfed only by what is to come after him….
Whoever he is, he is the One on whose shoulders the world rests;
the One at whose command material empires rise in ministration –
Not some artist or philosopher or emperor, but any man.

What is his social value, his justification?
Well, what is life’s justification?
If he can neither work nor plan, fiddle nor rime,
if he can’t provide occupational therapy for sick psychiatrists,
if rulers ever learn from him to abjure war, and need no gunman,
there would still be justification for his existence, in his sheer existence.
For life, in the saint and sinner, sane and insane, wise and otherwise –
Is its own justification.

Every man is inferior to every other man-in some respects;
And every man is superior to every other man-in other respects.
We can’t live without holding someone else up,
and we can’t live without someone holding us up.
One man is just as good as another, in fact better –
And in fact better than a million men; because you can’t make world wars out of one man,
and that’s all you can do with the latter.
But every man is great only in what he makes, in his subject matter
In the only things that really matter.

The plumber can’t bake, the builder can’t plumb, and the architect has them both beat;
The three are awed by the mathematician, who defers to the man with the axe;
They all yield to the artist who accepts them with all that lives and breathes;
And the all go to work and war-and must accept the superiority of a lunatic who is mad in a world which is terrifyingly sane.
There is no man living who can not find on some one thing higher authority –
That is if we accept those terribly important people who string words together
and think themselves so much better than men who merely stick bricks together;
As we expect other people with similar theses,
such as elephantine labourers who would pull social theories and theorists to pieces,
and such as anyone who seeks to rule over the living, and is in that one fact-dead!

Well then, if there must be lords and masters,
let us rule matter with every man alive;
If we must have slaves, let us enslave machines.
Let us be gods, and selfish –
Let the prostrate worshippers of the past be someone else-ish;
Let us be, and be worshipped ourselves.
Let the painter forgive his painting,
the poet redeem his poem,
and the dead bury the dead…

My poems are revolutions, of the builders, the living great,
searching with god-like hunger new matter to animate –
And of cities steeled in silence, now growing articulate;
Of things, machines, our creatures, raching in lever and rod
to touch the hands of their creators, praying to us as god….
True it is I echo-the mighty shouts of these hordes;
Yes, and an imitator-of impetuous powerful words;
Plagiarist of Whitman, of all the Sons of Man –
For they have heard me in the future, as I do those to come –
Yet greater than Christ or Whitman, than ash from any tomb –
Greater than any history, than ink from any pen,
For you my poems scan,
who despair of your social value, who are despised by men:
You are alive, you are human-by life you are made divine!
You are the revelation-one mightier poem than mine!

Space Race

Sputnik

On this day in 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.  The USA woke up to the fact that the space race had begun, and they were not even at the starting blocks.

With the launch of Sputnik the Russians engineered what was called by Eisenhower “the Sputnik crisis”.  The Russians proved they had rockets capable of launching nuclear warheads and reaching the USA.  The payload of 83 Kilos was initially dismissed by the US scientists as preposterous.  They were planning on launching a sub 10 kilo package and did not have the raw power available to shift  such a large mass into orbit.

With the launch of Sputnik the world changed overnight.  The USA, which thought of itself as the premier power in the world, found itself in second place.

In response Eisenhower commissioned the creation of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  DARPA pioneered computer networking and led directly to the creation of the Internet.

At the same time he created NASA to take responsibility for space exploration from the Military arms, which were focused on development of warhead delivery systems.

In the United Kingdom the launch of Sputnik brought into sharp relief that the nation, once the workshop of the world, was now a technological backwater.  Great Britain did not have the capability to enter the space race.

But Outer Space; by Robert Frost (from ‘In the Clearing’ published 1962)

But outer Space,
At least this far,
For all the fuss
Of the populace
Stays more popular
Than populous

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn

I could write a lot about the biggest show in the USA down in Texas.  The American media should get an Oscar and a handful of Pulitzers for turning a storm into a thousand stories of human suffering.  They managed this disaster much better than Hurricane Katrina.  What you want is a low body count but powerful images of uprooted lives caused by homes being flooded or slabbed.  Plenty of affirming narratives of ordinary folk helping each other out, instead of those awful stories that were made up about the murders and rapes in the Louisiana Superdome.

Yes indeed cynic that I am I believe the US media organs learned good lessons about reporting from Louisiana.  At the same time we see a federal government that responded correctly, support without interference, Trump got this one right.

Also in the news Kim Jong Un just upped the ante by straddling Japan with a Missile.  That cannot sit.  Watch this space.

More importantly this is the birthday of a great poet.  He is the only person I have come across to date where cause of death was given as “Acute polysubstance abuse”.  Usually you just hear of “drug overdose”, but that’s for heavy metal rock stars, a poet demands something more…elegant, subtle, sophisticated?

Tamer and Hawk; by Thom Gunn

I thought I was so tough,
but gentled at your hands,
cannot be quick enough
to fly for you and show
that when I go I go
at your commands.

Even in flight above
I am no longer free:
You seeled me with your love,
I am blind to other birds—
the habit of your words
has hooded me.

As formerly, I wheel
I hover and I twist,
but only want the feel,
in my possessive thought,
Of catcher and of caught
upon your wrist.

You but half civilize,
taming me in this way.
through having only eyes
for you I fear to lose,
I lose to keep, and choose
tamer as prey.

Excuse my dust

MrsParker

Born on this day in 1893 Dorothy Parker, writer & poet is possibly best known for her famous wit.  Her one liners are sharp as a knife.  Lines like “A girls best friend is her mutter” or “The cure for boredom is curiosity, there is no cure for curiosity”.  Her wit developed at an early age when she lost her mother and her father remarried.  She refused to call her stepmother anything civil and referred to her as the housekeeper.

She joked that she married to cover up her Jewish background and avoid anti-Semitism.  She was an avid anti-fascist and became aligned with left leaning politics in the 1930s. She was blacklisted in Hollywood in the 1950s McCarthy era as a communist.

“Excuse my dust” was her suggestion for her epitaph.  When she died in 1967 she bequeathed her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After his death her estate passed on to the NCAAP.  In 1988 they claimed her ashes and erected a memorial garden to her in their Baltimore headquarters.

One Perfect Rose : by Dorothy Parker

A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet –
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
‘My fragile leaves,’ it said, ‘his heart enclose.’
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.