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.

Lockdown Week 1

Image result for phyllis mcginley

It has been nothing short of bizarre this week and reminds me a lot of the Phyllis McGinley poem below.  We now have the subject matter for a hundred such poems.  Phyllis was born on this day in 1905 in Ontario, but was not a Canadian.  There is a town called Ontario in Oregon, USA.  There’s a trick question in there for a table quiz!

I worked from home all this week, with a break on Tuesday which was St. Patrick’s Day.  The Irish national holiday passed free of parades, with pubs and restaurants closed.  Tourists stranded in Dublin by the rapid pace of events wandered empty streets like lost souls.

Our heating broke down.  We spent the day shuffling a hot air blower and an oil filled radiator from room to room to alleviate the cold.

The plumber did come and spent the day with us on Thursday fixing the system.  He was pursued about the house by Louise wielding anti-bacterial sprays and sterile wipes in case he had been repairing a heating system in an infected house.

The three kids are working/studying from home also.  Esha sat her first exam of the semester, remotely from her bedroom on Friday.  It’s at times like this that you recognise wants from needs; electricity, wi-fi, heating.

Today Jerry and I did the weekly shop.  A bizarre experience.  Supermarkets filled with socially distanced shoppers.  None of the usual friendly chat and greetings.  No touching.  Everyone super polite, standing back to let others pass by.  No rushing at the checkouts.

You know instinctively that all this distant politeness will come to a violent end if the supply lines dry up.  The most important thing today for goverments the world over is to continue to provide confidence to citizens that the food, and drink, will continue to arrive on the shelves.  A hint of panic and there will be blood in the aisles.

 

Daniel At Breakfast; by Phyllis McGinley

his paper propped against the electric toaster
(nicely adjusted to his morning use),
Daniel at breakfast studies world disaster
and sips his orange juice.
the words dismay him. headlines shrilly chatter
of famine, storm, death, pestilence, decay.
Daniel is gloomy, reaching for the butter.
he shudders at the way
war stalks the planet still, and men know hunger,
go shelterless, betrayed, may perish soon.
the coffee’s weak again. in sudden anger
Daniel throws down his spoon
and broods a moment on the kitchen faucet
the plumber mended, but has mended ill;
recalls tomorrow means a dental visit,
laments the grocery bill.
then having shifted from his human shoulder
the universal woe, he drains his cup
rebukes the weather (surely turning colder),
crumples his napkin up
and, kissing his wife abruptly at the door,
stamps fiercely off to catch the 8:04

Prune

Image result for pruned tree

Not the dried plum, the act of cutting back.  To prune.

to cut or lop off (twigs, branches, or roots)
to cut or lop superfluous or undesired twigs, branches, or roots from; trim
to rid or clear of (anything superfluous or undesirable)
to remove (anything considered superfluous or undesirable)

1400–50; late Middle English prouynen < Middle French proognier to prune (vines), variant of provigner, derivative of provain scion (< Latin propāgin-, stem of propāgō; see propagate)

This is the time of year to prune.  Prune your fruit trees.  Cut back on your finances.  Economise.  Review your insurance, your direct debits, your outgoings.  Choke off the losses.  Lose weight.  Focus on the framework, the fundamentals, review your career.  Springclean your home, clear out the built up dross.

In Chinese Feng Shui the rule is clear, if your career is stalled clear out your attic.

Slash your friends list on social media.  Kill off the lampreys.  This is the time to prune.  Slim down for the year ahead.

Do it.

Do it.

Do it now.

 

Mirror in February ; by Thomas Kinsella

The day dawns, with scent of must and rain,
of opened soil, dark trees, dry bedroom air.
Under the fading lamp, half dressed – my brain
idling on some compulsive fantasy –
I towel my shaven jaw and stop, and stare,
riveted by a dark exhausted eye,
a dry downturning mouth.

It seems again that it is time to learn,
in this untiring, crumbling place of growth
to which, for the time being, I return.
Now plainly in the mirror of my soul
I read that I have looked my last on youth
and little more; for they are not made whole
that reach the age of Christ.

Below my window the wakening trees,
hacked clean for better bearing, stand defaced
suffering their brute necessities;
and how should the flesh not quail, that span for span
is mutilated more? In slow distaste
I fold my towel with what grace I can,
not young, and not renewable, but man.

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.

 

 

 

 

If it bleeds, it leads.

Image result for contaminated water Irish Water gave us the stick, and we are beating them with it.

The press mantra of the title explains the conundrum.  We live in a world that is safer than it has ever been in the history of the world.  Yet fear rates have never been higher.  Crime rates may fall across the board but the reporting of crime continues to raise the threat levels.  If your local friendly rag can’t find a violent crime in your neighbourhood they will simply cast the net wider.  In our digitally interconnected global village there is no effort required to turn up a salacious, lurid or graphic violent crime to further terrify your readers.

If it bleeds it leads because if it bleeds it sells.  We are the authors of our own victimisation, our own anger, our own exploitation, because we give our money or our attention to the graphic, the lurid and the salacioius.

In Ireland water was managed by a plethora of small, under-resourced local authorities.; town and county municipalities, where budgets were allocated in a highly political manner by local councillors.  The approach for water was to make do and mend, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  If water became contaminated the goal was to fix it quietly.  What the people don’t know won’t harm them.  Above all:  Don’t upset the Elected Representatives.  As a water plant manager you could not afford to make the politicians look bad, because they held the purse strings.

Enter Irish Water, a nationally constituted public sector organisation given responsibility for all water management in the country.  For the purpose of this post I am ignoring the misguided attempt by the Government to install water meters in every home in Ireland, and the accusations that this was an attempt to privatise water in Ireland.  Those are issues that require entire books, not a blog post.

Irish Water is constituted in a very different way from the Local Authorities.  It was born of another public sector organisation; Bord Gáis.  When you manage the national gas network you need to be focused on safety.  Gas has the potential to explode.

As a result of the Gas governance framework Irish Water was furnished with the tools and the business culture of risk identification, risk reporting, issue reporting.  As Irish Water management take over the Local Authorities they need to change the culture from one of political expediency to one of “Safety First”.

The result of this cultural change is an explosion in the tracking of faults and the reporting of material breaches in standards.  The newspapers are flooded with lurid headlines, burst pipes, dirty water, boil notices, plant failures, activated alarms, contaminated beaches.

As our drinking water becomes safer and safer the fear level of contaminated water increases.

As the investments in waste water treatment plant begin to pay dividends the media become increasingly vocal on each spill of untreated sewage.

The reaction from the general public?  Irish Water is a disaster.  Things were better in the old days.

They weren’t.

 

 

Checkpoint

Image result for Garda checkpoint

Reading:

 

Recent recommendations 

The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell,

Spin – Robert Charles Wilson

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun – Peter Godwin – very topical just now as Robert Mugabe has just passed away – a journalists account of the collapse of Zimbabwe.

 

Current read 

Children of Earth and Sky – Guy Gavriel Kay  (Loving it)

 

Next reads in my TBR pile

In a Glass Darkly – Sheridan Le Fanu

American Pastoral – Philip Roth

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

Listening:

The Teachers Pet Podcast

5 Day

This American Life 388:  The Rest Stop

Blindboy Podcast: Soss Potion

Science VS:  The Abortion Underground

 

Watching:

Game of Thrones is over. Do I deleted it from the Sky Box now?

Peaky Blinders

Star Trek Discovery

Lord of the Rings – Movies – Again

 

Playing:

Sniper Elite 4

 

Projects:

Integrated Assurance Management System

Corporate Planning Tool

Selling in Tipperary and Buying in Cork

 

Kids:

Jerry offered an MPhil with TUD in Aerobiology, Atmospheric monitoring and Environmental Sciences:  Fully funded and sponsored by EPA.  Booked into the Point for accomodation.

Esha started 3rd year Elec Engineering in UCC on a WIT scholarship for tuition from Intel.  In a house share in Cork.

Gavin started 1st year Engineering in UCC staying in Deans Hall residence.

 

Fitness:

Rudely healthy but terribly unfit.  Friday lunchtime yoga classes.  Fitbit is broken, but it’s the free one Jerry gave me.

 

Politics:

Still all Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.  UK parliament is prorogued by Boris Johnson the PM.  Prorouge is the word of the year.  Irish parties are pretending they don’t want an election to protect the stability of the country at this sensitive juncture.  In reality they have nothing to gain and the Dáil appears to operate more efficiently with a minorty party in power than it does with a majority.

Greta Thunberg just sailed to the USA for Climate Action.

Donald Trump sent Mike Pence to Ireland to bump his re-election campaign.  Pence insulted the Irish Goverment, many times.  Do Irish American Republican voters even care?

When I read this back in years to come I hope Greta Thunberg is ascendant and nobody much remembers Trump, Pence or Johnson.

 

Car:

I need an oil change.  Driving on an amber light.  Renault megane dynamique 1.4 diesel 131 TN One short of the number of the beast.

 

Louise:

Watching masterchef Australia.

 

Cat:

Likes cheese.  Also likes mice.

 

Sporting Highlights:

Ireland Rugby team are No. 1 in the world rankings.  World cup begins Friday week.

Liverpool lead the Premier League with 4 wins from 4 matches.

Dublin play Kerry on Sunday (again) for 5th Sam Maguire in a row.  The last game was a draw.

 

Poem that sums up my life right now:

Begin; by Brendan Kennelly

Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of the light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

Image result for cork docks