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

They have no lot in our labour.

Image result for english remembrance service

Each year on remembrance Sunday all over England, and throughout the former British Colonies, services are held for the fallen.  People sport the poppy they bought to support military families in times of need.  They recite the words of a dirge written in 1914 by Laurency Binyon, who was born on this day in 1869.

The words people always remember are the line “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old”.  You can understand the power of this line for those who saw their colleagues die on the field of battle.  Each year they return for the service and each year another one of their old mates has passed away, and they lurch towards the grave under the weight of age and infirmity.

It is a sentiment captured in “The Green Fields of France” lyrics:

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind,
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined,
And though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart you’re forever nineteen

Today though I am moved by another line in this poem : they have no lot in our labour of the day-time.  Some people might read this line as meaning “Lucky them to have escaped the drudgery of the working round – they got off.”

Not me.

I read this line through the Marxist lens that we are what we do.

If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people.”  Marx, Reflections of a Young Man (1835)

At the core of Marxism is the tenet that we should own our labour.  Capitalism is a system designed to wrest resources from the weak and accumulater them for the strong.  Capitalists steal your productivity for their enrichment.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the field of battle.  The rich men of the world use their power to bend politics to their will.  When this results in war it is the small, the weak, the uneducated who are sent to the front lines.  The small man has nothing to gain from war and everything to lose.  By risking his life in battle he risks all the coming years of his working life, all the output of that work, all the benefit for his spouse, his children, his grandchildren.  They have no lot in our labour of the day-time.  War is the sharp end of the capitalist system.

 

For the Fallen; by Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
there is music in the midst of desolation
and a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
they fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old:
age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
we will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
they sit no more at familiar tables of home;
they have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
they sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
to the innermost heart of their own land they are known
as the stars are known to the Night;

as the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
as the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
to the end, to the end, they remain.