Vienna

Klimt

In 2012 I was in Vienna for a four day business conference.  Gustav Klimt was born there on July 14th 1862 so everywhere you went they were celebrating his 150th birthday.  Any building with even a fleeting association with Klimt was open to the public.

I could have seen the greatest assembled volume of the works of this Symbolist, and frankly erotic painter.  He was criticized in his lifetime for work considered pornographic.

But I had to work, so I saw all the ads but never got to attend any of the exhibitions.  Now that I look back I realise I should have taken a half day sick.  Food poisoning, or a quick stomach bug, very believable.  Carpe Diem, why didn’t I carpe the flipping diem?

 

 

 

Peak Consumerism

Beaujolais_nouveau_wine

If you ask Irish people when they think consumerism was most out of control they will generally refer to the Celtic Tiger years of the early noughties, peaking in the property bubble of 2007 and the subsequent crash.

For me that was simply a repeat of the 1980’s.  My symbols of peak consumerism are Nouvelle Cuisine and Beaujolais Nouveau.

Nouvelle Cuisine was developed in France in the post war years in response to shortages of certain ingredients, but also in a quest for lighter, fresher and more elegantly presented food.  Nouvelle Cuisine attained its height of ridiculousness in the 1980’s when it reached the executive dining rooms of major corporations.  C-suite executives of the day were comparing heart bypass operations and it was clear that the culture of steaks, chips and pints after work was unsustainable.

Enter the Nouvelle Cuisine extreme version:  a fantastically expensive plate of up to a dozen ingredients presented like a work of art, but gone in two bites.

Nouvelle cuisine

Then, to go one further, we had the excesses of the Beaujolais Nouveau races.  Beaujolais Nouveau is a fresh wine, something to be consumed in the year it is made.  One wine critic described it as something unfinished, decadent and a bit naughty, like eating cookie dough.

It is a red wine served fresh and chilled slightly.  It is the perfect foil to nouvelle cuisine, new wine for new money.  Each year the producers set a day to release the wine, in November, and the races begin.  At the peak you would see helicopters delivering wine to restaurants in London, Concorde jetting it across the Atlantic to New York,  and a plethora of sports cars and private aircraft bringing caches to clubs all over Ireland and the UK.

Beujolais Nouveau was, and remains, an excuse to flash the cash for a fleeting fad.  Good wines cost hundreds of Euro because time is money and time in the bottle is required to ripen a claret or a port.  Beaujolais Nouveau costs hundreds because … loadsa money!  If you have it flash it.  Loadsamoney became a stock comedy character in the Harry Enfield show in the 1980s.  A barrow-boy become stock trader with no class but lots of cash.

In November 1984 nine Irish men died in the Beaujolais Crash in Eastbourne en-route to France to collect their stash.  On board were four journalists, a wine merchant, a restaurant owner,  hotel owner, hotel manager and the pilot.  For me that was the day when consumerism went out of control.

Stranger Children

ho-chi-minh

A friend of mine wrote a sci-fi story called Stranger Children based on the quote “Politics makes for strange bedfellows”.  She thought that strange bedfellows would make for even stranger children.  There is truth in that.  Some very strange situations have emerged from political couplings.  If it is strangeness you desire play on, if it is history you seek you will gain little satisfaction from this tissue of lies.

I digress; back to strange situations, and none stranger than the American relationship with a man born on this day in 1890 by the name of Nguyễn Sinh Cung.  In the course of his life and his travels the Vietnamese revolutionary leader claimed four different birthdays and dozens of names, aliases and nicknames, from 50 to 200 names.  To his own people he is fondly remembered as Bác Hó (Uncle Ho) or simply Bác (Uncle).

In the western world he is recognised by some as Colonel Saunders, and by people who know something about history as Hó Chí Minh.  Honestly he never worked in KFC, although he did work in the USA as a cook, and a baker and as a supervisor in General Motors.  That is possibly where he learned how to be a General.

Ho Chi Minh came to be recognised by the American people as the face of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  That was a strange war indeed.  The Americans refused to accept it was a war and tried to classify it as a police action, or technical support to defend the democratically elected government of South Vietnam against global communism.

John McCain, the Presidential Candidate, learned to his regret the very rocky ground on which you stand as a US Bomber Pilot when you are shot down over a country with which you are not at war.  He spent almost 6 years under house arrest in the 5 star Hilton Hotel in Hanoi, North Vietnam.  But he put his time to good use and he invented McCain’s Oven Chips, possibly inspired by Ho Chi Minh’s Southern Vietnamese Fried Chicken.

To the North Vietnamese, and to many in the South this was simply a war of independence.  Ho Chi Minh himself said that his loyalty was to independence and not to communism.  And this is attested to by what happened during WW2.

Ho Chi Minh helped the Americans to defeat the Japanese during the second world war.  He hoped the Americans, that bastion of freedom and democracy, would help the Vietnamese to shake off the colonial chains of their French occupiers after the war.  So in the 1940’s the USA and Ho Chi Minh were strange bedfellows.  Indeed the USA saved Uncle Ho’s life by treating him for malaria.  They saved his life so they could fight him later.  The OSS officers may also have given him the recipe for Southern Fried Chicken during this period.

The origin of the strange bedfellows quote is actually William Shakespeare in the Tempest when Trinculo, a shipwrecked sailor, beds down with Caliban, a beast, remarking “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows”.

 

What have we here? A man or a fish?
Dead or alive? A fish.
He smells like a fish, a very ancient and fish-like smell,
a kind of not-of-the-newest poor-john.
A strange fish!
Were I in England now, as once I was,
and had but this fish painted,
not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver.
There would this monster make a man.
Any strange beast there makes a man.
When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar,
they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.
Legged like a man and his fins like arms!
Warm, o’ my troth. I do now let loose my opinion,
hold it no longer: this is no fish,
but an islander that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt.

Thunder.

Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gaberdine.
There is no other shelter hereabouts.
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.
I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.

(crawls under gaberdine)

Weatherglaze

Monoyer

If I ask if you know about Ferdinand Monoyer I’m sure I will get blank looks.  Monoyer was born on this day back in 1836 and you have probably looked at and through variants of his work many times in your life.  He invented two major things in his field of ophthalmology.  Firstly he invented the unit of measurement of the optical power of a lens: the dioptre (or diopter for Americans).

Secondly he invented an eye test chart, properly called a Monoyer Chart.  You will know if you are looking at a genuine original Monoyer chart by two clues.  Firstly the largest letters appear at the bottom.  Secondly if you read from the bottom, first letter of each row is Monoyer, and he has inserted his Christian name at the other end of the line.

Monoyer’s eponymous chart lost the competition to become the standard of the industry to a chart developed by a Dutchman named Snellen in 1862.   This has been refined to become the Logarithm of the minimum angle of resolution and that mouthful is now called the LogMAR chart.

The title of this post “weatherglaze” was the name of the largest double glazing brand in Ireland in the 1970’s when I needed to get glasses at the age of 12.  It was routinely hurled as an insult to us bespectacled boys along with other terms such as “speccy four eyes” and “double-glaze”.  Glasses were vital for me to see the blackboard in school.  I wonder how many boys (and girls) failed to achieve their potential because they could not take the bullying and let their grades slip instead.

These days in the business world we talk a lot about “lenses” as a way of seeing things clearly, bringing data into focus by looking at it through the proper “lens”.  I spend many of my days pivoting data.  So it probably comes as little surprise that when I set up my own business I chose the name Lionsai, which is the Irish Language translation of “lenses” and my logo was based on the concept of using the right lens to focus on the correct target.

FINAL LIONSAI LOGO

We are what we do.

Change the World for a Fiver by We Are What We Do

In 2004 an organisation called WeAreWhatWeDo.Org published a book on how to change the world for a fiver.  At the heart of this philosophy is the concept of the “Parlour General, Field Deserter” so beautifully encapsulated by Marge Piercy (Happy Birthday Marge)

The Parlour General is also called a slacktivist.  Slacktivism is defined as: the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.

The Slactivist is the person who constantly forwards touchy feely motivational posts on social media, wears the French Flag and sticks “Je Suis Charlie” on their profile, tags posts with #MeToo or #IBelieveHer but never actually gets off their backside to do anything about these causes.

So today figure out the cause that is most important to you and ask “What can I do?”  Not on social media.  What can you actually do?  The answer today is nothing because you are in lockdown, but prepare for the day you can get out.  Then act.

 

To Be Of Use; by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

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.