The history of my stupidity

Clamped

In a week when I injured my leg jumping from a wall and went on to get my car clamped I have to celebrate my own humanity, the flaws in myself, my own stupidity.  I present a portrait of both myself and my car sporting immobility boots.

So I can have not better companion than Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish Nobel Laureate who was born on this day in 1911.  Born in what is today Lithuania in what was then the Russian Empire, but speaking Polish, Milosz has that quality common amongst writers who struggle between their national and linguistic identities.  You will see it in Irish, Indian and African writers who write in English.  The disassociation between language and race promotes a focus on the weight of words, how words can shape meaning and identity.

Milosz was happy to resolve his identity by a refusal to identify.  To the ire of various activists he refused to be either Polish or Lithuanian.

Milosz went on to become a citizen of Nazi Poland.  He refused to become a supporter of the short lived Warsaw uprising, holding to his determination of what he was not.

Then he was a comrade of Stalinist Russian Poland and eventually became the polar opposite; a citizen of the United States of America.

As to my own stupidity….volumes could not cover it.  I could fill a library.

The history of my stupidity; by Czeslaw Milosz

The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.

Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness,
like the flight of a moth which, had it known,
would have tended nevertheless toward the candle’s flame.

Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety,
the little whisper which, though it is a warning, is ignored.

I would deal separately with satisfaction and pride,
the time when I was among their adherents
who strut victoriously, unsuspecting.

But all of them would have one subject, desire,
if only my own — but no, not at all; alas,
I was driven because I wanted to be like others.
I was afraid of what was wild and indecent in me.

The history of my stupidity will not be written.
For one thing, it’s late. And the truth is laborious.

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Visions of War

Yesterday the USA dropped the largest ever non-nuclear weapon ever used, the GBU-43/B.  They dropped this massive piece of ordnance in a cave system in Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.  The stated intent was to deny a system of caves and tunnels to ISIS fighters.  A truer intention is Donald Trump flexing his muscles for the Russians and the Chinese to show he is a serious military threat.  But that too is secondary, because his primary audience is the American people.  I’m sure the people of the USA feel a little bit safer today knowing that several miles of caves in Afghanistan have been destroyed.  (That last sentence is called sarcasm)

Today I have three images for you, all stolen from the Guardian photos of the day.  Image 1 is of US troops marching in step at a NATO rally in Poland.  Hey Mr Putin, look at those gung ho young American boys, marching in neat lines.  We have big bombs too.  Boo Yah!

BooYah

The second photograph is from further east, in the city of Mosul, Iraq.  The smart uniforms and the neat lines of troops give way to the true face of war.  A man pushing his daughter through a blasted landscape in a wheelchair.  It is pathetic.  As you sit down to your Easter Sunday dinner spare a thought for what awaits this family on their table.  What did he do to deserve this fate?

Al-Abar

The final image is of a pretty girl taking a selfie in a field of flowers.  It could almost be in Holland, with the bright blossoms in neat lines, except for the fact that the girl in question has a machine gun on her back.  Nir Yitzhak is a kibbutz on the border of Israel with the Gaza strip.  If ever there was an image of the absurdity of war this is it.  Page down to a war poem by Yeats!

Nir Yitzhak

On being asked for a War Poem : By William Butler Yeats

I think it better that in times like these
A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;

He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

 

 

 

War on drugs

pervitindose

 

The early successes of the German forces in WW2 were, in large part, due to drug use by the troops.

In the 1930’s amphetamines and methamphetamines were widely available over the counter in Germany. When the German army invaded Poland in 1939 some troops used a drug called Pervitin to stay alert and awake. Wehrmacht doctors recognised the value of the drugs in the short term and recommended them to high command. They were issued widely, but particularly to the troops most crucial to the Blitzkrieg tactics ; the tank crews and aircrews.

The allies were astounded at the pace and speed of the German advance from the Ardennes to Dunkirk.   The famous panzer commander Heinz Guderian said to his troops “I needed you to stay awake for 3 days, you did it for 17.”

OK 17 days is a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is valid. Each night as the French defenders lapsed into sleep, cradling their daily ration of a bottle of red wine, the Germans kept moving forward. Methamphetamines have a number of effects on the human body. As well as keeping you alert and awake they reduce the need for food (pretty handy side benefit for soldiers) and they make you fearless, and more aggressive. It turns regular soldiers into super-troopers.

Mission after mission the Stukas kept bombing, the M-109’s kept strafing and the panzers kept rolling forwards.

The downside of drug use is what happens in the longer term. A short fast campaign, such as that in France in 1940, was perfectly suited to drug use. In longer, drawn out actions the benefits of drug use become counterproductive. As a result the drugs didn’t work on the Russian front.

In wartime military advantages tend to be short term. They are quickly copied by enemies. During the Battle of Britain the British noticed that all the shot-down Luftwaffe aircraft appeared to carry a tube of Pervitin. Analysis determined what it was and the British began to issue similar drugs to their own pilots.

I often wonder how troops today are using highly sophisticated drugs to enhance performance, reduce fear, increase aggression etc. If you face a soldier in a hot situation, just how rational is he/she?

Teutonic Order

Teutonics

In terms of fame the Teutonic order of Knights tend to come third after the Templars and the Hospitallers.  Certainly in the Crusades of the Holy Lands they maintained only a modest presence.

The key focus for the Teutonics was the pagan tribes of the Baltic in the areas now populated by Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Russians and Finns.  Their mission was to bring these peoples to God and they did this at the point of a lance.

Understandably the Baltic tribes did not just lie down and accept their fate.  The Northern Crusades were long, drawn out, bitter affairs.  Progress was measured in yards.  Campaigning was possible in the normal Spring/Summer season when grass was available to feed horses.  In a quirk of climate much of the fighting took place in the winter.  Frozen rivers and lakes in this area of the world make veritable highways through the dense forest and scrub.

So it was that in the winter of 1336 a force of Teutonic Knights besieged the Samotigian hill fort of Pilénai.  Accounts hold it that the defenders of the fort alone numbered 4,000 not counting women and children.  The Teutonic Knights must have numbered many thousands because the inhabitants of Pilénai realised that they could not defend themselves from the besieging army.

In a grand gesture of defiance the Lithuanians set fire to their own fort to deny it to the Crusaders.  Then, on this day, Feb 25th 1336, they committed what is the largest mass suicide in history.

 

A Song of Suicide; by Robert William Service

Deeming that I were better dead,
“How shall I kill myself?” I said.
Thus mooning by the river Seine
I sought extinction without pain,
When on a bridge I saw a flash
Of lingerie and heard a splash . . .
So as I am a swimmer stout
I plunged and pulled the poor wretch out.

The female that I saved? Ah yes,
To yield the Morgue of one corpse the less,
Apart from all heroic action,
Gave me a moral satisfaction.
was she an old and withered hag,
Too tired of life to long to lag?
Ah no, she was so young and fair
I fell in love with her right there.

And when she took me to her attic
Her gratitude was most emphatic.
A sweet and simple girl she proved,
Distraught because the man she loved
In battle his life-blood had shed . . .
So I, too, told her of my dead,
The girl who in a garret grey
Had coughed and coughed her life away.

Thus as we sought our griefs to smother,
With kisses we consoled each other . . .
And there’s the ending of my story;
It wasn’t grim, it wasn’t gory.
For comforted were hearts forlorn,
And from black sorrow joy was born:
So may our dead dears be forgiving,
And bless the rapture of the living.

 

Milkageddon

Churns

The European Milk Quota system ends today.

First introduced in April 1984 under the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) the Milk Quota has stabilised (or some say stagnated) dairy produce production for 30 years.  This has helped to protect dairy farming incomes, especially for smaller producers.  The measure was to protect the small farmer.

The big dairy companies all over Europe have been gearing up for the explosion in production that is in the offing.  They will be driving sales of dairy products into non-traditional markets.  Have you ever noticed that Chinese and South-Eastern Asian cuisine uses no milk, cream, cheese or butter?  Watch that space!

To win the international game the Irish Dairies need to ramp up production as fast, or faster than their counterparts in countries like Denmark, Poland, UK and France.

In the last year and more, the savvy and efficient Dairy farmer has been gearing up for the end of the quota in a number of ways.

Herd management for instance;  calves are allowed to feed from the cows, production milking is restricted to one milking per day, excess heifers are kept calf-less for longer to keep them dry.  Over quota milk has often ended up in slurry pits.

In the last week every storage container has been filled to bursting point to hold as much production as possible for midnight on 31st March.

In terms of farm management, the larger farmers have been assembling larger dairy platforms accessible to their milking facility, by buying and renting any land adjacent to their parlour.  At the same time they are developing winter feed stocks by acquisition of suitable hay and silage production acreage.

Within the dairy itself they have been investing in new – high intensity – milking equipment.  Automated feeding and milking systems.  Computer databases of the herd, recording age, weight, production, feed regimen, medical history, pedigree, behaviour etc.

The dairy farm of today is a high intensity industrial plant.

It is a long way from the 40 acre mixed farmer who kept a half dozen cows and delivered a couple of churns to the creamery every other day.

But when you have thousands of acres of countryside managed by a handful of industrial farmers, what do you lose?  Community?  Poverty?  A vibrant countryside population?  A low income trap?  Truth is, we will see a lot more cows and a lot less people.  That can make cheap milk a very expensive commodity.

The Sands of Dee: by Charles Kingsley

“O Mary, go and call the cattle home,

And call the cattle home,

And call the cattle home

Across the sands of Dee”;

The western wind was wild and dank with foam,

And all alone went she.

The western tide crept up along the sand,

And o’er and o’er the sand,

And round and round the sand,

As far as eye could see.

The rolling mist came down and hid the land:

And never home came she.

“Oh! is it weed, or fish, or floating hair–

A tress of golden hair,

A drownèd maiden’s hair

Above the nets at sea?

Was never salmon yet that shone so fair

Among the stakes on Dee.”

They rowed her in across the rolling foam,

The cruel crawling foam,

The cruel hungry foam,

To her grave beside the sea:

But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home

Across the sands of Dee.