The Cabbage Farmer

Image result for gone to grow cabbages sign

Emperor Diocletian began his reign as ruler of Rome on November 20th 284 AD.  In 305 AD he did the unthinkable for a Roman Emperor; he retired.  He expressed a desire to live in his estate and grow cabbages.  He was very proud of his cabbages.  The modern Croatian town of Split is centred on the villa of Diocletian.

Diocletian rose to power in the “Crisis of the 3rd Century” when Rome was falling apart as one general after another competed for the top job.  Diocletian established a system called the Tetrarchy, four rulers, as a means to stabilise the empire.

Both Eastern and Western Empire had a senior Augustus and a junior Caesar.  His new system worked successfully until the rise of Constantine the Great, who became another Augustus, founding New Rome in Byzantium, renamed Constantinople, and now Istanbul.

Diocletian was the only Emperor I know of to retire.  Emperors died in office, were assasinated or forced to abdicate.  The only other Roman I can think of who retired, without being forced to leave, was Sulla.  In 78 BC Lucius Cornelius Sulla astoundingly retired from his Lifetime Dictatorship to write his memoirs and live a life of luxury on his country estate.  His departure from power is celebrated as his moment of ultimate glory in the verse from Byron below.

That Diocletian retired was a mark of his commitment to peaceful succession.  The ultimate failure of his system, within mere decades, underlines how difficult it is to have power hungry leaders give up the reins of power.  Democratic systems succeed only if they prevent a return to family dynasties.

Donald Trump likes to float the notion, from time to time, of a presidency for life.  Vladimir Putin has gone further and established one using some smoke and mirrors.  In North Korea the cult of the leader has entirely undermined socialist principles of meritocracy by establishing a 3 generation dynastic rule.

Great leaders are great until they go bad, and then they become really terrible.  Limit your leaders.  Give them a maximum time limit.  They may suggest a candidate to follow them, but don’t let them choose one.

 

From the “Ode to Napoleon Buonoparte”; by George Gordan, Lord Byron

VII

The Roman, when his burning heart
was slaked with blood of Rome,
threw down the dagger — dared depart,
in savage grandeur, home —
he dared depart in utter scorn
of men that such a yoke had borne,
yet left him such a doom!
His only glory was that hour
of self-upheld abandon’d power.

 

Growth and Death

Ferguson

Harry Ferguson was born on this day in 1884.  He was born into a world of horse powered agriculture.  Two great leaps forward occurred in agricultural practices during WW1 and then again in WW2.

Ferguson began his career in engineering with aircraft.  He was the first Irish man to build a plane and the first to fly a plane.  He moved from aircraft to tractors just before the outbreak of the Great War.  All through the war he was developing ideas for ways to attach a plough to the tractor.

In the early 1920s he presented his ideas on the three point linkage to that other great Irish engineer, Henry Ford.  Together they created the Fordson.  Ferguson went on to build his own tractors and incorporated his designs into David Browns and Massey Fergusons.

When the second great agricultural leap forward came during WW2 it was powered by tractors designed by Harry Ferguson.  His work revolutionised agricultural production and allowed for the radical improvements in output per acre that originated during WW2.  By the end of the war Britain was able to feed itself.

After the war these innovations were rolled out to the world and sparked the prosperity of the “Swinging Sixties”.

Harry Ferguson never saw the 1960’s.  He died at the beginning of the decade after years of legal battles with Henry Ford II over the illegal use of his patents.  The legal battles cost him half his fortune and all his health and was unsuccessful in restricting Fords use of his work.

If Ferguson represents an era of Growth we can see in the poem below that Williams has experienced an era of Death, Murder, Famine and Dictatorship.  Born in 1936, on this day, Charles Kenneth Williams lived through those swinging sixties.  But he saw the rise of tin pot dictator after dictator pillage country after country in Asia, Africa, South & Central America.  Much of it carried out under the cloak of U.S. Foreign Policy.

Today on the news we see thousands of troops sent to the US Mexican Border.  Donald Trump is addressing voters for the upcoming mid term elections.  He uses the language of the demagogue.  He sounds like another tin pot dictator.  He says his troops will shoot at any migrants who throw stones.  He says that the Democrats want to invite “Caravan after Caravan” of migrants over the border.  When Republicans speak about Democrats they describe them as Communists or Socialists.  From here in Europe the Democrats come over as far right liberals.  We would see them as right wing extremists.  It is hilarious to describe a club of multi-millionaire politicians as socialists.  It is, frankly, an insult to socialism.

The future of the planet lies in sustainability.  Humans must live within our means or we will become extinct.  Politicians who, like Donald Trump, deny climate change are doing so because they are trading personal greed against public good.  They know the world is full of short term thinking greedy people.

The failure of democratic American style politics to plan beyond the next election is the major barrier to long term sustainable planning.  When Harry Ferguson was designing his first tractors during WW1 American saw itself, and was, the saviour of the Western World.  Roll the clock forward 100 years and today, 2018 the USA is the worlds greatest problem.

 

Zebra; by Charles Kenneth Williams

Kids once carried tin soldiers in their pockets as charms
against being afraid, but how trust soldiers these days
not to load up, aim, blast the pants off your legs?

I have a key-chain zebra I bought at the Thanksgiving fair.
How do I know she won’t kick, or bite at my crotch?
Because she’s been murdered, machine-gunned: she’s dead.

Also, she’s a she: even so crudely carved, you can tell
by the sway of her belly a foal’s inside her.
Even murdered mothers don’t hurt people, do they?

And how know she’s murdered? Isn’t everything murdered?
Some dictator’s thugs, some rebels, some poachers;
some drought, world-drought, world-rot, pollution, extinction.

Everything’s murdered, but still, not good, a dead thing
in with your ID and change. I fling her away, but the death
of her clings, the death of her death, her murder, her slaughter.

The best part of Thanksgiving Day, though—the parade!
Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Kermit the Frog, enormous as clouds!
And the marching bands, majorettes, anthems and drums!

When the great bass stomped its galloping boom out
to the crowd, my heart swelled with valor and pride.
I remembered when we saluted, when we took off our hat.

Happy birthday Stephen Spender

Ballyfermot

Classroom in Ballyfermot, Dublin, 1968.

A friend of W.H Auden and personally acquainted with the leading lights of the Bloomsbury Set, W.B. Yeats, Louis MacNeice, Raymond Chandler, Dylan Thomas, Sartre, Eliot and Virginia Wolfe.  Yet few have heard of Spender, who was a voice for social protest and the cause of the working classes.  Though less known than his contemporaries he had sufficient nous to be quoted by the likes of Ronald Regan.

Born on this day in 1909, happy birthday.

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum; by Stephen Spender

Far far from gusty waves these children’s faces.
Like rootless weeds, the hair torn round their pallor:
The tall girl with her weighed-down head. The paper-
seeming boy, with rat’s eyes. The stunted, unlucky heir
of twisted bones, reciting a father’s gnarled disease,
his lesson, from his desk. At back of the dim class
one unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream
of squirrel’s game, in tree room, other than this.

On sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare’s head,
cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.
Belled, flowery, Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map
awarding the world its world. And yet, for these
children, these windows, not this map, their world,
where all their future’s painted with a fog,
a narrow street sealed in with a lead sky
far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words.

Surely, Shakespeare is wicked, the map a bad example.
with ships and sun and love tempting them to steal —
for lives that slyly turn in their cramped holes
from fog to endless night? On their slag heap, these children
wear skins peeped through by bones and spectacles of steel
with mended glass, like bottle bits on stones.
All of their time and space are foggy slum.
So blot their maps with slums as big as doom.

Unless, governor, inspector, visitor,
this map becomes their window and these windows
that shut upon their lives like catacombs,
break O break open till they break the town
and show the children to green fields, and make their world
run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues
run naked into books the white and green leaves open
history theirs whose language is the sun.

Spender

Stephen Spender

War on Poverty

Change.JPG

These days we are used to hearing the USA declare war on unbeatable opponents.  At this stage the USA has lost the War in Vietnam, lost the War on Drugs, lost the War on Terror etc etc etc.

There was a time, back in the 1960’s when the USA was motivated to declare a more positive kind of warfare.  In January 1964 President Lyndon. B. Johnson declared a war on poverty.

More properly it led to the passing of the Economic Opportunity Act.  This built on measures introduced in the “New Deal” by FDR and established many structures that remain in place even today.

Sadly the War on Poverty in the USA was lost.  The republicans got into power and steadily eroded the foundations of the US Welfare State.  Wealth has increasingly shifted into the hands of a smaller and smaller elite of the super-rich.

Happy societies are those that offer the greatest opportunities to the lowest of the low, to enable them and encourage them to rise and better themselves.  Capitalist societies are not designed to deliver widespread contentment.  They are focused on the exploitation of the masses for the gratification of the few.

Purely communist societies have largely failed because they are not able to compete economically with capitalist societies.

Managed economies, be they rooted in Fascism (eg Post War Spain), Socialism (eg Yugoslavia) or in tradition and religion (eg Saudi Arabia) are designed to protect a ruling elite at the expense of reform or progress.  While they can be initially decisive and dynamic they rapidly decline into stagnation.

The best societies are those with a centrist democratic political structure, representative government, rule of law and a market economy.  The very best societies are those with the most educated populations and the strongest female presence in senior industry and political roles.

 

To a Poor Old Woman; by William Carlos Williams

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

Comforted
a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

Why America needs Communism

Ignorance

One of the greatest victories in history is that of Capitalism over Communism. But by defeating Communism we have re-opened the door to the exploitation of labour by Capitalism. Communism kept Capitalism honest, in check, restrained. The Capitalist system had to prove why it was better as long as Communism offered a genuine alternative.

The great weapon of Capitalism was the middle class lifestyle, the American Dream; the property owning working man and his wife with a car, all mod-cons, educated kids, an annual holiday and a turkey on the table at Thanksgiving. This is the image that defeated Communism.

Communists could not own their property. They huddled in jerry built soviet flats, slogged to work through icy streets, squeezed into crowded trains, they queued for meagre supplies of bad quality food and waited on a list for two years to get a bad TV.

As long as Communism existed as a viable solution there was pressure on Capitalists to demonstrate that their system offered significant advantages to the workers.  Once Communism was defeated this pressure was removed from Captialists. They don’t have to ensure that the American Dream is there for everyone. Why should they? Why should they be short of another racehorse, or Ferrari, just so their workforce can upgrade their car this year? Those workers have nowhere to go, no ideology to follow other than Capitalism. So Capitalists can now take what they want.

This is exactly what is happening in the workplace. Jobs are being “hollowed out”. Instead of employing an expert on $100,000 p/a you break the job down to components. The expert is replaced by two “graduate trainees” each earning $30,000 for a huge saving to the employer. In the same way that 19th Century carpenters were replaced by single task operators we now see high skill middle class jobs simplified into tasks that are filled by inexperienced hires with one weeks training.

A family can live the American dream if one spouse earns $100,000 p/a. Reduce that to $30,000 and the dream is over. You need both parties out working, and maybe a second job to pay for childcare. Suddenly the college fees for the kids become a problem. But so what, they won’t find high skill jobs when they qualify in any case!

Best of all, if they do go to college, the banks will tie them into student loans that will enslave them to the Capitalist system for the rest of their lives. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the 21st Century Serf, the post-modernist Peasant, the indentured servant of the Capitalist System.

So the paradox is this. If you really value Mom, Apple Pie & the American Way you need to fight hard to protect it and to promote it. The best way to save the American Dream is to defend the very things you reject, Anarchy, Communism, Socialism, Nationalisation of industry, Public Ownership, hard line Unionisation. By defending the rights of the socialists you ensure that the Capitalists compete for hearts and minds by delivering the benefits of Capitalism to the masses and not just to those at the top.