Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Summer in the country - part ten.

Post 589 – Undoubtedly, the greatest event of the summer was the threshing season, which I think of as the 'Thanksgiving' of its day. Here, the neighbors always gathered to help each other. The young and the old worked in harmony to the rhythmic drone of the threshing machine that was driven by a long leather belt harnessed to a steam engine. My grandfather’s threshing was a one-day event but for some others, like my cousins, the Harts, the threshing took two or three days to complete. I particularly remember having lunch with the men in Hart’s kitchen, the turf fire blazing, the fresh baked soda-bread, the thick slices of crispy fried bacon, the big mound of boiled potatoes laid out on a sack in the middle of the table, the jugs of buttermilk, and of course, the storytelling. I always felt very big and grownup to be included. Orange squash and bottles of stout were in abundance at the end of the day.

My father was a “machine man” when he was young. He went about the country in the 1920s with his family’s threshing machine, renting it out for a day here, a few days there. All he had to do was to make sure the machine arrived on time in good working order and collect the money (sometimes in gold sovereigns!) when the engagement was finished. He said the machine man was always treated with great respect and he seldom was allowed to do any actual physical work. Instead, he was plied with food and drink and, if he was to be believed, had frequent adventures with the daughters of the farmers he was working with – an ideal job for a good-looking young man who hadn’t as yet any thoughts of settling down. In those days, the threshing was often followed by a barn dance to celebrate another successful harvest – a custom that had largely died out by the time I came along. Probably just as well, as my mother used to talk about some local lads who came to these dances wearing hob-nailed boots with the sole intention of breaking through the barn floor with their “dancing.”

Once the threshing was over, the hay barns were full of loosely packed straw that had just come off the conveyor belt and hadn’t yet had time to settle. I loved to climb up to the top of the barn and then somersault from the rafters, disappearing into the fresh straw like diving into the ocean. It was usually quite a challenge to claw my way out so I could do it over again. The threshing season was usually the end of my summer stay as my parents arrived shortly afterwards to drive me back to Kilkenny, where we lived at that time.

I remember it all as a very free and happy time. Life was good and I hope the same is true for you and yours this holiday season. I wish you all good health, the joy of family, the gift of friends this Christmas, and the best of everything in 2011.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stuff you may not know...

Post 588 - Chief Executive magazine's CEO Confidence Index, the nation's leading monthly CEO Confidence Index, increased 14.7 points (14.4 percent), rising to 102.1 following the results of the November elections. All five components of the index showed double-digit gains in November.

Check my math - A clunker that travels 12,000 miles a year at 15 mpg uses 800 gallons of gas a year. A vehicle that travels 12,000 miles a year at 25 mpg uses 480 gallons a year. So, the average Cash for Clunkers transaction will reduce US gasoline consumption by 320 gallons per year. The government claims 700,000 vehicles were taken off the road, so that's 224 million gallons saved per year. That equates to a bit over five million barrels of oil. Five million barrels is about five hours worth of US consumption. More importantly, five million barrels of oil at $70 per barrel costs about $350 million dollars. So, we paid $3 billion of our tax dollars to save $350 million. Bottom line, we spent $8.57 for every dollar we saved. I’m hoping the government will do a better job with our health care, though.

In 2007, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley tried to estimate just how much information had been produced in the previous year. Their answer was five exabytes, equivalent to almost 40 times the contents of the Library of Congress.

An associate and friend of Thomas Edison, Edward Johnson, is recognized as the first person to put electrified lights on a real Christmas tree. It happened in 1882, just three years after the incandescent light bulb was invented. Johnson was an executive of the Edison Illumination Company of New York City. Christmas trees before 1882 were displayed in homes with lighted candles - many tragic fires resulted from this custom. Edward Johnson hand-wired 80 red, white and blue hand-blown bulbs and strung them around a rotating evergreen tree. To quote Johnson from a letter sent to New York newspapers, "Electric trees will prove to be far less dangerous than the wax candle parlor trees." In fact, those first bulbs became very hot and were nearly as dangerous as the candles they were replacing. Still out of range for most American families to purchase, Edison's Christmas tree lights did not immediately catch on. It would take decades for affordable lighting to become available to most Americans.
In 1917, a 15-year-old boy named Albert Sadacca had a "light bulb" experience. Sadacca's family owned a novelty store selling electrified wicker bird cages with lighted imitation birds. Sadacca suggested to his parents that they begin making electric lights for Christmas trees. After a slow first year, the New York City novelty store grew into NOMA Electric Company and quickly became the largest Christmas lighting company in the world.
According to the National Electrical Contractors Association, the bladed wall plug that we use today was actually a development of a device that was originally used to facilitate the interconnection of strings of Christmas lights.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Repelled by Metal, a poem by Roger McGough.

Post 587 - Roger Joseph McGough CBE (born 9 November 1937) is a well-known English performance poet. He presents the BBC Radio 4 program Poetry Please and records voice-overs for commercials, as well as regularly performing his own poetry. He is a Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University and is a Vice President of the Poetry Society. McGough was responsible for much of the humorous dialogue in The Beatles' animated film, Yellow Submarine, although he did not receive an on-screen credit. McGough won a Cholmondeley Award in 1998, and was awarded the CBE in June 2004.He holds an honorary MA from Nene College of Further Education; he was awarded an honorary degree from Roehampton University in 2006 as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of Liverpool in 2006. He was Fellow of Poetry at Loughborough University from 1973 to 1975 and Honorary Professor at Thames Valley University in 1993. In 2005, Random House published his autobiography, Said And Done.

He once said, "Yes, you can feel very alone as a poet and you sometimes think, is it worth it? Is it worth carrying on? But because there were other poets, you became part of a scene. Even though they were very different writers, it made it easier because you were together."

Repelled by Metal by Roger McGough.

I don’t drive I’m afraid.
Never had the inclination or the need.
Being antimagnetic, I am repelled by metal
And unimpressed by speed.

Nor am I being ‘holier than thou’.
Thou are a godsend to be candid
You with the car and the welcoming smile
Without your lift I’d be stranded.

And it’s not that I dislike cars
Though noisy and dangerous I dare say
Monet-eaters and poison-excreters, okay
But I don’t dislike cars, per se.

It’s just that I know my limitations.
I’d be all thumbs behind a wheel.
Don’t laugh. Could you park a poem
In a space this small? Well, that’s how I feel.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Consider this.

Post 586 - Not fully settled yet in the new house but getting there. In the meantime, consider this:

In Australia, all swim teams must reserve one place for asthmatic athletes, a stipulation invoked after the rambunctious Dawn Fraser stormed through world swimming in the 1960s despite her affliction.

A Colorado man thinks he's found a way to protect your private parts from unwanted radiation and government peeping at airports. Jeff Buske of Larkspur is selling tungsten-lined underwear online, with fibers of the X-ray-repelling material strategically placed over the crotch. He says he's seen his sales skyrocket, since the Transportation Security Administration began rolling out full-body scanners at various airports and conducting aggressive pat-downs of people who refuse to use them. Aren't we an innovative people, especially when there's money to be made!

In the US, it’s estimated that on an annual basis:
• 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper are used…
• this results in 15 million trees being pulped…
• 474 billion gallons of water are consumed to produce the paper…
• 253,000 tons of chlorine are applied in the bleaching process…
• which uses 17.3 terawatts of electricity…

I guess WikiLeaks means the day is soon coming when our most private and candid communications will appear somewhere for everyone and anyone to read.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Solitude, a poem by Alexander Pope.

Post 585 - Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was an eighteenth-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He is the third most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson. Pope's education was affected by the penal law in force at the time upholding the status of the established Church of England, which banned Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting, or holding public office on pain of perpetual imprisonment. Pope was taught to read by his aunt, then went to Twyford School and to two Catholic schools in London. Such schools, while illegal, were tolerated in some areas. In 1700, his family moved to a small estate at Popeswood in Binfield, Berkshire, close to the royal Windsor Forest. This was due to a statute preventing Catholics from living within 10 miles of either London or Westminster. From the age of 12, he suffered numerous health problems which deformed his body and stunted his growth, leaving him with a severe hunchback. He never grew beyond 4 ft 6 in tall.

I came across The Ideal Book of Poetry during my recent move. It was part of my reading requirements for my first year of English at boarding school in 1949. Leafing through it, I remembered that this poem was one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it too.

Solitude by Alexander Pope.

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest! who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years, slide soft away
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day.

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mixt, sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Strange, but true!

Post 584 - I've been saving these up ..........

The safety of most chemicals used in mattresses - or any other consumer product - is simply unknown, because the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 considers all new chemicals safe until proven otherwise, and does not require companies to do any testing of their products. This means that companies such as Naturepedic, which markets non-toxic mattresses, are forced to pay to individually test nearly any component they want to include in a product. This drives up the prices of their products, making a healthy mattress a luxury only the wealthy can afford.

Anne McCartt, co-author of a recent report on older American drivers by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, pointed out that while highway deaths have dropped across the board, the decline in fatal crash involvement from 1997 to 2006 for drivers over 70 was much greater - 37 percent - than it was among drivers ages 35 to 54. Police data from 13 states also suggests that older drivers are involved less often in nonfatal injury crashes and in those causing only property damage. This confounds experts’ expectations that more old drivers on the road would lead to greater mayhem. It’s not clear why this hasn’t happened. “It probably has something to do with the cohort,” Ms. Hersman said. “Folks are more healthy, more active and more active drivers” - less likely to crash and more likely to survive if they do.

The Hindustan Times reported recently that a Nepali telecommunications firm had just started providing third-generation mobile network service, or 3G, at the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, to “allow thousands of climbers and trekkers who throng the region every year access to high-speed Internet and video calls using their mobile phones.”

In India alone, some 15 million new cellphone users are being added each month.

The U.S. government is currently borrowing $5 Billion dollars every single business day!

More than four Americans out of ten still think that Prohibition was the right way to go. What have they been drinking?

The UK's lowest ever recorded temperature in November was minus 23.3C recorded in Braemar, in the Scottish Highlands, on November 14, 1919.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Meditation at Kew, a poem by Anna Wickham.

Post 583 - As I'm moving house and home at the moment, my entries have been and will continue to be irregular until I'm settled again.

Anna Wickham was the pseudonym of Edith Alice Mary Harper (1884 -1947), a British poet with strong Australian connections. She was born in Wimbledon, London, and brought up in Australia in a rather disordered existence, mostly in Brisbane and Sydney. She returned to London in 1904, where she took singing lessons and had a drama scholarship at the future Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She pursued her singing in Paris in 1905 and married Patrick Hepburn, a London solicitor, in 1906. Unfortunately, the marriage was not a happy one. During the 1930s, she was well known in literary London but found it hard to get published. However, she wrote a great deal of poetry, much of which was later lost in the war. She took her own life in the very hard winter of 1947.

Anna Wickham, Meditation at Kew, 1921

Alas! for all the pretty women who marry dull men,
Go into the suburbs and never come out again,
Who lose their pretty faces, and dim their pretty eyes,
Because no one has skill or courage to organize.

What do these pretty women suffer when they marry?
They bear a boy who is like Uncle Harry,
A girl who is like Aunt Eliza, and not new,
These old, dull races must breed true.

I would enclose a common in the sun,
And let the young wives out to laugh and run;
I would steal their dull clothes and go away,
And leave the pretty naked things to play.

Then I would make a contract with hard Fate
That they see all the men in the world and choose a mate,
And I would summon all the pipers in the town
That they dance with Love at a feast, and dance him down.

From the gay unions of choice
We'd have a race of splendid beauty and of thrilling voice.
The World whips frank, gay love with rods,
But frankly, gaily shall we get the gods.

Monday, November 15, 2010

As the world turns....

Post 582 - Here are some items that caught my eye last week:

The Beaujolais Nouveau will be uncorked on Thursday, November 18th.

The Irish State will mark the 88th anniversary of its founding on December 6th.

USA Today reports that the number of federal workers earning $150,000 or more a year has soared tenfold in the past five years and doubled since President Obama took office.

By 2020, the U.S. will be spending $1 trillion a year just to pay the interest on the national debt. If nothing changes between now and then, a major catastrophe will surely be upon us.

According to the New York City Planning Department, 46 percent of New Yorkers in their 20s who moved to the city from out of state between 2006 and 2008 lived with people to whom they were not related, up from 36 percent in 2000.

A new federal report projects one in three American adults could have diabetes by 2050. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the number of Americans with diabetes may double or triple over the next 40 years. People with diabetes face medical costs more than twice that of those without the illness. The total costs of diabetes is about $174 billion annually. Currently, roughly 24 million Americans, or one in ten adults have the disease.

According to David Brooks, Howard Gardner of Harvard once put together a composite picture of the extraordinarily creative person: She comes from a little place somewhat removed from the center of power and influence. As an adolescent, she feels herself outgrowing her own small circle. She moves to a metropolis and finds a group of people who share her passions and interests. She gets involved with a team to create something amazing. Then, at some point, she finds her own problem, which is related to and yet different from the problems that concern others in her group. She breaks off and struggles and finally emerges with some new thing. She brings it back to her circle. It’s tested, refined and improved. The main point in this composite story is that creativity isn’t a solitary process. It happens within networks. It happens when talented people get together, when idea systems and mentalities merge.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Poem by e. e.cummings.

Post 581 - Edward Estlin Cummings, (1894 – 1962), popularly known as e.e.cummings, was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. He attended Harvard University, from which he received a B.A. degree and a Master's degree for English and Classical Studies. During his life, Cummings was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, Fellowship of American Academy of Poets, the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, and a Boston Arts Festival Award.

He once said that, "Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit."

Poem by e.e.cummings.

I thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(I who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings; and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
double unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Facts that interest me.

Post 580 - Here are some facts that interested me lately:

Nielsen reports teens sent or received 3,339 texts per month on average for the second quarter of 2010. Put another way, that's six texts on average for every waking hour. Teenage girls are even more active, sending 4,050 texts per month. The number of texts sent by teens in 2010 was up 8% from the year prior.

Hal Varian at Google reports that the average person online spends seventy seconds a day reading online news.

I read about someone who recently went to the Post Office to get a passport. After filling in an application, he wanted to pay for it by credit card but was told that the USPS doesn’t accept credit cards for payment of passport fees. He didn’t have any checks or enough cash with him, so he left that section of the Post Office, stood in line and bought a Postal Service money order, which he paid for with a credit card. He then took the money order back to the clerk and paid his passport fees. Is it any wonder that the Postal Service is losing money and wants to raise its prices as a result? Just another crippled giant that expects its customers to foot the bill for its inefficiencies.

CEOs in October were wary about the economy, but hopes for a better start to 2011 are rising. Chief Executive magazine's CEO Confidence Index, the nation's leading monthly CEO Confidence Index, remained flat in October, rising only 1.3 percent to 87.4. The Business Condition Index showed the largest percentage gain, rising 9.2 percent to 91.5. Gains in this component of the index are the result of a larger number of CEOs expecting to see the business environment and economy to show gradual improvement over the next quarter. While 50 percent of responding CEOs predict no change in the economy over the next quarter, 34.4 percent forecast gradual growth – an increase of more than 7 percent. The Current Confidence Index, a sub index that calculates CEO confidence in current employment, capital spending and economic conditions, fell to 56.2, a loss of 10.9 percent. In the survey, 76.8 percent of CEOs rate business conditions as "bad", 19.0 percent rated business conditions "normal" and only 4.3 percent rated current business conditions as "good."

The total net worth of the Walton family is $89.6 billion. All this wealth was created by a farm boy from Boone County, Missouri. Some people think this a very good thing, others view it as a very bad thing. I'm in the former group, as someone who emigrated here fifty years ago to benefit from this "land of opportunity." I'm curious to know where my readers stand and why. Any comments?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Tide Rises The Tide Falls, a poem by Longfellow.

Post 579 - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) was born in Portland, Maine, and studied at Bowdoin College. After spending time in Europe, he became a professor at Bowdoin and, later, at Harvard College. The rapidity with which American readers embraced Longfellow was unparalleled in publishing history in the United States; by 1874, he was earning $3,000 per poem. His popularity spread throughout Europe as well and his poetry was translated during his lifetime into Italian, French, German, and other languages.

The Tide Rises The Tide Falls.

The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveler hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.
Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.
The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveler to the shore.
And the tide rises, the tide falls

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sometimes, a poem by David Whyte

Post 578 - David Whyte is one of my favorite poets. He grew up in Yorkshire, studied Marine Zoology in Wales and trained as a naturalist in the Galapagos Islands. He's also worked as a naturalist guide, leading anthropological and natural history expeditions in various parts of the world. He's one of the few poets to take his perspectives on creativity into the field of work and organizational development, conducting workshops with many American and international companies. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest. I find he's always worth reading.

Sometimes by David Whyte

if you move carefully
through the forest

like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

that can make
or unmake
a life,

that have patiently
waited for you,

that have no right
to go away.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A summer in the country - part nine.

Post 577 - One of the most exciting events during my summer visit was going with my grandfather to the fair in the village of Campile. Here local farmers brought their animals to sell (mostly pigs as I remember) and the beasts and their owners all clustered around the village street for the best part of the day. The men ducked in and out of the pubs for a quick drink on a fairly regular basis and many were quite merry by late afternoon. This helped to liven up the commercial proceedings and resulted in noisy bargaining. Agreement on a price was followed by a spit on the hand and a handshake to confirm that the deal had been struck. Of course this then had to be celebrated by a visit to the pub once more. So one of the few times I saw my grandfather the worse for drink was when he returned from the fair, much to the disapproval of the women in the house. On Monday, August 26th 1940, the year before my visit, a German aircraft bombed the creamery at Campile and three local women were killed. It’s still not clear why this tragedy occurred.

Another exciting event in the village as far as I was concerned was the showing of movies on a very irregular schedule in a corrugated shed very near my uncle’s grocery store. Seating was set out on wooden benches that radiated back from the screen. The farmers who attended usually brought their dogs with them, and the dogs didn’t always get on as well as their masters. So, every now and then, a great noisy battle erupted beneath the patrons’ legs and the film would have to stop until peace was restored. This added some local color and quite an air of excitement and uncertainty to the proceedings. The door to the building moved on a big metal rail and made considerable noise when it moved back and forward to let people in or out. So there was no sneaking around without being heard and everyone turned to see what was happening whenever it rolled back with a noise like thunder. Since I had no money to pay for admittance, I joined some of the local lads throwing stones on the metal roof until we became enough of a nuisance that we were let in for free. As you can imagine, it was never a dull evening.

Another trip I really looked forward to was taking our corn to the mill at a place called Mulinderry so that the wheat could be ground into flour. This was a water-driven mill and it looked like a Constable painting. Like most other such adventures, it was usually an all-day affair to go there and back. My grandfather was pretty self sufficient as the farm provided his family with their own corn, barley, oats, flour, eggs, milk, meat, sausages, fruit and vegetables. He also had his own fowl and my aunt Stasia made the butter and bread. Fish were delivered every Friday, usually fresh mackerel caught earlier that morning by the fishing boats in Ballyhack nearby, and then brought around for sale in the back of a horse and cart. If fresh fish wasn’t available, we ate salted cod from the village shops instead. I also remember poaching salmon at night with my cousin, Matt Hart, on a neighbor’s land. We used a carbide underwater lamp to attract the fish to the river bank and then forked them out with a big Neptune-like spear. This was a very adventurous escapade as the word was that the neighbor had been known to chase after poachers with a shotgun. And so the potential danger sharpened the pleasure of the evening’s pastime considerably.

More later

Monday, October 25, 2010

After the sale is over.

Post 576 - "One of the surest signs of a bad or declining relationship is the absence of complaints by customers. Nobody is ever THAT satisfied over an extended period of time," according to Theodore Levitt, who was the editor of the Harvard Business Review and was considered one of the world's greatest marketing experts.

While many of us cringe at the thought of our customers and clients complaining about our products and services, those complaints are, in reality, the lifeblood of our business relationships. Consider these findings from McKinsey, the global consulting firm:

* Customers who have major problems but don't complain about them have a re-purchase intention rate of about nine percent.

* Those who do complain, regardless of the outcome, have a repurchase intention rate of approximately 19 percent.

* Customers who have a complaint resolved have a repurchase intention rate of 54 percent.

* Customers who have their complaints resolved quickly have a repurchase intention of 82 percent.

Note that simply feeling comfortable enough to complain more than doubles repurchase rates - and further note what a tremendous opportunity results when customers can quickly resolve issues that bother them. Levitt points out that customers are either not being candid or haven't been contacted when they don't complain - probably both. An absence of candor reflects the decline of trust and the deterioration of relationships. Impaired communication is both a symptom and cause of trouble. Bad things accumulate. Things fester and get worse. When they finally erupt, it's usually too late or too costly to correct the situation.

Handling complaints properly allows you to turn lemons into lemonade. Here's how:

* When you have irate clients or customers, address the complainants face-to-face and LISTEN! Avoid being defensive and THANK the customers for bringing these matters to your attention.

* Be proactive in seeking feedback. Tell the customers how anxious you are to improve service, and that their feedback would be very helpful. AT&T once had a slogan: "If it's an emergency to you, it's an emergency to us." This meant that even if customers didn't think the complaint was that important, it was probably very important. Otherwise, why would they bring it up?

* A more significant problem or opportunity than complaining customers are the "irate customers." An irate customer is frustrated because previous complaints haven't been successfully resolved. Yet, these customers are still giving you the chance to resolve their problems.

Similar to seeking out and resolving complaints with existing customers is the process of seeking out and resolving objections in the sales process. Objections here are important buying signals. Like the complaining customers, the objecting prospects are inviting you to show them why they should buy from you. If the prospects have no interest in your product or service, they'd terminate the sales call. By raising objections, the customers are looking to get further information to justify a buying decision. By encouraging these objections, you gain valuable insight into the customers' needs.

So don't ever feel smug when customers don’t complain. Because when they stop complaining, that's when you're most likely to get in trouble!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The author to her book, a poem by Anne Bradstreet.

Post 575 - Anne Bradstreet was born Anne Dudley in 1612 in Northamptonshire, England. She married Simon Bradstreet, a graduate of Cambridge University, at the age of 16. Two years later, Bradstreet, along with her husband and parents, emigrated to America with the Winthrop Puritan group, and the family settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts. There Bradstreet and her husband raised eight children, and she became one of the first poets to write English verse in the American colonies. In 1644, the family moved to Andover, Massachusetts, where Bradstreet lived until her death in 1672.

The Author to Her Book by Anne Bradstreet.

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run'st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i' th' house I find.
In this array 'mongst vulgars may'st thou roam.
In critic's hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Some ideas about creating the future.

Post 574 - Reflections on how to think about the future:

We need to step back and learn from history, then learn to manage complexity with simplicity using more general ideas.
Learning from the past gives people security to be able to change. The challenge of learning to be able to go fast slowly.

We need to develop a new kind of complexity rather than just simplifying organizations by downsizing. Organizations must develop a capability to manage complex on-going change at all levels - pretty sophisticated stuff relative to traditional reactive change. This will require a whole new way of teaching employees so it becomes a never-ending ongoing exercise. Strategies now have to be developed on many levels and short term initiatives is as important as long range ones. There's a need to reinterpret the past to make it a part of the future - that is, to integrate the past and the future so people can resolve the split in their head which polarizes their choices between one or the other. A new world view should integrate both. This means reordering of how we in the west view the concept of time, differentiating between where M-time and P-time are appropriate to use, rather than using M-time all the time.

Our most cherished myths are often freely sculpted truths. For confirmation and comfort, we often turn not to a verifiable recording of the past but to a loose rendering of it. That fuzziness is our heritage, the other merely a record of what happened.

We need to learn about the future from the past and the present by looking for the patterns (principles) behind the patterns - these are the principles that endure. There can be no viable future that doesn’t have its roots somewhere in the past. New futures won’t spring into being without honoring the continuities that people value in their lives and their previous work habits. Examining the past is a way to appreciate these continuities in the present and provide a platform to evaluate the current system. The history of a system is as much part of its future as its environment. Strategy development can’t be detached from the system’s culture and history. Examining the past is a way to start dreaming about the future.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A summer in the country - part eight.

Post 573 - One aspect of spending time in the country that I still remember was the apparent absence of time. Time seemed endless - and very few people ever seemed to be in a hurry. My grandfather used to yoke up the pony and cart and meander off into the village of Campile to do some shopping about every other week. I would usually go along with him. As we went along the road, coming and going, he would stop to talk with other farmers who were working in fields near the road or who were coming in the opposite direction. There seemed to be no hurry to these conversations and the shopping trip to the village usually took the best part of the day to complete. Time in general was viewed as an outcome, as a measure of what had happened, rather than as a criteria for what should happen. Everyone seemed to live according to my grandfather's philosophy that "When God made time, he made plenty of it." I never remember there being a clock in the house although grandfather had a pocket watch that he wore on Sundays. We judged time by how bright or dark the days were depending on the seasons of the year.

We listened to the news on the radio most evenings at about six o'clock. Since there was no electricity, the radios of that time used quite large separate wet and dry cell batteries to supply the vacuum tubes with needed voltages. The news was of particular interest to people because my summer visit took place during the early days of second world war and while I wasn't very aware of what was going on, there were rumors of German spies parachuting into the local area from time to time and then escaping to England. I remember my aunt Stasia took me to the seaside at Tramore for a week's holiday towards the end of the summer. This was a special treat, both to spend time with her like a grownup and to be able to play on the sand for a whole uninterrupted week. On the next to last day, I still remember a dog-fight over the beach between a German plane and two British spitfites. After dodging back and forward for some time, the spitfires broke off and the German plane headed inland trailing black smoke from each side. Going home the next day, we stopped to visit some friends in the nearby town of Waterford. He was a policeman there and told us how he had followed the German plane to where it eventually landed and was instrumental in capturing the pilot. He told me the pilot was wounded and had a bullet lodged between the bone of his finger and his wedding ring. Needless to say, this image made a striking impression on me at the time and I stayed awake many nights thinking about it.

Another distinctive feature of country living at that time was the ready acceptance of supernatural events. My mother, who was normally a very down-to-earth woman, always claimed to have seen someone walking on the road from New Ross shortly after he died, although she didn't know he was dead until she got home later on that night. This wasn't considered a terribly strange occurance as I remember - unusual perhaps but certainly not outside the realm of possibility. My grandfather explained to me that there were four kinds of spirits, starting with those who had just died and I presume were spreading the word, so to speak - anyway, they were generally harmless and didn't stay around long. The second class were those spirits who were called away before they were ready and still had unfinished business to attend to - and they seemed to be able to hang around for quite a long time. While they could cause property damage (think of poltergeists), they too were in general harmless to people although they could be quite scary. The third class however, were evil and were usually viewed as some manifestation of the devil. These were always nasty and dangerous, could cause people to go mad and/or commit suicide, and they had to be exorcized to get rid of them. The fourth kind were the fairies and these could be either good or bad - it was difficult to tell which. Anyway, it was wise never to cross them. My grandfather had a field for grazing cows and horses at the top of the lane that was never tilled in my memory. I was told this was the site of an old fairy fort and that breaking the soil could bring all sorts of trouble - so it was left alone. I saw no reason not to believe it.

In general in those days, my relatives and their neighbors seemed to have a much greater tolerance for ambiguity and variance in both people and events and were prepared to be open to a much wider range of behaviors than we are today.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Looking for luck in Bangkok, a poem by Maxine Kumin.

Post 572 - Maxine Kumin (1925 - ) was born and raised in Philadelphia and educated at Radcliffe College. She taught English from 1958 to 1961 and 1965 to 1968 at Tufts University, and from 1961 to 1963 she was a scholar at the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study. She has also held appointments as a visiting lecturer and poet in residence at many American colleges and universities. Kumin was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1981-1982. Her many awards include the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize for Poetry (1972), the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1973) for Up Country, the Aiken Taylor Prize, the 1994 Poets' Prize (for Looking for Luck), an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for excellence in literature (1980), an Academy of American Poets fellowship (1986), the 1999 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and six honorary degrees. She has also published several novels, collections of essays and short stories, and more than twenty children's books.

Since 1976, she and her husband have bred Arabian and quarter horses on their farm in Warner, New Hampshire. The farm, a craggy, heavily forested 200-acre spread, most of which is now in conservation, is the locus of many of her poems and essays. Clearing pastures, building fences, exploring the overgrown trails that wind through the Min Hills, foraging for wild mushrooms, and weeding the beach that fronts on their pond are the physical tasks that free her mind to construct its own paths. "Allegiance to the land is tenderness," she says in one poem.

Looking for luck in Bangkok by Maxine Kumin.

Often at markets I see
people standing in line
to walk under an elephant.
They count out a few coins,
then crouch to slip beneath
the wrinkly umbrella that smells
of dust and old age
and a thousand miracles.

They unfold on the other side
blessed with long life,
good luck, solace from grief,
unruly children, and certain
liver complaints.

Conspicuous Caucasian,
I stoop to take my turn.
The feet of my elephant are stout
as planted pines.
His trunk completes
this honest structure,
this tractable, tusked,
and deeply creased
endangered shelter.

I squat in his aromatic shade
reminded of stale bedclothes,
my mother's pantry shelves
of cloves and vinegar,
as if there were no world of drought,
no parasites, no ivory poachers,
My good luck running in
as his runs out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A summer in the country - part seven.

Post 571 - One of the most anticipated aspects of my summer in the country was whole days spent on my own visiting nearby relatives. One of my favorites was my mother’s sister, Nanny, who lived in the village of Campile. Her husband, Mikey Shannon, had a butcher’s shop and general grocery store and all kinds of goodies awaited when I visited there. The Shannons had no children of their own so I got very special treatment. I always looked forward to the time I got to spend behind the counter in the shop being introduced to the customers. Another big attraction was the ready availability of lemonade which only seemed to be available at Nanny’s and was a special treat. They had a big collie called Shep who was great fun to play with (strangely enough for farmers, my grandparents never had a dog that I can remember). They lived next door to a handball alley where I could watch the local men practice in the evenings. I had some cousins who were particularly good at this sport – in fact one that I was particularly close to growing up, Matt Hart, went on to become a national champion in New Zealand during the time he lived there.

Like many young men of his time, his father’s farm went to the eldest son. Unless the younger children could buy a farm or a business or marry into one, their lot in life was usually to work for one of the others who had made more advantageous arrangements. Matt went to New Zealand to earn enough money to set him up with some land when he returned but he could never make a go of it and ended up living with one of his sisters who had married a big farmer in the nearby county of Waterford. His initiative to leave Ireland and seek his fortune in a strange land where he knew no one and no one knew him was a very inspirational example to me when I was young. It drove home the message that you were never trapped in whatever predicament you might find yourself in if you took the initiative to do something positive about it. And it increased my awareness of a whole other world outside of Ireland full of opportunities to be explored and enjoyed.

Aunt Nanny was a great fan of British royalty, and she took a lot of static from the rest of the family for her devotion to the queen. However, since she was the official family photographer (as she was the only one with a camera), her royal idiosyncrasies were readily forgiven. I used to spend a day now and then with another relative, Aunt Jo (Mrs. Henehan), who had a shop and a public house at the other end of the village. On one of these occasions, I spent an afternoon alone in the bar mixing and imbibing drinks using the various liquors available. The result was far from pretty – a very young drunk who was also quite sick. Aunt Jo probably figured that that this was lesson enough as she never reported my transgressions to my parents or grandparents, but just let me sleep it off before sending me home. She was right - I had learned my lesson and never did it again ... at least not until I was much older!

To be continued ...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

HP employee morale hits an all time low.

Post 570 - I used to take pride in working as a consultant to Hewlett Packard some twenty-five years ago. There was a company that was economically successful while treating their employees in an enlightened fashion by following a humane philosophy called "the HP Way." However, that's all in the past these days and employee morale must have hit an all time low, judging by this employee comment about support for the new CEO which was recently posted on the web:

"What do I or any of us think of the new HP CEO, Leo Apotheker? What does it matter? HP has stopped caring what any of its employees think or how we feel about anything that is done. We are no different than printers or laptops, just covered in flesh. The underlying problem here is unbridled greed - greed of the board, greed of the executives, greed of the shareholders. Did anyone care that when Mr. Hurd was hired by Oracle, its stock rose? Mr. Hurd was responsible for over 50,000 layoffs and massive pay cuts. Does anyone actually believe that morale at HP has been anything but abysmal for a number of years? How can anyone expect "quality" work from such people?"

"From reports and past performance, Mr. Apotheker appears to be a "cost cutter" (yes, some of us do read more than technical journals). We may not be rocket scientists, but please give IT professionals a bit of credit - we know exactly what that means. More layoffs and pay cuts via reorganization. When HP bought EDS and "moved" some HP people to EDS/ HP Enterprise Services, THEIR pay was cut using the justification that they were being placed into new roles. Of course, this is what HP has been known for - just ask those former Compaq employees who are still around."

"Certainly, a pay cut is better than a layoff, but it is like a water torture. Drip by drip, dollar by dollar, we await the next slash with dread. Customers are starting to feel the difference, although they may not care, at least not yet. IT work still requires "brains," which I think requires some level of enthusiasm. When you cannot afford to care for your children or pay your mortgage, it is difficult to be enthusiastic. The value loss is immeasurable - how can one determine what someone might have been able to do if his heart was in it? I see many employees trying, but only they know if is their "best work."

"Of course, Mr. Apotheker would know nothing about this. A $1.2 million salary, plus a $4 million signing bonus, PLUS a $4.6 million dollar "relocation package"? I won't even get into the tens of thousands of restricted stock he'll be getting, and he's not even started work yet. For those of us who've gone for years with no raises and worse (pay cuts of 25-30% and more after years without raises) despite quality performance, it is clear signal that things will not be getting better, at least for us. But who cares, as long as stock values rise?"

I know that there are many other 'wounded giants' in the same boat as HP. It's time for another industrial revolution to lead our executive class back to the first principles that America was founded on.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Planters Daughter, a poem by Austin Clark.

Post 569 - Austin Clarke (1896 – 1974) was one of the leading Irish poets of the generation after W. B. Yeats. He also wrote plays, novels and memoirs. Clarke's main contribution to Irish poetry was the rigor with which he used technical means borrowed from classical Irish poetry when writing in English. Describing his technique to Robert Frost, Clarke said "I load myself down with chains and try to wriggle free."

Born in Dublin, and educated by the Jesuits and at UCD, he fell unhappily in love with the playwright Geraldine Cummins, and suffered a mental collapse. On New Year's Eve 1920, he and Cummins married in a registry office, and he lost his post at UCD, apparently because of the civil marriage. In 1922 Clarke left for London and worked as a book-reviewer there for fifteen years. In 1937 he returned to Ireland with his then wife Nora Walker. As he had failed in a divorce action against Geraldine Cummins, his marital position was irregular, and he suffered another nervous breakdown. Clarke then began a prolonged silence as a poet, not broken until Ancient Lights (1955). He later wrote two volumes of autobiography, Twice Round the Black Church (1962) and A Penny in the Clouds (1968).

I just love the last two lines in this poem of his.

The Planters Daughter by Austin Clark.

When night stirred at sea,
An the fire brought a crowd in
They say that her beauty
Was music in mouth
And few in the candlelight
Thought her too proud,
For the house of the planter
Is known by the trees.

Men that had seen her
Drank deep and were silent,
The women were speaking
Wherever she went -
As a bell that is rung
Or a wonder told shyly
And O she was the Sunday
In every week.

A summer in the country - part six.

Post 568 - There was no electricity in our part of the country that summer – rural electrification didn’t come to Campile until about 1947. So I always went to bed by candlelight and my aunt Stasia read to us at night using the light of an oil lamp. Later on that summer, we got a Tilley paraffin pressure lamp which was a big improvement since it gave a much brighter and more intense light. There was also no running water in those days and my grandfather was always looking for somewhere close to the house where he could sink a well. He had many water diviners come to visit to locate where to drill. Some used hazel twigs and others used two bicycle spokes tied together at one end. They’d walk around the yard holding the twig or the spokes in their hands parallel to the ground and we'd watch and wait for it to dip down when they located water below the surface. They always found water but could never figure out how to get it to the surface economically.

The conventional wisdom at the time was that my grandfather’s house was perched on top of a hill of solid granite and so drilling through it to the significant distance required was a very difficult and expensive feat. However, there was a good well by the road across a neighbor’s field and one of my tasks was to draw water from that well as often as it was needed using two white enamel buckets. So I fetched the water across Ned Cahill’s field several times every day, rain or shine, and tried not to spill it. Some years later when I lived close by with my parents in a haunted house called Silvercrest, I still had the water duty and this time the well was about half-a-mile away. But that’s a story for another day . . .

Since nobody had a phone in those days, it was quite normal for people to drop in unexpectedly for a visit, usually on weekends. Sometimes, they came in quite large numbers too – whole families of them – and the custom was that whenever people came to visit, you had to feed them. So my aunt Stasia would have to bake some bread and my grandfather would kill a chicken for dinner. In addition, the men drank Paddy’s whisky and Guinness’s stout while the women and children drank Sandeman's port wine (I still have a soft spot for port today and like a glass regularly after dinner). Of course, we sometimes went out to visit others as well – usually relatives of one kind or another. So I guess it all evened out in the end. I always looked forward to these visits because it usually meant I had someone my own age to play with.

Living in the country was a relatively solitary experience that summer since neighbors with children my own age lived quite a distance away. As a result, I spent quite a bit of time entertaining myself, often by climbing some very big trees that grew in the lane at the entrance to the yard. In retrospect, this was quite dangerous as a fall of 50 – 60 feet or more was indeed a possibility. I remember when a visitor pointing this out to my mother once, she replied, “Sure if he falls once, he won’t do it a second time.” Thus I was encouraged to grow up adventurous, self-sufficient and unafraid. And thank goodness, I never fell out of the trees.

To be continued....

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Multitasking - a short cut to poor performance?

Post 567 - Is the power of multitasking a myth? Is multitasking a short cut to poor performance and disappointing results? It seems likely.

In an article by Joeann Fossland, “Multitasking: Smart or Dumb?” published
on line in, a few revealing studies are presented that
clearly indicate multitasking could be the way to serious problems. For
example, in a study by Carnegie Mellon University subjects were asked to
listen to sentences while comparing two rotating objects. This research
found the resources available for the brain to pay attention visually
dropped 29 percent and the listening brain activation dropped by 53 percent.
Another study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology revealed that the
more complicated the tasks, the more time was lost.

Fossland reports that according to David Meyer, a psychology professor
(University of Michigan), “Intense multitasking can induce a stress
response, an adrenaline rush that when prolonged can damage cells that form
new memory.”

In a nutshell, Fossland concludes, “multitasking is actually inefficient and
will, in the end” waste time, adversely impact quality of results, and
undermine employee well being.

One can argue that multitasking is an unavoidable consequence of the
heightened level of competition. But this raises the question of whether or
not forcing employees to engage in multitasking is the right approach to
meeting competition.

Additionally, we should recognize that there is an enormous range of degrees
of multitasking. And that you need to look at what is meant by multitasking
in a given situation. Context is critical. That said, multitasking still
should not be assumed to be working in the best interests of the
organization. Research and experience suggest it may very well be an
appealing road to follow to unexpectedly costly outcomes.

Those who have some say in organization planning, staffing or work
design, should take stock of the research findings. It seems that as
organizations try to streamline and become ever leaner, they are walking out
further and further on thin ice.

For much of the work in organizations, research evidence, hands-on
experience and common sense shows that focusing on one thing at a time
remains the way to get the most out of people, as well as giving them the best
opportunity to enjoy their work and to give their all.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Some more strange facts and figures.

Post 566 - Some more strange facts and figures…….

Shawn Tully has been trying to popularize his acronym: HENRYs, for “high earners, not rich yet.” Only about 2% of American households take in more than $250,000 a year in taxable income, so while there are many words that can be used to describe this income group, "middle" clearly isn’t one of them. Somewhere in the top 1% (those making more than $410,000 in adjusted gross income as of 2007) things start to turn regressive because the top federal income tax bracket of 35% kicks in at an adjusted gross income of $373,650. So if you make $20 million a year, you probably pay out a smaller percentage of your income in taxes than if you make $500,000. This is because investment income - capital gains and dividends - is taxed at lower rates than earned income. If you want an up-to-date rundown of effective federal tax rates at the top end of the income distribution scale, check out:

Several private universities have endowments that would be the envy of many national treasuries. Harvard, has the largest with $27.4 billion. Last year, it lost more than the entire endowment of Cambridge University, Britain’s largest at $1.5 billion. The current return for Harvard is 11 percent, while Cambridge reports it made 19 percent on it’s investments.

Dr. Tom Hill reports that based on the percentage of citizens who are overweight, the U.S. ranks number one out of the 33 most advanced countries in the world. The next four are Mexico, Chile, New Zealand and the U.K. Who are the healthiest based on the same criteria? The least overweight of course - Japan followed by Korea, Switzerland, and Norway.

Marriage rates among young adults have been dropping for decades. But data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau show that for the first time the proportion of people between the ages of 25 and 34 who’ve never been married exceeded those who were married in 2009 - 46.3 percent versus 44.9 percent, according to Mark Mather, at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington DC. The long-term slide in marriage rates has pushed the proportion of married adults of all ages to 52 percent in 2009, according to the Census, the lowest share in history. In 1963, when I came to America, 72.2 percent of adults over 18 were married. I remember being very surprised at how difficult it was to meet single women in Los Angeles. However, as marriage rates have fallen, the number of adults living together has skyrocketed, according to Mr. Mather's analysis. Men and women are living together as an alternative or a first step towards marriage. The probability of getting married at some point in life still remains at about 90 percent.

The worsening economy in Ireland has again raised the specter of emigration with workers fleeing to the UK, Australia, USA and Canada in search of a new life. Excluding non-nationals who moved into Ireland during the boom years and who are now returning home, the number of Irish citizens leaving has risen dramatically to over 27,000 annually, up by 42% since 2008.

Five things alone are necessary for the sustenance and comfort of the children of the earth according to Zuni belief:
The Sun, who is the Father of all
The Earth, who is the Mother of men
The Water, who is the Grandfather
The Fire, who is the Grandmother
Our Brothers and Sisters, the Corn and Seeds of growing things.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz by Pablo Neruda.

Post 565 - Pablo Neruda was born in Parral, Chile. He studied in Santiago in 1920s. From 1927 to 1945 he was the Chilean consul in Rangoon, in Java, and then in Barcelona. He joined the Communist Party after the Second World War. Between 1970 and 1973 he served in Allende’s Chilean Government as ambassador to Paris. He died shortly after the coup that ended the Allende Government. Love, like life, can't ever be fully defined, but Neruda captured it quite nicely in this poem.

Neruda once observed that: "Latin America is very fond of the word 'hope.” We like to be called the 'continent of hope.' Candidates for deputy, senator, president, call themselves 'candidates of hope.' This hope is really something like a promise of heaven, an IOU whose payment is always being put off. It is put off until the next legislative campaign, until next year, until the next century."

Reminds me of the US politicians of today.

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz by Pablo Neruda

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Steinhardt's six rules for successful investing.

Post 564 - Michael Steinhardt was one of the first, and most successful, hedge fund managers. From the late '60s through the mid-'90s, Steinhardt's hedge fund compounded money at 24 percent annually after fees. Here are Steinhardt's six rules of success:

1. Make all your mistakes early in life: The more tough lessons you learn early on, the fewer (bigger) errors you make later. A common mistake of all young investors is to be too trusting with brokers, analysts, and newsletters who are trying to sell them something.

2. Always make your living doing something you enjoy: Then you can devote your full intensity for success over the long-term.

3. Be intellectually competitive: Do constant research on subjects that make you money. Plow through the data so as to be able to sense a major change coming in the macro situation.

4. Learn to make good decisions even with incomplete information: Investors never have all the data they need before they put their money at risk. Investing is all about decision-making with imperfect information. You will never have all the info you need. What matters is what you do with the information you have. Do your homework and focus on the facts that matter most in any investing situation.

5. Always trust your intuition: Intuition is more than just a hunch -- it resembles a hidden supercomputer in the mind that you're not even aware is there. It can help you do the right thing at the right time if you give it a chance. Over time, your own trading experience will help develop your intuition, so that major pitfalls can be avoided.

6. Don't make small investments: You only have so much time and energy when you put your money in play. So, if you're going to put money at risk, make sure the reward is high enough to justify it.

Peter Lynch says: "I've always believed that searching for companies is like looking for grubs under rocks: if you turn over 10 rocks you'll likely find one grub; if you turn over 20 rocks you'll find two. During [some market stretches], I’ve had to turn over thousands of rocks ..."

Monday, September 27, 2010

A summer in the country - part five.

Post 563 - Some Sundays, I was allowed to sleep in and go to second mass, which started at 11am. This meant I had to walk all the way to Horeswood, a distance of about three miles, a trip that took about an hour if I didn’t get a lift from a neighbor. The custom in the church was that the women filled the pews on the right-hand side, the men filled those on the left-hand side, and young children like myself knelt in the space in front of the pews close to the altar. This meant kneeling up straight for over an hour with no support on the cold, hard flagstone floor of the church. After the long walk and since I was usually still fasting in preparation for receiving Holy Communion, I usually fainted away about the first gospel. Some nearby adult would then carry me out and set me down to revive myself in the church grounds, sitting among the monkey-puzzle trees. I think I set a record at the time for fainting at late Sunday mass.

Sometimes, when the weather was fine, I stayed out in the sun rather than going back into the church and sang out loud to amuse myself until mass was over. On several occasions, my singing disturbed the worshipers inside the church so much so that the priest sent someone out to ask me to tone it down. When I did return to mass, I stayed with the men who congregated around the door at the back of the church.

Priests had tried for years to entice these individuals to join the rest of the congregation in the pews but had never succeeded. No matter what the weather, these men stayed, grouped around the door but outside rather than inside the building. Some of them had attended mass every Sunday for 30 years without ever setting foot in the church itself and had the reputation of being as close to sinners as you could come in those days. It always felt a little dangerous and subversive to join them, like being a member of some band of outlaws. Although they were attentive to the mass in a general sense, they were not above talking and smoking on occasion, especially during the sermon. The sermon usually detailed the wages of sin and seemed to urge people to feel guilty and do penance for all the bad things that had happened in the world since the beginning of time. As a result, sermons were a bit of a downer and had the overall effect of lowering most people’s spirits even if they felt good when they came to mass in the first place.

But these sermons did little to diminish the good humor of the fellows at the back of the church who clearly refused to be intimidated into feeling guilty about anything. The men at the back were always in a good mood, telling jokes and laughing quietly among themselves. They usually arrived a little late and they seldom stayed past the beginning of the last gospel. But they always seemed happier than most of the other, more pious people and I could never understand why this was or why God didn’t strike them dead or exact some other retribution for their irreverence.

Once mass was ended, I could usually get a lift most of the way home with a neighbor or with someone I knew. This was especially welcome when it rained, which was a relatively frequent occurrence. No wonder visitors commented - and still do - on the many different shades of green in the Irish countryside.

To be continued.....

Sunday, September 26, 2010

And so we start yet another week....

Post 562 - Here are some data to start another week:

In 1957, United Airlines advertised its “executive” service between New York and Chicago, promising comfortable slippers, a steak dinner and “no women on board except for two stewardesses.”

The cost of the typical American wedding has risen to about $28,000 from $11,000 between 1980 and 2007 after adjusting for inflation.

Only 26 percent of US adults eat vegetables three or more times a day - and no, that doesn’t include French fries. These results fall far short of health objectives set by the federal government a decade ago. The amount of vegetables Americans eat is less than half of what public health officials had hoped. Worse still, it’s barely budged since 2000. According to a new report, Eating Patterns in America, only 23 percent of meals include a vegetable. (Again, fries don’t count, but lettuce on a hamburger does). The number of dinners prepared at home that includes a salad is 17 percent; in 1994, it was 22 percent. At restaurants, salads ordered as a main course at either lunch or dinner has dropped by half since 1989, to a mere 5 percent today.

According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy, substantially more boys than girls score below the proficiency level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. This disparity goes back to 1992, and in some states the percentage of boys proficient in reading is now more than ten points below that of girls. The male-female reading gap is found in every socio-economic and ethnic category, including the children of white, college-educated parents. However, there is no literacy gap between home-schooled boys and girls! Maybe because these parents pay considerably more attention to how their children spend their time.

Drink featured heavily in the life of George Brown, a British Labor foreign secretary in the 1960's, who is once said to have stumblingly invited a guest in flowing purple robes at a reception in Peru to dance. But it was not to be. "First, you are drunk," the guest is said to have replied. "Second, this is not a waltz; it is the Peruvian national anthem. And third, I am not a woman; I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima."

The unexamined life is typically one where we're living the life of others. Truly examining our lives and paying attention to the truth within is one of the most valuable pursuits. However, it takes real courage. Winston Churchill once said, "Most men, when encountering the truth, shake it off and walk on as if it never happened."

6 February, 1946
To the Editor of The Times.
I have just written you a long letter.
On reading it over, I have thrown it into the waste paper basket.
Hoping this will meet with your approval,
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
A. D. Wintle

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Brook, a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Post 561 - Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892) was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular poets in the English language. He authored a number of phrases that have become commonplaces of the English language, including: "Nature, red in tooth and claw," "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all," "Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die," "My strength is as the strength of ten, / Because my heart is pure," "Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers," and "The old order changeth, yielding place to new." He’s the second most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations after Shakespeare.
I especially love the flow of language in this poem.

The Brook by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip's farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A summer in the country - part four.

Post 560 - Every Saturday night after dinner, my grandfather started his preparations to attend mass the following morning. This was the highlight of the evening and involved a series of rituals where everyone was involved. First, came the shaving ceremony. My grandfather only shaved on special occasions, and Saturday night was usually his only shave of the week. So, a space had to be cleared the pantry and a washbowl and towel provided. Water had to be heated on the fire to just the right temperature and the shaving mirror was hung in just the right spot by the lamp. Then came the sharpening or “stropping” of the razor, using a wide leather belt that was kept in the kitchen specially for that purpose. The open razor was drawn back and forth across the leather until it could cut paper. The final test was a flick of my grandfather’s thumb to sense the quality of the edge. I always wanted to do this part but wasn’t allowed to because it was judged to be too dangerous.

Next, the shaving brush was loaded up with shaving soap and the bristly beard was properly lubricated and lathered. Then came the shaving itself, and I listened with fascination as the razor cut through the bristles - you could hear them being cut, one by one. Any nicks were covered with little pieces of newspaper until the blood dried, but accidents were few and far between.

After the shaving was done, Stasia ironed a blue-and-white striped dress shirt for my grandfather to wear on Sunday. The shirt had a detachable white starched collar, but the collar was seldom worn except on very special occasions such as weddings or funerals. I never remember seeing my grandfather wearing a tie - in fact, I don’t believe he ever owned one. For Sunday mass, a front collar stud sufficed.

Finally, my grandfather’s suit had to be produced from the cardboard box which was stored under his bed during the week. The box was placed on the kitchen table, the suit was unwrapped, carefully inspected, and hung up to air overnight. This dark grey woolen suit had been tailor-made years ago and was always treated as a special possession. During the week, it was kept in the box, wrapped in brown paper - no other kind of paper would do. The box also contained some camphor balls to ward of the moths, so the suit smelled quite strongly when it emerged into the light of day - hence the airing to dissipate the smell somewhat. Better a camphory smell then a suit full of holes.

Finally, my grandfather’s good boots appeared and he carefully polished them until they shone like a drill sergeant’s. This whole process took most of the evening to complete and was treated with great seriousness. I don’t remember anyone else preparing or getting ready for Sunday’s outing. Saturday evening, the whole house revolved around helping my grandfather look his best as he drove the mare to mass on Sunday morning. And, off he went to first mass, which started at 8am every Sunday morning, sick or well, come rain or shine, every Sunday of his life. I don’t remember him as an outwardly religious man. In fact, he was quite bawdy and irreverent at times. But he was devout and disciplined in his own way.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A summer in the country - part three.

Post 559 - As I mentioned before, my grandfather was a blacksmith as well as a farmer, the same as his brother, and sometimes worked in a forge beside the house. Here, he put shoes on horses or made iron gates or put iron rings on cartwheels for the local farmers. It was always very dark in the forge, except for the light of the fire. Pieces of iron were thrust into the fire until they were glowing red hot and ready to be worked on. Then they were beaten into shape with a hammer on an anvil. Men came by during the day with their horses and carts and spent many hours sitting around talking together as my grandfather took care of their needs. Much of the talk was about the crops and the weather, as I recall, and about the prospects and exploits of the local hurling and football teams.

There was another similar blacksmith about five miles away, and as a matter of professional courtesy, he and my grandfather put shoes on each other’s horses every year. That summer, I was responsible for taking the black mare to the other blacksmith to be shod. This turned out to be a scary trip because, riding bareback, half way there I slipped off her back. I wasn’t hurt, but the mare was so big that I couldn’t climb back on again. When I tried to position her near a gate where I could climb up and remount her, she stepped on one of my feet and wouldn’t move. She stayed standing on my foot for the longest time and no amount of hitting and screaming would persuade her to move. Eventually, in her own good time, she changed her position and freed me to continue my journey. This was especially painful as I wasn’t wearing shoes at the time it happened. Like most young people in the country, I usually went without shoes all during the summer months. Initially, the soles of my feet were soft and I had to walk very carefully to avoid sharp stones and thorns. But after a couple of months, my feet became as hard as leather and by the end of the summer, I could walk across the stubble of a freshly mowed cornfield without any discomfort. I was treated like royalty at the Flaherty’s forge while they put new shoes the mare. Each blacksmith did their very best work in these circumstances, as they knew another professional would carefully evaluate their efforts.

My aunt Stasia was still in her thirties and single at that time. She'd spent most of her life at home looking after my grandmother, except for the time she went to England to train as a midwife. She practiced as such for many years, serving the people in the surrounding area. In those days in the country, women usually had their babies at home and a doctor would only be called in if something didn’t appear normal or went wrong during the birth. Women seemed to go into labor only in the middle of the night, seldom in the daytime, at least that’s how I remember it. Many’s the night when a bicycle would arrive in the front yard at two or three in the morning and a knock on the door would announce the arrival of a weary husband asking Stasia to come back with him. Stasia never took kindly to being woken up in the middle of the night, especially if it was windy and raining, as it often was, even in summer. So she usually gave the poor man “a piece of her tongue” for getting her out of bed as she got her bicycle ready to journey back with him - sometimes a journey of up to 10 miles in the driving rain. Usually she was back the next day, but on occasion, she could be gone for a few days in the case of a difficult delivery. Even though she was widely known for her outbreaks of temper and especially for her sharp tongue, she was greatly respected for her skill and was widely liked in the local community. Years later, when she finally got a car, she never really learned to drive properly. People said they were afraid to meet her in the middle of the night, barreling along, usually in the center of the road and unlikely to give way to any man or beast that crossed her path. Miraculously, she never hit anything that was alive although the car did collect a very interesting collection of dings and scrapes over the years.

More about our summer rituals next week......

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A chronicle of continuing uncertainty.

Post 558 - Instead of letting these observations plant visions in your sleepless future, remember that correlations deduced from observational studies do not - in fact, cannot - prove causation. All you can really do with data from an observational study is to form a hypothesis, which must then be tested in randomized, controlled trials, to ferret out the truth about whether or not x actually causes y.

These weekly collections aren't always cheerful. However, as Berthold Brecht wrote,
And in the dark times
Will there be singing?
There will be singing.
About the dark times.

U.S. Hotels have been hit hard by the recession. Hotel occupancy fell 8.2 percentage points between 2007 and 2009, and revenue per room fell 18.3 percent, according to Smith Travel Research.

Despite small gains from the previous month, Chief Executive Magazine's CEO confidence in the economy continued to be weak. The monthly CEO Confidence Index rose slightly in August, gaining 9.4 points to 89.2. Apparently, the government stimulus package failed to stimulate CEO confidence.

Almost no one (<1%) trusts company advertisements or statements made on packaging when trying to understand if a product or company is or does what it says. Consumers are much more likely (57%-100%) to trust third parties or themselves 'a lot/the most' than company ads. And 73% consider both product and company claims when making a purchase.

Time spent on Facebook was greater than time spent on Google sites in the U.S. in August 2010 for the first time in history, according to fresh data from comScore. Meanwhile, Yahoo continues its slide from the top of the heap to the bottom.

Make sure your home is properly covered for a disaster For many people, their home is their greatest asset. Yet studies show that 59 percent of today's homes are underinsured by an average of 22 percent.

The number one source of calories in the U.S. comes from high fructose corn syrup primarily in the form of soda. Americans drink an average of one gallon of soda each week, and this excessive fructose consumption is a driving force behind obesity and chronic degenerative disease in this country. surveyed 5,000 women worldwide on the sexiest accents around the world. Here are the results....
1. Irish
2. Italian
3. Scottish
4. French
5. Australian
6. British
7. Swedish
8. Spanish
9. Welsh
10. American

38 percent of America’s carbon dioxide emissions come from commercial buildings and homes. The market for green construction should reach $140 billion by 2013, up from 49 billion in 2008.

A popular estimate of the number of human beings who have ever lived on the planet earth is around 106 billion.

Apple is selling just as many computers to college students as Dell, according to a survey from Daniel Ernst at Hudson Square Research, via Fortune. Ernst says 38 percent of students that bought a computer in the last three months bought a Mac, up from 14 percent in 2007. Ernst surveyed 212 students at seven different universities. It would be easy to dismiss these numbers based on small sample size, but Ernst's research matches a report from Student Monitor which surveyed 1,200 students at 100 schools.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

somewhere i have never travelled, a poem by e.e. cummings

Post 557 - e.e. cummings (1894 - 1962) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to liberal, indulgent parents who from early on encouraged him to develop his creative gifts. While at Harvard, where his father had taught before becoming a Unitarian minister, he delivered a daring commencement address on modernist artistic innovations, thus announcing the direction his own work would take. In 1917, after working briefly for a mail-order publishing company, the only regular employment in his career, Cummings volunteered to serve in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance group in France. At the end of the First World War Cummings went to Paris to study art. On his return to New York in 1924 he found himself a celebrity, both for The Enormous Room, a witty and absorbing account of the experience in France, and for Tulips and for Chimneys (1923), his first collection of poetry. A roving assignment from Vanity Fair in 1926 allowed Cummings to travel again and to establish his lifelong routine: painting in the afternoons and writing at night. In 1931 he published a collection of drawings and paintings, CIOPW (its title an acronym for the materials used: charcoal, ink, oil, pencil, watercolor), and over the next three decades had many individual shows in New York. He enjoyed a long and happy third marriage to the photographer Marion Morehouse, with whom he collaborated on Adventures in Value (1962), and in later life divided his time between their apartment in New York and his family's farm in New Hampshire.

somewhere i have never travelled by e.e. cummings

somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Instructions for life.

Post 556 - “Your life isn't about how to achieve your dreams, it’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you ... Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things." – Dr. Randy Pausch.

Here are 19 time-tested instructions for how to live a good life:

1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

3. Follow the three R’s:
- Respect for self,
- Respect for others and
- Responsibility for all your actions.

4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great relationship.

7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

8. Spend some time alone every day.

9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.

10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.

12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.

14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.

15. Be gentle with the earth.

16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

19. Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.

Can anyone contribute number 20?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A summer in the country - part two.

Post 555 - The continuing saga of my trip from Kilkenny to my grandparent's home near Campile, County Wexford, in the southeast corner of Ireland almost 70-years ago.

After lunch at the Savoy, back I went along the quays of Waterford, stopping to look at the ships that were anchored there loading or unloading cargo. Then, back across the bridge to the train station where I reported once more to the station master’s office. Since I had a couple of hours to spare, the station master gave me a tour of the station, visiting the signal shack and explaining what all the levers were for and how the signal system worked. He also showed me the train to Campile, which seemed asleep at its platform, all empty and deserted, quiet and dark. Then we went back to the office where I was had books and comics to read until train time. When it was time to leave, I boarded the train and took off on my journey again. It was getting dark by now, so there wasn’t much to look out at anymore. The most exciting part of the trip was going through a long tunnel under the river Barrow. Here, it was totally dark for about five minutes and all you could do was listen to the noise of the train and wait for the whistle that signaled we were approaching daylight again.

The trip to Campile was a relatively short one and it was dark at night when we arrived at the station. I got off onto the platform, wondering if anyone would be there to meet me. But I didn’t need to worry for there waiting for me on the platform was Dada, my grandfather. Together, we got my luggage and put it in the pony and cart for the drive home. The night air was chilly, so I was wrapped up in a woolen blanket and snuggled cozily into the straw that lined the bed of the cart. My grandfather regaled me with stories about the animals at the farm and we made plans about what we would do together for the rest of the summer as we slowly wended our way home. Looking back, it seems like slowly was certainly the appropriate word as Dolly, the pony, walked more than she trotted and it took the best part of an hour to make the relatively short trip. But I didn’t care. The stars were shining, I felt quite grown up as I’d made my train trip successfully, and I was warm, cozy and loved in the cart.

When we arrived at my grandparent’s house in Carrownree, I was tired and sleepy but my grandmother and my aunt Stasia were all excited at my arrival. So I had to bring them news of my parents in Kilkenny and recount the adventures of the day several times as they prepared supper. Then, off I went to sleep in my grandfather’s bed above the kitchen. It was always lovely and warm in that room. Once Stasia tucked me in among the heavy bedclothes, it was impossible to move again even if you wanted to. So, I drifted off to dreamland lulled by the soft indecipherable hum of conversation coming from the kitchen downstairs.

Most of the land my grandfather farmed was adjacent the house but he also owned other farmland about five miles away. Some days, when he worked over there, he was gone all day from early morning until night. However, most of the time, he worked in the fields close to the house and several times a day, I brought him a thermos of tea and some sandwiches. He mostly worked alone, with a black mare harnessed to pull whatever plough or harrow or other farm implement he was using at the time. The mare had no formal name other than “the mare.” Animals were mostly just animals on the farm, with a few rare exceptions such as Dolly, the pony. Strange to recall, I never remember my grandparents having a dog, which was quite unusual as most of their friends and neighbors had many dogs, usually including at least one big sheepdog. The mare worked in the fields during the week and was harnessed to a big black cart with a high seat on Sundays to take us all to first or second Mass in Horeswood church, about three miles away. All, that is, except my grandmother, who was paralyzed and couldn't do much of anything for herself except eat. She slept downstairs and was carried into the kitchen every morning where she sat on the left side of a couch that had been cleverly fashioned from the rear seat of a car. There she spent the day until it was time to go to bed, when she was again carried back to her room. In the evening, I loved to snuggle in between her and my grandfather in the couch by the big open fire, listening as my aunt Stasia read us articles from the local paper, The New Ross Standard, or ghost stories about a woman called Kitty the Hare from a monthly magazine called Ireland’s Own.

And yes, there's still more to follow......

Monday, September 6, 2010

World view September 2010.

Post 554 - Here are some more interesting facts, figures, observations and predictions:

In February of 2010, British scientists reported that a protein found only in a chicken’s ovaries is necessary for the formation of the egg. According to the scientists, the egg can only exist if it has been created inside a chicken. This protein is fundamental in the development of the shell. Of course, you may now be wondering, if the chicken came first, then where it come from? Let’s leave that mind-bender for another day….

“In Texas, we don’t carry guns because we have to,” a friend of mine told me recently. “We carry them because we're allowed to.” There’s no telling how many Texans actually walk around armed, but by Department of Public Safety figures, 247,345 men and women, more than one percent of the population, may legally carry a handgun provided it's truly concealed and not out in mischievous view. A majority of states - 36, including Texas - require the authorities to issue a concealed-handgun license to anyone who meets certification and is not ineligible, like felons. Two others, Vermont and Alaska, don’t require a license to carry a concealed weapon. Ten states, including New York, are “may issue” states, where applicants must demonstrate a special need. Two - Wisconsin and Illinois - prohibit concealed weapons altogether. Local laws also vary. Nationwide, for better or worse, Americans own some 220 million guns, and half the households in the country are believed to be armed.

Los Angeles pensions are likely to consume a third of that city's general fund by 2015.

As a percentage of the population, Spain, Ireland, Australia, Canada and the U.K. all have a greater level of home ownership than the U.S.

If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of 100 people, with the relative size of human groups remaining the same, there would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 people from the Americas (North and South), and eight Africans. Seventy would be non-white, 30 white. Seventy would be non-Christian, 30 Christian. Fifty percent of the world's wealth would be in the hands of six people. All six would be citizens of the United States. Seventy people would be unable to read. Fifty would suffer from malnutrition. Eighty would live in sub-standard housing. Only one would have a college education.

Here are some tantalizing predictions from Laurence C. Smith in The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future (Dutton Books), scheduled for publication Sept. 23.

* New shipping lanes will open during the summer in the Arctic, allowing Europe to realize its 500-year-old dream of direct trade between the Atlantic and the Far East, and resulting in new access to and economic development in the north.

* Oil resources in Canada will be second only to those in Saudi Arabia, and the country's population will swell by more than 30 percent, a growth rate rivaling India's and six times faster than China's.

* Northern rim countries - or NORCs as Smith calls them, such as Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and the northern United States - will be among the few place on Earth where crop production will likely increase due to climate change.

* NORCs collectively will constitute the fourth largest economy in the world, behind the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the European Union and the United States.

* NORCs will become the envy of the world for their reserves of fresh water, which may be sold and transported to other regions.

For more information, see

Friday, September 3, 2010

Opening the mail, a poem by Minnie Bruce Pratt.

Post 553 - Minnie Bruce Pratt was born September, 1946, in Selma, Alabama. She graduated from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and took her Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She’s published six books of poetry, and has received a Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Fellowship in Poetry from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Pratt emerged out of the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s and 1980s and has written extensively about race, class, gender and sexual theory. She’s currently Professor of Women’s Studies and Writing at Syracuse University.

Opening the mail by Minnie Bruce Pratt.

She used to work down in the copy center, and,
don't get her wrong, she liked it, she did. The big
Xerox engines purred, paper rolled out like money
and shot into slots like a casino payoff. But this job,
there's something new every day, the letters come in,
hundreds, thousands, from all over the place, and she
gets to open every one. The message in a bottle, the note
slid into the cashier's cage, the letter left on the bed
when she walked out the door, the handkerchief dropped
behind him during the game at recess. She slices each
open with her knife, logs it and routes it to the other girls.

But her dream is to get a camper and follow the NASCAR
races. Six days travel and on Sunday stand inside the final
circuit of sound, inside that belly. It's not the same as on TV
where it seems like they are just going round and round. Not
the same at all, she says. Every moment counts, and the air
smells like burning oil. Any minute it could burst into flames.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A summer in the country - part one.

Post 552 - Some of you wanted to hear more about my experiences growing up in the 1940s so here you go. This will probably teach you to be more careful about what you ask for.....

When I was four years old, I lived with my mother and father in the city of Kilkenny in Ireland. I had started attending school at the Presentation Convent when I was three so my mother could go back to teaching. As a result, I was very independent for my age and was getting quite used to managing for myself, walking to and from school, sometimes with my father but more often than not on my own. I also looked after myself when I came home until my mother returned from teaching in the evening. In 1941, it was agreed that I would spend the summer with my grandparents on my mother’s side who were farmers in county Wexford. Starting in the beginning of June, I would go down to Campile by train and return with my parents when they came to visit some months later in September. Since it was 1941, petrol was rationed. Although we were one of the few people who operated a car during the war, as my father was a member of the national police force (the Garda Síochána), the car was used sparingly because petrol coupons were hard to come by.

The train trip from Kilkenny involved a stop in the town of Waterford, with a five-hour wait before a change of trains to get to the village of Campile. My parents knew the city of Waterford very well and had many friends there, including the station master. On many previous visits there, we’d always eaten at the Savoy cinema which had a restaurant on the second floor and was much frequented by people from the country who were in town for the day. So the plan was that I would board the train in Kilkenny in the morning, travel to Waterford and leave my luggage with the stationmaster, walk across the bridge and along the quay to the Savoy, have lunch there and return to the railway station in time to board the Campile train. My mother said that this trip would encourage me to be independent and confident and “would help to make a man out of me.” Much of my parent’s actions as I was growing up were intended to encourage this independent streak and the results were very successful. However, my mother never quite adjusted later on to just how independent I actually became.

Arriving at the station in Kilkenny, I was very excited as I hadn’t traveled by train very often prior to this, although I had made this particular trip once before with my parents. I remember being very impressed by the size of the engine and all the hisses and groans and clouds of steam that emanated from it. My father took me along the platform so I could inspect it first hand. I remember we had a conversation with the driver who, although he was busy with last-minute adjustments prior to departure, still explained briefly how a steam engine worked. Meanwhile, my mother had picked out a compartment that had some travelers she thought could look after me on the trip to Waterford, even though she’d never met them before in her life. It was a trusting time when the prospect of dishonesty or violence never crossed anyone’s mind. My luggage was loaded on board in the luggage carriage, tearful goodbyes were said, and off I went happily ensconced in a window seat facing the front of the train. My traveling companions were very impressed by the fact that I could travel on my own - I think they thought I did it every week - and I answered many questions about what I planned to do for a whole summer on the Sutton farm when I finally arrived. I remember being excited about the trip but not particularly scared or uncomfortable about traveling alone since my mother seemed so comfortable with the idea. My father was a very quiet and even-tempered man who always seemed comfortable with just about about everything.

The trip to Waterford was generally uneventful. The countryside was green and pastoral and the train seemed to go very fast. We stopped at stations along the way and people got off and got on amid a general bustle of noise and excitement. When we finally arrived in Waterford sometime about noon, I was met by the stationmaster who was waiting for me on the platform. Having retrieved my luggage, I bid goodbye to my traveling companions. We then went to the stationmaster's office, and left my luggage there where I could pick it up later in the day. Then off I went across the city to lunch at the Savoy. This was the most adventurous part of the trip as far as I was concerned and I have to admit I was a little nervous as I set out to walk all the way across the city of Waterford. To cover my nervousness, I sang out loud as I went along my way, a habit which stayed with me for years afterward. Looking back, I must have been a funny sight, a well dressed little boy, on his own, singing as he marched along, apparently very happy and obviously with a clear sense of purpose about where he was going.

The streets of Waterford were busy as always but I had no trouble finding the restaurant. So I marched in and presented myself to one of the waitresses, told her who I was and that that “I was expected.” And so I was, as my mother had made arrangements the week before and all the waitresses were on the lookout for the little boy from Kilkenny who was coming for lunch. After being shown to a reserved table and seated just like a regular customer, I ordered my lunch. The waitresses all thought I was very cute so I got a lot of service and attention. A couple of hours (and two desserts) later, I was ready to bid farewell to my new-found friends at the Savoy and retrace my steps back to the train station to resume my journey.

More to follow....