Thoughts while shearing

Thoughts while shearing

I have found that I have mixed feelings after the annual shearing. During the year any dagging (removing the soiled wool at the rear end) or crutching I do myself by hand, but for the annual shearing of the fleece I rely on a young lad on the next farm to do the work.

He has all the equipment; a shearing trailer (which acts as a holding pen while the work is going on), the electrical shears (which give a neat trim) and moccasins (so that he might hold the sheep with his feet without hurting them). But more importantly he has two other advantages. Firstly he has the strength and stamina; shearing is hard work, grappling 50kg of reluctant, wriggling ewe or ram and trying to operate heavy electric shears at the same time is a young man’s job. It is difficult for an old codger like me. Secondly, and most importantly, he has the skill. Knowing how to hold the animal, how to turn them as you shear, how to avoid cutting the animal and managing to take off an entire fleece intact is a hard earned skill. Watching someone who knows their craft is very impressive.

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I usually like to use the least technology possible, to try and find the most natural way to do a task. However, there is no way to shear a sheep without tools and modern tools make this easier. Primarily they make it easier for the sheep. The procedure is painless but it alarming to the animal, it has no conception of what is happening and is afraid. There is no way to share, with them,  the knowledge that they will feel better during the summer and be at less risk of fly-strike, lice, ticks and a variety of other plagues. It is always stressful and therefore anything that shortens the time it takes is good news. Hand shearing by an expert takes about 15 minutes, hand shearing by me takes about an hour, electrical shearing by our neighbour takes about 2 minutes. There is really little contest, electrical shearing wins hands down.

So why then do I have mixed feelings about it ? Well, this time it started when another neighbour, who was helping, recalled shearing when he was a boy. On the shearing days up to 20 men would sit in a line on benches at the edge of the field and shear the flocks by hand. During the season many hands were needed to do the work. Now one or two men, with good machinery, can do the same job with less effort and stress. It is the reason that agriculture, though it produces much more than it ever did, uses less labour. It is why there are few jobs in the countryside and why the population has shrunk. Though there are less jobs in farming this mechanisation has created its own jobs – there is now a need for factory workers to work the lathes and milling machines that make the equipment. There is less call for young men to learn how to shear in Wales but the demand for young men to work in factories, often abroad. With less people living and working in the countryside there is less call for shops, schools, churches, doctors and the like and this is why we see that now the majority of people live in urban areas.

This specialisation is at the core of capitalism and it is the great irony of the twentieth century  that it has been capitalism, not socialism,  which has pulled many people out of poverty. Through mechanisation and specialisation great increases in wealth have arisen. This increase is so great that, even when it is badly and unevenly distributed, the majority of us benefit. In the west, going back 100 years, no-one could have anticipated our current wealth. The idea of personal transport by automobile, central heating or air conditioning, personal computers and telephony would be unimaginable to people who thought that books and electric light to read them by were a luxury. So it seems I cavil , especially as I post this on the internet, when I cast doubt in these changes. However, I’d argue that not all of this progress has been without cost and, although agreeing that a market economy is the best way to ensure efficient production, I’d propose we have to be careful that we know where we’re heading as individuals and as a society.

It was often said that these mechanised and specialised changes would benefit us because they are “labour saving“. Each new gadget, from the washing machine to the smartphone, has promised to save us time and to leave us more leisure time for ourselves. This should lead to increased pleasure as we do things we enjoy rather than need to do.  However, our pleasures are relative. Once we become accustomed to something it changes from a luxury to a necessity (People will not venture outside now without their phones). Thus the prior luxuries become part of our life and, if missing, a source of our unhappiness. There is no evidence that individually we are any one jot happier than people 100 or 200 years ago. The Victorian got just as much pleasure from his night at the music hall as we do from an evening at the 3D IMAX cinema. The Victorian felt as euphoric when his lover agreed to become his partner as we do now (Well possibly they had greater pleasures in this area as society was more restrictive on the whole).

Our luxuries don’t seem to bring us pleasure but perhaps they at least give us time. It would seem unfortunately this is not the case. As we have more, we need more and want more and thus we work more.  In his book Sapiens Yuval Noah Harari notes that the time we spend as a species working for others has always increased and certainly if one were to look over the last two generations this trend is evident. 50 years ago a skilled manual worker, working well, could expect to provide for his family to the standards of his day. Now both parents will have to work outside the house to provide for their family with all the consequent changes that we have seen in child rearing and family life.

It seems that once we have escaped scarcity, once the basics (hunger, thirst, safety, warmth, etc) are dealt with we do not know what is “enough“. We are good at acknowledging what is too little, we have built in warning systems in our biology when there is too little food, or water, or heat. However, we don’t seem to be able to determine what’s enough in term of what is “too much”.  Consequently in our post-scarcity world, in the west, our major problems are those of excess – obesity  or substance abuse as individual problems for example and global warning and the plastic pollution of our seas as global examples.

This is possibly the reason that all the major religions had as an important focus the advice to avoid excess. Gluttony, avarice, lust and covetousness are sins to be avoided and all the main religions advice that we should try and control our desires.  Going back to the stoics, they advice that we should try to have and want less, to not be controlled by our desires. It is possibly a perfect storm in the developed world, that as the productive powers of capitalism reaches its zenith the advisory power of religion  plumbs its nadir.

Thinking about the changes that have occurred in how we shear sheep has made me think that if we want to survive we need to change. As individuals we have to learn to rein in our desires which I think will require a rebalancing. We will need to rediscover localism so that our wants and needs play out on a smaller stage. We need to reduce the size of the states we live within so that they are no more than is necessary and allow individuals to create small communities on a more human scale. We have to learn when enough is enough and this going to be difficult. As individuals we are going to have to break out of the role of being primarily consumers and reclaim our private lives. This is no easy feat but as Tolstoy said “In order to land where you wish, you must direct your course much higher up.”

Much ado about nothing at all.

Much ado about nothing at all.

As we draw towards the end of 2017 I wonder if we have learnt anything valuable.  Perhaps, my first conclusion, on reading the last week’s news is that our media and political class have an enduring proclivity for the banal and stereotyped posturing. It is clear that the main focus for political debate over the year has been Brexit and its ramifications. However, as the year closes are we clearer on its implications or the plans, are we now having serious, considered thinking ? Unfortunately it appears not.

The last week’s press and mediather has concerned itself with the future colour of British Passports and the fact that they will be blue rather than burgundy. Both those on the leave or remain, or the left and the right, sides of this debate have been childish and disappointing.

Those on the right tried to sell us the return of the blue passport as a sign of national rebirth; Theresa May called it an expression of “independence and sovereignty” that reflected “citizenship of a proud, great nation”, and  The Sun labelled it “a stunning victory” suggesting the “iconic” blue passport would stir the blood and warm the heart of those patriots who carried it.

This attempt to make a necessary, bureaucratic change appear as a victory was shamefaced in its stupidity and ignored all of the other factors which had lead to the8830092_432849585_32498508 changed format and colour of the passport over the past years. This attempt to make the change in colour symbolic unfortunately stirred up echoes of jingoism and nostalgia for an old, long gone, imperial past.

Those on the remain camp were equally deplorable; warning of hidden costs (which were not present)  and dangerous queues.  A popular meme on social media resurrected the slanders that people who voted for Brexit were unintelligent savages. Even Guy Verhofstadt, the EU’s  chief Brexit coordinator decided to avoid any serious discussion of the issue of passports andguy simply proceeded with a mocking tweet, ignoring the symbolism and significance of nationhood by mocking the decision on the colour.

All of these attitudes miss the point. As we leave the EU we will again be a nation apart from the EU and will thus need a passport to signify this. There is really no question or issue about this. The colour issue is a smokescreen, a red herring, something to blind us to the real issues. The real issues as the free movement of people and what it means to be a citizen.

A serious issue in discussing Brexit and passports is the ability of people to move between countries. I favoured us having a system that enhanced immigration and did not limit us to free-movement of white Europeans for the purposes of cheap labour. I wanted us to look at our historic links with the Indian subcontinent and perhaps encourage movement here. We have long standing cultural and family ties with this part of the world and perhaps fostering these ties would go some way to making restitution for the unpleasant aspects of our imperial past. This is an issue concerning nationhood and the new passport that  we need to discuss. It has nothing to do with colour and is being avoided.

The passport is often seen as a marker of citizenship, carrying your countries passport marks you as a citizen of that nation. However, how should we define this right to citizenship and the passport, is place of birth adequate ? Does someone who was born here, but contributes little to the commonweal, have a right to a passport, while someone born abroad and diligently adding to our commonwealth does not. Should the test of citizenship, which carries with it the right to citizens’ benefits, be based on your contributions not the happenstance of your mother’s labour. Perhaps we could discuss whether the passport can be seen as a membership certificate and discuss how we define who is a member ?

There is room, and need, for discussion on the issue of the passport ; why do we need them ? what do they signify ? who is entitled to one ? But we really don’t need to spend much time on its their colour.

 

 

 

The Old Lie

The Old Lie

Left to our own devices we can become farmers and bakers, tailors and cobblers, plumbers and engineers, astronauts and programmers. Our possibilities are limitless as we cooperate to help ourselves and each other. “What a piece of work is man”. It takes a state to turn us into soldiers and sailors to make us kill and maim ourselves and each other. On Remembrance Sunday we should take time to think on all those that died or were injured during war and pledge never to be fooled again, by the old lie, that it is sweet and honourable that we die for our state.

 

Dulce et Decorum est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas!  GAS!  Quick, boys! —  An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. —
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie:  Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen 1920

 

 

Spain lost today

Spain lost today

The Spanish state lost tonight. The scenes of Spanish policemen fighting with civilians in Catalonia when they tried to vote in the referendum were unsettling to see. I have no strong views on the case for independence of Catalonia, I have no dog in this fight. However,  it is always right that people have the right to express their views. Even if the Spanish state is intent on ignoring the results and calling the ballot unlawful they still have no right to stop people expressing their views.

It is ironic that, all the polling evidence, suggested that the majority of the Catalan public did not wish independence and that the Spanish state would have probably won a referendum had they supported and participated in it. Now, the satisfaction with the Spanish state is likely to be very seriously damaged and the drive for Independence is likely to be significantly strengthened ; you do not make yourself popular by attacking your own citizens with truncheons and rubber bullets.

Another group whose popularity should suffer a decline is the other heads of the EU countries. They have been noticeable by their silence. A handful of nationalist and separatist politicians from other EU countries have spoken in favour of Catalan’s independence, but the heads of the EU have been silent while one of its member states has seen civil strife with its army fighting with its populace. When a core democratic right has been threatened it seems the EU is willing to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear if it is for the sake of further European ‘Unity‘.

This has been a shameful day for Spain and Europe but it may be one of the first steps to start to break up these over-large, undemocratic institutions in which we live.

 

 


via Daily Prompt: Popular

Listen up folk !

Listen up folk !

Listen up folk ! Zog our tribal leader has kept us safe from harm these last months. he has protected us from wild animals who wanted to devour us. He has protected us from other tribes who wanted to kill us. He even protected us from ourselves when he lead us away from mistakes and disasters we would have made. Let us give our young women and food to the great Zog so he continues to protect us.

Listen up folk ! Our King Albert has kept us, his loyal subjects, safe for another year. He has protected us from King Zog who surely wished to invade and kill us. He has wisely guided us and avoided many a disaster that would otherwise certainly occurred without his wise council.  Without King Albert the barbarians at the gate would surely have entered our lands; killing our men, raping our women, and butchering our babies. So let us give thanks as we give our labour and produce to our monarch and prepare for another year.

Listen up folk ! The church has again saved us;  not just our bodies but also our souls. Our priests have guided us well in ensuring we do not fall prey to heathens at the gate. We know the pagans sit and wait for the chance to kill us and take our women and children. The warn us and protect us from the work of witches and demons. Thanks also to the clergy who, through their wise advice, have kept our souls safe. They warned us of our sins and saved us from eternal damnation and the pains of hell’s fire. So let us arrange a tithe to give a portion of our wealth to the Church so it may protect us for another year.

Listen up folk ! The government has lead us safely through another year. Without them no roads would have been built, no one would have cared for the poor, our children would have been uneducated and ignorant and doctors would not have attended to our sick. Without our ruling class we would have descended into savagery killing and raping our fellow citizens. So let us feel pride when we pay our taxes as we are protecting ourselves for another year.


Check who is taking your possessions, check who holds the power. This will let you know who is your enemy.


 

Dodging a bullet ?

Dodging a bullet ?

The was a collective sigh of relief when Macron won the French election yesterday. There was a general feeling that a bullet had been dodged and normality has been restored. There have been some congratulatory reports that the French have turned the populist tide that had caused so much consternation with the Brexit referendum in the UK and Trump’s victory in the USA. But is this the case ?

It is clear that Macron won comfortably  by nearly 2:1. However, this misses a number of other factors. Firstly the turnout was poor  compared to previous French elections and there was the lowest turnout since 1969 and this as amplified by 9% of voters voting “Blank” finding themselves unable to support either party. Secondly, as was the case previously with Chirac, many voted for Macron, holding their noses, as they wished to defeat Le Pen rather then support Macron, and, thirdly, nearly 11 million French voted for the Front National. If one looks at the distribution of this vote it shows a clear divide in France between the more prosperous metropolitan areas supporting Macron and Le Pen’s support in the rural areas and ‘rust belts’. In addition to these problems there are the additional details that Macron has to form a government without the backing of an established political party which is unknown ground.

Then there is the problem of Macron himself. He presented himself as the outsider, the agent for change, the new broom. However, his background and policies are clearly those of the EU ‘business as usual” form. He had difficulties introducing these when he was the minister of the economy in  Hollande’s government. He has plans to reduce corporation tax, reduce  the number working in the public sector, promote greater EU integration and reduce the deficit. His policies will please companies and corporations and be regarded well, but are unlikely to be well received by those at the bottom. They will do nothing to improve the lot of those who currently feel disadvantaged and left behind. If the French economy  does not continue to grow, and grow substantially,  then those 11 million who voted for Le Pen will not have found a saviour in Macron and might find their numbers grow.

It is clear that the bureaucrats in the EU and the large companies and corporations who benefit from the EU (through rent seeking and stifling competition) feel they have dodged a bullet. However, it may be that they dodged this bullet by pushing a public sector worker in front of it, and it is in no way certain that the gun won’t be reloaded.

 

 

 

Totally Free, Totally Independent

Totally Free, Totally Independent

A lot of territorial changes are anticipated in the wake of a letter from Theresa May to Donald Tusk. By triggering Article 50 it clear that the political map of Europe will need to be redrawn. There is a great deal of uncertainty of how Britain’s leaving of the European Union will be managed, what form trade arrangements will take, what new international arrangements will be made, how will new opportunities be handled. Although slightly apprehensive, I am optimistic that this is a step in the correct direction and one which will allow us to become more democratic, more responsible and able to have relationships with a wider range of people and places.

It is also likely that this change may lead to changes in the make up if the ‘United’ Kingdom itself.  The S.N.P. see Brexit as an opportunity to push for a second independence referendum and, were they successful, Plaid Cymru may follow suit. Although this is rather opportunistic of the S.N.P., I have no concerns over this. Smaller is better in terms of democracies and, in the absence of a federal or canton system in the U.K. , four smaller nations would be less undemocratic than one large unit. These smaller states would be more flexible and responsive than their larger progenitor. This could possibly, though not necessarily, lead to better economic and social systems.

My only concerns are that the S.N.P., with its large state policies and plans to seek continued membership of the European Union, is not promoting policies which bode well for an independent Scotland’s future. On the one hand their policies suggest a future reminiscent of the nightmare of Venezuela (Inefficient oil-backed socialism) while Europe’s policies sugest and equally unsavoury prospect of a Greek future (of externally imposed austerity and reduced public spending).

If we are going to try to use nation states to break up bigger units and bring power closer to people we have to be careful that we manage to do this. Break up the United Kingdom by all means but break up the European Union also.  Don’t bring powers back from London simply to send them further away to Brussels. If we are going to ‘Cry Freedom’ lets go for full freedom and independence. Fully free we can work out our economic and social plans for ourselves.

 

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Territory