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West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Archive for the category “History”

Common Dreams’ Reign of Idiots

This ‘End of Empire’ essay by Chris Hedges, on the Common Dreams website, is a powerful and very dark piece of work. It’s not about West Wales, or even Wales, but the unstable world we all live in.

All empires end. Trouble is, when a global empire ends, civilisation can collapse with it.

Reprinted from https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/05/01/reign-idiots

Reign of Idiots

Donald Trump. King of the horrifingly dumb and dangerously greedy

“Trump,” writes Hedges, “embodies the essence of this decayed, intellectually bankrupt and immoral world.”

The idiots take over in the final days of crumbling civilizations. Idiot generals wage endless, unwinnable wars that bankrupt the nation. Idiot economists call for reducing taxes for the rich and cutting social service programs for the poor, and project economic growth on the basis of myth. Idiot industrialists poison the water, the soil and the air, slash jobs and depress wages. Idiot bankers gamble on self-created financial bubbles and impose crippling debt peonage on the citizens. Idiot journalists and public intellectuals pretend despotism is democracy. Idiot intelligence operatives orchestrate the overthrow of foreign governments to create lawless enclaves that give rise to enraged fanatics. Idiot professors, “experts” and “specialists” busy themselves with unintelligible jargon and arcane theory that buttresses the policies of the rulers. Idiot entertainers and producers create lurid spectacles of sex, gore and fantasy.

There is a familiar checklist for extinction. We are ticking off every item on it.

The idiots know only one word—“more.” They are unencumbered by common sense. They hoard wealth and resources until workers cannot make a living and the infrastructure collapses. They live in privileged compounds where they eat chocolate cake and order missile strikes. They see the state as a projection of their vanity. The Roman, Mayan, French, Habsburg, Ottoman, Romanov, Wilhelmine, Pahlavi and Soviet dynasties crumbled because the whims and obsessions of ruling idiots were law.

Donald Trump is the face of our collective idiocy. He is what lies behind the mask of our professed civility and rationality—a sputtering, narcissistic, bloodthirsty megalomaniac. He wields armies and fleets against the wretched of the earth, blithely ignores the catastrophic human misery caused by global warming, pillages on behalf of global oligarchs and at night sits slack-jawed in front of a television set before opening his “beautiful” Twitter account. He is our version of the Roman emperor Nero, who allocated vast state expenditures to attain magical powers, the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang, who funded repeated expeditions to a mythical island of immortals to bring back the potion that would give him eternal life, and a decayed Russian royalty that sat around reading tarot cards and attending séances as their nation was decimated by war and revolution brewed in the streets.

This moment in history marks the end of a long, sad tale of greed and murder by the white races. It is inevitable that for the final show we vomited a grotesque figure like Trump. Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering, exploiting and polluting the earth in the name of human progress. They used their technological superiority to create the most efficient killing machines on the planet, directed against anyone and anything, especially indigenous cultures, that stood in their way. They stole and hoarded the planet’s wealth and resources. They believed that this orgy of blood and gold would never end, and they still believe it. They do not understand that the dark ethic of ceaseless capitalist and imperialist expansion is dooming the exploiters as well as the exploited. But even as we stand on the cusp of extinction we lack the intelligence and imagination to break free from our evolutionary past.

The more the warning signs are palpable—rising temperatures, global financial meltdowns, mass human migrations, endless wars, poisoned ecosystems, rampant corruption among the ruling class—the more we turn to those who chant, either through idiocy or cynicism, the mantra that what worked in the past will work in the future, that progress is inevitable. Factual evidence, since it is an impediment to what we desire, is banished. The taxes of corporations and the rich, who have deindustrialized the country and turned many of our cities into wastelands, are cut, and regulations are slashed to bring back the supposed golden era of the 1950s for white American workers. Public lands are opened up to the oil and gas industry as rising carbon emissions doom our species. Declining crop yields stemming from heat waves and droughts are ignored. War is the principal business of the kleptocratic state.

Walter Benjamin wrote in 1940 amid the rise of European fascism and looming world war:

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

Magical thinking is not limited to the beliefs and practices of pre-modern cultures. It defines the ideology of capitalism. Quotas and projected sales can always be met. Profits can always be raised. Growth is inevitable. The impossible is always possible. Human societies, if they bow before the dictates of the marketplace, will be ushered into capitalist paradise. It is only a question of having the right attitude and the right technique. When capitalism thrives, we are assured, we thrive. The merging of the self with the capitalist collective has robbed us of our agency, creativity, capacity for self-reflection and moral autonomy. We define our worth not by our independence or our character but by the material standards set by capitalism—personal wealth, brands, status and career advancement. We are molded into a compliant and repressed collective. This mass conformity is characteristic of totalitarian and authoritarian states. It is the Disneyfication of America, the land of eternally happy thoughts and positive attitudes. And when magical thinking does not work, we are told, and often accept, that we are the problem. We must have more faith. We must envision what we want. We must try harder. The system is never to blame. We failed it. It did not fail us.

All of our systems of information, from self-help gurus and Hollywood to political monstrosities such as Trump, sell us this snake oil. We blind ourselves to impending collapse. Our retreat into self-delusion is a career opportunity for charlatans who tell us what we want to hear. The magical thinking they espouse is a form of infantilism. It discredits facts and realities that defy the glowing cant of slogans such as “Make America great again.” Reality is banished for relentless and baseless optimism.

Half the country may live in poverty, our civil liberties may be taken from us, militarized police may murder unarmed citizens in the streets and we may run the world’s largest prison system and murderous war machine, but all these truths are studiously ignored. Trump embodies the essence of this decayed, intellectually bankrupt and immoral world. He is its natural expression. He is the king of the idiots. We are his victims.

Scolton Manor — Mutating into a Money Pit?

Update 1

Pembrokeshire’s Cabinet did not make a decision when they met on November 30th. Instead, members asked the Economy Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider what to do, and to report back. So the dilemma,whether to pay a higher rent for Scolton Manor, try to buy it, or lose it, continues.

County council’s financial headache

The benefit of paying a low rent for years has mutated into a painful headache for Pembrokeshire County Council.

The county museum, at Scolton Manor outside Haverfordwest, belongs to the Welsh Church Fund (WCF), which seeks a much higher rent or plans to put the property on the market.

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Losing the use of Scolton Manor would cost Pembrokeshire County Council over £555,500

The county council is reported* to pay an annual rent of £13,875 — £1,156 a month — to WCF for the manor and the surrounding 60 acres of country park, together valued at £2.182 million in 2007. The council bears the costs of maintenance, but does not seem to have been over-generous in this regard. Visitors see buildings which are in fair but far from fantastic repair, and grounds suffering from an insufficiency of gardeners — both factors which affect the capital value of the property. So as well as receiving a small rent, WCF has the worry that parsimonious maintenance may be making the property less attractive to buyers.

WCF seeks to secure a big increase in the rent, possibly to around £90,000 a year — or to sell the property, the only one it owns.

Outside buyer for Scolton would cost county council hundreds of thousands of £s

And if the county council were not the buyer, rather a lot of grants would have to be repaid. The European Union provided over £350,000 for restoration of the walled garden, which is in progress. Pembrokeshire Beekeepers Association are four years into a ten-year lease, and have been awarded grants of £50,000 for their activities at Scolton. Sport Wales is also a grant provider, for keep fit exercise trails. In total, clawback of grants would cost the county council more than £555,500.

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Scolton Manor’s walled garden (dressed for Halloween): received large grant

The slightly down-at-heel ambiance at Scolton does suit the house displays quite well, conveying a sense of what it might have been like to live in a modest gentry house where the occupants were not inclined to flash the cash, probably because they could not afford to do so. The homely atmosphere continues in the cafe, which was short-staffed when we visited, resulting in a long wait and making do without the right cutlery (my husband had to eat his lunch with a teaspoon).

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Room display in Scolton Manor, for which Pembrokeshire County Council pays a low rent 

If the county council loses the right to occupy Scolton, bang goes the museum and the country park, unless other premises can be found — and that would cost even more money, over and above the Scolton-specific grants that would have to be repaid.

As for the WCF, its remit is to provide grants to places of worship and other community venues, but the low rent paid by Pembrokeshire for Scolton, and lower returns than hitherto on financial investments, restrict the amounts which can be distributed. Each of the former Dyfed authorities is entitled to receive a fixed percentage of the distributions — Ceredigion 25%, Carmarthenshire 41% and Pembrokeshire 34%, but a fixed percentage of not very much is even less. Realising the value of Scolton Manor, or even receiving a far higher rent for it, would let WCF make more generous grants.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s cabinet is expected to discuss  the dilemma on Monday, November 30th.

* Western Telegraph, November 25th 2015, ‘Pembrokeshire County Council recommended to buy Scolton Manor or face substantial rent increase or demand for return of grants’. More detail in the report to be considered by the council’s cabinet.

PDR

Grant for Gelli Aur Breathes New Life into Restoration Dream

Gate open! Almost £1 million from the Welsh Government, thanks to persuasion by Rhodri Glyn Thomas, assembly member for Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, means that once again the public can walk the nature trails of Gelli Aur Country Park, Golden Grove, while the rest of the park is restored.

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Gelli Aur Country Park is now open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays, 9am to 5pm

The café has to be improved before it can reopen, and as yet the famed arboretum is too overgrown for the public to have access.

The grant, to the Golden Grove Trust, comes at the eleventh hour for the country park, in the neglected grounds of Golden Grove mansion, which has been empty since vacated by Carmarthenshire’s agricultural college in 2003. A company called Harmoni Developments thought about converting the mansion into a hotel, but got no further than thinking. Maybe flats? Two developers with this possibility in mind bought the property in succession, in 2007 and 2009. Perhaps a convalescent home for wounded service personnel? Not that either. The property passed next to the Golden Grove Trust, which was set up in August 2011 to save the house.  By this time lead had been removed from the roof, and the interior was badly decayed, as these photos show only too clearly. Since 2011 roof renewal  has been a priority, but not enough money was forthcoming to restore the parkland.

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Glimpse of restoration work to Golden Grove mansion

The trust itself has lost two of the original three directors, William Powell Wilkins (who was a crucial influence in the restoration of Aberglasney Gardens) and Lady Jane Frances Birt. The remaining director, Richard Christopher Salmon, is an art dealer and historian with a gallery in West London, and he is joined on the board by Bahram Ansari Eshlaghi, a consultant in Middle Eastern studies, with a smart address in Chelsea. The trust has been teetering on the verge of being struck off the register because it has not yet submitted accounts, and today is still listed as subject to a strike-off proposal. The two directors have now set up, in June this year, a commercial private limited company, Golden Grove Ventures Ltd, about which very little is in the public domain because it will not have to file any accounts until March 2017.

The country park is now open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays between 9am and 5pm, when the gate is locked for the night. Car parking is free while essential restoration works are in progress.

So, well done the Welsh Government  and Rhodri Glyn Thomas – backed by local county councillor Cefin Campbell — for supporting the survival of this historic, irreplaceable house and landscape.

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Ancient trees and richly varied vegetation in the parkland at Gelli Aur

Owain Glyndŵr and his Legacy: it’s Complicated

by Pat Dodd Racher

Some 600 years and 18 generations separate my birth from that of Owain Glyndŵr, Prnce of Wales. He is one of my theoretically possible 262,144 ancestors in the 18th generation, although probably many fewer in reality because the same names are likely to recur in different sections of the family tree. In 1400 the whole population of England and Wales is reckoned to have been no more than 2.5 to 3 million.

The ancestral trail leading back to Owain Glyndŵr is through four families: de Croft, Blount, Clarke and Dodd, the Dodds accounting for the last nine of the 18 generations. I was born in England, but know that some ancestors came from Llandeilo, others from Derbyshire, from Essex, and many other places in the British Isles and Europe. We have wandered about a great deal, and in our wanderings I don’t suppose we are much different from most other families. Recorded ancestry gives a sense of belonging to counteract the rootlessness of migration, but in the absence of DNA proof the written record has definite limitations, because what is written is not always true!

Janet, one of Owain’s several daughters, married John de Croft of Croft, which is north of Leominster in Herefordshire, so we have left Wales very quickly. The de Crofts, who soon lost the ‘de’, occupied Croft Castle, which today is owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.

Janet and John’s son William, born about 1398, and his wife Margaret Walwyn had a warrior son, Richard, married to Eleanor Cornwall. In the Wars of the Roses, Richard fought for the Yorkists against the Lancastrian King Henry VI at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461. Richard then changed sides and was knighted in 1487 after the Battle of Stoke, which cemented Henry VII’s position as the first Welsh Tudor king, two years after the defeat of the Yorkist King Richard III at Bosworth Field.

Richard Croft’s daughter Anne married Sir Thomas Blount, who was also knighted by Henry VII after the Battle of Stoke. Their fourth son, Robert, married first Elizabeth Columbel, and nearly 50 years later, Goodeth Newson. Robert’s son and heir George Blount had a daughter, Frances, who became the wife of Ralph Clarke in about 1615. Ralph lived in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, and had a house in Holborn, London, as well. He and Francis had seven children, two boys and five girls. The boys, Samuel and Cornelius, survived into middle and old age respectively, but had no recorded children. Cornelius was Sheriff of Derbyshire during Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate in the 1660s, and so was firmly linked to the side of Parliament against the executed king, Charles I.

Frances Clarke was the fourth of five daughters, and she married William Dod, whose family lived next-door-but-one in the same street in Holborn. William was a vintner who kept a dozen taverns all over Westminster, but he died in 1675 when all three of his children, John, Anne and Ferdinand, were minors. They had evidently enjoyed a high standard of living – the annual rent for the family home in Kingsbrooke, Westminster, was £100, and William left property (excluding land, which was not recorded on the inventory) worth £884.14s.1d, and had debtors owing him £1,118.10s.9d. He owed money too, £556.16s.6d, mainly to George Toriano, wine merchant, and to Mr Clarke, probably his brother-in-law as by this time his father-in-law was dead. The assets were placed for safe keeping in the hands of the Court of Orphans, which was unfortunately sliding into insolvency, as the City fathers were in the habit of using the assets to fund commercial expansion, a reminder that financial scandals are as old as finance.

William’s son John died young, too. John’s two sons, William and Cornelius, were just toddlers when he died in 1692 aged 24. His widow, Mary, and her sons lived quietly in Willingale Doe, Essex, where the family stayed for seven generations, acquiring a double ‘d’ at the end of their name along the way. They were farmers until the late 19th century. My great-grandfather Charles Dodd was a carpenter married to a school teacher, Frances, and my grandfather Cyril, one of their three sons who survived infancy, was apprenticed to a grocer in Retford, Nottinghamshire. He fought throughout the First World War as a cavalryman, and so in the 1920s life in quiet Ongar, Essex, with his wife Emily and three small children, must have seemed a big improvement. It didn’t last: their daughter Joanna, born in 1921, died of diphtheria aged six. After that the family travelled from place to place, in 1932 arriving in Isleworth, Middlesex, where Cyril bought a dairy business, and two years later made a profit selling it to Job’s Dairies. The family moved to a smallholding in Chertsey, Surrey, and all was well until 1942 when Joanna’s twin brother John, a flight sergeant in the RAF, was shot down over Heligoland in the North Sea. His body was never recovered.

My own father Lionel, born in April 1918 and the oldest and only surviving child of Cyril and Emily, spent seven years in the Army, from 1939 until autumn 1946. His war memories are on tape at the Imperial War Museum. After the war Lionel and my mother Winifred farmed just outside Chertsey, until 2003 when they joined my family in Wales.

The story is one of social mobility, sometimes up but often down, a story in which chance events have great significance. Two early deaths and the collapse of the Court of Orphans at the end of the 17th century turned a fairly prosperous family into one of limited means, its affluence rising and falling in line with the work ethic and business acumen of the main income-earner in each generation. From Owain as Prince of Wales, to the Prince Regent pub in which Cyril spent a good many hours, the line of ancestry meanders along the pathways of British society, collecting a plethora of complex identities along the way. Owain’s legacy to me is a message of complexity, of the complicated multiple identities that we inherit.

It’s not simple nationalism at all.

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