Redshank

It took a while to identify these waders, a fair number of which were rummaging about the beach at Rhyl. Then sudden inspiration from she who knows more than I do about birds – redshank. Slowly the light dawned – orangey legs, a color once known as red – and parts of legs known as shanks. The name was pretty obvious really.

Of course, they were too nervous to let me get close enough for a really sharp photo with my travel zoom.

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Beach scene

You wouldn’t think that shooting almost directly into the afternoon sun about an hour before sunset would produce good results. This shot was taken pointing just below the sun. The effect reminds me of a Roerich painting.

mountains from rhyl beach

Taken from the beach at Rhyl, North Wales, with the Snowdonia mountains in the background.

No Deal

The Brexiteers and Mrs May seem to be from the school that says you have to be willing to walk away from a negotiation to get the best deal. But surely Brexit is not a problem of this nature.

If there were a natural disaster the countries would get together and agree what to do about it. One would not say to the others, do it my way or we’ll do nothing. That’s insane.

It seems clear to me that a ‘no deal’ Brexit, maybe even the Brexit vote itself, is just such a disaster – when all sides would significantly suffer. To contemplate this, rather than negotiate a solution to the joint problem is , yes, insane.

Of course, some of the players in the Brexit game actually want this catastrophe to happen. The sane majority must not let this happen.

The comment applies to both sides, incidentally.

Thoughts have consequences

Thoughts have consequences.

Patterns of thought have consequences.

Paradigms, or world views, are patterns shared by many people. They have world changing consequences.

“Our world view is not simply the way we look at the world. It reaches inward to constitute our innermost being, and outward to constitute the world. It mirrors but also reinforces and even forges the structure, armouring, and possibilities of our interior life. It deeply configures our psychic world. No less potentially, our world view—our beliefs and theories, our maps, our metaphors, our myths, our interpretive assumptions—constellate our outer reality, shaping and working the world’s malleable potentials in a thousand ways of subtly reciprocal interaction. World views create worlds.”
Richard Tarnas

Humanity is resistant to changing its dominant paradigms. Habits of thought are so strong. So crisis tends to be necessary before the paradigm changes.

Today sees several interconnected crises, including global warming, species extinction, global environmental pollution, inequality/poverty in and between states, inability to provide an environment for meaningful lives to many young people, population movements due to combinations of these, resulting international conflict.

All suggest major paradigm change is needed, but what? One of the most important is the materialism and reductionism evident in mainstream science, indeed the religion of scientism. Such has been the ‘success’ of this mindset in terms of technological advancement, that it has inspired many fields of human endeavour, notably economics and politics, to also aim to be similarly ‘scientific’.

The problem of course is that this denies the interiority of the human being, shared with the natural world, denies the importance of values in human affairs, enables the scientist/politician to ignore the need to examine themselves in the context of their work.

“I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives us a lot of factual information, puts all of our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.”
Erwin Schrödinger

The Scientific & Medical Network initiated the Galileo Commission to look at this question of a new paradigm for science, in the spirit of the original Galileo whose observations precipitated the change of paradigm of astronomy from earth-centred to sun-centred. [Not to be confused with the Galileo satellite navigation system!]

There is an excellent summary of the first stage of its deliberations in the current issue of Paradigm Explorer, the SciMed magazine. The Commission’s summary report is available here, well worth a read. The introductory articles alone, by Peter Fenwick and David Lorimer, are both rich in insight.

Of course, the attitude to consciousness is a key to whatever new paradigm might emerge. This quote from the report gives an indicator:

“Therefore, we need to assume, as a minimal point of working consensus, that consciousness is an entity in its own right, perhaps co-arising with material phenomena or presenting the inner aspect of material organisation.”
Galileo Commission Report

 

European Robin

One of Britain’s most common birds is the robin, also known as the European Robin to distinguish it from other so-called robins that I have photographed: American Robin, Clay Colored Robin, which are really thrushes. There’s usually one turns up when I’m gardening, seeking out the worms and bugs that get disturbed in the process.

The robin is so common in the UK that I never get around to taking a photograph. Luckily this one obligingly sat on a post at Brereton Country Park when I had camera in pocket, and stayed just long enough for a couple of photos. In the featured one above he is looking straight at me, a second later he was off. The earlier photo below catches a glint in his eye.

Interestingly, Wikipedia reports that

The distinctive orange breast of both sexes contributed to the European robin’s original name of redbreast (orange as the name of a colour was unknown in English until the sixteenth century, by which time the fruit of that name had been introduced).

 

Old Man’s Beard

Another feature of the otherwise dead early February vegetation in Anderton Country Park is the opportunity given for these fluffy balls of nothing to show themselves off. My companion knew from childhood that this was ‘old man’s beard’, otherwise known as ‘traveller’s joy’ or clematis vitalba.

old mans beard.jpg

Of course, clematis is a climber and can be quite vigorous, as I know from having similar variants growing in the garden – all the better for disseminating seeds in the wind.

Catkins

There’s not much apparently going on in the vegetation of the English countryside early February. Most of it is pretty dormant, apart from the odd flowering gorse and some early bulbs coming up. But we did come across these beautiful catkins in full glory in Anderton Country Park.

catkins

Catkins are actually flowers, with inconspicuous or no petals. They occur on a number of different tree types. This BBC Earth post suggests that these photographed are probably of the hazel tree, which has catkins late autumn, which then lengthen and turn golden with pollen towards the end of January.

Here they are close up.

catkins close

Utopia for Realists

It’s surely obvious that the current economic system is not working, what with increasing inequality, increasingly low wages at the bottom, squeezed public finances,  financial crashes, resulting populism, ever-increasing automation, ineffectively-addressed global warming and so on. And it seems equally clear that the global elite haven’t a clue what to do about it and plan to just let it run while they continue their comfortable lives.

utopia for realistsRutger Bregman’s book Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There brings up the heretical suggestion that we can do something about it, all we need are the visionary ideas and the determination to follow them through.

There is no reason why we cannot end poverty, give free money to everyone (basic income), move towards a shorter working week, pay important workers like nurses and bin men a commensurate salary, and open borders once the imperative to move anywhere but home is removed.

That sounds like a Utopia, you say. Yes it is. But we need a stretching vision of where we want to get to and then maybe we’ll start moving there.

Bregman cites the fascinating story of how neoliberal free market ideas moved from being the interest of just a few economists in the years after WW2, when Keynes dominated economic thought, to becoming the dominant force behind world economics from the 1970s to the present. These ideas have now run their course and are actually the cause of the predicaments we increasingly find ourselves in.

We desperately need these new Utopian ideas to gain momentum. So go read Utopia for Realists.

What human energies could be freed up for a New Renaissance!

 

 

Silver Birch

The slender silver birch is a rather attractive tree, both with and without leaves. Here, the low afternoon winter sun plays almost horizontally across the bare branches, and a clear blue sky provides a superb backdrop.

The silver birch is a pioneer species, always one of the first trees to appear on bare or reclaimed land. The prevalence at Brereton Country Park, as in these pictures, shows how recent is the reclamation of this land – in common with many of the UK’s recent country parks. And how glad we are that these oases have been reclaimed for nature and recreation.

Fieldfare

Several of these thrush-like birds were running around and foraging on the grass in the afternoon sun at Brereton Country Park, Cheshire. They are fieldfare, almost certainly winter visitors to the UK.

fieldfare

The similar redwing would have red flanks, and the fieldfare does have a characteristic black tail. I didn’t have a long telephoto lens, but this is adequate for identification purposes with maximum zoom on my Panasonic TZ200 (360mm equivalent) – cropped.

What to Believe?

bush-cheney-coverIn the second part of the book Bush and Cheney, whose first part I reviewed in my post Too Much Reality?, David Ray Griffin sets out the facts behind the events of 9/11. Essentially 15 miraculous events would need to have happened for the ‘official’ story of what happened on that day to be true.

Particularly notable:

  • The twin towers and WTC7 were the only steel framed high rise buildings ever to come down without explosives or incendiaries. And they came down in free fall and more symmetrically than engineers would expect.
  • Uniquely, the fires from the debris could not be extinguished for months.
  • The hijackers did not have the skills to fly the planes as they did. Incredibly, passports were found among the debris, phone calls were received from planes that had no contact with the ground, and intercept aircraft were not scrambled.
  • There was never a proper and thorough independent inquiry, and the evidence was removed from the site with indecent haste, before it could be analysed.

There’s lots more, certainly enough to suggest that there was some sort of cover-up. An organisation Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth is in accord with Griffin’s contentions. But then one wonders, how could such a massive project possibly be kept under wraps?

But what was/is being covered up? Griffin suggests that there is a remarkable concordance between what was enabled after 9/11 with the so-called War on Terror and the dreams of the neocon Project for the New American Century, whose 1997 signatories included Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. It gave just the excuse and the public support to implement these dreams. But is it really conceivable that (possibly rogue) individuals would commit such heinous acts? It appears to be of a scale far greater than the known rogue acts performed by such as Oliver North during the Reagan years (when George HW Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were part of the leadership). But these people do have form.

Basically, we don’t know. I wonder if we ever will.

To those in the arena

I just came across this speech delivered by Theodore Roosevelt in Paris in 1923, and it brought to mind the trials and tribulations of our UK politicians in trying to find a path through the current Brexit situation. We all too easily see their failings and criticise their faults, yet perhaps we don’t give them enough credit for their efforts, especially when we disagree with them.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

According to Wikipedia, Theodore Roosevelt was a driving force for the Progressive Era in the United States in the early 20th century and is regarded as one of its best presidents. His passions seem far more worthy than the grubby business of Brexit, and perhaps more momentous.

Gödel, Maths and Physics

Edmund M. Law has some fascinating posts on his blog. A recent one had the following quote from Freeman Dyson.

Fifty years ago, Kurt Gödel, who afterwards became one of Einstein’s closest friends, proved that the world of pure mathematics is inexhaustible. No finite set of axioms and rules of inference can ever encompass the whole of mathematics. Given any finite set of axioms, we can find meaningful mathematical questions which the axioms leave unanswered. This discovery of Gödel came at first as an unwelcome shock to many mathematicians. It destroyed once and for all the hope that they could solve the problem of deciding by a systematic procedure the truth or falsehood of any mathematical statement. {53} After the initial shock was over, the mathematicians realized that Gödel’s theorem, in denying them the possibility of a universal algorithm to settle all questions, gave them instead a guarantee that mathematics can never die. No matter how far mathematics progresses and no matter how many problems are solved, there will always be, thanks to Gödel, fresh questions to ask and fresh ideas to discover.

It is my hope that we may be able to prove the world of physics as inexhaustible as the world of mathematics. Some of our colleagues in particle physics think that they are coming close to a complete understanding of the basic laws of nature. They have indeed made wonderful progress in the last ten years. But I hope that the notion of a final statement of the laws of physics will prove as illusory as the notion of a formal decision process for all of mathematics. If it should turn out that the whole of physical reality can be described by a finite set of equations, I would be disappointed.

— Freeman J. Dyson, Infinite in all Directions, 1985

Law presents this under the heading ‘Inexhaustible Mysteries’. To me, it’s just important to be reminded of Gödel’s Theorem from time to time. Mathematics is inherently open-ended, and I believe the implication is also that physics is also open ended. We can never have a model that fully describes reality. There will always be more for mathematicians and physicists to do.

Equally, we will never have a perfect economic system. There will always be space for economists and politicians. And those who seek single solutions to complex problems (e.g. ‘free markets’) are inherently misguided.

See also my post on Godel’s Theorem.

Picture of the tomb of Kurt Godel in the Princeton, New Jersey, cemetery by Antonio G Colombo, from Wikimedia Commons. What a legacy!

If

Here’s another poem by Steve Taylor – his take on the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling, ‘If.’ According to Steve, it’s a reflection on the meaning of success. It’s also a profound meditation on the meaning of life and where true contentment lies.

If

If you can find out who you really are
beneath the habits and opinions that you’ve absorbed
and the instructions that you unthinkingly follow –

If you can distinguish the deep impulses of your soul
from the shallow desires of your ego
and let streams of thought pass through your mind
without latching on or listening –

If you can sense the sun of your true self
behind layers of cloudy concepts and constructs
and keep your mind open and clear
so that soul-force shines through every action of your life –

then that’s all you ever need to achieve.

There’s no need to search for answers
if you’re expressing the truth that’s inside you.
There’s no need to look for meaning
if you’ve found the path you were meant to follow.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re applauded or ridiculed
whether you make a mark on the world
or live and die in obscurity.
If you can do what you’re supposed to do
and be exactly who you’re meant to be –

then that’s all you ever need to achieve.

Visit Steve’s website for details of his books, his blog, etc.

 

Removing poverty

Contrary to what some politicians might like you to believe, it is easy to remove most poverty. Simply give poor people, indeed everybody, enough money to subsist. It’s called basic income.

How to pay for it? There are two ways.

1. Pay out of current government moneys

There are many benefits to the economy:

  • more economic activity, so more taxes
  • less need for benefits, so less government costs
  • reduced minimum wage, so more employment, so again more taxes
  • less crimes of desperation
  • more intelligent behaviour from the poor (yes)
  • disincentive to immigration, as would apply to citizens only; there is also less incentive for people to move from other countries with a similar policy
  • reduced inequality means reduced discontent with governments
  • of course, you would net off against current tax and benefit schedules so that most people were not directly affected and continued to be paid the same as previously
  • etc.

So it wouldn’t cost as much as you might think.

2. Just create the money

The central bank simply creates the necessary cash, outside of government accounts. You could regard this as pump priming the economy. (Compare QE, but this time for the needy.)

If just one government does this, this will inevitably cause its currency to slowly decline against others, but we are talking small percentages, so slow, here.

If a majority of world governments do it, there is no cost. It is free money.

Basic Income is a no-brainer. Why doesn’t it happen?

There is this obsession among the empathy-bypassed richer classes that the poor are feckless and not trying hard enough, so they should be forced into desperation so that they will do any job at any price for all hours of the day and night. I suspect this came from the early days of industrialisation, when cannon fodder was need for the emerging industries. It went away after WW2 (did you know that Richard Nixon tried to introduce basic income in the US in the 1970s?) But this prejudice has been reinforced since the 1970s by right wing parties in UK, US and elsewhere.

It is nonsense. Basic income has been tried many times, and the evidence suggests that if you treat people like paid-up members of the human race they will behave like it. Give people a decent start and they will make their way.

In a world of increasing automation and concern about where the future jobs will come from, basic income seems even more needed.

It’s about political will

In the end, in a world of plenty as we have in the West, poverty is about political will and little else.

Eradication of poverty is also surely an essential precondition for a New Renaissance.

The inspiration for this post came from ‘Utopia for Realists’ by Rutger Bregman. Beware reading it, it might haunt you with the sanity of its ideas!

Featured image is Caricature of poor people at a workhouse having dinner; by Phiz (?), via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

Earth centred learning

Education is of paramount importance in establishing a right relationship with the earth in future generations. In the 50s and 60s I was taught about maths, science, languages and a little bit of history and geography. I had one day out in nature, plus quite a few murderous cross-country runs I was not properly trained for. Luckily I lived on the edge of a city and wandered around the surrounding fields; most children today are not so lucky.

Modern educational thinking and practice is much better than this, but they fight such a materialistic paradigm. Look at the world and its trends; there is way more to do.

Another blog post by Bill Graham has distilled some of the thinking of educator David Orr into seven propositions for earth-centred learning. Let’s hope they become more widely understood and applied. I’ve edited his points for my own understanding

  1. All education is environmental education.
    [Conventional education, for the most part, excludes our dependence on nature.]
  2. Environmental issues are complex and cannot be understood through a single discipline or department.
    [Most institutions are discipline centered.]
  3. The study of place is a fundamental organizing concept for education.
    [Formal education prepares students to reside, not to inhabit. The inhabitant and a place mutually shape each other.]
  4. For inhabitants, education occurs in part as a dialogue with a place and has the characteristic of a good conversation.
    [Good conversation with nature has the purpose of establishing what is here, what nature will permit, and what nature will help us do here.]
  5. Environment education should change the way people live, not just how they talk.
    [Real learning is participatory, experiential, and interdisciplinary, not just didactic. Teachers function best as facilitators, and students are expected to be active agents in defining what is learned and how.]
  6. Experience in the natural world is both an essential part of understanding the environment and conducive to good thinking.
    [Understanding nature demands a disciplined and observant intellect.]
  7. Education that addresses the challenge of building a sustainable society will enhance the learner’s competence with natural systems.

Featured image is of Himalaya rivers and snow, from NASA.

The Templars

the templarsThere’s a thing about the Knights Templar, something romantic lodged in the European brain. Maybe it’s the idea of monk-like knights dedicated to fighting for Christendom, or the tales of valour in the holy land and the Iberian peninsula, or their tragic ending at the hands of the king of France… Who knows why stories get lodged into the collective imagination, but this one did. Historian Dan Jones’s very readable book The Templars tells the story well.

The Templars arose in the aftermath of the first crusade, which culminated in the taking of Jerusalem in 1099. When the main Christian forces had returned home the occupied lands were always vulnerable to being recaptured by local or regional forces. The Knights Templar were established to help protect these Christian outposts and keep safe routes for pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The Knights Templar were founded in 1119, and in 1129 rules were established for the lives of these knights, based on the rules that had been established for the recently established Cistercian order of monks. The hugely influential Bernard of Clairvaux was instrumental in this. They were effectively fighting monks, with a code that meant they would fight to the death for the cause.

How strange to the modern mind that the rules of monasticism should be applied to the battlefield.

In subsequent battles, particularly from the second crusade in 1147, preached by Bernard himself, the Templars proved to be the most effective European fighting force, often, with the similar Knights Hospitaller, formed the vanguard or rearguard of the advancing forces.

Through the many crusades and the Spanish reconquista, up to the mid-1250s, the Templars played a major role. They provided trans-national services such as banking and fighting forces to the various kings in Europe. They became very powerful, which was fine while they held the confidence of those kings.

But the various crusades were not well organised and the Templars took the brunt of failures of the leaders who came looking for glory. There were a number of massacres of Templars and eventually the crusader project seemed to be coming to nought, with all gains being cancelled out. It seems there was some blame pointed at the Templars for these failures.

Jones tells the story of the various crusades and battles in an engaging manner. The balance of power clearly changed when the Mongols arrived and sacked Baghdad in 1258, and the Mamluk state joining Egypt and Syria was established in 1260. The Christians were effectively squeezed out.

The Templars remained influential across Europe until the coming of the French king Philip IV. Philip was a new sort of French king, establishing a strong centralised state, and moving against other sources of power. His first target was to get rid of the Jews, next came the Templars. On Friday 13 October 1307 all Templars in France were seized, imprisoned and tortured.

Neither the French pope Clement V nor the other European leaders agreed with Philip’s move, but it seems that the pope was persuaded to spread the investigation of Templars throughout Europe. These were the days of inquisition to detect heresy, so it was not difficult to trump up charges. The net effect was that the order of the Temple was suppressed in 1312, and the last leader of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, was burnt to death after recanting his forced confession a couple of years later.

It had been less than 200 years. What a story!

Footnote. Since the fall of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire Western forces have been engaged in the Middle East in many ways, including establishing the Israeli outpost safeguarding Jerusalem, several encounters in Iraq, Syria, catastrophe in Egypt (Suez),… Le plus ça change…

Featured image from the website Knight Templar International.

 

 

Helmeted Hornbill

This photograph of the helmeted hornbill comes from this item by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. What an incredible bird, and what a sad story.

These birds have been hunted almost to extinction because of that ivory-like horn, but conservation efforts are hoping to save them.

Do read the incredible story at the above link, of the search for survivors, of the female shutting herself up inside a tree with her young while it develops, relying entirely on the male to feed them, presumably to keep predators at bay. And the photography is superb.

This and many other species depend for a future on a new generation of people coming through that will not tolerate either poaching or habitat destruction.

Exotic Woodpeckers

Costa Rica has a number of woodpeckers that are unfamiliar to European eyes. I’ve recently managed to identify these two from my archive of photographs from our 2017 trip: Hoffmann’s woodpecker and the lineated woodpecker. Both were in Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge.

Pecking upside down in a mass of vegetation, the rather large lineated woodpecker was hard to distinguish as a woodpecker, although its bright red head stood out.

There must have been some luck involved here to get half-decent shots with my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom. In my experience woodpeckers do not often stay still long enough to be photographed.

Hoffmann’s is named after the German naturalist Karl Hoffmann.