Want of foresight

Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.

Winston Churchill, Speech, House of Commons, May 2, 1935

Churchill was looking at the patterns of history and making a point about his own times. He could have been commenting on modern crises such as global warming, ocean acidification, over-use of pesticides, plastic pollution, Brexit, Palestine and on and on. It seems to be in the nature of humanity that only extreme crisis forces the needed change. We are not (yet), in that sense, a collectively rational species.

Picture of dark storm clouds rolling in at the Pawnee Buttes National Grasslands, Wyoming, by MichaelKirsh via Wikimedia Commons

Cotinus Raindrops

This red/purple cotinus on our deck (variant rhus cotinus) and its largely spent flowers become particularly attractive just after rain, and we’ve had a lot of rain lately. Not good for most photography, but great for raindrops!

cotinus 2cotinus 1

Rhus Cotinus is also called ‘European smoke bush’, presumably because the large groups of flowers on stems can look a bit like a smoky edging to the plant (see above Wikipedia link).

Note to pedants. No they’re not the actual rain drops, but the varied effect of splashes, joining together, streaming, viscosity, surface tension, etc! That’s why some of the drops are rather large and some are very small.

 

 

Trump Trade Deal: It’s Not About F*cking Chicken

In this excellent post Conor Boyle shows how the media have trivialised a rather important issue on different attitudes to government responsibility for food and health regulation in EU and US. As he says, it’s not about the chicken, it’s about the responsibilities of government, and whether people are left at the mercy of essentially unaccountable large corporations. This is one of the true costs of Brexit.

The Conversation Room

Don’t get me wrong, I like chickens. As a child I loved visiting the farm and feeding the little chicks in their pen. I just don’t think when deliberating what’s at stake for the U.K in signing a post Brexit trade deal with the United States that poultry should be the focal point of debate. 

From Jeremy Corbyn to the BBC it seems everyone has bought into the idea that  chlorinated chickens entering the U.K food chain is the number one objection to a trade deal with Donald Trump. It can be quite infuriating to see political debate on respected current affairs progammes ask “Does Britain really want chlorinated chicken?” As if the primary impact of a trade deal with with the U.S is the quality of KFC.

To clarify, in the E.U chicken producers must adhere to strict hygiene and welfare regulations throughout the process of rearing…

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Teresa May faced an Impossible Task.

In this excellent post, Bruce Nixon explains why Theresa May faced and impossible task, and why Brexit is not the answer to anything, other than a power grab by vested interests. UK democracy needs refreshing.

Bruce Nixon

Peoples Vote

Protesters carry a banner at the People’s Vote anti-Brexit march in London on March 23, 2019. Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images.                                     

She faced a deeply divided House of Commons and divided Tory and Labour parties, unwilling to agree to the Brexit proposals she negotiated with EU leaders. Almost certainly any other leader would have faced the same situation. Leaving the EU is the wrong diagnosis for a real crisis – see The dismantling of the state since the 1980s .  

 

Vote Leave was launched in October 2015 with the support of both right and left wing Eurosceptic politicians, leaders from the business world and trade unions and the European Research Group . It was arguably a campaign organised by politicians wanting more power. It was not about giving more power to the people.

The constantly repeated “Brexit is the will of the people” is propaganda.

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Senatus PopulusQue Romanus

spqr coverI guess this will be my only blog title in Latin, a conceit from an early education that included this ancient language. It means ‘The Senate and People of Rome’, often abbreviated to SPQR, which is the title of classicist Mary Beard’s book.

Rigorous but readable, Mary tells the tale of 1000 years of ancient Rome. I enjoyed it, probably more so, and with greater insight, than I did reading the abbreviated version of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire many years ago.

She begins in the middle, around 63 BCE, with the story of Cicero putting down the conspiracy by Cataline and other members of the Roman Senate itself, a story that is well understood because Cicero himself was a writer, many of whose works have survived, and history is written by the winners. The true story we do not know!

Mary then takes us back to the beginnings of Rome and the legend of Romulus and Remus, the foundation story of Rome. As Rome began to expand and co-opt nearby communities there eventually emerged what is characterised as a time of absolute kings, which ended around 490 BCE when Tarquin was defeated, a Republic was declared, and kingship got a bad name. Pairs of consuls were elected and ruled on an annual basis, overseen by the Senate – or rather such a system eventually emerged. Rome expanded, co-opting subject peoples into the system, particularly the army.

While Cicero was still alive, ever expanding overseas adventures led to the emergence of two major figures, Pompey in the East and Julius Caesar in the West. After years of accomodation, in 49 BCE Caesar ‘crossed the Rubicon’ and engaged in civil war with Pompey. Pompey was eventually defeated and Caesar became dictator, or Emperor. Not for long, he was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BCE. Amazingly this led to many years of stability as Augustus Caesar dominated the scene for many years, dying in old age (possibly).

Problems of succession then dominated for the next 14 Emperors. In 212 ACE Caracalla extended citizenship to all inhabitants of the Empire, and a different game began, with ever-increasing turnover of Emperors. This is where Mary Beard leaves the subject, to be taken up by someone else!

Mary cautions against trying to draw lessons for today from these historic events. But what is clear from Rome’s history is the danger of any state becoming identified with one man (it’s always a man!). Then there is the inevitable problem of succession, competitors, warring factions, and wars. This is what democratic systems avoid, by providing for the people to elect a new leader from time to time. So beware any leader or faction which seeks to extend his/its leadership beyond the specified time, who wants to rule for life or be a one-party state, in fact any dictator, populist or otherwise, and any party that seeks to rule forever. I won’t name names.

 

 

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What causes War?

I was intrigued by Ferdinand Mount‘s article in the recent issue of London Review of Books. His basic premise is that countries go to war because of economic and related resource issues. WW1 was really about Germany’s lack of natural resources which were available in neighbouring countries. This festered on into WW2 which continued the argument. The same is true of most wars, often a reaction against ‘imperial’ exploitation by a stronger power. The EU and the supranational European Court of Justice were established to provide an arrangement whereby such conflict would not happen again in Europe.

Of course I’ve oversimplified, but the essence is there. Brexit will inevitably increase the probability of a future European war. If there were a no-deal Brexit, the resulting arguments about unwinding the hugely complex relationships between UK and EU will probably go on for decades, probably with ill will.

The UK will also go into negotiations with US, China, India etc, with the relatively weak negotiating position of desperation, resulting in more conflict and ill will.

Of course, in general democracies do not go to war, but with the threatening rise of populism who knows? War and conflict are historically favoured tactics of populists to get the people behind them.

Those of us who believe Brexit to be a total disaster should not cease saying so. We know that the Brexit vote was ‘won’ one lucky day three years ago. It can be changed.

Featured image of German troops entering Sudetenland 1938 from Bundesarchiv, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Anhinga 2

This anhinga, taken at Brazos Bend Texas State Park in March, is poised, intent, ready to strike.

anhinga 2019

According to Wikipedia, the anhinga is also known as a snakebird, American darter, or water turkey. The stance is obviously a bit like that of a cormorant.

Katydid

Granddaughter spotted this leaf insect in Houston, and it somehow finished up on her hand. What an amazing camouflage, looking just like a leaf.

It seems to be a katydid, in America anyway. Brits call it a bush cricket, and the scientific name is tettigoniidae.The picture below shows the long antennae – it was once called a long-horned grasshopper.

katydid

The name ‘katydid’ is onomatopoeic, coming from the particularly loud, three-pulsed song – as is ‘cicada’, to which they are related. There are actually thousands of species in this family.

Information thanks to Wikipedia link in the text.
Thanks to momma for photographing on her iphone!

D-Day Dissonance

I’m not the only one to notice a certain cognitive dissonance between the current D-Day celebrations in Normandy and the actions of our leaders.

Out of the experience of World War came a determination that such an event should never happen again, never again would European and other major countries resolve their differences by war. This led to the creation of international institutions including the UN, NATO, WTO, and ultimately the EU.

So there we have the leading politicians of France and UK, M Macron and Mrs May, pledging future cooperation, while in the process of the appalling Brexit negotiations that have signally failed to produce cooperation. While at home the ‘colleagues’ who have connived in removing Mrs May, due to their failure to support her, argue over the minutiae of negotiating positions with the EU – like monkeys arguing over scraps of food. Supported by M Macron, the EU has concluded negotiations and is determined to ‘give’ nothing of substance. The two sides appear determined to not agree.

And of course, there is Mr Trump, determined in his course to undermine all those collaborative institutions, because America can be great again by bullying every country individually in one-to-one negotiations. And the Brexiteers are willing lambs to this slaughter, in the supposed name of making UK great again.

Sometimes current politics seems like Alice in Wonderland!

Graves are at the American Cemetery, Colleville su Mer, Normandy

Green Ground Beetle

This stunning green beetle, nearly an inch long, was rooting around in the stones by the path at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas, in March.

green ground beetle

There’s a large family of ground beetles, of which I guess this green one is a subspecies. Beetles don’t appear to be well covered on the web!

Digger Wasp

There were quite a few of these insects in an area of Tatton Park by the lake, and they seemed to relate to small holes in the ground prevalent in that area. At first we thought it was some sort of solitary bee, but web research didn’t come up with any matching images. It seems it must be some sort of digger wasp, of which there are 110 different species in the British Isles.

According to Buglife, digger wasps are solitary nesters, and the tunnels may be 30cm deep. They may also nest near to each other in colonies, which is what we saw in Tatton.

Common Blackbird

blackbird headBlackbirds are common in English gardens. They are not much photographed because they are basically just black, with yellow beak and eye ring.

juv blackbirdNow my bird in the photograph is not black, in fact it’s a rather attractive brown colour, if anything looking a bit like a thrush. And the beak is dark, not yellow. But yes, it is still a common blackbird – the adult female and juvenile are more brown than black. This is probably a juvenile, where the adult colours have not yet come out. You can see the eye ring and incipient beak colouring. And the blackbird is indeed a species of thrush.

Wikipedia tells the following interesting story about the name ‘blackbird’:

It may not immediately be clear why the name “blackbird”, first recorded in 1486, was applied to this species, but not to one of the various other common black English birds, such as the carrion crow, raven, rook, or jackdaw. However, in Old English, and in modern English up to about the 18th century, “bird” was used only for smaller or young birds, and larger ones such as crows were called “fowl”. At that time, the blackbird was therefore the only widespread and conspicuous “black bird” in the British Isles.

Photograph taken in Devon, May 2019.

Wheatear

We saw these little birds, wheatears, by the sea several times on a recent visit to North Devon, usually at a distance, as on the featured image. Some of the photographs turned out not too badly.

Strangely, the name is nothing to do with wheat or ears. According to Wikipedia, the name is a folk etymology of “white” and “arse”, referring to the prominent white rump found in most species.

There are said to be 28 subspecies. I’d guess that this one is a northern wheatear, that being the most widespread in Europe. They migrate to Africa in the winter.

 

 

Croquet at Wells

How typically English (in the bucolic imagination) to play croquet on the lawns of the Bishop’s Palace with Well Cathedral in the background. The players are all dressed up in whites for the occasion, watched by the hoi polloi at the nearby tea shop.

croquet player.jpgA couple of games are in progress, all women apart from one man, who from time to time rests on his mallet while the women enjoy discussing the tactics of their next move, or maybe their next shopping trip.

The game appears to be played in a ‘gentlemanly’ spirit, with handshakes all round at the end. There is none of the aggression I recall from young men playing opportunistic games of croquet many years ago.

Sport as it should be!

The Weight of Our Sins

We came across this wonderful sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos in the Bishop’s Palace Gardens at Wells Cathedral. It depicts eight children bearing the weight of the cross, with each child symbolising a crime against children in today’s world. They include a child suffering from Aids, a baby victim of genocide, a child blinded by a land mine and a homeless child.

A plaster version of the statue was created by Vasconcellos in 1999 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the United Nations’ International Year of the Child, when she was 94. A home was subsequently found in Wells for a more permanent version.

What a wonderful depiction of the weight modern generations are placing on those coming. We could easily add to the list climate breakdown, rising sea levels, pollution, extinction of species, victims of modern warfare and on and on…

A representation like this makes that burden so much clearer than mere words.

the weight of our sins 50.jpg

Sustainability: Is the Mount Everest gridlock a metaphor for our planet?

A great post by Jane Fritz. There are just too many people on the planet to go on as we have done recently, and some major realignments of politics, business and people’s aspirations is required. What on earth is the point any more of climbing up Mount Everest in a queue?

Robby Robin's Journey

The pictures that emerged this past week of the long line of climbers waiting their turn to get to the summit of the tallest mountain on our planet was staggering to behold. This is perhaps the most remote and inhospitable place in the world. Those people were waiting in frigid temperatures, requiring oxygen tanks to breath, and they were waiting in line – kind of like the lunch line in the high school cafeteria or the line waiting for the door to open at a popular store for shopping deals on Black Friday – and they waited for up to 12 hours, with several deaths along the way. Commentators are suggesting there is a sustainability issue around the number of people who are attempting to climb Mount Everest. You think?!

Photo credit: thestar.com

It was in 1953 that Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to be…

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Climate Emergency

Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.

from Christopher Fry’s poem A Sleep of Prisoners

Maybe the recent spate of declarations of climate emergency by UK parliament, local councils, and across the world is the welcome beginning of the end of the equivalent of Christopher Fry’s ‘frozen misery’, as the human-race frog sat in the warming pan awaiting the result of its long satanical deal with exploiting the fossil fuels of the earth.

Maybe the ideas of Zero Carbon Britain, propagated for many years by the Centre for Alternative Technology, are at last finding a receptive environment which will lead to their implementation.

But let’s be under no illusion. The obstacles are all too real: governments, banks and the prevailing mindset. Yes, you and I can do things, but governments and banks still support and underpin the fossil fuel economy, and it is they that need a radical change of direction towards the sustainable future.

And this will only happen when the majority of people is more obsessed with climate breakdown than it is about frippery such as Brexit and the myth of the strong populist leader.

And can this happen when it is apparent that rich white men are intent on retaining their dominance of the planet’s political sphere through control of the sources of those very fossil fuels at the root of the problem?

A fuller version of Fry’s poem was in this post.
Featured image is from the CAT website.