Fennel Arachnid

Tying up the flowering fennel stalks in the garden recently, I suddenly became aware of this dark blob near my face. Close inspection revealed it to look like a spider, very well camouflaged in the fennel fronds, its long spindly legs a similar thickness to the fennel foliage.

The back end of the summer seems to be the season for spiders – the more you see the more you notice. I’m not really into arachnid identification, but the very long legs suggest this is a harvestman?

And if its a harvestman, it’s not a spider, but another sort of arachnid called opiliones. These are apparently sometimes colloquially referred to as ‘daddy longlegs’, but for me ‘daddy longlegs’ is the large type of crane fly, frequently seen flying around at a similar time of the year, often getting into our house.

Here’s a more detailed pic in case anyone can enlighten me further.fennel spider 2

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Houston and Harvey

Having family in Houston, the recent hurricane Harvey has been rather on my mind of late. There are two main lessons from this experience, an experience shared across much of the globe.

Global Warming

Of course, climate change and global warming did not cause Harvey – there have been major hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico for many decades.

But it is clear that the raised level of temperatures in the Gulf and ocean waters, caused by rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, will have increased the severity of the effects of Harvey. It didn’t have to be as bad as it turned out.

If action is not taken on the lines of the Paris agreement, which itself did not make change fast enough to avoid severe consequences, future hurricanes in Texas will descend with increasing fire and fury on oil state Texas and its neighbours. The havoc caused so far by the current hurricane Irma, approaching Florida, gives a hint of the disasters to come.

Supercharged Capitalism

Houston was a star of unalloyed capitalism, the oil capital, minimal planning regulations, cheap housing, rapid expansion of population, apparently a great place to live.

But within that apparent success lay the seeds of disaster. New industrial and housing developments gave minimal consideration to the increasing demands put on old drainage systems, and the need to retain flood plains. Flood defences such as the Barker and Addicks dams were not kept adequately up to date. There was a lack of zoning of industry and housing, so minimal consideration of pollution effects on people living close by petrochemical works… It all seemed like the free market right winger’s wet dream! Harvey exposed this toxic mix as totally inadequate for a city in Hurricane Alley.

The City of Houston, the US and the world need to step back and get a grip on a more sensible way to manage human affairs, before we become submerged in a never ending chain of disasters. Supercharged capitalism is at best unintelligent.

The featured image apparently shows a waterway, which is a recently taken photo of the flooded Beltway, a major Houston artery. Things are far from being back to normal.

 

Verdun

The memorial museum at Verdun in Eastern France gives a striking impression of this central point of one of the key battles of WW1. Between 1916 and 1917 French and German generals rained down uncountable munitions on soldiers in a hell on earth, with multiple initiatives and counter-initiatives. The museum gives a good feel for the reality of that war for those involved – a sobering experience.

As at the Somme, the result was essentially stalemate, with hundreds of thousands killed on both sides and a traumatised generation of Europeans and their allies.

Fortunately the Americans came along and sorted the battle out with overwhelming force. But nobody got the subsequent politics right at Versailles and we had to go through the whole thing again with WW2.

europe founding fathersThe Bishops Palace in Verdun has an exhibition showing how the whole experience led to the establishment of the movement towards a united Europe, including pioneering spirits such as Jean Monnet and Winston Churchill. What an inspirational project that was, after the horrors of the extended World War – indeed it still is for many people.

europe founder chuchill
Churchill

Sad that weak UK governments have created the Brexit process because of disagreements they were not willing to work at and resolve within the EU.

And equally sad that European politicians have not so far shown the vision to help the UK around its genuine problems.

Ghent

The Friday SquareIn the square of the Vrijdagmarkt in the delightful medieval centre of Ghent in Belgium, there is a statue of a local luminary – Jacob van Artevelde. He is so honoured because Ghent survived the 100-year war between England and France due to his efforts at ensuring neutrality and maintaining links with England. The statue points towards England.

Of course England has always had close ties with Europe, and periods of major influx of Europeans, such as the Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Normans. And we’ve been involved in so many continental wars over the centuries, culminating in the World Wars of the 20th century, when we took in many more as refugees.

The wise men of the immediate post-war world decided to link the countries of Europe together to avoid the possibility of future pointless wars, encouraged by the British, and Winston Churchill in particular. Of course this led to today’s European Union.

Strange then, that unscrupulous UK politicians have fostered the very nationalism that potentially leads to wars to engineer the UK’s exit from that Union. Something about ‘taking back control’ and ‘making Britain great again’ – the freedom to go off on our own, ‘do deals’, form alliances, and repeat unlearned lessons of history.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

Hopefully the duped UK populace will support a change of course in time.

Inline image by Sergey Ashmarin, via Wikimedia Commons

Parasol Mushroom

I was struck by these rather large mushrooms, several inches across, that had appeared in small groups in the grassland in Tatton Park. It seems that they are parasol mushrooms.

The two young ones entwined like mother and child are particularly cute.

These mushrooms are apparently more common in the south of Britain, but there certainly seemed to be plenty at Tatton.

They are said to be edible, but then again a very similar species is poisonous, so don’t – unless you know what you’re doing and it is legal to pick them.

I was cursing not having taken camera with me,
but at a pinch the smartphone made not too bad a job of it.

The Heart of Man

the heart of manReaders of my last few posts will have detected a certain attraction to the ideas expressed in Erich Fromm‘s book The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil, first published in 1964.

There is much more in the book than my blog posts listed below, which will give a flavour of some of the content. I find Fromm’s work accessible, readable and very relevant today, when the mistakes of the past are rising again to confront humanity – the mistakes that led those such as Fromm to leave a Europe where Hitler’s racism was brewing up into war, for the relative stability of the US.

Fromm throws light onto the nature of good and evil, and particularly the psychological roots that are the causes of war, or alternatively that lead to periods of Renaissance.

Periods of Renaissance

In “The Heart of Man”, Erich Fromm relates social narcissism to the Roman Catholic Church and to the Renaissance, in an illuminating discussion on the nature of periods of Renaissance which might give us clues to the nature of a New Renaissance.

Humanism and Fanaticism

When considering narcissism in large groups, such as major religions, Fromm suggests that there are counteracting forces of narcissism and anti-narcissism at work. He uses the Roman Catholic Church as an example, the personal humility that is at the heart of Christ’s teaching being at the opposite end of the scale to the intense narcissism of a church that believes it is the only chance of salvation and its officers provide the only path to God.

Read More »

Fromm on social narcissism

Following up my earlier post Fromm on Narcissism, I move on to Erich Fromm’s thoughts on social or group narcissism and the role it plays as a source of violence and war.

Any social grouping depends on a sort of group narcissism for its survival and continuation, similar to the narcissism of the individual.

Similarly, we can distinguish benign and malignant forms. The benign form tends to involve some form of achievement outside the group by productive effort, which maintains contact with reality. The malignant form tends to involve concern for the group itself, its splendour and past achievements, and its continuation regardless of its current contribution.Read More »

Fromm on Narcissism

Erich_Fromm
Erich Fromm in 1970

In The Heart of Man, first published in 1964, Erich Fromm examines “the role of narcissim for the understanding of nationalism… and the psychological motivations for destructiveness and war”. It all sounds very relevant today.

Fromm recognises that narcissism fulfils an important biological survival function for everyone, but needs to be at an optimum level modified by the reality of social cooperation. (cf healthy attachment to one’s own children, which needs to be bounded by reality.)Read More »

Biophilia and Necrophilia

Erich_Fromm
Erich Fromm in 1970

In The Heart of Man, first published in 1964, Erich Fromm looks at the problem of good and evil from several interesting perspectives. One is that of the ‘love of life’ versus the ‘love of death’, or biophilia versus necrophilia. We all have within us these opposing tendencies, so there are questions of balance and direction in life.

What is the difference? “Life is characterised by growth in a structured, functional manner, the necrophilous person is driven by all that is mechanical.” Really be in the natural world to know what life is. The opposite is to live in fear, desire control and predictability, demand ‘law and order’.

As a former concentration camp inmate, Fromm was obviously heavily influenced by that experience, and Adolph Hitler provided his supreme example of a necrophilous person, with Stalin not far behind.Read More »

Common Blue

In my experience blue butterflies in Britain are fast moving and rarely settle on anything for long. Also, they have that uncanny knack shared with many birds – they take off just as the camera has focused and the shutter is about to be pressed, leaving you with a blurred image or a great shot of the flower or twig where they were. (Perhaps they really are clued into our intentions.)

So I was delighted when this male common blue stayed still just long enough to be photographed with my camera in telephoto mode, last weekend at Anderton Country Park. There are plenty of areas of grassland in this park, providing ideal habitat.

Here’s a higher resolution of the shot, demonstrating how pretty and furry this butterfly is.

common blue

Goldeneye

WWT Martin Mere in Lancashire makes it easy to take photos of various birds attracted to the ready availability of food. The migratory goldeneye is not usually present in England in the summer. I don’t know if this one nursed an injury. It certainly struggled to get a share of food against a gang of bigger and stronger mallards.

goldeneye

Summer colouring is rather drab compared to the resplendent male plumage of the winter (see goldeneye). But how those eyes stand out!

Nursery Web Spider

nursery web spider egg sacGranddaughter is a bit paranoid about spiders, usually screaming if one is seen anywhere near her. She was the first to spot this nursery web spider basking in the sun on a patio planter, and was quite intrigued to see the large white ball underneath, and larger than, its cephalothorax (see this wiki on spider anatomy). This white ball is an egg sac, bound in silk.

This spider was about 3/4 inch long. The identification is confirmed by the size, colour, stripe on the abdomen, sunbathing habit, egg sac and front pairs of legs together.

The female carries the eggs until they are almost ready to hatch and then spins them a silk tent.

Perhaps one day the interest will overcome the fear, and granddaughter will come to like those very useful spiders.

Common Newt

8-year-old granddaughter has a new passion for pond dipping, and brings friends round to show them at every opportunity.

The main catch is baby common newts (efts). We had no ldea there were so many in the pond. Other catches included dragonfly larvae, pond skaters, spiders. The frogs hid.

This is a great way to get children interested in nature, and there was high excitement when a pretty well fully grown newt was caught in the net.

Later, another was caught and the 12-year-old gave a fortunately brief science lesson, capturing the poor newt in the birdbath for inspection before its release back to nature.

newt in birdbath

Interestingly, newts are nocturnal animals and spend the day in hiding, so maybe the ones in the pond are not yet fully grown.

Small Skipper

Just near the mint moth, there was a similarly sized butterfly on the Buddleia, which turned out to be a Small Skipper. These are so small that you don’t tend to take as much notice as with the larger butterflies, but they are also attractive with beautifully veined wings, furry body and striped antennae.

small skipper
Small Skipper

According to Butterfly Conservation, the Small Skipper is increasingly seen in the north of England, probably due to the warming climate. Also, it likes long grass, so it may be no coincidence that we have left a wild patch and shaggy edges in the lawn this summer – supporting the view that shaggy gardens encourage wildlife!

The photos were the best I could manage with my Panasonic TZ80 in macro mode.

The Armchair Activist’s Tale

A story about hen harriers…

Eyes in the back of my Head

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Reg stared at his laptop screen and began to chuckle. He’d been trolled and he was delighted.

His insistent Tweeting and Retweeting about the persecution and illegal killing of Hen Harriers on the uplands of Britain had been picked up and scorned by an overweight gun-toting shooter from some gun association.  The man had foolishy exposed his own prejudice and ignorance in a short video by accusing someone of being an “armchair conservationist”. That particular someone, thought Reg, knows a helluvalot about driven grouse shooting.

“I’ll show him!” thought Reg.

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Mint moth

During this variable English summer weather, those days when the sun really comes out have been accompanied by the appearance in the garden of bees, hoverflies and a varied smattering of butterflies, usually the odd one or two, compared to the larger numbers within fairly recent memory.

The sharp eyes of granddaughter were the first to spot this pretty little insect, less than a centimetre across. Assisted by my Panasonic TZ80 macro facility, the photo shows just how pretty it was, and enabled identification as a mint moth – not actually a butterfly.

mint moth
Mint moth

Mint moths are said to frequent mint and oregano plants, which was precisely where this one and several others appeared. It’s also a day flier as well as a night flyer.

Just goes to show that it’s well worth looking at the tiny flutterers, as well as the more obvious large ones.

Mrs Watty

Mrs Watty lived two doors away from us in 1950s Lincoln. She was pretty well off compared to the rest of the street, having a car long before anyone else and having people in to do things for her.

We had but a nodding acquaintance with Mrs Watty until I was an early teenager. She never seemed to go out of the house, other than in the car. Her age I know not; I just saw her as ‘old’.

Presumably Mrs Watty found out that I played chess at school, and she let it be known that she would like to learn to play chess. Thus it was that I embarked on a very brief career as a chess coach and went round to see her, along with my chess set.Read More »

Scarlet Macaw

It would be a shame not to cover the Scarlet Macaw in my intermittent series of posts on the birds of Costa Rica. This is arguably the most spectacular of them all, and seemed reasonably common, in that we had several sightings of them high up in the trees while by the Pacific coast. The featured image was the best shot we got, walking near our hotel in Manuel Antonio.

We did get up closer at the animal rescue centre Zoo Ave.

scarlet macaw feature
Scarlet Macaw feeding at Zoo Ave

The Scarlet Macaw is the national bird of nearby Honduras; Costa Rica prefers the Clay Colored Robin, herald of rain.

Green Orb-Weaver Spider

I was about to brush off a single strand of spider web silk stretching across the drive to the car, when I noticed this attractive, unusually coloured little spider sitting at the car end of the thread. This presented an opportunity to try out the macro facility on my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom, which I use so little that I can never remember how when an opportunity presents itself.

The sun was highlighting the spider’s unusual yellow-green colouring, and the pictures turned out not too bad, considering the camera was hand held, and there was a breeze moving the web about.

It turns out this is a Green Orb-Weaver Spider, one of the interesting family of orb-weaver spiders.

green orb weaver spiderThis particular spider was only a few millimetres long, so the macro facility has acquitted itself quite well, as you can see in the enlarged image. Note the characteristic red spot on the underside – as it happens it was upside down.