Fromm on Narcissism

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Salary Transparency

So the BBC has just published salaries of its presenters at the behest of the UK government. Was this sensible or political manoeuvring against the Beeb?

It is clearly political, in that only the salaries of direct employees are being reported. Those who choose to hide their financial affairs behind suitable ‘distribution companies’ avoid such scrutiny and pay less tax into the bargain. The logical response of valuable BBC employees is to turn themselves into companies, and thus regain their privacy and pay less tax. Joan Bakewell is right, the government is simply up to some mischief at the expense of the BBC.

I remember the culture of industry during my ‘working’ years. Salary was something negotiated with your boss on joining, and subsequently once a year. There was no simple way of knowing if you were paid in any way commensurate with your peers – you relied on the boss to do that. Of course, those who shouted loudest tended to get the best deal.

Far more sensible would be a company environment where all salaries and remunerations are transparently visible to all – clearly fair, but a culture change a long way from where things are (still) at. There is a peculiar attachment to secrecy in money matters – of course encouraged by the main beneficiaries. So there is a germ of sense in the government’s position, even though its motivation may have been entirely malicious.

A Hen Harrier’s Tale

Beautiful tale of a persecuted hen harrier.

Eyes in the back of my Head

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Hera flew for her life, the wind buffeting her wings as they carried her through the  upland air. Terrified, confused, sad, angry, she was a mess of jumbled emotions as she fled the scene.

Returning to her chicks in the nest she’d made for them, she discovered they were all dead. They had been squashed and trampled beneath the boots of a gamekeeper. She’d screamed in anguish, looking at the bloodied bodies of her tiny brood, then had taken to the sky to get away, fast.

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Easy abstractions 

This week’s Guardian ‘long read’ on Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world by Nikil Saval is well worth a read, outlining the failures of economic/political policy that have led to today’s dysfunctional world economy and its increasing inequalities.

How easy it is to propound abstractions and not consider the real world implications – free trade, free markets, globalisation – the apparent obsession of many economists and politicians over the last 40 years.

Of course, chickens eventually come home to roost. And this is what we see in the real world, with people in the West disillusioned with the effects of a failing globalisation system, just as in the early 20th century.

Deluded by these abstractions have politicians failed to act according to the interests of those they represent? It is after all their job to so act.

But of course we all have our own favourite abstractions, and our own view of what might have been better decisions…

Tuition fees

Is there a public interest in a certain percentage of the population being educated to degree level, and another percentage being inducted into various apprenticeships? Clearly yes.

So why is there resistance to this being funded at an appropriate level out of general taxation? Maybe because of the suspect belief that it is the individual who is the primary beneficiary – clearly not true in the case of people like nurses. And maybe because we have been educating too many people to a degree level that creates over-supply of various skills.

The other reason is that government resources are increasingly under pressure since 2007, as the system itself founders, compounded by efforts to reduce the size of the State itself.

But tuition fees are now totaly discredited because of their severe implementation, leaving young people with an excess of £50000 of debts when embarking on life. In addition to the known problems of housing costs, poorer pensions and reduced opportunities for highly paid work. Crazy, an inter-generational injustice.

This should never have been cast as a debt – a ‘graduate tax’ or progressive taxation would have been a different matter. Strange that this one betrayal of their own voters is probably the reason for the low Liberal Democrat polling in the last two UK general elections. And Labour’s resurgence in tbe recent election is probably significantly down to their promise to abandon tuition fees.

 

 

The sixth extinction

sixth extinction coverI read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction some time ago, and have struggled to assimilate the immensity of what it says. Essentially, mankind is the agent that is in the process of causing the sixth great extinction event for the variety of species on earth.

This has been going on for hundreds of years, most notably associated with the European expansion across the world from the 1500s, and accelerating with recent population explosion and globalisation. Should we be concerned?

You won’t find the answer in this book, but will find this disturbing subject covered in an engaging way. The author tells the story of a number of symptomatic species – mastodon, great auk,  golden frog, North American bats, etc. – and explores some particularly susceptible environments, notably the Amazon rainforest, the slopes of the Andes and the Great Barrier Reef.

The conclusions are stark. This mass extinction is happening. How severe it is depends on how we humans, now the planetary stewards, choose to act or not. Elizabeth Kolbert presents a balanced view, but in the end it depends what we all care about, and do.

Well worth reading.

Garden wildlife

I mowed the lawn this evening, and scared the daylights out of two frogs. Both emerged from dense vegetation, presumably feeling threatened by the noise of the grass cutter, and hopped off towards the sanctuary of the pond.

As I put some of the grass cuttings into the compost heap, I could feel the heat and see the mass of living things – slugs, flies, beetles, worms… It’s certainly true, as covered in Chris Packham’s excellent program on BBC4 last night ‘Life and Death on your Lawn’, that the domestic back garden can provide the environment for a plethora of wildlife. The large number of birds is testament to this, as well as to the welcome propensity of people to put up feeders. Indeed, it seems suburbia is becoming a haven for wildlife compared to the aridity of much industrial scale farming.

Which of course is why the trend to put more concrete and artificial grass in back gardens, as well as front, is quite deplorable. How disconnected from the real world can you get?

My early experience of gardening largely entailed keeping things tidy. Now I realise that the very process of ‘tidying’ can be quite damaging to the local wildlife. Newts, frogs, beetles, woodlice, millipedes scamper for alternative cover when a supposedly untidy lawn edge is tidied up. So shaggy is the new ‘in’ for our garden.

Even so, we struggle to repeat the mass frog spawning seen here in the early 2000s (pic), much as the above programme showed in Welwyn. Frogs are under so much threat these days, and tidiness is far from the greatest of these.

British Lawnmower Museum

Following my recent post on matches, which was inspired by the British Lawnmower Museum in Southport, I was interested to note that the first lawnmower was actually invented by Edward Budding in Stroud in 1830, just after the perfection of a reproducible striking match in 1825/6. What an inventive time were those days of Great Britain’s industrial revolution.

The Southport museum contains an example of Budding’s invention, and a fine piece of engineering it was, operated by two people, one pushing and one pulling. But extremely heavy because of its cast iron manufacture.

It was interesting to discover from Brian Radam, who established the museum, that this is a true lawnmower. Later modern rotary ‘mowers’ are in fact ‘grass cutters’ that work by shearing and tearing, rather than by cutting.

Altogether, a visit to the lawnmower museum proves rather more interesting than you might think, with a number of rooms full of old machines and stories that Brian, a great enthusiast, will regale you with. And you get to see an old machine once owned by Nicholas Parsons of ‘Just a Minute’ fame!

How did you do that?

“How did you do that?”

Brian Radam at the British Lawnmower Museum in Southport was demonstrating to a 16-year-old work-experience volunteer how to light an old gas stove.

“How did I do what?” countered Brian.

“Make that flame when you ran that little stick across that box.”

That 16-year-old had never seen or experienced a match. My flabber has never been so truly gasted!

Makes you realise that things that one generation takes for granted as commonplace are not necessarily carried forward to succeeding generations.

It seems that a replicable and usable friction match was invented in 1826, and a safety match in 1855. They were so common during my childhood in 1950s Lincoln that the roadside gutters usually contained numerous matchsticks; I was even led to try making matchstick models, but soon gave up as it was all too messy and tedious – all that sticky glue!

After nearly 200 years, matches appear to be in the ‘long tail’ of their lifecycle. It seem unlikely that they’ll ever disappear altogether, but you never know…

Picture by thebarrowboy viw Wikimedia Commons