Just before the Dawn

I was struck by this observation by Steve Taylor in his February newsletter:

“The cultural conflict taking place now is between the old values and traits associated with the human race’s old state of ‘sleep’, and the new values and traits associated with a wakeful state. The old traits are threatened, and so are trying to assert themselves more strongly. It’s almost as if, within our collective psyche, the state of sleep senses that it is being superseded, and is trying to tighten its grip. So that’s why, in spite of all the madness in the world at the moment, I still remain optimistic.”

No doubt Steve is referring to the chaos of Brexit, the Trump presidency and the resurgence of values of discrimination against minorities, racism, misogyny, nationalism, separation, beggar-thy-neighbour…

It can seem disheartening that the progress made over the 70 years since the second world war is under threat and apparently in retreat.

I do feel that it helps in this situation to see the wider context, as Steve suggests. Humanity is undergoing a great developmental change, and it is inevitable that the ‘old’ values will from time to time reassert themselves with renewed vigour. It is our job to weather the storm and forge the path forward to the new world that we would wish to bequeath to our children and grandchildren.

As the saying goes, it is always darkest just before the dawn.

Featured image One Minute Before Sunrise by Jessie Eastland, via Wikimedia Commons

Intellect and Intuition

Our education system is mostly geared to education of the intellect, the understanding of the outer of things, the material, the objective, that which is of the left brain. So we live dominated by materialistic concerns. At its culmination the intellect takes us to realms of abstract thought, science and technology and all their wonders.

But in this process we are losing touch with the inner of things,  and the interconnectedness of all things, empathy for fellow humans, animals, nature, that which is of the right brain. The media increasingly press upon us the results of this dysfunction,  an outer merely reflecting that depopulated inner.

What that inner connection can give is direct perception of the essence of things unmediated by language – people,  situations,  even past and future. This is the realm of intuition, creativity. The more we are receptive to intuition the more we become what is our true essence, rather than following taught conditioning. The more we forget the concerns of ego and act in empathy with all.

Of course this does not mean rejecting the glory of the intellect, but restoring the intuition to its rightful place.

This is the raising of consciousness that humanity needs.Read More »


Uncle Arthur

Uncle Arthur was actually my mother’s uncle. My strongest memory of him is on Lincoln High Street outside the Saracen’s Head Hotel, just near the Stonebow, the stone gateway spanning the High Street. It was the mid-to-late 1950s. Arthur was chasing after his hat. My father, brother and I were in stitches, so failed to help.Read More »


Sugar in Bread

While staying in Houston I became aware of just how sweet the average US supermarket loaf is – both the white and the nice-looking granary/wholemeal type of loaf. It’s actually a bit like French brioche, but a different texture. Some commenters compare it to cake.

Now, why would you want extra sugar in bread? It is now surely understood that too much sugar in the diet is not good for you. (Of course you need a small amount of sugar or honey in the bread baking process, but that gets used up.)

This all suggests that the average US palate has been educated to like too much sweetness in their diet, just possibly one contribution to the epidemic of obesity that is so apparent there. For confirmation, just try a Hershey ‘chocolate’ bar.

Of course, this is a well known problem, and some bread suppliers are better than others. See eg picturebritain. And the problem is not just sugar, see eg. Food Babe.

Now, where’s the breadmaker… But, will the flour have sugar or other unhealthy ingredients in it? Nightmare.

Featured image of a particularly bad set of ingredients from


Monster Jam

Monster Jam is one of the purported great ‘experiences’ Houston has to offer, so I duly accompanied grandchild, friend and a couple of parents to experience it. The venue was the very arena where the superbowl was held a week ago.

First we had to be prepared and take ear plugs and ear defenders (both). The vehicles involved have very noisy engines.Read More »


Lucky vireo

Sometimes you get lucky. There was this tiny bird flitting in and out between the twigs and leaves of the dense canopy of this Houston tree. It was super fast, so very difficult to see clearly, let alone capture on camera. We needed a photograph to subsequently identify it.

Out of numerous shots of twigs, leaves and blurred birds, just one was adequately focused for identification purposes. It turned out to be a blue headed vireo. These songbirds are apparently winter visitors in the south eastern US and spend the breeding season in the Appalacheans or further north.

It appears very similar to Cassin’s vireo, which ranges smilarly up and down the western states of the US.

Naughty Microsoft Onedrive

You don’t want to know the mess I just got in with my documents on my laptop. It’s newish Windows 10 and I had thought it would be just like the previous Windows’. However, this thing called Onedrive, Microsoft’s cloud, seems to be getting in the way.

I finally got tired of its keep asking me to upgrade storage on OneDrive and tried to de-activate and remove stuff that was stored on Onedrive. Seems like I didn’t know what I was doing. Microsoft was actually keeping my documents on Onedrive, so in the end I’d actually deleted documents, and the backups I thought I was taking hadn’t covered these files. And the Microsoft restore from recycle bin didn’t seem to work, probably because I’d told it to stop putting this stuff on Onedrive.

The thing is, it seems designed to be confusing. On File Explorer I can find three folders of ‘documents’

  • one is under ‘Onedrive’, which is fair enough
  • one is under ‘my PC’, which appears to also be the Onedrive folder – this is just confusing
  • one is under ‘Libraries/documents’, which is where it used to be, and where I expected it to remain.

I can only conclude that Microsoft is being deliberately confusing. Perhaps if people get confused enough they will give up and buy extra Onedrive storage. The controls for Onedrive do not encourage any other approach.

If you get a new Windows 10 PC, do be careful.

You might find this article useful how-to-stop-windows-10-from-saving-files-to-onedrive.

The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

It’s around 35 years since I read Alan Watts’ The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. I remember it being of great significance for me at the time. On impulse, I recently reread the heavily annotated paperback (first published 1969) with its browning pages. The cover price was 45p; equivalents today would be about 20 times as much.

Alan Watts was then well known as an interpreter and populariser of Indian and Chinese philosophy, author of a number of books including The Way of ZenRead More »


Black vulture

black_vultures_2Vultures are a common sight in Houston, and indeed all over the US. We often see them gliding around looking for food. Roadkill is a great attraction. A couple of years ago we saw a gang of about 15 around what was probably a squashed squirrel, seizing the opportunities to grab a bite between the traffic.

A large group hangs around the Terrey Hershey park near the I10, and seem happy to pose for photographs.

These are black vultures, which are mostly found in the south eastern states, not to be confused with the more common turkey vulture found over much of the US.

Mostly you see the distinctive outline as they soar through the air, seeking out their staple food, carrion. The one below, which I took some time ago in southern Texas, is a turkey vulture, which you can tell by the red head.turkey_vulture_in_flight


Shy cardinal

The attractive red northern cardinal is quite common in Houston (and all of the southern US states), but seems to have an uncanny ability to know when a camera shutter is about to be clicked, always absenting itself just before the said event. They are quite happy to be viewed nearby, so long as there is a barrier of twigs between them and you, such as in the featured image. As soon as there is a clear view, they just fly off, or possibly wait until the camera is pointed.

With a source of food around, such as the garden feeder we set up a year ago, they were a bit less wary, so long as you kept your distance. These were taken with mazimum zoom on Panasonic DMC-ZS15.

This is a vocal songbird and this website gives good examples of their calls.


Superbowl 51

In a previous post a year ago, I relayed my first real experience of American Football with the 2016 Superbowl. Now we had the chance to experience this year’s in company with a group of Americans at a superbowl party. There was lots of food and drink, friendliness, and hollering at the TVs that were on in most rooms. Some supported New England Patriots and some Atlanta Falcons.

The men were all deeply into the game and the beer, some women also, but some were just there for the social event. The one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that they were all sick of politics and wanted to forget about it.Read More »

Fearful times

We have nothing to fear but fear itself

FDR expressed it well.

Fear is of the ego and is concerned with separation from the other. 

Love is of the soul or higher self and is concerned with coming together. 

In the process of growth we grow from fear to love, from ego to soul, from competition to cooperation. 

The Brexit and Trump phenomena are both based on fear, separation, ego. This is the problem of current times – a resurgence of fear based politics. 

Only through love and raising our level of being can this be transcended. 

Thanks for the inspiration from Richard Barrett’s recent article in SciMed Network Review. 



So we arrived at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands  by the Dee estuary. Before we even got through the entry door I saw this pair of magnificent looking ducks serenely sailing along in open water, and quite close by. The male had a black head and back and huge black beak. Otherwise a bit like a shelduck, but I didn’t know what they were.

Anyway, out came the binoculars for a closer look. Beautiful. Then the thought, how about a photograph, just as they began to move in to the bank. The camera was out and focusing as they drifted behind the reeds. Never mind.

A bit later there was a group of the same sort of bird in the middle distance, but they just seemed to be swimming round and round in circles with their heads in the water, with just the occasional glimpse of that large beak (see top featured image, which reflects the dull grey afternoon).

That’s why they have that large beak, for going round in circles shovelling mud around – and the name Shoveler.

shovelerSome people manage to get superb pics, see this one from Wikimedia Commons. I think the drake becomes iridescent during the breeding season.

Scotland and the Klan

Neil Oliver, with his gentle Scottish accent, has done some good programmes for BBC4, but none better than ‘Scotland and the Klan’, repeated last night. He follows the links between Scottish settlers in the Deep South of the USA and first slavery then the aftermath of the American Civil War – endemic racial prejudice and periodic resurgence of extreme groups, notably the Ku Klux Klan.Read More »



In current circumstances it may help to remind ourselves of the significance of narcissism. Thank you Wikipedia for most of the following.


Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes. The term originated from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. Narcissism is a concept in psychoanalytic theory, which was popularly introduced in Sigmund Freud‘s essay On Narcissism (1914). The American Psychiatric Association has had the classification narcissistic personality disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1968


The term “narcissism” comes from the Greek myth about Narcissus (Greek: Νάρκισσος, Narkissos), a handsome Greek youth who, according to Ovid, rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. These advances eventually led Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus “lay gazing enraptured into the pool, hour after hour,” and finally changed into a flower that bears his name, the narcissus… The concept of excessive selfishness has been recognized throughout history… It is only more recently that narcissism has been defined in psychological terms

A required element within normal development

Healthy narcissism might exist in all individuals. Freud said that this is an original state from which the individual develops the love object… He argued that healthy narcissism is an essential part of normal development.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings. People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success, or about their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them. The behavior typically begins by early adulthood, and occurs across a variety of situations.

Empirical studies

Campbell and Foster (2007) review the literature on narcissism. They argue that narcissists possess the following “basic ingredients”:

  • Positive: Narcissists think they are better than others.

  • Inflated: Narcissists’ views tend to be contrary to reality. In measures that compare self-report to objective measures, narcissists’ self-views tend to be greatly exaggerated.

  • Agentic: Narcissists’ views tend to be most exaggerated in the agentic domain, relative to the communion domain.

  • Special: Narcissists perceive themselves to be unique and special people.

  • Selfish: Research upon narcissists’ behaviour in resource dilemmas supports the case for narcissists as being selfish.

  • Oriented toward success: Narcissists are oriented towards success by being, for example, approach oriented.

Featured image is Dali’s Narcissus


Choose a 3 digit number whose first and last digits differ by at least 2.

E.g 853

Reverse this number

I.e. 358

Subtract the smaller from the larger

I.e. 853 – 358 = 495

Add this number to the reverse of this number

I.e. 495 + 594 = 1089

Why? (That’s the fascinating part of maths.)

Thanks to Alex Bellos’s book “Alex’s Adventures in Numberland” for rekindling my interest in numbers.

My demonstration of why 1089 is the answer:

hundreds tens units notes
start a b c a>c+1
invert c b a
subtract a-(c+1) 10+b-(b+1) 10+c-a +10 carry 1 in tens,units
simplify 9
invert 10+c-a 9 a-(c+1)
add 10 8 9 Carry 1 in tens

Uncle Budge

We did not see Aunt Helen very often while I was growing up in 1950s Lincoln. Actually she was my mother’s aunt. Budge was her husband.

Although living in a terraced house near Lincoln City’s Sincil Bank football ground, Helen was ‘posh’, their child was a choirboy at the cathedral. It almost felt like visiting royalty. Budge was in contrast large, cheery, hearty, funny, apparently a normal working man.

I particularly recall visiting on a Friday – fish day. Budge always had fish on a Friday – I remember a large piece on his plate, maybe skate, which he soon demolished. A big thing was made about Budge always having fish on a Friday.

The rest of us, including Helen, just had an ordinary ‘tea’ – maybe potted meat sandwiches, cake if we were lucky, and a cup of tea.

This seemed odd to us, as we always ate the same stuff together as a family. I think we were seeing the vestiges of times when (a) men regarded themselves as special (b) there was hardly enough food to go around and (c) the working man’s life was physically hard so he needed extra food.

We were lucky!

Featured image of skate by Titus Tscharntke, via Wikimedia Commons




Thank God for Atheists?

I was intrigued by the title of Simon Marlow’s article in the Oct-Dec 2016 issue of the magazine The Beacon, published by the Lucis Trust. Marlow explores the ‘new atheism’ of modern times, exemplified by authors such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, putting them in [what is for me] a helpful context.

There are three facets, which I will cover under the following three headings.

Atheism as an expression of materialism

There is a contrast between two views of materialism:

  1. that of those such as Helena Blavatsky, who see all as one, encompassing spirituality, so that “Matter is spirit at its lowest form of manifestation and spirit is matter at its highest”.
  2. that of many modern scientists, who see matter as what we can perceive with our physical senses and equipment. Matter is primary and consciousness is an effect of material activity.

Whichever view is adopted, Marlow notes that there is still a strong ethical and empathetic focus in many professed atheists, such as Bertrand Russel, philosopher Peter Singer. However, the second perspective can lead to a rather bleak outlook on life as being without meaning.

Atheism as an antidote to religious superstition and scriptural realism

It is observable that religions have often in history, and today, become distorted from their original inspiration to regarding the religious institution and its scriptures as of paramount importance, rather than how people live their lives. Such fundamentalism has caused or contributed to many wars over history, obviously including much modern terrorism.

It was the time of the Enlightenment and the rise of science that put forward reason as a counterweight to the unhealthy state of religions at the time. This has done great service in breaking the hold of religious traditions on the mind of humanity, leading to the modern explosion of technology, social interaction and knowledge.

Modern atheism lies within this tradition, so the debate initiated by them is of value, so long as their atheism in variant 2 does not seek to discredit all that is not within this limited paradigm.

Atheism from an esoteric perspective

Esoterically, we are in the process of a great transition from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. The new atheism is undoubtedly part of this process in helping to release humanity from the hold of the old religions and their fundamentalist aspects.

But again this must not replace the old fundamentalism with a new one of its own – a new atheism that denies the inner world of human beings. Marlow quotes one of the ‘new atheists’ Sam Harris: “there is a place for the sacred in our lives”.

There seems to be a sort of convergence with progressive elements of the modern religious world whose “religious life is not one of dogmatic assertion, rather an exploration and journey into new truth… their natural home  is the core value… of service… beauty… sacredness…”.


I’ve just given an idea of what’s in Marlow’s article. You need to read it to understand more.

The point is that maybe the atheists and the religionists could reach an accommodation in their common search for truth, so long as both avoid the fundamentalist pitfall.




The bird called shelduck in UK is more accurately called the common shelduck, and occasionally males may be called sheldrakes. We see them in their hundreds during winter visits to WWT Martin Mere in Lancashire, and also on the local lakes in Cheshire.

shelduck_profileThis is a largish bird and actually looks a bit like a goose. In fact it seems that it lies somewhere between duck and goose.

What I can say, by direct observation, is that they are fearless in that they will be the birds feeding closest to the viewing panes at Martin Mere winter feeding time. Yet they are easily spooked, creating a spectular display as large numbers of these colourful birds suddenly arise as one and take off. Hunger soon wins and they gradually creep back in to reestablish their pole feeding position.

Some stay in the UK to breed in summer, but many more are winter visitors.

Shelducks are found across the world in various guises, hence the need for the prefix ‘common’ to distinguish this particular variant.