Lichen

It’s easy to ignore lichen, those vaguely mossy patches on twigs, branches, stones, walls,… Yet lit up by a low November sun they prove to be rather attractive.

Now don’t they look like some sort of vegetation? Certainly the following looks rather akin to a moss.

But they are not. Moss is a plant; lichen is not. Lichen is actually type of fungus, but one that can only exist in symbiotic relationship with algae or cyanobacteria. The algae/cynobacteria provide the lichen with photosynthetic energy, while the lichen provides a protective environment.

According to Wiki, there are over 20,000 species of lichen, covering 6-8% of the surface of the earth. How easily we ignore such an incredibly successful life form.

Crab Apple

Branches are mostly bare now at Anderton Country Park, although the younger and more sheltered oaks and beeches still sport plenty of brown and yellow. But here in a Hawthorn hedge is a mass of colour, which on closer inspection turns out to be not haws, but some sort of Malus / Crab Apple, embedded in the hedge. A wonderful sight on a sunny day!

Featured image is a close-up of the fruit.

Making the Human Race Whole

Steve Taylor writes some wonderful poems that really strike a chord. This one is from his latest newsletter, and his latest book The Clear Light. It brings the universal down to the personal.

Making the Human Race Whole

Make as many connections as you can 
so that this broken world can become whole again.  

It’s your responsibility 
to radiate benevolence to everyone you meet
to be reckless with your friendliness
and surprise strangers with your openness 
on behalf of the whole human race.  

It’s your responsibility 
to turn suspicion to trust, hostility to sympathy 
to expose the absurdity of prejudice
to return hatred with implacable good will
until your enemies have no choice but to love you
on behalf of the whole human race.  

It’s your responsibility 
to free yourself from bitterness
and harness the healing power of forgiveness
to repair connections and re-establish bonds 
that were broken by resentment years ago
on behalf of the whole human race.  

It’s your responsibility 
to make as many connections as you can
to open up channels of empathy 
through which compassion can flow 
until there are so many connections
across so many different networks
that finally, like the cells of a body, 
billions of human beings will fuse together, 
sensing their common sources 
and their common core.  

Then a new identity will emerge, an overriding oneness,
a human race that is truly whole, at last.

Black Fungi

I seem to have come across a few black fungi recently, so tried to identify them.

This one was in grassland on a cliff in Devon in the summer, 1-2 inches across. I’m not sure about this, but it could be indigo pinkgill.

This one was on a dead birch log in the autumn in Cheshire, a few centimetres across, part of a group of varying sizes. I think this is King Alfred’s Cake fungus, so named because it looks like burnt cake. Surprisingly, it can be used as tinder.

The final one is a much larger bracket fungus (6-8 inches) in Derbyshire in the autumn, on a dead beech stump. A common name is willow bracket, but it is found on other broad leaved trees. This is another fungus that was used for kindling.

Bittersweet chess

I used to play club and county chess regularly every season from autumn to spring, with a break at summer. It’s so long ago that I had forgotten what it was like, until I just came across this poem, written for my own pleasure and insight, and then hidden away in a filing cabinet for nearly 40 years.

As summer fades away, thoughts return
to pastimes of many a winter’s day.
Has enthusiasm been rekindled
by the long break away,
or will the waned passion of the spring
remain spent?

What magic makes this game so fair?

Pure thought concentrated on an inner world
safely enclosed in a wall of rules
An escape from reality?

Emotional excitement, the dread anticipation,
the tension of time trouble, the thrill of winning.
An outlet for passion?

The long drawn out playing for a team,
week after week, in League and Cup.
The belonging, the glory?

The pleasure of good moves, the unexpected sacrifice,
a well played realisation of advantage.
Aesthetically satisfying?

The horror of mistakes, the letdown of losing,
repetition of patterns in game after game.
A vehicle for self discovery?

The meeting of old anatagonists, the five minute game,
discussion of chess politics, analysis with friends.
The social side?

The long drawn-out struggle, as both players
take issue, advantage swinging from side to side.
The thrill of battle?

The tiredness, energy spent, stale moves, no ideas,
loss of excitement, no motivation in game after game.
The negative side?

Enough of this introspection.
A new season’s dawning.
Let’s leap forth again to the battle,
Renewed and invigorated. Insane?

Featured image is from the World Championship match Euwe-Alekhine, 1935, via Wikimedia Commons.

Queen’s Gambit

We just completed watching the popular Netflix miniseries Queen’s Gambit, the fictional story of a female chess prodigy Beth Harmon, based on a novel by Walter Tevis.

The story is well told, in such a way as to make it interesting to non-chessplayers. As an ex-chessplayer, to county standard, I can say that it does get over quite well the reality of playing chess at the time – the fictional period is round about the time I was regularly playing chess. You really get the feel of the excitement of playing the games, but without need to understand precisely what is going on at the board. Indeed, the chessplayer cannot easily tell what is happening. But the drama is excellent.

It does give an idea of the misogyny that was prevalent in the game at the time, which reflected the wider society. Boys just did not believe that girls could really play chess as well. Although in the USSR things were different. Women’s world champion Nona Gaprindashvili was a very strong player, as I discovered when drawing with her in a simultaneous diplay in Cambridge in the 1960s.

This is also a deep psychological story, of how Beth copes with a deep trauma from childhood and how this affects her chess and relationships, again well done.

When she goes to Moscow (funnily enough around the time when I was involved in a real chess trip to Moscow), the film also only hints at the extreme measures taken by the USSR to ensure its hegemony at chess. The shenanigins of the matches between Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky and between Anatoly Karpov and Victor Korchnoi are notorious. She would have needed seconds along with her to survive.

And finally, when she has beat a Russian opponent, he hugs her – a modern sexism for effect in the film, but no, it would not have happened then.

Still, it’s a great story. I give it 5/5.

Featured image is from Netflix publicity.

The heron and the swan

For less than a minute this grey heron and mute swan faced off on Shakerley Mere. They were perhaps in each other’s way. I managed to pull compact camera out of pocket and take this before the confrontation ended, the heron backing off. The heron seemed to be hissing at the swan, but I couldn’t capture that moment.

The limpid water gave rather good reflections of the individual birds.

Psychology and Astrology Models

Two of the major themes in this blog have been

  1. the interconnectedness of all things and the implications of that for the modern world, and
  2. the need for development and growth of the individual psyche, from both psychological and spiritual perspectives.

These themes come together in a subject called astrological psychology, which I will briefly consider by describing their basic models of the human being.

Psychosynthesis

Psychosynthesis is a transpersonal or spiritual psychology, which considers not only the personality or ego, but the higher spiritual faculties. Psychosynthesis was developed by Italian psychoanalyst Roberto Assagioli, a contemporary of Carl Jung. Both built on the work of Freud and developed psychologies with a spiritual dimension.

Assagioli’s view of human nature is encapsulated in his ‘Egg model’. The psychological ego lies within the dotted egg shape, in its conscious and unconscious guises. The transpersonal (spiritual or higher) self lies at the top and just outside the egg itself. The boundary of the egg is dotted, to illustrate the permeable nature of this relationship, i.e. that this higher self can be connected with.

It is easy to see that the stronger the ego becomes, the more materialistic the person becomes, the less she is open to the higher self, the less permeable is the shell of the egg. In the extreme case the habitual ego is effectively encased within a hard shell. The possibility of higher connection has all but disappeared. It is not difficult to identify individuals in the world where this is apparently the case. Their name is legion.

For most of us the shell is permeable, but the layer of habit is quite strong. Some effort and perseverance is required to connect to our higher faculties. This is where the addition of astrology can help.

Astrology

Now consider the fact that all is interconnected. We are each part of the one whole, which includes the heavens. Not surprising then, that the configuration of the heavens at the moment we are born tells us something about ourselves. The connection is brought alive by astrology.

Swiss astrologer/psychologist Bruno Huber studied this connection while working with Assagioli, and eventually came up with a workable synthesis of the two disciplines. He identified correlations between the psychology of the individual and the astrological chart of their birth time, in the process creating an entirely new form of birth chart, which is beyond the scope of this brief article. His system was termed astrological psychology.

Huber’s Amphora (simplified)

Huber developed his model of the Amphora, which takes Assagioli’s Egg and extends it into an astrological model of the psyche.

The Amphora relates the Egg to astrology, and shows a way upward towards our spiritual nature. The ego lies, as before, within the Egg, reflected by the personality planets [Sun, Moon, Saturn – glyphs in red] supported by the tool planets [Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter – lower white glyphs]. The Egg has been opened out at the top, where lie the top three transpersonal planets – the lowest, Uranus is the planet which helps ‘break through’ the shell of the ego, the middle one Neptune represents the universal love at the ‘neck’ of the Amphora, through which we must pass before the spiritual transformation with Pluto at the top.

Of course this is a symbolic representation, whose meaning in the context of any given individual and their birth chart can be teased out by the seasoned astrological psychologist.

Astrological Psychology

This is just a taste of the rich astrological psychology that was developed by Bruno Huber with his wife Louise. The fascinating story of how this came about and the enormous dedication and effort of these two remarkable human beings is told in the recently published biography Piercing the Eggshell, edited by myself and Joyce Hopewell.

Featured image shows Roberto Assagioli and Bruno Huber.
Amphora diagram is an extract from the cover of Piercing the Eggshell.

Hope in Hell

I am standing on the steps of Knutsford’s new civic centre. It is ten minutes to eight in the evening, in the mid 1990s. I peer anxiously at the traffic coming from the south, the direction of the railway station at Crewe. Where is he? His lecture was due to begin at half past seven. There is a full house of nearly 200 people waiting. Each of our organising committee for these ‘Knutsford Lectures’ on ‘Visions of a New Renaissance’ is quietly panicking. How long should we wait?

A taxi appears. Thank God, it appears to contain well known environmentalist and former Green Party Leader Jonathon Porritt. He sweeps into the building without a concern; the train was delayed. He’s ready to go on immediately. Panic over!

I don’t recall much of what Jonathon said that evening, but I do recall that it was well received, and he made a major theme of people ‘dancing in the streets’, with a social healing as well as an environmental healing as part of his New Renaissance vision.

All this was very much brought to mind as I recently tuned in to catch up on a Zoom talk recently given by Jonathon in a series organised by the Scientific & Medical Network, chaired by the indefatigable David Lorimer. Unsurprisingly looking somewhat older, Jonathon was speaking on the ideas in his latest book Hope in Hell.

It was interesting to hear Jonathon’s reflections on events over his lifetime and the current world situation. I picked out just a few key points, many of which have appeared in various guises on this blog over the years:

  • At one time UK was a leader in addressing climate change, not now.
  • It is good that UK was the first country to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, but current actions do not match this ambition, e.g. far more spent on HS2 than on a green revolution. This is a sort of institutional mendacity.
  • There is a huge gap between what the science says on climate and the institutional response (c.f. covid situation where the gap is relatively small), despite its being an existential threat to humanity. The current incrementalism is not an adequate response.
  • The dominant ideology of indefinite economic growth prevents effective action on climate. Only the Green Party has challenged this dogma over the last 50 years.
  • The other key driver of climate change is population. Because of historic situations it is impossible to have a sensible conversation on this subject.
  • There have been decades of visionaries and good works that have not fundamentally changed the direction of travel. The problem is political and the answers will only come by telling the truth about climate and effectively challenging politicians to do better – active political engagement for those who can. The establishment may not like it, but Extinction Rebellion did achieve political change.
  • At heart, what is needed is a change from self-based thinking to humanitarian-based thinking, from head only to head and heart. [Rather contradicts the previous point – the problem is not just political, but lies in all of us.]

Jonathon is substantially right, and was right in the 1990s.

This and many other issues related to a New Renaissance are covered by the wide ranging activities of SciMed, which has embraced the Zoom age with impressive energy. It is well worth joining if you want to become more informed. They even now publish a regular newletter entitled Towards a New Renaissance.

Shaggy Ink Cap 2

This damp autumn has seen many fungi in Britain. These shaggy ink cap mushrooms were at Shakerley Mere, Cheshire.

These are said to be edible for just a few hours after picking, they rapidly turn black (hence ‘ink cap’) and decompose. According to Wikipedia they “can sometimes be confused with the magpie ink cap which is poisonous”. The usual rule applies – don’t eat wild fungi unless you know what you are doing.

Compare also the recently posted similar but prettier glistening inkcap – same family, obviously.

Glistening inkcap

These glistening inkcap mushrooms were at Goyt’s Valley, Derbyshire, on rotting tree stumps. Identification of these things seems to be rather difficult, despite having to hand a ‘fungi guide’.

According to Wikipedia, these delicate mushrooms are edible for an hour or two, when they begin to slowly dissolve into a black, inky liquid. No thank you.

Fly Agaric

Fly agaric is a remarkably striking bright coloured toadstool, of which we’ve seen several specimens in this damp English autumn.

Young specimen in Calke Estate, Derbyshire
Older and much larger specimen on a grass verge in Cheshire

According to Wikipedia this fungus is not edible unless suitably treated. It also contains psychoactive substances, historically used for this effect in some cultures.

It is said that this fungus was used, mixed with milk, for getting rid of flies, which were attracted to the psychoactive chemicals, hence the name. Or alternatively the ‘fly’ came from the psychedelic effects of eating it.

An agaric is a type of fungus characterized by a cap that is clearly differentiated from the stalk, with gills on the underside of the cap.

The techie problem

I was a techie once, helping to produce mainframe software – probably still am in many ways. Techies understand the intricate workings of the modern world, the technology, the apps, the website mechanics… The job of techies is to produce products that help life in the real world, that society increasingly relies upon. Even WordPress is evidently powered by techies.

The problem with techies, particularly the cleverest of them, is arrogance. I remember many of them. They know their field better than almost anyone else, and do not suffer fools gladly. They know they are right. Even when they are wrong.

And that’s the problem. Their expertise is technical, and does not necessarily relate well to real life. The early software systems learnt the hard way that so-called usability is of vital importance, and that includes carrying your customers forward with you as you develop the technology. Woe betide a mainframe supplier who did not allow for his customers’ applications to continue to work when a new release of software came out.

So techies have to be well managed, by managers who understand end users and the usability of their products. They need to be reined in to ensure the result is acceptable to users.

Now, the IT revolution has meant that it is increasingly the techies who are in a position to call the shots – they head the companies. The list is too familiar – Facebook, Google, Apple, and so many more. The results of their arrogance are plain to see in the modern world: rip-offs, tax avoidance and undermining of governments and established businesses on a grand scale, but without apparent ethical compass. Far too much to cover in a quick blog post.

Which brings me back to WordPress and the case of the block editor. This editor is clearly a wonderful techie solution for those who wish to use the WordPress platform to do really clever things. Who could argue with that? The ony problem is that the arrogant techies decided that this should be forced upon the simple wordpress.com blogger who has no interest in this advanced functionality (why make blogging more difficult?).

Simple common sense says that the blogger should continue to see the simple classic editor presentation, so long as that satisfies the functionality he needs. If something can only be done with blocks, then blocks should be switchable on. WordPress management has failed to rein in the techies, with the result that they are losing bloggers, even the dogs.

Perhaps they just don’t care, another strong techie attribute!

The Old Man of Calke

It was salutary recently to visit the National Trust’s Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and come across the Old Man of Calke, an oak tree believed to be over 1000 years old – indeed there are two such oaks in the grounds. This tree was well established by the time of the great Norman conquering of England in 1066 and has ‘seen’ times of nearly a millennium since then, while living its majestic existence in the peace of the Derbyshire countryside.

Now that puts quite a context on the relative sound and fury of the affairs of the English since then. So many kings and queens, wars and revolts, comings to agreement and falling out with European neighbours, so little effect on this majestic being. Until the modern days, when who knows what threats climate change might mean for its continuation.

Politics as my Footnote

In this reblogged post, Matt Tevebaugh expresses clearly something many of us have thought. The values of what I would call the ‘celebrity culture’ are what led to the election of a president like Donald Trump, the ultimate empty ‘celebrity’.
The politicians we elect reflect our values. What does this say about the Western world, and particularly US and UK? Too many have lost or ignored their depth of soul and meaning, and settled for the surface attraction of the celebrity culture and the sports star. When we regain some depth, we will elect politicians of genuine depth and substance.
Great post by Matt:

Matt's Notes

We are in the middle of a contentious election. And that is perhaps an understatement. There’s lots of opinions flying around, and even some violent displays of opinions. So this is a serious conversation. I don’t want to come off like I am taking the reality lightly. But I am doing my best to treat politics as a footnote for myself and other people.

I realize that statement can come across as a lot of things. Blind. Ignorant. Perhaps demeaning and even racist. It’s perhaps easy to say I am going to reducing a system that is oppressing people to a footnote because I am not part of the group being oppressed. But let me explain a little further.

My hope for the future does not rest in politics. Whether he actually said it or not, Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying some version of the phrase “We can’t…

View original post 846 more words

We are tired of this blindness

Modern capitalism has ignored the lessons of history in the ignorant and short-sighted pursuit of individual wealth. See for example the article Economics for the People by economic historian Dirk Philipsen in Aeon magazine, from which I quote at length, due to its eloquence:

In preindustrial societies, cooperation represented naked necessity for survival. Yet the realisation that a healthy whole is larger than its parts never stopped informing cultures. It embodies the pillars of Christianity as much as the Islamic Golden Age, the Enlightenment or the New Deal. In the midst of a global depression, the US president Franklin D Roosevelt evoked an ‘industrial covenant’ – a commitment to living wages and a right to work for all. During the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr gave voice to the broader idea when he said that no one is free until we are all free. On Earth Day 1970, the US senator Edmund Muskie proclaimed that the only society to survive is one that ‘will not tolerate slums for some and decent houses for others, … clean air for some and filth for others’. We should call these ideas what they are – central civilisational insights. Social and economic prosperity depends on the wellbeing of all, not just the few.

Cultures that fundamentally departed from this awareness usually did not, in the long run, fare well, from the Roman Empire to Nazism or Stalinism. Will neoliberal capitalism be next? Rather than acknowledge the endless variety of things that had to be in place to make our individual accomplishments possible, it is grounded in the immature claim that our privileges are ‘earned’, made possible primarily by private initiative.

But what a claim it is: where would we be without the work and care of others? Without the food from the farmer? Without the electricity and housing and roads and healthcare and education and access to information and hundreds of other things provided to us, day in and day out, often for free, and routinely without us knowing what went into their existence? Seeing ourselves as seemingly free-floating individuals, it’s both easy and convenient to indulge in the delusion that ‘I built it. I worked for it. I earned it.’

The painful flipside are the billions of those who, through no fault of their own, drew the short end of the stick. Those who were born in the wrong country, to the wrong parents, in the wrong school district – ‘wrong’ for no other reason than that their skin colour or religion or talents didn’t happen to be favoured. The limited focus on the individual can here be seen as nakedly serving power: if those who have privilege and wealth presumably earned it, so must those who have pain and hardship deserve it.

Make no mistake, this is the mistaken direction that the US and UK have increasingly taken since the 1980s, the ideology that has driven tax cuts for the well off and austerity for the public good. This is the ideology driving the right wings of both the Republican Party in US, the Conservatives in UK and similar parties across the Western world.

It is time that the direction of travel changes. Covid-19 and climate change are making this crystal clear; the system has produced these, and they are the necessary corrective. We really are all in this together, and making a good life for everyone really is the answer, and should be the goal.

The pendulum needs to swing big-time. Some call it socialism, with a derogatory tone to their voice. It is basic human dignity and the basis of civilisation.

Featured image is from the article in Aeon magazine.

Brent geese galore

Another mass of migrated birds we recently found at Cley and Salthouse Marshes in Norfolk was these Brent Geese. The white patch on the neck is distinctive of this bird.

These appear to be dark-bellied Brent Geese, which migrate back to their breeding grounds in the tundra of northern Siberia via the Baltic in April. The other sort are light-bellied, and these migrate the other way, to Iceland and then Canada.

According to Wikipedia these are also known as Brant Geese, after the genus Branta. Apparently, the Brent Oilfield, off the Shetland Isles, is named after these geese.

Whilst we were watching, these geese stuck together, occasionally flying off in unison to a nearby field, almost taking turns with a herd of cows to feed on a particular area. Maybe there is some synergy there.