The Wrong Road

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost‘s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring



We are still on the wrong road, as so beautifully expressed by Rachel Carson so many years ago. Did we really listen? No wonder people, in desperation, now take part in Extinction Rebellion.

Painted Lady

Painted lady butterflies are sometime migrants to the UK. We’ve seen a lot this year, so this must be a bumper year when they come here in large numbers.

painted lady.jpg

These painted ladies were around thistles on local farmland. They have a certain faded grandeur, compared to the vibrant colors of the young, but this is maybe not too surprising considering the long migration.

An idea whose time is coming?

“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”

Milton Friedman

This quote by economist Milton Friedman is used by John Lanchester in his recent article in London Review of Books on Universal Basic Income. As one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, Friedman probably has a point.

Lanchester takes us through many experiments in Universal Basic Income from across the world. The evidence is that it works, that it reduces stress among poor people, reduces drug and alcohol use, reduces crime, etc etc. Depending on the level set it can also remove the need for much other public spending on benefits for the poorer sections of society.

The direction we are moving, in terms of increasing disruption due to climate change and robotic technology, suggests that some such solution is going to be inevitable unless we are willing to revert to Victorian approaches of almost washing our hands of the problem of the ‘undeserving poor’, and leaving it to charity.

What is not clear is what would be the optimum level for such a basic income, how fraud and coercion could be avoided, etc. Which is why it is suggested that it be introduced at a low level and gradually increased.

Of course, the question is how to pay for it. The inertia in the current taxation system suggests that it is unlikely to come through ‘steady as she goes’ political change. But Lanchester suggests that with the coming crises the situation will be ripe for just such a change.

The article does not mention the possibility of more fundamental change to the underlying money system to ‘pay’ for such a system. What if money were created as basic income for people, rather than as debt to fund the banking system? Or some hybrid of the two. I.e. we change the nature of banking and money itself to be more in the interests of the people. Now there’s a thought. See Positive Money.

Here today…

The other day I was entranced by the pink and yellows of the grasses and flowers on Knutsford’s Small Heath. The fuzzy pink of the grass seeds offsets the yellow of the profusion of dandelions and buttercups. With only smartphone to hand, these were the pictures I took.

Sadly, this beauty is no more. The next day the grass cutters came and all was mown down, a rather dramatic illustration of the transience of nature’s beauty, and of the insensitivity of bureaucratic timetables.

Allium – another week on

Another week on from my last look, the petals on the now-huge allium flowers are losing or have lost colour and almost faded to nothing. The seed heads are full and bulbous. And still there is that amazing cluster of stems emerging from the apparently lit-up centre.

allium3

The speed at which these changes take place unnoticed by us is truly remarkable. The more you look, the more nature has to give.

 

Sustainability and Evolution

Sustainability – in the sense of the continuation and preservation of what is – is not a realistic long-term option…

Thomas Lombardo in Future Consciousness

It’s a bit of a shock to realise that Lombardo is probably right.

Psychologically, evolution is the key to understanding this. We seek not to go back to some previous situation, but to evolve and grow to a new, transformed level, where we have learned from the past to address the challenges of the present new situation.

Evolution does not demand that we abandon technology and go back to feudal times, that we abandon large scale farming for rotation farming of small plots, that we stop travelling around the world, that we become Luddites and reject all new technologies, and retreat into our localities. Life does not, cannot, go backwards.

Evolution does demand that we, and the system of which we are a part, evolve and grow. We must transcend and overcome the problems that have emerged from previous stages of our development, from the over-development of the little ego, from the corresponding misapprehension of the role of the egoistic ‘sovereign’ nation state, from the lack of recognition that the economy is part of the ecology rather than a competing and overwhelming competitor, from the lack of real empathy with others and the natural world. This is what climate breakdown, pollution of land, sea and air, species extinctions, gross economic inequality and associated problems are teaching us.

The longer we take to respond, the more extreme the provocations caused by ourselves become. We have so-called ‘leaders’ acting like spoilt children, trying to inspire populations with supposed earlier glories and visions of becoming ‘great again’, trying to win some great power game against each other. This is all illusion and regression.

It is time for humanity to grow up and flourish through addressing these problems, rather than retreating to supposed former glories while they overwhelm us.

This is the evolutionary meaning of sustainability.

Morcambe Bay Chimneys

I love the patterns of sand and water on river estuaries. But sometimes it’s nice to have something of interest in the foreground of a photograph. These chimneys of terraced houses in Silverdale, Lancashire serve just such a purpose.

morcambe bay chimneys.jpg

I prefer the simplicity of the two chimneys in the main image to the six in the featured image, but each has its charm. And what a place to live!

Morcambe Bay is interesting in that five rivers drain into the estuary: rivers Leven, Kent, Keer, Lune and Wyre.

 

Pied Wagtail

This pied wagtail settled just long enough, at RSPB Leighton Moss, to capture a couple of photographs.

pied wagtail.jpg

These birds present a neat pattern of shades of black-white-grey; I guess ‘pied’ could be an appropriate description. From the colour, you might think that it could be a so-called grey wagtail, but that actually has a partially yellow underside, making it easily confused with the yellow wagtail, which is even more yellow. Confusing!

Robin Juvenile

At RSPB Leighton Moss I was quite taken by this little bird that provocatively paraded on the footpath before me – clearly an innocent youngster, without fear. It looked vaguely familiar, but the markings suggested something a bit like a dunnock or a yellowy starling.

When I showed the picture to she who knows much more about birds than I do, she immediately identified it as a juvenile robin (European Robin, of course). Yes, it clearly is, when you look at that familiar slant of the beak.

And I always thought robins have red breasts. According to Wikipedia, the orange feathers begin to appear at around 2-3 months old, and the orange/red breast is complete in around twice that time.

Allium Revisited

It’s only just over a week since my post on Allium. Now the heads of flowers are bigger than my hand. Here are two pictures at the extremes of focus, each with a story to tell.

allium set2 2

The petals are beginning to wilt, and the seed heads are forming – three pairs of bulging seeds corresponding to the three pairs of petals/sepals.

allium set2 1

The interior focus shows a wonderful pattern of huge numbers of inner stalks that hold up the flowers/seed heads. The light seems to shine out from the centre!

My Panasonic TZ200 has a superb feature that makes this different focusing very simple, even handheld – it’s called post-focus, which takes a number of shots at different focus points and then lets you choose which shots to save.

 

Hope and Fear

The posts on Aperture of Brahma are simple yet challenging. Consider the latest one here. I will quote and comment on some of the points made.

By holding a mental picture in mind, we gradually but surely draw the thing nearer to us.

So if we focus on fear, rather than a positive vision, this draws the things we fear nearer.

Difficulty and obstacle are necessary for wisdom and spiritual growth.

As a society we are presented with great difficulties in these times. These challenges are encouraging us, individually and collectively, towards wisdom and growth.

We may be of the most service by keeping an open mind. Be interested in the race not the goal; the pursuit not the possession.

Visualization facilitates feeling. Even during difficulty and obstacle, we can maintain a positive mental state by feeling positive. An open mind is a mind without judgement or assumptions.

It is the process of engaging positively with the challenges we face it is important that we do not to rush to judgement or stick to preconceived notions. For example, we should seek to ensure a positive outcome to the ongoing Brexit process – perhaps visualising what would satisfy most people, rather than just sticking to our preconceived notions of the ‘right’ outcome and fears of the ‘wrong’ one (oh dear, this is not easy!).

We do not have to laboriously shovel the darkness out. All that is required is to turn the light on… by adjusting our thoughts/directing our attention to an ideal state. By allowing our thoughts to focus on loss, disease, and disaster, we facilitate the maintenance of self destruction.

Focusing on a positive vision, linked to the good, the beautiful, the true, doing what we can, where we are now. This is the way of hope, as opposed to the self-defeating path of fear.

We can see wisdom in many places. Thank you, Aperture of Brahma.

Picture of light on Grand Canyon from Hopi Point by Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Mottled Beauty

This small moth, only about 10mm long, appeared in my study window today. This led me to the joys of trying to identify what sort of moth it is. There appear to be many very similar sorts of moth with similar grey mottling. A keyword search came up with this mottled beauty. I don’t know if this is a correct identification, the proboscis looks too long, but this moth certainly has the characteristic of mottled beauty!

Any comment offering a correct identification would be most welcome.

The macro photograph certainly shows levels of dirt hardly visible to the naked eye! So I won’t give an image with full detail. Time to clean in the corners of that window frame.

 

Fermat’s Last Theorem

fermat coverI was a sucker for this book, having been fascinated by the history of mathematics from an early age. As Simon Singh’s book Fermat’s Last Theorem explains, the origins of this theorem came from the early days of mathematics, with Pythagoras in Ancient Greece. Everyone knows Pythagoras’ theorem that the sum of the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, e.g:

32 + 42 = 52

In fact, it was eventually demonstrated that there are an infinite number of triples of integers x,y,z for which

x2 + y2 = z2

Mathematicians puzzled for centuries as to whether a similar equation might be possible with higher powers of any integers, i.e. cubes, power of 4, 5, 6,…

xn + yn = zn

Pierre de Fermat was a supreme mathematician of the 17th century, who worked largely alone, rather than with colleagues. When his work was subsequently examined he was found to have made major advances to mathematics in a number of areas. In particular there was a famous note written in a margin that he had found ‘a truly marvellous proof’ that there could be no instance where such an equation was possible, yet there was insufficient space in the margin to explain it. This became a challenge to all the top mathematicians since then.

Simon Singh takes us through much of the history of mathematics in recounting the development of efforts to solve what had become known as Fermat’s Last Theorem. And a fascinating tale he tells, with potted histories of the involvement of many leading mathematicians over the centuries – including the story of the 21-year-old Frenchman Evariste Galois, who jotted down what proved to be key insights during the night before he was shot and killed in a duel early the next morning.

Finally there came the assault by Cambridge mathematician Andrew Wiles, working for some years in a solitary fashion similar to that adopted by Fermat himself. Finally, in June 1993 Wiles outlined to a packed meeting of leading mathematicians a proposed argument that demonstrated that Fermat’s Last Theorem was true. But this was only a prelude to drama, as a fault was discovered in the logic of his proof. It was not until October 1994 that Wiles and a colleague finally laid rest to centuries of speculation and completed their proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Simon Singh makes the development of deep ideas in mathematics in some way accessible to us, even though we could never understand the detail. Few people do!

Featured image of Pierre de Fermat from Wikimedia Commons

The first duty of government

alternative warBe careful what you read! A quick reading of  J.J Patrick’s book ‘Alternative War’ gives much insight into what’s going on behind the scenes of global politics. The book is not well written, but the message gets through, and it is all rather disturbing. It leads me to some reflections on the current situation in the UK, which is apparently largely oblivious to these machinations.

One of the books main themes is the ongoing Russian project to destabilise and undermine the Western powers, clearly exemplified by, for example, events in Ukraine, cyber warfare, clear influence on the US presidential election and the Brexit campaign. It would seem that one of the Russians’ prime aims is to undermine and ultimately destroy the European Union, thus leaving Russia as the dominant power on the European continent.

That this sort of thing was happening would have been apparent to Prime Minister Cameron, briefed by the intelligence community, when he called a Brexit referendum which could clearly undermine the European Union, weakening both EU and UK, in line with Moscow’s aims.

The use of social media in campaigns, and the ability and willingness of the Russians to exploit them in pursuit of their aims, would also have been familiar to a well-briefed leader. As would the fact that such use of social media and the sources of funds used are easily hidden.

Heedless of the danger, Cameron embarked on that referendum. Cameron also knew, and weakly campaigned on, the fact that the UK would also be economically affected. As we know, the referendum was marginally won by the ‘leave’ side. This was arguably significantly helped by Russian financial and IT interference. There has never been any effective UK investigation into such interference initiated by the May government.

And our security situation became much more precarious with the election of Donald Trump, clearly assisted by Russian interference (Wikileaks), and who has many links with Russia, even if there was ‘no collusion’.

So here we are now, over three years on, still arguing with EU on the form that Brexit will take, probably about to be led by Johnson, whose effectiveness in the Brexit campaign (compared to Cameron/Osborne) and willingness to lie, was probably the other main reason for the Brexit decision.

Now we know in much more detail just how detrimental Brexit will be, both economically and security-wise. Yet, lemming-like, the Conservative Party continues to insist that the dubious Brexit result must stand. We must become poorer and less secure, the people have spoken.

Actually all it seems to be in fear of Nigel Farage, whose suggested links to Russia and sources of money (according to the book) are likely to be well known to the intelligence community.

Possible answers to the current conundrum are clear

  • a new general election,
  • getting the May deal through (or not, hence remaining) via a second referendum where the issues are made crystal clear
  • or revoking Article 50 in the national interest – which is arguably the most sensible thing to do.

But a happy ending is seeming unlikely, which will leave UK adrift from Europe, and in a period of chaos, subject to the machinations of greater powers.

Now, the first duty of government is surely to ensure the ongoing sustenance and security of the people. Has the Conservative government really served us well, in creating this precarious situation?

Featured image of Pr Punch’s history of the Great War by John Bernard Partridge via Wikimedia Commons

Allium

The beauty of nature is all around. We tried planting allium bulbs in the garden for the first time this year. Late May they were looking promising (see featured image.)

But now look how they’ve now developed – long stems with huge heads, several inches across, comprising gradually emerging flowers with striking geometrical patterns.

Double click for more detail.

I’m intrigued that there are 6 petals on the individual flowers, which is not one of nature’s preferred Fibonacci numbers – but perhaps they are 3 pairs, and 3 is a Fibonacci number.

And if you look at the picture on the left, it’s impossible to count accurately, but there are over a hundred individual stems in the head, each of which will develop a flower. Since the situation is so dynamic you could not expect this to be an exact Fibonacci number, but it’s somewhere on the way between 89 and 144!

Time of Crisis

Crisis is the mechanism used by evolution to evolve an organism to a higher level. If there is no crisis, nothing changes.

So maybe we should not be too pessimistic about the many crises that currently beset us, already listed in many other posts. They represent the opportunity for growth and change.

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger — but recognize the opportunity.”

John F. Kennedy

Kennedy was apparently wrong linguistically, but his theme has been accepted by many as representing a fundamental insight about life.

So what are the opportunities presented, through which the crises can be successfully surpassed? As a species we must rise above the causes that lie behind our many crises. To my mind it is not difficult to see what some of these are:

  • the personal, religious and national egos that want to have it all, for themselves, regardless of the effect on other persons/religions/nations, that do not recognise the need to look after the old, the weak, the poor, the other…
  • the perception that the outer, material world is all that there is, with a consequent relative lack of self understanding and/or cultivation of the inner psyche/spiritual life.
  • the related denial that we humans are part of nature, need to be in empathy with it, and are now responsible for maintaining its wondrous diversity.
  • the related worship of power, money, jobs and technology, at the expense of nature, the achievement of potential, and the pursuit of the good, the beautiful and the true.

“When faced with a radical crisis, when the old way of being in the world, of interacting with each other and with the realm of nature doesn’t work anymore, when survival is threatened by seemingly insurmountable problems, an individual life-form — or a species — will either die or become extinct or rise above the limitations of its condition through an evolutionary leap.”

Eckhart Tolle

It’s not that difficult to see what’s wrong. It’s clear that the evolutionary leap is required at all levels – personal, society/culture, political. We just need to all get with the programme,  make a start, and persevere. It’s just possible that, if enough of us change, the ‘hundredth monkey’ effect will come into play, and everything will have changed.

Featured image adapted from one by Vector conversion by Mononomic, via Wikimedia Commons