Cherrie’s Tanager

Still mining my photographs from Costa Rica 2017, I came across this shot of Cherrie’s Tanager at Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. These birds often give away their presence by that sudden flash of red in the vegetation.

cherries tanager

The name is in memory of American naturalist George Cherrie, famous for accompanying former President Theodore Roosevelt exploring the Amazon basin.

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The Grump

I saw the grump today,
caught a glimpse
in a trice, the faintest shadow
of his former self.
Rumbled, he was undone
and disappeared.

Harmony reigned.

Featured image is of Victor Meldrew, I Don’t Believe It.

Chiloé Wigeon

An interesting contrast from my previous post on European wigeons are these Chiloé Wigeons, or southern wigeons, from South America, photographed in the spring at WWT Slimbridge. The similarities are evident, and yet they are rather different.

chiloe wigeons 1chiloe wigeons 2

Of course, these photographs were much easier to take as these birds are residents, presumably with clipped wings. It’s a strange facet of the modern world that it can be easier to photograph birds from the other side of the world than their local equivalents!

Wigeon 2

The male wigeon below were at RSPB Marshside, Lancashire, in November.

The brown head of winter contrasts with the iridescent green seen in the mating season. These birds still show remarkable patterning, from the fluffy brown head, the bright white splash on the side, those sharply outlined wing feathers and the detailed engraving on the grey back and side. And what a difference when the sun came out.

wigeon 2 pair

This pair exhibit some differences between male and female, but not so marked as in summer.

Uncle Will

“‘He that followeth me walketh not in darkness,’ said our Lord. These are the words of Christ, by which we are taught how we must imitate his life and virtues if we wish to be truly enlightened and freed from all blindness of heart. Let us make it, then, our constant practice to meditate upon the life of Christ.”

I just came across a tiny (just over 4inx2.5in) copy of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, and those words form the very first paragraph. The book came from the residual estate of Uncle Will some years ago (not really my uncle, but that’s another story). Of course, this is a famous book in Christian circles, and I even have a paperback copy on my bookshelves, untouched for many years.

The thing about Uncle Will was that he was an essentially good man – very devout and proper, but always cheery and often exhibiting an impish sense of humour. Some found him ‘churchy’ and pompous, but the more I got to know him the more I understood that foundational goodness, a positive example to us all.

On reading that first paragraph of the book, I was suddenly struck that this was literally what Will had tried to do throughout his life – to follow the example of Christ – and with much success. Thomas à Kempis was one of his guides along the way.

Not so many people are drawn by such devout Christianity these days, but it is clear that its fruits can be rich indeed. I recall Will with great affection.

Prejudiced, moi?

how to be rightJust how gullible are we human beings, and how easily do we cling on to ideas that have no true justification? This question appears increasingly relevant to those of a liberal disposition, and is indirectly the subject of James O’Brien’s book How to Be Right… in a world gone wrong.

O’Brien runs a talk show on LBC radio and has callers on many controversial subjects: Islam, Brexit, LGBT, political correctness, feminism, the nanny state, Trump… The book basically gives his own ‘take’ on the subject from a ‘reality-based’ perspective, and demonstrates how various callers from different perspectives handle explaining their views, with many entertaining dialogues.

He essentially seeks to understand the caller’s viewpoint. The striking thing is often just how shallow those viewpoints are, and what little justification is given for them when questioned. It’s as if the person has unquestioningly swallowed a viewpoint and subsequently regurgitates it, without any understanding of why it might make sense. In other words, it is blind prejudice. They have effectively been brainwashed.

O’Brien’s technique is remarkable for its persistence, sticking to the point, and not allowing the caller to get away with simply restating their prejudice in another form. As well as giving us all ideas on how to handle the prejudice we inevitably encounter, it gives some insight into the minds that are most susceptible to populism.

It is also an entertaining read.

Featured pic of James O’Brien is from LBC website

True science and religion are complementary

I was struck by this post by Aperture of Brahma. It says in a few words the relationship between science and religion.

“True science and true religion are twin sisters. Where the one goes, the other necessarily follows.

“True science” refers to our role as an observer of experience.

“True religion” refers to our role as a participant within experience.

Non-Duality refers to the unity of the polarizing concepts; the ability to observe and participate at the same time. Mindfulness trains us to become an observer of our experience while being a participant within it.

I think I have spent many words saying something similar, but here is the essence.

Boxing Day in Tatton

Many people were out to walk off the Christmas food in Cheshire’s Tatton Park. A clear sky, sun going down, still water on the lake, trees, gathering mist over the grass – promising ingredients for photographs, despite the reducing light level. How about these trees?

The Web of Life Paradigm

My previous post on ecoliteracy brought to mind a review I did of two books, both published in 1996.

  • The Whispering Pond, Ervin Laszlo, Element
  • The Web of Life, Fritjof Capra, Harper Collins

The review appeared in Long Range Planning magazine in 1997, so is written from a business/ strategic planning perspective, but the messages are widely applicable. Any books by these two authors are well worth reading.

Some of the references to current trends now appear somewhat dated, a lot has happened in over 20 years! Sadly, a lot of the change since then has not been for the better.

Why should business people be interested in two recent books describing thinking from the forefront of popular science? The answer lies in the way all our thinking is dominated by the underlying paradigms that have crystallised in our consciousness since the scientific revolution. This structure is being shattered by the sort of developments described in these books. The world of the future is likely to be founded on this emerging underlying paradigm.

Read More »

Ecoliteracy

Marine biologist Bill Graham writes some excellent blog posts (latest example) on the subject of what might broadly be called ecoliteracy or systems thinking, concepts developed many years ago now by Fritjof Capra and others. I think that one of the problems we have is that neither of these terms has immediate impact on more than the minds of those interested in these things. That be as it may, this is important work.

Bill has the admirable aim of encouraging educators to bring about a generation of children that really understand the interconnectedness of ourselves with all of nature, and ‘think sustainability’.

Here are just a few ideas quoted from this post.

“…much of humanity does recognize our dependency on Nature. In our “me” societies, our hubris suggests that we can control Nature. This arrogance prevents us from admitting that, while Nature can survive without us, we cannot survive without Nature. “

“An ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts. It cannot be defined by looking separately at each of its interconnected parts. In addition, the high complexity of an ecosystem makes it impossible to predict.
The problem is that the society of mankind is unable to grasp this fundamental truth. Humanity fails to see that we are part of the relationship. We cannot stand aside from something that we are part of. If we affect Nature, we affect ourselves. For example, if we pollute the air, we might  suffer climate change.”

“Is there any hope of building an ecoliterate worldview of systems thinking within humans? I think so!! Despite the irresponsible ignorance of a large number of humans, many of our children and future generations do not hold this destructive point of view. Their minds are fresh and responsive to awe and wonder. Through environmental education programs that emphasize Earth’s web of life, they are likely candidates for embracing the idea of relationships and interdependence. By being shown how to identify and protect energy connections in Nature, they become effective stewards of our Earth.”

Bill Graham, blog

The hope for the future sustainability of human society needs people like Bill Graham. Try reading his post, and you might want to follow him.

Bill ends with a series of quotes from a recent article by Fritjof Capra in The Ecologist magazine, including the following:

Today, it is becoming more and more evident that concern with the environment is no longer one of many “single issues.” It is the context of everything else — of our lives, our businesses, our politics.”

“The great challenge of our time is to build and nurture sustainable communities, designed in such a manner that their ways of life — businesses, economies, physical structures, and technologies — do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.”

Fritjof Capra, The Ecologist, April 2018

Postscript: See also Bill’s excellent essay Are Environmental Conservation Strategies Misguided?

Featured image shows a kingfisher flying through Cano Negro national park in Costa Rica, where there is great biodiversity and lots of kingfishers. Hastily shot with my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom. What chance of getting a shot like this in the UK? Very small, and you’d be very lucky or extremely persistent.

Groundhog Days

Every morning seems the same here in the UK, like groundhog day. The latest on parliament, the EU and Brexit.

  • What Theresa May said
  • Theresa’s deal
  • what Junker/Barnier/Tusk said
  • what Merkel or Macron said
  • who gave her short shrift
  • which cabinet ministers said what
  • cabinet splits
  • who just resigned
  • the Northern Ireland border
  • the DUP won’t agree to anything (apparently)
  • frictionless trade
  • no deal
  • hard and soft brexit
  • managed no deal (what in God’s name is that?)
  • people’s vote
  • people didn’t know what they were voting for
  • the will of the people
  • cannot let down the people who by chance I happen to agree with
  • where Labour stands
  • the five tests
  • vote of no-confidence
  • no majority in parliament for any deal
  • bring back control
  • fishing grounds
  • THEY are not being flexible
  • and on and on.

Thank God they’re about to break up for ‘Christmas’.

And yet, it’s disgraceful that government/parliament is taking time off when this riven, blighted country is about to fall of a cliff – all of their own making.

Featured image of two groundhogs taken by Joyce Hopewell.

Trickle-Down Economics – child’s view

We should be looking more through the eyes of children at this crazy world. They see the nonsense that is being propagated by the status quo. Brilliantly captured in this blog post by Paul Duncan.

The Out And Abouter

Julie Wilson, 8, trying to work out how to let the big guy know he’s been had.

BROKEN FORKS – Saying she just wasn’t ready for the look on her dad’s face when she tells him that there’s no such thing as trickle-down economics, little Julie Wilson, of Broken Forks, Montana, today admitted it was getting pretty hard to answer her Republican father’s increasingly probing questions.

“At night, when he’s getting ready to head out to his second job – the one he works in the evenings to pay for our health insurance – it can be really hard to look him in the eye and say supply-side theory isn’t going to let him down this holiday season. Not like last year. And the 39 before it.”

Eight-year-old Julie says that the elaborate charade she goes through to avoid dashing her dad’s belief in the inherent decency of rich people…

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Brexit Angst

Sleepless periods at night seem to get more frequent as I get older. But last night was bad. Yesterday the UK government decided to put the frighteners on not only MPs but the entire population, in a probably vain attempt to get MPs to back Theresa May’s deal with the EU in January. They certainly set my angst going.

They actually appear to be taking seriously the prospect of a so-called ‘hard brexit’, otherwise known as jumping off an economic cliff and reneging on your international agreements. (Who will do a trade deal with a country like that?)

They outlined plans to increase the national debt by TWO BILLION POUNDS to spend on preparation for a hard brexit (while use of food banks is increasing in a supposedly rich economy), and are sending letters to companies to say that they need to prepare. As the CBI rapidly pointed out the whole idea is not tolerable. What small company has the spare time and effort available to prepare for such an unknown world and keep their business afloat? No wonder some are opening branches on the continent and moving some of their business there.

Of course, the two billion will temporarily improve the economic figures, so that the government can ‘claim’ their economic policies are working.

The whole idea of ‘hard brexit’ is not acceptable, not tolerable, cannot be allowed to happen. This should have been the first thing agreed with Europe, rather than the UK trying to use it as a bargaining chip.

And this form of psychological warfare on parliament and the people is not acceptable either.

And it’s all happening because of the incompetence of the incumbent prime minister and the frittering away of the time since she invoked Article 50, trying to please the far right hard brexiteers in her party.

If it will not accept her deal, parliament simply needs more time – either to arrange a new ‘people’s vote’ (in which hard brexit should not be an option) or to sort out a new deal that the majority in parliament can accept, which surely involves working across parties. Shock, horror. What a thought.

It’s time to recognise that Brexit is a process and not a one-off event achieved at a particular point in time.

The Scream by Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Winning

It’s in the nature of polarity that neither side can ‘win’. There is always a balance to be achieved in the creative interplay of opposites.

So what are we to make of the attitude of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in this context? Everywhere, it seems, we see groups fighting for their ideal and resisting ever compromising on what they see as ‘right’.

In the UK, the Brexiteers will never compromise on anything short of hard Brexit. The Remainers think a big mistake has been made, which must be reversed. The US thought it ‘won’ the cold war and sought to impose its will on the rest of the world.

Of course, you can win in sport, and you can apparently win in life. In 2000, the neoconservatives ‘won’ the direction of US policy for decades, by fair means or foul.

But you cannot cheat the polarity for ever. The chickens come home to roost if the balance gets too far out of kilter. Make inequality too great, and you get unrest, then revolution. Ignore the scientific evidence on climate and the climate comes back to bite you.

Populism thrives on simple ideas about ‘winning’. We desperately need to reach a more sophisticated level of discourse. Winning is illusory, and usually involves overriding or ignoring the necessary counterbalance.

Featured image. When England won. The queen presents 1966 World Cup to England captain Bobby Robson, via Wikimedia Commons

Too Much Reality?

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

― T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Bush and Cheney: How They Ruined America and the World

I’ve had this book by Professor David Ray Griffin for some time, but hesitated to put it on top of the reading list. Having taken an interest in world affairs over the years, I sort of knew what it says. It’s still quite disturbing to see it all laid out in one place.

The neoconservative ideology, of which Dick Cheney was a major leader, had been around since the Reagan years, culminating in the articulation of the Project for the New American Century, aimed at maintaining American ‘full spectrum’ domination of world affairs. It seems that those ‘hanging chads’ in Florida in November 2000, and the resulting ‘stolen’ presidential election that brought George W Bush and Cheney to power allowed these ideas to have full effect. This had a profound impact on future decades, leading to the multiple crises we see today. Consider the contents of part I of this tome.

  • The failure to prevent 9/11
  • The nonsensical ‘war on terror’ and the Afghanistan war
  • The increase in military spending and policy of pre-emptive war and regime change (carried forward from the Reagan years)
  • The corruptly-justified Iraq war and incompetent dissolution of the Iraqi army that led to the formation of ISIS
  • The extreme Islamaphobia
  • The global chaos caused by America’s ‘war for the greater middle east’ – American supported insurrections in Libya, Syria, Yemen. (The policies were basically carried forward by Obama/Clinton/Kerry). The uncritical support of Israel’s unjust stasis. All this of course leading to Europe’s current refugee crisis.
  • The flouting of US and international law in drone killings and targeted assassinations, even of US citizens. A counter-productive policy that continues to this day.
  • Changing the US constitution that limited the ability of the Executive to make war, many violations of the first, fourth and fifth amendments, including warrantless searches, use of torture, capturing huge amounts of data as revealed by Edward Snowden.
  • Confrontation with Russia by moving Nato and weapons nearer to the Russian border, with the probable aim of regime change in Russia. Regime change in Ukraine that appears to have involved dirty tricks, as has the subsequent confrontation with Russia. Griffin suggests that similar confrontation with China led to the construction of the disputed islands in the China Sea. All this greatly increases the risk of nuclear holocaust.
  • Finally, the persistent denial and refusal to act on climate change and global warming has already closed the window on when the major problems could be averted. Continued refusal to act pushes us ever nearer climate breakdown (‘ecological holocaust’).

This first part of the book is profoundly depressing, and recalled the many occasions when I have personally recoiled at the grossness and lack of intelligence in the US’s policies.

You could just see this all as a grand conspiracy theory, but it seems that the cap fits. US exceptionalism and the thinking of Empire really is perhaps the greatest danger to today’s world.

But we do need to sometimes face the reality of the world as it is, in order to move towards a better world tomorrow. It should be clear to most thinking people that the US has been for two decades travelling up a long blind and self-defeating alley. Donald Trump just makes it all a bit more unpredictable.

Do they really want to be the Emperors of a dead world?

I thought this second Eliot quote might be appropriate, but I’m not so sure about the good intentions.

“Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”

― T.S. Eliot

Maybe I’ll get to read part 2 of the book, on 9/11, when I’ve recovered.

Featured image of Bush and Cheney at 2003 State of the Union, from Wikimedia Commons