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.

Give us back the dark

I am about 8 years old. We are walking through the partly built-up area between North Hykeham village and the edge of Lincoln. It is pitch dark, apart from regular pools of light beneath the gas-powered street lamps. I am astounded and inspired by the beauty of the heavens, as my dad points out some of the constellations – the Plough, Orion, the Pleiades… – and the Milky Way.

This was the inspiring experience of all our ancestors, yet within a couple of generations it has become a much less common experience for today’s children, because of light pollution. You just cannot see the sky with the same intensity, if at all, from most inhabited areas. We are losing contact with the heavens, and hence the sense of our place in the universe.

Light pollution is one of the scourges of our time see eg this excellent article by National Geographic, the Wikipedia entry, and the dark sky movement. Here are just some of the ways in which increasing light pollution is detrimental to (our) life on earth:

  • harming animals whose life cycles depend on dark
  • endangering ourselves by altering the biochemical rhythms that normally ebb and flow with natural light levels
  • losing our connection to the nighttime skies, the tapestries into which our ancestors wove their stories of meaning, timed the planting and harvesting of crops, and deduced the physical laws governing the cosmos
  • thus losing our connection with the Earth itself
  • artificial lighting of buildings kills migrating birds in their thousands
  • nighttime lights suppress fertility in wild animals, affect their sense of direction, disrupt their natural rhythms, affect the ability of moths and other insects to navigate, with knock-on effects on bird populations
  • studies show that light pollution increases atmospheric pollution.

All this is pretty well known science, and many local authorities have responded over the years. I well recall that in the 1980s there was tremendous publicity about the scattering of light around and upwards by street lights at the time. But increasing awareness and improved technology have led, over the decades, to today’s more sophisticated lighting which casts light downward, giving an effect more like the local pools of light I recall from childhood.

But recently the ubiquity of cheap lighting has led, at least in our area of UK, to a new source of this pollution: individual households putting up relatively bright lights on the walls of their houses or the end of their drives, and leaving them on all hours of the night, others leaving outside Christmas lights on for months on end.

This is totally unnecessary, as modern movement sensors ensure that lights are only on when needed – surely the only sensible approach. What is it about people who press on regardless, because they ‘like their house lit up’, or feel they need their driveway under permanent illumination? “It’s a free country, I’ll do what I like.” It seems like ignorance and lack of empathic connection with nature and other people, with perhaps an underlying fear of the dark. Could this relate to a fear of the inner darkness perceived within themselves, because the inner world is an unknown land? The outer reflects the inner.

The dark is necessary for our sanity, as well as for nature.

Featured image is from the website of Dark Sky Association.

Could the goodies lose?

I’m sure that one of the formative influences of my life was watching Westerns on the new medium of TV. You know the story. It was always about the goodies and the baddies. The baddies got together in gangs, and got more of their share by force, imposing their will on the goodies, who were well meaning but ineffectual. Then along came the hero(es), who sorted out the baddies and gave them their just desserts. The goodies won.

Can the goodies win in real life? If we look at history who were the goodies? The indigenous peoples who lived a sustainable life over thousands of years in sympathy with nature? They lost bigtime, their lands and precious artifacts, even their lives, stolen by Europeans over hundreds of years, who look suspiciously like baddies.

The winners of wars against the likes of Napoleon and Hitler? So many baddish acts to rid the world of the worst sort of baddie. Hardly goodies.

The creators of political systems out of the ashes of wars – the American constitution, the UN, the welfare states, the German constitution, the Marshall Plan. Yes, these look very much like goodies.

The thing is, this is not a symmetrical polarity, as might appear. Goodies are, well, good. They do the right thing in all their dealings. They are driven by conscience and abhor bad acts. They are even inclined to give baddies the benefit of the doubt. They recognise the bad in themselves.

On the other hand, baddies are bad, and have no conscience. Baddies always do what will benefit themselves and those who profess loyalty. And they will do whatever it takes. They have no self insight, nor any desire for it.

So, in a straight contest, the baddies will probably win. Putative heroes are driven out of town, or worse.

But the thing is, goodies are more numerous, and more co-operative. Given the right political system, such as democracy, the goodies can and do win. Welfare states thrive.

However, in the wrong political system, the one-party state, the corruptible democratic institutions, the ruling junta, the baddies can rule the roost for a long time. So many countries seem to be in this state at this moment. Name your own examples.

This is why democratic institutions and the rule of law (and I would add limited terms of office) are so important, and why they should never be allowed to be undermined, which is precisely what populist leaders and beneficiaries of the status quo try to do.

My conclusion – the goodies can win, but eternal vigilance is needed from the heroes within the people, to sustain the institutions that are their defence against emerging baddies.

Featured image is shootout from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Irredeemable?

Kerry McAvoy has written an interesting post on evil What Evil People Have Taught Me, which came to my attention because she referred to my earlier post on People of the Lie. She poses an interesting question, can evil people be ‘saved’ or redeemed, and suggests that this may not be possible.

To recap, my post picked out three major characteristics which give warning signs of evil:

refusal to face the evil within, denial of one’s own guilt, often means projecting onto others and scapegoating.

an extreme narcissism, termed malignant narcissism by Erich Fromm.

a strong will to control others, leading to manipulative behaviours, demanding loyalty,…

We tend to think that all people with evil characteristics can be redeemed, a speciality of Christianity. But what if the characteristics are so strongly built in that they are effectively caught in a world of their own, surrounded by the courtiers willing to go along with them? Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Napoleon come to mind.

As Kerry suggests, we can face them with the truth:

Our defense against such people is to stand firm in our convictions. To refuse to bow and tremble in fear. Truth is our best weapon.

Reality is the other corrective. Such as when a UK cabinet minister was sent to prison for his misdeeds and emerged from the experience a changed man, redeemed. Redemption has to be a possibility, but is difficult to envisage in cases such as Hitler and Napoleon. It would seem that there are degrees of evil.

Any thoughts on redemption?

Common green shieldbug

Here’s another green/brown shieldbug I came across in the garden, lurking in a corner, possibly looking for somewhere to hibernate. This is the common green shieldbug.

According to the Wildlife Trusts, the black dots distinguish this from the southern green shieldbug. The common green was once restricted to Southern England, but has recently become widespread across much of England and Wales, due to the effects of climate change. Nature really is on the move because of the changing climate.

I found it upside down, as in the featured image. The crazy world of insects doesn’t bother much about gravity.

They’re also called stink bugs because of their reaction to being disturbed. I’ve never come across this feature.

Combe Martin

The long narrow village of Combe Martin is typical of the North Devon coast – high rocky cliffs interspersed with narrow valleys. Walking on the clifftop path from the high points of Great and Little Hangman there are views of the spread-out village. The path meanders through a dense thicket, suddenly emerging onto a steep grassy slope, where the harbour nestles below.

A fine viewpoint

The name Combe Martin comes from the Norman feudal barons the Fizmartins, who came over after the Norman invasion of 1066. It surely originates from the Christian St Martin of Tours many years before that.

Grey sky

You know that feeling – you look through a set of photos and one just stands out. Surprisingly, this one is almost totally grey with few features, but the light on the sea gives it life.

Yes, this is a genuine colour photograph taken on a grey day in South Devon; convert it to greyscale and it just loses a bit of warmth. Even in such circumstances, the combination of sun, cloud and sea can be quite magical.

I can only apologise to our friends from across the pond, of course you would use the spelling ‘gray’. But I suspect you did it just to annoy the English!

European robin 2

The European robin must be our most friendly bird in the UK. This one, in Devon recently, was just sitting around inquisitively, fearlessly waiting to be photographed.

The colours look very fresh, so this is probably this season’s bird, but must be a few months old (see eg post on Robin juvenile.)

Of course, this bird was traditionally called ‘robin redbreast’. Why? Because the colour orange was only recognised as distinct from red from the 16th century, when the orange fruit had been introduced. That’s what Wikipedia says…

The apple crop

Our small apple tree in a raised border by a fence usually has a crop of 20-30 smallish apples. About half of these are usually riddled with bugs and/or bird peckings. I don’t use any pesticides.

This year I recently picked the ‘crop’ – just ten apples, but each rather larger than usual. This summer’s weather must have somehow encouraged this by shining and raining at the right times, as I’d hardly bothered to thin them out.

The funny thing is, there were no blemishes on the apples, no peck marks, no bugs, no caterpillers, no sawfly larvae, no aphids… Now this is scary. We know about declining numbers of insects, but NO BUGS AT ALL? And no birds fancying a tasty peck? Even the army of slugs enabled by the lack of deterrent couldn’t be bothered to climb up.

I have never known such an occurrence before. Another piece of evidence of the alarming reduction in the natural world that is taking place before our eyes. What will future generations say when they look at David Attenborough’s films and literally cannot believe their eyes, and that this wonderful biodiversity was all lost by negligence?

So yes, there are more important things than unblemished apples.

 

Why make blogging more difficult?

Some time ago WordPress introduced the block editor, giving much greater functionality than the old classic editor. This probably seemed a great idea to the geeks at WordPress HQ.

The problem is: it’s far harder to use than the classic editor, which is much like any old editor of the past couple of decades. Or at least it wasn’t a problem until they made the block editor the default, so you have to rummage around to find the classic editor, hidden away in the detail.

This makes blogging harder; why do that?

Now I have to admit to having used the block editor on web pages, when it gives some very nifty features to simply achieve complex things. But for my blog posts the classic editor is quite sufficient. You could almost make a general rule – classic editor for blog posts and simple pages, block editor for doing clever things.

But they didn’t, and foisted the block editor on everyone by default. Worse, they pretend it’s easy to use. It isn’t, as its unpopularity reflects.

Come on WordPress, let me default back to the classic editor on my blog. Get a grip, you started as a great blogging platform.

What do you other bloggers think?

The social media dilemma and its consequences

Matthew Wright addresses the important problem of social media and how it reflects our economic system and its (lack of) values.
Fortunately, most blogs I have come across do not show symptoms of the kneejerk insanity of instant response. So maybe the ‘blogosphere’ is one of the more civilised areas of social media?

Matthew Wright

I watched ‘The Social Dilemma’ a few days ago, the Netflix semi-dramatised documentary exposing the business model behind social media, and what it’s doing to world society.

A beautiful picture of Earth from 1.6 million km sunwards. NASA, public domain.

I wasn’t surprised; the social outcomes have been clear for a while. The ‘confirmation bubbles’ to which social media reduces people are a function of the way in which it’s been geared to make money. But the documentary didn’t go far enough. There’s also the nature of social media as a tool for interaction. It’s a limited and distorting caricature of the ways people interact in person, but it’s being used as a substitute for the real thing.

How limited? The documentary looked at the way photo filters are distorting self-image – highlighting the way it’s damaging children, particularly; and at the way ‘likes’ have become a mechanism for validating…

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Great Orme Cemetery

Exploring Llandudno’s Great Orme, we came across this picturesque cemetery at just the right time, with the late afternoon September sun low enough to provide superb lighting.

The cemetery was opened in 1903, just next to the graveyard of nearby Saint Tudno’s church, hidden behind trees to the right. Saint Tudno is the patron saint of Llandudno and gives its name (Llan – dudno). What a magnificent setting!

In the distance is the Gwynt y Môr wind farm, said to be the fifth largest operating offshore windfarm in the world.

 

Fake. News.

Here’s an excellent post from Older Eyes on the term ‘fake news’ – ‘lazy confirmation bias’ seems about right.
There’s a lot of wisdom in old curmudgeons!

Older Eyes

Fake: [fāk] ADJECTIVE:   not genuine; counterfeit.

News: [n(y)o͞oz]  NOUN: newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or                                                    important events.

Fake News: a form of news consisting of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media (print and broadcast) or online social media.

I absolutely  hate the term Fake News.   First and perhaps foremost, it reflects the dumbing down of the American language that seems to prevail right now, even in the media.   You would expect better of journalists who are presumably trained in the use of language.  Look at the first two definitions above.  Of course, you could say not genuine news or counterfeit news but it really is a poor choice of words.   Inaccurate news or incorrect news is more precise, sounds…

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Which Jesus?

Stories of the origins of Christianity and the myths of Jesus are an ongoing fascination.

There are two competing visions of Jesus, well articulated in this post from Medium (limited free access).

There is the Jesus of Faith, which was created by the Roman Church when it became an institution linked to political power through the Emperor Constantine. Personal salvation comes through faith.

Then there is the Jesus of Wisdom, understood by many early Christians, suppressed as heretics by Church dogma, leading to inquisitions and crusades. This Jesus was rediscovered through the Gospel of Thomas, found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, probably of earlier origin than the canonical gospels. Personal revelation comes through seeking within. This ‘gnostic’ Jesus shows the spiritual possibilities of a Christianity that was and could have been.Read More »

Reincarnation

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of reincarnation, despite its been scoffed at by much mainstream thought. At first this came from the attraction to Eastern religions, particularly Buddhist and Hindhu. But science has been catching up, and in this article (limited access via Medium) Deepak Chopra gives a nice summary of where things are, sprinkled with his own imagination.

He quotes Jim Tucker’s summary of research that shows that a significant percentage of children, up to the age of six, who have credibly reported experience of previous lives, and where that has been checked out. “There has been no serious questioning of the validity of this research.”

To cut a short story even shorter, Chopra summarises a plausible extension of current science:

What Nature presents, from the level of subatomic particles to the level of DNA, is an endless recycling. Just as physics tells us matter and energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed, the same is thought to apply to information and, going a step further, to consciousness. Everything in Nature is about endless transformation, and in the cosmic recycling bin, ingredients are not simply jumbled and rejumbled like balls in a Bingo cage.

Instead, as viewed in human perception, Nature exhibits evolution through three linked processes: memory, creativity, and imagination. Memory keeps the past intact, allowing older forms to contribute to new ones. Creativity allows for novelty so that recycling isn’t mere repetition of the same forms over and over. Imagination allows for invisible possibilities to take shape, either in the mind or the physical world.

If everything in Nature is recycling under the influence of memory, creativity, and imagination, it seems very likely that human consciousness participates in the same recycling. Or to put it another way, if human consciousness doesn’t recycle/reincarnate, we’d be outside a process that includes everything else in the universe but us. Is that really probable?

So maybe reincarnation is just cosmic recycling of consciousness. Nice thought.

Featured image is summary from Jim Tucker’s article linked above.
Thanks to SciMed‘s New Renaissance Newsletter for bringing this to my attention.

Pettiness

Another great poem by Steve Taylor, from his latest newsletter. We’ve all been through this, it’s part of growing up. Many soaps and political cultures, including the current US presidency, are full of it.

The World of Pettiness

Keep outside the world of pettiness, if you can.

If you step into the world of pettiness
you may never get out again.

The world of pettiness is like a soap opera
where people act out endless episodes
of falling out and reconciling
of resenting and retaliating
of comparing and competing
with their minds full of judgement and prejudice.

In the world of pettiness
life is a tournament, and every day is a game
where people show off their skills
and compete for each other’s respect.
They’re always ready to take offence and to take revenge
if they feel slighted or devalued.

The world of pettiness may even seem exciting
full of drama and stimulation
like the center of a city at rush hour.

But if you step inside the world of pettiness
you’ll lose yourself in the noise and stress.
You’ll lose touch with your essence
and lose sight of your purpose.

So live quietly and simply, away from the crazy city.
Be still and self-sufficient
so that your ego doesn’t hanker for attention
or feel wounded by disrespect

Keep your mind above the madness around you.
Let other people think you’re aloof.
Let them hate you if they will.
But only give them love in return.

The featured quote is by Frederick Nietsche, via Goodreads.