Cuckoo flower

The other day we heard our first cuckoo of spring, in fact the first for several years, in Anderton Country Park. Cuckoos were ubiquitous in my youth, but alas no longer.

We then saw these small white flowers by the canal, which I had seen other years and been meaning to look up. What a surprise, when they turned out to be cuckoo flowers – so named because their appearance tended to coincide with the hearing of the first cuckoos!

cuckoo flower

Buttercup clump

A clump of coarse grass in a grassy field studded with buttercups.

buttercup clump

This was a large field, lots of clumps and lots of buttercups. This was the only framing that seemed to work. What do you think?

The genus ranunculus is poisonous, even to cows in significant quantities. But it’s OK when dried, as in hay.

Hawthorn blossom

Anderton Country Park is now resplendent with one of the later spring delights, hawthorn blossom. While growing up I remember its being called ‘May blossom’ – this is also known as the May tree. Its appearance is the herald of the coming summer.

Some of the trees or bushes are almost overloaded with glorious white blossom.

white hawthorn

An unfortunate accompaniment is the really heavy pungent scent, which is not good for the hay fever.

According to Wikipedia, “the young leaves and flower buds, which are also edible, are known as “bread and cheese” in rural England” – indeed I recall that this is precisely what my father called it.

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Mint Moth 2

It’s nearly three years since I last saw a mint moth in the garden. It doesn’t mean they’ve not been around, they’re just so small (under 2 cm) and fleeting. This one was in a similar place, on a forget-me-not flower by a patch of oregano, which they’re said to like as well as mint.

mint moth 2

These moths fly by day, as well as by night. Seen close up they have an amazingly furry body. This is probably the first of two breeds within the year in England.

This was a telephoto shot, whereas my previous post used the camera’s macro facility and is slightly sharper.

Quick… heron overhead

You know that moment when you suddenly see a large bird flying towards you, grab the camera, switch on, point and shoot as it passes quickly overhead? Usually the result is a blurry picture of empty sky. I got lucky with this grey heron at Anderton Country Park.

grey heron overhead

Of course, the lighting is pretty impossible, and it’s nothing like the great shots done by the pros with their expensive equipment and oodles of stalking time (this was during a walk with my Panasonic TZ200 pocket-size superzoom). Just try this great blue by Ted Jennings or this one. Follow him!

VE Day

It’s VE day, marking the 75th anniversary of the ending of the Nazi regime and its attempt to take over Europe.

European countries are each celebrating in their own way. Yes, we should thank those whose sacrifice made this possible, and reflect on their achievement. It is a shame that they cannot do this together at this time.

Yet also this is a bitter-sweet moment. In our reflection, should we consider why Europe fell apart into two major wars between 1918 and 1945?

Should we consider the irony that this is happening just as Brexit and economic strains are apparently in the process of destroying that long post-war project (EU) of bringing the European nations together to end the scourge of war that had scarred the continent for centuries?

Should we consider the irony that populist leaders are again controlling many of the world’s major countries? The nazi leader was one such, who believed that he alone had the right prescriptions for his people. How wrong he was, and how wrong they all are.

Yes, a bitter-sweet moment.

 

America’s issue with socialism, so that’s what it’s all about

Jane Fritz puts her finger on why the US really is different, and why a lot of their citizens just cannot abide the idea of socialism or social democracy or free healthcare. Of course, it’s not all Americans – this is the ‘base’ that Donald Trump is always speaking to. And this shows us why we in the UK our unwise to follow the right of our Conservative Party that would like to make us more like the US.

Robby Robin's Journey

I can’t have been alone in wondering over many, many years why so many Americans have such an aversion to ‘socialism’ even in its mildest forms, like universal healthcare.   Every other ‘developed’ country embraced what’s commonly called social democracy decades ago, in the aftermath of WWII, as have other countries. But not the U.S. As far as they’re concerned, it’s socialism.

I used to think that I understood the reason and that surely it would pass. My theory was that it was tied to the Cold War fear of communism and the thought that socialism would lead to communism. I reckoned that once enough time had passed they’d realize that wasn’t the case. However, I have now learned that this aversion to social rights has been at the core of American principles since at least the mid-1700s. That’s what individualism is all about. It explains a lot of things.

Full…

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Polarity – Balance and Synthesis

I was inspired to build on an earlier post on polarity by these thoughts from a free pdf in the Psychosynthesis Centre: Balancing and Synthesis of the Opposites by psychologist Roberto Assagiol. Quotes are from that document.

Polarity is a universal fact; it is inherent in cosmic manifestation… From the very moment that cosmic manifestation begins to unfold, duality is born. The first fundamental duality is precisely that between manifestation and the Unmanifest. In the process of manifestation the fundamental polarity is that of Spirit and Matter.

We could see existence as the dance between spirit and matter.

… all polarity is a relationship between two elements… as such, it is never absolute, but relative even to a particular pair of opposites: the same element can be positive in its relation to a certain “pole” and negative in its relation to another. An instance of the relativity of the “polar relationships” exists in the fundamental polarity between Spirit and Matter.

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Mr Blackbird’s bath

After Mrs Blackbird’s bath it was her partner’s turn the other day. The technique involves dipping the tail in, then dipping the head in, and then the wings, each time splashing furiously.

I really wanted to see his eye more clearly, so crept round the garden to get the sun behind me. He flew off, but soon came back to complete his ablutions. A bit of a show-off really.

Click twice to see an image full screen. In the last image the tail flicks water up as the beak submerges.

Purple Archangel

This plant is ubiquitous in our garden, the ultimate survivor which spreads rapidly in some areas every year. The patches are quite pleasing, with green variegated leaves all year and splashes of purple flower in spring/summer. But get in close and it’s magnificent!

dead nettle

The posh name is lamium purpureum, and the popular name is dead nettle, due to its resemblance to the common nettle but lack of a sting. With such close-up beauty, its third name, purple archangel, seems far more appropriate!

Private gain must no longer be allowed to elbow out the public good

This excellent post by Wayne Woodman is an essay by Dick Philipsen, who summarises quite succinctly why ‘the system’ has gone too far in privileging private gain over the public good. Covid-19 has brought this crazy situation into sharp relief, where we absolutely depend on those who have been least well regarded and rewarded over recent years.

Adam Smith had an elegant idea when addressing the notorious difficulty that humans face in trying to be smart, efficient and moral. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), he maintained that the baker bakes bread not out of benevolence, but out of self-interest. No doubt, public benefits can result when people pursue what comes easiest: self-interest.

And yet: the logic of private interest – the notion that we should just ‘let the market handle it’ – has serious limitations. Particularly in the United States, the lack of an effective health and social policy in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has brought the contradictions into high relief.

Around the world, the free market rewards competing, positioning and elbowing, so these have become the most desirable qualifications people can have. Empathy, solidarity or concern for the public good are relegated to the family, houses of worship or activism. Meanwhile, the market and private gain don’t account for social stability, health or happiness. As a result, from Cape Town to Washington, the market system has depleted and ravaged the public sphere – public health, public education, public access to a healthy environment – in favour of private gain.

COVID-19 reveals a further irrational component: the people who do essential work – taking care of the sick; picking up our garbage; bringing us food; guaranteeing that we have access to water, electricity and WiFi – are often the very people who earn the least, without benefits or secure contracts. On the other hand, those who often have few identifiably useful skills – the pontificators and chief elbowing officers – continue to be the winners. Think about it: what’s the harm if the executive suites of private equity, corporate law and marketing firms closed down during quarantine? Unless your stock portfolio directly profits from their activities, the answer is likely: none. But it is those people who make millions – sometimes as much in an hour as healthcare workers or delivery personnel make in an entire year.

Simply put, a market system driven by private interests never has protected and never will protect public health, essential kinds of freedom and communal wellbeing.

See the full post here.

Featured image: Adam Smith.

Garden fruit

With the unusually sunny April weather, the fruit bushes/trees in the garden are all suddenly bursting forth in their various ways to flower and then fruit. Lockdown gives the time to look daily, and the speed of development is quite astonishing.

 

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History suggests this development is perilously early, as the danger of a frosty night is ever present until June. We shall see.

Covid-19 – why now?

Why did covid-19 emerge now, at this particular point in history?

Rational mind might start to argue about the possibilities – the wet markets in Wuhan, an escaped virus experiment from the nearby Chinese research facility, an act of sabotage in the US/China economic war…?

I suggest the real reason lies in the world of meaning, not in the world of facts. In bringing the whole world to varying degrees of lockdown the virus has choked off economic activity and forced a slowdown in the consumption of fossil fuels, those same fossil fuels that are bringing about climate breakdown, which we know represents an existential threat to current human ways of life across the globe.

This is synchronicity, not coincidence, it has meaning. The warnings are getting louder and louder, the floods, wildfires, refugees, collapsing countries. And now covid-19.

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Night walks in lockdown

We self isolated for two weeks after returning from Houston. Soon everyone around was in a similar boat due to the covid-19 lockdown. Walking in the late evening darkness has been very safe as there are few people around, mostly odd dog walkers, as indeed we are.

Remarkable is the silence, just the odd car or delivery van from time to time. Even the nearby M6 is mostly quiet. It seems bizarre to be able to walk along the middle of what is normally a busy main road.

Owls seem to hoot more frequently on the edges of town. Several hedgehogs have been in evidence, not normally seen. I guess the brave ones are usually soon flattened by traffic.

We have returned to the conditions of the days before mass motor traffic, maybe the 1950s or even earlier in this part of the world.

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Has neo-liberalism reached use-by date? Ayn Rand and the failure of philosophy

It has long been evident that the extreme neo-liberalism that followed Ayn Rand’s views has had a malign influence on the world economy leading to massive inequality. And the system is now like an unstable house of cards. Matthew Wright explains in this super post.

Matthew Wright

A good deal of what I’ve been seeing of late on social media – but also in mainstream journalism – revolves around the notion that the Covid-19 pandemic will be the trigger for a shift away from the neo-liberalism that has characterised leading western economic policies since the early 1980s.

That might be right. Back then this ideology was trumpeted as a ‘more sophisticated’ approach than the liberal democratic western policy mixes of the mid-twentieth century. When the eastern bloc fell over in the early 1990s its triumph seemed complete. History, Francis Fukuyama declared, had ended as a result. From then on, The Future would consist of a changeless neo-liberal nirvana.

Well, quite. It was an absurd statement, curiously built on the same faulty assumption that Karl Marx had applied to his thinking in the 1840s: that societies, by nature, move towards an ideal end-point – a meaning summed up…

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Time for the Magic Money Tree

One of the great things my children tought me was that, when you are playing a game with defined rules, if the rules are not working well you change them. The meta-game of manipulating the rules is itself of value, and extends the life of the game. This has application in real life!

It seems not long since UK politicians were proclaiming that the magic money tree does not exist, and there was no alternative to austerity. Yet it turns out that it does indeed exist, and is being deployed by central banks to help governments to handle the financial crisis erupting in the wake of covid-19. Money is created, by the central bank, at the stroke of a key on a keyboard, is used to solve the problem, and may get paid back eventually. There is now no alternative to the magic money tree.Read More »

Wilding

wildingIsabella Tree’s book Wilding (2018) is one of the great books of nature writing. It had me spellbound from start to finish.

First, there was the great adventure of giving nature its head in a marginal farm at Knepp in Sussex, inspired by similar experiments in Netherlands, with the removal of fencing and the introduction of cattle, pigs and ponies. Remarkably the land soon reverted to a mixed landscape of trees, scrub and grassland. Biodiversity increased incredibly. Almost extinct species came back to life and thrived. It’s a story to warm the heart of anyone with a feeling for the natural world.

Of course there was opposition from conventional farming and a view of what the countryside ‘should’ look like, which simply goes back to around the 1800s. Part of the story is how these obstacles were co-opted or overcome. The thing is, the experiment was clearly a huge success from a biodiversity perspective and will surely provide a model for many others.

There are within this book many insights into the history of farming, and why things are as they are. For example the Victorians first created the deep ploughing tools that enabled the draining of marginal farmland and the production of crops. But there has been a price to pay. Along with corresponding ‘improvement’ of water courses to transmit water as quickly as possible, and the widespread use of sheep grazing and grouse management in uplands, this has created the environment where the flooding that we see today after heavy rains becomes inevitable. Left to itself, nature slows and tames the waters, and it can learn to do so again.

Really inspiring are the stories of the return and thriving of nightingales, purple emperors, turtle doves, water voles, hares and others.

And finally, there is the story of the soil, how soil health has improved, different sorts of earthworms thrive, and how approaches such as that taken at Knepp could play a major role in helping to reverse the increase of carbon dioxide that threatens human societies the world over.

They can also help us to get back in touch with nature and our souls, from which the mad money/technological dream has been increasingly distancing us.

Yes, read it.

And you can now go on safari at the Knepp estate.

Featured image shows longhorn cattle grazing wild at the Knepp estate,
from the Knepp website.

After Covid-19 – humanity at the crossroads

Following covid-19 humanity has critical choices to make. A return to ‘business as usual’ does not seem to be a viable option to those of us who despair at the effects it was having – environmental, political and social. Matthew Wright gives here a great outline of the options facing us. Obviously, his third option is the only way to go.

Matthew Wright

One of the ironies of the past few months, for me at least, has been the way most western governments have – after two generations of hands-off, market-driven neo-liberal indifference at the plight of the people – suddenly ‘switched on’ old-style Keynesian support systems. The fiscal faucets have opened, and money is pouring into the economies of nations that, one after another, have been forced to lock down their populations against the pandemic.

I confess that after two generations of neo-liberalism, I am cynical about the motives. It is just possible that governments around the world have genuine care for the people in their policy-making. I can think of one that does. But for the rest – well, I doubt it. I suspect the main reason why one government after another has been forced to engage in support packages despite still, for the most part, having an ideological foundation in…

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