Thursday, 14 November 2019

Travels with a donkey......La Route Stevenson

Sunrise over Morven 14/11/19
It's the 14th November and already this month I have filled the water butt with a hosepipe for the livestock  three times.  It's been unusually  dry for three weeks,  at a time when we are normally deluged., the sun is shining in a cloudless sky and it's 4 degrees outside.

Thoughts turn to summer 2020, France and a walking holiday but this time with a difference.....I want to take donkey.
A long walk in the Pyrenees without a donkey

Robert Louis Stevenson is  perhaps most famous for his novels Treasure Island and Kidnapped. He may be less well known as a pioneer travel and outdoor writer. "Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes", written in 1879 was one of his first outdoor books, an account of his 120 mile walk with the donkey Modestine from Le Puy to St. Jean du Gard through the Cevennes.

Modestine was his essential pack animal because he didn't travel light his heavy extra large sleeping
RLS
bag was made of sheepskins, he took wine, brandy, a leg of mutton and a revolver he really needed a donkey. We don't really need one, we travel light and unarmed, overnight baggage can go by courier van to the next stopover. I just like the idea of an asinine companion.

RLS cursed Modestine roundly every day and  he goaded her with a stick; she was too slow and stubborn, he didn't realise that she was on heat for at least part of the time. In 2020 a hired donkey should, I hope be more amenable as long as the donkey driver follows some basic rules. Don't overload her, don't creep up on her from behind especially when she is eating corn, don't try to stroke her face her shoulder or neck are are preferable.

At the end of their trek in St. Jean du Gard RLS was sad to see her go when he sold her and described her thus....

She was patient, elegant in form, the colour of an ideal mouse, and inimitably small.
Her faults were those of her age and sex; her virtues were her own.






My walking companion an experienced horsewoman is more practical than me and thinks that a donkey may be more trouble than it's worth. I'll have to work on this.

"The Route Stevenson" the GR 7 follows Stevenson's route closely and the original book, only 176 pages in the copy that I have , could be used as a guide but my map reading is never brilliant so I've bought the french Topo Guide, it's detailed and the maps are excellent...... we'll take both!

 While planning I also have to bear in mind that I am now a "crumbly" (over 75 years) and I think we should do one half in the early summer and if we do the second half... in the autumn. The stages will be shorter than those of the GR7, the accommodation comfortable and the baggage goes by van.  This is as a result of my biting off more than I could chew on the GR10 in 2018.

The best Gites d'Etapes are fine but mountain huts are out and in some places hotels and inns will be used. It has taken me a rather long time to realise that  it's worth paying for a good bed with en-suite bathroom. Food is normally excellent everywhere except in mountain huts.
A summer in the Pyrenees




Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Environmental ethics in the age of fake news, oligarchy and moral relativism


Thirty years ago when The United States lead the world in the field of environmental ethics I had the opportunity to do a Masters degree in "Environmental Values".

Now with the world turned upside down and the USA  having won the race to the bottom in  valuing the environment, I wonder if it was worth the effort.

Back in 1989 I was a working farm manager with a science degree and an interest in the environment. It seemed to me that we knew the technical solutions to many of our environmental problems and that these problems were the unforeseen side effects of new technology, technologies which had been used without sufficient precaution. Studying environmental values might lead me to understand why we were so careless with the natural world. I was still rather naive and idealistic in my forties.

My first seminar in a philosophy department was a shock. The vocabulary often required resort to a dictionary, there were long and pregnant silences while people thought about the questions posed. It was a strange world, far from a science tutorial where we mainly dissected and critiqued scientific papers in front of the Prof. Gradually I got the idea, which was to discuss how the various theories  of ethics could and might be applied to the natural world.

First we had to decide if non-humans; animals, ecosystems, mountains rivers etc could actually be moral subjects because to be a moral subject you had to have intrinsic value and only humans could have intrinsic value according to the 18th century Scots philosopher and sceptic David Hume

We discussed the application of utilitarianism to the environment and it's underpinning of 20th century environment policy, animal welfare and even animal rights. Then Kant and, " The Golden Rule" which in it's crudest terms says you ought to do as you would be done unto. More up to date was  the american philosopher John Rawls and his notion of the ," Veil of ignorance"; he argued that policy ought to be made by policymakers assuming that they were completely ignorant of their own position, socially, culturally and financially in order to be completely fair.

What appealed to me most was , The Land Ethic",  first outlined by Aldo Leopold  in his 1949 collection of essays, A Sand County Almanac". Leopold appealed to me probably because he was a scientist, manager and wonderful writer. His ethos was ecologically based, he rejected the human centred approach of utilitarianism and argued that we need a new relationship with land, animals, plants and ecosystems. The real philosophers concentrated on arguing that there was no real philosophical foundation to his ethic it was basically romantic ecology. I think that's why it appealed to me and the US National Park Service who underpinned their management for three decades with Leopold's ethic.

At the end of two years studying I felt that some of my questions had been answered but far more had been raised.  The important thing is that we were discussing our values and the environment and how we might save and preserve ecosystems, species, rivers and mountains.

I can't imagine that happening in today's White House or No. 10 Downing Street where politicians and the people who fund them are taking us to "hell in a handcart" . As for the Masters course, it's long gone.





Good news on global warming and climate change.... if we plant more trees!

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, gave us some good news in  the July edition of it's journal, Science.

Global mapping of the earth's tree growing potential has shown  we could restore 4.4 billion hectares  (10.6 billion acres) of woodland worldwide, outside of existing forests and agricultural land. The global tree restoration potential, Bastin et.al., Science, 365, No. 6448, pp. 76-79

This would increase the global forest area by more than 25 per cent storing over 200 giga tonnes of carbon over it's lifetime and 25 percent of  the current pool of atmospheric carbon.  Read the abstract here

A remnant of the Caledonian Pine Forest
In Scotland , in 2017, we had a review of our national forest strategy 2019 - 2029. About 18 per cent of our land area is covered by trees  and a further 12 per cent is capable of growing trees without  taking any prime farmland. This compares with an average  37 per cent tree cover in the countries of the European Union .

The Scottish government has set a planting target of 15,000 ha per annum until 2024/25. Two thirds of our forests are privately owned  and one third is owned by the government through Forestry Scotland formerly the Forestry Commission. Scotland's Forestry Strategy 2019 -2029

The Scottish "Crofting Counties"  cover some 750,000 hectares of land, crofts are smallholdings where the farming family earns most of the household income off the croft and many of them would welcome the opportunity to plant trees.

 It costs around £5,000 per hectare to fence, plant and establish trees, large landowners have the resources to do this and at the end of the day are presented with a valuable capital asset because the whole cost is grant aided by the taxpayer. It is not the capital cost itself that deters Crofters from planting it is their lack of capital to pay for the project over two or three years until the grant is paid. they cannot afford to do it.

If the Scottish government are serious about their ambitious planting targets they need to introduce bridging loans for smaller forestry projects. Once the trees are fenced and planted the loan would be recovered from the grant. Investment in trees would no longer be only available to the wealthy as socialism for rich landowners.

Scotland: Too many deer... too few trees
Deer fencing  comprises up to 50% of the cost of tree establishment, without fencing the trees are rapidly destroyed by marauding deer, we have an estimated 350 - 400,000 red deer in the highlands. Without them or with much lower numbers tree planting would be much cheaper and natural regeneration possible in many areas.

NB.
Please bear in mind that this report in the journal Science is based on real science using rigorous methodology, peer review and the results published in a prestigious journal of international standing.

It is not the deluded Twitter ramblings of a climate change denying politician or the propaganda of a so called, "think tank" paid for by business corporations or oligarchs ( you know who they are).


Friday, 4 October 2019

The Roadkill Cafe and the Field guide to flattened fauna

In February I wrote about the now annual dinner of our old guys expedition group, "Crispy Grey Squirrel at the Roadkill Cafe".  The squirrels I  had in the freezer have gone along with the pheasants, I inadvertently switched off the freezer while working in the workshop.  Now with only three weeks to go I need replacements urgently.

Many years ago I discovered a unique field guide in the Minneapolis airport bookshop. .....Flattened Fauna, A field guide to common animals of roads, streets and highways.

The author describes 36 reptile, avian and mammal remains after compression, mainly by really big trucks. He he says that the animals are most sincerely dead, so dead that even the flies have lost interest.







Grey squirrels are very flat except for the long bushy tail which is usually the only identifying characteristic as it waves in the slipstream of passing trucks so it's not really suitable for cooking.

I won't be scouring the roads of Northumberland ( we don't have grey squirrels here) and hope that my squirrel trapping friends can  supply a fresher non flattened, humanely despatched corpse.


 


Thursday, 5 September 2019

Maurice le coq peut chanter! ......Country people and their poultry have won a landmark case in France.

Vive Maurice!
In France's Ile-d'Oleron a tribunal and a judge have decided that Maurice the cockerel can continue to sing.

Maurice has become a symbol of the resistance of country people to gentrification of rural areas by  the "neoruraux" incomer retirees and second home owners from urban France.

Earlier this year a neighbour of Mme. Corrinne Fesseau complained to the authorities that her cockerel, "Maurice" was a nuisance because his early morning crowing disturbed the peace of the village.

Mme. Fesseau defended Maurice on the grounds that in French law it would be necessary to prove that Maurice was a nuisance and this was not done. The villagers and neighbours enjoyed Maurice's morning song and he received letters of support from all over France. Further she saw this as an attack on the rural way of life in France. What would be next? church bells? frogs?

Here in Kilchoan I have five cockerels who all sing in the morning and there have been no complaints but in rural southern England where areas such as the Cotswolds have been taken over by wealthy incomers it is against the law to keep a cockerel. This is further evidence of the English countryside rapidly becoming a large suburban park and luxury housing complex.

Vive la France!......... Vive Maurice!. For a full report of the proceedings see todays Le Monde







Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The UK and the EU after Brexit......... There's a simple solution to every human problem; it's neat, plausible and wrong. H.L.Mencken.

Last week 84 %  of this blog's readers lived in the USA, I know that thanks to Google, but I don't know why? you are obviously intelligent and discerning people so....

I thought that you might find it useful to have a brief explanation of our current political shambles in the UK and consequences of our leaving the European Union (EU) without an agreement on future arrangements between ourselves and our biggest trading partner.

While you are reading bear in mind my favourite aphorism of the late, great american H.L.Mencken.

" There's a simple solution to every human problem
it's neat, plausible and wrong"

The simple solution to the current UK problem of leaving the EU favoured by the loony right of the Conservative party ( mainly angry old men) and the even loonier, authoritarian English nationalist Brexit party is to leave the EU without any agreement on trade, the EU border between Ireland and  N. Ireland and freedom of movement. A complex problem but for Johnson there's a simple solution.... just walk away and all will be well.

Our current UK Prime Minister ( Alexander Boris Pfefell Johnson) is well known to be incompetent, lazy and mendacious from his early career as a journalist and his time as Mayor of London, our own "Mini Trump". It is obvious that he is aiming to take us out of the EU without a deal despite the awful economic consequences.

Johnson's wealthy backers see opportunities for "disaster capitalism" during the ensuing chaos . In the longer term their aim is to turn the UK into a low wage, low tax offshore  haven for money laundering and tax avoidance with minimal regulation of financial services and the environment.

All will not be well as many of our Members of Parliament who are meeting today to try to stop the , No Deal Brexit know. Thay have to do this before Johnson shuts down parliament on 14th September.

Because if we leave without a deal on October 31st........
  •  From November 1st we will be treated as a, " third country". A vast range of checks and tariffs will be applied to our exports to the EU our biggest customer taking 46 % of our exports. Trade will immediately become more complicated, costly and difficult especially for smaller businesses. Farmers and fishermen will be totally screwed.
  • Air and road transport will be disrupted, perhaps not immediately because the EU have put in place some temporary mitigation procedures. The UK does not appear to have done anything.
  • We rely heavily on immigration from Europe to staff hospitals, care homes, the hospitality industry and agriculture. Employers will have to apply complex new rules which have not yet been decided.
  • The UK will lose access to information and data from Europol, the Schengen visa system and the European arrest warrant system....... new opportunities for criminals however.
  • Ireland will remain an EU member. The UK has a land border between N. Ireland and the Republic of Ireland so checks and tariffs will be applied at the border.  the ~~UK government (Johnson) has said this will not happen there will be no hard border which is against World Trade Organisation rules. 
I do have a dog in this fight as you may have realised. I am a Scot, living in Scotland where 62% of the population voted to remain in the EU at the referendum in 2016 . In this of course, we are ruled by our political masters ,in London.



Postscript, 13/09/2019

My friend Derek sent me a comment today.,,,,,, Derek doesn't use Google, he's a one man stand against their bid for world domination! His comment is another quote by H.L.Mencken in his political commentary, "On politics, A carnival of bunkum".

"As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents more and more closely the soul of the people.  On some great and glorious day the plain folks of this land will reach their heart's desire at last the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

This doesn't just apply to the White House of course, the quotation applies equally to No. 10 Downing Street .

NB
If you have nothing better to do:-

Sunday, 21 July 2019

The perfect bullshit shitstorm and something to help you deal with it.

"Bullshit" and it's synonym "bollocks" are common English expletives regularly used in response to  nonsensical or misleading statements which have no concern for reality or the truth.

Next week we in the UK will have a new Prime Minister, Alexander Boris Pfeffel Johnson, who has built his whole career in journalism and the pursuit of political power on bullshit. If bullshit was an Olympic event Johnson would win silver, we all know who would win gold, after a photo finish. If you want to know more about Johnson go to this link in today's Observer newspaper. The 10 ages of Boris Johnston

Why am I concerned about bullshit? If you read my previous post you see that those who do not want action on climate change have made strategic use of bullshit to refute the claims of climate scientists with great success over the last 30 years and now we are about to be confronted by a shitstorm of bullshit once Johnston is in office and I want to be able to refute it.Oligarchs, think tanks and global warming

If I am honest I only tell you what I believe to be true. If I tell you an outright lie I am aware of the truth but have chosen to ignore it. The Bullshitter  however isn't at all concerned about the truth or facts, he doesn't care because he only wants to persuade you to accept his point of view. And sometimes to entertain you because comedians are thought to be harmless. He's a snake oil salesman.

When I Googled bullshit  I discovered a really useful bullshit refutation toolkit. Calling Bullshit.
It discusses the principles and philosophy of bullshit, how to spot it in the misuse of correlation, the making of unfair comparisons, deliberate misuse of statistics, dodgy graphs and fake news stories.

That's it folks..... it's up to you now to look at the, "Calling Bullshit" website by following the link above and equip yourself to identify and deal with bullshit in all of it's many forms.

PS
Its now Friday 26th July 2019,  Johnson has been elected Prime Minister by a caucus of 90,000 Conservative Party members. We have 46.8 million people registered to vote in the UK. So he was chosen by 0.0019 % of the electorate. If this happened in Africa we would be described as a "failed state".