Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Always read the small print

p1030945Spotted outside Franki’s wine-bar in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, on a recent visit.

It pays to read the small print!p1030946


The WoodWide Web

dscf1550rWhat do you think when you hear of (famous) people talking to trees – and I’m not talking about characters in Tolkien’s Middle Earth taking to Ents, a race of  beings who closely resemble trees?

According to Tony Kirkham, the head of the Arboretum at Kew Gardens trees are very much like us; they are intelligent social beings which talk to each other.

He supports the idea proposed by a German Forester Peter Wohlleben that trees communicate with each other underground through a “woodwide web“.

In a natural environment the adults protect and nurture the young ones. And when a tree is stressed the canopies are touching, there’s a lot of networking going on underground with root systems and fungal systems and they share resources.”

He believes there is intelligence among trees and care between communities. He saw a knot of albino redwoods which obviously didn’t process chlorophyll but managed to survive on their own. “They must have been receiving nutrients from other trees”.

He also thinks trees have different personalities. Willows and Poplars are unsociable and don’t like company so their method of spreading seeds ensures that they are scattered far away from the parent tree.

Oaks on the other hand drop their acorns close by and the parent tree likes to safeguard it and bring it up.

Kirkham admits that however appealing this theory is it’s hard to prove.


Ents, whose name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for giants, are similar to talking trees found in folklore around the world.

p1010237In Lithuania, the last european country to convert from paganism, I saw carved trees in museums with human features (the wood carving at the top of the page is from Lithuania also).

People also decorate trees with human features.

They also keep them warm with urban knitting, but that’s another story.



s1031651-1 s1031650-1 s1031649-1


The EU is a hotbed of corruption

under_table_bribe_1600_wht_9467Leaving aside the allegations that the President of the European Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, was  party to Luxembourg’s notorious tax-avoidance schemes, which attracted companies like Amazon and Pepsi-Cola, when he was Finance Minister then PM, there is something rotten in the EU.

Bojan Pancevski’s piece in the Sunday Times this week spelled out its extent.

Hungary, one of the first countries to allow escapees from East Germany to cross its borders into Austria, and originally hailed as an example of new democracy, has recently turned its back on liberalism – President Orban talks of a shift to “an illiberal state” – and adopted an authoritarian form of government with close ties to Russia. And corruption is so widespread that the USA has imposed a travel ban on six senior Hungarian officials over allegations of corruption – even though they are partners in NATO.

Slovenia joined in 2004 after emerging from the Balkan conflict. Originally praised for its successful liberal economy an economic development it was the first eastern european nation to meet the criteria to join the euro currency. Now the economy is struggling and corruption seems rife. The former Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who as in power when they joined the EU, is now serving a 2-year jail sentence for corruption. His successor is also under investigation after nominating herself to become a member of the European Commission.

Romania and Bulgaria are both under special scrutiny by the EU as each year they fail to make progress in curbing organised crime and corruption and to establish an independent judiciary. In Romania 30 lawmakers have been prosecuted or jailed for failing to take action against corrupt officials and for pressurising the judiciary. In neighbouring Bulgaria three governments fell in one year in the face of public protests about corruption.

Croatia, the latest country to join the EU, is also struggling with bribery and bad governance. The former Prime Minister, Ivo Sander,  who steered the country into the EU is serving an 8-year sentence for corruption.

There doesn’t seem to be much the EU can do. Once you’re in the EU club you’re in for life it seems (although British eurosceptics might wish it weren’t so).

The candidates for membership of the EU promise to be good democratic. law-abiding countries. Once they’re in the facade slips and the influence of decades of dictatorship re-surfaces.

Let’s not forget that Portugal, Spain and Greece were all ruled by dictators until the 1970s but they don’t seem as bad as the new boys on the block. Hungary and Bulgaria are keen to allow the construction of a gs pipeline from Russia – something the EU has previously stopped.

It’s not all bad news. The three Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all former soviet republics, have done better (although corruption is still around with EU monies ending up in companies set up by MPs and their families).

Poland, the biggest of the new members, has done well economically and its citizens have a reputation for hard work. (The Poles have the highest employment rate (80%) of any nationality in England & Wales  including the Brits). Its President Donald Trusk has been appointed to the post of President of the European Council.

And it’s Poland, and the Baltic countries – who appreciate their hard-earned independence in 1991, who are urging a hard line against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.



I million births due to Erasmus programme

It’s been claimed that the educational exchange programme, Erasmus, has contributed to 1 million births since it began in 1987.

27% of participants met their future partners during their stay abroad and one third ended up with people of a different nationality.

I was on a Summer School in Lithuania with a group of them back in 2008 and they certainly knew how to enjoy themselves the students from Poland, Germany, Turkey, Czech Republic, Latvia, and some other EU countries.

European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said it was a “touching little figure” that showed the scheme “creates a lot of positive things”. “It is a great encouragement to young people to go and live abroad and open up to all the opportunities that exist if you are willing,” Hansen added. I couldn’t have put it better myself!

P1020579And they still seem to be celebrating those inter-cultural experiences here in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Jūs suraižyti

hands_in_handcuffs_pc_1600_wht_3604Scotland Yard is about to recruit foreign police officers for a three-year project, Operation Nexus, to help tackle the increasing number of foreign criminals in the UK.

28% of the arrested suspects last year were foreign nationals.

Broadly the same percentage applies to murder victims, those suspected of  organised crime, and dangerous sex offenders.This is not surprising when you consider that 24% of people living in London are not British.

Romania and Poland have already signed up to the scheme with talks in progress with Lithuania and Ireland.

The police will be plain clothed and won’t have the power of arrest but will take part in raids and in interviewing suspects. They may wear their uniforms if the situation demands which should make it even more confusing for visitors to London!

This makes sense as the UK is the No 1 target for economic migrants. Crime knows no boundaries and in Lithuania, for example, the police there joke about the criminals joining the EU before the country did.

Lithuanian police in Trakai

Lithuanian police in Trakai

I was with an American friend in Lithuania when he had his lap-top snatched. The police sergeant who took my witness statement said he was surprised as he thought the criminals were all in England.

And Lithuanians in the UK have a bad reputation for illicit vodka stills and gun trafficking They are also involved in charity scams.

It’s hoped that Operation Nexus will improve the ability to deal with foreign suspects eg making it easier to check criminal records in their own country, and work more closely with the UK Border Agency to deal with overstayers and criminals trying to get into the UK.

But the Lithuanians are not the biggest group arrested because there aren’t that many of them. Poles and Irish are the two largest foreign nationalities arrested because there are so many of them here.

The Romanians are known to have criminal networks and made their criminal reputation here with their gangs of pick-pockets using children. And they haven’t officially arrived here yet!

Other countries in the top 10 list for crime are Pakistan, India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Somalia, and Portugal.

FYI the post heading says “you’re under arrest” in Lithuanian.

Scotland Yard has just published figures showing that almost 35,000 Poles were arrested last year for serious offences in London including 84 for murder.

Romanians are the second most prolific foreign offenders with almost 28,000 arrests including 1o for murder, 142 for rape and 666 for other sex offences.

Lithuanians were the third most arrested foreigners in the capital.

The high number of Poles perhaps isn’t surprising considering the number over here (more than half a million) and the fact it’s now our second most spoken language.

Romanians aren’t officially due yet until next year so the criminals are following a well-worn path to the UK. To add to their track record of pickpocketing, child trafficking and begging they are now getting rich on stealing metals.

Lithuanians seem to punch above their weight when it comes to crime. Apart from violent crime they are known to be involved in charity scams as well as gun-running and illicit vodka.

Statues of naked women

The 66′ bronze statue of Verity by Damien Hirst, which he gifted to Ilfracombe for 20 years, has been the centre of some controversy.

Not least because of its explicit depiction of the pregnant women’s internal organs but also because Hirst, a multi-millionaire, has been accused of plagiarism and doesn’t actually do much work on his artistic products but uses a production line paying workers £11 an hour.

Local businesses are mostly happy however because all the publicity has generated a record number of visitors. Which will also make Hirst happy as he has a restaurant there and plans to build 500 homes in the town.

However it’s not the only large statue of a woman overlooking a waterfront.

In Konstanz, Germany, there is a 9 metre statue of a well-endowed courtesan called Imperia which was erected in 1993 overlooking the harbour and which you  can’t fail to notice.

She holds two naked figures; Pope Martin V in one hand and the Emperor Sigismund in the other, and rotates every 4 minutes.

It was created by Peter Lenk based on a satirical story by Balzac, “La Belle Imperia”  about the corrupt catholic clergy and Imperia’s seduction of priests and princes alike at the 15c Council of Constance. (The real Imperia, an Italian courtesan called Lucrezia de Paris, never actually visited Konstanz).

FYI There are other sculptures in Konstanz which are rather bizarre (so ideal for a future post) and which some of the conservative catholic locals I talked to find disgusting.

Both statues are talking points and perhaps that is just the point of this art.

Less artistically perhaps there is this oversized version (on the right) of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen not far from the real thing (below).

One thing you may not know about the real Little Mermaid statue is that she doesn’t have a fish tail but legs so is she a real mermaid without a tail?

The mermaid basking by the river in the Uzupis district of Vilnius certainly has one.