Friday, 29 September 2017

One Main Conference to Go...

So far we have had the Liberal Democrat annual conference and the Labour annual conference.

The Liberal Democrat one was a bit muted, from a perhaps puzzled crowd as to the damaged past for the party and unwanted 'Brexit' future, and one where Vince Cable was installed as leader. As he said, he didn't want to lead a mirror-image party from UKIP, but still it is the remain party. Leaving the European Union he counts as one of the three recent disasters: the illegal Iraq war in 2003, the financial crash in 2007 and the vote to leave the EU in 2016. One of the other polcies will be to tackle the wealth disparity, that leads to power and powerlessness.

The Labour Party went into a Momentum led song of praise for Jeremy Corbyn, and a comprehensive set of policies to reset the political agenda.

My view is that there needs to be a leftward swing because so much needs doing, and the power of the State is the means to do it. We are also Keynesians now, because monetary policy does not stimulate the economy. It needs fiscal policy, and best of all spending not tax cuts.

Our unemployment is not equivalent to 1974 ("the lowest since 1974," says the media). This does not compare like with like. We now have so many on schemes that are not counted as unemployed. Many who lose their jobs don't bother to sign on because benefits are denied or so low for so many. People are sanctioned. But most of all, the nature of work is now underemployment and scattered employment for individuals. Many people on life-supporting benefits and who look for work are not counted as unemployed (e.g. Employment and Support Allowance). This is different from people in long term jobs that allowed people to get a mortgage and plan a family back in 1974. So many people now carry personal debt unheard of in 1974. The economy today is cruel.

The leftward swing was evident in Theresa May's statements on gaining power and since. She seemed to want to bring in the approach of nationalist and interventionist Joseph Chamberlain, the Liberal Unionist who turned Tory.

The only problem is that she says a lot and does nothing. She seems paralysed before policy is made, with frequent U-turns. Then, after the Labour Conference, she gives a half-hearted delivery in the defence of free market capitalism. Well, expect nothing from her.

Vince Cable might be a bit far fetched to claim he could be Prime Minister, except of course anything can happen in politics these days. One more (and not unlikely) financial crash and we might call upon his services. I maintain, incidentally, that Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown did rescue the British economy from financial disaster, by instant liquidity. They were Keynesians all right: to have done otherwise would have pricked and collapsed the swollen monetary bubble. The Coalition government was not correct to blame Labour, except of course for actually not being so prudent prior to the crash.

We still have that economy, which is why the employment figures are not inflationary as they were back in 1974, and why this is not like with like. Leaving the EU will be disastrous under these circumstances: it won't take much to shake this precarious situation of employment.

My view of Corbyn's celebratory conference is that it is far too previous in its expectations. Even if they put on more votes from last time, they may only achieve a dead heat. If the 'two party situation' continues, adding on votes actually doesn't result in a victory, because the other side has its piles of votes. Labour does not have a Democratic Unionist Party equivalent to bribe; on domestic policy the Scottish Nationalists will be excluded from many key votes at committee stage, and they will never share what amounts to Corbyn's 'socialism in one country' outside the EU.

Indeed, as it becomes clearer that Corbyn and the backbone of his inner ideological circle wants to be outside the EU, the young people who waved the EU flags at his rallies may well not lend him their votes this time. It only takes some reluctance from them to suddenly pull Labour up short.

What will help Labour is a return to a three party system. On the basis that Tory remainers will vote for Vince Cable's economic competence, the Labour Party may find itself winning more seats without having to pile up its own votes.

So the Tory conference is near. Now, I took the view after the recent General Election that Theresa May had settled into her job until the exiting the EU negotiations were over. I also did not take the view that Boris Johnson's 4000 word essay in the Daily Telegraph was his leadership bid. What he was doing was leaning on her, because the 'transition period' argument was winning, and the next stage from that is to keep the single market and customs union. The problem with transition is that it has to transition out, and, unless it's back to eating your cake and having it, there reappears a cliff edge. Delay allows changing your mind even more.

However, the speech she gave at Florence was another giving to the EU, in terms of negotiations, and underlines just how hapless they all are in doing this. The sense of drift is everywhere. And so the party conference will be one of whispers and rumours and plotting behind the scenes. A dull speech, a holding the fort, could see her shifted soon afterwards.

It does not follow that to change Tory leader means a General Election. There would be a lack of legitimacy. She is already the equivalent of a Gordon Brown after Tony Blair. A dedicated EU leaver as leader may well cause divisions in the Tory party to surface.

Remember: a vote to stay in the EU would have divided the Tory party instantly and left Labour united on the matter. Cameron would have been in trouble. This was May's strategy: support him but ever so quietly, and watch him fall, to replace him with a government that then would have concentrated on social and economic matters (presumably). The vote to leave forced him out, and she was the last one left standing. It was Labour that looked divided. But it was always going to be that as the end-point came for leaving the EU, the Tories would divide. This division could well be brought forward by an enthusiast for leaving going into the Prime Minister seat. Labour meanwhile will find its leaver minority having to make the big decision as the cliff edge comes closer. Corbyn's new found enthusiasm for the possibilities outside the EU are checked by his desire not ever to help out the Tories on anything (including staying in during the campaign).

The structural situation party-wise will be tested by the coming end-date to leave, and how much the end is delayed. If it is little delayed then the prospect of a new centre party increases, but party structures are remarkably resilient. It's just that leaving the EU is such a huge measure that some MPs and Lords will be put to the test. Vince Cable will be having private conversations.

So let's see how it goes. I now think that Theresa May will fall, simply because she lacks basic leadership qualities. She is a referee only, and not a very good one. She lacks the ability to lead anyone anywhere. She remains as much an unknown as she was when she fell into the seat of power. She always wanted power, and showed some skill in finding the moment, but seems to have done nothing with it other than carrying out zombie-like the perceived burden of the moment.

What remain people have to do, meanwhile, is continue to make the argument, as to why we share sovereignty and how it makes us stronger to tackle economic threats and threats to peace, upholds social and economic standards, and gives a sense of sharing across the continent. Democracy is about opinion changing, and finding its representation, and getting MPs to start standing up for what they believe instead of acting like zombies. Yes, after the vote, some remain voters said 'we'd better get on with it', but as we haven't really got on with it, and do not know the end-position, and the consequences of leaving stack up, then they will return (as they are now) and so will some of the leavers change their mind. It is a tough world out there, and at a time of Trump and North Korea (and more - e.g. Bombardier and Boeing) we should not be leaving the European Union.

Friday, 1 September 2017

How Not to Leave The [Imaginary] Art Club

This is a story that is not true. Here goes. I am a member of The Art Club (as it happens, I am not regarding a similar group, but let's assume I am). It costs sixty pounds a year (seventy euros and falling) and then paying the models is effectively another sixty pounds a year and then there is the cost of materials. For this I get to paint among a number of people, and join in ad-hoc events and get to enter exhibitions and via voting make policy decisions.

However, I've never liked the group, not really, due to my imagined background of apparent self-sufficiency, and after a long membership I have decided to leave. However, The Art Club is a fact on the ground, and it arranges models and venues and has these exhibitions each year.

Still interested in being an artist, one option is to crash out. I would have to find my own models and venues and see if I can get into various ad-hoc exhibitions. I am not allowed to arrange these until I cease to be a member. Now they think I am a decent artist and would like me involved, but realise I do want to leave. After all, I've said so for over a year now.

So we have started to negotiate a withdrawal that will hopefully be practical, whilst clearly The Art Club wants to uphold its own future, membership and events, and why one should join it for the benefits of membership.

Meanwhile there is a complication that I have a friend in The Art Club with whom I wish to continue to paint. We joined at the same time. We used to argue a lot, but now we are very friendly, and we must keep this friendship - and yet I am withdrawing and he is not. How can we remain artistic friends, when his art benefits from all that The Art Club does? He is going nowhere because being a member has defined the direction of his art.

Not wishing to crash out, and lose important access to models and venues plus exhibitions, there is an option of associate membership. It costs to have these venues to paint or draw the models, and there are these model contacts, and it costs to join in with arranged exhibitions. But friends who dislike The Art Club say that to join these specifically is pretty much the same as being in the Art Club, and the payment in is just about as much. The Committee still decides what I'll end up doing, and the rules to obey, but I'll no longer vote.

So I ask The Art Club to be "imaginative". Using all the insights and arrangements of The Art Club, I will nevertheless call the same "My Art Club" and ask it to be recognised by The Art Club. Payment might be nothing or perhaps minimal to The Art Club, and yet the benefits seem rather the same. Being the same, but different, I can paint along with my friend.

Understandably, The Art Club says we can't have individual painters picking and choosing like this. You are either in the club or your are not. The Art Club negotiator asks, "Do you want to leave or not? Why do you want to leave and yet things remain the same? We have everything set up here and a Committee to rule on it." Meanwhile one of The Art Club's leading members says my proposals sound: "like someone wanting to join in the near future, not leave."

My proposals are a "fantasy island", they say, because I want to paint their models and use their venues, and yet go out and get my own models and my own venues (unlike The Art Club members). As for exhibitions, I will always join in the exhibition with my painting friend, but not necessarily other exhibitions, although I can, I argue, and yet will add in my own exhibitions - should I find any.

While this flexible in and out is being arranged and set up - my club that is like their club - we will have a transition of flexible withdrawal from their club.

Obviously I am told that this is not on. Anyhow, meantime, I claim that the talks are making progress, The Art Club instead asks for clarity given the known constraints, and I contact the local media to back me up by slurring The Art Club for being "rigid".

Meanwhile I have a different and as yet inactive advisor, who hints that for a transition period I simply stay with The Art Club's venues and models, and indeed its exhibitions. This will be the specific arrangement so I no longer vote for or sit on the Committee. I do this for a transition period - "as long as necessary and as short as possible" - which presumably involves 'crashing out' at some point in the future, being unable to arrange models, venues and exhibitions while having The Art Club arrangements in place.

Increasingly friends ask why, if I want to paint models, have good venues and enter in exhibitions, I don't stay in The Art Club after all.

As the time runs out for talking, The Art Club says it is fed up with such talking when what I want is so indecisive. It won't extend negotiating for negotiating's sake, so either leave and there will be solicitors' letters on costs to pay, or stay, or stay and this time join in fully and properly.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Bye to Free Hosting

Technology gets so complicated! Hosting websites can be even more complicated and frustrating: it's a constant learning curve. This is the story of the Pluralist.co.uk Website.

My website started in 1998. That was its first page, and it peaked at some 1800 .html and .pdf pages. For a long time, it was on Freeserve (remember that?) and FreeUK using dial up. There were many accounts and the website had many 'absolute links' to transfer between accounts and act as a whole. After some time I dropped Freeserve and everything went via FreeUK, and indeed I put many websites I made for others on FreeUK. I knew its File Transfer Protocol drill, the means by which files are uploaded.

I needed multiple accounts because each one had limited website holding capacity. You were allowed to have as many accounts as you liked, so long as each was maintained through use of each one's specific dial up. I could reach all the FreeUK accounts through any of its dial ups, but I had to use them all to keep the website going.

Basically a website is made with files that interlink within a folder and subfolders. When this is uploaded the very same structure must be created and files uploaded. You test it on your computer, that all the links work, and then upload, and then all should work with the website as created that comes down from online.

 During this period of growth I purchased pluralist.co.uk - a name used by some in a Unitarian progressive faction. It also suited my personal outlook. I have retained this name ever since. I have always used Easily.co.uk to purchase and maintain ownership. You go through a third party like this to secure a name from Nominet.

Along came broadband, always live and active, unlike dial up, but frankly the price of having broadband web-hosting where I was on dial up was prohibitive. Then came along a very neat solution, better than anything. Dropbox. Dropbox had plenty of free capacity for my website, but what was even better was its folders. Once Dropbox was installed, a folder and all those within it and below it had an automatic file transfer. What this meant was no need for any FTP work using a special program. All I needed to know was the Dropbox identity for the index.html at the top of the website structure. Then, at Easily.co.uk I did a transfer of the pluralist name to that Dropbox index.html address. The index.html always links throughout the website: on my website it is a frames page (yes, I still use frames) from which all else appears on that arrangement, with separate pages for large images and presentations.

As a result all the absolute links (full URLs) had to be changed. Folders on different FreeUK accounts with the same name, but needed absolute links specifying FreeUK account hosting, could be combined. All these named links became relative, that is within the structure only. On Dropbox, my website became unified.

And then, in 2016 Dropbox changed its approach. It determined that it would be for file-sharing only. The way it did this was to end displaying webpages as webpages - an HTML page would only be shown as its code. Already Dropbox was becoming restrictive, but as an early customer I retained abilities that new customers could not achieve. Not without paying. Even then the whole policy was for future file-sharing only.

Other file-sharers were as strict and stricter regarding webpage non-display: basically, Dropbox was catching up in making the distinction between file-sharing and web hosting.

As a result I had to find a web-hosting company and return to using FTP programs. Indeed I had to do this for a number of small websites under my creation and continued influence.

One I settled on was Hostinger.co.uk, and this looked good as a free provision for small and educational websites (mine is educational with religious plus personal). Indeed I did something new: I transferred the DNS to this provider and this meant for the first time the pluralist.co.uk was the name that defined all pages: previously pluralist.co.uk acted as a ghost name that covered Dropbox: individual pages and released frames might show the Dropbox URL instead. Now I had learnt how to get a pure name.

Then one day I uploaded a file and it was refused. Another FTP program told me the server was full. Although email contact support was not available on the free account, I did ignore that and they did reply, suggesting I upgrade and pay. But they also moved my website to another server - it instantly filled up. Now, apparently, they guaranteed that a paid account would not fill up, but I made the point that this gave no confidence. Notices appeared on their website that servers can fill up and should upgrade. So I argued that if they cannot provide a reliable free service, they should not, and to their credit if you go on to Hostinger now they do not offer a free service any more, even to educational sites.

So I recovered the DNS from Hostinger and put it back to easily and went with a redirect to 5gbfree. This meant ghosting again and the 5gbfree website name would appear on some separated pages. I then discovered only after a few months what was already in online comments: that after a while this just chucks you off. I was unable to upload and although I could see my website this also disappeared. If I'd read it more carefully it says 5gbfree is for small and temporary websites. Ah.

I found another free one but it stuck its name on every page, and it turned out to be Hostinger based anyway. So Hostinger retains a free element, one that has been around a while. Now one can guess what might happen there. Then I found a German firm that looked all the better, except it did not allow me to upload .ZIP or .MP3 files. Now I have a few to illustrate edited hymns, and ZIPs are for archiving unusual formats (e.g. a .BMP image file).

Now the solution to this was to edit the pages linking to .MP3 and .ZIP files: get them via Dropbox! The links would go to specific Dropbox presentations of these files (how they do it) - but that would be acceptable.

But the obvious thing was to secure a proper relationship with a hosting company, and that means paying. My website is just under 600 mb, so it comes within the 1 gb limit of Easily's basic Linux server service. Now I know that Linux means Unix and all it means is strict adherence to lower case and upper case - best to maintain lower case. Most servers are Unix. So Friday 25th August I made the purchase and did the uploading (as far as I can tell it's all gone up, and inserting the FTP details worked first time - that's a rarity); after a struggle worked out that the redirect has to direct inwards (from the 5gbfree) to the account name, Easily's W rather than D in the menu.

It will take a day or so, but hopefully very soon the website will reappear (the whole Internet needs to be 'informed') with I also hope the operation of the pluralist.co.uk name throughout.

Basically, the days of the free Internet and money income by other means are coming to an end. Those that get money by advertising now make it more and more intrusive and directed, Hostinger was cleared, I will ignore 5gbfree as they ignored me, and the rest I will clear up. These days firms rightly charge but also they can have massive computer storage power and websites like mine can offer a few pounds a month as an income stream. It all adds up.

From time to time I do send someone a Dropbox link for a file - not for a webpage, obviously - but the website is still located within my Dropbox folders.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

If She Can Say It, More Can...

Baroness Ros Altmann was a member of the Labour Party prior to 2007. She has been Conservative from 2015. She likes to think of herself as politically independent regarding social justice, including pensions campaigning and became Minister of State for Pensions 11 May 2015 until 15 July 2016.

She appeared 16 August on Channel 4 News, pointing out that democracy moves along and that if there is no way to come out of the EU without huge damage then we should consider consulting or some other means to stay in. She points out the threats people receive who say anything like this, and hopes there is a space for people like her in the Conservative Party.

She wants to stay Conservative, but is interested that a centre party suggestion shows people who'd come together to stay in the EU or as close as can.

The latest absurdity is the Irish border. To show how absurd, it wasn't exactly long ago that David Davis was claiming technological solutions with number plate recognition etc. at the Irish border.

Now the government has published and this is not suggested. There is to be no border between the parts of Ireland and no border between Ireland and Britain. In fact, the proposal is a full Schengen in effect between Ireland and Britain, regardless. Such a non-existent border is a nonsense without the Customs Union.

How does that work then? The government says, when it comes to immigration, which is what matters, it will work by employers showing that employees can work in the UK.

But that's not what it is about. Look at it the other way around.

Suppose we fall out of the EU and tariffs begin. Britain might say 'oh sod it' and have a open border with Ireland. We vote in each others' elections, after all. But what of the goods from Britain going into Ireland. There will be external tariffs to pay for going into the EU. How is the EU going to collect them, or will it simply have to declare the situation illegal via Ireland...

No one in the news media has looked at it that way around. They assume stuff coming into Britain and Britain saying let them in.

Now 15th August we had this UK position on a transition customs arrangement. This would not be the EU Customs Union but a bilateral UK-EU Customs Union. It would look exactly like the EU Customs Union. But it would allow the UK to negotiate trade deals for itself, not allowed under the EU Customs Union, which is collective.

Like the Irish proposal, this is just bonkers. It is more than wishful thinking. What we have is a clueless government. They come up with ideas that are just silly.

There are very simple alternatives.

One is crashing out, and damage to the economy. Presumably the House of Commons and House of Lords will stop it, given the balance of forces in each House.

The second is to stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union. That makes sense, except it means we lose sovereignty as a satellite of the European Union without a say in its decisions, and we contribute to the club. Plus immigration is by European rules.

The third is to stay in. Now Baroness Ros Altmann might see this as the logical way forward, but she needs to be joined by others.

Not just we have to stay in because it's worse to come out, but what sharing sovereignty actually means in a world of multinationals and borderless finance.

As she said, the economy continues on and we have not left yet. However, on this unemployment the lowest since 1975, don't believe it. They are not comparing like with like. We have schemes galore and people heavily underemployed. The Labour market in 1975 was more stable than now and nowhere near as fragmented. Nor were benefits being squeezed and squeezed as now, forcing many into underemployment. People are going into low wages and at the same time there is a skills shortage.

Nevertheless, stability in the economy comes within the European Union. If we crash out the only survival game is as an offshore cheap labour low productivity country, whilst high value headquarters and plant relocate to the European mainland and, er, including Ireland. Where, of course, companies, people, goods and services will be able to travel in and out of Britain at will...

Come on politicians. Like Baroness Ros Altmann, start saying the obvious.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Why Roulette Does Not Need to Cheat

I had one of those highly enjoyable, loud, blistering arguments in the pub Sunday evening about roulette and its television presentation. I noted with them that ITV's presentation has an automatic wheel and one presenter often looking silly, and Channel 5's commercial presentation of SuperCasino used to have a presenter and a "trained" spinner of the precision craft-built wheel. [In fact it varies between one and two.] I have never gambled on any and I never will, and for the reason why see my website.

But what my two friends insisted upon, and I know another of our drinking party on Tuesday agrees with them, is that it is all a fiddle. I insist it is not, because it does not need to be.

Their contention was that there is an algorithmic computer that instantly gets the biases of the bets on a throw to come, and picks the video to produce a number outcome to maximise profits. That this suggested fraud would finish their broadcasts, end their credibility, and lead to a hefty fine matters not, they said, because the television history of game shows is that these phone in and similar contests have been fraudulent, they were found out, they paid the fine, and simply carried on.

My argument is that there is enough profit in the structure of the game guaranteed, and so little to be gained by the elaborate set-up needed to cheat that it isn't worth the additional effort. I was told that I am not cynical enough, and that there is never enough profit for capitalism. But, against that, I said if the profit is guaranteed then planning can take place. All of these 'offers' are for new players, and there is every reason to have new players: not simply more profit, but more stability; these offers come with restrictions (to come within the margin of profit - 'free money', so called, is somewhat like the old Truck money in shops, at least for long enough).

One friend mentioned the button trick in the real casino to bias the result. But that's in a game where there may be say 50 players around the table. The bets will vary from game to game to a visible bias. And even then they don't. We agreed on a playing number of 100,000 per random number generation (I cannot discover any statistic): at that level the numbers are so great that everyone ends up betting on all the numbers more or less evenly. And if they just about don't on one number generation, they do over a small number of throws of the ball over the wheel.

That's the point, and the only point. The more players, the more certainty for the casino providers, and it is simply a means to create money. With huge numbers on just one table, fiddling a result is ridiculous. That was and is my essential argument.

There are all sorts of gambling fallacies that people come up with to suggest cheating, and my friends are not stupid enough to have mentioned any of them. One is that a string of say reds (or any other characteristic) makes it more likely that the black (other characteristic) comes up next time. The likes of SuperCasino do participate in this fallacy, calling them "hot numbers" and "cold numbers". If they were really hot and cold, then the wheel really would be wonky. Probabilities have no history: they are all future based.

Another fallacy is the strategy to win, which wasn't suggested, but which I volunteered in order to make a point. In a celebrated evening in a church hall raising funds many years ago, I took my roulette set. Children were losing money and going away. So I said, to a few, I could improve matters: bet on evens only, or reds only (all 50-50) and be moderate. When one wins a penny or twopence, next time play just the penny or tuppence, but if one loses then double up, and soon there's bound to be a win, and the money is restored and it will continue to build up. Soon children started to gather round because they could see others winning. Parents became interested too. But one by one, the children (their parents, watching with interest) ran out of coins, ran out of money. And when they did, I told them to learn a lesson: "You cannot win over the long run. Never gamble."

Something not mentioned at the pub. There is a book that I think has a million of five number sets, randomly generated. It is a very boring read, apparently, but does have some highlights. One is a sequence 12345 and another is 00000. They appear a percentage number of times. The book shows that when people complain that a number sequence is not random, it usually is. I also did not mention the fallacy that the universe is so critically and necessarily specific that it must be designed, otherwise it would collapse in on itself or fail to function. That's easy. I have a rule for this. Suppose a pack of cards has to be in numerical order for hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades and jokers in that order for everything to take place; if not all collapses and vanishes. But here we are, and we see that order of cards. We are bound to say, it MUST have been arranged: but no. The cards were dealt, from random arrangements, over and over and over again, collapsing any future every time (other than dealing cards). Suddenly, once, after billions of card orders, the magic arrangement appears and everything can go ahead and be stable. Stability is also evidence that chance happened. Indeed the longer something goes arranging and trying again, the more chances exist for the infinitesimal outcome to happen - and once it does, that's enough.

My friends attacked "economics" in all this (i.e. capitalism). No no, economics has this covered. What I did say at the pub was that roulette on screen and online generates profit through negative utility. Profit ought to come about from increased utility, cost but meeting need, but there is only a small 'entertainment pastime' utility in a gambling pastime (and it has a very steep marginal utility curve). Thus creating a gambling supply, e.g. a casino, as a form of economic regeneration is false, because profit is based on misery. Indeed, a want that is addiction is a false utility -  a negative demand. It deprives people. For all the winning names that the likes of SuperCasino display (something probably random or first in), the same sort of list can be shown of losers. And the probabilities and mass numbers mean that there are always more losers than winners, and each throw generates profit from losers who could know better.

Oh, SuperCasino says that it tests each precision craft-built wheel for random number generation. Number outcomes are shown being tested. Well, that is misleading, because a sequence of 11111 is as likely as 49318. And so on.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

On My Congregational Travels

This time my congregational travels did not take me far: local Methodists. Despite living in this house for nearly eight years I have not been there once. And as I said afterwards, back in 1980-82 I attended a youth fellowship group and made it into part of my Ph.D research, using the misname Risemere Methodist Church and compared it with an evangelical Anglican church in an estate. (One person who was a leader then is still attending now: he was 28 when I was 21. I'm 58 now. I recognised no one else, which is also a testimony to living an anonymous life even in a suburban village.)

It was perhaps the wrong service to view, because it was a special service for children especially and thus had a swollen congregation. There were forty mixed age adults and fifteen primary school children. I was told after that the congregation normally averages out at thirty. These children have a 'messy church' on a Wednesday, apparently. The fact is that there is this outreach, as there is to scouts and others. I mentioned going to a URC 'Fresh Expressions' service kept going by attendances from within, and because they'd gone home it was cancelled and so I went home never to return. (And it also has outreach into uniformed youth.)

A chap I asked outside tagged on to me for a few food items and drinks afterwards in the church hall, so I spoke to him and another chap in particular. I didn't speak to the minister. I didn't even know she was the minister until she called herself it during the service.

This service was the 'Wastewatchers' service, and the Master of Ceremonies (let's say) said if it was waistwatchers then he would not qualify. For his age he said he was 6 with another 6 after it. Good strong voice and I think it was amplified even at a distance. It seems these children had recently had a pretend wedding. A girl was the bride and a girl the groom, probably because of the fifteen attending Sunday only three were male. Like in a real wedding, they'd made promises, and these were "what Jesus would have wanted" like being kind and being good (etc.). The 66 year old, a rather younger female youth worker, giving her last hurrah before going off to Birmingham, and an in between (age-wise) female gave a sort of theological theme. If I have it right, it was something out of nothing, something special out of something, and then (I think - but I was flagging by now) look after it all (as in wastewatchers, I take it.)

Thus we had the creation, and then (the linkage) that at this wedding (where who got married wasn't mentioned) Jesus mother was approached and Jesus turned water into wine, which was better not worse towards the end, and then presumably living with these. The youth worker took a jug of water and concealing the bottom of the glass as she held it, tipped the water in and some pale blackcurrant colour was evident as the water rose up the glass. And she said that, as well all know, Jesus went on to perform many miracles, and this had been the first.

Thus in one fell swoop the whole point of the miracle stories was lost, and the notion of 'reluctance' to perform miracles in the text was lost. Jesus was God and he was a magician. Now I know the objection here to my objection: it's only for kids. So is Santa Claus. The whole point of the water into wine tale is that it is an allegory of the Kingdom of God. Is it that difficult to express that message somehow, even to youngsters. After all, some of these sermonisings throughout could only be captured by older people than the children present.

Interesting that there was only one prayer in this, with the Lord's Prayer afterwards. The hymns were one "television viewers think is the only hymn we sing," the wearisome All Things Bright and Beautiful, followed by a very secular marriage hymn and then some terrible indigestible Jesus cult hymn (as I see it) by Graham Kendrick. I can't sing such, and didn't, and, as I say, I was flagging by now.

I was interested that, even in a local Methodist church, there were four television screens (too small for the distance of viewing). One was high among the organ pipes, presumably for anyone using the balcony (a "health and safety" issue, said the 66 year old during the service and thus no one was up there), two were one each in front of the aisles, and one faced the preacher off centre. The audio seemed to come from the back. The chap who met me and chatted afterwards was a steward and he operated the computer that put the words on the screen. The wedding hymn had words too small, but the rest were easily seen two lines at a time.

Interestingly, when I told him afterwards over drinks and eats that I used to attend Unitarian services, he never batted an eyelid, but when he said he and a friend attended St. John's Newland to see how they did all their music and the rest I said, "Ugh," as it is a Reform and nasty homophobic part of the Anglican Church. I was talking about once doing the music via prepared CDs and also the magazine. He said how useful I could be at their place. I said of also once doing the website, although another person who'd also left did the website most recently, and did it well. I said of about where I lived, and the connection between my charity landlord and the church, and yes by historical accident there is this funding but also funding for a number of other churches relating to the charity's founder.

As for the past minister there I knew best, I knew more about his movements and his final rather frustrating ministry (too many churches) prior to retirement. However, an interviewed for my Ph.D 'Liberal Methodist' minister was a name my chatting partner seemed to recognise, and I said of his movements and where he has been now for a long time. I also told of a traditionalist Methodist minister, who was a high Methodist like Wesley was before he set out, and thus became a lay Anglican, married to an Anglican vicar in Lincolnshire.

The one person I knew there told me where other leaders back in the earliest 1980s had gone. He was just the same, even down to satisfying his charismatic leanings in other gatherings from time to time. Back in the 1980s he was frustrated by the traditionalism of the worship approach, but presumably it has moved just enough in his direction to keep him. But he was never likely to move elsewhere.

I had a good chat about my academic background (describing the Ph.D, the MA in Theology), what I'd done. He asked me if I'd ever considered being a minister myself. Yes, I spent a year at Unitarian College but, "I was too heretical for the heretics." And this is the point. It wasn't as if I was some local who just turned up, but came with a baggage and a preference that really rules me out of joining in with this theological expression. They may have said, "See you next week," (er, there isn't one 'next week') but I said I'd be out of the Unitarians for about two years and I retain one social link there.

That was the danger, and the resistance from me going there, that I'd be pulled in. I left thinking I may go again but not soon. I'm more likely to resume going the the Quakers, but again from time to time only. Theology matters. If you don't believe it, you cannot express it.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Notes on a Successful Liberal Ministry

I am not involved in congregational religion now. From time to time on Sunday I will do no more than visit some churches and meeting houses in Hull, and get a sense of what is happening.

If I am asked, like on an application form, for my religion, I still put Unitarian: by which I still mean an open, evolving approach to faith, with an institutional identity and potential directions. If I am asked what my beliefs are like, I tend to say at the very liberal end of Christianity within Religious Humanism and something of a Western Buddhist soteriology. History and the limitations of doing history are important. I don't believe in 'cults of individuals' and so I follow no one. I am not a Christian in simple terms.



Nevertheless, I can still reflect upon what makes a successful liberal congregation and ministry.

For a liberal congregation to function well, it needs some characteristics and a ministry that draws the congregation together.

It needs to discuss: where its religion has come from and where it is journeying (directions). The notion of 'spiritual but not religious' gets us nowhere, a blank sheet that invites anything in. Because: the discussion has to be critical, has to discern the evidential and a consistency with the sociology of knowledge from the superstitious and interventionist supernatural. Identity and mission is important: that what happens is worth happening.

Yet such a congregation ought to give space: space for the quiet and for reflection. It's not all about discussion or content in the busy sense.

There should be a positive emphasis on including the other. It is unfortunate that not every congregation will be inclusive. Certain forms of religion attract certain social groups. Nevetheless the ethos should be inclusive socially and culturally: respect and expect respect. It's about breadth of vision and breadth of who is 'in'. Clearly the tribalist, racist, homophobe must be argued against.

From this follows a social vision that leads to practical action in the context of what a congregation can do.

If the church doesn't do reflective worship then it isn't really a church. There are many resources, traditional and liberal, and about identity, that can be used for reflection and contemplation and even generating a stance for action.

Hierarchy isn't always bad, but it ought to be justified by demonstrable spiritual experience, training, and emotional intelligence. Hierarchy is not an alternative to accountability, it should only exist with accountability.

A minister who thinks everything is down to personal leadership is going to come a cropper. Ministry is with the congregation, and a minister assists its ministry - not the other way around. A minister may help co-ordinate, but it is not that congregations are in the passenger seats with a minister doing the driving. A minister learns. Ministers do lose some people, and attract others, but a minister should always seek to keep who formed the place over time as others come in to add to change. Harmony means different notes playing together. A minister who loses people because of obsession with projects, or where others are said to frustrate his or her ministry, will simply cause the congregation to decline and argue, often out of earshot of the minister. Ministers should genuinely bring people on board, and not have a fake kind of 'consultation' whilst forcing schemes and intentions through, attempting to push a congregation one way or another.

Don't end up like this!

Of course there may not be a minister, in which case a congregation needs to develop patterns of leadership and service to try to co-ordinate and bring all on board.

A successful liberal ministry involves participation, gathering from the back to the front, and offering the benefits of training and emotional intelligence. In worship these purposes are nurtured. The congregation is the vehicle that requires careful driving skills, where the energy is drawn from the congregation.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Activating Web Links in a Text (HTML) File

This probably means nothing to most and is clumsy to a very few. But it works. And a more efficient method was sent to me that does not always work...

What follows is relevant to a piece of software called NoteTab Light. I have used it for years. every fortnight I make a webpage that I append to another webpage and upload to my website. It contains links to webpages that are labelled and described. The Pure Text editor will save a pure text document to HTML with paragraph tags and other essential code, within a template the user can make (as I have). But the links are simply as they were. You could copy, paste into the URL browser area and activate them that way. But as we all know, we click on links.

Many a Rich Text Format editor (it allows some formatting like bold and italic, a pure text file does not) will display links as active, but only a very convert to HTML with active links. Copywriter is one, but does not recognise https:// because it is old software. Other big Word Processers (with complex formatting) will not activate links until RETURN is pressed, and then saving to HTML produces ridiculously user-unfriendly complicated and repetitive code.

NoteTab Light has clips to do more with both flat text files and the HTML files (and XML). And I have written one that works and with one press activates all links in a file. And here it is:

^!SetScreenUpdate Off
^!ClearVariables

^!Jump Doc_Start
:Loop1
^!Find "http://" S
^!IfError END1
^!MoveCursor 1
^!Select Url
^!Set %url%=^$GetSelection$
^!InsertHTML ^%url%
^!Goto Loop1
:END1

^!Jump Doc_Start
^!ClearVariables

:Loop2
^!Find "https://" S
^!IfError END2
^!MoveCursor 1
^!Select Url
^!Set %url%=^$GetSelection$
^!InsertHTML ^%url%
^!Goto Loop2
:END2

^!SetScreenUpdate On

It depends on the very useful ^!Select URL, because it grabs the URL - although moving the cursor by 1 just makes sure you are on it rather than to its left. I like to make sure, so I have two loops so to include the https and the http. Each loop means the same instruction happens as the finding goes down the document and the 'error' is when there are no more URLs left to find. I am told I could use a ? for the s or no s in https and thus have one loop but I have not seen this ? in the help file. The screen writing is switched off so it is quicker. S also means a silent Find - no messages. I think screen updating comes on automatically at the end, but I like to be sure.

It's not my skill, such code writing, but I can see enough how others do it to put something together to achieve something else.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

They're Already Blaming Each Other

Many are no doubt missing the significance of David Davis's likely briefing against Prime Minister Theresa May via James Chapman, who worked with Davis until recently. He has claimed that the Secretary of State for Leaving the European Union had been "hamstrung" by the prime minister's stance on the European Court of Justice (ECJ), plus a few other matters.

The EU says its citizens in the UK should have access to the ECJ for protection, but May wants no role for any EU body after leaving. The ECJ is the European legal body for deciding disputes.

As well as apparently having a go at Philip Hammond the Chancellor for being inconsistent (as Hammond has a go at Johnson the Foreign Secretary), this briefing is an attempt to say that the negotiations would be going better without Theresa May's interference.

The essential problem is this: if you trade and have agreements, indeed if you have agreements on anything, there have to be bodies to make rulings. The obvious bodies already exist, but to want new bodies is quite an expense to add.

After all, the engagement with Europe will be on the basis of laws from treaties, and the ECJ follows the laws.

She even wants to come out of Euratom, the pan-European atomic energy regulator. This is daft, because Euratom is not part of the EU, but the madness is that the ECJ governs the free movement of Euratom  scientists. This is like dogma gone mad.

But the significance of this is that Theresa May still thinks she is calling the shots, but the cabinet are deciding via the usual methods that she isn't.

The reality is that leaving the EU is so complicated and so likely to end up in a mess that the Prime Minister is being targetted early for the blame. Pin the tail on the donkey.

If withdrawing, it is so much simpler to stay in the European Economic Area for the free market and the Customs Union to keep down the paperwork (and keep Ireland's north and south border invisible). It also helps Gibraltar.

However, do this and the UK whilst formally out is basically a satellite of the European Union. We do as it does, but without any say. We lose sovereignty.

At some point the reality will be come clear: it's between the cliff edge due to confusion or the status quo ante. Perhaps Europe might offer an extension on Article 50 to get a 'Cameron plus' deal whilst staying in.

People need educating on how we contribute to EU decisions and how this makes us part of a wide based institution for our benefit: economic, social, political and idealism too. To be a satellite of the EU is pointless: social and economic benefits, but no hand on the driving wheel, accelerator or brake. Crash out and we have no option but a diminished Gross National Product and decades of trying to get trade deals with countries we don't trade with as much as we do with the EU. There is no option in crashing out, but some Tory fantasists think we can become a cheap labour economy of low taxes and hugely dropped public spending. The latter is no longer an option. If we crash out we end up with hyperinflation and a high rate of unemployment that can no longer be disguised as at present (public spending on schemes, so-called apprenticeships etc.).

Maybe Chuka Umunna's single market amendment that was bound to fail was an early effort of a foundations exploration for a centre party, or some similar realignment. It takes the crumbling Conservative Party on its assertive single market left and the Labour right that cannot fathom Corbyn's Europe policy to a new place, with Liberal Democrats and some others, to argue for economic sanity at the very least.

It is time to call the bluff regarding the 'sacredness' of the EU referendum. It was advisory, an inadequate majority then, and an ill-informed campaign on both sides. People change their minds too. The Houses of Parliament need to educate people why we must stay in, and prepare the ground to do it.
  • Crashing out is disastrous.
  • The EEA plus Customs Union turns us into a satellite of the EU
  • Staying in preserves our shared sovereignty.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Whiff of More Tory Election Corruption

So we are being told by Channel 4 News tonight that the Conservative Party
allegedly paid for a call centre to canvas people afar and wide with Tory party slogans and naming their candidates by telephone, using people on zero hours contracts from a company that concealed its real name and pretended to do research.

Let's take this a bit further. Imagine you are a jobless person in Neath. You are told by the Job Centre to work for this call centre. No choice. Suppose you are a socialist or liberal or nationalist. You have to go on the phones, call people and recycle Conservative Party election cliches to recipients, many of whom are on the list to avoid nuisance calls - only genuine researchers can telephone such people. This is an abuse of political liberty. And it is alleged that this call centre was spending money for the election, for named candidates, to 'buy votes' and - if so - acting illegally.

Plus the fact that by being undeclared a call centre acting in this way intentionally calling people with and gathering data breaks Data Protection Laws.

The Information Commissioner says if wrongdoing has taken place, action will be taken. Would it not also be a police matter?

This may well find its way into the pot that could stink and add to the shaking that puts Theresa May out of office. After Thanet and all that, we have this prospect of more potential corruption, expenses for candidates undeclared, criminal offence activity. Surely she knew that a call centre was being exceptionally busy on Tory Party worked money. Her phrases were repeated by these telephone calls as soon as they were given. Something has to be done.

Strategy Latest for Staying In the EU

This blog is written from the standpoint of someone who wants to stay in the European Union .

I don't know if David Lammy MP has changed his view; perhaps like Kenneth Clarke MP he expects removal from the EU and so has adjusted to a near EU position. Perhaps he will change his mind: perhaps he's a dreamer and is not the only one. David Lammy enjoys the biggest proportion of an MPs vote: 80% of voters in his constituency voted for him.

However, I'm a stay in the EU without variation, and it is always a question of ongoing strategy.

Whilst I think there is social and safety legislation which calls for the House of Commons and House of Lords to co-operate, leaving the European Union is not one of them. Assuming the majority is for the single market an customs union or as close as can be, there are clearly going to be votes to stop the government doing worse.

My view is this. We should let the government 'own' whatever it is they are doing in Brussels. The government is divided, and David Davis cannot have it all his own way. Also people should leave Theresa May where she is, probably for two years. Both factions of her party box her in.

The expectation is that the government will make a mess of it through its own indecision-making and lack of resources. The clock ticks and the offer from the fed-up 27 is not extended negotiations for Britain's benefit but the EEA or stay in the EU. No one will let the cliff edge happen, and both houses will go ballistic over this.

However, there is a big problem coming along if the Scottish Parliament needs to pass a legislative consent. It may well not on any basis other than full single market and customs union (i.e. EEA) basis as its compromise, given the good majority in Scotland to stay in. Even ther Scottish Tories are 'soft' on leaving the EU.

This could scupper the government, and given its performance regarding the Democratic Unionist Party negotiations, it could leave the government up the creek without a paddle. It could itself short-circuit everyone to a quick General Election.

Let's just look at the DUP situation. It shows how inept this government is regarding negotiation, and indeed the television BBC Newsnight biography on Theresa May on the night before the voting stated that she is not transactional and cannot negotiate.

It is inept because Cameron as Prime Minister (and indeed even Gordon Brown under Labour) spoke to the DUP. Because the DUP warm to the Tories, Cameron never had to make his DUP talking public. He did not because of its effect on the Good Friday Agreement and because they have a different social ethos.

Had Theresa May possessed political skills at a level of her office, she would have known this. Someone advised her, or she thought it necessary, to purchase a House of Commons majority by making a potential deal public. Immediately the warnings about Ireland were mentioned, plus that these people are "dinosaurs" (and, by the way Mr Speaker, dinosaurs did not just last millions of years, but our birds are pretty much evolved dinosaurs...). Now it may be that there is no deal, that it cannot be purchased, and it makes May look even more foolish.

So there is a bit of a dilemma in the strategy for a pro-European. One is not to co-operate with legislation - letting them stew in their own juice and own it - whilst the other is to leave he in power.

But if factions arise and repeal bills (reversing 1972) do not get passed, the government is in a mess. There may well be a fall in the government. It would as likely end in another Tory taking the leadership, say David Davis himself. No one else wants it. No leader wants to prepare for an election that might put them into opposition.

If that happens, see what he says and see them still in the juice. Labour will be as unlikely to manage the House of Commons as any other party, with such low voting numbers and now the DUP definitely against. It would have to fail to get through its radical social and economic programme. It would have to plan to fail and want an election, and only a vote of no confidence would get to an election (because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act - no plans now to repeal it).

Meanwhile Farage will be exercising his efforts through Tory MPs in the hard faction. Their options are now considerably reduced. At the moment they get the same sympathetic rhetoric from government.

Just a note on this as well. I have never believed that Theresa May would go ahead with a 'hard Brexit' and the fact that she 'lost' on this basis is another of her errors. She was a remainer and went 'hard' to get UKIP votes. They have destroyed UKIP, like they almost destroyed the Liberal Democrats in 2015, but the ex-Labour voters who went UKIP returned only two thirds of this UKIP vote to the Tories, and with the rise in the youth vote the Tory 'success' with this strategy failed. The First Past the Post tipping points actually went in Labour's favour.

So she is rubbish on that basis as well. Note that on Day 1 David Davis capitulated to the EU timetable after all the bluster on how the government would negotiate. The outcome, if we leave, is likely to be soft anyway, and Theresa May is as likely to accept that as any other, simply because she believed in staying in.

Her political skills was to believe in staying in, saying nothing, and expect Cameron to be so bruised by the referendum that he soon would fall to a less convinced remainer like her and all continue on. However, she sat back and watched the other leadership candidates knife each other in the front and back and took the reins as handed to her. Then she became as insincere in government leadership by rhetoric.

Anyway, everyone has seen through her but may as well leave her where she is. She won't last more than two years, but it's best if she does. She may not, because the legislation can get snarled up and even stopped. Labour. the SNP and the Liberal Democrats should let the government get into its own stew and let legislation stall. (And surely the Liberal Democrats will not be as stupid to bale the Tories out again?) - I mean it is one thing to be punished by the electorate, another to be destroyed.

The object of the exercise, for the Liberal Democrats and others, is to stay in the European Union. The Article 50 clock is ticking. Let it. The mess the government gets into regarding leaving the EU is entirely of its own making, and must be. The Liberal Democrats especially must now start making the argument for sharing sovereignty and saying that a General Election always trumps a referendum. All the EEA option amounts to is being virtually the same as the EU but without political input to decision making. And this is what we should retain.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

On Biblical Emotional Dependency Today

This is a further reflection not so much on Tim Farron as on the faith of the 'committed Christian' and 'biblical Christian' with reference to sexuality.

What is such a faith, such a belief and its response? It is a relationship of dependence. It is to say that there is in one collection of books a revelation of salvation faith, that in our time must be in contrast with a different general reality; thus it is a kind of gnosis - special knowledge.

Much as I might engage presently in some church tourism, and thus participate in some of what Tim Farron experiences, I cannot get away from the fact that the Bible is a human construction in particular places and times.

It is impossible to escape from the work of biblical critics and the limitations of doing history. It is impossible to reject the reality of science. So a number of things follow in relationship with evangelical (and other post-Nicea and post-Chalcedon forms of) Christianity.

This summarises like this, pushing history: that Jesus was an end-time rabbi, not particularly unique in his ethic, and did not preach his own divinity and probably was unsure (changed his mind?) on the matter of messiahship. He could have regarded himself as a conduit with God to bring about another Messiah after Jesus's own understanding of the suffering servant. Of course once he was dead, he either was something large or nothing at all for those energised with belief, as Paul put it in similar fashion.

Even saying this is to say more than history can provide. In pure terms he was a Galilean, who followed the Baptist's eschatology, widened out his appeal somewhat, went to Jerusalem, was arrested and was put to death by crucifixion.

The synoptic gospels are faith documents of early believers in his messiahship, a human man who was appointed by God. Pauline theology is all over these as part-interpretation. Many of Jesus's sayings are put on to him, but some might be his own words. John's Gospel has a resistance and pull regarding Gnosticism, and is a Greek-philosophical Gospel of pre-existence with all sorts of sayings put on to Jesus's lips. The Gospel of Thomas (excluded from the canon but must be included as serious) is a limited form of Gnostic Gospel with sayings and no biographical picture, some of which could be historical and many are not.

Whatever one thinks of the resurrection appearances and empty tomb, if these were in any sense continuations of the perception of Jesus then we will be looking at Nobel prizes for biology, physics and even chemistry. The 'appearances' are statements of theology, liturgy and authority. The tomb says to me why there is no tomb worship, and witnesses to explain the anonymity of burial, if burial it was. Paul is no witness when he makes a bland statement regarding burial. In any case, if Jesus is human (and what else is he?) then dead people do not return to life after actual death. The brain rots very quickly. Who rolled away the stone. If there was a stone, no one needed to do it because the resurrected Jesus went to hell and rose up again. It is picture-book stuff.

Indeed for someone like me, the Rabbi Jesus is an evolved human like anyone else, and nothing special, living in the Bronze Age (as we categorise it), and whose thought forms were within the supernaturalism mistaken age of rabbinical Judaism with a messianic expectation. So were the excited early followers, Jews and more, told that he had returned to the leaders and a symbolic congregation (500 or 120) and gone off again (so these followers would not see him) with a directing Spirit instead and a likely rapid return. He would come again, establish the close Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and would (unlike what the Creed says) give it back to the Father at the very end.

It's not how I think, or anyone else, who thinks of the universe as billions of light years in inner circumference and expanding, and of evolving life (a chaotic method of development by comparative death plus systemic interaction). It gets a bit daft to think of a God being interested in an edge of one galaxy planet to direct history. The thought forms do not meet. They only work if one of them is a mythology, and a mythology as true as doing art and working the imagination. The mythology explains nothing except, perhaps, as an illustration that sometimes we have to give something up in order to move on to something fresh. Dying and rising is a common theme in many a myth, and in nature's renewal.

But the committed Christian, the evangelical believer, seems to live inside that specific thought world with Reformation adjustment. It becomes a kind of fizzy reality. I do worry if a political leader shows that sort of dependency. What is missing that such emotional diversion needs such to block the plughole? Now I am well aware that life is shit, but I am not going to fill that gap with mythology and self-deception.

What then is it to have that imagining for yourself and friends, but then have this "liberal to my fingertips" stance that others should follow their own truths? Now, I know about Radical Orthodoxy, which hates Karl Barth because he accepted the opposite of atheism from being inside the inner circle. For a Radical Orthodox, there is the postmodern bubble, but you live within the bubble and it must be the interpreter of all else. Atheism is no more. One can understand this form of traditionalism, but it is rubbish because any research shows that the 'secular theology' of Sociology produces returns of the real whether you want them or not. Science does other. Life is not a novel to be made up however you want: thus my argument against the extent of non-realism in the Cupitt camp: and Cupitt then says he follows common narratives and not the Radical Orthodox imaginings. Why not? Why not, when all is imagined? Because, in the end, some things are true, however hard truth is to discover, and some are not. It is not just that some things 'work better' and others don't. Yes, great schemes of explanations change, and so can ours of General Relativity and the Quantum, but they will change because of research that supports or undermines the mathematics.

I don't understand Tim Farron. On the other hand, I have met many Christians who seem to have a remarkable ability to use the light switch method for one minute being in the Christian world of explaining and then in the ordinary world of technology and human enquiry, the 'common narratives' recognised by Don Cupitt.

For example, there is a binary aspect to Genesis in reproductive relationships. There is also a binary basis worked out (from many other forms) into the New Testament for marriage - marriage that becomes angelic in the Kingdom of Heaven when it comes. Eh? Divorce is thus not allowed. However, there is also rabbinic experience of foreskin removal that reveals eunuchs and something in between. We now know that intersex comes in many guises, and related and unrelated is the transexual, and desire for coupling (and more) on a same sex basis comes throughout evolved animals (including us) as well as across the sexes. Genesis and being a biblical Christian just won't do as an explanation. The sociology of social stability suggests recognition and doorway rituals for same sex as well as different sex coupling, and more in fact, anything indeed that involves pleasure and informed consent together.

Tim Farron as a 'biblical Christian' must feel constrained, as will his fellowship of Evangelical Christian co-worshippers, regarding anything beyond the limited biblical insights. Thanks to him for allowing others to pursue their own: but on what basis? Allowing others to sin, due to being liberal to his fingertips? Is that not participation in the sin of others, when surely they should be persuaded to get inside the bubble.

Very odd. It makes no sense to me. I am liberal to my fingertips too, but this is because I think knowledge is only darkly found in conditions of free enquiry. I am liberal in religion and liberal is sociology and liberal in politics, a liberal view that has plenty for the collective sense. After all, we evolve to be collective in many species.

I am sorry for the emotionally dependent, but the Bible is no longer a source of essential knowledge. We get it elsewhere. It is only one of the providers of mythology. It was created and collected by a Church institutional arrangement and helps maintain that arrangement in many breakout forms.

All religion is like this: Arabia in the seventh century is a mystery and took about century to write another mythic history. Scriptures are full of all sorts of errors. Ancient religions in the east were always about mythology and no one thought any worse for it (life was a story). But the grounds of 'being historical' have changed, and I worry about politicians dependent on an emotional fill-up every Sunday and perhaps more often.

Thank God He Has Gone?

The politics of the Grenfell Tower fire in London was summarised for me in Channel 4 News, and in later, similar comments on BBC 2 Newsnight. This was the claim, however true or not, that the cladding on the tower that went on fire so rapidly was to beautify the tower for the wealthy nearby residents, and this is why a recent upgrade could include such absences of fire protection and combustible material for the actual, poor, residents. And with legal aid provision withdrawn, these residents lacked the ability to challenge what was taking place around them. We forget that in cities people in poverty can live right next to the wealthy, especially so in London, and the fear now is that when this tower block is knocked down the replacement will not be social housing.

As well as this event, I want to mention also another programme on TV tonight, again on BBC 2 between 9 and 10 pm. It was an attempt to see if a group of travellers on a terrible rail franchise south east of London could meet the conditions for a bid. All along the way, the Department of Transport put traps in their way: and they found the fifty million pounds suddenly required of them, and even then they were rejected. The fact is we have railway companies subsidised to make a profit for lousy rented services (trains etc.) that don't work, many of the profits going abroad to State owned railways to subsidise their social fares. Not once did this programme mention the most obvious thing to do: either nationalise the whole thing and make it credible again (e.g. ticketing) or so arrange the finances so that the whole thing is one functioning private company with full flexibility of ticketing.

Two issues in this country that matter: poverty, inequality and absence of basic standards, and a "not fit for purpose" (House of Commons pre-election) system by which the corporate pals of government can arrange finance and set-ups to milk the railways.

Was it wise during a very tragic and politically charged fire in London for Tim Farron to announce his resignation? Was he going quietly so no one would notice, or did he just carry on as normal? I'm not sure. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, and hard-hearted as it may seem activities do continue.

There is more than a hint in his resignation speech that being a biblical Christian and “remaining faithful to Christ” was incompatible with being his party’s leader. He is liberal to his fingertips about the rights of others to live as they will, but clearly he was implying that being a biblical Christian doesn't allow that for him or others like him. Indeed, just a little earlier, Lord Paddick resigned from his position citing Tim Farron's views, but also a regret that he felt that Farron could not be a committed Christian and leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This raises a question whether he was lying in the election when he said he does not regard gay sex as a sin. It raises the question what exactly does he regard as incompatible between living as a biblical Christian and running a liberal party in 2017. Perhaps he thinks the Bible thinks gay sex is a sin and he does not. But that raises another question about him as this committed Christian.

Who cares, once he is no longer a leader? Of course many would want to question his assumptions about being a committed Christian and regarding gay sex as sinful. There is the whole question of context. Does Tim Farron approve, for example, of recent decisions by the United Reformed Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church? Presumably he approves of the opt outs in liberal fashion, but what about church marriages with same sex couples who will shortly go to bed with each other and sexually?

I don't wish to overdo my criticism. Theresa May is an Anglican Christian, known to have made anti-lesbian statements in Merton, London, and is socially conservative. She would press a nuclear button and when a nurse in the General Election campaign almost wept that her pay was falling back in real terms year by year, all that May could say was that there is no money tree. No comassion there then. Tim Farron is the far better example of Christian, as both Christian and politician.

I suggest something else, too, regarding his resignation. Early on I had a sense that Farron just was not up to the job. I could have been wrong, and he might have become a Charles Kennedy. The election campaign might throw up some positive surprises. This is what Jeremy Corbyn did, after all, who was transformed from someone who could not run his office to someone who could campaign and run his office. Farron was overshadowed, as well as lacked traction on the European argument before the negotiations began, before the economy started to go seriously wrong. In two years it would have been different.

But he was just crap. He was also robotic, like Theresa May, in voice and presentation even if he did answer questions. He was not a leader. He might have been all they had, given that he voted against the Bedroom Tax and kept his promise regarding tuition fees. Nevertheless, in a time when government competence will be in short supply, the Liberal Democrats need to rebuild with a leader with gravistas. The Tory voter will be looking for somewhere to go soon, and the fact is that a Labour government will only have a majority if the third party recovers. Votes that went to a two party system (and allows the Tories to crow about their vote numbers) have to return to a three or even four party system. That way Labour wins: it is how it won (except perhaps the first time) under Blair.

If Vince becomes leader (say) then the party will be seen to have a heavyweight leader and attractive to Tories fed up with incompetence, narrow interests and lack of direction in the government neither restored nor refreshed. Vince will have instant appeal, because he can talk about competence in the coalition even if it annoys lefties who voted Liberal Democrat. After all, the lefties and young will now be voting Labour, and Vince will be appealing to those who have a better view of the coalition than I did, for example.

So goodbye Tim and it never did happen. A Calvinist in me says it was never going to happen under you so it is wise to have stood down, even if the day is unfortunate timing when others reflect on tragedy and the wider causes of tragedy.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Church Tourism Derails Somewhat

My plan for today was to visit, for the first time, a 'Cafe Church' Fresh Expressions held by a Hull URC church. I arrived before time, to discover that it had been cancelled because "Everyone had gone home" after a previous service. The previous service was a youth one, because this church is connected to some young people's organisations.

The minister told me it was cancelled for this reason; the woman alongside said I had attended the previous week. He told me it would start up again.

However, he did not ask for contact details. So what would I do? Turn up again only to find it cancelled again? In my Unitarian experience, ha ha, if one person turns up you run the service. I have been there with three plus a minister.

I don't think it was likely but there was an outside chance I might find a place there. Parking is awkward, indeed takes time in The Avenues. Well, I won't return now.

So I wondered what I would do. Instead of going home I knew that Holy Trinity (Hull Minster) ran its 'traditional' service at 11:15, and I was back at the car at 11:01. I didn't much fancy it, but there might be something else to learn.

I arrived 2 minutes late in the church itself. I just could not participate and even the final blood-curdling hymn caused me to close the book. I counted about 50 plus in the space including 18 in the robed choir. I was told by this woman afterwards that some from the choir and a few were at this decaon's ordination in York; indeed she would preside at her first Eucharist in the evening service.

The service was taken by the main fairly folksy priest. The woman I spoke with mentioned above said about the URC no attendance that it is secularisation, and she had just written an essay on it for the Open University. Sociologist? No, historian. She said about pre-First World War so I said oh yes that 1913 was the high point for church attendance but in fact it only kept pace with the rise in the general population. I told her I had a speciality in Presbyterian and Unitarian history, indeed how Presbyterians and Independents worshipped in the Nave at Holy Trinity before being kicked out after the Restoration.

This woman had trained as a midwife in Ipswich when she knew a Unitarian family. She said that they are Quakers now. I said each are like 'cousins', neither containing demands for doctrine.

Now the preacher was only training to be a Lay Reader. Quite elderly I thought (!) but when does one become a Lay Reader? His sermon had been on Rublev's Trinity ikon inviting us in, plus references to the 1 Corinthians and the read-out Matthew Trinity-like statements. I said to him that these are not doctrine of the Trinity statements. He didn't disagree, although I could tell he wanted to disagree. He agreed Matthew is a late insertion. I said that the early Christians were not trinitarians, and Paul certainly was not. I could see here too that he wanted to disagree, but could not. I said the gospels are trying to say that Jesus was appointed, chosen as Messiah by God, and I said John's gospel is closer to Arian. He agreed! I said there was no inevitability that it would end up as Trinitarian, and indeed at the Reformation the proof of this was when some retained the Church doctrines they were trinitarian, but those who read the Bible alone in Eastern Europe were not. So he said if Jesus was only (at best) Arian, it affects salvation. So I asked why? I said if you take John's Gospel, it says In the beginning and in Arianism Jesus is the first born of all creation. He said yes but Jesus says 'Before Abraham was I am' so I asked how that changes anything and, of course, he could not say.

I did point out that I was not Arian myself, and also that the Trinitarian was a construction in the context of Roman Empire. "Oh you think that?" he said. "Yes."

For me the service was full of clutter. OK, there is a surface appreciation of choir-sung bits, but they may as well sing forms of nonsense. I know I rather like being an argumentative sod unpicking assumptions in sermons, but there is no future in it. Like the last time I visited (and I was remembered), I just detected that people are well aware of all the arguments but just go along with it. I call it self-deception and I am no longer interested in pursuing that. The liturgy struck me as so much clutter and I won't be going back there either.

In fact I'm not sure if I am going anywhere in future. I can think of one or two places to visit but that will conclude my travels. After than I shall enjoy my Sundays like most people do.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

For Remainers: Why the H of C Should Sit On Its Hands

I forget his name but a Tory strategist said he would have preferred a coalition, even a loose one, with the Liberal Democrats than rely on the Democratic Unionist Party with its cultural backwards stance.

Of course, it's hard luck. It could even be payback time, in the sense that the Tory reward for the Liberal Democrat prop from 2010 to 2015 was to massacre the Liberal Democrats in the pursuit of a majority. Had the Liberal Democrats been considered for such a coalition offer now and accepted, they would have lost my vote and a great many more forever. However, we know from Theresa May's past that her values, in so much as she has shown them, are more in keeping with the DUP than the Lib Dems.

It is time for Theresa May and the Conservatives to stew in their own juice. Theirs is the worst of all worlds now, because they have to continue to govern, but have lost authority to do it and will stagger on in weakness and with confusion of intentions.

I don't wish to be unkind to Labour, but the fact is that in conditions of a two party system the Labour Party has to be fantastically popular to win a majority. Whereas the Conservatives need about 317 to govern (no Sinn Fein plus usual DUP support), Labour needs 322. Labour also needs to get these seats in England, which is tougher for them than for the Tories.

Labour will get a majority if it holds and builds its support, gets the young out again (crucial), and yet sees a return to a three party system where the Liberal Democrats can take fed-up Tory voters. It will be the decay of the Tories and Liberal Democrats taking Tory votes that will let Labour in.

Now the Remain in the EU strategy WAS to wait for the negotiations to start to fail (cost, complication, arguing about lack of representation reducing sovereignty) and then persuade people to change their minds via a General Election or Referendum. The Tory factions either side would have undermined any result for negotiating, but the assumption was some result to withdraw.

Then Theresa May pulled a fast one, so that the Liberal Democrats failed to make traction (but also the leadership was rubbish). The prospect was that the remain side was stuffed by this clever General Election call by Theresa May's two advisors. Her majority would have overcome various Tory factions.

Now their/ her gamble has failed, the position is worse than ever. I am not a remainer seeking a soft exit; I am a remainer seeking to stay in the EU.

The strategy should now be different and work in two directions.

First is the argument that we could now be heading for the rights and costs of being in the EU - even in the single market and customs union - but we won't be able to affect policy. We therefore need to retain sovereignty by staying in, that is in the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and providing personnel into the Commission. We argue that to leave the EU is to lose sovereignty, because others will make decisions without us. Staying in is the simplest and most cost-effective option.

Secondly, do not help the Tories. There is the idea that the House of Commons should be 'responsible' and 'constructive'. No it should not. Let the leavers and the turncoats (Remainers actively taking us out, like May) own the policy and carry it through. If they can. Let them and no one else pass The Great European Communities Repeal Bill

They do not possess the intellectual or person-power resources to do it. They are also politically tired: the body politic was not refreshed by this general election (as it usually is). They will have fifteen months of a lame duck leader and factions both sides working on this leave project.

The clock ticks to the point that Article 50 will be invoked. When that comes, it is a cliff edge. We will have to appeal to a unanimity of the twenty seven to stop the clock for a period. The 27, or one or more of them, may well decide that, yes, they will pause the clock but that the negotiations are so tiresome, so troublesome, so muddled, that the clock can only be stopped for good. There are more pressing things in the world.

In other words, the choice will be the cliff edge or staying in. And then the EU may offer a looser outer circle membership, a bit like Cameron wanted, that requires adjustment and little more. All the complications of extraction will be avoided. And then the people who voted to stay in, and some more, and who realise the benefits of sharing politically and economically with others, will be happy.

Meanwhile, do not underestimate UKIP and Farage. They will operate with a threat to take Tory votes again (from a low UKIP base where this works) but, more importantly, via Tory MPs of their persuasion. There will be UK Independence Tories. No problem. They will just add to the chaos in a House of Commons more sympathetic to a softer exit or none, and which will hopefully sit on its hands and watch the Tories sink in their own juices.

A General Election in two or three years will be one that finishes all this and we carry on as before, hopefully with a socially progressive Labour government or progressive alliance.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Propped Up for What Domestically?

A long time ago David Cameron had a wheeze. Because the SNP and Labour sent MPs from Scotland, and yet had a devolved Parliament, then on domestic legislation only English MPs should vote on domestic legislation at the critical committee revising stage with vetos. The same applies to things the Welsh do, and the things the Northern Irish do. The Speaker declares when legislation is only for English or English and Welsh MPs. Look up English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) for how it works.

Suddenly, times have changed. The Scottish Conservatives have bailed out Theresa May's English and Welsh disaster. But, hang on, when it comes to the NHS or social care and education, what exactly is Theresa May's majority? These cannot be used. Nor can any Northern Irish MPs.

It suggests that anything beyond The Budget and Foreign Affairs is going to come under an even further diminished minority.

Meanwhile, the whole point of a General Election is a refreshment of the body politic, either via a new government or its renewal with lots of changes to the cabinet.

Not this time. It carries on as if the government just had a short break. But something did happen. A majority of some seventeen or so in effect fell to a deficit of three. And what was going on anyway, quiet reference by the previous Prime Minister David Cameron to the Democratic Unionist Party, is made explicit. Did it have to be made explicit? Cameron was talking to the DUP anyway, but he didn't make a song and dance about it because of the needs of Ireland and their nasty social exclusion. But now, in another mistake, May makes explicit her dependence on them just as she seems to have returned to office as if nothing has happened.

DUP a Disaster & Govt. Cannot Get an EU Exit Deal

The closest parallel I think with recent politics now is with the John Major government in 1992. He had a majority that was weakened slowly through by-elections. It was economically incompetent. It ruined the railways. But for passing the Maastricht Treaty Major had a 'nuclear' option, a sort of Tory self-destruct. May does not have a nuclear button.

The first mistake is to rely on the Democratic Unionist Party. To hold Northern Ireland/ North of Ireland together needs the British government to be an honest broker without strategic interest in the province. To couple up with the DUP just in order to prop up a minority government is threatening a far bigger and delicate prize of long-term stability in the north. The DUP could have a shopping list in terms of the troubles memory and form of politics in the future that upsets the balance in Ireland.

The second mistake is to assume the government can have a 'stable' position regarding leaving the European Union. The problem for the EU side is that the negotiating partner in the British Government cannot deliver on its own deal.

Once again UKIP will be a very short tail wagging the Tory nutjob hard exit faction. So a deal that keeps the UK in the single market and customs union (that thus dissolves the border question in Ireland) will not satisfy these nutjobbers.

Yet a hard exit from the EU would not get past the vast majority of the House of Commons.

The clock is ticking and in two years the UK could fall out of the European Union. The Article 50 time limit and the cliff edge can only be prevented if all 27 in the EU agree - and the price may well be to stay in the European Union and no further 'time', no more Article 50, in order to prevent an economic disaster.

It is not clear either that a European Communities (Union?) Grand Repeal Act would get through and may be delayed until nearer an apparent deal.


The government, in other words, is heading for disaster, as it always was, but now doing so having lost political authority.

On anything else 318 or 319 is enough to run the House of Commons (the real majority line is 322 with the Irish abstentions) but always subject to Tory factions.

In the opposition Tim Farron should resign in favour of a more competent heavyweight and Jeremy Corbyn with authority but no power will be frustrated. It is quite possible after a time period to see a centre party realignment - the nearest to a grand coalition.

The Fixed Term Parliament Act should survive. The former prerogative is dead, and cannot be revived (otherwise monarchail prerogative is never removable and is superior to statute) so if the FTPA is repealed then some other democratic means to call a General Election is needed, not a Prime Minister who can dissolve a House of Commons as if the monarch did.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Intended to Vote Liberal Democrat

Late last night I decided to vote Liberal Democrat. Wasn't quite as certain as that, even then. However, I re-read the leaflets and there was enough in public services intentions for me to vote for the pro-EU party. I cannot vote even for a more competent team (Labour) to take us out of the European Union despite my annoyance that the Liberal Democrat manifesto on Europe is one for an opposition.

I came into a report on BBC 2 Newsnight that I followed up online to get it all. It was by Matthew Parris and was a biography of Theresa May. I said to my podiatrist today that I know he cannot talk politics or religion, but I can. I said this broadcast item went back to May's university years and throughout, including especially during the coalition government. It found that May has no vision, or no one knows what it may be. She does not 'form gangs' like politicians do. She faces people across the table, may say 'No' and follows with silence. It said too that she is, unlike most politicians, not transactional and "she cannot negotiate": she cannot make quick decisions.

Hang on. She cannot negotiate. This means that throughout this whole 'Powerpoint' (bullet points) election campaign we have been sold a pup. The media construction of Theresa May and all her robotic answers (her interview with Jon Snow earlier on Channel 4 News was her most robotic) hid the fact that she actually cannot negotiate.

I knew from the off it was all a lie, simply through the U turns and her absence of anything she believes in, other than presumably Tory privilege.

So when I went to the polling booth after podiatry I was going to vote Liberal Democrat. However, I allowed myself to look down the ballot paper. And then I was paused: not should I vote Labour or Liberal Democrat but should I vote Green? Labour never even featured in my consideration. No, I thought, I'll vote Liberal Democrat on the basis that someone has to hold them up when on the slide as they are, knowing that they will probably have to change leader and firm up their stance in favour of staying in the European Union.