White matter

Klimt, portrait of Hermine GalliaTranssexual people exhibit different brain structure. A team at the National University of Distance Education, Madrid, performed MRI scans on 24 males, 19 females and 18 female to male trans folk, who had had no treatment. They found significant differences between male and female brains in four regions of white matter, and the trans men had white matter in those regions resembling a male brain. The team made a separate study of 18 trans women, finding that the structure of the white matter was half way between that of the males and females.

Words like “superior longitudinal fascicle” may trip off my tongue as easily as base-nodule of the stria terminalis central section. It may have implications on body perception.

In 2011, the New Scientist (where I found this) suggested that trans-identifying children with such white matter anomalies could benefit from treatment to delay puberty, but no such work had yet been done. The New Scientist referred to Sean Deoni’s work on white matter development in infants, but publication considered a causal link between breast feeding and improved intelligence, previously demonstrated epidemiologically. Here is the 2011 Journal of Psychiatric Research article, on the Spanish research.

As soon as April 2011, Neil Whitehead opined that any brain differences were caused by “years of repetitive thinking, fantasy and preoccupation with body image”. Reading the NS report, “each” M-F had the brain differences, and “the female to male transsexual people had white matter in those regions which resembled a male brain”, but Artur Lajos Halmi, portrait of an elegant young woman in a white dressWhitehead says “a modest majority had brains more like their heterosexual female counterparts”. This could be evidence of lying, though the two reports could be choosing different aspects to emphasise.

Whitehead’s is a prejudiced site: its home page states that “Huge amounts of impartial scientific evidence now make it abundantly clear that homosexuality is not biologically hard-wired and that change is possible”. This is a minority view.

This is all of limited use in deciding whether to transition. The question is, will you be happier transitioned? How much do you want it, and how accepting is your society? It has some use in persuading the undecided, though people like Whitehead will oppose it. More persuasive is the fact that people want to transition. Why not just let us?

Historical Enquiries

The two mulesIn Northern Ireland, it is not possible to have truth and justice. Evidence will be hidden, unless the perpetrators are sure it may not be used against them. Which do we want, and who should decide? The Historical Enquiries Team of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which did not answer this question, has been shut down.

Terrorists saw themselves as soldiers, defending their communities. With pervasive discrimination, even oppression, against Catholics, this is arguable. The Quaker Edward Burrough wrote in 1661, if anything be commanded of us by the present authority, which is not according to equity, justice and a good conscience towards God… we must in such cases obey God only and deny active obedience for conscience’ sake, and patiently suffer what is inflicted upon us for such our disobedience to men. The HET has not referred any cases of killings by soldiers to the Director of Public Prosecutions, because soldiers were carrying their weapons lawfully, and firing them might be lawful too if they reasonably believed that their lives or the lives of others were in danger. Sinn Féin want IRA killings treated in the same way, but use code, speaking of the hierarchy of victims rather than of killers.

State killings were covered up and excused. The Government still seeks to cover up details of cases even where state complicity in murder has been admitted. The Democratic Unionist Party, however, consider that too much pressure has been applied to “state actors” while terrorists and former terrorists refuse to be full and active participants in the process of truth recovery. From a Freedom of Information request, the HET completed 1082 reviews by victim, including assault as well as murder or attempted murder. Only 65 arrests followed, with two individuals pleading guilty, and no breakdown was given as to whether those charged were Republican or Loyalist. Evidential difficulties with prosecution years or decades later were clear when HET was set up. Relatives will not know the circumstances of a death without a direct confession, unobtainable without immunity from prosecution.

In practice, killers are as safe from punishment as they would be with immunity, but it sticks in the craw to admit that; and different groups want different murderers punished, and are unwilling to negotiate. If we admitted that there was little chance of successful prosecution, we (the people) could agree that it was better that families heard the truth about their relatives. In nine years, HET issued reports to the relatives of 2,300 casualties of the conflict. 64% were “very satisfied” and only 3% were “dissatisfied”. 3466 people died in The Troubles between 1969 and 2001.

After a damning report by HM Inspector of Constabulary, HEC was shut down in spending cuts. I would not have heard of it but for Prospect magazine.

Christian persecution

François-Guillaume Ménageot, the martyrdom of Saint SebastianChristians are persecuted in the UK and the US, for their beliefs. Gay people use discrimination law to drive Christians out of business.

It is a Christian belief that Christians should not condone gay sex. This is most important, because some Christians (including me) believe we should celebrate LGBT as part of human diversity and God’s wonderful creation. So Christian hoteliers refuse a gay couple a double room, and Christian bakers refuse a gay couple a wedding cake, and then are driven out of business by the force of law. The gays persecute them, with the state’s connivance, taking their money and making them pay costs. You cannot lawfully be sacked for being Christian in England, but you can be sacked for expressing your Christianity, for example by stating your disapproval of colleagues’ sex lives.

It is not for me to deny that is a Christian belief, as Christianity is so wide. I had a lovely chat with a lesbian URC minister yesterday- “Lesbian”? “Reformed”? Strange, and wonderful- on how we had both thought that to be Christian you had to believe in Substitutionary Atonement, but it really wasn’t necessary, and was inconsistent with God being Love; and how people want the Bible to be infallible, without internal contradiction and easy to understand. She was angry that seven people at their Synod Jusepe de Ribera, Saint Sebastianblocked equal marriage; but they will not, for ever, and it was only seven. Before she went to her church six years ago, they voted three to one that they would accept a gay minister.

I could say they should just bake the cake, but in the Roman Empire I could say they should just sacrifice to Caesar. “Render unto Caesar”, Jesus said. Because Caesar is not God, the sacrifice has no meaning. Yet we celebrate our martyrs’ courage rather than mocking their stubbornness. The only way to respond is to close the business, or continue paying damages. The law will allow nothing else, if you persist with your beliefs.

Jesus says, Do not resist an evildoer. Pray for those who persecute you. Jesus was addressing Jews under foreign occupation. About forty years later Jews intent on resisting started the Jewish Wars leading to the destruction of their temple in 70 and the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem in 135, so Jesus’ words were good advice which applies now to these Christian bakers. Resistance will only harm you.

Paul says Bless those who persecute you. Live in harmony, as far as is possible live peaceably, never avenge yourselves- for if we lived by an eye for an eye, the whole world would be blind. This is the only way to win over your persecutors.


Trautmann Transfiguration“Enlightenment does exist. It is possible to awaken. Unbounded freedom and joy, oneness with the Divine, awakening into a state of timeless grace – these experiences are more common than you know, and not far away. There is one further truth, however: They don’t last. Our realizations and awakenings show us the reality of the world, and they bring transformation, but they pass. … We all know that after the honeymoon comes the marriage. After the election comes the hard task of governance. In spiritual life it is the same: After the ecstasy comes the laundry.”

-Jack Kornfield,  After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

Seeing the title in the quote, I wonder if there is any point in buying the book. This quote from One Spirit winds me up the wrong way. It postulates Enlightenment as a feeling of Joy, freedom, timeless grace, oneness with the divine, in some way different from quotidian getting and spending. Ecstasy and laundry.

I should tease out my understanding of the concept from my reaction to the individual words. It is possible to have the feeling of being Present, when joyful, for example walking under the trees towards Greenbelt recently. Rather than “Chaos of thought and passion all confused” all seems integrated, with perception, emotion, thought and purpose all pointing the same way. It lasts a moment. Or, I get stressed and I get relaxed, and relaxation feels nice but is not necessarily Enlightenment. Similarly, Presence in washing up. I turn my attention to the task in hand, and it becomes beautiful. I delight in the sensations of the light on wet plates.

I would like to be more relaxed in the stressful situations. It seems to me that in those Presence moments my emotions are acceptable, and I do not spend energy suppressing them.

Raffaello, transfigurationOh, Christ. Even joy can be dangerous. An evening with my parents in Inverneill stands out, when we were relaxed and happy together and it seemed a moment of eternity, a Discovery. We all felt it. Dad proposed going out to the pub, to make the moment linger. Mum demurred, knowing it would not. After attempts at happiness through following conventional recipes, we had found it by accident. I did not know what my feelings were because none of them were acceptable, in my teens, but that evening I did, though it would have been hard to put into words.

I feel fear or anger when these things are appropriate, and I fear my fear and anger, because expressing them has been dangerous to me. I have said this here before. The situation is far worse from my Wrong feeling than from anything external. I know that if I feel fear like this I will die, so learning to flow with the fear is difficult. That would be the freedom and timeless grace. The Divine would be me inside, and ego-conscious me accepting not resisting it.

I have learned to accept joy. I can learn to accept fear and anger too. Ecstasy, an intense discovery, becomes quotidian, a continual process of learning and falling away. It is not that we build tents for Moses and Elijah, but that we see them walking with us.

The blue marble

Apollo 13- view of EarthImagine that the World was only a few feet in diameter, floating above a field. People would come from afar to wonder at its waters and its creatures, and they would protect it and care for it as it is unique. The poem is over-optimistic: someone would charge admission.

It is true, of course. The world is unique and beautiful- but we have to make a living out of it. At best we use it, and sometimes we use it up. If we use it all up, we take from our descendants, but sometimes we transform it, and the wealth we create gives us leisure to care for it. And sometimes the dash for economic “growth” defecates in our living room.

You see I am in two minds. In the Quaker meeting we had to decide how we meet together, and we barely reached consensus after some bruising expressions: our experimental way had all these insuperable objections, one “felt very strongly” our usual way is just so much better, and the other was just bad. I felt we reached consensus by surrendering to stupid objections, which is less than we are supposed to do. If you say it is bad, it sounds better if you say why, so “Of course” there should be a break in the middle, and if it is not we Cannot Possibly do that again. It was worse that people from one meeting strongly objected to our experimental way, and people from the three other meetings all supported it.

I incorporated the objections into the experimental way, in my view making it worse, and we sort of agreed. It did not feel like loving unity in the Spirit. At the end, Derrick stood up, and talked of a Friend forty years ago who said that he often thought of resigning his membership. Julia, who had been attending as Elder, felt better about it, and after phoning her I felt better too. We move towards a better way of being in AM. It is my way to want Success Now, or I feel a failure, but life is all being and becoming.

When we spoke on The Environment, by contrast, we all felt a Sustain liferosy glow. We could all agree. We stated our concerns, and felt upheld by the others’ concerns. Some produced pretty phrases, which I incorporated in the minute. I should not disrespect this, it is worthwhile, but it is so much easier when we agree.

Someone speaks more forcefully if s/he feels s/he is not being heard. I try to persuade- some might call this winsome, some manipulative- with questions and suggestions. Inarticulate feelings should be just as valuable. Discussing the Swarthmore lecture, the task was to write a message from our meeting in ten years’ time.

 There are people you don't know
     and will
          and will love
There are people you know 
     changed in ways you could not imagine
          yet will see are Right
There is the Room, the building, the garden.
There are issues to concern us,
     but yours don't, now, they are all right.
upholds us.
Love unites us
Love transforms us
Love ennobles us.
Everything is alright. 
I believe; help thou my unbelief.


Idyll, MordilloBefore breaking the plastic wrapper, I brace myself to have my conscience pricked. I see a sad but strong, beautiful brown boy. It is a wonderful photograph, artfully focused and lit, with a riddle: “What is worse than losing a son?” Oh God. Oh, OK- turn the page- what is worse than losing a son? “Losing his brother too.” There’s also the Crisis at Christmas menu, surprisingly upbeat: Desserts are “New skills”- meet our Employment team- and “New hope”.

There are also adverts for The Great Courses- DVDs of lectures on “A history of European Art” or “Practising mindfulness” for £45- the last time I looked, there were lectures for free on the Internet, you paid if you wanted a marked examination. Also Slightly Foxed magazine, slogan “Falling leaves, falling spirits?”

On to the magazine. It quotes Foreign Affairs: Between 1901 and 1960 every independent country had a coup d’etat except Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US. The first thing I turn to is the Stephen Collins cartoon, whose website Colillo refers to the wonderful Mordillo, then the puzzle, which takes a few minutes.

Prospect is moving to the right. The editor writes that Ed Miliband’s speech was “rightly called one of the worst political speeches of modern times” and “The Conservatives have been more honest”, then a Tory MP gloats that he suggested Scots MPs should not vote on English matters in 2005, and was sacked for it.

Where else would I read about Chinese medical care, more ruthless than the American system? “For many, falling ill is a death sentence”. Fine particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter are most dangerous to health. Mordillo loveThe WHO guideline is that over ten micrograms per cubic metre of air is hazardous to health. The rate in Washington is 10.6mcg/m³; in Xingtai it is 155.2, and the Chinese government calls any rate under 150 “moderate”.

The enlarged quote caught my eye- Dylan Thomas once summed up Welsh nationalism in three words, two of which were “Welsh nationalism”- above a cartoon skewering middle-class insincerity: a woman tells a charity collector I’d love to help but I really don’t want to help”.

The culture pages. Lionel Shriver reviews Tim Parks’ collection of essays. In “The Chattering mind” he notes “how obsessively the mind seeks to construct self-narrative, how ready it is to take interest in its own pain, to congratulate itself on the fertility of its reflection.” Parks catches a particular kind of autobiography: At least I’ve understood and brilliantly dramatised the futility of my brilliant exploration of my utter impotence”. This is too close to what I do here for my comfort.

At the end, extracts from letters and memoirs, this month on “Bitterness“. Jorge Luis Borges said, “Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have been not granting it to me”. RB Kitaj, his Tate retrospective bruisingly reviewed, said Never ever believe an artist if he says he doesn’t care about what the critics write about him. Every artist cares. Those reviews of my show were by pathetic, sick, meagre hacks. They were about small lives and lousy marriages.

It’s always interesting to see what the educated middle classes are reading: Prospect had the slogan “The National Conversation” for a time. On putting it down today, I do not feel cheered up.

The art of accompaniment II

Matisse, painted blue nudeI cannot encounter another human being without being open. Any preconceptions I have of them, and especially any demands I might make of them, get in the way. I am not properly encountering, now, of course: I do not walk my talk because I am in conscious incompetence; but I see the possibility, and sometimes try it.

What the Pope says is beautiful- approach the other with sandals off, as on holy ground- and helps me see that conservative Catholicism is completely worthless. It is a set of moral rules, and frightened, hectoring demands that we all keep them. It is not even of use as ascetic discipline, because the demands are made on others, and the demands one emphasises are those one may accomplish easily, from inclination or circumstance. It might give a fragile sense of community, all people believing the same way until one has to be Cast Out for Sin, but at the cost of preventing any meaningful encounter with another, or any understanding of oneself.

Liberal Catholicism sees the failure of conservative Catholicism, but is hardly better in the Pope’s definition, which states the “objective evil” of the other’s acts, even if not culpable for particular reasons. Thomas Aquinas adapted Aristotle for mediaeval Christians, and is now a “Doctor” of the church, one of only 33 (three of whom are women). His explanation is the orthodox belief, though superseded by newer philosophy. In the same way, contraception is seen as always wrong, though experience shows the evolved human baby-making drives are quite strong enough to overcome a person’s rational commitment to contraception.

So the Liberal Catholic seeks to encounter the other, with a set of preconceptions. When this other is healthy and oriented towards God, s/he will behave in the correct Catholic way, eschewing contraception, celibate if gay. That prevents the encounter, prevents the Liberal Catholic from seeing the value in the other’s ways of being. The Catholic is trapped into thinking only her/his way can be good. Even for the liberal, there comes a moment where the other who sees the world differently must be excluded, because that other is incorrigible. In trying to remove the speck from the other’s eye, the Liberal whacks her over the head with the log in his own. At best, the liberal will tolerate church attendance of the Bad person, but not any teaching position or participation in the Eucharist. There are the Good people, who eat the bread, and the Bad people, who may receive a blessing or not as they choose.

When Francis said “Who am I to judge?” he went on The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby. He would welcome us in, and insist on his rules.

The Quaker way is to encounter the other without demands. Of course I make assumptions about how another is. I want things from people, and am perturbed or angry when they do not do as I wish. I project that as judgment on the other. This is contrary to the commands of Jesus. It excludes me from the Kingdom of Heaven. Seeing it, I have a chance of alleviating it.


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