Three pigeons

In brilliant sunshine, I watched two pigeons try to chase each other off. Repeatedly they would move from the roof, to the telegraph pole, to the TV aerial, and back.

This looks like preparation for a blow in karate:

Here one strafes the other’s wing:

Attack from above:

The weaker bird flees:

And- the suitor approaches courteously. Alas! She flew off!

Common Sense II

I hate common sense because it has not been kind to me.

Common sense says people want to do what they are paid to do, so they will continue to be paid to do it. So, when it is pointed out to them that they are not doing what they are paid to do, they will respond, “Ooh! Thank you! We will now do the sensible thing,” rather than “We know better, and what we are being paid to do is not what we want to do, what we clearly see to be the Right thing for us to do.”

I am sorry to keep going on about that, but it remains a big thing in my life. I was right. They were wrong. You will see that emotion is a huge part of my response to this issue- Would you do the same again? God knows, I might just run away screaming. I fought my big battle to get the crooked doctor sacked, and the next crooked doctor I gave up. I burst into tears in the tribunal waiting room and shortly after stopped doing tribunals. Yet, I was right. They were wrong.

Common sense also says that your parents don’t keep silent, lie or pretend about everything. Of course people do, because however much they pretend they don’t use common sense, not really. Pretence is so much more bearable than reality, at least until it breaks down, and you may be lucky and it does not break down, or even keep pretending after it did because that is all you know.

Common sense tells me I am a man and transition is ridiculous. So I fought it and ran from it. That did me no good. The desire to transition is completely emotional. It was more important to me than survival.

Of course I can think things through rationally, but when I apply feeling to them, the sensible thing has no life in it. Should I look for work? No. I would rather sit at home. I have been hurt, badly hurt, repeatedly hurt. I have had six years now of licking my wounds, mostly. Four years at least. It makes sense if I am healing. Possibly I am. What do I feel about it? I feel I am. I can say what I think, and there is a more profound action when I say what I know to be true. I am healing.

I don’t know. Perhaps I could find a less sterile way of conceptualising rational thought or common sense, some way less completely divorced from emotional content. Feelings give goals, then rationality finds ways to those goals, seems to make sense- when I think about it, I assent to it- yet when I try it, it does not seem to work. I use rational thought for worthwhile purposes, and the moments when it does not work for me, when I have emotional blocks against the obvious, common sense course, are vivid in my mind.

I am left with those emotional blocks, the moments when I run away screaming because I have fought this battle before, and lost.

Self respect V

Mr Trump is only not a traitor because he is incapable of emotionally comprehending the concepts either of a moral obligation on himself or of loyalty. I pray that his sacking of Mr Comey is the desperate act it appears to be, and that enough honour is left that his fall is inevitable: that he has won himself more weeks, not more months, in the White House.

And yet I love the way he fights for his own selfish interests, his single minded, rat in a corner determination to do any damage necessary, that he might be free. There are times when a human being is alone and must do all it takes to survive.

Mmm. Which human being do I mean?

-Why don’t you want to work?
-Because I can’t see any good in it except money for bare survival. I don’t want responsibility, because I can only imagine that turning out badly. Walking back and forth in a warehouse bleeping barcodes as required by an automated system sounds ghastly. I would be required to walk faster than I reasonably could for eight hours, sacked after a few weeks for not walking fast enough, then sanctioned for being “voluntarily unemployed”.

And I don’t want to be told what to do.
-Why not?
-Because I will be told stupid things.

I have not dug down into this particularly, but in Newport I was in anguish because I thought what I was told to do was stupid, merely missing the point; there was something of that in Swanston, the complete lack of planning of the job I was given to do such that it became impossible to do it to any useful standard. I don’t trust or like people. Possibly I could work in a coffee shop. I could pull into my shell and not be noticed. Cleaning a table could be OK.

-You’re very bright.
-It’s a curse!

Or, it has not given me all I might want it to. And I see my friend not getting her way even though she is right, because others do not see that they are wrong- and her surprise; and she has approached the matter in an unpersuasive way, because she has seen the truth they have not.

I lack energy. I typically sleep in the afternoon, wake two or three times a night, can rely on myself to undertake a task in the morning, but not necessarily both the morning and afternoon, and the intellectual effort of writing a blog post tires me. I wonder if that makes me in any way “ill”- I lack a diagnosis for it. Many people like that have supportive families.

I have the gift of focusing tensions on me. Expelling me from Wellingborough local Quaker meeting was not a solution to a non-existent problem, but it did enable people to lash out at something, diverting their attention from their real problems. How marmite am I, that I can even rile Quakers?

On Saturday morning, I left home at 5.45 to cycle to Swanston, to get the train to London and arrive at the Tate at 8. Members can enter then, to see the David Hockney exhibition, and I was rewarded by sitting with five huge couple portraits, over 3m x 2m, including the wonderful Pool with two figures.

-Did that energise or exhaust you?

I loved the Pool. I loved the sunlight on the surround, and the cool forested mountains beyond. I thought of getting a poster-print of it for £25, but after the original it was not enough. And, after about five hours in the galleries, I was tired. So, both. I got to that room with those pictures, with just five other people in it rather than the scores who were there later, and thought, I can tell people of this experience. “I left home at 5.45 to cycle…” I was and I will be ran in my mind until I rebuked them, and settled into I am here. I am proud that I could concentrate on Fred and Marcia Weisman and wonder at her expression, the high neck and the way she seems to snatch her robe around her, yet it is slit…

I want to spend time with beautiful things.

And I am starving for a deep emotional link to People!


roll up screenWe got into the tent on Thursday, before almost everyone, and had a choice of where we would have our stall. We chose to have it by the main entrance: the first thing you would see would be us. We had thousands of leaflets in lots of boxes, far more than we could possibly need, which filled all the space below the table and were heavy to shift. At the end, we took most of them back.

We had two roll-up screens, like the one illustrated, about 7′ high. We put them up, to see what they would look like and get an idea of where to place them. At that moment, a freak gust of wind blew in, blowing them over, twisting the bases and bending the feet. They still work but don’t look as good.

I said this to Andrew, whose instant response was “Why were they erected?” Well, for good reason which you insult me by doubting. I don’t answer to you. “To see what they looked like and where they should go,” I said.

I awoke at 5am, and this became intensely important to me. We must move the stand, or the wind could be a constant problem. I needed to agree this with the organisers, then I needed help to shift all those boxes. I could not bear to speak to Andrew about this, either to get him to see that it was necessary and possible- he would not trust my judgment, and would question pointlessly. I spoke to Jess, and we had a few people shifting the stuff later that morning.

I had not known it was a freak gust of wind at the time, but there was no wind remotely like it, at the entrance or at the back where we ended up- by the open fire exit.

It did mean that I often took a short-cut marked “authorised persons only”. I do so love being an “authorised person”!

So much Wangst, resulting in faffing! Everything would have been fine without all the worry and Action.

Andrew had produced information packs for all our volunteers including a rubber wristband inscribed “Live adventurously”. (This is the best slogan from Advices and Queries: A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength is equally Wise, but less memorable.) His screed began, “After you’ve attached your wristband please take a moment to read the following information”. My instant response was, I’m not wearing that! I am quite happy to wear it until I am instructed to. DON’T FUCKING TELL ME WHAT TO DO!! The same envelope held an A5 sheet of “Conversation hints”, including that one might ask, “What’s your name?” or “Where are you from?” DON’T FUCKING PATRONISE ME!! I was particularly irritated that he should produce these without consulting us: we were organising our volunteers, after all. Our response was to bury the information packs below other useless, heavy stuff. I brought one home, so I could quote it in complaints to you. He included the false information that we could shower daily without queueing, whereas the queues were up to 90 minutes.

It was alright in the end. Most of the worry had no effect whatsoever apart from increasing the work. This may be a useful lesson.

Pacifism and World War Two

After the VE Day anniversary celebrations, can a pacifist argue that the second world war should not have been fought? Yes. It was not necessary.

WWII did not prevent the Holocaust. It killed sixty million human beings. It involved atrocities by the Allies, such as the fire-bombing of Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo. Nuclear weapons were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, starting the nuclear arms race which continues today.

The world war is not clearly better than any imaginable alternative. It depends when you start: had Germany not been humiliated and impoverished by the Treaty of Versailles, it might have developed other leadership.

Well-prepared civil resistance in the countries Hitler occupied could have made his control extremely difficult. Norwegian teachers refused to teach the Nazi curriculum. Dutch and French citizens hid Jews. Do not dismiss the possibility that a well-prepared population could defend their rights and freedoms, and protect each other non-violently.

Gandhi wrote, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent”. How might a population resist?

One of the reasons for the death camps was that troops’ combat fitness is damaged by mass murder of unarmed civilians. The Nazis had already used gas to murder disabled people, before this was halted by protests from the German public. Oppressors, and particularly their lowest-ranking soldiers, lose the will to kill. The Solidarity union protested, and could not be put down. Eventually, the people took the Berlin Wall down, when the troops would no longer fire on them; though many were murdered before that day.

In the Occupied Territories, International Accompaniers witness life under occupation and give publicity to human rights abuses. While the English-speaking world was free, Nazi oppression of occupied countries would have come at a cost.

Here is the Berghof Handbook, continually updated articles and resources for those engaged in transforming violent ethnic conflict. Conflict may arise over scarce resources, quickly polarising different groups: here is the Wajir Story, of how inter-clan violence spread at a time of severe drought. A group of women, seeing that their market trading had become impossible, got together to ensure peaceful trading could be resumed. Inspired by this, clan elders agreed to prevent the violence of their own clans, and brought it to an end.Sword into Ploughshares

People flourish when we co-operate. People can be brought to see that. All this comes from the wonderful Swarthmore Lecture by Diana Francis, Faith, Power and Peace, also in a book.


MP on Iraq

Paul Cézanne, The card playersWhen arguing, stick to your strong points. From what he misses out, Mr Sawford’s argument for bombing Iraq is very weak indeed. I emailed him on the day of the vote, and he wrote to me dated 6 October. He has posted much of his argument on his website. He says six key conditions were met:

There is a just cause for action on humanitarian grounds and the grounds of national interest, as the instability caused by the overthrow of the democratic state of Iraq means it could become a haven and training ground for terrorism directed at the UK.

Humanitarian bombing. Who’d have thought it? The rhetorical triple is good- just… humanitarian… national interest- three words to push my buttons- but how might bombing promote stability in the Failed States Index’s 11th most unstable state?

Paul Cézanne, bathers, in partIS have shown they could not be negotiated with. Well, so has the US, with drone strikes. Who can negotiate with death from the air?

The UK is responding to the request of the democratic state of Iraq. I can’t find how inclusive it is of the Sunni minority, but the BBC says it is not.

The aims of the mission are clear: international military air power is supporting the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga in their ground campaign against IS, and the use of air power is accompanied by training and resources to support their efforts. Are the aims achievable? Are those forces capable of withstanding IS?

There is broad support for action, with all 28 EU member states, the Arab League, and a regional coalition of Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and Qatar supporting the action. In 2010, Saudi Arabia bought $60bn worth of aircraft from the US. Why isn’t it flying these missions? Sales continue. Ask Google. It appears Saudi Arabia is bombing Syria instead: so much for Britain not bombing Syria.

The action is proportionate, with the UK now committing a limited number of Tornado aircraft as well as continued surveillance.

Paul Cézanne, bathersI emailed, and asked three questions this does not address.

What are the chances of success?

What are the costs of the action?  Flying the Tornados and firing their missiles costs money, as does repairing the damage on the ground, and is there a risk that IS will have surface to air missiles?

In what way is this military action better than doing nothing at all? Will not more Muslims be made militant by seeing their co-religionists bombed? Might IS left alone become as good a government as we might expect in Iraq after further bombing? Is there anything which might produce stable, peaceful states in Iraq and Syria?

Hooray for Youtube. This charming song has lived with me for decades.

Policing the boundaries

Haakon VII av Asta NørregaardS resigned her membership of Quakers, but I was wrong to say she had left the Society. How hard it is to avoid assumptions! I had seen no difference, but she wanted to continue attending, and was angry when I suggested there was a difference between an ordinary attender, who was approaching us, or a long term attender who just did not want to go through the membership procedure, and someone who had resigned membership. This got it clearer in my own mind.

There is the community of people: you become one of us. There are those keeping the practice alive- the crew of the ship- and the passengers. And membership shows commitment to the Ideal of Quakerism. Resigning feels like a step back. We accept that many do not clearly fit any category, and we have individual relationships. S feels at the moment she will continue to attend the Quaker meeting. Since we would generally assume that resignation means leaving, S has to make it clear that it does not.

She might cease attending at any time. I would like my community to have continuity. It remains a pain when it does not.

M came to Charney Manor after attending only three Quaker meetings. On the Friday night we sat in the Solar and I heard from him how once he is in touch with The Real, which is inside him, questions of “acceptance” of reality or “forgiveness” fall away. Fair enough, I suppose. A bit dogmatic. Then on the Saturday morning in silent worship he said “Should we not use the true name of God, which is Allah?”

Over lunch, I confronted him. “Al Lah” means “The God”. It adds nothing to understanding, and why should we use Arabic? We got heated. I told him his views were worthless, and he insisted he had uttered a question rather than an opinion. I asked if he knew what a double question was, and he said “No”. He said my utterances were meaningless, I asked if he was Logical Positivist, he said No. “I’ve never seen Quakers argue before,” said Tia.

Later, he said to me “I’m sorry if you were upset by my opinions, but I am entitled to say what I think.” So I asked him a question: “What makes you imagine I was upset by your opinions?” He answered a different question, saying he could hear it in my voice, though I repeated the question, saying, “What makes you imagine I was upset –by—Your—Opinions?” I was upset, by childhood trauma, the complete inability to communicate.

We manage to contain widely differing views in the Society by giving primacy to the Practice of stillness, being careful how we describe it and far more how we explain it. A church where all are expected to accept Substitutionary Atonement has different pressures, but we show respect to each other’s views, and come to share them rather than to teach others. In sharing, we gain understanding. In teaching, we gain only a form of words.

A quiz game

Alexander ArmstrongStaple of daytime television- there is even a Sky channel devoted to repeats- is the quiz game. Here is a new variation.

At the start of the game, twenty contestants have a series of multiple choice questions. Each has four answers, and they have ten points to allocate between those answers. If you think an answer might be right, you give it some points. If you give points to the correct answer, you win those points. So if you have no idea

but have heard of Vespasian, and think Vitellius at least sounds Roman but Galba and Otho sound like Vandals, you could give six points to Vespasian and four to Vitellius, or hedge your bets and give three each to them and two each to the others.

If the answer is Vitellius, the first option wins you four points, the second wins you three. If you are certain of the answer, and get it right, you can score ten points from one question. The first two players to get more than forty points go through to the next round- if more than two players get over forty, the two with the highest scores go through.

In the next round, with two competing, there is a set of easy questions and a set of hard questions. The host tosses a coin. Whether heads or tails gets the hard set is random. In between the questions, the host interviews the panellists, about their lives, and what they would do with the money, £10 for each point scored.

When one competitor has reached forty points, the audience votes on which should be the winner. The host asks the audience why they voted that way, and selections of contradictory answers get drip-fed to the viewers, throughout the season.

Set design- indeed organisation and all aspects of production- I have to leave to someone else.


Boldini- Madame Doyen“Surely, nothing shall hold her back.” Well, yes and no.

I had a compliance interview with the DWP. What’s the worst that can happen? Well, they could decide I owed them £10,000, cut my entitlement by £55 a week, not pay me anything for two months while they sorted my claim, and take money out of my bank account.

The worst of it was, these interviews happen after a public spirited citizen has called the anonymous information line. Not that many people know I am on the sick. I worried a Quaker, believing me capable of work from how I appear at Meeting, had reported me. This is paranoid, but believable enough to be worrying. I phoned the DWP, and they said HMRC had reported to them that I had capital. I haven’t, now, and did not have enough to affect my claim when I made it, but the “notional capital” rules might apply as I lived on savings for two years before claiming. I don’t think they do, but the Decision Maker might disagree.

I thought this morning that I am quite terrified. Mummy will be angry, and something Bad will happen. In that moment I was that child. I thought of other confrontations- have I told you of my final written warnings?- and it seems child-feelings came into play.

Elaine drove me down, we parked, had a cuppa and strolled round to the jobcentre. The displays have a primary school feel, with individual words printed on coloured A4, laminated and stuck on the wall. It helps to create an impression: Elaine admired my LK Bennett jaiket. As the woman explained at great length benefit rules I know well, I thought of interjecting but forebore. I would let her control the interview.

We did not get as far as notional capital. All she was assessing just then was actual capital. However, she is entitled to ask for evidence and withdraw entitlement if I do not give it, and she now has the evidence to consider notional capital if she wishes. I am not out of the woods quite yet. Elaine thought if someone had looked through the glass wall, they would have thought I was interviewing her, with the papers in front of me and that jacket; and the “statement” she wrote for me was poorly done, getting the figures wrong. Elaine thought I had taken control of the interview.

Up to a point, it is good to worry. I was prepared for more than actually happened, and for what might happen next. Beyond that point, it isn’t. I was terrified. I have been functioning a little less well than my current normal, anticipating it. I realise I am an adult, and that thought “Mummy will be angry” feels so terribly real but is not. “Nothing shall hold her back”- except perhaps herself. Mmm. I will think on this.

“Ignorant Papists”

Pope_Leo_XII[Catherine the Great] decided to have herself and her family and her court inoculated. Inoculation was the great scientific advance…In France and other Catholic countries it was actually forbidden as being contrary to the Will of God. So says Professor Tony Lentin of the Open University at (15.00) here.

I find this quote attributed to Pope Leo XII: Whoever allows himself to be vaccinated ceases to be a child of God. Smallpox is a judgement from God : thus vaccination is an affront to Heaven. Could not God smite some other way? Had strokes and heart attacks increased as vaccination spread, we could use this as evidence of God!

Seeking evidence, I went to Wikipedia. Vaccine Controversies does not finger the Pope, but ascribes similar sentiments to “some Christian opponents“. The article Vaccination and religion has the hallmarks of vituperative editing: Anti-vaccination proponents were most common in Protestant countries, someone has crowed. As I write, it says Quakers opposed vaccination: we were in Pope_Pius_VIIIour Evangelical phase, but I think that unlikely.

Quodlibeta‘s article gives a wealth of detail, and the peroration Leo XII’s alleged ban of vaccination is a whiggish myth which has been repeated and promulgated slavishly ever since…No doubt in cyberspace it will continue amongst those who will swallow any myth as long as it is anti-catholic or anti-religious.

That is the problem. The story has started as anti-Catholic, and is now anti-Christian, showing how we opposed science to the detriment of believers and their victims. The classic such story is geocentrism.

Still in Wikipedia, where the battle rages between those who would maximise or minimise the church’s foolish perfidy, I read that all books refuting geocentrism were banned by the Catholic church until 1757, and Galileo’s Dialogue was prohibited until 1835. Gregory_XVIPope John Paul II claimed not to contend with science: the Bible does not concern itself with the details of the physical world, the understanding of which is the competence of human experience and reasoning. Theology is about the human relationship with God, though psychological research impinges on even that.

Seeking a happily partisan view, I went to RationalWiki. It gives little detail on the slow progress of the Roman church, but quotes four verses of the Bible apparently affirming geocentrism, and a link: “Looking for outright lies? CreationWiki has a page on Geocentrism”. Oh, OK. The Encyclopedia of Creation Science points out Einstein’s relativity theory asserts that the frame of reference for observing motion is arbitrary– so you can say the Earth stands still if you want- but Mainstream creationists agree that the the Earth is in motion around the Sun.

The message I wanted to leave you with is that when partisans debate such details, there is more heat than light, and what is needed is a patient examination of the history of ideas, and levels of belief. What I end with is both RationalWiki (Thank God it attacks Creationists, rather than all Christians!) and CreationWiki saying moderately sensible things on Geocentrism; and a University professor peddling an anti-Papist myth.

Also on Catholics in history: a Jewish academic works to rehabilitate the reputation of wartime bishop Aloysius Stepinac.