Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas Day


"To you is born this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11)

Image 'Christ in the Rubble' by Kelly Latimore, courtesy of Red Letter Christians

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Scriptwriter openings at BBC

 After outsourcing the scriptwriting duties on Dr Who to Stonewall, the latest license fee announcement has accelerated the push at the Beeb to find cheaper alternatives for writing work and show production. A whole range of charities, interest groups and organisations are in the frame, and here are some of the shows under consideration. There is a suspicion that the intern who created this list hadn't fully grasped the nature of the shows in question.  

Escape to the Country: written by the inmates of HM Prison, Dartmoor

Married at First Sight: a new format with Islamic State

Would I Lie To You?: edited highlights of the Covid enquiry

Top Gear: the London College of Fashion

Masterchef: The Professionals: retro 70s cookery show presented by Bodie and Doyle

Strictly: the entire output of the BBC is turned over to the Chinese government. 

Mrs Browns Boys: Gordon Brown narrates holiday pictures of his family.

Pointless: full coverage of the Covid enquiry

The Chase: written by the staff of HM Prison, Dartmoor

Blankety Blank: Keir Starmer talks about his key ideas.

The Great British Bay Cough: produced by Surfers Against Sewage 

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Warm Spaces - Look at all the (formerly) lonely people

 Some really fascinating research published in the Guardian today about Warm Hubs, which had over 500,000 users over the winter in the UK. We've had one running at St Peters Community Centre in Yeovil and tracked the footfall a couple of weeks ago, and had 230 adults over the 4 days we open (Mon-Thurs 9.30-3). The three top reasons for coming (each about 75% of users) were Hot meals, Meeting others, and Warm space/reduce energy use. 

This reflects the national figures, which show that community was just as big a factor as saving money on fuel bills for many Warm Space users:

“The biggest difference has been in reducing social isolation,” said one survey respondent. “We found those who were struggling with the cost of living crisis in financial terms didn’t particularly access us - they used the nearby foodbank more. It was the escape from an empty house that people found most gratifying about our warm space.”

The greatest impact of warm rooms, the survey found, was in providing a sense of community and tackling loneliness in a safe and welcoming space. Frequent visitors reported positive improvements in their mental health, social wellbeing, and sense of purpose. “It’s helped me cope with the hard times,” one respondent said.

Here's the startling effect on loneliness for Warm Space users:

That's a drop from 39.6% to 6.1% of those who felt 'always' or 'often' lonely, and a rise from 27% to 60% of those who felt 'rarely' or 'never' lonely. That's simply staggering. 
The good news from the survey is that many warm hubs are continuing. I hope this data is on the desk of every MP and health executive this morning, and real strategic effort goes in to making sure we keep this going. Strangely (as a Christian I should really say 'unsurprisingly') out of the grimness of the cost of living crisis, something amazing has emerged. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Is China hacking Blogger?

 I've just had a post from 2007 (yes folks, I'm that old) for violating community guidelines. I can't see anything in the post that violates any guidelines at all, but it does contain this paragraph: 

Had a momentary panic over the weekend when I was told I couldn't sign in to my blog to update it. Blogger (the hosts) have been taken over by Google - you know, the people who won't allow folk in China to do a browser search for 'democracy' - and I mistyped my email address when signing up to continue my account. For a few weeks that seemed ok, and I woudn't be getting any unwanted emails from Google either. Trouble is they discovered the email didn't exist and wouldn't let me get at my posts. All is now resolved.

So either the grammar police are after me because I can't spell wouldn't, or it's another example of China reaching its tentacles into the West, alongside all the other stuff -beating up protesters, closing down university societies who speak up for Hong Kong, having software with a T&C signup to let it record all your keystrokes (I'm looking at you Tiktok), and so on. 

Read this post whilst you can folks, by next week it might be taken down too. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Things I Don't Understand

 Audi drivers. Apologies to the good ones out there, but you do seem to be in the minority.

People who drive to the gym in dry sunny weather to go on a treadmill or exercise bike. To quote Gandalf 'run, you fools!' (and save petrol)

Fitbits. My wife got me one as a present a few weeks ago, and the basic data on the wrist thingy is quite good. However I've already spent valuable time trying to understand the app which I could have spent exercising.

Fitbits 2: Why someone hasn't yet cornered the market in Fitbits for inert technophobes like me. How about a FatBod, worn on the dominant hand, measuring only 2 things: minutes of inactivity in the day, and number of times the hand was moved to the mouth and back (it could measure wrist tilt to distinguish between food and drink). Overall target - reduce both. Obviously for habitual nose pickers that could be a problem.

Why helping someone who wants to change who they are sexually attracted to could be considered a criminal offence, whilst helping someone who wants to change their sex is ok. Why is some 'fluidity' ok and some not? The massive incoherence and inconsistency is this is no help to anyone, and its not helped by the shouty nature of the debate, if it even is a debate.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ok, it never made any sense to start with, but it makes even less sense now. The same thing happened to Dr Who, when it started going for the 'story arc'. The latest Marvel offerings have jumped off from the successful raid on Norse mythology (Thor) and are trawling the history of global polytheism for characters. Really enjoyed Ms Marvel, though with my limited exposure to Muslim culture, I had no way of knowing whether its portrayal was accurate or not, so it may have been an education, but I'm still not sure. 

Why nobody has made the link between the sudden and sustained fall in Uk productivity in 2008

and the launch of the first Iphone, which came to the UK in November 2007. Is there anyone out there who takes their mobile to work and doesn't find it a distraction?

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Superdrug theology, power (not that sort) and airports

 'God is a woman' declared the Ariana Grande fragrance on the counter at Superdrug. Well, you learn something new every day. Appopriating vocab from spirituality and religion is nothing new for the perfume industry (Angel, Eternity, Hope, Amazing Grace). But now the theological gauntlet has been thrown down, how to respond? Can you fit 'Not exactly, men and women are created in the image of God, so we reflect His nature (I use 'His' because the imagery God uses in self-revelation is overwhelmingly male, even though God is neither male nor female) not the other way around. Saying 'God is a woman' is like trying to define London using only a map of the underground'. 

A more serious and worrying point (though the casual blasphemy of using God as a marketing tool for a perfume is serious in itself0. I don't imagine the sort people who bombed Ariane Grande's concert in Manchester will do anything but find this deeply offensive. Has she reckoned with this? Does it put her fans at greater risk from murderous Muslim fanatics, who are clearly still out there? 

She could always rename it 'Peace Be a Pong:Her', but to think twice about releasing the version for men. 

Whilst we're on theology from unexpected quarters, plenty has been said about Sandi Toskvigs letter to Justin Welby. I note in passing that QI has only ever been presented by people who are white, Cambridge educated and same-sex attracted, so it's interesting for the church to get a lecture in diversity from that quarter. Toskvig claims that the 'main takeaway' from the conference is prejudice against LGBT+ people, which I guess is what you'd think based on the UK media, that ever reliable guide to all things spiritual. But if you look at the 34 pages of material actually discussed at the Lambeth conference good luck finding the bit that Toskvig refers to. It's about 1/5 of one of the pages, in a section which has robust things to say about prejudice and mutual respect. You will though find plenty on human dignity, addressing poverty and violence against women and children, economic justice, climate change, reconciliation and much more. There are plenty of inspiring, challenging and timely statements in there, but as long as white Western journalists want to fixate on sex, they're unlikely to get a hearing outside the church. 

On one of those pressing issues, Spain has just introduced fuel restrictions, including no air conditioning set below 27 degrees C in public buildings, as part of a drive to cut fuel consumption by 8% nationally. In my basic study of economics, we were taught that price was a function of demand and supply, and that falling demand would mean falling prices. We have both a short term (price) and long term (climate) fuel crisis, cutting fuel demand would help to address both of those. Credit to Labour for actually coming up with a policy on this, I thought they'd forgotten what a policy was, and for targetting the double hit of fuel prices and inflation. But fuel consumption, and resource consumption more generally (water etc) is a big long-term issue. It always has been, but now we're starting to hear it over the noise of our own whistling. 

At the moment I'd vote for any party who promised to put someone half competent in charge of the major departments (health, home office, education, environment, agriculture, treasury, overseas aid) and leave them in charge for 5 full years of a parliament so they could think and act long term within their particular field. Pretty much every major department is failing, with Grant Shapps narrowly ahead of the field for the Chris Grayling Pretty Much Everything I'm Responsbile For Is Spannered trophy. 

Kudos to Spain in this regard: we recently flew from Stanstead to Alicante for a holiday. Stanstead was a rugby scrum dotted with unstaffed terminals. The terminals themselves didn't scan the pre-printed boarding passes properly, and the boarding area was only half the size required for the number of passengers. For folk coming off the the escalator into the mosh pit, there was literally nowhere to go, and only hitting the emergency stop prevented a nasty accident. The toilets looked like they hadn't been cleaned for ages. The place was understaffed, overcrowded, and felt unloved. Alicante on the other hand was spacious, efficient, clean, staffed by cheerful people, with barely any queues anywhere, and at the complete opposite end of the stress scale. The only down side was that the only UK paper on offer in the passenger lounge shop was the Daily Mail. If there were extra complications added to the journey by Brexit, I didn't notice them. The Spanish airport was a delight, the English one made me feel vaguely ashamed that this was my home country.


Saturday, January 22, 2022

Westminster Bullying and Public School Culture

 The allegations of bullying and intimidation at Westminster don't come as any surprise. I mistakenly went to Oriel College, Oxford for university, and my teenage mind hadn't twigged how big a deal rowing was. One of my first experiences there was the Captain of Boats telling the assembled freshers, in his finely honed accent, that they would all be expected to join a rowing crew, with a clear message of menace and threat for those who didn't. I spent a large part of my first term, as a non-rower, waiting in fear for something unpleasant to happen. 

Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and their generation passed through public school education in the 1970s and 80s. It has shaped them, their values and behaviour. It would be no surprise if it shaped the way their government works, and how their herd of MPs is kept together. 

One recipient of a 'top' public school education wrote this

From the teachers we learned about mockery and sarcasm as techniques for social control, with our boy hierarchies regulated by banter, ranging from a sharp remark to a knuckle in the crown of the head. Attack was the best form of defence, and ridicule was honed as a deeply conservative force, controlling by means of fear, either of being the joke or of not getting the joke. There was plenty of fear to go round. The author Paul Watkins, in his memoir Stand Before Your God, remembers at Eton the huge amount of energy, in the time of Cameron and Johnson, that went into “teasing and ignoring people”. “I felt a harshness that I’d never felt before.”

George Orwell, during his time at prep school, remembers being ridiculed out of an interest in butterflies. The banter that day must have been immense. Nothing was sacred, and once we found out what another boy took most seriously we were ready to strike, when necessary, at its core.

another former pupil writesEton had other, for me less attractive, sides. I particularly disliked Pop, the self-elected club of prefects who strutted their stuff and lorded it over underlings in brightly embroidered waistcoats – the club to which Boris Johnson (but not David Cameron) belonged. This was more Game of Thrones than “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”.
If boys learn at school that bullying and intimidation are effective ways of exercising power, and go unchallenged, it should be no surprise if they apply those lessons later in life. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

If you're not vaccinated against covid, how much more of a drain on the NHS are you?

 According to the latest detailed Covid report and analysis, here's a simple table. The figure in each cell is how much more likely the unvaccinated are to end up in hospital overnight, or deceased, compared to those who have had 2 doses of the covid vaccine. These figures cover weeks 47-50 of 2021, i.e. 22nd November - 19th December.



death within 28 days

under 18
























For example, in the 60-69 age group, 12.3 of every 100,000 double-vaxed people have ended up in hospital with covid, compared to 91.7 of the unvaccinated. So you're 7.6 times more likely to stay overnight in hospital with covid if you've not had a vaccine. 

In the same age group, 5.1 people per 100,000 have died who have had 2 doses of the vaccine. This compares with 25.9 people per 100,000 of the unvaccinated. So you're 5.1 times more likely to die if you're unvaccinated and in this age group. 

In simple terms, if you have two equal sized groups of people, one fully vaccinated and one not vaccinated at all, the unvaccinated group will place a 5-6 times greater burden on the NHS than the vaccinated group. 

The majority of hospitalisations in the 18-29, 30-39 and 40-49 age groups are people who've not been vaccinated, even though double vaccination rates in these age groups are 70-80%.