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%. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

My name is Inigo Montoya, you sang 'O Come All Ye Faithful', prepare to explain


A few words I've sung in recent days where I doubt most of us had a clue what they meant, or thought they meant something else:


Begotten/Very God Begotten Not Created




Shining Throng (careful)

Troll (the ancient yuletide carol.)











And that's before we've got to sin, salvation, saviour, Christ, and the actual important stuff. Is there a sweet spot between the Nicene Creed and mansplaining?

Though if anyone has written a carol with the word 'Inconceivable!' in it (which you could actually weave into the Christmas narrative) then I'm all for it. 

PS if this post makes no sense to you, then you need to watch The Princess Bride. 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Covid Test Kit Nativity


As seen as the St Peters Church Nativity Set Festival, running Mon-Fri this week 10am-12noon and 2-4pm, at St Peters Church, Coronation Avenue, Yeovil. Do pop in, if you're in the area!

Thursday, October 28, 2021

£1,866,666 for a youth club?

Here's another corker from the Budget yesterday: "we’re providing £560m for youth services, enough to fund up to 300 youth clubs across the country."

Firstly, funding for youth services has been cut by £1bn since 2010, so this restores about half of what was taken away.
Secondly, what? This is £1,866,667 per youth club. Our parish has 2 youth groups, run by a part-time youth worker, plus volunteers, in church premises. Even if those groups were run by 2 full time youth workers, in hired premises, it would only cost £50,000 a year.
So either:
a) Rishi is promising to fund youth work for the next 38 years
b) Most of this money will go on building youth centres (daft idea - hire other local premises and support them instead)
c) Most of it's going to be spent on consultants/managers.
Seriously, give the money to the Church of England (or any church network doing youth work). We're in every community, we already have 900+ churches running youth groups of 25 or more at a fraction of this cost. We have premises. And we have continuity, so youth clubs will be less at risk of death by the annual local government funding cycle. £560m will pay for the equivalent of 2.3 full time youth workers in 1000 places for the next 10 years. That's enough for 3,000 youth groups, let alone 300.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Random questions

 Q1. Would we want as our prime minister someone who can be as easily bullied as Keir Starmer? One day he is, rightly, celebrating the contribution of Jesus House in London to overcoming vaccine scepticism within the ethnic minority community, along with their food and other relief programmes. Then following a complaint from a Labour LGBTI+ pressure group he disowns them and pulls a video complementing their work. It seems that, no matter what you do, if you don't hold to a particular line on sexuality then nothing else really matters, including saving black lives. 

Q2. Can we come up with a better title for the founder of Islam? Coverage of the latest school cartoon protests in Batley, in the mainstream media outlets, had universal references to 'the Prophet Mohammed' with a capital 'P'. I'm not sure how many people outside Islam would accept the title, let alone the capitalisation. He claimed to be a prophet, and many believe him to be so, but an even larger number believe him to be mistaken, to put it kindly. The Quran flatly contradicts both the Jewish and Christian scriptures, if Mohammed is who he claims he is, then Jesus isn't, and if Jesus is who he claims he is, Mohammed isn't. And if the Prophet Mohammed, then why not the Lord Jesus - a title absent from the BBC and elsewhere even at Easter. Mohammed of Mecca? The so-called Prophet Mohammed? Mohammed the founder of Islam? Any other suggestions? 

Q3. Has anyone actually read the racism report in full? There are over 250 pages in the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. Nearly all of the quotes and media coverage on the day of publication can be traced to pages 6-8, the Foreword by the Chair of the Commission. Dr Sewells careless comment about a 'positive story' emerging from slavery wasn't very clever, and unfortunately it's spared lots of people the effort of engaging with the report. The report recognises both the reality of racism, and the progress made in the UK over the last 50 years. It repeats in several places a warning against a victim mentality - of low outcomes becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy because ethnic minorities believe the system is more stacked against them than it actually is. That's not to say the system isn't stacked at all, it is, but incidents of racism and race conflict/protest make the news more often than instances of harmony and progress, so its easy to internalise a pessimistic story because that's the story we're regularly told. The dropping of the BAME catch-all definition makes sense as soon as you see the data broken down at a deeper level: with high educational achievement and wage levels relative to white people within certain ethnic groups, whilst other groups (e.g. Black Carribbean, but not Black African) faring amongst the worst. That leads to questions about culture (e.g. culturally, Bangladeshi women tend not to go out to work, which depresses average household income relative to other groups), family structure (fatherless families much more common among Black Caribbean, but very rare amongst Indian extraction families), and geography - members of the same ethnic minority communities do better if they live in London than in the North. 

(Intermission: here's a very different view of the CRED report)

The late Hans Rosling spent his life trying to educate Western audiences out of an outdated view of poverty, which saw the world split in two: the prosperous West and the poor. He argued it was both more complicated, and more hopeful than that, and that too many of us were still living off a picture of the world that was true in 1970 but way off the mark by 2010. Despite its flaws, perhaps the Commission report is trying to do the same on race. Unlike Sam Tyler, we are not stuck in 1973. Those guys kneeling on the football pitch just before kick off, a lot of them are millionaires. 40% of NHS consultants are from an ethnic minority background, as is the Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer and shadow Foreign Secretary. 65 ethnic minority MPs were elected in 2019, in 2001 it was 12. Rosling never pretended poverty wasn't a problem, but he wanted people to see that things were getting better, to motivate them to see how things could be better for everyone. And if you see yourself as a victim of circumstance and irreversible institutional prejudice, how high will your aspirations be? Schoolteachers will testify that one of the biggest factors in educational achievement is expectations and standards - and the higher the horizons both for the teachers and for the students, the higher the attainment tends to be. Twitter makes it easy to a) simplify and b) scapegoat. What if reality is a bit more complex? What if its important to listen to voices we might disagree with, and data which might challenge our worldview?