Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Lightening Rod on the Irish Border

So Teresa the Relentless is off to Brussels again, to renegotiate the 'Irish Backstop'. Because that's the only real problem with the Withdrawal Agreement for Brexiteers, isn't it?

Um, no. It's only 1 of 8 things on John Redwoods list. Jacob Rees Mogg has several others, and lets just assume for once that Boris Johnson is consistent and still believes the stuff he said last month. Just as Brexit itself has turned the distraction levels up to 11 and prevented good and careful governance of the UK, so the Backstop has become a distraction from debating everything else in the 585 page Agreement.

If no other part of the Withdrawal Agreement is rewritten, Teresa May could come back with movement on the Irish Backstop, and still lose a vote on the Agreement to Brexiteers. This has the potential to become an even more colossal political mess than it is at the moment.

And if the Agreement somehow gets through, the 'May way or the highway' strategy of bringing the agreement to Parliament at such a late stage, compounded by the time lost on confidence votes and infighting, makes it possible that a huge bit of legislation will get through Parliament with almost zero scrutiny of the details.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A bit of press coverage

Goodbye St. Peters Hall Yeovil. After serving the local community for 50 years, it's now being pulled down, to be replaced with a new community centre. Between the the church, the community association, and partners from the local council and housing association, we've raised £927,000 of £945,000 required, and demolition started on Monday.

BBC Radio Somerset did a piece earlier in the week, fast forward to 1h 32m in and then again 2h 34m in. John Clark in the second clip is a local councillor, and is the tall guy at the back.

A few other news pieces, apologies for the duplication of news and photographs!

Diocese of Bath and Wells

Somerset Live (online version of the Western Gazette)

Yeovil Press

Yarlington Housing Group

It's amazing how God has brought together the funding, the team, and the vision for the project. It started with 4 people in a chilly back room in Jan 2014, wondering what a church of 20 elderly people and a fledgling community association could possibly do with a creaking old hall. It's notable how folk who aren't part of the church are regularly commenting how it's all come together, from the project team (with every skill we needed, and every job we needed doing had someone willing to do it), to the finances (£900,000 raised in 13 months).

Friday, January 18, 2019

Brexit - New Options on the Table

Lard Brexit - build a barrier made entirely of lard along the Irish border. This avoids a hard border (except in exceptionally cold weather) and ensures that Brexit is smooth, if not orderly.

Chard Brexit - a no-deal Brexit is piloted in a small town in South Somerset, and then rolled out nationally once teething problems are ironed out. Worked a treat with Universal Credit.

Irish Buckstop - leaders of the main political parties play the popular party game 'pass the Arlene'. Whoever's left holding the DUP when time is up has to come up with a deal which commands a Parliamentary majority. 

Toffed Brexit - Using a Parliamentary protocol last invoked in 1381, Jacob Rees-Mogg compels the entire Withdrawal Agreement to be translated into Latin, and commences negotiations with all the European states who still use it. Within a month, he and the Pope have sorted everything.

Yellow Lines - The red lines in Teresa Mays withdrawal agreement are replaced with parking regulations. All MPs are charged hospital car park rates for every minute spent in the House of Commons debating the Brexit deal. Agreement is reached within a week.

Taking Those Eels off the Table - Jeremy Corbyn comes up with an innovative but irrelevant proposal for fisheries policy.

Peoples Vole - in a British attempt to emulate Groundhog Day, a small rodent is held aloft on March 29th. If he casts a shadow, we stay in the EU, if he doesn't, we carry on holding the little blighter in the air until the sun comes out.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Youth Work Placement in Yeovil from Sept 2019

We're looking to take on a youth work trainee for up to 3 years from September 2019, to work in 2 local secondary schools, support youth groups at both churches in the parish, and explore ways of connecting with local young people beyond the church. Bed and board are provided, along with a weekly allowance and expenses. Details are here - if you know anyone who might be interested please point them in our direction!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sex Education from the BBC: what's missing?

More than a third of women and a quarter of men in their teens and early 20s admitted it had not been "the right time" when they first had sex.  Thus the BBC reports on the 'National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles'. They then give a helpful list for anyone wondering...
When is the right time?
  • If you think you might have sex, ask yourself:
  • Does it feel right?
  • Do I love my partner?
  • Does he/she love me just as much?
  • Have we talked about using condoms to prevent STIs and HIV, and was the talk OK?
  • Have we got contraception organised to protect against pregnancy?
  • Do I feel able to say "no" at any point if I change my mind, and will we both be OK with that
Yup, 'Am I married to my partner'? doesn't come into it. The first 3 conditions are subjective - the survey assumes that children as young as 13 are able to answer these questions well and be 'sexually competent' Have they ever met a 13 year old? All the criteria would be also satisfied by someone cheating on their partner.  The only moral question here is consent - tick that box and everything else is ok. Is sex really that trivial? 

I note in passing that the report never refers to 'children' - "22.4% and 36.2% of men and women who had first sex at age 13–14 years were categorised as ‘sexually competent". Child sexual behaviour is reported as if it were adult sexual behaviour. Am I alone in finding that a bit disturbing?

The genuinely radical option here is to honour sex as the ultimate physical expression of commitment, saved for the one person to whom you make the lifelong covenant pledge of marriage. Even if you don't buy the 'sex as an expression of commitment' thing and just want to be pragmatic about it, if you value the relationship you're in, you'll wait, as it's better for the relationship.  

There are public health benefits too: sexually transmitted diseases are transmitted by, you guessed it... They jumped massively in 2012-15, and the number of people attending sexual health clinics in Wales has doubled in just 5 years. There would be dramatic falls in STIs if it was normal to pursue faithfulness to a single partner and public health policy encouraged people to wait. Sure, not everyone will do it: not everyone takes up the MMR vaccine either but that doesn't make it bad practice. And it could save the NHS up to £1bn a year, which is before we get into all the other financial costs of a culture of casual sex.  A culture which the BBC itself has been normalising for decades. 

One of the complaints in the Br***t debate is that you can't question immigration without being labelled as racist. Can we discuss sexual behaviour without being labelled as moralising? 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Peoples Vote: Why We Need to Re-Run the 2017 General Election

The people of the UK should get another say on the result of the 2017 General Election. Why?

1. Because some of the claims made during the campaign have turned out to be demonstrably false.

2. Because the facts on the ground have changed, and we know more now about the negative outcomes of certain courses of action (Universal Credit, approach to the Brexit negotiations, dismantling the welfare state, making Chris Grayling Secretary of State for Transport) than we did then. So we would be better informed for this vote than we were for that one.

3. Because the electorate has changed, over a million people are now eligible to vote now who were under 18 at the time of the 2017 election. How can we not involved them in decisions about their future?

4. There are question marks over whether party spending limits were broken, as there were in the 2015 election. 

5. Because we're even less happy with the result now than we were then.

6. Because we need to trust the people.

7. Because we only knew general details about Conservative policy at the time of the election, and they've gone and done things which weren't in their manifesto. Like teaming up with the DUP. Which we didn't vote for.

Coming soon: Why We Need to Re-Run the 2019 General Election.

Prayer - A Typology

I have no idea what a 'skinny' is, but we're starting a series on prayer tomorrow and this is fun and insightful at the same time.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Fifi and the Flower Tots Replacing Question Time

Really looking forward to the BBC's replacement to Question Time, bringing together the old political Q&A format with the childrens cartoon series Fifi and the Flower Tots

Every week the following roles will be taken by a leading politician or journalist:
Stingo, the scheming and manipulative wasp
Slugsy, Stingos slow-witted accomplice
Primrose, the prim and proper guardian of good manners and decorum
Violet, the creative free spirit
Bumble, the accident prone bumble bee

For week 1, these parts are played by Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Anna Soubry and Jeremy Corbyn. All presided over the the kind and gracious Fifi Bruce, who sees the good in everyone

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

The Yeovil Traffic Light Jive

local road 'improvements' have inspired one man into song. Come to Yeovil and see what all the fun is about. If your local traffic lights have gone missing, you'll probably find they've ended up here.

I know I know, #firstworldproblem.

Brexit metaphor of the day

An escape room where the creators haven't left sufficient clues and devices to actually unlock it and get out. There are 2 minutes to go until you run out of time, and the escape room manager - who would normally let you out if you hadn't solved it - has locked up and gone to write his memoirs.

You can only get out of the room if all the team exit through the same door. There are 2 doors, and a majority of the team are against door May. A majority are also against door No. Some of the team believe that if you are still in there when time runs out, the floor will open up and everyone in the team will plunge to an unpleasant fate.

One individual believes that the clues can be found in the Europe section of the escape room, even though it has been thoroughly searched and there is clearly nothing else there.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Brexit: The Uncivil War: a window on the UK soul.

Brexit the Uncivil War was an eye-opening and very well made bit of TV, which, if you missed the agenda, reminded the viewer of the various sets of criminal and malpractice charges against the Leave campaign at the end (good piece here on how the Remain agenda was pushed throughout the whole piece). The central performance was a compelling turn from Benedict Cumberbatch, and despite a large degree of dramatic license, most of the central facts and plot of the piece seem to be based on reality. This, if you've got 30m spare, is the first hand account by Dominic Cummins of what they did and why;

There are all sorts of bits of the programme which gave pause for thought:
 - the repeated refrain about sections of society whom nobody listens to (great joke about Cummings taking Douglas Carswell to a place where he had no idea where he was 'but its in your constituency Douglas'. Carswells take on the show is here. ). The political machine relies on population profiling, and pitches messages to the groups it needs to win over in order to win votes. If that's how the 'democratic' system works, then it simply leaves out all those who a) the vote machine can take for granted or b) it doesn't need. Vote Leave won because it connected with many people in that category, and made the emotional connection of lost control whilst Remain was stuck on facts about economics.

- niche advertising, and the control of the algorhythm over what we see online. Are you less likely to see this blog if you're unlikely to agree with it? Just about every day on Facebook (my main social media medium) there's a post about how FB only lets a small fraction of your 'friends' see your posts and how to hack out of that. We end up trapped in the feedback loop of social media - every bit of data we post feeds into the equation which decides what data we're allowed to see. This both traps people within a particular bubble (unless they intentionally navigate out of it), and does the same for decision makers and politicians. A medium which proclaims, in the words of the Nokia slogan, that is is 'connecting people', is actually disconnecting us.

The current Brexit turmoil is making this worse - because (as Cummings states above) Brexit is an issue which cuts across parties, no single major party supports it or can deliver on it. The normal delivery mechanism of politics has broken down, so voters are left with politicians who are fundamentally disconnected from the things they voted for. Remainer politicians cannot deliver because they lost, and Brexiteer politicians cannot deliver because they are (still) not on the front benches, or framing the negotiations and deals.

 - truth has always been rationed in politics, but the focus in the Brexit campaign (as in most political campaigns) was not about truth or facts, but about which messages 'cut through'. Not what is real, but what do people relate to. Trump has taken this even further. A previous generation mixed ideology and passion - there was a way of seeing the world, and a passionate commitment to a vision of how it could be set straight. Modern politics, and political coverage, in the main bypasses ideology and heads directly for the passions. BBC news, for example, has decided that the detail of Brexit, policy etc. is far too difficult for its viewers to understand, and has given us the last 3 years almost entirely through the lens of internal power plays in the Conservative party. Just about every major news reporter on the Beeb buys into this soap opera perspective. ITV news at least makes some attempt to brief and inform viewers what issues are at stake. And it has Tom Bradby, who is great.

I'd recommend either watching the programme, or watching the clip above, it's an interesting window on the soul of the UK. For me its a reminder that listening well to people takes more time than preaching at them, but can be 100x more effective. And ironically, for a Brexit campain which made so much capital out of people's sense of being ignored, the social media they relied upon actually increases our alienation and feelings of disempowerment. I quit Twitter last year because, amongst the 2500-odd people I was following, so many of them seemed to be angry with each other. On an almost daily basis I logged off feeling more emotionally disturbed than when I logged on. If the genie of anger is out of the bottle, then (as Brexit: An Uncivil War observed observed) thats not a force anyone can control.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

10 favourite tracks

One or two chums on Facebook are posting their 10 favourite tracks of all time. It's impossible to pick 10, so at this present moment here are those which come to mind, with a 'subs bench' of honourable mentions. Ask me in a week and it'll probably be a completely different list...

Subs bench: Evanescence – Everybodys Fool, Matt Redman – For the Cross, Kathy Burton – Great is our God, Keith Duke – You Lord are In This Place, Saint Etienne – Like a Motorway.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Dark Side Theology

Its a busy week in the night skies. First we took pictures of a giant monkey nut on the edge of the solar system, Ultima Thule, which turned out to be two giant rocks stuck together. Did Tangerine Dream know this when they released 'Ultima Thule Part1 and Part 2' back in 1972?  Unlikely, as it was only discovered in 2014.

Closer to home the Chinese landed a craft on the so-called Dark Side of the Moon, (which gets exactly the same amount of sunlight as the other side).

The Moon is a remarkable thing
 - it takes exactly the same length of time to rotate as it does to complete a single orbit of the earth, meaning we face the same 1/2 of the moon all the time. You'll have to check with NASA whether that makes moon exploration any easier, I'm guessing it does.
 - it is exactly the right size and distance in proportion to the sun that a full solar eclipse blocks out the suns disc but allows us to view the corona. Again, that's quite handy in a number of ways.
 - it is the right size and distance to create significant, but not (usually) life-threatening tides on the sea-dominated earth, which moderate the climate, distribute food, support coastal eco-systems, aid navigation, and should provide for tidal power if we ever get round to funding it properly.

It's almost like someone set it up that way....

Anyway, back to the Far Side of the Moon. If you lived there, would you know about the Earth? It would be the centre of your universe, the context in which your 'planet' lived and moved and had its being, the original source (many think) of its existence, but you'd never see it. You wouldn't even be aware of it. It would only be possible to see the thing if you made a long journey round to the other side. In the meantime you might be tempted to think that everything else orbited around you.

The third astronomical phenomena of the week is Epiphany, this Sunday, when MASA (Magi Amateur Stargazers Association) despatched a mission to a distant satellite, investigating new and strange events in the night sky. At the end of a long journey, they found the source of life, the centre of the universe. They discovered more in that one journey than any lifetime of study. The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim his handiwork (Psalm 19).

For scientists who study the heavenly bodies, the study is one thing, but to actually see the object of your study is something else entirely. Epiphany means 'unveiling', the God who can not just be known about, now he can be seen.