Friday, 10 November 2017

Liberal Religious Controversy

I have been asked by the National Unitarian Fellowship to produce a two thousand word piece on Easter. I wasn't 'tramlined' about this in terms of any selective focus. I decided I would address the whole Christian Passion events and resurrection claims.

I think that from time to time these claims should be tested, so that the position one acquires is built on solid ground. I have already written more than two thousand words, and I have started some editing, but I am waiting for a book that makes a particular argument highlighted in another book I read. I have until February to produce this piece. I won't put it on my website until it is placed on the NUF website and printed out.

The New Testament proclaims the resurrection and the Lordship of Christ. It is indeed a New Convenant based on the Lordship of Christ. Now of course there are many theologies that produce the New Testament, but they are all about the Lordship of Christ. Now I do not believe in the Lordship of Christ and so I am not a Christian. Connected with this is the belief in the Incarnation of Christ. This belief I think is what makes a Christian. I neither believe in the Lordship of Christ or the Incarnation of Christ, but I can converse in the language. To believe in the Lordship of Christ is to have at the least a proclamation theology - minimal, I suggest, to be of the Body of Christ. Rudolf Bultmann had such an ahistorical approach: it all came down to text, and he argued for kerygma or proclaiming. He did, many do, I don't.

My view should fit easily into Unitarian or Quaker attendance. I have recently added a review of a presentation and its book on to my website, the activity of which indirectly was to see me leave my local Hull Unitarian church completely. I was already minimally involved, mainly attending socially each week.

I am not going into detail about this. All I will say is that the activity of the writing was highlighted on Facebook, and that I indicated what I was going to write from first impressions of reading the nine pounds paid-for book. I deliberately left a name link produced by Facebook for one of the co-authors, knowing that she may well contact the other co-author. she did because instead of response and debate, the phone call was made to involve a third party and in such way I was accused of being inaccurate and disrespectful. This I defended, on the spot, and then decided that I had had enough. I was not surprised.

My view about the book having read it and what sources it draws upon is even more dismissive than I was apparently when approaching it. It started with a presentation I made an effort to attend despite minimal involvement.

The review is necessarily lengthy, starting with the presentation as far as it went including what is in the book and continuing with the book only. Basically the book argues for a 'conveyor belt' of cultural relevance according to changing times taking liberal religion and Unitarianism/ Unitarian Universalism from the classifications of Liberal Christian (Orange) to Pluralist (Green), to Integrative (Blue) to not fitting or Para-Mind detachment (Indigo) dominant congregations. The more relevant, the more people would join. The colour scheme is taken from Ken Wilber, and the scheme is his departure from Spiral Dynamics. I thought at the presentation that the scheme was similar to Stages of Faith by James Fowler or by Robert Bellah, but this was wrong. It is pseudo-science, a made up colour scheme based on the notion of the inadequacy of evolution: it is the movement of Spirit from spirit to matter and back again, a driving force by which otherwise evolution would not happen. It misunderstands evolution and how it works. So something that promotes your search and not our belief ends up depending on a belief. There are several errors in the book that would improve by a little more background reading. Basically, the book is a pseudo-science based presentational gloss to a faction fight inside Unitarianism for a more pluralist outlook at least. It is entirely individualist regarding belief.

On wants books promoting pluralism, and then we get something like this. This is a need for a theology of pluralism, not repetition of classifications.

Among other things the book states that Florence Nightingale was Unitarian, when she was not (she wanted to be a Roman Catholic, but settled for being a universalist Anglican), and that the Baha'i Faith is a beyond the pluralist into the integrative approach to religion and one of the fastest growing. It misunderstands the Baha'i Faith by its short lift of information. The language in one part also strongly implies to the unknowing that Karen Armstrong is within Unitarian Universalism. I ended up arguing about these, and then made the main point about the scheme itself. These schemes about faith all favour the Liberal Protestant; they raise issues about what is the fundamental of religion anyway. Is the core of religion popular and therefore more magical and supernatural? Isn't the more philosophical approach to religion something else? But the Wilber scheme is pseudo-science: yes, it is about 'we're better than you' as in 'more advanced', 'more relevant'.

Since then I have tested contentious sentences on the uninvolved and unknowing, and have received an opinion that my initial Facebook posting was not disrespectful.

I make a big effort to play the ball and not the person. The fact that I play the ball hard at times should not be misunderstood. If I don't agree I say so! The book is very very disappointing and cannot be an argument made by a contemporary pluralist who is anchored into our scientific and social scientific world. I dislike and think it misunderstands regarding even liberal Christianity as a private indivdual view with no collective implications.

I am very opposed to the whole 'spiritual not religious approach', and one where diversity apparently happens in nothing but a space once called a Church. Institutions do not work like this, and for evidence I bring forward the tiniest of bodies like the Liberal Catholic Episcopi Vagantes. Numbered in ones and twos up and down the land, they nevertheless 'carry' meaning at a collective level and all that identifies Old and Liberal Catholicism.

Identities do evolve and change, and cannot be fixed. Some try to fix them, and cannot simply by those who disagree, but those who try and empty the space first cannot either. This is why it is important to learn, to some extent, where the institution has been and where it has not been.

Basically, in a creedless setting, and with our present sociology of knowledge (how we 'naturally' think, assume), if someone has a liberal Christian theology then someone else will develop a religious humanist theology. If someone is rationalist in faith, someone will find a way to be romanticist in faith. If there are religions out there that can be more loosely interpreted, then in a creedless faith people will import them.

In other words, Unitarianism is a running argument where each position in a particular setting can generate an opposing argument. It's very Hegelian - a later synthesis produces a new opposite. Take how the Puritan Calvinists produced Arminians, how then the Unitarian revolution of a biblicist, denominational kind - an ethos similar to the Puritan without the Presbyterian - produced a Unitarianism that was Presbyterian without the Puritan, and so was high Protestant, Romanticist, and broad. Both were liberal Christian culturally and liturgically. They merged, the opposite being a religious humanism. The more simple, Puritan kind produced a more broad, Pagan including, multifaith spirituality. Where next?

None if this development is anything to do with any scientific or pseudo-scientific claim about the cultural superiority of pluralist over liberal Christian, integrative over pluralist , or para-mind over integrative congregations. None of these have any better success or failure in pulling in the numbers or losing numbers. It's just that with a memory for ideological positions, others will develop, grow and compete (or contribute). So we expect more diversity despite and even during chronic decline.

Friday, 29 September 2017

One Main Conference to Go...

So far we have had the Liberal Democrat annual conference and the Labour annual conference.

The Liberal Democrat one was a bit muted, from a perhaps puzzled crowd as to the damaged past for the party and unwanted 'Brexit' future, and one where Vince Cable was installed as leader. As he said, he didn't want to lead a mirror-image party from UKIP, but still it is the remain party. Leaving the European Union he counts as one of the three recent disasters: the illegal Iraq war in 2003, the financial crash in 2007 and the vote to leave the EU in 2016. One of the other polcies will be to tackle the wealth disparity, that leads to power and powerlessness.

The Labour Party went into a Momentum led song of praise for Jeremy Corbyn, and a comprehensive set of policies to reset the political agenda.

My view is that there needs to be a leftward swing because so much needs doing, and the power of the State is the means to do it. We are also Keynesians now, because monetary policy does not stimulate the economy. It needs fiscal policy, and best of all spending not tax cuts.

Our unemployment is not equivalent to 1974 ("the lowest since 1974," says the media). This does not compare like with like. We now have so many on schemes that are not counted as unemployed. Many who lose their jobs don't bother to sign on because benefits are denied or so low for so many. People are sanctioned. But most of all, the nature of work is now underemployment and scattered employment for individuals. Many people on life-supporting benefits and who look for work are not counted as unemployed (e.g. Employment and Support Allowance). This is different from people in long term jobs that allowed people to get a mortgage and plan a family back in 1974. So many people now carry personal debt unheard of in 1974. The economy today is cruel.

The leftward swing was evident in Theresa May's statements on gaining power and since. She seemed to want to bring in the approach of nationalist and interventionist Joseph Chamberlain, the Liberal Unionist who turned Tory.

The only problem is that she says a lot and does nothing. She seems paralysed before policy is made, with frequent U-turns. Then, after the Labour Conference, she gives a half-hearted delivery in the defence of free market capitalism. Well, expect nothing from her.

Vince Cable might be a bit far fetched to claim he could be Prime Minister, except of course anything can happen in politics these days. One more (and not unlikely) financial crash and we might call upon his services. I maintain, incidentally, that Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown did rescue the British economy from financial disaster, by instant liquidity. They were Keynesians all right: to have done otherwise would have pricked and collapsed the swollen monetary bubble. The Coalition government was not correct to blame Labour, except of course for actually not being so prudent prior to the crash.

We still have that economy, which is why the employment figures are not inflationary as they were back in 1974, and why this is not like with like. Leaving the EU will be disastrous under these circumstances: it won't take much to shake this precarious situation of employment.

My view of Corbyn's celebratory conference is that it is far too previous in its expectations. Even if they put on more votes from last time, they may only achieve a dead heat. If the 'two party situation' continues, adding on votes actually doesn't result in a victory, because the other side has its piles of votes. Labour does not have a Democratic Unionist Party equivalent to bribe; on domestic policy the Scottish Nationalists will be excluded from many key votes at committee stage, and they will never share what amounts to Corbyn's 'socialism in one country' outside the EU.

Indeed, as it becomes clearer that Corbyn and the backbone of his inner ideological circle wants to be outside the EU, the young people who waved the EU flags at his rallies may well not lend him their votes this time. It only takes some reluctance from them to suddenly pull Labour up short.

What will help Labour is a return to a three party system. On the basis that Tory remainers will vote for Vince Cable's economic competence, the Labour Party may find itself winning more seats without having to pile up its own votes.

So the Tory conference is near. Now, I took the view after the recent General Election that Theresa May had settled into her job until the exiting the EU negotiations were over. I also did not take the view that Boris Johnson's 4000 word essay in the Daily Telegraph was his leadership bid. What he was doing was leaning on her, because the 'transition period' argument was winning, and the next stage from that is to keep the single market and customs union. The problem with transition is that it has to transition out, and, unless it's back to eating your cake and having it, there reappears a cliff edge. Delay allows changing your mind even more.

However, the speech she gave at Florence was another giving to the EU, in terms of negotiations, and underlines just how hapless they all are in doing this. The sense of drift is everywhere. And so the party conference will be one of whispers and rumours and plotting behind the scenes. A dull speech, a holding the fort, could see her shifted soon afterwards.

It does not follow that to change Tory leader means a General Election. There would be a lack of legitimacy. She is already the equivalent of a Gordon Brown after Tony Blair. A dedicated EU leaver as leader may well cause divisions in the Tory party to surface.

Remember: a vote to stay in the EU would have divided the Tory party instantly and left Labour united on the matter. Cameron would have been in trouble. This was May's strategy: support him but ever so quietly, and watch him fall, to replace him with a government that then would have concentrated on social and economic matters (presumably). The vote to leave forced him out, and she was the last one left standing. It was Labour that looked divided. But it was always going to be that as the end-point came for leaving the EU, the Tories would divide. This division could well be brought forward by an enthusiast for leaving going into the Prime Minister seat. Labour meanwhile will find its leaver minority having to make the big decision as the cliff edge comes closer. Corbyn's new found enthusiasm for the possibilities outside the EU are checked by his desire not ever to help out the Tories on anything (including staying in during the campaign).

The structural situation party-wise will be tested by the coming end-date to leave, and how much the end is delayed. If it is little delayed then the prospect of a new centre party increases, but party structures are remarkably resilient. It's just that leaving the EU is such a huge measure that some MPs and Lords will be put to the test. Vince Cable will be having private conversations.

So let's see how it goes. I now think that Theresa May will fall, simply because she lacks basic leadership qualities. She is a referee only, and not a very good one. She lacks the ability to lead anyone anywhere. She remains as much an unknown as she was when she fell into the seat of power. She always wanted power, and showed some skill in finding the moment, but seems to have done nothing with it other than carrying out zombie-like the perceived burden of the moment.

What remain people have to do, meanwhile, is continue to make the argument, as to why we share sovereignty and how it makes us stronger to tackle economic threats and threats to peace, upholds social and economic standards, and gives a sense of sharing across the continent. Democracy is about opinion changing, and finding its representation, and getting MPs to start standing up for what they believe instead of acting like zombies. Yes, after the vote, some remain voters said 'we'd better get on with it', but as we haven't really got on with it, and do not know the end-position, and the consequences of leaving stack up, then they will return (as they are now) and so will some of the leavers change their mind. It is a tough world out there, and at a time of Trump and North Korea (and more - e.g. Bombardier and Boeing) we should not be leaving the European Union.

Friday, 1 September 2017

How Not to Leave The [Imaginary] Art Club

This is a story that is not true. Here goes. I am a member of The Art Club (as it happens, I am not regarding a similar group, but let's assume I am). It costs sixty pounds a year (seventy euros and falling) and then paying the models is effectively another sixty pounds a year and then there is the cost of materials. For this I get to paint among a number of people, and join in ad-hoc events and get to enter exhibitions and via voting make policy decisions.

However, I've never liked the group, not really, due to my imagined background of apparent self-sufficiency, and after a long membership I have decided to leave. However, The Art Club is a fact on the ground, and it arranges models and venues and has these exhibitions each year.

Still interested in being an artist, one option is to crash out. I would have to find my own models and venues and see if I can get into various ad-hoc exhibitions. I am not allowed to arrange these until I cease to be a member. Now they think I am a decent artist and would like me involved, but realise I do want to leave. After all, I've said so for over a year now.

So we have started to negotiate a withdrawal that will hopefully be practical, whilst clearly The Art Club wants to uphold its own future, membership and events, and why one should join it for the benefits of membership.

Meanwhile there is a complication that I have a friend in The Art Club with whom I wish to continue to paint. We joined at the same time. We used to argue a lot, but now we are very friendly, and we must keep this friendship - and yet I am withdrawing and he is not. How can we remain artistic friends, when his art benefits from all that The Art Club does? He is going nowhere because being a member has defined the direction of his art.

Not wishing to crash out, and lose important access to models and venues plus exhibitions, there is an option of associate membership. It costs to have these venues to paint or draw the models, and there are these model contacts, and it costs to join in with arranged exhibitions. But friends who dislike The Art Club say that to join these specifically is pretty much the same as being in the Art Club, and the payment in is just about as much. The Committee still decides what I'll end up doing, and the rules to obey, but I'll no longer vote.

So I ask The Art Club to be "imaginative". Using all the insights and arrangements of The Art Club, I will nevertheless call the same "My Art Club" and ask it to be recognised by The Art Club. Payment might be nothing or perhaps minimal to The Art Club, and yet the benefits seem rather the same. Being the same, but different, I can paint along with my friend.

Understandably, The Art Club says we can't have individual painters picking and choosing like this. You are either in the club or your are not. The Art Club negotiator asks, "Do you want to leave or not? Why do you want to leave and yet things remain the same? We have everything set up here and a Committee to rule on it." Meanwhile one of The Art Club's leading members says my proposals sound: "like someone wanting to join in the near future, not leave."

My proposals are a "fantasy island", they say, because I want to paint their models and use their venues, and yet go out and get my own models and my own venues (unlike The Art Club members). As for exhibitions, I will always join in the exhibition with my painting friend, but not necessarily other exhibitions, although I can, I argue, and yet will add in my own exhibitions - should I find any.

While this flexible in and out is being arranged and set up - my club that is like their club - we will have a transition of flexible withdrawal from their club.

Obviously I am told that this is not on. Anyhow, meantime, I claim that the talks are making progress, The Art Club instead asks for clarity given the known constraints, and I contact the local media to back me up by slurring The Art Club for being "rigid".

Meanwhile I have a different and as yet inactive advisor, who hints that for a transition period I simply stay with The Art Club's venues and models, and indeed its exhibitions. This will be the specific arrangement so I no longer vote for or sit on the Committee. I do this for a transition period - "as long as necessary and as short as possible" - which presumably involves 'crashing out' at some point in the future, being unable to arrange models, venues and exhibitions while having The Art Club arrangements in place.

Increasingly friends ask why, if I want to paint models, have good venues and enter in exhibitions, I don't stay in The Art Club after all.

As the time runs out for talking, The Art Club says it is fed up with such talking when what I want is so indecisive. It won't extend negotiating for negotiating's sake, so either leave and there will be solicitors' letters on costs to pay, or stay, or stay and this time join in fully and properly.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Bye to Free Hosting

Technology gets so complicated! Hosting websites can be even more complicated and frustrating: it's a constant learning curve. This is the story of the Pluralist.co.uk Website.

My website started in 1998. That was its first page, and it peaked at some 1800 .html and .pdf pages. For a long time, it was on Freeserve (remember that?) and FreeUK using dial up. There were many accounts and the website had many 'absolute links' to transfer between accounts and act as a whole. After some time I dropped Freeserve and everything went via FreeUK, and indeed I put many websites I made for others on FreeUK. I knew its File Transfer Protocol drill, the means by which files are uploaded.

I needed multiple accounts because each one had limited website holding capacity. You were allowed to have as many accounts as you liked, so long as each was maintained through use of each one's specific dial up. I could reach all the FreeUK accounts through any of its dial ups, but I had to use them all to keep the website going.

Basically a website is made with files that interlink within a folder and subfolders. When this is uploaded the very same structure must be created and files uploaded. You test it on your computer, that all the links work, and then upload, and then all should work with the website as created that comes down from online.

 During this period of growth I purchased pluralist.co.uk - a name used by some in a Unitarian progressive faction. It also suited my personal outlook. I have retained this name ever since. I have always used Easily.co.uk to purchase and maintain ownership. You go through a third party like this to secure a name from Nominet.

Along came broadband, always live and active, unlike dial up, but frankly the price of having broadband web-hosting where I was on dial up was prohibitive. Then came along a very neat solution, better than anything. Dropbox. Dropbox had plenty of free capacity for my website, but what was even better was its folders. Once Dropbox was installed, a folder and all those within it and below it had an automatic file transfer. What this meant was no need for any FTP work using a special program. All I needed to know was the Dropbox identity for the index.html at the top of the website structure. Then, at Easily.co.uk I did a transfer of the pluralist name to that Dropbox index.html address. The index.html always links throughout the website: on my website it is a frames page (yes, I still use frames) from which all else appears on that arrangement, with separate pages for large images and presentations.

As a result all the absolute links (full URLs) had to be changed. Folders on different FreeUK accounts with the same name, but needed absolute links specifying FreeUK account hosting, could be combined. All these named links became relative, that is within the structure only. On Dropbox, my website became unified.

And then, in 2016 Dropbox changed its approach. It determined that it would be for file-sharing only. The way it did this was to end displaying webpages as webpages - an HTML page would only be shown as its code. Already Dropbox was becoming restrictive, but as an early customer I retained abilities that new customers could not achieve. Not without paying. Even then the whole policy was for future file-sharing only.

Other file-sharers were as strict and stricter regarding webpage non-display: basically, Dropbox was catching up in making the distinction between file-sharing and web hosting.

As a result I had to find a web-hosting company and return to using FTP programs. Indeed I had to do this for a number of small websites under my creation and continued influence.

One I settled on was Hostinger.co.uk, and this looked good as a free provision for small and educational websites (mine is educational with religious plus personal). Indeed I did something new: I transferred the DNS to this provider and this meant for the first time the pluralist.co.uk was the name that defined all pages: previously pluralist.co.uk acted as a ghost name that covered Dropbox: individual pages and released frames might show the Dropbox URL instead. Now I had learnt how to get a pure name.

Then one day I uploaded a file and it was refused. Another FTP program told me the server was full. Although email contact support was not available on the free account, I did ignore that and they did reply, suggesting I upgrade and pay. But they also moved my website to another server - it instantly filled up. Now, apparently, they guaranteed that a paid account would not fill up, but I made the point that this gave no confidence. Notices appeared on their website that servers can fill up and should upgrade. So I argued that if they cannot provide a reliable free service, they should not, and to their credit if you go on to Hostinger now they do not offer a free service any more, even to educational sites.

So I recovered the DNS from Hostinger and put it back to easily and went with a redirect to 5gbfree. This meant ghosting again and the 5gbfree website name would appear on some separated pages. I then discovered only after a few months what was already in online comments: that after a while this just chucks you off. I was unable to upload and although I could see my website this also disappeared. If I'd read it more carefully it says 5gbfree is for small and temporary websites. Ah.

I found another free one but it stuck its name on every page, and it turned out to be Hostinger based anyway. So Hostinger retains a free element, one that has been around a while. Now one can guess what might happen there. Then I found a German firm that looked all the better, except it did not allow me to upload .ZIP or .MP3 files. Now I have a few to illustrate edited hymns, and ZIPs are for archiving unusual formats (e.g. a .BMP image file).

Now the solution to this was to edit the pages linking to .MP3 and .ZIP files: get them via Dropbox! The links would go to specific Dropbox presentations of these files (how they do it) - but that would be acceptable.

But the obvious thing was to secure a proper relationship with a hosting company, and that means paying. My website is just under 600 mb, so it comes within the 1 gb limit of Easily's basic Linux server service. Now I know that Linux means Unix and all it means is strict adherence to lower case and upper case - best to maintain lower case. Most servers are Unix. So Friday 25th August I made the purchase and did the uploading (as far as I can tell it's all gone up, and inserting the FTP details worked first time - that's a rarity); after a struggle worked out that the redirect has to direct inwards (from the 5gbfree) to the account name, Easily's W rather than D in the menu.

It will take a day or so, but hopefully very soon the website will reappear (the whole Internet needs to be 'informed') with I also hope the operation of the pluralist.co.uk name throughout.

Basically, the days of the free Internet and money income by other means are coming to an end. Those that get money by advertising now make it more and more intrusive and directed, Hostinger was cleared, I will ignore 5gbfree as they ignored me, and the rest I will clear up. These days firms rightly charge but also they can have massive computer storage power and websites like mine can offer a few pounds a month as an income stream. It all adds up.

From time to time I do send someone a Dropbox link for a file - not for a webpage, obviously - but the website is still located within my Dropbox folders.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

If She Can Say It, More Can...

Baroness Ros Altmann was a member of the Labour Party prior to 2007. She has been Conservative from 2015. She likes to think of herself as politically independent regarding social justice, including pensions campaigning and became Minister of State for Pensions 11 May 2015 until 15 July 2016.

She appeared 16 August on Channel 4 News, pointing out that democracy moves along and that if there is no way to come out of the EU without huge damage then we should consider consulting or some other means to stay in. She points out the threats people receive who say anything like this, and hopes there is a space for people like her in the Conservative Party.

She wants to stay Conservative, but is interested that a centre party suggestion shows people who'd come together to stay in the EU or as close as can.

The latest absurdity is the Irish border. To show how absurd, it wasn't exactly long ago that David Davis was claiming technological solutions with number plate recognition etc. at the Irish border.

Now the government has published and this is not suggested. There is to be no border between the parts of Ireland and no border between Ireland and Britain. In fact, the proposal is a full Schengen in effect between Ireland and Britain, regardless. Such a non-existent border is a nonsense without the Customs Union.

How does that work then? The government says, when it comes to immigration, which is what matters, it will work by employers showing that employees can work in the UK.

But that's not what it is about. Look at it the other way around.

Suppose we fall out of the EU and tariffs begin. Britain might say 'oh sod it' and have a open border with Ireland. We vote in each others' elections, after all. But what of the goods from Britain going into Ireland. There will be external tariffs to pay for going into the EU. How is the EU going to collect them, or will it simply have to declare the situation illegal via Ireland...

No one in the news media has looked at it that way around. They assume stuff coming into Britain and Britain saying let them in.

Now 15th August we had this UK position on a transition customs arrangement. This would not be the EU Customs Union but a bilateral UK-EU Customs Union. It would look exactly like the EU Customs Union. But it would allow the UK to negotiate trade deals for itself, not allowed under the EU Customs Union, which is collective.

Like the Irish proposal, this is just bonkers. It is more than wishful thinking. What we have is a clueless government. They come up with ideas that are just silly.

There are very simple alternatives.

One is crashing out, and damage to the economy. Presumably the House of Commons and House of Lords will stop it, given the balance of forces in each House.

The second is to stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union. That makes sense, except it means we lose sovereignty as a satellite of the European Union without a say in its decisions, and we contribute to the club. Plus immigration is by European rules.

The third is to stay in. Now Baroness Ros Altmann might see this as the logical way forward, but she needs to be joined by others.

Not just we have to stay in because it's worse to come out, but what sharing sovereignty actually means in a world of multinationals and borderless finance.

As she said, the economy continues on and we have not left yet. However, on this unemployment the lowest since 1975, don't believe it. They are not comparing like with like. We have schemes galore and people heavily underemployed. The Labour market in 1975 was more stable than now and nowhere near as fragmented. Nor were benefits being squeezed and squeezed as now, forcing many into underemployment. People are going into low wages and at the same time there is a skills shortage.

Nevertheless, stability in the economy comes within the European Union. If we crash out the only survival game is as an offshore cheap labour low productivity country, whilst high value headquarters and plant relocate to the European mainland and, er, including Ireland. Where, of course, companies, people, goods and services will be able to travel in and out of Britain at will...

Come on politicians. Like Baroness Ros Altmann, start saying the obvious.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Why Roulette Does Not Need to Cheat

I had one of those highly enjoyable, loud, blistering arguments in the pub Sunday evening about roulette and its television presentation. I noted with them that ITV's presentation has an automatic wheel and one presenter often looking silly, and Channel 5's commercial presentation of SuperCasino used to have a presenter and a "trained" spinner of the precision craft-built wheel. [In fact it varies between one and two.] I have never gambled on any and I never will, and for the reason why see my website.

But what my two friends insisted upon, and I know another of our drinking party on Tuesday agrees with them, is that it is all a fiddle. I insist it is not, because it does not need to be.

Their contention was that there is an algorithmic computer that instantly gets the biases of the bets on a throw to come, and picks the video to produce a number outcome to maximise profits. That this suggested fraud would finish their broadcasts, end their credibility, and lead to a hefty fine matters not, they said, because the television history of game shows is that these phone in and similar contests have been fraudulent, they were found out, they paid the fine, and simply carried on.

My argument is that there is enough profit in the structure of the game guaranteed, and so little to be gained by the elaborate set-up needed to cheat that it isn't worth the additional effort. I was told that I am not cynical enough, and that there is never enough profit for capitalism. But, against that, I said if the profit is guaranteed then planning can take place. All of these 'offers' are for new players, and there is every reason to have new players: not simply more profit, but more stability; these offers come with restrictions (to come within the margin of profit - 'free money', so called, is somewhat like the old Truck money in shops, at least for long enough).

One friend mentioned the button trick in the real casino to bias the result. But that's in a game where there may be say 50 players around the table. The bets will vary from game to game to a visible bias. And even then they don't. We agreed on a playing number of 100,000 per random number generation (I cannot discover any statistic): at that level the numbers are so great that everyone ends up betting on all the numbers more or less evenly. And if they just about don't on one number generation, they do over a small number of throws of the ball over the wheel.

That's the point, and the only point. The more players, the more certainty for the casino providers, and it is simply a means to create money. With huge numbers on just one table, fiddling a result is ridiculous. That was and is my essential argument.

There are all sorts of gambling fallacies that people come up with to suggest cheating, and my friends are not stupid enough to have mentioned any of them. One is that a string of say reds (or any other characteristic) makes it more likely that the black (other characteristic) comes up next time. The likes of SuperCasino do participate in this fallacy, calling them "hot numbers" and "cold numbers". If they were really hot and cold, then the wheel really would be wonky. Probabilities have no history: they are all future based.

Another fallacy is the strategy to win, which wasn't suggested, but which I volunteered in order to make a point. In a celebrated evening in a church hall raising funds many years ago, I took my roulette set. Children were losing money and going away. So I said, to a few, I could improve matters: bet on evens only, or reds only (all 50-50) and be moderate. When one wins a penny or twopence, next time play just the penny or tuppence, but if one loses then double up, and soon there's bound to be a win, and the money is restored and it will continue to build up. Soon children started to gather round because they could see others winning. Parents became interested too. But one by one, the children (their parents, watching with interest) ran out of coins, ran out of money. And when they did, I told them to learn a lesson: "You cannot win over the long run. Never gamble."

Something not mentioned at the pub. There is a book that I think has a million of five number sets, randomly generated. It is a very boring read, apparently, but does have some highlights. One is a sequence 12345 and another is 00000. They appear a percentage number of times. The book shows that when people complain that a number sequence is not random, it usually is. I also did not mention the fallacy that the universe is so critically and necessarily specific that it must be designed, otherwise it would collapse in on itself or fail to function. That's easy. I have a rule for this. Suppose a pack of cards has to be in numerical order for hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades and jokers in that order for everything to take place; if not all collapses and vanishes. But here we are, and we see that order of cards. We are bound to say, it MUST have been arranged: but no. The cards were dealt, from random arrangements, over and over and over again, collapsing any future every time (other than dealing cards). Suddenly, once, after billions of card orders, the magic arrangement appears and everything can go ahead and be stable. Stability is also evidence that chance happened. Indeed the longer something goes arranging and trying again, the more chances exist for the infinitesimal outcome to happen - and once it does, that's enough.

My friends attacked "economics" in all this (i.e. capitalism). No no, economics has this covered. What I did say at the pub was that roulette on screen and online generates profit through negative utility. Profit ought to come about from increased utility, cost but meeting need, but there is only a small 'entertainment pastime' utility in a gambling pastime (and it has a very steep marginal utility curve). Thus creating a gambling supply, e.g. a casino, as a form of economic regeneration is false, because profit is based on misery. Indeed, a want that is addiction is a false utility -  a negative demand. It deprives people. For all the winning names that the likes of SuperCasino display (something probably random or first in), the same sort of list can be shown of losers. And the probabilities and mass numbers mean that there are always more losers than winners, and each throw generates profit from losers who could know better.

Oh, SuperCasino says that it tests each precision craft-built wheel for random number generation. Number outcomes are shown being tested. Well, that is misleading, because a sequence of 11111 is as likely as 49318. And so on.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

On My Congregational Travels

This time my congregational travels did not take me far: local Methodists. Despite living in this house for nearly eight years I have not been there once. And as I said afterwards, back in 1980-82 I attended a youth fellowship group and made it into part of my Ph.D research, using the misname Risemere Methodist Church and compared it with an evangelical Anglican church in an estate. (One person who was a leader then is still attending now: he was 28 when I was 21. I'm 58 now. I recognised no one else, which is also a testimony to living an anonymous life even in a suburban village.)

It was perhaps the wrong service to view, because it was a special service for children especially and thus had a swollen congregation. There were forty mixed age adults and fifteen primary school children. I was told after that the congregation normally averages out at thirty. These children have a 'messy church' on a Wednesday, apparently. The fact is that there is this outreach, as there is to scouts and others. I mentioned going to a URC 'Fresh Expressions' service kept going by attendances from within, and because they'd gone home it was cancelled and so I went home never to return. (And it also has outreach into uniformed youth.)

A chap I asked outside tagged on to me for a few food items and drinks afterwards in the church hall, so I spoke to him and another chap in particular. I didn't speak to the minister. I didn't even know she was the minister until she called herself it during the service.

This service was the 'Wastewatchers' service, and the Master of Ceremonies (let's say) said if it was waistwatchers then he would not qualify. For his age he said he was 6 with another 6 after it. Good strong voice and I think it was amplified even at a distance. It seems these children had recently had a pretend wedding. A girl was the bride and a girl the groom, probably because of the fifteen attending Sunday only three were male. Like in a real wedding, they'd made promises, and these were "what Jesus would have wanted" like being kind and being good (etc.). The 66 year old, a rather younger female youth worker, giving her last hurrah before going off to Birmingham, and an in between (age-wise) female gave a sort of theological theme. If I have it right, it was something out of nothing, something special out of something, and then (I think - but I was flagging by now) look after it all (as in wastewatchers, I take it.)

Thus we had the creation, and then (the linkage) that at this wedding (where who got married wasn't mentioned) Jesus mother was approached and Jesus turned water into wine, which was better not worse towards the end, and then presumably living with these. The youth worker took a jug of water and concealing the bottom of the glass as she held it, tipped the water in and some pale blackcurrant colour was evident as the water rose up the glass. And she said that, as well all know, Jesus went on to perform many miracles, and this had been the first.

Thus in one fell swoop the whole point of the miracle stories was lost, and the notion of 'reluctance' to perform miracles in the text was lost. Jesus was God and he was a magician. Now I know the objection here to my objection: it's only for kids. So is Santa Claus. The whole point of the water into wine tale is that it is an allegory of the Kingdom of God. Is it that difficult to express that message somehow, even to youngsters. After all, some of these sermonisings throughout could only be captured by older people than the children present.

Interesting that there was only one prayer in this, with the Lord's Prayer afterwards. The hymns were one "television viewers think is the only hymn we sing," the wearisome All Things Bright and Beautiful, followed by a very secular marriage hymn and then some terrible indigestible Jesus cult hymn (as I see it) by Graham Kendrick. I can't sing such, and didn't, and, as I say, I was flagging by now.

I was interested that, even in a local Methodist church, there were four television screens (too small for the distance of viewing). One was high among the organ pipes, presumably for anyone using the balcony (a "health and safety" issue, said the 66 year old during the service and thus no one was up there), two were one each in front of the aisles, and one faced the preacher off centre. The audio seemed to come from the back. The chap who met me and chatted afterwards was a steward and he operated the computer that put the words on the screen. The wedding hymn had words too small, but the rest were easily seen two lines at a time.

Interestingly, when I told him afterwards over drinks and eats that I used to attend Unitarian services, he never batted an eyelid, but when he said he and a friend attended St. John's Newland to see how they did all their music and the rest I said, "Ugh," as it is a Reform and nasty homophobic part of the Anglican Church. I was talking about once doing the music via prepared CDs and also the magazine. He said how useful I could be at their place. I said of also once doing the website, although another person who'd also left did the website most recently, and did it well. I said of about where I lived, and the connection between my charity landlord and the church, and yes by historical accident there is this funding but also funding for a number of other churches relating to the charity's founder.

As for the past minister there I knew best, I knew more about his movements and his final rather frustrating ministry (too many churches) prior to retirement. However, an interviewed for my Ph.D 'Liberal Methodist' minister was a name my chatting partner seemed to recognise, and I said of his movements and where he has been now for a long time. I also told of a traditionalist Methodist minister, who was a high Methodist like Wesley was before he set out, and thus became a lay Anglican, married to an Anglican vicar in Lincolnshire.

The one person I knew there told me where other leaders back in the earliest 1980s had gone. He was just the same, even down to satisfying his charismatic leanings in other gatherings from time to time. Back in the 1980s he was frustrated by the traditionalism of the worship approach, but presumably it has moved just enough in his direction to keep him. But he was never likely to move elsewhere.

I had a good chat about my academic background (describing the Ph.D, the MA in Theology), what I'd done. He asked me if I'd ever considered being a minister myself. Yes, I spent a year at Unitarian College but, "I was too heretical for the heretics." And this is the point. It wasn't as if I was some local who just turned up, but came with a baggage and a preference that really rules me out of joining in with this theological expression. They may have said, "See you next week," (er, there isn't one 'next week') but I said I'd be out of the Unitarians for about two years and I retain one social link there.

That was the danger, and the resistance from me going there, that I'd be pulled in. I left thinking I may go again but not soon. I'm more likely to resume going the the Quakers, but again from time to time only. Theology matters. If you don't believe it, you cannot express it.