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.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Notes on a Successful Liberal Ministry

I am not involved in congregational religion now. From time to time on Sunday I will do no more than visit some churches and meeting houses in Hull, and get a sense of what is happening.

If I am asked, like on an application form, for my religion, I still put Unitarian: by which I still mean an open, evolving approach to faith, with an institutional identity and potential directions. If I am asked what my beliefs are like, I tend to say at the very liberal end of Christianity within Religious Humanism and something of a Western Buddhist soteriology. History and the limitations of doing history are important. I don't believe in 'cults of individuals' and so I follow no one. I am not a Christian in simple terms.



Nevertheless, I can still reflect upon what makes a successful liberal congregation and ministry.

For a liberal congregation to function well, it needs some characteristics and a ministry that draws the congregation together.

It needs to discuss: where its religion has come from and where it is journeying (directions). The notion of 'spiritual but not religious' gets us nowhere, a blank sheet that invites anything in. Because: the discussion has to be critical, has to discern the evidential and a consistency with the sociology of knowledge from the superstitious and interventionist supernatural. Identity and mission is important: that what happens is worth happening.

Yet such a congregation ought to give space: space for the quiet and for reflection. It's not all about discussion or content in the busy sense.

There should be a positive emphasis on including the other. It is unfortunate that not every congregation will be inclusive. Certain forms of religion attract certain social groups. Nevetheless the ethos should be inclusive socially and culturally: respect and expect respect. It's about breadth of vision and breadth of who is 'in'. Clearly the tribalist, racist, homophobe must be argued against.

From this follows a social vision that leads to practical action in the context of what a congregation can do.

If the church doesn't do reflective worship then it isn't really a church. There are many resources, traditional and liberal, and about identity, that can be used for reflection and contemplation and even generating a stance for action.

Hierarchy isn't always bad, but it ought to be justified by demonstrable spiritual experience, training, and emotional intelligence. Hierarchy is not an alternative to accountability, it should only exist with accountability.

A minister who thinks everything is down to personal leadership is going to come a cropper. Ministry is with the congregation, and a minister assists its ministry - not the other way around. A minister may help co-ordinate, but it is not that congregations are in the passenger seats with a minister doing the driving. A minister learns. Ministers do lose some people, and attract others, but a minister should always seek to keep who formed the place over time as others come in to add to change. Harmony means different notes playing together. A minister who loses people because of obsession with projects, or where others are said to frustrate his or her ministry, will simply cause the congregation to decline and argue, often out of earshot of the minister. Ministers should genuinely bring people on board, and not have a fake kind of 'consultation' whilst forcing schemes and intentions through, attempting to push a congregation one way or another.

Don't end up like this!

Of course there may not be a minister, in which case a congregation needs to develop patterns of leadership and service to try to co-ordinate and bring all on board.

A successful liberal ministry involves participation, gathering from the back to the front, and offering the benefits of training and emotional intelligence. In worship these purposes are nurtured. The congregation is the vehicle that requires careful driving skills, where the energy is drawn from the congregation.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Activating Web Links in a Text (HTML) File

This probably means nothing to most and is clumsy to a very few. But it works. And a more efficient method was sent to me that does not always work...

What follows is relevant to a piece of software called NoteTab Light. I have used it for years. every fortnight I make a webpage that I append to another webpage and upload to my website. It contains links to webpages that are labelled and described. The Pure Text editor will save a pure text document to HTML with paragraph tags and other essential code, within a template the user can make (as I have). But the links are simply as they were. You could copy, paste into the URL browser area and activate them that way. But as we all know, we click on links.

Many a Rich Text Format editor (it allows some formatting like bold and italic, a pure text file does not) will display links as active, but only a very convert to HTML with active links. Copywriter is one, but does not recognise https:// because it is old software. Other big Word Processers (with complex formatting) will not activate links until RETURN is pressed, and then saving to HTML produces ridiculously user-unfriendly complicated and repetitive code.

NoteTab Light has clips to do more with both flat text files and the HTML files (and XML). And I have written one that works and with one press activates all links in a file. And here it is:

^!SetScreenUpdate Off
^!ClearVariables

^!Jump Doc_Start
:Loop1
^!Find "http://" S
^!IfError END1
^!MoveCursor 1
^!Select Url
^!Set %url%=^$GetSelection$
^!InsertHTML ^%url%
^!Goto Loop1
:END1

^!Jump Doc_Start
^!ClearVariables

:Loop2
^!Find "https://" S
^!IfError END2
^!MoveCursor 1
^!Select Url
^!Set %url%=^$GetSelection$
^!InsertHTML ^%url%
^!Goto Loop2
:END2

^!SetScreenUpdate On

It depends on the very useful ^!Select URL, because it grabs the URL - although moving the cursor by 1 just makes sure you are on it rather than to its left. I like to make sure, so I have two loops so to include the https and the http. Each loop means the same instruction happens as the finding goes down the document and the 'error' is when there are no more URLs left to find. I am told I could use a ? for the s or no s in https and thus have one loop but I have not seen this ? in the help file. The screen writing is switched off so it is quicker. S also means a silent Find - no messages. I think screen updating comes on automatically at the end, but I like to be sure.

It's not my skill, such code writing, but I can see enough how others do it to put something together to achieve something else.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

They're Already Blaming Each Other

Many are no doubt missing the significance of David Davis's likely briefing against Prime Minister Theresa May via James Chapman, who worked with Davis until recently. He has claimed that the Secretary of State for Leaving the European Union had been "hamstrung" by the prime minister's stance on the European Court of Justice (ECJ), plus a few other matters.

The EU says its citizens in the UK should have access to the ECJ for protection, but May wants no role for any EU body after leaving. The ECJ is the European legal body for deciding disputes.

As well as apparently having a go at Philip Hammond the Chancellor for being inconsistent (as Hammond has a go at Johnson the Foreign Secretary), this briefing is an attempt to say that the negotiations would be going better without Theresa May's interference.

The essential problem is this: if you trade and have agreements, indeed if you have agreements on anything, there have to be bodies to make rulings. The obvious bodies already exist, but to want new bodies is quite an expense to add.

After all, the engagement with Europe will be on the basis of laws from treaties, and the ECJ follows the laws.

She even wants to come out of Euratom, the pan-European atomic energy regulator. This is daft, because Euratom is not part of the EU, but the madness is that the ECJ governs the free movement of Euratom  scientists. This is like dogma gone mad.

But the significance of this is that Theresa May still thinks she is calling the shots, but the cabinet are deciding via the usual methods that she isn't.

The reality is that leaving the EU is so complicated and so likely to end up in a mess that the Prime Minister is being targetted early for the blame. Pin the tail on the donkey.

If withdrawing, it is so much simpler to stay in the European Economic Area for the free market and the Customs Union to keep down the paperwork (and keep Ireland's north and south border invisible). It also helps Gibraltar.

However, do this and the UK whilst formally out is basically a satellite of the European Union. We do as it does, but without any say. We lose sovereignty.

At some point the reality will be come clear: it's between the cliff edge due to confusion or the status quo ante. Perhaps Europe might offer an extension on Article 50 to get a 'Cameron plus' deal whilst staying in.

People need educating on how we contribute to EU decisions and how this makes us part of a wide based institution for our benefit: economic, social, political and idealism too. To be a satellite of the EU is pointless: social and economic benefits, but no hand on the driving wheel, accelerator or brake. Crash out and we have no option but a diminished Gross National Product and decades of trying to get trade deals with countries we don't trade with as much as we do with the EU. There is no option in crashing out, but some Tory fantasists think we can become a cheap labour economy of low taxes and hugely dropped public spending. The latter is no longer an option. If we crash out we end up with hyperinflation and a high rate of unemployment that can no longer be disguised as at present (public spending on schemes, so-called apprenticeships etc.).

Maybe Chuka Umunna's single market amendment that was bound to fail was an early effort of a foundations exploration for a centre party, or some similar realignment. It takes the crumbling Conservative Party on its assertive single market left and the Labour right that cannot fathom Corbyn's Europe policy to a new place, with Liberal Democrats and some others, to argue for economic sanity at the very least.

It is time to call the bluff regarding the 'sacredness' of the EU referendum. It was advisory, an inadequate majority then, and an ill-informed campaign on both sides. People change their minds too. The Houses of Parliament need to educate people why we must stay in, and prepare the ground to do it.
  • Crashing out is disastrous.
  • The EEA plus Customs Union turns us into a satellite of the EU
  • Staying in preserves our shared sovereignty.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Whiff of More Tory Election Corruption

So we are being told by Channel 4 News tonight that the Conservative Party
allegedly paid for a call centre to canvas people afar and wide with Tory party slogans and naming their candidates by telephone, using people on zero hours contracts from a company that concealed its real name and pretended to do research.

Let's take this a bit further. Imagine you are a jobless person in Neath. You are told by the Job Centre to work for this call centre. No choice. Suppose you are a socialist or liberal or nationalist. You have to go on the phones, call people and recycle Conservative Party election cliches to recipients, many of whom are on the list to avoid nuisance calls - only genuine researchers can telephone such people. This is an abuse of political liberty. And it is alleged that this call centre was spending money for the election, for named candidates, to 'buy votes' and - if so - acting illegally.

Plus the fact that by being undeclared a call centre acting in this way intentionally calling people with and gathering data breaks Data Protection Laws.

The Information Commissioner says if wrongdoing has taken place, action will be taken. Would it not also be a police matter?

This may well find its way into the pot that could stink and add to the shaking that puts Theresa May out of office. After Thanet and all that, we have this prospect of more potential corruption, expenses for candidates undeclared, criminal offence activity. Surely she knew that a call centre was being exceptionally busy on Tory Party worked money. Her phrases were repeated by these telephone calls as soon as they were given. Something has to be done.