Sunday, 29 May 2016

Unitarian Theology Conference

On Saturday May 21st I went to Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester for the Unitarian Theology Conference.

I only decided to go just before the Rev. Ralph Catts, Hull minister, went on his holiday. I'd already said no to going to the General Assembly. This attracted me, but I was wary. I thought it could be largely a conservative event to be prescriptive in some impossible attempt to revive theology in Unitarianism. I'd already engaged in debates on the open to the public UK Unitarian Facebook page, suggesting that theological resources all around are quite diverse whereas this Unitarian conference would be all about identity, and a rather closed (Yale) postliberal view at that (to look, recognisably, like a Church, to have supporting theology).

I learnt that Manchester had selected free city centre buses these days, and one stopped over 200 yards from the chapel. It seems I did after all get off at the nearest stop, but walked down the wrong connecting street. I arrived five minutes late and overheated. Nevertheless, I started making notes from the off, and wanted to make a positive contribution.

And it was a lot better than I had expected. Stephen Lingwood did admit to being somewhat (Yale) postliberal in his stance regarding Unitarianism, but his proposal on the immediacy and unfolding of the Spirit seemed reasonable enough to me. The critique of it was better still, in that it employed many tools and indeed did ask why be attracted on the way by systematic theology? Really Melanie Prideaux should have critiqued every paper. Jo James produced a well argued selective history of the immediacy of the Spirit in radical egalitarian groups from the left wing of the Reformation and proposed the relevance of the Spirit today - it can unite where various positions among Unitarian pluralism put people off. Trouble is, the Spirit doesn't help, of itself, co-ordinated organisation. David Steers' paper was not so much towards the twenty-first century as to go back to back to the nineteenth. It was narrow in sympathy and lamented a denomination going somewhere he'd rather not: but if the UUA isn't relevant for British Unitarianism then certainly religion from Northern Ireland isn't. And hopefully that religious culture will be changing as confidence grows about a more modern less clerical Ireland, and non-subscribers won't be able to ride its back for so long.

I tackled David Steers' paper first, because I thought it would have been first. I realise it probably would have been last anyway. So rather than everything improving afterwards, it might have left a bad taste in the mouth. Why was it the 'keynote speech' when Jo James's talk was far more intellectually robust and useful?

Hopefully, this is the first of many such conferences. This was conservative biased, but that was bound to be the case. There is suspicion about theology in Unitarianism: that it is still Christian, that it tries to say one thing and mean another as in the so-called mainstream. Theology can come from below, and that was said enough to provide at least the prospect of alternatives.

A key idea emerging from the Conference was Unitarians restoring a chain of memory, to discover, theologically, how they got from there (e.g. Martineau and Luther Adams) to here (pluralism - classifying the positions, classifying the subjective turn in spirituality or the postmodernity of positions). It's worth the effort.

These lectures and sound files I've also done are on the Pluralist Website, in the Learning Area, the Religion section, and the ever-expanding Unitarianism part. A recent addition there, on the Unitarian 'Harmless Freedom' alternative history ties in very well with Jo James's presentation.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

BBC Bias and Missing the Real Story

The BBC News has become tedious; it is biased in its emphasis on Labour's weakness, and seems not to realise there is yet another reason why Conservative weakness should lead to an early General Election.

I know that it is a feature of the blog world to run conspiracy theory including the reporting of BBC journalists, linking the BBC reporting to a corrupted BBC Trust and government connections. I don't know about that, but there does seem to be something profoundly obsessional about Laura Kuenssberg and her reporting, among others. The weight of the focus is on Labour and its inadequacies after the local elections. Meanwhile there is next to nothing on the 27 MPs where there is apparent evidence of overspending so that we are having policies inflicted upon us by a corrupt government. Channel 4 News has made this story, but with police forces taking up investigation it should now have made BBC News. Nor has the BBC News criticised the timing of the government's about face regarding compulsion and school academies.

Now I'm not saying that the BBC News is like Russia Today. Russia Today is corrupted journalism. It puts out opinions as news and lurks in its own conspiracy theories as a way of slinging mud in various directions. Its journalists have sold out - there might be little option of course for them. In fact the channel is misnamed, because it rarely features Russian news at all, but goes on and on about the United States and less so the United Kingdom. When it features direct Russian policy, e.g. towards Turkey, it shows its bias without shadows and interferences, but on other subjects it seeks to undermine by speculation. Only occasionally does it feature an insight clearly missing from BBC News and Sky News etc..

Rather, BBC News is timid, and frightened of a government that has salami-sliced the licence fee and cut its budget heavily, and fears worse. Imagine if Channel 4, in fear of privatisation, had told Channel 4 News to go easy on the corruption story regarding Conservative Party election expenses. Meanwhile, in order to be investigative, BBC News weighs-in to Labour, if it analyses the Tories with any intensity at all.

The Labour Party has more than a problem in Scotland, of course. But the analysis is that devolution has so cut the direct link so that the Tories can now redefine and recover north of the border. It is precisely the distance from Cameron and Osborne that has allowed its redefinition as a broader yet Unionist party. The Conservatives chose one side of the faultline in Scottish politics, to anti the SNP, and has replaced Labour that was tainted with a Unionism and a London semi-Toryism before further devolved powers happened.

This faultline does not exist in Wales, where Labour held on far better than might have been expected, especially with UKIP picking up disgruntled and simplistic ex-Labour voters, the old Tory working class voter that blames others for things that have gone wrong. Labour also held up well enough in areas where it would have been expected to have been in meltdown.

And in London Labour showed what a positive multi-ethnic campaign can do, compared with a horrible Tory campaign. Sadiq Khan is regarded as a politician of strategy and integrity.

What is missing in the BBC analysis is that Jeremy Corbyn is a slow burn as he maintains his integrity. This integrity is attractive and, whatever doubts one might have about him as a politician who can wield a knife, a decisiveness sometimes necessary in decision making, the man has this attractive integrity. He says what he thinks, and he actually stands for a radical alternative. He is contrasted with Cameron the PR man, who fakes his interviews to then 'rush off' oh so decisively, who fakes his performances in speeches and visits, and has back of a postcard policies regularly sent off into U-turns (thank goodness) and who, one thinks, believes in one thing - privilege and himself and his pals near and far.

Where in the BBC is there an analysis of the wealth economy, for example, and how it works. Paul Mason told us, once he arrived at Channel 4 News temporarily. He did actually explain Corbyn's alternative.

Now I, along with many, maintain that the European Union in-Out Referendum is entirely about the Conservative Party and the electorate making a decision that the Conservative Party cannot (rather than a policy that is so deep and changable from the present that it needs a popular vote beyond the role of our representatives). The government wants us to stay in Europe, but to solve its party's angst wants a popular vote to confirm what continues.

Except, if the BBC was doing analysis properly, it would discuss the weakness of Cameron (and Osborne) whatever happens. If the vote is to exit, Cameron must resign and take his Chancellor with him. But if Cameron wins, his party will cry foul, and will become wreckless. The BBC seems to take the lead from the agenda set in an increasingly unimportant national press or government announcements. We know why Sky News does this, but BBC News ought to make its own decisions.

If the BBC cannot analyse then it ought to adopt the stance of C-Span in the USA, which is that of utter neutrality plus some history and let voices speak for themselves.

I have predicted an early General Election because of this European dimension, but I also predict one now because of the electoral corruption. One way to overcome 27 potential by-elections and punishment by the electorate for cheating is to call a General Election. No doubt the BBC will continue to focus on Labour and its weakness. Don't be so sure. The coming General Election will be a sign of the Tories' weakness, both as a result of the referendum and as a result of allegations of corruption.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

An Eighteen Year Gap

I did actually order this, in a free service online and wasn't sent it or notified. But I went searching yesterday, and found it. It's my very own Ph.D thesis. I was never able to keep it because it was created and edited on an Amstrad PCW 8256 and the reading of the 3" disks went funny. I was unable to transfer the content on to a second disk below, size of 3.5" floppy disk, as became standard. Through the post (in those days) I obtained software to change the CP/M of any disk to DOS, to contain unformatted text files, and thus transfer content unformatted to my new PC computer running Windows 95. It wasn't long before Windows 98 appeared, but was a very long time before I used Windows 98 (and that was on a second PC computer when I had Windows XP! I jumped from 95 to XP via a new computer construction and purchase). All the time my website had the MA dissertation, as I did that on MS Word via Windows 95, but only summary and derived material relating to the Ph.D. I also lost a novel on these 3" disks. I never found a temporary or any PCW or any service by which to claw back this material.

But now someone else has done it. All I can say for these hybrid Optical Character Reader (OCR) scans into a .PDF is that they allow the user to extract the real text and correct it against the image of the text. My Ph.D image shows the Locoscript font and dot matrix output. Back then I wanted to print it out myself, despite the slow printer and danger I might knacker it for page after page. I was advised before the operation that it was only just acceptable - I wanted to avoid printing it in bold. I did avoid this. It did need new ribbons however and many of them. The given tendency to overuse a ribbon was not an option. Once it had gone round once that was it - replace and the next one.

I remember the disappointment of all that effort and discovering mistakes, and my tutor just saying it's OK enough and correcting by hand. I tried for replacement pages in my copy, but this scan shows the crossing out and of course the OCR can't handle the handwritten replacement.

Anyway, here is the thesis.PDF and it is a wopping 15 mb because of all the page images. Of course I am working on a text version, with so many corrections to make. My usual method is to make a webpage of it all - very long! - and indicate where the page breaks were in the original for people wanting to use it.

My view is it is open for others' uses. Now a John Seed years earlier wrote a Ph.D thesis on the social structure and middle class culture of Unitarianism. Completed in 1981, the fact is that it contains material I have not seen before (as well as some I have). The link I give to it is where I found it, but I have produced extracts relevant to Hull on a webpage and that is where the link is found. I note that this Ph.D was typed, and had some inserts for missing Part 1 and Part 2 titles. The text scan underlying it isn't too bad but far from mistake free.

With these updates I have taken the opportunity to remove the Learning Area Sociology of Religion menu links to Social Science only, and my own academic work with Ph.D is more accessible now. In Social Sciences my academic work used to jump (and still can) to an explanatory page for a list of items. This was an inheritance from the website in its earlier days.  Now the Religion area is more purely Religious Education and its subsets, including Theology and the Social Sciences section has a more immediate menu of this material.

I am aware that some items can appear in several sections. Local religious history could appear in Religion, History and Localities. There are some multiple menu links but mostly I try to keep with one. Nevertheless some rewritten Leonard Chamberlain material is in the Localities Area because it is about places where he functioned and where his legacy continues. A rewritten piece on the Charity of Chamberlain is in the Localities Area. History I want as much about issues of doing history as well as about history.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Website Updates

I've been busy with my website, so here are some updates that have taken place. A number of introductory pages have had menu improvements for less scrolling and more clicking. Partly this is due to increased content, so here goes.

Much has been added to the Localities Area (its menu improved). I sorted out a lot of information regarding the comings and goings of Hull Protestant establishments into a time-order and denominations webpage. My fantasy proposals for London Rapid Transit must be complete now, with more geographical and diagrammatic maps. Meaux and the abbey (now vague remains) gets a page. Leonard Chamberlain, as according to his Will, did not own the land, but the Trust does now. Selby had some Trust housing changes in 1970. Back in Hull, although the Bowl Alley Lane Unitarian chapel ceased to be that in 1881, personnel connections with it continued. Sutton-on-Hull had a railway station, so this describes what it was like.

In addition, the opening of the new Unitarian Church in Park Street in 1977 has a revamped webpage that shows the full service in the Unitarian Worship section of the Spiritual Area. There will be no more Galapagos Penguin articles in the Hull Unitarian Magazine but it will give a link to where people can find what happened to Juan online in the Fictional Area. As I edit my novel, updates go there from time to time as well.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Bedroom Tax End. Careful What You Wish For.

We were told after the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith that there were no further plans to cut welfare. However, the Budget was a shambles and shown to be no more than an accountancy fiddle of the stupidest order. In this sneaked out news, Stephen Crabbe still maintains that he isn't cutting welfare, but he is. We all wished for it, but the Government's announcement that it is scrapping the Bedroom Tax should fool no one (especially as George Osborne is behind this, of course), as it is being replaced by the so-called Second Person Subsidy.

At present, if you are in social housing, a spare bedroom means £15 off benefits and £25 if you have two spare bedrooms. It is mean, nasty, targets the poorest, and tells all you need to know about this government and its predecessor. So ending the Bedroom Tax it sounds great, until you realise that the Second Person Subsidy applies to everyone receiving the new Universal Credit regardless of accommodation type - and (given the drift of criticism that they were always protected) applies to pensioners too.

Anyone living alone will have an immediate deduction of £15 from the Universal Credit. But it isn't just unemployed people who will get Universal Credit. It is the working poor, it is people whether they get Housing Benefit top-ups or not. The basic State Pension will also come under Universal Credit, and thus everyone gets clobbered regardless.

Talk about 'Universal'. The government thinks that even single houses have one double bedroom as a minimum, so the idea is that if we all move in with each other we suddenly free up the housing stock - not just rented housing but private housing too, helping towards a downward pressure on houses mainly from the cheaper sector. But if we don't, then the government cashes in from everyone affected starting September.

What we have to do to avoid this benefits penalty is couple up. September 1st then is the target. So straight away I am going to increase my efforts to find a woman, particularly a woman who herself is facing a loss of £15 a week - £30 a week recovered between two people! I shall have to put lots of effort into this, to get a new woman into my bed. Presumably the government also thinks this will increase the national birthrate, although surely not when it comes to pensioners shacking up with each other. But then everything works at the margins and by percentages. And the trade figures are the worst they have ever been.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Gone Missing

I have submitted this story to Newsthump:

The Metropolitan Police are launching a missing persons enquiry after reports from concerned politicians that a man has gone missing from the Downing Street area.

A man identified as George Osborne, who sometimes responds to the name 'Gideon', has not been seen for many days now and police are growing increasingly concerned for his mental health.



He was expected to appear in the House of Commons or thereabouts on Monday 20th March. He was last seen presenting a Budget and listening to immediate reaction before going missing.

Psychological profilers think he could be very depressed. The Budget began to unravel almost immediately as its main money grab against the disabled was exposed as unacceptable even to mad Tories and the rest of it was analysed as an accounting swindle.

Then one of George Osborne's long standing friends, a Mr Iain Duncan Smith, who sometimes responds to the name 'Bastard', came out and said some very rude words about George without actually saying any rude words about him. Police are keen to interview Mr Duncan Smith, who first appeared all across the TV screens and then, in his own way, vanished for some hours. He is expected to reappear in public, however, as he is always keen to be noticed.

Police issued a late statement about their investigation, that concludes: "With any luck he will be in the Thames, because that way, with the cuts to policing, it won't take long to drag him out and arrange his political funeral."

Sunday, 20 March 2016

IDS: Reading the Lines

Look, I have a sociological background, and I don't just 'not forget it' but embrace it. And one of the dictums of sociological research is to listen and take people at face value before any analysis. It is a very important point: you can talk about motives but the expressed motive must be given its place. The more hidden motives may not be personal but institutional and systemic.

So I listened to Andrew Marr interviewing Iain Duncan Smith and also a bit of Faisal Islam. IDS is clear that his entire motive for action is around his particular interest put into this job.

He is on the side of the angels, although he leaves "morality" to "churchmen". He wants the Conservatives to have a method and means of social justice, to support the poor. But he has to make compromises. Against analyses like mine he says he has no motivation regarding his known Eurosceptic views.

What he does is gives us a view inside government, that since the coalition forced cabinet government, government now is - well Marr put it as "Ant and Dec" in charge. There is a chaos to policy formation because things get proposed and then withdrawn somewhat without best communication to the department with direct responsibility. Second, he wants to reform a system to help those who even would not vote Tory, to have the Tories as properly a one-nation party, whereas it comes under the Treasury cash-cow extraction approach, one that takes away the welfare to work incentive in IDS's proposals.

So I listen, and think well, maybe, just maybe, I have been too sophisticated in my political analysis. He really is approaching this from his narrow oh-so-inclusive view.

And then I have problems, and not just with his "compromises" and collective cabinet responsibility. For example, how does he justify the Bedroom Tax, which penalises the poorest on a failed analysis of forcing people into non-existent one-bedroomed properties? How does he justify the sanctions targets, by which DWP "Work Coaches" (but no work, no coaching) had to select out people who failed to turn up on time for an interview or didn't make the arbitrary demands for job seeking numbers? How does he justify the Universal Jobshite website that turns agency adverts into repetition (now even the same agency on the same day, never mind different agencies and one job, and repetition day after day) and therefore a deluge of pointless applications thrown away by agencies? Why did he argue for privatised overseeing of applications where people who would have got jobs anyway got preferential treatment and the difficult cases were 'parked'?

But, more than this, the DWP having to face cuts to its projects is no different from the Home Office facing cuts to the police forces, so that they have been rendered more and more ineffective.

So, devoid of sophistication, the other charge is naivity. He has proven that the Conservative Party and its chosen agenda of cuts is no vehicle for the necessities of social justice. The shell cannot contain that egg. Even under Liberal Democrat vetoes to the elitist agenda, the actions against the poorest were vicious.

And is he really that naive? Does he not realise that timed like this, the effect on the Chancellor is very damaging. He did refer to the Chancellor but his general praise for performance was for Cameron the Prime Minister. I think in his comments he 'overcame; his policy feud to include the Chancellor, probably realising that he had mentioned the PM exclusively rather too often.

It may well be that IDS has his project, as he sees it. But he is also a politician, even if not a very good one. He surely understands politics to the extent that it has another reality to it alongside simple policy mechanisms. There is support, and there is undermining. There is timing. Politics is an art as well as a process. And so I am back reading between the lines.

It is perfectly possible - I have done it myself - to argue purely on the issue at hand and yet know precisely the wider impact of the argument. Will it weaken that person and what they stand for, will it sink the ship, and does the ship sail in a direction that, therefore, one is in the wrong ship.

If he made arguments about supply side economics in the Labour market, this might make sense, but it is not the only sense. The fact is that this Tory party has long abandoned the inclusiveness of Heath and Walker and even (to a more limited extent, and another part-performer) Major. It is an elitist party with that agenda. I accuse Iain Duncan Smith of naivity, and also if he cannot see the European dimension of what he has done (the Eurosceptic nutjobs certainly can, and why they have called him 'principled' etc.) then he really is a crap politician.