Saturday, 28 January 2017

Be Honest, Anglicans

It seems to me that if you are going to do religion at all, you ought to be honest. Sometimes it gets you into trouble, but in the longer run it is worth it.

Church of England bishops have 'done it again' with a pretty rotten document called Marriage and Same-Sex Relations after the Shared Conversations. The only reason it is "challenging or difficult reading" is because it is basically duff - of no useful interest to an outsider like me - but frustrating to anyone on the inside. Once again this sort of document promotes dishonesty.

So why should I be bothered then? Well, on one strong level, I am not. I am far more bothered about May meeting Trump and the press coverage around something that has a nasty smell about it. He's turned out to be every bit as bad as feared, and one waits for his wings to be clipped by other centres of political power. She turns out to be indecisive and making wrong associations time after time. At a coffee morning it concerned me how some folks just reflected the tabloid view of Theresa May - "She'll sort him out" I was told - whereas I replied no, this is just a tabloid way of raising someone up in their terms before knocking them down.

At least such in politics is fluid and moving. The Church of England hierarchy is, instead, stuck. It had all these conversations, with people risking their emotional necks, and the outcome is a reversion to some past dishonest 'working' of don't ask and don't tell. It doesn't work, however, when there is marriage for couples of different sexuality, and when 'discipline' can apply just the same when a Church has half a view of marriage. Proposing more proposing, writing about more writing, is all what there was: it's like looking for more long grass to kick something into yet again.

Some principles: sex and gender isn't binary; marriage is a personal and social statement of what there is and something about hope for its future; and such what is fundamental should be supported ritually. Christian Holy Matrimony is as much a construct as the approach of State and Society, and so meaningful rituals help mark and support the breadth of marriage. The Church of England is stuck in some narrow selective biblicism, its own Communion bias, and a selective ecumenism - no surprise, obviously, but it does mean it is stuck.

What puzzles me, however, is why people put up with this corrosive dishonesty. It is clear, if it ever was, that this Church is stuck between its own rock and hard place, and as much as the progressives push the sectarians will dig in. The progressives say the bishops are (at very best) disappointing, that all that heart-displaying was exploited for nothing, that the system is rotten, that these bishops are all signed up to this static state... and yet these folk stay for more. It is the State Church, of course, but this counts for less and less. There are choices out there! I seem to recall that James I vision of comprehension finally gave way to toleration when James II was replaced by William and Mary of Orange. From toleration came variety. And now the Church of England really does not represent much at all.

And yet the people who ought to vote with their feet retain a fanatical sense of loyalty. Has anyone wondered that this very sense of 'won't budge' is exactly what these bishops rely on in order to get by with their sanctimonious documents? If people really have no budge point, the authorities really will not move.

Try somewhere else. Set up your own, if you like the forms of Anglicanism. Cut the rope. Then note your own sense of liberation, and of those around you. It then won't matter what these little authorities say to themselves. This is the point: they really do not matter. They only matter because you let them have a sense that they matter over you.

And so, on this, I've no more to say. They don't affect me, nor my friends. The only thing I would say is that none of these bishops should be in the House of Lords, and our schools ought to have nothing to do with this form of religion. Beyond these public hang-overs, they can be then as stuck as they like. This situation is not being honest with anyone and it relies upon misplaced loyalty.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Why Jeremy Corbyn will Make Political History

What the Supreme Court has done is made a government intending to use a supposed Prerogative power have to use a Statute power instead. Constitutionally this is fascinating because it underlines now that every supposed Prerogative power comes under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court. Prerogative power was the assumption of residual Monachism -Royal Supremacy - and that the Ministers are indeed Ministers of the Crown. But it turns out now that the Crown is subject to the Surpreme Court: it and only it can confirm what is and what is not a Prerogative Power. Parliament can still decide what it likes, and the Surpreme Court cannot undermine the High Court of Parliament (of which Law Lords were once a part, within and part of it and functoning under the House of Lords), but there is no basis for any Monarch to have its non-interference in the making of powers. Its powers remain so long as Parliament permits, and indeed Parliament can remove Prerogative powers. One such was the power of the Prime Minister to call a General Election, acting in the place of the Monarch. But then Parliament can overturn the Fixed Term Parliament Act any time it likes.

The Supreme Court also upheld the supremacy of the UK over all devolved institutions, defining a difference between law and convention (when so much of the constitution is bedrocked on convention). The devolved institutions are simply not bedded in enough to acquire veto power -  a veto power because it has passed laws and granted rights that will be affected by removing from the European Union. It means that devolution is not woven into the UK, but is potentially here today and gone tomorrow on the whim of the highest level of UK law formation.

So, here we are then: an Act of Parliament is needed to grant the Government power to invoke Article 50. No resistance can come from devolved nations.

Some of us think that a Referendum given was advisory. It was clearly very significant, very legitimate, very advisory, but it was utterly flawed and of a moment. Having a referendum does not give its victors the right to bully everyone else into submission. Everyone has the right to make the argument against and the right to strategise to bring about a change of opinion either through representatives or by another advisory referendum to assist the representatives.

Some of us think that the argument to leave the EU is disastrous. It takes away the simplicity of trading. It takes away the theory of economic sharing leads to political sharing -  a means to peace. This means overlapping political formed economic institutions. It means a confederacy, where governments meet and make the critical decisions, often with veto blockings, but where there is a union-wide Parliament as well, one that should gain powers over time. The EU executive initiates Europe-wide legislation for the Ministers, and the executive also monitors legislation - and calls in the courts to enforce. The EU was the level to take on the multinationals, to deal with environment, to handle trade, to watch the power of power blocs. And yet actual governments made the decisions, working together, and had subsidiarity, for moving everything down that could be moved down.

But this was never presented to British voters: instead it was a diet via the popular press and more of bureaucrats and straight bananas, elites and lost democracy, a massive massive bureaucracy. Britain continued to wallow in its historical myths and the workers were as tribal as the daftest of old elites.

So we have to make the argument that the Integrated or Single Market is only a substitute on its own for having decision-making that constitutes its rules.

Here is why. If we in the UK negotiate a trade deal with the external EU, as we must, then the deal must be policed. It will be policed by us, and by the EU through its institutions. These will still have to rule. This is not even the full Single Market membership (as an outsider) but it is STILL subject to intergovernmental and EU rule-making. It will still cost money. It will still involve doing things we do not want. The membership of the Single Market simply means using the EU institutions as arbiters of equal treatment. It will still cost money. There will be, however, no policy input.

What we need is political leadership that starts with an intention to block giving the government Statute power to invoke Article 50. The argument, like the above paragraph, still needs to be made, in speeches and in papers. It also needs the argument from vision, from idealism, and against tribalism.

The Liberal Democrats are playing a game of requiring a referendum on the deal as a means by which, on not receiving such a promise, they can vote against Article 50. There is an argument for this, but I oppose referenda anyway because they undermine representative democracy. Referenda bring in substitute reasons for voting based on (or not) flawed campaigns and promises. But the Liberal Democrats are stuck between the rock of 'respecting' a referendum and opposing leaving the EU. The Scottish Nationalists (and indeed Irish Republicans and Nationalists) have an easier reason to vote against: their countries/ regions voted against.

Unfortunately, Jeremy Corbyn
shows all the leadership abilities of a wet sponge dry in patches. He wants the single market and all that, plus workers' rights, but will support invoking Article 50 anyway. So what if he doesn't get these negotiating positions from the government? Well, he'll support the government anyway.

Result is that the government can concoct any deal it likes; the vote at the end will be for 'Deal or No Deal' and if 'No Deal' results then it's straight over the exit cliff edge. Only the EU other governments can unanimously prevent us going over the cliff edge by keeping us in... Well done Jeremy Corbyn and your three line whip - your one contribution to British political history.

Time for some gathering of political leadership to the contrary of that nonsense. We need politics as information building and changing minds. Stop Article 50 now and make the argument as others try and bring it back in for invoking. Indeed it is likely that Jeremy Corbyn will be the one person who makes sure Article 50 does go through directly. Who'd have thought it?

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Current Need for Political Leadership

It's not about a 48% who want a closer relationship with exiting the European Union, it is about making the argument to oppose leaving the EU altogether. This is whether or not this Article 50 is invoked, whether or not it has to come through Parliament or the government thinks the executive can do it.

This is not something to be trivialised with name calling and labelling. The view that leaving the EU is a disaster for ethical, political and economic principles: principles of sharing with like-minded nearby political cultures in order that we come together as peoples, principles of economic overlap that turn into political overlap, with the ethics of peace and similarity, are too important to be lost in some transitional time vote that rarely had anything to do with knowledge and purpose about what the European union did.

What is needed now, I suggest, is a leading politician, and group of politicians, who are quite clear that this is a disaster and will stand to stay in the EU and make the argument. So far we have politicians who "respect" the vote and wish to see the best deal regarding economics. With a few exceptions, Parliament's politicians, who are representatives and not delegates, seem too scared to actually go beyond this limited resistance. Some may be going for cover while really wanting to stay in the EU. They are not yet 'declaring their hand'.

But what is required here is leadership, leadership that articulates the arguments now to stay, that makes the case that was never made within the limitation of the campaign. Even in the campaign, politicians for remaining in were luke warm in defending the EU. It was as if they were accused of calling it perfect. It's not about it being perfect - of course it is a long way from being perfect, and does have a democratic deficit - but the answer was never to abandon the principles involved by removal. But it's as if these principles were never discussed. Compare it with the 1975 referendum when the whole range was discussed. It's a historically disprovable to say that we were only going into a Common Market then: Edward Heath, Roy Jenkins, even Tony Benn in the negative, discussed the full range of implications of being members and the trajectory. Watch the Panorama debate where a young David Dimbleby sits back because he need not direct the respectful conversation between Benn and Jenkins. Nothing like that this time, in a terrible campaign both sides that is part of the argument for a bad vote. I'm against referenda anyway regardless, but the wrong campaigning, and wrong reasoning, and ignorance, all calls upon politicians to grasp the nettle.

We need a political A. C. Grayling. Had the vote gone the other way, there'd be no doubt that Nigel Farage would have been the political figure for that argument of removal on that side. He would not have given up. Nor should those who think we really ought to stay in.

Nor is it about this notion of unity in the UK. Unity was not there before, and not there now. It is not there among the population, nor is it between the UK nations, itself a unitary state than is starting to look more like a federation. Of course the European Union is a confederation, not even a federation, and this was never explained by its defenders. I cannot remember any information about how the EU actually works: how decisions are taken and why it is beneficial from a principled position.

Politicians may be being strategic: they are watching a government make a hash of it. There is a certain amount of holding back, before it becomes more obvious what a mess is involved. There are overlapping ministries that cause the decision making upwards to the Prime Minister Theresa May, but it looks like her absence of leadership, her indeed questionable competence, is causing stagnation, as well as the incompetence - indeed the amateurism - of the politicians we have available to run departments. This notion of 'it's your mess not you sort it out' is not good enough unless the mess they then go on to create can be stopped as it unfolds. The resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers and his reasons are only a symptom.

But this reality does call for clarity on the side of those who oppose leaving the EU. It needs a sort of government in waiting to articulate turning this around: making the argument to stay, and why the referendum is not some sacred object that must be obeyed.

When it comes to the General Election, it requires political parties. At the moment the Liberal Democrats are the nearest to offering the sort of resistance-to-reversal that is being suggested here. But it seems not quite, and the party is somewhat unclear, even if the most clear compared with muddled Labour and divided Conservatives (on what form of exit). General elections trump referenda: they are referenda with a manifesto, with a government intended. So what is needed is the Liberal Democrats to move position, but in addition individual politicians to declare themselves, rather in the manner of David Lammy and Sarah Olney. Kenneth Clarke probably will. These politicians can form an informal group, and may well be part of a possible grand coalition (as coalition is the first possibility to defeat the Tories, given the electoral arithmetic and Corbyn stuck in post ahead of Labour).

If the Supreme Court rules to uphold Parliament, those politicians who do not vote to invoke Article 50 will be the most obvious to clarify the politics of reversing this drive.

Reversal means not just stopping the nonsense of leaving but also making time for policies needed in this country for social reconstruction, policies that a dithering do-nothing Theresa May talks about but will have no time or resource to act upon. Leaving the European Union is so enormous an act in terms of law and policy and negotiation that scarcely little else is going to happen.

There is no reason to change view that this government is set up to fail, but it still needs leadership to formulate what needs to be done when it does fail.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Pluralist Magazine

Having resigned from doing a church magazine, I decided that I wanted to continue with something similar iin skill use for my own Pluralist Website. I could of course just make articles as webpages and add them in. And nothing wrong with that. Except of course they get lost into the generality of all of them. I can highlight new ones here, but that is only for those who visit here. So something up front is a little different, another emphasis, with a front page button access, as well as an extended definition of the 'Stories' Area, as renamed.

The idea then is to mix material along the subjects already as part of the website. In the previous magazine I did (that now continues with the church administrator under the same editor), there were a few intentional rules, given its main presentation was as printed out. One was to put main pieces facing the front, that is on odd page numbers, and lesser to the back. However, two page pieces were to be facing. Three then, the assumed maximum length, could be any three. All were to be continuous - nothing like in The Inquirer with its numerous 'continued on...'
Front and back were distinct: I preferred  an informative front and the back could be poster like: best was a colouring in, I thought. We settled on Trebruchet MS 12pt as most readable - I'd started on Arial 10 Bold, which didn't allow further emphasis. It meant for the A5 format very short articles. I wanted variety. I found myself not only editing pieces (prior to editorial decisions) but crushing some, losing some important detail at times. I didn't intentionally ever do bleed-through and what was therefore required ahead of printing (extra margin to assist cutting), so there was always a white border. Nevertheless a variety of software created a variety of appearance, as .PDF pages were made and combined into one document.

Now, with my magazine, and for online, some format decisions can be relaxed. The cover is similar (same in frame) to my previous magazine work, but the back is less critical. The front now contains the Pluralist logo and a flame that relates to Sir Cato Worsfold's Vestal Virgins, whilst in a kind of also mosaic chalice. I have abandoned an article size limit, but kept the Trebruchet MS 12pt font in an A5 size page. Also, articles can start where they will even though I still offer an alternative book order for A4 printing, in the online linking. I'm less worried about coloured backgrounds too, used with criticism before, although I keep them faded. They form a function of saying this colour means this article continuing. Some new presentation rules though include the consistent Google-like titles, often after an opening paragraph that starts with a drop capital, vertically two lines being enough (I like the Freehand591 BT for these enlarged opening characters).

So the first magazine - maybe quarterly but possibly more - is available.

It shows the long-gone Sutton-on-Hull railway station. Article 1 is about the end of Setam on Hessle Road in Hull, having contributed myself to very many Facebook Old Hull section comments (I did not start this) and making corrections to opinions expressed. Setam was part-managed by my long-standing friend. It is an essay an article on changes in retailing. Its Pluralist Website home would be in Localities or Learning/ Business and Organisations. The next article might be seen as some hoary old chestnut: 'Can Unitarians Be Christians?' In fact the question extends to who at all can be called Christian. It reflects my reading of Bart Ehrman (again) and a really good little book about Christianity in the Arab world, which serves to describe early Christianity broadly (with a little too much acceptance of orthodoxy as an early norm). So my piece covers how one does the historical Jesus and more on early Christianity, because in my view with varieties of belief and our cultural distance the decision to be Christian is about relating oneself and one's group in continuation from the early believers. Politics is next, with religion, on how the Liberal Party was involved in Trade Unionism before Labour got going. Fred Maddison went to school in Hull and failed to represent a Hull constituency in the city. This already has a shorter webpage in Learning - Religion - Unitarianism (local). Then a long article again on defining preaching in a pluralist and liberal setting, using an Anglican approach for comparison and contrast. This would be in Learning - Religion, probably under Unitarianism (national and international). Finally is the Nash Equilibrium, a puzzle with answers, with relevance to road space in Hull, that probably would supply a webpage in Learning- Maths. I was saving this for some time.

So there is the main pages order version, and then the back-facing (with front cover) and front-facing A4 print run versions.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

New Year Gloom

Internationally, locally and personally, 2016 has been an awful year. We've seen the portrayal of evil in Syria and related spilling out over the world. We have had cynical, nasty, if some places restrained, political leaders engaging in conflict. The xenophobic right wing has been doing its usual trick of hoodwinking the masses and making headway. The problem is that 2017 could be a whole lot worse.

The United States is about to lose a cautious, thinking, President for someone whose logic on many matters doesn't extend further than chat down the pub and is someone who jumps to assumptions at best. The newcomer isn't divested of his interests and we suspect his palliness with the Russians is because of longer term business interests, where corruption is rife and politics is twisted.

In this country we have a Prime Minister and Ministers who show themselves to be out of their depths - and their depths are shallow. They seem intent on pursuing an exit from the European Union despite all the damage it will do, and the narrowness of vision this involves. I am clear that a referendum set up for party political reasons and made as a gamble that went wrong should not be driving policy for a representative system of control over government. For decades political culture has pressed down on the tendency to tribalism, nationalism and racism, and now the can of worms has been opened.

The city in which I live has its year of culture. Best of luck with that. I regard it as ephemeral. Culture follows on from economic and social structures and forms, and isn't 'made up' - or at least shouldn't be. So I pay it little interest. For those who think otherwise, enjoy, and let's see if the various authorities cease from cocking things up as they have all the road works prior to and running into this particular year.

I've been on what is now in Orwellian speak called a 'Fitness Certificate' renewed several times. It will go through the State processes of being rendered ineffectual so a cycle goes on. Last year saw me declared diabetic, although in the last count I went below 48 (the key number: 42-47 is a warning). Over Christmas I might have gone over 48 again. I've never had so many salads and oily fish.

Next year will simply be a task of 'hanging on' and trying to keep afloat. That is the only goal. My religious involvement is being minimalised and I'll make it more personal and less collective. My friendships are precious (and one is having a serious life change: loss of a lifetime's work habit) and my potential relationships are unlikely to non-existent.


All around me though is where it could go all go seriously wrong. The scenario is an idiot President of the USA surrounded by his chosen business people. Pallying up to Putin, Putin nevertheless tests him on some matter of conflict. Being narcissistic, the stupid USA President reacts and everything spirals out of control. He is already making conflict with China, on the basis that he isn't into their business scenario and blames them for bad competition. The Chinese, we hope, are more rational, but they are building those islands in the sea. The British could add to the damage of the European Union, and its ideology of sharing and being peaceful, liberal and democratic is thrown into serious doubt. Already our Prime Minister has, over Israel's dangerous expansion into Palestinian land, sucked up to the President elect rather than the one with some brains. If this is the pattern to come, it shows the weakness of Britain coming outside of the European Union. In the end the political, social and economic environment shapes what happens personally.
Perhaps if we begin pessimistically then we won't be surprised, and things may actually turn out to be better. Things just look very gloomy, that's all.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Unicoms (Again)

On 4th to 6th November 2016 I stayed at The Nightingale Centre at Great Hucklow for what was still existing of the Unicoms Conference. I have now completed all the reports to make of the time there.

My own presentation on using Audio CDs in services was cancelled. There are plans to have it next year. The lengthy comprehensive guide is available now.

At Hucklow I (among six others) participated in James Barry's explanation of moving to a multisite version of Wordpress for a denomination-wide arrangement of websites.

Whilst I quizzed him on preferring directly designed and relevant websites for congregations, highlighting what is important, he said that even as a longstanding programmer (PHP and all that) he can no longer compete with the standard provided by such as Wordpress. (This rather questions going to these firms that offer bespoke websites!) Wordpress detects varieties of devices and browsers and appears to look the same everywhere via up to 40 selected stylesheets from which the detection makes choices.

Then I participated in Louise Reeve's presentation on specific church publicity, continued because it was being filmed for UK Unitarian TV. I took extensive notes, and wrote my webpage from these, the handouts and a glance at a sent set of resources of the original presentation made into one .PDF file.

Some ten or eleven attended that. I have put my piece as a webpage in the Learning Area Business and Organisation Section (because it relates to marketing).


Hucklow also included a walk out for filming towards a Paganism element in Unitarian video, but I did not go to that. I did check out an attempt to photograph a changing sky of stars with a body sat in front. It was on a hilltop at Bretton in the wind-making freezing cold, with the additional benefit of fireworks going off. So we went in the close-by pub.Three of four of us remaining for lunch on Sunday made ourselves useful by designing a questionnaire, which I have put in the Learning Area Business and Organisation Section (because it relates to marketing).

If I have any critique of this, it is tentatively to compare doing marketing with the success that is cathedrals and to suggest only that marketing alone is limited. Cathedrals clearly do marketing, and such thinking does not negate marketing, but what cathedrals have consistently is a management core that allows others to be anonymous by choice, usually within a large number or large distance from the core. You can still volunteer if you want. Cathedrals also produce a reliable worship quality. The theology is also fairly standard, if tending towards the more liberal, and a little high. It usually encourages some reflection and treats people like adults. Can these be reproduced in this somewhat different context? How to test for relevance of these characteristics as well?

Whilst it is right to target the most likely participant types, and to become known, there is much to be said for laying the produce on the stall and attending to: quality and consistency, theological explanation, and a system of greeting and letting be for newcomers with information and contact detailing that gives the new person (or indeed any person) space. Information on the walls is such a good idea, beyond a range of leaflets, simply because it involves least activity for the individual who may not want to read leaflets and booklets. Websites are fantastic for that leisurely, DIY, investigation, and thus so important to get them to be good.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Unicoms (Having Been)

Four of us at the end, six of us most of the time, ten at peak, and a conference of sorts: a very useful presentation and discussion on changes to the Unitarian denomination websites arrangement, a presentation on publicity (link soon), and a questionnaire from marketing principles regarding why existing people started to attend. Much will be repeated and updated next year at a properly advertised conference (whereas the talk had been that these had had a good run and would cease). This would mean me doing the audio CD in services presentation next year, although my pessimism about my continued participation in the Unitarian movement was evident.