Clearing out stables?

2AP1TD2-b598c7937e0cb7c3ddb3d98f6d897d82Isolation, distancing, handwashing

I understand some of the reasons for what we are told to do.

I understand the vague concept of herd immunity, but not the ins and outs of it in this Corona virus phenomenon, which, I gather, is not like other viral epidemics. As a medical student, I never took to epidemiology. It is mathematical in a way that probability and statistics are mathematical, and they always provoked mild panic in me.

In the mid-1970s, virology wasn’t much in evidence on the medical course. As for handwashing, the Professor of Microbiology, one P A Boswell, told us that since urine is sterile but hands are most certainly not, men should wash their hands before having a piss, not after. That has stayed with me.

But …

In an idle moment in Dublin several decades ago I did one of those personality questionnaires that appeal to vanity. It told me that I was more than a little fatalistic. Oddly enough, for such questionnaires are often drivel, I could see that there was truth in that verdict. I am indeed.

So despite my unwilling, chuntering conformity with most instructions from on high at present, a large part of me thinks we should remove all restrictions and let nature take its course.

People will die.

People will die anyway. Part of the present hysteria stems from the expectation that “I can live for ever”. The NHS panders to the notion of immortality and to the notion that at 70 I should feel as good as I did at 20. And it encourages irresponsibility in that people think they can do what they like in the expectation that the NHS will sort them out. In this regard, the NHS is complicit – but that’s another story.

People say “we should protect the vulnerable”. Why?

Both Susan and I are in the at-risk category, or soon will be. One of us is 70, the other 69. One of us has diabetes-2, the other asthma with a propensity to chest infections. One or both of us might die. But that’s going to happen anyway.

If treatments must be rationed, I can’t see why I should be favoured more than younger people with dependants. I have a great future behind me: theirs is in front of them. There is a discussion to be had on the allocation of resources in hard times, but it seems nobody will have it. Instead it all comes down to unexamined “motherhood and apple pie” sentimentality.

Earth cleanses itself

I’ve never had any doubt that there would be some catastrophic event that culled humanity. I’ve wondered about an eruption of the Yellowstone caldera such as may have wiped out dinosaurs; or an extraordinarily large eruption of sunspot plasma that would completely disrupt the earth’s magnetism, electrics and electronic communication; or wars over the availability of water; or MRSA; or viruses.

There are too many humans on the planet. Nature will deal with it.   One thing I’m sure of is that if humanity is wiped, viruses and bacteria and archaea and insects and … will still be around, so evolution can get to work again.

It’s extraordinarily arrogant of humans to expect that other creatures of this earth, including viruses, should stop doing the what-comes-naturally for the sake of human comfort.

I am in control of nothing. Thou art in control of nothing. He/she/it is in control of nothing. We are in control of nothing. You are in control of nothing.

They, viruses, have the future in hand.

I can probably survive like this for a week. The prospect of 12 weeks makes me reach for a sharp knife with which to slit my throat. Of course it’s possible that economic factors will mean no pensions, lootings, hyperinflation, supermarket fights, no food, so I could well have died before then through inanition.

It will do me no harm to live day by day without expectations, even though I find that extraordinarily difficult.

Sex

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Lunar landing

As some of you will know, the church has its knickers in a twist about sex.

The church—be in no doubt about this—talks bollocks. One of the reasons it can’t recognize balls is that it’s stuck in the past (“surely not” I hear you say) and it ignores biology, the most fundamental thing of all.

So to get the juices flowing, and in preparation for things to come, I offer you this.

Structure

The gonads of the early embryo can develop into either testes or ovaries. It seems that the ovary develops unless hormonal conditions at a certain stage of development ‘switch’ on the testis, as it were. The female is the default setting. Very rarely (1 in over 80,000 births), an individual may have an ovary on one side and a testis on the other, or a gonad may contain both ovarian and testicular tissue.

The ovary stays more or less where it started, but the testis descends into the scrotum. Undescended testes, this descent having been arrested, are common: about 3 in 100 male births. In a sense, an undescended testis signifies incomplete male development.

The clitoris and penis both develop from the same embryonic precursor. The female, again, seems to be the default setting. Penile congenital anomalies such as hypospadias, where the opening is on the under surface of the penis, are surprisingly common (some say 1 in 300 male births). They can be regarded as varying degrees of reversion to the female anatomy. How small does a penis have to be before it is a clitoris? If you’re interested, there are websites (so I’m told) that show all sorts of penile anomalies and how some people have them modified.

The scrotum and the labia majora develop from the same structures: the scrotum is the two labia sewn together. You can see the ‘seam’: you’ll need a mirror unless you have a tolerant friend. How large do labia have to be before they become scrotum-like?

Every adult male prostate gland contains a vestige of the precursor of the uterus.

Every adult female has structures that in males develop into the tube conveying spermatozoa from testis to penis.

Some people are born with external genitalia of one sex and internal genitalia of another. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be neither one thing nor the other—a girl may be born with an abnormally large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a small penis, or with a divided scrotum, like labia.

Structural anomalies in the male are more common than in the female, though you may recall the fuss about the South African ‘female’ athlete who was reported to lack both ovaries and uterus.

Chromosomes

Normal male: XY chromosomes. Normal female: XX chromosomes. The incidence of newborns that are neither XX nor XY has been put at about 1 in 1700. Here are some examples:

    • XXX: 1 in 1000. Female, often no other manifestations.
    • XYY: 1 in 1000. Male, often no other manifestations.
    • XXY: Klinefelter’s syndrome. 1 in about 1000, often sterile, males with female fat distribution. May never be diagnosed, so may be commoner than we think.
    • XO: Turner’s syndrome. 1 in about 3000. Appear female, nearly always sterile.
    • Mosaic, some cells XX, some XY. Very uncommon.

Psychological sex – ‘what do I feel or experience?’

We know very little. It seems that a part of the brain may be switched on to ‘I think I’m a male’ at a certain stage of development. It seems, again, that the female is the default state. There are reports of people who feel as if they have been born into the body of the ‘wrong’ gender. There are reports of an area of the human brain that in homosexual men is more like that of heterosexual women than that of heterosexual men: male body, female brain perhaps.

  • If a man admires or envies the muscularity of a male athlete, does that mean he is homosexual? Do rugby players who grab their opponents’ bollocks in the scrum have something else on their minds?
  • If a woman admires a Rubens lady of generous proportion, does that mean she is lesbian?

My view is that we are all on a sliding scale of sexuality, and we move to and fro. But the unfashionable truth is that we don’t know much for certain.

Defining man/male and woman/female

We simplify sex categories into male, female, and sometimes intersex, for cultural purposes. This is unsubtle. There is much scope for naturally occurring structural and chromosomal anomaly, and a spectrum of psychological sex.

Pleasure

To what extent did ancient writers associate procreation with sexual intercourse? In Biblical times, the roles of ova and spermatozoa were not as we know them today. It was held at one stage that semen merely initiated the development of the embryo in the mother, and at another stage that a spermatozoon contained the miniature human and that it was ‘injected’ into the mother, who was merely the vessel (oven) in which the embryo grew. (As an aside, both these shed interesting light on notions of virgin births in Biblical times, even accepting that virgin as we understand the word is the correct translation – which it isn’t.) This matters to the same-sex debate, because it is relevant to whether or not the ancients recognised the importance of pleasure in sexual intercourse—what we might term the psychological “reward” effects that come from the flood of endorphins released in orgasm.

If we say that sexual pleasure is banned, and that intercourse is only for the purpose of procreation, then intercourse must be restricted only to those times in the menstrual cycle when conception is possible. This turns current Catholic teaching on its head, for using the safe period for the avoidance of conception should surely be just as much a ‘sin’ as using a condom. Catholic teaching logically should restrict intercourse to the unsafe period.

So, how do we define man and woman?

  • Inspecting genitalia mightn’t give a definite answer, and who would be daft enough to suggest it?
  • Chromosomal tests might not be a reliable indicator of what gender the person feels.
  • Assessing the ability to engage in vaginal intercourse might do the trick. Doubtless assessors could be appointed by the state – a job for voyeurs (what’s wrong with voyeurism?). If one or both partners were infertile, then intercourse would be only for pleasure, so there might have to be pleasure police.

Conclusion

If we say we are certain, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Misconceptions

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Stalagmites in the Philippines – or are they?

Sorry, girls and boys and all stations between in these woke times, but this piece is a bit churchy to start with. If you stay with it, it becomes less so, and then rather exciting.

Christmas is over again. Somewhere in the last few weeks you’re likely to have heard the word virgin. You may even have heard it in the context of the Biblical nativity stories. If so, you should know that the use of virgin arose because of a mistranslation long, long ago of the Hebrew almah –  a young woman of childbearing age – which has nothing to do with what we call virginity.

That mistranslation – GOK when it happened – has completely fouled up Christianity and its attitude to sex.

Theories about the paternity of Jesus have been around for well over 200 years, but you’re unlikely to have heard them in sermons, mine excepted. We know nothing about where Jesus’ Y chromosome came from, but one thing’s for sure: Jesus wasn’t born parthenogenetically – he would have been she. That would be taking ‘wokery’ too far.

Some people who should know better think the virgin birth is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This is a mistake. That doctrine concerns the conception of Mary, not Jesus. The idea is that since Mary was chosen to be Jesus’ mama, she must have been special, sinless from conception. SWMBO has just interjected as I dictate into my computer “why?” A good question.

Let me repeat: the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is all about Mary. It has nothing to do with Jesus. IMHO it’s piffle, and if you read my MA dissertation available on this website (see Theotokos above, or click here), you’ll find out why. In short, we are all Marys. Mary is one of us.

So that’s another misconception.

Now to the modern day.

The phrase “fell pregnant” is often heard. “She fell pregnant”, or “I fell pregnant”. Obviously in the latter case the “I” wouldn’t be me: it’s reported speech such as you might read in the account of a court case, yer honour. SWMBO looms large in today’s wee fantasy: she’s just this minute told me that sometimes the phrase “catch on” is used, as in, for example: “they had no protection, but thankfully, she didn’t catch on”. This was new to me despite my 69.5 yeas of terrestrial existence, and my dissolute life.

There must be a positive plethora of penises, invisible and erect, cluttering up the pavements. How else can you account for “I fell pregnant”?

Imagine walking along minding your own business, tripping over something, and happening to fall, or catch on, in such a way as to find yourself “sitting” on an erect member ready to shoot. Incredible really.

Would this be an immaculate conception?

Reader, I have to tell you that I find the image of a pavement as a forest of sturdy cocks primed for action peculiarly mesmerising. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Or do I mean ecstasy?

Finally, I ask you to note that the correct word for the male member is cock. Penis is a Latin word meaning little tail, so merely a euphemism. Phallus is Greek for wooden pole. A cock is defined as “a short tube for the passage of liquid” – as in stopcock* (look it up if you don’t believe me). I suppose the use of penis arose when the matrons of ancient Rome needed a euphemism: “come on, Flavius, lunch is ready, so put your little tail away and go and wash your hands.” Imagine what would happen in our hospitals if doctors and nurses stopped using the Latin euphemism and started using the proper English word. **

So many misconceptions.

* or ballcock. So many opportunities for ribald utterances there.

** I thank my friend and erstwhile colleague Tom Farrell for this linguistic gobbet.

The Holy, Blessed and Glorious Onion

220px-Moscow_05-2012_StBasilCathedralEthical veganism having been declared a philosophical belief (here) provides me with the new religion I was seeking for retirement.

The onion has more than twelve times as much DNA as you or me, so I shall worship the Holy, Blessed and Glorious Onion. I can set up onion temples with onion domes. I can invent liturgies in which clouds of incense mask onion odours. I can make garlands of onions, wear them, and do with onions what SWMBO does with them when she stuffs a chicken.

I can still eat chicken, of course, because in the US it’s considered a vegetable. Some people are vegetables, so I can eat them too. To quote Jonathan Swift, who proposed eating babies to alleviate Dublin’s poverty problem (A Modest Proposal), “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee, or a ragoust.” I’m sure that well-cared for adults would be just as succulent.

A vegan was recently reported are saying that he didn’t like using buses because of the possibility that insects would be harmed in the making of the journey. Surely, that’s a certainty, not a possibility? Not only do I feel for the insect collection that develops on the windscreen and bumper, but also the poor dears that are squashed under the tires. I am well-known as holding the view that the only proper place for a cat is under the wheel of a heavy truck, but the possibility of an insect being squashed there is much greater than that of a cat being so flattened. Unfortunately.

Vegans need not only to ensure that they ingest enough protein, but also give serious consideration to what happens should they find themselves with an infection. You see, the things I really feel sorry for are our fellow inhabitants of planet earth, bacteria and viruses. The way that we use antibiotics in the genocide of these poor defenceless creatures is deplorable and indefensible.

Home thoughts from back home

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Michael Thomas Bass, MP outside Burton Town Hall

See Home thoughts from abroad

Observations and reflections after a Dublin Yuletide

It’s not wheat that bothers me, it’s yeast. It’s taken a long time for me to realise it.

In Dublin I stuffed my face more or less continuously for five days with soda bread, smoked salmon, and lashings of butter.

Not a bother.

Dublin airport fry-up at 8 am today, with one slice of ordinary toast, was another story. Copious sweating within minutes.

Soda bread – good.

Wheat – not good, probably.

Yeast – evil.

So the ideal place for me to live is, of course, Burton upon Trent—a town full of breweries with a pervasive hoppy and yeasty atmosphere. I think not. It’s God’s way of telling me that Irish soda bread is divine, which I’ve long suspected.

Change of subject

So far, Ireland has benefited from brexit with firms moving there from the UK. Whether that mini-boom continues remains to be seen. I hope it does for the sake of my Irish pensions.

But when my friends in Dublin raised brexit with me, they spoke to me in a “does he take sugar?” kind-of way, as if I, representing all the English, were a sad, self-harming imbecile. I assured them that I voted remain, but nevertheless I felt—feel—ashamed to be English. In truth, I’m probably not: more likely a mixture of Celtic, Viking and Slav.

My offspring are eligible for Irish, therefore EU, citizenship, living there since 1988 and intending to remain. One has, the other I think will. I don’t qualify, though if Scotland does the deed I could do it that way.

GOK what brexit will do for the island of Ireland. Economically I hope that the six counties and the Republic continue to grow together. Politically—who knows? A “border” of some sort between NI and Great Britain? What a bloody mess. Yet another example of the arrogance and ignorance of perfidious Albion.

Jonathan Swift would have had something to say. He is worth re-reading.

Home thoughts from abroad

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Royal Dublin Fusiliers Memorial

Oh, to be in Dublin now that nollaig’s here,

So I went, two days before Christmas.

Sunny and cold – my favourite weather. Some like it hot, others not. SWMBO says I’m a dog.

How can I tell its not England?

Well of course, there’s euro and speed limits in kilometres and elegant Georgian architecture and the green, white, orange trídhathach na hÉireann.

Ah sure, don’t waste my time: you’d expect them. Anything else?

Ermmm. Well now, let’s see.

  • Lots and lots of young people.
  • Lots of well-dressed people.
  • People from all over the world, some visiting, some at home here.
  • Happy looking families, you know, mum, dad, girls, boys.

Hang on a minute, you can’t say that. It contravenes woke gender fluidity stereotype laws.

Feck off.

  • Street corner flower sellers.
  • Cheerful faces.
  • Healthy faces.
  • Clean streets.
  • No really fat people. Haven’t seen a single one.
  • No people on mobility scooters. Haven’t seen a single one.

In Dublin now.

Election and empire

Untitled1To be honest, I haven’t been that bothered about the General Election.

Corbyn is unelectable in any circumstances: whatever the truth of the matter, he was and is perceived as pro-terrorist, anti-Semitic, and financially irresponsible.

I like many Labour policies, but I most strongly object to their murdering fetuses stance, their choose-your-own-gender nonsense and all that flows from it, the clamping down on dissent against illiberal “liberal” orthodoxy, and the Islingtonian sect mentality (the C of E is developing a similar sect mentality—thank God I’ve retired—but the C of E is irrelevant so it doesn’t matter).

I like some Conservative policies. We should. protect our borders. That doesn’t mean we should repel refugees: far from it, we should welcome them. We should expect immigrants to respect our society. We should  be thrifty. We should  take responsibility for ourselves, especially our health, for at present there is an expectation that the NHS will sort our stupid decisions (try to slither through the alcohol-induced vomit on the floor of A&E on a Saturday night). But I wonder when was the last time a Prime Minister was so openly dishonest, untrustworthy and apparently lacking in decency.

As for brexit, I voted remain. With daughter and son in Dublin and pensions in Euro, it made sense personally. There is something about togetherness that is admirable. Yes, the EU is run by seemingly arrogant, self-seeking and unelected suits, but one way to deal with that would have been to change it from the inside. But it is as it is, and Владимир Владимирович will be pleased.

But one thing niggles at me. I have this feeling that a very significant factor in the leave vote was concern about immigration. If so—I’ll be condemned for this—I rather suspect that it’s immigration not from the EU, but from the former Empire. Leaving the EU will do nothing about that.

Retirement 1

c2A recent post on the blog Thinking Anglicans (yes, yes, I know, smart remarks about oxymorons—very amusing I’m sure) told the story of two people who’d left the Church of England because of having been insulted and abused by regulars, both saying that they felt better for having left.

Now, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that what puts people off going to church are the people that already do, but nevertheless the observation set me thinking.

In a sense, I’ve left the Church of England too, through retirement. Even though in orders only since 2006, I’ve been associated with it since an act of teenage rebellion in the 1960s.

Teenage rebellion. Did I indulge in weed? No—well, not then. Unbridled sex? No—regrettably. Living in a commune? No—unless a basement flat on the South Circular Road near Clapham Common, where three boys shared a bedroom, counts as a commune (though that was later). The product of two Methodist dynasties abandoning the tribal temple for the Church of England? Yes, that’s teenage rebellion at its most revolutionary.

But back to the plot.

I know it’s early days, but I feel as if I’m working through post-traumatic stress disorder. Do other retired clergy feel similarly? Several have told me that for six months after retirement they slept a lot and couldn’t bring themselves to go to church. Me too.

What follows is not directed at loyal, hardworking and committed church members, but at the institution and its apparatchiks. For what stands out for me, looking back, is the way in which we are expected, even required, to ignore reality in order to pretend that the Titanic is unsinkable, that recovery is just around the corner, and that half-baked initiatives, cooked up by people that long since left the coal face for a comfy desk job, are the answer to our problems.

The truth is that the church has been in decline ever since the invention of the printing press, as a result of which people could read for themselves and didn’t need to be told what to think by priests. The fall since then has been gradual, with most recently, I think, the takeover by the state of welfare functions previously looked after by the church. The church has lost its purpose.

In making these analyses and drawing conclusions, there is of course a balance to be struck between destructive criticism on the one hand, and false hope created by rose-tinted spectacles on the other, but in church pronouncements and publicity these days there is rarely anything other than the latter.

In another life I knew a CEO of the “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” school. The culture of the Church of England reminds me of that. It doesn’t work. New buildings, even restorations and extensions, need to have sound foundations (did not someone say something like this two thousand years ago?), not on denial of reality, or on wilful blindness where elephants in rooms are concerned.

Any decent strategist knows that there must be consideration of “what ifs?”, of contingency planning, of alternative options, of disaster preparation. Instead in the Church of England, we have one kak-handed project after another, none seemingly based on rational detached analysis, and none monitored properly during and afterwards to see if the resources chucked at it have been well spent. Some are even justified on the basis of decisions made under the influence of the “Holy Spirit”. It is easy for us to deceive ourselves with groupthink that the truth is not in us.

I’ve been struck by the insidious nature of clerical institutionalisation, and in some cases its speed. It’s like the most virulent strain of antibiotic-resistant microbe. It infects some people even before hands are laid upon them. They speak clericalese, they think only in terms of the institution and the hierarchy, they never try to understand the point of view of a congregation member or a visitor, and they refuse to imagine what someone who’s never set foot in church – that’s most people these days – might see in the cold light of day.

This is a species of abuse. We allow it. We are complicit in this abuse by failing to ask questions, by failing to analyse events, by failing to make plans based on reality, by failing to be loyal dissenters, whatever the cost.

One of the Thinking Anglicans contributors writes that life outside the church is far healthier, and that it was non-church agencies that were helping him to recover. This is similar to how I feel.

My church at present is the gym, my wife’s the garden and nature. They are healthier than church, physically and spiritually, we meet people who smile more, who don’t require us to fill in forms and justify our existence, who have no expectations, and who are willing to help without conditions. Best of all, there is no attempt to use guilt and shame in order to control.

The church used to be an agent of beauty, a patron of the arts, using them to bring people to the Divine. I need to come to terms with the fact that I’ve allowed myself to be duped by it. Or perhaps that it has changed under my feet more than I ever imagined possible.