Lesson from an old brown hen

Lesson from an old brown hen

Today started dreadfully.  It was cold, but sunny, as I started my rounds to feed and water the animals. When I opened the door to the first henhouse I was stunned with what I saw. A brown hen was in the middle of the floor dead, her head bitten off and near her body. The partial corpses of three small chicks were scattered around the base of the hut more or less eaten completely. The turkeys were cowering in the corner as were some chickens and one solitary chick. Something had got in during the night and taken four of our birds in one attack.

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Old Brown Hen

I took this badly as I was very fond of the old brown hen. In human terms she was clearly geriatric and would have been drawing her pension. But she battled on and this year, well after spring had ended, took it upon herself to go broody and hatch out two late chickens. She was an excellent mother to these two, she never left their side and she shepherded them through the day to make sure the turkeys didn’t bully them out of their share of the food. Her surviving chick has looked lonely and scared today as she hangs around the edge of the, now paltry, flock.

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Surviving Offspring

 

This type of attack is usually the result of a weasel and we were troubled by these last winter. Sometimes a fox will do the same pattern of removing the heads but there was no way for a fox to get access into the henhouse. I scoured round the area to find out how this had happened and found, once I moved some chicken droppings, that the wall of the henhouse had bowed. This had created a gap, just big enough to poke my little finger through, but big enough for weasels to gain access.

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1 cm gap – enough !

I spent today fixing this gap and checking all the other henhouses for similar problems. As I worked away I remembered the old phrase of locking stable doors after horses had bolted and felt bad that I had missed this and let it happen. We usually loose a proportion of our stock to predation by hawks, foxes and the like. I take it as a fact of life, they need to live also. Though I must say that I find the ways hawks eat their prey alive very cruel, and the way foxes and weasels will slaughter all in a hutch, but eat only a few, very wasteful. But what was making me feel bad about this was that I had missed the gap developing. I should have seen it and fixed it before the weasels found it, I am meant to be the more intelligent animal.

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Pretty Boy lacking wives

This evening I have merged this small flock with another. We had one very pretty cockerel I didn’t feel we could send to the pot and he had hardly any wives. He would occasionally make unsuccessful forays into the other cockerels’ areas to try and lure hens away. Here, at least, was a solution to his problem. This evening he is tucked up with the turkeys and some new wives. Over the next few days they will have to spend their day in the hen-run associated with this house (rather than roam free) until we know that they see themselves as a family; as members of a small new flock.

This old hen has also done something very useful. She reminded me of a valuable lesson. Halloween is meant to be the time that we think of death and the departed but this has largely gone to be replaced by a another secular fun day for adults and children alike. A month after Halloween this old hen reminded me, because I felt ashamed,  to think about death. To think that once people have died it is too late to go back and fix things. We should look around and recognise that now is the time to do things, not later on or tomorrow. If I am not careful the regrets I could have in the future could make todays’ sadness seem very minor. There are lots of gaps that need fixing and things which need checking and I shouldn’t wait until a calamity makes me realise this. For this reminder I thank her.

 

I know what not to do.

Margaret Anne Bulkley lived the last 56 years of her life disguised as a man. At about the age of 20 she took on the persona of James Barry in order to Matriculate at Edinburgh University and study medicine. Following this, in order to practice medicine, she maintained this pretence by living as adr_james_barry_28surgeon29 man until her death. When she died in 1865 (coincidentally the year Elizabeth Garrett became the first woman to qualify as a doctor) she had pursued a successful medical career and been promoted steadily becoming Medical Inspector General for South Africa. During this period of pretence it is believed that she managed also to give birth to a daughter while the world still respected her as a successful and powerful man.

We only have to look back a little time to see how much progress we have made. In the past so many of our personal and social roles were held to be closely tied to our sex at birth. Today we do not bat an eyelid when a woman wishes to be a surgeon, a man a nurse, a girl a footballer or a boy a dancer. We don’t think of very many roles being necessarily tied to biological sex. The days when women had to pretend to be men to pursue their desires have gone.

We should remember the travails of women who wanted to pursue aims at the time which were held to be only suitable for men – Joan of Arc as she tried to lead armies, Dorothy Lawrence who worked as a war reporter, Margaret Bulkley  wishing to be a doctor, and countless women who fell in love with other women. Remembering these women will stop us forgetting the ignominious aspect of our history which forced pretence on the few who were able to follow their dreams and stopped so many from even taking their first steps towards them.

We now tend to think there is a rather loose relationship between gender roles and biological sex. Something that is more important for groups and averages than something to be applied to individuals. The  biological differences we have are often subtle, and may help explain why one group is over-represented in one area or another, but are rarely felt to be important for the individual in their selection of, or for, activities.

If a child is born today with desires and aims that have been traditionally been seen as the domain of the other biological sex this is not an insurmountable problem. They may face some resistance, but as society improves this should lessen, but there will be no need for transvestitism, nor any pretence. They can aim for their dreams regardless of their biological sex. They don’t have to don the clothes, or names,  of the other sex and they don’t need to hide or alter their biology.

Thus there would seem no call for a boy who wants to follow gender roles traditionally seen as female to transition and alter their biology. Likewise any girl who wishes to pursue traditionally masculine roles or activities  need not alter their bodily appearance. The gender roles that we are often concerned about may have some of their historical development related to our biology (increased muscle mass may have lead us to see the army as a masculine role, for example) but most now are determined purely socially. Thus if someone feels the roles that they wish to pursue are discordant with their biology then the solution is social. The solution is to push for that role to be open to both biological sexes not to alter the person’s biological sex to fit the social role.

If people want to change their biological sex it must be for reasons other than wanting to pursue what are felt to be sex-inappropriate roles as the barriers facing them are considerably less than the barrier posed by the option of changing one’s biological sex. It would seem that the term gender dysphoria does sum up the primary reason for the desire to transition to the other biological sex. It is not a positive desire to be the other biological sex but rather a distaste or unhappiness (dysphoria) in being in the body you find yourself within.

This is not an unusual feature of psychological disorders arising in early adult life and especially around puberty. In addition to gender dysphoria, dysmorphophobia (a belief that one is disfigured or deformed) and the eating disorders (anorexia nervosa and related disorders) share the core belief by the patient that their body shape or configuration is wrong for them. These are serious, debilitating, and dangerous disorders with extremely high levels of distress and a significant mortality through suicide. Our understanding of these disorders is very poor and our treatments are of only limited efficacy. But we never mistake the faulty body image of the patient with anorexia, or dysmorphophobia, as the solution and make that the target of our treatment. We never offer pointless plastic surgery someone who believes their face deformed nor accept that the patient with anorexia should just continue to fade away and die as they see themselves as too fat. Instead we try and help them adjust to their body, and life, as it is and find ways to live with this.

Unfortunately with transgender patients we break with this tradition and offer to try medications and surgery to make their body fit with their internal thoughts. If such medication and surgery diminished distress and eased the patient it might be seen as a useful, if surprising, therapy. Unfortunately it does not appear to do so. The evidence is scanty but, as the American College of Paediatricans pointed out, work undertaken by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute does not find that surgery to transition people from one sex to another reduces the rate of suicide which remains, sadly, much higher than that in the population as a whole.

I have steadily lost the certainty of youth as I have grown older. I am now much happier to accept that I do not know the answer to many questions. Increased knowledge and experience has lead to reduced acceptance of simple or glib answers. However, although I may not know what to do I sometimes know what we should not do. In this case, whether people want to pursue a life in the gender roles that differ to those of the  body they were born within, either from a desire for the positive aspects of those roles, or from a disgust of their own bodily configuration, then attempts to alter their biological sex would appear unwise. At an individual level, obviously it is their choice and they may do with their bodies as they will, but any unbiased observer would counsel them against this as it is  unlikely to lead them to future happiness. At a societal level, I fear we may look back on this period sadly; we saw the problem of defining peoples’ roles by their genitals which forced the likes of Margaret Bulkley and others into dreadful situations but came up with the solution of making peoples’ genitals match the gender roles ! History may not be kind to us.

Auld Claes an Parritch

Our visitors have left and life has returned to its usual boring pattern. It was great to see the family, and to hear all the news, but it does break all the usual rhythms. It is more than worth it but it is also welcome to turn back to the plainer life again. Although I enjoy eating out and discussing politics into the small hours I can only do it in short bursts so it was pleasant to get back to the normal chores and activities this week.

The winds last week had taken a couple of smaller treesimg_20181120_1132078543333336891314098.jpg down in our upper wood so it was a good time to consider cutting and collecting these. These were quite a distance from the house so I decided that I’d do this the slow manual way with the bow saw as we have a rule that if I’m using the chainsaw there must be somebody else about at the same time. This means if I come to grief there is somebody to call for help. So doing the work manually meant my wife could stay at base and get on with the tasks she’d organised.

      img_20181120_1152154132124722120551776.jpgHowever, I also have ulterior motives for avoiding the chainsaw. If I use the bow saw I feel that I can skip one of my exercise sessions for the day. It is much more fun to be deep in the woods working up a sweat than to be wearing trainers and plodding round the lanes. Further, while working I can listen to a podcast or two (The chainsaw makes it impossible to hear anything) I have gotten a little behind with my listening so it was an opportunity to catch up.

  There is little that can beat working in the woods for physical and mental relaxation. After a few hours of labour it felt as if life was back to normal again. After a period of fancy eating and dressing up it’s very nice to get back to wearing my usual working gear and having our regular simple fare – or to return to  auld claes an parritch as we used to say in Scotland.  
 

Sheep in wolves clothing

I don’t often feel sorry for politicians but today I have had a smidgen of  sympathy for Theresa May.  We have found ourselves, in Britain, in the midst of political chaos and Theresa May is at the centre of this political storm. She inherited the task of organizing Brexit even though, at heart, she was not keen on this course of action. Although a ‘remainer’ she felt that, as a politician, she is a public servant and should try and enact the wishes of the electorate who voted for a course she did not agree with. Perhaps she should have realized from the start that she would not be able to meet this challenge as all her instincts on the matter would be wrong.

However, she battled on and created an agreement of sorts with the E.U.. This agreement is exactly what one would expect if a conservative remainer had been given the task of organizing Brexit; it barely takes Britain out of the E.U., keeps it in the customs union, protects the interests of business and commerce, and manages to offer even less democratic involvement  than we previously enjoyed. This is unlikely to be acceptable to those who wanted Brexit and also unlikely to be picked up by those who want to remain.

So I feel sorry for her. I think she did try diligently to do what she thought was the best for Britain and I think she genuinely feels she has found a middle ground which will give breathing space for an organized transition. Unfortunately all she has done is split her own party in two, made her own position untenable, and left her with the impossible ask of getting a deal through parliament that neither side of the debate accept. It would have been better if she had rejected the challenge, and said that her heart was not in it, but through a sense of duty she tried and we are now in the middle of chaos.

The Labour Party is not in a great deal better position. Jeremy Corbyn, who at heart was a Brexiteer, has found himself fighting for the remain campaign (or at least to remain in a customs union or, better still, the single market) because it allowed him to attack the Conservatives and benefit from their disarray. His party will now oppose this deal because it benefits the party political battle between them and the Tories even though much of the deal would, in fact, be acceptable to the Labour Party. I don’t feel sorry for Jeremy Corbyn, however, as his difficult position did not arise from doing the right thing but through his duplicity.

There are solutions to the crisis which Britain faces now. One path would be to leave the E.U. without any formal deal. This would lead to turbulent times and there may be some, hopefully short-term, economic damage. Eventually new arrangements would be forged and we could create our future.

Another route would be to call another referendum on this deal  (or remaining), the so called Peoples’ Vote. This would lead to turbulent times and there may be there may be some, hopefully short-term, economic damage. But this method would not create any new arrangements. If the vote was to “leave” then we are back at start again. If it were to “remain” then how long would it be for calls of “best out of three” and the debate resurfaces.

The other route, which might forge a more lasting solution, could be another General Election. If the parties line themselves in accord with their actual sympathies, which may mean a split in both Labour and Conservative parties, then we can vote on whether and how we wish to leave. Whoever wins would know the mandate they have and would actually want to implement this. Whether it is to stay, stay or leave with modifications, or leave the intention would be clear and the negotiators would be those sharing the aspirations of the voters. What we have now is sheep pretending to be wolves as they organize the next hunting expedition. This does not work.

Ooh ! Look at the shiny baubles !

Advertisements, especially those on the television, are very revealing. They tell us soemthing about our culture and our psyche. The advertiser that wants us to buy their product will do and say whatever it takes to make their product attractive to us. Advertisers are not fools (usually) and earn a lot of money making sure they know our concerns and our desires.

They know we worry about deforestation and climate change so a frozen food company (Iceland) promotes itself through an advert about the damage caused by palm oil usage. This advert has been even more successful than they might have hoped because it has been banned and consequently gone viralon the internet.

Our views on homosexuality have changed and when couples are shown getting married, or rushing to the maternity ward to have babies delivered, it is almost as likely that they will be a same sex partnership as not.

Our concerns about racist perceptions has meant that most couples in UK adverts, doing normal, common-or-garden, domestic  things, are mixed race.

Advertisers like to position themselves, and their products, on the right side of public opinion for obvious resaons. They portray what they hope is our fantasy of how we  think the world should be rather than reflect how it actually is. They suggest by buying their product the fantasy will slowly become real.

This has a long history of causing problems. The portrayal of luxurious lifestyles and wealth, which was a previously popular strategy, was felt by some to cause resentment and alienation. They managed to increase greed, which was desired as it is a driver to purchase, but also increased envy which is a much more troublesome emotion. In 1957 Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders & The  Status Seekers”  tried to warn us of the effects of consumerism and the manipulative effects of adverising and the media. I sometimes fear that the biased portrayal of family life, currently shown,  feeds into the populist surges we have seen in Europe as people feel that their lives and cultures are being airbrushed out of sight.

I therefore have an ambivalent attitude to adverts. I can enjoy them when they are well crafted and find them useful when they inform me, but I always keep one eye open for the “hook” ; the lure that will drag you in and subtly alter your opinions without engaging you in debate or thought.

I was sure most of us watched adverts with this filter in place. I was therefore saddened to see this advert on TV for a new iphone. It seems to suggest we have dropped to a very basic and primitive way of thinking.

 

This is an advert for a phone which is  going to cost you about £1000. Notice that the advert tells you nothing about the phone other than it has a big screen. Nothing about its utility, nothing to compare it to other phones, no details on its specifications, nothing at all. Like many recent Apple adverts it is simply a series of shots of the product looking shiny and new, with the backing of some hip music. It seems that we are now willing to pay £1000 for no reason other than that something looks pretty.  Are we really this shallow now ?

Imagine what could be done with that money were it not spent on a shiny bauble. Are really so wealthy as a society that we can spend this amount on a trinket. Both for ourselves and for the sake of others, whether we follow a secular or a religious path, we need to be alert to this change  that consumerism encourages in us. By all means, buy the £1000 phone if all your family and friends are well and happy, if there are none of your neighbours in financial hardships, if the appeals for charitablle donations have stopped (as they are no longer needed), if you see no hardship or poverty in your communities. If there is nothing else better to spend your money on then this shiny bauble might just fit the bill.

How much of our lives could we buy back if we cherished our lives instead of our trinkets?

Gerry Spence

 

How many more cars, clothes, toys and trinkets do we really need before we wake up and realize that half the world goes to bed every night with empty stomachs and naked bodies?

K.P. Yohannan

Do the comfortable thing.

I am feeling rather ashamed today. I heard that Asia Bibi was released from prison, after her conviction for blasphemy was overturned, and was relieved with this news. However, after a decade unjustly imprisoned, and much of that time spent in solitary confinement, she is at considerable risk in Pakistan. There have been mass demonstrations and riots demanding that she be executed. This is no idle concern, as previously high-ranking officials who took up her case were indeed assassinated. She has wisely asked for asylum and thankfully there have been some offers and it is likely she will go to the Netherlands.

The reason I feel rather ashamed is that one of the countries from which she requested asylum was the United Kingdom. Given the long association between Pakistan and the United Kingdom this would seem to be a natural choice. Given the obvious need for asylum, and the reasons behind her plight, one would have anticipated that an offer of asylum would have been quickly forthcoming. However , it seems that this has been specifically rejected. Wilson Chowdhry, of the British Pakistani Christian Association, reports that British authorities  have said :-

‘I’ve been lead to believe that the UK government had concerns that her moving to the UK would cause security concerns and unrest among certain sections of the community and would also be a security threat to British embassies abroad which might be targeted by Islamist terrorists,’

Religious freedom and a refusal to be intimidated are core facets of what we consider “British Values”. We should be proud to offer asylum to those fleeing persecution and should do this even if there are risks in doing so. We can not be seen to only help when there is no cost to ourselves. It is shameful to reject asylum because of fears of what those doing the oppression might do. If there are those in our community who object to us giving asylum then it is they that are behaving badly, and against the principles of our country. Indeed, if there are any who think that she should be executed we should ensure she comes here, and is kept safely, to clearly echo the point that we think freedom of thought and freedom of religion and vital, and uncontestable, parts of British society. It is those who think othewise who should consider whether they are living in the right place.

Asylum is something that should not be weighed up against trade deals, nor weighed up against possible difficulties to ourselves, it is something we should offer to prove our humanity and moral standing. I feel a little ashamed that today it seems Britain has said moral duties can be trumped by comfort or safety.  It was said that during World War 2 we spent all our energy and lost thousands of lives in order to protect a few moral principles while now we will loose our moral principles in order to save a few lives.

 

 

Coming back home.

No one can say I didn’t try, almost a year I have tried to work with Windows 10 on my desktop machine. This has been, if nothing else, and interesting and valuable experience. In January of this year I decided to re-try windows after quite a considerable period of absence. Windows 10 looked robust and fairly secure and, at the time, there was a good deal for 1TB of cloud storage and Office 365.

Initially I found I was impressed. Windows 10 is the best version of windows I have seen and its security was fairly good. I enjoyed working with Office and particularly liked One-note, which I will miss now that I have left. However, after an initial pleasant surprise the problems started to show themselves again. To do many basic tasks you have to buy proprietary software and I found this a difficult step after years in the open source environment. This software often seemed determined to keep you stuck with it, your data locked into their programmes,  and not at all keen to encourage sharing with other systems.

But, the biggest problem I had, by far, was how opaque the system is. If there is any problem it is difficult to get into the innards of the system and correct it. It seems to actively discourage you from tinkering. While the hand-holding is nice when you have a simple issue it is an impediment when you want to do any real work. This feeling is compounded when you try and search for any solutions to problems. I was used to the linux community and it was shock to find that any query (e.g. find printer driver, how to handle ebooks, etc) lead to one facing a slew of sites trying to sell you services and products. Many of these sites are also very keen to  capture your personal details and seem to be a source for much malware. There is little active help. I was used to finding lots of “howto” articles or forum posts as to how to fix problems. I was also used to getting offers of assistance and help gratis from other users. I discovered that when I used linux I was part of an active cooperating community. When I had problems people would reach out to help rather than reach for your wallet.

The final straw came over the last two months.In October the annual upgrade by windows caused me problems and I lost some data. I had backed up most of my work but I did loose a little. There was quite a while until this upgrade was usable and safe.  Then yesterday Microsoft’s activating servers started to run awry and my machine glibly informed me that my copy of windows was not activated and inauthentic. Microsoft hopes to have these glitches sorted out soon but it hardly inspires confidence. It is further unsettling as there is no escape route from Windows. If Ubuntu gives me problems I can flit sideways to Fedora or Suse with no negative consequence (apart for the loss of some time), with Windows I feel a hostage to Microsoft’s plans.

Therefore, after yesterday’s problems I switched my machine back to Ubuntu. I was pleased to find a simple installation that took less than an hour, needed less than half a dozen mouse clicks on my part, and ran flawlessly. After setting up my cloud services and installing my basic programs (free naturally) I was back to a fully functioning, fast and responsive, system by the end of the evening.

I must admit that I will still miss One-note; while I can use it via the web client this is not full-featured. Also, although I find google drive better than one-drive in how it handles syncing and files (especially photos) I still have reservations on being tied to Google. I worry that Google makes its money through advertising, as opposed to hardware, and therefore is more likely to see my data as an asset for itself than might any other company (for example Microsoft). Google’s actions this last year have also not inspired me that they are still living up to their old motto of “Don’t be evil“, or even their new one of “Do the right thing“, as they have taken some very suspect steps in recent months. So my next step is to explore alternative cloud providers. Now that I am back in the open-source world I want to free myself, and my data,  as much as possible and not be caught up in proprietary chains.

I don’t want to give the impression that Windows 10 was a poor operating system, it is very good in many, many ways but it still falls short compared to a modern linux system for ease of use, speed,  usefulness and  intuitiveness. It also lacks a supportive and helpful community which should have grown up around it. I don’t think I’ll be drawn back.

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Hens and sheep pondering whether autumn has passed and winter is here