Friday, 13 March 2015


I've been reading Pratchett now for a quarter of a century, since I was in primary school.  I'm a Biologist today with responsibility for live animals (some of which we refer to as "students").  I've always said the difference between a scientist and a monster is ethics.  This is a line that a lot of people don't like for a lot of reasons.  Some haven't looked closely enough at it and think I'm being wantonly insulting, but that's not it.  For others it hits bone when they reflect on the past abuses: Pavlov, Mengele, and other, less notorious names and deeds.  It needn't hit bone, for you are not them and they are not you.  What separates a good and decent scientist from those I've mentioned is that we wouldn't do that.  Our ethics don't allow for it.  We have the same skill, the same power, but we don't use that skill and power in that way.  

What does this have to do with Terry Pratchett?  The words we read help form us.  Sorry Jacques, but there is an author and there is a reader.  Pratchett was a profoundly moral and humane author who railed against a world which oftentimes was anything but.  And I, a black-and-white reader in a grey world, latched on to his ethics.  In fact the only ethical standard that I have been so ready to assume is that of Bill and Ted:  be excellent to each other.  It is deceptively simple, in that simple isn't necessarily easy.  The hard way is hard, as Granny Weatherwax said, but not so hard as the easy way.  So I'm going to share some of the lines from Pterry's books which inspired my own ethics.  

“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable. 


“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—” 


“So we can believe the big ones?” 


“They’re not the same at all!” 


“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—” 


 This is perhaps the first step.  Ethics aren't real, they aren't tangible things, and there is no "ethics stick" with which to slap bastards, more's the pity.  It is an idea, a construct in your own mind.  It is a guide to right action, a way of achieving outcomes which at best do the most good, or at least do the least harm.  It isn't a thing unto itself, I'm sure there's an ontological word for that, but it is important nonetheless.  

Another huge influence from the Disc is Granny Weatherwax speaking on the nature of sin: 
"There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example,” said Oats.
“And what do they think? Against it, are they?” said Granny Weatherwax.
“It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”
“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.
“It’s a lot more complicated than that . . .”
“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes . . .”
“But they starts with thinking about people as things . . . ” 
(Carpe Jugulum)
That's as fundamental as it gets.  Weatherwax here is talking with a priest, so she refers to "sin".  We could refer to unethical practice in place of sin and it would mean the exact same thing: the world and its inhabitants are not yours to take apart and play with like a Lego model.  Living beings have their own ideas, personalities, intentions, relationships, and these must be left alone wherever possible.  Where we must encroach, we must tread as lightly as possible and do as little harm as possible.  Even when we must inflict harm or take a life, we must do so no more than necessary and we must do so with the utmost respect.  

Sam Vimes, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, has this to say on the nature of crime.  Again, we can read "crime" as unethical practice: 
"Thief-taker, Rust had called him. The man had meant it as an insult, but it'd do. Theft was the only crime, whether the loot was gold, innocence, land or life. And for the thief-taker, there was the chase..."   
We can add to that list safety, dignity, and health.  To deprive a sentient being of any of those is a form of theft.  We rob the creature.  Doubly so of a sapient being.  Stealing to eat is not a crime, stealing to survive is not a crime, but theft committed to any purpose bar those is downright criminal.  Note I'm making the distinction between a "crime" and a "breach of criminal law".  If I steal a loaf of bread to feed my family I am not a criminal, but if I steal a gold watch because it compliments my outfit then I am a criminal, irrespective of the law, and that actually is to do with things.  What of non-things?  The sentient and the sapient?  If I am to rob a creature it must only be to save life or prevent greater harm, otherwise I am a dirty thief.  

This is the difference between testing medicine and testing cosmetics.  Testing medicine is stealing to live, but that is still stealing.  It is an indignity that we must seek to remove ourselves from at the earliest opportunity, and in the meantime our victims must be as few as possible.  Testing cosmetics is more like stealing the gold watch and must never be done.  

There are many other lines I could quote, all on this sort of theme.  Fantastic discussions of the ethics of human nature, war, bigotry, violence and civics can be found in the above titles plus The Fifth Elephant, Guards Guards, Men At Arms, Monstrous Regiment, Small Gods, and of course I Shall Wear Midnight, a book which features a young girl having to give a decent burial to a forcibly-miscarried foetus and care for the injured mother because all the "grown-ups" are too busy wanting to hang the man who'd caused it that they can't see the real work that needs doing first.  Amidst the action is a wonderfully subtle lesson on the need to give what care needs giving first before contemplating harm, and to not let our feelings blind us to this necessity.  

I leave you with a wonderfully succinct line by Death, from Reaper Man.  It captures, beautifully and completely, the reasons why we must care for those we must harm.  I have this line written in the hem of my labcoat, though long before that it was carved into my soul.  
What can the harvest hope for, if not the care of the reaper man?
That's all you need to know.   If you would be as a god then it is as much your duty to give as to take away.  If you don't care for the lives you take then you've no business taking them.  End of.  

Gaun yersel Terry.  Go satirise the angels for not angeling right!  

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Nuss, Sids, Fa-Ball and Urms

I've nearly finished principal planting on the middle island out front.  There's a revision to make (some roses need moving) and I'll be doing that in the next few days.  I've also got to get in some currants.  Mostly though it's done.  The side bit I'll do in the next few weeks.

It's turning into a very busy Spring this year, but that work and expense will sort me out for years.

Ellie, my niece, loves birds.  Planes too, but mostly birds.  If it flies it becomes an instant object of fascination, though a bird on the ground is just as interesting to her.  So yesterday I put a bird feeding pole into the middle bit and in so doing gave Ellie the first serious responsibility she's had in her fourteen months of life: filling up the tubes.  She's also picked up a few new words.  We sat on the floor and did it together, grabbing handfuls of nuts (or nuss) from a bag and dropping them into a wire tube.  I screwed the lid back on and we went outside together to hang it from the hook.  We filled two plastic tubes with sids (seeds), hung fa-ball (fat balls) from hooks and put sute (a suet feast) into a cage and together we hung all of these on hooks.  She needed help getting the rings over the hooks, but her hand was on it so now she's got the gist of how it goes.  I also poured out a goodly number of urms (mealworms) onto a wire tray halfway up the pole.

She laughed and had a right old time.  We got as many sids on the carpet as we did in a tube!  Anything that involves using her hands, getting messy and getting outside will always meet with her approval.  So now she has a job: refilling the tubes whenever they empty.  She'll learn about duty in a way that's fun, which is a great start.  Meanwhile the pole is outside her window, so when she wakes up before her mum she can go to the window and watch birds instead of getting into cupboards and eating the sudocrem.

Now to see if we can encourage Bill to stay in at dawn and dusk...

Saturday, 10 January 2015


I've been drinking so this will get fubar.

A friend (who I shan't name) reposted on facebook a rather charming quote by Richard Dawkins, to wit: "Atheists are a race.  Anyone who mounts an argument against atheists is a racist, atheophobic bigot."  With a comment to the effect that God should smite him.  I replied that Dawkins is a dickhead but that atheophobia is as much of a thing as theophobia.

My friend said that atheism is dominant in society and that theists are sidelined.  I countered that while this is true in the Left, in Queer spaces, and in the cold war USSR, it is not true of Britain as a whole.

  We are in fact a pseudotheocracy wherein the state religion (C of E), whilst not the only lawful religion, nevertheless has exclusive powers within the legislative process.  Literally, the head of the state religion, who is also the head of state, can lawfully veto any law without having to give grounds and is indeed above the law.  Other than the fact that citizens are not mandated to be C of E we're pretty damn close to a textbook theocracy.

  To add to that on a more personal note: as an adult I have been ordered on more than one occasion to attend church and to sing hymns on pain of spending time in the Glasshouse and ending up with a criminal record.  Yes in Britain, yes in the 21st century!  Do I need to go on?

  My experiences were compared first to crying heterophobia and then to toxic masculinity.  My friend then said that I was triggering them and that unless I agreed to disagree and to stick to that (basically to shut my mouth and never again say on facebook that atheophobia is legit a thing) then they would have no choice but to unfriend me for the good of their own mental health.

Go for it mate!

  See the thing about what we might call "the safer-space discourse", terms like trigger warnings and such, is that they started out about sensible things.  Rape, domestic violence, hate crimes.  The kind of shit that fucks people up real bad.  This is not a bad thing.  We need an accessible society where people who've been traumatised by these events can rehabilitate themselves, that's all to the good.  These days though you'll spend ten minutes getting chewed out for not putting a trigger warning on an article about spiders just in case it "triggers" the arachnophobes.  Half of those times it won't even be the arachnophobes saying it, just a daft prick wanting a fight!

  Trigger is a PTSD term by the way.  If you've not been subject to the kind of violence that can cause PTSD then throwing the word trigger around like that is appropriation, but I digress.

  These days also I see people using talk of triggering to play Oppression Olympics, or to shut people up whose views they don't like.  I see people using it when they've said something stupid and can't think of any other way of defending it.  I see people using it to score cheap political points.

I'm sick of it, fucking pack it in!

Safer Space Discourse is legit when there's a real need for it, like when discussing rape, domestic violence, hate crimes and the like.  You need trigger warnings when you might actually trigger someone's actual PTSD and do them some actual mental harm.  For all other purposes you can shove your trigger warnings up your arse, I'm done with 'em.  Grow up and have some fucking integrity, the lot of you!

I'm going to sleep.  Fucking internet liberals.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Thoughts on Leelah Alcorn

Trigger warning for suicide, transphobia.

You've likely read the story by now.  If you haven't then go on, I'll wait.

Sorted?  Okay.

She's not the first, she won't be the last.  It sounds awful to say it so starkly, but it's true.  Some years ago I used to talk trans kids her age away from the noose, and I got pretty close when I was her age too.  It's bizarrely normal.  40% attempt it now, but back in the day it used to be one in three.  It's actually gotten worse.  Here's the thing: I have a wonderfully supportive family.  I got to that crucial point because navigating life as trans at the age of seventeen is a weighty thing in our society, though a necessary thing as prohibiting young transition only increases the rate of suicide.  Besides transphobia there's paperwork, dealing with the medical establishment, legal bullshit, managing your own expectations and fears, learning to master yourself.

It could seem like a Darwinian process, but only at the extremes.  For the most part the difference between a cry for help and a corpse is the support given by family and friends.  This is highly anecdotal, I have no research to back this, only my own observations, but in the absence of severe mental illness or uncommon strength I've seen that survival at that age is almost entirely attributable to the prevailing of the weight of support over the weight of abuse, and that death at that age is almost entirely attributable to the inverse.  There are exceptions, of course.

For this reason I struggle to blame Leelah alone for her suicide.  From her writings it is plain that she received more abuse than support, and I cannot help but feel that those who committed the abuse are conspirators in her death.  Her parents and her church, the "Christian therapists" carrying on an archaic practice that ought to have never been legal.  It is no good arguing that her parents should not be subjected to aggro while they're mourning their daughter's death when they bloody well had a hand in it!

Also responsible are the likes of Ken Zucker and his ilk.  By arguing for "corrective therapy" he legitimises the idea that such therapy is possible or ethical.  It is neither, all it does is fuck people up, but it's easy to argue that such a therapy must be right if a doctor believes in it.  A few drops of her blood must be on his hands as well.

There is a proposal for Leelah's Law: a ban on conversion therapies.  I'm backing it 100%.  They've never been proven safe or effective, at best they teach victims "patients" to mask the behaviours which betray their inner feelings to the satisfaction of the man with the clipboard whilst doing irreparable psychological harm.