Dec 31st

My Agenda Today

By sirtanicmills

A big day. My birthday. One that involves numbers that defy belief.

Friends will arrive around mid-day and whisk me off to lunch. There will be 16 of us. There will be noise and taxis will be essential to return to Mills Towers.

We shall continue over games, but at slow pace in order that we shall be in some kind of condition to party vigorously later on, through to the early hours.

I hope to survive it but I think a little contingency plan is in order. Whilst I still can, I would like to wish all Cloudies a Happy, Healthy and Fulfilling New Year.

Mills

Dec 29th

Wot? No Ghosts, Brian?

By Gerry

Last Tuesday morning, I listened to the Christmas Special edition of The Infinite Monkey Cage, a ‘witty, irreverent look at the world through scientists' eyes’ (as it declares on the webpage).

 

The topic was Ghosts, and after the initial introductions, Brian Cox had this to say: ‘Before we ask the first question, I want to make a statement. We are not here to debate the existence of ghosts because they don’t exist. If we want some sort of pattern that carries information about our living cells to persist, then we must specify precisely what medium carries that pattern and how it interacts with different matter particles out of which our bodies are made. We must in other words invent an extension to the standard model of particle physics that has escaped detection at the Large Hadron Collider. That’s almost inconceivable at the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies. And so we need not discuss this further. Does anybody object to this at all? No? Excellent. Carry on.’

 

A few moments later Neil deGrasse Tyson, guesting on the show, asked: ‘Brian, if I understand what you just declared, you just asserted that CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear research, disproved the existence of ghosts.’

 

Brian Cox: ‘Yes.’

 

Now, I know it is a humorous show, so it wasn’t surprising to hear Brian Cox make his statement at a pace that overwhelmed our capacity to register the details. It’s sort of funny to do that. It’s also a naughty debating tactic. Overwhelming pace can easily be mistaken for overwhelming evidence.

 

So let’s slow down and have a think.

 

First of all, is it scientific to be certain about anything? Once certainty creeps in, investigation ceases, and science comes to a stop. For example, how many scientists are seriously investigating Near Death Experiences, Out of Body Experiences, historical case files of the Society for Psychical Research, ‘impossible’ reincarnation ‘memories’ amongst small children, etc, etc? How many would dare, bearing in mind the likely funding issues?

 

Secondly, is it philosophically feasible to prove a negative? In a closed system, yes. For example, we can be reasonably sure there is no elephant in the room. But can we be 100% sure there is no monster in Loch Ness? (99.9% perhaps, but 100%?)

 

Now, to exclude any sort of interaction between ghost ‘reality’ and physical reality would require an elephant-in-the-room level of certainty. Brian Cox thinks he has it because he knows, via CERN, everything there is to know about particle interactions in the Standard Model (perhaps).

 

But are those the only possible interactions? Here come two exceptions. Quantum entanglement allows instantaneous interactions between charged particles at cosmic distances, a phenomenon so unlikely that Einstein famously dismissed it as “spooky action at a distance”. Nonetheless it works and is the basis for quantum computers.

 

Another weird phenomenon is gravity, originally dismissed, pre Newton, as an occult force, and for the same reason. It appears to be action at a distance, without any connecting medium. However, post Einstein, it is understood to result from the curvature of space. Oh yes, and what is space? Well, mostly emptiness. Nothingness. So gravity is a curvature of nothing. And that’s how the Earth makes the Moon go round it. By curving nothing.

 

And so, encouraged by these two non-CERN interactions, let us see what might be a candidate for the link between ghost ‘reality’ and physical reality. Step forward please Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York and CUNY Graduate Centre, and let us quote from his February 2013 YouTube article, ‘A Universe is a Free Lunch’: http://bigthink.com/videos/a-universe-is-a-free-lunch

 

‘The leading candidate for dark matter today is called the sparticle. The sparticle is the next octave of the string. Now look around you. Everything around you, we think, is nothing but the lowest vibration of a vibrating string, the lowest octave in some sense. But a string, of course, has higher octaves, higher notes. We think that dark matter could in fact be nothing but a higher vibration of the string. So we think that 23% of the universe, which is the dark matter's contribution to the universe, comes from a higher octave of the string. Now, the standard model, which we have ample verification of, only represents four percent of the universe. So the universe of atoms, protons, neutrons, neutrinos – that universe only represents four percent of what there is. 23% is dark matter, which we think is the next vibration up of the string, and then 73% of the universe is dark energy.

 

Let’s not get into Dark Energy: it’s too weird to contemplate. But Dark Matter, ‘a higher octave of the string’? Can anyone see the possibilities there?

 

Let’s put it this way. Anyone who plays a stringed instrument, say a guitar or a piano, knows that a note vibrating at one octave can set the same note vibrating at a different octave. For instance, hold down a middle C on a piano – don’t play it, just hold it open – then play a C one octave below. Bingo, the middle C sounds even though you haven’t played it.

 

So here is an idea to play with. Perhaps ghosts inhabit some sort of dark matter. There’s plenty of the stuff (even more than Michio Kaku says, 26.8 % according to the 2013 Planck probe). Thus when a ghost moves within its own ‘octave’ it sets up a resonance in our ‘octave’ which some of us may detect.

 

How would we detect it? Because arguably we all have – as the saying goes – a ‘ghost in the machine’. That is our bodies, and brains, might be very clever machines, but we drive them with our minds (our ghosts). And when we die, our ghosts (souls, spirits, astral bodies, dark matter selves, whatever) continue functioning in their ‘octave’ – only there’s no physical matter distracting them any more.

 

This can be so scary that some ghosts immediately refocus on the physical world and get round to a bit of haunting. (Think films like ‘The Others’ or Patrick Swayze’s ‘Ghost’.)

 

Obviously there can be numerous objections to all this. For instance, the vibrating piano strings need a connecting medium – air – ‘In Space No One Can Hear You... Play the Piano’, so what would be the medium between one octave of the string and another? (The string itself perhaps?)

 

And how can we test the way that Dark Matter interacts with Physical Matter? Answer: we can’t. That’s why we call it Dark Matter. Because we can’t detect it – except at vast gravitational scales. Therefore, it remains hidden, undetected, occult. (Go on, check it in a thesaurus: that sort of ‘dark’ means, amongst other synonyms, ‘occult’.)

 

And how do we know whether there’s much, or any, Dark Matter in our vicinity? We can’t. It’s dark. There may be oodles. There may just be spitty little bits. We don’t know.

 

 

And why should we believe Michio Kaku and his String speculations? No reason. Just so long as we don’t go trusting Coxy cos he looks good on a mountain in jeans. Let the scientists fight it out – but they’ve got to play fair and not try inflicting any naughty unscientific certainties on us.

Dec 28th

It's just a joke, ffs!

By Skylark

At this year's York festival, I went to Andrew Wille's workshop on Tone. I learned a lot about my own writing and the ways I can colour it in shades of light and dark but I remember the workshop particularly for the impassioned speech Andrew made about how the tone in today's media has become increasingly toxic, especially on Brexit-related topics, and how we, as writers, have responsibility for setting the tone. Words have power and we can choose to wield that power for positive or negative means. Two journalists can write an article on the same subject, relaying the same facts, but a word choice here, a change of phrase there, or just emphasis in a different place, and the tone completely shifts. (I had my own experience of this when I unwittingly unleashed a whole load of anger and criticism for a comment I made about handbags. My intended tone was entirely different to the one that was assumed by some people, and it could have been so easily avoided with change of one word and the deletion of another. Lesson learned on self-editing a bit more carefully before posting!)

I came away from Andrew's workshop with a lot to think about and found I was reading media reports with a more critical eye: why choose that phrase? why have the emphasis in the sentence just there? why did the author say it like that when it could have easily been written like this? More and more I have come to realise that negative, divisive media messages are being relayed not through actual narrative content but in the prose style of the writer, and there are some very clever writers out there who know just how far to take something without quite crossing the line, but with just enough emphasis here and sly implication there to make it clear what their message is, setting a tone of contempt, narrow-mindedness, disrespect, and pretty much every '-ism' going. But, frustratingly, challenge it and you rarely get a discussion in return. Most often heard: 'it's an opinion piece', 'it's saying things as they are', 'uh-oh, here comes the perpetually offended', 'stop taking things so seriously', 'it's a joke, ffs!' (As an interesting side note, it's worth googling 'phrases most often used in an emotionally abusive relationship' because there is a correlation between them and the phrases most commonly used to shut down debate. But that's a blog for another day.) It's frustrating and demoralising because challenging things is not 'being offended', it's looking closely at something and saying 'are you sure?', 'is that really what you meant?', 'please can you explain further?'. Challenging the things people say should be the beginning of an informed, measured and respectful debate. You can disagree without shutting people down. Allow them to speak. Listen. Question yourself. You might still disagree, but you'll be disagreeing with an informed, open mind.

I got thinking about Tone again the other day in the light of Richard Hammond's gay ice cream comments. Opinion is, of course, divided. It was homophobic/it was a joke. It was degrading a minority/stop taking things so literally. For anyone who missed it, this is how it went:

RH: 'It's alright, I don't eat ice cream.' Pause. 'It's something to do with being straight.
*Audience laughs and applauds. Jeremy Clarkson and James May look bemused and slightly shocked.*
RH: 'What? What?'
JC to audience: 'Why are you applauding him?' to RH 'What do you mean? Are you saying everyone who likes ice...?
RH: 'Ice cream is a bit, you know...'
JC: 'You're saying all children are homosexual?'
RH: 'No, but... There's nothing wrong with it, but a grown man eating an ice cream, you know, it's a bit... it's that way rather than that way.'

Written down, it's not the most subtly scripted publicity stunt (because it has to be that, doesn't it?) HEY, EVERYONE, I'M NOT GAY AND I WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU KNOW I'M NOT GAY BY TALKING ABOUT HOW I'D NEVER EAT ICE CREAM BECAUSE THAT'S JUST SOOOOO GAY! WATCH OUR REALLY COOL SHOW ABOUT CARS AND MASCULINITY. And we can all talk about whether it was meant to be a joke or not meant to be a joke and whether we should take it seriously or not take it seriously. But... Watch it (here). Watch it and listen carefully to the pauses and the inflections, observe the body language, hear the words said and those unsaid. In my opinion, what RH said was clumsy and crass and not terribly funny, but how he said it, the tone of it, and the tone of JC's response, is far more damaging.

First, there is RH's matter-of-fact, self-deprecating, wide-eyed, I-don't-know-how-I-do it body language when he pronounces that his 'straight-ness' is the reason for not eating ice cream. Like he's achieved something really special in being straight, but he's too modest to boast about it. Because you should boast about being straight because everyone knows sexuality is a choice and hetrosexuality is the best choice, right? Then there's the use of 'you know' instead of just coming out and saying the word 'gay'. The 'you know' implies, this is something we shouldn't really be talking about. Something a little bit dodgy, post-watershed, dirty-secret-naughty-joke. Like being gay is under-the-counter, top-shelf, don't-tell-the-children. Next we have that wonderful moment when JC appears to be the more moderate of the two and appears to call him out for his comments. Except that in doing so he employs the most ridiculous Miranda-esque sotto voce when saying the word 'homosexual'. As if saying this word out loud might cause the heavens to come crashing down and hell to open up at our feet and, for goodness sake, DON'T-TELL-THE-CHILDREN! RH then tells everyone there is nothing wrong with it. It's unclear at this stage if he means eating ice cream or being gay, but he puts that oh-so-wonderful emphasis on the word 'wrong'. You know, that one that everyone uses at some point in their lives when they're being a teensy-bit passive aggressive because they don't want to actually say what they think, so they say they opposite with just enough emphasis so you know what it is they're really saying. And finally, if that wasn't enough, he fails, again, to actually use the word 'gay'. Instead, he resorts to a phrase I remember my Granny using back in the 80s: 'it's a bit that way', emphasis on 'that'. All that was missing was the floppy hand gesture.

So? What's the problem? Who cares? Bloody perpetually offended people! Get a life! Complain about something real! It's just a joke, ffs!

Here's an actual joke. I revisited a bit of Michael McIntyre earlier. This one, where he tells people who are not parents that they have NO IDEA what it is like to be a parent. He says, 'There are people in this room who do have children and there are people in this room who don't have children, and the people who don't have children, they think they know, don't they? They think they know what it means to have children. Sometimes they chat about it in their little couples... and you think you know what you're talking about. You HAVE NO IDEA!' As I watched it, I looked at the same things I'd looked at in the RH clip, all those things that contributed to the overall tone of narrative. What was said and what was unsaid, the body language, the pauses, the emphasis. On a superficial level, the intro to MM's clip could be seen as a joke at the expense of people who do not have children, but very quickly, as MM draws you in to his tale of hysterical woe, two things become clear. Firstly, his joke is at his own expense. He caricatures himself and his family and his family routines. He's not pointing a finger at childless parents and laughing, he's pointing a finger at himself and laughing. Secondly, he's drawing us into his tale, asking us, implicitly, if we get it too. I don't know for sure how funny someone will find this sketch if they've never battled a child to put shoes on and get out of a door but he draws me in every time, speaking to an experience I am oh-so-familiar with and giving me something to laugh about, because, believe me, after the tenth time of asking them to put-their-bloody-shoes-on-before-their-bloody-shoes-get-shoved-somewhere-they-don't-bloody-belong, laughing is better than the alternatives. He gifts us humour to battle the adversity of a mini-me who doesn't ever do anything to order, ever.

The tone of Richard Hammonds 'joke' was entirely different. Whose expense was it at? Not his. The joke was not hey-laugh-at-me-because-I'm-so-straight-I-can't-even-eat-an-ice-cream. It was let's-laugh-at-how-you-only-eat-ice-cream-if-you're-gay, with that oh-so-passive-aggressive emphasis on the word gay (or 'you know' in this case, because he can't even say the word 'gay') so that we're all clear that gay isn't as good as straight. He wasn't wittily observing and caricturing a stereotype (and who's even heard of the gay ice cream eating stereotype, anyway?), nor was he sacrificing a little bit of himself on the altar of comedy. Whether intentionally or not, scripted or ad-lib, he, and JC for that matter with his ridculous sotto voce, sent out a clear message that being gay is still a bit... *you know*. A variation on the you're-so-gay playground jibes that are not ever said as a compliment.

And WHY does that even matter? He's just a celeb, it's just a car show, who cares? Why aren't you talking about the bombing of innocent children in Aleppo? Isn't that more serious?

Stop it. People are capabable of multi-tasking when it comes to addressing important issues. Talking about one does not exclude conversation about the other. That's all I have to say about that.

And why does it even matter? Because the tone of RH's comments and the tone of JC's response said loud and clear, it's better to be straight than gay. And yes, I know there will be plenty of gay people who will dismiss this and not give it a second thought, but there will also be a whole bunch of gay adults, gay teenagers, gay children just discovering themselves, for whom his comments will be another I'm-not-good-enough straw to add to the multitude they are already carrying. Maybe some of them were watching the show and saw the audience laugh. Worse, maybe they watched it with their parents and heard their parents laugh. Worse, maybe one of RH's own children watched it, heard their father's words and the laughter he got and implicitly understood that being gay was something their own father would not be comfortable with. How, in the face of that, could you be comfortable with your own homosexuality? Those are the people who RH's 'joke' was at the expense of. They are the ones feeling a little less welcome and a little less worthy. They are the ones who will spend their adult lives battling the am-I-good-enough demons because it was implied over and over again by casual comments, sly innuendo and jokes at their expense that being gay is inferior.

And yes, I am perfectly aware that RH is free to say what he liked. This is not about censorship, but responsibility. We are so incredibly fortunate to live in a country where we are free to say whatever we like without fear of persecution or death, but our freedom of speech comes with responsibility. We have a responsibility to be aware of the power of our words, to use them wisely and for good, not to wound, taunt, oppress or discriminate. How often did my mum say to me, 'watch your tone'?, and I've said it plenty to my own two. And like RH's 'joke' and MM's sketch and the media headlines, it's often not *what* is being said but the way in which it is being said. The body language, the sub-text, the tone. There is almost always a different way to phrase it, a different word to choose, a different emphasis, a different tone. We have a responsibility to think before we speak.

Is it
Thoughtful?
Helpful?
Inspiring?
Necessary?
Kind?

If you're not ticking one of those boxes, does it need to be said? Of course, you can still challenge and debate and question and probe. And of course some humour can push the boundaries, tread that fine line, cut and sting and make you think, but don't let it be at the expense of people whose voice is less influential than yours, who already struggle to be accepted, to accept themselves. And it is always, always possible to do all this while choosing words and phrases and a tone that is still thoughtful, helpful, inspiring, necessary or kind.

2016 has been such a challenging year in so many ways, and so many times I've read and heard the words of others and been completely bewildered by the level of contempt and bile and discrimination they are comfortable expressing. My wish for 2017 is that we all use the power of our words for the good of everyone. Everyone. Our freedom of speech is a precious gift, not to be taken for granted or abused. It's never 'just a joke, ffs'.

Dec 28th

It's the thought that counts

By Mezz
by Mezz 17 mins ago
Hello! Welcome, welcome. Come on in.
What's this? Really? For me? A gift?
How thoughtful. Have you got the receipt?

Don't shout !!

I know I haven't even opened it yet but - Be honest - You're not known for your good taste are you?
I mean, I'm easily pleased, as you know, but ...
What?

I most certainly AM!
I can't help it if you buy things with no real thought for the recipient put in.
Impulse buying I think they call that.
Be careful. At your age that can escalate to kleptomania.
Definitely no receipt then?

Pardon?

Well, I know everybody else SEEMS perfectly delighted when you decide to give a gift just because; and I quote;
"I saw this and my first thought was you."
They're your family.
Bless you for trying, though.

What are you doing?

No! Don't put it back in your bag. I won't hear of it!
You've made the effort so far be it for me to be churlish.
Give it here.
I'll just pop it in my cupboard.

It is quite full isn't it.
Hmm?

I KNOW I haven't opened it. For goodness sake!
Would YOU like a gift that looked like it had been opened already?

What?
Why would I want to know what's in it?
It's going to be a gift for someone else.

What do you mean?

Are you seriously asking How will I know who to give it to if I haven't even opened it?
LOOK! It's obvious. It's a present cupboard.
SEE?
The Christmassy wrapped ones are on the top shelf and Birthday paper ones are on the bottom.

Like I said to you earlier, it's the thought that counts;
so don't feel bad you didn't get a receipt.

You have to go? So soon?

I can only assume "You are the living end." is a compliment.
Bye for now. Pop back soon.
Dec 24th

Spirits on a Christmas Eve

By Momo

It's an interesting and strange place where I live. In fact it is like two cities in one. It seems that there are two spirits of the place. And because each of them is a spirit of the place, there are two places here - or two cities. One of the cities inspires us against everything boring in our lives. The other one inspires us against everything dangerous in our lives. I do not want to sound like someone certain in these kinds of things, because you can never be certain except if you were a priest, and I am not priest. Sometimes I wish I were a priest so I would understand it better, but I have never thought that in certain period of my life I would be interested in spirits. However, it may be better this way - now I an able to comprehend these matters more unconventionally. I imagine spirits as ideals or archetypes or dispositions that everyone seems to consider, although we are rarely ready to admit it. Some of us are more close to reaching them. And those are who I am interested in. Speaking with them, even passing each other on the pavement - that is enough to change you and come with a different point of view. My point of view on this Christmas Eve - after seeing some people of opposite disposition today - is that there is peace between the cities where I live. I may even say that it is a peaceful - even though strange - place.          

Dec 23rd

Gnossiennes (interludes for the Wellbeing project)

By Edward Picot

gnossiennes image

Three short videos based on Eric Satie's Gnossiennes, and designed to be used as interludes between the text-videos in the Wellbeing project.

The paintings in Gnossienne 2 are by Edward Hopper.

Gnossienne 1 - https://youtu.be/4ktm1Cw7xKE
Gnossienne 2 - https://youtu.be/mVfII9Cnq2U
Gnossienne 3 - https://youtu.be/CZwS9Vv1zP0

Dec 22nd

at a theatre near you. (RE-homlessless)

By mike

Good luck with your book project

I visit london theaters frequently and am  very much aware of homeless people.* This may seem a contradiction. I remember attempting a story about this very paradox a few years ago in which  the barrier between these two worlds is breached.

    My contribution to the   local homeless is to give money to the local church.  This is St Martins-in-the-Fields’ which is in Trafalgar Square.   (I think Radio 4 is sponsoring their appeal this year.)   If you have any spare cash left at such a late date, I am sure it would be appreciated.  If you look at their web-site you will see that they can be first point of contact for the homeless too. 

   ‘St Martins-in-the Fields’ is one of my favourite London places, as I am sufferer from intense social snobbery, and this is not  a concern of this church.  

    I am off to the theatre this evening,  It is only a standing position and the play is Shaw’s St Joan -  for the grand cost of £7.50.  

 

*There may be a practical reason.  Theaters present a long bare wall in roads where shops predominate.    There are always people sleeping rough in the Strand and around Charing Cross station

Dec 20th

Stories for Homes TWO!

By Skylark

Very exciting news shared by Debi today:

Heads up,lovely SfH community. We're back on the road with plans for Volume 2! Sally Swingewood and I met this afternoon and these are our thoughts. Settle down, pour yourself a cuppa tea or gin and read on.

We don't want to automatically have the same people as before. Though you/they are all very welcome to submit, we'd also like others to have the opportunity to launch their journeys through the anthology, as many already have. And we'd love to have some people who are already published too, so there's a good mix. The standard of the stories has to be maintained and that needs to come first so we reckon it would be best for the submissions to be anonymous ie names not included on the Word doc.We'll print them out and read them without linking them to the sender.

We're thinking that this time we need more people to do some of the admin stuff. We would still receive all the submissions, select the best, choose the running order, match authors and editors and do the final edit and check of the proof copy.

We'd like other people to volunteer for the following:

1) Crowdfunding for start-up costs.
2) Handling all the finance side including keeping track of how much we make for Shelter.
3) Doing all the techy stuff for conversions for both e-book and paperback.
4) Handling the Amazon side, including tracking sales (this might be tied in with 1 and 2)).
5) Updating the website.

TIMINGS
We're ready to accept submissions now! Deadline 14 Feb. Get submitting and please spread the word. Word count 100-3000. Please email them as a Word attachment to sforh2@gmail.com and copy in debi.alper@gmail.com. Don't forget to leave your name off the Word doc
Launch of e-book in early Sept
Launch of paperback mid-Nov

OTHER PROJECTS
We thought a calendar would work well. It would be an additional source of fundraising and would broaden the community by including photographers and visual artists. Perhaps there could be some poems or flash fiction to go with each image so that people whose story isn't chosen for the anthology would have another way to be included. Thoughts?

Dec 20th

Lucky

By Momo

I am. It means that I am lucky. Although I love only myself, I think that I am still lucky. Anyway, I wish that I may love somebody else. It would make me really lucky. So I try to love girls all the time. Unsuccessfully. May be I am not that lucky after all. May be I am a girl and I should try to love boys. But I am looking for my own unique solution. May be I should try to love myself not as a boy but as a girl. That would be most difficult. But it would make me a little less unlucky than I am and much more lucky than I would be if I was not that lucky. 

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