Tuesday, 30 September 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

Monday, 29 September 2014

Too Busy Thinking ʔbout My Camels...

I am no longer as obsessive as I used to be.  When I was, one thing I learnt in the end was that rather than trying to resist obsessive thoughts, it was sometimes better to give into them.  Therefore, whereas it may seem like an odd choice of subject, I'm probably just going to have to give into it and talk about these:

This is of course a dromedary.  I don't in fact find camels very interesting although I notice that I find South American ones slightly more appealing than Old World camels.  Even among South American camels I find that llamas are less interesting than guanacos and vicunhas (don't know how to type a tilde on here).  On the other hand, the fact that a llama is called that is quite interesting.  The mere interest in the name of an animal, however, is not so much about the animal as our relationship to it, so when you talk about the name "llama", you aren't really talking about the animal in its own right.

In fact, this is something which seems to plague camels incessantly.  They seem to suffer from being treated as property and useful by humans to a greater extent than, for instance, stag beetles are.  For instance, grooms sometimes give the bride's family camels.  They are very useful to humans, so it's easily explained that camels could be used as chattels in this way, just as cattle might once have been here.  It's even possible that a camel would be lovingly cared for after such an exchange.  I now hesitate to go here because it's disturbing to me, but anyway.

We are of course currently suffering from a very slow-onset empty nest syndrome.  Our daughter has recently left home and it's hard to get used to, although easier than the days when I stood in a freezing phonebox once a week feeding it with tuppences in order to maintain contact with my own parents.  Being the sanity anchor for our family, it's quite a loss to us for various reasons - maybe her absence is indirectly responsible for the fact that I'm now blogging about camels.  Of course, and this is the point, our daughter is primarily valuable to us in herself and as a spectacular and unique individual who is in the very top league of our emotional attachments along with other family members.  Nonetheless she had practical worth to us in that she kept us in contact with reality.

Suppose, therefore, that instead of going to university, she had been married off and swapped for a camel.  In a way, a camel is not a particularly realistic possession for someone living in a suburb in the East Midlands and maybe a car or a bike would be closer to the value of a camel to me, or perhaps a pair of boots.  However, unlike a vehicle or footwear, a camel is a living thing.  If I had a camel, I would feel an onerous responsibility to look after it, to the extent that I would probably get in touch with something like a camel repatriation charity to ensure it returned to its natural habitat and once it was there, was able to thrive rather than being treated as property.  Suppose I couldn't though.  I would then have a camel, graciously given to me in exchange for a human being, which smacks to me of treating people as property and is quite disturbing in itself, and I have to admit my speciesism leads me to regard the idea of exchanging my daughter for a camel more in terms of the disrespect that seems to show her than it.  I would struggle to look after a camel for various reasons.  I think they probably need to walk a lot, they probably need to eat things which don't grow here, they'd probably get bronchitis or something in this relatively cool, damp climate and I would also be surprised if they didn't get foot problems and arthritis from walking on pavements and tarmac, or maybe even just grass.  So I'd probably have to get it special shoes or something.  I can also imagine overhydrating them and killing them that way.  I would feel that the camel was a helpless victim of the custom as an individual animal, and it would be quite stressful and difficult.  I certainly wouldn't want to exploit the camel in any way, but I have no idea how I'd keep it - on Aylestone Meadows maybe?  The world is a different place for me than it is for the camel and consequently it would be harder for me to anticipate its needs than it has been for me to anticipate my daughter's.

It would also represent my daughter to me.  A failure in caring for the camel would seem like a failure to care for her.  However, what would worry me a lot more than how the camel was doing, I think, would be how my daughter was doing.  I have to admit that if it wasn't of her own free will (and what is that?), I would basically see this situation as the same as her being kidnapped.  That shows various assumptions about how I view people who exchange camels for daughters.  I also find it very distasteful that this exchange is being considered for a daughter rather than a son.  This is of course a bride price.  I'm getting a camel in payment for the loss of the economic value of my daughter to the family, which in this case could be real.  Our daughter has kept us in somewhat better mental health than we would otherwise have been.  This seems to have value, as for example it enables me to go to see patients and get paid for helping them with their health issues.  So my mental health deteriorates but at least I get a camel.

Additionally, however, a camel represents economic value because the daughter is an economic loss, and this reflects the former nature of families and marriage as economic units rather than units bound together by love, or at least that seems initially to be the dichotomy.  In this scenario, my daughter might be making blankets and selling them, then along comes some guy with a camel and she makes blankets for him instead.  In some ways this seems mercenary to us but for some reason we are expected to be happy to go out to a workplace and earn money for strangers or people with no emotional connection to us, whom in fact, although we should, we don't love.  In a way, the economic unit of the family is healthier than the economic unit of a large corporation or public body.  Nevertheless, we see that as inappropriate.  However, what if providing in one way or another for a family is considered an act of love?  You love someone, so you give them the gift of your labour.  They then feel moved to return that love in an appropriate way.  Moreover, what if we turn that round and say it's OK for a committed romantic relationship to be also an economic relationship in that sense - the "gift economy" maybe?  I don't know.  Then you go out and you work, and that work is on the same basis - motivated by love for your work and for the people for whom you work, who are then moved to express their love and appreciation for you, in an authentic emotional sense, for instance by paying you, but in any case by having a full relationship with you which is not on a hierarchical basis.

Maybe our whole society should be determined by the pace of a camel.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

I Am Not My Brain (But I Am)

I could waffle for Oxford because I'm a philosopher.  What I am is a philosopher.  Does that mean my brain is a philosopher?  The statement "This brain is a philosopher" sounds odd.  Nonetheless there are many philosophers who have claimed to be their brains, and taking their claim about the mind-brain identity theory seriously, and as a form of self-determination, presumably we have a duty to refer to any one of their brains, when preserved in a jar, as for instance "Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher".  If Jeremy Bentham had made that claim, this is not Jeremy Bentham:

Not Jeremy Bentham

I don't know if anyone tried to preserve his brain, but I doubt it.

The idea that someone is their brain is known as the "Mind-Brain Identity Theory".  I argued against it in this video:

The question arises of course of whether that was really me.  Nonetheless, I stand by it to some extent and the sense in which that wasn't me is more to do with adopting a persona.  This was the actor currently known as Amanda McIntyre-Ure playing the part of a man, so this person is definitely not her brain.

However, however, however, this is interesting from a different point of view because there is a sense in which we are our brains.  It doesn't make sense to draw a blood-brain barrier-style barrier around the brain and say that this is me, but there are some ways in which I really am my brain.  Before I get to that, though, there are some really obvious ways in which I'm not my brain.  If I were my brain, I would weigh about 1200 grammes.  Observe (and borrow a "however" from the stash at the start of the paragraph):

From this picture, it's possible to deduce a number of things.  One is that I can't use my camera properly, another is that I need to re-do my toenails, but the third thing is more relevant:  I weigh 72 kg (or strictly speaking I have a mass of 72 kg but I won't quibble).  Therefore I am not my brain, because my brain's mass is probably about 1200 grammes.  That would clearly be silly, although it might help someone with an eating disorder.  It could also be a vagary of usage which it would be useful to overcome, but I dislike the kind of world that suggests as in spite of everything I think it's important to be at one with one's body.

Feel free to borrow another "however".  I am my brain in some senses.  A forgetful brain implies a forgetful person.  There are no people with forgetful brains who are not themselves forgetful people.  An epileptic brain implies an epileptic person, and again, there are no people with epileptic brains who are not epileptic.  On a healthier note, a brain whose fine motor functions are concentrated in the left hemisphere entails a right-handed person and vice versa.  In fact, even a one-armed person whose brain is specialised in that way is left- or right-handed regardless of which arm they have. That doesn't depend on the shape of their body or what organs they have.

Clearly there are aspects of someone's identity which can also be said to be aspects of their brain.  There are equally aspects of it which can't be.  Some of these are very easy to work out.  A brain is never five foot eleven inches tall but a person can be.  A brain might "weigh" 1200 grammes but a person is not likely to be that weight for very long if they have been born.  On the other hand, a schizophrenic brain must belong to a schizophrenic person and a depressive brain must belong to a depressive person.  Oddly though, the reverse is not necessarily true.  Historically, the concepts of schizophrenia and depression are fairly new, so a few centuries ago these people wouldn't have been schizophrenic or depressed but something else, so there's a cultural context to all this as usual.

You know what I want to say but I've said it enough and I won't say it again here.  Left-handed brains must be in left-handed people's heads.  Forgetful brains must be in forgetful people's heads.  There's no way either of those can be false, although there could be people who feign forgetfulness or the wrong handedness.  There would, however, be a taint of dishonesty, right here, right now, in pretending to be left-handed when one wasn't or pretending to be forgetful when one wasn't, even if it eventually became second nature.  That would be true even if you only had one hand, although it would also be understandable, just as it might be understandable if this had happened a few decades ago.  I had a headmaster who was caned for drawing a picture of a man using a saw with his left hand, and presumably in those circumstances many people would have tried to do things right-handedly or even pretended to be right-handed, and it made perfect sense for them to do so.  The chances are, though, that they would have been quite clumsy and had, for instance, untidy handwriting or found it hard to thread needles.

What if you grew up in a world where left-handed people were said not to exist at all?

I'm just going to leave that hanging.  It does have wider applications of course.

So there is a sense in which I am my brain and another sense in which I'm not.  I don't know what distinguishes the two.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Depressing Mental Health Services

I can't pretend to be an expert on the nature or funding of mental health services of course, or the NHS in general.  I have somewhat more expertise in the area of depression, since I seem to have been depressed rather a lot although I never bothered to go to the GP about it or even have counselling.  When I have had counselling, it's not been for depression because although I was depressed I didn't consider it a problem.  After all, why would I not be depressed?  Surely if I was happy I would be out of touch with reality, wouldn't I?

None of this should be taken as implying any criticism of the quality of service or what people are doing with their resources, or the nature of treatment.  That's not what this is about.

Just as I have direct experience of depression, I am now gaining first hand experience of mental health services, as are other people around me, though that's nothing new.  More specifically, I think, and note that word "think", which I'll come back to, I'm waiting for the gender clinic to see me.  In a way, this is not a bad thing because I fully expect seeing the gender clinic either to involve being laughed off as a pathetic wannabe loser or it constituting, as I've said so many times, a nail in the coffin of my relationship to a woman who really is the love of my life, around whom I orbit, tidally locked (look it up if you like, this isn't an astronomy blog), so maybe I will be waiting forever and that's OK, to an extent.  Moreover, what I've already managed to do has made major inroads into my anxiety, depression and the rest because the oestrogen now means my brain has a healthy level of serotonin sloshing about, something which Hypericum for example never achieved, and of course because I have a sense of doing something about the number one problem in my life, so my personal situation is far from grim.

Getting back to that word "think" though, and taking it in two directions, I have a letter from a psychiatrist which I carry about with me so I can do things like use the Ladies.  It says I have a referral to the gender clinic, and I was told to expect a wait of around thirteen weeks although I also have the figure of six months in my mind from somewhere.  I am not now depressed.  However, in spite of the fact that I have that concrete piece of evidence available to me, I am now beginning to doubt that this referral is real because I've now been waiting quite a while.  I recognise this kind of doubt from the Before Time. It used to set in when something which seemed too good to be true was about to happen, such as acceptance on a course (jobs have never happened to me but I imagine the feeling might be similar), the start of a romantic relationship or somewhere to live.  It has a peculiar double-sided feel to it because I can imagine reassuring a friend that something good will happen in spite of what she perceives as a setback and at the same time I am personally experiencing this doubt.  It's OK though, I wouldn't want to exaggerate this.  The other aspect of that "think" is that it involves thinking.  I've been given ample opportunity to overthink this due to the long wait.  I'm also my own worst enemy here as I feel the need to isolate myself from sources of support in order to have what feels like a fair discussion with Sarada, who has very little support for her position.

Transfer this to the more common mental health issue of depression and a similar picture emerges, but unlike this, that is all over the place.  It's the common cold of mental illness.  I can now all too easily imagine someone suffering from depression sitting and waiting for mental health services to help.  I have kind of been in this position although it was for a counselling place and although I was depressed, depression in my view was a good thing - why shouldn't I suffer?  Why should I have any relief from that?  And so on.  I'm sure you've all been there.  I probably would've taken a long time to get round to addressing the issue anyway because I would have blamed myself for my situation and in any case seen the world quite blackly.  There might have been incidents of sufficiently severe but non-fatal self-harm which would've brought me to the attention of mental health services if I hadn't been as careful and unusual as I in fact have been in how I practiced non-fatal self-harm.  Nonetheless, I imagine I would've been in the same pickle, and at that point I would probably have decided I was worthless and that the lack of help from mental health services was nothing other than just desserts.  Also, I wouldn't be proactive in chivvying them along.  Nobody is likely to jump the queue left to themselves here.  On the other hand, they might remove themselves from the queue entirely by doing themselves in (don't - it's a sure way to guarantee things will never get better).  Even as it stands, I have moments when I think maybe the TERFs are right and that means it would be rational to kill myself, which is what hope has done to my mind, but don't worry, it's not a realistic prospect.  The point is that that is an urge not acted upon but nonetheless felt by someone who isn't even depressed.  If it does that to me, what does it do to someone who is genuinely depressed?

If you were of a ruthless enough persuation, you could be forgiven for saying that depressive people are such a drain on resources that they should just be allowed to kill themselves anyway.  Then they've removed themselves from the gene pool and society can concentrate on people who are not worthless.  That is of course a pretty nasty take on life.  Thankfully, it's not coherent.  These people have potential and that is lost to society while they are waiting for help from mental health services.  Therefore, giving them a little more help in this area would reap dividends aplenty.  It's not a case of supporting lame ducks or throwing resources into a hole which can never be filled, although when that happens it's still worthwhile because all people are of infinite value.  It's actually an investment in society and the economy.  Someone who lacks confidence and experience because of their depression can have their life turned around by shortening waiting lists, and of course similar things apply to physical health needs.  I am now convinced that the biggest barrier to my productivity, to look at it in crass, non-compassionate narrow economic terms, has always been gender dysphoria.  Take the word "gender" out of that and you multiply that loss to the world by thousands or millions.

Lack of investment in mental health services doesn't just hurt the people who need it directly or even just them and the people close to them.  It hurts us all.

After the police broke into Geoffrey Pyke's room after he had killed himself in 1948, they couldn't work out why all the furniture was on the ceiling.  If the reason for that was not obvious, it's a telling sign of what's missing from the human race and of lost opportunities for not addressing depression.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Phobias etc

Some people sadly consider it amusing to exploit people's phobias, even on the telly.  I remember seeing someone with a fear of cotton wool balls being forced to confront someone dressed in a suit covered in them.  Apart from the practical consequences for the production company of having a participant in their eye candy die of a heart attack, it's just plain mean to do that, and makes me wonder if anyone involved in planning these things actually has a serious phobia themselves.  If they have, presumably they also have a problem with empathy.

This is the kind of reason I never mentioned my button phobia to most people until it slipped away last year.  At this point I will insert a probably completely unnecessary trigger warning.  Don't click on the next link if you currently have my former problem.

This would have filled me with horror just two years ago.  It would have not only scared me out of my wits but I would probably have to deal with flashbacks for several days after seeing it.  I almost feel disloyal to my former self posting this and I definitely do feel  People didn't understand it, but most of the time they didn't have to because I didn't mention it.  They generally just knew there was something odd out there which I couldn't mention.  I couldn't usually even write or type the word "button" and definitely couldn't bring myself to say it.  It was like a stutter in that way - I had to circumlocute the word a lot because it was very hard even to pronounce it.

Now just think about what that was like for me for a moment.  Buttons are everyday items found on maybe about half of all items of clothing and it was often not even possible for me to open my eyes in the morning without seeing some, let alone go out of the door.  Sometimes it was even necessary for me to wear clothes with buttons on them, which I could just barely deal with if I had to, but most of my energy and concentration would've been taken up with coping with it.  It really was quite serious.

I have rarely been able to raise the subject even with people I've trusted,  Beyond the fear of even saying "button" there are good reasons for keeping this away from public knowledge because people will often not understand or behave with sensitivity and it reveals a vulnerability I would rather not uncover.  When I have, they've often expected to find some kind of traumatic event in my past which explained it. Well, there wasn't one.  It was just there.  I just was afraid of buttons and it was one of those things which I couldn't imagine not having or needing to explain.  Would I need to explain why falling into the North Sea hundreds of miles from land in the middle of a winter storm would be terrifying?  Incredible though it now seems, that's how bad it was, and how clearly horrifying buttons were to me, and that's no exaggeration.  Incidentally, now it's gone it makes no more sense to me than it does to anyone else.  It's a bit like being interested in football in that way - if you are, you don't need to explain it and if you aren't, nobody can explain the interest.

The other problem with pointing it out to someone is that they would then know that something they just did every day was totally freaking me out every time I saw it, and that's not fair.  It was my problem, not theirs.  Now, of course, it's gone, but interestingly when I was in the thick of it I wouldn't have wanted it to go.  I came across a brilliant quote in Audrey Niffenegger's 'Her Fearful Symmetry' about a character with a germ phobia.  It goes something like this:  "Part of the condition is not wanting treatment for the condition".  All of that stuff, some of which some of you will know, I was very attached to.  It was inconvenient and disabling but I thought of it as part of me and in fact, had I known that if I just did that one simple thing which would satisfy my heart's desires they would all go away too, incredible though it may seem, I would not have taken the action I did.  

As it happens, I do think there's an explanation and an analogy.  I think I can illustrate this using (trigger warning again for phobia) a peacock.  There is a rare phobia involving what's described as the fear of "being drowned by peacocks".  Although I have no trace of such a phobia and can't imagine having it, it's all too easy to empathise with it.  I can also explain to the uninitiated that it doesn't literally mean "being drowned by peacocks", and maybe other people with these odd phobias will be able to understand what I mean by that statement, although it's difficult to explain it.  There is a case on record of an epileptic whose seizures were triggered by the sight of an open safety pin.  To illustrate what I mean, try looking at this for a while:

It wouldn't be surprising if this made your eyes go "funny" after a bit.  Now, imagine that was linked to other parts of your brain going "funny" and it becomes clear why it's both easy to have a phobia of being "drowned" (i.e. overwhelmed by the sight) by peacocks and to have a tendency to epilepsy set off by seeing open safety pins.

The other obvious thing which is like this, although this can clearly be established by association, is fetishism.  My fetishes are now gone too and I don't miss them, but they are plainly of that ilk.

So please be kind to people with unusual phobias and fetishes. In the latter case we may have a sense of humour about it and that's healthy though not an obligation on our part.  In the former, please just be understanding.  It's a case of there but for the grace of God go you.  Lightning has arbitrarily struck our brains and just as you would be understanding of an epileptic with an unusual trigger, be understanding of people like me.  You may be lucky enough to have a perfect brain in those respects, but you wouldn't expect someone with a nut allergy to put up with just eating peanut butter or be able to "snap out of it", so don't expect us to either.  Also, the same applies to people who are, for instance, afraid of thunderstorms because of actual traumatic events or others' behaviour in the past which they may have modelled.  I was amazingly fortunate that I stumbled upon an answer to my problem, which even if it did nothing else would be sufficient reason for continuing to pursue this, but hardly anyone would be as lucky as me in that respect, and also, please respect people's desires not to have this change if that exists.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Going Veggie To Annoy People

As a child, I considered giving up meat several times but was persuaded not to by the argument that by eating meat I was responsible for the existence of farm animals in the first place, and that it was better for them to exist than not to exist.  I was also persuaded that veganism was fatal, so I didn't go there.  It was rare for people of my acquaintance even to be vegetarian at that point.

The first person I met whom I was aware was vegan was a first year medical student at university.  He was lactose intolerant so his motivation was not ethical.  Also, at the time I was only aware of the idea that one should be vegetarian for reasons of avoiding suffering and killing directly, which I didn't consider sufficient, probably for reasons of cognitive dissonance.  Cognitive dissonance is the difficulty of holding two apparently contradictory ideas in your mind at the same time, which many people avoid, perhaps as part of human nature.  Since I ate meat, I didn't let myself belief that suffering and killing was relevant.

As time went by, I met other people I knew to be veggie, and found that their reasoning was often not based on the argument that it involved direct suffering and death but on the tropic levels argument.  That is, if you eat food that has been running around or flying, it will have burnt off a lot of energy which food which has not moved much won't have done, so it will itself have needed to have eaten a lot of food which is less active, commonly known as plants.  Therefore, why not just cut out the middle stage and eat plants directly?  I was intellectually persuaded by this argument but not enough to change my behaviour.

Later still, I read Peter Singer's 'Animal Liberation' along with some other books, as part of my first year philosophy studies.  These were enough to make me feel extremely guilty about eating meat although I drifted along in the momentum of what I'd always done for a bit, as people do.  At this point there was an emotional element to my difficulty in not being vegetarian but it still wasn't enough to persuade me to give up meat.  I was also persuaded that veganism was the aim and lacto-ovo only a transitional state on the way to a better goal, something I still believe.

However, what really clinched it for me was when my friend Debbie came to visit.  We were about to go to a pizza place (clearly at that time at least and probably still, cheese in pizza chains wouldn't have been vegan but I'll leave that aside for now) and looked on the menu, planning to buy a pizza between us.  I thought about how much it would annoy my friend if I were to go veggie at that moment and consequently that's exactly what I did.  It was the evening of 9th March, 1986.

Once I'd done that it took me some time to become assertive enough to refuse meat as such.  I found myself not eating the meat I was given but still accepting it, leading to a rather unbalanced diet consisting of the two veg without the meat, although this only went on for a couple of months before I started cooking for myself all the time and therefore just eating a mainly vegan diet with a bit of dairy in it.  I went vegan about a year and a half later.  This is an example of how you can let others down by not being assertive, something which I need to bear in mind.  If you don't stick up for yourself you can hurt others.

What was interesting about this process, though, was the way my opinions changed in spite of the immediate reason for changing my diet simply being to annoy Debbie.  I then became much more easily persuaded of the health-related and ethical arguments for giving up meat, particularly the tropic levels one, and became somewhat proselytising on the matter as  converts often become.  It was no longer hard to believe that it would be better for farm animals not to be born than to exist in the way they currently do or that the environmental havoc wrought by livestock farming harmed other human beings such as the ones living in rainforests.  I no longer had an emotional investment in eating meat, so I no longer believed what I previously believed.

Here, of course, is where the problem emerges.  I changed my behaviour and adopted a new belief system while rejecting the old one.  What I could be said to be doing here is what other human beings do.  I am resolving cognitive dissonance by choosing the arguments which support what I do.  I don't know how to decide what's outside this kind of way of thinking and for a long time I believed that was all there was.

Jumping forward a few years and you find me sitting in a seminar room with a Women's Studies tutor looking at Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.  My aim in pursuing this line of studies was based on the idea that patriarchy is the origin of all the world's ills.  I proceeded to say something about other species based on de Beauvoir's rather peculiar approach to interpreting sex roles in angler fish and bees, and that tutor announced that she absolutely was speciesist because she believed consciousness was based on language and not an innate property of the central nervous system.  To put it another way, if you have no voice, you have no rights and you don't matter.  Later still, I read 'The Sexual Politics Of Meat', which is an interesting read with which I substantially agree but makes the remarkable claim that it's notable that many feminists are also vegetarian and that there is a link between the two.  In fact, my experience is quite the opposite.  To me, it's remarkable how few feminists are vegetarian, and I find this quite worrying because it makes me wonder how compassionate people in general really are.  You have to be quite remarkably numbed to suffering and empathy to be unaware of the suffering of other mammals and birds, and when I think about the language-centred approach of the view expressed above, it strikes me that people very often just believe what they want and use arguments to back up their beliefs after the fact, so they don't feel the need to change.

Of course, it is also the case that many feminists are vegan but just as veganism should be an unremarkable position, it should also be entirely unremarkable that feminists are vegan.  However, in my experience they usually aren't and that's because like myself, they choose arguments to justify their position rather than using them to improve it.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Christianity And Trans

Surprising though it may seem, I do actually try really hard to dislodge my self-absorption about the trans issue.  Like many preoccupations, it feeds on that.  What I should be doing is quietly observing what I feel and letting it wash over me, something which has worked well in the past with other fixations such as limerence (<cough>documentary<cough>).  Sadly, however, this emerged from my female brain this morning, so I'm gonna plonk it here.  Maybe it's my male socialisation making me do that.

A couple of weeks ago in church, I was sitting at the back wardening when a family who used to come turned up there unexpectedly.  They had left for very valid reasons a few years ago to "do church" in a different way and I think they probably attended to support some friends who were taking a prominent part in the service.  They gave me a bit of a sideways look but went and sat down on the pews.  A few minutes later, one of them got up to visit the lav and asked me why I was wearing a skirt, to which my reply was "it's really complicated".  Considering that I was on duty and unable to enter a long egocentric diatribe about the whole thing, this was about the best I could manage in the circumstances.  Nonetheless it is a valid question and I'm sure it does seem peculiar to a lot of people that I'm both a committed Christian and transitioning.  This is just here to explain.

Before I start, I want to point out that there are many sophisticated and prayerful commentaries on the internet about this subject by Christians and this is not going to replace those.  People particularly focus on the group described in many English translations of the Bible as "eunuchs".  I'm not going to do that here and nor am I going to be theologically very deep, but I just want to point out that that stuff is there if you want to look for it, both sympathetic to and opposed to the trans issue, and of course it's feasible to be both at the same time.

It's tempting to commit the secular style sin of a numbered list at this stage, but I will resist that temptation and instead do it as bullet points.  There ought to be about nine of them.  OK:

  • I genuinely believe myself to be female. To others, I may be mistaken about this or it may seem delusional.  Perhaps from a rather conservative Christian perspective, I might be possessed.  However, the fact remains that from my perspective, I am female.  God obviously is not going to want me to deceive others, so I present as female.  All that not wearing skirts, not shaving, not wearing make up and not having breasts was a lie.  Apparently it wasn't even done very well although I didn't know that at the time, so apparently I'm not a good liar.  I've been described as wearing "ladies' tracksuits" - I had no idea I was doing that.  So in order not to violate the ninth commandment, which is an extremely prominent Judaeo-Christian injunction, I now present as female.
  • God already knows what I'm doing, feeling, thinking and so forth inside, so in a way there's no point in not doing this.  Here's some of Psalm 139:
You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

So imagine some Christian bloke surreptitiously trying on his wife's bras and panties while he thinks everyone's out (which incidentally I never did because - well, why would I?  God didn't deal me that particular card of fetishism and I'm very grateful for that).  God is of course standing right next to him looking in the mirror and equally aware of his wife rummaging in her handbag outside the front door trying to find her keys.  He already knows about all that.  It doesn't matter how secret you want it to be, it won't be secret from God and whereas you may or may not be right about whether God's OK about it, the fact is, as I'm sure other theists would agree, God is totally, 100% aware of what you're doing and why you're doing it.  That's no excuse for being gratuitously offensive or distracting - God also knows what you're listening to on your iPod but that doesn't mean you should put it on a ghetto blaster and blare it out in the streets - and in fact that was one reason why I sat at the back of church for a while during services - but believe me, God knows.
  • (Sorry, I've messed up the formatting)  The start of my journey as a Christian is anything but honourable.  I committed to Christ rather appropriately on 23rd October 1985 and almost immediately ran into huge problems, not least because I knew I was gender dysphoric and assumed I would be judged for that.  In fact I judged myself.  As a result, after about a year of struggling, I gave up, turned my back on my faith and it took twelve years for me to come back to it.  Those twelve years were lost to the church and in fact I was so vehemently opposed to the Christian faith during that time that I decided it was the worst thing to happen to this planet since the extinction of the dinosaurs.  It didn't go terribly well.  In the past year though, this question arose in my mind:  what would've happened if, when I'd become Christian, I had met openly trans people?  I would not have left the Church in a fit of self-righteous pique.  Moreover, what if, when say a baptism or other public event takes place and non-Christians attend the church, they see me?  What if some of those are closet gender dysphorics?  Might it not make them feel welcome and included and make my faith seem less judgemental and conformist?
  • Since I started taking hormones, I have found Scripture has opened up to me more and become more meaningful, and I'm also more open to letting God guide me.  My prayer life is also richer.  If this is the wrong thing for me to do, why would that happen?  Am I listening to demons?  If so, why is this not the house divided against itself, as Christ put it?  I honestly cannot believe that these things would happen, and of course I'm convinced that they are, without God's blessing on my decision.
  • Galatians 3:28.  Here Paul writes "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.".  God made me the gender I am for a reason, but is gender-blind in the sense that I am a sinner like everyone else and saved like everyone else.  It's irrelevant to God what gender I am in that sense, and people of whatever gender are made in the image of God and should be treated, and treat others, appropriate to that image.
  • Getting on to the question of clothes in the sense that I might be seen as a bloke in a dress, and of course that's not what I am but let's entertain that for a moment, there are of course still conservative Christians, and conservative Christian churches, who would expect women to wear skirts and dresses and men to wear trousers and the other accoutrements they consider to be appropriate to their gender.  However, this is now becoming quite rare, and whereas the Church should of course not follow the ways of the world simply for its own sake, there are in fact relatively few churches whose women never wear trousers even when at the physical church itself, let alone in daily life outside the church.  It would be hypocritical to expect men never to wear dresses if they wanted to.  Moreover, taking Deuteronomy 22:5 - " A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this." - seeing as I currently only wear "women's clothing", and seeing as I am in fact a woman, from my own perspective I am doing exactly what the Bible tells me to do and in fact doing it to a greater extent than most other women do.  Of course, that's not what God is telling me to do in that verse and I wouldn't seek to impose that on anyone.
  • I prayed countless times for many decades for God to make me happy about being physically male.  There are no unanswered prayers.  However, if an overindulged child prays for another pony or something, she may well not receive what she's prayed for, because sometimes the answer is "no".  I deeply and securely believed, to a much greater extent than in other areas, that God really did want me to become happy about being physically male.  I also wanted to become happy about it.  It just did not happen.  What did happen, and I feel a strong conviction that this is so which I would attribute to the voice of God, was that God answered "no".  God's answer, in more detail, seems to have been something along the lines of "Amanda, I know you believe that you ought to want to be a man, and I know you believe that I want you to become happy about being a man, but I also know that that's not what you really want, so instead of answering your prayer, what you are saying, I am going to give you what you want and make you outwardly a woman as well as inwardly."  The crucial thing to remember about what happened was that it wasn't through my own will.  I accidentally and unknowingly took a strongly oestrogenic herb and my problems went away, or rather they became outward rather than inward.  This is not a decision I made:  it just happened, and I see it as literally an act of God.
  • All sins are equal before God.  If what I'm doing is sinful, it's on a par with many other sins.  I feel fairly strongly about Sunday trading, but my church buys milk on Sundays for the drinks and in fact I have myself bought milk for the church on Sundays.  I don't think that's a problem, by the way.  We're all sinners though, and if what I'm doing is sinful, and the nub of the matter is that I honestly don't believe it is, then so are a lot of other things that I do.  Why focus on an apparently sexual sin more than something else?
  • God created the world perfect and our sin caused it to deviate from that perfection.  God doesn't want people to be diabetic, have muscular dystrophy or any other such condition, not as they stand, although of course God does bring forth miracles out of the direst situations.  God does not want me to be gender dysphoric.  A diabetic who decides they need to take metformin or insulin will not usually be condemned by their church although there probably are a few which would disapprove.  That's to the detriment of the church, not God, because God doesn't usually want a diabetic not to avail themselves of the drugs available for the condition.  That condition exists because we live in an imperfect world.  There are in theory two ways one might deal with gender dysphoria.  One might seek to become happy with one's assigned gender, or one might seek to make one's gender presentation consistent with one's inwardly felt gender.  I'm doing the latter and it's working.  The former didn't work.  To me now, it seems like a diabetic wanting to be happy with having a disease which makes them tired, depressed, thirsty, constantly needing the lavatory and so forth because they don't believe, or other people don't believe, that it's God's will that they take the drugs or hormone which would help them manage the problem.  I don't believe God works like that.  God wants us to be happy and healthy, and to function properly so we can express God's love to others in our actions, and that's what I'm doing by transitioning.
So there you go, another diatribe on trans stuff.  I will get past this and endeavour to post on something else next time but it just came up fully formed so I thought I'd get it down for you.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Why Demos Are Not A Complete Waste Of Time

Two things I did this morning which are more similar than they might at first appear were that I went to my place of worship and to the march against climate change.  The actual natures of my faith and socio-political beliefs are not the issue here:  feel free to replace these two with going to a mosque and an EDL march.  For some people the two events were continuous because the church local to the gathering point held a service followed by mosying on down to the park where they gathered and I presume the same is true of a number of other faith groups.
As I went into in this video:

the nature of religion is such that the belief and ethical systems are only a minor part of it.  Nonetheless, adherents of, for example, the Christian faith, often believe that in order to achieve practical results it can help to engage in ritual.  Many would of course say that the truth is that we interpret the events which follow prayer in a similar manner to the way people are seen as interpreting tea leaves or the shapes of molten lead after it's been dropped in water - the same thing would've happened anyway and it's just a mass delusion.  Even those who believe strongly in the power of prayer may view certain "answers" sceptically.

I see demos as like religious rituals.  People go on demos and on the whole few people notice or care and the policy, organisation, political party or government about which they're demonstrating stays the same, although it should also be pointed out that it would be in the interests of those who are perceived as having gathered power over, such as corporations and governments, to give hoi polloi the impression that their efforts have been fruitless so that they don't start to realise they're more powerful than they think.  This is of course why the demonstrations against the Gulf War in 1991 had so much influence in bringing that event to a close. Leaving cynicism aside for at least the time I take to write this blog entry though, maybe, but I want to look at something else.

Demos are rituals akin to religious rituals, and as such they do serve an important function for the participants.  I will of course assume that it doesn't matter how many people come out on the streets to shout, give speeches and wave placards, the government is never going to change its policy and that is of course the permanent government, not any particular political party we imagine is currently in power.  Given that, demos are still worthwhile.

Going back to 1991 when I protested with many others against the Gulf War (and don't worry, you can feel free to assume instead that I was instead expressing my opposition to the legalisation of homosexuality or something if you disagree with that particular perspective - it has no consequences for my argument), I did so in full awareness that nothing I could do would stop the war.  The question arises of why I bothered.  The answer for me was that I couldn't stand back and allow the atrocity to be perpetrated in my name.  I just wanted to express my opposition because it was a very emotional time for me, in two ways oddly, but I'll come back to that some other time. Hence we have our first reason for demonstrating:  it's worth protesting because you feel strongly about something, so you might write a poem, smash a cup or you might wander around the streets with a couple of thousand other people shouting a lot.  It's a form of self-expression.

Demos are also good at making the protestor feel less isolated.  When I went on the Vegetarian Society demo against Smithfield (read "Countryside Alliance protest against banning foxhunting" if you like), there were about two hundred people there, many of whom couldn't be bothered even to give up dairy, marching in the opposite direction to the meat market.  This was very discouraging and pointless of course, but if it had been bigger and going in the other direction it might have made me feel there were other vegans who felt the same way as I did about the situation.  That would've been nice.

Finally, demos encourage people when they go home to do something practical and active about the situation.  A discouraged peace campaigner on a CND march (sorry, I can't be bothered to think of an alternative here, probably due to a failure of empathy) might then go back to their family and find they are more willing to resolve conflicts between them and their parents, partner or children more positively and with less recourse to aggression.  The more people do this, the more likely it is that the world will not only talk softly but also carry a smaller stick, or even throw it away altogether.  This is a practical result of a demo, and I must admit that it stretches my credulity that this could happen, but who knows, maybe.

So demos are not pointless at all.  They're more like religious rituals.  They achieve a lot for the wellbeing of those who go on them and for those with whom they come into contact.

I realise this may not be why many people consciously go on demos but then it's probably not why many people consciously go to church either, but I see them as basically the same thing, and these are sufficient reasons for doing both regardless of the realism of the ostensive purpose of either.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Mea Culpa ad Culpam Neminis

Giving a blog entry a Latin title is probably a really good way to minimise readership.

There was an argument in this house this morning.  In fact, it's been noted by outsiders that for many years now (translation:  it's not my fault), visitors find that the sound of an argument is usually what wakes them in the mornings.  It's our much less stressful version of an alarm clock.

Nowadays of course, our anchor in reality also known as my daughter (not the imaginary one who is, let's face it, not particularly useful in that respect) is gone, so the rest of us are left to explore our inner Tasmanian Devils in peace.  Hence, probably, the floaty nature of the beginning of this paragraph.

One of the notable things about our arguments, and probably most arguments, is that they're often exacerbated by the tones of voice we use, to the extent that before the catastrophe I used to make a point of wearing a tracksuit with "TONE" emblazoned across the chest some days just to bring people's attention to that fact.  I don't know why it said that, but it was useful for that purpose among others.  It might have said it on the bum too or something.

Leaving that aside though, this morning's argument, like many others here, boils down to the question of responsibility versus fatalism, and as such is also intergenerational in origin.  The younger participant in this argument held that they could not be seen as responsible for what they regarded as a mental health issue, whereas the older participant held that they had more control over the situation than they claimed.  It's very telling that it was that way round.

I apologise in advance to any QUILTBAG person who might be reading this.  I don't question your own competence in deciding how you see yourself, and what follows is a highly personal view, more about me than you.  Nonetheless I couldn't see how the categories of homosexuality or heterosexuality would apply to me.  Please don't take offence, as none is intended.

Before the legalisation of sexual activity between male-assigned persons in the late 1960s, a condition often referred to inaccurately as homosexuality, there was clearly an idea, enshrined in law, that homosexuals chose to indulge themselves or not, and even that it was something they chose to do rather than opting for that equally arcane orientation referred to as heterosexuality.  The idea that it is or is not a choice is in fact a complete red herring because needless to say it's no more immoral than choosing to use a mouse with one's non-dominant hand, but the idea of responsibility is clearly important to people in deciding whether homophobia is rational or not.  There is a tide in the affairs of apes here, or perhaps just among members of Homo sapiens in contemporary Western culture, away from the idea of personal responsibility for circumstances and towards determinism and fatalism regarding our actions.  Each of us, substantially depending on the generation into which we are born along with our social backgrounds, is liable to attribute a certain portion of human activity to that for which we can be held responsible and a certain other portion to causation which does not pass through our conscious minds.  We will also look upwards to previous generations and see them as more judgemental than us and downwards to later ones and see them as irresponsible, and that holds regardless of the generation into which we are born.

This is what I saw this morning as a non-participant in the argument between two other family members who shall remain nameless.  Each regarded the other's behaviour as reflecting an inappropriate attribution of degree of responsibility and that was the philosophical core of the argument.

What troubles me about all of this is the relativism involved.  People do generally tend to believe that their view of the world and human behaviour is accurate and of course the competitors in this morning's rather dyspeptic sport were no exceptions.  However, clearly the times in which they were born were instrumental in forming their opinions on these matters.

The question is, then, how do we decide who's right?  I am as much a product of Generation X as Sarada is of Generation Jones, and my opinions and hers differ.  Is there no truth at all?  Is it socially constructed?  That doesn't seem to be working out.  So how do we decide what's an appropriate attribution of responsibilities?  Answers in a comment please (which because they're on the internet amount to postcards).

Thursday, 18 September 2014

On Going On And On

You might wonder whether Sarada and I have anything in common sometimes, although you probably don't because there is quite a lot, in fact probably too much. If we ever get divorced, we'll probably cite "irreconcilable similarities" for obvious reasons.  There is relatively little complementarity in our relationship except that I tend to be able to help her with computery stuff a bit.

One of the things we do share is compulsion to write, in two different forms.  Liz's compulsion to write is up to her to feel compelled to write about, so I'll leave that to her, except to say that although she is compelled to write, she is fortunate enough not to be compelled to write verbosely.  I, on the other hand, have logorrhoea.  I go on and on, as lots of people have noticed, particularly the children.  I do this in writing and speech.  I love it when other people do the same because it makes me feel better when I can't get a word in edgeways.  NaNoWriMo for me should be the other way round - I should reduce my "literary" output by 50000 words in November.

Two surprising things about this though.  One is that I used to edit other people's work for brevity, and I was good at it.  Among the things which made it easier was my training in formal logic, as I could shorten sentences without sacrificing meaning, sometimes because of logic itself, sometimes due to familiarity with how language tends to work.

The other is more surprising:  I used to be brief!  I admit that I wrote two 30 000 word essays while studying A level biology but they were surprisingly to the point.  Clearly there was a compulsion to write there but more in Sarada's style than my more recent one.  Then I did my Masters.  This completely screwed with my clarity and plainness and I never got it back. French philosophers take pride in their obscurantist writing.  Jacques Lacan is a notorious example of this.  Not every philosopher is like this but, at least at the time, people took pride in producing the likes of this.  That's not an extreme example and the person who wrote it is in fact entirely OK.  However, that kind of approach to writing is rewarded by that particular strand of academia.  For some reason I've never been able to get my brevity back but I'm working on it.  As Mark Twain said, roughly, "Sorry this is so long.  I didn't have time to make it short".

I'm not on Facebook today at all and I'm also avoiding the news because of the Scottish independence referendum.  I personally expect the "no" camp to win.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Looking Into A Woman's Eyes

When I was thirty-two, during a period of my life when my conscious GID was fairly remote (apart from the fact I was taking - er - something), I decided to go to the NHS to have my bowel dysfunction investigated, partly because I wanted to place myself in the position of a typical NHS patient as experience to help my own future patients.  I found there was a tendency to be lulled into passivity, which interested me.  I was booked in for a barium enema.  I heard various horror stories about them, none of which were actually in any way an issue.  My main concern was in fact that I was to be exposed to a humongous dose of X-rays, presumably because otherwise the pelvis would get in the way.

One of the interesting things which happened was the hyoscine injection, whose purpose was to allow the bowel to dilate to the point where it would be easily imaged.  Hyoscine is anticholinergic and antimuscarinic, so in other words it acts on the autonomic nervous system.

This was fifteen years ago.  Thus far I seem to have experienced two long-term effects from this investigation.  One was the appearance of a wart on my left wrist, shortly after the X-ray exposure.  The other was the apparent intermittent appearance of Holmes-Adie pupils.  I should explain.  For some time after the injection, and I mean several years and still on occasion, my left pupil would not constrict much in response to light, leading to difficulties in reading and discomfort in bright light.  Moreover, it emerged that during my training as a herbalist, a number of deep tendon reflexes were completely absent.  To be honest, I didn't notice if my sweating was abnormal.

This so-called Adie Syndrome I think of as a mere feature of my body rather than a problem.  It's not serious in any way although the absence of deep tendon reflexes occasionally meant my knees would tend to buckle, which again still happens on occasion.  The Holmes-Adie pupil phenomenon is generally thought to be caused by a viral infection of the ciliary ganglion.  When the nerves recover, some of them are said to supply the muscles which control the iris better than others and there is an imbalance leading to this effect.  Presumably I had chicken pox or glandular fever or something which led to this at some point and the administration of hyoscine triggered it off.  The deep tendon reflex thing is again due to infection, this time of the dorsal root ganglia in the spine.

So far so good.  It's pretty clear that it's at least very similar to Holmes-Adie pupils even if it isn't actually that, and in fact I think it is.

What makes it interesting to me is the gender distribution of the phenomenon.  The mean age of onset is thirty-two, which for me is right on the button (yay for being able to type that without freaking out!  You have no idea!), and it's said to be mainly a problem for younger women with about 70% of the cases being female.

Imagine, then, that you know nothing about me other than the fact that I have two eyes, and you can shine a light in them, and do a neurological exam generally on my deep tendon reflexes.  You are then asked to guess my sex.  The safest guess would be that I'm female.  In fact every person I've noticed with Adie pupils is female with the possible exception of myself.

Of course, men do get Adie pupils and the rest, and it isn't like 95% are female or something like that.  However, to me this is a fairly strong indication that my central nervous system is typically female, not typically male.  It's not a clincher, but it is a bit close, and the facts that I am also M2F gender dysphoric and that the claim is often made that M2F gender dysphoric people have typically female brains.  Moreover, one's sense of gender identity is said to be based on whether certain parts of one's brain, notably for some strange reason the corpus striatum, which links the basal ganglia, are typically female or male in structure. It's not based on the current hormonal regime, socialisation or the perception of one's body.  In other species, allegedly, brain "sex" (not necessarily chromosomally) determines the gender of the whole animal.  I'm afraid I can't remember much about that apart from this.

This is interesting because Adie pupils and the absence of deep tendon reflexes are not psychological but neurological.  They're not to do with emotional trauma during childhood, social construction or even free will.  So this amounts to a very unreliable test of brain sex.  It's far from perfect, but given the circumstances, it's, to use the cliche, a "smoking gun".  It really does seem that I have a female brain. As I've said before, I'm not my brain, but maybe my gender is the same as the gender of my brain.  Perhaps that is what gender identity is, at least for me.  That means that in theory I could go around wearing a suit and tie, be into fast cars and loose women, be muscular and hairy and generally do nothing outward to indicate that my gender was female, but I would still be female.  There is no need for me to conform to any gender stereotype to make myself female.  I just am female, because my brain is female.

The question arises of why I haven't thought in that way much until recently.  I would suggest that the answer lies in my practice of scepticism.  I am very reluctant to attribute the word "knowledge" to anything.  It's possible to doubt rationally the existence of the external world, of other minds, of the past, and so on.  All of those things might not be real and as a philosopher I have in fact experimented with doubting them.  However, whereas I might have sat in a seminar as an undergraduate and pontificated about the non-existence of consciousness in other "people", when I left that seminar I would still be confronted with the fact that one of the other people in that seminar had recently been freaked out and disgusted by my inappropriate gushing of undying love for her, and those things - being freaked out and disgusted - are real experiences in her mind which I have no doubt were actually there.  That horribly embarrassing, cringeworthy elicitation of a negative response did include those experiences for her.

However, because I was so used to the idea that it's possible to doubt almost anything other than logically necessary propositions, bits of maths and qualia, it was equally possible to doubt that I was female.  In fact, I think I may even be putting the cart before the horse here.  I think the truth may be that it's the other way round.  The reason I was so good at metaphysical doubt was that I was immediately, at a very early age, confronted with the fact that something I had such a strong feeling of certainty about, that I was female, was doubted, and in fact completely discounted, by absolutely everyone I came into contact with.  This is the origin of my philosophising.

Therefore, suppose I do decide, as practically everybody does, to accept that life is not a dream, that we are not brains in vats, that other people are not zombies and that we didn't all spontaneously spring into existence five minutes ago with ready-formed false memories.  A further incontrovertible fact for me would be that I am female.

Therefore in recent days I have been looking into my eyes, which occasionally respond oddly to changes in light, and knowing that when I do that, I am looking into a woman's eyes.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Liz went somewhere with poetry and there was some beer and she ended up with a "Star Trek" reference

Liz went somewhere with poetry...

I have to be very careful not to cause a temporal paradox by writing this blog as it was seen in a vision by someone combining trigonometry with orchids and roses yesterday, so if I don't write it, it will cause the Blinovitch Limitation Effect or something.  Way to motivate myself - I wouldn't want the Universe to explode just because I didn't write a blog post.  Even still:

Sarada is of course a poet.  She has a variety of good verse, including one poem about certain venereal shrubs already mentioned in this entry in the house of Mars which is brilliant but which she won't read because it's too personal, hence my oblique reference.  Nonetheless there are other poems which are equally groovy and which she is prepared to read out loud in public, one of which I find very nervewracking.  It's called 'On Not Speaking A Scandinavian Language' and is mentioned here on her blog but it's looking like you're going to have to go to a live performance actually to hear it.  It evolved from a series of limericks I think.  The reason it makes me nervous is that most of the way through the poem, she seems ignorant of the characteristics of the languages themselves.  For instance, she seems to think that Swedish has an "Ø" in it when in fact it has an "Ö" , and I'm also a little uneasy about the inclusion of Finnish among the Scanditongues because I don't think it really is.  All is, however, resolved in the last verse.  She, of course, would feel equally or more nervous performing the rose poem, so she doesn't.  I personally think she should go there but since when have either of us had any control over what our partners do?

...there was some beer...

Indeed there was.  I gave up alcohol for seventeen years until last autumn, when I decided that I was as addicted to not drinking it as some people are to drinking it, although of course the latter tends to have more serious consequences.  However, I still eschew beer, on the whole, because of the hops.

Hops are martial herbs.  This is a little surprising as they are oestrogenic and also liver stimulants, so one might expect them to be venereal or jovial, but apparently not, says Culpeper, and who am I to argue.  They are also in the category of "popular herbs which I never use", the other two being juniper and vervain.  Oddly enough, vervain was the first herb I used medicinally on myself in my early twenties.  Like juniper, but unlike vervain, hops are hard to find a use for not because they're useless - they're far from that - but because their indications and counterindications tend to coincide.  Juniper is a kidney stimulant which works by irritating the organs concerned, meaning that it wouldn't be a good idea to use it to stimulate reins which are already troubled and susceptible to injury through irritation.  Someone m,ight want to explain how to use it to me sometime.

Hops are similar, so it's said.  Hops are of course used for sleep and anxiety and are oestrogenic, but they also exacerbate depression.  Besides that, they stimulate the liver and lymphatics (which is allegedly impossible).  Now, the reason I find this problematic is that depression can lead to insomnia and anxiety and depression are said to be chemically similar.  If my website still existed you could look that up on it, couldn't you?  Ah well, never mind.  It is also thought to contribute to depression among beer aficionadas/-os on occasion.  Having been susceptible to depression in spades before the Catastrophe (it deserves a capital C I think), I assumed that the guzzlement or chewment of hoppiness would not lead to happiness for Mands, so although I did go back on the sauce I didn't start drinking beer again.  Come to think of it I have no idea what's vegan nowadays anyway.  However, I did want to experiment, so I have in fact munched quite a lot of hops over the past couple of weeks.  Rather surprisingly, they didn't make me depressed at all!  I'm now wondering if hops are one of the herbs which have a paradoxical effect on me, another one being lavender which used to make me irritable and stimulated - it now does the reverse.  So I might be wary, but am now wondering if I'd be OK with hops.

...and she ended up with a "Star Trek" reference...

Things are about to get seriously nerdy.

As you will be aware if you look at some other entries, I've been developing a conlang called Amandese.  Esperanto is said to have failed because it lacked a culture to back it up.  In fact it did have a culture of sorts, but that's another story.  Tolkien's languages, however, do have a culture and are more successful, and the same is of course true of Klingon.  Speaking of which, Star Trek has these things called star dates, one of which cheered me up once when I was sitting despondently in a student bedroom in Oadby, pulled out a drawer and saw "Captain Kirk Stardate XXXX.X" written on it (with actual numbers I've forgotten).  This had the opposite effect that hops are said to have.

The original idea behind star dates was that because Starfleet was bunging ether vessels about Ginnungagap at a rate of knots, it would end up bending time to the extent that it was the middle of last week for some of them while it was next Thursday to others, so they needed a system to mark time which wasn't anchored to any particular planet.  To me this seems a neat idea.

However, here's the Memory Alpha entry on them, and as you can see that idea seems to have been completely abandoned, which is annoying.

One phrase which tends to go through my head a lot is "Yea, e'en before the Great Nova Of Gath", which I thought was from Not The Nine O'Clock News but apparently isn't, so I have no idea whence it came.  It occurred to me about thirty years ago that there was in fact a "Great Nova" a long time ago, for us, namely the Crab Nebula, which even from here is the brightest X-ray source in the night sky.  It's about 6500 light years away and its light first reached us on 4th July 1054.  Moreover, it has a built-in time signal, the Crab Nebula pulsar which has a period of 33.5028583 milliseconds.  It seems to me that we do in fact have a useful way of dating things here, and also one which depends on spatial position as well as temporal.  Why not date the events in this bit of the Galaxy from when the Crab Nebula, in Amandese "Supernova De Gath", became visible to a given location and use units based on the period of its pulsar?  Nothing can interfere causally with the events outside the light cone, so this is entirely feasible and shouldn't cause any problems while underlining the fact that simultaneity is illusory according to relativity.

Bringing this back to language, back in the early 20th century, less than 900 years after the Great Nova Of Gath (can't do the pulsar period thing right now), the appropriately named Whorf of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis claimed that the Hopi language had a different view of time in that it failed to recognise the concept of simultaneity, although apparently there is no evidence for it and it's like that "words for snow" myth.  However, I'm entirely happy with the idea of adopting whatever the heck it was supposed to be into Amandese, provided the havoc it wreaks with my conceptual universe is entertaining and conducive to compassion rather than just a mindwobble to no real purpose.

Oh yeah, and I saw a Star Trek cross-stitch book in Oxfam the other day and I can do cross-stitch.