Monday, January 28

From our guest Pulpit Preacher Mr Konan T. Baptist


Your usual preacher, now absent on his Sabbatical, has entrusted your souls to me and as I will not let any of you risk earning eternal damnation in in his absence, I must demand that all Parishoners of Much Ticking repent- specifically:

Followers of A'foot-it- REPENT !!!! As it is written in Paul, John, George and Ringo 12: 3 'Those that follow on foot will spend 31 days in the wilderness. And that is 31 days they will never, ever get back. Give it up.'

Garden bird counters- REPENT !!!! As it is written in Genesis 99 12-15 'And it came to pass that the Priests of the Temples of Media prophesied that the poor Mistle Thrush would be used to gain much publicity among the great unwashed for the garden count. And all followers of Media believed this spin and repeated it as being newsworthy and not just being publicity.  But, as punishment for this, just before the weekend the Waxen Chatterer ate of the forbidden apple on the pointy stick causing all birds to be banished from the gardens for the weekend of the Mighty count. So all counts were low, and the the weekend cursed to be naught but a gimmick forevermore.

Birderers getting tattoos of birds- REPENT !!! As it is written (really, it is, take a look) in Leviticus 19:28 'You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead, or tattoo yourselves' Those of you that have, flay yourselves.

Userers of all and any worldwideinterweb thingies- REPENT !!!! As it is written in Twittites 9:1-3 'In the beginning was the sighting, and the sighting was good. The sighting was so good it appeared on the Alert of Rare Birds, the Almighty Forum of Birds, the Local Line of Birds, on the Book of Face and on the a'twitter. The sighting was sooooo good it appeared on every a'twitter, of every a'twitterer. For ever and ever. A'twitter.'

Members of the Camera obscura club of Kent- REPENT !!!! As it is written in St. Martyn's letter to the Cannon-ites 12:34-56 'CocKs, seek not to lure all species to your lens with the legume of Arachis hypogaea, for you really should know not all fowles come to them. As an instance, for Bitternes on frozen ice, well, that's never going to work out'

Followers of the Black Country- REPENT !!!! As it is written in James's letter to the Asbo-ites 1:1 'Peace will only return to your land when the Lamb lies down with the Mole.'

Premier League Birderers- REPENT !!!! You will never, ever win the Premier League. For it is written in Acts of the Apostles 400:400 ' "I am the way and the truth and the judge and the jury and executioner. No record comes to acceptance except through me." '

Supporters of TUKOGBANI- REPENT !!!! As it is written in Numbers 3.14159.. 'Whilst on the WeBS count he came upon five loaves and two fishes, which he then made into a feeding flock of 5,000 dunlin. And the local co-ordinator said it was good.'

Disciples of the British Birding National Frontiers Party- REPENT !!!! As it is written in Revelations 2013: 1-3 'Let him who is low listing count the number of recently split beasts, for it is the number of a man with too much time on his hands, and that number is 666. Beware then also that same man when he then tours the lands demanding all turn to seagullery.'

There, I think I have brought order to all. Do as I say, no other way is ever acceptable to me.

This does, methink, just leave the small number of wimmin within our congregation- REPENT !!!! Do always as it is written in (and really, it is, take a look) One Timothy 2:12 and One Corinthians 11:6. Leave all the birdering to the menfolk and stay by your hearth. Your God's chosen one has spoken. Here are nice kittens with yarn for you instead.

Thursday, January 24

Empathy, empathy (they've all got it empathy)

Doctor Asperger,

I had not expected to hear from you again after our last exchange as I thought my stern views on your mumbo jumbo quackery were made quite clear. However, you obviously value my scathing opinion for whatever reason, and your partner Dr. Thuckwit has begged me to engage with you on this, so, I will this once try to comment openly on your new theory herein. It does, however, all seem rather far fetched and way ahead of the times. And why you pick on birderers as being so deficient to be worthy of your study I do not know.


You touched upon the idea of empathy as something to be valued the once before, and now you expand upon this, with it being one of your most fitting measures for making sense of watcherers and for why they be as lunatic as the tides in comparison to any usual parishoner. Regardless of whether or not I agree with your theories I certainly have never come upon such a full and complete understanding of this 'empathy' as you lay out before me (and I will call it 'empathy' is as our good British Doctor Titchener coined it and not suffer your Germanic suggestion further). Your stressing that empathy is actually to be sorry 'with' someone, to be able to fit oneself into their concept of the world and see through their eyes, seems to make sense: I follow your summary that

sympathy is to be sorry for someone,
empathy is to be sorry with someone.

and I think, yes, on this definition you may, just may, have a point. However, you then go on to quote from studies showing that high levels of empathy have now been exhibited amongst the great apes in captivity?? Young Chas Darwin may enjoy learning of this, but you will have the Bishopric protesting again, methinks.

You set out three levels:

1) Emotional empathy

This is empathy at its lowest level, often seen in animals, where empathy is but a subconscious condition. Again, that I can accept. That our pets can be loyal, bond to us and feel our pains and joys can be put to this, but confirming that it is just subconscious keeps animals, as the Lord writes, under our dominion- they are still dumb animals, no more.

Then you say surgeons and scalpelers think they have pinned down which part of the brain controls this? I will not ask how, but I will just take great joy in exploring this line of converse with hound owners who let their pets 'scat' in the churchyard and then tell me I cannot rebuke them as the animal is as much like a family member to them and I should talk with them nicely. Pah.

2) Emotional contagion

You next move upward a level, partly on a path found from deductions on some of my own notes upon birderers, to postulate that from within the realms of tribalism (and for your tales of tribes, you would make, say, birderers, listers, CocKs all 'tribes') a higher emotive level evolved for a purpose necessary within a useful pack mentality, the creation of a want to belong and to bring individuals together. A need for pack members to repond in tune with others. Thus any emotion of pleasure or distress can be 'caught' easily within a 'crowd' and felt by them, causing the same biologic reaction- such as flight or fight.

Again, yes, this might well explain the shared delight of the crowd at the recent Snowfinch, the shared dismay at the Wallcreeper not being found on Thanet (despite, as I read elsewhere, there being premonitions of one arriving this weekend past) or even the shared schadenfreude towards a latecomer to a third twitching crowd caroling 'you should have been here ten minutes ago, you should have been here ten minutes ago'.

Or even, as some found to their cost, producing mass hallucination where a Chiffy may be a Paddyfield.

3) Cognitive empathy

You then move up another level higher to explain why we humans can stand out among the Lord's creations, and here you almost lose me with an idea that is a hundred years ahead of my abilities I fear.

With emotional contagion being the primary state of the subject (the birderer) after perceiving the emotional state of the object (the crowd a'twitchering) the subject feels joy or distress of the crowd through the crowd, enabling them to be 'with' that crowd. If also lucky enough to be blessed with the higher 'cognitive empathy' then the subject still feels feels exactly as the others, but can at the same time distinguish himself at all time from the pack- they recognise their own values beyond that pack; with a dash of cognitive empathy one can remain more easily self-focused rather than totally object focused. Cognitive empathy has developed from emotional contagion and makes a man. An I right in this thinking?

If I do have this right, then confirm my illustrated understanding of these ideas, here held within the consideration of a fictional story of a birderer who is a party to a mass dipping. This man may see fellows around him wailing and crying, their dreams shattered. This should could and would elicit shared emotional distress? He would wail also? He would have emotional empathy and suffer emotional contagion.

That birderer, if lucky to also have cognitive empathy, can partake as he feels to be 'with them' but will still recognise themself not caught entirely within the experience, and so can walk away to return to normal everyday life. They can appreciate the missed to be, as coined by Sir Gyr of Crakes 'Just a bird'. They do not spend the next week bawling on the worldwideweb about their perceived loss, unlike those that are without the cognitive empathy, who remain tied within the strong bond of emotional contagion and will forever continue bleating on about Owls, Tattlers and Yellowthroats for very many years to come.

Zounds(!) No wonder within your Syndrome theory there are so many levels and layers. This is all so complex. No wonder those you think have just lower levels then have difficulty comprehending their situation and accepting that their obsessive ways really are not the norm even though they may be as bright enough to have attended Oxford, Cambridge or the Not-really-thought-of-as-well-as-them-others-but-still-a-University-of-Kent.

If I understand you correctly, empathy can be honed? You suggest people can improve themselves, so there is hope even for the most deluded listerer?

- - -

Well Asperger, all most fanciful. I will indeed think further on this. At present it may seem that this is a theory which holds a little water for why when one does join a tribe of the birderers your neighbours judge you deficient. Just a little water, mind you.

But for now now my more pressing concerns are those of my expedition packing, of my finding time to go out and look for the forecast Wallcreeper, and of my entering fully into the ongoing debate on the Almighty Forum of Birds as to whether there actually is a Siberian Thrush awaiting rediscovery amongst the poor houses of the capital. I must also go a'foot-it, patchery-work it, year list it, county list it, day list it and life list it and photograph it facing towards the right. These are the things that really concern me. With all of this, plus the time spent here on your missive, I really have nothing left for my flock at present- but they can wait for my cover; dearest Konan gets here at the weekend.


Tuesday, January 15

La muerte de resoluciones

Well, so much for my New Year's Resolutions:

1) Make peace with Weasel.

My hopes have, I am sad to report, been dashed. Like most birderers, the good doctor is keeping his memory long and refuses me a second chance. He accuses me of having plied my trade in a common Dockyard ropery, and that such baseness will never leave me.
Ah well, I shall speak of him no more. I shall just find many more good birds than he, and on my own.

2). Be nicer about Mrs Miggins' Tea and Sandwiche Shoppe for elderly and befuddled ornithologists. 

I note that they this week have an evening of cucumber sandwiches accompanying a talk on identifying grebes and divers 'at a distance'. As that distance being recommended is the one from the comfort of their tearoom to the shore I shall withhold opining further for a little more time.

3). Take more interest in expeditionary work.

Sad to say Rear Admiral Evans' opening has been filled by Father Dougal McGagnell of Crawley Island (of whom I trust he has improved his ability to discern between 'small' and 'far away'.)

Well, good luck to them. I have instead secured a position at a French leper's colony in Timbuktu, in the company of a division of French Legionnaires for the whole of the month of February this year, to bring good Christian ornithology to the unwashed, and so from a fortnight hence I will be away from all forms of communication until my return with the spring- I do not hold for getting any message back as I am told this part of the world is often avoided by Europeans, save those searching for Desert Sparrows or an oasis of Slender-billed Curlews.

4). Have a kinder word for CocK (Camera obscura club of Kent), and all other such photographic groups.

The plague of Waxen Chatterers has continued unabated, and as I have already seen other respected members of the county gentry harangued for daring to question the CocK's compositions I shall remain quiet for the moment.
I will though be charitable enough to offer up a prayer for the delivery of the chimpers from the financially challenged pawnbrokers Jessop, Jessap, Jessip and Jessup, whom I have heard have gone to ground, along with several long lenses belonging to some of the more prominent CoCK members. (Poor young Chid Chiddington for one. I trust he does not become subject matter another comic chapter within Charlie Dickens' latest work on the courts of usury,'Beak House'.)

5). Visit the Isle of Thannit before its scheduled Independence Referendum and subsequent breakaway.

Too late. First Minister Pikeblogg has, by his latest electronic writings, totally broken away from accepted birdering (and all normal behaviour) and now instead waxes lyrical upon... fish. How can this be? Is he truly more at peace for the being away from the rest of us birding folk? Time will tell, but do search for his worldwideweblog writings on 'observations' & 'esox' as they remain worthy of perusal, if only for the dandy hairstyles illustrated from his yesteryears. Very good luck to him and to his small band of follower.

6). Make a donation towards the restoration of 'Dreamland' at Barredgate.

No sooner had I given thought to doing so, than a billboard poster appeared upon the site proclaiming an 'opening soon under same management'. Hussar! The land is not worth of my farthing, for now.

7). Entertain the Urbane Birder.

 Whatever next?? It seems that the birdering upper classes now employ 'managers' now to deal with their 'bookings' for 'appearances'. Directed to write his servant at a Lookerer's hut in the capital for the outside chance of arranging an appearance with the great man I have now decided against having him on my lawn. I shall instead invite that nice Packham boy from the Seasonswatch workhouse.

8). View a Conjurer's Pantomime Show.

I understand that the act was changed just as the tour started and now it is all about making any large-ish, white-ish bird-ish object into a Great White Egrette. Though a much more acceptable outcome in my book, I can do that act myself so will now not attend any of the shows.
I have also been informed that the conjurer is now kept quite busy practicing escapology- namely extracting his pes from his os having received liberal abuse upon The Almighty Forum of Birds where he tried to reveal the magic circle secret of turning Yellow-browed Leaf-warblers into Pallas's Leaf-warblers and vice into the versa.

9). Contemplate undertaking my own small 'Grand Tour'.

Waxen Chatterers in the garden no less- traveled less than ten feet from my leathery situpon to the Frenchie windows. I cannot understand the excitement in this a'twitchering. That is me done for the year.

10). Wish a Peaceful New Year to all fowle watchers of the land.

Tick! At least no-one has challenged my faith in better birdering for all- yet. I think I might stay at just this one resolution in future years...