December 2017

Interesting problem

A woman who requested a female NHS nurse to perform her cervical smear test was “embarrassed and distressed” after a person with stubble and a deep voice summoned her for the intimate procedure.

When the patient pointed out the mistake, the nurse replied: “My gender is not male. I’m a transsexual.”

This weekend, the woman, who decided not to go ahead with the examination, said it was “weird where somebody says to you: ‘My gender is not male’ and you think: ‘Well, what does that even mean? You are clearly a man.’ ”

The nurse “had an obviously male appearance . . . close-cropped hair, a male facial appearance and voice, large number of tattoos and facial stubble”, she said.

The woman received an official NHS apology after she made a complaint about her treatment.

The incident has been revealed as Justine Greening, the equalities minister and education secretary, is considering proposals that would allow people to change their gender legally without a doctor’s diagnosis.

That is, when is gender simply self-defined (when, say, deciding to wear a dress, adopt a name one wishes to be known by) and when do the expectations of others make a difference?

Pretty foolish idea

Internet giants face a multimillion-pound tax raid unless they agree to help combat the terrorist threat to ­Britain, which is at its worst “for 100 years”, the security minister revealed last night.

Ben Wallace accused internet firms of being “ruthless profiteers” that cost government a fortune by failing to assist the security ­ser­vices in identifying terrorists and stamping out extremism online.

Isn’t the general complaint rather that we can’t work out how to tax them in the first place?

The rather more basic point is that it’s we the people doing the actions, it’s we the people who want (maybe) the policing, we the people should be paying for it.

So, why were they excused?

Essentially the joint venture between Stagecoach and Richard Branson’s Virgin that had won the franchise to run the line from 2015 to 2023 found it had overbid and wanted out of the deal. Grayling stepped in and allowed them to pull the plug without the companies having to pay around £2bn that was payable for the final years. Adonis was outraged.

“The manner of doing so, was in my view, deplorable,” says Adonis. “He used some smokescreen about reopening closed Beeching lines and bringing Thomas the Tank Engine back to East Grinstead [to conceal what he was really doing]. He didn’t spell out that what this meant was that the companies were going to be excused from making £2bn worth of payments to the government.”

The result, Adonis says, is that “there is going to be a massive loss to the taxpayer as a result of this”.

Adonis calls the move a “scandal” because it is, he argues, taxpayers who will be left to pick up the bill, and rail users who will be hit with still higher fares.

Because the taxpayer, in the form of Network Rail, has fucked up.

If they want to, sure

Schools should give boys lessons in zumba and ballet to promote the idea that PE is gender neutral, the head of a leading sports organisation has said as she reveals that girls as young as six are losing interest in exercise.

Offering a full range of activities will help to combat the stereotypes and “cultural norms” that are putting girls off sport before they reach junior school, according to Ruth Holdaway, who is chief executive of Women in Sport.

In addition to giving female pupils the option to play cricket and football, “boys should also be asked what they want, and given the opportunity to do a zumba class or whatever,” she said.

But this rather fails Chesterton’s Fence. Why do we have organised sports for the little testosterone factories? Because the little testosterone factories are hugely physically competitive.

So, we organise it rather than having them doing a Piggy on one of their number.

Complaining about sport being physically competitive is to miss the point entirely.

Why did anyone think it would be different?

Consumers face higher prices and new “service charges” as retailers and businesses plan to circumvent the Government’s ban on credit card fees.

From Jan 13, “rip off” fees of up to 3 per cent charged by firms and ­government bodies when people pay by credit card – ostensibly to off-set charges paid to card companies – will be ­prohibited.

But The Sunday Telegraph has learned that some retailers and other companies are planning measures to “sneak” around the rules. These include: refusing credit card payments; increasing shelf prices; introducing new “service charges” across the board.

It costs money to run a credit card system. Someone has to pay those costs. Why not the people who use credit cards?

But it never has been about what the people want, has it?

Plans for a United States of Europe by 2025 suffered a damning blow today after a new poll revealed they have little support across the major nations.

German politician Martin Schulz – the former President of the European Parliament and domestic rival to Angela Merkel – promoted the plan at a party conference.

He called for a rapid development of the EU after Britain leaves, accelerating integration and leaving behind those who do not want it.

But the plan is supported by less than a third of people in seven major nations – and just 10 per cent in Britain, in a vindication of last year’s Leave vote.

It’s always been about what the technocrats would impose upon the people.

More politicians means worse run

Not that this is a great surprise:

SNP ministers are under pressure over their “mismanagement” of Scotland’s NHS after it emerged the number of patients being sent to other parts of the UK for specialist treatment has increased by almost 50 per cent.

The Liberal Democrats urged Shona Robison, the Health Minister, to explain why the number of Scots referred for treatment to England, Wales or Northern Ireland increased from 427 in 2013/14 to 625 in 2016/17.

The Scottish NHS setup is much more like that of the whole thing a couple of decades back. One of the things which the varied reorganisations of NHS England has done is to make it more efficient. OK, from a pretty low base, but still.

Which is one of the little amusements of the debate. NHS Wales has done less marketisation, Scotland even less than that. Yet when we hear the cries that we must stop the marketisation we never do get pointed to either place to see how successful that would be.

Err, yes dear

Macron had a good year. In 2018, he could even stop Brexit


The President of Frogland is going to stop a British democratic decision? That’s rather why we voted as we did isn’t it?

This was the year France won and Britain lost. Emmanuel Macron emerged to transform a sclerotic political scene, dazzling the world and many in his country with a youthful energy that made French rejuvenation a buzzword. Theresa May stumbled from one hiccup to the next, rushing to Washington for an awkward meeting with Donald Trump, triggering article 50 with no plan for the aftermath, and losing her majority in parliament.

Macron made headlines with slogans such as “Let’s make the planet great again”. May’s mantras – from “global Britain” to “Brexit means Brexit” – backfired or seemed to go nowhere. Macron secured a solid base in the national assembly for his upstart La Republique en Marche party. He made sweeping, lyrical speeches about Europe, heralding a new era of empowerment and European sovereignty.

Most Froggie, thinking that a couple of speeches changes the world.

Err, how? What?

What laws that is:

The government, he writes, must enact laws that require manufacturing’s share of the GDP to rise from its current 12.5 percent to something closer to the norm for OECD nations—somewhere between 17 percent and 19 percent.

How in buggery do you do that? Let alone why would you want to.

Such a changeover, Uchitelle acknowledges, would require the enactment of steep tariffs, of domestic content standards far stricter than any now on the books, and perhaps a trade war with China and other nations. It would require treating manufacturing as we’ve treated agriculture since the 1930s. “The political maneuvering involved in authorizing the annual farm subsidy once drew headlines and controversy, but now rarely does.” (Of course, that’s partly because the handful of agribusiness giants can lobby behind closed doors.) “We accept that farming is a federally subsidized market activity,” he continues. “Manufacturing must proceed along a similar path.”

Umm, right. Agriculture’s share of GDP has continued to decline though, hasn’t it?

Idiot sodding stupidity

Stoll offers the ideal complement. He has set out to tell the story of how the people of a sprawling region of our country—one of its most physically captivating and ecologically bountiful—went from enjoying a modest but self-sufficient existence as small-scale agrarians for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to a dreary dependency on the indulgence of coal barons or the alms of the government.

Stoll refuses to accept that there is something intrinsically lacking in Appalachians—people who, after all, managed to carve out a life on such challenging, mountainous terrain. Something was done to them, and he is going to figure out who did it. He links their fate to other threatened agrarian communities, from rice growers in the Philippines to English peasants at the time of the Enclosure Acts. “Whenever we see hunger and deprivation among rural people, we need to ask a simple question: What went on just before the crisis that might have caused it?” he writes. “Seeing the world without the past would be like visiting a city after a devastating hurricane and declaring that the people there have always lived in ruins.”

The missing history is above all a story about land and dispossession. For roughly a century, starting before the country’s founding, the settlers of central Appalachia—defined by Stoll as the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania and most of West Virginia—managed a makeshift life as smallholders. The terms of that “holding” were murky, to say the least: property claims in the region were a tangled patchwork of grants awarded to French and Indian or Revolutionary War generals and other notables, which were commonly diced and sliced among speculators, and the de facto claims made by those actually inhabiting the land. In some cases, those settlers managed to get official deeds by the legal doctrine of “adverse possession”; in many others, they were simply allowed to keep working the land by distant landlords who had never laid eyes on it.

That modest but self-sufficient existence is what the people in Appalachia are returning to. It’s just that now we think of that modesty as being abject poverty.

Yer 18th century farmer up there might have been gaining $5 in modern money a day from his efforts. That’s less than food stamps these days.

If you don’t understand how fucking poor the past was you’re never going to get anything right, are you?

Mustn’t let the steam engine spread into education

Hell, even coal fires are a bad idea, they’ll teach the young to appreciate Big Carbon:

By 2020, technology in the classroom is predicted to be a $21 billion industry. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have pledged to donate $45 billion in Facebook shares to bring their personalized learning to other educational spaces. Meanwhile, Bill Gates is committing $300 million to similar causes, and Netflix’s Reed Hastings wants to give $11 million to personalized math software.

But there is reason to second-guess this opportunistic philanthropy, especially with Betsy DeVos as an outspoken proponent of this so-called personalized learning, i.e. tech-enriched education. It’s becoming clear that company interests are intended to groom loyal customers, sometimes at the sake of effective tutelage. And while teachers have begun to criticize their new roles as entertainer, classroom silence has become a measure of an app’s success. These are just a few of the reasons Silicon Valley’s role is in serious need of examination.

Take Google as an example. Right now, the majority of public schools rely on Google’s Chromebooks. The laptops now host half the nation’s primary and secondary students, with over 30 million students using Google’s educational applications. At a cheap $30 per student and with a suite of free online applications, it may seem like an altruistic move on Google’s part. However, all of Google’s services remain free because of advertisements and the data the company tracks from users’ online meanderings. This has led many to argue that its benevolent image is only as good as the promise not to track student data. Otherwise, Google’s educational enterprise allows the company to benefit from its collection of adolescent data mines.


On the subject of populism in politics

The people complaining most bitterly about populism in politics are those whose political policy can be summed up as:

“We’re going to tax those bastards over there to buy you nice things. Give us your vote.”

In what manner is this not populist politics?

Well, yes, obviously

Data from the first two waves of the Fragile Family and Child Wellbeing study indicate that infants who look like their father at birth are healthier one year later. The reason is such father–child resemblance induces a father to spend more time engaged in positive parenting. An extra day (per month) of time-investment by a typical visiting father enhances child health by just over 10% of a standard deviation. This estimate is not biased by the effect of child health on father-involvement or omitted maternal ability, thereby eliminating endogeneity biases that plague existing studies. The result has implications regarding the role of a father’s time in enhancing child health, especially in fragile families.

Homo sapiens sapiens is one of those species where paternal investment in offspring is important.

Thus why the kafeeklatch of women surrounding the new mother continually bray “How much his father” he looks. Whatever the reality or the evidence.

It might also be a hint as to why serial motherhood isn’t all that good a solution. Despite the potential advantages of having children with a greater genetic mix.

This is fun, isn’t it?

I am not sure I have the energy to do a review of 2017. Let’s just say May blew it, with Trump running her a close second.

Winning an election everyone expected him to lose is blowing it?

23 Will Uber declare bankruptcy in the face of its VAT bills now owing?


It’s fun how people get rich, isn’t it?

The brothers’ intense personal rivalry has loomed large over India’s business scene since 2002, when the death of their father Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of the Reliance Industries group, led to a rift over strategy.

The dispute eventually led to the break-up of Reliance Industries when, in a 2005 peace deal brokered by their mother, Mukesh retained the highly profitable oil and gas business and Anil walked away with telecoms and power.

Both men continued to operate under the Reliance brand, although it was Mukesh whose fortunes prospered. The elder brother is now India’s richest man, with an estimated net worth of $41 billion,

Sure, he started out rich which helps. But the surge in fortune has come from launching free and heavily discounted mobile telecoms services. The same thing which has severely diminished his brother’s fortune.

Who are the people who really benefit from this? Well, sure, he’s a nice stash now, hasn’t he. But what about those hundreds of millions of Indians who have received free and heavily discounted mobile telecoms services? The cumulative gain there is rather larger than his increase in the stash. Very much larger in fact.

Which is why the system works. As William Nordhaus pointed out.

Further feminisation of education?

While this move is welcome, it made me realise how much was missing from even the basic aspects of sex education, which I was taught not that long ago (I’m now 21) in my all-girls school.

Despite the programme of study being titled sex and relationships and education, there was little guidance on forming healthy relationships – including the ideas of support, commitment and mutual respect. When relationships were discussed, they were treated in a clinical manner – as little more than sex.

Entirely true, relationships are important. Also entirely true, sex is great fun.

But it is also true, on average and across the people, that male and female attitudes to sex are slightly different. There are indeed women to whom a shag is just a shag, men to whom nothing without true love is even remotely enjoyable or even possible. But that ain’t the way to bet now, is it?

To then insist that sex education should be about relationships is to do what we did with exams and coursework, feminise education to a point.

This may or may not be a good idea but that is what the idea is.

Well, this is waking up even if not woke

This “externalisation” of the far right was at its height during the 2016 presidential campaign, in which Trump was portrayed as a political anomaly who had hijacked the Republican party. Conservatives and mainstream Republicans argued that he didn’t really represent what was at heart a moderate conservative party. They found much support among liberals, most notably Hillary Clinton, who focused much of her campaign on “moderate Republicans”.

However, for years surveys have shown that strong authoritarian, nativist and populist positions command pluralities, if not majorities, among Republican supporters. Positions on crime, immigration and Islam have hardened rather than weakened, while conspiracy theories that were at the fringes of the militia movement in the 1990s are now widespread.

Baby steps now, baby steps. But we do at least seem to have an admission that some large portion (a plurality of those who vote perhaps, this time at least) aren’t signed on to the Progressive ideal of America. At which point an interesting thought. Will that commitment* to democracy mean the vision changes? Or will the proles be told to shut up and get on with it?

*to ask this is to answer it really, isn’t it?

Causes of depopulation

Well, there could be many reasons why a small island off Scotland doesn’t have a viable population. Weather, jobs, just the sheer misery of tiny, tiny, communities.

But this would also be a problem:

critics say Canna’s difficulties are exacerbated by strict property ownership rules on the island.

Although a few crofts are owned by its original inhabitants, incomers are not allowed to own land or build houses on Canna, and tenancy agreements are capped at 20 years.

The National Trust is the absentee landlord, you see?

Well, why not?

Vanity Fair became embroiled in a social media storm over a video in which Hillary Clinton was urged to quit politics for knitting – an attempted joke that backfired even before it drew a bizarre tweet from Donald Trump.

Maybe she’ll actually be good at knitting?