Sunday, 21 January 2018

Feckless opinions

In a modern democracy where most lives are tolerably comfortable, is it possible to have a rational electorate? Do we need the stimulus of privation to make democracy work rationally? Once privation has gone do we become democratically feckless?

One of our major problems is that so many middle class people have political opinions which entail no personal risk. They seem silly because they are, but they are not personally risky in the short to medium term. What risk there is tends to fall upon other people, mostly poor people and those with uncertain employment prospects such as the young. Hardly surprising if we see things through the lens of self-interest because that is human nature, but what value should we place on the political opinions of people with no skin in the game? 

Political life seems to have reached a stage where huge numbers of middle class people are virtually isolated from economic and social realities in spite of fashionable claims to the contrary, often centred on supposed concerns for minorities. The situation is particularly marked in large swathes of the public sector with its secure employment and generous pension provisions. I know, I was there.

Such people can afford to be politically radical because there are virtually no personal consequences for modern radicals. Radicalism has always been something of an indulgence for those in a comfortable situation, but when the indulgence catches on and becomes fashionable we have a problem. A few trite phrases about equality, immigration and racism, endless demands for the government to do something, a spot of recycling, a vegetarian cookery book, some finger-pointing and a basic knowledge of political fashions will do. There is absolutely no risk of being called to the barricades.

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May are good examples, particularly Mr Corbyn, a middle class radical in comfortable circumstances who has enjoyed a long and fecklessly radical political career with never a hint of personal risk. If anything the risk of an undistinguished career seems to be one he welcomed rather than regretted. The safety of radical impotence seems to have been his preferred option until quite recently and even party leadership was not something he actively engineered. Even that development is safer than it seems now a comfortable retirement is his for the taking.

Mr Corbyn cannot possibly cause himself any personal harm however much damage he may do if voters are as politically feckless as he is and usher him into No 10. If his past is any guide then he may have no desire to be Prime Minister anyway but that may be a question for the future. He has no skin in the game. His political ideology and promises are worth less than nothing.

Mrs May is in much the same position. It hardly matters to her personally if Brexit succeeds or fails. She will always live her life in comfortable circumstances well beyond the aspirations of the vast majority of voters.

Of course this is not a problem we can resolve, but useful experience outside politics could go some way to mitigate it. Successful people outside the political bubble are less likely to disregard the prospect of failure and more likely to care about outcomes. As far as our current political class is concerned failure hardly matters one way or the other - it doesn't really affect them.  It doesn't affect far too many voters either. Not yet.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Adult gender confusion

Cafes are interesting places, good for people-watching and who doesn’t enjoy a spot of that every now and then? For example, the other day Mrs H encountered a chap in the ladies toilets – presumably a man who identified as female. At least that was what Mrs H assumed from his clothes and physical appearance - she has a sharp eye for these things.

Identified? An intensely fashionable but strange use of the word ‘identified’ I always think. Although the toilet lurker seemed to be a chap who identified as female, Mrs H identified him as male. A rather more correct identification I suspect. From her account of his appearance most women would have made the same identification – most real women that is.

The trouble is, although one may wish to be fashionably accommodating, it is not obvious why we should identify people incorrectly merely on their say-so. Children do it when playing their games of make-believe, but adults are supposedly made of sterner stuff. Not all adults obviously.

There is a politeness angle of course. If one knows such a person personally then it may be polite to go along with their self-adjusted gender but apart from that I don’t see why the rest of us should join in political games of let’s pretend. We do enough of that as it is.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Childhood gender confusion

Mercatornet has an interesting piece on children suffering from ‘gender dysphoria’ written by Dr John Whitehall, Professor of Paediatrics at Western Sydney University. He describes this trend as a "behavioural fad" and even in the absence of personal experience I'm inclined to believe him.

Childhood gender dysphoria is described as the distress associated with persistent, insistent and resistant identification by a child with the gender of the opposite sex. No one knows why this occurs: there is no proven biological or psychological cause. It is not a new phenomenon. Rare cases are on record from years past.

But now children are reported to be suffering in numbers which are increasing exponentially every year. Protagonists argue that, in the past, the phenomenon was hidden by social attitudes but that, now, access to the internet is providing confidence for children and parents to declare membership in the ranks of the ‘gender fluid’.

Its rarity, however, was confirmed for me, a paediatrician of over 50 years experience, when I polled 28 of my colleagues and found only 12 cases could be re-called from a total experience of 931 years. In 10 of these cases there was severe mental co-morbidity: the other 2 were associated with severe sexual abuse.

I believe this modern phenomenon represents a behavioural fad which is spreading through the community in a contagious manner, fanned by an uncritical and enthusiastic media, and given direction by websites and such governmental directives as the so-called ‘safe schools programme’. The problem obviously affects children but also, strange to say, parents, especially some mothers who seem prone to become so enmeshed they emerge as cheer leaders in the transition of their offspring.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Cold but -

Our walk took in Middleton Moor today. Lots of mud and up on the moor the wind was bitterly cold, but look at that blue sky. To my mind this is one of the great attractions of winter. There is nothing quite so exhilarating as a bright cold day with distant views to please the wind-blown eye.  

Monday, 15 January 2018

Leave it to the inmates

Do you ever think about taking a break from political battles? Are you tempted to brush aside all those fatuous opinions disguised as news and explore other issues? There is no shortage of alternatives to stretch the mind – it doesn’t have to be politics, politics, politics. Are you tempted to take a holiday from the madness which never seems to subside even for the briefest moment? I am.

Politics is a rum game anyway. So many sects, parties, fake solutions, fake news, fake campaigns, fake ideals, dismal slogans, infantile mantras and pointing fingers, yet they all seem much the same to this outsider and that stirs up a thought or two.

The overall political game, whatever its flavour seems to be one where outsiders are always looking in, trying to make sense of the asylum merely by gazing through the windows. No sensible person wants to step inside. Sensible people seem more inclined to reject a political outlook in favour of something more pragmatic and no so much rooted in the sterile soil of political mantra.

It is almost as if the main political choice we all face is whether or not to enter the asylum in the first place. Yet what we are supposed to do on the outside? Not much of a choice really. Leave it to the inmates? Doesn't work does it?

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Coffee Logs


I recently bought a pack of coffee logs from the local garden centre for use in the wood burner. These are artificial logs made from compressed coffee grounds. Very expensive but I hoped for a faint aroma of coffee while burning.

Testing almost complete. They burn well and give off lots of heat, but no coffee aroma while burning. Just a whiff of coffee left on the fingers after handling the things. An imaginative idea I thought, but at about £1100 per tonne typically environmental - expensive with no real advantages. I'm burning the last few as I write.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Trump and those pays de merde

Oh dear whatever next? Donald Trump is alleged to have poked yet another stick at Newspeak enthusiasts. From the BBC

US President Donald Trump has sparked outrage after he was reported to have used crude language to describe foreign countries in an Oval Office meeting.

Mr Trump said he did not say "anything derogatory" about Haitians and appeared to deny calling any countries "shitholes", as was reported, generating a worldwide backlash.

However Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said Mr Trump used "racist" language.

The president did call some African nations "shitholes", he said.

 A blunder? I don't think so. I wonder if Trump plays chess? Whether he said it or not this feels like another move in the game, one that is bound to stick if I may use the expression. Why is it bound to stick? Everyone knows why.

Around the world, journalists reporting in other languages faced the question of how to translate what Mr Trump had said.

  • In French, headlines featured "pays de merde", using the expletive to refer to the countries but without the word "hole"
  • In Spanish, "países de mierda" was used, similar to the French, as well as "países de porquería", which means "trash countries"
  • In German, "Drecksloch" , which literally means dirt hole but like the word used by Mr Trump is considered vulgar
  • In Dutch, one newspaper used "achterlijk" (backward) as its headline
  • In Japanese, a word that translates as "outdoor toilet" was used
  • In Portuguese, one outlet used a word that translates as 'pigsty', while others translated the quote literally