Friday, 13 April 2018

Good people doing their best

This article is about raising "gender neutral" or, more likely “gender open,” “gender affirming,” or “gender creative" children. Theybies.

I came across the article from someone who thinks that this is a Bad Thing. I'm not so sure and I want to explain why.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Vignettes of Progress

1. In 1779 construction began on the world's first cast-iron bridge. It's in England and spans the Severn Valley. English Heritage is doing it up at the moment. Here's something I've learned from English Heritage's magazine:

What was possible for the UK in the 1770s is not possible today.

2. The Royal Society was formed in 1662 as the "Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge". It is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. In1665, it published the first issue of Philosophical Transactions, the world's longest-running scientific journal.

Nature published an article in its 8 March 2018 edition on the role of women in the Royal Society and its publications. As you might imagine, it is not an altogether happy story.

But my attention was drawn to this detail:

It seems that data on the Royal Society's editorial records from 1662 to 1990 is readily available because it was written down on paper, but from 1990 it is inaccessible because it has been put on computer.

3. Here is the beginning of an agenda I recently received because I am an elector in the ward of Farringdon Without, part of the local government of the City of London.

Cracking stuff, eh? Oyez! Wardmote! Holden here this day!

The agenda covers the usual kind of local government stuff ...

... before ending in the style it started:

Thanks Beadle! You can be sure that thereof fail shall I not.

Is there a serious point to all this? I think so.

Some people regard these traditions as harmless fun, like the Royal Family: it's something for tourists, a chance for fancy dress, a little bit of tradition, doesn't mean anything, does it?

On the other hand, some people get quite worked up about things like the Royal Family. They see them as symbols of an irrational adherence to feudal traditions that fetishizes class divisions and unjustified deference; something that reveals a deep-seated love of the past, a sick kind of nostalgia for 'happier' days of the Empire, Glorious Isolation (don't mention Brexit!) and so on; in short, something that holds Britain back. If we didn't have 'beadles' and 'wardmotes' with people shouting 'oyez' and 'God save the Queen' then perhaps we could reality in the eye, and turn our attention to real achievements like iron foundries, science and progress for women.

I think those people are on to something. I think they are wrong, but they see a little more of the truth than people who just treat the whole thing as harmless nonsense.

It is not stupid to think that one of the reasons that the Royal Society was a big deal from its founding and has continued as a prestigious organisation to this day is because it is precisely that, i.e. Royal. And perhaps the UK's ability to make vast iron arches would have been maintained if there were a Royal Iron Works. The patronage of royalty - and all the other manifestations of tradition - sprinkles a bit of stardust onto human endeavours as diverse as cutting edge scientific enquiry and hearing updates on the progress of Crossrail.

Or imagine having a relaxed evening with a few friends, in a Pizza Express or Nandos or what have you, and at the end of dinner someone stood up and said, in all seriousness, "Ladies, Gentlemen: the Queen!". It would be incongruous precisely because toasting the Queen - and the Queen herself and the whole edifice of royalty - comes laden with a certain gravity, unearned or not, that changes the dynamic of everything it touches. A toast like that can anger republicans - it could be a provocation. It's not just words or something for tourists.

So, given that that stardust and gravity exists, I don't think it is stupid to think that that it might be working to retard a country rather than advance it. It's an idea explored in the Gormenghast books, perhaps inspired by the Forbidden City. It's an empirical question.

However, the evidence, it seems to me, supports royalty, beadles and all the rest of it.

Let's take local government. The City of London is clearly doing something right. The successors to Dick Whittington mayor themselves over the world's most attractive financial centre ('despite Brexit').

And constitutional monarchy seems to work too. There are about 200 countries in the world, and Wikipedia tells me that there are 43 monarchies and it lists 36 constitutional monarchies. Which are the most successful countries? Disproportionately, they are constitutional monarchies. Of the top 20 countries in the Human Development Index, most are constitutional monarchies, including both number 1 (Norway) and number 20 (Luxembourg). In fact, the exceptions to the 20 countries are the interesting ones. They are, in order, Switzerland, Germany, Singapore, Ireland, Iceland, the US, Hong Kong, Korea and Israel. Of those, 4 were under the British Crown and one was under the Danish Crown within living memory. Moreover, if you look down the list you will see some indications that monarchies have the edge generally. Take an area of the world, the Caribbean, say, or south east Asia: you might reasonably prefer the Bahamas and Thailands of the region to the Haitis, Cubas, Vietnams and Myanmars.

In short, it is extraordinarily difficult to maintain a successful republic on any scale for any great length of time. The US and Switzerland are often regarded as pretty odd places by outsiders: I'd suggest that they have to be in order to manage the mere feat of surviving.

Is there then a trade-off between political progress and social progress? Is there any reason to think that if your country has an unusual degree of interest in who is related to a man who won a great victory at Hafrsfjord (near Stavanger, if you're interested) in 872, or in the exact words used by some Englishmen writing a constitution in the eighteenth century, then it might also be more interested in gender equality and healthcare reform? I don't know, but perhaps there is. Progress requires a stable platform to build on, we might say, or maybe a sense of familiarity and comfort provided by tradition gives people the confidence to experiment in other areas of life. Sometimes what seems to be progress is a 1990s computer system that isn't as good as pen and paper.

At least, let us agree that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Fix the Iron Bridge and the Royal Society's attitude to women, by all means, but don't throw them away. And hereof fail not!

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Stuff that is being done to children - and has been done to adults

"In other words, the decision to transition — often irreversibly — is increasingly made by age 14."

That comes from this article about a clinic at the University of California at San Francisco that concerns itself with transgender children.

The article continues: "The controversy — whether gender dysphoria is permanent or ephemeral — has occasionally made its way into the UCSF clinic ...". Occasionally.

Oh, and there's this: "Clinicians say they are no longer taken aback by youths seeking some kind of boutique treatment — often “just a touch of testosterone” for an androgynous, nonbinary identity." Right you are.

Some years back, in Australia:

"But as the wheels squeaked towards the operating table he was struck by an unshakeable thought: "It's not right." He remembers telling the surgeon: "I think I'm doing the wrong thing, it's not right, I think we've got to stop it."

The surgeon stroked Andrew's face, telling him it was natural to feel frightened before an operation. He protested again, insisting it felt wrong. Then it went black. When he woke up he was sure the surgery had been cancelled. The romantic tales he'd read of transsexuals who awoke post-surgery feeling "reborn" convinced Andrew the operation had been halted, because he felt no different.

"Then I remember lifting up the sheets and putting my hand down and feeling it all bandaged and packed. I just started bawling my eyes out and screaming … I remember saying to myself, you f--king idiot, Andrew, how could you be so bloody stupid?

Andrew issued legal proceedings as a result of these events and was met with a limitation defence. You can find the first instance decision on the limitation issue here and the appeal here.

The first instance judgment includes this judicial pronouncement: "At or about this time it is also to be noted that he started upon a surgical process of reversal. He had been advised that such process was limited. This is not a field where donors abound." Quite.

I note without comment that the defendants' solicitors at first instance are recorded as "Tress Cocks" and "JW Ball & Sons", presumably known as "Balls".  

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

A few more links on Cambridge Analytica

If you are interested (and I get the feeling that not many people are) then here are a couple more things to look at.

First, this in the LRB.

Second, as with anything to do with the referendum, if you want it from the horse's mouth then go to Dominic Cummings, the person who actually won it. You'll find his comments here, here and here.

Some excepts below the break, which may or may not whet your appetite.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

A few things to read when thinking about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica - UPDATED

First, the worry: short version (British) or the long version (American). But you've probably seen this sort of thing before. What follows below the break is more Alternatively than Further. (UPDATE: before the break, here's the ultimate reassurance.)

Monday, 19 March 2018

Hot gossip

Did you know that Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King of Saudi Arabia from 1982 to 2005, was addicted to methadone?

I get this (I admit it, pretty stale) gossip from the recent judgment of the High Court in Harb v HRH Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz. Here are a few of key paragraphs:

"34. Mrs Harb was born in Ramallah in Palestine in 1947. Her family was Christian. In 1967 she went to work in Jeddah, where she was employed as a secretary by a businessman called Ali Abdul Bugshan.

35. In December 1967 she met Prince Fahd, as he then was, at a party in Jeddah. She was then 19. He was 47 (or 46 if the date of birth given for him by the Prince is correct) and was the Minister of the Interior. Their relationship developed quickly and they were secretly married in Jeddah in March 1968. Shortly before the ceremony, Mrs Harb converted to Islam. The marriage was not made public in Saudi Arabia for cultural and political reasons. After the marriage, the couple divided their time between Jeddah and London. In London, the King introduced Mrs Harb to friends and acquaintances as his wife. During the course of their relationship, Mrs Harb had three abortions at the King's insistence.

36. When Mrs Harb and the King were visiting London in October 1968, he suffered from stomach pains and a doctor administered a methadone injection. This led to the King becoming addicted to methadone.

37. In January 1969 she introduced the King to Mr Bugshan. Subsequently Mr Bugshan was awarded a very profitable government contract. The King received a commission from this and subsequent contracts. In return, the King told Mrs Harb he would give her 50 million riyals (equivalent to at least £6 million) which he would look after for her.

38. In 1970 Mrs Harb was ordered to leave Saudi Arabia by the King's brother Prince Turki as a result of the King's family (wrongly) attributing to Mrs Harb responsibility for the King's addiction. She went first to Beirut and then to the USA. The King told her not to worry about money and that he would continue to support her financially.

There is plenty more along similar lines at the link.