Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rainbow Scarf

A photo posted by @knitgreek on

Blue sea scarf

A photo posted by @knitgreek on

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Social attitudes to faces

Your class determines how you look at your fellow creatures

In 2009 a team of psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, who were studying people from different walks of life, noticed that those from the upper classes were less good than those from the lower at discerning emotions on the faces of others. This led them to speculate that such empathy weakens as you go up the social scale. The theory might be true. But a paper just published in Psychological Science, by Pia Dietze and Eric Knowles of New York University, offers an alternative hypothesis—that it is not the emotional sensitivity of patricians to plebs which is impaired, but their attention to them.

Dr Dietze and Dr Knowles began their study with an experiment that they told participants was a study of Google Glasses. They were, though, lying. The test was not of these pieces of apparatus (tiny video cameras hidden in pairs of spectacles, which let wearers take surreptitious footage of whatever they are looking at), but rather of the participants’ behaviour. The 61 volunteers were all asked to wear a Google Glass headset, walk for a block in New York and focus their attention on whatever captured their interest. Their souped-up specs then recorded everything they looked at. Afterwards, they filled out a questionnaire that asked, along with matters of age, sex and ethnicity, about their income, their level of education and the social class they believed they belonged to.

This done, the researchers handed the videos over to six “coders”—people trained to parse video recordings for teams of psychologists without knowing the purpose of an experiment. The coders were asked to identify participants’ glances at other people, and also to record the duration of each gaze.

When Dr Dietze and Dr Knowles correlated the coders’ conclusions with the data from the questionnaires, they found that the number of gazes at strangers did not vary with social class, but their duration did. Specifically, upper-middle-class and upper-class people gazed at the faces of others for a fifth of a second less than members of lower social classes.

To explore further, the two researchers set up a second experiment. In this they asked 82 volunteers to place their heads on chin rests and have their eyes monitored as they were shown a variety of street scenes from New York, San Francisco and London. This time, working-class people spent a tenth of a second longer looking at faces than did upper-middle-class people—a difference that did not apply when the same people looked at inanimate objects.

Dr Dietze and Dr Knowles then ran one more experiment. This was a version of Kim’s game, in which they presented 397 participants with an array of six randomly arranged images (one of a face and five of inanimate objects such as fruits, houseplants or musical instruments) that alternated with a second array which either had identical images to the first, but differently arranged, or had one of those images changed (and was also differently arranged). Participants had to work out which image, if any, had been substituted.

Once again, there was no difference between classes’ success in doing this when the altered image was of an object. When it was a face, though, lower-class people did better than upper-class ones.

It seems, then, that those from the lower classes really do take more notice of faces than those who inhabit the top of the heap. Why is open to speculation. Dr Dietze’s and Dr Knowles’s own view is that the upper classes pay less attention because they believe random strangers have little to offer. Perhaps one way to test that hypothesis would be to rerun their experiment at a Buckingham Palace garden party.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Europe is trying to teach its gender norms to refugees

This turns out to be more complicated than it sounds

Few men can roll a condom onto a plastic penis with a straight face, and Ali and Ahmadzai are no exceptions. The two Afghan asylum-seekers and ten other men are taking a sex-education class at the refugee centre where they live in the Flemish town of Broechem, and the giggles are flying. “In Logar, where I’m from, you don’t talk with girls,” explains Ahmadzai. If you do, the Taliban “kill you with stones”. Belgium has been a bit of a culture shock, though he still doesn’t dare talk to girls: “It is good just looking at them.”

Ever since the mass sexual assaults in Cologne last New Year’s Eve, in which groups of mainly North African men groped, robbed or raped hundreds of women, European governments have worried that the chauvinist values of some of the immigrants they are absorbing could lead to trouble. Hence the classes at Broechem, which cover sexual health and respect for women. For now, they are voluntary, but Belgium plans to make sex education mandatory for all asylum-seekers by next year, as it already is in Norway. In Germany, too, the government decided in July to shift the focus of its integration courses from language learning to cultural values, including equality of the sexes.

One priority is preventing rape. Thomas Demyttenaere of Sensoa, a Belgian organisation that is designing a course on sexually transgressive behaviour, says he has never met a refugee who said it was acceptable to force someone to have sex. But understandings of consent can differ: “In a strong patriarchal society,” be it Muslim, Christian or Hindu, men “often feel they are entitled to have aggressive behaviour towards women.” The swarming sexual attacks seen in Cologne, reminiscent of similar behaviour in north African countries, have Europeans especially worried. Linda Hagen of Hero Norway, an organisation that manages 40% of that country’s refugee centres, says one goal of sex education courses there is simply to teach refugees that if they try anything like that in Scandinavia, “they will get caught.”

At the same time, the courses may be just as necessary for the refugees’ own integration in European societies as they are to protect the women with whom they interact. Staff at the Broechem centre regularly receive complaints from local parents that asylum applicants are harassing their daughters. New female staff are also frequently hit upon. Carla Pannemans, who has been teaching sex education to refugees there for ten years, says many simply do not understand local codes of behaviour; when they try to talk to girls, “people will see it as aggressive.”

Teaching sexual norms is tricky, though, particularly when European societies do not agree on what those norms should be. In Norway, Ms Hagen’s course uses photos of pop stars to explain that styles of dress, however scanty, are expressions of individual freedom rather than signals of availability, and must be respected. At the same time, bizarrely, it coaches male refugees to protect their reputations by not seeking girls who are “easy”. Meanwhile, in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, an information sheet used in integration classes cites “gallantry” as an ideal: men should open the door for women, carry their heavy bags and offer to help them put on their coats. Plenty of feminists, in Belgium or elsewhere in Europe, would find this patronising.

Most of the refugees who receive the classes seem to welcome them. Many have never had any formal sex education: of the 12 men in the class at Broechem, most of whom hail from African or Middle Eastern countries, only one, an Albanian refugee, said he received any form of sex education at school. Abdullah Sameer, a 21-year-old refugee from Baghdad who lives in the Broechem centre, calls the courses “perfect”. “Everybody should respect women,” he says—though he considers himself among the few enlightened men in his country. Most people, he says, “need some classes”.

It is not clear to what extent European fears of sexual assault by migrants are founded in reality. There have been no more attacks of the magnitude of those in Cologne. A report in February by Germany’s federal criminal police, the Bundeskriminalamt, showed that refugees were responsible for only 3.6% of the sexual offences in Germany in 2015. Many of the refugees are victims of rape rather than perpetrators: female refugees face sexual abuse at the hands of smugglers and even reception centre staff, according to a report by Amnesty International.

Indeed, while Europeans may feel anxious that migrants are importing Middle Eastern values, the migrants are having at least as hard a time adjusting to European ones. Mr Demyttenaere says many of the migrants he knows find Belgian sexual morals “shocking”. “On the one hand, there are adverts with half-naked women,” he says. “On the other, it is very hard to ask women out. They find this confusing.” Welcome to the West.

This article appeared in the Print Edition with the headline: Belgian girls aren’t easy


Colchester #Essex #England

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Oct 12th 1979 - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is published

The Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy is a science fiction comedy series created by Douglas Adams. Originally a radio comedy broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, it was later adapted to other formats, and over several years it gradually became an international multi-media phenomenon. Adaptations have included stage shows, a trilogy of five books published between 1979 and 1992, a sixth novel penned by Eoin Colfer in 2009, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 computer game and three series of three-part comic book adaptations of the first three novels published by DC comics between 1993 and 1996.

The first of the books was published on 12 October 1979. The novels are described as 'a trilogy in five parts' having been described as a trilogy on the release of the third book and then a 'trilogy in four parts' on the release of the fourth book.


Saturday, October 08, 2016

May’s revolutionary conservatism

Britain’s new prime minister signals a new, illiberal direction for the country

Mainstream politics in Britain have long held these truths to be self-evident. The left won the social battles of the past decades. The right won the economic ones. The resulting consensus combines free-market liberalism with broadly permissive cultural instincts. But on October 5th Theresa May strode up to the podium at the Conservative Party conference, awkwardly waved at the crowd, cleared her throat and unceremoniously drove a bulldozer through those assumptions.

Mrs May began with a short tribute to David Cameron. Her predecessor had presided over rising employment, improving schools and falling crime, she noted, before adding: “But now we need to change again.” And then came the tornado. Britain’s vote to leave the EU in June was about much more than Brexit. It was a “quiet revolution”, a “turning point”, a “once in a generation” revolt by millions of ignored citizens sick of immigration, sick of footloose elites, sick of the laissez-faire consensus. “A change has got to come,” she said, four times.

The nation state is back: “Time to reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and to embrace a new centre-ground in which government steps up,” Mrs May declared. So borders will be strengthened, foreign workers kept out, patriotism respected, order and discipline imposed, belonging and rootedness enshrined. “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word citizenship means,” she said.

On the economy, the Conservatives are moving left. Parts of Mrs May’s speech recalled Ed Miliband, Labour’s previous leader, whose market interventionism earned him an anti-business reputation. She went on, about bosses who do not look after their staff, companies that do not pay enough tax and utility firms that rip off consumers (even hinting at the sort of meddling in energy markets that won Mr Miliband particular barbs). Her government, she said, would identify the industries that are of “strategic value to our economy” and boost them “through policies on trade, tax, infrastructure, skills, training, and research and development.” At one point she even questioned the independent Bank of England’s low-interest rates.

Socially, meanwhile, Mrs May is taking her party rightward and at moments sounded more like Nigel Farage, the doyen of the populist UK Independence Party. She took aim at liberal politicians and commentators who “find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal” and “left-wing, activist human-rights lawyers”. Companies will be made to declare how many of their staff are foreigners, to shame those who do not hire natives.

It remains to be seen precisely what will come of all this. The almost comically small-bore policies announced so far—including cadet forces in two-dozen state schools and a review of labour conditions—hardly correspond to the daring rhetoric. Every new prime minister since Thatcher has arrived in office promising to revive manufacturing, lubricate social mobility and do more for hacked-off, hard-pressed strivers. Still, the sheer intellectual swagger of its authoritarianism sets Mrs May’s speech apart. It is worrying: a systematic rejection of the way the country has been governed, for worse and mostly better, for decades. Like it or not, Britain’s strengths are its open, flexible, mostly urban service economy and its uncommonly mobile and international workforce. That fact cannot simply be wished or legislated away.

Mrs May makes it clear that liberal London should not take precedence over post-industrial areas. Yet the citizens of that great deracinated, metrosexual Babylon pay more in work taxes than do those of the next 36 cities combined. Brexit, it is true, was partly a vote against the aloofness of the capital and its arrogant captains of finance. But it was not a vote for a poorer country, higher unemployment or shabbier public services. The prime minister’s speech does not fill Bagehot with confidence about her ability, or even willingness, to find the right balance as she sets the country’s post-Brexit course.

Au revoir, laissez-faire
Yet it will resonate with the public and may propel the Tories to a landslide at the next election. Its premise—that the vote for Brexit was a revolt against globalisation—was sound. Touring pro-Leave events during the referendum campaign, Bagehot heard again and again that the cards were stacked in favour of fat cats and foreigners. One can disapprove of Mrs May’s prospectus without denying that it speaks to these concerns, and to the pathology that has emerged with each recent tale of elite complacency, corporate malfeasance and political corruption; from the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2009 to the shoddy treatment of workers at BHS, a collapsed retail giant, this spring.

So it is not enough for liberals to shake their heads at Mrs May’s populism. They have to grapple with the reasons for its appeal. Areas with fast-rising migrant populations do not receive corresponding resources fast enough. The country’s infrastructure is patchy, the health service is at breaking point and jobs are plentiful but low-paying. It is not illiberal to recognise that London and the rest of Britain can feel like different countries.

Those who resent the prime minister’s protectionist, authoritarian gloom must, then, do more than hyperventilate and pearl-clutch. They should cheer Mrs May when she gets things right; perhaps on house-building, where her government has declared war on NIMBYs who oppose new construction projects. And when they disagree, they should come up with better solutions: better ways to reform corporate governance, increase competition, improve public services and adapt the workforce to change. No one can accuse the prime minister of being vague about the course she wants Britain to take. At the very least, opponents must rise to the same standard—and offer an alternative.

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