Saturday, December 24, 2016

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas And All Through… London

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through London,
Every Christmas tree sparkly, every fairy-light on.
The pubs were filled up with people galore,
Hipsters, and bankers and ravers and more.

Oxford Street buzzing with last minute shoppers,
And foodies in Firth Street eating dosas at Hoppers.
Everyone gets an Uber to make sure they’re not late,
Making uncomfortable small talk with ‘been busy tonight, mate?’

London’s good tempers can be felt all around,
With no exclamations of ‘this pint cost five pounds?!’
Londoners look for a warm pub to go,
But of course there’s no luck for seat in Soho-ho-ho.

Time passes by in full party mode,
But no one wants to start Christmas on Tottenham Court Road!
So Londoners rush home to their ladies or fellas,
Getting back before midnight like drunk Cinderellas.

Londoners crawl into bed, ignoring the room spin,
To wake with no hangover would be an absolute win!
They start dreaming of turkey and roast potatoes,
Battered brussels sprouts? They’ll take one of those!

The last drinks bell rings and the night disappears,
Drunks roll to the street with laughter and cheers.
But lucky for you the tube is in sight,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The mommy track

The real reason why more women don’t rise to the top of companies

N “BORGEN”, a Danish television drama, the country’s first female prime minister returns home late each night to domestic bliss. Her stay-at-home husband stacks the dishes and massages her back. The children cheer her televised speeches. But before long her son is seeing a shrink, the neglected hubby is having an affair and our heroine is throwing furniture around her office.

Rarely has there been so much angst about women reaching the top. In the Atlantic magazine last month, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first female director of policy planning at America’s State Department, declared that women cannot successfully combine a super-demanding job with bringing up young children. (She quit Washington, DC, to return to academia.) This month a British member of Parliament, Louise Mensch, resigned, saying it was too hard to juggle job and family. Yet the news is not all grim. In July Yahoo!, a struggling internet firm, picked a 37-year-old from Google, Marissa Mayer, who is expecting a baby in October, as its new boss.

America’s biggest companies hire women to fill just over half of entry-level professional jobs. But those women fail to advance proportionally: they occupy only 28% of senior managerial posts, 14% of seats on executive committees and just 3% of chief executive roles, according to McKinsey & Company, a consultancy. The figures are worse still at big European firms, which is perhaps why the governments of Belgium, France, Italy and Norway have set quotas for women on boards. The European Commission is threatening to impose such rules across the EU. It would be better if women could rise naturally to senior executive roles rather than being forced on to boards. But how can this be done when everything tried so far seems to have failed?

Several factors hold women back at work. Too few study science, engineering, computing or maths. Too few push hard for promotion. Some old-fashioned sexism persists, even in hip, liberal industries. But the biggest obstacle (at least in most rich countries) is children. However organised you are, it is hard to combine family responsibilities with the ultra-long working hours and the “anytime, anywhere” culture of senior corporate jobs. A McKinsey study in 2010 found that both women and men agreed: it is tough for women to climb the corporate ladder with teeth clamped around their ankles. Another McKinsey study in 2007 revealed that 54% of the senior women executives surveyed were childless compared with 29% of the men (and a third were single, nearly double the proportion of partnerless men).

Many talented, highly educated women respond by moving into less demanding fields where the hours are more flexible, such as human resources or public relations. Some go part-time or drop out of the workforce entirely. Relatively few stay in the most hard-driving jobs, such as strategy, finance, sales and operations, that provide the best path to the top.

Consider this example. Schumpeter sat down with a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer who says that, before starting a family, she was prepared to “give blood” to meet deadlines. After the ankle biters appeared, she took a job in corporate strategy at an engineering firm in Paris. She found it infuriating. Her male colleagues wasted time during the day—taking long lunches, gossiping over café au lait—but stayed late every evening. She packed her work into fewer hours, but because she did not put in enough “face time” the firm felt she lacked commitment. She soon quit. Companies that furrow their brows wondering how to stop talented women leaving should pay heed.

Could corporate culture change? In their book “Future Work”, Alison Maitland and Peter Thomson describe how some firms give staff more flexibility. Not just women, but men and generation Y recruits, say the authors, are pushing for a saner working culture. Unilever, a consumer-goods firm, wants 55% of its senior managers to be women by 2015. To that end, it allows employees to work anywhere and for as few hours as they like, so long as they get the job done. Despite being one of the world’s most global firms, it discourages travel. McKinsey lets both female and male consultants work for as little as three days a week for proportionally less pay—and still have a shot at making partner. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s high-profile chief operating officer, says that she has left the office at 5.30pm ever since she started a family in 2005.

Such examples are rare. For most big jobs, there is no avoiding mad hours and lots of travel. Customers do not care about your daughter’s flute recital. Putting women in the C-suite is important for firms, but not as important as making profits; for without profits a company will die. So bosses should try hard to accommodate their employees’ family responsibilities, but only in ways that do not harm the bottom line. Laurence Monnery of Egon Zehnder International, an executive-search firm, reckons that companies should stop penalising people who at some point in their careers have gone part-time.

Better be good
All the flextime in the world is unlikely to yield equal numbers of men and women in the most demanding jobs. Ms Mayer of Yahoo! is an inspiration to many, but a hard act to follow. She boasts of putting in 90-hour weeks at Google. She believes that “burn-out” is for wimps. She says that she will take two weeks’ maternity leave and work throughout it. If she can turn around the internet’s biggest basket case while dangling a newborn on her knee it will be the greatest triumph for working women since winning the right to wear trousers to the office (which did not happen until 1994 in California). To adapt Malia Obama’s warning to her father on his inauguration, the first pregnant boss of a big, well-known American company had better be good.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Reasons why 2016 is not as awful as it seems

Health and Science
• New chemotherapy breakthroughs have increased the 5-year survival for pancreatic cancer from 16% to 27% (and is getting better)
Source: The Guardian

• Scientists figured out how to link robotic limbs with the part of the brain that deals with intent to move so people don’t have to think about how they will move the limb, it can just happen.

• Child mortality is down everywhere and it keeps going down.

• Thanks to the ice bucket challenge the gene responsible for ALS has been found, meaning we are closer to an effective treatment. Let me rephrase that: we are close to getting a treatment for a very bad disease because a lot of people (including really hot celebrities) got wet.

• Coffee consumption has been proved to help curtail cancer and suicide rates.

• Speaking of coffee Starbucks figured out how to donate perishable food in a food safe way.

• A new therapy developed in Israel could cure radiation sickness.

• Precision treatments for cancer are hitting clinical trials and WORKING (as someone who’s had relatives with cancer this is the best news)

• We made massive strides in Alzheimer’s prevention .

• We may have cured MS

• Death by heart disease has decreased by 70% in the United States

• New medicine has been shown to increase melanoma survival rate to 40%

Environment and Nature
• The layer is repairing itself and all the work we did to get rid of those aerosol chemicals was actually worth it.

• Portugal ran its entire nation solely on renewable energy for four days straight.

• California is now powering over 6 million homes with solar power, a record in the US.

• Volunteers in India planted 50 million trees in 24 hours.

• 500 elephants were relocated to a better, safer and bigger home.

• Two brothers saw color for the first time thanks to specially (and accidentally) designed glasses

• And news on the glasses themselves:

• A retiree is launching a project to transport 80 endangered rhinos to an Australian reservation to save the animals from poaching

• Tiger numbers are growing.

• And manatees.

• And pandas.

People, Religion, Society, and Other Random Good News:
• Pokemon Go players went insane with placing lure modules near hospitals for sick kids.

• Pakistan has made strides toward outlawing honor killings.

• 70,000 Muslim clerics declared a fatwa against ISIS.

• The Anglican church resolved to solemnize same-sex unions the same as opposite-sex unions which required a super majority of all three orders of the church (lay, clergy, bishop).

• The Rabbinical Assembly issued a resolution affirming the rights of transgender and non-conforming individuals.

• Pope Francis spoke against society’s obsession with physical beauty while dedicating Mass to the disabled community (love that dude)

• An Afghan teacher has been delivering books via bicycle to villages that lack schools

• Harriet Tubman is going to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

• 200 strangers attended the funeral of a homeless WW2 veteran with no family

• A teen battling cancer married his sweetheart

• Bank firm pays for college tuition for the children of employees who died in the 9/11 attacks

• Over 800 Boko Harem Hostages were rescued by Nigerian Army

• Toys R Us is Offering Quiet Shopping Hour for kids with autism this holiday season

• Volunteers made special tiny Halloween costumes for NICU babies

• Leonardo Dicaprio won an Oscar. I’m sad because this gif is no longer relevant, but Leo got what he deserved!

• Michael Jordan donates 2mil to try and help bridge connection between police and the community.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Conversation and the sexes

Soraya Chemaly, a “feminist, writer, satirist, not necessarily in that order”, wrote recently in an article republished by the Huffington Post that every woman should learn the following ten words:

Stop interrupting me. I just said that. No explanation needed.

In her account, men interrupt women, they repeat what a woman has already said and hog the plaudits, and they explain things at length to women. Based on Johnson’s conversations with women on the topic, plus a stack of research, Ms Chemaly’s take is right. In particular, men interrupt and often “mansplain” (condescendingly explain) things to women.

“Mansplaining” was so named by Rebecca Solnit. She was telling an older man that she had written a book on a particular topic when he interrupted and started lecturing her about an important recent book on that same topic. Ms Solnit’s friend had to say—three times—“that’s her book” before the man realised his boorishness and retreated.

Ms Chemaly has a simple explanation for male overconfidence, which she sees as the root of the problem. Namely, the problem is

good old-fashioned sexism expressed in gendered socialisation and a default cultural preference for institutionalised male domination of public life.

But another (complementary) explanation is at hand. “Mansplaining”, before it was so named, was identified by Deborah Tannen in her 1990 book “You Just Don’t Understand”. Ms Tannen, a linguist at Georgetown University, described a dinner at which the female scholar to her left shared her research agenda, and the two happily discussed their work and their overlap. But when Ms Tannen turned to a male colleague and briefly mentioned her research he, not a linguist, began going on and on about his own work that touched on neurolinguistics. Leaving the conversation she realised that she had just played the embarrassing subordinate role in the scenarios where she was the expert.

But Ms Tannen says “the reason is not—as it seems to many women—that men are bums who seek to deny women authority.” Instead, she says, “the inequality of the treatment results not simply from the men’s behavior alone but from the differences in men’s and women’s styles.” (In everything that follows, “men do X” and “women do Y” should be read as on average, men tend somewhat more towards X and women towards Y, with great variation within both sexes.) In Ms Tannen’s schema, men talk to determine and achieve status. Women talk to determine and achieve connection. To use metaphors, for men life is a ladder and the better spots are up high. For women, life is a network, and the better spots have greater connections.

What evidence shows that male and female styles differ? Among the most compelling is a crucial piece left out of the “simple sexism” explanation: men mansplain to each other. Elizabeth Aries, another researcher, analysed 45 hours of conversation and found that men dominated mixed groups—but she also found competition and dominance in male-only groups. Men begin discussing fact-based topics, sizing each other up. Before long, a hierarchy is established: either those who have the most to contribute, or those who are simply better at dominating the conversation, are taking most of the turns. The men who dominate one group go on to dominate others, while women show more flexibility in their dominance patterns. The upshot is that a shy, retiring man can find himself endlessly on the receiving end of the same kinds of lectures that Ms Tannen, Ms Chemaly and Ms Solnit describe.

When men and women get together, the problem gets more systematic. Women may be competitive too, but some researchers (like Joyce Benenson) argue that women’s strategies favour disguising their tactics. And if Ms Tannen’s differing goals play even a partial role in the outcome, we would expect exactly the outcome we see. A man lays down a marker by mentioning something he knows, an opening bid in establishing his status. A woman acknowledges the man’s point, hoping that she will in turn be expected to share and a connection will be made. The man takes this as if it were offered by someone who thinks like him: a sign of submission to his higher status. And so on goes the mansplaining. This is not every man, every woman, every conversation, but it clearly happens a lot.

Any half-educated man will know that women have equal intelligence, greater abilities in some areas, and are now out-competing men in education in Western countries. But male-dominated societies have, unsurprisingly, rewarded typically male behaviour: alpha males, and women who “act like men”, and can bear being called “bossy” and “bitchy” for doing so. This is where much of the sexism lies: punishing women (and sometimes men) who act like the “wrong” gender.

When men and women get together, the problem gets more systematic. Women may be competitive too, but some researchers (like Joyce Benenson) argue that women’s strategies favour disguising their tactics. And if Ms Tannen’s differing goals play even a partial role in the outcome, we would expect exactly the outcome we see. A man lays down a marker by mentioning something he knows, an opening bid in establishing his status. A woman acknowledges the man’s point, hoping that she will in turn be expected to share and a connection will be made. The man takes this as if it were offered by someone who thinks like him: a sign of submission to his higher status. And so on goes the mansplaining. This is not every man, every woman, every conversation, but it clearly happens a lot.

Any half-educated man will know that women have equal intelligence, greater abilities in some areas, and are now out-competing men in education in Western countries. But male-dominated societies have, unsurprisingly, rewarded typically male behaviour: alpha males, and women who “act like men”, and can bear being called “bossy” and “bitchy” for doing so. This is where much of the sexism lies: punishing women (and sometimes men) who act like the “wrong” gender.

Ms Chemaly is right that not all the lessons should be aimed at getting women and girls to speak more like men. Both boys and girls should be taught that there are several purposes to talking with others. To exchange information, to achieve status and to achieve connection are goals of almost any conversation. If one party to a chat expects an equal exchange and the other is having a competition, things get asymmetrical—and frustrating.

So, boys and girls, if you have something to say, speak up—your partner may not necessarily hand you the opportunity. And if you find yourself having talked for a while, shut up and listen. Your partner isn’t necessarily thick: it could be the other person is waiting for you to show some skill by asking a question. There are plenty of intra-sex differences among boys and among girls, and enough to commend both approaches to conversation. So the best way to think of this is not the simple frame that women need to learn how to combat “old-fashioned sexism”. Rather, both sexes need to learn the old-fashioned art of conversation.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

5+1 μύθοι από την καλύτερη χώρα του κόσμου | Θοδωρής Γεωργακόπουλος | TE...

Canada: The last liberals

Why Canada is still at ease with openness

Most people “would give anything to trade places with you,” Dwight MacAuley, the province of Manitoba’s chief of protocol, tells his audience. No one disagrees. In a packed hall in Winnipeg’s century-old train station, 86 immigrants from 31 countries are becoming citizens of what Mr MacAuley characterises as one of the “greatest, freest, richest nations that has ever existed”. Some crowned with turbans, others with hijabs, they sing “O Canada” and take the oath of citizenship in English and French. A local member of parliament, Robert-Falcon Ouellette of the Red Pheasant First Nation, drums an honour song. A Mountie in red serge stands at attention; afterwards he poses for pictures with the new Canadians.

Some 2,000 such events take place across the country every year. Fresh recruits keep coming (see chart 1). Canada admitted 321,000 immigrants in the year to June 2016, nearly 1% of its population; typically 80% of them will become citizens. It is contemplating an increase to 450,000 by 2021. A fifth of Canada’s population is foreign-born, nearly twice the share in America.

The warmth of the welcome is as striking as the scale of the intake. Immigrants are encouraged to keep their cultures. Winnipeg’s public schools have classes taught in Spanish and Ukrainian as well as French and Cree. Its Central Mosque is a few blocks down Ellice Avenue from the Hindu Society of Manitoba. The Juliana Pizza & Restaurant serves its “Greek/Jamaican food” just a bit farther on.

Canada’s openness is not new, but it is suddenly getting global attention. It is a happy contrast to what is happening in other rich countries, where anger about immigration helped bring about Britain’s vote for Brexit, Donald Trump’s nomination and the rise of populist parties across Europe. And it has an appealing new face: Justin Trudeau celebrates his first anniversary as prime minister on November 4th. Mr Trudeau comes from Canada’s establishment—he is the son of a former prime minister—but is not despised for it. A former high-school teacher and snowboarding instructor, his cheeriness played a large part in the Liberal Party’s victory over Stephen Harper, a dour Conservative who had governed Canada for almost ten years.

Dancing across the water

Where Mr Harper was liberal, for example on trade, Mr Trudeau carries on his policies. Where the Conservative clenched, the Liberal loosens. Mr Trudeau is seizing the opportunity offered by low interest rates to ramp up investment in infrastructure. He will end a visa requirement for Mexicans that Mr Harper imposed and plans to legalise recreational cannabis. Mr Harper was close to being a climate-change denier; Mr Trudeau announced in October that he would set a price on carbon emissions. A month into the job he went to Toronto Pearson International Airport to welcome some of the 32,737 Syrian refugees admitted since he took office.

Mr Trudeau’s domestic critics—so far a minority—deride him as “Prime Minister Selfie” for posing incessantly with fans and celebrities, sometimes (though not as pictured, above) with his shirt off. To European and American liberals he is a champion of embattled values and his country a haven with many charms (see chart 2). “The world needs more Canada,” said Bono, the activist and lead singer of U2, in September. When in Ottawa recently the IMF’s chief, Christine Lagarde said she hoped Canada’s pump-priming economic policies would “go viral”. Mr Trump’s “Super Tuesday” victories saw Google searches for “How to move to Canada” surge south of the border.

Canada is not exempt from stresses that are causing other rich countries to freak out. “All the pressures and anxieties that people are feeling around the world exist here,” Mr Trudeau said in a recent interview with The Economist. But Canada seems to be coping with them less hysterically. In part, this is thanks to history. After Britain wrested control of Quebec from France in 1763 its new French-speaking subjects resisted assimilation. So did Canada’s indigenous groupings: Inuit, First Nations and mixed-race Métis. Such resistance was sometimes met with oppression and cruelty, and Canada’s treatment of its indigenous peoples has been atrocious in some times and places. But as Peter Russell, a Canadian historian, argues in a forthcoming book*, their “incomplete conquests” forced Canada’s overlords into habits of accommodation that have shaped the country ever since. “Diversity is our distinctive national value,” he says.

Canada’s selective but eclectic taste in immigrants goes back a fair way, too. Clifford Sifton, the interior minister in the early 20th century, sought out farmers from Ukraine, Germany and central Europe in preference to British immigrants. His ideal was “a stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat” with “a stout wife and a half-dozen children”. This does not mean that the country was always all-welcoming. Canada “turned away boatloads of Punjabi and Jewish refugees” in the 20th century, notes Mr Trudeau; 100 years ago Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax. But by the middle of the century Canada was admitting non-Europeans on a large scale and in 1962 it scrapped all ethnic criteria for immigrants. Five years later it introduced its points system, which scores would-be immigrants on the basis of such criteria as skills, education, work experience and ability to speak English or French.

As with people, so with goods. Canada’s vocation for trade began in the early 17th century, when French fur traders established bases in what are now Nova Scotia and Quebec. “We have always been dependent on trade with the world,” says Mr Trudeau. “So an anti-trade argument really doesn’t get very far in Canada from the get-go.” Exports plus imports account for 65% of Canada’s GDP, more than double their share of the American economy. Nearly three-quarters of Canada’s trade is with the United States.

This habit of openness has not made Canada immune to its costs. Factory employment dropped from almost 2m in 2000 to 1.5m in 2015, with some of those jobs moving to Mexico—Canada’s partner, along with America, in the North American Free-Trade Agreement. South-western Ontario and the Niagara peninsula are as blighted by industrial decay as depressed parts of Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Nor does the national creed of tolerance carry all before it. Mr Harper flirted with Islamophobia: during the election campaign he called for women at citizenship ceremonies to unveil. Kellie Leitch, an MP who aspires to succeed him as head of the Conservative Party, wants to screen immigrants for “anti-Canadian values”. Resentment against Chinese buyers who are driving up house prices in Vancouver can be tinged with racism.

Questions of identity are particularly complex in Quebec, where the Parti Québécois has called for a ban on burqas for those seeking public services. The French-speaking province prefers “interculturalism” to Anglophone talk of “multiculturalism”, regarding its language and culture as the basis of its identity. Philippe Couillard, the province’s Liberal premier, likens that core to the trunk of a tree, from which other identities can branch off. For Anglo-Canada, dominant within Canada but overshadowed by America, cultural diversity itself is the trunk.

When we were strangers
But though there are some misgivings, some 80% of Canadians think immigrants are good for the economy, according to a recent survey by the Environics Institute, a polling firm. An ageing workforce means that belief is likely to strengthen: as Prime Minister John Diefenbaker put it in 1957, “Canada must populate or perish”. This is particularly true in the Atlantic provinces, where more Canadians die than are born and the median age exceeds that in the rest of the country by nearly five years. Nova Scotia, which received 200 refugees last year, has taken in 1,100 Syrians. Brian Doherty, himself an immigrant from Northern Ireland, hired four to work in the pubs he owns in Halifax, the province’s capital. “They are a net asset to the economy, and believe me in this part of the world we need more of them,” he says.

Two linked factors bolster this pro-immigrant feeling. One is a matter of geography. Refugees do not arrive by the hundred thousand in overloaded dinghies; impoverished children do not sneak across the southern border. Illegal immigration, which so enrages Mr Trump and his acolytes, is “hardly noticeable” in Canada, says Jack Jedwab of the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration in Montreal.

The second is a matter of policy. Canada’s points system gives the government a way to admit only the sort of people it thinks the country needs. This ability to regulate the influx fosters public approval. Immigrants are twice as likely to have university degrees as people born in the country, notes Mr Jedwab. Refugees jump through hoops, too. The Syrians that Mr Trudeau embraced were first subjected by Canadian officials to the sort of extreme vetting that Mr Trump might approve of.

None of this guarantees success in their new home. Immigrants struggle, especially during their first years in the country, although their children do much better. They have lower incomes than natives, unless they are from Europe or English-speaking countries such as India. Employers are more likely to interview applicants with English-sounding names than foreign ones, an experiment in Toronto showed. Foreign qualifications may not be recognised. But the points system gives politicians a way at least to appear to be doing something about such problems. Mr Harper introduced an “Express Entry” system which greatly increased the number of points for people with job offers.

Another reason why Canadians are not worried about immigration is that they feel less insecure. Compared with the United States, Canada’s losers are less wretched and its winners less obnoxious. As in other rich countries, income inequality has increased since the early 1980s, but it remains considerably lower than in the United States. Poverty has fallen sharply since the mid-1990s. Low-income men—Mr Trump’s base in America—are less likely to die prematurely in Canada, which suggests they are less beaten down. In 2007 those in the bottom income quintile died 4.7 years earlier than those in the top. In the United States the gap was 12.1 years.

America spends a larger share of its GDP on social programmes than Canada does, but Canada is more generous with spending that acts as a safety net. Unemployment benefits replace a much bigger share of lost income than in America. Universal health care “makes a huge difference in creating a high level of public security”, says the trade minister, Chrystia Freeland.

Although the commodities boom, and the strong currency it brought with it, made life hard for manufacturers, it shortened the recession started by the global financial crisis. It also created lots of fairly high-paying jobs for low- and semi-skilled workers, mainly in western Canada. This kept inequality in check when it was rising elsewhere, notes France St-Hilaire of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, a think-tank. Now prices have fallen and the economy has slowed, she wonders whether inequality will creep back up.

Finding out it’s real
Even if it does, Canada’s fat cats are less reviled than those elsewhere. Its boringly profitable and well-regulated banks did not crash the financial system in 2008 and ask for bail-outs. Its conservatives have mostly been less ferocious tax-cutters and state-shrinkers than America’s Republicans, though Mr Harper was an exception. “Our one percent gets it,” says Ms Freeland, whose Rosedale-University riding (constituency) in Toronto contains one of the country’s richest neighbourhoods.

Mr Trudeau acknowledges the country’s economic anxieties—“There hasn’t been enough growth, and the growth that there has been hasn’t benefited the majority of Canadians”—but campaigned on the basis of solutions, rather than scapegoats. In government his answer has been, first of all, to redistribute income on a modest scale. He raised taxes on the top 1% of incomes to help pay for a middle-class tax cut. This year’s budget subjected a universal child benefit to means testing, diverting cash from the rich to the bottom 90%.

Mr Trudeau’s most eye-catching promise—and one which wrong-footed the New Democratic Party to his left—was to abandon Mr Harper’s goal of a balanced budget. Instead, the government plans a deficit of 1.5% of GDP this year and aims to spend C$60 billion ($45 billion) over ten years to give Canada a much-needed infrastructure upgrade. The extra spending will provide a stimulus to the sluggish economy worth 0.2% of GDP this fiscal year. As Mr Trudeau admits, his room for manoeuvre was bought by the prudence of his predecessors, who left federal debt at just 32.5% of GDP. But if wise spending increases the economy’s long-term growth, governments yet to come will have reason to thank him in their turn.

Barack Obama had similar ambitions for investment in the future; unlike him, Mr Trudeau does not have to deal with a hostile legislature. Nor does he need to shout down demagogues to promote trade deals. He fought hard to save the “comprehensive economic and trade agreement” (CETA) with the European Union, which was negotiated by Mr Harper. Canada is part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations with 11 other countries, and though Mr Trudeau has not committed to ratifying it he is thought to support it. In September he announced that Canada would explore trade talks with China.

Mr Trudeau has sought to allay scepticism about trade with what has fast become a hallmark of his government: incessant consultation. Ms Freeland boasts of holding one of the first formal dialogues by a trade minister with aboriginal communities. But there are issues ahead that consultation alone cannot solve. These include low productivity growth and an unimpressive record on innovation. Low interest rates have pushed house prices and consumer debt to alarmingly high levels. Beyond saying he will build more roads and tightening mortgage-insurance rules Mr Trudeau has so far given little clue about how he will deal with such problems.

Whatever he does he will upset people. The announcement of a national price for carbon angered some in energy-rich provinces; the approval of a liquefied-natural-gas pipeline has alarmed green voters. He faces hard bargaining with the indebted provinces over federal transfers to cover their rising health-care costs. Mr Trudeau, in other words, is about to suffer typical political wear and tear.

That will matter more to him, though, than to his country’s standing. With an admirably Canadian mix of personal modesty and national pride, Mr Trudeau credits the country’s stability not to “any particular government. It comes from Canadians themselves.” Had Mr Harper won last year Canada would have remained open to trade (though probably less keen to strike a deal with China) and welcoming to newcomers (though Mr Harper would not have let in so many Syrian refugees). Rock-star encomia would have been scarcer, but the Canadian model would have endured.

Canadians do not take their openness for granted. A serious terrorist attack on Canadian soil, or a deep recession, could yet damage the dream. The country has seen “lone wolf” assaults, including an attack on parliament in 2014, and larger plots have been uncovered. But there have been no mass killings like that at the Bataclan in Paris. “We shouldn’t have any smug sense of ‘We would never do this’,” says Jodi Giesbrecht, head of research at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Nor do they see it as a model for all. “What works in Canada may not work elsewhere,” cautions Michael Ignatieff, an unsuccessful Liberal candidate to be prime minister who now runs the Central European University in Budapest. “Many countries in the world are just dealt tougher hands to play.” But the sight of a continuing liberal success might make playing those tough hands just a bit easier.

Originaly posted at THE ECONOMIST

Friday, October 28, 2016

Manor Park I #visitbritain #LoveLondon

Manor park

A photo posted by Maria Dellaporta (@dellaportamaria) on

Manor Park II #visitbritain

Manor park ll

A photo posted by Maria Dellaporta (@dellaportamaria) on

Richmond #visitbritain


A photo posted by Maria Dellaporta (@dellaportamaria) 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.


Saturday, October 01, 2016

Oct 1st 1946 - The Nuremberg Trials #WWII #NurembergTrials #HumanRights

The Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany. The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg Bavaria, Germany, in 1945 - 46, at the Palace of Justice. The first nd best known of these trials was the Trial of the Major Was Criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), which tried 25 of the most important captured leaders of the Third Reich, though several key architects of the war ((such as Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels) had committed suicide before the trials began. 

The initial trials were held from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946. The second set of trials of lesser war criminals was conducted under Control Council Law No. 10 at the US Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT); among them included the Doctors' Trial and the Judges' Trial.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Rose

Who was Ladislao José Biro, how did he invent the ballpoint pen and how did it help in World War II?

You may not realise this but the humble ballpoint pen, used by millions of people around the world every day, is less than eight decades old.

Invented as the Second World War was about to begin in 1938, the biro takes its name from its creator Ladislao José Biro.

Biro, who was born in 1899, was a sometime journalist, painter and inventor who was frustrated with fountain pens blotting and smudging. He got the idea on a visit to a newspaper printing press, which used quick-drying ink and a roller.

"It got me thinking how this process could be simplified right down to the level of an ordinary pen," he later said.

So he set about creating the biro, which would begin production in 1944 under the name "Eterpen" and retail for the equivalent of £33.

Today would have been Biro's 177th birthday and Google is honouring the occasion with a Doodle.

How was the biro created? 

Biro's first idea for the ballpoint pen was to use the quick-drying newspaper ink in a fountain pen. This however didn't work as the ink was too thick and slow-moving to reach the tip of the nib.

So he created a ballpoint nib which was coated with a thin film of ink from the cartridge as it made contact with paper and spun in its socket. Biro initially tested the invention with fountain pen and printing ink, both of which had the wrong consistency.

Biro enlisted the help of his brother György Bíró who was a chemist to create ink that was just the right viscosity. The pair gave their name to the invention when they patented it the "Biro" on July 15 1938.

The pen is still called a biro in countries including the UK, Ireland, Australia and Italy, but in the US it is known as a ballpoint pen.

How do ballpoint pens work?

The nib in a ballpoint pen is normally made of a metal such as brass, steel or tungsten carbide. When it comes into contact with a piece of paper, or other writing material, the ball rotates and picks up a thin film of ink from the cartridge, which is a pressurised tube.

Prior to the ballpoint pen, which was invented in relatively recent history, all pens used a nib and a dark, watery ink called india ink. Quill pens have been around since around 600 AD, while the lead pencil was created in 1795.

Biro was not the first person to come up with the idea of a rollerball system for delivering ink to the nib of a pen. John Loud is widely believed to have patented the first ballpoint pen back in 1888, but he failed to turn it into a commercial product and so his patent lapsed.

What does it have to do with World War II? 

Ladislao José Biro, the eponymous inventor, was born into a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary, and started life as László József Bíró. In fact he maintained that name until after he invented the handy ballpoint pen when, in 1940, he was forced to flee the Nazi occupation of his home country.

After escaping the hostile occupation of Hungary, Biro made his way to Argentina, where he eventually secured backing to turn the biro into a commercial product. The pen's first backer was the British accountant Henry George Martin, according to the Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology.

The first major buyer of the newly created pen was the Royal Air Force. During the Second World War the organisation ordered 30,000 of the tools, which would work at high altitudes unlike traditional fountain pens. After the war it entered commercial production.

Today, the Bic Cristal biro is the world's most popular pen. In the US, the price has remarkably stayed the same since 1959 - retailing at 19 cents despite inflation.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

All lives matter

- Black Lives matter
- All lives matter
- All?
- All
- How about Syrian refugees?
- Well ...
- LGBTQ lives?
- The Bible says ...
- Unarmed black men?
- Should have complied ...
- Poor people on food stamps and other forms of assistance?
- I'm not subsidising laziness
- People of different religious faith than yours or no religious faith?
- There is only one true ...
- Here
- What's this?
- It's a dictionary. Before you say all lives matter again look up the word 'all'. It's towards the front.  

In picture format for better sharing:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Survey: Immigration

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