Thursday, 30 July 2015

This Post Intentionally Left Blank

Because I need some time off work, and I'm taking one next week.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Self-Interested Lobbying at The Economist

Two editorials in The Economist this weekend that roused my ire. One on the folly of raising minimum wages, and another on the need for subsidised child care to maintain a country’s population. The two are linked. Not by any economic theory, but by the class interest of the journalists and interns who write for The Economist. The people who write for The Economist want cheap tradesmen to work on their St John’s Wood flats, cheap nannies to look after the children so that Charlotte can go back to her career as a consultant at Accenture, and, of course, more immigrants. Lots of immigrants. But that’s another subject.

Anglo governments are talking about minimum wages because the overwhelming majority of low-paid workers are women and immigrants, two constituencies which are seen as block votes with a tendency to turn left. It’s also because Governments are getting tired giving tax subsidies to low-paid workers which end up in the profit line of large companies who then: cut jobs; create social uncertainty; sell, make or provide goods and services of ever-decreasing quality; and generally make Governments look as though they are presiding over a decline the quality of life. It also happens to be the right thing to do: how on earth does anyone run a society when only about 20% the workforce can afford to live in an independent, adult manner? The rest have to get married or live in subsidised housing to even pretend to be living an independent life.

If you’re doing something that isn’t profitable unless you pay low wages, you probably shouldn’t be in business. Either you don’t know how to price properly, or you’re being screwed by your customers (any farmer supplying any supermarket in any country in the developed world), or you aren’t supplying something that people really want. Like Morecombe Bay cockles. Low wages are the result of bad management. It’s an entrepreneur’s job to find something people want at a price that makes it profitable when the workers are paid enough to live like adults. The reason cleaners aren’t paid a lot of money is that their clients are quite prepared to live in dusty and slightly messy conditions. A cleaner-cleaned house is a nice-to-have, not a must-have. Now, if parents risked having their kids removed by social services should a random inspection find fecal matter in the toilet bowl or a trace of grime or spilled milk in the children’s room - guess how important it would be to employ a cleaner? Guess what would happen to cleaning rates? Especially if cleaners (not the agencies) had to be local-council certified first?

According to Charlotte’s editorial-writing husband Jasper, the reason Charlotte should have free child-care so she can go back to her job at Accenture is that developed countries aren’t producing enough children to keep their parents in fat pensions and luxurious healthcare when they get old. (Oddly, one way out of that is, Jasper’s editorial says is, yes, more immigrants! But I digress.) However, a declining young population is not a problem. The problem is declining GDP. Anyone who sees a declining population as irrevocably linked to declining GDP, again, probably shouldn’t be running an economy. And who says that healthy old people should be exempt from work, especially when there won’t be enough (younger and middle-aged) people to do all the work that needs doing? Keep the oldies working. When they start dying, close down what they needed to live behind them. And instead of importing more people to do low value-add jobs with a low tax take, work on figuring out how to increase GDP per capita so that the economy doesn’t shrink even while the population does. More exports and fewer imports of high-value goods would help. (It wouldn’t hurt if Vodafone, Google, Apple and others paid their due taxes either. Who cares if they go somewhere else, since they aren’t actually making a net contribution to the country? But again, I digress.)

Seriously? A magazine with the self-advertised stature of The Economist should not be lobbying for the benefit of a bunch of wanna-be BCBG’s. Perhaps if paid its staff more, they wouldn’t use its pages in such a blatant manner.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

What do you do to justify yourself to yourself?

Once again another posting day comes round and I don’t have anything polished and ready. I have draft stuff up the wazoo, a lot of which I don’t really want to use. Plus having wire and plastic in my mouth that cause me to salivate non-stop is maybe more of a distraction that I think.

The last few weeks I’ve commented at Captain Capitalism, Rollo Tomassi and The Private Man about their MGTOW-bashing. There are, I have allowed, a number of whiny young men giving the term a bad name, but then there are a number of whiny men giving any term a bad name, including “husband” and “father”.

Some men make the decision to live on their own, or perhaps with rotating male lodgers to help with the rent, but in any case, not to have women staying in their quarters for more than a night or so. These men can and do have affairs, girlfriends, mistresses and other assorted relationships with women. They just don’t let her get squatting rights. Not because of the horrible legal situation they could be in if she does, but because, when they come home at the end of the day, some peace, solitude and space to unwind is frankly more valuable and reviving than a hug.

“Bachelors” doesn’t do it, because a lot of men who decide they want female-free quarters are divorced. And bachelors are simply men who haven’t been married - yet. Not men who have decided that they don’t want to be married. (“Married” = “Live-in partner”.) MGTOW is a horrible brand, but I’ve been surprised at how many men, married or single, latch on to the “Going His / Their Own Way” bit. What they identify with is living on their terms rather than living in a perpetual negotiation over whatever their partner decides is up for negotiation now. Or, of course, living on the terms dictated by their partner and children.

These men don’t want to live with a woman. They want the woman to live with them.

More than decent branding, we need a way of talking about the single life, its advantages and opportunities, that isn’t a series of negatives, that isn’t a list of the things about marriage that men tolerate, that isn’t about avoiding the downside of women. How do we move from this endless cataloguing of the flaws and faults of the current exact condition of gender relations in this moment of post-modern capitalism, to a pro-active statement of positive living for men that puts us at the centre? This means we have to stop thinking about women and start thinking about how our lives could have meaning without women or children. Imagine you can’t have children, and can’t have sustained relationships with women. Other people will provide the new workers: you don’t have to. And you and your offspring will be killed if you do. Now what do you do to justify yourself to yourself?

Monday, 20 July 2015

50 Great Myths of of Popular Psychology

Reading 50 Great Myths of of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconception about Human Behaviour, I came away with the feeling that the authors were a tad smug and unaware of the exact grinding banality of the human condition in the precise circumstances of Really Existing Capitalism of this exact time, despite the copious references to papers in journals nobody knew existed. In the end, I had to review their stance on each one of the 50 myths. I agreed with most of them. Here’s the list in their order.

(Abbreviations: V = Verdit; YAMT = Yet Another Movie Trope)

1. Most people only use 10% of their brain power. V: utter twaddle.

2. Some people are left-brained, some people are right-brained. V: utter twaddle

3. ESP is a well-established scientific phenomenon. Me: Was there anyone who believed this?

4. Visual perceptions are accompanies by emissions from the eyes. Me: Jeez, things are really bad in the USA.

5. Subliminal messages can persuade people to buy things. V: urban myth

6. Playing Mozart’s music to infants helps them develop. V: sheer marketing

7. Adolescence is invariably a time of psychological turmoil. Verdict: YAMT. Most kids are well-adjusted and love Mom and Dad.

8. Most people experience a mid-life crisis in their 40’s or 50’s. V: YAMT. (*)

9. Old age is typically associated with senility and crankiness. V: YAMT 10. When dying, you will pass through Anger-Denial-Bargaining-Depresson-Acceptance. V: No, you won’t.

11. Human memory works like a movie camera and forgets nothing. V: YAMT. Me: did anyone believe this?

12. Hypnosis can bring back memories. V: No, it can’t.

13. We repress the memory of traumatic events. V: YAMT. We remember that shit just fine.

14. People with amnesia forget the details of their previous life. V: YAMT. In fact, amnesiacs have trouble forming new memories, not recalling old ones.

15. IQ tests are biased against certain groups. V: No, but I get you want to dispute that.

16. If you don’t know the answer, stick with your first hunch. V: Not really.

17. Dyslexia is about switching letters. V: YAMT. It’s not actually clear why some people have problems processing written words.

18. Teaching styles should be matched to learning styles. V: utter twaddle.

19. Hypnosis is an unique state different from being awake. V: YAMT. Nope.

20. Dreams have symbolic meaning. V: Not systematically.

21. You can learn in your sleep. V: In your dreams.

22. There are “out of body” experiences. V: No, but there are times when your senses get real scrambled.

23. The polygraph is reliable. Me: is there anyone left alive who believes this?

24: Happiness is mostly determined by our external circumstances. V: Keep your hand on your wallet. It isn’t (*)

25. Ulcers are cause almost entirely by stress. V: Ah heliobactor pylori! Stress plays a role, but it’s not clear what.

26. A positive attitude can stave off cancer. V: No, it can’t.

27: Opposites attract. V: YAMT. No, they don’t (*)

28. The more people at an emergency, the more will help. V: famously, no. But someone will.

29. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. V: No. (*)

30. It’s better to express anger than hold it in. V: No. 31: Raising children similarly makes them similar adults. V: A little, but not much.

32: We can’t change heritable traits. V: Yes we can. But no-one said it would be easy.

33. Low self-esteem is the cause of psychological problems. V: No, it isn’t.

34. Sexually abused children develop severe personality problems as adults. V: YAMT. No, they don’t. (*)

35. The Rorschach inkblot test works. V: No. Me: Shouldn’t people be disbarred for using this?

36: Graphology works. V: No.

37. Psychiatric labels stigmatises people. V: Only if you’re an a-hole.

38. Only depressed people commit suicide. V: Nope. They commit suicide when they start to get better and realise how messed-up they are.

39. People with schizophrenia have multiple personalities. V: YAMT. These are two different things.

40. Adult Children of Alcoholics display a distinctive profile of symptoms. V: No. This is the Barnum effect. (*)

41. There’s been a recent epidemic of infant autism. V: No there hasn’t (*)

42. Psychiatric admissions increase at the full moon. V: No they don’t.

43. Most mentally ill people are violent. V: YAMT. No more so than ordinary people.

44. Criminal profiling helps solve cases. V: It helps profilers make money.

45. The insanity defence really works. V: Not very well.

46. Anyone who confesses to a crime is guilty of it. V: No. False confessions are common.

47. Expert judgement and intuition are the best ways of making decisions. V: No. (*)

48. Abstinence is the only realistic treatment for alcoholics. V: No (*)

49. Effective psychotherapy forces people to confront some episode in their childhood. V: YAMT. No. Me: Wait. There’s “effective psychotherapy”?

50. ECT is brutal and ineffective. V: not if used sensibly.

The only issue I have with 41 is that they don’t mention that in the USA, doctors often diagnose Autism because that way the parents get funding that they wouldn’t get if the doctor diagnosed Asperger’s. So there’s an epidemic of diagnoses caused by the healthcare system. I have serious issues with...

8. Mid-life crisis: the authors are right to say that this isn’t well-defined, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real, for some people. If there is a man over 60 out there who didn’t at least once have a sustained doubt about the value of the life he was leading… he’s either terminally self-satisfied, utterly lacks self-awareness or is lying. Otherwise, “mid-life crisis” is what happens to a man who wakes up one morning and realises that he’s still in shape, but his wife has turned into a shapeless lump.

24. I quote the authors: “…our life circumstances can…affect our happiness in the short run, much of our happiness in the long run is…independent of what happens to us…[it] is a function of what we make of our lives.” How convenient for Wal-Mart that their staff wouldn’t be any happier they were paid enough not to need to claim welfare benefits plus a couple of extra bucks an hour. Capitalism turns everything to its advantage.

29. The authors do say there are slight differences in male and female communication styles, but not so much that you’d notice. The studies they quote are measuring all the wrong things. Type A communication is managerial and supervisory: it’s done to persuade and influence. Type B communication is used to convey facts, suggestions and instructions. Male managers often communicate in a Type A manner, and women at work sometimes communicate in a Type B manner. For all sorts of reasons, women need to persuade and influence more than men, and that’s why you immediately knew that “Type A” really meant “feminine”.

34. The author’s argument is two-fold. First, they say that therapists have a distorted view of the world, so they don’t see the people who were abused as children and turned out okay (the authors don’t tell us where to find those adults). Second they quote Rind’s paper which showed that there was only a weak correlation between self-reported childhood sexual abuse and eighteen fairly severe psycho-pathologies. Coming from a conflict-ridden home was a much better predictor of these pathologies. I would have preferred that this one was presented as “It takes something as harsh as sexual abuse to induce adult psycho-pathologies”. To which the answer seems to be: “No. Mummy and daddy throwing things at each other all the time, and having arguments and taking it out on the children, will work even better.”

40. Read the ACoA “Laundry List”. This bears no resemblance to the psycho-babble questions the authors quote from the studies. Wotiz and others diluted the List to the point where it does get a bit Barnum. Read the original List carefully. Ordinary people, for instance, are not “frightened” of angry people. “Frightened” speaks to a paralysis and loss of control that ordinary people don’t usually experience. And ordinary people are not “addicted” to excitement. And as for confusing love and pity and tending to "love" people they can "pity" and “rescue”, that is the exact opposite of the behaviour of ordinary people. However, two siblings may turn out differently despite the common background. But almost no-one from the fabled “good enough” home ever ticks many items on the Laundry List.

47. The authors cite studies where rule-based diagnoses do as well as the experts. What they miss is that rules work where they work and don’t otherwise. And the best AI systems don’t use "rules” but replicate an expert learning process. As for “intuition”, psychology isn’t one of the areas where expertise become behavioural, so they would never experience “just knowing”.

48. The keyword is “only”. Abstinence works for a minority of alcoholics. For the others, anything else is better than waking up with another hangover in a part of town they’ve never seen before. Some of those others can handle controlled drinking. Some of them can’t. You want to be sure you’re not going to wake up again, three hundred miles from home wearing lipstick and a dress? Quit. Full time.

Most of the myths are pop-culture nonsense. Much smaller, but very valuable, are discussions on myths about clinical and medical techniques. Some of the myths are not myths at all, but moments that don’t happen to everybody, and it’s those I took taken exception to. Polygraphs are always random, mid-life crises happen to a certain kind of man.

I think there’s a reason the authors made this mistake, and it’s pretty much at the heart of psychology. Psychiatrists deal with the serious cases needing unpleasant drugs with nasty side-effects; therapists, 12-Step and self-help groups deal with dysfunctional people, and have varying degrees of success. This leaves psychologists studying regular folk. Regular folk are largely untroubled by everyday insults and inconvenience, recover with appropriate speed from the serious upsets and tragedies, and most of all, regular folk keep what little inner life they have to themselves and also from themselves. People lie "all the time" when they answer those psychologist’s quizzes, and it takes a lot of questions to reveal this cheating: the latest MMPI tests for nine different kinds of ‘cheating’ and takes about fifty or so dedicated questions to do so, as well as duplicating many others to test for consistency. Asking people to describe and assess themselves is no way to discover what they are feeling or what is happening in their lives. (Unless it’s a study about the many delusions of regular people, which the Kahneman crowd do so well.) As a profession, psychologists seem to be here to tell us that a) whatever it is, we will get over it, b) therapy, drugs and chanting won’t get us through it any faster, c) it will have no lasting effects. This is a nice message, and it may be what emerges from enough studies of self-satisfied regular people with almost zero self-awareness (ah! accountants! how I envy them their smug self-satisfaction), but it’s not what the taxpayer needs.

What the taxpayer needs is some advice for coping and dealing when life hits hard and they are down on resilience. It’s not enough to say “Lost your job? Well, our studies say that you’re overdoing it. Most people said that they eventually overcame the shock of losing their jobs and made happy new lives for themselves earning half of what they were for working twice as many hours for an insecure bully of a supervisor. Because happiness is all in the mind, not the external world.” I’m exaggerating slightly, but read this book, and you will find out just how slightly.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Setting Out My Last Wishes

I had a meeting with my solicitors a couple of weeks ago to review my Will. It was made a while ago, and since then, amongst other things, we in the UK can not only appoint people with power of attorney over our financial affairs in case we go gaga, we can also appoint someone with power of attorney over our care arrangements if we become incapable of looking after ourselves. This is because Care Act 2014 (effective May 2015) basically puts a social worker in charge of my life if I get dementia or even seem like I’m not taking care of myself. The Act and guidance is full of twaddle about “personal dignity” and the £72,000 limit on what the old person will have to spend, but what it doesn’t say so loudly is that £72,000 is to cover a very narrow range of costs. It's the council which decides what it's going to pay for, not the law or your attorneys.

Choosing someone to act on behalf of my future gaga self is tricky, because they have to know how to deal with bureaucrats and procedures, how not to be fooled by the set speeches about how Social Services have my best interests at heart, and the veiled threats about how hard it is to be responsible for a gaga person.

My wishes as regards my old age are really simple. I want to be dead before I get there. If I’m still alive and decaying, the doctors and social workers are not allowed to perform any “life-saving” (read: “death-delaying”) procedures that will leave me dependent on regular care, assistance or continued medication. I walk out of the operation autonomous or not at all. If we have the option by then - say in about ten years - I will go for AS anyway. I’m done now. I’ve had my life, and all this continuing effort of work and gym and reading and so on is just plain bravado. I’m going to be fairly badly-off when I stop earning, and that ain’t gonna be no fun. I do not want to be surrounded by old people, even if they are five years younger than me.

Asking someone to stand in front of people who manipulate emotional friends and family for a living, and say “He wants out. It says so in his testament. Have the decency to observe his wishes and inject the morphine” - well, you picture yourself saying that about a friend or sibling, let alone an uncle or a nephew. It’s what lawyers do, because they are paid to manipulate bureaucrats into doing what their client wants.

If I become incapable of looking after myself, I don’t want someone doing it for me. I won’t have the money to pay for it, and I wouldn’t want to take up another person’s time and life like that. It’s selfish to expect others to carry you when you can’t support yourself, and it’s sentimental to carry on supporting someone in that condition. Morphine. Out. Cold. Thank you.

I’ve had these views for a long time and I haven’t changed. But setting it out so my solicitor can put it down on paper for me to sign… just a little different.

Monday, 13 July 2015

St Anne's Court

I have been writing and thinking, but a lot of it is still in-progress. I've dropped a couple of comments at other blogs, but those were re-stating things I've said here already. I'm not quite sure where the time and attention is going, but it's going somewhere. Also, it's hot.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Aluminium Vision

One morning a couple of weeks ago on the way to the station, I saw this...

The owner returned as I took the last picture and I asked him what this wonderful machine is. It's a converted Triumph Herald. You should google that to appreciate how much work the man put in. 

Monday, 6 July 2015

June 2015 Review

Seems I was busier last month than I thought. I took a day off to let British Gas tell me my boiler was fine, and then did some gardening. A couple of weeks later, I took a long weekend because the MI mainframes were offline, and did more gardening. The important bit on both occasions wasn’t that I cut huge amounts of shrubs and cleared out the garden shed, but that I took the rubbish to the Tip immediately. Those with gardens will know how significant that is.

I saw Les Sept Doigts du Main show Traces at the Peacock Theatre, Paco Pena at Sadler’s Wells and fitted in an emergency visit to the orthodontist. Sis and I dined at Picture on a Wednesday, and I had lunch at Moro the Saturday of Paco Pena.

I wrote three Python programs, getting just familiar enough with IDLE to decided to try PyCharm Community edition, which is excellent.

I watched Sons of Anarchy S6. Jesus H Christ. Only Shakespere littered his plays with more dead people than Sons does.

I read Mathematics Without Apologies, Michael Harris; 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, by Ruscio and Beyerstein; I Think You’ll Find It’s A Bit More Complicated Than That, by Ben Goldacre; Decoded, by Mai Jia; Cakes, Custard and Category Theory, by Eugenia Cheng; Behind The Housing Crash, by Aaron Clary; Stand By Your Manhood, by Peter Lloyd; The Philosophy of Mathematical Practice, edited by Paolo Mancuso.

Having braces is one of those things you should only do if you really need to. You will salivate all the time. Eating chocolate and biscuits is nowhere near as pleasant the excess saliva removes the taste, and you feel your inner mouth rubbing against the plastic bits they stick on your teeth. Plus your teeth move, so every five days another bit of your mouth hurts or gets rubbed by metal.

The personal training is doing what I wanted it to do. I’m working hard, but not waking up the next morning aching and in need of more sleep that I can’t have. I have learned various moves, such as The Nine Squat positions, and The Twenty-Seven push-up positions, and the Three Ways of stepping up onto blocks. Not to mention the Three positions for doing lateral raises, and more ways of swinging a vipr and weighted ball than you would believe. It is slowly coming together and I am more flexible than I was.

And I bought an iPad Air. Heaven’s it’s lovely. Streaming music is so much better than using Chrome on my old Asus netbook.

A conference with my solicitors about Wills and Powers of Attorney was maybe a little more real than I was expecting. I will discuss some of those issues in another post as well.

And setting the alarm for 06:00, and not starting the morning routine until then feels a lot better. If I’m awake earlier, I make coffee, sit by the window and read, even if it’s only for ten minutes. Feels a lot more relaxed. I will meditate on what the FitBit is telling me later.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Beach Body Ready and Other Women: It's About Settling

Quite rightly the ASA didn't find the Protein World Beach Body Ready poster offensive .

They did find its claims unrealistic, and banned it on those grounds. That achieves the result the body-positives wanted but not for their reasons, and in ideology, reasons are more important than results.

First time I saw it I thought the model had been photo-shopped, looked more closely and realised she hadn't. Renee Somerfield is the one young woman in the world who really does look like that, and it must have taken the agency days looking on Instagram to find her.

It's not easy finding a non-photo-shopped image of Renee, Why anyone would bother, I have no idea.

I don't have carved abs and 10% body fat. But I'm not put off by photographs of men who do, whether they are Men's Health Hunk of the Month cover model or the poster for the Magic Mike movie. I know what they had to do to get to look like that. It takes a brutal diet, exercise, the genes to put the abdominal cartilage in the right place to pull the abs into a six-pack, and personal trainers and dieticians of the kind you and I can't afford. Also I know they only look like that on the day of the shoot, since there's a fair amount of water loss involved to look that ripped. I don't mind that they look like that. If I put that much work in, I wouldn't look that good, but I sure would turn heads on the beach.

A man who trains and diets may have a look that's a little strained but it speaks of self-discipline and application, it speaks of manly virtues. A woman who trains in that way sends the same message, but those virtues are not feminine. There are a handful of mid-thirties to mid-forties women in media and PR who train hard to stay tight, but keep the body-fat higher than an athlete's so that they still look feminine. It's a narrow line to walk. But (model) just looks like that. She may keep those looks by eating sensibly, and doing some light circuits to stay tight, but by the look of her other photographs on Instagram, she doesn't do athletic training.

A model of Ms Somerfield's looks reminds most of us that we are settling with our choice of partner. However much we are aroused by them, and find them attractive in so many other ways, and however much we might not think about it, we are settling. Many people can live with this knowledge, as long as it remains unsaid and mainly invisible in their partner's behaviour. (I have roving eyes.)

But the body-positives don't want their partners to be settling. They know they are overweight, have short limbs and chubby fingers. They know they don't fit anyone's idea of even a Six. They know they aren't above the Pretty Line. Yet they want to be found attractive without reservation. And who can blame them? Most men know they can't spit sharp Game, don't do Bad Boy things, and don't have much of a sense of thier own direction, but want to be found attractive for who they are, not what they can provide, and who can blame them? Both are doomed to be disappointed, but I feel sympathy for both groups.

This is why the the funky Sevens and Eights, like Lili here, in c-heads can at times leave me in despair,

 or a stone 10 like Alejandra Guilmant

who occasionally pops up on Fashioncopious. Let alone Malgosia Bela in the 35th Birthday edition of i-D.

They remind me that if I were to set out again, my reaction would be to settle for yet another Six. Which I don't want to do and wouldn't like myself for doing. Just like the body-positives.

Speaking of living with oneself, recently I made an approach that to the only Eight that's passed through the office in a large number of years (Khazakstan via five years at an English university). I couldn't have lived with myself if I hadn't. But something happened between the time we arranged to meet for coffee and I was getting yes-please smiles, and the day we met. I was gently re-buffed, and she's blanked me since, but who cares? Sometimes you gotta do it, for your self-respect's sake.