Fathers given choice, choose wrongly

A jobless mate stay-at-home dad directs me towards this article:

The minimal take-up of shared parental leave in the UK, estimated, in the absence of reliable statistics, at about 2% of 285,000 eligible couples annually, has happened because the policy is wrong. In other countries and regions, when appropriate shared-leave entitlements have been introduced, uptake has soared: for example, to 91% in Iceland, 86% in Quebec and 63% in Portugal.

I think what the author’s saying is that couples with children in Iceland, Quebec, and Portugal share parental leave differently from those in Britain. Obviously, this is a bad thing.

The British system shared parental leave system gives mothers all the leave and then expects them to hand over some of their entitlement to fathers. So the very question, “why don’t fathers take up the entitlement”, which has been asked for years, is flawed.

Presumably because the answer means we are less Icelandic.

It is extraordinarily easy to design a system that would work. Such systems have existed for decades in other countries.

It is? Well, now I’m all ears.

The first thing to understand is that fathers and mothers want the same thing.

Heh! Then why don’t more fathers share the parental leave?

Pew-funded research in the US in 2015 found that fathers were just as likely as mothers to say that parenting was extremely important to their identity (57% and 58% respectively).

Wonderful, but what has this got to do with fathers taking parental leave and splitting the caring duties?

The same research found that 48% of fathers felt they were not doing enough caring.

So more than half thought they were doing plenty.

Earlier Pew research in 2013 found that working fathers were as likely as working mothers to say they preferred to be at home with their children but could not because they had to earn instead (48% of fathers v 52% of mothers).

You don’t say! In other news, middle-aged Brits living in Paris would prefer to loaf around all day watching TV and playing the banjo, but cannot because they have to earn instead.

This means if fathers were to be offered the same as mothers are offered – allowing parents to choose absolutely freely on a level playing field – fathers would take leave in huge numbers.

No it doesn’t, you’ve just written that because you’ve not understood any of the three previous paragraphs. Which, given you wrote them, is impressive. We know fathers don’t want to take time off work to look after their children as part of a parental leave sharing system, and you should be trying to find out why. Instead you dismissed the very question as “flawed” and climbed on your own personal hobby-horse.

It really is that simple.

Well, something here is simple but it’s not your proposal.

A woman on an average annual wage of £27,000 gets, in the first year, six weeks’ state maternity pay at £466 (90% of pay) plus 33 weeks at £141, making a total of £7,449. A father gets two weeks at £141, or £282. So fathers get 26 times less – a gender pay gap of 96%.

If anyone can make head or tail of this, they’re smarter than I am.

If the state treated mothers and fathers equally, and offered them the same entitlement, there would be no need for expensive publicity campaigns.

Okay, here’s the problem. It is well known that the gender pay gap is in part down to women taking breaks from their careers to have kids at the critical stage when everyone else is pulling 70-hour weeks to demonstrate their suitability for higher positions. If men take the same parental leave as women, their careers will suffer too. I’ve no problem with this, but the men concerned might. They might ask themselves why are they killing their career and turning down chances of a bonus when their wife – for purely biological reasons – is sat at home looking after the baby. I read somewhere that in Scandinavia where men and women have the same entitlements, men simply choose not to take it. Having spent a couple of weeks around a mother and newborn baby once, I can understand why.

Men taking time off in the first year would, within a year or two, become a social norm, just like men attending the birth of a baby.

And why would this be a good thing? This sounds more like social engineering to make modern men wetter than they already are. As wet as the author, in fact. Frankly, I don’t see there’s any reason why a man should attend the birth of a baby. Sure, he should be present nearby in case anything goes wrong, but there’s nothing he can actually do in the delivery room. He should be wandering the hospital grounds smoking cigars with other soon-to-be fathers talking about cricket.

One company, Aviva, has introduced a policy of treating mothers and fathers among its staff exactly equally. This is little short of heroic. It is hardly reasonable to expect employers to correct the £7,200 difference in what government gives mothers and fathers.

So it falls to the taxpayer, then. And note he thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to expect employers to find and hire replacements for all these absent fathers.

Other employers make things worse. A 2017 survey of 341 companies found that 95% enhanced maternity pay above statutory provisions, often to a significant extent, but only 4.4% enhanced paternity pay for even part of the statutory two weeks.

Y’know, perhaps these employers have consulted with their staff and found while women are attracted to enhanced maternity pay, men aren’t all that excited about enhanced paternity pay? But they’re just companies employing people under free market conditions, not house husbands who write for The Guardian. What would they know?

Does this matter? Absolutely. Supporting children’s attachments to both their mothers and fathers early in their lives builds the foundation for child development.

Now there’s a pretty frank admission of truth seldom seen in the pages of The Guardian! Perhaps this chap should have a word with his fellow columnists who regularly tell us a child doesn’t need a mother and a father, or any kind of stable relationship at home.

The more fathers care early on, the more they tend to invest in the child for the rest of its life.

And what are all those fathers working late in the office for, eh? For the fun of it?

And when fathers care more, women earn more.

Yes, but the men earn less. That’s precisely why they don’t take parental leave in the numbers you want them to. Little wonder this chap is the stay-at-home dad while wifey goes to work, isn’t it? Can you imagine having this bloke on a job, trying to get something done? I bet his boss punched the air when he announced he was leaving, and hired a fresh cabbage to replace him.

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Are the giant overseas charities another Hollywood?

Two things. Here’s the first:

Mark Goldring, the chief executive, claimed critics motivated by an anti-aid agenda were “gunning” for Oxfam leaving the charity “savaged”.

In an interview with The Guardian, he said: “The intensity and ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do? We murdered babies in their cots?

The second:

The husband of the murdered MP Jo Cox has resigned from the two charities he set up in her memory after being publicly accused of sexual assault.

Together they made me come up with a theory.

The revelations that Oxfam was running orgies in disaster areas confirmed my long-held suspension that these giant do-gooder organisations are run by people who don’t consider themselves accountable to anyone, probably because they genuinely see themselves as modern day saints. Goldring’s comments are the words of man who thinks he operates on a higher plane than us lowly plebs, and lives in a world completely detached from the man on the street. The news about Brandon Cox being a sex pest only surprised me because I had no idea who he was until his wife was murdered, but those who knew of him before aren’t surprised in the least.

So here we have an industry whose leaders virtue-signal for a profession yet appear to tolerate gross and blatant sexual misconduct and turn a blind eye to sex pests. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Could it be that what we saw with Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood is replicated across the charitable sector? All the signs are there. We have a closed industry protected by powerful politicians and the media where older men hold considerable sway with a steady stream of young, impressionable men and women turning up to help out in any way they can. How do you think the assignments are doled out among the volunteers? Who gets to stay in which hotel, ride in which vehicle, sleep in which tent? In whose lap do the plum jobs land, and who makes the decision? A lot of these people are volunteers so there’s no question of the organisations recruiting and paying for marketable skills like a commercial business does. If a pretty young thing shows up in the developing world for volunteer work in an organisation which doesn’t think twice about decking out Haitian waifs in company t-shirts and shagging them in front of everybody in a penthouse apartment, do you think nobody is going to make a move on her? Nobody is going to invite her up to the hotel room for a drink or two, and make promises of promotion in return for her nocturnal company?

There’s also the fact that these do-gooder organisations are very left wing, and as I’ve written before, many young left wing women tend to make themselves extremely vulnerable by judging a man’s character solely by his political opinions. Provided the man is spouting the right progressive mantra, dim lefty women seem quite unable to spot he’s a sex pest. And because he is spouting the right progressive mantra, those with power will defend him, and destroy her, when she complains. Like the protest groups and polyamorist circles, these organisations are ripe for sexual predators to come in, flatter the people in charge with a few well-placed lines of boilerplate progressivism, and help themselves to any fucked-up young men or women who come their way.

So here’s my prediction. In the next few days, weeks, or months we’re going to hear of quite startling revelations of sexual assaults on volunteers working for the big charities or environmental groups which would make Harvey Weinstein wish he’d answered that request to make a documentary with one of them after all. We’ll hear of a class of untouchable senior managers who openly boast of taking their pick of the prettiest staff, make blatant approaches towards underlings during parties and drinking sessions in the hotel bars, and all of this will be common knowledge among anyone involved with the group. Complaints would have been lodged and either ignored or the complainant hounded out of town, and national news reporters would have received dozens of stories but declined to run them through fear of upsetting their friends and political allies. Now The Times has broken ranks and published the Oxfam revelations, and stories are pouring in of similar happenings in other charities, I reckon they’ll be a new #metoo movement springing up before we know it. I find it highly unlikely, set up and staffed as they are, that such incidents are not commonplace in the big overseas charities and environmental groups.

You read it here first.

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What doesn’t work on Corbyn also doesn’t work on Trump

Following on from the failed efforts to shame Corbyn, I present to you this:

Trump’s opponents believe if they keep throwing out revelations about his womanising past, the voters will wake up and realise they’ve elected a sleazeball. They’re as deluded as the people who think front pages of The Sun detailing Corbyn’s friendships with Communists and terrorists will make a difference to his poll standings.

Ever since I can remember, long before he became involved in politics and even before he hosted The Apprentice, Donald Trump had a reputation as being a womanising New York billionnaire playboy with a preference for east European models whom he’d marry and then cheat on. There are pictures of him in the early nineties at parties with Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty with women hanging around them like flies. His reputation was well known before he ran for president, which is why the Access Hollywood tapes didn’t do as much damage as his opponents hoped.

It’s not that the voters didn’t know about this side of Trump’s character, they just didn’t care about it enough to stop them voting for him. Pointing out the same thing over and over in the hope that people will suddenly change their mind will never work, and this as true for Trump as it is Corbyn. Like the Conservatives, the Democrats have the answer to Trump staring them right in the face: don’t be insane. Like their British counterparts, they can’t seem to grasp the solution either.

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Shaming Corbyn doesn’t work. Stopping funding his supporters might

Frankly, I can’t see what the fuss is here:

Jeremy Corbyn met a Communist spy during the Cold War and ‘briefed’ evil regime of clampdown by British intelligence

The papers and social media have been full of revelations these past few days about how Jeremy Corbyn was approached by Eastern Bloc spy agencies, and might well have passed on some information. Well, so what?

One of the things both Britain and the USA (and I expect plenty of other supposedly western European countries) has never acknowledged, let alone addressed, is how much of their establishment – politicians, media, academics, NGOs, and socialites – were either supportive of the Soviet Union or actively working to further its aims. It’s not that we don’t know about this. For example, The Guardian’s one-time literary editor Richard Gott was confirmed to have been working for the KGB, and he treated the whole thing as a bit of a giggle. In the eyes of the British chattering classes there is not, and never has been, any shame whatosever in supporting the USSR and other totalitarian left-wing ideologies. In fact, it’s almost a requirement for entry into large parts of academia and media.

So squealing that Corbyn was dallying with Communist spies during the Cold War is hardly a surprise. Hell, it would be more surprising if he wasn’t working for the Communists: everything else about the man suggests they’d have had his number on speed-dial. People might argue that all of this suddenly matters because he stands a good chance of becoming Prime Minister. Again, so what?

Everyone is fully aware of what Corbyn is like. True, many people wouldn’t have known him when he first took over the leadership of the Labour party, but his past was splattered right across the media during the last general election campaign. We learned he was a prominent IRA supporter, he’s embraced Hamas, Hezbollah, and other despotic anti-Jewish groups, and cosied up to just about every enemy Britain has faced since he first pulled on long trousers. The hapless Theresa May didn’t even both mounting a proper campaign, so convinced she was that Corbyn’s past and present political sympathies would consign him to a landslide defeat.

But nobody cared, and he did surprisingly well. Now if the public didn’t care that he supported Irishmen who murdered children in Warrington and elsewhere, they certainly won’t care that he did what pretty much every university lecturer up and down the country did, and would continue to do if the Soviet Union hadn’t spoiled the party and collapsed. Radical left wing politics is cool, remember?

If the Tories and anti-Corbyn lefties think they’re going to dent Corbyn’s polling numbers by squawking in outrage over his past treachery, they’re sorely mistaken. It didn’t work before, and it won’t work now. The sort of people voting for Corbyn either fully agree with his politics, or they have no idea who the IRA were or what the Cold War was. I spoke to some youngster in Paris a few months back who said she loved Corbyn. I didn’t bother asking why – his appeal to young, slightly dim, bohemian waifs with metal in their face and no job over Theresa May is obvious – but if I wanted her to vote for someone else I wouldn’t bother talking about the IRA. I might as well bring up the Biafran War as the Troubles, for all it would mean to her.

So the Tories need to take another approach, but they can’t. As I’m fond of saying in other areas of my life, if they could, they’d have done it by now, which means they can’t. Corbyn’s success is due in large part to the massive program of government-funded indoctrination which has seen pretty much every institution I can think of taken over and utterly dominated by left wingers, many of whom share Corbyn’s political opinions. Even those who don’t would rather wring their hands and squeal over Jacob Rees-Mogg’s personal views on abortion than criticise Corbyn for actively siding with murderers and terrorists. Many people running government departments, the media, and academia were vociferous in their condemnation of the Presidents Club guests slapping a waitresses’ arse, yet are now churning out excuses for Oxfam’s staff exploiting vulnerable teenagers in disaster areas. For these people, politics is the start, middle, and end of everything. Principles don’t come anywhere near it.

As I’ve argued before, none of this started with Corbyn and unlike many I believe Corbyn and Momentum is the perfectly natural evolution of the New Labour movement that Blair and Brown created. It may differ slightly in degree, but in form I don’t really see much difference. What the idiot Tories should have realised is that a central plank of New Labour’s policy was to flood the country with taxpayers’ money buying political support from millions of people in newly created and wholly unnecessary organisations, which would then infiltrate through every nook and cranny of public life until the whole society comes under the scrutiny of this new army of left wing prodnoses. And this is where we are now, with companies being hounded for advertising in the Daily Mail, perfectly reasonable people being banned from speaking at universities, and ever-greater aspects of our personal lives subject to the approval of the mob who are cheered on by privileged establishment figures.

If the Tories were serious about defeating the left, they’d have yanked funding for this years ago. Without the benefit of billions of pounds of taxpayer-funded political campaigning, Corbyn would have got nowhere. Cameron should have pulled the plug during his first term, but he lacked the principles to do so, as well as the balls. In fact, I’d be surprised if he even knew what was going on. That he promised a bonfire of the QUANGOS, which he never delivered, suggested even Dim Dave was vaguely aware of how his party was being undermined at every level of society, but I expect he was more worried people might say nasty things about him. Theresa May, far from showing any signs of wanting to cut funding to these organisations which despise her, seems delighted they exist believing they’ll help her install the nanny-state she so dearly craves.

The truth is, the Conservatives don’t want to face the disruption such an up-ending of state funding will cause; I expect they’ll even reinstate Oxfam’s taxpayer lifeline once the elites have all agreed on a suitable narrative. Not until the general public get fed up with this state-sponsored corruption of the political process will anyone do anything about it, and we’re a long, long way from that point. Until then, we’d better get used to Corbyn & Co. being around for a while.

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School Shootings and American Society

A couple of tweets from me in relation to the latest school shooting in the US:

It is understandable that in the wake of something as horrific as a school shooting, there are calls to “do something”. When you have tens of millions of people all calling for something to be done, it is tempting to pretend that what can be done is simple. Take this idiot, for example:

It’s not my intention to re-hash the difficulties of addressing American gun crime in this post, I believe I adequately covered them here. Instead, I’ll engage in a little speculation as to what other factors, aside from America’s gun laws, might be causing the rise in these sort of shootings.

From what I can gather, the profile of a school shooter seems to be a rather weedy, angry, young white male who doesn’t have many friends, can’t get laid, and thinks the whole world is against him. Rather than running around trying to ban middle-aged Oklahoma hunters from buying rifles, we’d probably be better off trying to figure out why these lunatics feel so alienated and how to spot them before they go and shoot up a school. I’ve been reading reports that the FBI received multiple warnings about this latest idiot, but didn’t do very much. Perhaps it’s very difficult to intervene without grossly infringing a citizen’s rights, but I’d be more inclined to cut the FBI some slack if they weren’t expending considerable efforts in trying to unseat the president having failed to scupper his election campaign. If there is one area worth spending serious time investigating, it’s how to identify disaffected young men in advance of them shooting up a school.

Why these losers feel the need to shoot up a school is perhaps more complicated, but the reasons probably can’t be decoupled from contemporary American society and their place in it. Western education systems have become almost entirely feminised, benefiting girls at the expense of boys. Boys are continually told they are a problem, and what used to be passed off as ordinary boy’s behaviour is now treated with drugs. I’ve seen people on social media speculating as to whether the over-prescription of drugs might be a factor here; rather than blame the drugs as a cause, I’m more inclined to think a society which feels the need to pump boys full of drugs to control their behaviour might, in other ways, be creating monsters. Correlation rather than causation, in other words. In an increasingly sexualised society where girls are encouraged to put out while still in school and amateur porn is easily accessible and suffers no shortage of volunteers, awkward young men might feel the pains of rejection even more than they did in previous generations. Perhaps a society in which people gain instant fame for achieving nothing of note drives it, in part? Maybe these boys don’t take kindly to being called racist simply for being white, or told they are basically rapists just because they are male. The number of overlapping and interconnecting reasons might run into the dozens.

Whatever the reasons, young men growing up to be very unsure of themselves and seemingly unable to handle the world around them is a real phenomenon, and in fairness has probably existed since Cain reached his teens. What we can say is that the behaviours we’re seeing from young men, at least in America and the west in general is different – and I’m not just talking about school shootings. Apparently young men aren’t interested in forming relationships as much as they were, and a substantial number uninterested in sex altogether. A lot of them, to put it bluntly, are an absolute bunch of wet nappies.

The other day I came across this article:

Most American parents hit their little children. And most believe that they are doing something both effective and right.

But they are wrong.

The scientific case against spanking is one of those rare occasions in which, over a span of 50 years or so, a scientific controversy actually gets resolved, as various programs of increasingly rigorous research converge upon a consensus conclusion.

And, you’ve guessed it, research has shown that spanking does in fact increase children’s stress levels, as well as their risk for a host of future psychological problems.

Well, perhaps this is what the data shows, I don’t know. But do children and yound adults have fewer psychological problems than in the days when they were spanked at home? It doesn’t seem like it. And here:

Spanking Children Promotes Antisocial Behaviour and Slows Mental Development

We’ve got articles confidently asserting that spanking makes kids antisocial and prone to violence written by people congratulating each other on having outlawed the practice. At the same time we’re all wondering why teenagers are running around massacring their classmates. If I’d written articles like this, I think I’d have had the self-awareness to maybe tone down the celebrations a touch.

I’m not trying to say that spanking kids will stop them shooting up their school when the pretty girl in class turns him down for a prom date. What I’m saying is that societies, and human behaviours within them, are incredibly complicated and can’t be reduced to simplistic, politically-driven soundbites such as “deadly gun laws” and “the spanking debate is over”. Part of the reason why school shootings are likely to be a regular feature in America for quite some time is that too many people will want to engineer society in the hope of eradicating them while failing to acknowledge the damage they may have wrought through decades of similar social engineering. The way things are heading they’ll end up tightening the laws on people with mental illness buying guns, but expand the definition of mental illness to include anyone with thoughts they don’t approve of. This will lead to further alienation and frustration, while the genuine psychos slide unnoticed through all the noise on the radar.

What they need to do is to put all their efforts into identifying the handful of youngsters who will go so far as to shoot up a school, and leave everyone else the hell alone and stop wasting valuable resources cajoling, bullying, and threatening them into political submission. They won’t though, so the shootings will continue.

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Material Technologies

Thanks everyone for sharing enough stories to make me feel comfortable that I was not alone in driving a dangerously unsafe car back in my youth. Like I said at the beginning of the post, there was a time when taking possession of your first banger was a rite of passage for young men. (It may have been different for women: the first car of my ex-housemate was a Nissan Micra that, although in very good condition, was ginger in colour.)

Back around 2001 I had to commute between south Manchester and Warrington, so bought a brand new Renault Clio, 1.2l at the very bottom of the range (I got a new one because I knew it would work and the finance deal was pretty good). It was about as much a girl’s car as you could find, especially being bright red, but having done that job delivering cars all over Manchester I knew what it was like to drive compared to Fiestas, Polos, and the other cars in its class. I went for the bottom of the range of a small car simply to save money. I had that car for about two years and not a thing went wrong with it, it was perfect except for being a little to small for my legs. On long journeys, my knee would hurt.

What I noticed when I lovingly washed it every weekend was how much of it was actually plastic. The front wings were, and the sills covered in a rough plastic coating which didn’t chip easily. Parked outside in Manchester weather, there wasn’t a spot of rust on it even after two years. When I walked to work this morning, I tried to spot a rusty car on the way. I didn’t see one. But back when I was growing up in the 1980s? Oh boy. I read stories about how British Leyland would stamp out car panels in one factory, load them onto an uncovered flatbed truck, and drive them through the rain to be painted and installed elsewhere. Little wonder they started rusting from the moment you took it off the forecourt. It wasn’t just British cars, though. My parents had a VW Beetle which one of my school chums nicknamed “measles”, and we had two successive Mark I Golfs whose wheel arches rusted through in a few years. Back in those days, Halfords used to sell sheets of wire mesh that you’d fix over the gaping holes in the bodywork and cover with a sort of polyfilla, then sand it smooth. If you were lucky, you’d find some paint to match but a lot of people just left it at that. I doubt anyone does this any more, save for those working on classic cars.

What’s changed, aside from the demise of state-run disasters such as British Leyland, is materials technology. The steel will be of a higher quality these days, and I expect all cars are galvanised as standard. Plastics are used wherever possible, and the coating and painting systems will have advanced beyond recognition. The paint on old cars used to be very brittle, and would flake off around a stone chip. Nowadays the paint is more rubbery, and stone chips cause small pitting but don’t usually penetrate to the metal.

In my lifetime, the two massive advances in technology have been the internet and mobile technology. These have overshadowed other advances which are possibly of equal importance in terms of quality of life and wealth. Being an engineer, I have a habit of looking at modern equipment and comparing it to the kit I grew up around. The difference is incredible. Clothing is an obvious example. When I was an army cadet between 1992-1996, we were decked out in Falklands-era uniforms: heavy cotton smocks and trousers, woolen military jumpers, 58-pattern webbing made of a sort of woven canvas. This stuff was only waterproof if you sprayed it, and although it kept you warm even if wet, it trebled in weight and took a week to dry. A few of us got hold of Norwegian army shirts made from towelling, which were very warm but if they got wet the arms would increase in length by about fifty percent. By the mid-90s Gore-Tex was well established in civilian clothing lines, and fleeces were starting their period of dominance which continues to this day. Nowadays when I go hiking or skiiing, I’m amazed at how warm, light, and waterproof everything is, and not just the clothes. Footwear, tents, rucksacks, head torches, straps, buckles, and every other piece of equipment is now made from plastics optimised for that precise application. I’m sure the same is true for other pursuits, too. I don’t know much about sailing and nothing at all about golf, cycling, or motorbikes, but I’m confident the material technology in these areas is space-age compared to what it was in the 1980s.

Back then, when we went on holiday, my parents used to pack our clothes into these brown vinyl suitcases in the traditional style. They were awkward, not very strong, and the straps were splitting. Wander into a Samsonite store now and you’ll see suitcases which look to be made of body armour that weigh nothing. Even the arms of the glasses I’m wearing now are made from carbon fibre. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a piece of equipment whose usability, quality, durability, weight, and ergonomics hasn’t been improved massively thanks to the invention and adoption of new material technologies. It’s something a lot of people probably miss, blinded by the more obvious technological changes around them. We probably ought to give a small nod to the men and women who brought it about though, especially when people start railing against hydrocarbons.

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First Cars

TechieDude remarks on the subject of parents, kids, and cars:

You never, ever give your kid a car. Especially when they first get their license. I let my kids use mine, if I didn’t need it, back in the day. They wanted a car? Get a job and pay for one. No better lesson can be had than watching your bank account get hoovered out by repairs, gas, and insurance. There’s more to owning a car than just possession.

Wise words indeed. Getting your first car is, or at least used to be, a rite of passage for a young man and it made a big difference if you’d bought it yourself rather than being gifted it. In my case, it was the former.

I didn’t get around to buying my first car until 1999, when I was 22. This is partly explained by my not having passed my test until I was 20: I failed the fucking thing 3 times before I passed on the fourth attempt. To be fair, my tests took place in Chichester (with complicated one way systems and dual carriageways) and Manchester; a lot of my contemporaries passed their tests in sleepy country towns with a single roundabout and no box junctions. When I passed my test I couldn’t afford a car, and nor did I need one. Then I got that job delivering cars for Danny and I didn’t have to buy one of my own.

All that changed when I had to spend the first semester of my fourth year at university doing an industrial placement, and the one I found was in Weaste, a suburb of Greater Manchester between Salford and Eccles. Getting there by public transport from Fallowfield was long, complicated, and probably about as safe as taking a bus through Syria today. So I needed a car. Fortunately my job with Danny involved going to various dodgy garages and repair shops, and one of them had a car outside for sale. To be honest, I can’t remember how I found it or who I paid, and I certainly don’t remember test driving it. What I do remember is paying £300 for a white, 1l Fiat Uno with 3 doors and skinny tyres with moss on the sides. I can’t recall how old it was, but it had been around plenty. It had an MOT for a few months, but no tax disc. That became my first car.

I quickly found out that to get a tax disc you need insurance. I called Direct Line and they were happy to insure me (it wasn’t obscenely expensive, but not cheap either), but it would take a while for a cover letter to reach me. They said the process could be sped up if I came to their office in central Manchester and picked it up in person. But what to do in the meantime? You’re not supposed to drive a car without a tax disc. I ended up putting a hand-written note in the window where the tax disc goes saying “WAITING FOR INSURANCE COVER LETTER”. I have no idea if this would have saved me a fine or not, but I got the letter in a few days, then the tax disc, and I was motoring around legally in my own car for the first time.

As could have been expected for £300, the car was not without problems. It suffered from what’s known as “run-on”, meaning the engine continues to fire long after you’ve turned off the ignition, withdrawn the key, locked the door, and walked off. Somebody said it might have been running too hot, but I don’t know for sure. I then decided to do whatever I could to make it run better, so went to Halfords and bought a new distributor cap, points, and a coil. Back in those days, replacing parts like these was a routine thing to do. I don’t recall it making a blind bit of difference, but the parts were cheap and it couldn’t hurt.

Then I thought I’d take it for a wash, so went to an automatic car wash whose owner I knew. I drove forward, wound down the window, and tried to insert the token. I couldn’t quite reach so opened the door, put it in, then closed the door. Something clunked. I drove forward, and started to wind up the window as the car wash rumbled into life. Only nothing was happening, and the handle seemed rather too easy to turn. I wound a bit faster, but no window appeared. By now the car wash was fired up and water was pissing through the open window. I put it in gear and drove out the other side, getting soaked in the process. The owner came over and asked what was going on. I had no idea, and was rather distressed as well as wet. We looked down the door seal and saw the window mechanism wound fully up but there was no pane of glass. We got a screwdriver, pulled off the inside door panel, and found it lying on the bottom of the car door. The clip holding it to the raising mechanism had broken, and when I slammed the doors shut it had fallen off. We put it back on as best we could, wound it up carefully, and worked out that you could shut the door – but only with the window wound up. If you did it with it down, you’d lose the pane in the door again. That happened a few times over the course of my ownership. The engine also used to flood, and you’d need to be careful with the manual choke. Many a time I found myself stuck, sometimes in traffic, the engine stalled and unable to restart for several minutes.

Such is life driving around in £300 cars. But it served me well enough, at least for a few months of daily use, until I drove it down to London in December. A few miles outside Manchester on the M6 I realised the brakes didn’t work very well and when I pressed the pedal I’d hear a lot of grinding but without much stopping. There wasn’t much I could do, so pressed on. I worked out that if I was careful I could slow down using the gears and pull the handbrake if I had to, once slowed enough. Then the heavens opened, and the road turned into a river. There was I, in my decrepit Fiat Uno, driving down the M1 with no brakes in a cloudburst. Young men are stupid and I was no exception, and looking back I’m surprised by how unconcerned I was by all this. I slotted in behind a lorry doing 55 mph, kept a respectful distance, and followed it most of the way to London. Quite how I survived that trip I’m not sure, but I did and I got a new set of the cheapest set of brakes I could find the next day. The old ones were completely shot through.

I learned a lot about the costs of running and maintaining a car with that Uno. At the end of my industrial placement I sold it, for £300, to my mate who drove it all over the place for a year, loaded down with Royal Marines and military bergens. He burned through the brakes in short order, and complained bitterly to me for installing cheap ones. He eventually sold it to some sucker for £400. By then, I was driving around in a 1973 lightweight Land Rover, which deserves a post all of its own. Nowadays I ride around in something fast and German, but I appreciate it all the more having once being utterly reliant on a £300 banger with no brakes and a window that kept falling out.

What was your first car?

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Ill-Judged

Two recent court rulings in the US have caught my attention. Here’s the first:

A federal judge has blocked President Trump from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, saying the administration’s justification was not “legally adequate.” Under DACA, which Barack Obama created via executive order, young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children can apply for legal protections.

The judge in Tuesday’s ruling called Trump’s DACA decision “arbitrary and capricious,” and noted that while the administration had claimed that DACA’s implementation by Obama was unconstitutional, Trump’s tweets about revisiting DACA suggested that he thought the president was well within his right to use executive authority this way.

What the judge is effectively saying is that Barack Obama was quite within his rights to implement the DACA program via executive authority, but Donald Trump is not permitted to allow the program to expire using that same executive authority.

Many people, myself included, thought Obama’s use of executive orders to bypass congress set a dangerous precedent, because future holders of the office may not be quite so benign (as if Obama was). Happily, certain judges in the USA have found a solution to this problem by only granting executive authority to presidents they approve of.

This isn’t the first time a judge has blocked Trump on DACA. In January, a federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to again start accepting DACA renewal applications. Tuesday’s ruling goes farther, saying that the Trump administration must start processing new DACA applications.

This is not ruling on matters of law, this is blatant political sabotage. Note the judge’s references to Trump’s tweet. Since when has the personal opinion of the president been a factor in whether the actions of his predecessor were legal or not? The judge has passed this ruling as a matter of personal preference, confident he will have the backing of millions of people, the law be damned.

Here’s the second ruling:

On Monday, a New York judge awarded $6.7 million to graffiti artists who sued the owner of buildings they defaced because he tore down the buildings.

Federal Judge Frederic Block ruled against Long Island developer Jerry Wolkoff, who had permitted the “artwork” on his property, known as 5Pointz, for decades, stating that Wolkoff was not sorry he had painted over the graffiti in 2013, torn down the buildings in 2014, and begun construction for two 40-story residential apartment buildings in 2015. Block said the penalty he assessed would not have been so exorbitant if Wolkoff had waited for the judge’s permission and demolished the art 10 months later than he did; that would have allowed artists to retrieve their paintings from the buildings.

Apparently graffiti artists have greater rights to a building in New York than the owner.

Block was seemingly impressed with the aerosol artists; in November, during the trial triggered by a lawsuit from the 21 aerosol artists, he gushed abut how works produced by the artists “spoke to the social issues of our times.” He also stated that the “respectful, articulate and credible” artists testified about “striking technical and artistic mastery and vision worthy of display in prominent museums if not on the walls of 5Pointz.”

And there was me thinking judges were appointed to adjudicate on matters of the law, not serve as art critics.

Block said, “Wolkoff has been singularly unrepentant. He was given multiple opportunities to admit the whitewashing was a mistake, show remorse, or suggest he would do things differently if he had another chance. … Wolkoff could care less. As he callously testified.

Why should somebody who has altered his own property, breaking no laws, be repentant?

The sloppy, half-hearted nature of the whitewashing left the works easily visible under thin layers of cheap, white paint, reminding the plaintiffs on a daily basis what had happened. The mutilated works were visible by millions of people on the passing 7 train.”

Apparently the price of paint carries weight in the law. Who knew?

Block also asserted, “The shame of it all is that since 5 Pointz was a prominent tourist attraction, the public would undoubtedly have thronged to say its goodbyes during those 10 months and gaze at the formidable works of aerosol art for the last time. It would have been a wonderful tribute for the artists that they richly deserved.

Okay, that’s enough of that.

In recent times we’ve heard western journalists and politicians express outrage over judges being “replaced” wholesale in places like Russia and Turkey, particularly after they’ve thwarted some nefarious government scheme or other. In many parts of the world, the idea that a judge is some impartial arbitrator of the law and not just some servant of the ruling classes is preposterous (the Russian film Leviathan made this point rather well). This is why the outrage over judges being replaced is often more muted in the country concerned; the people simply view it as another round of shuffling the political pack. But westerners get all hot under the collar because they think judges are above politics, and serve as an an essential restraint on politicians’ actions.

The two rulings I refer to above suggest the USA might be well on its way to becoming more like the third-world than a beacon of law and order. To be honest, this is probably nothing new: the Supreme Court’s decision over gay marriage was a naked display of judges deciding not what the law actually said, but what they thought progressives wanted it to say, something that Antonin Scalia captured rather well in his dissent. We also had the pantomime last year of regional judges declaring Trump’s immigration policies unlawful, using bizarre and unprecedented justifications.

The one thing that prevents American judges being replaced in the manner they are in much of the world is the preservation of the notion that they are disinterested arbiters of the law and not engaged in politics or activism. For whatever reason, some of their number seem rather keen to demonstrate otherwise. I don’t know how deep this runs, but I think we’re already in dangerous waters. If my mythical despot should seize the reins of power, he will likely waste no time sacking judges likes these in large numbers, and a whole load of others to boot. The problem is, the current actions of these so-called judges will make such a move reasonably easy to justify. Wherever this is leading, it won’t end well.

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You’re through to a feminist, how may I lecture you today?

An article on sexism, from the BBC:

Although you are likely to have dealt with both male and female call centre agents, the fact is that 71% of workers in the global call centre industry are female. Dubbed the “female ghetto” or, more positively, “female-friendly workplaces”, women are significantly over-represented in call centres.

My initial, gut-instinct response is that, with women now pouring into the workplace by the million, someone needed to find something for them to do. Hence the growth of HR departments, process-driven bureaucracies, NGOs, and – for the dimmer women out there – call centres.

With the closure of factories, automation, and a shrinking army the options for dim young men are narrowing, but they can still work as security guards or lug stuff around on a building site. But what are the dim women supposed to do, now they’ve been encouraged (or forced, due to house prices) to enter into the workforce? Cashiers are dwindling thanks to automation brought about in part by the minimum wage, leaving them with few options outside a call centre. The author has other ideas, though:

My research sheds light on this phenomenon. After extensive interviews with call centre managers and agents, as well as an investigation into the industry’s working culture and practices in Scotland and Denmark, it became clear that call centres are built on the sexist attitudes embedded in society.

Of course. What else could it be?

Call centres are intensely regulated and target-driven work places. Agents are instructed to speak to customers in certain ways. The extent to which they follow these instructions is monitored by managers, and their salaries and career advancement can depend upon it.

Agents may be told to use the customer’s name, create small talk and interject with prescribed “listening sounds” such as “aha”, “OK” and “I see”. The purpose is to ensure that agents keep the call on track and also give the impression of a personalised service.

Call centre employees need to be agreeable? I’m not sure this required much research to figure out, but okay.

When I compared male and female call centre agents’ compliance with the language prescriptions, an interesting pattern emerged: it was invariably the female agents who complied more. This was the case for both the Scottish and the Danish women.

Women are more agreeable than men, on average, so tend to do well in customer service roles. Who knew?

Why would female agents comply more than their male colleagues with the linguistic prescriptions?

Because their natural behaviours are more in line with what their managers are asking them to do? Apparently not:

There is evidence from child development and schooling research that girls are rewarded for complying with the rules and sanctioned more severely than boys for breaking them – such as messing around or shouting out in class.

Women working in call-centres are more agreeable than men because when they were at school they were cowed into submission by sexist teachers. Like many profound revelations, it’s obvious once pointed out.

It is conceivable that these socialised differences carry over into the workplace. These differences then show up particularly clearly in highly regimented workplaces, where following instructions and meeting targets is how your performance is measured.

Note that none of these differences are natural; they’re purely socialised.

Greater female rule keeping would explain both these phenomena. But while rule compliance is valued and rewarded in schools, by the time young women enter the professional arena it may start to work against them.

On the contrary, the plethora of process-driven corporate and government departments seems to have sprung up at precisely the time women entered the professional workplace en masse.

It keeps them in highly regimented jobs with low prestige and little influence.

This will come as a surprise to anyone who’s worked in a modern corporation.

Interviews with call centre managers and recruiters suggest that female workers are preferred over males because they stick to the rules.

Women being preferred over men is an example of revolting sexism against women, is it?

Of course, greater female rule compliance is just one among several explanations for why women are disproportionately represented in call centre jobs. Some women may choose themselves to work in call centres. Call centre work is often amenable to flexible working, which makes it attractive to women of child-rearing age. And, of course, there are deep-rooted beliefs in society about the different strengths of each gender. Service jobs require emotional labour, which women are believed to be particularly good at.

And just like that, the premise of the entire article disappears in a puff of smoke. But the author being a senior lecturer in English Language and applied linguistics, from the Open University no less, soldiers on:

Call centres have opened up new opportunities for women in the UK and across the world. However, in the longer term, the over-recruitment of women to the industry could be detrimental to gender equality.

Translation: women deserve better jobs than working in nasty call centres. Because, wimminz.

Call centre jobs are notorious worldwide for their high levels of turnover, absenteeism, employee burnout and emotional exhaustion. Agents are at constant risk of angry outbursts from customers, sexual harassment and outright abuse.

As if men don’t find themselves working dirty, dangerous, poorly-paid, and soul-destroying jobs.

If women are driven into these low-paid and stressful jobs, where they have little influence and low status, talent will be lost.

Just think of all those potential power-skirts wasting away in a cubicle under the colossal weight of a headset.

It also potentially discriminates against men who could and would want to do the job.

Heh! I like this: men shouldn’t be discriminated against for jobs we feminists think are beneath us. For the good jobs, we need quotas and diversity targets.

If we want to have a more diverse workforce and exploit everyone’s talent to its full potential, it is time to start challenging call centre recruitment practices.

And there’s the gender equality movement in a nutshell: we want women to have all the well-paid, cushy jobs in air-conditioned offices; the men can do all the shit we don’t want to.

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Six things young women need to know

This is actually pretty good:

Here are 6 things young women need to know about their future lives

Go on.

1. By the time you hit 30, the likelihood of your deciding that marriage and family—not career—is the most important thing in your life is astronomically high.

Yup.

2. Whom you choose to marry, not which career you choose, is the single most important decision you’ll ever make.

Uh-huh.

3. The quality of your marriage will have more effect on your happiness and well-being than anything else in life.

Indeed.

4. Divorce doesn’t solve problems—it creates new ones.

Probably true in many cases, possibly even most. There will be exceptions, though. If your husband is kicking the shit out of you, it’s probably best you don’t stick around. And this:

getting divorced will likely ruin you financially

If only that were true of women, we’d probably see a lot fewer divorces.

5. If you remarry, rest assured your new husband will have just as many warts as the first.

Yup. As someone wrote in a review of my book: “as you get older everyone has baggage. The key is whether people with different backgrounds can justify their decisions and create a compatible relationship”.

6. There are things you can do to strengthen your marriage so it doesn’t crash and burn.

A relationship takes work, particularly communication and compromise. A lot of people I’ve met don’t seem to understand this.

Trying to be a big shot powerhouse and still be a sane, loving and engaged wife and mother is futile. Those two worlds don’t intersect—they collide. They are in direct competition with one another, as Indra K. Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, courageously admitted in 2014.

I recently listened to a Freakonomics podcast with Indra Nooyi, and she came across very well. She appears, at least to me, to be a genuinely successful female CEO and deserving of the post, not one just parachuted in to please the diversity department. Whereas this:

Each to his own, but I’d be a lot prouder if my partner’s promotion didn’t come about as a result of a gender parity pledge. If I was a woman who genuinely deserved to be elevated to partner, I’d be absolutely livid at this.

Anyway, back to the list. Can you imagine what a list of 6 things young women need to know about their future lives would look like if it were compiled by the BBC, Guardian, or Laurie Penny? It would pretty much fisk itself. That’s why I found this lady’s post rather refreshing:

And finally, because at the end of the day it is our relationships, not our jobs, that matter most.

Well said.

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