Favour

I have a favour to ask. A friend from my MBA course – who happens to be pretty, blonde, and Austrian – is doing a survey for her dissertation and is struggling for respondents. I posted it on Twitter and several people said the questions are poorly designed and contradictory, but that’s by-the-by: she’s a friend and I’m helping her out.

So if anyone is bored and has some time, would they mind completing the survey here? Thanks.

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Bag Ladies

It’s a rare and wonderful day that I can write two posts on this blog’s favourite niche topics. Two readers have alerted me to this article, via Guido:

Last week, the government proudly announced that plastic bag sales had fallen dramatically.

However, the government’s press release only mentioned in passing that these figures only include so-called “single-use” plastic bags.

This is significant because most supermarkets are actively trying to replace or supplement the sale of thin single-use bags with more durable bags, known as “bags for life”.

But the government’s figures do not include any bags for life – which now account for a significant proportion of supermarket plastic bag sales.

About ten days ago I was on the beach with an environmental engineer who was convinced that using “bags for life” was better than single-use bags. I said that this was cute, but it was no less an article of faith than a Medieval peasant believing in the afterlife. She disagreed, so I asked if she was aware of the Danish study which shows “bags for life” are more damaging to the environment than single-use bags. She said she wasn’t, but she was more concerned with the overall environmental impact, not just the amount of plastic used. I said this is precisely what the study looked at. She dismissed this with a wave of the hand and said she was “sure” there are lots of studies out there. I asked if she could name any, because the one by the Danish government was the only one I’d heard of. She said she didn’t know of any. I said I admired her commitment to her faith. She suggested we go for a swim.

The problem is this is not about personal choice. I couldn’t care less if middle class women in white collar professions want to make pointless offerings to the Earth Goddess, but they want their dumb personal preferences turned into national legislation without the slightest consideration of the broader consequences.

Bags for life are much thicker than single-use bags, so they contain much more plastic.

For instance, FactCheck calculates that a Waitrose bag for life weighs almost four times as much as the supermarket’s single-use bags.

The idea is that customers will use fewer of them – so the total amount of plastic being used over the course of a year will be less. But reports suggest this is not always working.

Last year, The Times said an average UK household uses 44 bags for life in just one year.

And the managing director of Iceland admitted the supermarket was actually using more plastic – not less – as a result of switching to bags for life.

He told the paper: “These bags for life are a thicker, higher grade of plastic… We are selling less of them but it’s not yet less enough that it’s compensated in terms of the extra weight that they are for the fewer amount of bags that we are selling. So therefore I haven’t yet reduced the total amount of plastic weight, even though I have eliminated 5p carrier bags.”

Legislation is being passed by religious fanatics who are convinced they’re acting rationally in accordance with economic and scientific data. At least in the olden days the religious orders put up some nice buildings.

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Polykilla

When I was in the US a couple of mass shootings took place, one in El Paso, Texas and the other in Dayton, Ohio. I really couldn’t be bothered reading the commentary on either of them because there have been enough of these lately to know exactly what everyone’s going say anyway. But a Twitter follower alerted me to this factoid regarding Connor Betts, the perpetrator of the Dayton murders:

Connor and I kept our relationship on the down-low due to the polyamorous nature of it. I was engaged to another man while dating Connor, and all parties involved knew about the situation.

I don’t think there’s much data to suggest that polyamorists go around massacring innocents with firearms; murdering beauty standards is more their shtick. But we should hardly be surprised that a mentally unstable individual such as Betts should be attracted to polyamory. The question that remains is whether the additional strain of the relationship tipped him over the edge.

Incidentally, this passage sheds some light on the standards polyamorists adhere to when dating:

A couple of drinks later, Connor asked me if I saw the video of the synagogue shooting. As someone who makes a point to never watch those videos, I hadn’t. So, he pulled out his phone and I was too drunk to care that I was watching it. Thankfully the bar was too loud for me to hear what was going on. Connor gave me the play-by-play of what was happening. Even then, I did realize that that was a weird thing for a first date, but not too weird given the context of our class.

If a normal person was on a date with a bloke who pulled out a video of the synagogue massacre she’d be out of there in a flash, returning home to delete her Tinder account and spend the next month contemplating her life choices. But if you’re a polyamorist you’ll not think it anything too much out of the ordinary. Remember folks, they’re normal people.

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The Sunshine State

I’m now back in Annecy, my return flights from the US via Heathrow having passed without so much as a minute’s delay. I finally managed to get to sleep around 3:30am last night, having spent the previous afternoon desperate to go to bed.

Other than New York in 2016 I’d not been to the US in years, and had forgotten how big it was. When my brother said he lived in Miami I assumed he actually lived in Miami, not a town called Weston 40 minutes away by car. The Russian I was meeting was staying in Pembroke Pines, which when I looked on Google maps appeared to be just next door to Weston, possibly within walking distance. It turned out it was a 20 minute drive down a 5-lane highway. When you visit the US you need to seriously recalibrate distances in your mind, especially if you live in a medieval town in the French Alps.

Miami wasn’t what I expected. For a start, we didn’t really go there. We spent some time on Hollywood beach, which was really nice, but that isn’t Miami. Miami itself seems to be a collection of high-rise office blocks and the Miami you see on TV is on a huge sandbar called Miami Beach. That consists of a rather ordinary grid of concrete streets filled with cafes, restaurants, and shops which I am told turns pretty wild at night, alongside a beach which is much like any other in Florida. We spent a few hours there overheating and getting lost before visiting the Vizcaya museum and gardens. Built around the time of WWI, this is what passes for an ancient monument in Miami. The other thing about American cities is there is often no city centre, or at least one you can wander around in. Outside of the North East they seem to be a collection of buildings and if you want a particular one – be it a restaurant, office, or shop – you drive to it, park outside, and go in. The only place you can park the car and wander around is inside a strip mall. This is convenient, but doesn’t make it easy when you’re tasked with entertaining a Russian for an evening, especially if she’s the one driving.

As planned, I rented a car and started driving north on my way to Pensacola. American hire cars don’t come with satnavs so I had to use Google Maps on my phone. I’d never used this before and it worked perfectly, but because I’d first used the phone in Nigeria the default voice was Nigerian English and it turned out to be harder to change than you’d expect. So for 20 hours worth of driving all my directions were delivered in a heavy Lagos accent. Once again the sheer size of America became apparent with instructions such as “Merge onto I95 and continue straight for the next 272 miles”. I drove from Fort Lauderdale airport north on I95 and stopped the night somewhere near Cape Canaveral after 3 hours of driving. The next morning I drove due north to Jacksonville then turned 90 degrees left and drove due west on I10 for 5 hours. The 700 mile drive from Fort Lauderdale to Pensacola involves a single, solitary left hand turn. Little wonder Americans think autonomous cars are feasible. The Florida panhandle is dull in the extreme – mile after mile of forests of tall, thin trees – on a dead straight road. Fortunately the experience of driving on American roads (in an underpowered Nissan) was new enough to keep things interesting. I am amazed by what Americans are willing to tow along the highways at speed. I passed pickup trucks doing 70mph in the middle lane towing giant boats behind them. I passed at least three accidents where more than 4 cars had piled into the back of one another like a concertina. I don’t think I’ve seen more than one of them the whole time I’ve been in France. Either American brakes are rubbish, they don’t understand stopping distances, or they spend a lot of time not paying attention.

I had a good time in Pensacola with my friend “Leisure Suit” Larry, who is quite a character. We met in Kuwait in 2004 and got on like a house on fire, despite him being 25 years my senior. As a teenager in the sixties, he’d joined the US army as a paratrooper “in order to raise hell”, serving in Vietnam, Okinawa, and the Dominican Republic. Now retired, Larry was an old-school maintenance man, and had worked in almost all the US states, and visited them all. In addition, he was working in Iran when the Revolution happened, Syria when Reagan slapped sanctions on the country, Basra when the Iranians bombarded it and Algeria when the US bombed Libya back in 1986. Diplomats soon learned that if Larry turned up to work in their country, the regime’s days were numbered. He’d turned up in Venezuela to be a plant manager only to later discover the chap who was supposed to be doing the job had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom in the jungle. His boast was he’d never been around at the start of any project: he only got called in when it was in the shit and all the money had gone. In Pensacola I stayed with he and his wife, to whom he’d been married for 53 years. That’s some effort.

We spent a morning at the nearby museum of naval aviation, Pensacola being the home of the US Navy’s air arm and the Blue Angels display team. This was impressive, filled with just about every aircraft that’s ever been used by the USN and models of each class of aircraft carrier. Here’s a pic of an 8 year old boy in the cockpit of a Phantom, which was surprisingly comfortable.

I was also surprised by how big the F14 Tomcat is: it’s not a small plane.

That afternoon we met up with one of Larry’s sons, a former US Army Ranger, on Pensacola beach and had a swim. Entering the Mexican Gulf is like taking a warm bath. The weather up there is a lot better than in south Florida: less humid and without the interminable thunderstorms which wreck the plans of tourists every afternoon in the summer months. In the evening we went to a extraordinarily popular Irish bar which was about as Irish as I am. The steak was good, though. Before I left Pensacola for the long drive back down south, Larry and I got a picture together.

Fifteen years is a long time, but in many ways not much had changed. I always meant to go and see old Larry again and finally I did. It was well worth the trip.

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Florida

Well I’m still alive, for those of you who were concerned. The trip is proceeding with mixed results. I had a great time in Pensacola with my buddy Larry, visiting the naval aviation museum and polishing off a few bottles of wine. Although driving there from Miami was a drag: the panhandle is almost as long as the peninsula and just as boring. Driving back was even worse. I stopped in Orlando for the bluegrass jam and found it rained off, and despite a promising start the Russian didn’t work out as I’d hoped. Tomorrow we have my brother’s 50th birthday party which I hope will be good. And I had a job interview by Skype this morning which has the potential to see me change country again. I’ll be sure to let you know where if it comes off.

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Travel Again

By the time this is posted I’ll be on en route to Florida were I’ll be spending the next nine days. I’m killing several birds with one stone: going to my brother’s 50th birthday bash in Miami, taking part in this bluegrass jam session outside Orlando, visiting an old vet buddy I worked with in Kuwait up in Pensacola, and meeting a mysterious Russian woman who I suspect is a spy sent to kill me with polonium for blogging unkindly about Putin. If I’m not back blogging within a few weeks, start looking for alligators that glow in the dark.

Until then, enjoy yourselves.

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French Resistance

Heh:

Teen activist Greta Thunberg has lashed out at French lawmakers for mocking her in a speech to parliament that was boycotted by far-right politicians.

Far-right, eh?

Ms Thunberg, whose solo protest outside the Swedish Parliament inspired the school climate strike movement, has been lauded for her emotive speeches to politicians.

But lawmakers from French parties, including the conservative Republicans and far-right National Rally, said they would shun her speech in the National Assembly.

So not just the far-right, then. Ordinary conservatives as well, those representing French men and women who might not like being lectured to by weird Swedish teenagers.

Urging his colleagues to boycott Ms Thunberg’s speech, leadership candidate for The Republicans, Guillaume Larrive, wrote on Twitter: “We do not need gurus of the apocalypse.”

Other French legislators hurled insults at Ms Thunberg ahead of her speech, calling her a “prophetess in shorts” and the “Justin Bieber of ecology”.

Republicans MP Julien Aubert, who is also contending for his party’s leadership, suggested Ms Thunberg should win a “Nobel Prize for Fear”.

Speaking to France 2 television, Jordan Bardella, an MEP for the National Rally, equated Ms Thunberg’s campaigning efforts to a “dictatorship of perpetual emotion”.

Say what you like about the French, but at least their politicians seem broadly representative of everyone in society. Contrast this with the UK: who among our political classes was representing the tens of millions of people who thought this Thunberg brat had no business addressing parliament?

Members of other parties, such as the Greens and French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist En Marche, were more supportive of her appearance.

Well, yes. They’re representative of the wealthy Metropolitan elites who have no problem whacking up the living costs of those in the provinces in order to engage in Earth-worship.

Speaking in English, Ms Thunberg said…

I’m sure that went down well, too.

Ms Thunberg has been harshly attacked by journalists and trolls on Twitter, but politicians usually use more measured rhetoric when criticising her.

That’s French politicians for you. Good for them.

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GM Props

This article is a good example of the phenomenon that Tim Almond likes to point out:

GM becomes first major auto company in history to have a female CEO and a female CFO

Let’s be clear: there are many, many women working and thriving in the global auto industry. Quite a few are also on leadership positions, with titanic responsibilities.

But as a whole, the business has long been thought of as a bastion of “car guys.” That’s why Wednesday’s news that General Motors’ CFO, Chuck Stevens, would retire and be succeeded by 39-year-old Dhivya Suryadevara was astounding.

GM now has two women running the show, with Suryadevara as CFO and Mary Barra as CEO.

Firstly, good for the women concerned; I’m sure they’ll do a wonderful job. But General Motors is a lumbering behemoth which was saved from bankrupcy only by government intervention involving Barack Obama tearing up the rulebook on debtor hierarchies to benefit his union chums. GM hardly represents the organisation of the future, and very much looks like a dinosaur which should have been put out of its misery a long time ago. That it should now be run by two women to much celebration supports the theory that high-flying businesswomen are more likely to take over long-established organisations than start and grow their own, and that the companies they run are well into the tail in terms of industry life cycles. In other words, it would be a lot more newsworthy were two women selected to run a biotech company than a car manufacturer (it was an appreciation of this fact which undoubtedly contributed to the excitement around the now-disgraced Elizabeth Holmes). Or, to put it another way, where is the smart money going these days and who is in charge of it?

This ties in nicely with my dissertation research, which looks at the percentages of women at the senior level in fast growing companies and compares them with those in the largest companies. I’m still collecting the data but the early signs are that smaller, fast-growing companies have a lower percentage of women in top positions than the largest companies. In other words, companies put women in charge only once they are established and have reached a certain size. This uplifting story about GM now being run by two women appears to support this theory. See also this post.

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Workin’ on a building

This is a good article on the real world consequences of the ludicrous 2015 Modern Slavery Act which requires British companies to ensure there is no “exploitation” in its supply chains.

I’ve witnessed how British companies outsource this responsibility to local factory managers in Sri Lanka.

These local managers feel tremendous pressure to monitor their workforce, even beyond the shop floor, for fear of losing their contracts. And this leads to an excessive amount of surveillance, with devastating consequences for factory workers, most of whom are female.

[B]y recommending universal policies, the Modern Slavery Act fails to take into account how local suppliers around the world respond to it, even though the law effectively transfers to them the responsibility to keep the workforce free from modern slavery. It has led to a climate of suspicion and fear that exacerbates the already difficult lives of their workforce.

Like so much contemporary legislation, the Modern Slavery Act mainly exists to signal the virtues of the western professional middle-classes. 

I spent two summers speaking about the Modern Slavery Act to female factory workers in Sri Lanka’s free trade zones, which are industrial areas with a number of garment factories that supply many foreign companies. I found there is intense pressure on local managers to clean up their assembly lines in such a way that the western companies which hire them could not be accused of modern slavery. The pressure to appear “clean” results in an unhealthy working environment.

It also limits women’s freedom in a number of ways. For instance, a number of women I spoke to engaged in part-time sex work to make extra money outside of their factory jobs. This work was of their own choosing – and very different to the sexual trafficking or exploitation that the Modern Slavery Act is also designed to stop. But local managers feared it would be seen by Western auditors as exploitation and threaten their contracts. As one factory manager told me: “If we do not fire part-time sex workers, our factories can get blacklisted, and our orders will be cancelled.”

This was never about the victims. As this paragraph makes clear:

More disturbingly, intentionally or not, Article 54 makes global factory managers responsible for the leisure activities of their workers and, by extension, their moral conduct.

Which is a feature, not a bug. Be it environmental legislation or the Modern Slavery Act, the goal is to force ordinary people to behave in ways which meet the approval of city-dwelling noodle-armed men and women who buy wine by the box. As I’m fond of saying, these people would be better off going to church.

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