Issue 125: 2017 10 19: What Is “Normal”? (Lynda Goetz)

19 October 2017

What is ‘Normal’?

Towards a post-gender age.

By Lynda Goetz

‘Normal’ is a word I have never really liked.  Many use it without thought.  According to the Oxford Dictionary definition, the primary meaning of the adjective is ‘conforming to a standard; usual, typical or expected’.  As a noun, the second definition is ‘a person who is conventional and healthy’.  For a start, whatever is ‘usual, typical or expected’ can differ quite dramatically depending on the society or time in which you are living and the geographic location in which you find yourself.  What might be normal in India, for example, may not be normal in the US.  What was ‘normal’ in the Middle Ages is not normal now.  As for ‘conventional’, it always smacks rather of a lack of imagination and a degree of boringness.  So, whose idea of ‘normal’ are we considering accepting if we start talking about a ‘post-gender Britain’ as John Humphries did in his report for the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning (Wednesday)?

If Neil Macgregor, former director of the British Museum, thinks we are breaking new ground and trying to do something that no society has ever done in living without religious faith (see A Sense of Belonging) then how much more extraordinary, at first sight, is the idea of living in a world where ‘gender doesn’t matter’?  Once again, we may need a definition here.  ‘Gender’ is a new term – insofar as it refers to masculine or feminine characteristics. Fascinatingly, prior to the 1970s the word was almost exclusively used to refer to grammatical categories – so, for those who did Latin, Greek or German, the gender of a noun was masculine, feminine or neuter.  No wonder, as the young journalist Laurence Dodds wrote in an article (Transgender Kids) last year, ‘There seems to be a bit of a generational divide on the transgender issue’.  For anyone under twenty the whole gender thing seems to be just something they have grown up with.  Today, the word ‘gender’ replaces the word ‘sex’ in many instances, particularly in some areas of social sciences, whereas elsewhere the distinction is made between biological sex and the social construct of gender as a role.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) states, “‘sex’ refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women’ and “’gender’ refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women”.  Already, it is clear we are entering complicated territory.

‘Intersex’ is a medical term which covers a person born with a number of male and female biological, hormonal or chromosomal markers which make it difficult to put them into the categories of male or female.  A ‘transgender’ person on the other hand, has none of the ambiguities in biological sex characteristics, but their ‘self-identified gender does not match the legal sex assigned at birth’.  Once one starts looking for information, it is hard to know where to draw the line.  Over the last few years particularly, the cascade of writing, statistics and programmes on the subject has become something of a waterfall.  Back in July, Justine Greening instigated a consultation to amend the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, which she described as ‘at the cutting edge in its time’.  It is, as Mathew D’Ancona wrote in his article on the subject in The Guardian in July (Transgender Debate), ‘a simple fact that ‘gender fluidity’ is on the rise’.  The Commons equalities commission has said that the process whereby a trans person changes their gender should be ‘de-medicalised’, which, once one has understood the distinction between biological sex and gender would appear to make a lot of sense.

Currently, under the 2004 Act, a person needs to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, defined as ‘the distress experienced by a person as the result of the sex and gender they were assigned at birth’, in order to change gender legally and obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate.  However, according to the first of John Humphries interviewees this morning, a transwoman, who prefers simply to call herself a woman, ‘no-one would ever ask for it anyway’.  If gender is indeed simply a social construct, then wasting precious NHS resources as well as the additional costs of the judicial Gender Recognition Panel seems unreasonable.  What is to stop anyone who ‘identifies as female’ from simply living as a female?  Less and less it would seem.  Only a few weeks ago, Murray Edwards College, formerly known as New Hall and an all-female college, announced that it was changing its admission policy to allow it to accept transgender students who identify as female.  Lucy Cavendish College is expected to follow suit.  The feminist Germaine Greer, described the decision as ‘ridiculous’, telling The Telegraph that “If [Murray Edwards] really don’t believe that gender is binary, then they really shouldn’t be a single sex college… The only sane thing for them to do is to cease discriminating on the basis of assigned gender of any kind”.

The Tavistock Clinic, referred to both in the Today programme and in Laurence Dodds’ article is the one clinic in this country which treats children with gender dysphoria and much concern has been expressed around this.  Should we however as Mr Dodds suggests stop ‘freaking out’ about this and accept that concerns are largely misinformed and that if ‘a few thousand young people out of a population of more than 60 million submit themselves to detailed examination and assessment, at the end of which they might decide that transition is for them – well, I’m not sure it should worry anyone.”

In South Asia the Hijra are recognised as a third gender by some governments, including India, where since 2014 they have had an option on passports and certain official documents. The Kathoeys of Thailand (usually translated as ‘ladyboys’) are also more visible and more accepted than transgender people in other countries, although the term itself may be considered pejorative.  Legal recognition however is non-existent, even where they have had gender re-assignment surgery.  Problems also arise as regards access to amenities.

It is this area that is perhaps going to need the most sensitive handling.  As several women have pointed out in relation to the Cambridge college issue, many women are going to feel unhappy about the idea of their private spaces being invaded by biological males.  What about hospital wards, prisons, changing rooms?  The LGBTIQ lobby is angry and vociferous like many minorities.  Change has happened very fast both as a result of an increasingly liberalised society, but also undoubtedly because of the medical advances that have been made since Einar Wegener, the artist became Lili Elbe (the life that was fictionalised in The Danish Girl) in the early decades of the 20th C.

The majority of the population are happy with their assigned sex and gender.  However, in this post-modern world, there is even a term to use for that majority – cisgender. Cisgender derives from the Latin preposition cis-, meaning “on this side of”, being the opposite of trans-, meaning “across from” or “on the other side of.  Quite why such a term is necessary is probably unclear to most of us, but as we hurtle towards a future where cochlear implants are only the start and we might well have some sort of cyberware implant, gender may very well become totally immaterial.


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Issue 125: 2017 10 19: Week in Brief: UK

19 October 2017

Week In Brief: UK NEWS

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


THE EU POSITION: Currently the parties are at something of an impasse. On the one hand the UK Government is not willing (and indeed is politically unable) to improve on the offer made by Mrs May in Florence to fund our share of the current cycle of spending.  On the other, the EU says that it will not open negotiations on a future relationship until agreement has been reached on the final divorce bill.  This stand-off is leading to tensions in the EU camp where M Barnier is in favour of widening negotiation unilaterally, a move which is being blocked by France and Germany who are anxious to use their leveraged to extract as much money as possible.  Needless to say they do not put it quite like that, but it is widely rumoured that their purported enthusiasm for ECJ control of residency issues is a ploy designed to hide naked cupidity behind a figleaf of principled disagreement.

THE UK: Meanwhile, back in the UK, the delay is causing frustration and the adherents of gesture politics sporadically call for one or other of the current Cabinet to be sacked.  At the moment the debate centres on the extent to which we should be planning for a no-deal exit.  Mr Hammond has indicated that there will be no provision for this in his budget (reflecting his view that it is not a realistic outcome) but the Department for Exiting the EU has produced detailed impact assessments on the various possible scenarios.  So far these have not been released but pressure is building with 120 MPs demanding publication.  It seems highly unlikely that the Government will be able to keep the lid on these assessments, so publication is likely in the near future.

LABOUR: John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, has told the Andrew Marr Show that he does not think that the government will be able to get a no deal withdrawal through the House of Commons.  Although Labour does not have sufficient votes to block it on its own he believes that MPs from other parties would also find that outcome unacceptable.

GREAT REPEAL BILL: Progress on the bill governing the UK’s withdrawal from the EU has stalled as the Government tries to analyse 300 amendments.  A number of these are supported by groups of Conservative MPs and may therefore command a majority.

Other Politics

SLAVERY: Requests under the Freedom of Information Act show that 152 Vietnamese children in local authority care have gone missing since 2015, raising the concern that they have fallen into the hands of traffickers.  Many more have disappeared temporarily.  Apparently Vietnamese immigrants sometimes pretend to be minors so that they can be placed in care, from which it is easy to abscond, rather than in detention centres, from which it is not.

IRANIAN HACKING: It turns out that the attack on Parliamentary email accounts on 23 June was the work of Iranians and not, as previously thought, Russians.  9000 accounts were attacked and about 90 compromised.  The motive behind the attack is unclear.  One possibility is that it was orchestrated by opponents of the disarmament deal with the West seeking to stoke ill feeling.  Another is that it was a revenge for cyber-attacks on Iran’s centrifuges.

ENERGY PRICES: The Government has published proposals to cap energy prices charged to individual consumers.  The idea is that the cap should limit amounts charged to a level set by Ofgem.  It will be introduced as a temporary measure from spring 2019 until 2020, at which stage it will presumably be renewed.  The cap is a response to the view that the system under which charges are restricted by the ability of consumers to switch tariffs and suppliers, is not working.  A large number of poorer consumers are on the expensive standard annual tariff.

LORDS REFORM: Lord Lloyd Webber is to become the 70th peer to retire from the House of Lords under a mechanism introduced in 2014 which allows him to retain his title but not his seat.  A committee of the Upper House is currently reviewing ways of reducing the membership from its current level of just below 800.  One possibility being mooted is to impose a 15 year limit on new peerages, an idea borrowed from proposals which Nick Clegg developed for the Coalition Government


SEXUAL ORIENTATION: Campaigners are anxious that NHS patients should be asked whether or not they are non-binary or transgender.  As from next year they are to be asked about sexual orientation.  Clearly anything which increases the amount of form filling in the NHS must be a good thing, although patients can refuse to answer the questions.

Courts and crime

HARVEY WEINSTEIN: It is understood that the Metropolitan Police are investigating five allegations against Harvey Weinstein.  He denies having been involved in any non-consensual sex.

CARELESS DRIVING: Following public consultation, the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving will be increased to life imprisonment.  There will also be a new offence of causing serious injuries through careless driving.  Life sentences will be awarded where death is caused and the careless driving was due to the influence of drink or drugs.

SCANDAL AT MATRIX: Barristers at Matrix Chambers, which specialises in human rights law, have been warned not to discuss a sexual assault which was alleged to have taken place in the Chambers lift.  An enquiry, by retired judge Sir David Calvert Smith, exonerated the barrister concerned but it is understood that a further enquiry is pending.

PRIVATE PROSECUTION: A Liverpool couple, Paul Roberts and Deborah Briton, have been sent to prison for 15 months and 9 months respectively after making fraudulent claims on their travel insurance, falsely alleging that they had suffered from gastric illnesses.  The prosecution was undertaken privately by Thomas Cook.

PRESS REGULATION: A courtroom challenge by the News Media Association to the recognition by the government-sponsored Press Recognition Panel of Impress as an approved watch dog has failed.  Impress is funded by Max Mosley who, perhaps not surprisingly in view of his history, is now a privacy campaigner.  National newspapers have generally signed up to the regulator Ipso which is not registered with the Press Recognition Panel.

RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS: The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling by Ofsted requiring mixed schools to stop segregating boys and girls.  The school in question, the al-Hijrah school in Birmingham, completely separates them as do many other religious schools.  Single sex schools have a specific exemption from the equality legislation.


WESTMINSTER ESTATES: The Exchequer will not be obtaining a windfall from the estate of the late Duke of Westminster.  That is because most of his assets were held in trusts which attract 6% inheritance tax every 10 years rather than 40% tax on the death of a duke.  Although it is impossible to say which system yields the most tax, regular payments are generally much easier to plan.

ROUND POUNDS: Round £1 coins are no longer legal tender, although still exchangeable at banks and at some supermarkets.  It is understood that there are still some 400 million of them in circulation, if indeed being lost down the back of a sofa can be described in that way.

DARWIN THWARTED: A fisherman in Bournemouth held his catch over his open mouth as a joke and nearly died when it jumped into his mouth and blocked his windpipe.  A paramedic managed to dislodge the fish which turned out to be a small Dover sole.  The man recovered.  The fate of the fish is unclear.

RED OCTOBER: Monday was the hottest October 16 on record as the skies over Britain darkened and turned red.  However, it was not the beginning of the apocalypse.  The darkness and colours were caused by dust and debris in the upper atmosphere, some of it from the Sahara and some of it from large fires in Portugal and Spain.


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Issue 125:2017 10 19:Week in Brief International

19 October 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International


AUSTRIA:  In last weekend’s elections, the Conservative Peoples’ Party (OVP) came first with 31.7%, the Social Democrats (SPO) second with 27.4%, and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) third with 26.5%. (Other parties: NEOS 5%, PILZ 4.1%, Green 3.3%, others 2%)….

Sebastian Kurtz, the leader of the OVP, is expected to become Chancellor (and, at 31, the youngest European leader). He is more likely to seek a coalition with the FPO (some of whose anti-migrant rhetoric he borrowed during the campaign) than with former coalition partners the SPO, who were accused of running a smear campaign against him.

IRELAND: Three people died when Storm Ophelia hit Ireland, knocking out power, bringing trees down, closing schools and offices and causing flights to be cancelled.

MALTA: Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist and anti-corruption activist, was killed by a car bomb in Valetta.

SPAIN: The Catalan parliament did not respond to the Spanish government’s demand that it clarify whether or not it has declared independence.  The government has now given it until today (Thursday 19 October) to renounce independence, threatening to take direct rule if it does not.

The president of the Catalan National Assembly and the leader of a cultural association have been detained, for allegedly helping to organise violent demonstrations.  Hundreds of thousands of protesters took part in candle-lit rallies in Barcelona, Girona, Reus and other Catalan cities to demonstrate against their detention.

Volkswagon announced that it is to move its legal headquarters from Barcelona to Madrid.  Cava-maker Codorniu is to move to La Rioja.

27 people have died in wildfires sweeping northwest Spain (and Portugal).  The authorities suspect arson.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN: Pakistani forces, acting on US intelligence, freed an American-Canadian couple and their three children being held hostage by Islamist militants.  They were seized by the Haqqani network five years ago; their children had all been born in captivity.

The Times reported that Russia is funding the Taliban with donations of oil shipments.  Dozens of tankers are sent to Afghanistan each month; the oil is sold and the Taliban buy weapons etc with the proceeds (estimated to be $2.5 million per month).  It is suspected that this is part of Russia’s fight against Isis (the Taliban and Isis are competitors) and Russia’s rivalry with Nato and the West.

At least 69 people were killed in one day by Taliban militants who attacked government centres across the country with guns and bombs.

EGYPT: Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal.  In 2007, Hamas militants seized Gaza from Fatah (the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank); Hamas now agrees to share power in Gaza with Fatah, with elections for a united Palestinian government next year.

IRAQ: Iraqi forces plus Shia militias seized the city and region of Kirkuk claimed by the newly declared Kurdish state. Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew, but some Kurdish civilian volunteers defended the city and sustained casualties. Other Kurdish civilians fled north.  The Arab and Turkman populations welcomed the Iraqi troops.

IRAN: It was revealed that Iran launched a cyber attack against the UK parliament in June.  900 email accounts were attacked by hackers in 12 hours. 90 accounts were compromised.

KENYA: Opposition demonstrators have been killed and wounded by police opening fire on rallies held after the interior ministry banned demonstrations.  A re-run of the recent election might go ahead on October 26 in spite of opposition leader Raila Odinga withdrawing because he says faults in the voting system have still not been corrected.

SOMALIA: More than 300 people were killed by a lorry bomb in Mogadishu.  The government have blamed al Shabaab.

SYRIA: The Western-backed SDF (Kurdish troops, former rebel groups, and local Arab tribes) have declared victory in Raqqa, where they have been fighting to drive Isis out for the last four months.  The Isis leadership fled Raqqa, their capital, some months ago, and are trying to continue to fight in the mid-Euphrates valley.

TURKEY: A German-Turkish translator and reporter, who had worked for a left wing news agency before it was shut down last year, has been arrested and charged with being a member of the MLKP communist party because she attended the funerals of MLKP members.  She is being detained in prison with her three-year old son.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

BURMA: European foreign ministers banned visits by Burmese military commanders, as more evidence of widespread and ongoing atrocities against the Rohingyas emerged.0

CHINA: The 19th Communist Party Congress begins this week (it takes place every five years): delegates will meet to review the work of leadership and to elect the central committee (the seven-man politburo) which picks the general secretary.  President Xi is almost certain to continue with a second five-year term.

Wu Aiying, the justice minister for 12 years until last Feb, was expelled from the party before the congress.

INDIA: The Supreme Court ruled that sex with a minor amounts to rape, even within marriage.  Activists hope that this landmark case will help in their campaign against child brides and child abuse.  Although child marriage is illegal, Unicef recently reported that 47% of Indian girls are married before 18 (the age of consent) and nearly 20% are married before 15.

KOREA, NORTH: The EU is about to agree new sanctions against Pyongyang, including travel bans and limits on assets.

PHILIPINNES: Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of Isis in southest Asia, has been killed during the ongoing battle for .Marawi

VIETNAM: 68 people have died and 34 are missing, as tropical storm Khanun brought heavy rain and landslides and caused widespread damage to livestock and infrastrucure.


USA: 10,000 firefighters continue to tackle the Californian wildfires.  The death toll is now 40.  Hundreds of people are missing, 80,000 have been evacuated, and a quarter of a million acres of land have been incinerated.

The USA is to withdraw from Unesco at the end of the year, accusing it of an “anti-Israel bias”.  Israel is also to leave.

President Trump did not withdraw the US from the nuclear deal signed with Iran, but left the matter in the hands of Congress. The deal needs certifying every 90 days.

It is claimed that former staff at the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) are blaming Congress for not stopping big drugs companies from flooding the market with the cheap and addictive pain killers which have caused the opioid abuse epidemic.

President Trump’s third attempt to ban citizens from countries regarded as a terror risk (this time including Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea) were blocked by a judge in Hawaii who ruled that it contradicted “the founding principles of this nation”.

VENEZUELA: In the state elections, the ruling socialist party won the governership in 17 states (including Miranda, a bastion of the opposition where the opposition governor Henrique Capriles was barred from standing for re-election); the opposition won only 5.  At least 200 polling stations were moved only hours before voting, and many ballot papers were confusing (including the names of candidates who weren’t standing).  The opposition and the US condemned the lack of free and fair elections.


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Issue 124: 2017 10 12: Contents

12 October 2017: Issue 124

The week’s news –

your chance to catch up:

Image of elliptical decal with £$€ and Financial News caption


Mrs May’s Speech by John Watson

A look at the substance.

Spanish Customs by J R Thomas

The trouble in Catalonia.

Does Macron Need To Mind His Argot? by Richard Pooley

Why does his vocabulary matter?

A Timely Nudge For Economics by Richard Pooley

Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize signals a new direction.

Show Yourself by Neil Tidmarsh

Face on for a face off.


Essay Shopping by Chin Chin

Room for diversification.

A Sense Of Belonging by Lynda Goetz

A primal need.


The Anatomy Of A Moment (by Javier Cercas, translated by Anne Mclean)

published by Bloomsbury

reviewed by J R Thomas

Knives In Hens (by David Harrower)

The Donmar Warehouse

reviewed by Adam McCormack

Puzzles, Cartoons and Calendar

Cartoons by AGGro.

Crossword by Boffles: “Plain Vanilla 25”.

Solution to the last crossword “Fashion Week”.

Quiz by Boffles.

Answers to Quiz.

What’s on in October 2017 by AGGro.

Earlier EditionsLarge 600x271 stamp prompting the reader to join the subscription list

Issue 119: 07 September 2017

Issue 120: 14 September 2017

Issue 121: 21 September 2017

Issue 122: 28 September 2017

Issue 123: 05 October 2017

Issue 125:2017 10 19:The Quickness of the Mouth Deceives(J.R.Thomas)

19 December 2017

The Quickness of the Mouth Deceives

The actions of Mr Trump

by J.R. Thomas 

American Bald Eagle in front of flag looking fierce

A reader of the Shaw Sheet gave us some good advice the other day.  “Don’t listen to what Mr Trump says” he said sagaciously.   We nodded over the prawn cocktail; but he had not concluded his remarks. “Look at what he does”.  That is a wise insight; especially if you include with what the Donald says, what the Donald tweets.  Those tweets are what cause so much of the turmoil around the President.  But indeed, ignore them.  Disregard the off-the-cuff remarks and angry short speeches.  Or, perhaps, treat them as something else.  Humour perhaps?  Or mischief making? Or distraction from what the President is really doing, maybe aimed at some of those voters who almost a year ago decided they wanted a big change in Washington?

Mr Trump is not, we should remind our readers, a career politician.  He does not think or act or behave like a seasoned professional denizen of Washington.  He is a businessman, and we deliberately say “is”.  This is not to suggest that Mr Trump is up to anything improper in business whilst he is running the country but, like Hillary promoting a book, Donald does at every opportunity try to weave awareness of Trump businesses  into the public consciousness.  He is a natural salesman, as you might expect from a man who wrote, or co-wrote, or commissioned the writing of, “The Art Of The Deal”.  Mar-a-Largo, the Florida White House, his resort hotel and residences on the Florida keys, is always the Trump Mar-a-Largo,  (great value folks, deals always available); Scotland always comes  with a mention of the Trump championship golf courses at Turnberry and in Aberdeenshire (best golf courses in Europe, folks); in New York  the Trump Tower always edges into the picture (the best residential offering in New York, folks).

And he is, as real estate tycoons tend to be, naturally competitive.  Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State and a long time Trump associate, is rumoured to have called Mr Trump a “moron” over some Presidential musings on North Korea.  This would hardly be novel and most people think it of their bosses at some point.  Mr Tillerson won’t quite say he didn’t, but the two men seem to remain close and Mr Trump appears relaxed about it, saying he would be happy to take an IQ test in competition with Mr Tillerson and adding “I can tell you who is going to win”.  The media has got itself in a wonderful state of excitement over this big beast headbutting stuff, but seemed to overlook that this just might be, might just be, a bit of White House team humour, to say nothing of a media wind-up.  Certainly Mr Tillerson remains in the job and Mr Trump has not been seen doing the Mensa practice papers.

So, taking that sage advice, we ask a question; what has the Trump administration actually being doing whilst the roars of laughter and outrage cause us all to look the other way?  Well, the President has been making friends with the Democrats for one thing.  This began a few weeks ago with a deal to get a temporary extension of federal spending authority while a bigger and more comprehensive deal is hammered out, but then continued with discussions on Mr Trump’s plans for a big tax regime amendment and also with talks over how to deal with a problem we have touched on here before, that of the Dreamers, those born to illegal, mostly Hispanic, immigrants who have no citizen rights in the United States – or in their parents’ countries of origin.  Mr Trump has made various noises on this, both on the lines of “something must be done” and “not our problem”, but his continuing conversations with the Democrats suggest that the President does want a resolution.

In a similar way the Administration has made hostile noises on so-called Obamacare, the Obama reforms to the health insurance system to create, or least move towards, a universal health care entitlement.   But the President’s attempts to reform the scheme, widely but not universally supported by the Republican Party on the Hill, supported by some Democrats, and a key plank of the Trump electoral platform last year, have got nowhere so far.  So the current quiet strategy is simply to reduce funding, induce erosion round the edges, slowly shrink the scheme away.  This too is in discussion with the Democrats, who are sensitive to the cost implication of the current structure and, more cynically, have never quite worked out whether universal health care is an electoral winner or loser.  The President has turned out to be good at turning up at disaster scenes, federal cheque book in hand (not so much in Puerto Rico , but then, it is not a state).  He has made the right noises about recent shooting tragedies (though not yet calling for gun control) and has even attacked the major drug companies for gross profiteering.  Here too legislation is apparently been discussed – with stronger support from Democrats than from the GOP.

So the noise has been considerable, but the reality has been quiet modest action, with more of a Democrat edge than a Republican one, or so a Republican politician might say.  Which, as the President was a Democrat most of his life…but we won’t go there.  Maybe this is why Hillary is so cross, as she stomps her way round America and now Britain, on her promotional book tour of “What Happened” (or “What the fxxx Happened?”).  Mrs Clinton has confessed to drinking much white wine and reading a lot of bad fiction, neither of which the current President could get away with, we suspect.  But what may really be upsetting the good lady is that she sees Mr Trump doing quite a lot of what she might have wanted to do herself.

Except maybe in one area.  That is where Mrs Clinton would be putting into action that Churchillian precept of “Jaw, Jaw”, whilst Mr Trump seems inclined to prefer “War, War”.  Or does he?  Mr Tillerson (and Mike Pence, the vice President) are doing a lot of talking  and travelling, whilst the boss stays home on Pennsylvania Avenue and makes blood curdling threats at Kim Jong Un, the beloved one of North Korea.  There he has serious competition.  Mr Kim’s ability to curdle blood is truly of a very advanced nature, though whether his underlying threats are aimed west, or closer to home, at Beijing, is still open to debate.  Also on Mr Trump’s little hit list is Iran; Donald’s view is that Mr Obama’s deal with the Iranian government (to lift sanctions on Iran whilst Iran ceased and desisted on its nuclear programme) was too easy on Iran, who in any case are thought not to have ceased or desisted as agreed.  Adding to the complications of relations with Iran are the US’s longtime friendship with Saudi Arabia, whose never happy relationship with Iran is deteriorating ever further.  And also the muddying of the western alliance, the European Union some of whose member states have built a large export business with Iran and do not want renewed sanctions. (Sell them BMW’s today and worry about the nuclear strikes tomorrow, you might say.)  But again, Mr Trump talks loudly but there is not much sign of Mr Tillerson waving any big sticks.

Maybe there is a lesson here from The Art of the Deal.  Do not let your opponent know what you are really thinking. Try to divert him to matters which are not of great concern to you.  Have many other things to deal with so he knows you are busy.  Let him think you can really walk away from this one.  Consistency is not always helpful.  We assume Donald has read the book, but has Mr Kim?  And the Ayatollahs?


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Issue 125: 2017 10 19: Bad News Opportunity (Chin Chin)

19 October 2017

Bad News Opportunity

Using the Hollywood sex scandal.

By Chin Chin

Burying the news

Well there’s an opportunity to be sure.  While the attention of the nation is focused on Hollywood actresses and casting couches, other news can be slipped out without anyone spotting it.  What is it you said?  Something about the Treasury having modelled the various Brexit outcomes and not being willing to release their models?  Disgraceful I agree, but have you read what the dreadful Weinstein said to Kate Beckinsale, or Angelina Jolie, or Gwyneth Paltrow, or just about anybody else in a skirt who is not a Scotsman?  Now I’m no voyeur, not one of those rubber necks who go slowly past crashes on the motorway, but I like to be up to the minute on current events and that means that I have to read the double page spreads which explain the ins and outs of the film industry.  It isn’t just Weinstein either.  I read somewhere that the problem is Endemic.  All I can say is that they should grab that chap Endemic and lock him up.

It is odd that it has all taken so long.  In an industry where they all talk so much about themselves you would have imagined that the story of the grabbings and gropings would have come out earlier.  But then maybe concerns about privacy have led to matters being hushed up.  After all, the media are very keen on privacy, particularly in relation to sexual matters.  Hugh Grant and Max Mosley are both strong supporters of Leveson’s attempts to muzzle the press.  Maybe they have moved social norms so that it is no longer regarded as respectable to report sexual peccadilloes.  Is that why things went unreported for so long in Hollywood?  What was it that Louis Brandeis said?  Ah yes:

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

Well, there wasn’t much sunlight or electric light on this one, was there?  Still, that is the price of privacy, I suppose.  You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.

Be that as it may, no one is going to read about anything except sex for the next week or so, so the political parties have a little dark space in which they can do things which are best kept out of the light.  A sacking of a minister here.   A deselection of a popular MP there.  The publication of awkward figures.  A reversal of long-established policy.  All deeds best done in the shadows, out of the public eye.

And what about personal revelations?  A good moment to get those out while attention is distracted.  We all have one or two things which we will have to reveal at some stage, and in my case it was the fact that I had mislaid the only key to the little safe in the garage in which my wife keeps her jewellery.  Actually I lost it some time ago, having meant to get it copied as a surprise for her, but I must have put it in those trousers with a hole in the left pocket.  Anyway, when she finds out, the surprise will be on the other foot.

So far with a little legerdemain I had managed to buy time to keep searching.  I worked out what jewels my wife had in her dressing table.

“The artificial rubies would go just nicely with your orange dress, dear.  Yes, red and orange are so complementary.  No, I don’t think we should try anything else.  Didn’t you appreciate my Christmas present?”  That sort of thing and, while deferring the evil day, I searched and searched and searched.

“I think I’ll go and rake the drive again, dear.”

“Really, but you did it yesterday.  What is this?  You aren’t normally keen to do it.”

“No, but I think that I got the wrong slant on the gravel yesterday.  If I raked left to right it would catch the sun better in the early morning.”

“But you don’t get up in the early morning.  You are late riser.”

“Yes, but I’d like to know that if I did there would be the right light on the gravel.  After all, it is still there whether we see it or not.”

As you will gather, things were getting pretty desperate, so when I saw my wife reading about the goings-on in Hollywood, I decided that this was a bad news opportunity which I should not miss.  How to introduce the subject delicately?

“I wonder where all those actresses keep their jewellery?” I began.

“In the bank, I expect.” Her eyes returned to the newspaper.

“Maybe in a safe like ours,” I hazarded. “I expect they are valuable jewels so I hope they don’t lose the key.”

“No one who bothers to get a safe would be as stupid as that.”  It didn’t seem to be going quite as I’d hoped.

“Er, I suppose that accidents do happen.”

“Not that sort of accident, unless you’re an idiot.”

I was just about to reply when something in one of the pictures caught her eye.  “Look, that broach is just like mine” she pointed.  Yes, I thought to myself, except for the fact it isn’t locked into a safe which has no key to it.

“I was looking at mine this morning…” she began.  This morning?  But how?

“How did you open the safe?” I asked.

“With the key, of course.  I picked it up off the floor a couple of weeks ago and I was just about to put it back when I decided to have a look at my broach.”

Whew, thank goodness for that.  Still, it does seem a bit of a waste of a bad news opportunity.


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Issue 125: Crossword – The Emerald Isle

19 October 2017

Crossword by Boffles

The Emerald Isle


To see a printable version of this crossword



Issue 125: Crossword – The Emerald Isle – printable

19 October 2017

Crossword by Boffles

The Emerald Isle

1 Monarch revered by 7dn (4,7)
6 ‘And pluck till time and times are done The silver apples of the …….’ 10ac (4)
8 Puritan who pacified it with harsh measures (8)
10 ‘Under bare Ben Bulben’s head, In Drumcliff churchyard’ he lies (5)
12 What makes it so green (4)
15 Common synonym for a ceilidh (1,2)
16 Plural of the third largest city (5)
18 Impossible to buy a stamp here in Dublin during Easter 1916 (3,4,6)
21 Did this Greek wanderer really pitch up in Dublin? On the title page at least (7)

2 Paisley who was a Protestant leader (3)
3 St Patrick spread the Lord’s there (4)
4 City favoured by Edward Lear? (8)
5 Kind of stout produced by cows? (4)
6 County is the PM with nothing added (4)
7 Protestants who celebrate the Battle of the Boyne (9)
9 A shortage of 13dn led to this (10)
11 ‘On the green banks of …….., when Sheelah was nigh, No blithe Irish lad was so happy as I’ Campbell (7)
13 Lifted with a spud? (8)
14 Leading destination for those embarking on 9dn (3)
17 Non-verbal moonshine (6)
19 The IRA are ….. of 7dn (4)
20 What’s left without the Six Counties (4)

Issue 125:2017 10 19:Diary of a Corbynista (Don Urquhart)

19 October 2017

Diary of a Corbynista

To the Conference and Beyond

by Don Urquhart

Mug shot of Don Urquhart26 September

Theresa May desperately needs something before next week’s Tory Party conference.  This week she is meeting Donald Tusk, the European Council President.  If it looks as if she has achieved a breakthrough she can then proclaim herself a conquering heroine come the conference.  In the background the “friends” of David Davis whisper that he is ready to take over while publicly he is insisting that everyone must stay loyal to Theresa.

27 September

Bombardier manufactures the C class aircraft in Northern Ireland.  The USA has imposed a 220% tariff on the plane at the instigation of Boeing.  As a result orders will be lost and Bombardier may close down in the Province.  It makes you wonder what the handholding with Trump was in aid of.

29 September

The Royal College of Nursing asked 30,000 members in May about their most recent shift.  Over half reported understaffing.  There were many horror stories and the overall picture is damning.

30 September

On the eve of the Tory Party Conference, Boris reveals to Sun readers his Brexit red lines and advocates public sector pay rises.  Theresa meanwhile extols austerity and claims that she is leading from the front on Brexit.

1 October

Developers are required to include a defined proportion of affordable dwellings in their plans, but can avoid building them through a number of techniques.   One of these is a “viability assessment”.   If they can demonstrate that building affordable homes renders the project unprofitable they can weasel out.  Also they can pay councils to “finance building of affordable homes elsewhere”.  Councils make bland statements like this one from Elizabeth Campbell, the head of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council: “Grenfell has focused everybody’s minds on the issue of housing and we want to find solutions.”   Do we need housing homilies from that particular source? The Government’s approach is to float schemes which will help people to buy properties.  This might help some but does not touch the problems of those in bad or temporary accommodation.

3 October

In Las Vegas, a man takes a room on the 32nd floor, carries up 23 guns and uses them to kill at least 59 and injure 550.   According to the FBI he was a suitable purchaser of as many guns as he could afford.

Before becoming President Donald Trump affirmed that he would never repeal the right to bear arms.  The NRA maintains that the best defence against a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.  It’s pretty much Trump’s foreign policy in relation to North Korea.

5 October

There really is an organisation called NHS Improvement.  Fans of the spoof documentary W1A will recall top executive job titles like “Better” and “Values”.   Anyway NHS Improvement has placed Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust in special measures after too many people had died awaiting cardiac treatment or had gone blind waiting for an ophthalmological appointment.  This comes a couple of days after Jeremy Hunt’s inspiring presentation to the Conservative Party Conference where he explained how he had single handedly turned the NHS into the jewel it is today.  As ever he called for a round of applause for the underpaid employees as the nation passed round the sick bags.

6 October

Grant Shapps reports that 30 or so MP’s are keen for Theresa May to resign and for the party to hold a leadership election.  You can put the mishaps of her conference speech down to bad luck or organisational deficiencies, but even so the content was very thin.

7 October

When worrying rumours are circulating about an organisation, the surest way to make them come true is to publicly condemn the gossipers.  Ruth Davidson has told the Tories seeking to unseat Mrs May that they should put up or shut up.  For her part she had every confidence etc.  But Ruth is just making sure that her face gets on TV in competition with the Grant Shapps, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove type people whose opinions have to be heard at every turn for the good of the nation.

8 October

Assaults on staff in mental health trusts have risen by 25% in the last 5 years and are running at the rate of 800 per week.  A Unison survey puts the deterioration down to staff shortages and increasing use of agency staff.  The Department of Health said it was completely unacceptable for health service staff to face violence or aggression.  And, presumably, someone ought to do something.

Theresa May has selected Mental Health as her own personal crusade.

10 October

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has issued its annual report on the state of health and social care.  The system is straining at the seams and faces a precarious future.  So far so predictable but the CQC Chief Executive, Sir David Behan adds the comforting rider that standards have been maintained so far due to the efforts of the staff.  To make that statement he must had his arm and possibly other parts of his anatomy severely twisted or he may have mistakenly been reading from an audit of health and social care on the planet Tharg.

11 October

Carles Puigdemont is the Catalan political leader.  He has taken the moral high ground by calling for mediation after declaring independence.  The noises coming out of Madrid constitute ad hominem attacks and threats.  The European Union simply states that an independent Catalonia would cease to be part of the EU.

12 October

The Local Government Association which is currently meeting in Bournemouth tells us that lack of funding is putting ever more children at risk.

Robert Goodwill is the Minister for Children and Families.  Faced with the disintegration of children’s services he tells us how much money the government is putting in and that all children deserve the best possible support.  Had he attended the Jeremy Hunt School of public service management he would have asked us to offer a round of applause for our social workers but instead he implied that the problems were down to councils not doing the job properly.

14 October

Philip Hammond was in Washington yesterday for a meeting with the IMF.  In an interview he described the EU negotiators as the enemy and our opponents.

The EU people have expressed their frustration with the mixed messages emanating from the London Cabinet Room and that, rather than Hammond’s faux pas, will be their main concern.

“All get behind the Prime Minister” is an ever more frequent cry from those known to be seeking to undermine her. In 1940 we had Winnie to save us from incompetent leadership.  Neville Chamberlain would be a better option than what we have now.

16 October

Andrew Bailey, the Chief Executive of the Financial Conduct Authority highlights the massive increase in indebtedness among young people.  He says that he does not like high cost lending schemes, and just as I detest Tottenham Hotspurs but can do nothing to eliminate them, so are Andrew and his organisation bereft of strategies for dealing with loan sharks.

17 October

The Americans have done a super job training, equipping and generally propping up the Iraqi army.  They have swept through ISIS held territories with air support from the US and its allies.  So successful has been the transformation of the local military that they now feel emboldened to take on the Kurds, who have played a significant role in defeating ISIS.  There are an awful lot of oilfields in Kurdistan so the US is torn between fears of another Middle East conflict flaring up and the need to do business with whoever controls the oilfields and whoever will be signing repeat orders for American weaponry.


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