Oct 202021
 

No doubt about it: There is more domestic violence (“Intimate Partner Violence” or IPV) in the Nordic countries and the UK than in, for instance, Spain, Italy and Ireland. In spite of greater gender parity!

Allow me to draw your attention to an Icelandic TV series, “The Flatey Enigma”. This is to all appearances a fairly ordinary crime story, true enough from the 70s., with a vibrant female heroin and a dull and ugly scoundrel who happens to be the investigating police officer.

However, there is nothing ordinary about the series. Just as the heroin has to revert (in 1971) to blackmail to have a particularly interesting article published in an academic journal – because she is only a woman, after all – the director of this series has had to use a “crime device” to demonstrate that Icelandic women were battered in the 1970s.

I watched the four-part series with growing dismay. I had known that conditions were hard for everyone in Iceland back then, and that women rarely had reason to laugh or even smile, but I did not know they were battered. I decided to look into the issue.

In the seventies, some very few women were fortunate or brave enough to go abroad to work and/or study. They had no trouble finding work throughout Scandinavia, because they had a reputation of being extremely hard-working. While abroad, they learned that women need not defer to men, and they learned to talk back. In 1975, back in Iceland, they were able to organise the most remarkable demonstration of female power I have ever heard of: They persuaded the country’s entire female population to go on strike for one day. How they managed, I cannot imagine! But they did.

It was a stunning affair. The country was absolutely paralysed for a whole day. No food on the tables, schools and childcare centres closed. Male doctors had to nurse hospitalised patients, daddies had to change toddlers’ nappies, planes were grounded…

After that, things changed. Everything changed, and very quickly. Vigdis Finbogadottir became president, and Iceland evolved from a miserable backwater where many people still lived in turf huts into a truly modern country. (I hasten to add that the greedy bastards who drove Iceland to the brink of extinction in 2008 were not women. Mind you, women can be greedy bastards too.)

No, Icelandic women need not bow to any man in public. BUT, in private, alas, things are still not well. An article in Foreign Policy notes:

One theory to explain the Nordic paradox is that increased gender equality fuels male resentment, creating frustrations that are channeled into physical violence—a mode of action where men can easily still dominate. Violent outbursts of this sort, fueled by feelings of injured masculine status, are so deeply psychologically motivated that they can be difficult for governments to counteract.

In the same article a link takes us to the abstract of a study carried out by the National Hospital.

Aims: The purpose of this study was to analyse the prevalence of hospital visits and nature of injuries caused by intimate partner violence (IPV) against women and associated costs. All visits to Landspitali National University Hospital by women 18 years or older subjected to IPV, inflicted by a current or former male partner during 2005–2014, were observed and analysed
…. punching (29.7%), shoving (17.8%), kicking (10.5%) and attempted strangulation (9.8%) were the most common types of aetiology. Repeated new visits were 37.8%.

I repeat: There are few Muslim immigrants in Iceland, so it’s no use blaming them.

If asked to pick one of the suggested causes of the Nordic Paradox, I would vote for “backlash”. If you impose norms on a recalcitrant group, it seems intuitively obvious to me that there will be resistance. Some will protest loudly. Others will just take private action.

Female emancipation dethrones the male. Many men have absolutely no wish to sit on a throne and be “boss”, and for them female emancipation is liberating. For many others, however, it is perceived as socially castrating and as a violation of what they consider their birth rights.

There are lessons to be learnt here for countries where female emancipation is still a matter of the future (e.g. Afghanistan). Action will have to be taken to help the male population come to terms with a new and disconcerting (for them) reality.

Oct 192021
 

Have you heard of the Nordic Paradox?

I quote a paper on the subject:

Intimate partner violence against women (IPVAW) is a global public health issue often assumed to be associated with gender inequality. The so-called Nordic Paradox, the apparently contradictory co-existence of high levels of IPVAW and of gender equality in Nordic countries, has not been adequately explained.

Let me tell you, all this is new-speak in my ears, starting with ” IPVAW”, which is international jargon for what we normally refer to as “domestic violence”.,

The reason I found the said paper was that I was confronted a few weeks ago by friends in Spain who resented my – ehem – “insinuation” that Spaniards go around battering and killing women. Yes it is true that a year or two or three ago, 55 women were killed in Spain. But, my friends continued, how many people live in Spain? So how many femicide victims are there per 100k in Spain?

I was put to shame.

My friends sent me figures and charts and goodness-knows-what, to demonstrate the opposite of what I had posited. Below, you will find a map of the EU countries. Source: Violence against women: an EU-wide summary. The 2012 findings were apparently more or less corroborated in a rather more wide-ranging March 2021 report. You will recognise the “FRA” logo of both reports.

What the map tells us is that the countries with least domestic violence are, interestingly, countries we generally consider Catholic. Countries with the highest reported levels of domestic violence are Denmark, Finland and Latvia. I repeat: these figures are from 2012.

So, are Protestants more violent than Catholics?

Are Catholics more reluctant to report domestic violence than Protestants? What about Muslims?

This line of enquiry is not politically correct, so I will leave it for now.

Norway and Iceland are not on the map as they are only EEA countries.

Statistics Norway provides very little information about domestic violence in Norway. All I found were three terse sentences:

Lifetime Physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence: 27 %
Physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence in the last 12 moths: 6 %
Litime Non-Partner Sexual Violence: Official National Statistics Not Available.

As for Iceland you will see that Denmark, Finland and Iceland are high up on a WHO shame list (notice Turkey!!!):

To summarise: In the European Nordic countries, not least in Iceland, there is greater gender parity than practically anywhere else in Europe. Forget the details for now, but let’s just say that women in these countries enjoy as much liberty, pay and prestige as men. E.g.: The Danish, Finnish and Icelandic prime ministers are all women. However, there is more domestic violence in these same countries (and in the UK) than almost anywhere else in Europe.

Again I direct your attention to the interesting paper about a Swedish study that I mentioned by way of introduction. It refers to various suggested explanations for the paradox, such as male backlash at female success, and high alcohol consumption. It discusses whether women in Sweden are more prone to report maltreatment than women elsewhere. It points out that there are reasons to argue that the opposite may be the case. The paper also dismisses the theory that immigrants are at the heart of Sweden’s poor showing, as “othering.

Enter Iceland. Again, Iceland is not on the EU map and is more interesting than Norway in this context, as I hope to demonstrate. Iceland is a particularly interesting country for researchers of — not least — medical, social and natural sciences as it is an island. (Hardly any Moslem immigrants have even considered taking refuge on that cold Atlantic rock. ) Due to its tiny population of about 360 thousand, Island is also frequently a statistical aberration.

So, no, Muslims do not explain IPV in Iceland.

To be continued.

Jul 262021
 

Have you noticed that some countries are simply unbearably smug? Take the United Arab Emirates, for instance, that have the gall to do exactly as they please, because they are rich. They don’t even pretend to care about such trifles as “freedom of expression”, for instance, because nobody will presume to castigate a country that is home to a futuristic paradise for the rich (Dubai). Nobody interferes, nobody even lifts a finger, although the emirates have, de facto, occupied Socotra, which is formally part of Jemen. And as for the press …. Have you even heard of Socotra?

By contrast, Norway’s complacency is too subtly disguised to attract much negative attention, but what lies behind the country’s cleverly manicured self-promotion?

It is true, you don’t often hear of people getting arrested in Norway for publicly making rude comments about the King or Prime Minister. But then again, people rarely do (publicly make rude comments, that is), because Norwegians don’t seem prone to get seriously angry. Are they too well-fed, too busy watching Netflix?

Norway claims to be committed to defending human rights all over the world, but has important arms industry or, as the Government terms the exported goods, “defence-related products”. A 2020 press release gives a favourable impression. But does it present the full picture?

In 2018, it became clear that Norway had been selling arms to the UAE, despite “concerns they could be used in the war in Yemen“. Note Reuters’ courtesy in the choice of the term “concerns”, although every informed adult knew perfectly well that the goods were certainly being used in Jemen. Of course, the Government was disconcerted over even the remotest possibility of such misuse of innocently exported goods, and immediately prohibited all export of arms to the Arabian Peninsula.

Yet, just a couple of weeks ago, there was a new “shocking” disclosure of arms sales to the UAE. Again, the Government promptly prohibited export of arms to the Arabian Peninsula. Nobody seemed to remember that they already had done so back in 2018.

Norway claims to be committed to reversing climate change, and if you run a search on the web for “Norway + climate”, sure enough, you will find plenty of results with the key words “climate fund” and “… invests in green energy” – all bollocks, of course, because, Norway has not even started to reduce its CO2 emissions and continues to peg its future to hydrocarbons. Mind you, the country also invests heavily in “promotion”, “public relations” and image building, so the truth of its carbon footprint is not immediately evident.

You may not know, for instance, that the state-owned company Equinor has, since 2007,

…. invested around 40 billion USD in the USA, mainly in offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration and production. Through a series of acquisitions, totalling over 10 billion USD, Equinor built a substantial business in US shale gas and oil, or so called “unconventionals”.

Equinor report 09.10.2020

You won’t find many articles calling into question Norway’s commitment to the “forces of good”. I believe Norway, like the UAE, is so rich that it can pay to have the world look the other way when it behaves badly. It pays liberally for reconstruction of Gaza every time Israel bombs Gaza back to the Stone Age and kills a sizeable proportion of the Gazan population. At the same time, Norway is one of the few nations that never condemns Israel’s concerted efforts to exterminate Palestinians. Norway is best-friends with everybody. Norway can pay and Norwegians sleep well: They have Netflix, plenty of space and social security.

Not everybody living in Norway is Norwegian, however. The country reluctantly admits a trickle of political refugees, though every attempt has been made over the past decades to curtail immigration. An acquaintance of mine ended up in Norway after 9/11 1973. That’s right: 9/11 nineteen seventy three. When he was arrested in his home country during the US-assisted dictatorship there, many of his friends and contacts had already been tortured and/or killed. Thanks to a prisoner exchange program, he was exported to Europe, and he has lived and worked in Norway, and paid taxes to Norway for over 50 years. 50 years! He was granted permanent residency in Norway soon after his arrival, but has nevertheless since had to apply to the police every two years to have his ID card renewed. Every time, he has to go through a humiliating application process on the internet, answering all sorts of intrusive questions such has “how many days have you spent abroad over the past two years.” Now, with Covid, he has been informed that he will have to to wait for several months before he receives a valid ID card. After 50 years!

Norwegians love travelling. They might go shopping in London, spend a weekend or two on a beach in Spain, enjoy a safari in Africa, meet friends at a bar in Copenhagen, all in a single year, without a second thought. But my acquaintance must record each and every entry to and departure from the country. And now, without an ID card, he cannot travel at all. After 50 years!

Last year, the authorities finally allowed people to apply for naturalisation without relinquishing their original citizenship, so he spent a few hours filling out the forms on the Internet, clicking “Next” and “Next and “Next” each time he reached the bottom of a screen. The last screen he reached contained only one word: PAY. The fee, he learnt, was NOK 5500, (USD 642.22 or EUR 540). After 50 years!

That’s a lot of money. Maybe not for you, but for many people, yes, it is an insurmountable amount, certainly for immigrants. Even Norwegians would scream if asked to pay such an amount for anything other than a weekend at 5-star hotel.

Some countries are just simply indefensibly self-satisfied.

Jun 122021
 

The race trick has been played since time immemorial, you may be sure. For all I know, it dates back to when we were competing against and possibly exterminating the Neanderthals.

Our race plays the power game with all kinds of tools, some of them legal. No country’s legal code has been able to foresee all the low-down, dirty tricks a totally callous person can concoct, and the race trick is one of the simplest.

If, for example, you can convince your compatriots that blue-eyed people belong to an inferior race, you are in business. Blue-eyed people, you will explain, tend to be less resistant to heat and sun than people with darker eyes and skin colour, and since our planet is growing hotter, heat resistance will prove to be an asset. You might suggest limiting university admission to those who have passed an infernal heat resistance test. Some 30 years later, you will find, to your delight, that relatively few blue-eyed kids have parents who can afford sending them to university even if they pass the heat resistance tests. Then you can say you told us so: “they are born losers, ” you will explain.

You will not find it quite as easy to explain that people with a certain shape of nose and – say : large feet, narrow hips and thick lips – are members of a superior race, in spite of eager sponsoring from the Botox camp. True, Hitler managed to pull off the Arian Race hoax a few years ago, but I’m not sure voters would make the same mistake again, at least not yet.

No, for the “superior race” trick, you should ally yourself with a religious charismatic movement such as that of an Ayatollah Khomeini – if it makes you feel comfortable – or that of a Pentecostal Flor-de-Lis, if you prefer. (Jair Bolsonaro hoodwinked under-privileged Brazilian voters by claiming to be Evangelical. The Guardian has a very interesting article explaining why Evangelical movements attract so many people in the favelas.) Let the preachers do the work for you. Let them chant that those who vote for you are God’s chosen people. “The others” are scum.

God will protect his chosen people from Covid. In Israel, he does so by providing vaccines, whereas the others (who have been denied vaccines) will die like flies in the window sill. In Brazil, God admittedly withholds vaccines from those who cannot afford them. But they will survive anyway, thanks to the Lord, of course. (Those who don’t won’t live to tell the tale.)

Denying vaccines to an ethnic group is one of the measures that can be used to achieve “ethnic cleansing”. “Ethnic cleansing” is a modern term for one of the darkest and most horrible crimes known to humanity. We used to call this particular form of crime “genocide”.

Ethnic cleansing is practised to this day. In China, it appears, it is practised against the Uigurs; in Myanmar against the Rohingyas (cf. the euphemistic “displacement crisis” of 2017 – NB before the recent military coup); and in Israel’s occupied territories and Gaza against the Palestinians.

So what about the term “racism”? If, strictly speaking, there are no human “races”, may we no longer denounce white supremacists as “racist”? Of course we may! Whoever actually believes or pretends to believe in racial hierarchies is obviously a racist.

E.g.: Israel maintains that anybody who condemns Israel’s treatment of the population on the West Bank is “Anti-Semite”. This means that Israel nurtures a racist ideology.

But please note that no modern government will admit it differentiates between people on the basis of “race”. The reason Tom, Dick and Harry still imagine there are genetically significant bases for identifying discrete races is that the powers-that-be have not made it sufficiently clear that such is not the case. There are, in many countries, political, religious and/or economic forces that benefit from nurturing racist ideas.

Let’s face it, the Homo sapiens sapiens is not angelic, no matter how evangelic it claims to be.

May 142021
 

A friend from a country far hotter than my own, sometimes asks me: “How can you consort with other species?”

— I don’t consort with…
— You live with a dog.
— But I never let her into my bed!
— Dogs carry parasites, diseases. They pick up all sorts of nasties from the ground and…

He’s right about that, of course, but my dog regularly gets de-wormed and vaccinated against a plethora of diseases and there is plenty of literature attesting to the beneficial effects dogs can have on humans’ mental as well as physical health. In fact, ever since I was a child I knew I had much less to fear from dogs than from humans. So, yes, I can live with other species (cats, dogs) but can I live with humans?

Today, all humans are members of the human race, of which there is only one, as opposed to in the very distant past, when there were Denisovars and Neanderthals and goodness knows what else. Though scientists are still uncertain as to why all the others vanished, I’m convinced that our race, the homo sapiens sapiens, exterminated them. After all, “we”, the sapiens sapiens have demonstrated certain sinister proclivities throughout history. To this very day we continue to exterminate opponents, contestants, protesters and heretics, not to mention species..

So “The Human Race” it is. To quote a Harvard University website, which in turn quotes the Scientific American, “two people of European descent may be more genetically similar to an Asian person than they are to each other”. In short, it would appear that the concept “race” (with regard to humans) is claptrap, a social construct, more often than not used for convenience, or out of old habit, or to excuse a rabid aversion to people perceived to be trespassing. To make matters very much worse, politicians are often quite happy to let us blame immigrants (“Blacks”, “Arabs”, “Latinos”…) for our misfortunes.

No, I’m not being politically correct! I’m merely being reasonably informed. So if you loathe your neighbour, do not, please, be a hypocrite and do not cower behind an ignorance for which you have no justification. Have a conversation with yourself in the mirror. Do you dislike your neighbour’s political views, and/or the way he/she dresses, and/or his/her ignorance, and/or his/her arrogance, and/or the fumes that emanate from his/her kitchen, and/or his/her car, and/or his/her dog? Fine, so do I. But have, at least, the decency to admit that is why you dislike him/her.

Do you dislike his religion? Ask yourself, then, why his religion should concern you. Do you not expect others to accept that your religion (or non-religion) is your business and yours only?

Does it annoy you that he insists on continuing to live in your neighbourhood although you have made it clear that you want him to leave because you know he hates you because your people drove his people off their farm? I put to you, then, that the problem is that his family was driven off their farm. You’ll solve no problem until you admit that injustice was done. The disadvantage of such an admission is the price of making amends. Yet, the cost is far less than perpetual mutual hatred and perpetual external condemnation.

Do you ostracise him because he is an underdog while you have the upper hand? Ah, well then I admit you can play the “race” card, because you are after all only a homo sapiens sapiens, and being rather despicable is unfortunately a widespread trait of your race… ours, that is.

Fortunately, there are other people in your neighbourhood, and mine, that are not despicable even though they belong to the same race. And for that we must be grateful.

Please see B’Tselem

Dec 012020
 

In a phone conversation with a talkative friend the other day, my counterpart’s initial volubility subsided, so that in the end, I was the only one still talking. Afterwards, wondering why his cheeriness had morphed into discouragement, I reached the conclusion that it was my fault.

Over the decades, I have been considered a lefty, and he has been the slightly patronising advocate of what he believes is “the middle ground”. Had I asked him, or for that matter almost anybody else, what is “the middle ground”, he would have given the glib reply “neither right nor left” and I might insolently have retorted, “neither right nor wrong?”

Yes, over the decades, he has patiently countered my impatient allegations about systemic racism, perpetuated social inequality, injustice etc., etc. with kindly smiles, and “sensible” arguments. More often than not, I for my part tended to have forgotten the statistical details informing my views and chaffed at the bit of my own ignorance, unable to prove my point.

The other day, though, the tables had turned. I didn’t remember the details about the tipping point, but I did have a pretty clear understanding of the concept “exponential”.

Likewise, I didn’t remember the details of Piketty’s statistics about rising wealth and income inequality, but since I follow international news pretty closely, the word “exponential” lurked at the corners of my mouth.

As another acquaintance predicted a few days ago: “Before long, we won’t be picking them up out of the Mediterranean, we’ll be shooting them.” He was referring to the not so distant future when most of the African continent will be uninhabitable and when Europe … no, I won’t go into that just now.

I won’t, because that was what I did during the said phone conversation with my friend the other day. I did not have Piketty’s figures at hand, but I certainly was able to outline approximately where Europe is heading, and it’s not somewhere nice. That is unless…. But before I could finish my lecture, my friend had wilted like a plane falling out of the sky. I had halted the trajectory of an optimistic man full of confidence in himself, his country and the future of humankind. I had brought him down. Now that was certainly not my intention.

Mind you, he knew that what I had said about the future of Europe, “unless…”, was correct. So why was he not willing to discuss the terms of the “unless” clause?

As for the tipping point, no reasonably sane, informed person can possibly doubt its reality, yet we just sit around doing exactly what we have been doing since we were born, with regard to the tipping point, that is: NOTHING.

Well, strictly speaking, that is not correct. Somebody is doing something, but that somebody is not me. It probably isn’t you either. I am very very sorry to say that it is not a government in any country, nor any powerful multinational company or mainstream media outlet. Extinction Rebellion is courageous, passionate and truly called for, but – alas – not my style; I’m no better than the rest of us law-abiding, spineless citizens, the gutless “we” I keep referring to.

We have been tranquillised and rendered non-combatant by a lullaby of promises about “climate neutrality by 2050”. Read that again: 2050. Thirty years hence, the planet will be unrecognisable.

Why? Why do we allow doctors to medicate us with tranquillisers and false hopes?

My theory is that we are sincerely frightened. And now that we are social distancing or in quarantine, we’re also not happy. If your day has been miserable, what do you do? Well, I don’t know about you, but most of us put on a brave face and tell ourselves and each other that tomorrow will be better. Yes, tomorrow must always be better, otherwise, we would not endure being alive. If baseless optimism hadn’t been part of our genetic makeup from the start, our species would not have survived locust swarms, bubonic plagues, famines, Hiroshima, the Holocaust, Apartheid, etc., and even Trump.

I put to you that optimism is not a crime. Stupidity, however, is. I assume that mankind will survive the next thirty years, in some form or another. I hope that having learnt from the mistakes we are making now, future civilisations’ penal codes will deem stupidity on the part of “whomsoever has been endowed with normal intelligence and adequate social/economic conditions” a criminal offence.

Today is 1 December. According to the calendar, winter has come to the Northern hemisphere. But according to the trees, spring has come and the buds are opening. Maybe by Christmas the lilacs will bloom and the birds will be singing. Maybe in January, we can go swimming in the sea again. That would be so nice.

Jul 252020
 

When President Kennedy died, I was just a kid, living in, of all places, the United States of America. Yes, of course I remember when our teacher came in and announced what had happened. Of course; although I remember little else from that period of my life. I also remember how proud I was when Bobby Kennedy later shook my small hand among the millions of other anonymous hands when he was campaigning.

I also remember how pained I was ten-fifteen years later when I was told in various ways and by various people that Kennedy was not the hero I thought he was. He had much to answer for about Vietnam and about sins committed against humanity in the name of anti-Communism.

The purpose of this post is not to throw stones at JFK and his brother Bobby. They were men of their space-time and, not least, products of their social class. There is no way you can become president of the USA unless you embrace extremely unsavoury views, and we like to believe that the president’s also having embraced drugs and certain off-bounds women were reactions to unpalatable decisions he was forced to make.

No, my message here is not to bring down or even undress statues. It is to undress us, who prostrate ourselves, adoring our icons uncritically, refusing to even see any inexcusable acts underwritten by the persons or ideologies the icons represent.

You don’t thank the bearer of tidings when he tells you your husband, son or father has ordered a massacre. You don’t feel relieved of a lifelong burden of lies; you cling all the more to those very lies as though your life depended on them. You do so, to begin with, by not feeling, period. You refuse to feel, and after that, you simply deny, even in the face of clear evidence. That is what we all do. I do it, my neighbour does it and you, who are reading this, probably do it too.

Even now, knowing better, JFK is one of my heroes. Even now, knowing better, yours might be the Democratic Party, which has let at least 60% of the US population down. Or your hero might be Putin or Mao or Castro or Chavez or Che, all very fallible men. Most men are, in fact, fallible. I’m absolutely sure that even my favourite guru for the moment, Thomas Piketty, must be fallible.

Even women are fallible, and I’m not referring to Ocasio Cortez. She hit my country’s headlines today, not for defending equal rights to health care and education, but for delivering a “lesson in decency“. I’m sure Ocasio Cortez’s verbal lunge at the Tea Party member was more than well served and well deserved. Frankly, I would probably have used much more offensive language to address the fascistoid m__ f__r, and I’m certainly not going to undress Ocasio Cortez! I only wish to point out that the only reason she was in my country’s news today was because she disliked being referred to as a “bitch”. In other words, what was being applauded by my country was her feminism, not her defence of human rights for women and men. Frankly, I’m embarrassed. Yet, I go on believing in the justice, the goodness and the wisdom of my country. In short, I put to you that we are all a bit blind.

I cannot recomend enough the allegorical novel by José Saramago Blindness ( Ensaio sobre a cegueira, meaning Essay on Blindness). It was written in 1995, but is more relevant now than ever.

26 July: I need to add a postscript. The European so-called Istambul Convention prohibits violence against women and domestic violence in no uncertain terms. Poland and Turkey are threatening to withdraw their adherence to it. FIE!

May 072020
 

If you read Thomas Piketty’s ground-breaking Capitalism and Ideology, you will see that a great deal remains to be done in the world, and I’m very much afraid that it will have to be done by you and me and our children and grandchildren. It will certainly not be done by any president or prime minister here, there or anywhere else. As Greta Thunberg has pointed out, our grandchildren will not thank us for the state of affairs we leave to them unless we do our D–dest to try to set things right.

The problem with Covid, to my mind, is not so much that it is a killer – locust swarms that destroy everything in their paths are also killers (by proxy), and you don’t hear much about them – it’s who it kills and why. Like other contagious diseases it primarily kills people in congested areas, particularly where sanitary conditions are unsatisfactory, people with scant access to health care and education, and people with short-sighted employers and governments. It will probably not kill people like me, who can work from home at a cottage in the wilds. I only come face to face with another human, separated from me by a glass screen, twice a week at checkout.

So the Covid issue is not really about Covid, it’s about all the underlying stuff, the stuff systematically kept in the shadows. The media makes sure that we mull over the prospects of suffering a terrible Covid death, that we sit still and thank the powers-that-be for whatever handout we get to replace the jobs many of us have lost or will loose. Not to rock the boat, that is the idea. No wonder a recent Guardian article sees fit to remind us that we are actually not all in the same boat.

You will see some of the issues lurking in the shadows behind Covid if you scroll down the entries of the Oxford-based “Our World in Data” . Pass quickly over the Covid stuff, and take a look at issues such as “Nutrition” (“22% of children younger than 5 are stunted”) or Maternal mortality.

Now “Our World in Data” is not a “leftist” site. It probably takes pains not to be, as failing to do so would mean less funding for the research underlying its data. Nevertheless, I was amazed to find that there were no figures about maternal mortality in the United States. “Now why would that be?” I wondered.

Unsurprisingly, this chart shows that the proportion of women who die in pregnancy, giving birth or within 42 days after giving birth has fallen drastically from 1991 to 2015. If you press the button “Add country”, you will see that Tunisia, for example, is doing nicely, but there is no data for the US. For Canada, yes, and for North America, yes. So the figures for the US are hiding behind Canadas? Interesting.

I turn to Wikipedia (as at 07.05.2020)

The US has shown to have the highest rate of pregnancy related deaths o/c maternal mortality amongst all the industrialized countries. The CDC first implemented the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System in 1986 and since then maternal mortality rates have increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 17.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. [Highlighting by Pelshval]

And here is a Vox article on the issue:

If you compare the CDC figure to other countries in the World Health Organization’s latest maternal mortality ranking, the US would rank 55th, just behind Russia.

What does Joe Biden propose to do about that? Blame Covid?

I apologise for harping so much on the United States, but it really does get on my nerves that a country that is NOT the great meritocratic, egalitarian and Democratic society it claims to be insists on calling the shots about just about everything, everywhere, all the time. It is high time we all, including in the US, start doing things differently. This is not “the best of all possible worlds” to quote Voltaire’s Pangloss (or Leibnitz, if you like, but I’ve never read Leibniz). For many people in the US, it is not even the best yet. And it will get worse for all of us, before it gets better.

Piketty proposes a whole array of alternatives. He does not tell us what to do. He just tells us that other ways are possible. Actually, the only course that is not open to us is the one we are on now. Before long, this road will simply close down.

Piketty also tells us why we are so blind to the existence of other options, which goes a long way, in my mind, to explain why many people, including myself, have said, “It’s no use… We can’t repair this mess… Hopeless… You can’t beat the financial system, market forces… ” But the Berlin wall did come down, didn’t it? We thought it never ever would, but it did.

Feb 052020
 

There aren’t many encouraging stories these days. Maybe I know of one, though. (Mind you, I make no promises.) My story starts grimly enough, with a headline that began to pop up here and there some time last spring: “Millions of songbirds vacuumed to death every year during Mediterranean olive harvest”. If you google it, you will see for yourself.

Now in the UK there are a lot of bird lovers, and they started singing angrily. A veritable storm of protests rose up from the throats of British bird-loving consumers. Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose felt pressured and have apparently promised to take a closer look at what olive products they stock.

That’s nice, isn’t it? An example of ethical market forces, right?

We could leave it there, of course, and it is certainly very moving that the British were up in arms about something that isn’t royalty, and in a Brexit year, no less. So hats off for the British! My neurotically unsentimental compatriots would probably not have lifted a finger; they can’t tell the difference between a bird and a drone. (In fact, this wasn’t even news in my country, where we guzzle olive oil by the litre.)

But there is a shadow story here, and it is not as nice. For one thing, few supermarket chains will refuse to sell ecologically harmful products, as that would be suicide for the chains in question. The proportion of poor people in Britain, as elsewhere, is growing. Given the choice of hand-picked expensive olives and vacuumed cheap olives, which will they choose? If all poor people knew that every bottle of the cheap oil they use is likely to have cost the life of perhaps five birds, many of them might consider giving up olive oil altogether. But they don’t know, and even if they do, there are so many other horrible things going on that – well, what can you do? There are innumerable children being killed in wars and hot spots, wombats being killed in Australia – even after the fires – coral reefs dying… Locust swarms are consuming parts of Africa, miners are being shot, populations are fleeing from sinking islands, tens of thousands of refugees are being held in consentration camps in Greece and Libya, etc. etc. etc.

We shall of course soon see the emergence of eco-friendly supermarkets, shops where all products are tested. They will be exorbitantly expensive, though. So “the market” will not solve the climate crisis or any other serious ecological challenge. It will just be an opportunity for the rich to pay indulgence, as it were.

Still, my verdict is that this was a beautiful story because it tells us that sometimes, people – even masses of people – will be happy to serve an honestly good and peaceful cause. A tiny Robin with its scarlet breast can move the sternest of us to tears. I know, because I held one in my hand a year ago, when it had died after crashing into my window. Small creatures whose lovely songs ring through the woods in late afternoons are such a stunning contrast to war games, Netflix series and the increasingly ghastly news we cannot help but hear even though we try not to.

As an afterthought to the above, I would like to point out that nation states can actually impose laws, can actually prohibit certain things, and can, also, encourage other things. I would like to direct your attention to the Nordic Swan Label. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_swan

I say no more for now.

Oct 062019
 

I have not previously written about drugs here, but goodness knows there is reason to raise the topic, even though we now have the climate to worry about.

We tend to be very loud when we talk about drugs. It’s a big issue. Parents worry about their children and/or grieve on behalf of a brother or colleague whose child actually fell prey to some addictive poison. Then, of course, there are the endless discussions about whether or not a substance is addictive chemically or psychologically.

There are those of us who maintain that drug addicts need help, others who clamour for their imprisonment and others who would rather see them dead.

The war on drugs imposes harsh sentences on dealers and mules, but as we all know, those who actually thrive on drug trade – the kingpins, as it were – are rarely caught. They are too rich and very much too ruthless and powerful.

Those who pay the greatest price for the war on drugs are the innumerable murder victims in Central and South America, innocent by-standers for the most part, but also judges, human rights activists and even priests.

Tax payers in Western countries also pay a great deal without realising that what they are paying makes no dent in the amount of cocaine and heroin that is brought into our countries, the astronomical sums our kids pay for the stuff, and the fabulous profits enjoyed by the kingpins, whether they live to all appearances innocent lives here, or far away.

I put to you the plight of a town in Southern Europe where registered unemployment is 32.4%. I must add that those who are not eligible for unemployment benefits may see no reason to register, so the real number of unemployed will be much larger. What I’m saying is that many young people in such places see no future for themselves. They have to live with their parents, cannot form their own families and should not have children. They cannot go on vacation, cannot buy a car or anything else, for that matter, and tend to grow listless. They give up. Those who were young when the financial crisis broke are nearing middle-age now, and still unemployed. Turning to drugs is in a sense an act of despair, a form of slow suicide. Putting these people in prison is probably totally ineffectual.

On the other hand, you have societies in rich countries such as in Scandinavia, where many kids turn to drugs out of boredom or peer pressure. I’m not sure putting them in prison would help either.

There is no doubt that the war on drugs has been a total failure, but there is no consensus as to the alternative. So we continue dedicating the best part of our policing efforts to it.

Personally, I believe that the drugs problem can and should be solved. Doing so, however, would require a completely different approach. I’ll leave it there for now.