The authority fallacy and the “7-day NHS”

Prof Stephen Hawking with David AttenboroughEarlier today, the health minister Jeremy Hunt posted some tweets claiming that Professor Stephen Hawking was wrong in his assessment of the data regarding the “weekend effect” (the notion that people admitted to hospital over the weekend were more likely to die than those admitted during the week because fewer doctors, and in particular fewer consultants, are working). The ‘effect’ has been cited by the Tories and the right-wing press to support Hunt’s proposals for a “24-hour NHS”, while others have debunked the idea. Professor Hawking is to make a speech at the Royal Society of Medicine today criticising the plans and is accusing Jeremy Hunt of “cherry-picking” statistics to support his position. The social media response to Hunt has been to emphasise Hawking’s status as one of the world’s foremost scientists and Hunt’s as a relative nobody despite his powerful position. As obvious as it might seem that Hunt can’t argue with a famous scientist about numbers or data, it’s a classic logical fallacy, the “argument from authority”.

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Trump, Clinton and a fair voting system

An image of Donald Trump wearing a dark suit and a blue and white striped tie with an angry expression on his face with the number 62,976,636 superimposed on his chest, standing next to a painting of Hilary Clinton in a dark blue pantsuit, smiling, with the number 65,844,610 superimposed across it.There’s a claim that has been repeated a lot on social media by former Hilary Clinton supporters (the graphic on the right posted to Twitter by Victoria Brownworth being an example) that Trump won only because of the electoral college; Clinton won nearly 3 million more votes than Trump and had there been a fair voting system where every vote counted the same, rather than an electoral college that dates from the time of slavery and over-represents small and predominantly white states at the expense of urbanised states with large minority populations, Clinton would have won. On the face of it, this appears to be true. However, this overlooks the 6 or so million Americans that voted for neither Clinton nor Trump, and particularly those who voted for the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson.

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Honi soit qui mal y pense

The British royal coat of arms, containing a gold shield showing emblems of all four nations of the UK, with a lion to the left, a white horse to the right, and the garter emblem around it with the slogan 'Honi soit qui mal y pense'.Outcry over sexualised hijab schoolgirl (from The Australian)

Honi soit qui mal y pense is a Norman French phrase, meaning “shame on he who thinks ill of it”. It appears on the British royal garter, which is the emblem of the Order of the Garter, an order of ‘knights’ which currently includes various royals and various pillars of the Establishment, plus various foreign rulers appointed by the Queen (I recall the appointment of the Japanese Emperor Akihito caused a rumpus a few years ago; his father Hirohito had been removed from it at the outbreak of the Second World War). One theory of the slogan’s origin is that when King Edward III was dancing with his cousin at a court function, her garter slipped down causing those present to snigger; the king then placed the garter round his own leg and used the phrase: shame on whomever thinks ill of it.

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Respect your elders, young ladies!

Two white women, one young and one old, on a fairground ride of some sort; the young woman is holding the rail in front of the seat. The old lady, who is wearing a colourful flowery scarf, has her head back and is smiling.There was an article on the Independent last week calling for younger feminists to concern themselves with the plight of the so-called WASPI women, the women born in the 50s who are being caught out by the rise in the state pension age from 60 to 65 for them and now to 67 for everyone (the term comes from their campaign group, Women Against State Pension Inequality). The feminist blogger and columnist Glosswitch accuses younger feminists of ignoring the needs of their elders because the campaign is unfashionable and reminds them of the old women they will become:

The voices raised in honour of smashing the patriarchy seem strangely muted when it comes to issues such as pensions poverty and the ongoing legacy of women having taken years out of the paid work. If we’re being honest, the WASPI campaign isn’t a very fashionable feminist campaign because it’s to do with the end stages of life, a narrowing rather than a broadening of perspectives. It’s not about sisters but mothers and grandmothers – women whom younger feminists might love, but don’t necessarily want to be. What’s more, there’s a degree to which younger women gain reassurance from deciding older women are at least partly responsible for the predicament they find themselves in.

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Ain’t got the Knowhow

A black Iveco Eurocargo truck with the Knowhow logo of a black button with rings in rainbow colours in circles around it, with the words "Knowhow, the service available at Curry's PC World".I was listening to the BBC’s You and Yours programme and heard a feature on ransomware (malware that encrypts your files and then demands money for the key to decrypt it), and having data stored in the Cloud (in this case, Knowhow Cloud, run by the Curry’s/PC World group) corrupted by said malware (which is possible as cloud drives are often accessible directly from the desktop as if it were a drive on your computer). The aggrieved customer believed that he was buying the Cloud storage with a back-up, so that his (and his customers’) data could be restored if this sort of thing happened. However, restoring from Knowhow’s backups wasn’t that easy.

Apparently, you have to individually go through the backed-up files on Knowhow’s server using their web portal and restore each one, which if you have lost thousands of files would be a long-drawn-out and laborious process. But it shouldn’t be. Every programmer uses a version control system which can restore any file, or an entire group of files, to their state at a particular time when they were ‘committed’, i.e. a save or set of saves was recorded. It records changes, not a string of different versions, so as to keep storage overheads down. Apple’s Time Machine backups work on the same principle. Setting up a repository with some of these systems is just a matter of one or two commands, though automating regular, secure backups is rather less simple.

What on earth is a major company like Knowhow doing offering a ‘backup’ solution that requires the customer to manually restore single files when software is available for free, used on major projects such as the Linux kernel and Mozilla browser, among many other things, that will restore whole directories (folders) to a specified point in time with one command? It’s pathetic. (When I bought my laptop, they insisted on sitting me down to get me to buy their cloud storage, despite my having access to two cloud storage drives already, only one of which I use. And they’re free.)

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The Lexit delusion

Picture of the chamber of the European Parliament in Brussels. Seats are arranged in a semi-circle with an aisle separating them. A lectern is at the front with a blue backing; a row of 11 seats faces the semi-circle with a high-backed seat in the middle. A small EU flag hangs on the wall at the back, and larger, furled-up flags of the member states hang on either side of it.It’s no secret that the bulk of the support for the campaign to pull the UK out of the European Union last year came from the Right — UKIP and large sections of the Tory party — but it has been part of the hard Left’s campaign for decades as well, was Labour policy in the early 1980s and has the support of a number of Labour MPs; Jeremy Corbyn’s support for remaining in was thought to be lukewarm. The other day I saw a conversation between two online friends after one of them asked if anyone she knew who had voted for Brexit could tell her why. The other responded that the EU was “neoliberal, ruled by people lacking both public support and expertise, vindictive, selfish and tyrannical”, examples being the treatment of Greece and migrants. As true as these things might be, they are all at least as much British diseases as European ones.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: speculation so white

Picture of a young white woman in a long red robe with a large white bonnet that stops her seeing other than in front of her, exiting a brick building.The Hulu TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel set in a New England taken over by a fundamentalist Christian theocratic police state that styles itself the Republic of Gilead, concluded on Channel 4 last Sunday night. The series (like the novel) follows the story of Offred, AKA June, who has been conscripted as a ‘handmaid’ to provide children to wealthy élite families in a society beset by a so-called plague of infertility which seems to be affecting other countries (such as Mexico) as well. The series has been described as not fiction but “a warning” by an Australian feminist columnist, and it seems many people are watching it despite finding it distressing, most likely because everyone is talking about it so everyone else needs to understand it. I found it a very weak and unbelievable piece of TV and its biggest weaknesses are its back-story and its handling of race, which are connected.

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Dumping Hopkins didn’t hurt LBC’s ratings

A black and white photo of a man in a German army uniform looking through barbed wire at a topless man with ribs showing through emaciation, an a number of prisoners sitting in the background on the same side of the barbed wire fence.LBC sees audience numbers rise after Katie Hopkins departure | The Independent

According to Rajar, the organisation which researches the listener base of radio and TV stations, the national talk station LBC did not lose listeners as a result of sacking Katie Hopkins, a professional bigot who had a slot on the station until she was sacked in May this year after saying a “final solution” (a term used by the Nazis to refer to the Holocaust) to terrorism was needed after the bombing in Manchester that month, and in fact its figures increased in the quarter from April to June. (Hat tip: MEND.)

A lot of people who listen to local radio stations do so for local and traffic news (which LBC has despite having gone national a few years ago; they were originally a London talk station), so sacking a host will have less impact on a local station than on a national one, but even so, any change of presenter is likely to cause a temporary dent in listenership figures as a new show, however good, will be an uknown quantity at first and need time to ‘bed in’ and build up its audience. That Hopkins’s departure did not have that effect suggests that she was putting people off, not bringing them in.

I was a regular listener to the BBC London morning show in the mid-2000s and I remember what happened the week after bully-boy host Jon Gaunt was replaced, temporarily, with Geoff Schumann: the following week, there was new caller after new caller who had not dared call in when Gaunt was on the other end of the line. How many of them were new listeners I don’t know, although perhaps they might have started listening more frequently after Gaunt left. But the moral is that managers should not be afraid to ditch a host who, despite their big name, is a bully or bigot or thrives on needless controversy, because it may bring new listeners in and, importantly for a station with a lot of phone-ins, lead to new voices joining the ‘conversation’.

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Reverting to type

Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyib ErdoganDemocracy is dying – and it’s startling how few people are worried | Paul Mason | Opinion | The Guardian

This was in today’s Guardian, and uses a few examples of democracies turning back into dictatorships to support a contention that “democracy is dying”: Erdogan holding show trials for journalists and purging dissenting academics (or those suspected of it) in Turkey, Putin banning virtual private networks (VPNs) in Russia, Apple withdrawing VPN apps on the Chinese app store, Venezuela’s Marxist government setting up an assembly to rewrite the constitution, Trump’s shenanigans in the USA. The fact is that it’s not, and these examples aren’t evidence that it is.

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We all knew Kevin Myers was a bigot

Picture of Vanessa Feltz, a middle-aged white woman with very light blonde hair, wearing a sleeveless red dress with a silver embroidered bodice and a sheer red part at the top, on a purple carpet with her arms outstretched.Today, social media has been abuzz about a column by Kevin Myers, about whom I last wrote on this blog in 2009 in response to a column full of stock false Islamophobic assertions by him in the Irish Independent (free registration required), in the Irish edition of today’s Sunday Times about the gender pay gap at the BBC, generally defending the higher pay given to men as being deserved because men “work harder, get sick less frequently and seldom get pregnant”, while also pointing out that two of the highest-paid women are Jewish, one of them being Vanessa Feltz (right). In response to social media outrage, the Times have pulled the article from their website, although I presume that print copies containing the column are still on sale at newsstands across Ireland, and sacked him. It’s good that people have noticed he’s a bigot and protested, but depressing that warnings have been ignored for years because the minorities he attacked in the past were not their favourites.

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Charlie Gard and NHS versus private care

A handmade poster hung on the railings of the Royal Courts of Justice in London. It is decorated with lots of green and clear glass 'jewels', some arranged in two heart shapes. There are pictures of Charlie, the words "Save Charlie Gard" and a map of the world with the words "The world stands with Charlie Gard" above and below.So, the tragic story of Charlie Gard, the terminally-ill baby boy whose parents have fought a legal battle to stop doctors at Great Ormond Street in London from turning off his life support, has drawn to a close; his family spent their final moments with him in a children’s hospice today and he died this evening. The American neurologist who had claimed to have treatment to offer that could have helped him turns out never to have examined Charlie and to have had a financial interest in the treatment which, at this stage, could not in fact have helped. Melanie Phillips has written a series of interesting articles, such as this one, condemning the American right-wing ‘mob’ which has been busy condemning the NHS and the doctors involved for being motivated by a desire to save public money, which (unusually for her) are worth reading. It is worth exploring the paradoxical relationship the American pro-life Right have with the world of disability, and their attitudes towards life itself in contrast to having to pay for anyone’s healthcare. (Update: Charles Arthur, former tech correspondent with the Guardian and Independent, has written this piece on the same misrepresentations being made by the campaigners.)

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Blaming the colonials for everything

Fatimah Ouaziz, holding her school textbook and grade certificateOver the weekend I saw a touching story about an elderly Moroccan lady who completed the first grade of her country’s school system after having been illiterate all her life and having spent three years, in her 80s, studying for it. She is a mother of six who has made two pilgrimages to Mecca in the nine years since the death of her husband, described as a “kind, caring and compassionate man” despite being twice divorced and marrying his wife in her early teens, thanks to his origins:

As a traditional Middle Atlas Berber, he had never absorbed Arabic cultural influences in matters of gender relations. He was more matriarchal than he was patriarchal.

Besides this racist aside about Arabs, this story blames the French for Fatimah Ouaziz’s illiteracy, which is not tenable.

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A 20-year-old is not a baby!

Picture of Rashan Charles, a Black teenage boy wearing a baseball cap (most of it cropped out), a short-sleeved white T-shirt with a black 'puffer' waistcoat over it. He has a long metal chain round his neck and his arms are folded.Yesterday a young man called Rashan Charles was killed in an encounter with the police in London, and the footage has been posted on social media with the hashtag “Justice for Rash”. The footage shows him being pursued by police into the back of a shop, and then seized and held on the floor (initially by one officer who is later joined by another) for a minute or two; he is seen swallowing something or trying to, and was pronounced dead later in hospital. At the moment, we do not know why they sought to arrest him. It’s being automatically assumed that ‘Rash’ was innocent and was stopped simply because of his race; the NUS Black Students group has posted a tweet claiming he was ‘murdered’ well before all the facts about the incident have come out, which I think is rather irresponsible for an organisation of their profile. What really took me aback about this campaign, though, was seeing tweets referring to Rashan as a child, or even “just a baby”. That’s a ridiculous thing to call him.

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Polygamy and being Muslim

A graphic showing a man in the middle wearing a tuxedo and bow tie, and a woman on each side, both wearing wedding dresses of different styles though both white.Earlier a Facebook friend (an African-American Muslim woman) posted a status that Black Muslim men should just accept that most Black Muslim women hate polygamy and that “no amount of guilting and shaming is going to change that”. This provoked a big debate about why this is and what it says about Black Muslim women and their attitudes, but there were a number of men insisting that it meant they did not accept what God had made lawful in Islam, and accused them of shirk (idolatry/polytheism, in the sense of thinking you know better than God). The sister who posted the status said there were particular “circumstances that make polygyny worthy of consideration” for African-American Muslim women, but didn’t spell out what these were.

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Are ISIS really Khawaarij?

An ISIS fighter carrying an assault rifle points towards some grassland in the background. A man stands behind him holding the ISIS flag aloft. The subtitles read "we've brought a bulldozer to take down the barricades".Yesterday I saw a Facebook post which linked to a story about a paper by Craig Considine which claimed that “newly translated” stories from the time of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) demonstrated that ISIS’s treatment of Christians and other non-Muslims in the lands they have occupied are at variance with the teachings of the Prophet and the Salaf (the early Muslims) in that regard. I responded by saying that we already knew that anyway, and that the lack of an English translation for these materials up until now is not that significant because the language of that region is not English and the English-speaking section of the Muslim community, globally, is not that large. The majority of hadith literature, much like the majority of Islamic scholarly works, have not been translated into any other language, and in the case of hadith, a lot of the less well-known compilations are also those of lesser reliability. However, that was not what I wanted to discuss in this. The Facebook post simply read “ISIS are the Khawarij”, a claim that has been made many times since they arose. Are they really, though?

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HS2: worst of all possible worlds

A map of the route of the new High Speed 2 rail link.The juggernaut of HS2, the new high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham and, we are told, eventually beyond, ploughs on. Today the government awarded the contracts to various major construction companies to build the first stretch of the new line — joint ventures of a mixture of British and continental companies — and confirmed that 16 new houses on a development in Sheffield are to be destroyed by the new line, which is to pass outside of the city and be connected to it by a new spur line. I’ve made no secret of my opposition to this ludicrous project, which consists of the quite unnecessary destruction of already scarce housing as well as acres and acres of prime agricultural land. Seeing the revised map of the route on the BBC news website made me ask two questions: “what?” and “why?”.

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Charlie Gard: What if they’re just wrong?

A brain scan showing large areas affected by necrosis after a stroke.The case of Charlie Gard, the baby boy with a mitochondrial disease and allegedly irreparable brain damage whose life support doctors have been trying to turn off as they believe there is no hope of his recovering, has been in the news for the past several weeks as it has gone to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled against him, and now back to the British High Court where lawyers are representing his family pro bono. I’ve not followed that case particularly closely but I have been following the case of Emily Bauer, a young woman from Texas who suffered brain damage in 2012 after taking ‘Kush’ (also known as ‘spice’ and ‘K2’), a kind of synthetic marijuana which is available from some corner shops and filling stations and sold as “legal highs” or “pot pourri”. After she suffered a series of strokes, scans showed large areas of her brain affected by “liquefactive necrosis”, i.e. which were dead, and it was believed that if her life support were switched off, she would die.

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Why Muslims aren’t pacifists

A demonstration featuring a large number of South Asian men, many of them with reddish dots on their faces and holding large metal knives or long swords.Martin Luther King junior famously wrote a Letter from a Birmingham Jail, a response to local White clergymen who had urged him to be less strident and roll back on the direct action. One paragraph sticks out:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

This paragraph sprang to my mind when I read an article by a writer I had not previously heard of but who appears to be an Indian Hindu liberal, one Barkha Dutt of New Delhi, in the Washington Post. The article bemoans recent terrorist attacks in Kashmir including the lynching of a Muslim policeman, Ayub Pandith, outside a mosque in Srinagar and a massacre of Hindu pilgrims (a man and seven women) in the region, as well as the fact that “in the land of Mahatma Gandhi”, there is “not one nonviolent icon in the Kashmir Valley”. She proclaims at the start that:

There comes a moment when a “cause” gets buried under the debris of its own failings. Or when a single incident is enough for a journey to lose its moral compass. This moment has come for Kashmir.

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What value “100% attendance”?

The middle of the front of a Victorian school building, with an arched front door and a tall arched loft window.Last Sunday I saw a Facebook and blog post by a mother who said her son would not be accepting his award for 100% from his school, which would have meant a trip to a soft-play centre with classmates who had achieved the same. She spelled out her reasons, namely that it rewards luck, which she disagrees with, as those who never missed a day did so partly because of good health which was beyond their control, because it was she who took him to school every morning, and because staying off when you are ill is actually a good thing as it means you do not spread germs around the school. I questioned whether the boy had decided himself not to accept the award or whether she had made that decision for him, but it did provoke a debate both on her blog and on Twitter and Facebook. It has since made it into at least two national news outlets, Metro and the Daily Mirror, so I decided to write my own thoughts on this.

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Tories’ road fund is no revolution

A two-lane carriageway of a main road (the other two-lane carriageway is mostly hidden behind plants in this photograph). There is a sign pointing straight ahead for "Lowestoft A12" and off to the left for "Framlingham B1116, Wickham Mkt and Orford B1078". A metallic dark blue Ford car is in the left-hand lane although it is partly in the right-hand lane, indicating that it is pulling in or pulling out. A yellow sign points off the road for "diverted traffic". There is a deep blue sky with a few small white clouds. There are trees along the left side of the road and fields and hedgerows in the background.This morning it was announced that the government was diverting just over a sixth of the £5.8bn assigned two years ago to the National Roads Fund (NRF) from trunk roads and motorways to regional main roads, particularly those removed from central government control under the Labour government (which the Times was eager to mention in their report) and transferred to local authority control. This has led to some stories in regional newspapers which eagerly reported that their local by-pass scheme was going to get funding; the Ipswich Star, for example, reported that this might include the Ipswich northern by-pass, a scheme which was under discussion in the early 90s when I was at school there, but (like the Kesgrave by-pass scheme which actually saw trees cut down before being abandoned) never went anywhere. The money is only going to be available from 2020 after ‘consultations’, but the announcement is less of a “revolution” than the press reports are making out.

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