Category Archives: Rants&Rambles

Weird and Wonderful

Like many people I’ve visited America on holiday, even to visit friends working over there, but usually to the easy bits, the edges where most people are white, wealthy, liberals who tend to have some of their own international holidays under their belts.

Even so, there are some things about America, even these most similar bits which are just a little bit weird and wonderful to the average British visitor; not bad, just a little bit peculiar.

 

1. “How are you” as a greeting, not a question

When a sales clerk in the States says “how are you” it’s not a question, but a way of saying “hello.” No matter how often this happens to a Brit, they will launch into a monologue about their health and well being and ask it right back — and expect an answer.

2. Ice cubes & free refills

Just like Americans are flummoxed by the lukewarm water presented to them in the UK, Brits can’t wrap their heads around how drinks in the US are mostly ice.  And what about those free refills? Is this because of all the ice? I  will never understand why I’m presented with a second cup of pop (soda) while the first one is still half full in front of me. What’s even stranger though, is the fact that one can (and does) order a large soda — despite the refills.

3. Portion sizes

They’re huge! Doggy bags are obviously a compensation — though who orders a two-for-one meal ? — but the concept doesn’t exist outside of the US, as people can generally easily finish their meal. And what’s with the question “Are you still working on that?” If it’s work finishing a meal that I’ve ordered for pleasure, then something has definitely gone wrong.

4. Infinite Choice

White, whole wheat, sourdough or rye bread? Swiss, American, provolone or cheddar? Most Brits feel accosted when bombarded with 12,857 questions when they just want to order a simple sandwich. Visiting supermarkets is a similar chore. How can you have so many versions of some things, say milk, or flavoured yoghurt, yet have next to no choice on apples, cheese or plain natural yoghurt?

Why is it so difficult to find plain foodstuffs like butter, and what on earth do you do to cottage cheese which is somehow an entirely different texture to the UK version?

& what is that stuff you call chocolate? It wouldn’t qualify in Europe or the UK. Somehow you have managed to make chocolate chalky, neither bitter nor sweet enough.

5. Tipping 

The fact that the onus is on the customer to pay for someone else’s employees to make a fair wage is mind boggling to most Europeans. The fact that they’re paying extra for someone to do their job, not even for doing it well, is astounding. Europeans also find it confusing that there’s no set amount or percentage one should tip, and who gets tipped seems equally ambiguous.

6. Taxes

Annual taxes are hard for everyone, but that’s different. What’s just weird is the fact that the price you see on an item is not the same one you pay at checkout. How is that reasonable?

 

7. Being cashless

1-SPLASH-Credit-cards-GETTY.jpg

Few Europeans wander about with wallets utterly devoid of cash, but America is basically a cashless society. Being able to pay for as little as a pack of chewing gum with a card is still amazing to most Europeans.

Being able to use a credit card without having to type in a PIN, just using a signature, feels crazy.

8. The measurement system

It just makes no sense. How is 7/8ths an appropriate measurement? How are feet still a thing? Who knows what size a “cup” is? How can America still not have the basic metric system that the rest of the world has adopted? Why?

9. Air conditioning

Why is the average shop or office in the US set to Arctic? Indoors anywhere in America during the summer is painfully, unbearably cold to a typical European and you have to spend all of your time putting layers on and off as you move from the boiling heat to the freezing cold.

10. The drinking age

In most of Europe, the legal drinking age is 18 (and in many places, it’s legal for teens as young as 16 to drink alcohol) — much younger than the 21-age limit it is in the US. The UK also has a much more liberal stance on public drinking, as you are allowed to bring alcohol out on the streets — something that you generally can’t do in the US.

9. Car Size

Why do Americans all drive such huge cars and without manual gears? If you’re going to have automatic cars only, at least make them change gears properly so you can accelerate with a bit of va-va-voom. Most of us in the UK are used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road in Europe, but the sheer size of cars in America seems unreasonable especially in cities.

& then there is the absence of the roundabout, even with traffic lights to control the flow as often happens in Europe. Instead there are “four way stops” where you have to guess the etiquette on who goes first, presumably the first to arrive rather than always the car to the left.

Why are u-turns illegal manoeuvres? What’s with the constant honking of horns in the city? Why do traffic lights jump straight from green to red – where is your amber warning light? & where are your cat’s eyes for the middle of the road?

9. Public Transport

Why are there so few buses, trams or trains outside of the major cities? Most of the towns seem to be entirely lacking in public transport and dominated by car parking. There seem to be entire towns with no centre or walkable space, not even the ability to cross the road from one side to another.

 

 

 

 

10. Police with guns; people with guns; random strangers potentially with guns

Occasionally the police in the UK are armed but rarely and mainly at sites of special interest (Parliament or other government buildings, airports if there’s been an alert etc). Why on earth do American police need to carry guns all of the time? Being pulled over because you’ve just completed an illegal u-turn in your clumsy American car by a man with a gun is seriously freaky.

The thought that anyone around you could have a concealed permit and be carrying a gun is beyond scary. The world is full of nutters so why arm them?

 

11. Not taking  holidays

Squandering 169 million holidays like Americans did in 2013, or not taking a single day off like almost half the country last year is completely and utterly unfathomable to a European. Any European.

12. No maternity or paternity leave

I’m fairly sure that Americans have babies just like the rest of us, so why on earth not acknowledge the basic fact with some weeks paid leave?

13. Not retiring 

Most people in the UK can barely wait for their retirement. Retiring early, i.e. in their 50s, is the dream of most middle class workers over here, so the idea that people might choose to work past their 60s into their 70s and beyond is beyond belief. In the UK there is more status to retiring early, the working in any kind of job, no matter how high status or well-paid, with the possible exception of the judiciary and academia.

 

14. Talking about money

No one in the UK will talk about salaries where as it seems to happen quite a lot in America. In the UK the proxy conversation is about house prices – never ask a Brit how much they earn or how well they are doing, because it will just create an embarrassed change of subject but you can always ask about house prices in their neighbourhood.

15. Scheduling Social Engagements 

For child playdates in the UK, mostly there will be a start and an end time such as 3-6pm, but only in America have I ever come across an end-time for an adult social engagement e.g. a party from 7-10pm where people are actually supposed to stop and leave, at the time specified even if they’re in the middle of having a great time. It makes absolutely no sense to put and end time on an adult event rather than simply letting the event run for as long as people are having fun.

Partly this might be because almost no one arrives on time in the UK. An invitation for 6pm is almost universally interpreted as a 6:15pm start time with some people arriving upto 6:30. There is never an end time for adult events – though when the host hands out the coffee you should be thinking about it, and when they start clearing up, it’s time to ask for your coat.

16. American religion

Everyone in America seems to belong to a church, a temple or mosque and they actually goes once a week. Much of the weekly social life seems to be built around a family’s faith, with weekly fetes, bake offs, pray-ins etc. Perhaps even more peculiarly, a lack of faith is somehow considered edgy or cosmopolitan in America.

In the UK, the vast majority of people have no religious faith whatsoever. None. Having a religion, and actually attending is considered unusual or “edgy”. It’s also the last thing that people will talk about. Your faith is your own business and no one else’s.

16. American only games

What is the basic point of baseball? It looks like rounders ie. a “girls” game but seems to have a huge cult macho following.

And what’s with American football? That’s not football (soccer) as the rest of the world understands it. It looks more like some weird and wonderful top of rugby only one where you need twice the number players to play a single game.

17. American bathrooms

British plumbing is not great but mostly if you flush it, it stays flushed. American plumbing, or at least the drains, seem extraordinarily sensitive to blockages. In the UK there are problems because of the sheer age of the sewage system but America does not have the same excuses since it’s all relatively new, so why do toilets always seem to be on the verge of blocking?

& what is with the size of American baths? You could just about sit (upright) in most of them, certainly not lounge about and relax with some scented candles around the room. Don’t Americans have baths? Are they so time-short that everyone just showers?

18. American kitchens

Stove top kettles are slow compared to electric ones, but obviously the US doesn’t have a high enough voltage to power electric kettles. Why? All of the small appliances are slower as a result.

18. American nationalism

Every school child in America seems to start the day with a pledge of allegiance to the American flag. Every event, sporting or otherwise, seems to involve singing the national anthem, with your hand on heart. This is deeply weird to the British on a number of levels.

Everyone knows the American anthem where as no one in Britain can get beyond the first verse apart from he royal family (for obvious reasons).

What’s with the hand on heart? Mostly in the UK people shuffle around looking embarrassed or give it a good belting shout out right up to the point when they’ve forgotten to the words and then start shuffling.

The idea that one would pledge allegiance to ones country as a child, each and every day, screams “totalitarian brain washing” to most people in the UK. Mostly the British spend their time making fun of the idea of being British, whilst being secretly pleased to have been born here. We are simultaneously proud and embarrassed by our country.

We know we are small, and have fallen far from power, but since that power inevitably involved a lot of abuses and bad behaviour on our part, we’re quite relieved to be a bit beyond that stage. Part of being the universal policemen, is the hatred as well as the respect.

It’s quite good to be beyond that stage. Honest.

Berserker Rook, Lewis Chessmen, British Museum

To The Road Rage Nutter

You might not have seen the road accident between the cab and the cyclist, but I did. Driving up to the mini-roundabout and slowing down to turn right, I could see the cab some way in front doing a u-turn and just clip the cyclist coming out from the road on the right. Already stopped and waiting to turn, I rolled down my window to ask if the cyclist was okay.

I did this for a couple of reasons: I wanted to know if help was needed, and I wanted the cab to know that there was a witness so they took it seriously. I could hear someone beeping from behind which made it difficult to hear the cyclist. After a second shout from me, he waved to say he was okay, and I drove off reassured nothing too bad had happened. The whole thing took maybe 30 seconds.

But as I’m turning on the roundabout, the beeping didn’t stop. Turned onto my road, it just got louder, and looking into my mirror, all I can see is a huge big black range rover maybe centimetres away from my tiny car’s bumper, lights bright and dazzling.

So I slowed my car down and stopped. I got out of my car. Because I am a fool but also because at the point there was some basic chance that you’d seen some problem with my car (or the accident) that I needed to know about.

You came hurtling out of your car towards me, swearing and calling me names, telling to speed up. I was no more than ten metres from the roundabout so it’s a bit difficult to see how I could have been going faster. I asked if you’d missed the accident, if maybe you hadn’t seen what was going on? You didn’t stop for breath. The accident was not my business. I needed to drive faster. You threatened to hit me.

I stepped forwards. You stepped back. (Again – I’m a fool, something historic about childhood abuse we don’t need to worry about here has clearly hard-wired the wrong responses).

I told you that I was not in a hurry, that accidents were most definitely everyone’s business and responsibility to help. I asked him what was his problem? I was told to fuck off.

I urned to get into my car and he got into his. As I’m walking back maybe two steps, I feel his range rover pushing into my back. I stop and am forced one step forwards by his car. I turn and put my hands on the bonnet of his car.

“Really? You’re going to run a woman over because you’re in a hurry to get to work? Seriously”

I walked towards you and tapped on your window to ask you to run down your window. & bizarrely you did.

“I’d like to know your name”

You stopped swearing immediately and just stared straight ahead. There was a pause.

“Because you don’t seem safe to drive and I’m thinking of reporting you to the police”

“Fuck off”

A car from behind realising that though stopped, I hadn’t actually blocked the road, pulled around us. Realising you could do the same, you reversed and pulled away into the distance.

Leaving me shaking.

& seriously hoping that this not part of my character that either of my kids have inherited because, let’s face it, I was mad as a hatter to get out of the car in the first place.

But also left wondering how on earth you square what you have just done with living the rest of your everyday life today.

You were white, middle aged, maybe in your 40s, and well-to do, probably just short of 6ft tall with brown eyes, dark brown hair and a darker complexion. At a guess, I’d say you were of sephardi or arabic extraction but your accent was clearly well-to-do North London.

You probably know some of my friends. We might well meet again. Socially.

& you threatened to hit and then run over a total stranger, me, on a dark road in the middle of my suburb because you were in a hurry to get to work at 7:45 one rainy morning. What does that make you? You couldn’t care less about a potentially life threatening road accident you were driving past, because you were just too damn angry at being made to wait less than a minute.

Do you have a wife and kids at home that have to live with that anger of yours?

What happens if next time, the road accident involves your family, your wife, your child, your mother? Or does it only count if it’s you? Maybe you’re the cause of the “accidents” whether to strangers or family. How often has your wife been in the local A&E?

In our own lives, we all like to think that we are heroes, we all try to spin the stories we tell ourselves to the best, most flattering light. Yet I can’t see anyway that this event can be spun to make you look good to yourself. There is no way that threatening to hit and then drive over a smallish woman on a dark road, on the way to work can ever be made into a tale where you are the hero.

You are a road rage nutter, dangerous to everyone that you come into contact with, not least yourself, and one day you will pay the price.

 

Cold

Like a lot of people at this time of year, I have a cold and it’s making me miserable.

It is just a cold. Just a misery inducing, bundle of aches and pains, with added sinus issues. It is not flu. Flu involves a raised temperature and I know that I haven’t got one of those because I live with someone who always has a thermometer to hand. Always.

In their mind, if you don’t have a temperature then you’re not properly ill which, as you can imagine, certainly adds to the joy.

To be accurate, I am now on my second cold having had one before Christmas for a couple of weeks, recovered and then gone down with the one my daughter brought home from university. I love both of my children but they are absolutely death traps when it comes to catching everyday diseases.

But I am recovering or at least felt like I was recovering until the joys of the peri-menopause joined the party. Combine a bad cold with haemorrhaging blood from your nethers, flooding style, and suddenly HRT starts to sound attractive. If only you didn’t have to go through the whole thing as soon as you stop taking the meds.

& at the worst of it, there’s an article in the paper talking about how maybe the workplace should start to cut peri-menopausal women some slack. Cue endless comments about how trivial the whole event is and maybe we should start talking about men more. because obviously it’s all about the men, even the menopause.

Well, the day I see a man with blood shooting out of his arse (or any other orifice) with enough force to push his pants down to his knees, leaving him blood stained from crotch to knee, I shall certainly be sympathetic. But strangely enough, I believe that I’d probably be pushed to one side by people rushing to get him to an ambulance, possibly crushing the numerous women who have had similar experiences to the floor, in the effort to get the poor flower to the hospital.

By all means let’s talk about the milder symptoms of menopause, the hot flushes the lack of patience with imbeciles and general rattiness of sleeplessness but let’s not pretend that the last two at least aren’t pretty symptomatic of normal male behaviour.

As I grow older, I am developing more and more of an appreciation of general witchiness but also coming to realise that women giving less of a f*ck, becoming more witchy, are really just starting to own everyday male behaviour. We grow older, become invisible to men, and to be frank care less about the stuff that doesn’t matter and that includes the opinion of strangers.

Except you of course.

A new slogan for the bus

The real price of Brexit begins to emerge as FT research shows that the weekly hit to the British economy could be the same £350m that Leave campaigners promised to claw back

The big red bus emblazoned with the words “we send the EU £350m a week, let’s fund our NHS instead” is credited as being decisive in Britain’s vote to leave the EU last year. It promised — in absolute terms — financial gains for the British public if they voted to leave, a stark counterweight to a majority of economists who warned that a departure would hurt Britain.

The pre-referendum estimates of the long-term pain ranged from a hit to the economy of 1 to 9% of national income — an annual loss of gross domestic product of between £20bn and £180bn compared with remaining in the EU yet the Leave campaign won the battle of the slogans, and the referendum.

But who is winning the economic argument?

Almost 18 months on from the Brexit vote and with 15 months of detailed UK data, it is now possible to begin to answer that important question.

Economists for Brexit, a forecasting group, predicted that after a leave vote growth in GDP would expand 2.7% in 2017. The Treasury expected a mild recession. Neither was right. The 2017 growth rate appears likely to slow to 1.5% at a time when the global economy is strengthening.

A more pressing question is to assess the impact compared with what would have happened had the vote gone the other way.

This work has started, and includes a range of estimates calculated by the Financial Times suggesting that the value of Britain’s output is now around 0.9% lower than was possible if the country had voted to stay in the EU.

That equates to almost exactly £350m a week lost to the British economy — an irony that will not be lost on those who may have backed Leave because of the claim made on the side of the bus.

Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London and one of the academics leading publicly funded research into the effects of Brexit, says: “The conclusion that, very roughly, Brexit has already reduced UK growth by 1% or slightly less seems clear.”

Companies are becoming more vocal over the economic hit, blaming the government’s slow handling of the Brexit negotiations for a weaker business climate. In October, the International Monetary Fund highlighted Britain as a “notable exception” to an improving global economic outlook, while the OECD, the Paris-based club of mostly rich nations, has raised concerns about “the ongoing slowdown in the economy induced by Brexit”.

Thomas Sampson and colleagues at the London School of Economics have examined the direct effect of sterling’s depreciation since the EU referendum on prices and living standards. With the pound falling about 10% following the June 2016 result, inflation has risen more in Britain than in other advanced economies.

It started with petrol prices and spread to food and other goods, pushing overall inflation up from 0.4% at the time of the referendum to 3.1% last month. When looking at prices, depending on the level of import exposure of different goods and services, the LSE study estimates that the Brexit vote directly increased inflation by 1.7% of the 2.7 percentage-point rise in the 12 months after the referendum.

And with wage inflation stuck at just over 2%, “the increase in inflation caused by the Leave vote has already hurt UK households”, Mr Sampson says. He calculates that “the Brexit vote has cost the average worker almost one week’s wages”, but adds the figure could be higher or lower if a complete evaluation of the economic impact was applied rather than just the initial squeeze on incomes from leaving the EU.

Other effects are more apparent.

Business investment grew at an annual rate of 1.3% in the third quarter, compared with a March 2016 official forecast for annual growth of 6.1% for the whole of 2017.

Exports, boosted by sterling’s depreciation, have proved more resilient. The OBR now expects a 5.2% rise in the volume of goods and services sold abroad in 2017 compared with a pre-referendum prediction of 2.7%.

Net migration to the UK from the EU fell by 40% in the first 12 months after the vote. Professor Portes last year predicted an ultimate decline of between 50 and 85% on net migration levels before the referendum. “Arithmetically, this reduction [of 40%] of net EU migration translates into a reduction in growth of 0.1 to 0.2%,” he says.

Economists working to estimate the overall Brexit impact on the economy need to build a counterfactual scenario — an imagined world in which Britain had voted to remain in the EU — to compare that with Britain’s economic performance since the vote. The counterfactual cannot be known for certain but it is possible to take a number of approaches, in three broad categories.

The first is to compare recent UK economic performance with its past. A worse performance than the UK has achieved over long historical periods or in recent years would support the view that the vote has hurt economic performance. But a shortcoming of this approach is that if the past year was always likely to be rather weak, this method could suggest a Brexit hit when there was none.

Comparing the UK performance with that of other countries is another option. Using its normal position in the G7 league table of leading economies is one possible technique, as is contrasting UK performance with the average of similar economies. A more sophisticated approach is to use a statistical algorithm to devise a historically accurate set of comparator countries, a method recently performed by a group of academics from the universities of Bonn, Tübingen and Oxford. These geographical techniques often smooth out concerns that the recent period might be unusual, but they are vulnerable to variations in other countries, such as a sudden boom in the eurozone that Britain was never likely to match.

A third tactic is to look at forecasts made for Britain’s economy before the referendum on the basis of staying in the EU and compare the actual outcome with these prior forecasts. Its weakness is that there was a wide range of pre-referendum forecasts, while its strength is that the figures reflect the best knowledge available at the time.

Jagjit Chadha, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, says each of the methods are reasonable for generating an estimate of the impact of Brexit so far. “We can’t know how the [UK] economy would have responded to the news over the past 18 months, but there have not been any large shocks and the rest of the world has done slightly better than we thought likely a year ago.”

The results vary according to the comparisons made, but all show the UK economy has been damaged even before it formally leaves the EU on March 29 2019.

When the past five quarters are judged against the UK’s historical average growth rate, the 1.9% expansion in GDP achieved between the second quarter of 2016 and the third quarter of 2017 is lower than history would suggest is normal for the UK economy.

Depending on the period of comparison chosen, the UK economy would normally have been expected to expand by between 2.5% and 3.2% over the same period. The lower end of the range comes from more recent history, such as the average since a Conservative-led government came to office in 2010, while the upper boundary reflects Britain’s long-term performance in the 30 years before the financial crisis. The hit to the economy on this comparison is between 0.6 and 1.2% of national income.

Geographical comparisons produce a similar conclusion. Britain’s year-on-year growth rate tended to be close to the G7 upper range of outcomes over the past 25 years. Had that performance continued, British GDP would have grown 2.9% since the referendum. The statistical algorithm produces a significantly larger estimate of what would have been possible, suggesting Brexit has already removed 1.3% from GDP since the vote. This equates British performance to a weighted average of other countries, with the US, Canada, Japan and Hungary having the largest weights.

Asked whether it was reasonable to judge the UK’s performance against that of Hungary, Professor Moritz Schularick of Bonn University says, “like the UK, Hungary is a European economy and integrated into the production chains, but remained outside the eurozone with a floating exchange rate and therefore could use monetary policy more aggressively after the crisis”. Estimates using pre-referendum forecasts provide a range within almost the exact same boundaries — between 0.6% of GDP and 1.1%. The larger figure is based on analysis from Economists for Brexit, which initially predicted strong growth after the vote. Professor Patrick Minford, who carried out the forecasts for the group, blames “Office for National Statistics productivity estimates, [which] are not convincing because they have made no real attempt to estimate the growth in quality of services, such as in education and healthcare”.

But all of this was known before the referendum. Companies have been critical of Theresa May’s government saying that delays in talks with the EU have hit business

Overall, 14 different counterfactuals estimated by the FT and others give a range of a hit between 0.6% of national income and 1.3%, with an average of 0.9%.

With national income of £2tn in the year ending in the third quarter of 2017, it means the UK is likely to be producing £18bn less a year than would have been reasonable to expect and this is directly attributable to Britain’s decision to leave the EU. That is just short of £350m a week.

Brexit-supporting economists say the figures are reasonable.

Julian Jessop, head of the Brexit unit at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says: “Lots of sensible Brexiters accept there will be a short-term hit and it is unarguable that the economy is weaker than it would have been, I would say between 0.5 and 1% weaker.

As for the longer term, it’s all to play for. Brexit creates lots of opportunities, it is for the government to make the most of them.” Recommended Britain has more illusions to shed on Brexit

The UK economy since the Brexit vote — in 5 charts Brexit and the Budget: Hammond pressed to go ‘big and bold’ In the referendum campaign the big red bus was making a different comparison, an incorrect one, about the budgetary costs of the EU to Britain. It suggested Britain contributes almost £18bn a year to the budget, when the net cost in 2016 was calculated by the Treasury to be £8.6bn. And this leaves one last comparison that it is possible to make. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, says that “for every 1 per cent of GDP you lose, that’s getting on for £10bn a year of foregone tax revenues”. If 0.9 per cent of GDP has been lost over the five quarters for which data exists, there has already been a £9bn hit to the public finances.

So even before the UK has left the EU, the referendum result is costing the UK government more than can possibly be recovered by ending net contributions to Brussels.

Trump – Feck Off

So let’s get this straight, not content with suggesting people carrying torches and marching shouting anti-semitic chants were “good folk” the president of the US has started re-tweeting racists on-line.

He’s retweeted video clips from a neo-nazi group in the UK involved in the murder of Jo Cox, one of our MPs. & I’m left trying to imagine the outrage if our leader re-tweeted the words of someone who had killed a US senator

When called on this behaviour he’s doubled down and criticised our PM.

WTF?

Not content with doubling down on being a nazi, he’s also supported Roy Moore alleged child abuser. Just a reminder of the form he has when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse:

Donald Trump’s official position, as his spokeswoman Sarah Sanders recently clarified in a White House press briefing, is that the 20 women accusing him of assault and harassment are lying. Trump has also suggested some were not attractive enough for him to want to sexually assault.

As the conversation around sexual conduct continues to evolve, and new abusers are revealed, here are the cases against the president.

“He was like an octopus … His hands were everywhere.”Jessica Leeds

Leeds alleges Trump groped grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt. Source: The New York Times

“I referred to this as a ‘rape’, but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”Ivana Trump

In a divorce deposition, Trump’s first wife used “rape” to describe an incident that transpired between them. After a settlement was reached, and the rape allegation became public in a 1993 book, Ivana softened the claim. As part of her nondisclosure agreement, she is not allowed to discuss her marriage to Trump without his permission. Source: Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J Trump

“He pushed me up against the wall, and had his hands all over me and tried to get up my dress again.”Jill Harth

A former business partner, Harth alleges Trump forcibly kissed her on the lips and groped her breasts and grabbed her genitals, in what she referred to in a 1997 lawsuit as “attempted rape”. On a previous occasion, she alleges, he groped her under the table during dinner with colleagues at the Plaza Hotel. Source: The Guardian

“He did touch my vagina through my underwear.”Kristen Anderson

Anderson alleges Trump put his hand up her skirt and touched her genitals through her underwear. Source: The Washington Post

“[Trump] stuck his head right underneath their skirts.”Lisa Boyne

Boyne alleges Trump insisted the female models walk across the table and that he looked up their skirts, commenting on whether they were wearing underwear and their genitalia. Source: The Huffington Post

“He took my hand, and grabbed me, and went for the lips.”Cathy Heller

Heller alleges Trump forcibly kissed her on the lips in public. Source: The Guardian

“He kissed me directly on the lips.”Temple Taggart

The former Miss Utah alleges Trump forcibly kissed her on the mouth on two occassions, including the first time she met him. Source: The New York Times

“I remember putting on my dress really quick because I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a man in here.'”Mariah Billado

The former Miss Vermont Teen USA and other unnamed accusers allege Trump walked into the dressing room unannounced while teen beauty queens aged 15 to 19 were naked. Source: BuzzFeed

“Then his hand touched the right side of my breast. I was in shock.”Karena Virginia

Virginia alleges Trump grabbed her arm and touched her breast. Source: Gloria Allred press event

“The time that he walked through the dressing rooms was really shocking. We were all naked.”Bridget Sullivan

The former Miss New Hampshire alleges Trump walked in to the dressing room unannounced while contestants were naked. Source: BuzzFeed

“Our first introduction to him was when we were at the dress rehearsal and half-naked changing into our bikinis.”Tasha Dixon

The former Miss Arizona alleges Trump entered dressing rooms while her fellow contestants were “half-naked”. Source: CBS News

“All of a sudden I felt a grab, a little nudge.”Melinda McGillivray

McGillivray alleges Trump grabbed her buttock in a pavilion behind the main house in the middle of a group of people. Source: Palm Beach Post

“I was thinking ‘Oh, he’s going to hug me’, but when he pulled my face in and gave me a smooch. I was like ‘Oh – kay.’”Jennifer Murphy

The former contestant on The Apprentice alleges Trump forcibly kissed her after a job interview.

“[Trump] kissed me directly on the mouth.”Rachel Crooks

Crooks alleges Trump kissed her forcibly on the lips. Source: New York Times

“I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.”Natasha Stoynoff

Stoynoff alleges Trump forcibly kissed her. Source: People

“Trump stood right next to me and suddenly he squeezed my butt.”Ninni Laaksonen

The former Miss Finland alleges Trump grabbed her buttocks during a photoshoot before an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. Source: Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat

“When we entered the room he grabbed each of us tightly in a hug and kissed each of us on the lips without asking for permission.”Jessica Drake

Drake alleges Trump forcibly kissed her and two female friends on the lips and when rebuffed, pursued her, asking: “How much?” Source: Gloria Allred press event

“He would step in front of each girl and look you over from head to toe like we were just meat, we were just sexual objects, that we were not people.”Samantha Holvey

The former Miss North Carolina alleges Trump would barge into the pageant dressing room and inspected women like “meat”. Source: CNN

“He then grabbed my shoulder and began kissing me again very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast.”Summer Zervos

The former contestant on The Apprentice has accused Trump of groping and kissing her on two occasions. She has filed a defamation claim against the now-president. Source: Gloria Allred press event

“He probably doesn’t want me telling the story about that time he continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.”Cassandra Searles

The former Miss Washington 2013 alleges in a comment on Facebook that Trump repeatedly grabbed her buttocks and invited her to his hotel room. Source: Facebook, via Yahoo News

Whose problem?

In America domestic Violence Awareness Month is drawing to a close.  The Violence Policy Center has just released its annual report on domestic violence homicides. According to the report, about three women are murdered every day in the United States by an intimate partner, which means that during the month of October, at least 93 women lost their lives to domestic violence.

Many of them were murdered after they left, and yet the most common response to abused women is “Why don’t you just leave?” We rarely ask “Why did he do it?” or even “How did we not stop this?”

I recently read an article from a campaigner describing a trip to work with the school system on a program to address teen dating violence. When they arrived at the hotel, they were wearing a pin with photos of the three DV homicide victims North Carolina man Alan Gates had killed (including his daughter).

There were two women behind the desk. The younger woman, who checked me in, asked me if the people on the pin were family members. They told her no, they were victims of a domestic violence triple homicide. She said that her sister was in an abusive marriage. She told me that she had lost a cousin to DV, and that she had experienced it but had managed to get away. Now, she said, she wanted to help her sister escape.

As they were talking, the other woman behind the desk, who was probably in her 60s, listened. The more they talked, the more she leaned in.

She finally said, “I wish I could have found help like this when it happened to me and to my best friend.”

She explained that she grew up in Boston, in a very Catholic Irish family. She was being horribly abused by her husband, and her best friend, who lived in the apartment next door, was being abused by her husband. When she tried to talk about it with her father, he told her that if she broke her vows, he would disown her. Her priest said he would excommunicate her.

She and her friend developed a knock on the wall so that when one of them was about to be beaten, the other one would come get the kids out of the apartment.

They both worked at a hotel in Boston, and they took the bus together to work every day. Finally, they both decided they’d had it, so they stood up for themselves and separated from their husbands. The woman behind the desk told me that she decided she’d rather run the risk of losing her relationship with her father (which she did) than continue to live with the violence.

Shortly after she and her friend left, they were riding to work one morning. Her friend’s estranged husband was waiting at the bus stop. When it stopped, he immediately got on the bus and shot and killed her, right in front of everyone, including the woman I was now talking with.

This is one story of hundreds. Each one of these homicides (or homicide/suicides) represents a massive failure of the systems that could have stopped abusers in their tracks, but sadly, too many states and communities routinely turn their collective backs on their chief source of intelligence: the victim.

Women can predict, with frightening clarity, what the abuser is capable of, and yet often little is done to stop the murderous trajectory.

But many communities across the country have begun to come up with some innovative ways to identify dangerous abusers and place appropriate sanctions on them.

  • The Pitt County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina has implemented a pretrial release program for domestic violence offenders. The sheriff’s department attaches GPS monitoring devices in certain cases, and multiple, strict requirements are placed on them upon release. Law enforcement officers are highly trained, and the sanctions are strictly enforced. If the abuser violates any of the conditions, he is charged (at the very least) with witness intimidation and his bond is significantly increased.
  • The Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, in Newburyport, Massachusetts, created the Domestic Violence High Risk Team model that brings together community partners (domestic violence advocates, police, probation and corrections officials, health care professionals, prosecutors) and uses the DA-LE (Danger Assessment for Law Enforcement) and the Danger Assessment Tool developed by Jacquelyn Campbell at Johns Hopkins University, to determine which abusers have the potential for lethal violence.
  • Law enforcement agencies across the country have started using a tool called the LAP (Lethality Assessment Protocol), a specialized version of the Danger Assessment, just for first responders, to make determinations on the scene with the domestic violence victim and get her immediately connected with supportive advocacy services, including shelter and help with orders of protection.
  • The Los Angeles Police Department has developed a program called DART (Domestic Abuse Response Team) that sends out two patrol cars to domestic violence calls. The first officers to arrive secure the scene; the second car includes two more officers and domestic violence prevention advocates who start working immediately with the victim. California also has court commissioners on call 24/7 so that officers can get orders of protection issued immediately.
  • In North Carolina, the High Point Police Department has started a program for domestic violence offenders called the Focused Deterrence Program. It was first used to reduce gang violence. “What’s most interesting about the focused deterrence–based High Point model is its emphasis on uncompromising accountability for the offender,” said Susan Scrupski, executive producer of the documentary High Point 10-79. “This philosophy is shared throughout all levels of law enforcement, judicial system, and the local domestic violence prevention program. The message is amplified and reinforced by family social services programs as well as the general public itself. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

It is encouraging to see these and other innovative domestic violence homicide prevention initiatives start up across the country, but any new law or program is only as good as those in charge of their implementation and enforcement. And of course, funding is critical. Domestic violence is a costly crime, not just in terms of the amount of money spent reacting to it, but also in how it disastrously rearranges families for generations.

By members of the criminal justice community need to remember that the victim is the chief source of intelligence while also remembering that domestic violence is a crime that involves a pattern of behavior, homicides and felony-level assaults can be stopped.

By placing the focus where it belongs — on the offender — a crime that has been deeply misunderstood for hundreds of years will finally be appropriately addressed. Abusers choose to be controlling, coercive, abusive, and violent. Domestic violence victims and survivors should not be required to upend their lives, and the lives of their children, to avoid this intimate terrorism.

Whose Problem? Who is the problem?

The recent Weinstein scandal is ricocheting around the world. The UK parliament is caught up with accusations of sexual misconduct and assault floating up to the surface and everyone left wondering where the mud will stick.

Yet the interesting thing about the way this is taking off, is that by it’s nature the story is all about the perpetrators, about who has committed the crime rather than the victims. & in some ways this seems so reasonable. Articles reporting crimes typically focus on the criminal looking at their background and trying to understand the reasons why they’ve turned to crime, or occasionally just demonising them.

Not for sexual crimes though. As a society we focus on the victims of the crime and it’s a short step from focusing on victims to blaming them and erasing the perpetrators from the narrative entirely.

Thus,

  • John beat Mary; becomes,
  • Mary was beaten; and eventually,
  • Mary was a beaten wife.

John is the criminal and is gradually erased from the story with all focus moving onto the person beaten, the passive victim.

& it’s just a little bit ridiculous isn’t it? We don’t talk about theft in terms of the people robbed.

Over time there has been much more discussion about victims of male violence, more research into the type of people who become victims, than there has been research into perpetrators.

But recent research suggests that there are some commonalities between the men who rape. Scientists have been gradually filling out a picture of men who commit sexual assaults.

The most pronounced similarities have little to do with the traditional demographic categories, like race, class and marital status. Rather, other kinds of patterns have emerged: these men begin early, studies find. They may associate with others who also commit sexual violence. They usually deny that they have raped women even as they admit to non-consensual sex.

& obviously focusing on the criminals and understanding why they commit crimes, why they rape and assault women, children and other men, is the most realistic path toward changing behaviors that cause so much pain.

“If you don’t really understand perpetrators, you’re never going to understand sexual violence,” said Sherry Hamby, editor of the journal Psychology of Violence. That may seem obvious, but she said she receives “10 papers on victims” for every one on perpetrators.

This may be partly connected to a tendency to consider sexual assault a women’s issue even though men usually commit the crime. But finding the right subjects also has complicated the research. Early studies relied heavily on convicted rapists. This skewed the data, said Neil Malamuth, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has been studying sexual aggression for decades.

Men in prison are often “generalists,” he said: “They would steal your television, your watch, your car. And sometimes they steal sex.”

But men who commit sexual assault, and are not imprisoned because they got away with it, are often “specialists.” There is a strong chance that this is their primary criminal transgression. More recent studies tend to rely on anonymous surveys of college students and other communities, which come with legal language assuring subjects their answers cannot be used against them. The studies avoid using terms such as “rape” and “sexual assault.”

Instead, they ask subjects highly specific questions about their actions and tactics. The focus of most sexual aggression research is acknowledged non-consensual sexual behavior. In questionnaires and in follow-up interviews, subjects are surprisingly open about ignoring consent.

Men who rape tend to start young, in high school or the first couple years of college, likely crossing a line with someone they know, the research suggests. Some of these men commit one or two sexual assaults and then stop. Others — no one can yet say what portion — maintain this behavior or even pick up the pace.

Antonia Abbey, a social psychologist at Wayne State University, has found that young men who expressed remorse were less likely to offend the following year, while those who blamed their victim were more likely to do it again.

One repeat offender put it this way: “I felt I was repaying her for sexually arousing me. There is a heated debate among experts about whether there is a point at which sexual assault becomes an entrenched behavior and what percentage of assaults are committed by serial predators.

Most researchers agree that the line between the occasional and frequent offender is not so clear. The recent work of Kevin Swartout, a professor of psychology and public health at Georgia State University, suggests that low-frequency offenders are more common on college campuses than previously thought.

“It’s a matter of degree, more like dosage,” said Mary P. Koss, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona, who is credited with coining the term “date rape.” Dosage of what? Certain factors — researchers call them “risk factors” while acknowledging that these men are nonetheless responsible for their actions — have an outsize presence among those who commit sexual assaults.

Heavy drinking, perceived pressure to have sex, a belief in “rape myths” — such as the idea that no means yes — are all risk factors among men who have committed sexual assault.

A peer group that uses hostile language to describe women is another one.

Yet there also seem to be personal attributes that have mediating effect on these factors. Men who are highly aroused by rape porn — another risk factor — are less likely to attempt sexual assault if they score highly on measures of empathy, Dr. Malamuth has found. Narcissism seems to work in the other direction, magnifying odds that men will commit sexual assault and rape.

What about the idea that rape is about power over women? Some experts feel that research into hostile attitudes toward women supports this idea.In general, however, researchers say motives are varied and difficult to quantify.

Dr. Malamuth has noticed that repeat offenders often tell similar stories of rejection in high school and of looking on as “jocks and the football players got all the attractive women.” As these once-unpopular, often narcissistic men become more successful, he suspects that “getting back at these women, having power over them, seems to have become a source of arousal.”

Most subjects in these studies freely acknowledge non-consensual sex — but that does not mean they consider it real rape. Researchers encounter this contradiction again and again. Asked “if they had penetrated against their consent,” said Dr. Koss, the subject will say yes. Asked if he did “something like rape,” the answer is almost always no.

Studies of incarcerated rapists — even men who admit to keeping sex slaves in conflict zones — find a similar disconnect. It’s not that they deny sexual assault happens; it’s just that the crime is committed by the monster over there. And this is not a sign that the respondents are psychopaths, said Dr. Hamby, the journal editor. It’s a sign that they are human. “No one thinks they are a bad guy,” she said.

Indeed, experts note one last trait shared by men who have raped: they do not believe they are the problem.

Choices

My youngest daughter is sitting her A levels next Summer, which means that she has to apply to university around about now. And the first step in making any kind of decision is obviously to look at the subjects being studied at A level and choose a degree subject.

All my friends seem to have children (boys) of the same age and they’re all studying the same subjects: Maths, Physics and Chemistry so we’re all in the same camp. A few, like my girl, are studying further maths as a fourth subject but in the UK university offers are made on the basis of three subjects so it shouldn’t make any difference, in theory.

Of course in practice, studying further maths is extremely useful if you are planning to study Maths at university. Since Further Maths allows you to study more modules, including mechanics, it’s also very useful for any Engineering degree which was the main alternative to Maths that my baby considered.

One friend’s boy chose Chemistry as a degree subject quite early on, where as another two boys settled on Maths. There is a huge variation in the grade requirements for these subjects. Chemistry grade requirements at Imperial College, a world class university range from A*AA whilst a second tier university ie. part of the recruitment drive of the major professional companies such as Bath might make offers from AAB. requirements for Maths at the same universities would be A*A*A (Imperial) and A*AA(Bath).

Because nowadays Mathematics is a very popular subject whereas straight sciences are less so.

After sitting her AS exams we headed into the Summer holidays within clear view as to what subject she would want to study at university and that’s important because during those holidays you are expected to draft a personal statement of around 4,000 words saying why you want to study your university course.

Mathematics is quite different to Engineering and at some level you’d imagine it was an easy choice as a result but the problem of course is that Maths is a known quantity where as Engineering is not. It isn’t even one single subject. So why would she be interested anyway?

Her school has encouraged placements in different workplaces and my girl has now had two in Civil Engineering companies one of which has been incredibly kind to her, incredibly welcoming and helpful. So maybe an interest in Civil Engineering is understandable.

Mathematics versus Engineering?

There isn’t much difference in the grade requirements from various universities. Once on the course, there is quite a difference between the hours of study with Maths degrees typically requiring 10 hours contact time compared to Engineering degrees with 30-40 hours mainly because of the extra time spent on practicals. And with one child studying English (12hours a week contact) I am not fooled into thinking these courses are “easier”. If anything, it is very much down to the type of student, as to whether they can cope with so much time unsupervised. It can be isolating having so little time with other students on the course.

There are many other types of engineering and the basic course would probably be regarded as Mechanical Engineering. As she veered towards choosing Engineering we had to look through the courses listed very carefully to try and identify more general degree courses. And then there is the 3year BEng. versus a 4yearMEng. degree course. to consider.

So she’s made her choice, and decided that she might as well apply to Oxford though the odds are very long because the Engineering course sounds wonderful. And the personal statement is written on that basis.

We are where we are, moving forwards with the decisions. The only thing learned from doing this for a second time, is to allow the child to lead the way. This choice must be their choice and should, in so far as possible, be for a subject that they can love. My daughter and her friends who have chosen a subject they love are having a brilliant time, even if the university isn’t great. Where the course is not great, even the best social life at university struggles to redeem the situation.

Altitude

Everyone warns you before travelling to Peru, sometimes a bit too enthusiastically, about altitude sickness. In fact our recent trip was quite well planned, skipping over Lima at sea level to the relatively low lying Machu Pichu (2430m) through the Sacred Valley around Ollantaytambo (2792m)  to Cuzco (3399m) and the heights of La Paz  (3640m) and Uyuni (3700m)

And once you arrive the advice is generally good and sensible stuff: take it easy, go slowly, drink lots of water, eat light foods only, don’t drink or smoke.

Even so, whilst walking along the flat becomes straightforward and downhill a breeze, even after two weeks anything more than a couple of steps up and we were all wiped out. Just rushing to get things ready in the morning could leave us panting for breath,

And they don’t warn you about the very basic impact of such dry air – your nose dries out making night time sleeping less pleasant than it could be. Your mouth and throat become very dry so you drink more and more. The UV light will burn easily and the bright light will persuade your brain that it should feel hot, whilst the wind actually keeps you quite cool. Vaseline on the nose and mouth isn’t a great look but was surprisingly practical.

But absolutely no one tells you about what it will feel like when you return to sea level, how wet the air will feel and how full of “stuff”

It was a good trip but I’m glad to be home, sleeping in my own bed. Mostly.

Comment

Why do people write into comments sections on the web? What are they trying to achieve?

Driving along listening to BBC Radio4, I was struck by the “Thought for the Day” speaker. Before speaking or writing, according to Hindu scripture, we obliged to consider:

  • are we being honest?
  • is what we are saying true?
  • is it necessary to say or write?
  • will someone be hurt or offended by what we are saying or writing? and.
  • can we be kinder, more respectful in what we say or write, if this is really something necessary and required?

Mostly when I look through the comments sections, I find comments that are dismissive, sometimes of the article, but often of the author just because…. Comments are often off topic, often abusive and unhelpful. They are very often rude.

Sometimes there seems to be an attempt to show off, to demonstrate a superiority of understanding or knowledge. It often falls apart if challenged and then the so-called “experts” often become rude and obnoxious when the absurdity of what they’re saying becomes clear.

The weirdest ones, are where misogynists start posting comments after a vaguely feminist article. The comments are short and dismissive, consistent and repetitive, building a steady rhythm, to a crescendo. Reading through them, it becomes very clear that they are groups totally committed to stroking each other’s egos more than anything else. It’s like one long mastubatory sequence, short key strokes, pressing each other’s favourite keys and buzzwords.

They need to get a room.

Very, very occasionally comments are positive. Even where people disagree, there are rare occasions where they do so politely and with respect.