Thursday, 28 August 2014


The full report is here. I haven't read it: it sounds far too horrible. I've read the concise executive summary, which says "It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered" and that's quite enough for me.

This bit from the executive summary is about a subject that is making a lot of people pretty angry.

"By far the majority of perpetrators were described as 'Asian' by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue. Some councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away. Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so."

People are right to be angry about. "I didn’t want to appear racist’ is the ‘I was only obeying orders’ of our age", the headline of one piece, is going too far: a fairer comparison is with other forms of semi-institutionalised child abuse, of the kind that seems to have taken place within Catholic institutions and care homes. That, it seems to me, indicates the proper level of outrage, namely a high one.

But I was also interested in this aspect of the case: "Police gave no priority to CSE, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime. ... . Some at a senior level in the Police and children's social care continued to think the extent of the problem, as described by youth workers, was exaggerated, and seemed intent on reducing the official numbers of children categorised as CSE." Remember that we are talking about the period 1997 to 2013. This is a period during which enlightened opinion has been pretty sympathetic to victims of this sort of thing. What was it about these children that made them be considered unsympathetic?

Frankly, another kind of prejudice seems to have been in place, something that meant that young white girls from bad backgrounds were not treated as children. There's something very horrible about that. No doubt some soul-searching among the 'Pakistani-heritage' community is called for, but also some soul-searching among the different sections of the majority white population: there are clearly some sections that treat their own children differently from other people's.

Below the break are some more excerpts from the report illustrating this point.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Marie Antoinette and Mel Gibson

The link between these two illustrious figures is Father Jean-Marie Charles-Roux, formerly of Ely Place and now deceased. He seems to have had a good war too, complete with swords and glow-worms.

Here is an excerpt from, inevitably, his obituary in the Telegraph: "In conversation with even the humblest, Charles-Roux assumed a shared familiarity with the families of the Anjou claimant to the French throne, the King of Spain and members of other European royal families; and he championed the canonisation of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Mary Queen of Scots and even Charles I of England who, he maintained, should be acknowledged as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

As communism tottered in Eastern Europe in 1989, the ambassadors of Poland and Hungary (possibly hedging their bets) were to be seen on their knees at a memorial service for the Empress Zita of Austria while Charles-Roux led them in prayers for the restoration of the Holy Roman Empire.

Jean-Marie Charles-Roux was born in Marseille into a French diplomatic family on December 12 1914. His first memories were of Rome, where his father was a member of the French embassy to the King of Italy. He and his sisters – Cyprienne, a talented pianist who became the Principessa del Drago, and Edmonde Defferre, a writer and Prix Goncourt judge who married a Socialist cabinet minister – found their parents loving but distant. But he relished the care of a Nanny Carter, who taught him English and made him recite collects from the 1662 Anglican Prayer Book before bedtime.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Another miscellany of links

1. Life and Happiness in Siberia’s Cold. Some striking photos, including what seems to be a pet polar bear.

2. Starting a new driving school in France is not easy. (The fact that one chap learned in London makes me think that it would probably easier to arrange to teach French people abroad but in French. Belgium? Switzerland?)

3. Surely this should be a much more well-known story? "After the news [about a New York corruption scandal] broke, the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, urged the Legislature to pass a package of anticorruption reforms, including a Campaign Finance Reform Act. The Legislature failed to pass a single measure. That summer, Cuomo announced the formation of a twenty-five-member panel, the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, “to probe systemic corruption and the appearance of such corruption in state government, political campaigns, and elections.” He said, “Anything they want to look at, they can look at: me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman.”" But then Cuomo shut down the commission. "This spring, while the U.S. Attorney’s office launched an inquiry into the possible corruption of the corruption commission, the Times began its own investigation. Reporters discovered that, after the commission issued a subpoena to a political-consulting firm called Buying Time (“How and where campaigns spend their money on media is more important than ever,” the firm’s Web site reads), Cuomo’s top aide called one of the commission’s co-chairs, told him that Cuomo was one of Buying Time’s clients, and said, of the subpoena, “Pull it back.” The subpoena was withdrawn. (It was later reissued.) The Times report appeared in July. In a thirteen-page response, the Governor’s office insisted that by law the commission had never been independent: “A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive.”" Full story here. (This is 2013 and 2014, by the way.)

4. The Wettest Place on Earth has some interesting bridges.

5. Interesting vignettes of the relationship between India and China: "Persistent racism towards dark-skinned Indians is broken in only one case, by the head of a Chinese modelling agency who says he is fond of Indians who can pull off a “Western look”."

6. 40 maps that explain the Roman Empire.

7. Who are all those Christians in Syria?

Thursday, 21 August 2014

“A likable robot may not be useful in gaining cooperation”

Not a line from Bladerunner, but from this survey of robot personalities. Other choice quotes:

"It turned out that “supportive” and “nurturing” robots, which said things like “I hope it’s not too hard” and “I’m here for you,” produced better results when dealing with introverts, while “coach-like” robots, which said things like “Move! Move!” and “You can do more than that!” in a more assertive tone, were more effective with extroverts."

"a lab experiment determined that a smiling virtual guard was perceived as unserious and weak, while an unsmiling one projected power and authority. Elkins said his team has started experimenting with different scripts, in which the guard’s demeanor gradually shifts from friendly to accusatory." That's right - they are designing accusatory robots.

We could have "ultra-reliable, infinitely tolerant artificial spirits [that] invade people’s lives so thoroughly that it becomes difficult to live without them". What a great and worrying juxtaposition of words: 'infinitely tolerant' (should we be grateful for robots tolerating us?), 'artificial spirits' (what a thought) and finally 'invade'.

The advantages of dyslexia

There are advantages in being dyslexic, a dyslexic writing for Scientific American tells us, particularly in seeing the big picture and spotting things that are out of place.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Class in America - what Google tells us

What Google tells us is that the middle classes in America love digital cameras and baby massage, while the working classes want to lose weight and go to heaven. You probably guessed that already. What is very striking is quite how much the middle classes love cameras. Probably even more than they love the Vengaboys and Zoolander, their other notable obsessions. At the other end of the scale, perhaps most surprising is the correlation between being poor and having severe itching.

I should say that the New York Times article presenting these results talks in terms of 'hard' and 'easy' places to live, but when you see that the division is based on  "factors including income, education and life expectancy" and that the hard places "include large areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon", while the easy places include "much of the large metropolitan areas of the Northeast and West Coast", the British mind turns immediately to thinking in terms of class. After all, who cares about dividing people up by whether the living is easy?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

In America, about 80% of workers once took an annual weeklong vacation — and now, just 56%

Barely half of American workers take a whole week off in one go, Tyler Cowen tells us. Surely this puts off lots of the skilled immigrants the US is looking for? I can see why you might go to work there if you have to (e.g. to play American football or to star in films) or if you want to make a fortune in technology, but if you plan to have a reasonably normal job until retirement, does it really provide the best quality of life?

Monday, 18 August 2014

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Nathan Englander's excellent short story is here.

I liked the light touches (e.g. a character is asked whether such and such is kosher: "That’s got to be the No. 1 most annoying thing about being Hasidic in the outside world. Worse than the rude stuff that gets said is the constant policing by civilians. Everywhere we go, people are checking on us. Ready to make some sort of liturgical citizen’s arrest.”), but it adds up to a well-earned ending.


Not coy wolves, but a mix between coyotes and wolves, with a bit of dog thrown in. They are the apparently the new big thing in the US and Canada:

"It can be as much as 40 percent larger than the Western coyote, with powerful wolflike jaws; it has also inherited the wolf’s more social nature, which allows for pack hunting. (In 2009, a pack of Eastern coyotes attacked and killed a 19-year-old Canadian folk singer named Taylor Mitchell in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.) But it shares with coyotes, some 2,000 of which live within Chicago’s city limits, a remarkable ability to thrive in humanized landscapes."

Sounds wonderful. The NY Times article is also interesting on other hybridisations among different species.

Friday, 15 August 2014

What faces look like in UV

An interesting little video, with the unnecessarily pretentious title of "How the Sun Sees You". The short answer is 'very freckly'.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A miscellany of interesting links

1. ""Inexpensive plastics are highly light-sensitive,” she said, adding, “We look after these objects in the same way we would a Constable painting or a Hogarth print.”" Says the V&A (via the New Yorker).

2. "one strange, unique Bricusse & Newley song is the slender thread that connects Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra Jr, George Michael, Jennifer Hudson, Kanye West, David Hasselhoff and a zillion others to Norman Wisdom and a BBC calypso singer on a floppo tour of the English Midlands in the summer of 1964". You can add Nina Simone to that list too. You will know the song well, but the Norman Wisdom connection might be news to you.

3. "Meet the mother who went on a £5,000 holiday to Bora Bora while her husband and children had a soggy caravan break in Dorset". That's the headline and the story too. This will take you to more details and two sets of holiday photos. And yet one feels there must be more to it ...

4. "During the “courting” process there were none of the usual wooing signals—no flowers or chocolates—but he did once thrust into her arms the complete keyboard scores of Bach. He also lent her an old desktop computer sold to him by Ronald Dworkin. It kept crashing. “It was an indication of the strangeness of what was going on, that when Derek suggested he come round at midnight to deal with the computer, I thought he meant it.”" That's Parfit on the pull

5. Good news from Unilever, which the Economist says is trying to be good. But less cheerful news from America: "There's a good chance that your [bottled] water comes from California, a state experiencing the third-driest year on record", says the Atlantic.

6. Finally, very dispiriting news from Poplar. But, to end on a positive note, there is cheering news from Bradford (albeit not for George Galloway). 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

We don't build ships anymore

That's what this graph from the Economist confirms.

Still, as the article explains, that's not necessarily for bad reasons.

The Man Who Got it Right

The man in question, Pierre Ryckmans aka Simon Leys, is a a French-speaking Belgian with a Flemish name who writes about China and lives in Australia. This article by Ian Buruma in the NYRB is about him. What he was right about, ostensibly at least, was the evils of Mao's rule of China. But the article is about much more than that, and suggests that Ryckamns/Leys was right, or at least interesting, about much more.

Below are some bits from the essay to whet your appetite (or to let you know that you don't want to read it).

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Is it a bench?

This thing
is a new piece of street furniture outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. You can get the scale of it from the two standard envelopes for A5 paper that I have placed on it. 

Is it meant to be a bench? Well, (a) it is every bit as hard as it looks: it is made in the same way and from the same stuff that you would make a particularly solemn memorial to a worthy cause. I expect someone to carve 'All ye who sit hereupon, forget not' or something like that on the back bit. And (b) as you can see from the picture, the 'seat' is divided, by sharpish metal things, into 5 sections, two of which do not seem to be for sitting on. I can tell you from experience that the little sections at each end will just about admit two adult male buttocks, but it's not pretty - you'd have to be on good terms with anyone sitting in the full-sized section next door. Why not have 4 decent-sized sections and use only 3 bits of metal?  

So I assume it is one of those things placed outside important buildings to stop terrorists ramraiding them, mocked up to look like a bench. But I reckon they could have tried harder.

Malcolm Gladwell in praise of the late-stage mafia and low-level police corruption

Here he is in the New Yorker, highly readable as always. There's certainly something to it, if only a moral about not letting the best be the enemy of the good.

Lucien Freud and secret trusts

You are a rich man who has lived a life that's been lots of fun but not necessarily neat and tidy. You're not a mean person and so you want to provide for various mistresses, illegitimate children and so on. But you want to be discreet. That's easy enough when you're alive - just give them money. But what about when you are dead? One obvious answer is: leave them money in your will. But a will is a public document: all the mistresses and children will be able to find out about each other - and to find out how much you loved each of them in cash terms. Let's say you want to avoid embarrassing people in that way. How do you do it?

Obviously this is not just a problem for people with less than straightforward personal lives. Perhaps you want to leave money to an unpopular cause without embarrassing your relatives. Or perhaps you just want a bit of privacy at that particular moment in your, erm, death.

English law provides a solution: the secret trust. This comes in two flavours, the fully secret trust and the semi-secret or half-secret trust. In short, your will says 'I leave money to Mr X' but you have previously made Mr X sign a deed saying that when he gets the money, he will hold it on trust for whoever it is you really want to have the money. (In a semi-secret trust, the will says 'I leave money to Mr X on trust' but without saying who the trust is for.)

The late Lucien Freud has just provided the world with a case about secret trusts. The case provides a good example of a half secret trust (his 2004 will) and a fully secret one (the 2006 will, which was his last one): for whatever reason (perhaps not unapropos, the judgment records that he lived a 'full' life and his children numbered "at least 14") Freud felt that a secret trust of some sort was a good idea.

Of perhaps more general interest is the fact that Freud's "net United Kingdom estate was sworn for probate at just under £96m, and his residuary estate after payment of legacies and inheritance tax but before administration expenses has been estimated by the Claimants to be worth about £42m" (his residuary estate is subject to the secret trust). So there is really quite a lot of money which Lucien Freud has left to secret beneficiaries. We may never know who they are.

The bit I found most surprising in this whole story was the statement that Freud spoke to his solicitor almost daily for 20 years. It's not the most rock 'n' roll way to spend your money. You can find a portrait of the solicitor in question here. (The portrait is by Catherine Goodman, not by Lucien Freud, but Goodman is very good too.)

Monday, 11 August 2014

"The type of foodie who could add Nutella to a Choco Taco"

That quotation is not the most striking thing in  this, a slideshow of what the Washington Post claims to be "30 of Washington’s ‘Most Beautiful’ people" (the quotation marks around "Most Beautiful" are puzzling until you see the pictures). Starting from the first picture, which shows one of the strangest-looking men ever to wear an unpleasant tie, you will get to see a number of rather odd-looking people with ill-matched facial features. One or two of them are almost as attractive as the average person in the street, but even they look decidedly scary.

Life, death and autonomy - part 2

Conversely, what would you think if euthanasia was permitted - but only by guillotine?