Monday, 29 July 2013

Going round the bend while messing about in boats

‘There's nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats,’ the Water Rat tells Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

If the sentiment is an exaggeration, it’s a forgivable one. Few things can give quite as much pleasure as wandering around on water, aimlessly or aimfully, whether the boat
’s driven by wind, by oars or by paddles.

’s a truth we’ve proved again during our visit to family up here in Scotland, out East of Edinburgh.

Aimfully, we took kayaks out a couple of days ago to Bass Rock, described by David Attenborough as one of the wildlife wonders of the world. It has a 150,000-strong colony of gannets, supplemented by countess  cormorants, various gulls, and other sea creatures including puffins and seals.

I can’t confirm the number of gannets, but have no trouble believing it. As we approached the rock, a volcanic extrusion thrust out of the seawater of the Firth of Forth, the sky seemed to fill with clouds of birds. 

Well, OK. Swarms at least.

Swarms of sea birds filling the sky at Bass Rock
More aimlessly, we went out today on a river, or perhaps more accurately a long, narrow lake. Now, that was really just messing around in boats. 

I should point in passing that, for me, it’s the word ‘in’ that’s truly key in that expression. I suffer from a tendency to lose concentration and forget that the quicker and easier to drive through the water these boats are, the less stable they’re likely to be. Rather more often than I’d like, I’ve found myself leaving my boat precipitately and involuntarily, and finding myself messing around not so much in a boat as alongside it, or even underneath it.

That’s not always much fun. Particularly in Scotland. Never let it be said that Scottish summers don’t have their charms, because they certainly do. It’s just that the message that it’s a warm season seems not to have got through to bodies of water out of doors. The sea’s really bad, but even rivers offer sharp reminders that Edinburgh would be in the middle of Hudson’s Bay if it were a few thousand miles to the west, or form a pleasant twin city with Norway’s capital Oslo if it were a few hundred miles to the east.

So I get into a boat up here with some trepidation. And today the Scottish weather was at its tricksiest. It waited patiently while we got the boats out on the water, remaining pleasantly warm and sunny until we got past the point of no return where we might have changed our minds and headed home. Then, with frightening speed, it quickly covered the skies with clouds before opening them up right over us and pouring torrents of rain directly on to our heads.

I’m not talking pleasant refreshing showers. Or at least, it wa
s the kind of refreshment you get not from a glass but from a fireman’s hose. Any sense that falling in would be a problem was quickly dispelled. It would hardly have made any difference.

What passed for shelter when the Scottish weather
sprang its surprise on us
The conditions didn’t stop us having a great outing, once we gave up on the forlorn enterprise of trying to find shelter. We ploughed on through the downpour determined to enjoy ourselves instead of complaining. I even found the experience quite instructive. I understood why we use the expression ‘going round the bend’ for losing one’s sanity. I kept thinking ‘I’ll just go round the next bend – things may be better there.’ 

I can confirm that madness really does lie at the end of that belief.

But a good time was had by all. Because, when all’s said and done, Ratty was right. There’s little in life quite as much fun as messing around in boats. Whatever the conditions.

Friday, 26 July 2013

For your own safety, do try to avoid being black

Intent on steadying young people, the Mikado of Japan decreed, according to Gilbert and Sullivan, ‘that all who flirted, leered or winked, (unless connubially linked), should forthwith be beheaded.’

Generation after generation has laughed at this crazy idea ever since The Mikado was first performed in 1885. But it’s a lot less funny when the attitude
s taken seriously and actually put into action. 

Particularly when the form of execution isn’t as simple as beheading, but involves being savagely beaten and having an eye gouged out before being shot through the head. And it doesn’t make the event any funnier if the victim is 14.

Of course, he wasn’t just any old fourteen-year old. He’d made a serious misjudgement, and allowed himself to be born black. He’d then travelled from his native Chicago to visit family in Mississippi. And that’s where he’d committed his offence, talking to or possibly whistling at, a young white woman. 

For that, her husband and a friend of his kidnapped the boy, Emmett Till, and gave him a lesson he’d remember for the rest of his life; and then made sure that the rest wasn’t long.

Emmett Till: paid dearly for his errors
Perhaps the only admirable aspect of this story was the behaviour of a young black man, Willie Reed. He witnessed Till being taken into a barn, heard the beating and screaming, and saw the perpetrators emerge. From somewhere, he found the courage to testify at the subsequent trial, even though he had to force his way through a crowd of Klansmen to get to the court building at all.

Reed was later smuggled out of Mississippi to protect him from reprisals. He moved to Chicago where he lived under the name of Willie Louis until he died peacefully last week, on 18 July 2013, at the age of 76. F
or decades, he kept his past secret even from his wife. He only began to speak publicly about the case ten years ago.

Willie Reed (Willie Louis)
Testified in vain at the trial
His testimony did no good, anyway. The all-white Jury acquitted the defendants, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam; later on, protected by double-jeopardy legislation, they admitted (boasted of?) their guilt. 

Bryant and Milam, upstanding citizens of Mississippi
and clearly proud of it
The case became a cause célèbre and another of the trigger events for the civil rights movement and the reforms that followed. Because all this happened a long time ago: in 1955. Today things have changed monumentally. We’d all like to think that this kind of thing is behind us for ever.

Though it seems it’s still not a judicious choice to be born black. And it’s dangerous to persist in being black if you’re going to take irresponsible action, such as purchasing groceries at night in Miami while young. That was 17-year old Trayvon Martin
’s mistake on 26 February 2012, and it left him dead too.

Trayvon Martin
Executed for the threatening behaviour of carrying groceries by night
I suppose we ought to be grateful that Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, at least didn’t beat him first or gouge out one of his eyes. But just like Till’s killers, he shot his victim. And at the end, Martin was as dead as Till.

While Zimmerman walked just as free from the court that acquitted him this year as Bryant and Milam did from theirs.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Celebrating the arrival of a new Chief Rabbi. For the sake of argument.

According to broadcaster Vanessa Feltz, ‘if you put a Jewish person on a desert island, that person will construct two synagogues, not one, and you’ll say “but you’re a lone inhabitant of this desert island, why do you need two synagogues?”, and the answer is “so that I have one not to go to.”’

She made the comment in an excellent programme this morning on BBC Radio 4, ‘What’s the point in the Chief Rabbi?’ The question is topical because Lord Jonathan Sacks, the current Chief Rabbi of the UK, is about to retire.

Jonathan Sacks – Lord Sacks – on the right,
with another religious leader.
Sacks, never very retiring, has chosen retirement
Not that the holder of the post is the Chief of the whole Jewish Community. His title is ‘Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth’ and those ‘united Hebrew Congregations’ are the orthodox strands within British and Commonwealth Jewry representing, according to the source you listen to, a bare majority or a very large minority of the entire Community.

So the Feltz story, like most Jewish jokes, expresses an important truth. Around half the community are happy to be represented by the Chief Rabbi; the other half, whether ultra-Orthodox, reformed or frankly free-thinking, feel he has no right to speak for us. Each group worships at one synagogue, and avoids the other with disdain.

And yet the Chief Rabbi somehow presides over us all. In fact, not just over the Jewish Community. I was fascinated to discover from the programme, that Edward VII, one of our most philosemitic Kings, used to talk about ‘my Chief Rabbi.’ I never set foot in a synagogue unless asked for a wedding or funeral, and yet it’s true that I see the head of the orthodox congregations as in some sense the spokesperson of a community I belong to, at least as much as Edward VII did.

I suspect I might feel that way even if I had not a drop of Jewish blood in my veins (after all, Edward VII didn’t). In much the same way, a large number of British Jews see the Archbishop of Canterbury as head of ‘our’ Christian Church.

Having said that, my identification with the Chief Rabbi is of a special kind. Again, it was Feltz who got it right: ‘what one needs in a Chief Rabbi is someone to take a stand with which one can then disagree.’ Now, that’s a sentiment to which I’d happily raise a glass. A glass that would, no doubt, lubricate a lively and entertaining argument.

In any case, in a more important sense, it doesn
’t matter what one feels about the post of Chief Rabbi, or about either the present or the next holder of the post. There is in any case some pleasure in feeling that the Community as a whole, with its contradictions and its schisms, has been able to build itself institutions in this country that seem to work and that satisfy those who identify with their leader as much as those who oppose him. It’s even more encouraging that the country as a whole seems to have embraced those institutions and made them part of its fabric.

That’s a long way to have come. In 1190, the Jewish community of York was massacred in Clifford’s Tower. Jews were excluded from England until Cromwell let them back in the seventeenth century. In the mid-twentieth century, many powerful circles in Britain were shot through with anti-Semitism and, indeed, Nazi sympathies.

Anti-Semitism hasn’t gone but it’s certainly receded to nearly insignificant levels. The election of the new Chief Rabbi is consequently something to celebrate, even for those like me who have so little in common with him. 

So, Ephraim Mirvis, my warmest congratulations on your appointment as Chief Rabbi. To be followed, no doubt, by your elevation to our Upper House of Parliament as Lord Mirvis. A fine tribute to the assimilation of a formerly persecuted, immigrant minority.

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Next in line

Monday, 22 July 2013

It's a riot, an evening with the Irish. So why waste it rioting?

I hate expressing a view which is tantamount to racist, but I can’t remember meeting anyone from Ireland who I haven’t liked. Whether they’re from North or South of the border, when I think ‘Irish’, I think of a smile, of friendliness, of wit or more commonly, of both.

So it was wonderful to take advantage of the summer we’re enjoying by having two couples of Irish friends around for a barbecue and a balmy evening in the garden.

Both couples came from a sub-group of Irish people I find particularly amusing: the Irish brought up here in England.

The main thing about them is that you can’t tell they’re Irish. At first. One of the couples spoke in the accents of the English Home Counties; the other, had accents from right here in Luton, our town and theirs.

Those who may not have studied the fascinating subject of Englishness sufficiently to seize those nuances should think, for the first accent, of Michael Caine in Zulu; for the second, of Michael Caine in The Italian Job. If you don’t know either film, you have some entertainment ahead of you.

Neither accent sounds even remotely Irish, so it came as no surprise that both couples expressed a little disbelief about the Irishness of the other.

So they asked exactly where they were from. That triggered the inevitable wandering discussion around Ireland: four sets of parents between them covered eight counties, in a country where counties still count. They quickly identified villages they all knew, indeed pubs or churches or hotels they had all visited. I was a little surprised that they didn’t discover that they’d been at weddings that took place in the same place within hours, or at least months, of each other, or that they had cousins, even if only third cousins of second cousins, in common (and blood does run thicker than water).

At least one of our visitors was from Donegal
Clearly a place people are dying to get to.
Once they’d established the authenticity of their shared roots, the evening could really start and the conversation could truly flow. Because it doesn’t matter how long they’ve lived in England or how English they sound, that bond lets the Irish feel at home so they can let go of their inhibitions. And believe me, that’s worth seeing, since they don’t generally start with a lot of inhibitions in the first place. 

What we then had was that long undulating mix of well-lubricated anecdote and wit for which only the Irish have a proper term: craic. Inevitably, some stories required the repetition of dialogue from across the Irish Sea, and it’s at those moments that you find that English accents are only skin deep in the Irish: they can quickly produce a perfect brogue, far beyond the ability of any true Englishman such as myself.

So our friends retained an unquestionable Irishness despite being born in England and having lived here ever since. Which sounds like perfect assimilation: completely at home in this country, sounding like its inhabitants, without losing their distinct identities. What could be better?

That’s all slightly curious, though. After all, those four are all Catholics, in principle and even, to some limited extent, in practice. Yet they have no difficulty living under the shadow of the Union Jack – the baleful shadow, some of their more nationalist countrymen might say – in a nation whose monarch is still the head of the Protestant Church of England.

They do fine over here, as do those who eventually go ‘back home’, to a country in which they’ve never lived, and settle down just as comfortably under the Tricolour. An experience shared with many thousands of Englishmen who’ve moved across.

So here’s a question. If Irish and English can live under each other’s flags, their religions rubbing along together in general harmony, both here and across the water, just what is it that gets into the bloods of those tedious minorities who make all the trouble in the North of Ireland?

What on Earth does it matter which flag flies over Belfast Town Hall or for how many days of the year? Why should one Community get upset by another Community marching along its streets? Why should that second Community insist on marching along the street knowing that the first will be offended?

As happens nearly every year, when the Glorious 12th of July came, the riots started in Northern Ireland. Men and women, police and civilians have been injured, over matters no other country or community can begin to understand.

Belfast: what a waste of barbecue time
And a missed opportunity for craic
With absolutely no necessity. Believe me, this precious summer weather which we see so seldom, isn’t something to waste on Molotov cocktails and tear gas. Nationalists, loyalists: get the barbies out. Get the friends round – perhaps even some from the other community. Break out a few cans and let the conversation flow. Believe me, with people from anywhere in your island, it just works. And it’s a hell of a sight more fun.

As I experienced again this weekend, it
s a shame to miss the craic.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Bad arguments about healthcare: if you can't stop them, at least give as good as you get

Marc de La Val had built an enviable reputation for complex cadio-thoracic operations on babies, at Great Ormond Street Hospital, the most prestigious children’s hospital in Britain. But then things started to go wrong. 

The always fascinating David Spiegelhalter, Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, recently told the BBC what happened:

‘A cluster of his babies died when he was doing these really difficult operations for transpositions of great arteries, and then he actually wrote a paper about how he stopped and retrained and changed the way he did the operation, and after that he was very successful, but he had this real blip, this real cluster of failures, and he nearly gave up...’

Spiegelhalter: well worth listening to

Spielgelhalter maintains that it was careful analysis of the data that showed that de Laval hadn’t just been unlucky, that there really did seem to be something going wrong with his surgeries, something he had to fix.

That was one surgeon. Outstanding, a practitioner to seek out, then dangerous, a surgeon to avoid, and then outstanding again.

And no doubt many of the other surgeons at GOSH were achieving excellent results, even at that time. When de Laval was struggling, the department might well have been fine overall. It was only he who was having bad outcomes.

But sometimes it isn’t just individuals. Whole departments can be in trouble. I worked at one time with the Bristol Royal Infirmary, when there were terrible problems in paediatric cardiac surgery that led to a major scandal and the closure of the department; but much of the rest of the hospital was performing more than adequately.

In fact, I’ve spent 30 years working with healthcare information, and if it’s taught me anything, it’s that there’s no such thing as good or bad hospitals; there are often good or bad departments in hospitals; more often still, there are good or bad practitioners within departments within hospitals; and as de Laval’s case shows, there can be good and bad moments in the career of an individual surgeon within a department within a hospital.

So I look on with wry displeasure when I see yet another scandal about bad hospitals in England. A report has just been published into fourteen hospitals that were giving cause for concern. It had been extensively leaked before publication, and we were softened up for hearing of 13,000 avoidable deaths across the 14; we were told that heads would have to roll.

In fact, the report was much more intelligent than that. It identified failings and errors that needed correcting, but it pointed out that these hospitals were already correcting many of them. In addition, the heads that could be made to roll were in many cases new people in post for a relatively short time, brought in to put right what had gone wrong under predecessors who had resigned or been forced out.

But that didn’t stop Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, making a real meal of the report – and, in particular, using it as a stick to beat his opposite number, Andy Burnham. He’s an unusual opposition spokesman, Burnham, in that he had been Health Secretary at the end of the previous government: most shadow ministers can’t be attacked for their own track record in the post, because they don’t have one. Burnham can.

And Hunt went for the gullet. The problems at these hospitals had arisen under the previous government and so they were Burnham’s responsibility. He should take the blame, resign his position and slink off into obscurity.

Burnham fortunately wasn’t having any of it. For instance, in connection with one of the hospitals, Basildon and Thurrock, he pointed out it was one ‘on which I placed a warning before the last Election. The news that this hospital has cut 345 nursing job from its front-line workforce should be greeted with real alarm.’

In other words, the present government has had three years to fix the problem. Instead it’s pursued policies that have led to serious cuts in staffing levels. That’s likely to have made the problem far worse.

Hard to see how Burnham’s to blame.

These exchanges do prove one thing, though. However inappropriate it may be to try to judge the quality of an entire hospital, it’s a brilliant way of turning healthcare into a political football between the major parties. And there are serious electoral points to be made from doing so.

Moreover, the attitude that says that heads have to roll is likely to be particularly out of place, as de Laval’s story shows. Sometimes, the people responsible for poor performance are actually excellent practitioners, they’re as devastated as anyone over the failures, and they only need the opportunity to improve again. But calling for retribution is much more effective with voters.

So it’ll go on happening. The mere fact that the argument is based on flawed premises doesn
t make it less effective politically. Which means the recriminations will go on being hurled.

Pretty miserable stuff. Which leaves me with only one consolation: at least Burnham gave as good as he got.

Not before time. 
This is a government that specialises in handing out low blows, few lower than trying to blame problems it’s failed to address on a man who's been out of office for three years. It was good to see him hitting back. 

It’s been one-way traffic for far too long.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Auld acquaintance not forgot

It’s always good to be reunited with an old and valued friend after a separation.

The other day a box was delivered to my door. I was only in by chance, since no one had warned me it was turning up. It was marked ‘6 Sets of Solar Rock Lights’ and apparently came from Felixstowe. That’s a fine port in East Anglia, and I have nothing to say against it, even if it’s practically a suburb of Amsterdam, but I don’t know anyone there and had no memory of ordering anything called a ‘solar rock light’.

Come to think of it, I had only the dimmest idea what solar rock lights were. It seemed unlikely that they would be drops of sunlight caught by some miracle of science in living rock, so I guessed they might be electrically-powered lights using batteries charged during the day by solar energy. Danielle looks after the garden and has put some splendid lights in it, so it seemed safe to assume that she’d ordered some more.

I carefully put the box to one side where it wouldn’t be in anyone’s way but she’d see it when she got in.

‘What on earth is this?’ she asked as soon as she had, ‘did you order some solar lights?’

So it was nothing to do with her, then. There was nothing for it but to open the box and take a look.

What did we find? Our Espresso machine. We bought it over a year ago, and paid extra for a special five year warranty. Sadly, the company we bought it from (Comet) has since gone bankrupt, but the warranty people are still in business. So we contacted them when the machine went wrong.

Now when this happened in the past, with other machines, the shop simply replaced them. Not in this case. They sent a courier round to collect it. They then went quiet for nearly three weeks.

The effect was terrible. An espresso at the start of the day is such a delight to me that I usually have two of them. Three weeks of separation were a painful deprivation. Danielle had had the foresight to buy a fine little cafetiere which makes one generous cup of coffee, or two mean ones, so we weren’t without caffeine. But it wasn’t the same.

When the withdrawal symptoms were really setting in, we phoned the warranty people.

‘Err... the contract gives us 28 days, you know,’ they told us.

So it was back to patience and reliance on the cafetiere. Until 24 days had gone by and, hey presto, the solar rock lights box turned up, with our espresso machine travelling, as it were, incognito. Pure joy.

An old friend, back in pride of place

Funny thing was that we had received no message to warn us, there was no note in the box, we’ve had no call since to check that everything was OK. The image this leaves me with is that of five guys in some back-street workshop in Felixstowe, frantically trying to repair all the appliances sold by Comet that have since gone wrong, and without secretarial support for correspondence or the funds to pay for their own packaging. 

To be honest, it’s quite an attractive image. Why just replace something that’s gone wrong? It’s gratifying to discover somebody that still actually repairs things instead. By the same token, w
hy not re-use an old box?  

It has also to be said that the machine’s been doing sterling business ever since its return. My two espressos, Danielle’s latte, every morning, without fail and without problem. We’re entirely satisfied clients, delighted to have our old friend back amongst us.

In fact, the only problem is that I feel guilty about the cafetiere. It served us well. I washed and burnised it lovingly each day. And now it’s stuffed at the back of a cupboard again.

A faithful friend in need,
now sadly abandoned among mere glassware
How must it be taking this sudden and undeserved rejection?

Monday, 15 July 2013

A woman's achievement, a man's prize

It’s a long way from a school where little girls are expected to study sewing and cookery, to a position as a leading woman scientist; it’s a long way from failing the 11+ examination, that terrible barrier that stood in the way of so many gaining access to adequate school education, to a PhD from one of the most prestigious world universities; and it’s a long way from doctoral studies to a discovery transforming our understanding of astronomy and confirming one of the key points of a theory as important as General Relativity.

The way must feel all the longer if the Nobel prize for that discovery is then awarded to others.

So spare a thought for Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Back in the sixties, having risen through an educational system which did little to open doors for her to pursue a scientific career, she was a doctoral student at Cambridge, building a four-acre array of frames and wires that formed a radio telescope. She was studying quasars, quasi-stellar radio sources, the compact cores of remote and massive galaxies. And then she came across something else, something strange and inexplicable.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell in front of her radio telescope.
As she told the BBC in 2001, ‘there was this curious, curious signal, pulsing ever-so rapidly, ever-so regularly. I though I’d connected the telescope up wrong, I’d got some wires crossed or something.’

But she hadn't. It took a lot of hard work to prove, but a month later she was able to confirm that she was on to something.

‘It was actually something out there... we nicknamed it Little Green Men, LGM, because it looked artificial, man-made, and yet it was out there with the stars.’

That was exciting enough, but there was better to come. 

‘The sweetest moment was finding the second one, very similar but not identical and in a different part of the sky, that really says it has to be something astronomical. [...] I came out here on my scooter at 3:00, 2:00 in the morning. It was perishing cold and unfortunately [...] when it was cold the telescope and the receiver seemed only to work at about half power and you had no chance of discovering anything. But I flicked switches, I breathed on the receivers, I swore at it, and I got it to work, I got it to work for five minutes and on the right setting and in on the chart came peep-peep-peep-peep-peep... very like the first one but sufficiently different. It really looked as if we’d got another type of star and we were just looking at the tip of the iceberg. It was fantastic.’

Bell's first recording of the radio signal from a pulsar
It’s excellent news for us to discover that even leading scientists use the same techniques as everyone else, swearing at bits of equipment until they work. And it was excellent news for her that she was on to something entirely new.

What she’d found was a type of stellar object later nicknamed pulsars (from pulsating radio stars) by a Daily Telegraph journalist. The name has stuck. Behind their hallmark regular pulse is a neutron star, the residue of the massive explosion we call a supernova. They are small (in astronomical terms - they can be as little as 20 km across) but colossally massive bodies rich in neutrons, which are major transmitters of radio waves.

This is a remarkable discovery in itself, but it had another even more significant impact: study of pulsars orbiting round another star has shown that this kind of ‘binary system’ transmits gravitational waves and generally behaves in the same way as Einstein’s theories of gravitation would predict – to within 0.02%. Science doesn’t do absolute certainty, so that’s remarkable accuracy.

The finding is a spectacular vindication of relativity, one of the pinnacles of human scientific achievement. It was made possible by Jocelyn Bell’s discovery. It is clearly significant enough to warrant the awarding of a Nobel Prize.

And the Nobel Prize was duly awarded. In 1974. To Anthony Hewish, Bell’s PhD supervisor and another radio astronomer, Martin Ryle. Both men.

What did Bell say about being denied her share? In an after-dinner speech to the New York Academy of Sciences in 1977, she explained:

‘Demarcation disputes between supervisor and student are always difficult, probably impossible to resolve.’

She argued that ‘it is the supervisor who has the final responsibility for the success or failure of the project’ and also that, in her view, ‘it would demean Nobel Prizes if they were awarded to research students, except in very exceptional cases, and I do not believe this is one of them.’

Extremely generous comments and a tribute to a fine scientist. But the most telling and important comment was her last:

‘I am not myself upset about it – after all, I am in good company, am I not?’

Indeed she is. Take Rosalind Franklin, for instance, another woman whose work on the structure of DNA made a key contribution to a radical breakthrough in science, a contribution not recognised by the Nobel Prize committee.

These things happen, of course. Not everyone’s contribution is always rewarded. It would be nice, though, if it happened a little less often to women.

In the meantime, raise a glass, or a prayer of thanks if that’s your bent, in honour of Jocelyn Bell Burnell, of Lurgan, Northern Ireland, whose 70th birthday falls today, 15 July. And whose contribution to our understanding of the universe far exceeded the recognition she ever won for it.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

14 July, a time of celebration. Maybe tinged with foreboding

There are falsehoods that communicate great truths.

It is almost certainly untrue that Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, when told that the people of Paris had no bread, replied ‘qu’ils mangent de la brioche’ (which we usually translate as ‘let them eat cake’, though brioche works much better as just the kind of thing a well-bred queen might choose to partake of with her friends over a coffee in the morning).

She probably didn’t say ‘let them eat cake’. 
But she was hardly a benchmark for empathy
However untrue, the story reflects an attitude of mind that pervaded the French society of which Marie-Antoinette was such a jewel. Noblewomen, who wouldn’t have shown an ankle to a man of their own class, found it easy to bath in front of their servants, female or male, because domestics were barely human and it didn’t matter if they saw the ladies naked. 

Of the three estates, clergy, nobles and ‘third estate’ (commoners), only the third paid tax. And with the government desperately in debt, the burden of tax grew unbearable until in the end the long-delayed explosion took place. The people of France took to the streets and rounded on its masters and tormentors.

That’s the event celebrated in France today, 14 July, when the Paris mob sacked the notorious Bastille prison and released the handful of prisoners it contained while butchering its governor. The butchery continued and intensified for several years, degenerating into a reign of terror in which many of its revolutionaries were themselves sent to the guillotine. Ultimately, a reaction set in, leading to the execution in their turn of the terror leaders Robespierre and St Just themselves.

The reactionary governments struggled to achieve stability in the face of military action from abroad. Inevitably, France strove fiercely to build itself the army it needed for its defence and, attack being the best form of defence, to take the war to her enemies. Out of this effort there emerged a military strong man, Napoleon, who eventually took power in his own name, and the revolution that had been launched against the despotic power of a king and nobility, produced an Empire led by a single autocrat dependent on a war machine and in constant pursuit of a new military adventure to fund the one before.

In the end, the revolution took Europe through twenty years of war with military deaths of around 2.5 to 3.5 million and civilian deaths, even more difficult to calculate, of 750,000 to 3 million. A long and bloody agony, and all because the old regime in France couldn’t find a way to adapt to modern circumstances and the need to look after its people.

Doesn’t bode well for Syria and Egypt today, does it? Regimes that won’t give up power, that won’t meet any of the aspirations of their peoples, that ultimately rely on the brute power of the military to hold on to what they have.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take 20 years and a conflagration embracing the whole of that sad and troubled region. Particularly as it’s the powder keg of the world.

But if you happen to catch a glimpse of the parade down the Champs Elysées, and of the fireworks displays all round France, just remember: the events being celebrated had their roots in the refusal of power to accommodate its people. And, over two centuries later, we’re still struggling to find a way to do that.

Happy Bastille Day.

Such fun.
Though it's probably best not to think too hard about what lies behind it

Friday, 12 July 2013

Power: good at handing out the pain, maybe not so good at taking it

As the sun was rising on the morning of Saturday 4 May, a 53-year old woman stepped off the hard shoulder of the M6 motorway in the Midlands, into the path of an oncoming lorry. She was struck and died instantly.

Before she left home, she wrote notes to friends and family, one of them to a neighbour with whom she also dropped off her keys so that her cat could be rescued.

Why did Stephanie Bottrill take her life? To her son, she wrote ‘Don’t blame yourself for me ending my life. The only people to blame are the Government. I love you so much.’ She chose to die because the government had brought in the ‘bedroom tax’ which reduces housing benefit paid to claimants who have a spare room (a room ‘too many’ in the judgement of some of the wealthiest politicians in the country).

In a parliamentary debate in January, among a litany of such tales, Labour MP Steve Rotheram told the story of a constituent, Janine: ‘Her dad was thrown off sickness benefit in November after an Atos work capability assessment and was declared fit for work despite suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Six weeks later, on Christmas Day, Janine's father died.’

The government is no longer able to count the number of people who die each year after being judged fit for work: it costs too much money to find out. It might also cost too many votes. However, the generally accepted figure is that around 30 people a week are dying after having been refused incapacity benefits.

As part of the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the King James’ Bible in 2011, David Cameron said ‘we are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so.’ Saying so is cheap, but acting as though it were so, seems to be beyond his powers. Here’s Matthew's Gospel (25:36): ‘Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’

Funnily enough, that last bit, about prison, is particularly apt. In March this year, Bethan Tichborne, teaching assistant for disabled children, appeared in Oxford Magistrates’ Court, charged with disorderly conduct. Her offence? When David Cameron had been switching on Christmas lights in Witney, his constituency, she’d tried to climb a security barrier to approach him and protest against benefit cuts.

Bethan Tichborne,
troublemaker for reminding Christians of the plight of the poor

She claims she was beaten by his security entourage for her pains. However, it has to be said that she did shout at Cameron, telling him he had ‘blood on his hands’. This profoundly shocked the judge who heard her case: he found that her comments could ‘hardly be more insulting to anyone, whether a politician or not.’

It seems that Cameron is a sensitive soul. Not sensitive enough to want to stop harming the Janines of this world or the Stephanie Bottrills, but more than sensitive enough to need a judge to spring to his defence if someone says something nasty about him.

In other words, he’s OK about handing it out, not so good about taking it himself.

Tichborne was duly convicted of the charge and ordered to pay fines and costs amounting to £745. History does not record whether Cameron came to her, in observance of the injunction to comfort those who lie in jail, any more than he tried to clothe Stephanie or to visit Janine’s Dad.

Instead, yesterday George Osborne, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that he didn’t intend to raise taxes as part of his drive to reduce government debt. Clearly, he needs to do something because far from reducing the outstanding amount, he’s only managed to increase it over the last three years. So clearly he means to move away from his already eye-watering formula of 80% cuts and 20% tax rises, to focus even more on cuts.

So expect more Stephanies and Janines. 

The upside is that Osborne will continue to protect important people from the pain of tax increases. That’s important people like his boss Cameron, and Cameron’s friends, such as his neighbour Rebekah Brooks, now facing criminal charges over the hacking carried out in News International on her watch.

One wonders whether her judge will be as stern in applying the law as the one Tichborne faced.

Incidentally, where did I get the Stephanie Bottrill story from? My source was ‘Calum’s list’ which tries to publicise some of the cases of deaths attributable at least in part to the government’s benefits cuts.

And what was Tichborne trying to do when she was prevented approaching the Prime Minister? Why, disturbing the peace by reading Calum’s List to him. Not that it would have disturbed his peace. That good Christian wouldn’t have listened. And if he had, he wouldn’t have taken any of it in.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Neighbours from hell: the soap opera

After a hard day’s work, it can be quite relaxing to slump on the sofa and watch a soap, particularly if it’s written with wit and acted with talent.

It’s quite another matter to be caught up living in one starring our neighbour.

I’ll call her Hailey. That’s because I think it’s her name, though I’m not sure: she’s never felt it necessary to introduce herself though we’ve lived side by side for the best part of a year. Sometimes the worst part.

I admire people with a lively taste for music, particularly if that includes performance. Sadly, it’s less easy if the performance mode of choice is karaoke and the choice is made some time after midnight. And the performance only stops when the serious partying starts. And the partying stops at 10:00.

I don’t know what Hailey and her friends are on, but it must be potent stuff. Not even when I was her age could I have kept going that long unaided, and at that intensity. Impressive.

She doesn’t just sing. She and her friends enjoy lively conversation too. The subject matter, and we can tell because they’re not bashfully discreet about the tones in which they discuss this engrossing theme, seems to be procreation. At least, they do seem to keep telling each other to go forth and multiply. They also like to emphasise their statements, and it’s wonderful to need only one word to do that. That's what I call economy. So whether they’re declaring someone else’s statement to be true (occasionally), offensive (rather more often) or rubbish (the most common case), it’s always the ‘fucking’ variety of that attribute.

Fortunately, the overnight partying doesn’t happen that often – once a week or fortnight – but when it does, it’s certainly memorable. Particularly when we’re working the following day.

Hailey lives with her five-year old daughter. Quite often, a boyfriend (not the father of the daughter) comes round and they tell each other home truths – emphatically – and occasionally fling crockery at each other. At other times, the father of the daughter (not a boyfriend) comes round to take her out or drop her back. With both men, she talks a lot about fucking, to the point that I wish she’d get on and do some, if only because it might tire her out and shut her up.

We’ve met the little girl a few times too. She likes to stick her head over the back fence and chat with us if we’re in the garden. Why, she even apologised to us for her mother
’s noisiness, which made her seem quite charming. Then, however, we noticed her throwing stones at a neighbour’s greenhouse, and reaching with a stick into our garden to beat cabbages or lettuces, not a treatment calculated to help them flourish. It occurred to me that I was witnessing a curious form of inheritance, entirely independent of genetics: an essentially pleasant girl rapidly turning into a pest as exasperating as her mother.

Not hard to understand why. Her father brought her home yesterday. They were chatting away happily until Hailey emerged.

’Have you got some money for my mother?’ she asked.

’Oh, shit, I forgot.’

I could hear this all through the open window through which I was enjoying our glorious weather. Or had been.

’Well, are you going to have the money in the morning?’

I wasn’t really listening, but it was as though the conversation was happening in my living room. I concluded that her ex-boyfriend still had some kind of debt to her mother and was having trouble paying it off.

’Sorry, I can’t, I won’t have the time.’

And that’s when we got the explosion. No build up, no increasingly intense warning signs, just a sudden vitriolic outburst.

’Oh, for fuck’s sake, you’re fucking hopeless,’ Hailey screamed and there was a yelp from the little girl, ‘you’ve no fucking idea, you’re a useless fuck.’

He still wasn’t saying anything, even though the last bit was obviously wrong: the little girl was there to prove it.

’Just fuck off, will you just fuck off, I don’t want you anywhere near the fucking place any more.’

There was another little protest from the girl, ignored by the mother, but then one from the father, which wasn’t.

’Just fucking shutup. Just fucking fuck off. And never fucking come back.’

And there I heard a most odd noise, like the sound of an open hand on flesh. Was she slapping him round the face? I’ll never know because, though I moved over to the window, too curious about the living soap opera to ignore it any longer, she was already moving back to the house, little girl clutched by the hand, while he had run several steps down the street.

She hadn’t finished admonishing him though.

’Just fucking clear off. You make all this fucking noise in front of the neighbours. Outside my fucking house.’

That did seem unfair. He’d barely said a word. But he made up for it once she’d closed the door and he was relatively safe from further attack. He addressed a few choice apothegms at the house.

’You’ve always been a fucking bitch,’ he wittily informed her. Though he may have said ‘witch’. I hope so: we have a female dog who is infinitely superior to Hailey.

A fascinating experience all round. But the most fascinating aspect of all is that this is Luton, the home town of the anti-immigrant English Defence League. I’ve heard their supporters many times, and funnily enough they express themselves with exactly the same mastery of language, charm in expression and delicacy in accent as our neighbour and her entourage.

The EDL in Luton.
They expect us to prefer them as neighbours?
So here’s my question to them: what makes you think people like you are preferable to a few quietly spoken, courteous and hardworking arrivals from the Indian subcontinent or Eastern Europe? 

What on earth could give you that idea?

Sunday, 7 July 2013

True commitment: football the Shankly way. Or Brazil's.

‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that,’ said Bill Shankly, legendary manager of Liverpool Football Club.

Bill Shankly, football legend and model of commitment
England has won the Football World Cup just once. Brazil has won it five times. That record suggests the Latin Americans have a different mindset from ours, one that corresponds rather more closely to Shankly’s. One can be forgiven for thinking they display a level of commitment usually reserved for world religions, major political movements or making large amounts of money (or are all those the same thing?)

Recent events shown the Brazilians are capable of all of that and then some.

I’ve heard of referees who take a dim view of the behaviour of certain players, and penalise them harshly in consequence. But stabbing them? Fatally, to boot? That’s really impressive.

Equally, I know that it’s easy for spectators to lose their rag with referees, demanding their expulsion (or at least that they visit the opticians). Another legendary manager, Alex Ferguson, who stood down at the end of last season from over a quarter of a century in charge at Manchester United, famously denounced refs in lurid terms on numerous occasions and was disciplined more than once in consequence.

Decapitating the ref, however, as happened to the unfortunate who stabbed the recalcitrant player? Generally, in England we like to reserve our mob decapitations for kings.

Brazil: serious enough about football even for Shankly
But, hey, the Brazilians have true commitment. The kind that makes you realise that Shankly was literally right and football is much more serious than mere life and death. Which, in this case at least, truly made it a matter of life and death. 

The results speak for themselves. Five world cups. To our one.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Try opportunism: at least it works

Opportunism always seems terribly distasteful. Unfortunately, it’s highly effective.

In Britain today we have a government that assured us, when campaigning for office, that the only way to emerge from the financial crisis was to reduce the national debt, whatever the price, to allow for growth to take off. Three years later, the only growth has been in the debt itself, though the price has been high: 300,000 more children plunged into poverty, healthcare costs climbing while resources and quality fall, education in disarray.

In those circumstances, you’d expect the opposition to be making serious gains. Instead, after having moved ahead by as much 11-13 points in the polls, itself not a comfortable cushion two years before an election, the Labour has drifted down to as low as 5-6 points recently. It looks now as though the fall has stopped and the lead is back up at around 8 eights, but that’s still low.

Against a government without either competence or compassion.

What the government has is a good sense of PR and a lot of friends in the media. That’s made it possible to pull off a remarkable propaganda stunt: they’ve persuaded too many voters that the financial crisis is the doing of the Labour Party. This is a view they hold despite the fact that Labour wasn’t in office in the US, in which most of the toxic banking took place, let alone in Ireland, Spain or Greece which were among its most badly-hit victims.

Even so the Labour leadership of the ‘Eds’, Miliband and Balls, should really be landing a few more blows on a government with so weak a track record. Which makes it disappointing to see how often the Eds seem to be on the back foot, defending their own position rather than attacking the government’s.

There are those who talk of keeping Labour’s powder dry until nearer the next election. But there’s not a lot point in having lots of dry powder if you don’t start firing it until the battle’s lost.

This is the backdrop to the latest scandal to hit Labour. The largest Trade Union, Unite, which as you’d expect is proving a major force for disunity, has been caught trying to stuff its own members into the Labour Party in Falkirk in Scotland. Those new members would have a vote in the selection of a candidate to fight the forthcoming by-election in the constituency, and Unite no doubt expects them to choose its favoured candidate.

Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union.
A stick for the Tories to beat Labour? Or – the opposite?
It hardly made the show more savoury to discover that some of these new Labour members didn’t even know that they’d applied.

Manna from heaven for the Tories, who have leaped on the opportunity to brand Miliband as the puppet of the unions, a mere front man while real decisions are taken in unpublicised meetings of union barons behind closed doors. It doesn’t help that Miliband’s election to the leadership of the Labour Party, ahead of his brother, owed a lot to the votes of Unite delegates.

Now you might expect a counter-attack on the secret decisions that really affect our daily lives, such as those taken in the boardrooms of banks or major industries. But the Eds are no more inclined to tackle those guys than the present government is, or indeed the previous governments led by Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

So it was fascinating to read this morning’s news that Miliband is referring the shenanigans in Falkirk to the police, for investigation of possible criminality. That’s a striking move. It looks like he’s throwing down the gauntlet to Unite, biting a hand he wants to prove doesn’t feed him.

Now suddenly the talk is of his breaking the link between the Unions and Labour. That would be a historic move, since it was the Unions that set Labour up in the first place. They’re also the Party’s major source of funds. Now, while I’m not always happy about the way the Unions use the influence this buys them, I’m pretty sure that things would be a lot worse if Labour found new sources of finance from nameless billionaires, just like the Tory Party. Certainly, I can’t see how they’d long stay different from the Tories.

But I don’t really see the link being broken: there’s too much at stake. What’s more likely is some kind of showdown followed by a compromise in which the Union voice is reduced further in favour of ordinary members. That might allow Miliband to emerge looking rather stronger and more decisive than he does today.

In other words, he might finally start to look like a fighter, but not by taking on his opponents, whom he seems to have trouble confronting, but some dubious elements among his own supporters.

Which strikes me as pretty opportunist. But it worked superbly for Tony Blair: rather than concentrating his fire on the Tories, in the run up to his first election victory, he focused on repealing Clause 4 of the Labour constitution that committed the Party to nationalisation of major industries. By taking on forces within his own party, he won himself a reputation as a strong man and someone the political centre could trust. Three landslide victories testify to the success of the tactic.

Is Miliband doing the same thing? It feels a bit like it. Which is ugly but, regrettably, I find myself holding my nose and hoping he succeeds. After all, Unite’s underhand behaviours isn
’t smart or helpful, and if slapping down its leader Len McCluskey is what it takes to make Labour look like a party of government again, it may be a price worth paying just to get rid of the present dismal shower.

If that sounds like opportunism, it is. And if that seems distasteful, well, as I said at the beginning, that’s what opportunism is like.

It’s almost enough to make one cynical about politics.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Friends spying on friends: as Obama says, we all do it

John Le Carré is the outstanding writer of spy novels of the Cold War, and one of his best came unbidden to my mind in the middle of the febrile, spook-filled atmosphere of the Edward Snowden scandal this week.
Peter Egan as Magnus Pym
in the excellent BBC adaptation of the Le Carré masterpiece
Do you know A Perfect Spy? If not, I can’t recommend it too warmly. To give you a small taster, it contains what must be about the most upfront pickup line you’ll ever read. A Czech interpreter, who we later discover has more to her than meets the eye – and she has plenty to meet the eye – asks the protagonist Magnus Pym:

‘You want I give you Czech lesson on Saturday?’

When he tells her that he would like that very much, she continues, severely:

‘I think we make love this time. We shall see.’

The driver of the car they are travelling in nearly takes it into a ditch.

The novel charts the progress of Pym from his childhood with his father, a professional embezzler, into a series of betrayals of increasing severity, until he gravitates into British intelligence and the greatest treason of them all.

At one point, the CIA are closing in on him and Grant Lederer, the man leading the hunt, attends a meeting with senior agency operatives at the US Embassy in London. He announces with pride that he has just had a phone call, in the Embassy, from his wife in Vienna, where she has spotted Pym’s wife being contacted by a known Czech spy.

Sadly, Lederer does not receive the congratulations he expects for this dramatic news. In the first place, involving his wife was a breach of his orders for the operation against Pym. But there's a second reason for the dissatisfaction of his superiors, which emerges at the end of the discussion. One of them asks:

‘Next question, what the hell do we tell the Brits and when and how?’

And another replies:

‘Looks like we told them already. That’s unless the Brits have given up tapping US Embassy telephone lines these days, which I tend to doubt.’

That last line came back to me as I followed the row over the latest stage in Snowden
’s revelations. It seems that the US has its agents gathering intelligence on many of its ostensible allies. They spy on the French. They spy on the European Union, a dear old institution which surely has barely a secret that can’t be found out in a Brussels bar or that’s worth knowing anyway. Worst of all, they spy on the holy of holies in Europe today, the Germans. 

Everyone’s scandalised.

Obama’s response has been highly instructive. 

‘Every intelligence service, not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there’s an intelligence service, here’s one thing they’re going to be doing: they’re going to be trying to understand the world better and what’s going on in world capitals around the world from sources that aren’t available through the New York Times or NBC News.

‘If that weren’t the case, then there would be no use for an intelligence service. And I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders. That's how intelligence services operate.’

Yep. Spy agencies exist to spy. Obviously, first and foremost on their enemies but, hey, why not on their friends too? After all, a country may well be an ally, but it
’s a competitor as well, and it’s always worth knowing what the competition’s up to.

So I’m sure Le Carré’s right. British intelligence must routinely bug the US Embassy – I really can’t believe they’d pass up such an opportunity.

So why all the anger? 

Some of it’s synthetic, no doubt. Some of it’s routine: you have to protest if someone’s found to have been spying on you. But I wonder if some of it’s not just plain envy. The US has such technology, and such a well-resourced intelligence community, they’re much better at spying than the others. 

’t the problem that the Germans, the EU and above all the French, are just annoyed as hell to discover that US spies on them far more effectively than they can spy on the US?

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Down the ages, the phrase ‘we’re all in this together’ is just the prelude to your being ripped off. Again.

I hate it when we turn human beings into secular saints. 

In these sad days, which I fear are going to be the last of Nelson Mandela’s life, I’m particularly dreading the overblown tributes we’re going to be given by people who once declared him a terrorist. Almost as bad as the hypocrisy, however, one of the worst effects of that kind of adulation is that it spreads legends that submerge the truth, making it difficult to discover the reality of the man beneath the myth. And yet the man is always more interesting than the saint.

This thinking was one of the main reasons I’ve tended to keep away from studies of George Washington, despite my fascination with US history. All that stuff about ‘I cannot tell a lie’ and throwing a silver dollar (none of which existed in Washington’s youth) across the Potomac (not his local river and a mile across at its nearest point to him) is just that: so much stuff.

So I’m delighted to be reading Ron Chernow’s masterly study of Washington’s life, racily entitled Washington: a life. An excellent gift from my mother. Chernow only mentions the cherry tree myth to debunk it, and doesn’t even dignify the dollar-across-the-Potomac story by mentioning it at all.

A fine biography of a remarkable man

What emerges is a rounded picture of a noteworthy man.

Let’s say at once that he wasn’t an exceptional general, whatever the legends say. He was unusually courageous, forever exposing himself to fire on the battlefield. In fact, if we did want to canonise him, we might point to the fact that he was never injured (though he did have two horses shot from under him) as evidence of something miraculous. However, a military leader needs more than personal courage, and the verdict of history is that Washington was excellent at planning an action, and successful when everything went to plan; he was however far too slow to adapt when circumstances abruptly changed.

What he did have was another quality which to me seems far more admirable. He understood that as their leader, he had to share his men’s pain. It was the custom in his time for armies to fight only in good weather (in passing, let me say I think that would be an excellent defence policy for Britain: warfare could only take place here on about ten days of the year).

In winter, armies stopped and concentrated on keeping warm. For the Continental Army led by Washington, that was no easy task. Winter after winter, they found themselves trying to shelter from bitter winds and snow, with inadequate clothing and far too little food. Why? Because Congress was practically bankrupt and the States weren’t prepared to finance it properly. So Washington was forced to sit and watch his men wasting in cold and dying of hunger, while all he could do was keep begging for funds.

It made it particularly difficult to hold any kind of force together, because many of his men were on short-term enlistments. Given the terrible conditions, which included long periods without even their pay, it was hard to persuade them to stay and fight again when the next season came round. And yet keeping the army going was all that won the war: the British could, and did, occupy American cities; they could, and did, win battles; but while they couldn’t finally destroy the Continental Army, while it survived to go on harassing them, they couldn’t win the war.

Washington lived in marginally better conditions than his men – usually in a stone house rather than in rickety, overcrowded shacks – but he was there, among them and knew their sufferings. It was that capacity for sacrifice as well as his courage that held his army together and ensured ultimately that the war would be won and the US successfully born.

For that, all Americans owe him a great debt of gratitude, which no doubt inspires the veneration felt for him to this day. However, in among the admiration, it would be well to remember a little more about the behaviour of the Americans of his time.

His armies starved in areas of rich agriculture. There was food around. It just wasn’t getting to his men. Principally, this was because too few people were prepared to dip into their pockets to finance the war. In addition, though, many of the farmers around his encampments preferred to sell their produce to the British, who paid in good, solid, hard currency than to the Congress with its rapidly devaluing credit.

And the farmers were far from alone in putting their pocket books ahead of their country. Far from it. As Washington himself saw on a visit to the capital, many were profiteering from the war, lining their pockets very nicely. And a great many others, without directly turning the war to their advantage, continued to live very comfortably off their civilian incomes, while paying lip service to a common cause to which they expected others to give their all.

The story of Washington and the Continental Army is a glorious illustration of how many of those who talk of national causes and general dedication, prefer in practice to see others make the sacrifice while they keep making the bucks.

I’ve learned to think more highly of Washington than I did before, if only because he rose above the petty self-serving attitudes of those around him, and sacrificed his own comfort to ensure his nation gained its freedom.

However, I’ve also learned again a lesson I learned a long time ago: never trust those who tell you ‘we’re all in this together.’ Like David Cameron
’s  government, what they really mean is that there are bad times ahead for those least able to defend themselves: the vulnerable, the poor, the unskilled, the disabled. But they and their friends will go on doing just fine, thank you.

It’s true that there’s often no gain with no pain. Trouble is, they aren’t both felt by the same people.