Humour

Kings of convenience

Europe’s monarchies are a study in dignified inanity

From the Economist.

Every family has an heirloom which is too precious to throw away yet of little practical use. A dozen European countries have the constitutional equivalent. ….Like the human appendix, Europe’s royal highnesses are essentially vestigial: they serve little obvious purpose, but few think there is much reason to excise them until they cause trouble.

And who would have thought…

“Bicycle monarchies” mostly replaced fusty aristo balls. The Dutch king has been a part-time pilot for klm for over two decades. Princess Victoria, next in line to the Swedish throne, married her personal trainer.

NHS

The Notional Health Service.

Heading in last week’s Economist (13/1/2024). Sad, but true.

Medical science, one trim at a time

The Economist on pogonophobia and pogonophilia.

Many also believed that not shaving offered health benefits. In 1854, more than 400 members of the Dublin police force petitioned to be allowed to join the beard movement on the ground that “almost all, if not all, diseases of the respiratory organs are in great part, if not altogether, caused by the practice which obtains of shaving off the beard.” Beards were even thought to bring productivity gains. An article in the British Medical Journal in 1861 calculated that America lost 36m working days each year to shaving.

The beard craze petered out in the 1890s as fashions shifted, better razors became available and doctors took to warning against facial hair (a damp beard was thought to spread germs). Beards became the preserve of older men as the young rejected the fashions of their fathers. The army was slower to adapt. The requirement for moustaches lasted until 1916; some regiments maintained a stockpile of artificial ones for those unable to grow their own.

Note the tendency to take tenuous and marginal observations and multiple by a big number to make them seem important. Epidemiology 101, sadly, (but beloved by all grant writers).

Edinburgh’s Festivalisation

Rory Scothorne · Short Cuts: Edinburgh’s Festivalisation

The first humans​ settled in Scotland around 14,000 years ago. They must have arrived in summer; nobody in their right mind would choose to live here during the winter. Even as far south as Edinburgh, the sun emerges late only to disappear before 4 p.m., the rain eats umbrellas for breakfast and the Arctic gale is as rough as sandpaper. We don’t have much of a Christmas celebration to distract us from the gloom: the Scottish Reformation stamped out idolatrous Yuletide celebrations and Christmas only became a public holiday in 1958. Instead, we have Hogmanay.

(London Review of Books)

Home: That nice warm feeling

Welsh couple bereft after bomb squad detonate ornamental garden missile | Wales | The Guardian

A couple who kept a live bomb as a garden ornament have said they were sorry that their “old friend” had been detonated by a disposal unit.

The missile, which had been outside the home of Sian and Jeffrey Edwards, is thought to date back to the late 19th century. The couple, from Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, had thought it was a “dummy” bomb with no charge. Sian Edwards said she used to bang her trowel on the bomb to remove earth after gardening.

On Wednesday, a police officer informed the couple he had spotted the bomb and would need to alert the Ministry of Defence. An hour later, the officer told the couple the bomb squad would arrive the next day.

Jeffrey Edwards, 77, said: “We didn’t sleep a wink all night. It knocked us for six. “I told the bomb disposal unit: ‘We’re not leaving the house, we’re staying here. If it goes up, we’re going to go up with it.’”

Just a little container of precious

The best way to invest in gold

All the gold ever dug up would fit inside a 20 by 20 metre box.

Is that all there is? I feel richer already.

On not being properly confused

I like orderly confusion very much. But this is neither orderly nor properly confused

Dieter Rams

His German is a pleasure to the ear.

Via John Naughton 10 November 2023 link

Just like the buses

John Lanchester · Get a rabbit: Don’t trust the numbers · LRB 21 September 2023

One way of explaining how Britain got to this place is to say that we waited all this time for the worst prime minister in history, and then four came along at once.

Those sensible Dutch persons

Race to lead European Investment Bank heats up – POLITICO

DUTCH CAMPAIGN GEARING UP: From an EU perspective, Dutch elections used to be simple: about 20 parties fought a fierce campaign and in the end, Mark Rutte was back at the European Council table.

I wish I had said that

Letters · LRB

Nicholas Spice speaks of ‘the conductor demanding ever more rehearsal time, the players wanting to get home and have a life’ (LRB, 16 March). This put me in mind of Frank Zappa’s definition of conducting as ‘drawing designs in the nowhere which are interpreted as instructional messages by guys wearing bowties who wish they were fishing’.

Chris Sansom

No tracksuits here

Mary Quant launched the clothes that made the Sixties swing from The Economist

Not just because they could playfully imitate men, by borrowing men’s tailoring and their cardigans, but mostly because mini-dresses freed them to move. She designed them, she said, to be alive in. More important still, high hemlines, paired with opaque tights, let girls run for the bus in order to get to work. You could never run for the bus in a Dior dress. In Quant, women felt they could leave the house and dare a different life.

Shared something or other

Techno-Narcissism | No Mercy / No Malice

As Sacha Baron Cohen said: “Democracy is dependent on shared truths, and autocracy on shared lies.”

On discovering the truth

Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower, dies aged 92 | US news | The Guardian

‘I’ve never regretted doing it’: Daniel Ellsberg on 50 years since leaking the Pentagon

In March, Ellsberg announced that he had inoperable pancreatic cancer. Saying he had been given three to six months to live, he said he had chosen not to undergo chemotherapy and had been assured of hospice care.

“I am not in any physical pain,” he wrote, adding: “My cardiologist has given me license to abandon my salt-free diet of the last six years. This has improved my life dramatically: the pleasure of eating my favourite foods!”

On Friday, the family said Ellsberg “was not in pain” when he died. He spent his final months eating “hot chocolate, croissants, cake, poppyseed bagels and lox” and enjoying “several viewings of his all-time favourite [movie], Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, the family statement added.

He was 92….

The medical student as ChatGPT

by reestheskin on 26/05/2023

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I am amused that people are slow to realise that large language models (ChatGPT etc) do not understand what they are saying, or that they make things up — that is, they hallucinate. Performance on “surface layer” testing does not equate to competence. Anybody who has taught medical students knows that humans are quite capable of exhibiting the same behaviour. It was one of the values of the old fashioned viva. You could demonstrate the large gulf between understanding (sense)on the one hand, and rote — and fluent rote at that — simulation on the other (garbage).

The medical educationalists, obsessed as they are with statistical reliability, never realised that the viva’s main function was for the benefit of teachers rather than learners. It is called feedback.

The medical student as ChatGPT

Horses for courses

Unseen Camilla: the five ages of a future queen – from mistress to monarchy | Camilla (Queen Consort) | The Guardian

Public schools exist to create the material they need for the class they want to build. When Eton needed soldiers, it was a very harsh environment; later, when it needed shysters and chancers, it adapted successfully to produce Boris Johnson and David Cameron. The girls’ estate is no different – and in the 50s and 60s it needed hostesses and broodmares. The last thing you would have wanted them to emerge with was a bunch of O-levels.

Merde!

She said…

Is France on the road to a Sixth Republic? | Financial Times

It was said of US President George HW Bush that he reminded every woman of her first husband. Macron reminds every French person of their boss: an educated know-it-all who looks down on his staff.

A long-handled personal earthmoving implement

We should all be asking more questions | Financial Times

As a beloved journalism handbook of mine puts it, you have to be able to “call a spade a spade, instead of bringing in someone from Harvard to solemnly declare it a long-handled personal earthmoving implement”.

And what about the reds?

Netherlands plots return to admission lotteries | Times Higher Education (THE)

Of course, I would say that wouldn’t I? I knew that lotteries had been used for medicine in the past in the Netherlands but….

The politics of admission are layered. Much media criticism has been levelled at University Medical Center Utrecht for an alleged bias towards blonde, white women. A spokeswoman said the institution was “constantly optimising [its] selection procedures, amongst others on the basis of research on bias”.

Supporters of lotteries say they could help the student body better represent Dutch society. “We do believe it would promote equity between students,” said Terri van der Velden, president of Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (Intercity Student Consultation), the Netherlands’ largest national student organisation. “Our biggest fear with these selection instruments is that they’re chosen at random.”

TARA over TINA

I hadn’t come across the acronym TARA before, but it seems a hopeful thought for the New Year. Life is indeed more interesting with it set as the default.

TARA: There are real alternatives

TINA: There are no alternatives

(I have forgotten the source — apologies)

White collar crime, Xanax and Viagra

by reestheskin on 22/12/2022

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The crime-writing Belgian ‘sheriff’ fighting EU corruption – POLITICO

For him[Michel Claise], financial crime has destroyed fundamental aspects of society. “White-collar crime is the cancer of democracy,” Claise wrote in one of his books, “Le Forain” (The Showman).

And prison works for white collar crime.

Belgian justice is doing what at first sight the European Parliament hasn’t done,” the country’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told reporters in his first comments on the scandal on Tuesday. “The European Parliament has a lot of means to regulate itself. It turns out that this is largely a system of self-regulation based on voluntary efforts, which has clearly not been sufficient.

But that peacocking would be ironic to Claise, who complained in October that Belgium’s police are under-resourced, fighting a war against modern, high-tech corruption using “catapults.” Earlier in the year, he said the Belgian government was “ on Xanax rather than Viagra.” Now it’s the European Parliament he has found dozing on the job.

Not such a novel idea?

by reestheskin on 09/12/2022

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Pond Life: Princeton PhD inspires campus novel | Times Higher Education (THE)

When Jack Williams heard his PhD dissertation would likely be read by just a handful of people, he decided that a novel approach to expanding its reach was needed. Literally. “On average, only five people will read a doctoral thesis – and one of them is usually your housemate – so I thought it would be good if I could smuggle something of my ideas into a book,” said Dr Williams, whose debut novel, Pond Life, is published by RedDoor Press.

I had always thought fiction was an old form evident in many theses.

They just can’t help sharing it

by reestheskin on 28/04/2022

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Debt is the sexually transmitted disease of finance. People won’t discuss it in public.

Rich People’s Problems: My debt is becoming an albatross | Financial Times

Shurely shum mishtake

by reestheskin on 29/09/2021

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From today’s FT online. A moment’s hesitation. Who is this fed guy?

I give you the tea bag and Tractatus!

A century ago Ludwig Wittgenstein changed philosophy for ever | The Economist

Of all the innovations that sprang from the trenches of the first world war—the zip, the tea bag, the tank—the “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” must be among the most elegant and humane.

That the book ever made it into print was miraculous. Before the war, as a student at Cambridge, Wittgenstein’s talent was clear to his contemporaries, who begged him to put his many thoughts into writing. He refused, fearing that an imperfect work of philosophy was worthless. His mentor, Bertrand Russell, made a habit of taking notes when the two spoke, lest his protégé’s genius be lost to memory. Wittgenstein himself had other preoccupations, principally suicide.

 Now I don’t have to feel so guilty

Letter: Socialist historian foresaw Covid work habits in 1967 | Financial Times

Anyone who has read the socialist historian EP Thompson’s article “Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism”, written in 1967 and collected in Customs in Common in 1993, will recognise his account of pre-industrial work habits in Pilita Clark’s article about modern workers’ reluctance to engage on Mondays (Business Life, May 17).

Thompson identifies a work pattern composed of “alternate bouts of intense labour and of idleness, wherever men were in control of their own working lives”. He remarks that the “pattern persists among some self-employed — artists, writers, small farmers, and perhaps also with students — today [1967], and provokes the question whether it is not a natural human work-rhythm”.

Michael Williams, Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, UK.

No mothers’ milk here

Nestlé document says majority of its food portfolio is unhealthy | Financial Times

Nestlé document says majority of its food portfolio is unhealthy

An internal company presentation acknowledges more than 60% of products do not meet ‘recognised definition of health’.

No surprises here, then.

Who — or what — cares

by reestheskin on 14/12/2020

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I think the quip was from the series Cardiac Arrest: the ITU used to be called the ICU (intensive care unit) until they realised nobody did.

In March, 2019, a doctor informed 78-year-old Ernest Quintana, an inpatient at a hospital in California, USA, that he was going to die. His ravaged lungs could not survive his latest exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, so he would be placed on a morphine drip until, in the next few days, he would inevitably perish. There was a twist. A robot had delivered the bombshell. There, on a portable machine bearing a video screen, crackled the pixelated image of a distant practitioner who had just used cutting-edge technology to give, of all things, a terminal diagnosis. The hospital insisted that earlier conversations with medical staff had occurred in person, but as Mr Quintana’s daughter put it: “I just don’t think that critically ill patients should see a screen”, she said. “It should be a human being with compassion.”

From Care in crisis – The Lancet

A carry-on of professors

by reestheskin on 11/11/2020

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There was a touching obituary of Peter Sleight in the Lancet. Sleight was a Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Oxford and the obituary highlighted both his academic prowess and his clinical skills. Hard modalities of knowledge to combine in one person.

Throughout all this, at Oxford’s Radcliffe Infirmary and John Radcliffe Hospital, Sleight remained an expert bedside clinician, who revelled in distinguishing the subtleties of cardiac murmurs and timing the delays of opening snaps.

And then we learn

An avid traveller, Sleight was a visiting professor in several universities; the Oxford medical students’ Christmas pantomime portrayed him as the British Airways Professor of Cardiology. [emphasis added]

This theme must run and run, and student humour is often insightful (and on occasion, much worse). I worked somewhere where the nickname for the local airport was that of a fellow Gold Card professor. We often wondered what his tax status was.

The pleasure of words(and beer) in the second age of COVID-19

by reestheskin on 10/11/2020

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A letter from Colin Mills (Basel) in last week’s Economist

Milk, beer and sweets were listed as “basic necessities” supplied by corner shops, which are thriving during the pandemic (“Turning a corner”, October 17th). Two of the three can hardly be considered necessities. Sweets are bad for you, and many people live perfectly happily without drinking milk.

Where there is muck, there is…science

by reestheskin on 20/10/2020

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The background is the observation that babies born by Caesarian have different gut flora than those born vaginally. The interest in gut flora is because many believe it relates causally to some diseases. How do you go about investigating such a problem?

Collectively, these seven women gave birth to five girls and two boys, all healthy. Each of the newborns was syringe-fed a dose of breast milk immediately after birth—a dose that had been inoculated with a few grams of faeces collected three weeks earlier from its mother. None of the babies showed any adverse reactions to this procedure. All then had their faeces analysed regularly during the following weeks. For comparison, the researchers collected faecal samples from 47 other infants, 29 of which had been born normally and 18 by Caesarean section. [emphasis added]

Healthy childbirth — How to arm Caesarean babies with the gut bacteria they need | Science & technology | The Economist