The Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall is a plan to hold back the expansion of the Sahara with an 8000 km natural wonder of the world across the width of Africa. It would be the largest living structure on the planet.

In Burkina Faso, a landlocked country between Mali and Ghana, a hot dry wind from the Sahara blows. The north of the country is in the Sahel, the borderland of the Sahara. Its temperatures range up to 47°C and it gets less than 600mm of rainfall a year. There, Ecosia, the eco-friendly search engine, has planted nearly 17m trees over 12,400 hectares.

Chad has planted 1.1m seedlings, and its nickname “the dead heart of Africa” could be made obsolete. Africa’s second largest wetland, 17,806 square km Lake Chad, was once 330,000 square km in the Chad Basin, which does not drain to the sea. Increasing water shortages contribute to the rise of Boko Haram in the region. Part of it is Sahel acacia savannah, which once supported vast migrating herds of grazing mammals.

Mauritania was part of the original Panafrican Agency of the Great Green Wall in 2007. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification proposed 1.65 million hectares of forest there. In January 2021 its president, Mohamed Cheikh El-Ghazouani, who is the chair of PAGGW, welcomed the UN’s Accelerator programme, a new $14bn scheme. It is estimated that $33bn investment is needed to complete the wall.

Though 80% or more of planted trees in the Sahara die, in Niger, farmers used water harvesting techniques to protect trees that seeded naturally on their farms. Rather than planting a forest on the edge of a desert, the project transformed to develop indigenous land use techniques. Hundreds of thousands of farmers made the land productive for food and fuel for 3m people. French imperialism had imposed French techniques, to clear land for agriculture and keep crops separate from trees, damaging the ecology. The trees improve the soil. Twelve million acres in Niger were restored for farming.

South Sudan is south of the area of the Wall, which passes through Sudan. In South Sudan, the breakdown of agriculture foments conflict. It is covered in tropical forest, swamps and grassland, 3° north of the Equator.

Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco after liberation from Spanish rule in 1975. It has no permanent streams, and in summer reaches 45°C. Yet its north-west, with the temperature moderated by the Atlantic Ocean, has Acacia dry woodlands and succulent thickets.

Global Citizen gives a good introduction. The wall aims to

• improve soil quality for farmers, which would allow crops to better withstand hostile conditions;
• create wildlife corridors that revitalize ecosystems and become hubs of tourism;
• restore sources of water to combat drought;
• generate millions of green economy jobs;
• establish a carbon sink to fight climate change;
• break the vicious cycles of migration that are draining societies of youth;
• boost economies;
• and ease the conditions that lead to violence.

Kew Gardens are involved in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, planting one million seedlings over four years, collecting and storing species and investigating which survive best.

Here is the project website.

Media regulation

Impress has a consultation on its Code of Standards for British newspapers. Does this give a chance to reduce transphobia in the media?

Impress has a Royal Charter, and therefore is officially recognised as a press regulator. This was backed by the National Union of Journalists and Hacked Off, a campaign group against press intrusion. However it is rejected by the national press and major regional newspapers, who use the Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO, instead. Nevertheless Impress’s code may influence what is considered wrongful in journalism, so it may be worth responding.

Clause 4, on discrimination, is relevant. Other clauses do not refer to particular groups.

4.1. Publishers must not make prejudicial or pejorative reference to a person on the basis of that person’s age, disability, mental health, gender reassignment or identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation or another characteristic that makes that person vulnerable to discrimination.

4.2. Publishers must not refer to a person’s disability, mental health, gender reassignment or identity, pregnancy, race, religion or sexual orientation unless this characteristic is relevant to the story.

IPSO’s code mirrors 4.1 and 4.2, but has no equivalent for 4.3. 4.1 and 2 allow people to complain about mistreatment of individuals.

4.3. Publishers must not incite hatred against any group on the basis of that group’s age, disability, mental health, gender reassignment or identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation or another characteristic that makes that group vulnerable to discrimination.

Publishers who do not accept Impress’s code freely incite contempt, mockery and disgust for trans people, claiming we are dangerous to women. Contempt and disgust lead to violence, just as hatred does.

The current guidance on 4.3 says it should be interpreted narrowly.

Language that qualifies as hate speech is that which is intended to, or is likely to, provoke hatred or to put a person or group in fear. The disputed words, therefore, must be more than provocative, offensive, hurtful or objectionable: this provision is about hate speech, not speech that merely hurts feelings. It includes, but is not limited to, speech that is likely to cause others to commit acts of violence against members of the group or discriminate against them… It is intended to allow for freedom to engage in even the fiercest attacks upon and criticisms of the political views and beliefs of others.

When applying this provision to non-racial groups, and especially to those groups who are not covered by existing UK hate speech laws, IMPRESS will interpret it narrowly and cautiously and with a strong presumption in favour of freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is the priority. Under the continual prejudice we face, a lot of press comment, mocking jokes, whatever, is likely to put us in fear, but if each instance is judged by itself most will not meet that threshold. Statements that cis women need “single-sex spaces” incite hatred against trans women, but are designed to appear innocuous.

Impress also says about religion,

beliefs or practices may be subject to the fiercest criticisms, insults or ridicule. It is people who are protected by this clause, not religion itself.

Transphobes would argue transition is akin to a “belief or practice”.

Impress seeks evidence:

Whether Clause 4 of the Code is fit for purpose, and adequately reflects how discrimination is experienced by those with protected characteristics, particularly in an online context. Specifically whether the discrimination standard adequately addresses the degree, manner, and extent to which journalism practices impact on discrimination in society and whether they sufficiently reflect the relationship between discrimination and other clauses of the Code such as accuracy, privacy, and harassment.

Complaints are generally about individual articles, and individually many articles don’t meet the criteria. The Mail’s article on Redvers Buller could not possibly breach this code, even if the Mail accepted it. It’s just one more sneering reference to nonbinary.

The cumulative effect of such derision is to increase my fear. It’s not just one article, it’s a daily barrage of derision and contempt. Anything which makes a trans woman look bad might get reported, even if it would obviously not be newsworthy if about a cis person. We don’t need the code to deal with individual stories, most of which are not clearly enough hateful to be censured. We need the code to deal with publishers on their whole content, all the sneering and mockery. Viewed together, each mocking aside mounts up to deliberate hate.

Evidence of the levels of hatred in society, the constant derision and loathing from the press, and the effect this has on trans people, could be relevant, but would need to be particularly strong and detailed. Each individual story in the Mail or Times comes nowhere near hate speech. The cumulative effect is to incite hatred and contempt.

This page explains how to give evidence. The closing date is 30 January.

Redvers Buller and nonbinary people

Who was General Sir Redvers Buller, VC, GCB, GCMG, and what relevance has he to nonbinary people? He is relevant to nonbinary people, I assure you.

Buller was a man of great physical courage. At the Battle of Hlobane in the Anglo-Zulu war, he rescued three other mounted infantry, a captain, a lieutenant and a trooper, carrying them to safety on his horse, one at a time, and winning the VC.

In command in the second Boer war, he lost the battles of Colenso, Magersfontein and Stormberg in one week, gaining the nickname “Reverse Buller” among his troops. Frederick Roberts took command, but as second in command Buller won the Battle of the Tugela Heights. Wikipedia tells us he was scapegoated for Boer guerrilla tactics, and sacked in October 1901. About 50,000 subscribers in and around Exeter paid for an equestrian statue of him, which the city council now considers removing.

I don’t think the Empire is something for British people to be proud of. It was economic exploitation of areas whose economies would have grown better outside it. Cotton grown in India was taken to Lancashire to be made into cloth, then sent back to India, rather than being processed locally. The statue should not be in a city centre. I had forgotten Redvers Buller, having read about him in “Farewell the Trumpets” by Jan Morris, credited as “James”. That’s the most definite reference to a trans or nonbinary person in this post. No, there is no clear evidence that Redvers was nonbinary.

That did not deter the Daily Mail, whose headline about the statue was, “Council is slammed for ‘ridiculous and historical wokery’ over plans to remove a statue of a British war hero – with official report claiming it ‘impacts anybody who does not define themselves in binary gender terms’.”

The Mail opposes the statue of a “war hero” being moved. Of course. That is disrespecting the Great British Empire, but The Mail also hates any mention of nonbinary people. It says, “An equality impact assessment carried out as part of the review also concluded the statue would impact anybody who ‘does not define themselves in binary gender terms’.”

The council’s papers are here. The Equality Impact Assessment does not mention nonbinary people, but rightly comments that moving the statue would have a positive impact on BAME people and immigrants. The report to the council says the statue “personif[ies] racism and the glorification of a colonial past”.

Is its prominence still relevant to the people of Exeter today? No. The Boer War was a nasty, inglorious conflict.

Possibly the quote was removed from the papers after the Mail reported. Its full quote, given in the article, is, “The General Buller statue represents the patriarchal structures of empire and colonialism which impact negatively on women and anyone who does not define themselves in binary gender terms. The consultation will need to ensure that the views of women, transgender and non-binary people are captured and given due weight”.

Mere use of the word “patriarchal” is enough to upset the Mail. However the quote indicates that the statue is not more relevant to trans and nonbinary people than to cis women. Nonbinary people are mentioned because, to be inclusive, any mention of patriarchy’s effect on women has to refer to trans and nonbinary people too. That is the only relevance of the report to nonbinary people. Any equality impact assessment, and lots of council reports, would refer to “women and nonbinary people”.

I agree. Patriarchy impacts on cis women and trans people. It also impacts on a lot of men. The Mail did not make any argument against this, merely quoting. “Wokery” was the word of conservative historian Andrew Roberts, who commented “In the year 1900 every man was a sexist”.

Buller’s biographer said, “This man was always a great supporter of and campaigner for the many native communities he came across.” That would appear contradicted by the battle of Kambula.

Redvers Buller: not apparently nonbinary.

Health rationing and Covid

Over 30,000 people are in hospital in England with Covid. What does this mean?

The British Medical Association says doctors are stressed, anxious about their own health and that of their families, working more than normal hours and possibly beyond their competence in order to avoid serious harm. Final year medical students are fast-tracked, retired doctors are returning to practice. Doctors are working outside their normal specialty. The BMA drily states, “The skills of these professionals may not meet pre-pandemic expected standards of fitness to practise”.

The General Medical Council, appointed to govern doctors’ fitness to practise, reassures doctors that their careers will not necessarily be affected. They will take into account “the stress and tiredness that may affect judgment or behaviour”.

Hospitals lose their ability to admit patients for other matters. It is a terrible time to have a heart attack, stroke or cancer. GPs will be dealing with most health need, and so will cancel non-essential services, and use telephone or video consultations.

Where all facilities, equipment and staff that could be used to meet patient need are at capacity, “resource allocation decisions between individuals would become inescapable”. Rather than meeting individual need, the health service has to “maximise overall benefit”. This means refusing treatment to some patients. Normally, there is an “obligation to persevere in the face of an extremely ill patient”, leading to breaking ribs attempting to resuscitate a patient on ventilation. Some patients may have treatment withdrawn, even if they are slowly improving, to enable others to be treated, who have a “higher survival probability”.

It is lawful and ethical for a doctor to refuse potentially life-saving treatment where someone else is expected to benefit more from it. Doctors are not assessing the suggested value of a person to the community- younger or older, family responsibilities, work eminence- but their capacity physically to benefit. Individual doctors should be making these decisions according to rules set by their employers. The rules should be open and transparent.

Where care is withdrawn, patients will receive symptom management and end-of-life care for the dying. These decisions have a significant emotional effect on health workers.

Triage is a form of rationing of scarce resources. It sorts patients according to needs and probable outcomes. It can identify those who are so ill they are unlikely to survive, who will be given symptom relief. Priority “will be given to those whose conditions are the most urgent, the least complex, and who are likely to live the longest”.

These decisions should not solely be based on age or disability but likelihood of benefiting from available resources. Where patients cannot be admitted to intensive care they will not receive cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Where large numbers of people have apparently equal chances of survival and length of stay in ICU, at first there will be a queuing system- first come, first served. If patients are not improving, there may be a time-limited trial of therapy, and treatment withdrawn. In overwhelming demand, where a patient’s prognosis worsens care may be withdrawn.

Sometimes a patient’s contribution to essential services, where the workforce is severely depleted, may be taken in account. This means that sick doctors may be prioritized. Well, I would not object to that.

Hospitals are reporting shortages of oxygen. Blood oxygen saturation of 95% is considered normal, but in Southend the target was reduced, to 88-92%.

Cases in England are still rising, because of the Conservative government’s ridiculous promises of association indoors over Christmas, and failure to implement lockdown until after schools were opened on Monday 4th January. Deaths will continue to increase for four weeks. Hospitalisations will continue to increase for two weeks. Hospitals in London are overwhelmed. People who could have been saved with normal health resources will die.

The BMA’s FAQs are here. Their detailed guidance is here.

Kathleen Stock and LGBT conversion therapy

Is there a problem with free speech in universities? No. Kathleen Stock, OBE, professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, is the great hero of the trans-excluders, yet she has published little academically on trans rights. She prefers sites like thearticle. She argued there that Stonewall’s definition of conversion therapy was illogical. Here it is:

Conversion therapy (or ‘cure’ therapy or reparative therapy) refers to any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity. It is based on an assumption that being lesbian, gay, bi or trans is a mental illness that can be ‘cured’. These therapies are both unethical and harmful.

Prof. Stock imagines an AFAB person aged 14, who is aware they are attracted to “women (or at least, to females like her).” It seems Prof Stock thinks lesbians are incapable of unrequited love for straight women. If they were some heartache would be avoided. M, whom Prof Stock gives a female name, has dysphoria, which Prof Stock claims is “an unconscious response to the social imposition of sexist and heteronormative stereotypes upon females”.

Prof Stock’s argument that the therapist cannot avoid some kind of conversion therapy is this:

If [M’s] self-diagnosis (‘I’m a boy’) is questioned by the therapist, the therapist can be construed as failing to affirm, and so putatively ‘converting’, a trans child to a ‘cis’ one. If, on the other hand, [M’s] self-diagnosis is affirmed unquestioningly, the therapist is effectively failing to affirm [M] in a sexual orientation of lesbianism; something which also looks like conversion by omission.

Orientation conversion therapy would entail attempting to make M attracted to men. It is objectionable because it disapproves how M is attracted, and attempts to change that. It can’t be changed, but the attempt can hurt the victim.

Rather, Prof. Stock imagines it is about words and descriptions. M’s transition would not stop them being attracted to women, but, Prof. Stock says, it would stop her being a lesbian. They are the same person, with the same attractions, but because the words used to describe them change, Prof. Stock thinks this is conversion therapy. However, if M is trans, rather than confused, M has never been lesbian.

M’s nature is not changed. A therapist might legitimately explore M’s gender dysphoria, to assess whether transition is appropriate, but need not change M’s nature at all. It would become conversion therapy if M could never convince the therapist they were trans, and the therapist insisted on making M happy to present female. It would not be conversion therapy if M was not trans, and the therapist helped her discover that.

Prof. Stock can’t quite believe in trans men, even though she is obsessed by them. Her description of M assumes M is really lesbian. But no conversion therapy need be attempted here. The therapist wants M to be happy and well adjusted- so does not attempt to change their orientation or their gender identity. Therapists never affirm trans self-diagnosis “unquestioningly”. They challenge us.

If Prof. Stock really is the main anti-trans campaigning philosopher, one would expect something better than this. Prof Stock has not been unable to publish transphobic rubbish in academic journals not because it is transphobic, and there is some problem with her freedom of speech to utter transphobic ideas: the journals have not published her because her ideas are too silly.

The work of the Scottish artist Gertrude des Clayes has recently come out of copyright.

Kathleen Stock

Professor Kathleen Stock, OBE, gave a talk calling for the drastic reduction of academic feminism. Though she barely referred to trans rights, her talk only makes sense if you realise she considers its acceptance of trans people renders academic feminism worthless.

She says academic feminism is not feminism because it is “no longer directly concerned with women and girls”. That feminism says nearly all differences between men and women are social and cultural constructs. She calls respecting trans and nonbinary identities “anti-feminist and anti-intellectual”. She claims people who believe in cis privilege deny any claim cis women have to political attention: as if they did not think male privilege important at all, never objected to it, and did nothing about it.

She says academic feminists cannot “easily” discuss menstruation, or properly talk about the objectification of girls, because they use language which includes trans men and nonbinary folk. She seems to disapprove of academics “working in the name of justice rather than simply documenting or explaining things”. But academics cannot simply document, because justice or injustice is advanced by where they pay their attention. Prof. Corinne Fowler reporting on slavery links to British wealth acts for justice merely by describing, and is passionate about attacks on her right to so act. Ethics is the philosophical attempt to define justice: without philosophy, we cannot improve our understanding of what is right, and so our work for it is impeded.

Stock’s definition of “liberal” is wide. It includes a “dream of objective universal values”. I would call that “Enlightenment” rather than “liberal”, which refers to freedom, even though “freedom” can be defined in so many different ways, some the opposite of others. Stock talks of “neoliberal” universities. Neoliberalism is about the absence of restriction by government, freedom to make monopolies and despoil the planet. It is far, politically, from trans inclusion, which requires government action to promote equality.

I don’t understand this criticism. “Academic feminists are still likely to think of themselves as uniquely well-placed to see what ordinary women cannot, via their superior rational capacities and quasi-technical methodologies.” Surely that is the point of academic study? If you devote yourself to knowledge about a particular subject, you will understand it better than someone who does not.

She wants a “post-liberal feminism”, free of all this.

It should recognise that women have different interests from men because of sexual dimorphism and heterosexuality. Men are stronger and more aggressive than women, and desire them sexually, and this causes “huge suffering” in women. Of course. She claims academic feminism “takes away the words of women to say this”. She does not say how. It is left to the audience to infer that she means, by promoting trans inclusion. But feminism also needs to address male privilege, which she does not mention, the cultural tendency of both sexes to show women less respect and attention than men.

She wants a recognition of “femininity”. Feminism should work to eliminate gendered ideas and practices which negatively affect the well-being of women, but always recognise the value those ideas have to those women who are attached to them: she recognises mere condemnation alienates those women, and achieves nothing.

I like that bit, and it’s the part most widely mocked. Someone quoted her phrase “The goal of feminism should not be equality”, out of context. Roz Kaveney tweeted that Prof. Stock was “replacing freedom and equality with ‘well-being’ which she can’t define”. That is no criticism: Prof. Stock says feminism’s purpose is defining it.

Well-being seems a pretty clear word to me. As Prof. Stock says, it has physical, mental and spiritual aspects. Different people have different ideas of well-being, which may be more or less “feminine”.

The most important thing when considering femininity is that there is no characteristic, emotion, virtue or aptitude which is not equally valuable in both sexes, or which only applies to one sex (apart from role in reproduction). True freedom is the ability to develop ones capacities to the full, however “masculine” or “feminine” they are, even when they contradict social stereotypes. Some women want a large family, and accept Complementarian gender roles in order to nurture it: feminism must wrestle with that reality.

My feminist friend, going to university around 1970, told me she could not understand how compliant the other female students were, and because women like my friend are particularly oppressed by gender stereotypes they may be particularly drawn to feminism. That makes feminism’s response to homemaker women more fraught. Outside universities, there are women’s groups which fit homemakers better, others which foster radical feminism. These groups will simply be at cross-purposes unless academic feminists can make some sense of the issues.

Prof. Stock finds feminism outside the Universities best able to define women’s well-being. “Collectively groups of women and girls can work out what is conducive to their well-being, or at least what clearly isn’t.” Perhaps she is thinking of Ovarit, or the trans-obsessives of Mumsnet. When “many spheres of value are still dominated by men, others by liberal elites, and nearly all by capitalism” she admits working out well-being is difficult. Fortunately, among ordinary women as well as academic feminists there are many trans allies. There is no feminist aim supported by all women.

Ordinary women might not need academics to tell them that “choking during sex” is harmful, but academics might find how prevalent women being aroused by it is, or women consenting when it arouses men, or how, legally, consent to strangulation as a defence to a charge of murder could be treated. Considering what questions are most useful to ask, or how best data might answer them, is a peculiarly academic skill.

Prof. Stock says academic feminists should help grassroots feminists achieve their aims, through data collection, not claim to know better about “ontological or moral reality”.

Prof. Stock’s rejection of academic feminism, and feminist ontology or ethics, makes no sense but for her rejection of trans inclusion. If there is any other grassroots feminist issue which academic feminists oppose overwhelmingly, please do say.

Prof. Stock’s transcript is here. It is clear she got her OBE for hating trans people, and advancing Tory nationalist aims. There are too many equally eminent academics who have not been so honoured. It is because she would get rid of academic feminism. She believes any value academic feminism has, is vitiated by trans-inclusion. This assigns far too great a weight to trans inclusion, and finds it uniquely damaging. It is clearly transphobic, that is, an irrational fear reaction.

Her talk, and others from Res Publica, are on video here. A long detailed refutation of Stock’s poor argument, mendacity and transphobia is on Praile.

Tweets and reality

Is Eddie Izzard a lesbian? It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.

Some words have precise meanings. A zoologist plying his trade would not call her a “cat”, meaning the family Felidae or the genus Panthera or Felis. But you might see her moving on stage with feline grace. She is not a planet, because that has a clear meaning- Pluto was, then it wasn’t- but she is a star. She may be a hepcat- I knew slang, I thought it was 1960s, two words, hep for fashionable, cat for cool person. Words are slippery. Even scientific words have fuzzy edges where they may or may not apply.

Eddie says he’s a lesbian in a man’s body, and is that a good thing? A lesbian is a woman attracted to women. Homophobes find that weird, shameful or disgusting, and mourn the time when more people shared their opinion. If Eddie calls herself a lesbian it’s aspirational, something he wants to be. It becomes something to be proud of.

It’s only a bad thing if it forms some sort of threat to lesbians. The Times argues that it is, that lesbians are erased. Grace Petrie tweeted that if the transphobes were concerned about lesbian erasure, they might start a regular lesbian life column. No, because they only support lesbians in order to attack trans folk. The Daily Mail even supported a trans woman, once- to attack Muslims.

Insisting on too rigid a distinction between lesbian and bi might be biphobic. Trans women are women, so trans women attracted to women and not men are lesbians. If you think that’s a threat to lesbians, please explain why.

Right now, there are things to be angry about. The extreme incompetence of the British government has led to a sudden lockdown, when we can only go out to work if it is impossible to work from home, no more than two people can meet outside in a public place, and all the shops but pharmacies and supermarkets are shut. Schools are shut, but even on Monday 4th the Department for Education had a high-level meeting insisting they would be open, and children would be regularly tested for covid. So schools, without additional funding, have had to plan a testing regime, only to find now they will have to implement distance learning, with no notice. The hospitals are full, but infections have continued to rise, which means people will die who would have survived had they received proper medical care. Bizarrely, churches can open for worship, though many run food banks.

So, the usual suspects stir up anger against trans people instead. Jackie Doyle-Price, Tory MP, tweeted anger at Eddie calling herself a lesbian. Rosie Duffield, a Labour MP who should know better, liked the tweet. Tories, being English Nationalists, need to stir up hatred against enemies. Duffield has no such excuse.

Duffield also liked a tweet about a transphobic picture book, “My body is me”.

Bodies are different. Children are too.
Some prefer pink things. Some prefer blue.

That might be seen as reinforcing gender stereotypes in the most basic way. The book, which is unavailable on Amazon, shows children with “girl” hairstyles and “boy” hairstyles.

My body can act like a low flying plane
A mermaid, a dragon, one part of a train.

The plane- a boy walking, with planks strapped to his arms. Why low-flying? I stuck my arms out, no planks needed, and yelled NEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAOOOOWW. I was definitely high flying. It doesn’t set much store by child imagination. The mermaid is clearly a girl. Rigid gender stereotypes, again.

You are born in your body. You don’t have a spare.
So love it, hug it, treat it with care.

“My body is me” might be materialist, denying the existence of an immortal soul, so distressing Christians, but “You are born in your body” is denying the truth of trans children. Most children simply won’t understand, they won’t know what the alternative might be, but the five year old AMAB child who knows she is a girl will learn in the most direct way that she is not acceptable as she is, and has to keep quiet about it. Most children are cis, so will be unaffected. Some are trans, and will be traumatised.

Pink News reported, and quoted Duffield’s response- “click bait non story sourced solely from the weird world of Twitter” which she inhabits.

Duffield is doing the Nationalists’ work for them, spreading hate. It is deeply hypocritical of her to say that the pandemic and Brexit chaos are more important issues.

Should we respond to the phobes? Arguably not, it just gives them oxygen. Trans people spending too much time looking at this may become depressed. Haters will be encouraged to hate more. On the other hand, Duffield is doing Tory work, supporting Tories, and spreading hate in the Tory interest, so the Labour Party should take action against her.

Amol Rajan

A transphobe was arrested at a protest while causing a disturbance. He goes out in a sandwich board reading “I ❤️ JK Rowling” on one side, “gender ideology does not belong in schools” on the other, and he gets into confrontations. “My pulse is often elevated way beyond what it should be” because of the stress of these encounters, he says. I read this and thought, “I hope he gets a heart attack”.

I am not proud of this. The man crowdfunds billboards against trans rights, which get far more attention on twitter. He is an insurance broker from British Columbia. In a sane world, he would not hate or campaign against me, and I would not hate him because I would never have heard of him.

Six months since JK Rowling’s hateful screed against trans rights, it continues to reverberate. I would rather not be reminded, but there’s this long article in The Cut, on how Rowling’s life and personality have led her to transphobia. Rowling is controlling over her wizarding world, and a transphobe Kathleen Stock is a proponent of “extreme intentionalism”. In contrast to Deconstruction, Stock argues a text is “a set of instructions to imagine certain things”. I disagree, but it might appeal to a controlling author.

I would have ignored Amol Rajan’s blog post mentioning Rowling had it not been for the DW article. I poked around the DW site. Is it some crackpot hard right site funded by US billionaires, like Spiked or The Critic? No, it is Deutsche Welle [wave], “Germany’s international media organisation”, “an unbiased media organisation… conveying Germany as a liberal democracy”. It takes interest in Free Speech, and for once means real free speech issues like journalists getting arrested, rather than some claimed right to spew transphobic hate free from criticism. So why did it have an error in its headline, and another in its lede? It wasn’t a BBC award, but a jeu d’esprit of BBC media editor Amol Rajan.

What was the “award”? Rajan writes a blog post once a year naming a few essays he really liked. He admits the heading [Bertrand] Russell award is just something he made up, as if I were to award a George Eliot prize to Laverne Cox (except I wouldn’t, as I am terribly jealous of the recognition for trans writers). He claims not to take a view on the issues raised, but says Rowling was brave because of the disapproval she faced. But he likes plain language, even plain language spreading hate, like Enoch Powell’s most infamous speech.

DW writes throughout that it is “The BBC” giving this “award”. Pink News covered the story, but few others did, and I would not have but for Deutsche Welle and some wailing and gnashing of teeth in trans facebook, first over Rajan’s blogpost then over DW’s report.

Had he other form on trans? Some trans people, disabled people, BAME people objected to “Little Britain”, and when Netflix removed it Rajan went on BBC news to discuss the issue. I could not find what he said, something about “nuance”, but viewers liked it, said the Metro. Rajan condemned “offence archaeology”, which is trawling through ten year old tweets to find something that might offend, then using it to discredit the now-famous twitterer. The hard Right objects loudly to this as “cancel culture”, but Breitbart uses it against journalists- sneakily quoting anything that might be read as offending Left wingers: see this Atlantic article under the subheading War on the Press.

Also on Trans facebook: the Law Commission consultation. “We provisionally propose that the offences of stirring up hatred be extended to cover hatred on the grounds of transgender identity and disability. Do consultees agree?” Oh God, no. There would instantly be all the haters, self-publicists and provocateurs crawling out of the woodwork, saying hateful things and blogging them, daring the CPS to prosecute them.

Where trans teens are refused access to the right toilets for their gender, they are more likely to be sexually assaulted. That puts Rowling’s “fears” in context.

And- it is not personal. Up until 1900 anything you actually heard was personal. In 1896, the New York Times circulation was less than 9000, when the population of New York city was 3.4m. There was no media for most people beyond talking face to face. There were telephones, but most people wouldn’t have one. Now I can comment on any news I see, then note how many Likes and replies I get. People identify personally with their political party so that an insult to it is an insult to them, their personhood. This is not healthy.

Amol Rajan liking JK Rowling might affect the general view of trans rights in the UK by an infinitesimal amount, but a lot of people’s heart rates might be elevated. It’s not personal. It grabs my attention in a way that is not good for me.

Science and politics

What can science tell us about Covid? What should politicians decide, and what else should influence them? How are politicians helping, and how making the situation worse?

When the first casualties were dying of a new kind of pneumonia in Wuhan, science had a body of settled knowledge which would help humanity through the pandemic. This included knowledge about the immune, circulatory and respiratory systems, an understanding of what a virus was, how epidemiology could track an illness, how studies could give evidence of the effectiveness of treatments, how to assess evidence, and how to create and test vaccines, including a new kind of vaccine first used on covid. There was engineering knowledge of how to build ventilators and PPE, and medical knowledge of how to treat patients. There was behavioural science on how people might respond to the disease and to rules to combat it, and economic theory on how to mitigate the economic effects. By contrast the virus that caused the 1918 influenza pandemic was not discovered until the 1930s.

Scientists then began amassing useful knowledge about the pandemic. The virus’ genome was sequenced, and mutations have been sequenced since. Precise mutations can help show whence the virus is spreading. Studies showed how long viral DNA might last on particular surfaces, but also that infection via surfaces was rare, unlike with rhinoviruses. Infection was more likely through virions in aerosols or droplets exhaled. Tests were developed to test for current infection, or for past infection by testing for antibodies.

Common symptoms were found early: a fever, and a continual cough. Less common symptoms were documented later. Knowledge of how covid can affect people is growing.

Apps could show where people had been and when they might have had contact with an infectious person. There were the phones to run those apps, and the skills to write them.

Whether we should attempt to achieve herd immunity through mass infection is a moral issue. It is not acceptable to infect so many as would be necessary, when 1% of those infected die.

The rest is politics. Whether schools should be closed to restrict the spread of the virus is a matter of weighing different interests against each other. What businesses should close, and which remain open, is a political decision.

In London in December, people could go to the gym or the pub. That seems too risky to me, with people panting for breath, or talking loudly, and so spreading the virus, but it is a political decision to allow dangerous businesses to remain open, rather than compensating them for ordering them to shut, or forcing them to bear that loss. The pubs are shut, now.

It was a political decision whether people could meet in the open air. At one point, people could not meet their parents in their gardens, though it was outside and infection was unlikely.

Left wing politics is best for counteracting a pandemic. We need common action for the common good. It is unconscionable for the extremely rich to make money from such a natural disaster. People who lose wages should be supported, up to a certain level. Left wing politicians are better able to see how people will act for the common good: left wing politicians imposed a requirement to wear masks earlier, knowing that people would comply, for their own good and the good of the whole community.

The hard right Nationalist government in Britain was too selfish to govern well. When Dominic Cummings broke the lockdown rules, the Prime Minister should have sacked him, in order to preserve respect for the rules. They also had a craven desire for popularity, so promised we could celebrate Christmas together from about July, and kept making that increasingly dangerous promise until Saturday 19th December. As a result our borders are closed, and supermarkets are showing shortages in some goods, even before their catastrophic Brexit would have achieved the same result on 1 January. Their ideological desire that all testing should be done by private companies rather than public employees, and their corrupt enrichment of their chums, made the situation worse.

The sociopathic President Trump was only capable of seeing his own short-term interests, and Paul Krugman suggests he delayed action hoping the stock exchange index would reach the magic figure of 30,000, improving his re-election chances. His suggestions of injecting bleach may have been to get attention. Republicans used the pandemic to stoke a culture war, on the new Republican doctrine that doing anything which is not entirely selfish is Socialism, and Un-American. Their science denial, developed for so long, on Creationism, acid rain, the ozone hole, and the climate catastrophe, continued on Covid. The result is 300,000 deaths. This is the result of politics. Science can only achieve so much.

Liz Truss

Liz Truss spoke about Equality, and attacked Trans rights.

“In Britain, you can be whoever you want to be. Dress however you want to dress.” Of course this is not true. At work, some men are expected to wear ties, and some women skirts. But worse, it is an attack on trans people. It’s not just about the clothes. The clothes are the way I express my nature. It’s not just that I could wear a man’s suit and a tie, but choose to wear skirts. It’s that I find presenting male unbearable- weeping, curled in the foetal position unbearable.

And no, trans women can’t wear what we like. Presenting male, we might go under the radar, though it is living a lie in a way that makes the rest of life a drifting dull ache. Expressing ourselves female, we are exposed to hate and prejudice which Liz Truss and her government have encouraged.

It is a clear trans reference. Why else would she tell a falsehood about clothes?

Liz Truss says she will reject identity politics, and “move well beyond the narrow focus of protected characteristics” because those “end up excluding other people”, and are used to define people rather than our “individual character”. People often don’t see my “individual character”. They see only my gender reassignment, and treat me worse because of it. Sometimes they think they are considering my character, but they judge me more harshly because I am trans. (If someone with Cotard’s syndrome can rationalise away evidence that they are alive, anyone can rationalise away evidence that they are prejudiced.) That’s why we need protected as a characteristic, because we suffer direct discrimination. It’s also why we need statistics gathered about our employment rates, because we are less likely to be employed, and that is a sign of discrimination against us.

She names some protected characteristics- “sex, race and gender reassignment”. Why those three? Half the population are female, and 14% are BAME. A different but overlapping 14% are immigrants. 22% are disabled. By contrast only about 50,000 people are protected by the gender reassignment rules, 0.1%. She is using the rule of three, which is a good way of inspiring passion but also a way of conveying bathos. She uses “gender reassignment” not as a climax, but intending it to sound a dull thud, making the protected characteristics even less inspiring- because she finds gender reassignment unpleasant, and imagines other people do so too.

She will consider “socio-economic status and geographic inequality”, and “white working-class children”. This is pernicious. It divides the working class, and encourages the white majority to be racist, seeing themselves as particularly done down. The problems of BAME and immigrant people often come from being working class, because they are disproportionately so. We need class solidarity, not division by race.

The data project she offers is a good thing. It will “look at issues around geography, community and socio-economic background”. If the government actually addressed regional disparities, with infrastructure spending in the North of England, that would help. Her government is arguably exacerbating geographic inequality, spending £44bn on another rail link between London and Birmingham. Public spending is no problem to them, as long as the money is wasted.

She promises more Academies, run by private companies rather than supported by local authorities. This results in worse education. Always she puts the Tory privatisation ideology above the good of the country.

She has some warm words: “It is outrageous in the 21st century that LGBT people still face harassment in public spaces”. She promises no action against that.

The most threateningly transphobic line is not on the government website, which excises “political content”, because it is an attack on the Labour Party. It is also an attack on trans people: “It has led to the Left turning a blind eye to practices that undermine equality, whether it be failing to defend single-sex spaces, hard fought for by generations of women, enabling and tolerating antisemitism, or the appalling grooming of young girls in towns like Rotherham.” Antisemitism, sexual abuse, and trans women in women’s spaces are linked together here, equally appalling.

She describes protected characteristics as “misguided, wrong-headed and ultimately destructive ideas that take agency away from people”. She will do less to advance the equality of protected groups, and especially trans people. Her other attacks on trans rights frighten me. The speech is here.

Since then, I have been debating the speech on a public facebook group- not a trans or “gender-critical” group, but a general interest one, where trans folk and phobes may attempt to convince the public. One person raised Truss’s Foucault with a Baudrillard, which I thought a good bet. I said Foucault was right, and found myself in a debate with six women, which started when one claimed only transphobe MPs were “sticking up for women’s and children’s rights”. I asked them repeatedly whether they found any of the speech objectionable- its racism, its opposition to any method to ameliorate inequality- and they did not say, as if its one use of the term “single-sex” had hypnotised them. For them, it appears there is only one important political issue, eclipsing even Brexit and Covid.