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August 04, 2019 22:59 +0100  |  Hate Internet Politics Terrorism 0

I want to pose a moral question, but one for which I don't have a concrete answer. Maybe I'm just working this out in my head, and maybe you can share your own opinions to help flesh out the subject, I don't know. I just want to get this down on "paper".

The US suffered two mass-shootings in the last two days. On the whole, this isn't really news. That country is has had 248 mass shootings just this year. The question about why this is so common in the US when compared to most other civilised nations isn't something I'm going to cover here. That subject gets plenty of dialogue, and I think the answer is pretty well defined.

Instead I want to talk about this tweet and my subsequent response to it. Here's the background for those not up on what a Cloudflare is:

Running a website for a Very Large Audience is a complicated process. You can't simply put your site on shared hosting for $5 or even $500 per month and expect your site to stay online. With popularity comes traffic, and that traffic can come from all over the world, sometimes all at once. On top of that, if your site is controversial, or even just a fun target for people who don't like you very much, your site can be inundated with traffic from bots, choking it to death and running up your bandwidth bills.

To get around this, companies like Cloudflare exist. They supply the infrastructure that your popular site relies on to weather storms of popularity, caching layers to reduce the strain on your server, and protection from would-be attackers. On the whole, the services they provide are critical to the web as it is today.

The thing about Cloudflare though, is that they're rather good at what they do. So good in fact that their services underpin a Very Large Number of websites on the internet. They're so big in fact, with so few serious competitors, that you might think of them more as a utility than a private company. Your favourite news site probably uses them, video game companies, libraries, software companies, you name it, Cloudflare is probably handling their traffic. They host a lot of the web... including a lot of the shadier parts of it.

Yeah we're talking about Nazis.

Hate sites are a perfect client for a company like Cloudflare: they have few resources (so they can't afford a massive array of servers) and are a likely target for attack (because they're Nazis). One might even say that without support from Cloudflare (or one of its few competitors), these sites simply couldn't serve their hateful audience.

So when a tragedy like this one happens, and we see that the murderers are being celebrated on the website that helped radicalise them, an obvious question must be asked: What kind of company would support that?

Truth be told, Cloudflare has the power to knock these sites off the web. All they have to do is withhold their services and wait for a bot army to shut it down. Indeed, that's exactly what they did when their CEO Mattew Prince unilaterally pulled Cloudflare's support for a particular Nazi site (no I won't mention it here) after the protest and murder in Charlottesville, Virginia. The site went down alright, and had to scramble for a replacement -- which they found eventually, but not of Cloudflare's calibre.

So now we have these mass shootings to contend with. There's another site out there full of hate that promotes violence, and now Cloudflare is being asked: "Why can't you just kick these assholes off the web like you did those other assholes?"

As of this writing, the site is still up & running, but I'm really not sure what to expect from their end on this one. The problem is that this is really a question of what the function of internet infrastructure should be: do we want an internet of neutral networks over which we can share our ideas, or do we want that conversation mediated by the companies that facilitate that exchange?

With Charlottesville, Cloudflare set a dangerous precedent. More than a benign piece of infrastructure, they were now making decisions about the nature of the content that made use of their system. Matthew Prince, their CEO remarked at the time on the fragile ground he and his company were treading.

Now, were it entirely up to me, I would want some editorial control over what my company supports in the world. I would have a whole department dedicated to making sure that our clients conform to the moral compass of the company -- but maybe that's a reason why I shouldn't be in charge of a company that's a de-facto piece of internet infrastructure.

The trouble for me is Cloudlfare's size and the critical role it plays in simply keeping the internet running. Cloudflare is so fundamental to how the internet functions that asking (or expecting) them to make a value judgement on the existence of one site is tantamount to trusting their CEO with the nature of our primary means of communication.

This is not a slippery slope argument. They're already feeling pressure from the music industry to monitor web traffic for content that infringes copyright. Cloudflare is an excellent vector for anyone wanting to remove anything from the web because they're so ubiquitous.

I'm still not sure. I want Cloudflare to kick 8chan off its platform. I'd like them to kick a lot of their more controversial clients off their services -- but that's my moral judgement. No one elected me (or Matthew Prince for that matter) -- why should either of us get to decide what does and doesn't get to be on the internet? What if Matthew would rather not serve PornHub or PlannedParenthood?

In the end, a lot of this discussion leads back to one of the critical failures of the internet and globalisation in general: no one is in charge. The internet is global, but at best, the only government anyone can appeal to to make collective decisions like this is that of the company's host country, and in a global society, that just isn't good enough. We've already seen the effects of the US's sex-negative culture on the web. Entrusting the American government with the future of global communication is decidedly a Bad Idea, but there's literally no alternative.

And so, here we are with another tragedy bolstered by hateful people on a hateful website and private infrastructure companies operating blindly on whatever they think will get them into the least amount of trouble. It's a terrible system, but I don't see a way out.

June 08, 2019 19:10 +0100  |  Canada Politics 0

I had someone come to me recently asking about Maxime Bernier's new "People's Party of Canada", and after spending a solid few hours writing the response email, I want to share it here as well. Besides, there's an election coming up.

This person presented both an interview with the Sun, and their party policy as reason to consider the PPC the next best thing in Canadian politics.

I decided to politely (but thoroughly) disagree.

Here's my problem with Bernier and his PPC: they're effectively a smiling mask over something very ugly, attempting to legitimise a position that's culturally toxic, a slippery slope bending toward hate and fear.

I know, that's a stark claim, so allow me to back it up. Before I get into why I think they're terrible though, let's start with the stuff I think they've got right.

The Good

Supply Management

It's a boneheaded idea and it's costing Canadians money every day. Effectively we've taken a few select Canadian industries out of the global economy and chosen to shelter them from the realities of the market and consumer demand. To my mind there's no excuse for this. It necessarily makes them complacent and drives up the costs for people at home. As far as I know, the PPC is the only party talking about it. Indeed, I understand that it's this issue more than anything that got Bernier kicked from the Conservative caucus.

It's a dumb policy, and it should die -- if for no other reason than the fact that it hinders trade negotiations with other countries. The recent CETA agreement (EU free trade deal) had a big problem with this one. Jen Gerson has a fantastic column on this in the Guardian if you're interested, where she talks about how our dairy industry has soured (see what I did there?) relations with the US for years.

It should be noted though, that the biggest drivers behind supply-side management are rural farmers, the same demographic the PPC is courting all over their platform so... I'm not sure what anyone can honestly expect here.

Corporate Welfare

Corporate welfare is a serious problem and has been as far back as I've read into Canadian history. Generally speaking, it's bad policy because it makes business dependent on a hand-out, and even after an industry is performing well, it generally continues to receive those government benefits for fear of job losses being tied to the removal of said benefits.

Specifically though, (and convenient that Bernier doesn't appear very vocal on this point), there's a whole whack of oil, gas, car, and aerospace companies on the government teat. Not on that list of top 25 corporate welfare recipients: a single green energy company.

So it's all fine and good to be opposed to corporate welfare, but again, the PPC is courting a demographic that's widely dependent on said welfare, all the while I hear people speaking for the party claiming that the real problem is subsidy for green energy.

End Barriers to Trade Between Provinces

It's dumb, and this is a popular idea -- even between the leading parties. I don't know a lot about the reasons behind why this exists, but I'm willing to bet that it's the provinces themselves behind these barriers rather than any limitations imposed federally. So, while I agree it's a good idea, I'm not convinced that a federal party can be the one to fix it.

"Principles"

He talks a good game about principles, and I'd like to believe him. Indeed, one of the perks of being a new party is that you don't have a record to run against, but rather an idea of who you would be. I like the idea of a man and a party that want to run on unpopular ideas (I tend to vote Green after all). It's the ideas that should win out, and not one's willingness to pander to all sides.

So let's have a look at some of those ideas.

The Bad

The Interview

"Unity is our Strength"

Famously, Bernier ranted about "diversity vs. unity" on Twitter in one of the greatest dog whistles of his career to date. At the root of his argument is that Canada is a country built by the French & English (conveniently ignoring the millions of immigrants who helped build the infrastructure, fought for the country, and died for it, but whatever) and that somehow these two groups have exclusive rights to unique Canadian values like rule of law, equality, and freedom of speech.

What's fascinating about these sorts of statements is that they at once bolster how you feel about who you are, and your country, while simultaneously insinuating that "the other" is somehow too foreign to possibly understand why you would think things like the rule of law are worth having. The reality however is that the vast majority of immigrants come to Canada from countries that have all of these things, and that those who weren't lucky enough to grow up in a country with them are coming to Canada because of them. He is painting a picture of an "evil other" that exists at worst, only on the fringes, but makes it sound like a serious threat.

The word for this is Nationalism which, in Europe at least, is mostly a dirty word because they know where that road leads.

The reality is that Canadians have more to fear from other Canadians of so-called "European decent". Historically it's been white people blowing up more stuff and killing more people in Canada than people of any other background. Have a look here for some details if you like. Note also that historically police in Canada have been slow to label violent attacks against civilians as "terrorism" when the instigator is white. Notably, Toronto's Incel van attack isn't listed among the incidents of terrorism in Canada.

The part that really gets to me though is this suggestion that unity is somehow better than diversity. This statement is objectively false. In every conceivable situation, unity is terribly weak in the face of a diverse system:

  • In biology, a diverse microbiome helps you fight off disease.
  • In ecology, diversity improves resistance & longevity while a unified ecosystem is so fragile that it must be artificially protected.
  • A unified economy is susceptible to market forces, while a diverse one can weather any storm.
  • Even metallurgy recognises this: alloys are infinitely stronger than homogeneous metals.

It's just wrong on its face -- that is, unless you're playing to an audience you've already convinced to be afraid of different people. Where exactly does this line between "us" and "them" get drawn? What happens when you find yourself on the wrong side of this line? History is full of answers, and none of them are good.

Bernier is a man who in one breath tells a story about him chastising a woman for referring to herself as "Chinese Canadian" and in the very next sentence refers to himself as a "French Canadian". He is tone-deaf to his own biases on one hand, and dog whistling to racists on the other.

Have a look at their immigration platform with the above in mind. Note the boogeyman they've created there, suggesting that somehow the UN is helping "the immigrants" change the cultural character of the country. There is zero evidence for this claim, but people like this don't need evidence when they have a story.

Climate Change

The man laughed at the mention of the topic. As far as I'm concerned, that alone is enough to discount his opinion on anything, but I like to be thorough.

In his words, the PPC will have no action on climate change at the federal level. Any parent of a child who will have to grow up in this world should be enraged by this. For 50 years we've been peddled this lie that the individual is responsible for their own impact on the earth, while we allowed governments and corporations to literally get away with murder to keep their profit margins up.

Here's what we know:

  1. Climate change is real
  2. It's driven by human action
  3. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions
  4. Corporations don't respond to individual action.
  5. They do respond to government policy.

Given that we know the above to be true, any party that would state that the federal government has no business sticking its nose into climate policy must be rejected immediately. This isn't political opinion, it's science. The PPC has an official policy of inaction on the single most critical problem of our generation.

Even if they were to win only a few seats, holding the balance of power would be enough to derail any climate policy by any government, making our country further complicit in making the world uninhabitable for the next generation.

It's easy to feel powerless on the issue of climate change. It's hard to try to find any sense of power when you're faced with massive economic forces bent on doing the wrong thing when it comes to climate, but this is absolutely your opportunity.

Any party without a strong climate policy must be soundly rejected. If you want to lend your vote to the PPC because "they have good policies" you are personally acting to defeat our best hope at combatting climate change.

One last note on this file though, given that the PPC is all about principles and all. It's interesting that they're opposed to having a climate policy at a federal level, but Bernier was happy to say that he'd push to get Trans Mountain (and other pipelines) built. In this, he's basically said that he's willing to leverage the federal government to further damage the planet, but will actively oppose any action to fix it.

He is reprehensible.

Foreign Aid

He wants to drastically reduce foreign aid. There's only 2 possible reasons for any politician to support this:

  1. He thinks it'll win votes
  2. He's an idiot

Study after study tells us the same thing: the money that goes into foreign aid inevitably leads to more and better economic development for Canada. I've seen numbers as high as a 10:1 ratio in terms of payback.

Here's how it works, using Bernier's colourful "build roads in Africa" line (note it's always "the shithole countries" that he'll refer to when talking about undesireables):

  1. Canada sends money to Kenya to help in the construction of roads, wells, and schools.
  2. That money goes to Canadian organisations that either do the work themselves or have relations with organisations already there.
  3. The work gets done, the local economy improves.
  4. That newly growing economy now has (a) a means to buy Canadian goods, and (b) relations with Canadian organisations to facilitate that exchange. They may also allow for expansion of Canadian business into their area for resource exploitation.

It doesn't always work out exactly like this and the system isn't perfect, but this isn't charity. Foreign aid is a smart, long-term means of developing your own economy.

There's also the fact that in a global civilisation (and economy), improving the health and economy of others counter-intuitively improves your own quality of life. Watch this video for a great break down on this subject. Bernier is pandering here, either out of political savvy or economic naïveté. In either case, his argument is terrible.

Policy

That was my reaction to his interview with The Sun, and it overlaps with a lot of what I have to say about their platform, but I also went through their platform for a few choice responses:

Equalisation is Unfair

Equalisation is what keeps Canada together. It's the basis for any country (or economic union) with diverse backgrounds. As economies fluctuate through recession and market forces, it's equalisation payments that keep whole swaths of the Canadian public from being plunged into poverty. We help the other now, because tomorrow we may need their help. This is how you build a union -- even the Americans get this. The fact that the PPC doesn't is not a reason to support them.

Get Ottawa out of Health Care

The PPC are unabashedly right-wing, free market capitalists. All of their economic policy speaks to this and their characterisation of Medicare as "abysmal" is exactly what I'd expect.

You have to read between the lines on this one: they want to "get Ottawa out of health care" and delegate powers to the provinces. However, health care is already in provincial jurisdiction and has been ever since the Canada Health Act was signed in 1984. They explicitly say that the problem is that the provinces have grown dependent on funding from the federal government for health services -- but of course they are, health care is expensive and the provinces don't have the sources of funding that the federal government does. To delegate the financial responsibility to the provinces is to download responsibilities (via the CHA) to the provinces without giving them the means to do the job.

What they're really saying here is that they intend to de-fund Medicare to the point where anyone with means will be willing to pay. I refer to it as "Health care for the poors" and it's what's happened to the NHS here in the UK. Health care is done on a shoestring budget, funded by political bodies incapable of doing better, while the rich fund the services for themselves through private insurance.

Frankly, I don't see it as being possible under the Canada Health Act, but if you starve the provinces long enough, you might manage to convince Canadians that Medicare isn't worth fighting for -- and of course that's the goal.

Both of my parents got serious medical treatments in the last year, and it's a certainty that they never would have been able to afford it without the federal government subsidising their ability to be alive. So no, these people can fuck right off with this kind of bullshit.

Privatise Canada Post

This is just annoying, and it's brought up all the time with these types. Somehow, privatising something will always fix it, like letting someone take a profit out of something is the way to make it more cost efficient. It's shortsighed at best, and just dumb policy at worst.

Private companies care about profits, not political ends. That's why finding a private courier to deliver a package to far flung communities in northern Québéc is damned near impossible. Canada Post was founded to bring Canadians together, so that anyone in the country could send a letter or parcel to anyone else in the country -- a political goal meant to facilitate community and an inter-dependent economy. Private companies exist to make a profit, and aren't concerned with political goals, so to suggest that we privatise Canada Post is to say that they don't believe in that political goal, that somehow rural Canadians aren't deserving of access to the same privileges as the rest of us.

While they're at it, maybe they should privatise the police and the fire departments. I'm sure some efficiencies can be found in seeing what happens when only people who can afford to pay out of pocket can get basic services.

Abolish Capital Gains Tax & Cutting the Federal Income Tax to 15%

They say that in the US, the poor support the right-wing because they don't see themselves a "poor", but as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires". This (along with xenophobia) is at the root of support for parties like the PPC.

The thing about taxes is that you have to think about them as a question of national policy as opposed to your personal pocket book. I know that that's not how they want to you think about it, but consider for a moment the size of the bank accounts of the people wanting you to think this way and you begin to see my point.

Say for example that you, as a person of modest means, own a (portion of) your house, and take home a median salary. The suggestion that a party would "put money back into your pocket" by cutting capital gains taxes and lowering the income tax is appealing because it would inflate your paycheque and make selling your house more profitable.

But that's thinking too small. Enlarge the picture to think about the national level and things get a lot more interesting.

In Canada, like most of the world, the vast majority of wealth is held by a few Very Rich People. There is of course a spectrum, and modest-means-you is probably somewhere in the middle, but have a look at what "middle" means in the context of this income chart:

While you may take home 2 or 3 times what the people on the poorer side of the spectrum do, the people on the rich end are wiping their ass with enough cash to buy every house on your street. CEOs in Canada make more money in their first hour of work than most of Canada's poorest earn all year.

In a just society, we try to even things out a bit by levying higher taxes on the rich than on the poor. This means that the super rich are taxed in the area of 50% or even 75% in some countries. If you make $10million a year, you only get to keep $2.5million -- it's still a mountain more than most Canadians ever see, and those taxes go to fund things like health care, roads, and education -- things most of us couldn't afford to pay for on our own.

With this picture in mind, while lowering federal taxes to 15% may mean a small bump to you, it's an epic win for the rich. More importantly though, it's a death blow to social services. Without that $7.5million from that one rich guy, your unemployment cheque has to be a lot lower, veterans affairs offices have to close, and schools get fewer teachers. These are services you can't afford to cover personally, even with that bump from the lower tax rate.

High taxes on the rich are about fairness to everyone, and while there's definitely room to consider moving the tax brackets around to support the low and middle class, calling for a 15% flat tax amounts to robbery of the commons by the rich.

Finally

The danger of populists is that they campaign not on facts, but on a story. To paraphrase a favourite US "president":

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Maxime Bernier is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: Making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That's how you win elections.

Bernier is painting a picture of a Canada under siege by lawless immigrant terrorists, pointing to them (in the absence of any serious evidence) as the true threat while ignoring the realities of failed fiscal policy and climate change. His economic platform is phrased to appeal to the poor and middle-class, but will overwhelmingly benefit the rich and cut the social safety nets that keep the rest of us alive.

He and his party are at best a convenient way to guarantee another Liberal party victory through our borken electoral system. At worst, they're the vanguard for the tumour that is nationalism and even fascism in Canada.

Already you see the racists and yellow jackets lining up to support him -- ask yourself what these people see in him. I promise you it's not a conscious reflection on economic policy. They're responding to that dog whistle.


Update: The party has since removed the entire section on immigration from their website -- read into that what you will. The link I provide here has now been updated to reference the last available copy before it was taken offline thanks to Archive.org's Wayback machine.

May 12, 2019 13:22 +0100  |  Family Grandma Lidia

As I write this, it's been a week since she died, and I'm still not clear on what I want to say.

I loved my grandma, so very much. I want to write a beautiful eulogy for her because she deserves it, but I'm just so consumed with loss that I can't seem to find my usual composure for something like this.

Grandma Lidia was love -- in all the forms imaginable. She fed me when I was hungry (and often when I wasn't), she hugged me when I needed it, she even lectured me when I had it coming. She opened her home to me when I started school, and later when I was living alone, would send me home with giant pickle jars of chicken soup because she knew I wasn't eating right.

She brought the family together every Easter with a cacophony of food: salată boeuf, stuffat, turkey, sarmale, and crème brûlée.

Hristos a înviat!
Adevărat a înviat!

Sure, my grandfather sat at the head of the table, but everyone knew who was running the show. Big family gatherings were where she shined and we loved her for it.

My grandmother supported all of us with a deep sense of love and responsibility that's hard to put into words -- especially when I'm still grieving her loss.

It's a sign of the value of a person really: the scars they leave when they die. These wounds are deep, and the scars are part of all of us now. I know that one day I'll be alright with all of this, but right now it's just unbearable.

I'm sorry I couldn't do better Grandma. I'm just so sad you're gone.

May 05, 2019 12:15 +0100  |  Family Grandma Lidia

I wasn't ready for this.

I suppose that statement sounds absurd on its face, but the truth is that every death of someone close to me has come with substantial advance warning as their bodies gradually failed them. My paternal grandmother even chose the date and hour of her end so precisely that I could literally put Grandma Dies into my calendar a week before it happened.

This was different. It was sudden, and jarring, and just thinking about it makes me terribly sad.

My grandmother died suddenly on Friday, at home, alone. I don't know what the circumstances were yet, but I'm holding out hope that she was as surprised by her own death as I was when I received the phone call, or as my mother must have been when she dropped by and found her body on the floor. I can't shake the image of her struggling to stay alive, alone in her home with no one to hear her calls for help. No one should have to die like that. No one should have to find a loved one after that.

But she died. Alone. My wonderful, warm, loving, nurturing, grandmother, who spent so much of her life investing herself in the people she loved, died on the floor of her living room.

She was the last of my grandparents, but she was also my favourite. Don't misunderstand, I loved all of them: The Wise Old Man, The Impossible Caretaker, and The Unyielding Activist, but Grandma Lidia was the one I wanted to hug and never let go, the one I called regularly just to check in and make sure she knew she was loved. The world isn't just emptier without her, it feels darker, even faded, and I don't know what I can do about it.

I'm just so terribly sad right now.

April 26, 2019 19:21 +0100  |  Family Food Grandma Lidia 2

I've written about my grandmother's soup before, here and here, but those are both attempts to capture a special Romanian soup called "chorba". That soup is quite complicated and can be a hassle to throw together when all you want is something warm & nutritious to help fight off a coming cold so I wanted to share her typical chicken soup for my dear friend Noreen who's in need of such a thing right now.

Ingredients

Required

  • 1 whole chicken Generally for this sort of thing, bigger is better, but as it forms the base of your soup, you want a proper oily one too. I tend to opt for a free-range one over a larger battery-cage type one as these tend to be a little less... I don't know, sterilised.
  • Some carrots I usually opt for a minimum of 3, but will happily add as many as 8. Honestly, there's no downside to adding more veggies as it only makes your soup tastier and healthier.
  • Some parsnips See the above rules for carrots
  • 1 bunch of celery: Again, volume is good here, so don't be stingy as this stuff is pretty cheap and adds a lot of flavour.
  • 1 large white onion
  • Lots of salt: Don't be stingy.
  • Pepper
  • A fist full of fresh parsley: You really can't overdo this, but generally I take a pack from Tesco and dump the whole thing in.

Optional

  • Garlic (chopped up and tossed in with the veggies)
  • Olive oil (in case your chicken doesn't have enough oil in it already)

Instructions

Over the years, I've adapted my grandmother's recipe to suit Christina's and my tastes. Where the two methods have diverged, I've noted them below, but honestly, you can mix and match and the results will still be yummy.

1. Stock

It's pretty simple: get a big pot and put your chicken in it. Then, fill that pot with enough water that it totally covers the chicken by about 3cm (~1" for the American savages that haven't yet figured out metric 😜). Put that pot on the stove and crank it up to medium heat.

A note about the heat at this stage: this step has two purposes: cooking the chicken (salmonella is a bitch) and creating your stock. If you crank the heat to maximum, you'll cook the chicken alright, but you won't have enough time to leach the goodness out of the skin and bones. If you're in a hurry, you can crank it up to 75% at most, but a tastier soup comes from a slow, even hours-long boil at a low heat.

Add some salt while it's cooking. How much? Lots. Take what you think a soup should have in it and triple it. I have one of those boxes of idodised salt in the cupboard and I open the mouth wide to pour about 5 turns of salt into the pot myself.

Cover it, and let it slowly come to a boil. Depending on how impatient you are, this can be about 30 minutes or 3 hours. If you've got the time, I highly recommend the patient route. Besides, you have other things to do while you wait.

Note that while it's cooking, some white fluffy goo might float to the surface (it varies by chicken). Just scoop it off with a slotted spoon every once in a while.

2. Vegetables

Now that the stock is doing its thing, lets get to the other tasty bits. But first, a note about divergence.

My grandmother's recipe calls for all of the ingredients above, but notably, she doesn't put the onion & celery in the soup. They're added for flavour, but removed before serving. Christina likes these bits though, so we chop them up with the rest of the veggies and leave everything in.

Given the above, if you're going Grandma's route, you'll wanna chop the onion in half and chop the celery stalks into halves as well. She also tends to cut the other veggies unusually large... that's your call I guess.

If you're going with my adaptation, then you'll want to cut all of the veggies down into bite-sized chunks (and the onion even smaller: diced). Dump them all into a big bowl or two and wait for the chicken to finish.

3. Chicken Out, Veggies In

You've just spent a bunch of time sucking the tastiness out of your chicken and into that salt water. You can tell we're ready because there should be little bubbles of oil floating on the surface of your water and the chicken skin should be showing signs of peeling back from the flesh.

A note about oil bubbles: This is the sign of some good broth: a good oily chicken tends to produce lots of yummy bubbles, so if you feel like your broth doesn't look sufficiently bubbly, even after an hour of cooking, feel free to add a tablespoon of olive oil at this stage.

Remove the whole chicken from the pot and put it aside. As it'll have a lot of water in it, I don't recommend just plopping into a cutting board, but rather I tend to favour putting it in a casserole dish to cool down. Be very careful as (a) the chicken is very hot, and (b) it's likely hiding pockets of boiling water. Use big long metal tongs or something. Be creative, but safe.

Once it's out and cooling down in the open air, take all of those veggies you chopped up and toss them in the water. Regardless of whether you opted for the veggies-all-in option or the flavour-only-subset, everything goes in right now.

Put the lid back on, reduce the heat, and let it simmer on low. The timing after this point isn't all that important. So long as your veggies simmer for at least 20 minutes, you'll be fine. If they simmer for an additional 4 hours, that's cool too.

Chicken Back In

Once your chicken has cooled down, you'll want to cut the meat off and into bite-sized pieces. Go through the whole bird and take as much as you can, making sure that you don't accidentally include any bones or inedibles. Put all of your edible bits right back into the soup.

Garnish

That's basically it. We've combined the two age-old food groups: salt and fat, with some vegetables & domesticated bird meat. It's yummy, but it can still be a little better.

Chop up your parsley as finely as you can and dump it all into the pot. Then, grind some black pepper into the pot for taste. I usually do about 12 turns of my grinder and then add more to individual bowls, but I love me some pepper.

Noodles!

I always forget this part, but it's critical: the noodles are cooked separately. Pick a noodle type (we tend to favour fusilli, but my grandmother prefers angel hair pasta.) toss it into a pot of boiling salted water and cook whatever you want for this sitting.

Put a handful of cooked pasta into each bowl and then ladle your soup from the big pot into each bowl. Do not put the noodles in the soup pot unless you intend to eat all of it today (unlikely, you cooked a whole bird). Generally you cook the noodles you need for each sitting

That's it! Enjoy your foodz, and let me know how it goes! If you like it, I'll let my grandmother know you appreciate it :-)

April 18, 2019 12:04 +0100  |  Free Software 0

A while back I made a small contribution to GitLab and they were so appreciative that they sent me a free mug which I then tweeted about.

This tweet was rather popular, as it was re-tweeted by a bunch of GitLab contributors and staff, and among a few thank-yous, I received one private message from someone asking about how easy it was to contribute and if I had any tips about the process.

As I've done this a few times (mostly as one-offs) and have a few ¹ ² ³ Free software projects out there myself, it turns out I did have some pointers. I thought it was worth sharing them here.

  1. Respect the requests of the project. If they have a coding style, follow it as carefully as you can. They may come back with requests for changes to conform to the style guide. Just roll with it and adjust your code. For large projects especially it's important that all contributed code conform so that the total project doesn't end up looking like a Frankenstein of different styles.
  2. Don't go big (at first anyway). Make your first merge request a small one that fixes a simple thing and/or adds a simple feature. If your changes introduce new functionality, make sure that your merge request includes a test or two to support it. If you don't include a test, it's very common for the maintainer(s) to request one as tests (a) help others understand what your changes are supposed to do, and (b) ensures that other people's changes don't accidentally break your stuff down the road.
  3. Be accommodating. This overlaps a bit with 1 and 2, but basically the thing to remember that while you think of your addition as a gift (and it is), it's also a burden to the maintainers. While your code may fix a bug or add something awesome, if it's hard to maintain/understand, doesn't come with tests, doesn't conform to the established style, or some-other-thing-that's-important-to-the-maintainer(s) then you're introducing pain rather than offering something valuable. In a well-maintained project (like GitLab) the maintainers will be friendly and responsive and work with you to get your merge request into a shape that's compatible with the long-term goals of the project. Work with them to do what's needed. Making your first merge request is just the first step toward actually getting your changes merged.

As for the technical part, this is a pretty good process for any merge request to any project (though admittedly I didn't follow this for this one merge request to GitLab as it was just a documentation fix):

  1. Check out the code locally and get it running. Depending on the size of the project, you may not be able to get all of it up, but at least get the part you want to change/test.
  2. Run the tests and make sure they pass.
  3. Create a separate branch off of master (or whatever branch the project asks you branch from)
  4. Make your changes.
  5. Add some tests to confirm your changes (you may want to do #4 before this one).
  6. Run all the tests together to make sure they still pass.
  7. Commit everything. Some projects ask that you break up everything into logical commits, while others ask you collapse everything into a single commit. Check the rules for each project to see they have such a policy. If not, use your best judgement.
  8. Make your merge request!

January 05, 2019 18:58 +0000  |  6

A few people have been asking if we've got a registry out there so people can send us Cool Stuff for the baby. Well if you're one of those people, or just feel like sending something for the latest member of our family, here's a list to give you some inspiration:

I believe both sites will let you buy a thing and have it shipped directly to us, so you don't have to worry about trans-atlantic postage.

January 05, 2019 18:34 +0000  |  2

Look at me, posting my 2018 recap just 5 days into 2019. I think I've grown.

In some respects, this was kind of a big year for me, but depending on your point of view, 2018 is rather unimpressive when compared to some of my previous years.

Personal

This was kind of a big year on this front. Christina and I are still happily married and living in Cambridge. Some friends have moved away (back to a stable country with promise and no Brexit, how dare you?) and gained some new ones. We also moved to a new part of Cambridge -- into an actual house. It's the first time I've lived in a house in 18 years and so far, I don't like it.

One thing has pretty much dominated our lives this year though...

Pregnancy

Christina got knocked up this year -- on purpose even! The baby is due any day now, but her coming into the world will have to be a note for 2019.

For the most part, the pregnancy has gone well. Christina is uncomfortable, but by comparison to what she's heard from other mothers, she insists, this has been surprisingly easy. She was cycling to work even until yesterday, but she's now officially on leave, probably until around July. I'm afraid she might go a little bit crazy without a day job.

For my part, I haven't really had much to do (yet). Christina's a fully capable woman who, outside of the occasional help off the couch, hasn't really needed help, even when I insisted on giving it. I expect the bulk of my contribution will come after the kid is born, while we sleep in shifts for a few months. I'm so not looking forward to that.

Once we announced that we had a kid on the way, our friends Matt & Mila were especially supportive, offloading a bunch of their baby stuff to us as they prepared to return to Canada. Watching them raise Kiera over the last year has given us a lovely window into what to expect. I will never forget the look on Matt's face when I bumped into him in Tesco just a month after Kiera was born. I saw my future and it was scary :-)

Grandma Nana

This was also the year my grandmother died, though for those of us who knew what she was going through, it was more a relief than a reason to despair. Grandma had been fighting pulmonary fibrosis for thirteen years, and was ready to go. She exercised her right to die on her own terms, but I'll miss her nonetheless.

My Mom Beat Cancer

My mom, smoker for roughly half a century, came to me back in May with news that she had breast Cancer. It wasn't too far along, and the doctors were confident that she could beat it, and she did.

It's hard to explain what those months were like for me. I found out while I was on vacation visiting family, and everything that came after the news felt surreal. I am not ready to lose my mom yet. What would this be like for her? What kind of pain was she lined up for to fight this? Would my daughter ever get to know her grandmother?

revelstoke1.jpg

I can't imagine what it must be like for people in countries without socialised medicine. Along with the impending loss of a family member, you'd have to consider the ramifications of crippling debt that would follow. In Canada however, my mom walked into the hospital and received surgery and radiation, covered by public funds. She beat the plauge of the 20th century and got to keep her house.

I am so proud of her, but more than that, I'm relieved that she's still around.

Weight Loss

Finally, I started reversing my slow upward trend of weight gain over the last few years and lost roughly 7kg (15.4lbs) over 6 months. I'm feeling healthier and have more energy, and the process has opened my eyes to the amount of bad information we all get when it comes to food.

I lost weight (slowly, and responsibly) by following physics: I took the number of calories required to keep me alive on a day-to-day basis and consumed a few hundred calories less than that number, every day for six months.

What surprised me is how little I knew about a healthy diet in general, namely how little weight loss has to do with (a) exercise or (b) so-called healthy foods. You will absolutely lose weight if you limit yourself to a cookies-only diet, so long as you limit those cookies to the right number of calories per day. Everything else: vitamins, and minerals: that'll keep your liver from failing, but eating more calories than you burn will always make you fat.

Exercise is another lie we collectively follow. Yes, it's absolutely good for you to be active, but if you're expecting a bout of exercise to be the crux of your weight loss programme, you're in for a disappointment. Running on a treadmill for 30min burns roughly 2 cookies worth of calories. You'd have to run on that treadmill for about six hours to work off a single cheeseburger.

Mostly I've managed this by eating the same as I always have, but simply eating less of it. I still consume an inordinate amount of chocolate and indulge in burgers from Five Guys from time-to-time, but always in the context of keeping things under that limit, and it's worked.

As I'm a data-nerd, I've collected the results into a nifty chart that updates every day here

The Vancouver Seawall

Travel

2018 was a rather limited year for travel. With the exception of 2 Canada trips, we mostly stuck close to home.

Toronto

Christina had a short conference she had to appear at in Osgoode Hall in Toronto, so I came along and we turned it into a short holiday. It's was nice to see some friends again, including the city I love, and introduce them to my wife. We ate at all of my favourite places: Futures, Burrito Boyz, Alexandros, (Christina approved of the gyros), C'est What, even Fran's! I got to spend the day with Kelly, have lunch with Lara & Theresa, and go on an epic walk through the Don Valley with Stephen, rounding out the evening at "Snakes & Lattes" with our respective wives.

in-toronto.jpg

Toronto's an amazing city and I miss it dearly. It was wonderful to be there again, if only for a little while.

Brussels

For Eurovision this year, Christina and I hopped on the Eurostar and visited her cousin in Brussels. It was just a short weekend trip, but we met her new boyfriend, visited Mini Europe, ate some burgers and cheered for Estonia (well I did anyway) while we watched the show on Matina's "fabulous A/V system".

Assuming Brexit doesn't destroy the UK in March, I'm thinking maybe this year we'll host a Eurovision party and return the favour.

Canada & Wedding #3

The big bit of travel this year was the voyage home with my new family members in tow.

Christina, her parents, and I all hopped on a flight to Vancouver in July for a "see as much of Canada as you (reasonably) can in in 3 weeks" trip. Her parents had never been to Canada before, so I was determined to show them a good time.

This was also the occasion for our third wedding -- it was also my favourite of the three. To all of you who came, thank you so much for making it the Best Day Ever.

doughnut.jpg

The trip included just over a week in Vancouver, where we walked all over the city: Stanley Park, Commercial, the West End, Gastown, Chinatown, UBC, up to Grouse Mountain, and Granville Island. We saw Bard on the Beach, went through the Aquarium, and walked most of the Sea Wall. You know, touristy things. We even checked out Dude Chilling Park, which Carol thought was hilarious.

Once we were through with Vancouver, we headed up to Kelowna to see the rest of my family. My parents put us up in a nearby condo, and for most of that week, we just decompressed from the excitement of the previous one. Still, we had a bunch of family visits, a trip to see some kangaroos, and a walk along the Myra Canyon Tresles where we managed to see a couple of moose wandering up the path to the top of the mountain.

After our week of down-time, we headed North to Revelstoke where we crashed for the night, then onto Banff to see the prettiest part of Alberta for a couple days. Unfortunately, after the first day, the forest fire smoke made sticking around intolerable, and the staff at the excellent Falcon Crest Lodge were cool with letting us check out a day early.

carol.jpg

We headed East into the prairies, over to Drumhellar, watching the land flatten out around us. It wasn't as dramatic as Saskatchewan, but we weren't going to get that far on this trip. We spent an afternoon at the Tyrell Museum, and then headed into Calgary for a proper steak dinner. That was our last night in Canada.

Overall, and with the exception of Wedding #3, I think much of this trip was (at least to me) to give Christina's family a good impression of where I came from. Her parents got to meet my family, my friends, and my country -- as best as I could show it anyway. It was an amazing trip, but it took a lot out of me.

Amsterdam

The last trip out-of-country was just to Amsterdam for another RIPE hackathon, this time on quantum computing. My friend Mihnea put me up while I was in town and he came out with us for the closing dinner of the event. I miss that town a lot :-)

Revelstoke.jpg

Professional

Only one big thing went down in 2018 on this file: I changed jobs.

MoneyMover → Founders4Schools

I loved working at MoneyMover. The work itself wasn't particularly exciting, but the people -- I love the people there.
Everyone is so friendly and encouraging. You really get the impression that people care about you and the work they do. It's unfortunately something quite rare in my field.

moneymover.jpg

However, the work wasn't really challenging me, and I was beginning to worry that I was missing out on some critical fields of development in the industry. In IT, you're only so valuable as the technologies you can keep on top of, so this is the sort of thing that can hurt you if you take your eye off the ball for too long.

So when the opportunity to move onto a charitable organisation that was promising more complex work, better pay, and a great parental leave package, I couldn't say no. I started at Founders4Schools in November, and am slowly settling into my job. I've stayed connected to MoneyMover though, doing a little contracting work for them here-and-there when I have the energy out of office hours.

Free Software

This year was kind of a big deal for Aletheia and Paperless, and I had the wisdom to not start anything new ;-)

Aletheia

I started this project in 2017, but it was 2018 where it got a lot more people looking at it. The biggest event of course was the talk I gave at PyConUK: the longest, and most nerve-wracking talk I've ever given. People tell me that they couldn't see it, but let me tell you that this was the most stressful moment in my professional life. Still, it felt amazing, and I got lots of exciting questions and comments afterward.

I also did a guest spot on a local university podcast called PirWired. Sure, the show is hosted by a friend of mine, but the audience is non-technical people interested in the subject my technical project is trying to solve. Rahel was a great host, and the experience was a lot of fun.

revelstoke3.jpg

I've also since added a project page to this site for it, along with one for Paperless.

On the whole, I'm rather disappointed with the lack of traction I'm seeing with this project. I believe that this is the best option for the problem it's trying to solve, but I'm afraid I'm not much good at getting people to pay attention to stuff. The code is Free, so anyone can use it, but if they don't know about it, they're never going to use it.

Paperless

With my commitment to Aletheia, Paperless has more or less moved into maintenance mode -- at least for me. People will post pull-requests to the GitHub repo about 3 or 4 times a month, and I try to merge them in a timely fashion, but for the most part, I'm not doing any new development on it.

violet-and-lucy.jpg

Of course, that hasn't stopped it from continuing to grow in popularity. It just crested over 5000 stars on GitHub and users are now responding to each other on the issue queue. It seems people really dig it, especially for its simplicity (my ideology is always a limited number of moving parts), and they're building a community around it.

It's with all this in mind that I posted a special issue about the status of the project on December 31st. I've put out a request for co-maintainers and/or ideas regarding how the community might better grow the project without requiring as much from me. So far the results have been positive, but no one has had the resources to step up and take a leading role yet.

okanagan.jpg

In The World

Much of 2018 felt like we were collectively holding our breath to see what may come next.

parents-and-lucy.jpg

Brexit

Brexit is still a disaster, but only appears to be getting worse. The Conservatives hammered out a deal that nobody likes (but was honestly the best they were ever going to get with the EU) and so the political debate is a complete mess:

  • The Leave Conservatives hate the deal because they think it ties their hands. They advocate for a "hard Brexit": leaving with no deal. Experts say that this would undoubtably lead to food shortages, economic collapse, and difficulty getting in and out of the country.
  • The Remain Conservatives hate the deal because it means actually leaving, though I don't know of any Conservative voices interested in undoing this mess.
  • Labour is obsessed with calling an election to replace the Conservatives. They're going with the "We could have gotten a better deal" angle, which is a lie, because the EU is holding all the cards.
  • The Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists, and Greens are all calling for a 2nd referendum in the hopes that were it to reverse the initial vote, we could safely call the whole thing off. The problem here is that there's no reason to believe the public has sufficiently changed its mind, and it would take (much) longer to organise a referendum than we have before the deadline.
  • The media here has somehow managed to convince the public that Brexit is Labour's fault. Somehow, the party that hasn't had power during any of this, is responsible for the mess that it is.

This country is so fucked.

I've been joking that I'll arrange for us to be in Greece over the deadline. You know, just in case a hard Brexit really does happen and we're left having to deal with food shortages while nursing a 3 month old. I'm now seriously considering it.

Doug Ford

Doug Ford's Conservative party won in Ontario, ushering in a sort of "Trump Light" mindset into Canada's biggest economy. I'm concerned that this isn't being seen for what it really is: a beachhead for MAGA nutjobbery in my home country.

Sure, Canada has a "progressive" party at the helm (more on that later), but governments are transitory, and if the Harper years have taught us anything, it's that a determined ruling party (and leader) can leave lasting scars on a nation.

There is widespread hate (and I do mean hate) for Trudeau across Canada. It's at the heart of groups like the Proud Boys and the Yellow Vest Protests. Ford tapped into it for his own campaign, and it's unlikely that he's the only one who noticed this trend.

Canada is teetering on the edge of an abyss filled with the same anti-immigrant, anti-environment ignorance and fear we see driving the US, but unlike the US, I think there's too many Canadians that refuse to see it. There's still this idea that we're supposed to be better than the Americans. That we could never have a Trump, because being Canadian somehow insulates us from ignorance and fear.

As someone living in the UK, a country with much the same sort of blinders, I say to you now: It doesn't. Be vigilant Canada.

kangaroo-and-jack.jpg

Trudeau Bought a Pipeline

Also on the Canadian front, in a brilliant feat of offloading private risk to public coffers, our "progressive" Prime Minister had us buy a pipeline. Now, Canada bears the financial risk of producing a pipeline designed to hasten the deaths of millions around the world. Go Canada!

US Election

The US had some (sort of) good news though: the Democrats managed to take back the House of Representatives, bringing in some amazing congressmen like my new hero, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

This is the next generation of the Left and it's about time they showed up. With progressive platforms like socialised medicine, abolishing ICE, and recognising climate change as the "single biggest national security threat", they represent a motivated front of people devoted to fixing the mess were all stuck in rather than stoking the coals of hate and fear.

This is a Left that recognises that the majority is leaning right not because they offer anything in particular, but because the centre is so dedicated to keeping the status quo: even in the face of a dire need for change. Every country on Earth could learn a thing or two the recent successes of the Left in the US. The EU especially could find value here: this is the time for parties like the Greens and Diem25 to shine.

Most importantly, this push back from the Left will help to move the Overton Window in the right direction. For too long, crazy, racist, xenophobic, and anti-science has been becoming more and more normal. That shit has got to stop.

banff-bow-river.jpg

Good News

Finally, I have some good news, courtesy of this inspiring article that I found as the year closed out. Some of my favourites:

  • In 2018, after more than ten years of debate, 140 nations agreed to begin negotiations on a historic “Paris Agreement for the Ocean,” the first-ever international treaty to stop overfishing and protect life in the high seas. National Geographic
  • Germany released new figures showing that more than 300,000 refugees have now found jobs, and the share of MPs with migrant backgrounds has risen from 3% to 9% in the last two elections. Economist
  • The UNDP released a new report showing that 271 million people in India have moved out of poverty since 2005, nearly halving the country’s poverty rate in one decade. Times of India
  • A new report showed that the global fertility rate (average number of children a woman gives birth to) has halved since 1950. Half the world’s countries are now below replacement levels. BBC
  • The world passed 1,000 GW of cumulative installed wind and solar power this year. 10 years ago, there was less than 8 GW of solar. Future Crunch
  • Allianz, the world’s biggest insurance company by assets, said it would cease insuring coal-fired power plants and coal mines.
  • China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, revised its renewable energy target upwards, committing to 35% clean energy by 2030. Engadget
  • The United States set a new record for coal plant closures this year, with 22 plants in 14 states totalling 15.4GW of dirty energy going dark. #MAGA. Clean Technica
  • Ireland became the world’s first country to divest from fossil fuels, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament. Guardian
  • Crime falls when you take in millions of refugees too. The number of reported crimes in Germany has fallen by 10%, to the lowest level in 30 years. Washington Post
  • The Malaysian government announced it would not allow any further expansion of oil palm plantations, and that it intends to maintain forest cover at 50%. Malaymail
  • Denmark became the latest country to announce a ban on internal combustion engines. There are now 16 countries with bans that come into effect before 2040 — including China and India, the two biggest car markets in the world. Bloomberg
  • The European Parliament passed a full ban on single-use plastics, estimated to make up over 70% of marine litter. It will come into effect in 2021. Independent
  • There is now a giant 600 metre long boom in the Pacific that uses oceanic forces to clean up plastic, and you can track its progress here. Despite a few early setbacks, the team behind it thinks they can clean up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the next seven years. Ocean Cleanup

What's Next

My daughter is expected to be born in a matter of days so... that's happening. We've got Brexit on the horizon, and I imagine other things I haven't yet considered. For now though, I'm going to call it quits on this post 'cause it's already been 4hours and I still haven't collected the images I'm going to use.

November 16, 2018 19:39 +0000  |  2

This is going to be one of those ranty posts. If you don't fancy that sort of thing, you may wanna skip this one.

As a man, I honestly never gave much thought to childbirth. It wasn't something I'd have to deal with, so much like how to survive in a malaria-infested jungle, I mostly dismissed the idea as something others might have to contend with, but not something I needed to think about.

Then I married a girl who wanted a baby and so we started talking about and researching childbirth. What I've learnt in the past 6 months has been horrifying. If you have a uterus and are planning on using it to make a baby, you may want to buckle up. Here's a shortlist of the stuff that happens to you that we don't generally talk about:

Tearing

53-79% of women tear their vagainas during childbirth. For the lucky ones, this is only a 1st or 2nd degree tear which rip up your mucosal tissues (no stitches), labia minora (stitches... if the midwife notices), the perineum, or the area between the vagina and the anus.

For the unlucky ones, 3rd and 4th degree tears can extend all the way to the anus and even the anal sphincter. This is the sort of thing that you never truly heal from.

Breaking your tailbone

This is what we call it colloquially, but you're really breaking the joints in your tailbone which, if you're lucky (again) will heal after a few weeks of pain. If you're unlucky your tailbone will never heal correctly, you're forever in pain, and not even surgery can help you. [Source]

Incontinence

Ignoring the possibility of fistula from the aforementioned tearing, incontinence (the inability for you to control when you pee) is extremely disproportionately common in women vs men, in large part resulting from pregnancy and childbirth.

Painful Sex (dyspareunia)

Loss of pleasure or even painful sex, is another one. A recent study here in the UK showed that 7.5% of women suffer from this, with that number fluctuating between 5.3% and 10.4% depending on the age of the woman. In another study, 49% of all women experienced pain up to 6 months after birth, and 3.5% continued to suffer after that.


The reason we don't talk about this is multidimensional, but much of it can be attributed to a combination of taboos around sex, and a general lack-of-interest in women's health as a society. Most men don't know what a perineum is, or even that childbirth typically involves tearing, not to mention all of those other risks.

That's not the whole story though. If it were, I'd end the post here. Instead, I want to talk about our experience with the UK's midwife system, how backward, irrational, and dangerous it is, and how I sincerely believe it represents a system of women oppressing women.

Some Context

In the UK, we have the National Health Service (NHS), which is a form of single-payer health care much like Canada's Medicare system. Like Medicare, the NHS is struggling to keep up with demand, but unlike Medicare, the NHS is cripplingly poor. They're so broke that people aren't replacing the lights in the hospitals, there's regular shortages of staff, and a surplus of beds, as there's not enough people to staff them. Doctor strikes (to varying degrees) are a real concern.

It's in this climate that the NHS has adopted midwifery to handle the childbirth process. Over the years they've brought in less-rigorously trained midwives to do jobs the more experienced (and better paid) doctors were doing, freeing the doctors up for other work and thereby reducing the overall cost of baby-making on a national scale. These days, childbirth typically doesn't even involve a doctor and roughly 2.1% of births are done at home.

A midwife might be a trained & experienced registered nurse who chose to specialise in midwifery, or they could just be someone fresh out of high school with a C-average who liked the idea of being a midwife and showed up for a whole 3 years of training. There are no national minimum academic entry requirements for entry into pre-registration midwifery degrees.

Once trained, the midwives are posted to general practises around the country, where would-be parents are sent directly to them. From the moment you pee on that stick, the midwife is the gatekeeper between you and the NHS. She decides if you can see a doctor, if your needs are sufficient that you might go over her head to someone with an actual medical degree.

Feelings, not Evidence

None of this would be a problem really if the midwives were actually thoughtful, rational people, but everything we've seen to date tells us that the opposite is true.

Our midwife has flat-out lied to us on multiple occasions about Christina's health risks and personal welfare. Whether those lies were out of ignorance or ideology, there's no way to know, but the result is an immediate distrust of the only person you're permitted to talk to within the National Health Service.

When your midwife tells you that "vaccination causes whooping cough", there's no recourse for you to find a health care professional that isn't a dangerous idiot. In fact you're encouraged to come to them with everyday questions about your health, your risks, and those of your baby, and you're expected to take their advice at face-value. She is the "professional" after all.

When in Doubt, Make it Up

One of my favourite logical fallacies, the "appeal to nature", is the blind assumption that whatever is "natural" must be the best option. When it comes to baby-making, this means ignoring the fact that childbirth is fucking dangerous and has killed and maimed hundreds of millions of women over the centuries. Prioritising "natural" over man-made practises by virtue of their "naturalness" is not a rational choice but an emotional, and therefore irrational one.

In the context of the NHS midwife system, this takes the form of your only available "professional" giving you advice like the following:

Note: these are actual examples of advice given by midwives to us directly:

  • "Hypnobirthing works!" It doesn't.
  • "Aromatherapy works!" I'm not even going to dignify this the a refuting link.
  • "Avoid 'unnatural' sugars like chocolate or candy, and instead opt for 'natural' ones like honey because 'the sugars are different' and 'natural sugars won't make you crash'." The truth is that honey and sugar are both carbohydrates composed primarily of glucose and fructose, and that if anything, the opposite is true.
  • "Water births reduce tearing". While it's true that water births tend to involve less pain, fewer drugs, and a faster process overall, they don't reduce tearing. In fact, a UK study showed that water births had a 12% higher rate of perineal tears, and a 23% lower rate of episiotomy (when they cut you to avoid tearing). The reality is that it's a terrible method to use if you expect anyone to help monitor the process, because no one can see what's happening and work to prevent damage.
  • "Every woman can breast feed". This is also false and was the subject of a particularly galling incident during a prenatal class we attended last weekend:

    One of the attendees asked "what if you can't breast feed?" and the woman responded: "Why would you think that?" and went on to lecture him about how ignorant he was about women's bodies, that every woman can indeed breastfeed (false) and suggested that his wife was just lazy and wanted to sleep. She then went on to insist that we shouldn't bring formula to the hospital and that if they felt it was appropriate they would provide some.

    Finally, she claimed formula is so hard for a baby to digest that it can cause constipation for up to 4 days. In fact, it's normal for breast fed babies not to poop for as much as 5 days, and formula too has unpredictable results in "regularity". I could find no study citing a correlation (let alone a causation) between constipation and the method with which babies were being fed.

  • "Forceps don't increase tearing". Well of course the forceps don't cause the tear, but inserting them into you, widening you to fit a baby's head & forceps certainly does. Risks to mother and baby with completely dodged or glazed over despite multiple requests for more information.
  • "Midwives don't perform episiotomies". Except that when you press her for details as to who is cutting into you with a scalpel, she confesses that midwives, with all their years of medical training do in fact perform them.

On top of all of this, our experience with their examinations would be laughable if it weren't terrifying. Different midwives have "examined" Christina and found:

  • The baby hadn't grown in 2 weeks.
    • An ultrasound, performed by an actual doctor, showed that the baby was fine. The midwife just wasn't measuring properly.
  • The baby had turned. The midwife pointed to the location of the head, feet, etc.
    • An ultrasound, performed by an actual doctor, showed that the midwife had a completely backward notion of where the baby actually was.

These are the "professionals" you expect to protect you and your baby from injury and death. These women cut into you and make critical life-and-death decisions. The women who lie when the facts don't suit their worldview, and demonstrably don't have the skills (or perhaps just the interest? It's unclear which is worse) to gather the evidence needed to perform the work for which they're responsible.

Women as Baby-Making Machines

The above is disturbing for anyone headed into a life-threatening medical procedure, but unfortunately it's just the start. Imagine a situation where your appendectomy surgeon says to you: "What's really important here is that we save that appendix". You would be understandably alarmed. Surely the doctor's job is to make sure you survive the procedure... right?

If there's anything that's made abundantly clear though our dealings with NHS midwives it's that they don't care about women. Concerns about pain or long-term disability are either shrugged off or met with the same response:

Don't worry, worst case scenario, you won't be able to have another baby for a couple years.

That's right, you had a question about whether your sexual organs would ever be able to work properly again, and the "professional" let you know that the real question is whether or not you'll be able to give birth again soon.

To the midwife, every woman is just a baby-making machine.

The midwives have told us that they operate under what they call "assumed consent" during the birthing process. In other words, you're given the opportunity to outline what your needs are during childbirth, what your red-lines are around things like forceps and C-sections, and then those requirements are promptly thrown out in favour of what the midwife feels is best in the moment. The same professional that couldn't tell you where the baby was a few weeks ago.

If the aromatherapy and hypnobirthing hasn't done the trick and labour goes bad, the midwife makes the call as to whether she'll try to cut your perineum, or if she'll call the doctor to come with the forceps. C-section is typically off the table unless the baby is in real danger. Even more exciting is that these choices are time-sensitive: once the baby is far enough down the birth canal, a C-section becomes very dangerous -- but they might do it anyway.

You don't get a say in any of this. Your consent is assumed, and for the parts where legally your consent is still required, try standing up for your rights when you're hemorrhaging in a bathtub.

The Realities of Geography

So that's the state of things in this backward country. Christina had her final scan at 28 weeks and now we get to depend on the expert opinions of the midwives as their magic fingers somehow figure out if the baby has turned and if it's likely to be small enough not to irreparably harm her.

If somehow the complete lack of knowledge of the situation fails to produce a smooth & uneventful birth, it's unlikely that we will be able to refuse the use of forceps. We just get to hope that the overworked, underpaid doctor using medieval tools to operate on a woman he's never met and knows nothing about won't accidentally maim Christina, kill the baby, or just cause her brain damage.

Hope. In twenty fucking eighteen, people in the UK don't have pre-natal scans to determine child position and size, or properly educated medical help, but they have hope, because hope doesn't cost money.

Statistically speaking, the UK is a disaster on this file compared to other European countries. In countries with high rates of C-sections (either elective or as a first go-to for emergencies) forceps births are much, much lower:

Vaginal spontaneousVaginal instrumentalElective CaesareanEmergency Caesarean
Germany62.26.415.415.9
Italy58.63.424.913.1
Romania62.50.53.833.1
England62.812.69.914.7

Source: Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

What's Next

We've been told that the hospital here flatly denies maternal requests for C-sections, despite the fulfillment of such requests being officially part of the NHS guidelines. We've talked about it, and Christina is comfortable with the "natural" method so long as she can trust that in the event that things go wrong, that forceps will not be used, but rather she would go straight to C-section.

But that's the problem: trust. There just isn't any between us and these budget midwives. They've lied to us, pushed an agenda, demonstrably ignored evidence and best practise in favour of ideology. They're grossly unqualified to cut into another human being, and have directly stated that they have no intention of adhering to Christina's wishes. I don't know what we're going to do, what we can do in this situation.

This is a Feminist Issue

Critically, and as a feminist, I find much of how we treat childbirth outrageous. From where I'm standing I see a bunch of crazy people, crazy women, imposing their whacked-out religion on other women under the guise of "taking back" pregnancy & childbirth from the evil doctors.

It's framed as a battle between "women know better because women" and "doctors want to medicalise everything for profit", but this is a preposterous comparison. The UK is suffering from shortages of nurses and doctors. There's no drive -- especially in a nationalised health care service -- to medicalise anything for profit. The motivation is quite the opposite, so this a blatant myth, a myth fact-phobic hippies are using to beat women into submission.

If this were a prostate cancer treatment, you can bet there'd be outrage. Men aren't socialsed to shut up and put up with whatever society foists upon us, but women are a different story. Women are being fed this lie that childbirth is safe & magical, that massage, hypnosis, and essential oils are just as good as ultrasounds because they're "natural".

Most importantly, women are told that to deny this myth is a betrayal of the feminine, that good mothers sacrifice for their children and so they shouldn't be concerned about what happens to them. This is bullying and oppression, by women, of women.

If this was an organisation of unqualified men insisting that bullshit snake oils were all women needed, that the risks weren't real, and that any concern for the mother's health made her a bad mother, we'd all know what to call it. But it's women pushing this fantasy, and so we play along. We set public policy to fund treatments that don't work, to employ people that lie to their patients.

I'm seething. I'm angry that the state would do this to my wife, but I'm even more angry that society has bought into this fantasy so much that getting professional help for a dangerous procedure is near impossible.

We can hope everything will be alright, but I think any rational person would take knowledgeable professionals over hope any day.

Update: 2018-12-24

As we've spent more and more time in the midwife system here, we've realised that there's effectively two types of midwife in the NHS. There's the hippy-dippy anti-vaxxers, and the battle-hardened, evidence-based decision makers. The line appears to be drawn between the people who give advice & visit you at home vs. the people who actually deliver the babies in a hospital. Much of what you see in this post comes from our experiences with the former, but since this post was written, we've had the opportunity to sit down with a few not-crazy midwives -- one of whom was visibly disturbed when we talked about our experiences above.

We're feeling a lot better about the process now. The biggest hurdle for us was one of trust: whether the midwife on-site during the birth would have Christina's best interests at heart, or whether she would let ideology and logical fallacies drive her decision making. Now that we've had a chance to sit with the not-crazy midwives, we have a lot more trust in the system.

This isn't to say however that there aren't some seriously dangerous idiots in the midwifing system or that they don't enjoy an undeserved amount of cover for their insanity under a stolen banner of feminism. There's no excuse for "medical professionals" to be recommending homeopathy under any circumstances and these people need to be fired. I just don't want to tar all midwives with the same crazy brush. It would seem that a few (far too many) bad (hippie) apples are reflecting poorly on the rest.

July 29, 2018 23:57 +0100  |  2

Even as a kid, I'd always known what I wanted to do for my own wedding. "Potluck in the park" I'd say, and everyone would look at me like I'm crazy or joking. I would then go on about how I was totally serious, that everyone would bring doughnuts and KFC, and that it would be cheapest, lowest-hassle wedding of all time. It would also be a lot of other things, but I would rarely talk about that.

Weddings #1 & #2 we're lovely, but most of the people I love, like deep-down-from-my-toes-up-love, the ones I've known forever, couldn't be there. People like my brother and his new family, or Michelle, Jeanie, Ruth, Shawna, Quinn, Chris & Trish, and Noreen -- I've known these people for more than twenty years -- and none of them were able to cross the Atlantic last year. Then there's the people I met later in life, with whom I've bonded terribly strongly: Poesy, Robin, Stephanie -- they couldn't be there in Cambridge or Athens either, so this one, this day was really important to me.

It was a day full of love, and hugs, and the all-important KFC & doughnuts. Some old friends brought their kids, Ruth brought her family's newest addition, Nelix the dog, and Noreen managed to rope Merry in with her too. People brought their partners, and chocolate, and a shared support for Christina & me. Michelle and I got to sing together, and we looped in Quinn & Merry for an SATB reunion that's 21 years old now. I got to meet Chris' new twins, and teach Violet how to tell time, and we had the simplest, most intimate ceremony I could have asked for.

Poesy led a simple ceremony wherein Violet tossed flowers about while she gave us all a crash course in indigenous culture, and Michael worked his photography magic with everyone over the course of the whole day.

I have never felt more loved, and more blessed than I did yesterday. Thank you to everyone who came out to make it wonderful. I don't think I'm capable of shaping my gratitude into the words I need to tell you how much I appreciate it.