Monthly Archives: November 2016

THE WORDS SAY IT ALL

Giving the game away has always been through the way we speak, the words we use and the life we lead. It seems that science can also help us discover aspects of who we are through our unwittingly spilling the beans without us realising it.

On the rare occasions when teenagers stop talking about themselves they are either swearing or using baffling shibboleths such as ‘bae’. Men normally rabbit on about football, beer and politics whereas women talk about hair, romance and use little heart symbols. Conservatives are obsessed with immigration and spend a lot of their time angling for personal power while liberals fret about human rights and global warming.

The thing about theses stereotypes, a study suggests, is that they are largely true – at least on Twitter. Scientists have found that people can judge a tweeter’s gender, approximate age and broad political opinion with more than 75 per cent accuracy, solely from the words that they use. Some of these words are miserably predictable. For women, they are terms such as ‘cute’, ‘little’, ‘shopping’ and ‘husband’. Men have ‘police’, ‘players’, ‘football’, ‘beer’ and ‘against’. The study also hints at grammatical divides. Older users are more likely to write ‘the’, ‘of’, ‘from’ and ‘for’.

Psychologists, led by a team at the University of Pennsylvania, drafted in 2,741 Americans to rate anonymised tweets by 7,296 authors. The volunteers were told to categorise tweets according to whether they thought they had been written by men or women, younger or older people, conservative or liberal and users with or without university degrees.

Jordan Carpenter, who led the study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science said that on the whole they did a fairly respectable job. Sometimes, however, the stereotypes were misleading. ‘Women were inaccurately perceived to be men if they talked about “tech”, “business” or the “news”,’ Dr Carpenter said. ‘Men were inaccurately perceived to be women if they talked about “family” or were positive. In the past, social psychologists dismissed our preconceptions about different groups as not only harmful, but wrong. Over the past few decades, however, the accuracy of stereotypes has become one of the clearest and most consistent findings in the field.’
Dr Carpenter believes that this makes sense. People use mental shortcuts thousands of times a day to avoid having to deal with the complexity of the world around them and generally they work pretty well. ‘From one perspective stereotypes are more useful as the diversity of people we interact with increases,’

Dr Carpenter said. ‘If I am to draw accurate conclusions at all the best place to start is with the associations I’ve learned about that group. In other words, stereotypes. But at the same time, this makes it easy to be complacent about my stereotypes and to not think twice about whether or not I using them wisely.’

Here is a lexicon of giving the game away.

Women: ‘love’, ‘hair’, ‘my husband’, ‘chocolate’, ‘gorgeous’, ‘make-up’, ‘dinner’, ‘excited’.

Men: ‘Beer’, ‘game’, ‘government’, ‘fantasy’, ‘political’, ‘data’, ‘football’.

Under 24s: ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘bitch’, ‘my life’, ‘crying’, ‘friends’, ‘sleep’, ‘bae’.

Over 24s: ‘news’, ‘house’, ‘Federal’, ‘via’, ‘candidates’, ‘poverty’, ‘awesome’, ‘jobs’, ‘park’, ‘families’.

Conservatives: ‘Moslems’, ‘defence’,’ Christ’, ‘MSM’, ‘evil’, ‘babies’, ‘ISIS’, ‘illegal’, ‘liberal’.

Liberals: ‘Violence’, ‘action’, ‘science’, ‘planet’, ‘African’, ‘marijuana’.
Dig that if you want to…

Man of the Hour

After ten weeks of unforgettable entertainment Ed Balls’ luck has finally come to an end. The former shadow chancellor was eliminated from Strictly Come Dancing on Sunday night having failed in his dance-off with Judge Rinder. The 49-year-old was given a hero’s farewell by his co-stars on the BBC show, who lifted the former Labour MP on to their shoulders.

What a journey it was and what a transformation it has been for the politician who lost his parliamentary seat in the last general election and whose critics predicted the end of his lacklustre political career. His star, if it had ever shown, was doomed to oblivion. The Labour party has fragmented since and is truly in the doldrums for the foreseeable future. There was no tangible role for Ed that could have resuscitated any ambition he may have hoped for as a public figure.

Then, miraculously, a strange opening presented itself through his participation in Strictly Come Dancing. It was considered at first a bit of a joke since he was not an able dancer which proved to be the case. Yet he managed to charm the public in this new bizarre role.

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His adoring new band of followers, which mushroomed suddenly and unexpectedly, backed him to the hilt after they discovered that a onetime dull politician has a side to his character both endearing and, unlike a majority of others of his ilk, endowed with a natural sense of humour that’s hard to resist. Even the press found him a gregarious figure with a loveable disposition and afforded him the kind of publicity reserved for the big stars of the screen and people with phenomenal talent.

He won’t be forgotten in a hurry and hopefully he will rise again in some form or other, brandishing yet another hidden talent. However, come what may he will be remembered as Ed, the man with the hefty balls.

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Men and Sex

What is it about sex that keeps men transfixed every minute of the day? Is it to do with their genes or is it likely to be in their make-up?

Some say it’s fair to assume that when it comes to a night of passion the existence of a higher power isn’t normally on the agenda. But it seems sexual relations actually bring men closer to God – thanks to the production of a hormone that enhances feelings of spirituality. Oxytocin sometimes dubbed the ‘cuddle chemical’ is stimulated during sex, childbirth and breast feeding. It has long been known to promote mother-baby bonding as well as feelings of trust and altruism.

Now researchers believe it could also create feelings of religious devotion in men. A US study found that men given doses of oxytocin were more likely to say spirituality was important to their lives than those who had received a placebo. This was the case regardless of whether the participant had reported belonging to an organised religion or not.

Men given oxytocin were also more likely to say their lives had meaning and purpose and to view themselves interconnected with other people and living things. And when asked to carry out meditation exercises, participants who had been given oxytocin reported experiencing more positive emotions such as awe, gratitude, hope, inspiration, love and serenity.

Research assistant Professor Doctor Patty Van Cappellien from Duke University in North Carolina said: ‘Spirituality and meditation have each been linked to health and wellbeing.

‘We were interested in understanding biological factors that may enhance those spiritual experiences. Oxytocin appears to be part of the way our bodies support spiritual beliefs.’

The strongest effect on spirituality was seen in men who have a particular variant of the CD38 gene which regulates the release of oxytocin from neurons in the brain, according to the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Journal.

As oxytocin affects men and women differently, Doctor Van Cappellien said further studies were needed to see if sex affects women the same way, adding: ‘Oxytocin’s effects on women’s spirituality still needs to be investigated.’

My own deduction is that sex helps men feel a little closer to heaven – or is it perhaps that men have a more fecund imagination? Time will tell when more research unveils more hidden sexual data to do with both genders.

 

 

Last night marked the publication of Summer’s Grace by Vanessa Hannam. The launch took place at Daunt Books in Fulham Road to an enthusiastic crowd who came to pay tribute to a fine lady and an accomplished novelist. Below is the text of my short dress on this occasion.

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Ladies & Gentlemen,

We are here today to celebrate the publication of Vanessa Hannam’s latest novel, which I can confidently say is her best so far. I enjoyed it in manuscript form and I am sure you will all agree with me, once you embark on reading it. You will find, with every page, you are likely to look forward to reading the next and you will retain this delightful anticipation until the very end.

Stanley Johnson, as you can see from the back cover of Summer’s Grace, heaps praise on the book by declaring that he read ‘her brilliant new novel in a single sitting’ describing it as a ‘first rate historical romance which combines fascinating insights into the court of King George II, with a gripping account of Anson’s amazing circumnavigation of the globe.’ He ends his recommendation on a yet more complimentary reflection that ‘Hannam has a sure touch.’

As her publisher I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that her latest accomplished offering is destined to receive the accolade it truly deserves. Please share your enthusiasm with me and buy more than one copy of the book and tell your friends about it. ‘Word of mouth’ is so crucial today, given the uncertainty of the current economic instability worldwide.

I must end on a personal note. Last February, I lost my wife Maria, my companion for 60 precious years, and whose passing left me bereft to such an extent that my life became unbearably void. You can imagine, therefore, the boost I got when Vanessa wanted to dedicate her new book in loving memory of Maria. Such a caring, kind gesture helped me find light in the darkness which invaded the serenity of my existence nine months ago.
I owe Vanessa a great deal, almost impossible to express as words fail me in my present state, but my heart glows every time I hold Summer’s Grace in my hand.

CULINARY GEMS TO DIE FOR

It’s a joy to read that truffles, once the preserve of fine diners and connoisseurs, will soon be within the reach of more modest culinary budgets. Thanks to steady rain in Northern Italy this year, white truffles are likely to be in abundance and Britain could soon be gripped by ‘truffle mania’ as the price drops as a consequence. The so-called ‘diamonds of the kitchen’ are usually in season from November until January but were available as early September this year. The bumper harvest means prices in Alba, where the most prized white truffles are found, have dropped by around 30 per cent. 100 Euros (£86) now buys around 72 grams, compared with 52 grams last year.

Josie Graziosi, the head chef at the Hotel Endsleigh in Devon, said he expects many restaurants will start using truffles in basic dishes. ‘This year it has been good weather for mushrooms and truffles because there has been stable rain,’ Graziosi, 50, told the Sunday Telegraph. ‘If the weather is too wet that is bad but the year has been good and steady… If the weather conditions carry on like this they will become more and more common. It will be truffle mania.’ Mr Graziosi warned that the price of dishes still has to reflect the fact people are eating a premium product but admitted many chefs are hoping the weather stays the same so the bumper crop can continue. Francesco Mazzei, the chef patron at Sartoria in Mayfair, where an extra 1 gram of truffles cost £10, told Bloomberg ‘this year was fantastic’. He added: ‘They [the truffles] started early and we are selling quite a lot.’

White truffles, which usually grow around oak, hazel, poplar and beech trees, are used in a variety of dishes including pasta sauces and risottos, or as an accompaniment to beef carpaccio. Many truffle hunters, who use dogs to sniff out the fungi, keep their most prized locations secret. The fact that they can only be foraged and not farmed helps to increase their value. ‘For many restaurants truffles are put on the menu as soon as they come into season,’ Mr Graziosi said, ‘as it is time for the truffles they have to be on the menu no matter what the price.’

Mr Mazei added: ‘It is an indulgent thing that brings Italian food to the very highest level and the season is quite short.’ But in other places truffles have undergone something of a revolution. Bocca di Lupo in Soho now allows customers to bring their own, much like ‘bring your own’ bottle of alcohol to eat alongside dishes, while some pop-up restaurants serve them in cheaper ‘tapas style’ dishes alongside sparkling wine.

I consider truffles in culinary terms to be the gemlike food that we mortals treat with the sanctity reserved for the gods that the Romans and Greeks idolised and revered in mythology.

ED AND HIS BALLS ROCK THE BALLROOM

Ed Balls, the former Shadow Chancellor and now widely considered by many as the worst dancer on Strictly Come Dancing, is proving to be a phenomenal character. Adored by the public for his comic portrayal of dance routines, they have kept him in the running, despite scoring the lowest points and coming bottom of the judges’ leader board for the ninth straight week.

Descending from the ceiling while playing a piano, his arrival on the dancefloor in Blackpool was the most memorable of the series to date and miraculously it sent him to the last six of this year’s contest, taking him a step closer to next month’s final. Olympic long jumper Greg Rutherford and his partner Natalie Lowe were eliminated by the judges after ending up in a dance-off with gymnast Claudia Fragapane and her partner A J Pritchard. Rutherford said: ‘It’s horrible. I would like to think I was getting better and improving but obviously not.’

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Balls (aged 49) stole the show, as he has been doing so far, when he was lowered from the Blackpool Winter Gardens Tower Ballroom ceiling playing a piano, before taking to the dance floor to jive with the mesmerising Katya Jones, the Russian sex siren, to the Jerry Lee Lewis song, Great Balls of Fire.

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Who would have thought that the tedious politician, viewed by many as a lack-lustre individual, would turn himself into a camp, heroic character full of humour with a highly entertaining dance routines that has captivated his audience throughout the land.

I for one do not rule out the possibility of his winning the contest against odds that defy every conceivable wishful thinking, given the formidable standards of the show itself. Ed Balls, with his now inflated ‘Balls’ will, I am sure, become the likeable celebrity that avoided him as a politician.

THE TORIES IN LIMBO

Theresa May, despite appearances, is in for a rough time. I believe the next few months will certainly give her more problems than she can comfortably handle. Her Tory government is more divided than she dare admit and her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is proving to be a loose cannon and an embarrassment to the very essence of diplomacy, at a time when her government needs all the goodwill it can engender.

On the other hand, she seems to be at odds with Philip Hammond, her Chancellor, whose common sense approach to Brexit is hardly palatable to the right-wing elements in her cabinet, and she seems determined to rein him in, no matter what. In the meantime, Nicola Sturgeon, who refuses to toe the Westminster line, will attempt to block Theresa May from triggering Brexit after being given permission by the Supreme Court to intervene. The Court announced last Friday that the Scottish Government will be allowed to take part in a controversial legal battle over Article 50, which formally begins the process of leaving the European Union.

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The Welsh Government will also be allowed to intervene, along with a trade union backed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader. Ms Sturgeon, whose force of personality will prove to be a big stumbling block to Mrs May, wants the Scottish Parliament to be consulted before the British Prime Minister starts divorce procedures with the EU. Given that the majority of people in Scotland voted in favour of Remain, Ms Sturgeon has warned that Brexit could trigger off a second Independence Referendum.

In its application to intervene, the Scottish Government argued that triggering article 50 would lead to a ‘fundamental alteration of the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom.’ Ms Sturgeon, announcing the Scottish Government’s intention to intervene earlier this month, said: ‘Let me be clear. I respect the right of England and Wales to leave the European Union. This is not an attempt to veto that process. But the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland and the national Parliament of Scotland cannot be brushed aside as if they do not matter.’

The Supreme Court also gave permission to the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain to intervene in the court case. The Union wants MPs to block Brexit unless the Government can meet an extensive list of guarantees about workers’ rights. The participation of a union which supports Mr Corbyn in the case appears to contradict claims by the Labour leadership that the party will not seek to block Article 50. John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, said last week: ‘Labour will not seek to block or delay it.’ It came as Jolyon Maugham, one of the QCs behind the legal action, said that Ms Sturgeon could seek a legal ruling that Article 50 can be reversed. Supreme Court Justices will also invite legal representatives from the Welsh Government and a group representing British expats to intervene in the court case, which begins on December 5.

Downing Street says it is confident it will win its appeal against the High Court decision, which ruled the Prime Minister could not use executive powers to trigger Article 50. Mr Maugham argues that the Scottish First Minister could ‘explode the cosy consensus that the 2-year process for leaving the EU cannot be undone once it has started, by seeking a reference to the Court of Justice of the EU.’

Mrs May’s confidence that she will overcome all these complexities, given the state she is now in, is tantamount to stretching optimism beyond the realm of reality. But being in an age where even the unworthy can succeed when the odds stashed against him or her make the ascendancy virtually impossible, anything can happen.

DOWN MEMORY LANE NINE

Jim Slater was undoubtedly the wiz kid of his generation. The legendary British financier, who died in November 2015, aged 86, had the knack of making money on the stock market like no one before or since. He became known as a ruthless asset stripper, whereas his first love was stock-picking, an activity that remained with him long after his Slater Walker Investment vehicle came unstuck following the 1973 oil crisis, which in his own words left him ‘a minus millionaire’. But his reputation for picking winners was so well established that he not only survived but his magic made him richer than he ever was before.

 

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I first became involved with Jim Slater in 1967 when he was at the height of his notoriety as a new breed of business magnate who had not originated within the establishment. An enigmatic figure, he pushed against the boundaries of recognized practice. He headed a burgeoning City conglomerate, Slater Walker, which was already the subject of controversy in the financial world on account of its boldness of approach and its swift rise to prominence. Slater Walker’s methods could be contentious and questionable at times, but they were always dynamic in practice and forward-looking in concept.

I got an introduction to the company through a chance meeting with Jonathan Aitken at a cocktail party. Jonathan was Jim’s acting personal assistant at the time, and as a result of our conversation Jonathan suggested I might consider taking on a consultancy for Slater Walker. The brief would be for an arrangement similar to the one I had at that time with Asprey, the legendary Bond Street jewellers.

Jonathan needed a contact that would help him become familiarized with conditions in the Gulf States and to find him introductions to potential clients in the emirates. The objective would be to tap the rich resources of the oil-producing states for investments in Slater Walker’s various projects. The appointment was ratified purely on Jonathan Aitken’s recommendation. I met no other members of the company, not even the great man himself. Mr Slater, I was given to understand, was something of a recluse who preferred to remain in his corporate ivory tower, scarcely accessible to anyone outside his inner circle.

A crisis point came after our arrangement had been in force for only two months. During a trip I was making with Jonathan Aitken and two young Slater Walker executives, though Jonathan was full of charm, the two young men adopted an arrogant and patronizing attitude, treating me as if I was an employee rather than their consultant. Tensions escalated into an argument that only just avoided turning into an ugly scene. As a result the trip was an abortive venture which had nothing positive to show at the end of it.

When I received a phone call later when I was back in London, from Jim Slater’s personal secretary inviting me to tea with him the next day, I expected the worst but felt neither anxious nor dispirited; it was just a question of confronting the inevitable. As I waited outside the chief executive’s office I expected to be met by a personal assistant, but found it was Jim Slater himself who came to the door to ask whether I had eaten anything at lunch that had garlic in it before he would let me cross the threshold. It was only after he had been assured that my last meal was garlic free that he welcomed me into his office.

It seemed the most bizarre preamble to any meeting I could remember but Jim set the conversation rolling by explaining that the smell of garlic was totally abhorrent to him. He was sorry he’d had to broach the subject, he said, but it practically made him sick and left him ill at ease. With the issue of garlic out of the way, we settled down to a general chit-chat that had nothing to do with any inquest into the Kuwait fiasco. In fact the subject was never mentioned; instead he said how happy he was to hear that Jonathan Aitken and I were working so well together. He had high hopes that our team efforts would soon reap some good results. As he struck this positive note in the conversation, he pressed a bell hidden beneath his desk. The company secretary duly obeyed the summons to appear and Jim asked him how much I was being paid annually for my services. When the secretary said it was five thousand pounds, Jim retorted that it should be double the amount. The secretary was sent away with instructions to mark the books accordingly.

I had come to see Jim Slater, convinced that my brief involvement with Slater Walker was at an end. On the contrary, my salary had doubled at a stroke and from that time on I would have personal access to Jim Slater whenever it was necessary. Most importantly, it turned out to be a major turning point in my career. He became the sort of godfather I never had.

 

More importantly, I was to learn a great deal during this whole remarkable period in my life. Jim Slater was charismatic and money driven, and had money-making in his bloodstream. It was as if he could have attained orgasm through the manipulation of money, unlike ordinary people, who seek their gratification through more commonplace activities. He belonged to that breed of men who are the cornerstone of capitalism. Without them, the progress of economies would come to a standstill, for they fuel the dynamo that creates their momentum.

FEMINISM ON STICKY GROUND

The empowering of women is gradually taking place, primarily in politics and now it seems that Donatella Versace has suggested that women are better than men at designing clothes because gay fashion designers, the majority of whom work for the cream of fashion houses, are releasing collections she claims for ‘the woman they want to be.’ The Italian fashion designer, vice president and chief creative power of the Versace group, said she believes women understand their bodies better.

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Her comments are likely to cause controversy in general and raise a few eyebrows among her peers. But she believes female designers, presumably such as herself, have an advantage because they understand a woman’s body, a woman’s security and a woman’s attitude.

The 61 year old told The Times Magazine: ‘I love gay people. My friends are all gay. But some of the designers, when they design for the women they want to be, they are thinking of themselves… But themselves and the woman are not the same. I want to design clothes that say, “this is a woman’s clothes”… Ricardo Tisci is amazing, so many male designers are amazing too – but sometimes there is this little thing when they need to take themselves little behind who they are and to look at the real woman.’

Versace, rumoured to have pop star Lady Gaga play her in a new series of American Crime Story depicting the real-life murder of her brother Gianni in Miami in 1997, recently told how she wanted to empower women with her latest designs. Some of her latest womenswear collections incorporated a military style with the inclusion of flat shoes that were seen as radical for the brand. She added: ‘We are strong, women are strong… and sexiness does not have to go against power.’

Does all this signal a new birth of a feminist ideology that will sweep through the fashion industry making women lose some of their magic, as viewed by heterosexual men to the detriment economically of the fashion industry?

The less boundaries talent has, the more creative input it generates and scales. Empowering women is one thing, but should never be for the sake of it.

Merit should always be the guiding factor.

A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR…

Sugar is a highly addictive poison, and, over the years, its use has been multiplied in food products and beverages to the detriment of the nation’s health. So it is welcome news to read that fruit snacks, yoghurts and smoothies are to be targeted by health officials under new guidelines being drawn up in the war on sugar. Scientists working with Public Health England (PHE) have ruled that certain snacks and drinks contain harmful free sugars which are being blamed for the national obesity crisis. Experts say adults should restrict free sugar to no more than 5 per cent of their total calorie intake. Children should eat far less.

Free sugars are defined as those that have been refined, as opposed as those which are naturally present. But there has been debate whether sugar naturally occurring in fruit, smoothies and bars should be treated as refined sugar. Now the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) says in many cases those products do include free sugars, as the fruit is processed. It means anyone wanting to stay within official guidelines may have to consume fewer smoothies and supposedly healthy fruit-based snacks.

The decision will bolster PHE’s warning on free sugars. The new definition will be used in calculating the public’s free sugar intake through the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. It is more stringent than previous guidelines. Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at PHE, said: ‘SACN advised some changes to the draft definition and we’ll use its advice to finalise the definition in the coming weeks.’

The change to include more products is being welcomed by campaigners but they also complained the system is so complex it is hard for consumers to know exactly what contains free sugars and how much. Jenifer Rosborough, nutritionist at Action on Sugar which campaigns for a reduction in sugary food, said: ‘There is already so much confusion around in fruit juice and smoothies as well as honey and other syrups – meaning that it’s really easy to over-consume free sugars. As a population we are consuming 2 to 3 times what’s recommended.’

The scientific panel considered what was naturally present in fruit and vegetable purees, juices, smoothies and other similar products should be treated as free sugars where the cellular structure of the fruit or vegetable has been broken down, but it also concluded sugar naturally present in stewed, canned and dried fruit and vegetables should be excluded from the definition of free sugars.

That may add to confusion because fruit bars made from dried fruit will not be considered to contain free sugars, while fruit bars made from fresh fruit will. Does all this confusion, which seems more complicated than ever, help us?

Well, your guess is as good as mine. However, all this does not detract from the fact that sugar is a dangerous commodity that should be consumed with extra vigilance. At least we have been warned…