Betting and honors in the UK

The general election in the UK to be held on July 4th has been sidetracked by the election betting brouhaha that has revealed how widespread betting is in that country, as more and more members of parliament are found to have bet on the date of the election. At a time when he should be putting out the final message to voters as to why the Conservatives deserve to continue to govern, the prime minister Rishi Sunak has had to bat down allegations that people close to him have taken advantage of that proximity to place wagers on inside information about the date of the election.

Apart from the question of whether any of them had such information, news reports have also discussed how honors (colloquially referred to as ‘gongs’) seem to be handed out. The UK has an intricate set of honors that are awarded to individuals, ranging from knighthoods to lesser ones like the OBE, MBE, and CBE, and who knows what else (where the labels show their imperial history), as well as peerages of various kinds.

A knighthood is an honour awarded by the British monarch for exceptional national service.
The female equivalent, a damehood, holds the same official title: Grand Cross of the British Empire (GBE).

Among the levels of Honours, there are also CBE, or Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, OBE, or Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, and MBE, or Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

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Getting religion back in schools

Religious conservatives in the US are determined to get Christianity back into the school curriculum. For the longest time, they were on the retreat as the US Supreme Court pushed back against attempts to use public schools as vehicles to teach religious ideas, arguing that the First Amendment to the constitution that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” implied that no agency of the state could show preference to one religion over another or to religion over no religion. Thus not only was teaching the Bible excluded but even religious ideas such as intelligent design creationism could not be taught in science classes as an alternative to the theory of evolution.
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Supreme Court rejects Sackler deal

The US Supreme Court rejected the bankruptcy deal that had been negotiated by the Sackler family, the people behind Purdue Pharmaceuticals that was responsible for aggressively and falsely marketing opioids to large numbers of doctors and their patients, resulting in the massive opioid epidemic that we currently have in the US that has devastated families and communities. The drug was heavily marketed to doctors as having low risk of addiction, which was not true.

The Sacklers had brought the settlement in front of a friendly bankruptcy judge that effectively shielded much of the vast personal fortunes they had accumulated and instead passed the cost on to the company, which has filed for bankruptcy, on friendly terms, while not having to admit guilt and getting total immunity from future lawsuits that will leave their personal fortunes intact. For more details on why the bankruptcy deal was so bad, see here.
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Trump lies and dodges throughout the debate

The debate played out pretty much as I expected.

Joe Biden tried to give wonky answers to policy questions while serial sex abuser and convicted felon Donald Trump (SSACFT) lied and lied repeatedly and avoided answering questions, pivoting almost immediately to complaining about the borders, and how everything was great when he was president and has gone to hell under Biden. It was basically the stuff that he says at his rallies.

His shtick was to largely claim that the US is weak and despised around the world because Biden has allowed open borders that allow millions of criminals and insane people into the country who are murdering people. He kept saying that over and over again. The moderators did not do any fact checking at all. The only thing they did was to repeat the question when SSACFT did not answer but then SSACFT would largely ignore it again.

While Biden tried to combat this with data, his presentation was not forceful enough.

On the optics, Biden seemed hesitant and soft-spoken and stumbled occasionally, while SSACFT portrayed confidence even as he flat-out lied. And in the US, since optics tends to win over substance, Biden would not have inspired his supporters with confidence.

Julian Assange finally walks free

He is now back in Australia, after years of being hounded by the US government that was angered by Wikileaks publishing documents that showed the horrific abuses by the US in Iraq, such as the Collateral Murder video leaked by Chelsea Manning of US forces in a helicopter gunship mowing down unarmed civilians in a street, after the gunners misidentified the camera equipment they were carrying as weapons.


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Debate mind games

The first debate between Joe Biden and serial sex abuser and convicted felon Donald Trump (SSACFT) will be held on Thursday from 6:00-7:30 pm (Eastern Time) in Atlanta, GA in the studios of CNN that is hosting the debate. It is not clear if CNN is only streaming it on its own cable channels. If so, since I do not have cable TV nor do I subscribe to CNN, I will not be able to watch it live and will have to see it later when (if?) it is streamed online.

We are currently in the familiar game of setting expectations. Each side will of course claim victory whatever happens but beating expectations is one important metric that is used and is easier to do if each side sets a low bar for their own person and a high bar for the opponent.

SSACFT’s team and their right-wing echo chamber have had to do some serious contortions because I think that they really are afraid of what the debate might show. For the longest time they have been portraying Biden as doddering, drooling, and senile. But that hurt them when he turned in a feisty State of the Union speech and so now, fearing that this will happen again, they have started repeating the mantra that he was on drugs then and will be so again. There is zero evidence for any of this but that has not prevented them from spreading lies before on any number of issues so why stop now?
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Rishi Sunak’s hapless election campaign

The British prime minister gambled when he dissolved parliament and called elections for July 4th when he was about 20 points behind in the polls. For him to succeed in spite of that handicap would require everything to go right for him. And yet, there has been one thing after another that seems to be dragging him down.

It started with the announcement itself when a sudden downpour began when he was in the middle of delivering the news of parliament dissolution to the assembled press outside Downing Street. If the rain had started before the speech he could have changed the venue or the time. But since he had already started speaking, he had little choice but to gamely continue while getting soaked. It was not a good look and was considered an inauspicious start. Things have not gone better for him since.
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Trump’s second term agenda

Serial sex abuser and convicted felon Donald Trump (SSACFT) has made all manner of statements about what he wants to do if he should be re-elected in November. But while he was erratic and chaotic during his first term, there is a well-organized group that is working to create a detailed agenda that will provide a blueprint that they want him to implement. It is called Project 2025 and it calls for the steady dismantling of many of the checks and balances that prevent ideologues from using the government as if it were a private company run by a CEO who can make unilateral decisions that will affect the entire population.

On his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver looks at who is behind Project 2025 and what they seek to achieve. It is not good.

Interesting insider view of UK politics

As the UK heads into its general election on July 4th, David Remnick had an interesting interview with Rory Stewart who was at one time an ambitious Conservative politician and member of parliament in the UK, intent on climbing up the leadership ladder and someday becoming prime minister. He had all the pre-requisites for a Conservative party leader, coming from a privileged family, attending an elite private school (Eton) and then Oxford University, and he quickly rose up the party ranks after he first became an MP in 2010. He competed for party leader in 2019, losing to Boris Johnson.
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Lessons of Covid for the next pandemic

Public health experts say that another pandemic is inevitable, that it is not a question of ‘if’ but when and what form it will take. So what lessons have we learned from the Covid-19 pandemic we just had (and that still lingers on) that we can apply to the next one?

Clearly scientists and health experts were scrambling to contain the virus and various measures were adopted, not all of them successful. Some will depend on the nature of the virus itself and how it is transmitted. If it is in the form of droplets that fall, then physical distancing will help though the distance required may be different from the six feet that we were told. If the virus is transmitted in the form of aerosols that float through the air and linger longer, distancing may not help. But in either case, masking helps but only if we use high quality N95 or KN94 masks and not the paper or the homemade cloth ones. So having a stockpile of those good masks at the ready to hand out to the public would be a good idea.

Avoiding crowded indoor spaces where lots of people gather is also recommended. If one has to be indoors with others, it would be better if the place is well ventilated.

Working at home, if possible, is probably beneficial. When it comes to closing down schools, offices, and restaurants, the cost-benefit analysis is more complicated.

One positive thing that came out of this pandemic is that scientists seem to have developed new techniques to quickly identify the nature of the virus and develop vaccines for it. Of course, that will not help much if the same nutters who opposed vaccinations the last time around are still vocal.

Kevin Drum provides a comprehensive list other the measures that were taken and how effective they were.