Just because there is sh*t in the world, it doesn’t mean the world is sh*t

“And, God forbid, do not read the Soviet newspapers before lunch.”

“Um … Why, there are no others?”

“Do not read any then. You know, I observed thirty patients in my clinic. And what do you think? Patients who did not read newspapers felt great. Those who I specifically forced to read ‘Pravda’, lost weight.”

“Hmmm,” said the bitten one, ruddy with soup and wine.

“Moreover, reduced knee reflexes, bad appetite, an oppressed state of mind…”

[Translated from Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov]

Whenever current affairs get really divisive, my faith in humanity wanes. Like really, wanes.

I am referring to the combination of the Belfast trial, the upcoming referendum in Ireland, the Skripals, the Russian election and the tragic fire in Siberia…

Feeling overwhelmed by all the recent news coverage and watching friends engage in social media battles, I was walking down the street and I really didn’t know how to handle it… and then I realised I was near a gallery.

I went in to look at The taking of Christ by Caravaggio, the most celebrated painting available in Dublin. I sat beside it for like a half-hour, probably looking like a mad person.

I stared at it just to get my mind off the other stuff.

I vaguely remembered a lecture that discussed how the arms of the different characters are all disproportionate. Look at Judas vs Jesus vs guard in armour:

IMG_9559.jpg

And then I thought: Jesus, there are some serious problems with this painting! Yet, this is one of the most celebrated paintings out there. And it is, in my opinion, beautiful.

Just because there is sh*t in the world, it doesn’t mean the world is sh*t.

Insensitive or disingenuous?

I read a lot of personal essays from people in their late teens. The theme of hurting people’s feelings versus being honest preoccupies many of them.

It’s all the more fascinating for me because I’ve experienced two cultures that have opposing views on this.

I’ve often seen Irish people choose to err on the side of sugarcoating reality and lying by omission in the name of being kind. Around here, you will be forgiven for being misleadingly delicate, but not for being insensitive.

On the flip side, the brutes from the old country would soon forgive someone for not considering someone’s feelings given that it is in the name of integrity. I’ve heard a lot of Russians retrospectively end friendships while accusing the perpetrator of “how could you not let me know that”… <my ass looked too big in that>, <our mutual friend didn’t invite me to the party>, etc. The “it’s not my business” defence doesn’t cut it for them.

Looking at it from a skin in the game perspective, you make a much bigger gamble when you risk offending someone by being straight with them.

At the same time, people often get carried away with their opinions to the point of forgetting that it is, after all, just an opinion, not “the truth”, and so communicating it may not really be that beneficial for someone else. Realising the insignificance of our humble opinions may be key here. Not sure you can do that to facts that your friend would prefer to know.

Question.

Assumptions: you know each other very well and solicit your friend’s opinions.

Who would you rather as your best friend? The insensitive swine who won’t hide their thoughts or the kindly sweetheart that weasels around the truth to avoid hurting you?

No Frankensteins. You have to choose.

A little bit of Irish politics

What is the purpose of having four political parties if for the last couple of constitutional referendums they all virtually agreed with each other on how people should vote?

I don’t necessarily disagree with them, but there seems to be a resounding group-thinking lack of pluralism.

P.S. Are you painting yourself green for Paddy’s Day?

The bread panic

Ireland is out of bread in anticipation of Storm Emma, or Beast from the East. It is cold and icy here – and there is very little bread in the shops. I wonder why the run was on bread and not, say, spuds or butter.

My mother tells me it was on the Russian news.

Checkout #breadwatch for complete ridiculousness.

The film about Churchill

Darkest Hour opened today in Ireland.

Spoiler: the most exciting thing about the film is Gary Oldman’s makeup.

The first half of the film captivates the viewer with the impossible situations Churchill is forced into, the many subplots shaping the final decision and lots of moral ambiguity. Churchill is portrayed as a somewhat flawed but likeable human being.

The second half, however, bores them with cliche rallying for a cause.

Interestingly, the audience was made up of a mix of school kids still in their uniforms and people over fifty. Millennials? Zero interest.

The gender pay gap 💩

There is a hospital crisis in many places in Europe and it’s quite bad in Ireland. It’s a complicated situation. In the midst of this, one of Dublin’s major hospitals decided they won’t pay interns overtime.

Some background. Interns work anywhere between an average of 45 and 80 hours per week in my experience. I assume the hospital will pay for the on-call time (i.e. scheduled overtime), but not overtime done on regular days.

A lot of people who follow my education platform are interested in medicine. I decided to ask a question:

gender gap medicine ireland

First, it doesn’t help the doctors’ wages that people who want to do medicine are ok with working for free.

More interestingly, I found that there was a big divide between men and women. There is an all out war at the moment on whether this gap is at least in part explained by the choices that women make (e.g. 1 vs 2).

In the sample, there were 241 women and 57 men. The sex of 7 voters was unknown.

Of the men who voted, 82.4% said no. Of the women, 69.7% said no.

Surely this is contributing to the gender pay gap?

Of the yes voters, 12.0% were male. Of the no voters, 21.9% were male.

gender pay gap in irish hospitals
The chi-square statistic is 3.7272. The p-value is .053534. This result is not significant at p < .05.

Why? Some theories. The ones that are highlighted are the ones I feel are more plausible.

  1. Women are more likely to agree to work for free
  2. Women value altruism more than men do (conflicting evidence on this, e.g. 1 vs 2 vs 3)
  3. Women value prestige more than men do (rebuttal: I think men tend to engage in costly signalling more than women)
  4. Women don’t have the foresight to understand what it is like to not get paid for work (rebuttal: I think this is subsumed by reason 6)
  5. Men perceive that they are valued by society based on their ability to earn, not based on their job title (rebuttal: men chase after medals and value the concept of fighting for their country. There is no major monetary reward for that. Similar to number 3)
  6. Women are more optimistic about being able to enact change should they themselves be in an unfavourable situation
  7. Women don’t intend to stay in medicine for the rest of their lives (rebuttal: that’s not impossible, but it doesn’t explain why they would go into at all)
  8. Women don’t see their job as their only income (similar to the above point)

Problems:

  1. Self-selection: people who follow a service that helps to do especially well in school do not necessarily represent the general population
  2. This is a survey, hence the answers are more about one’s projections than actual behaviour
  3. Internalised gender roles: women are supposed to care more about helping others than money, therefore in a survey, they will answer “yes” (this is somewhat subsumed in reason 2)
  4. The sample in mostly women, so men’s answers have less statistical power
  5. The sample is small
  6. The voters lack context
  7. The way I phrased it may have put people off medicine, or indeed made them more righteous in voting yes.