Sunday, 23 June 2019

The Handmaid's Tale - an amateur economist writes...

The Handmaid's Tale is back on our tellyboxes for a third series (or 'season' for those that can't spell 'colour').

All credit to it for maintaining its status as event TV; I well remember a woman on an exercise bike at the gym giving an air punch when the silent screens showed a trailer for the second series.  Wonderfully well written and acted, I suspect she reacted exactly the same to this one's impending arrival.

Of course, it's left Margaret Atwood's storyline far behind, keeping up the momentum as it becomes ever darker, even if I couldn't quite believe Mrs Punch's decision-making at the very end of the second series, which could only be best explained if she was under the delusion that she was a fictional character tasked with setting up another storyline as best she could*.  That is Mrs Punch we're watching, isn't it?

However, there's something else that I don't quite buy about life in Gilead in a world of limited fertility.  I'm no economist, but my understanding is that as the availability of something desirable goes down, its value goes up.  It becomes sought after, coveted.  In Gilead, I'll accept that fertile women are rare, but they're certainly not treated as something valuable at all

For those unaware, the males of Gilead's ruling elite are allocated a fertile concubine tasked with producing an heir.  It involves a sort of live-in au pair arrangement consisting in a lot of deference and ritualised rape.

Why?  The arrangement seems designed to bring shame on to everybody, not least the infertile wife.  You may be a big man, but you're ploughing a barren field there, mate.  Put a handmaid in your spare room

But why not just put a handmaid in your marriage bed?  These people seem eminently able to put what their orthodoxy tells them is right before what natural justice or normal human emotion tells them.  It would be easy, surely; a justifiable cause for divorce with a little rewriting of immutable laws.  Producing children is so important for them they've created a whole new social strata.  But this way it'd be just like replacing a faulty component in a machine.  I'm sure they'd feel a pang of remorse but a good night's praying and they'll put it behind them by sun-up.

Simple economics decree that a fertile Judy Punch is better than a barren Serena Joy, and the market adjusts accordingly.

Or, if it's just about ensuring that Gilead is populated by the children of the elite, then a more realistic scenario is some centralised brothel where the Freds of the world can knock up a fertile one and take back a Fredette or Frederina nine months later.  Let Serena Joy pretend its hers; it'll belong to her as far as Gilead is concerned.  No need to redecorate the spare room, and none of the risk of having a sulky bint hanging around the kitchen for months.  Praise be.

Except that would simply make it a sordid tale of sexual slavery rather than something intellectual and erudite.  Sexual slavery as it exists here and now, for real.  And that'll probably not be as award-winning.

And why create so much friction, antagonism and risk of attack?  Yes, risk of attack.  The midst of ceremonial impregnation is not the moment to find out your handmaid is a blackbelt in kick-boxing, even if the missus is holding the girl's hands down.  I'd like to see one of these in Offred's position.  I'm not sure Fred would even live to get it unzipped.

The combination of economics and human nature would create, if not the replacement of wives then, possibly, harems.  Or women wanting to come to Gilead where their fertility is valuable, where they would be happy to give themselves to the commanders in order to produce offspring.  In life's Venn diagram there must be some overlap between the fertile and the women who believe in Gilead?

And they won't all live in Gilead.  We've been living with a sort of Gilead in the form of Isis, and misguided women have been heading off there, only to find out the realities too late.  That's the route Gilead would take, not creating this weird class of joyless forced-surrogates because human nature is the same all over.

If this is a feminist tale, I wonder if the feminine victors are the Serena Joys, those who have managed to keep their elevated status as the consorts of God's chosen ones, whilst unable to bestow the gift of life.  How?  By elevating the sanctity of marriage over the ability to bear children, and finding a way to have both, even if the latter ain't yours.

Not very feminist, though, is it?  And, in twenty, thirty years time, who are the Gilead males going to choose as wives?  The few fertile women, now even more valuable, of course.  Or will proof of fertility condemn you to a life of sex slavery as a handmaid?  Will a black market in sterilisation result to avoid that fate?  Surely not; the handmaid is looking more and more like a temporary arrangement, even if it were credible at all.

Of course, for such an implausible chain of events to be played out so convincingly is a huge triumph for Atwood and those that have take her tale and run with it.  I wish June all best in escaping her nightmare.  Under his eye.

*I'm not saying that she wouldn't have come back for her daughter, just that she would have gone to Canada and come back with air support.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

SPIN on this

I'm sure I should start this posting off by noting that, on the 75th anniversary of his grandfather being shot at by Germans, albeit from the 'safety' of an Armstrong Whitworth Albermarle, my 15-year-old son gets sent home from school for falling in a bush and getting a thorn in his finger.  But where do I go from there?  Probably on some diatribe about how turning the pages of the calendar doesn't necessarily correlate with progress, how we're all going to Hell in a handcart.  And who wants to read that?

You want something about how technology and science is pushing back the boundaries.  Making it the most incredible time to be alive.  So, let's talk cybercrime.

As usual, in order to appear knowledgeable, I googled 'cybercrime' so as to drop in a few nuggets - which is a great technique for any writer, by the way: scatter a few facts restricted to those in the know and, unless you've dropped a bollock, the reader will use confirmation bias to assume your character is a real brain surgeon, rocket scientist, bondage freak.

The first site listed was '300 Terrifying Cybercrime Statistics'.

That any subject area can produce 300 terrifying stats is pretty alarming.  Serial killers, sharks, the lizard-people who really rule us; I think it would all get pretty barrel-scraping once you got past the first century of killer facts.  But with this one it's a bit of a struggle to cherry pick two or three to whet your appetite: $2m dollars are lost every three hours in e-commerce frauds (worldwide, I assume); 0.8% of global GDP is lost to cybercrime (why isn't it counted, the wag in me wonders?); $2.1tr & $1.5tr: the global annual costs of data breaches and cybercrime respectively.  Those are pretty much picked at random.

It's also added spear-phishing, whaling, and catphishing to my lexicon.  Thanks for that; wish I didn't need them.

Possibly most alarming is that, when I searched for push fraud, nothing appeared.  This, to me, is the most alarming variant of cybercrime: where the victim willingly transfers their money, pressing the buttons themselves, to fraudsters pretending to be their bank, solicitor, builder.  But especially themselves, in new 'safe' accounts the fraudsters open pretending to be their bank.  The stories can be harrowing.  And what makes it particularly galling is that these people, in the main, thought they were doing the right thing.

I trust my virus protection thingumy (and checked it as soon I started googling those links; it had been updated six minutes before), but would hold my hand up and say that I'm human and therefore quite capable of being duped to the extent that I invite the fraudsters in.  I'm sceptical, but, boy, they can be good.

So, what I think is needed is a return to the good old days.  You know, when the rent money went in one pot, the food money in another, and if you dipped into either for a few pints on a Friday night your old lady would clobber you with an iron.  You remember: it was all part of a bygone age, together with clippies on the buses, industrial accidents, and casual racism.  (Americans may wish to google irony at this stage).

But seriously, I'm talking a digital equivalent.  If the knub of authorised push payment fraud is that the victim thinks the new sort code and account number they're given are their own, or their builder's, or their solicitor's, then why can't we tag electronic money with a second layer of personal identification for significant transactions?  A PIN to access my account, and a secondary PIN to make my money yours.  Without it, I can only be transferring money to my own account if it really is my account.  And, if it's my account, why are you asking for my SPIN?  If you're really my solicitor, why are you giving me another SPIN?

Now we have open banking, with multiple accounts with multiple providers it shouldn't be beyond the whit of man to make sure that SPINs are shared across the financial landscape so I don't need to access that second layer to transfer funds from my high street bank's current account to my trading platform's investment account.

I cast these ideas out for others to run with.  All I ask is 0.01% of any and all money moved protected by a SPIN.  That's not too much to ask is it?