Monday, March 28, 2022

Let's Talk About Sex

Biology is complicated. Kindness and respect don’t have to be. - Rebecca Helm.

Many people talk about sex and gender and most of them have very firm opinions despite having little understanding of biology. Many regard the issue as quite simple, as simple as the ‘obvious fact’ that there are two sexes and everybody is one or the other. Neat and tidy boxes make a simple life.

The biology most people encountered at school taught them that sex depends on a pair of chromosomes; if you have two X chromosomes (XX) you are female and if you have both an X and Y chromosome (XY) you are male. Easy.

It’s only in the advanced level biology class that we learn that there is one gene on the Y chromosome that matters to sex, the SRY gene. During embryonic development the SRY protein turns on male associated genes so having the SRY gene makes you genetically male. Sometimes, however, the SRY gene is not on the Y and sometimes it appears on an X chromosome.

If you have a Y chromosome but without the SRY gene then physically you will be female, genetically you are female, while chromosomally you’re male (XY). But if the SRY gene appears on an X chromosome you will be physically male and genetically male yet chromosomally female (XX).

Now sex-related genes turn on production of hormones is specific areas of the body, and reception of those hormones by cells in other parts of the body. ‘Hormonal male’ means you produce a ‘normal’ level of male-associated hormones, and, similarly, ‘hormonal female’ means you produce ‘normal levels of female associated hormones. We are, however, into the situation of two overlapping bell-curves or normal distributions. A small proportion of females will have a higher level of ‘male’ hormones than a small proportion of males. And vice versa.

Summing the possibilities, as you are developing your body may not produce enough hormones for your genetic sex, leading you to be genetically male or female, chromosomally male or female, hormonally non-binary and physically non-binary. Actually, that’s still too simple. Cells have receptors to receive the signals from sex hormones, but they don’t always work. It all leads to a body that can be anywhere from male, through non-binary, to female.

Can we point to what the absolute cause of biological sex is? Can we safely label people? Is it fair to judge people by it?

We could appeal to the numbers, after all surely, it’s safe to say that most people are either male or female? As Rebecca Helm[i] put it:

Biological sex is complicated. Before you discriminate against someone on the basis of biological sex and identity, ask yourself? Have you seen YOUR chromosomes? Do you know the genes of the people you love? The hormones of the people you work with? The state of their cells? Since the answer will obviously by no, please be kind, respect people’s right to tell you who they are, and remember that you don’t have all the answer. Again: biology is complicated. Kindness and respect don’t have to be.

This has been a very brief and introductory comment, far from exhaustive as to the complexity of biology. There is much more.  And we haven’t begun to think about how our brain interacts with all this stuff – but that’s for another day, although it’s the most important part.

[i] Helm, Rebecca, from a thread on Twitter @RebeccaRHelm 12/19/2019

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Ukraine 05

Who owns our gas?

A few fields away from my house on the Lincolnshire Marsh is a small gas field that has been in production, albeit intermittently, for a couple of decades. It stopped producing when the Theddlethorpe Gas Terminal closed but work is currently proceeding to reconnect the field directly to the National Grid pipeline and then restart production.

And what do you know? Saltfleetby has its own oligarch in the shape of Patrick Meade, 8th Earl of Clanwilliam and inextricable links to Russia. Paddy Clanwilliam is the non-executive director of Angus Energy, the company that now operates the Saltfleetby gas field. He also chairs London-listed Eurasia Drilling Company, Russia’s largest oilfield services company, a non- executive director of FTSE premium listed Polyus Gold, Russia’s largest gold company. He has held the position of Independent Member of the Board of Directors at AFK Sistema OAO, since June 29, 2015. Sistema is one of the largest private investors in the Russian economy.

Paddy Clanwilliam is five years younger than Boris Johnson so their paths at Eton may not have been close, but he has been active in the Conservative Party, as a Councillor for Chelsea and Kensington and as a party donor.

The ownership of the Saltfleet gas field has been complex. Angus Energy has a partner in Saltfleetby Energy Limited. This company has undergone a few name changes over the years, Wingas Storage UK Ltd (owned by the Russian state owned Gazprom, via a German subsidiary), Roc Oil (UK) Ltd and Candecca Resources Ltd. Companies House lists Saltfleetby Energy as having had 59 directors, but 58 of them, including several Russians, have resigned, leaving just one, Paul Forrest. Open Corporates gives first in the list of ‘Ultimate Beneficial Owners’ as the Russian Federation.

The Earl of Clanwilliam's coat of arms.

As I suggested previously, it would be a good thing if the West stopped all payments for oil and gas to Russia forthwith. Let's add to the total embargo the removal of any possibility that the beneficial owner of Saltfleetby Gas Field, the Russian Federation, can profit from gas production in Lincolnshire.
Post script: Here is the letter that I have written to my MP, Victoria Atkins, and three Lincolnshire County Councillors, Martin Hill, Colin Davie and Daniel McNally.

The Saltfleetby Gas Field, on the Lincolnshire Marsh, is operated by Angus Energy, under the chairmanship of Patrick Meade, 8th Earl of Clanwilliam, and Saltfleetby Energy. The beneficial owner of Saltfleetby Energy is The Russian Federation, and Paddy Clanwilliam accumulated much of his fortune from his interests in the Russian oil and gold industries.

While it is appreciated that there is a strategic argument in favour of developing onshore gas production, under the present circumstances it is undesirable that the Russian Federation benefits from such production.

Gas production stopped in 2017 with the closure of Theddlethorpe Gas Terminal, which left the field stranded. Lincolnshire County Council granted planning consent to Angus Energy to reconfigure the site so that it could be reconnected to the National Transmission System. Production is expected to resume shortly.

Please outline what steps you will take to ensure that Mr Putin receives no money from Lincolnshire gas production.

16/03/2022 Post-Post script:
Further delving into Companies House revealed this document, which suggests that the Russian Federation may no longer be a beneficial owner of Saltfleetby Energy.

However, there is another company, named Saltfleetby Energy Europe, also run by Paul Forrest, the beneficial owner of which is still recorded as The Russian Federation.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Ukraine 04

 As we saw in the Nuremberg Trials, Hitler did not act alone. And neither does Putin. His power as a dictator rests on the support he receives from other powerful people. They are powerful because they receive support from a significant segment of Russian society that is steeped in a culture very different from that which prevails in the West.

To begin to get a glimpse of what is driving Putin's Ukrainian war we might do worse than look at Aleksandr Dugin.

I don't suppose most folk have heard of him, but it's high time we did. What better place to start our education on Dugin than Wikipedia?

Why is he important? Because his ideas have encapsulated a particular strand of thinking within Russia and his 1997 book, Foundations of Geopolitics, has been used in the training of the Russian military leadership. To our Western eyes it may seem crazy stuff but for many Russians it is what drives them on, to create a global power that stretches from Dublin to Vladivostok. 

Much has been written about Aleksandr Dugin; the warnings have been clear, but mostly ignored. Here's some reading to catch up on:

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Ukraine 03

Let us stop pretending that the Ukraine war is a local affair. The repercussions of higher oil and gas prices, fertiliser costs and grain exports make this a global war, even if the bullets and bombs are as yet only killing people in one country. This is World War Three; we need to admit it.

Allegedly, a very long time ago, probably before the invention of writing, a man came down from a mountain with a slab of flattish rock on which were carved the words "Thou shalt not kill", probably not in English. It's always seemed a good rule of thumb to me so don't expect me to support shooting people, even Russians.

Another good rule of thumb is "don't pay money to people who kill other people, even if it's to buy stuff you really really want". In last years prices, the West has got into the habit of paying Russia about $300,000,000 per day. That's more than double the Russian military budget. We in the west are funding Putin's war.

Today the UK Business and Energy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng announced that:

Pathetic! This 'transition' will give Putin enough time to bomb every last building in Ukraine. 'Give the market, business supply chains more than enough time to replace Russian imports'? Why 'more than enough time'? They don't need any time. And if that means we have to have some energy rationing, so be it. At least we have houses that have not been bombed. A little inconvenience is survivable.

What will not be just a little inconvenience is the impact on global food prices when Russia fails to export grain and Ukraine fails to even grow any. This risks a collapse in the world's food supply chain in which the poorest of the global south will go hungry. The potential for famine is real and great, and could even dwarf the suffering in Ukraine itself. 

The war is global and we must all consider ourselves at war, sharing in the hurt and sharing in the effort to ensure it ends quickly. The least we can do is to manage without imports from Russia, We will then, and only then, cease to be funding Putin's war.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Ukraine 02

With energy prices having risen a long way through 2021 and now rising faster still, and long term contracts only indirectly reflecting the spot prices, it's hard to know just how much western countries are paying Russia for their oil and gas imports, but a conservative estimate puts it around half a billion dollars per day, over $150 billion annually. To put that in perspective, Russia's annual expenditure on its military is around $60 billion.

We are paying Russia more than twice what they spend on their armed forces.

Governments fret about money held by oligarchs and create restrictions on air travel; civil society and business reduce sporting and cultural contact and withdraw from investments. But all this is detail, irritations that Putin will have factored in to his diabolical scheme. The big one is an embargo on energy imports. 

Western governments, perhaps unsurprisingly, are reluctant to plug the pipelines, fearing that energy prices will soar and real shortages will occur. A friend of mine just commented "For millions of people gas or oil is their only source of heating in the EU". I replied "For millions of people their home is their only home and the Russians are bombing it".

It's good and kind that people are donating their stuff and their money to help Ukrainians, but the real difference we can make is to stop buying their gas and oil. Governments must see to an embargo, but while they look for the political support to act we can show them by using less ourselves. That sends two signals, one to government, to indicate public support for action, and another to the market to reduce the price by lowering demand, and incidentally giving some relief to those least able to afford expensive energy.

We should turn down our thermostats and reduce our travel. That may be hard for some but nothing in comparison to the suffering in Ukraine. If we want to stand with the Ukrainians, as slogans and headlines proclaim, then we need to share the pain and stop benefitting from Russian energy imports.

And, in case it slipped from your attention, there's a Climate Crisis. We'd best get used to not using gas and oil.