Happy holidays reader – back Jan 3rd

For Christian readers and tag-alongs, Happy Christmas, tomorrow.

Mazaika Snow Girl

Jewish readers, happy Chanukah, day 3 – hag sameach.

hannukah_08

For Muslim readers, happy Al Hajira for 29th.

hijra_fireworks

And the rest of you I either missed (Pagans) or nothing doing. Enjoy the telly. I might not blog for a while. This year’s New Year will be spent at the Peaks. Like most years the twelve of us will dress to a theme. In 2003 we were fairly new to it and simple cross-dressing was enough. Here’s Matt and me back then:

fleshandmatt_ny03

This year it’s Nativity (not my idea – I think somebody had a donkey costume they wanted to use). There’ll be sheep, stars and shepherds. Joseph, Matt is Mary. Anit will be our little son, and Brian the angel Gabriel. I’m Joseph – so, tevas, a dressing gown, a tea-towel – and wig, beard and paunch as usual.

UK Government acts to discourage settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Good news reported in the Jerusalem Post, meeting (unless I’m reading it wrong) with only the political minimum of protest from the Israeli government.

“The advisory comes quickly on the heels of a letter British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote two weeks ago to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam, Fayad saying he shared Fayad’s “frustration” at settlement activity, which Brown said has “continued and has accelerated since the Annapolis process was launched. “The UK is now looking at what effective action we can take to discourage settlement expansion,” he wrote.

“Given our clear position on settlements, it follows that we would not want any British national to purchase property inside an illegal settlement,” Brown continued. “We are now looking at whether there are effective ways in which we can discourage them from so doing.

“I have already asked officials to update our official travel advice to include a specific warning that potential purchasers of property in a settlement should consider that a future peace agreement could have consequences for that property.”

Israeli officials said the issue was raised during meetings with visiting British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Bill Rammell, who arrived Sunday and is leaving on Tuesday.”

The point can be made that Jews are the only group of people currently prevented by exceptional Palestinian law from buying land in the Palestinian territories. It could be said that it’s as if The Netherlands were to outlaw German nationals from buying land, while allowing Belgians to buy freely. However, Palestine is not The Netherlands – Palestine is a homeland for Palestinians which has been trying to get off the ground for 60 years. It is also a place that a small minority of Jews would like to control, for reasons to do with religion and/or security. I’m not sure about the wording of the advisory – if it refers only to the settlements, or to the territories in general, or to land bought through Israeli vendors. These things do matter – if homes and land are available to be bought and sold in the general scheme of things (another thing I disagree with) then it’s important for third party interventionists not to be discriminatory. But of course I support measures against purchasing from Israeli vendors whose presence in the Palestinian territories depends on a corrosive, blighting occupation.

But a conflict is a conflict, and extraordinary measures should be entertained. And every conflict needs peacebrokers. Much as I would rather that everybody got to live where they wanted and much as I sympathise with (though don’t really respect) the deep love that religious people hold for different bits of land, as a pragmatic supporter of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict it’s good policy to discourage settlement activity which, it is widely agreed, runs counter to the peace process – and more to the point, cause an understandable sense of injustice, disaffection and fury among Palestinians.

Were the keffiyehs at Urban Outfitters fairly traded?

A keffiyeh is perhaps more commonly known as a ‘PLOscarf’ although I read (several years ago in a good but out-of-print book called ‘My Enemy My Self‘ by Yoram Binur which I can recommend – in the tradition of John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me and Jack London’s People of The Abyss, an Israeli journalist passes himself off as an Arab Israeli to see how the other half live) that only black ones indicated support for Fatah whereas the red ones were for the communists. Whatever the colour, to me it’s an icon of Palestinian nationalism. A couple of years back though, to most within striking distance of an Urban Outfitters it was an item of ethnic fashion.

In these times of heightened consciousness of the Palestinian economy and the requirement that it be mixed and not so reliant on the olive, I found myself idley wondering if the keffiyehs so denuded of political significance by fashion retail train Urban Outfitters were fairly traded.

I found out that they weren’t quite so denuded of political significance as I thought – apparently there was “the retailer’s decision to label the item an “anti-war woven scarf””. And then:

“A blogger named Mobius, posting Jan. 16 on Jewschool, a Jewish blog that targets a young audience, blasted Urban Outfitters for selling kaffiyehs. Taking issue with the retailer’s decision to label the item an “anti-war woven scarf,” Mobius posted pictures of terrorists adorned in kaffiyehs.

The same day Urban Outfitters, which had offered the scarves in several color combinations for $20, pulled them from stores. Its Web site posted this explanation: “Due to the sensitive nature of this item, we will no longer offer it for sale. We apologize if we offended anyone, this was by no means our intention.””

I didn’t find out whether they were ever fairly traded though (to be honest I didn’t try too hard – they are currently dead to fashion). They bloody should have been – although I think we both know that they were almost certainly made in China, and that the people who bought them didn’t mind. Uh-huhthey were.

Why didn’t organisations like Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods campaign about this? They swear blind that everything they do is for the sake of occupied Palestinians. Well, the clue is in the name – equating anti-Zionism with actual support for Palestinians is often a mistake.

I also read that the red keffiyeh indicates support for Hamas these days. Which I found pretty poignant given what’s been going on on the so-called left in recent years.

Milgram’s findings reproduced

Stanley Milgram was the Yale psychologist who found that all but a few of the participants in his 1960s experiment inflicted what they believed to be painful punishment on other human beings when ordered to do so by an authority figure. His were seminal studies of social influence and its effects on behaviour.

Some people (I can’t remember who) raise the possibility of methodological flaws round recruitment for these and subsequent studies. Possibly the newspaper ads, emails, posters etc attracted people who were not after all ordinary and unremarkable but in fact the type of people who would cooperate with the investigators in any experiment.

The reporting of these experiments is so gappy and research ethics so evolved that I expected to keep this hope alive for some time to come.

However, today we learn (a year or so after it happened) that Jerry Burger and colleagues  reproduced Milgram’s findings, as reported in the BBC, Time, and Mail. I haven’t read the paper so I don’t know about recruitment and whether or not the participants were aware of Milgram’s work, which is famous. The research ethics criteria for conducting the study involved taking many measures to safeguard the wellbeing of participants – they seem like an exceptionally sane group of people – but what drew them to participate we don’t know.

Setting out to investigate not obedience, as Milgram did, but rather the extent to which virtual characters can substitute for real humans in social situations – Slater and colleagues reproduced Milgram’s findings with a virtual female character as the learner back in 2006 at UCL. They told recruits that they wanted to find out whether discomfort helped the virtual character learn to associate words. Administering electric shocks to the virtual character – seen and heard by two-thirds of the participants and animated, as you can see from the vids, to seem very much present – aroused all sorts of sympathetic physiological responses in the participants, some of whom withdrew from the study and others of whom attempted to interact with her in unscripted ways.

“The Learner had a quite realistic face, with eye movements and facial expressions; she visibly breathed, spoke, and appeared to respond with pain to the ‘electric shocks’. Not only that but she seemed to be aware of the presence of the participant by gazing at him or her, and also of the experimenter – even answering him back at one point (“I don’t want to continue – don’t listen to him!”). Finally, of course, the electric shocks and resulting expressions of discomfort were clearly caused by the actions of the participants.”

There was a fair bit of early withdrawal in this one, but withdrawal wasn’t reliably predicted by displays of empathy, which was interesting. Although they were not studying obedience, the investigators comment:

“We argue that whether participants complied because of ‘obedience to authority’ or politeness, or respect for expertise does not really matter. The fact is that they continued to carry out a task that they found to be unpleasant, when there was no reason for them to do so. Unlike the situation in, for example, the military, there were no real negative consequences that would follow from withdrawal – indeed participants had been advised that they were free to withdraw at any time without giving reasons. Hence, our experiment shows that it is possible to set up a situation in virtual reality where people will comply with requests to follow instructions that appear to cause pain to another entity thus causing discomfort to themselves. Explicitly they know that there is no pain, but it may be that the totality of their perceptions in that situation results in an implicit knowledge that indeed their actions are causing another entity to suffer. This idea fits with the evidence that participants in the VC tended to wait a relatively long time before giving the shocks after the Learner had stopped responding. From the point of view of their explicit knowledge waiting made no sense, but it did make sense at the implicit level.”

It’s also kind of comforting to separate obedience from willingness to enact violence – also based on Milgram’s work, there was a study (sorry, no ref – I learnt about it in a documentary about our collective propensity to fascism) about willingness to give up seats on public transport when the person making the request on behalf of the (perfectly healthy-looking) person who wanted the seat was wearing a uniform. In that case the participants were randomly selected, but they were almost all prepared to give up their seat.

So I suppose we’re always ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?” and then, if we’re not satisfied with our own answer, ask the person who is making the request the same question. And if we’re not satisfied with their answer, then we change our behaviour accordingly. And either way, to carry on examining ourselves (without making a sport of it) in case we’re ethically complacent. Which it is very easy to be. Our own conscience – our guiding light – like any lighthouse requires regular, careful cleaning and can go up for sale. But it’s definitely all we have.

It’s interesting about the participants in Slater’s study who refused to even go through the motions. Sometimes conscience is more about ‘us’ – our need to cohere morally to our own satisfaction, and how we interpret this – than about ‘them’.

Flesh’s new Acer Aspire One

My  frenzied acquisition of technology continues apace. I’d been dithering around trying to choose the best sub laptop for months – there was nothing that had everything. I wanted it to weigh as little as possible, be as small as possible, have a 10″ screen, long battery life, good keyboard, web cam and mic, integrated connectivity including 3G, big processor, don’t mind about storage but want plenty of USB slots and a storage card slot with SD compatibility. I eventually chose the Acer Aspire One. Matt bought it for me and when it arrived from Amazon he gave me it – I’m writing from it right now.

There’s a more in-depth review on Trusted Reviews.

Mine’s pearl-coloured (£10 off the price) and cost c. £200.

I decided a new computer was going to be a turning point – I would do the decent thing and move to linux (which is why I thought 512Mb would be OK, and it seems to be). The AA1′s a dinky little bit of kit and the hardware is really pleasant to use. But getting to grips with the software has been all-consuming so far. I seem to have a better awareness of what is possible  with linux than my technical acumen would indicate, so I tend to arrive at How-To type pages which perfectly fit the bill of what I want to do, but miss out crucial information – like this one. (I’m certainly not complaining – these people aren’t providing services, they’re blogs and I’m grateful). The AA1′s user community is smaller than the Asus Eee’s.

Ever since acquiring the thing I’ve been blundering around in the terminal (command line) interface following instructions found on the Web. This is not the best way to learn but what the hey.

So far I’ve installed Firefox, enabled a kind of start-button thing on right click (but not yet sorted out a desktop), got myself onto our wireless network at work, set up dual monitor (but not managed to fix it so I can have different resolutions on each nor move out of clone mode), installed Skype (left off to keep prices down), sorted out all my add-ons in Firefox and made some small theme adjustments. Haven’t managed to install software which plays AVIs, or install GIMP properly (but I have half an inkling about how to). I think the best thing I’ve done was find out about and enable circular scrolling which actually works as expected. I think I can sort out the fan-speed which might be nice – currently sounds like a fly in a jar.

Setting up these things requires using the terminal. Web browsing, blogging, multimedia-viewing, creating standard documents are all absolutely perfect, easy, intuitive and straightforward, though.

I can see that doing anything more sophisticated in linux as a novice could be pretty consuming. I inch along. Macles* and Acer Guy in combination with their commenters has been helpful. Time will limit what I can do so it’s going to be slow going. But despite my early apprehension it’s proving to be quite satisfying in an in-at-the-deep-end kind of way. Having said that, I can’t tell you what I’ve learnt. Problem solving and simple replication is what I’m doing right now.

No regrets.

Update: Thanks to Macles* and his/her commenters (they flag problems and carry out troubleshooting), I’ve just installed VLC media player and can now see the AVI format that my Samsung NV6 camera records. Fabulous.

How the Met got it wrong on terrorism

Been meaning for a while to round up the Harry’s Place post in which David T pokes holes in the government strategy to forge alliances with those supporters of jihad they perceived to be moderate. He himself provides a good review of his main arguments.

I could have done with more information (I think it’s dotted round Harry’s Place) on how Islamists have exploited their improved influence. I could also do with a fleshed-out comparison between Britain and the Egyptian authorities dealing with their Muslim Brotherhood factions. I also need Islamism defined again for his purposes – does it simply mean Muslims who seek to implement Islamic law whether by violent or democratic means?

I accept David T’s main point that you may have to form alliances for information, but the wages for that information should not be a platform to influence young people in political Islam.  There are plenty of warning signs that no good can come of Sharia. We need a single secular law which allows everybody to live according to their own consciences, not a divinely-ordained law interpreted by clerics.

Imagine if a small sect of British Christians who wanted to outlaw homosexuality and abortion, legally relegate women and non-Christians as perpetual minors, and install their own representatives as a permanent judiciary, developed a militant subgroup which connected to other members of the sect internationally. The police may indeed decide it was for the best to cultivate relationships with the remaining non-militants – but to fund them to promulgate their values would be a betrayal – I don’t think this is too strong a word – of civil rights for women, gay people, and non-Christians. The question is, is this a good analogy? I think David T makes a good case that it is.

Two mathematicians hope they are wrong about the financial crisis

Nassim Taleb (polymath, scholar of randomness, author of Black Swan in which a single observation destroys years of confirmation) and his mentor Benoît Mandelbrot (pioneer of chaos theory and fractal geometry) discuss the financial crisis as an intricate system in a state of turbulence.

Mandelbrot worked on cotton price surges and plunges and concluded that human systems were much more complicated than physical ones (in the ’60s this common-sense observation required empirical proof). Taleb worked on the ’87 stock market crash and analysed the death of hedge funds.

For this crisis they say we don’t have nearly enough data to predict the outcome but they fear the intricacy of the system in combination with ignorance about the system, an outdated economic structure, over-extension of credit and the concentration of the banking system (i.e. risk) with globalising effects. Current models are inadequate. Their prognosis – Taleb’s particularly – is a disaster far worse than the Wall Street crash.

This looks likely do for us this time in a way that it wouldn’t have previously. Taleb argues that a small shortage of oil or agricultural products can lead to huge spikes in price – that we are not as resilient as we used to be because we are ‘over-optimised’ – meaning a consolidation of industry (particularly banking) in the name of efficiency – which exascerbates the impact of mistakes (globalising – aka ‘network’ – effects again). Mandelbrot argues that the system is also turbulent – economic phenomena are highly unpredictable – but he doesn’t know whether the system is inherently turbulent or whether, if not, the circumstances in which, and speed at which, turbulence can occur.

Taleb refers to the recent $700 billion injected into the US economy as pocket-money. He predicts that banks will not lend to hedge-funds, hedge funds will be forced to sell off their positions, prices of other affected entities – supermarkets requesting loans against inventory to make payroll, for example – will spiral downwards, and those will fail.

Both of them say they are waking up at night fearing the future. Neither of them offer answers – perhaps because they are mathematicians – descriptive – and not economists.

This explains the tentativeness of the response. I suppose the implication of what Taleb says is that the efficiency drive inevitable in any market situation must be tempered with the spreading of risk. Changes in regulation, mixed economies and a sense of our economic environment – like our physical one – as an ecology which we need to care for.

To what extent this is an anti-globalisation thesis, I’m not sure. I’ll have to get one of those Oxford University Press Very Short Introductions.

Oh crapola – Globalization is in the Future Publications section.

Israel, Falk and the UN today

The Daily Press Briefing from the Offices of the UN Secretary General and General Assembly is an Israeli can of worms today. It refers to much of what this post deals with.

Last May, the UN’s Human Rights Council (or perhaps the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon – not clear) appointed Richard Falk UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, an appointment which according to Wikipedia is unremunerated and as far as I can see is only tenuously connected to the New York or Geneva offices of the UN. There were protests from Israeli, American and Canadian representatives that out of nearly 200 candidates Falk surely wasn’t the best choice; others disagreed – in a moment of bigotry the Palestinian representative said it was curious that Israel was “campaigning against a Jewish professor”.

In keeping with UN exceptionalism on Israeli and Palestinian issues, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories is a one-of-a-kind appointment – no other Rapporteurs are dedicated to single countries. Falk has a biased remit which involves reporting on Israel’s behaviour as occupier while ignoring the human rights abuses enacted by Palestinians against Israelis and each other. In response to criticism on this count, Falk’s predecessor John Dugard has written:

“Terrorism is a scourge, a serious violation of human rights and international humanitarian law. No attempt is made in the reports to minimize the pain and suffering it causes to victims, their families and the broader community. Palestinians are guilty of terrorizing innocent Israeli civilians by means of suicide bombs and Qassam rockets. Likewise the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are guilty of terrorizing innocent Palestinian civilians by military incursions, targeted killings and sonic booms that fail to distinguish between military targets and civilians. All these acts must be condemned and have been condemned. Common sense, however, dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by Al Qaeda, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation. While such acts cannot be justified, they must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation.”

In order to defend his remit, he had to resort to conflating the terrifying experience of a nearby Israeli targeted strike with the deliberate terrorism against civilians perpetrated by a Palestinian bomber. He also resorted to excusing Palestinian acts of terror as inevitable responses to colonialism. This determination to identify with and make excuses for only one side of a conflict is commonly known as bias. Without question this kind of cod analysis prolongs and even fuels conflict – but I understand Dugard was never banned from Israel.

Falk, on the other hand, is more than critical of Israel, compares Israelis to Nazis and the blockade of Gaza to a Holocaust, and, after being appointed as Special Rapporteur, reaffirmed these earlier analogies. It was on the day of this reaffirmation that Israel announced that Falk would be barred from entering Israel in his official capacity. Presumably it is in Falk’s hands to qualify what he said – after all he implies that the analogy was only a publicity stunt:

“He said he understood that it was a provocative thing to say, but at the time, last summer, he had wanted to shake the American public from its torpor.”

However, he stands by it – and in doing so as David Hirsh observes, he provides excellent cover for antisemites. As well as this, he was part of investigations that determined Palestinian suicide bombings were a valid method of resistance, warmly supported the Islamic revolution in Iran, and speculated that the U.S. government was involved in the 9-11 attacks. Although Falk had addressed charges of bias his predecessor ignored by seeking an expansion of his remit to include violations of human rights by Palestinians against Israel, he continues to apply double standards to Israel, calling its embargo of Gaza a “crime against humanity” and calling for the indictment of Israeli leaders by the International Criminal Court. Moreover, it seems that the Human Rights Council has been slow to respond to his request. The HRC this year has (with the exception of Switzerland and Germany) an abjectly bad human rights record.

Yesterday Israel expelled Falk when he arrived at Ben Gurion, as he had been informed they planned to. Another publicity stunt – and I think this one reflects badly on him too. Visa bans are not enacted lightly. For example, Al Qaradawi was refused entry to the UK earlier in the year on the grounds that “The UK will not tolerate the presence of those who seek to justify any acts of terrorist violence or express views that could foster inter-community violence.” Falk also fits this bill – and he’s a UN official.

On Z-Word blog, Ben Cohen writes:

“Some NGOs are also claiming that Israel’s action was undemocratic. I don’t agree. The issue is not really Falk’s seething personal hatred of Israel. Plenty of people with similar views have entered Israel in the past and will do so in future. It’s the fact that his hatred is now grounded upon a UN mandate; that he has become one more node in the UN’s extensive network of agencies, offices, commissions, committees and special representatives on Palestine which result in the diminishing of Israel’s sovereign equality under the UN’s own rules.”

The UN Human Rights Council, dominated by members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, is isolating Israel in increments. Durban 2, the follow-up to the major turning point in UN antisemitism, the UN World Conference Against Racism, threatens to be a farce of an anti-racist conference, and Israel and Canada have already pulled out. Today the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, has cancelled a meeting with UN General Assembly Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann because D’Escoto associated Israeli media coverage with death threats against him. D’Escoto supports the boycott of Israel, giving added plausibility to Shalev’s claims that he tried to prevent her from speaking at the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The ban on Falk has dismayed Palestinian NGOs. But anybody who has to resort to lies about planned Holocausts to make his argument is missing the point about what is actually happening in Gaza. For the Israelis, allowing this person to go about his business is manifestly against Israel’s interests. The Palestinians, as an occupied people, need an advocacy which will maintain impetus of the flagging peace process. Falk is probably worse than nothing because his publicity-seeking exaggerations and falsehoods give the strong impression that the facts don’t speak for themselves. He is a walking excuse to ignore the Palestinians. But even so, no amount of popular outrage could resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Calling Jews Nazis hasn’t got anything to do with the promising US-Russian draft peace plan soon, it looks likely, to be adopted by the UN Security Council, its first resolution on the conflict in five years.

Update: Falk responds in Democracy Now, scrutinised by Ben Cohen. The response is remarkable for denying the charges made against him while simultaneously continuing the things he is charged with – not a conspiracy believer, but Griffin makes sense. Not saying that there is a Holocaust – but there’s going to be – as he wrote last year, “Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.” Jews are often accused of bringing up the Holocaust as a diversion – the waving of a shroud – from criticism of Israel, but when figures of influence such as Falk start bandying round analogies, there  s little else to do than rehearse the facts of the Holocaust – the legalised withdrawal of rights from Jews based on racial pseudoscience, the ghettoisation prior to herding off to slavery and the slaughter houses. Falk also responds in perhaps most comfortable place for somebody with his outlook on the conflict – The Guardian. He admits that he was forewarned that he would not be permitted entry. He denies bias but not making inflammatory remarks – i.e. he thinks that it is faithful reflection of fact, and appropriately forceful, to refer to Israel as Nazi-like. His response accuses Israel of a “politics of distraction” but the funny thing is that it was Falk himself who calculated a media storm, as I try to explain above. It’s hard to see what Israel has to gain from this publicity for expelling yet another academic (I know the three so far do a certain amount of injury to the term ‘academic’, but still). It clearly works for Falk, though. He deserves no indulgence – he is a diplomat. If diplomats are misunderstood, then they are bad diplomats who should resign from jobs on intractable conflicts. Remember the peace-makers? Name me the teams from Oslo. No? – there’s a reason for that: they are modest people who work earnestly away from the media spotlight to bring about reconciliation.

Mildreds vegetarian/vegan restaurant. A review

Mildreds is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant in Soho with a no-booking policy and an inhospitable waiting area.  On arrival we were advised that we’d have to spend up to an hour in the narrow entrance before a table became free, penned in between the bar and the wall with many other hopeful diners and the continual activities of the waiting staff. My friend rapidly developed claustrophobia and a waiter graciously (read grudgingly) granted us permission to leave the building. We decided to go wait it out with a drink in the warm fug of TV production staff in the John Snow 30 seconds down the road. We arrived back in good time – we had about 5 minutes to wait. I announced to my friends it was my round and was overheard by another waiter – who inferred correctly that we had been out and so threatened to de-list us! I gave a bit of lip and either because of that or for some other reason we were seated in minutes. The selection of beers was very dull.

We waited for 15 minutes to order drinks and about half an hour to order food (from a different waiter because we couldn’t get the attention of ours). It was another half an hour before the food arrived. There was cream with my burrito. “Is this the vegan burrito?” I asked. The waiter replied “No” and removed the plate. The others began their meal. Our original waiter came to the table. “You didn’t tell me you wanted a vegan option burrito”, he said. “You didn’t take my order”, I answered. “Oh”, he said “I thought I didn’t remember you asking me for a vegan option burrito”. Then he went away.The burrito was mediocre, as were the sweet potato fries. Other people enjoyed their meal.

The toilets were slummy. No soap.

After our plates were cleared we waited 20 minutes to order desserts and a further 15 or 20 for them to arrive (I had the chocolate rasberry torte which was fine). Then we asked for the bill. It came within about 90 seconds. We paid in cash and decided not to tip. The total was something like £56.00 without service and £63.00 with it. We put in £60. We never got our change. Because nobody wanted to make a fuss, I didn’t. One of the waiters kicked me in both heels on my way out in a bout of unaccustomed haste.

So. Mildreds: inhospitable; variable quality food; disrespectful and unfriendly, or friendly but inattentive, or petty tyrannical staff; unhygienic sanitary facilities.

You won’t catch me back there in a hurry.