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Friday, 22 June 2018

The 45th President and moral decency

There is a lot of discussion on Trump's (lack of) moral decency, following his treatment of illegal labour migrants and/or refugees - and their children - as criminals, including the separation of parents and children. Trespassing is indeed an offence in criminal law, which usually result in fines rather than imprisonment. Hence, Trump now proposes trespassing of U.S. borders to be a "crime" and will detain parents and children together (eg, GuardianQuartzTime).

Defining moral decency is less easy than you might think. Eating dog meat is considered a moral indecency in the West, but Koreans get angry at Western protests (eg, GuardianStraits Times, Telegraph). This debate is about cultural double standards: "the application of different sets of principles for similar situations".

Although China's official news media sharply criticise Trump, there is no reference to Trump's child separation policy. China may fear Trump's criticism on its one-child policy of 1979, which was relaxed in 2002, and abandoned in 2018. China now urges parents to have another baby given the disastrous demographic consequences of that policy (Bloomberg, my 2018 blog).

The consequences of China's one-child policy show a lack of moral decency:
  • "Officials would make unannounced visits to women’s homes every few months to check for secret pregnancies, she said, and those found to be with child were dragged off for abortions."
  • "Forced abortions continue even today. As recently as 2012, there was a global outcry over bloody photos of a Chinese woman forced to undergo an abortion seven months into her pregnancy after failing to pay a 40,000 yuan fine." (Irish Journal-2015)
The concept of moral decency does not even exist on Wikipedia, only topics like morality, decency, and minimal decency. Latter does not offer any helpful advice. A related book offers some insight: "A minimally decent society does not do unnecessary harm to its own members, or to others with whom it comes into contact." Note LO: italic markings in quote by me.

The Trump Administration may argue that there is no physical harm to these children. It may indeed take years to measure emotional and/or psychological harm, which could always be attributed to subsequent developments in a child's life.

Reuters: "Immigrant children are being routinely and forcibly given a range of psychotropic drugs at U.S. government-funded youth shelters to manage their trauma after being detained and in some cases separated from parents, according to a lawsuit." Note LOitalic markings by me.

It's hard to compare the moral decency of Trump's child separation policy and China's one-child policy. What is more harsh: a child crying for its lost mother, OR a (Chinese) mother crying for her lost (aborted) child. That's the problem when applying double standards.

Double Standards (2008) by Patti Rothberg - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki

My oh my 
Don't you even try 
To make sense of all you see 
The devil loves a double standard 
And heaven isn't selling cheap


Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Seeking advantage

In my 5 July 2017 blog, I concluded that seeking advantage is what "separates humans from anything else on this planet". It’s the fundamental force in human behaviour. To some extent, I was wrong. Seeking advantage is the main driver of all Life, including animals, humans, plants, trees. Why? Seeking advantage is a coping mechanism with Change, an absolute force.

If you look at any plant then you will see that it grows towards sunlight. It adapts to Change. In a garden, each plant strives for competitive and comparative advantages (eg, colours, height, smell). In 1817, David Ricardo formulated the Law of Comparative Advantage within free trade. Competition is a human phenomenon at sports, studies, at work, and even at home.

DNA shows constant minor changes as a result of changes in our environment: an astronaut's DNA no longer matched that of his identical twin (my 2018 blog). A gene mutation of 5,000 years ago caused lighter skin to adapt to less sunlight in Europe (my 2016 blog). This environmental advantage led to the philosophical belief of White supremacy (my 2015 blog, 2016 blog).

The imminent U.S.-China trade war - and a possible US-EU trade war - is another example of seeking (economic) advantage. Trump does not believe - or understand - Ricardo’s Lawimporting cheap Chinese products is less expensive for American consumers than producing these same goods in America. In Trump’s psychology, life is a zero-sum game of Winners and Losers. Hence, he is always seeking for advantage (ie, winning).

To some extent, Trump is right: we all prefer winning over losing. Most of our efforts are rooted in seeking advantage. Even expressing empathy towards friends or strangers is an example of seeking advantage. Expressing empathy makes us feel better about ourselves. Hence, we win.

Helping a stranger could turn into a valuable friendship. Helping a friend strengthens a friendship and creates a future IOU. Helping your parents removes guilt or cashes an IOU. Networking is perhaps the clearest example of seeking advantage (eg, assignment, info, job).

The above examples may feel cynical but cynicism is something entirely else than a falsehood. I do think, feel and believe that all human efforts are about seeking advantage.

All life forms need competitive and comparative advantages to survive (ongoing) Change. Some more intelligent life forms want these advantages and started using tools (eg, birds). Humans believe in seeking advantage (eg, my blogs on Transhumanism). These basics represent my concept of Needs-Want-Beliefs (excluding Awakening).

The human brain had a vast memory storage. It made us curious and very creative. Those were the characteristics that gave us an advantage - curiosity, creativity and memory. And that brain did something very special. It invented an idea called 'the future.' A quote by David Suzuki

Advantage McEnroe (1983) by The Brat - IMDb, lyrics, my blogvideo, Wiki


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Is auditing a failing pyramid scheme?

Last Monday, the UK industry regulator for audit firms (FRC) published a critical report. The FRC report "says the overall quality of the audit profession is in decline" and one firm experienced an “unacceptable deterioration” in the quality of its work (Guardian). As a former auditor, I suddenly got a strange notion: is auditing a failing pyramid scheme?

The business model of audit firms roughly is like this: 
1. Organisation: a pyramid with few on top, supported by a constant influx of new recruits;
2. People: top-earning partners and well-paid staffers, who work exceptionally long hours;
3. Clients: (i) inadequate fixed fees for top-notch clients, and (ii) hours x top rates for clients that are not able to negotiate, for whatever reason (eg, due diligences, investigations);
4. Profits: the big profits are in the 2nd group of clients ("the feast").

This reminded me of a pyramid scheme: "A pyramid scheme is an illegal investment scam based on a hierarchical setup. New recruits make up the base of the pyramid and provide the funding, or so-called returns, the earlier investors/recruits above them receive." Note LO: italic markings in quote by me.

American novelist John Grisham had a similar notion in his 1991 book and 1993 movie The Firm. At "my" audit firm, some of the partners were thrilled by this new book. They recognised similarities in the underlying business models, and recommended this book to new recruits, like me. Fortunately, overbilling and money laundering were unfamiliar, unlike The Firm.

The decline in the overall quality of the audit profession is "firmly" rooted in its business model: client fees are often fixed, hours spent are variable, and hourly rates are ever-increasing. The quotient between Cost of "Goods" Sold and Sales is called the realisation rate. Partners and managers must maximise this benchmark, by maximising billings and minimising hours spent.

The ongoing efforts to minimise hours spent has resulted in several changes, like methodology (eg, risk management) and computer-assisted audit techniques (CAATs). In principle, comprehensive audits no longer exist. However, such efforts have mainly caused increased reputation risk for audit firms, following ongoing audit scandals (eg, GuardianTimes).

Once, the founders of the audit profession saw auditing as a public service (Guardian). Today, audit firms are commercial enterprises. However, industry regulators are moving back to the founding principles in order to (i) minimise audit scandals and (ii) restore public trust. Most likely, this difference of opinion will create a bend-or-break situation.

Recent news suggests that the UK might be the first country breaking up the audit oligopoly. Unfortunately, big "audit only" firms may have a (loss-making) business model that is too risky and unsustainable. The solution might be: better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

Walk Like an Egyptian (1986) by The Bangles

All the old paintings on the tomb
They do the sand dance, don't you know?
If they move too quick (oh-way-oh)
They're falling down like a domino


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Absolute thinking - the Truth as a Belief system

Recently, an Aeon article made me aware of a new concept: absolute thinking. Whenever you read random online comments, you quickly discover this concept: (very) simplified comments to (very) complex issues. Possibly, such comments express irony, or are provocations for creating angry responses ("trolling").

The problem is that "human beings, regardless of race, religion or culture, are likely to embrace any belief that is absolute. This is because absolute beliefs are simple, easy to comprehend, and false positives that offer us a false sense of security." (PsychologyToday, 2011) Note LO: markings in quote by me.

Politicians always face this same dilemma: absolute thinking versus nuance. There might even be a correlation between the (apparentincrease in absolute thinking and the decline in IQ since the 1970s. The 45th President appears to be an expert in absolute thinking; his nuance is mostly absent, ignored or neglected.

Absolute thinking is the connection between my concept of the 7 Belief systems and extreme beliefs. All extreme beliefs require absolute thinking and the loss of all nuance. Absolute thinking is an example of the Truth as a Belief system: the right to your own personal truth. Also see my 2018 blog: You don’t have a right to believe whatever you want to (Aeon).

These quotes from a 1999 study on absolute thinking and health show this connection:
  • "Absolutist thinking has been identified in therapeutic studies as a style of thinking which is believed to promote emotional distress, particularly anger, when people are confronted by situations which do not conform to their demands concerning what ought to happen."
  • "It is not a discrete thought process, however, but a key aspect of a framework of beliefs and reactions which are thought to make people vulnerable to poor psychological and physical health when faced with personal, domestic or work problems."

Absolute thinking might be of American origin. Aeon: "The term cognitive miser, first introduced by the American psychologists Susan Fiske and Shelley Taylor in 1984, describes how humans seek the simplest and least effortful ways of thinking. Nuance and complexity is expensive – it takes up precious time and energy – so wherever possible we try to cut corners."

I wonder whether American gullibility stimulates absolute thinking and extreme beliefs. These may be the hidden psychological drivers of American mass shootings. The perpetrators seem to follow their own truths. The huge availability of guns cannot be its main explanation (NYT-2017). 

“Absolutes are coercion. Change is absolute.” An intriguing quote by Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), American poet, philosopher, writer, and activist.

Absolute (1984) by Scritti Politti - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Monday, 18 June 2018

The relationship between CO2, ice, water and (greenhouse) gases

The end of an interglacial period - or intermittent warm periods between ice ages - is marked by the total melting of the polar caps. Wiki: "Outside these [ice] ages, the Earth seems to have been ice free even in high latitudes." From a scientific point of view, the current melting of the polar caps is consistent with Earth's history and - moreover - to be expected.

There is an interesting relationship (see graph) between carbon dioxide (CO2), ice, water and vapor (or "greenhouse gases").

Carbon dioxide acts like an accelerator for storing in dry ice (solid CO2) up to a certain temperature. Above that tipping point, carbon dioxide works as an accelerator for melting of ice (Nature, Phys, ScienceDaily). Carbon dioxide is mainly stored in oceans (93%), and only 0.04% in (greenhouse) gases.

The current interglacial period started 21,000 years ago. Initially, sea levels rose slowly but accelerated some 15,000 years ago until about 7,000 years ago (5,000 BC). 

During these 8,000 years, the sea level rose by +120-140 meters, which is beyond human comprehension. In cultural legends, this period may have been "The Great Flood" (BBC).

The future melt down of all ice may cause a further sea level rise of some +70 meters to +80 meters. Compared to current sea levels, the "recent" Pleistocene interglacial highstand was 75 meters lower, but the older and warmer Pliocene climate was higher: +10 to +40 meters (BBC, Wiki). The current climate is the Holocene.

The +120-140 meter sea level rise wiped out ancient civilisations as humans typically build their cities (and harbours) close to coastal lines (BBC). This may explain why scientists still believe there was no advanced civilisation before 5,000 BC. Hence, the "sudden" emergence of the "first" advanced - and sea-faring - Sumerian civilisation is still a scientific "mystery". 

The Neanderthal survived for some 700,000 years including 8 Ice Ages until they were wiped out by viruses, carried by the influx of homo sapiens who arrived from Africa around 40,000 years ago (Guardian-2016my 2015 blog). The fragility of our current society (eg, food distribution, fuel, internet, technology, water) may not even survive the start of a new Ice Age. 

The high(er) amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has already delayed the next Ice Age by some 100,000 years (Bloomberg-2016, CNN-2016, Guardian-2016, Independent-2016, NYT-2003). Indeed, every cloud has a silver lining.

Cold as Ice (1977) by Foreigner featuring Lou Gramm as lead singer


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Father and daughter/son

Father and Daughter (2002) by Paul Simon


As long as one and one is two
There could never be a father
Who loved his daughter more than I love you


Father and Son (1970) by Cat Stevens


Find a girl, settle down,
if you want you can marry
Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Brexit is a sideshow for Germany (FT)

"UK problems are trivial compared with strained ties between the US and its allies" (FT)

"During a visit to Berlin this week I was struck, not for the first time, by how small a corner Brexit occupies in the minds of most Germans. Not only does Brexit diminish the UK’s strategic importance for Germany, it is also the least serious of several emerging threats to Germany’s national interests.

All the talk in London this week was about the struggle of Theresa May’s Conservative government to win various House of Commons votes on its EU withdrawal bill. In Berlin, the political theatre at Westminster seemed almost trivial.

More important, for German policymakers, was an acrimonious G7 summit in Canada that had just plunged relations between the US and its leading democratic allies to their lowest level in living memory.

In German eyes, Brexit is certainly not good news. But the G7 debacle conjured a spectre of immeasurably larger dimensions than Brexit. It was the nightmarish prospect that the US, the chief creator of the western alliance and the rules-based, liberal international order that took shape after 1945, might be turning into its chief destroyer.

It is hard to exaggerate how alarming this is for German business people, mainstream politicians and a majority of the public. No country has gained more than Germany from seven decades of US-backed western unity and the rules-based global order.

These arrangements have been Germany’s passport to democracy, political stability, prosperity, security and a full return to global respectability after the shame and horror of the Nazi era. They paved the way to peaceful national reunification in 1990 after Germany’s division during the cold war.

No wonder, then, that Germans have been stunned by events in Washington since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017. They are aghast at the way he appears to reserve a particular animus for Germany. By comparison, Brexit is a sideshow.

These German attitudes were captured in an opinion pollcarried out by the Forsa research institute and published in April. It showed that 82 per cent of Germans were concerned about the Trump presidency; 75 per cent about crises in the Middle East; 71 per cent about North Korea; 66 per cent about European tensions with Russia; and only 39 per cent about Brexit.

Precisely because Germans do not regard Brexit as a priority issue, they see no need for their government to concede ground to London in the negotiations over the UK’s departure from the EU. According to the Forsa poll, 65 per cent want the EU to stick to its firm line against Britain.

Naturally, German business is concerned about the potential negative consequences of Brexit for trade, investment and profits. Take a report by the DIHK, one of Germany’s leading business associations.

It says that German trade with the UK is already “decreasing significantly” because of Brexit. One in every 12 German companies with investments in the UK is planning to move them to other markets.

Above all, however, the DIHK report undermines the argument of pro-Brexit UK politicians who for years have confidently forecast that business pressure on the German government will force concessions to London in the Brexit talks.

“Individual companies . . . point out that Brexit must not jeopardise the stability of the internal market in the remaining 27 EU countries. They warn against affording the UK too many privileges in the course of the negotiations,” the report says."

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/77c7cb7e-7099-11e8-852d-d8b934ff5ffa