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Friday, 31 July 2015

Njet

On 30 July 2015, Russia voted "No" to a draft UN Security Council (SC) resolution asking for a UN tribunal on the downing of MH17 which killed all its 283 passengers and its 15 crew members. A recent Russian poll amongst 800 Russians in 46 Russian regions, suggested that 47% of the Russians are in favour of this tribunal as the Russian population expects that such a tribunal would confirm the responsibility of either Ukraine (85%) or the USA (17%). Only 2% of Russian respondents think that Russia is responsible (Moscow Times). Remarkably, these poll results add up to a 104%.

Unfortunately, I can only find some sound bites of the speech of the Russian Ambassador to the UN SC, Vitaly Churkin. However, those words are to a large extent similar to an official press release by the Russian Embassy in Malaysia. Hence, I will use the statements from that press release as the Russian arguments for their Njet are quite interesting.

"Russia is interested in a comprehensive, accurate, independent and transparent international investigation of the catastrophe of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17". Why? There were no Russian casualties and the incident happened on Ukrainian soil. Formally, there is no Russian involvement.

"There are many serious questions concerning the organization and conduct of the investigation." By whom? The only questions seem to come from Russia. This does not make any sense given the aforementioned lack of Russian involvement in this incident.

"Russia has been insisting on making the investigation transparent, first of all, with respect to the UN Security Council." Why would Russia insist on this when there is a lack of Russian involvement?

"Since the day of the disaster we have been witnessing a powerful information attack on our country in international media and fora (including the UNSC). It has been groundlessly claimed that Russia or "separatists controlled by Russia" were responsible for the downing of Flight MH-17. Such irresponsible and unproven statements are being issued up to this moment. Their aim is to negatively influence the media background surrounding the investigation. We consider such statements and unfounded accusations as an attempt to dissimulate the true facts concerning the catastrophe and to cover up the identities of the true perpetrators of the crime." There it is. This is the information that is unknown to the Russian population which still believes the official Russian version of events that Ukraine was (in)directly responsible for the downing of MH17.

How would a Russian comprehensive, accurate, independent and transparent investigation look like? The best example to me is the murder of the Russian politician Boris Nemtsov on 27 February 2015. Interestingly, his murder may even be (in)directly connected to the situation in Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian President, Boris Nemtsov was preparing to reveal his evidence for the Russian involvement in Ukraine (Inquisitr, Economist). The murder investigation on Boris Nemtsov (Forbes, FT, PoliticoTelegraph) clearly shows how Russia would deal with a politically sensitive investigation like MH17. 

Interestingly, Leonid Bershidsky claims in Bloomberg View that Russia's "Njet" is merely related to America's "No" on extraditing its citizens wanted for crimes committed elsewhere.

"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest". Winston Churchill.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Solitude

In my July 27 blog, I used a quote by Paul Tillich: Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone. I haven't been able to focus on my blogs for the last couple of days as my mind was occupied by a woman. My July 29 blog was the - quite unexpected - result from that encounter. 

While loneliness expresses the feeling of pain of being alone, at the very same time loneliness is also crowding and occupying your mind with that overwhelming feeling of sadness. Solitude however is being alone in appearance as well as in mind. Emptying your mind is the glorifying part, not the fact of being alone.

I have learned to enjoy my solitude, perhaps even learned to love it, and I'm not sure if I want to sacrifice it for being no longer alone. Increasingly, this is becoming a dilemma to me. Solitude cannot be shared. Loneliness can easily be shared as I see plenty of couples that radiate the feeling of being lonely inside their relationship.

Only solitude allows me to find the words to express my feelings. Solitude requires the absence of voices: radio, TV and also music. Even light classical music can sometimes interfere with my thinking, especially when the topics are really tough (like this one). The sound of nature is always comforting me whether it's the wind rustling the leaves of nearby trees or the rain hitting my pavement, roof or windows. Remarkably, total silence is distracting me as it feels unnatural.

I don't know if there's a solution for my dilemma. I haven't given up on finding a solution. Yet I feel that I should make a choice between solitude and the company of a female. I know that I can't write while having someone around me. I also know that I either feel guilty for not writing or feel guilty for not paying attention towards that significant other. Yet it still doesn't make sense to me that I should make a choice. There must be a compromise somewhere.

The solution – or compromise - might be in a weekend (LAT) relationship. It would however require the will and trust of two individuals rather than just one. And let's not forget that each advantage has its own disadvantage (an adaptation of Johan Cruyff’s famous saying). My current thinking might be much more like a quick fix rather than a permanent solution.

And why is this even a dilemma to me?? Nobody seems to have this dilemma! Actually, I'm wrong as I just remember that I recently had dinner with a male friend who appears to be in a similar situation. And he told me that his (male) neighbour is too. It can't be a male thing if only for my own mother.

I know that I would choose for solitude if I would be forced to choose. If that's the case why do I even feel a dilemma??

And suddenly, while writing this, I realise that I still haven't given up on Love. That is the real reason for feeling my dilemma. Somewhere deep down, I'm a “hopeless” romantic. And I know very well that I would always choose for Love over solitude. I'm still Addicted to Love (April 20 blog).


Laura Pausini - La Solitudine (1993) - (lyricsvideo, wiki)

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Honesty

Honesty is an interesting concept. Most of us think digitally - or absolute - about honesty. Either someone is dishonest or honest. When it comes to ourselves, honesty usually gets a relative meaning. Honesty depends on the situation, the causes and the consequences. Why should one be honest to another person if those words would hurt? It even has a nickname: white lie. The Dutch expression is even more to the point: a little lie for the sake of good (NL: "leugentje om bestwil").

Yesterday evening my date informed me that she has an STD as she wants to be honest about it towards her future partners. My knowledge about that STD was minimal and thus my fear took the overhand. She now feels that by being honest, she has hurt herself and her prospects of finding a future partner.

She could have said nothing to me. This STD is of an inflammatory nature and hides in the nerves when not active. Some people only have one attack in their life. Others have an outbreak every month. Her last outbreak was 2 years ago. There is medication to suppress the consequences of the outbreak but there is no cure. Allegedly, many people carry this virus without even knowing it. Obviously, at some point in time she would have to tell her partner about the STD when she would have a new outbreak. Yet, that new outbreak may never come.

She told me that she contracted it from a former boyfriend who had not informed her. He even claims to her that she is the one who gave it to him. Denial and reverse psychology are both classic in these matters. Now that I have informed myself on this topic, I can only conclude that he must have had an outbreak while being with her. An outbreak is not something that goes unnoticed for the person experiencing it. However, it can easily get unnoticed by the other person.

Now she is very sad and convinced that I will dump her. Her honesty only causes herself pain, doubt and rejection. Is it possible that someone is too honest? My earlier response to her was that this is not about honesty but about responsibility. Actually, I am less convinced about my earlier statement after reading the medical facts. Nevertheless, not being honest right now does put a huge mortgage on a relationship and the cost of future redemption may be very high - too high.

I am glad that she told me this information. Not as a reason to dump her but to consider the options as I actually like her quite a lot. Her smoking and her loud snoring may be better reasons to "dump" her. Hiding behind ignorance would not a good reason. I have no clue yet how to deal with my fear. Knowledge contains fear but does not remove it. And fear is a powerful emotion. Also see my blogs of May 11 ("Fear and Hope") and February 23 ("The Promise and Fear of Change").

Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard. And mostly what I need from you. Billy Joel, from his 1978 album "52nd Street" (lyricsvideo, wiki)

Monday, 27 July 2015

Feeling incomplete

Having a purpose in life (see my July 26 blog) helps overcoming the feeling of being incomplete. That feeling will not be gone but it is remote. Remote enough not to bother you on a daily basis. Not feeling a purpose in life makes the feeling of being incomplete almost tangible. It is tempting to find purpose in being complete. Yet I have never felt more alone, lonely and/or incomplete than in a relationship that didn't work.

The feeling of being incomplete is not as easy to explain as one might expect. It's not a full-time feeling. At least in my case. It's mostly a part-time feeling. Again, at least in my case. I think and feel that the feeling of incompleteness relates to the lack of a certain type of human contact. It is not family or friends that bring completeness. And it sure is not a random or regular physical encounter.

Feeling complete is about sharing intimate moments together in real time/life: a bed, a kiss, a laugh, a smell, a voice, and also music. Music, including its lyrics, is able to express some of our deepest feelings. Sharing music feels like being on the same wavelength. Not sharing a similar taste for music creates an immediate distance: how could (s)he not like my music?? I still remember a night in a Belgian hotel where the owner and a few of his guests & friends exchanged their musical preferences. I still dislike Rammstein’s “Bück Dich” but remembering Luc’s joyful face still makes me smile.

More and more, we share virtual - rather than real time/life - moments as our friends live all over the country, continent or planet. I dislike long distance relationships as it only brings one of the four cornerstones for a healthy relationship, being communication. Intimacy, respect and trust are hard to build from a distance. You may feel complete for a short time (e.g., during communication) but then emptiness returns. The feeling of emptiness brings doubt. Doubt erodes hope and trust.

Feeling complete also needs to be a 2-way street to make it last. It's not easy feeling complete while the other person feels – or acts – incomplete (e.g., online chatting). In an optimal situation these two people do not NEED to be together but WANT to be together. Needing someone arises from lacking another purpose in life and may easily lead to a feeling of desperation. Desperation does not go well with feeling complete.

Feeling incomplete is easily confused with being alone and/or loneliness. Some people have plenty of contact with family and friends, do not feel alone or lonely, and still feel incomplete. I'm alone most of the time but hardly ever feel lonely and only feel incomplete occasionally, when there's too much time. The common denominator is that we do not have someone to share things with.

Getting adjusted to being alone is rather easy I must say. Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone while solitude expresses the glory of being alone (Paul Tillich). The feeling of incompleteness is not one that you can adjust to or alter in your mind. It's a feeling of missing your "significant other", whether unknown or known (e.g., after the demise of a lifelong partner).

I think and feel that there is only one way to suppress the feeling of incompleteness: a strong sense of purpose. Working overtime each evening is not equal to a strong sense of purpose. The feeling of incompleteness may even hit you harder in the face. Having a strong sense of purpose in life brings so much drive and determination that sharing that with someone else may actually feel like a waste of time. Time then becomes the constraint in life. So much to do, and so little time left. 

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.” Plato

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Our individual purpose

In my July 21 blog I outlined the reasons why we are here, as mankind. Our purpose as human beings. Our individual purpose underpins our general purpose. Yet I notice that people are struggling with their individual purpose. It's rather difficult for an individual to recognise his/her purpose and it's even more difficult to ask others about our purpose.

For decades I didn't wonder about my purpose at all. I suppose that I didn't make time for wondering about it as its priority wasn't high, back then. Such a question gets priority – and actual relevance – at life altering moments. Before that moment the answer - to that seemingly irrelevant question - seems obvious: your job, your family, your study, your sport.

Life altering moments have the nasty habit that these obvious answers are no longer obvious. That does not imply that these obvious answers were wrong, even with the knowledge of hindsight. It only means that these obvious answers are no longer relevant in our altered life. Finding our new purpose isn't that simple, especially in comparison with our previous - seemingly obvious – purpose.

Nowadays, I feel that my purpose is helping others, and as many as possible by writing these blogs. Some have said to me that my purpose in life is giving (e.g., time, help, advice) while not expecting anything in return. Yet, my LinkedIn profile still states “CFO” although I do expect that this 3 letter acronym will disappear someday. It will then just state consigliere (adviser, counselor) and probably also writer. Giving advice, help and opinions to others brings a deep sense of purpose. In that context, my original profession (auditor) makes a lot of sense. Basically, I went from a business to a personal level. And I know that I'm good at both. It comes naturally.

Our individual purpose is usually much closer to us than we think or assume. It may well be so close under our nose that we actually have a problem seeing/recognising it. It's like a blind spot to us. Moreover, I suppose that we all expect something “big” and thus we think “big” when it comes to our individual purpose. That mind game that we play ourselves can easily become a major disappointment or disillusion in our life when that “big” purpose cannot be found.

In essence, each individual human purpose is in helping others. Some of our contributions leave a visible trace while most go invisible. The visibility of our contributions may be even more rewarding to ourselves than to others. Our invisible contributions may however affect the lives of others beyond our imagination. All we need to do is help others, and in some cases help ourselves first. As Joan Armatrading once sang: “you would help me more if you helped yourself”. (lyrics, video, wiki)

Each of us has received a unique set of talents at birth. No set of talents is the same. We help others by using our talents on a best effort basis. One could even argue that wasting our unique talents is an implicit offense (rather than a crime or offence) to mankind. Having talent may be a burden to some. Not having talent may be unfair to others. Not recognising talent or over-qualifying talent may result in emotional distress. Coping with (a lack of) talent is a lifetime challenge.

Talent is a free gift at birth. At various moments in our life we can evaluate our use of that gift: at graduation(s), at promotion(s), at retirement and at our demise. A special – lifelong - evaluation happens while raising our children.

Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God. Leo Buscaglia

Friday, 24 July 2015

A Trojan - or Trump - Horse

Today's First-FT featured an article that the American Republican Party is now quite concerned due to Donald Trump’s success and the friction that he is causing within that (GOP) party. Donald Trump has threatened a third-party (independent) run if the GOP does not treat him "fairly" (CNNThe Hill). In some ways, Donald Trump is like a brood cuckoo who is cannibalising on the other Republican eggs. In other ways, he is like a Trojan - or Trump - Horse within American politics at large.

Donald Trump’s remarks still remind me of the late (i.e., murdered) Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn. No vested Dutch politician was able to get a grip on Pim Fortuyn. Both Donald Trump and Pim Fortuyn are (were) far from boring. Yet, Donald Trump’s success within the Republican Party must certainly also be a protest vote against all these other boring Republican candidates as bluntness and/or rudeness is usually not a political virtue (or vice) that commands success.

Donald Trump is becoming a nightmare to the Republicans as they are unable to control him. The other (boring) candidates need the Republican Party much more than the Republican Party needs them. Donald Trump does not need the Republican Party but the Republican Party cannot oust Donald Trump without losing the 2016 Presidential Election. It's usually better to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. (The Godfather II, 1974).

The moment that Donald Trump gets voter credibility from both sides of the political arena, he will become a nightmare to the Democrats too. In fact, I'm still waiting for him to make that move but most likely it's still far too early in the race. The fact that Donald Trump can actually buy himself a ticket to the White – or Trump – House (see my July 13 blog) should be a big concern to both parties. Donald Trump is likely to cause equal damage to the USA as Silvio Berlusconi did to Italy. It may not be a coincidence that both are CEO's and think that a country can be run like a company.

China and Russia are both eager to take over America’s role. However, sooner or later their centuries old animosity is likely to bring new conflicts. While China is infiltrating in Africa, mid and south America, and also south east Asia, Russia is infiltrating in Europe and Central Asia. America is far more likely to retreat (e.g., Arab region, Asia, Europe, Mid and South America) than to expand its global influence. A unified Europe will soon become a must-be rather than a nice-to-have.

It's interesting to notice that America’s Asian allies seem much more aware of the Chinese global ambitions than America itself. I wouldn't be surprised if the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) will be revived in the coming years. SEATO is likely to become that region’s NATO.

Europe has become a de facto political union since the recent third Greek bailout as the conditions of this bailout provide an implicit redistribution of European wealth. Actually, Europe should be glad that this bailout decision was NOT taken democratically. The trade-off between democracy, stability and prosperity (June 29 blog) is not an easy one. Greece has even shown us how democracy in 2015 works: promise everything, get elected, betray everyone, fire the “standfasters” in your government and party, and let the opposition bail you out in parliament!

A fool and his money are soon elected. A quote attributed to Will Rogers (1879-1935)

Adieu

I wish you peace when the cold winds blow
Warmed by the fire's glow
I wish you comfort in the lonely time
And arms to hold you when you ache inside

I wish you hope when things are going bad
Kind words when times are sad
I wish you shelter from the raging wind
Cooling waters at the fever's end

I wish you peace when times are hard
A light to guide you through the dark
And when storms are high and your dreams are low

I wish you the strength to let love grow
I wish you the strength to let love flow

Wish you peace when times are hard
A light to guide you through the dark
And when storms are high and your dreams are low
I wish you the strength to let let love grow
I wish you the strength to let love flow
I wish you the strength to let love glow
I wish you the strength to let love go........

Bernie Leadon's farewell song "I wish you peace" from the 1975 Eagles album One Of These Nights

Thursday, 23 July 2015

How pain defines us

I now realise that my July 22 blog about pain was just a first exercise on this extensive topic. Although I often prefer to forget, pain has significantly shaped who I am today. And I am quite sure that this also applies to anyone reading this. It was my soon to depart ex gf who put me in the right direction by asking me : “what if we did not get any pain?”.

There is no life without pain. In each phase of our life we deal with pain: as a baby, toddler, child, teenager and as an adult. Pain is probably even the first experience of any newborn human. As a new parent we quickly learn to distinguish the crying sounds of our children: hunger, pain and lack of attention. The pain that one endures by the lack of parental attention during childhood, may cause serious emotional issues as an adult. Witnessing a lack of love between our parents may not cause immediate pain but it sure leaves its painful marks during adulthood.

I think it's safe to say that we all prefer to forget the pain that was inflicted on us during childhood, by hiding our memories in the deep, dark corners of our mind. Hiding memories is not the same as denying them. Denial is pretending they never happened. Denial is also dangerous as one needs to create another identity that communicates with the outside world. The original identity is not gone but somewhere hidden inside the new identity. Sometimes we encounter the original identity and get to see a spark of their immense hidden pain.

The pain that we feel as an adult when we get rejected (e.g., in matters of love, sport, study or at work) may easily define our future behaviour. As a child, our parents try hard to protect us against rejection. Nowadays, parents try even that hard that life itself may feel like a rejection once children become (young) adults. Also see my May 20 blog on parenting. It's important for children to discover the “world”, feel (physical) pain when making mistakes, and learning from that. It will create future responsible behaviour. 

Physical pain tends to be visible, treatable and in many cases short lived. Mental pain however is often not visible, hard to treat, and of a long term nature. Overcoming mental pain is much easier when it was inflicted accidentally rather than deliberately.

Sometimes we inflict pain on others as a response to the pain they caused to us. Similar to an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Unfortunately, these countermeasures are usually stronger than the ones we received earlier. This process of escalation is not easily halted. Deliberately hurting another person, for whatever reason, will only cause losers. Some mind games cannot be won. Time may heal the mental bruises but cannot remove its scars (memories). Only love can remove the scars.

The way that we deal with (physical or mental) pain defines who we are and how we deal with others. Hurting the ones that we love by inflicting pain on them, for whatever reason, is wrong. However, we normally only realise this after the fact. And a reconciliation takes time, and courage.

"Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilised by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have - life itself". Walter Anderson

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Pain

Last night, I couldn't sleep again due to a feeling of relentless pain. I rarely use medicine but killing that pain was no longer an option. The word “pain killer” finally made sense. To some extent, I felt that I could control the level of pain but repeating that successfully was too hard. The pain demanded my attention. This week I also felt another type of pain as I'm about to lose my BFF who is about to emigrate. Perhaps these two types of pains are even interconnected. I wouldn't be surprised.

I can rationalise my mental pain away by convincing myself that a reconciliation is still quite premature. We are both not ready for a reconciliation. The pain - and tears - were caused by the sudden realisation that our – unrivalled - communication is very likely to end after this week. I encourage, support and respect her choice but not without challenging it. It's over now.

Although my physical pain feels like torture, others are perfectly able to feel pleasure from giving or receiving pain. The difference is the STOP word. My STOP word is paracetamol and it takes a while before the pain obeys. I prefer not taking medicine in order to listen to what my body says rather than to numb it. Once my body starts screaming than playing deaf is favoured over listening.

Hopefully I'm already treating the root cause. For some, treating the root cause is insufficient for removing their chronic pain. They need to wait for medical breakthroughs. Frankly, I have no clue how they cope with that given my own mild sense of desperation during this feeling of torture. I do remember seeing a Dutch TV experiment (BNN video) in which 2 men felt the pain that women feel while giving birth. Both men thought they would be able to handle that pain level. One failed half way. One succeeded by laughing at his pain. Marquis de Sade would have been proud.

So far I omitted to mention a 3rd type of pain which relates to the matters of the heart. It reminds me of the classic Nazareth song “Love hurts”. In fact, this type of pain is well covered in music history.

Although I'm not quite sure (by lack of personal experience), any serious addiction probably also causes severe pain. The addicted brain demands the addict to score again in order to remove this feeling of pain. Watching someone go “cold turkey” removes any doubt about whether the addict is feeling pain. Even John Lennon's song "Cold Turkey" feels like listening to desperation.

Even compassion may bring (mental) pain. The current exodus from countries in Africa and the Middle East and the lack of a European response, is a source of heart breaking stories. Guilt and shame are also likely to cause (mental) pain.

I'm not even sure whether I covered all of them as a simple Google search gives such a variety of results. The subject of pain appears to be far less defined than I had ever imagined.

After considering all of the above, I doubt there is a ranking of pain. The duration may give an indication but some types of pain fit into Belief systems and may give rise to the ultimate human response ("to die for"). For some, chronic pain may even be easier to cope with than a broken heart.

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. Carl Jung

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Why we are here

Why are we here?? Recently, I have heard and seen that question several times. Quite honestly, it may well be the most depressing question ever. The question implies that there is no purpose for being alive. That being alive is a random event. That you need to carry the burden of life until being liberated by death. In this context, any other life form on Earth is quite lucky not to have a mind that can think and can come up which such depressing thoughts.

Interestingly, 3 out of the 7 Belief systems - being Philosophy, Religion and Science - are responsible for this depressing question. Love, Money, Politics and the Truth have a variety of answers to this question. My mentioning of Religion may however need some further clarification: in some religions, the concept of Heaven is far more interesting than Life itself.

Animals just seem to eat, sleep, reproduce, and do their thing. It's hard to see plants and trees being asleep but their response to sunlight does suggest something similar. Our fellow primates eat, sleep, reproduce, have fun, and do their thing. Why is it so hard for some humans to have fun and enjoy each new day? In essence, we are not that much different from any other life form when it comes to worrying about food, shelter or safety. The only real difference is the long term perspective.

The question - why are we here? - may be fundamentally flawed as “being here” is – most likely - the purpose and thus answer. We have twisted matters around. Our very existence brings purpose. Actually, the existence of any life form brings purpose, usually towards other – higher - life forms. Humans are on top of this (food) chain.

Humans excel in creating. It's hard to imagine that there could be a more superior life form in this Universe. Our superiority lies in our imagination (i.e., the “unknown unknowns”), and not so much in our knowledge ("known knowns"), beliefs ("known unknowns") or intuition ("unknown knowns"). Any deficiency in technological advancement will be overcome in the next hundreds - or thousands - of years. Actually, the continued increase in speed of our technology is within – rather than beyond – our imagination. We should only fear the day that our imagination runs out of energy.

Someday, human beings will have depleted this planet’s resources, and they will (have to) swarm, like grasshoppers, to other habitable planets. Analysing planets for its potential of harvesting its natural resources, is already a technological reality today (e.g, recent Pluto scans).

The conquering of the Universe may bring new friends or enemies, like Prof. Stephen Hawking warned us for only a couple of days ago (Guardian). The imagination of George Lucas (“Star Wars”) may even become reality. However, machines can only become our enemies when we - humans - build them first. It is inconceivable that there is any planet having (hostile) machines as a highest “life” form, unless actual life forms created them in the first place.

The fact that we exist, automatically brings purpose. It's up to each of us, to use our individual talents that were granted at birth. Creation is the human center of excellence. There is no creation without imagination. Our superiority is based on knowledge, intuition, beliefs and - most of all - imagination. Asking yourself why we are here is either liberating or depressing, depending on your (lack of) imagination.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." Albert Einstein

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Respect !

One of the most evolved words in today's vocabulary, is the word “Respect!”. Most of the times when people use this word on TV, I always wonder: for what?, for whom? The word respect is so often used outside its context, that it has become empty, meaningless and shallow. For some, it even replaces a simple hello or goodbye.

I am especially annoyed when the word respect is used as a demand, like in “Respect (me)!” You can only earn respect based upon your accomplishments, skills or virtues but you can never ever demand respect from others. Respect is a sincere, lasting, feeling and any demand for respect would only be given for a short while and with insincerity.

In other situations, respect is now used as mere “thumbs up”, a “well done”, a “great”. Again, there is no relation with the meaning of respect, whatsoever. A series of such positive incidents may start creating respect. Respect is the resultant of a process, not of an incident. You may get (in)famous for an incident but not often does that incident also bring respect.

Publicly using the word “Respect!” is already a contradiction, as respect is often hidden and silent. Non verbal communication is much more likely to express respect than verbal. In some situations, verbally expressing the word “Respect!” might even be considered disrespectful.

The use of the exclamation sign in “Respect!” is also interesting. Normally, the exclamation sign is used to stress something. In case of a demand for respect, its use may actually make - some - sense. Or is the exclamation sign used to add – some – sincerity?? Earning respect is one of the most prestigious achievements in a person’s life. Adding an exclamation remark hardly makes sense.

Internet tags claim: respect - you must give it, to get it. Again, this is a misrepresentation of respect. You earn respect and cannot get it by giving it - let alone demanding it. Respect does not need to be bilateral at all: many people whom I respect, do not even know me. In fact, respect is much more likely to be unilateral than bilateral.

In relationships, respect should better be bilateral than unilateral, in order to create a healthy and lasting balance. Not having – or losing – the respect for your partner, sooner or later equals to losing the relationship. Love brings respect but respect does not bring love. And a lack of boundaries in a relationship (or anywhere else for that matter), invites a lack of respect.

I would like to share the "8 respect basics" that I found during my research: be compassionate, have courage, tell your truth,  get help, know you're valuable, trust your gut and follow your passions (source). Actually, the last one doesn't make too much sense to me but the other 7 are quite valid. In case of doubt, just look at the reverse of these 7 and you will then understand their added value.

The word “Respect!” may once have been used with good intentions. Nowadays, its continued use feels pathetic and - quite honestly - even disrespectful.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. Bryant H. McGill

Friday, 17 July 2015

"It's okay. Nobody likes Russians".

During dinner in the posh area of Bloemendaal (Bloomingdale), I got the question that I should have prepared for but which I forgot to do: “And, Leon, what do you think of us, Russians?” The question by the Russian wife of my friend, caught me off guard. While still struggling to find a diplomatic answer, she said the words that still linger in my mind: “It's okay. Nobody likes Russians”.

Her breaking the ice, allowed me to tell her how my opinion has shaped over the years. In the late 90’s or early 00’s, I visited the Turkish Riviera several times with my family. At our arrival, I was surprised to notice a mixed Russian and Turkish front desk staff at Turkish hotels. In fact, that was the least of my surprise.

It was appalling to see how the Russian guests treated the Turkish restaurant staff, like they were bad dogs. Equally appalling was the sight of middle aged, and apparently very wealthy Russian men accompanied by very young women who didn't get any attention as these men were always busy on their phones. Some Dutch guests even claimed that they had noticed two Russian female hotel guests who were also working as prostitutes in the hotel.

Each day, the Russian guests attacked the lunch buffet right after its opening and took half of all the food towards their own tables and subsequently left most of their food untouched. The rest of the buffet was for all the other hotel guests. Obviously, the other hotel guests adjusted to this Russian behaviour by joining the buffet immediately after its opening. Apparently, a queue means nothing in Russia as the Russians just forced themselves into any (half) open spot within the queue.

After this experience, I vowed never to visit any hotel that accommodates Russian guests. In fact, nowadays hotels even advertise that they do not accommodate Russian guests. A former colleague once told me that Russians bought these Turkish hotels for money laundering purposes. They expected that Turkey would enter the EU and adopt the Euro. Actually, I think he was right.

When I come to think of it, the only persons who are still quite positive about Russians, are writers like Tom Clancy and John le Carré. Their novels feature a very different kind of Russians than the ones who we meet on vacation: charming, intelligent, sophisticated, stylish and well-mannered. Unfortunately, I am not at all familiar with the great Russian writers like Chekhov, Nabokov or Tolstoy but somehow it seems that their memories have been erased by our present experiences.

Today, it's a year ago that Russian freedom fighters/rebels/terrorists in East Ukraine shot down passenger flight MH-17, travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, and killed/murdered 298 human beings. Neither the various Russian spin-doctor versions of this tragic event, nor the Russian refusal to bring the perpetrators to justice, makes it easy to “like” Russians.

Actually, I am now wondering if the statement by my friend's Russian wife (“Nobody likes Russians”) could help explain present Russian behaviour. If you're convinced that nobody likes you then a paranoid and victim like behaviour may well result from that belief (or Belief??).

“It's okay. Nobody likes Russians”. Actually, it's not okay at all. However, it’s also like a chicken and egg dilemma: what comes first ??

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Relationships - purpose

Today's blog is a little difficult for me as I struggle with this issue myself for some time. Firstly, my struggle needs to be put in the following context: I'm 55, single, divorced and have 2 kids. Secondly, I'm neither interested in remarriage nor in raising kids again. Thirdly, most of the times, I enjoy being alone 24/7. Loneliness is just a feeling that creeps onto me around holidays like Christmas. So, what's the purpose of a relationship nowadays ?

I never had this question on my mind before. When I was young, social pressure dictated that you had to be in a relationship, else something was wrong with you. Nowadays this social pressure has nearly changed 180 degrees. Hedonism rules, especially in cities. This change doesn't only affect young people but also affects my state of mind. In the absence of outside / outward social pressure, why even bother to be in a long term relationship again?

My blogs of yesterday and the day before, already mentioned the word ‘purpose’. I felt slightly uncomfortable when writing that word then. On a subconscious level I deliberately didn't dive into it. Today, I feel I must. For myself, mostly. If others gain from it, so much for the better.

The purpose of “building something together” was quite clear in my parents’ case as they both worked together in their self-owned store. I never received any support from my ex wife when buying my house or working as an independent contractor / freelancer. When I'm in a cynical mood then I ask myself whether my purpose was ever much more than fertilising her eggs.

In fact, raising children seems to be the predominant purpose of a relationship nowadays. Subsequently, the couple - more and more often - gets divorced. Obviously, this feeling creates major doubts regarding the purpose of (subsequent) relationships. Motherhood is not the only role in a relationship. Being a friend and a lover is equally important. Managing this triangle is far from easy though.

Most likely my continued hesitance in starting to date again, is related to my struggle with the purpose of a new relationship. Younger women want to raise a family and I sure don't want to revisit that one again. Many women still believe in marriage but that one is still a trauma in my life. Other women are desperate in finding a new man while I am far from desperate. Some months ago, my mother already said to me that it will not be easy for me finding someone suitable.

Perhaps the purpose of a relationship is having a friend and a lover. The combination of a friend and a lover should - normally - result into a longer lasting relationship. Yet, male friendships could substitute one part of the equation and the other part of the equation is available in various shapes and forms. So, what's the purpose of entering into a new relationship?

Actually, the only reason for entering into a new relationship is LOVE. It's the only feeling that either clouds any rational reservation or clouds character / personality flaws which otherwise would have been deal-breakers. That's the scary part of love: it makes you do “stupid” things.

Basically, I still don't know what is MY purpose for a new relationship. Moreover, I don't look forward to acting “stupid” again (e.g., new marriage, new kids, new divorce). That is probably why I abstain from dating. However, sometimes I forget all these considerations and just try my luck again.

Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure. George E. Woodberry

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Relationships - pre-conditions, maintenance and purpose

My July 14 blog mentioned some of the slices of the pie that creates a healthy and long relationship. Those elements included that you need to find the other person attractive, look up to them and feel a strong sense of familiarity with them. These elements are basically pre-conditions for creating a relationship. Today's blog is about the conditions that make an existing relationship last long and - hopefully - happily ever after.

A lasting relationship requires a purpose and also day-by-day maintenance. Yesterday's blog already mentioned the element of 'purpose' as the Gottman Relationship Research Institute discovered that couples who focus their energy on building something meaningful together in their life (e.g., starting a business together) tend to last the longest.

In my view, the most important element of day-by-day maintenance is communication. Not about logistics (e.g., cleaning, grocery shopping, kids' agenda) but about the past (e.g., achievements), the present (e.g., disappointments ) and especially the future (e.g., dreams, expectations, fantasies, goals). In fact, all of the topics that men usually try to avoid talking about.

The second most important element of day-by-day maintenance is intimacy. Intimacy is far more than just sex. Intimacy is any physical contact including a kiss, a pat/slap on the butt, or stroking his/her hair. Intimacy is essential - and even vital - in bonding as a couple. Without intimacy a relationship is dying, like a flower without water.

Another important element in day-by-day maintenance is trust. One could well argue that trust is the resultant of other elements. In that case, please translate 'trust' by the 'absence of jealousy'. Jealousy - or the lack of trust - can easily strangle any relationship to death.

Jealousy has a lot to do with (alleged) infidelity. Recently, I have seen an impressive TED video about "rethinking infidelity". It's a recommended watch to anyone who is familiar with that situation.

Marriage is usually considered to be the final stage of a relationship. For many women, it's still the ultimate romantic dream – and often a goal in itself. For many men, however, it's much more a practical issue (e.g., children, legal benefits, taxes) rather than a goal and men would usually be quite happy to postpone marriage for “some” while.

Unfortunately, marriages often appear to become a reason for no longer applying some – or all – of the 3 essential elements of maintenance in a relationship. Spouses easily take each other for granted. In my view, marriages even require MORE maintenance than other relationships. In relationships without a legal status, it is much more obvious that you need to fight to maintain your relationship as each person in the couple can "easily" walk away. Walking out of a marriage takes a lot more effort and that may even be the reason that married couples apply LESS maintenance in their relationship.

If anything, the above clearly shows how much effort it takes to create and maintain a healthy and lasting relationship. Yet, it's not impossible as we still do see examples of successful couples. Most of us can't expect our 1st, 2nd - or even 3rd - relationship to be our everlasting, healthy and successful relationship. And please don't forget: "practice makes perfect".

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Dating, modern romance, and soulmates

Dating - or modern romance - has evolved from arranged marriages, to nearby village romances (my parents), to personal ads in newspapers (me), into the ample use of dating apps and/or dating sites (me too, occasionally). The search for a soulmate has become more and more "efficient".

Most dating apps are either based on the use of compatibility algorithms, or likability (pics), or both. Time spent on actually getting to know someone is becoming less and less as the next person might be more interesting than the current one. And the person after that one might even be your soulmate.

According to Wikipedia, a "soulmate" is a person with whom one has a feeling of deep or natural affinity. This may involve similarity, love, romance, friendship, intimacy, sexuality, sexual activity, spirituality, or compatibility and trust. This definition clearly shows that a soulmate is a must-have. 

Yesterday, Facebook mentioned an interesting article on finding your soulmate (link 1, link 2).

Dr. Ted Huston of the University of Texas, ran a study of couples that had been married for years and in his research he found out something quite surprising: “My research shows that there is no difference in the objective 'compatibility' between those couples who are unhappy and those who are happy”. He went on to say that couples that are feeling content and warmth in their relationships said that compatibility wasn’t an issue for them. In fact, they were perfectly ok saying that it was them who made the relationship work, not the compatibility of their personalities.

When the unhappy couples were asked what they thought about compatibility, they all answered by saying that compatibility is extremely important to a marriage. And sadly, that they didn’t think they were compatible with their significant other. Dr. Huston explained this as follows: when the unhappy couples said: “We’re incompatible”, they were truly meaning: “We don’t get along very well”.

That’s where the issue arises with compatibility: everyone who is unhappy, naturally blames it on the facade of compatibility. They fail to realise and comprehend that a successful relationship does not hinge its posterity on how alike you are, instead it hangs on by the sheer will power and wanting to stay in a relationship. More often than not, we get stuck in the perpetual loop of consciously and unconsciously considering someone else when things aren’t going perfectly in our relationships. And this is where the illusion of compatibility comes into play.

John Gottman of the Gottman Relationship Research Institute said that measures of personality are incapable of truly predicting the length or success of a relationship. His institute discovered that couples who focus their energy on building something meaningful together in their life (e.g., starting a business together) tend to last the longest.

Finally, I would like to reiterate the article's advice which is actually pretty good: If you truly are looking for love and want to find that person that you can spend the rest of your life with, then remember that it is YOU who creates compatibility. There is no magic formula or perfect algorithm for making a fruitful relationship with another human being. Yes, you need to find the other person attractive, look up to them and feel a strong sense of familiarity, but each of those is just one small slice of the pie that constitutes a healthy and long relationship.

Monday, 13 July 2015

The White House a.k.a. Trump House

In my June 17 blog, I mentioned that Donald Trump was entering the 2016 U.S. Presidential race. I gave this outsider a (very) good chance in case he would not join the American Political Correctness Attitude. Similar to Pim Fortuyn, who could - and most likely, would - have become the next Dutch PM if he had not been assassinated by a Dutch left wing vegan on May 6, 2002.

I must admit that Donald Trump took my advice to heart, as his political incorrectness is well beyond imagination. Since several days, Donald Trump is now even ranking as a clear #1 in the Republican primary with 15% of the Republican votes compared to 11% for Jeb Bush ! (Vox, The Hill). No surprise to me, as Donald Trump is the only candidate who is not utterly boring.

Maintaining his current rhetoric does not stand him any chance to win his prize: the White House a.k.a. Trump House. Even his - Republican - voters acknowledge this. In order to win the Republican primary, and the White House, Donald Trump again needs to do something which has never been done before in many decades: he needs to cherry pick on the Democratic agenda.

In his capacity as employer of thousands of (retired) employees, Donald Trump would be able to strive for the improvement of their lives with adequate sincerity (e.g., paid vacation leave, paid sickness leave, mandatory health insurance for all - legal - employees and retirees). Obviously, this would catch nearly all other candidates by total surprise. No other main candidate could or would dare this. Only a political outsider would be able to pull this one off.

Obviously, the far left and far right in America would criticise Donald Trump for doing so. That fact alone would even increase his chances as the victory lies in the middle voter segment, and not at the extremist sides. A convincing political agenda which combines the cherries from left and right, and which is delivered by someone with charisma, is unbeatable. You don't even have to like the guy as long as you are convinced that he will deliver on his promises.

Donald Trump may mark the end of an era (or several) in which high likability - and shallow content - is no longer a ticket to the White House. The perception about the likelihood of delivering on political promises may finally prevail. Not being a politician himself, that should and would work in Donald Trump's advantage.

In my view, Donald Trump's biggest risk is running a similar fate as Pim Fortuyn who was assassinated by someone who considered him too much risk to become the next Dutch PM. The current success of Donald Trump will create a similar threat from the American far left and - much more likely - the American far right.

The clear and quite unexpected success of both Donald Trump and of Bernie Saunders, a self-described democratic socialist, as 2016 Democratic presidential candidate in the opinion polls, makes it very clear that a Bush-Clinton race is far less obvious than anyone would have predicted.

Donald Trump may never become a great 45th President but he has the ability to fundamentally change the American political landscape and create a huge legacy of his own.

Greece - It ain't over until the fat lady sings

On the one hand, I should be glad that people read my blog and use my ideas: a debt-for-equity swap, external receivership and hopefully also a debt write-off although this is far from clear yet. On the other hand, the outcome of Sunday's negotiations comes quite close to a public Greek humiliation of immense proportions.

The public Greek humiliation reminds of the following: “When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” A quote from "The Art of War" by Chinese general Sun Tzu (c. 544 - 496 BC). The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (c. 604 - 531 BC) once wrote "When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield."

The ratification in Greek parliament may be less obvious than one would expect. The current Greek PM managed to give away what his predecessors managed to maintain for decades: a near complete sell-out of Greek sovereignty. It is still quite possible that Greek dignity will win from Greek desperation. The reasons for such a non ratification would be opaque to non Greeks.

The public Greek humiliation is largely due to the former Greek Finance Minister who was wise enough to resign rather than face this outcome. His game tactics did not take into account that beggars can't be choosers. I wouldn't be surprised if he would be orchestrating a non ratification.

The Dutch PM has already publicly expressed his admission to betraying his voters on another one of his promises. A smart move as denial could have made him force to resign. It may be a short-term win but a long-term loss as (his) political promises appear to be worthless.

The outcome of Sunday evening/night 12 July also makes clear that the EU is a de-facto political union, including international wealth redistribution, although no voter has ever been able to express his/her opinion. 

I am far from convinced that yesterday's outcome is final. The public humiliation would be complete when the Greek parliament does not ratify Sunday's outcome. That would then probably also be the moment to finally introduce the Greek silent equity partner, saviour or white knight. 

Some other interesting - and relevant - statements by Sun Tzu about military game tactics:
  • Pretend inferiority and encourage his (i.e., the enemy's) arrogance. 
  • The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
  • Confront them (i.e., the Greek people) with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.
  • Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack.
It ain't over until the fat lady sings................ (Wikipedia)

Friday, 10 July 2015

Betrayal can only happen if you love - Greece

“Love is whatever you can still betray. Betrayal can only happen if you love”, is a famous quote from a novel by John le Carré. Today I was reminded of this quote after hearing the latest Greek bail-out proposals. Both the Greek PM and the leaders of the European Union are about to betray their voters.

It's quite likely that the Greek voters will forgive their PM as - day by day - it becomes more clear that Greece was/is heading for a catastrophe. Somehow it's quite less likely that the other European voters will forgive their leaders for their betrayal. A write-off on the 1st and 2nd Greek bail-out loans and granting another 3rd bail-out of some 50 billion euro, will be heavy ammunition for the radical left and radical right Euro skeptical political parties.

The continued blatant lying by our elected politicians is causing a serious trust issue. The Greek PM could probably argue that he loves his country more than his principles. I suppose that he can even get away with his betrayal. How about the others?? What do they love more than their principles? The most likely voter response would be: their jobs. They may try to convince us that they love Europe more than their principles. It will be a hard sell.

Europe is a geographical region. Nothing more, nothing less. It's not (yet) a political union like the USA. Mostly, its nations are bound by economical ties and a single currency since 2002. There is no common culture (e.g., language) despite a predominant Christian background. The European dream only exists in the minds of a few. The love for Europe also has to compete with the distrust between European nations after many centuries of armed conflicts and 2 World Wars.

At least the Greeks had some leverage on the EU. What leverage do the Brits have on Europe?? Given Donald Tusk’s remarkably honest statements (NRC) on the length of the EU-Greek negotiations, it's much more likely that the Brits will basically get a “take it, or leave it” option. The common English choice of words (i.e., "continental Europe", at the very best) when it comes to Europe, already reveals that they do not feel part of Europe.

The almost failure of the single currency gives 2 fundamental options: a move towards a political union including a redistribution of European wealth rather than continued debt write-offs, OR a continued ostrich approach including continued lies to the European voters. Sooner of later that would provide radical left and right with adequate ammunition to dismantle the European dream.

The current large size of the EU prevents a swift successful move towards a political union. There are 2 basic ways to such a union: a mere “economic” merger (e.g., USSR) and a full legal merger (e.g., USA). An economic merger always runs the risk of future unwinding. A legal merger would still provide that risk, albeit far more remote. A move towards a political union could start by merging some of the original 6 members of the ECSC, being: BeNeLux, France, Germany and Italy. Also see my blogs of January 10February 13, April 11, and May 12.

Acting like a political union but denying its presence is not the way forward. The voters will use their feet to show or prove that, if necessary.

Love is whatever you can still betray. Betrayal can only happen if you love. John le Carré

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Malaysia

On 8 March 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight 370, a scheduled international passenger flight and nowadays better known as MH370, took off from Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to Beijing (China). At 01:19 MYT (17:19 UTC, 7 March), one hour after take-off, voice contact with air traffic control stopped. Two minutes later the plane was no longer visible on their radar screens, as the plane's transponder signal to ground radar was deliberately shut down (BBC). Yet the plane continued its flight for at least another 7 hours. At 02:22 MYT, Malaysian military radar was no longer able to continue tracking the plane although it was able to notice that the plane deviated from its original flight plan. Analysis of satellite communications between the aircraft and Inmarsat's satellite communications network concluded that the flight continued until at least 08:19 MYT and flew south into the southern Indian Ocean, although the precise location cannot be determined. Despite a 1.5 year search, this plane has still not been found. (Wikipedia)

On 17 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight 17, a scheduled international passenger flight and nowadays better known as MH17, took off from Amsterdam (The Netherlands) to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). A Russian military crew transporting a BUK surface-to-air missile installation was video recorded on their way to Ukraine and later back to Russia but with one missile less. Evidence is mounting that this missing BUK missile is responsible for downing MH17. (Wikipedia)

In August 2014, the Malaysian government's sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad, which then owned 69.37% of Malaysia Airlines, announced its intention to purchase remaining ownership from minority shareholders and de-list the airline from Malaysia's stock exchange, thereby renationalising Malaysia Airlines. Prior to 2014, Malaysia Airlines had one of the world's best safety records - just two fatal accidents in 68 years of operation, including the hijacking in 1977 of Flight 653 that resulted in 100 casualties. (Wikipedia)

On 2 July 2015, the Malaysian Prime Minister was accused of transferring nearly US$ 700 million dollar from 1Malaysia Development Berhad ("1MDB"), another Malaysian government investment fund, to his private bank accounts (WSJ, sarawak). Yesterday 8 July, the Malaysian police raided the offices of this government investment fund (Guardian).

The 1MDB fund has been the focus of international attention for some time as it has accumulated a massive debt of US$ 11 billion (WSJ), has 3 three times requested and been granted extensions on repayment deadlines for a bank loan (FT), and has appointed at least 3 audit firms since its 2009 incorporation (FT). The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) links this massive debt to overpriced asset purchases and related kick-backs to ruling politicians for their 2013 re-election campaign.

In 1998, the Malaysian ruling political party ousted one of its members, who served as a Finance Minister, after his frontal attack against what he described as the widespread culture of nepotism and cronyism within the ruling political party and the ruling coalition as a whole. "Cronyism" was identified by him as a major cause of corruption and misappropriation of funds in the country. Until today, this former Finance Minister and current opposition leader has been jailed for corruption and sexual misconduct charges. (Wikipedia)

Although I fail to see a clear convincing link between all of the above events, it smells quite fishy.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Transhumanism and Evolution

Several days ago I stumbled on the following text and accompanying video in the FT of 2 July: "The case for transhumanism. Zoltan Istvan, a transhumanist and 2016 presidential candidate, is at Camp Alphaville and explains his vision of a technologically enhanced human species." Actually, I assumed this was a joke and let it rest for some days. Obviously, my curiosity ultimately won. 

I had to visit Wikipedia as I had never ever heard or seen this strange word before. Reading the description below hardly made my alarm bells ring. It starts neutral and ends like Sci-Fi. My radar went on high alert when I read that transhumanism is considered to be one of the world's most dangerous ideas (Wiki). At least by Francis Fukuyama who was appointed to the President's Council on Bio-ethics in 2002 (link). Now it gets really interesting but first read the Wikipedia definition. 

Transhumanism is an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as the ethics of developing and using such technologies. The most common thesis put forward is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label posthuman. 

Mr Fukuyama's accusation is supported by his 2009 article in the magazine Foreign Policy. I also found an interesting response to that article by Nick Bostrom. Please read both views on this topic.

The above is still a little too abstract and perhaps even vague and could use an example. Picture the movies Avengers, Fantastic Four, SupermanWolverine or X-Men. Now suppose that these movie characters did not have random gene modifications but that they were humans with deliberate gene modifications and also technological enhancements, similar to Iron Man

Nowadays, there is still a lot of discussion about genetically modified ("GM") food (Wiki). However, this discussion is peanuts compared to genetically modified human beings. Do not assume that this is a theoretical discussion. In April 2015, Chinese scientists claimed that they've genetically modified human embryos for the very first time to cure a fatal blood disease (NatureTelegraph).

Although genetic modification of humans may be banned in Europe, restricted in USA and practised in China, it is mainly an ethical issue. For many centuries, scientists have looked for a cure against ageing or even death. Apparently, immortality isn't even hypothetical. It has already been found to exist in a jellyfish (NYT). Immortality is even the new obsession of Silicon Valley (Newsweek).

I must admit that I struggle with the ethical component of today's topic. On the one hand, people should use their talents to do good (e.g., curing diseases). On the other hand, genetically modified human beings may well become - or worse, behave as - a different species and may even be inclined to compete with existing human beings. The combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and genetically modified humans, even brings Prof. Stephen Hawking's warning back to my mind. 

The current human race is most likely not able to survive the next Ice Age which is due in 80,000 years (see June 22 blog). Genetically modified humans might be. Interesting how Evolution works....

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

the 7 Belief systems - Politics - communism

If you want to end up in an argument – or worse – then you should talk about Politics or Religion. Few subjects cause that much emotion as these two. Success is guaranteed. The other 5 Belief systems cause a much different kind of trouble: Love, Money, Philosophy, Science or the Truth. The most striking example of Politics as a Belief system is communism.

My father and mother were in business for their entire working life and have always been self employed. Being self employed was common in both my father’s and my mother’s family. My mother (80) was not allowed to study unlike her younger brothers and sister. Her older brothers worked in the family business. Her younger brothers and sister studied in the late 60s / early 70s. The (extreme) left was still very popular by then. Family birthday parties could easily go very wrong in those days. And they did, as my mother still recalls.

The basic assumption in communism is that all men are equal and thus everyone should have a similar share of the entire pie. It's a mystery to me that this assumption has ever been taken seriously. If history taught us anything then it should be that reality is the exact opposite of that assumption. No man or woman is equal. Each one of us has his/her own talents. Consequently, any social experiment with communism has failed miserably thus far and will always be doomed to fail as it is incompatible with essential human psychology. Today it's even hard to find any examples of "true" communism. All nations that were once (alleged) communist, have taken different paths: autocracy, kleptocracy, state controlled capitalism or a combination of those 3.

For anyone, it's hard to admit that (s)he was wrong. Let alone when it comes to Beliefs. It often takes a lot of courage and sacrifice. Many - if not most - are not willing to pay that price. It's easier to become silent and hope that soon "the times they are-a-changin" (1964, Bob Dylan, video, lyrics).

This blog is certainly not a plea for capitalism. I do believe that talents and opportunities may rise faster in capitalism. Ayn Rand is certainly right about that (also see my March 20 blog). She died in 1982 just before the massive inequality in American society became clearly visible. I am quite sure that especially Ayn Rand - a Russian refugee - would have warned for the consequences of massive inequality in America as the 1917 Russian revolution was a consequence of such inequality. Also see my March 24 blog called "a new Moscow on the Hudson".

The bail-out negotiations with the Greek communist government is basically a political battle about sharing. For a communist, it makes perfect sense to let the rich European countries pay for the Greek survival. Even though there is no Federation of European States in which there may indeed be an entitlement to such a redistribution of national wealth. Partly, this explains the (socialist) French support for the Greeks. However, a French write-off of their massive Greek bail-out loans could also cause a need for additional French austerity. Again: heart left, wallet right.

The European social experiment with communism belongs in the history books. It does not make any sense for Europe to give a 3rd bail-out “loan” of another 50 billion Euro to Greece with no prospect of recovery and no prospect of giving a final bail-out "loan". Even another Greek saviour / white knight would say “OXI” to such a Greek request.

Nowadays, even (alleged) communists carry their wallets right.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Greece - from democracy through demagogy to autocracy

A demagogue (derived from the Greek "demos" = people/folk and the verb "ago" = carry/manipulate thus "people's manipulator") is a political leader in a democracy who appeals to the emotions, fears, prejudices, and ignorance of the lower socio-economic classes in order to gain power and promote political motives. (Wikipedia)

The resignation statement of the Greek Finance Minister (see his July 6 blog) finally made me aware of the victim role that has been assumed by the Greek government. I am surprised that I didn't see this before. Realising this also made me realise that the Greek government has been using reverse psychology and projection (see my April 16 blog) towards its creditors. This also explains why most are baffled by the nonsense which the new Greek government has been expressing for long.

Everything that the new Greek government has done so far, is aimed at provoking its creditors for the sole purpose of winning the blame game (see my July 5 blog). It is absolutely necessary for the Greek government that the creditors are to be blamed for ending the bail-out negotiations. That will finally allow them to introduce a white knight who will save the proud Greek people from a catastrophe.

Once the blame game is won then the Greek government will use the "friend or foe" criterion to fully alienate itself from its current benefactors/creditors/friends. This same criterion will then also be used to establish close ties with its new friend, saviour and white knight. The continued (financial) chaos may well be used to "temporarily" suspend democracy and introduce a more appropriate kind of leadership, and one similar to its new ally. From democracy through demagogy to autocracy. The Greek PM will then join an interesting group of nations whose leaders already play a successful victim role: Russia and Turkey. Also see my February 18 blog. 

Allegedly, the Greek banks plan to exercise a "hair cut" of - at least - 30% on Greek deposits above Euro 8,000 (FT) as the Greek banks would not survive a new bank run by its depositors once the banks reopen. The Greek plan is basically a copy of the one of Cyprus in which people lost 47.5% of their deposits over Euro 100,000 (Reuters). This plan would help prevent a bankruptcy of the Greek banks but it would also enrage the people losing money. Undoubtedly, the new Greek government will continue its victim role and fully blame the creditors and the ECB for this hair cut. 

Considering the overwhelming "NO" vote in the Greek referendum of July 5, it is quite likely that this majority would also be found within institutions that provide checks and balances: the legal system, the police and the military. The Greek military is an interesting factor as military coups in Greece have not been uncommon (Wiki 1, Wiki 2). Interestingly, sixteen retired leaders of the country’s armed forces issued a joint declaration calling on Greeks to show “calm and national unity” in the run-up to the July 5 referendum, insisting: “Greece is and must remain a protagonist in European affairs – Greece is Europe.” (The Independent)

The clear "NO" answer of the Greek people is likely to cause a Grexit from EU and also NATO. This would bring the right-wing Greek military and the left-wing Greek government on a collision course. This scenario could then lead to the arrival of unmarked airplanes with unmarked forces, similar to Crimea. This scenario could cause the new 1962 Cuba crisis which I mentioned in my July 5 blog.

Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him. Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969), 34th President of the USA.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

July 5 - Greek Independence Day

Like many, I am also baffled about the Greek approach to the negotiations with its creditors. The Greek propose concessions to its creditors while advising NO to the Greek voters on these very same concessions. The Greek government humiliates its few remaining European friends in public. The Greek government seems to contradict itself on every single topic. While their creditors seem more and more negative towards negotiations, the Greek government appears to remain positive about the outcome of their negotiations. What kind of game is being played?

I have been trying to find analogies like the Stockholm Syndrome in which the Greek creditors are held hostage (e.g., current debt of Euro 320 billion, impact of a Grexit precedent on other weak countries, geo-political considerations, reputation damage). However, a Stockholm Syndrome creates empathy for the hostage takers. The Greek government only creates antipathy.

Mr. Juncker feels betrayed by his former friend Mr. Tsipras. Betrayal is probably the most powerful negative emotion. It's a perfect recipe for future revenge. It's hard to imagine that betrayal happens by accident, let alone coincidence. Betrayal is a deliberate move.

The Greek government's confidence and the Greek approach to the negotiations can only imply that they cannot lose. Many still assume that the Greek play a game of bluff poker. I don't. The Greek government is deliberately upsetting its creditors by suggesting defeat and submission in their negotiations and then giving combatant speeches in Greek parliament that suggest the opposite.

The Greek government has done almost everything to please their own voters and scare the Greek opposition. Allegedly, entire Greek families are torn apart over the YES or NO answer in the July 5 referendum. The current liquidity crisis and the government advised NO answer to the referendum, may well cause an imminent Greek exodus. Who stands to benefit from this?

The alienation of Europe and the alienation of the Greek opposition both suggest the very worst: a deliberate divide and conquer policy. Who stands to benefit from this?

The blame game has long started. The Greek government blames the creditors in public insulting terms that are without precedent and suggest deliberate anger management. The creditors blame the Greek government for sabotaging the negotiations and lying about it to the Greek voters.

In my opinion, the Greek government wants to upset the creditors to such an extent that they are left with only one option: being kicked-out of the Euro, EU and so on. And NATO too.

In my 24 January 2015 blog, I predicted that Greece will be the next Cuba. Only yesterday, Cuba and the USA (once Cuba's arch enemy) announced to restore their diplomatic relations (BBC).

If Greece indeed becomes the new Cuba then we may even experience something like a new Cuban missile crisis (Wiki). We may also expect a trade and financial embargo of Greece.

July 5 is possibly the last moment that the Greek people can exercise their democratic rights and either kick-out Mr. Tsipras or Europe. July 5 will be the Greek (End of) Independence Day.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The racism card

Today I had a remarkable and unexpected discussion while having a haircut. Earlier that day I had received a suggestion for a new topic. Not an easy suggestion though. That topic had indeed crossed my mind but I didn't know how to approach it. My favourite hairdresser did. She made some excellent points during my – mutually agreed - overdue hair cut.

My hairdresser is in her early to mid thirties and from mixed Dutch - Philippine roots. She is quite pretty, quite chatty and quite outspoken and never with a negative approach. I like her.

Somehow I managed to change my initial topic towards police violence. She was defending the cops who had arrested a tourist during a (music) festival. Allegedly, this guy had several times suggested to a group of police officers that he was carrying a gun. Allegedly, again, to him this was a joke but not to the group of police officers. Several of them arrested him. Several hours later he died.

The previous paragraph would probably not have resulted in subsequent violent demonstrations in The Hague if the guy had been white. The victim was a black tourist from Aruba however. Also see coverage in NL Times. Both the Aruban community and the Arab and black communities in The Hague protested against this copycat of white American police brutality against blacks.

Nevertheless, my hairdresser kept defending the cops while I expressed my doubts. Having seen the videos on the 8pm news myself, I can hardly blame anyone arguing that the arrest was over the top. Four to five men sitting on someone not even resisting arrest?? Nevertheless, my hairdresser had some valid points in their defense. What if he had had a gun? Allegedly, he repeatedly reached for his pockets while talking (joking) to the police officers. Should they have ignored the possibility that he might actually carry a gun? Nevertheless, we both agreed that the outcome was sad. 

I must add that the police officers clearly lost (part of) their credibility by officially declaring that he had become unwell DURING his transport in the police van, while video images clearly showed that he was dragged unconsciously (?) to the police van with half of his body sweeping over the ground. Even the public prosecutor and the Minister/Secretary of Justice had difficulty concealing their unbelief with the official police statements while still maintaining a neutral stance: the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

The aftermath of this unfortunate event was a different one. Once again, the racism card was used to attack the ones involved in this process. The Dutch protesters from Arab and African descent were once again quite quick to assume their usual victim roles by arguing that their skin colour is the sole cause of continued police harassment. My half Asian hair dresser was fierce in her attack on these people who always use their skin colour as a shield, or a weapon, or both. And she was right in doing so. Skin colour is not an excuse. Neither for police brutality, nor for using the racism card whenever convenient to end discussions.

“To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavouring to convert an atheist by scripture.” Thomas Paine, 1737-1809