Total Pageviews

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Perfectly Lonely

Perfectly Lonely

Had a little love, but I spread it thin
Falling in her arms and out again
Made a bad name for my game around town
Tore up my heart, and shut it down

Nothing to do
Nowhere to be
A simple little kind of free
Nothing to do
No one but me
And that's all I need

I'm perfectly lonely
I'm perfectly lonely
I'm perfectly lonely (Yeah)
'Cause I don't belong to anyone
Nobody belongs to me

I see friends around from time to time
When their ladies let them slip away
And when they ask me how I'm doing with mine
This is always what I say

Nothing to do
Nowhere to be
A simple little kind of free
Nothing to do
No one to be
Is it really hard to see

Why I'm perfectly lonely
I'm perfectly lonely
I'm perfectly lonely
I'm perfectly lonely (Yeah)
'Cause I don't belong to anyone
Nobody belongs to me

And this is not to say
There never comes a day
I'll take my chances and start again
And when I look behind
On all my younger times
I have to thank the wrongs that led me to a love so strong

I'm perfectly lonely
I'm perfectly lonely
I'm perfectly lonely (Yeah)
'Cause I don't belong to anyone
Nobody belongs to me

(It's the way, it's the way, it's the way that I want it)

John Mayer - Perfectly Lonely (2010) - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The out-of-Africa and racial diversity conundrum

Late 2002, Professor Marcus W. Feldman of the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences published a revolutionary finding in Science Magazine: compare any two people around the world and you will find a DNA sequence that is about 99.9% identical (eg, ScienceStanford press release, Telegraph).

The study also revealed another remarkable fact about the 0.1% DNA difference. Contrary to what you would intuitively expect, this 0.1% difference is mainly (ie, 94%) among individuals of the same populations. Differences between countries are far less. (Stanford)

From a logical point of view, racial diversity seems to make no sense at all given this DNA outcome. A 2008 interview in Harvard Magazine with Duana Fullwiley confirms this. Interview excerpts: "I am an African American but in parts of Africa, I am white. I take a plane to France, a seven- to eight-hour ride. My race changes as I cross the Atlantic. There, I say, ‘Je suis noire,’ and they say, ‘Oh, okay—métisse—you are mixed.’ Then I fly another six to seven hours to Senegal, and I am white. In the space of a day, I can change from African American, to métisse, to tubaab." Tubaab means European or white in the regional Wolof language.

When you believe in racial diversity, the "Out of Africa" theory makes little sense. When you believe in 99.9% identical DNA amongst all races, the "Out of Africa" theory makes perfect sense. Harvard Magazine: "Is race, then, purely a social construct? The fact that racial categories change from one society to another might suggest it is".

The concept of racial diversity did not die after this revolutionary finding. To the contrary probably. Today the 0.1% DNA difference is used in the very same way as physical appearances were once used to underline racial diversity. Duana Fullwiley: “to build—to literally construct—certain ideas about why race matters.” Note: italic marking by DF.

In my 26 February 2015 blog, I mentioned that the Dutch and French speaking part of Belgium are always quarreling about anything. The only party that can unite both fractions into Belgians is criticism from the Netherlands. I think, feel and believe that the same applies to racial diversity. In my 4 July 2016 blog, I predicted that CRISPR-Cas9, humanoids and transhumanism will be able to create a new us and them: humans against artificial humans.

Since 2010 scientists have known that people of Eurasian origin have inherited anywhere from 1 to 4 percent of their DNA from the Neanderthal (Phys). East Asians on average carry 15% to 30% more Neanderthal DNA than Europeans (IBT). At least 20% of the Neanderthal genome may lurk within modern humans, influencing the skin, hair and diseases people have today (LiveScience). Indigenous sub-Saharan Africans have no Neanderthal DNA because their ancestors did not migrate through Eurasia (source).

In 2008, a formerly unknown human species was discovered in a Siberian cave: the Denisovan. DNA from their fossils suggests they shared an origin with Neanderthals but were nearly as genetically distinct from Neanderthals as Neanderthals were from modern humans (LiveScience).

What exactly defines my identity: my "African" ancestry, my white colour, my mixed DNA?? 

Doobie Brothers - What a fool believes (1979) - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

But what a fool believes he sees
No wise man has the power to reason away
What seems to be
Is always better than nothing

Friday, 29 July 2016

Please tell me who I am

This week, I had a conversation with an old friend and she casually mentioned that lately she has been wondering who she really is. To some people this question may sound a little absurd but it's a question that is on the minds of many people, including myself. When we are asked to describe ourselves, the most common answer is a description of what role(s) we currently play in life (eg, employee, friend, lover, parent, student).

A role based description does not tell you much about anyone. To strangers I might describe myself as a single man, 56, writer, father of 2 kids. Many people would now start making assumptions to fill the gaps in this description. Depending on your own personal history, your assumptions about me may either be positive or negative (ie, projection).

Actually, it's not that easy to describe who you are rather than what you are in life. Some years ago, I got a suggestion to add this section to my resume. I ultimately managed to do this but it took me quite a while to give a balanced overview of who I am. I also noticed that my description contains a lot of "contradictions", like loyal and independent, tough and fair, funny and serious. The complexity of our personality should not be underestimated.

My resume only contains the ingredients that are relevant for a job. I am not even sure that I am able to describe myself. Mid 2015, I started a blog - How I want to be remembered - and I had to stop after a few sentences as it was just too hard to finish. However, when Joan asked me to do the same for her, the words came straight out of my heart albeit with tears in my eyes. Her reply was short and clear: "Very beautiful. Super....."

There is a scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in which Harry is sitting in front of the Mirror of Erised. Professor Dumbledore warns Harry for the danger of this mirror as it only shows the "deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts". I suppose this is also the reason why it is so difficult to take a look at ourselves. We only see what we want to see and we do not see what others see, like or dislike, love or hate in us.

There is a reason for the discrepancy between how we view ourselves and how others view us. It may take decades - or even forever - before we no longer fear to show ourselves to others. Often we prefer to wear a mask rather than showing our fragility, vulnerability and weaknesses. Pretending to be strong and tough without emotion has become default behaviour in many societies.

It makes perfect sense that we lose ourselves in that process. We only start looking for who we really are after decades of focusing on what we are, of make belief, of pretending, of wearing masks. Once we do start looking for who we really are, we may not like what we find. This process may reveal a serious gap between (self) assumptions and reality. Bridging this gap requires change and change is what we usually hate. We just want peace of mind.

Perhaps it's indeed better to let others tell you who you are.

Supertramp - Logical Song (1979) - Roger Hodgson, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

At night, when all the world's asleep,
The questions run so deep
For such a simple man.
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Temperature, temperament and (the export of) violence

When I watch broadcasts of mass violence then I wonder why this always seems to happen in certain specific territories around the world. Temperature and temperament clearly play an important role in mass violence. The words temperature and temperament even share a common ancestor: the Latin word temperare, meaning "to mix in correct proportion" (source).

Even in our vocabulary we find examples of the link between temperature / temperament and aggression / violence: arguments heat up, tempers boil over, and hotheads must be calmed by cooler voices (source). The mere fact that we find these examples in our vocabulary implies that this relationship is rather old. An August 2013 study in Science Magazine confirms this.

NYT, 2013: "researchers are now quantifying the causal relationship between extreme climate and human conflict. Whether their focus is on small-scale interpersonal aggression or large-scale political instability, low-income or high-income societies, the year 10,000 B.C. or the present day, the overall conclusion is the same: episodes of extreme climate make people more violent toward one another."

This 2013 Science study assembled 60 diverse studies on temperature/violence from archaeology, criminology, economics, geography, history, political science and psychology. In a given population, these studies compared levels of violence during periods of normal climate with levels of violence during periods of extreme climate. The study found that higher temperatures and extreme rainfall led to large increases in conflict (eg, NYT, the Scientist).

This study was part of a special issue of Science Magazine on climate change and its future impact. That's a pity because this study also explains today's violence in certain territories and probably even the export of violence into North West Europe (eg, France, Germany) which territory was largely unfamiliar with this type of violence.

Initially, I assumed that orthodox religious views were likely to be part of this correlation. Then I realised that there are territories with different and moderate religious views that also share this link between temperature, temperament and violence (eg, Africa, Asia). Religion in itself is not part of the close correlation between temperature, temperament and violence.

Some scientists claim that the correlation between crime and temperature involves a 3rd component: social interaction (source). To some extent, social interaction seems a rather obvious one as people indeed prefer to stay inside above and below a certain temperature (ie, too hot/cold).

I suppose social interaction has a sub component for immigrants and refugees: social integration within the host country. I think, feel and believe that it's safe to say that successful social integration decreases the probability of violence. Failed social integration increases the likelihood of violence (eg, depression, disappointment, failure, regret, remorse, retaliation, revenge).

To some extent, the West is the architect of failed social integration by giving too much freedom, too many rights, not enough responsibilities, not enough obligations (eg, fluency in new language) to newcomers. Successful social integration is impossible when newcomers can hardly speak "their" new language. Continued social interaction within the native language group also prevents open mindedness about the host country. Closed mindedness causes hot temperaments and worse.

Kool & the Gang - Too Hot (1980) - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Oh, it's too hot (too hot)
Too hot, lady (too hot)
Gotta run for shelter
Gotta run for shade
It's too hot (too hot)
Too hot, lady (too hot)
Gotta cool this anger
What a mess we made

Note: all bold and italic markings are mine.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Luca, our Last Universal Common Ancestor

For quite some time, I have been wondering about the possibilities of (human) gene dating. Genes are organic material. Radiocarbon dating of organic material usually allows for a maximum period of 50,000 years (Wiki). Finding ancient organic material requires specific circumstances, like deep frozen in the Arctic or Antarctic, or ancient fossils that contain organic material inside.

The ever expanding DNA database of the 3 main domains of the Tree of Life - being bacteria, archaea and the eukaryotes (eg, humans, animals and plants) - allows for a new kind of testing. This new kind of testing compares the DNA of various samples and then looks for common DNA. Common DNA implies a common ancestor. Also see my 23 April 2016 blog on the Tree of Life.

A 6 March 2013 New Scientist article mentions the remarkable discovery that modern mankind (ie, Homo sapiens) is twice as old as we formerly assumed: 340,000 years. This discovery resulted from the DNA testing of only 1 African American male. His DNA contained a unique Y chromosome that was unfamiliar in the DNA databases despite hundreds of thousands of DNA tests. Ultimately, researchers were able to track similarities in his DNA to a small village in Cameroon.

On 25 July 2016, a NYT article mentioned a stunning new discovery by Dr. William F. Martin and colleagues as reported in Nature Microbiology last Monday. Similar DNA comparisons between the 3 main domains in the Tree of Life revealed that the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) of all cells was a single-cell, bacterium-like organism which lived nearly 4 billion years ago when Earth was a mere 560 million years old.

NYT: “The 355 genes pointed quite precisely to an organism that lived in the conditions found in deep sea vents, the gassy, metal-laden, intensely hot plumes caused by seawater interacting with magma erupting through the ocean floor. Deep sea vents are surrounded by exotic life-forms and, with their extreme chemistry, have long seemed places where life might have originated.”

NYT: “Dr. Martin’s portrait of Luca seems likely to be widely admired. But he has taken a further step that has provoked considerable controversy. He argues that Luca is very close to the origin of life itself. The organism is missing so many genes necessary for life that it must still have been relying on chemical components from its environment. Hence it was only “half alive,” he writes.”

Half alive. These words bring back memories of another topic: viruses. Viruses are still not included in the Tree of Life because they lack compliance with the definition of life. Viruses can act dead for 30,000 years and then quickly return to life when they find a suitable host (source). DNA of such ancient viruses mostly (ie, 60%) does not resemble any known DNA on Earth (eg, PNAS, Telegraph). Viruses may well be older than any known life form on Earth, may even predate the origin of Earth itself, and may thus even have an extraterrestrial origin (source).
The research of Dr Martin and colleagues is a big jump in the search for the origin of all Life. I still wonder what a comparison between Luca and the DNA of viruses would tell. If Luca is also “half alive” then such a comparison would make perfect sense. I also can't stop thinking about this famous line in movie history: “E.T. phone home” (1982, IMDb, video).

Suzanne Vega - Luka (1987) - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you've seen me before

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

False Prophets

I have an American friend who is a middle-aged white guy, just like me. He is worried about the future, just like I am. He is a Christian, just like me. He is worried about immigration and so am I. He dislikes lying politicians and so do I. He thinks the American political system is rigged and so do I. He has a degree in psychology and I in auditing. Basically, he and I share similar opinions.

There is a one big difference between us. He is a Trump fan which I once was as well. Actually, I feel that my friend is more of a Trump believer. He didn't like my "lesser of 2 evils" blog as he felt that I compared Donald Trump to Evil and Hillary Clinton to evil. For a long time, I have given Donald Trump the benefit of my doubt, and especially given his view on Main Street, USA.

Trump's extreme positions on many issues (eg, disabled, immigrants, Islam/muslims, NATO, race, Vietnam veterans, women) finally removed my doubts. I finally saw him for what he really is: a false prophet. My eternal (self) doubt is why I stay in the middle of my 7 Belief systems and do not choose for any extreme position with respect to Love, Money, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science or the Truth. Even in music, I stay away from any extreme sounds.

Any prophet is deemed to be a prophet by his believers and a false prophet by his opponents. Even Jesus was once considered a false prophet amongst the many - more famous - prophets of his time (eg, John the Baptist). After Jesus' death the Roman-Jew scholar and historian Flavius Josephus (Jerusalem, 37 AD – c. 100 AD) wrote: "About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ." (Wiki). Note: bold and Italic markings are mine.

Flavius Josephus' words are still relevant today. Trump's believers accept his truth gladly and he has won over the hearts and minds of many of his believers and followers. Donald Trump is indeed a prophet in the eyes of his believers.

So what then makes Trump a false prophet? Essentially, his messages of doubt and fear. These doubts and fears always relate to other people. There is nothing wrong with self doubt or fear. Genuine prophets preach messages of faith, hope and love. They would also preach not to doubt and not to fear other peopleDoubt and Fear are usually on the Dark Side of our life.

Abstinence of any addiction is usually a guarantee for becoming an adversary of that addiction. I suppose that there is indeed some remorse inside me for trusting Trump with the benefit of my doubt. And yes, I do feel let down by him. Donald Trump could have been the guy I once saw in him: a uniter and a bridge between two political parties in an increasingly divided and segregated country.

I was wrong. Mea culpamea maxima culpa.

Enigma - Mea Culpa (1991) - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Monday, 25 July 2016

The Dark Side (2)

In my 3 August 2015 blog, I wrote about the Dark Side that is hidden in everybody. It's a side that I don't like in myself and I fight it, every single day. Perhaps the collective of bare individual dark sides is something we refer to as Evil. July 2016 has been a terrible month so far: Dallas, Nice, Baton Rouge, Würzburg, Munich, Kabul and yesterday Ansbach. The July 2016 terrorist incident list on Wikipedia is even much longer as most incidents didn't even reach us.

On 21 July 2016, Donald Trump held his humble acceptance speech. A NYT article referred to him as the Dark Knight (IMDb) given the dark and gloomy nature of that speech. The word Knight is utterly misplaced in his case. Many people see Donald Trump as some kind of Lord Voldemort. There's something very wrong in that analogy. Lord Voldemort had a vision, brains and guts.

If there's any resemblance with a Harry Potter character then it’s clearly Peter Pettigrew. Peter Pettigrew talks a lot, brags a lot, and is basically a repulsive and unreliable character.

The Dark Lord did however attend Donald Trump’s convention, and even gave a speech that did not attract much attention. He Who Must Not Be Named is also one of the scariest persons I have ever noticed.

There's another analogy between the Trump campaign and Harry Potter. Tom Moe, a retired Air Force Colonel, was recently speaking at an event in Ohio. He paraphrased a quote from Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller, taken from his lectures after World War II. (eg, FBWashington Post

Tom Moe: "You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims should register with their government, because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says he's going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants, because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump says it's okay to rough up black protesters, because you're not one. And you might not care if Donald Trump wants to suppress journalists, because you're not one. But think about this: If he keeps going, and he actually becomes president, he might just get around to you. And you better hope there's someone left to help you."

Our fear of the Dark Side usually prevents us from taking a stance. Some may even embrace the Dark Side, like the Munich boy was celebrating Anders Breivik's 2011 Norway attacks. Opposing the Dark Side may even result in a revenge-retaliation cycle. I have zero admiration for Ted Cruz but his appeal to voting in accordance with your conscience should deserve respect. Booing him off the stage for that advice implies that Trump fans subconsciously know that they're morally wrong.

Obi-Wan Kenobi: “It takes strength to resist the dark side. Only the weak embrace it.” Darth Maul: “It is more powerful than you know”. Obi-Wan Kenobi: “And those who oppose it are more powerful than you'll ever be.” (Quote from "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" The Lawless, IMDb)

Doobie Brothers - Jesus is just alright (1972) - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Stay With Me Till Dawn

Stay With Me Till Dawn

Is this a game you're playing?
I don't understand what's going on 
I can't see through your frown, 
first you're up then you're down 
You're keeping me from someone I want to know 

But I need you tonight (Need you tonight)
Yes I need you tonight (Need you tonight)
And I'll show you a sunset if you'll stay with me till dawn

It's the same old situation
every word so finely placed
Running around my concentration
It's the feeling that I've just got to break out and say
Oh I need you tonight (need you tonight)
Yes I need you tonight (need you tonight)
And I'll show you a sunset if you'll stay with me till dawn

Is this a game you're playing?
Playing with my heart (need you tonight)
Oooh stop playing with my heart (need you tonight)
And I'll show you a sunset if you'll stay with me till dawn
Yes I'll show you a sunset if you'll stay with me till dawn

Judie Tzuke - Stay With Me Till Dawn (1979) - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The resurrection of NATO

Donald Trump is the best thing that could have happened to NATO. Without Donald Trump this military defence organisation was about to go into oblivion. What the Russian President did not manage, Donald Trump did: a resurrection of NATO. NATO has become a top priority again and even according to Mitch McConnell of the Republican Party (Politico).

Interestingly, this resurrection of NATO would not have happened if Hillary Clinton would have said the same. It might have been the final push to the death of NATO. So why do people react so different to Trump’s words? Possibly because of Trump’s friendship with - and admiration of - the Russian President (eg, CBS, CNNMotherJones, Politico). The Turkish President would however have called Donald Trump a traitor and locked him up for treason.

Why don't Americans call Trump a traitor? In general, because few Americans care about anything happening outside the USA. Trump knows that very well. Threatening not to help your allies over money issues could easily be viewed as treason, especially by fragile NATO allies like the Baltics. From an American perspective, it's hard to call someone a traitor who has a habit of using lies and reverse psychology (see my 22 July blog). It's like arresting a public fool for treason.

It's quite possible - and perhaps even likely – that NATO will “soon” see a huge change. The recent comments on Turkey and Greece by the American Secretaries John Kerry (Foreign Affairs) and Jack Lew (Treasury) point in that direction (eg, FT, Independent). There is speculation that the Turkish President is opting out on NATO and looking for an Ankara-Moscow axis. Blaming the USA and Fethullah Gülen for the recent alleged Turkish military coup is only the beginning.

Given the long history of Russo-Turkish wars that step might well be a fatal mistake for Turkey. The recent cleansing of the Turkish army has undermined its military safety. Asking Moscow for military help against the many Turkish enemies could invoke a Crimea like scenario. Most likely, this would also end in a repeat of the humiliating 1988 Afghanistan scenario for Moscow.

An axis between Ankara and Moscow would be in the military interest of Moscow as Turkey controls access to the Bosporus and the Turkish Straits since the Montreux Convention of 1936. The Russian Black Sea Fleet would then become much more dangerous. Greece and its many islands near Turkey would become much more important to NATO after Turkey would leave NATO and join Moscow. It would also be the final push for the Turkish army for a new – successful – coup.

Possibly one Turkish party would profit from an Ankara-Moscow axis: the Kurds. The Kurds have often been used by Moscow in their geopolitical ploys (see my 6 August 2015 blog). Kurdistan may finally see light of day after an Russo-Turkish alliance. An independent Kurdistan would seriously undermine Turkish future regional or global ambitions which would be a long term benefit for Moscow.

Turkey leaving NATO is like the UK leaving the EU (Brexit). Both alliances are probably better off without these unreliable and unwilling partners. Turkey was an embarrassment to NATO since its 1974 attack on and occupation of Northern Cyprus. Turkey has been an embarrassment to the EU ever since its membership application in 1987. The U.K. has been a major obstacle for a European version of NATO. Germany and France can finally create a roadblock for Moscow.

These are truly exciting times.

Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms (1985) - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Friday, 22 July 2016

Liar Liar Pants on Fire

On 7 July 2016, I published a blog called “I cannot remember. I forgot”. It's a line that is often used by people who are blatantly lying. Others are forced to admit their wrongdoings as their body language already reveals the truth. See my 28 February 2015 blog: Lying Eyes. And another typical response is denial and/or using reverse psychology and projection to put the blame on others.

Lying is an art in itself. I only know one person who is able to tell various lies to different people and who can even remember what he told to whom. You must have an excellent memory to pull that one off. I cannot as I would not be able to remember my lies. For me, it's much easier to remember and tell the truth and be consistent in my stories.

Calling somebody a liar is far from easy, at least for me. I do notice that people who make lots of “factual inaccuracies” have little hesitancy in calling others a liar. I suppose that “it takes one to know one”. gives some other versions of this ancient (1665) proverb: “it takes a thief to catch a thief” or “no one is better at finding a wrongdoer than another wrongdoer.”

Fact checking has become big business in USA and especially in American politics. Nevertheless, politicians are seldom called liars. Mostly, their claims are rated “inaccurate” or “incorrect”. I think, feel and believe that this form of political correctness in journalism has only increased politicians’ willingness to bend and stretch the truth (eg, Politico 21 July 2016).

PolitiFact uses the following ratings for political claims: true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false, and Pants on Fire. The 2016 U.S. Presidential election statistics show the following shocking results to date regarding inaccuracies: of the 199 political statements by Donald Trump, 27 (mostly) true, 31 half true, 107 were (mostly) false and even 34 Pants on Fire.

Despite these shocking statistics, nobody calls Donald Trump a liar. On the other hand, Donald Trump and his team have no problem in calling Hillary Clinton a liar. Mrs Clinton's Politifact statistics however are as follows: 223 claims of which 114 (mostly) true, 48 half true, and 58 (mostly) false and 3 Pants on Fire. Hence, it takes a liar to know a liar.

On 24 November 2015, the Washington Post posted an article entitled “Why the media won't say Donald Trump is lying”. However, a few days ago, something interesting happened when CNN’s Chris Cuomo called Paul Manafort (Donald Trump’s new campaign manager) a liar on TV (WP). Obviously, it's far too early to say whether this journalistic novelty might be a game changer.

The (legal, moral and philosophical) problem with liars is evidence that lies are intentional. Without intention, lies may also represent beliefs, closed mindedness, ignorance or stupidity (see my 14 July blog). In general, we dislike liars even more than false believers. The Crooked Hillary label clearly sticks to her although the Politifact statistics would suggest a different name. Donald Trump already won the 2015 Politifact Lie of the Year award (PolitiFact).

Hillary Clinton knows that she cannot call Donald Trump a liar without acknowledging her own lies. Her husband Bill acknowledged once on public tv (CNN). Even then he stretched some definitions in medical dictionaries. Nevertheless, Americans love public confessions and are easy to forgive (eg, link). Another Clinton confession is required to label Donald Trump for what he really is: Liar Liar Pants on Fire.

Kings of Leon – Sex on Fire (2008) - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Animal intelligence and vocal learning (2)

Recently, I have noticed a number of articles on scientific studies relating to animal intelligence and/or animal language (eg, birds, ducklings, whales). These studies have one thing in common: animal intelligence is often significantly underestimated by humans. Birds might even be the most intelligent animal species. Latter might be promising as birds “talk” and 3 groups of birds even have vocal learning ability (BBC). Also see my 19 March 2015 blog (part 1).

To an animal, humans produce “sounds”. Only humans know that these sounds are actually a language in which we meaningfully communicate with each other. Some animals are able to mimic our human sounds through vocal learning. There are only a few species in nature that can learn to produce new sounds: humans, bats, elephants, pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), cetaceans (dolphins and whales) and parrots, songbirds, and hummingbirds (eg, BBC, Wiki).

As far as science is now aware of, vocal learning requires 3 attributes: voice muscles, forebrain, and the “activation” of a set of over 50 specific speech genes. Latter 2 are relatively new discoveries (eg, Jarvis 2004, Jarvis 2014). BBC: “Humans, the best vocal learners, can learn and produce countless different sounds. Beluga whales and dolphins also naturally learn hundreds of new vocalizations throughout their lives. Some parrots and songbirds are prolific learners as well, sometimes even picking up sounds from other species and objects around them”.

BBC: “Most animals are not vocal learners. They only produce the calls that they are born with: for example, cows moo, dogs bark, and pigeons coo. These animals are unable to imitate new sounds”. The above group has a striking exception: apes. Technically they could mimic new sounds but in general apes do not. There's only one known exception: Tilda, an orangutan.

Vocal learning is not enough for animal-human communication. Most animals mimic sounds because they get rewards and/or they just “play” with human caretakers. For some animals in captivity, it may be a way of bonding with their human caretakers. In general, animals do not expect a human to act after mimicking a human sound. The Indian elephant Koshik understands a Korean “lie down” command, is able to mimic that Korean command, but doesn't understand its meaning.

Clearly, mimicking human sounds is not enough to establish animal-human communication. There is only 1 known exception in nature: an African grey parrot named AlexBBC: “Not only could he say dozens of English words clearly, he used them to identify objects, colours, shapes, and numbers”.

BBC: “Mimicking human sounds may have an extra benefit for these parrots, above and beyond simple bonding, says Dr. Irene Pepperberg. It gives them control over their lives. They learn words and then use them to ask for toys or treats they want, or to go to specific places”.

It's quite possible that a highly intelligent bird like an African grey parrot would some day be able to answer human questions. The impact of such animal-human communication may well be beyond our current imagination.

Coldplay - Paradise / parrot dies (2011) - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

White Supremacy (2)

Early 2016, a Daily Mail article reported on a December 2014 Psychological Science study on intelligence, ideology and prejudice by Kristof Dhont and Gordon Hodson. Daily Mail: “Right-wingers tend to be less intelligent than left-wingers, and people with low childhood intelligence tend to grow up to have racist and anti-gay views, says a controversial new study. Conservative politics work almost as a 'gateway' into prejudice against others, say the Canadian academics”.

On 18 July 2016, Republican Congressman Steve King was asked by MSNBC's Chris Hayes, about the predominantly white makeup of the Republican Party. Steve King said: “This whole ‘old white people’ business does get a little tired, Charlie. I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization? “Than white people?” Mr. Hayes asked. Steve King responded: “Than Western civilization itself that’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America, and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.” (eg, NYT)

Mr King’s statement displays a rock solid belief in White Supremacy. Also see my 11 November 2015 blog on Black Twitter vs White Supremacy. Many whites will consciously or subconsciously share Steve King's view. Sharing this opinion in public might either be seen as honesty or ignorance, depending on your own political views. But what about the facts??

European (read: white) colonisation of the USA began in the 16th century, with Great Britain establishing thirteen colonies along the East Coast (Wiki). The native American population and its legacy is mostly overlooked in US history. From a political point of view, U.S. history starts with the discovery by Columbus (Italian) in 1492 and the subsequent arrival of European settlers.

A highly interesting 3 minute Nature video about the History of Urbanisation from 3700 BC to 2000 AD suddenly revealed an ancient (ca. 600-1400 AD) huge North American settlement of which I was totally unaware. The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near the city of Saint Louis “was the largest and the most influential urban settlement in the Mississippian culture which developed advanced societies across much of what is now the central and southeastern United States, beginning more than 1000 years before European contact”. (Wiki)

To understand this significance, you should realise that “Cahokia's population at its peak in the 13th century, an estimated 40,000, would not be surpassed by any city in the United States until the late 18th century. Today, Cahokia Mounds is considered the largest and most complex archaeological site north of the great pre-Columbian cities in Mexico” (Wiki).

A list of relevant contributions to modern society by non-whites / non-Europeans would include:
White Supremacy is neither a fact-of-life, nor an opinion, and certainly not the Truth. It is a Philosophical Belief system, firmly rooted in its past achievements, guarded by a continued separation between Politics and Religion, pushed by Money and Science, and only threatened by Greed, Ignorance and a lack of Love for people and planet. (Black Twitter vs White Supremacy)

Only when human history starts 240 years ago (1776) then Steve King indeed has a point.

Gil Scott-Heron - Winter in America (1974) - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Alice your personal care robot

Monday 18 July 2016, I saw another glimpse of our future. Dutch public TV broadcasted a 1.5 hour documentary on care robots: "I am Alice" (eg, international movie trailer, website). I strongly recommend watching this documentary or at least the 2 minute trailer. I must admit that I was skeptic about this specific development in robotics, which I had mentioned earlier in my blogs of 11 February 2016 (We don't need you) and 17 February 2016 (What jobs are left for humans?). After watching I'm fully convinced about its future.

Each day we notice the importance of pets in people’s lives. Psychology Today has published 14 articles in a group called The Power of Pets. Having a pet clearly has a positive impact on our mental and physical health (eg, mutual caring, exercise).

Often we notice that people talk to their pets despite knowing that the pet will remain silent, apart from its non-verbal communication. Some caretakers seem convinced that their pets do understand them. Although I have no pets, I did see examples that indeed make you wonder how much a pet understands its caretaker.

Having pets requires independence (eg, housing, mobility). As of a certain age, independence will gradually diminish. One woman in the documentary said that losing her independence was the most difficult change to accept. I suppose that no longer having pets must also be hard to accept as pets provide (non-human) company. Missing human company was a recurring complaint.

Alice, the care robot, looks like a doll of about 60 centimetres. A humanoid is probably a better description.

Wiki: "A humanoid, from English human and -oid "resembling", is something that has an appearance resembling a human being. The earliest recorded use of the term, in 1870, referred to indigenous peoples in areas colonized by Europeans".

I think, feel and believe that these care robots will be treated and viewed as talking pets rather than talking robots. Care robots just need electric charging and a Wifi connection which makes them independent of their caretaker. In future, the care robot will provide company and will also increase the independence of its caretaker. One could even argue that the role between a future care robot and its care “taker” are almost the opposite compared to classic pets (eg, cat, dog).

Elderly immigrants are known to lose command over their second language and to fall back to their first (native) language which they learned as a child. Often their first language (eg, Dutch) is not really available in their new home country (eg, Australia). I already read about this problem many years ago (eg, Phys article 14 March 2007). Care robots would be able to talk in any language.

As usual, seeing is believing. This documentary showed me and proved to me that care robots do have a future. Alice is basically still a talking doll and/or pet. Future versions will be able to walk and also provide out-house company. I suppose humanoids will ultimately become our caretaker - or our digital butler as I already mentioned in my 20 February 2015 blog - and provide longer lasting independence.

The Jesus and Mary Chain - Here comes Alice (1989) - artistslyricsvideoWiki-1Wiki-2

Monday, 18 July 2016

Empathy vs Altruism Narcissism and Sympathy

In several of my recent blogs, I have used the word empathy. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines empathy as "the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions". Initially, this seemed straightforward. The more I thought about the concept of empathy, the more complicated it became.

Ultimately, I realised that its complexity is derived from 2 separate dimensions and 2 opposites: self vs others and also in mind vs in appearance. I have borrowed the latter dimension and opposites - in mind vs in appearance - from my audit profession. The audit profession has some similar challenges as psychology when it comes to human behaviour.

Psychology is the study of behaviour and mind, embracing all aspects of conscious and unconscious experience as well as thought (Wiki). Auditors are only interested in human behaviour, not in its alleged psychological motivation. The combination of auditing and psychology gives an interesting matrix of 4 different though related concepts: altruism, empathy, narcissism and sympathy.

Narcissism is a focus on yourself, both in mind and in appearance. A current example of narcissism is Donald Trump (see my 28 May 2016 blog, see 2015 Psychology Today article). 

Altruism is an opposite focus on others, both in mind and in appearance. Classic undisputed examples of altruism would include Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela.

Empathy and sympathy are very much related although empathy is collective and in mind while sympathy is specific and in appearance. The words “in mind” would include (cognitive) experiences and also feeling emotions and would exclude behaviour. The words “in appearance” would require a visible display in behaviour (eg, expressing condolences, helping refugees in person). Sympathy would always include empathy unless sympathy is faked (eg, psychopath).

A 2015 Psychology Today article explains that there are 2 types of empathy, being cognitive (understanding) and affective (sharing feelings). Affective empathy requires responsiveness (eg, caring) towards the other person(s). In my view, affective sympathy just becomes another word for altruism - feelings and behaviour that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness (Merriam Webster).

The above matrix and explanations may thus differ from views in psychology. Nevertheless, I believe in the KISS principle: Keep It Simple & Stupid. Whatever is in our minds is impossible to verify. Only verification of human behaviour is possible. As the Sarbanes Oxley Act would require: Show me, prove me. 

Robin S - Show Me Love (1993) - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

So baby if you want me
You’ve got to show me love
Words are so easy to say, oh ah yeah
You’ve got to show me love

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Come To My Door

Come To My Door 

So long we've been distant now
Since you set out on your own
You told me you had to find something to believe in
Never thought you'd ever leave
But as you walked out the door
I prayed that you would soon find
All that you needed
While you're out there on your own
If the rain starts falling
Or you get too cold
If you need a place to go

Oh, I just want you to know
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright
Oh, you can come to my door
I don't mind, I don't mind, I don't mind at all

So long you've been searching now
But still I can see your face
The memories numb this pain
Just for a moment
At night I lie sometimes
Awake in my bed
Repeating over and over
Our conversation
Right now as the moon is shining
I know you're out somewhere
And doing fine
If you ever feel alone baby 

Oh, I just want you to know
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright
Oh, you can come to my door
I don't mind, I don't mind, I don't mind at all

And on that fateful day
You know I will be waiting, oh
You'll smile at me, then say
You loved me all along
And you'll come home

Oh, I just want you to know
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright
Oh, you can come to my door
I don't mind, I don't mind, I don't mind at all

Oh, I just want you to know (I just want you to know)
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright (it's alright)
Oh, you can come to my door (you can come to my door)
I don't mind, I don't mind, I don't mind at all

You can come to my door
It's alright, it's alright
It's alright, it's alright
Oh, I just want you to know (I just want you to know)
It's alright (it's alright)
Oh, you can come to my door
I don't mind, I don't mind, I don't mind at all

José James feat. Emily King - Come To My Door (2013) - lyricsvideoWiki-1Wiki-2

For my loved ones

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Turkey 15 July 2016

Only 1 day after the Nice terrorist attack, a part of the Turkish army executed a failed coup attempt. Despite its highly organised and well hidden operations, some serious flaws in its execution raise some serious questions (eg, George Friedman, Politico). Today and tomorrow, the Turkish President is likely to sow the seeds for the next coup attempt, as I expect that his response to this treason will be ruthless.

The seeds for this coup attempt have been sown since the outcome of the 2007 Presidential election. Wiki: “Over a hundred people, including several generals, have been detained or questioned since July 2008 with respect to so-called organisation Ergenekon, an alleged clandestine, ultra-nationalist organization with ties to members of the country's military and security forces. The group is accused of terrorism in Turkey”.

The Turkish President's paranoia for the Turkish Army is however well rooted in history. Wiki: “The military had a record of intervening in politics, removing elected governments four times in the past. Indeed, it assumed power for several periods in the latter half of the 20th century. It executed three coups d'état: in 1960, in 1971, and in 1980. Following the 1960 coup d'état, the military executed the first democratically elected prime minister in Turkey, Adnan Menderes, in 1961. Most recently, it manoeuvred the removal of an Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, in 1997”.

The Turkish President has made many enemies following his autocratic leadership style (eg, NYT). Blaming his former friend and current enemy, Fethullah Gülen, for this coup is likely premature. There are other – and even geopolitical - players with a clear interest in weakening Turkey and its Presidency. This coup will confirm and boost the President’s existing paranoia and is likely to bring the worst out of him - and for Turkey.

Autocratic leadership is in demand these days as many people are tired of Western style consensus democracies. Alleged - or self proclaimed - strong leaders are in demand again. There is a clear relationship between the surge of nationalism and the appeal of strong autocratic leadership. Unfortunately, history shows that this relationship is unlikely to end well (eg, WW2).

One of the serious drawbacks of autocratic leadership, is its unwillingness to share and its need to protect Power. On 5 April 2016, the Russian President submitted a bill to the Russian parliament that carved out his personal National Guard from the Interior Ministry's Interior Troops. This personal National Guard will exceed 15% of the Russian armed forces that are supposed to deal with external threats. (eg, Bloomberg View)

The (non-secular) Turkish President does not have the option of his Russian frenemy. In April 2007, the (secular) Turkish Army released an E-memorandum that leaves little doubt in its last paragraph: “The Turkish Armed Forces maintain their sound determination to carry out their duties stemming from laws to protect the unchangeable [LO: secular] characteristics of the Republic of Turkey. Their loyalty to this determination is absolute.” (eg, BBC)

The remainder of Turkish democracy will suffer badly from this failed coup attempt or whatever it was. As a result, the seeds of change will be sown today and tomorrow. Increasing oppression will create unexpected alliances: The enemy of my enemy is my friend (ancient Arabic proverb, Wiki). Today my empathy is for the Turkish democracy.

Tarkan - Şımarık a.k.a. Kiss Kiss (1997) - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Friday, 15 July 2016

France - Nice - 14 July 2016

Yesterday night, I heard about the truck in Nice. My 1st thought was a freak and tragic accident. The obvious alternative came to mind but I quickly dismissed that thought. It seemed too far fetched. This morning, the news stated that a domestic French Tunisian terrorist had murdered at least 84 people, including children, before he was killed by the police.

My mother (81) asked me (rhetorically) when this will stop. She then stated that “they have nothing and want us to have nothing”. I didn't and do not agree with her analysis. In my view, terrorism is never about tangible stuff (eg, assets, money) but always about (intangible) ideas and beliefs. Only criminals care about assets and money. Also see my 15 March 2016 blog on global terrorism.

Radical Islam is rooted in 2 of the 7 Belief systems, being Politics and Religion. Unlike other terrorist groups, Daesh even behaves like a Multi National Corporation focused on cash flow and profit. Money, Politics and Religion are the 3 Belief systems that represent the Power domain.

The West claims that its values and way of living are threatened. In general, the West believes that its values and way of living are far superior over anything else. This claim more or less matches the opposing Knowledge domain (Philosophy, Science and the Truth) within the 7 Belief systems. Here is where the Knowledge and Power domain collide.

In general, Radical Islam and the West lack empathy for each other. The 7th and only Belief system that would bring empathy – Love – is outside the Knowledge and Power domain. The Power domain usually prevents people from access to Knowledge as the Power domain is well aware of the dangers of Knowledge. The Knowledge domain is typically naïve and even creates its future opponents (eg, enemies) by unlimited access to Knowledge.

Without empathy or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, terrorism will never die. Inequality, poverty, racism and unemployment may be great recruiting tools but terrorism only works when people believe in its Cause. The willingness to sacrifice your own life must always be for the Greater Good.

After each terrorist event, the West asks – and sometimes demands - that Muslims express empathy and also distance themselves from Radical Islam. I must admit that I have never even realised that this request is a one way street. We seldom express empathy over the huge number of terrorist attacks in Muslim countries. Somehow we may even feel that violence is part of their way of living. Who even knows – or cares – about the differences between Shia and Sunni Islam??

There is a saying that Knowledge equals (=) Power. This saying was quite helpful to finalise my concept of the 7 Belief Systems. It took me a long time to realise that Love is the 7th Belief system. I suppose that Love is blind for the Knowledge domain and the Power domain and does not take sides. The triangle Faith (Religion), Hope (Philosophy) and Love connects the Knowledge and the Power domain. Empathy - like Love - must be a two way street in order to be meaningful in Life.

Today my empathy is for the victims, their families, friends and loved ones.

The New Radicals - You Get What You Give (1998) - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Championed by a soulless media misleading
People unaware they're bleeding
No one with a brain is believing
It's so sad you lost the meaning