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Saturday, 31 March 2018

Easter parade


Easter Parade (1984) by The Blue Nile

The line of traffic comes to a stand still
For the love King, out in the morning air
I find a place I started from
The wild is calling, this time I follow
Easter parade

In the bureau typewriter's quiet
Confetti falls from every window
Throwing hats up in the air
A city perfect in every detail

Easter parade

I know you, birthday cards and silent music
Paperbacks and Sunday clothes

In hallways and railway stations
Radio across the morning air
A crowd of people everywhere
And then the people, all running forward

Easter parade

Friday, 30 March 2018

Jesus was a cross maker


Jesus Was a Cross Maker (1971) by Judee Sill

Sweet silver angels over the sea
Please come down fly in low for me

One time I trusted a stranger
Cause I heard his sweet song
And it was gently enticing me
Though there was something wrong
But when I turned he was gone
Blinding me, his song remains, reminding me
He's a bandit and a heart breaker
Oh, but Jesus was a cross maker

Sweet silver angels over the sea
Please come down fly in low for me

He wages war with the devil
A pistol by his side
And though he chases him out windows
And won't give him a place to hide
He keeps his door open wide
Fighting him, he lights a lamp inviting him
He's a bandit and a heart breaker
Oh, but Jesus was a cross maker

Sweet silver angels over the sea
Please come down fly in low for me


I heard the thunder come rumbling
The light never looked so dim
I see the junction get nearer
And danger is in the wind
And either road's looking grim
Hiding me, earthly desire dividing me
He's a bandit and a heart breaker
Oh, but Jesus was a cross maker
Yes, Jesus was a cross maker

Sweet silver angels over the sea
Please come down fly in low for me

One time I trusted a stranger
Cause I heard his sweet song
And it was gently enticing me
Though there was something wrong
But when I turned he was gone
Blinding me, his song remains, reminding me
He's a bandit and a heart breaker
Oh, but Jesus was a cross maker
Yes, Jesus was a cross maker

Thursday, 29 March 2018

The last supper


The Last Supper (1973) from Jesus Christ Superstar OST

(Thursday night, the Last Supper)

[APOSTLES]
Look at all my trials and tribulations
Sinking in a gentle pool of wine
Don't disturb me now; I can see the answers
Till 'this evening' is 'this morning', life is fine
Always hoped that I'd be an apostle
Knew that I would make it if I tried
Then when we retire we can write the gospels
So they'll still talk about us when we've died

[JESUS]
The end
Is just a little harder when brought about by friends
For all you care, this wine could be my blood
For all you care, this bread could be my body
The end!
This is my blood you drink
This is my body you eat
If you would remember me when you eat and drink
I must be mad thinking I'll be remembered - yes
I must be out of my head!
Look at your blank faces! My name will mean nothing
Ten minutes after I'm dead!
One of you denies me
One of you betrays me -

[APOSTLES]
Not I! Who could? Impossible!

[JESUS]
Peter will deny me in just a few hours
Three times will deny me - and that's not all I see
One of you here dining, one of my twelve chosen
Will leave to betray me -

[JUDAS] Cut out the dramatics! You know very well who -

[JESUS] Why don't you go do it?

[JUDAS] You want me to do it?

[JESUS] Hurry, they're waiting

[JUDAS] If you knew why I do it...

[JESUS] I don't care why you do it!

[JUDAS] To think I admired you, for now I despise you

[JESUS] You liar - you Judas

[JUDAS]
You want me to do it!
What if I just stayed here and ruined your ambition?
Christ, you deserve it!

[JESUS]
Hurry, you fool, hurry and go
Save me your speeches, I don't wanna know - GO!

[APOSTLES]
Look at all my trials and tribulations
Sinking in a gentle pool of wine
What's that in the bread it's gone to my head
Till 'this morning' is 'this evening', life is fine
Always hoped that I'd be an apostle
Knew that I would make it if I tried
Then when we retire we can write the gospels
So they'll all talk about us when we die

[JUDAS]
You sad pathetic man - see where you've brought us to
Our ideals die around us, all because of you
And now the saddest cut of all:
Someone has to turn you in
Like a common criminal, like a wounded animal
A jaded mandarin
A jaded mandarin
A jaded jaded faded mandarin

[JESUS]
Get out! They're waiting! Get out!
They're waiting for you

[JUDAS]
Every time I look at you, I don't understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand
You'd have managed better if you'd had it planned -

[APOSTLES]
Look at all my trials and tribulations
Sinking in a gentle pool of wine
Don't disturb me now; I can see the answers
Till 'this evening' is 'this morning', life is fine
Always hoped that I'd be an apostle
Knew that I would make it if I tried
Then when we retire we can write the gospels
So they'll still talk about us when we've died

[JESUS]
Will no-one stay awake with me?
Peter? John? James?
Will none of you wait with me?
Peter? John? James?

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The complexities of international affairs

When I was born in 1960, the world was still rather black and white, including our TV screens. There was a simple divide between Left (Communism, Labour) and Right (Conservatives, Liberals). Christian parties were often center parties and facilitated governments at the Left and the Right. Since about 2000, we have a new divide: Globalism vs Nationalism (my blogs).

The complexities of this new divide can be seen in my diagram.

Extreme left and extreme right political parties have both joined Nationalism. This also explains their Russian funding / loans.

The European Union has become the sole supporter of Globalism or Internationalism, including former nationalist countries like France.

China supports both domestic Nationalism (eg, IP theft) and international Globalism (eg, soft loans in Africa and Asia).

Russia is the main driver of international Nationalism.

The UK is torn apart between political Nationalism (ie, Brexit) and economic Globalism (ie, free trade). I still expect that the latter will win through Mrs May's Machiavellian Moves (my blogs). The recent assassination of a former spy in the UK has - once again - revealed the (security) vulnerabilities of Brexit. Moreover, the Cambridge Analytica scandal may even evidence the alleged election fraud by Brexit's Vote Leave.

Trump's USA is leaving Globalism side and is entering Nationalism. A successful Trump 2020 re-election campaign may finalise this massive transfer in international affairs. Trump's USA gives mixed messages by suggesting currency wars (globalism) and also trade wars (nationalism).

To some extent, Turkey is in the same spot as the UK. However, Turkey is flirting with Nationalism (eg, reclaiming Ottoman Empire) and enemies (eg, Russia), while blackmailing Globalism (eg, EU refugees, visas) and friends (eg, GreeceNATO). Turkey is - by far - the most complex element in international affairs (eg, Israel).

Complexity (2015) by EODM


Note: all bold and italic markings by LO unless stated otherwise

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

The Paradox of Choice

We automatically assume that more choice is better although we know that this is not the case in restaurants with extensive menu choices. The same paradox applies in dating apps: the more choice we have in dating, the harder it is to make a choice (my 2018 blog). A 2004 book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz calls this phenomenon the Paradox of Choice.

With the knowledge of hindsight this paradox of choice also featured in my 2017 "greenfield" blog. Selling my house is the only thing I know for sure. Unfortunately, this opens a ton of choices: Africa, Asia, Americas, Australia, and obviously good old Europe (eg, Italy, Portugal). I am limiting my choices by using constraints, like avoiding high and low temperatures.

My diagram is governed by the 4 elements that are often mentioned in the paradox of choice: anxiety, information, time, utility.

Information and Time are input factors. Added value / Utility and Anxiety are output factors.

There are 2 fundamental constraints: budget (eg, money) and focus. It's not possible to stay focussed 24/7 nor have unlimited budget.

Obviously, minimising the input factors Information and Time will almost never give a good choice. The paradox of choice implies that the same is true for wanting to maximise the input factors. This would show many similar dots as a best choice on your personal utility curve. Seeing this will create anxiety or stress as there is still no (best) choice despite all efforts.

Initially, the text in the circle of my diagram was "best choice". Then I remembered a NYT article claiming that the key issue is whether you are happy with your choice. A best choice may not make you happy. However, a happy choice is always a good - perhaps even your best - choice.

My recent blog on equality, happiness and health mentions that my country ranks #6 in the 2018 World Happiness Report. Interestingly, a related NYT article claims that "A person who moves to a country high on the happiness list will probably become happier, and a person who moves to a lower-ranked country will probably become less happy." (NYT)

Despite all efforts, my personal paradox of choice appears to be: Home Sweet Home

Sweet Home Alabama (1974) by Lynyrd Skynyrd


Note: all bold and italic markings by LO unless stated otherwise

Monday, 26 March 2018

#DeleteFacebook

Last Friday, I deactivated my Facebook account. I may still permanently delete it. September 2012 was the previous time that I deactivated my Facebook account which was well before my May 2013 burnout. This time, the reasons are different but not too much. Facebook has become an addictive habit which is otherwise known as FOMO - the fear of missing out (my 2016 blog).

By the end of July 2014, I reactivated my Facebook account in order to promote my daily blogs on my Google Blogger account. Initially, most traffic to my blog was a redirect from my Facebook account. Nowadays, redirects from Facebook are minimal. The main reason for reactivating my Facebook account no longer exists.

For some time, I've been wondering what to do with my Facebook account. I already minimized the volume of my personal information. It has also become rare for me to post anything personal. Most of my Facebook friends are actually acquaintances and/or former colleagues. The volume of messages between them and me has become minimal. I prefer talking or texting.

Many months ago, I already deleted the Facebook app because it is a drain on your (iPad & iPhone) battery. Later, I also deleted the Facebook Messenger app as I was annoyed by its persistent use of my iPhone contacts to suggest new Messenger contacts. The absence of notifications from both Facebook and Messenger is quite soothing.

For the past several months, Facebook requested me 2 or 3 times to complete an online questionnaire about my rating of their services. My ratings made me wonder why I was still using Facebook. Facebook had become a habit, and an addictive one as well. Both the absence and the presence of messages and postings annoyed me.

I stress the above (micro) picture as it's too easy for me to blame Facebook for the Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections. Based on proportional representation, the 45th president should have been a woman. She lost the 2016 elections due to her disregard for the importance of small states in the Electoral College. The statistical anomalies (eg, CNN, WP) in the election outcome of these small states, still need conclusive evidence to prove election fraud.

Several years ago, Facebook was part of a positive news cycle. Back then, I never saw Facebook as the friendly giant which the media made suggested. The tides have turned. For many months, any Facebook news item is negative. According to the media, Facebook is now evil Big Tech. The power of any message always lies in its continued repeating.

The added value of social media in our lives is often debatable. Still, LinkedIn has a clear added value to our life: job opportunities. However, my question was and is: what value - if any - does Facebook add to our lives?? Perhaps that question should be their biggest worry.

New Kid in Town (1976) by The Eagles

There's talk on the street
It's there to remind you
It doesn't really matter which side you're on
You're walking away
And they're talking behind you
They will never forget you 'til somebody new comes along


Note: all bold and italic markings by LO unless stated otherwise

Sunday, 25 March 2018

The Highways of My Life


The Highways of My Life (1974) by The Isley Brothers
artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Moving down the highways of my life
Makin' sure I stay to the right
Moving down the highways of my life
So I shan't be concerned with the other side of the road

Reading all the signs along the way
Knowing where I am not what they say
My destination's closer day by day
So I can't concern with the other side of the road

Da da dop da da ah
Down the highway da de ah
(chorus repeat)

Leaving all the sorrows and the pain
There's no love between us that remains
Although you are the one you're not the same
So the other side of the road can only take me back home

Da da dop da da ah
Down the highway da de da
(chorus repeat)

Cool change


Cool Change (1979) by Little River Band

If there's one thing
In my life that's missing
It's the time that I spend alone
Sailing on the cool
And bright clear water

Lots of those friendly people
They're showing me ways to go
And I never want to
Lose their inspiration

Time for a cool change
I know that it's time for a cool change
Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it's time for a cool change

Well, I was born in the sign of water
And it's there that I feel my best
The albatross and the whales
They are my brothers

It's kind of a special feeling
When you're out on the sea alone
Staring at the full moon like a lover

Time for a cool change
I know that it's time for a cool change
Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it's time for a cool change

I've never been romantic
And sometimes, I don't care
I know it may sound selfish
But let me breathe the air

Yeah, yeah
Let me breathe the air

If there's one thing
In my life that's missing
It's the time that I spend alone
Sailing on the cool
And bright clear water

It's kind of a special feeling
Out on the sea alone
Staring at the full moon
Like a lover

Time for a cool change
I know that it's time for a cool change
Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it's time for a cool change

(Time for a cool change)
It's time, it's time
It's time, it's time
For a cool, cool change
(Time for a cool change)
I know it's time for a cool change
(Time for a cool change)
Now that my life is so prearranged
Well, I know, I know
I know, I know
(Time for a cool change)
It's time for a cool change
Yes, it is, yes, it is yes, it is
You know it's time for a cool change

Saturday, 24 March 2018

At last, good news on Brexit: Britain is heading for Norway (Guardian)

"Norway here we come. This is the good news on the Brexit front. It will take two years. The voyage will be stormy and the destination messy. But plus-or-minus Norway offers the only sensible way for Britain through the Brexit morass. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer agree. Nick Clegg agrees. Most of the cabinet and the Tories’ remainers publicly or privately agree. So do those close to the Brussels negotiations. They still seem unable to shake hands on it, but they will soon.

The week has been full of hopeful signs. On Monday the EU’s Michel Barnier – a secret “Norwegian” – could not conceal his glee at his cobbled-together transition deal, nor could his British counterpart, David Davis.

The deal was a document of the most brutal realism. For now, the UK remains a non-participating member of the single market, with freedom of movement and right of settlement. Farmers and fishers are “as you were”. Britain can discuss “offshore” trade deals, but not agree them. Hard Brexiteers can go jump off a cliff.

The smart money in Brussels was always on the Norway option. The so-called European Economic Area was a simple “off-the-shelf” basis for a bespoke deal with the UK. The challenge lay not in negotiating it but in overcoming Theresa May’s belief that her fate depended on some 50 backbench leavers and the editors of the Sun and the Daily Mail. She was terrified of them.

Even so, the assumption was that, as the March 2019 deadline approached and the impossibility of a “frictionless” hard Brexit became ever clearer, Theresa May would be forced into a series of tactical retreats. The tough Lancaster House and Florence speeches, and Chequers last month, were dollops of fudge to keep hard Brexiteers on board. But this week’s transition deal would mark a parting of the ways. So it has appeared. The sight of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and assorted friends shuffling miserably into line, whimpering over dead fish, was heart-warming. So in a sense has been May’s and Johnson’s distraction over Russian poison, hysterically comparing Vladimir Putin to Stalin and Hitler.

A detailed analysis of the Norway option in last month’s Economist was unequivocally favourable. Norway in 1994 went through the same referendum debate as Britain, with the same drift towards compromise. The country remained in the European Free Trade Association (Efta). It stayed open to a single European market in goods, capital and labour, but it held aloof from the common fisheries and agriculture policies. Norway also stayed outside the EU customs union, to secure its own trade deals elsewhere. It is hard to see what substantive argument a Brexiter could have against this.

Norway fiercely denies it is a “vassal state”. It is rated by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the “most democratic” in the world. It must abide by EU rules on trade in goods within the EU. But so must EU members, who can be overruled by majority voting. On matters of joint concern, such as energy, Norway is consulted and heard. Its lobbying office next to the Berlaymont building is more effective than any council vote. As for the European court, the Efta court liaises with it and is rarely in conflict.

Trade in services and finance is more crucial to the UK than in goods, and here both Europe and the world would remain its oyster, as this EU single market is in its infancy. As for migration, Efta arrangements embrace a register of EU nationals, controls on their citizenship and property ownership and expulsion if they are out of work for six months. A mere 20% of Norwegians regret their Efta status. Of course Norway is smaller than the UK. But the issue is whether its model is practicable. It is.

The one argument against the Norway option for Britain is that it would lie outside the customs union. How valuable this freedom is to Norway’s economy is moot. Efta has laboriously reached deals with 38 countries, including Canada. But it requires a hard border with Sweden to enforce country-of-origin controls. Since such a border is anathema in Northern Ireland, Norway plus customs union with the EU makes sense. I have seen no calculation that shows an advantage to UK trade in being outside one.

Yes, Britain would pay into the EU for all this, as does Norway. But Norway’s money is carefully earmarked for grants, scholarships and projects. Likewise there are disciplines with “regulatory alignment” within an EU single market. But they did not worry Thatcher when she co-invented the market in 1985. Leaving the EU would usefully repatriate some controls, as over farming, construction standards, procurement and the environment. Britain, like Norway, could opt out of fish quotas. But these are trading practicalities not issues of principle. They are about how to make the best of “the decision to leave”, not about following a neo-imperial will-o’-the-wisp.

What Britons thought they were “leaving” in 2016 remains opaque. No replacement question was asked. Britain will withdraw from the EU, but what takes its place must be a decision for parliament. Everything we read from polls and surveys suggests there is no majority for trade barriers at Calais or a ban on European care workers or plumbers. Public opinion wants soft Brexit. It wants Norway.

The last time Norway featured prominently in the Commons was in 1940. British failure against the Nazis cost Chamberlain his job, but these events formed the basis for victory and reconstruction. Sooner or later, the Commons will debate Norway again: whether the UK should remain within a single market and customs union, however camouflaged. When that happens, May will drive her hard Brexiters into sullen acceptance or resignation. But she can tell them her hands have been tied to a Norwegian mast. If so, history could regard her twisting and tacking, her softly, softly Brexit strategy as the most brilliant of political manoeuvres. But I am not holding my breath."

This Guardian article was written by Simon Jenkins.

Britain’s latest Brexit strategy: any deal will do (FT)

"Xavier Bettel has given us a wounding description of Brexit. As an EU member, the Luxembourg prime minister observed, Britain was forever asking for opt-outs. “Now they are out, and want a load of opt-ins.” 

There you have it. Mr Bettel captures precisely the abiding sense of superiority that persuades Britain it can stand above the rest of Europe alongside its recurring fear of being left behind. 

Boris Johnson speaks of Brexit as a “liberation”. The foreign secretary is among those English nationalists who never step out of the nostalgic haze of victory in the second world war. Others were subjugated; Britain stood alone. Yet there Mr Johnson was in Brussels this week tipping his hat to the “defeated” in the hope of enlisting their support against Vladimir Putin’s Russia. 

Technically, Britain is not yet “out” of the EU, but the conclusion of a draft transition agreement with the remaining 27 members would take Theresa May’s government a stride closer to the exit. The prime minister is determined to walk through it in March 2019. Just to be sure, she has a fail-safe approach: to take just about any deal she is offered. 

The story of the first phase of Article 50 negotiations was a procession of capitulations. British demands collided with European realities and Mrs May retreated at every turn. The second phase will be much the same except that, as the clock ticks faster, she will be even quicker to abandon her positions. 

Only this month the prime minister set out at great length the opt-ins, concessions and exemptions she required of the EU27 in the post-Brexit world. Never mind. These “cake-and-eat” demands — segmenting the single market, privileged access for the City of London and bespoke customs arrangements — were made in the sure knowledge they will soon enough have to be abandoned. 

Michel Barnier, the head of the commission’s negotiating team, has quite sensibly rested his position on the logic of Mrs May’s rejection of the single market and customs union and her refusal to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That leaves the only plausible trade arrangement as one akin to those enjoyed by Canada and South Korea. If Britain is willing to pay, it may also secure associate membership of a handful of EU agencies. 

By the government’s own lights, this outcome falls far short of the national interest. Philip Hammond, the chancellor, has demanded an accord covering financial services. Mrs May has other priorities. Politics must trump economics, and the interests of the Conservative party those of the nation. Supply chains, investment and jobs cannot be allowed to get in the way of her efforts to avoid a Tory rupture. 

The timetable has room for only six months more of talks. Everything has to be wrapped up by November to allow time for ratification. The best that can be achieved in such a short period is a statement of a set of broad principles to shape the future relationship. Hammering out a workable economic arrangement will be left for the transition, which in turn will need to be extended. 

For Mrs May, the vaguer the autumn accord the better. A fuzzy statement of intent will be sold as all things to all sides — to her party’s nationalists as a clean break with the wicked EU, and to pro-European Tories as the precursor to a close and strong relationship. Anything too specific and Mrs May would risk stirring rebellion in parliament. 

Things could still go wrong. MPs could vote to stay in a customs union. The government’s reckless indifference to the impact of Brexit on the Northern Ireland peace settlement faces exposure. A draft agreement with the EU27 includes a commitment to avoid a hard border between the North and the Irish Republic. Mrs May has yet to say how this can be reconciled with a departure from the single market and customs union. 

For hardline Brexiters, none of this matters. Mr Johnson dismisses the Irish border as akin to the boundary between two London boroughs. The likes of Mr Johnson hold the Brexit prize too important to be held hostage to peace and prosperity across the Irish Sea. They have their sights set on the supposed restoration of national sovereignty. 

There is a snag. More, really, than a snag. The repatriation of sovereignty is in large measure a chimera. As Mr Putin has reminded us, Britain cannot banish the facts of interdependence. In any event, in order to reclaim this claimed sovereignty, the Brexiters must suppress the will of, well, the parliament they promise to empower. Most MPs, including those on the Tory side, think Brexit will be bad for Britain. So, incidentally, do a majority of cabinet ministers. At the very least they want to soften the blow. But they are told by the prime minister they must vote for the good of party before country. 

Perhaps there is a precedent. I cannot recall it. When last did Britain’s elected representatives take a decision that they fully expected would make the nation poorer, less influential and less secure? The cynicism takes one’s breath away. 

There is an answer. A prime minister of principle would offer a free vote. Parliament should be charged with mapping the contours of Britain’s future relationship with its own continent. MPs should also be empowered to put the terms to the people in a second referendum. That really would be taking back control. Strange that the self-appointed champions of parliamentary sovereignty argue otherwise."

This FT article was written by Philip Stevens

Brexit negotiations: Obligation without representation (Economist)

"AGAINST a backdrop displaying the text of Britain’s draft withdrawal agreement, colour-coded to show areas agreed and yet to be tackled, Michel Barnier, the European Union’s Brexit negotiator, and David Davis, Britain’s Brexit secretary, announced a transition deal on March 19th. It was hard even for the ebullient Mr Davis to hide the fact that Britain had agreed to a “status quo” transition period, in which it will maintain most obligations to the EU while losing its voting rights. At least business was pleased that there will be no cliff-edge exit next March—assuming, that is, the two sides are able to reach some kind of Brexit deal.

What was striking was the acquiescence of most pro-Brexit Tory MPs. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who once likened a status quo transition to being a vassal state, said Britain had rolled over without even getting its tummy tickled. But he and his allies still gave Theresa May’s government the benefit of the doubt. In effect, they value the prize of Brexit next March so highly that they will accept almost any terms for it. This should reduce their influence on Mrs May in the remaining negotiations.

One awkward concession concerned fish. Many Brexiteers say they were promised that Britain would take back full control of fisheries next March. Even Michael Gove, the minister in charge, admitted to being disappointed that this has proved impossible. Britain will now stay in the EU’s common fisheries policy until the start of 2021. Scottish Tories are especially upset. Several said they could not sell such a betrayal to their constituents, and 14 MPs wrote to Mrs May urging her to reject the transition and threatening to vote against a Brexit deal later this year if she does not.

For all their protests, including sending a fishing boat up the Thames to Parliament, Mrs May is bound to accept the transition at the EU summit that was meeting as we went to press. She has no choice. Fisheries is too small an industry to be worth jeopardising a future Brexit deal. Just as in 1973, when Britain first joined the club, fishing is likely to be sacrificed for the greater good, however loudly trawlermen howl.

The real concern about the transitional deal is not about vassaldom or fish. It is rather the short time given for it. Mrs May had asked for a deal lasting “around two years”; some ministers openly hoped for longer. Yet Mr Barnier is offering just 21 months, to the end of 2020. Trade experts doubt that a comprehensive trade deal of the sort that Mrs May wants can be negotiated, let alone ratified, that quickly. And the text of the transitional deal leaves it unclear whether an extension will be legally possible, let alone politically so.

A big problem is that Mrs May has wasted so much time since triggering the Article 50 withdrawal process last March, not least by holding a general election last June. A majority of the Commons Brexit committee is calling for an extension of Article 50’s two-year deadline. The home affairs committee similarly says more time is needed to ensure continuing co-operation on justice and domestic security. Time, or rather the lack of it, has become one of the most pressing concerns about Brexit."

A Brexit withdrawal agreement in name only (FT)

"A revised draft withdrawal agreement was published on Monday, and we can now see the likely shape of Brexit

The UK’s exit from the EU will be largely on the EU’s terms. On almost every substantial point, the UK has accepted the EU’s position. This is an agreement that could have been finalised last summer, as it is in effect a translation of the EU’s April 2017 negotiation guidelines into legal prose. 

But the draft is not without problems. There is no provision for extending the envisaged transition period of 21 months. And once the UK is outside the EU, it may not be legally possible for the EU to amend the agreement. So a new cliff edge is created, and there is no reason to believe the UK will be any more prepared for the cut-off date of December 31 2020 than it was for March 29 2019. 

The draft also seeks deftly to avoid the problem of whether the UK can retain the benefit of free trade agreements after March 29 2019. It does this with a footnote, which states that the EU will tell its trading partners to treat the UK as part of the EU. Footnotes can be powerful things, but there is no guarantee that the EU’s trading partners will accept such an elegant fix. 

The UK has trumpeted an apparent concession: it can negotiate trade deals during the transition period, as long as they do not take effect until afterwards. But this is an illusory power. No serious potential trading partner will want to enter into an agreement with the UK until the ultimate trading relationship with the EU becomes known. 

The text itself is colour-coded. The parts with green highlighting are fully agreed; those with yellow highlighting are where there is agreement in principle subject to drafting points; and the parts with no highlighting are still to be discussed. There are still large parts which are neither green nor yellow. One suspects that these are the points where the UK has not yet conceded to the EU. 

The text on Ireland is largely in white. But the UK accepted the “backstop” of Northern Ireland staying in the EU’s single market and the customs union back in December. Unless the UK reneges from that position, that backstop will be part of the exit agreement. This means that unless the UK and the EU agree something else, the default will be that Northern Ireland effectively stays in the EU. And how that accords with the rest of the UK is a problem which can only be solved by the rest of UK in effect staying in the EU too. Or by a united Ireland. 

But many Brexit supporters seem not to mind. The UK will be in the EU without any representation at any institutions or formal influence for 21 months after next March, and Leavers appear only to shrug. The UK will not take control of its borders, laws or money until at least 2021, and that seems fine as far as they are concerned. The best explanation for this relative silence is that the key objective of the UK being officially out of the EU will have been achieved. And once the UK is out then it will be hard for the UK to rejoin. 

And so in this way, the UK is heading for a Brexit in name only, at least until 2021. A “52:48” Brexit, which is what it should have been all along. The slight majority in the referendum get their mandate discharged with the UK leaving the EU, and the slight minority are respected by there being little change in practice. 

The shape of what happens after 2021 is less clear. It will then be five years since the referendum result. The EU may adopt a hard negotiating position for a trade relationship, or there could be a generous association agreement. Those “red lines” which survive that long may no longer have any attraction to the government of the day. 

Theresa May once promised that there would be a robust “red, white and blue Brexit”. We now have a limp green, yellow and white Brexit, where the UK has not in any meaningful way taken back control of anything. All the time and effort expended since the referendum has been to create a situation where most things will stay the same."

This FT article is written by David Allen Green.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Plato's 5 regime types

The Greek philosopher Plato (428/427-348/347 BC) mentions 5 regime types in book 8 of his manuscript Republic. Plato states that the natural order of societies is as follows: (1) aristocracy, (2) timocracy, (3) oligarchy, (4) democracy, and (5) tyranny. Since a few years, articles claim that our societies are moving to the 5th and final Plato stage: tyranny (eg, BBC, PT, Vox).

I have plotted these 5 regime types against two of my concepts that I often use: (i) Wisdom-Knowledge-Power and (ii) Needs-Wants-Beliefs.

Plato's aristocracy is ruled by a philosopher king. Its government is based on Needs and Wisdom. All other types of regimes were deemed inferior by Plato.

When an aristocracy is inherited by family members then deterioration of government commences.

In a timocracy, Wisdom is slowly being replaced by the eternal struggle between Knowledge and Power.

In an oligarchy, wealth is accumulated by a few people who are close to the government. This Wants stage is typically characterized by consumerism (assets) and greed (money). The mismatch in Power between the (poor) majority and the (rich) minority may easily end when the majority starts to believe in freedom and democracy commences.

The strongmen of today make me wonder about the genuinity of their democratic flaws. In other words: is chaos an action or a consequence? Example: was the 2016 Turkish coup attempt (i) a government action to create chaos in order to change the rules, or (2) a consequence of existing chaos culminating in new rules. Chaos and Change are often two of a kind.

It's tempting to view the strongmen of today as (potential) new tyrannies. Somehow, I doubt that people who actually endured a tyranny, would consider the countries ruled by today's strongmen as the new tyrannies. Apart from perhaps one, they still have a long way towards a tyranny.

“In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People." A quote from a 1918 anti-war speech by Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926), American union leader.

Democracy (1992) by Leonard Cohen


Note: all bold and italic markings by LO unless stated otherwise

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Equality, happiness and health

Recently, the 2018 World Happiness Report was published as a collaboration by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and economists from Columbia University, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and the London School of Economics.

The top 10 was once again dominated by Nordic countries: (1) Finland, (2) Norway, (3) Denmark, (4) Iceland, (5) Switzerland, (6) the Netherlands, (7) Canada, (8) New Zealand, (9) Sweden and (10) Australia. NYT, 14 March 2018: "Though in a different order, this is the same top 10 as last year, when Norway was No. 1 and Finland was fifth."

NYT, 14 March 2018: "As for the United States, it is 18th out of 156 countries surveyed — down four spots from last year’s report and five from 2016’s, and substantially below most comparably wealthy nations. Though the economy is generally strong and per capita income is high, it ranks poorly on social measures: Life expectancy has declined, suicide rates have risen, the opioid crisis has worsened, inequality has grown and confidence in government has fallen."

NYT, 14 March 2018: “I think there really is a deep and very unsettling signal coming through that U.S. society is in many ways under profound stress, even though the economy by traditional measures is doing fine,” Jeffrey D. Sachs, an editor of the report, said in an interview on Tuesday. “The trends are not good, and the comparative position of the U.S. relative to other high-income countries is nothing short of alarming.”

The NYT article and a recent Big Think article on equality, anxiety and depression, made me reflect on the relationship between equality, happiness and health.

I amended my diagram from my March 1 blog about cohesive societies to visualize these links. The USA is clearly in the lower regions of my diagram.

Last Monday, the 45th President suggested a death penalty for drug dealers in the US opioid epidemic (eg, FT, Guardian). In Europe, we would treat this as a health(care) rather than a criminal problem.

The US health and healthcare crisis can neither be understood nor repaired without looking at its fundamental economic and social inequality.

Going To A Town (2007) by Rufus Wainwright

I really need to know
I may just never see you again, or might as well
You took advantage of a world that loved you well
I'm going to a town that has already been burnt down
I'm so tired of you, America


Note: all bold and italic markings by LO unless stated otherwise

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

What's luck got to do with it?

Several days ago, I noticed a Dutch article in Scientias magazine that immediately annoyed me: "The most successful people are not the most talented. They mainly had lots of luck". The article was based on a forthcoming 2018 study: "Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure". It's annoying because people refer to "luck" if they fail to produce smarter conclusions.

The 2018 study claims that "intelligence (or, more in general, talent and personal qualities) exhibits a Gaussian distribution among the population, whereas the distribution of wealth - often considered a proxy of success - follows typically a power law (Pareto law), with a large majority of poor people and a very small number of billionaires".

"Such a discrepancy between a Normal distribution of inputs, with a typical scale (the average talent or intelligence), and the scale invariant distribution of outputs, suggests that some hidden ingredient is at work behind the scenes. In this paper, with the help of a very simple agent-based toy model, we suggest that such an ingredient is just randomness." (2018 study)

The most wealthy people are found across all segments of intelligence (ie, average, dumb, smart). I think, feel and believe that the study should have concluded that intelligence is not linked to wealth. However, the study concludes that luck or randomness defines wealth.

This conclusion is absurd as randomness - by definition - must follow a Gaussian or normal distribution curve. This would imply that only people who are lucky "24/7", are the most wealthy persons on this planet. That correlation is non-existent. Hence, my annoyance with this study.

Several years ago, a Dutch field hockey coach told me his formula for success: output = discipline x talent / ego (my 2014 Dutch blog). His formula already makes much more sense than attributing failure and success to randomness. In my 2014 Dutch blog, I amended his success formula to: output = (discipline x talent x positive thinking) / ego.

This formula also allows for "good" and "bad" wealthy people. Neither intelligence nor luck is the first thing that comes to mind when observing billionaires. Discipline and positive thinking are often clearly present in their behaviour. The ego of billionaires can, however, be a clear mitigant in their success. Just compare some well-known billionaire names.

Interestingly, the title of my blog is also used for a 2010 book by mathematician Joseph Mazur (What's Luck Got to Do with It? The History, Mathematics, and Psychology of the Gambler's Illusion), a 2016 cell biology study (What's Luck Got to Do with It: Single Cells, Multiple Fates, and Biological Nondeterminism), and a 2014 Psychology Today article (What's Luck Got to Do With It? Bad luck is real, but so are bad choices).

Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect. A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American philosopher.

What's Love Got to Do with It (1984) by Tina Turner


Note: all bold and italic markings by LO unless stated otherwise

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

How do you prove your innocence?

Recently, a Dutch newspaper reported on a thesis by criminal psychologist Ricardo Nieuwkamp of Maastricht University. One of his findings was that only 2% of innocent suspects are able to produce an alibi that is beyond any reasonable doubt. It doesn't help that police "testilying" (= testify+lying)  has become a serious (American?) issue (eg, NYT, Wiki).

I didn't think much about this article until I arrived at episodes 1 to 11 of season 6 of The Good Wife (#8.3 in IMDbWiki) on Netflix. One of the main characters ends up in a nightmare, following fictitious drug charges. When he accepts a plea bargain and gets reduced sentencing, his "guilty" plea is used against him when evidence turns up in his favour. 

These episodes made me wonder how I would prove my own innocence. My first thought was to use cell phone data or banking transactions in order to demonstrate my whereabouts. However, the police might then argue that someone else used my mobile phone and/or banking debet/credit card. Without witnesses, how do you prove your innocence??

The first issue is the state of our memories. Who would recall what he did on a certain day, without first looking in your agenda on your mobile phone? Most days feel entirely the same without the occurrence of a main event (eg, birthday). Main events around an alleged crime date may help to remember your whereabouts and construct your alibi. 

The second issue is our eagerness to testify. Our initial impulse is talking to the police as we usually like telling our (perceived) truth. However, we didn't yet verify our memories with facts (eg, agenda, banking records, cell phone data). These omissions may create false testimonies. A false testimony could turn us from a witness into a suspect

The third issue is our status: are we a (potential) witness or a (potential) suspect? This may not be clear when the police knocks on our door because we do not yet know the (real) reason of their visit. Given our innocence, we naturally expect to be a police witness. Moreover, witnesses talk to the police, and suspects remain silent. This psychology may easily work against us. 

The fourth issue is our assumption of mutual interest. We naturally assume that the police will be eager to corroborate our innocence. We ignore that the police is limited in time and in resources and is eager to decrease their workload. These constraints may cause a tunnel vision in which the police only follows their own point of view. 

"Innocent people are extremely vulnerable. Criminals wear gloves, make sure that they are not seen, do not leave DNA, and so forth. It's extremely difficult for innocent people, who happen to be in the neighbourhood, to prove that they did not commit the murder." Translated quote from Ton Derksen, philosopher of science and author of several books on judicial errors

Innocent (2018) - Official trailer starring Lee Ingleby - #8.2 in IMDb, video


Note: all bold and italic markings and translation by LO unless stated otherwise

Monday, 19 March 2018

Why do we ask Why questions?

Sometimes, you see an article and you immediately know that you want to read it: "Why children ask ‘Why?’ and what makes a good explanation". This 2017 Aeon article is written by Dr. Matteo Colombo, assistant professor in Philosophy at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

Actually, I had never ever thought about why people ask the Why question. Asking a Why question had always felt totally logical and natural to me. Usually, my main worry is how long I should keep on asking this Why question, before people finally tell me the truth. Each answer to a Why question often reveals one of the various defence layers.

Questions and answers - or more general: events - usually have a causal effect: one type of event (eg, answer, consequence) explains another previous type of event (eg, cause, question). The philosophy of causation originates from David Hume (1711-1776). Britannica: "This doctrine was given more rigorous expression by the logical positivist Carl [Gustav] Hempel (1905–1997)."

The 2017 Aeon article mentions the 3 main causation models: (i) Carl Hempel's covering-law model, (ii) the unificationist model, and (iii) David Hume's original causal mechanical model. Aeon-2017: "Newton’s theory of gravity and Darwin’s theory of evolution are lovely explanations [of the unificationist model] because they enjoy a great unifying power".

Essentially, asking the Why question is finding out about the possible existence of causality, which is "the natural or worldly agency or efficacy that connects one process (the cause) with another process or state (the effect), where the first is partly responsible for the second, and the second is partly dependent on the first" (Wiki).

The existence of causality is in the human interest for learning purposes as causality has a predictive nature. Causes that are repeating in Life/Nature are far more interesting than incidental ones. Why bother remembering incidental causes that have no repetitive character? Finding out about the Why question clearly has an added value or benefit to humans.

Perhaps, the Why question is important in my life because I have been in auditing for a long time. Asking the Why question was important to me in case I felt a missing causal nature between business operations and financial statements. My mind developed a "should be" (or SOLL position) based on business operations, and the actual (or IST position) in the financial statements should not deviate beyond (my) expectation levels.

Given our fundamental human disbelief (see my 2018 blog) in our cognitive functions, the Why question also makes sense in order not to be fooled by another human being. Asking the Why question is (probably) part of the survival of the fittest, "a phrase that originated from Darwinian evolutionary theory as a way of describing the mechanism of natural selection" (Wiki).

Why tell me why (1981) by Brace covering a classic Dutch Anita Meyer song


Note: all bold and italic markings by LO unless stated otherwise

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Oh Happy Day


Oh Happy Day (1967) by the Edwin Hawkins Singers

Oh, happy day (Oh, happy day)
Oh, happy day (Oh, happy day)
When Jesus washed (When Jesus washed)
Oh, when He washed (When Jesus washed)
When Jesus washed (When Jesus washed)
He washed my sins away (Oh, happy day)
Oh, happy day (Oh, happy day)

Oh, happy day (Oh, happy day)
Oh, happy day (Oh, happy day)
When Jesus washed (When Jesus washed)
Oh, when He washed (When Jesus washed)
When Jesus washed (When Jesus washed)
He washed my sins away (Oh, happy day)
Oh, it's a happy day (Oh, happy day)

He taught me how (He taught me how)
To watch and fight and pray
Watch and pray

And live rejoicing every day
Every day

Oh, happy day (Oh, happy day)
Oh, happy day (Oh, happy day)
When Jesus washed (When Jesus washed)
Oh, when He washed (When Jesus washed)
When Jesus washed (When Jesus washed)
He washed my sins away (Oh, happy day)
Oh, happy day (Oh, happy day)

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Finance chief of Visa attacks bitcoin ‘bubble’ (FT)

"A top Visa executive has launched one of the most outspoken attacks yet from the financial establishment on the bitcoin craze, saying cryptocurrency was used by “every crook and dirty politician” and speculators who have “no clue”.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Vasant Prabhu, chief financial officer of the world’s biggest payment network by market value, recalled encounters he had with ill-informed retail investors that had been “a real shock” to him.

“The people asking me are the ones who scare the hell out of me,” he said. “You know, guys like the limo driver to the airport . . . They have no idea what they are doing.”

Visa operates at the heart of the mainstream global payments system, connecting about 3bn cardholders, 46m payment locations and 17,000 financial institutions.

Recognising the strength of feeling among crypto aficionados who wish to circumvent financial institutions, Mr Prabhu said he lived not far from “true believers” in Silicon Valley who think “people like me are dinosaurs”.

A bank teller told Mr Prabhu about six months ago how he planned to sell bitcoin in March, because he knew that was when the price would peak. A young member of Mr Prabhu’s extended family enthused over a Thanksgiving dinner that an $8,000 crypto investment he made had doubled in value.
“This is the ultimate thing that you hear about when you have a bubble, when the guy shining your shoes tells you what stock to buy,” the Visa executive said.

Bitcoin has collapsed from a pre-Christmas high above $19,000 to trade at about $8,100 but it is still up eight-fold from the start of last year, according to Bloomberg data.

Some of Mr Prabhu’s peers on Wall Street have become wary of speaking out. Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan Chase, said last month he regretted describing bitcoin as a “fraud” — not because he had changed his mind, but because it had become all anyone wanted to talk to him about.

Visa, which has a market capitalisation of $279bn, has been peppered with questions from analysts and investors about whether its model will be disrupted by emerging payment systems.

So far, it appears to have shrugged off any potential threat. Shares are up more than 1,000 per cent since its initial public offering 10 years ago next week, helped by the digitisation of global payments. 

The San Francisco-based group is experimenting with the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies. It is trialing a blockchain-based platform for banks to facilitate cross-border corporate payments.

 However, the company does not process or settle transactions in cryptocurrency itself. “With a currency issued by the Federal Reserve, I know who stands behind it,” Mr Prabhu said. With cryptocurrency, he said: “Who’s good for the money? Who the hell knows?”

Visa does not block consumers from using its network to buy cryptocurrency, although several banks that issue its cards have implemented such a ban.

The company also went to great lengths to comply with know-your-customer and anti-money laundering rules, Mr Prabhu said. “We shut people down immediately where we have even the whiff” of wrongdoing, he added.

In contrast, he said, cryptocurrencies were a “favourite” for criminals. “It’s very hard to get dirty money through a banking system. Cryptocurrency is phenomenal for all that stuff . . . Every crook and every dirty politician in the world, I bet, is in cryptocurrency.”

Chris Skinner, a financial technology author, said it was “complete rubbish” to suggest the main use of cryptocurrencies was criminal. “There is some criminal activity associated with some cryptocurrencies but it is quite minimal,” he said. “It’s a myth that the financial community want to promote.”

Mr Prabhu said: “My personal view is that cryptocurrencies are more speculative investment commodities than payment options, operating in a very unsettled regulatory environment. The markets are testing cryptocurrencies today with the volatile fluctuations we’ve seen recently. It’s early days and we’ll watch it very closely.”

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/ba6c2c40-285f-11e8-b27e-cc62a39d57a0