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Monday, 30 April 2018


Jojo (1974) by Gino Vannelli - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Jesu my lord
Won't you hear this cryin' soul
Messiah so kind
Won't you save this child of mine
Jo Jo oh my Jo Jo
Jo Jo he's my beautiful boy
He's my beautiful boy

And if he should die hold him near to you
'Cause my Jo Jo he's just a new born babe
Jo Jo oh my Jo Jo
Jo Jo you're such a beautiful boy
You're such a beautiful boy

R.I.P. Joan (30 April 1962 - 27 June 2016)

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Float On

Float On (1977) by The Floaters - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Aquarius, Libra, Leo, Cancer
Ralph, Charles, Paul, Larry

Float, float on
Float on, float on
Float, float, float on
Float on, float on

Float, float on
Float on, float on
Float, float, float on
Float on, float on

Float, float on
Float on, float on
Float, float, float on
Float on, float on

Aquarius, Libra, Leo, Cancer
Ralph, Charles, Paul, Larry

Aquarius and my name is Ralph
Now I like a woman who loves her freedom
And I like a woman who can hold her own
And if you fit that description, baby, come with me

Take my hand
Come with me, baby, to Love Land
Let me show you how sweet it could be
Sharing love with me, I want you to

Float, float on (come on, come on, come on)
Float on, float on
Float, float, float on
Float on, float on (float on)

Libra and my name is Charles
Now I like a woman that's quiet
A woman who carries herself like Miss Universe
A woman who would take me in her arms
And she would say, Charles, yeah
And if you fit that description
This is for you especially

Mmm, take my hand
Come with me, baby, to Love Land
Let me show you how sweet it could be
Sharing loving with me, I want you to

Float, float on
Float on, float on
Float, float, float on
Float on, float on

Leo and my name is Paul
You see I like all women of the world
You see to me all women are wild flowers
And if you understand what I'm sayin
I want you to

Mmm, take my hand
Come with me, baby, to Love Land
Let me show you how sweet it could be
Sharing love with me, I want you to

Float, float on
Float on, float on
Float, float, float on (float with Paul, y'all)
Float on, float on

Cancer and my name is Larry, huh
And I like a woman that loves everything and everybody
Because I love everybody and everything
And you know what, ladies, if you feel that this is you
Then this is what I want you to do

Ooh, yeah, take my hand
Let me take you to Love Land
Let me show you how sweet it could be
Sharing your love with Larry, listen

Float, float on
Float on, float on
Float, float, float on

Saturday, 28 April 2018

A sales ban of American technologies could bring down the Chinese economy (Forbes)

Analysis: ZTE's Collapse Reveals China's Huge Dependence On U.S. Technologies

"The most important lesson we learned this past week after the U.S. imposed a 7-year ban on the sale of American technologies to China's second largest telecommunications supplier ZTE (effectively killing the company), is that all the major Chinese companies - and China itself - are deeply dependent on U.S. technologies for their existence.

ZTE and Huawei of course, but also the BATX (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi), Didi (China's Uber), and the largest Chinese companies including ICBC, Bank of China, China Mobile, China Telecom, Petro China or SAIC Motor, just to name a few.

They all rely, in some way or another, on technologies, components, software and intellectual properties from many American companies like Apple, 3M, AMD, Applied Materials, Cisco, Corning, Google, Intel, Micron, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Seagate or Western Digital.

A sales ban of American technologies could bring down the Chinese economy

Although difficult to imagine, but not impossible at the current state of the US-China trade dispute, if the U.S. decides to extend the American technology ban to other - or all - Chinese firms, this could bring the entire Chinese economy to its knees.

A realization that Chinese president Xi Jinping had probably in mind when he announced the "Made in China 2025" initiative earlier this month with the intent to create Chinese champions in industries like information technology (IT), renewable energy, electric vehicle, and robots.

China's Plan B: Copy American technology

Technology independence is a noble goal.

And at its current pace, with extensive government subsidies, China could reach its objective of becoming self-sufficient in core technologies like processors, memories, storage, networking or wireless in the next 7-years, and even perhaps in just 5 years.

The bad news is, what do you do while waiting for your technology industry to catch up?

Luckily for China, there's a plan B.

It would most likely take 3 to 6 months for advanced Chinese tech companies to duplicate U.S. core hardware components and software, which most are already available in open source anyway.

Of course, that would be totally illegal and infringe on the intellectual property of U.S. companies if these products or components were to be sold outside of China.

However, inside of China, the local government would probably see this as fair game."


Author: Jean Baptiste is a Vice-President and Principal Analyst at Atherton Research, a global technology intelligence firm helping clients deliver successful go-to-market strategies.

Smart homes are a dystopian nightmare (FT)

"Jean-Pierre is an elderly, quite eccentric man from a village in the Auvergne region of France. His daughter and mine are about to move in together. When we met recently for the first time, he asked me what I write about. “Technology,” I said.

“I hate technology,” Jean-Pierre said. “I am glad I’ll be dead soon because I won’t have to think about it any more.”

Twenty-four hours later I found myself almost agreeing with him. I had visited a “smart home of the future” exhibit set up inside Unruly, a digital advertising company based in London. The purpose, explained Simon Gosling, the company’s in-house “futurist”, was to show how connected-home devices such as smart speakers and fridges could help brands acquire data that would allow them to target consumers accurately.

For example, Amazon Echo-type devices in the show apartment helpfully suggested brands to try, based on what they knew about owners’ conversations. So the Samsung fridge not only mentioned that the owners were running out of pesto, but also that Tesco had a deal on Napolina, or whatever. In the bedroom, the mirror was set up to run its eye over its owner and help out with fashion tips and brands, especially ones mentioned in casual conversation. And so on.

At a time when Big Tech is not popular, one would imagine they might be embarrassed about propagandising such tools. Even to a technophile like me, it seems like a template for a dystopian tomorrow.

But in the digital marketing world there is little queasiness about technology that blatantly snoops on consumers in their homes and tries to sell them stuff.

“We see the connected home as the next wave of marketing,” Mr Gosling says. “It’s going to be the most powerful canvas for advertising you’ve ever seen.”

You could hardly fault his honesty. The house that loves shopping — and is crazy about brands — seems to be popular in the marketing world.

“Since May of last year, we’ve had 3,000 [executives] across 300 brands and agencies visiting, up to CEO and CMO level,” says Mr Gosling. “They’ve come from some of the biggest names in banking, FMCG [fast moving consumer goods], automotive, food, groceries, fashion and beauty. Everyone wants a part of this story.”

Everyone would seem to include Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp bought Unruly for £114m in 2015.

Mr Gosling and his colleagues are personable and smart — smarter, indeed, than the technology, which in demonstration after demonstration was distinctly creaky, as well as creepy.

But even if they fix the glitches, will consumers invite what Unruly calls “ambient marketing” into their homes?

Smart speakers are good for a few functions. They are peerless kitchen timers. They are a convenient way of turning on the radio or listening to streamed music. They are good as hands-free calculators. 

But tech-heads tell me they are fed up with the smart, or connected, home. I chaired a panel recently in front of young Chinese would-be tech entrepreneurs. When a US speaker from a tech company said he was done with having to use an app or speak to a device just to put the kitchen lights on, the audience cheered. Anecdotal evidence this may be, but I found it compelling.

Apple has joined the smart speaker market with its HomePod. Sales are still rising, and are not expected to flatten until next year. But research so far suggests we are using smart speakers mostly for simple requests and news updates, rather than controlling our homes or — the marketers’ dream — shopping by voice.

But if ambient marketing ever becomes the norm, my smart speakers will be back in their boxes before you can say: “OK, Google.”

Last month, The New York Times reported that Amazon and Google have patent applications for software to monitor owners’ conversations for clues about consumer products we might be interested in.

In one patent application, Amazon described a “voice sniffer algorithm”, which could listen out for words such as “love”, bought” or “dislike”.

This is all getting uncomfortably close to HAL 9000, the intelligent computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even now, I am starting to think that if I were discussing something secret or nefarious, I would be sure to do so away from the smart speaker, just as the astronauts in 2001 discussed their plans away from HAL.

The astronauts forgot that HAL had cameras and could lip-read — with catastrophic consequences. The latest generation of smart speakers, ominously perhaps, have cameras as well as microphones. 

Amazon and Google maintained their patents were only ideas with no plans for release — “moonshots”, as they are sometimes called in Silicon Valley. But however much brands fancy monitoring us round the clock, I find it hard to imagine even the dumbest people on earth will willingly bug themselves for the benefit of a great egg timer or a fridge that buys food.

I don’t hate technology like Jean-Pierre, but neither do I believe I am wrong in saying ambient marketing is a wrong turn for tech." Article written by 


Friday, 27 April 2018

Drivers of Change

Writing about the Drivers of Change is perhaps too ambitious. We may not even be aware of some of these drivers. An Arup Foresight article pointed me towards a new driver of change: convergence of business, science and technology. However, convergence (towards intelligent life) also seems to be a main driver in the blueprint of Life, Nature and probably the Universe.

Climate change is a common example of a driver of change. I'm not talking about man-made climate change because climate change is far too complex for humans to understand. Of the 9 known causes of climate change, 2 relate to the Universe (meteoroids, Sun), 1 partly to humans (greenhouse gases), and the other 6 are "earthbound": axis, CO2 in oceans, ocean currents, orbit, plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions, and vegetation coverage on land (BGS).

The 4 remaining drivers of change are human inflicted and, moreover, are also interconnected: Beliefs (ie, the 7 Belief systems), Language, Technology, and Urbanization. Without language, humans would still be "just another" primate species (the Naked Ape, a Desmond Morris book).

Language allowed the development of human beliefs. Else, humans would still be in the Needs stage (all Life), or in the Wants stage of Life (species using tools). Although some animal species appear to show religious behaviour, humans are the only species that have developed 7 distinct Belief systems: Love, Money, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science and the Truth.

Both Technology and Urbanization would not have been possible without these 7 human Belief systems (and obviously Language also).

Both Technology and Urbanization have caused various derivative drivers of Change (see my diagram).

While the impact of Technology on human societies is rather clear, the impact of Urbanization (my blogs) has long been underestimated.

Only recently, water management in megacities is becoming an immediate problem (eg, 2004 article, RG 2005, RG 2006, WWF 2011).

"The nature and structure of belief systems is important from the perspective of an informational theorist because beliefs are thought to provide the cognitive foundation of an attitude. In order to change an attitude, then, it is presumably necessary to modify the information on which that attitude rests. It is generally necessary, therefore, to change a person's beliefs, eliminate old beliefs or introduce new beliefs." A quote by Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo from their 1981 book Attitudes & Persuasion.

Drive (1984) by The Cars - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

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

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The paradox of limiting free speech to defend free speech

On 6 April 2018, the American liberal news organisation NPR published a newsletter with the intriguing heading: Should free speech be limited? Also see this liberal PBS 2013 article. The NPR topics caught my interest. Limiting free speech, in order to defend free speech, appears to be the newest weapon against disinformation, fake news, and hoaxes.

In March 2015, the EU decided to create the East StratCom Task Force "to address Russia's ongoing disinformation campaigns". Its website is called EU vs Disinfo and features an article about the Russian (pro-Kremlin) TV broadcaster RT, which may lose its UK broadcasting license.

In February 2018, the flipside of this EU initiative became clear. FT: "The site sparked criticism when it cited articles on the websites of Dutch media groups De Gelderlander, GeenStijl and The Post Online. After complaints by the publishers, Dutch MPs and the country’s liberal interior minister, EU vs Disinfo announced on March 8 that it was removing the pieces from its disinformation database." Also see DutchNews.

Limiting free speech, in order to defend free speech, feels like an oxymoron (eg, jumbo shrimp, open secret). Wiki: "An oxymoron is a rhetorical device that uses an ostensible self-contradiction to illustrate a rhetorical point or to reveal a paradox".

Philosophy (eg, democracy) and Politics (eg, Liberalism) are 2 of the 7 Belief systems. The other 5 Belief systems are Love, Money, Religion, Science and the Truth.

One of the perceived pillars of democracy is free speech.

Developing extreme beliefs is a mere consequence of having beliefs.

An extreme belief like authoritarianism doesn't believe in free speech. It believes in undermining free speech through disinformation, fake news, and hoaxes.

The irony of democracy and/or Liberalism is that advocating free speech will ultimately result in pleas for restricting free speech in order to defend democracy and Liberalism. Perhaps this is why Socrates predicted that tyranny would emerge from democracy (my 2017 blog).

The irony of authoritarianism is that they need democracy to gain power. Once in power, they "use the power [they] won in elections to essentially dismantle the country's democracy" (eg, New Republic-2011). Feel free to identify the relevant countries.

Ironic (1996) by Alanis Morissette - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

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

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Artificial sweeteners linked to diabetes and obesity (the Conversation)

"Many countries have introduced a sugar tax in order to improve the health of their citizens. As a result, food and drink companies are changing their products to include low and zero-calorie sweeteners instead of sugar. However, there is growing evidence that sweeteners may have health consequences of their own.

New research from the US, presented at the annual Experimental Biology conference in San Diego, found a link with consuming artificial sweeteners and changes in blood markers linked with an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in rats. Does this mean we need to ditch sweeteners as well as sugar?

Sweeteners are generally “non-nutritive” substances meaning we can’t use them for energy. Some of these compounds are entirely synthetic chemicals, produced to mimic the taste of sugar. These include saccharin, sucralose and aspartame. Others sweeteners are refined from chemicals found in plants, such as stevia and xylitol. Collectively, sweeteners are being consumed in increasing amounts with most diet or low-calorie food and drink containing some form of non-nutritive sweetener.

Combating or fuelling the obesity crisis?

Artificially sweetened foods and drinks have become popular largely due to the growing worldwide obesity crisis. As sugar contains four calories per gram, sweet foods and drinks are normally highly calorific. In principle, by removing these calories we reduce energy intake and this helps to prevent weight gain.

Increasingly, however, evidence suggests that consuming artificially sweetened products might be associated with an increased risk of being overweight or obese, although this is controversial. If true, it suggests that using sweeteners is fuelling, not fighting obesity. Research has suggested that consuming lots of artificial sweeteners scrambles the bacteria in our gut, causing them to make our bodies less tolerant to glucose, the main building-block of sugar.

The new research, from the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University, looked at some biological effects of sweeteners in rats and in cell cultures. They wanted to know if artificial sweeteners affect how food is used and stored. These are called metabolic changes and the research combined many different aspects of metabolism to build an overall picture.

The team also looked at the impact of sweeteners on blood vessel health by studying how these substances affect the cells that form the inner lining of blood vessels.

The scientists gave rats food that was high in either sugar (glucose or fructose) or calorie-free artificial sweeteners (aspartame or acesulfame potassium). After three weeks they saw significant negative changes in both groups of rats. These changes included the concentrations of blood lipids (fats).

They also found that acesulfame potassium, in particular, accumulated in the blood and harmed the cells that line blood vessels. The study authors state that these changes are “linked to obesity and diabetes”. These results suggest that consuming sweeteners change how the body processes fat and gets its energy at a cellular level.

Limit your intake

What does this mean for the average consumer of artificial sweeteners? As the study was performed in animals and not humans it would be wrong to draw firm conclusions about what might happen in people. The findings of the study do, however, add to the growing body of research that suggests that sweeteners are not benign alternatives to sugar.

The European Food Safety Authority suggests a daily limit to most artificial sweeteners of around five milligrams per kilogram of body weight, per day. With so many foods including artificial sweeteners now, it is relatively easy to reach this limit.

It is important to note that not all sweeteners are equal. This recent study focused on artificial sweeteners, like most of the research that has identified negative effects. Some sweeteners are associated with health benefits.

Stevia, for example, has been shown to improve blood pressure and glucose tolerance while xylitol has been shown to help prevent tooth decay. This means that choosing the type of sweetener that you use may be more important than choosing a sweetener over sugar.

It is likely that the best advice is the blandest: everything in moderation. There is no such thing as good or bad food, only good or bad amounts. Maybe avoid consuming too much of either sugar or sweetener, especially in drinks."


Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The speed-accuracy trade-off

“Alles wat goed is, komt snel” is a less familiar Dutch saying (eg, AD, Proz, SO). In general, "all what is good, comes quickly" usually refers to new (sports) talent. It could also be about decisions on emotional affairs, like a new friendship or love at first sight. There's no similar English proverb.

There is, however, an English proverb that suggests the exact opposite: "All [good] things come to those who wait". The Dutch version is: “alle goede dingen komen langzaam” (DBNL). I used the word suggest as the underlying meanings are not the same. The 2nd proverb relates more to tangible items while the 1st relates to emotions and/or talents, which are intangible.

The 1st proverb also has an inverse: if something (eg, a decision) doesn’t come quickly then our mind isn’t sure whether it feels good. There’s a conflict between ratio (conscious) and emotion (subconscious). Our common solution is delaying, indecision, postponing, and procrastinating.

Both proverbs relate to the psychological phenomenon of the "speed-accuracy trade-off" (eg, Wiki-1Wiki-2Wiki-3Wiki-4). For an explanation, please read the 2014 Aeon article by Stephen Fleming, Principal Research Associate at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London: "Forget being boldly decisive, let your brain take its time".

In this speed-accuracy trade-off, emotional decisions (eg, friendship, love, talent) are taken in milliseconds, while decisions on buying expensive items may take days (eg, car) or months (eg, house). Hence, both proverbs do not contradict each other.

The mind must make very many decisions on a daily basis. The volume of decisions requires efficiency and effectivity (ie, speed). The impact of any decision requires that the mind must minimise negative consequences, like regret (ie, accuracy). The trade-off is the mathematical function between speed and accuracy (eg, curve, graph, line).

In this day and age, the speed-accuracy trade-off is under pressure. Aeon-2014: “Whether lingering too long over the menu at a restaurant, or abrupt U-turns by politicians, flip-flopping does not have a good reputation. By contrast, quick, decisive responses are associated with competency: they command respect. Acting on gut feelings without agonising over alternative courses of action has been given scientific credibility by popular books []”.

Aeon-2014: “Crucially, however, this neural flip-flopping is not something to be avoided. Instead, flip-flopping is an overt behavioural sign of the brain’s weighing of evidence for and against a decision. [] The speed-accuracy trade-off indicates that there can be negative consequences from being too decisive. Quicker decisions are often associated with more errors and greater potential for regret further down the line.”

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.” A quote by William James (1842-1910), American philosopher and psychologist.

Your Decision (2009) by Alice in Chains - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

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

Monday, 23 April 2018

Multivitamins are not only ineffective, but dangerous (Big Think)

"For many years, when my doctor would ask what vitamins or supplements I consume on a regular basis, I would reply by saying "a multivitamin." Never once in all those years did she (or he; I’ve bounced around a bit) ask what type of vitamins were included in the cocktail. No question of percentages, minerals, vitamins—just a head nod and a mouse click.

A few years ago I stopped saying "multivitamin" because I stopped taking one, and he (or she) never asked why, recommended advice, anything. They simply unchecked the box.

For more than half of Americans—68 percent of adults over age 65—a multivitamin (among a few, or many, supplements) is part of the daily ritual. Overloading your body with five or ten times the recommended daily allowance of this or that vitamin is treated as folk wisdom. It’s such basic science that questioning it seems like a complete waste of a thought.

Problem is, the National Institute of Health spent $2.4 billion studying vitamins and supplements only to find out they really don’t work. As Pieter A. Cohen writes in JAMA: "During the past 2 decades, a steady stream of high-quality studies evaluating dietary supplements has yielded predominantly disappointing results about potential health benefits, whereas evidence of harm has continued to accumulate."

This includes clinical trials showing that vitamin E, once promoted as heart healthy, actually increases your risk of heart failure and prostate cancer. Multivitamins do not prevent cancer and heart disease; St John’s wort will do nothing for your depression; Echinacea is no match for the common cold. In smokers, beta-carotene increases the risk of lung cancer.

A large part of the problem is how comfortable we are swallowing pills with no understanding of what they contain. Whenever we feel slightly off we immediately imagine the pill that will alleviate the distress. Pain, however, is a sign that something is wrong. Ignoring the signal doesn’t solve the problem, it only prolongs the agony.

Since multivitamins have predominantly been marketed as healthy or, at the furthest end of the spectrum, benign, we’ve overlooked the fact that many are, in the long run, damaging. No vitamin or mineral is without effect. Because we don’t exactly understand how these pills operate should not mean we want to pop as many of them as possible.

Cohen points out that while vitamin and supplement bottles must include the standard “not evaluated by the FDA” jargon, most eyes pass right over the small print, instead focusing on unproven health claims scripted in bold, bright letters.

This has caused a number of researchers to remind us that we get all the vitamins we need on our plates. Even those eating a “Western” diet— which is the culprit of America’s obesity epidemic—achieve the basic requirements our bodies require. There is simply no proven track record showing that the isolation of certain vitamins from the foods that contain them is beneficial.

This is not to say some people don't require certain vitamins or minerals for a variety of issues. That's a different case from overloading your body with a flood of them hoping something works.

As Marjorie McCullough, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology for the American Cancer Society, is paraphrased in the NY Times: "It’s possible that the chemicals in the fruits and vegetables on your plate work together in ways that scientists don’t fully understand—and which can’t be replicated in a tablet."

Physician Paul Offit agrees. In study after study Offit shows that cancer and heart disease rates increase with the consumption of vitamins and supplements. A few examples:
  • A 1996 study in Seattle of 18,000 people showed that people exposed to asbestos who were taking megavitamins with large doses of vitamin A and beta-carotene were 28 percent more at risk of developing lung cancer and 17 percent more at risk for developing heart disease. 
  • A 2004 study in Copenhagen conducted 14 randomized trials with 170,000 people and discovered that those taking large amounts of vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene were more likely to develop intestinal cancer. 
  • A 2005 study at John Hopkins School of Medicine performed a meta-analysis of 19 studies with over 136,000 people. Those taking megavitamins were at an increased risk of early death. 
  • Another 2005 study of 9,000 people published in JAMA found increased risks of cancer and heart disease in those taking large doses of vitamin E. 
  • A 2011 study at the Cleveland Clinic involving 36,000 men found a 17 percent increased risk of prostate cancer in those consuming vitamin E and/or selenium.
Regarding the antioxidant craze—and certain levels of them are healthy—Offit notes that oxidation is required to “kill new cancer cells and clear clogged arteries.” Overloading on antioxidants reduces your body’s ability to do this.

Fruits and vegetables contain many other ingredients that appear to, as McCullough mentions above, boost the efficacy of vitamins. Offit continues: "Half of an apple has the antioxidant activity of 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C, even though it contains only 5.7 milligrams of the vitamin. That’s because the phytochemicals that surround vitamin C in apples enhance its effect."

American regulatory bodies have been too lax in their policing of vitamin and supplement manufacturers. Many are either blatantly lying or ignorant of the science behind the products they’re selling. The dietary supplement industry raked in over $32 billion in 2012, most of which profited from junk science, or at best, unproven claims. That’s great business for those companies. Unfortunately, it’s terrible for us."


Sunday, 22 April 2018

Lazy Sunday (Afternoon)

Lazy Sunday (Afternoon) (1968) by the Small Faces - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Wouldn't it be nice to get on wiv me neighbours( da da da do)
But they make it very clear they've got no room for ravers

They stop me from groovin', they bang on me wall
They're doin' me crust in it's no good at all

Lazy sunday afternoon, I've got no mind to worry, close my eyes and
Drift away, Close my eyes and drift away

Here we all are sittin' in a rainbow(da da da do)
Gor blimey hello missus Jones hows your old Bert's lumbago?
He mustn't grumble, Tweedle dee bite
I'll sing you a song with no words and no tune
Tweedle dee bite
I'll sing at your party while you souse out the moon, oh yeah

Lazy Sunday afternoon, I got no mind to worry
Close my eyes and drift away, Close my eyes and drift away
Close my eyes and drift away

Aroo de de de do
Aroo de de de dido

Theres no one to see me theres nothin' to say
And no one can stop me from feelin' this way

Lazy Sunday afternoon I've got no mind to worry
Close my eyes and drift away
Close my eyes and drift away
Close my eyes and drift away

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Money as a Belief system - an example

FT title: Sudden loss of wealth raises risk of earlier death, study shows

"People who rapidly lost 75% of assets found to be 50% more likely to die within 20 years"

"People who suddenly lose most of their wealth die significantly younger than those who hang on to their assets, according to a large US study relating health to financial changes during middle and old age.

Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that people who lose three-quarters or more of their total wealth within a two-year period are 50 per cent more likely to die in the next 20 years.

This rise in mortality risk “is similar to the increase associated with a new diagnosis of coronary heart disease”, said Alan Garber, professor of health policy at Harvard University.

“We found losing your life savings has a profound effect on a person’s long-term health,” said Lindsay Pool of Northwestern, the study’s lead author. “The most surprising finding was that having wealth and losing it is almost as bad for your life expectancy as never having wealth.”

There is a large body of evidence showing poorer people suffer more illness and die younger than their richer counterparts. But little was previously known about the long-term health consequences of what the researchers call “negative wealth shocks”, such as a sharp fall in value of a home or investment portfolio or a business failure.

They analysed data from 8,700 participants in the US National Institute on Ageing health and retirement study. This follows the health and financial circumstances of a representative group of Americans aged between 51 and 61 when the project started in 1992.

As far as possible the authors excluded factors likely to trigger a sudden loss of wealth, such as pre-existing illness, loss of employment or marital disruption, in order to isolate the health impact of the wealth shock itself.

The likely causes of the increased death risk fall into two categories. One is the direct health impact of rapid impoverishment, such as increasing stress hormone levels, loss of psychological balance, and excessive drinking and other substance abuse. The other, particularly applicable under the US healthcare system, is no longer being able to pay for adequate medical treatment.

“These people suffer a mental health toll because of the financial loss as well as pulling back from medical care because they can’t afford it,” said Dr Pool.

Doctors need to be sensitive to patients’ financial circumstances, she added: “It’s something they need to ask about, to understand if their patients may be at an increased health risk.”

The researchers will now investigate the mechanisms that can turn a big financial loss into a killer, asking “why are people dying, and can we intervene at some point in a way that might reverse the course of that increased risk”, Dr Pool said."


Friday, 20 April 2018

La Casa de Papel

I have waited writing this review until the very last episode of season 2 of La Casa de Papel a.k.a. Money Heist (#8.8 in IMDb). I just couldn’t imagine that this Netflix series would not ultimately disappoint. It did not. La Casa de Papel might be one of the best TV series ever. This week Netflix announced that the worldwide success of this series warrants a new season 3.

Initially, I ignored this series based upon its description. It seemed just another crime story. I was sold after having watched episode 1. The filming is rather slow and sucks you into the captivating story of a bank heist on the Spanish Royal Mint, where they print Euro bills.

The object of the heist (ie, the Mint) allows for philosophical arguments whether its theft or not: nothing existing will be stolen. The heist also allows for political arguments on the bailout of European banks by the European Central Bank (ECB) through printing new money. The heist is most of all about the psychological cat-and-mouse game between the police and the “thieves”.

There is a resemblance with one of the best crime movies ever: Heat (1995, IMDb). Both main characters are experts in meticulous planning of their jobs and also denounce violence. The psychological warfare between Al Pacino (police) and Robert De Niro (thief) in Heat, resembles the fight between the Professor and the female Spanish police inspector.

There’s also a resemblance with another superb heist-like movie: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999, IMDb). This resemblance is about the romantic interest between Pierce Brosnan (gentleman thief) and Rene Russo (insurance detective).

La Casa de Papel does not decide who is bad and good. Characters on both sides are bad and good. My empathy was shifting according to the hourly developments in the heist (eg, betrayal, treatment of hostages). My empathy towards the Mint director was shifting many times. That’s a remarkable accomplishment. Characters are clearly not 1-dimensional.

The meticulous planning of the heist does not take into account human relationships, like in real life. They do, however, develop and threaten the Professor's plan. The Stockholm syndrome creates additional relationships between thieves and hostages.

Similar to the movie Heat, the tv series La Casa de Papel is not about gun violence, despite the incidental shootings and the Heat like finale. The sympathy of the Spanish population for the thieves is crucial in their plan; violence is not. This ingredient is also part of their political views: losers against winners.

Until the end of season 2, the Professor remains a mystery (eg, fragile youth, martial arts, meticulous planning, Russian language, Serbian comrades). Season 3 might explain who the Professor really is. La Casa de Papel is extraordinary good and a must-see.

My Life Is Going On (2017) by Cecilia Krull - OST La Casa de Papel (lyricsvideo)

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

Thursday, 19 April 2018

IMF sounds alarm on excessive global borrowing (FT)

"The IMF on Wednesday sounded the alarm on excessive global borrowing, warning that with a total of $164tn owed, the world’s public and private sectors are deeper in debt than at the height of the financial crisis a decade ago.

Global debt is now more than twice the size of the value of goods and services produced every year and at 225 per cent of global gross domestic product, it is now 12 percentage points higher than at its previous peak in 2009.

The fund said there was now an urgent need to reduce the burden of debt in both the private and public sectors to improve the resilience of the global economy and provide greater firefighting capability if things went wrong.

“Fiscal stimulus to support demand is no longer the priority,” the IMF said in its latest Fiscal Monitor, one of the reports published at its Spring meetings in Washington.

Half of the $164tr global public and private sector debt is accounted for by three countries: the US, Japan and China. The latter, where debt surged from $1.7tr in 2001 to $25.5tr in 2016, was described as the “driving force” behind the increase in global debts, accounting for three-quarters of the rise in private sector debt in the past decade.

Vitor Gaspar, director of fiscal affairs at the IMF, singled out the US for criticism, saying it was the only advanced country that was not planning to have a falling burden of debt because tax cuts would keep public borrowing high.

“We urge policymakers to avoid pro-cyclical policy actions that provide unnecessary stimulus when economic activity is already pacing up,” he said.

The fund was concerned that private sector debts make the global economy more vulnerable to a new financial crisis started by “an abrupt deleveraging process” where borrowers all tighten their belts simultaneously, sending the economy into a nosedive.

“In the event of a financial crisis, a weak fiscal position increases the depth and duration of the ensuing recession, as the ability to conduct countercyclical fiscal policy is significantly curtailed,” the fund said.

With the global economy growing strongly, it recommended countries stop using lower taxes or higher public spending to stimulate growth and instead try to reduce the burden of public sector debts so that countries have more leeway to act in the next recession.

The IMF singled out the Trump administration’s tax cuts for criticism, since they left the US with a deficit of 5 per cent of national income into the medium term and a persistently rising level of debt in GDP.

“In the United States . . . fiscal policy should be recalibrated to ensure that the government debt-to-GDP ratio declines over the medium term. This should be achieved by mobilising higher revenues and gradually curbing public spending dynamics, while shifting its composition toward much-needed infrastructure investment.”

There is no sign that the Trump administration has any intention of increasing taxes as the IMF recommends and, instead, hopes that faster growth will supply the necessary revenues, something the fund and the US fiscal watchdog thinks is highly unlikely.

The debt problem is not limited to advanced economies, with middle-income countries racking up borrowing higher than that which led to the debt crises of the 1980s.

The IMF recommended that countries raise taxes and lower public spending to decrease annual borrowing and get the burden of debt on a firmly downward path now that there is no need for fiscal stimulus.

The few exceptions to that advice included Germany and the Netherlands, which the IMF said had “ample fiscal space” to boost public investment in infrastructure and enhance the long-term resilience of their economies."


Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Convergent evolution, humanoid sapiens & the Singularity

There are 2 views on evolution, either random chance or convergent evolution. Please also see my 2015 blog: the AND/OR dilemma. I typically believe in AND, not in OR. The combination of random chance within convergent evolution may bring some surprises, while the general blueprint of Life remains intact. Also see my 2018 blog: history and nature always repeat itself.

It’s difficult to understand how random chance would ever result in (balanced) ecosystems. It would rather cause chaos and unpredictabilityWiki: “Chaos theory is [] focusing on the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. [] Small differences in initial conditions [] yield widely diverging outcomes for such dynamical systems, rendering long-term prediction of their behavior impossible in general.”

Earth’s evolution did see mass extinction events which, however, resulted in more diversity and also smaller organisms. Somehow, there should be a link with plate tectonics, continental drift and break-ups (eg, Pangea), island biogeography and island gigantism.

The convergent evolution hypothesis is gaining ground as there seems to be a blueprint in Nature, geared towards intelligent life (my 2018 blog). Analysis of genetic mutations reveal that genetic mutations keep coming back in Earth’s evolutionary history (the Conversation). Flying (birds), swimming (fish), and walking (mammals) are examples of this convergent evolution.

It’s tempting to view humans and their use of technology as a next stage in this convergent evolution. In 2005, Ray Kurzweil wrote his book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. It's about the synthesis of humans and technology. Examples: prosthetic limbs, powered exoskeletons, augmented reality glasses, 3D organ printing, soft robotics.

Transhumanism is the "international intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellect and physiology". Please also see my blogs on Transhumanism.

Without technology, all species are doomed to fail in evolution. This is also called the Great Filter hypothesis (my 2017 blog). The Singularity is probably the only way for humans to escape this planet and to become a species unrestricted by its home planet. It’s not a farfetched thought that such an escape may actually be an integral part of convergent evolution.

In other words, the convergent evolution of homo sapiens may also bring us the (Technological) Singularity in which man and machine become singular - a.k.a. humanoid sapiens.

Man is to technology what the bee is to the flower. It’s man’s intervention that allows technology to expand and evolve itself and in return, technology offers man convenience, wealth and the lessening burden of physical labor via its automated systems.” A quote by James Scott.

Singularity (2014) by New Order - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

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

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

From Imperialism to Globalism to Nationalism and Back

Lately, I’ve been reading about the decline of the Nation-State (eg, GuardianNRC). To my surprise, they use the surge in Nationalism as evidence for this decline. Perhaps, there’s a definition issue as Nationalism should be evidence to the contrary. Federalism, Globalism and Imperialism are evidence of a decline (of the importance of) the Nation-State.

Before the 19th century, several European imperialist countries ruled the international waves for several centuries (eg, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, UK). The 19th and 20th century were largely an ideological fight between Labour (Left) and Capital (Conservatives, Liberalism). Since the 21st century, there is a new ideological fight between Globalism and Nationalism (my blogs).

These ideological fights seem eternal. The duration of these cycles is, however, shortening due to the impact of Technology (Technological Revolution of 1800-2100). The resulting Change is hard for us humans as we prefer a status quo. Unfortunately for many, Change is the default of Life and the sooner we accept this, the easier our life will become.

Perhaps, it’s a coincidence that Nationalism is on the rise in former imperialist countries (eg, China, Hungary, Poland (both Habsburg), Russia, Turkey, UK, USA). I doubt that. The continued decline in (former) Imperialism, and thus international relevance, may well cause this surge in Nationalism, as a kind of psychological compensation. Hidden message: We are still relevant!

Recent history shows several unsuccessful attempts to reclaim imperialism (France 1812, Germany 1914 and 1939).

The 21st century is showing some indications of a willingness to restore old empires (eg, Silk Road, Ottoman). Others may follow their path (eg, Persia, Soviet Union).

The EU may either be torn apart by Nationalism in Eastern Europe (eg, Hungary, Poland), or become a Federation while mimicking imperialist aspirations.

Given the current French-German (!!) axis in Europe, the latter makes more sense than the first.

History feels like repeating itself and that’s what’s genuinely worrying.

History Repeating (1997) by the Propellerheads featuring Shirley Bassey

The word is about, there's something evolving,
whatever may come, the world keeps revolving
They say the next big thing is here,
that the revolution's near,
but to me it seems quite clear
that it's all just a little bit of history repeating

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

Monday, 16 April 2018

Know thyself a.k.a. Who am I?

A human body consists of some 37.2 trillion cells, which rejuvenate about every 7 years. Still, we believe that we are just "1". We call this phenomenon the inner or true Self. Biologically, the inner Self cannot be located; neither in the brain nor anywhere else. If only because our brain consists of some "100 billions of neurons, interconnected via trillions of synapses".

On the ancient Greek temple of Apollo at Delphi is written: Know thyself. In other words: Who am I? For many people, this question is difficult to answer. Often we state our character traits instead, a.k.a. What am I? The sum of these traits may give an indication to Who we are, if answered with accuracy, completeness, relevance, and timeliness (eg, NCBI, Wiki).

The Who, What, When, Where and How questions follow the Why question, because everything follows Why (my 2017 blog). Why is it important to Know thyself? We tend to self-deceive by pretending to be different than we really are (eg, Nautilus). We may even believe in our self-deception. Self-deception will give an insincere answer to the question: Who am I?

The layer of self-deception may disappear when being alone. There’s no need for pretending as there is no group to blend in. Adversity is another situation in which humans may reveal their true colours. However, Abraham Lincoln allegedly stated: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”

In 1887, Lord Acton may have referred to the (alleged) Lincoln quote by stating: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”

In Sumerian beliefs and Zoroastrianism, the Soul is either good or bad. This translates in good or bad intentions, words, and deeds. A good Soul defines a good person and vice versa. Answering the Who am I question, is still not easy as there are many shades of gray between bad and good.

We perceive bad and good as a judgment. Therefore, it feels uncanny to judge yourself. This may explain why it's hard for us answering the question: Who am I? By stating our (positive) character traits, we hope that others will assume that we are a “good" person.

In The Good Place (IMDb), 4 dead people assume they were “good" persons while alive. It hurts when they (slowly) find out that they were not good. Interestingly, “The Good Place” also uses the consistency between deeds, words and intentions. Good deeds with bad intentions lower your score in life - and afterlife. Bad deeds with good intentions may work similar (eg, white lies).

It’s not easy to live a life based upon good intentions, good words and good deeds. Hence, it’s not easy to qualify yourself as a good person with a good Soul. This may, again, explain our difficulty in answering the question: Who am I? Self-deception is our “friend” in those situations.

We may create an alter ego (a.k.a. other self) - or a "mask" - for external consumption to hide our true self. We probably have different “masks” for different situations, like in a relationship and/or at work. Over time, we may get confused between our inner ego and our outer alter ego. This confusion will create an imbalance between Body, Mind and Soul. Hence, know thyself.

True Colors (1986) by Cyndi Lauper - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

But I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful,
Like a rainbow

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

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Viva Love

Viva Love (2016) by ABC

[Verse 1]
You think the world will melt if you whistle
There's a certain spring in your stride
You face the future like a heat-seeking missile
You've got yourself a smile a mile wide

Viva love
Viva love, viva love, viva love
Viva love
Viva, viva
Viva love

[Verse 2]
When lightning strikes you don't look for shelter
You're floating free, gravity defied
It's hell for leather on a helter skelter
Just steel your nerves for a bright white knuckle ride

[Chorus x2]
Viva love
Viva love, viva love, viva love
Viva love
Viva, viva
Viva love
Viva love, viva love, viva love
Viva love
Viva, viva
Viva love

In the battle of the sexes
Victory's denied
I'm charging your tanks
With slingshots and knives

My troops they retreat
And run for their lives
I'm facing defeat
But somehow love survives

[Chorus x2]
Viva love
Viva love, viva love, viva love
Viva love
Viva, viva
Viva love
Viva love, viva love, viva love
Viva love
Viva, viva
Viva love

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Archaeologists find 4,000-year-old Sumerian port (Haaretz)

"The ancient harbor uncovered near Ur, homeland of Abraham, is the oldest port found in Iraq and shows the Sumerians weren't only good farmers, they were skilled sailors too."

"Archaeologists digging in southern Iraq have uncovered the remains of a large harbor built more than 4,000 years ago by the Sumerians. The discovery confirms that the Sumerians, best known for creating one of the world's earliest civilizations based on farming, had advanced seafaring skills too and were trading with distant lands, including the Indian subcontinent.

Since 2011, an Italian expedition has been investigating the ancient site of Abu Tbeirah, located in Dhi Qar, a southern Iraqi province relatively less affected by the country’s recent conflict with the Islamic State group. The map shows the settlement to be in the middle of a desert plain, but back then, it would have been by the coast. Abu Tbeirah, archaeologists believe, was a “satellite” town of Ur – the ancient Sumerian capital and traditional birthplace of the biblical patriarch Abraham – which lies some 15 kilometers to the west.

It was while preparing the site for the 2016 digging season that archaeologists chanced upon a fox’s burrow on the northwestern corner of the ancient town. Peering into the animal’s lair, they made a discovery that highlights a so-far neglected side of the Sumerians, who are better known as farmers who created one of the earliest recorded human civilizations along the fertile banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, starting around the fifth millennium B.C.E.

“We weren’t looking for a harbor,” says archaeologist Licia Romano. “But one day, during a survey of the site, we saw this fox hole, and looking inside it we caught a glimpse of some clay bricks, which told us there was an ancient structure there.”

Over the next two years, the researchers uncovered massive brick ramparts that surrounded docks and an artificial basin connected to a canal that bisected the town, Romano said Wednesday during a presentation of the discovery at La Sapienza University in Rome.

Sumerian ports are mentioned in cuneiform tablets, and some can be discerned in satellite images. But the third-millennium B.C.E. structure at Abu Tbeirah is the oldest harbor ever excavated in Iraq, Romano says.

Archaeologists have dug up smaller river ports in the nearby ruins of Ur itself, but they date to some 2,000 years later, she added.

Trading with India

Finding a port town at Abu Tbeirah might seem incongruous, given that today the site sits in the midst of an arid plain, with the sea lying about 200 kilometers to the southeast. But that’s mainly because the rivers of Mesopotamia have been dumping tons of silt into the Persian Gulf for millennia, pushing back the coastline. In Sumer's heyday, more than 4,000 years ago, Abu Tbeirah would have been almost on the coast, surrounded by marshland and a mix of natural and artificial canals, traces of which can still be seen in satellite images, Romano notes.

Similar wetlands can be found today to the southeast, around the modern port city of Basra, where the Tigris and Euphrates meet to form a huge delta.

The maritime nature of the ancient settlement of Abu Tbeirah is also confirmed by the fact that archaeologists found relatively little evidence of grains, the staple food for most Sumerians, but did find large quantities of fish bones, both river species and ocean fauna such as mackerel and manta ray.

They also found evidence of trade such as vases made of alabaster, a stone not found in Mesopotamia, and parts of a necklace in a style that was typical of the Indus Valley civilization, which was also flourishing at that time.

“We are certain that they had contacts with Iran and the Indus Valley,” says Franco D’Agostino, an Assyriologist from La Sapienza who co-directs the dig with Romano. “Finding the port helps us look in a different way at the economy of the Sumerian cities, highlighting an element that was never put in the spotlight.”

The harbor was about five meters deep and had a volume equivalent to more than nine Olympic swimming pools, says D’Agostino. Sitting near the Euphrates River close to where it spilled into the sea at the time, the harbor may have also functioned as a freshwater reservoir in times of drought or as a flood control area, he says.

No remains of ships have emerged from the dig, at least yet, so it is not clear what kind of vessels operated from the port, D’Agostino said. But the harbor, which occupies a “disproportionate” area of the small town, was surely a key hub for the entire area. Thanks to the canals, ships would have had direct access to the sea as well as to Ur inland and the more distant Sumerian city of Uruk, he said.

The site known today as Abu Tbeirah (we don’t know what the Sumerians called it) has existed since at least 2,900 B.C.E., but it reached its greatest expansion during the Akkadian period, between the 24th and the 22nd century B.C.E. It was during this period that the Akkadians, coming from northern Mesopotamia and led by the famed king Sargon and his successors, conquered the Sumerian cities of the south and created one of history’s first recorded empires.

Around 2200 B.C.E., the Akkadian empire collapsed, and the Sumerians regained their independence – but by this time Abu Tbeirah’s size and importance were waning. The town was abandoned shortly before the turn of the millennium, never to be inhabited again.

The reason for the abandonment may be connected to the Akkadian collapse, and to a shift in climate that occurred largely at the same time and is known to scholars as the “4.2 kiloyear event.” This was a prolonged period of extreme drought that struck around 4,200 years ago and that some scholars see as a major factor in the fall of some early civilizations, including the Akkadians and Egypt’s Old Kingdom, which had built the pyramids just a few centuries earlier. Analyses of fossilized pollen have shown that the drought hit an area ranging from the Mediterranean to northern Mesopotamia.

There is no data on whether disaster also befell what is today southern Iraq, said D’Agostino. However, clearly, if it did, "a mega-drought would have negatively impacted a town that was closely connected to such a fragile ecosystem as the marshlands,” he observes. Future research at the site will include trying to confirm whether the 4.2 kiloyear event did indeed play a part in the end of Abu Tbeirah’s nearly 1,000-year-old existence, D’Agostino says. Archaeologists also plan to continue investigating the port, he added, excavating a building that may have been the harbor’s administrative center, and hoping to find remains of ships."