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Thursday, 31 May 2018

You don’t have a right to believe whatever you want to (Aeon)

"Do we have the right to believe whatever we want to believe? This supposed right is often claimed as the last resort of the wilfully ignorant, the person who is cornered by evidence and mounting opinion: ‘I believe climate change is a hoax whatever anyone else says, and I have a right to believe it!’ But is there such a right?

We do recognise the right to know certain things. I have a right to know the conditions of my employment, the physician’s diagnosis of my ailments, the grades I achieved at school, the name of my accuser and the nature of the charges, and so on. But belief is not knowledge.

Beliefs are factive: to believe is to take to be true. It would be absurd, as the analytic philosopher G E Moore observed in the 1940s, to say: ‘It is raining, but I don’t believe that it is raining.’ Beliefs aspire to truth – but they do not entail it. Beliefs can be false, unwarranted by evidence or reasoned consideration. They can also be morally repugnant. Among likely candidates: beliefs that are sexist, racist or homophobic; the belief that proper upbringing of a child requires ‘breaking the will’ and severe corporal punishment; the belief that the elderly should routinely be euthanised; the belief that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a political solution, and so on. If we find these morally wrong, we condemn not only the potential acts that spring from such beliefs, but the content of the belief itself, the act of believing it, and thus the believer.

Such judgments can imply that believing is a voluntary act. But beliefs are often more like states of mind or attitudes than decisive actions. Some beliefs, such as personal values, are not deliberately chosen; they are ‘inherited’ from parents and ‘acquired’ from peers, acquired inadvertently, inculcated by institutions and authorities, or assumed from hearsay. For this reason, I think, it is not always the coming-to-hold-this-belief that is problematic; it is rather the sustaining of such beliefs, the refusal to disbelieve or discard them that can be voluntary and ethically wrong.

If the content of a belief is judged morally wrong, it is also thought to be false. The belief that one race is less than fully human is not only a morally repugnant, racist tenet; it is also thought to be a false claim – though not by the believer. The falsity of a belief is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a belief to be morally wrong; neither is the ugliness of the content sufficient for a belief to be morally wrong. Alas, there are indeed morally repugnant truths, but it is not the believing that makes them so. Their moral ugliness is embedded in the world, not in one’s belief about the world.

‘Who are you to tell me what to believe?’ replies the zealot. It is a misguided challenge: it implies that certifying one’s beliefs is a matter of someone’s authority. It ignores the role of reality. Believing has what philosophers call a ‘mind-to-world direction of fit’. Our beliefs are intended to reflect the real world – and it is on this point that beliefs can go haywire. There are irresponsible beliefs; more precisely, there are beliefs that are acquired and retained in an irresponsible way. One might disregard evidence; accept gossip, rumour, or testimony from dubious sources; ignore incoherence with one’s other beliefs; embrace wishful thinking; or display a predilection for conspiracy theories.

I do not mean to revert to the stern evidentialism of the 19th-century mathematical philosopher William K Clifford, who claimed: ‘It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.’ Clifford was trying to prevent irresponsible ‘overbelief’, in which wishful thinking, blind faith or sentiment (rather than evidence) stimulate or justify belief. This is too restrictive. In any complex society, one has to rely on the testimony of reliable sources, expert judgment and the best available evidence. Moreover, as the psychologist William James responded in 1896, some of our most important beliefs about the world and the human prospect must be formed without the possibility of sufficient evidence. In such circumstances (which are sometimes defined narrowly, sometimes more broadly in James’s writings), one’s ‘will to believe’ entitles us to choose to believe the alternative that projects a better life.

In exploring the varieties of religious experience, James would remind us that the ‘right to believe’ can establish a climate of religious tolerance. Those religions that define themselves by required beliefs (creeds) have engaged in repression, torture and countless wars against non-believers that can cease only with recognition of a mutual ‘right to believe’. Yet, even in this context, extremely intolerant beliefs cannot be tolerated. Rights have limits and carry responsibilities.

Unfortunately, many people today seem to take great licence with the right to believe, flouting their responsibility. The wilful ignorance and false knowledge that are commonly defended by the assertion ‘I have a right to my belief’ do not meet James’s requirements. Consider those who believe that the lunar landings or the Sandy Hook school shooting were unreal, government-created dramas; that Barack Obama is Muslim; that the Earth is flat; or that climate change is a hoax. In such cases, the right to believe is proclaimed as a negative right; that is, its intent is to foreclose dialogue, to deflect all challenges; to enjoin others from interfering with one’s belief-commitment. The mind is closed, not open for learning. They might be ‘true believers’, but they are not believers in the truth.

Believing, like willing, seems fundamental to autonomy, the ultimate ground of one’s freedom. But, as Clifford also remarked: ‘No one man’s belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone.’ Beliefs shape attitudes and motives, guide choices and actions. Believing and knowing are formed within an epistemic community, which also bears their effects. There is an ethic of believing, of acquiring, sustaining, and relinquishing beliefs – and that ethic both generates and limits our right to believe. If some beliefs are false, or morally repugnant, or irresponsible, some beliefs are also dangerous. And to those, we have no right."

Daniel DeNicola is professor and chair of philosophy at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania and the author of Understanding Ignorance: The Surprising Impact of What We Don’t Know (2017), which received the 2018 PROSE Award in Philosophy from the Association of American Publishers.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Stockholm syndrome in relationships

In the Netflix series La Casa de Papel (my 2018 blog), one of the hostages of this Spanish heist suffers from a Stockholm syndrome. This term was coined after a 1973 bank heist with hostages near Stockholm. Wiki: “Stockholm syndrome is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity.”

“Stockholm syndrome has also come to describe the reactions of some abuse victims beyond the context of kidnappings or hostage-taking. Actions and attitudes similar to those suffering from Stockholm Syndrome have also been found in victims of sexual abuse, human trafficking, discrimination, terror, and political oppression.” (Wiki)

Remarkably, these examples exclude the existence of a Stockholm syndrome in relationships. This omission may relate to the formal absence of forced and/or involuntary captivity. However, many jokes do compare marriage and prison (example). There are several references to a Stockholm syndrome within relationships: link 1, link 2, link 3, link 4, and link 5.

Everyone probably knows a (married) couple that is trapped in a (mentally and/or physically) abusive or damaging relationship. With the knowledge of hindsight, I now even wonder myself whether I did fit that description too. For many years, my self-esteem was deteriorating following her damaging application of reverse psychology and projection onto me.

I still remember her frequent damaging remark that I would never find someone else, who would be crazy enough like her, to take care of me. A classic case of reverse psychology and projection. My next partner wasn’t worried about me at all. She said that I would never be without a girlfriend. I didn’t believe her at that time but she was right indeed.

There are plenty of reasons not to leave a (mentally and/or physically) abusive or damaging relationship: children, house, money, and/or social status. Also, the prospect of future independence creates fear over future inability and/or inadequacy. These fears paralyse your thoughts on deciding to leave your partner. This is where procrastination (my 2015 blog) starts.

It took me many years to realise that I had been slowly alienated from my own family. A family often works as a support system. It didn’t help that my family did not take my side during my marriage. My mother had been afraid of not being able to see her grandchildren. Only after the break-up, they chose my side and spilled their guts. A classic case of too little, too late.

The ones who do stay in an abusive or damaging relationship may grow into a victim role (my blogs). Unfortunately, a victim role is comfortable and life outside scary. They feel that everyone is entitled to happiness, except them. The pursuit of happiness (my blogs #1, #2, #3) requires a choice for yourself. People in an abusive or damaging relationship feel unworthy (my 2016 blog) of such a “selfish” choice.

Basically, I’m a fighter and a survivor. For several years, I forgot about that as I was unfamiliar with the devastating impact of reverse psychology and projection. My growing anger about my discontent finally brought back the warrior inside me. For a while, the people around me had to suffer from my anger. For me, fighting back was worth every (divorce) penny.

Tunnel of Love (1987) by Bruce Springsteen - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

It ought to be easy, ought to be simple enough
Man meets woman and they fall in love
But the house is haunted and the ride gets rough
And you've got to learn to live with what you can't rise above
If you want to ride on down in through this tunnel of love

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

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Good intentions

An oath (eg, auditor, banker, courtroom, jurorpresident) is about promising doing good deeds through stating good words. Does that, however, affect our intentions? In 2008, psychologist Dan Ariely claimed that reminding people of the 10 Commandments would decrease their bad intentions (AMA-2008, Wiki). A 2018 revisit of that 2008 study was unable to validate that 2008 conclusion (VK-2018). How do we come to good - or bad - intentions?

I think, feel and believe that the different conclusions reflect the impact of ongoing secularisation. Hence, both the 2008 and 2018 are/were (probably) valid. Appealing to religious beliefs may indeed affect our deeds and words (or: visible human behaviour) but not necessarily our intentions or thoughts.

The genuine explanation to good intentions is hidden in Dan Ariely's 2008 study: “This research shows that people behave dishonestly enough to profit but honestly enough to delude themselves of their own integrity. A little bit of dishonesty gives a taste of profit without spoiling a positive self-view.” Profit – or Advantage (my 2017 blog) - does define good/bad intentions.

I think, feel and believe that Religion essentially appeals to this concept of Advantage / Profit, amongst others by introducing Heaven and Hell. Once intentions are affected, words and deeds will follow. Reminding people of the 10 Commandments is only effective once you believe in Religion.

In the absence of (religious) beliefs, our mind will firstly consider the concepts of Advantage / Profit. Expressing an oath, while not believing in it, is generally to our advantage. The oath just feels like a white lie that does not hurt anybody while you are still being able to profit (eg, retain your job).

In 2017, I anticipated declining my auditor’s oath as I do not believe in that oath (my 2017 blog). Even then I already realised that such an oath does not affect my – or someone else’s - intentions. I was, however, not summoned to swear my oath because my membership category is “jobless”. It felt like irony to me.

I think, feel and believe that our intentions follow our beliefs, whether these beliefs are about Love, Money, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science and/or the Truth – a.k.a. the 7 Belief systems. Religion has always been an important pillar for having good intentions. Nowadays, Philosophy is taking over that role. However, Religion was and is a derivative of Philosophy (my 2018 blog, Wiki).

Nowadays, I believe that helping (other) people is our primary goal in Life (my 2017 blog). That belief is philosophical in nature, similar to the Pay-It-Forward philosophy. In general, helping (other) people will result in good intentions. My belief in helping (other) people has one restriction: you can only really help other people, after helping yourself first (emotionally).

Help Yourself (1976) by Joan Armatrading - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Need someone to help me
But not you, you're not ready
Seems you have trouble helping yourself

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

Monday, 28 May 2018

Occam's razor: MH17 and MH370

Last Thursday, the Dutch-led investigation into the downing of MH17 stated that a Russian Buk missile from the 53rd Brigade in Kursk was responsible, and beyond any reasonable doubt. Russia denied and restated their unreasonable explanations. Apart from means and opportunity, motive is essential in any investigation as “everything follows Why”.

A few months earlier in 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing. Despite 4 years of investigations, that plane has still not been found. Some debris was found which gave rise to various conflicting explanations on what might have happened. Means and opportunity may indeed suggest pilot involvement. His motive, however, would still be unclear.

Airplane accidents are relatively rare. Two (very) weird airplane incidents both involving Malaysia Airlines do not feel like a coincidence. Early May 2018, the 60-year rule by a single Malaysian party ended abruptly after the 2018 general election. During their reign, the number of allegations of massive corruption only increased (eg, 1MDB scandal).

Money is probably the oldest and most common motive for crimes, apart from jealousy. Applying the theory of Occam’s razor (my 2018 blog) to MH17 and MH370, would suggest that Malaysian corruption is involved in both airplane events. Any other explanation would require making lots of assumptions, like extreme Russian nationalists (Guardian-2015).

“In 2015, former Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was accused of channelling over RM 2.67 billion (nearly USD 700 million) from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a government-run strategic development company, to his personal bank accounts.” (Wiki)

Thus far, the continued persistent criminal investigations by several international governments on the 1MDB corruption scandal have not resulted in any public link with the MH17 and/or MH370 events. Such a link might however be absent or imaginary.

Despite overwhelming evidence, Russia is unlikely to acknowledge accountability and/or responsibility. A scenario where Russia does not control their armed forces would be devastating to Russian political leadership. A scenario in which their armed forces followed political orders, would have severe international repercussions (eg, blacklisting, sanctions).

Both MH17 and MH370 must have had meticulous planning in order to fool (international) investigators for such a long time. Such meticulous planning requires operational financing (eg, bribes, info/intel, means). However, money always leaves a trail: amounts, bank accounts, dates, receivers, senders. Hence, the saying “follow the money” (eg, my 2017 blog).

The recent toppling of the 60-year reign of the Malaysian government may bring “house cleaning”. The Malaysian PM-elect said there are too many questions that have not been answered on MH370: "Was it a failure of the system? Was it a failure of those monitoring the system or was it an intention to ignore or cover up?" (Daily Mail, MSNThe Australian)

Private Investigations (1982) by Dire Straits
artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

It's a mystery to me - the game commences
For the usual fee - plus expenses
Confidential information - in a diary
This is my investigation - not a public inquiry
I go checking out the reports - digging up the dirt
You get to meet all sorts in this line of work
Treachery and treason - there's always an excuse for it
And when I find the reason I still can't get used to it
And what have you got at the end of the day?
What have you got to take away?
A bottle of whisky and a new set of lies
Blinds on the windows and a pain behind the eyes
Scarred for life - no compensation
Private investigations

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

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Welcome Back

Welcome Back (1976) by John Sebastian - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Welcome back
Your dreams were your ticket out
Welcome back to that same old place
That you laughed about

Well, the names have all changed
Since you hung around
But those dreams have remained
And they've turned around

Who'd have thought they'd lead you
(Who'd have thought they'd lead you)
Back here where we need you
(Back here where we need you)

Yeah, we tease him a lot
Cause we got him on the spot
Welcome back

Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back

Welcome back
We always could spot a friend
Welcome back
And I smile when I think
How you must have been

And I know what a scene
You were learning in
Was there something that
Made you come back again

And what could ever lead you
(What could ever lead you)
Back here where we need you
(Back here where we need you)

Yeah, we tease him a lot
Cause we got him on the spot
Welcome back

Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back

And I know what a scene
You were learning in
Was there something that
Made you come back again

And what could ever lead you
(What could ever lead you)
Back here where we need you
(Back here where we need you)

Yeah, we tease him a lot
Cause we got him on the spot
Welcome back

Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back

Yeah, we tease him a lot
Welcome back, welcome back
'Cause we got him on the spot
Welcome back, welcome back

Yeah, we tease him a lot
Cause we got him on the spot
Welcome back

Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back

Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back
Welcome back

Saturday, 26 May 2018

I miss Britain – but Brexitland could never be my home (Joris Luyendijk / Guardian)

"Brexit horror stories – like the ex-mayor of Ipswich denied citizenship – remind me why we’ve returned to the Netherlands" (Joris Luyendijk / The Guardian)

"When I moved back to the Netherlands this summer after six lovely years in Britain, I knew I was going to miss the place and that every now and then I would wonder if I had made the right decision. Everybody who voluntarily moves countries goes through this, and knows that these doubts can keep you awake all night.

Except that this time it is really, really easy for us to be at peace with our decision to leave the United Kingdom. We simply go online and read a story like the one that broke yesterday: “Ex-mayor of Ipswich denied citizenship after almost 40 years in UK”. The reason: the Home Office “cannot be satisfied” that Inga Lockington, who moved from Denmark in 1979, is a permanent resident.

No doubt the wave of publicity in this case will force the government into a U-turn. This government has made so many already it is a miracle that Theresa May isn’t permanently dizzy. But the underlying dynamic will not change, as the recent Windrush affair demonstrated all too well: this government is either incapable of, or unwilling to, treat citizens’ rights with respect, especially those who have their origins abroad.

This is the life in Britain that my family of five rejected: we chose not to spend our life in complete and utter insecurity over our rights and future status: the Dutch are among those EU citizens who would have to give up their national passport in order to acquire a British one – meaning that after Brexit I would lose not only the right to live and work in 27 EU states, but also the right to a dignified death that Dutch euthanasia laws allow. (And, of course, the Netherlands is almost 25% richer per capita than Britain.)

But worst of all, we could not be sure that we would even have qualified for that British passport – meaning total insecurity about the university fees for our children, and about their status when applying for jobs later in life. The same holds for our rights to social security and access to the NHS – if the NHS survives Brexit, that is.

Such insecurity might last for years, if not decades, considering that almost two years after the referendum result the British government still does not even have a position on what it would like the country’s relationship with the EU to be. Given the Tories’ woeful ineptitude, deluded thinking and many deceitful statements, it is also becoming increasingly hard to see how the EU could take any British position on good faith. How to reach an agreement when you cannot trust the other side to uphold it? For EU citizens in Britain there is no certainty about when the insecurity about their status might be settled.

Still, there are moments when I think that it was a mistake to move. London was such a great place to live, and our state school offered such excellent education. But then I remember just how many EU nationals have already left Britain, and how many are in advanced stages of leaving. The same is true of a number of British friends, who are fanning out across continental Europe.

To kill any remaining longings for a return to the UK I then go online once more to browse the billionaire-owned Brexit press. This is my way of reminding myself just how psychopathically vile and mendacious most of the UK press still is. Once Britain begins to pay the full economic, political and diplomatic price for what it recklessly voted for in June 2016, the Brexit media will not throw up their hands and beg for forgiveness for all their lies, falsehoods and empty promises. Instead they will blame lots of British individuals and institutions, but most of all they will direct their anger and hostility towards one place in particular: the EU.

Do I want to expose my children to the tabloid propaganda about EU aggression towards poor Brexit Britain, and the way it will be pumped into the heads of millions of Brits – including some in the school playground?

I still miss Britain every day. But I also know that this country I miss no longer exists."

Joris Luyendijk, author of Swimming with Sharks: My Journey Into the World of the Bankers, wrote the Guardian’s banking blog

Friday, 25 May 2018

Waves (4): Nationalism and Internationalism

It makes sense that left-wing and right-wing Italian nationalism will establish the new Italian government. Nationalism versus Internationalism (or: Globalism) is the 21st century new Great Divide and the successor of the Left-Right Divide of the previous 2 centuries. The arrogance of Internationalism (eg, immigration, refugees) has created a surge in ignorant Nationalism (eg, Brexit). Also see my blogs of 13 July 2016, 2 March 2017, and 4 March 2017.

It’s probably no coincidence that Nationalism thrives on the borders of the European Union: Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland and UK. The problems created by Internationalism (eg, immigration, refugees) are felt less in central EU countries (eg, Dublin Regulation). Blaming the peripheral EU countries for their surge in Nationalism feels like reverse psychology.

However, ignorant Nationalism does not offer any solutions; just slogans (eg, own citizens "first"). Nationalism would be a serious threat when it would propose workable solutions. Arrogant Internationalism knows this well and continues with its agenda of (eastbound) expansion. Also see my 2017 blog on Project Europe.

The irony is that the main threat to Internationalism comes from within: the American Trump Administration. American nationalism and protectionism will be countered by a European tit for tat. Internationalism is losing due to the USA, once the main advocate of free trade. The irony of this will not be lost on Nationalism.

There’s more irony to follow. Nationalism will cause a global decrease in wealth, whereas Globalism caused an increase in international wealth. History has shown a relationship between poverty and Nationalism. Brexit is already showing a decrease in wealth (eg, UK real estate).

There’s still more irony to come. Nationalism is rooted in the fear over losing cultural identity (my 2017 blog). That identity may include a glorious past of regional empires (eg, China, Russia, Turkey). Nationalism likes restoring that glorious past. However, such a restoration implies a geographical expansion, somewhat similar to Internationalism. 

The main difference between Internationalism and Nationalism is that latter often implies involuntary and/or unilateral geographic expansion, which easily results into military conflicts. The ongoing Chinese militarisation of some of the (uninhabited) South China Sea islands has already resulted in an international (diplomatic) conflict (eg, CNNQuartz, Quartz-2UPI).

Last but not least, the irony is that Nationalism and Internationalism are like Waves - or cycles in history. Hence, the saying “history repeats itself” (my 2018 blog on Waves). The main drivers of these historical waves appear to be human arrogance and ignorance (my 2016 blog).

These waves trigger the Why question. I see two (broad) explanations. The existence of waves allows humans to learn from its predictability and to migrate to the 4th stage following (human) Needs, Wants & Beliefs: an Awakening. This Awakening has, however, never happened in human history. In the absence of an Awakening, these waves may contain humanity (eg, mass extinction, pandemics, war) in order to preserve Nature’s ecology. 

Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) - 1971 - Marvin Gaye

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

Thursday, 24 May 2018

The U.S. President Is Destroying the American World Order (Der Spiegel)

"In an interview with DER SPIEGEL, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer talks about the danger of war against Iran, the deterioration of trans-Atlantic relations under U.S. President Donald Trump and the serious need for Germany to invest massively in the European Union's future.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Fischer, you were -- together with your French and British colleagues -- among the first to embark on negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program in 2003. The 2015 agreement was to some extent your legacy. How did Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Iran deal affect you?

Fischer: I don't take this personally, but I am very concerned about the disastrous consequences of Trump's decision. They will be much more dramatic than portrayed in most of the comments so far. The aim of the agreement was to prevent a second disaster after the Iraq War, namely a large-scale land war in Iran. After the Iraq War, the Iranians tried in vain to divide Europe and the United States. Donald Trump has now managed to do just that.

DER SPIEGEL: Are you afraid that there will now be a war against Iran?

Fischer: I can't imagine that Trump could want that. One of the reasons Trump came into power was the frustration over these unwinnable, endless wars.

DER SPIEGEL: His national security adviser John Bolton wrote ...

Fischer: Enough with Bolton!

DER SPIEGEL: You remember Bolton from your time as foreign minister.

Fischer: I know him very well. He is one of the people responsible for the Iraq disaster.

DER SPIEGEL: Bolton once wrote: "To stop Iran's bomb, bomb Iran."

Fischer: Bolton has only one answer to everything: bombing. I wouldn't pay too much attention to that. But if Iran starts enriching uranium again, we would certainly be in a very dangerous situation. The confrontation between Iran and Israel has already begun militarily in Syria.

DER SPIEGEL: Back then, before the invasion of Iraq, you famously told the Americans: "I am not convinced." Does the current crisis in trans-Atlantic relations remind you of 2003?

Fischer: The situation is much more dramatic today. The danger of a military clash between Israel and Iran in Syria is exacerbated by the U.S.'s withdrawal from the agreement. It is true that the current crisis is a result of the original sin of the invasion of Iraq. Iran's rise to hegemony would not have been possible without the active help of George W. Bush and the American neocons. And without the collapse of Iraq, the rise of the "Islamic State" in Syria would not have come this far.

DER SPIEGEL: To what extent has Trump damaged the trans-Atlantic relationship?

Fischer: We are experiencing a new era. The trans-Atlantic relationship can no longer be taken for granted. But it would be foolish of us to give it up of our own accord.

DER SPIEGEL: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that we can no longer truly rely on the U.S.

Fischer: It's even worse than that. The American president is deliberately destroying the American world order. I was used to NATO being attacked by the left wing of the Green Party, but not by the American president! From an economic policy point of view, Trump is challenging Germany's business model, which has been geared toward exports from the very beginning. Many are saying that we shouldn't put up with that. I find this reaction understandable, but also kind of cute. What can we do? Given the current balance of power, sometimes all you can do is gnash your teeth..

DER SPIEGEL: You recently wrote a book in German with the dark title "The Descent of the West." Is the West finished?

Fischer: There is every indication that this will happen. The West was the trans-Atlantic area, and its founding fathers were Britain and the United States. The West cannot survive without them, and certainly not with a weak, divided Europe. This is why Europeans must become stronger, much stronger.

DER SPIEGEL: Is the withdrawal from the Iran Agreement the moment in which Europe must finally decide to develop its own foreign policy?

Fischer: That is easy to say, but somebody has to actually do it. A few countries would have to take the lead. Germany and France play the key role in the EU, and without Germany it would be impossible. If we continue to believe that we must remain in the slipstream of world history, Europeans will not be able to act.

DER SPIEGEL: So, what should Germany do?

Fischer: The Federal Republic of Germany was probably the greatest success of American foreign policy. Since 1949, a stable, flourishing democracy has emerged under the patronage of the U.S. After two world wars, we Germans have recognized that we cannot do world politics. It almost destroyed us as a nation, both politically and morally. America was responsible for our protection, and we got used to it. Driving in this slipstream was comfortable and understandable from a historical point of view, but that is now over.

DER SPIEGEL: So, is Trump right when he asks the Germans to spend more on the military?

Fischer: It isn't about Trump. Hillary Clinton would have been just as critical of this as president. We have to do it for ourselves. We have been investing too little in our security for years. What are the things I've read within the past week? German armed forces pilots are losing their licenses because they cannot fly enough hours due to helicopter deficiencies. Submarines cannot sail because spare parts are missing. We only have four combat-ready Eurofighters. What a shame! If you ask me whether we can defend ourselves, the clear answer is no.

DER SPIEGEL: The majority of Germans do not want to spend more money on the military.

Fischer: That's a problem, but we have to do it. We must have a minimum of defense capacity, otherwise Europe will suffer. Do you think I find it appealing to say that we need to do more for our defense? We are too big and important to skimp on defense.

DER SPIEGEL: Proponents of trans-Atlantic ties have fallen into disrepute in certain circles. Some Germans want closer relations with Russia.

Fischer: That is palpable. The great achievement of Konrad Adenauer (the first postwar German chancellor) was that, against the background of his own biography, including the experience of two world wars, he drew the consequence that Germany had to abandon its position as an eternally shaky stalk in the middle of Europe. He said we belong to the West. This is the secret of Germany's success. If we say goodbye to this, we will be saying goodbye to the greatest achievement made by West Germany after our major national disasters. It is completely incomprehensible to me that a party like the CSU (the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party) is now starting to waver. The special relationship with Russia is an old dream of both the German conservatives and the German left, but it has never worked.

DER SPIEGEL: With Germany showing a lack of willingness to spend more money on defense and the United States withdrawing at the same time, some German politicians on the left and on the right are saying our only option is to come to terms with Russia.

Fischer: Submission instead of building a defensive capability? I do not share this view. Yes, we should strive for a good relationship with Russia. But not on our knees. That won't impress anyone in Moscow. The question at the heart of the conflict over Ukraine is whether we are prepared to accept that Russia obtains its status as a superpower through zones of influence. If the nationalists in Europe define zones of influence again, we will end up in a vicious cycle. That would be the end of the European Union.

DER SPIEGEL: Is Trump's withdrawal from the Iran agreement a wake-up call for Europe?

Fischer: My impression is that we are gradually realizing that the "black zero" (Germany's balanced budget strategy) won't save us.

DER SPIEGEL: The black zero presents a danger to Europe?

Fischer: It doesn't endanger Europe, but it is holding up progress. We must transform our financial power into political power in the interest of Europe. It's no use just managing savings accounts, beancounter style. In this respect, my advice is to invest massively in Europe.

DER SPIEGEL: In defense?

Fischer: In all areas, and above all politically. Sure, Germany has its interests, and won't be writing any blank checks. But this notion that "they only want our money" is counterproductive.

DER SPIEGEL: "They only want our money," is the answer Emmanuel Macron has received so far from Germany to his ideas for reforming the EU.

Fischer: Yes, this is the return to the German Michel (the 19th century caricature of the German national character). It's a step forward, compared to the spiked helmet (of the Prussians) and the steel helmet (of the National Socialists), but it's a mistake given the dramatic geopolitical situation.

DER SPIEGEL: What would be the right answer?

Fischer: Big, rich Germany -- together with France -- should pay. Why does the EU even exist? Because ever since Adenauer, all chancellors have made late-night compromises possible by putting money on the table. We must turn our economic strength into power in the interest of Europe.

DER SPIEGEL: Aren't you afraid this will drive voters to the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party?

Fischer: Emmanuel Macron prevented Marine Le Pen from winning in France with explicitly pro-European political platforms. You can't just keep quiet at such historical watershed moments -- you have to explain them. This doesn't just apply to the chancellor. All parties were silent on Europe in the election campaign for the German parliament -- or did you hear something that I didn't? The only people who talked about it were AfD politicians. That's the problem! In Macron's case, Europe comes from the heart. He knows that if Europe is not involved in shaping the new world order, not only in terms of power politics, but also in terms of technology, then it's over.

DER SPIEGEL: How do you explain that Merkel still hasn't responded to Macron's proposals?

Fischer: She can't do anything about the election result. The great tragedy of the federal election is that Christian Lindner (who allowed negotiations to form a government between Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, his business-friendly Free Democratic Party and the Green Party to collapse, leading to months of delays in creating a new government) did not understand after the election that this is not just about saving the FDP, but that Germany needs a new constellation like the Jamaica coalition (named for the colors affiliated with the aforementioned parties). In view of his age and potential, Lindner should have pushed this forward. Then we would be in a very different position today. The Grand Coalition (the current government that includes Merkel's Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats) creates the impression that it is already exhausted before it has really even gotten going. They are simply tired of each other.

DER SPIEGEL: This week, the Europeans and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif jointly announced their intention to preserve the Iran deal. How could that work?

Fischer: Probably not at all! I'd like it to happen, but I can't imagine how. They cannot protect German companies in view of their close ties. Many have huge investments in the United States and are dependent on the U.S. market.

DER SPIEGEL: The EU has reactivated a law that could impose penalties on companies that comply with U.S. sanctions against Iran ...

Fischer: A German automobile company that does not deliver to Iran because the U.S. market is too important for it is being punished again. How's that supposed to work?

DER SPIEGEL: That would mean the deal is dead?

Fischer: It's going to be difficult. I'm very skeptical about it.

DER SPIEGEL: In hindsight, was it a mistake to concentrate only on the nuclear program in the negotiations with Iran instead of including Tehran's aggressive role in the Middle East and the missile program?

Fischer: The Iranian regime would never have agreed to that. It was right to concentrate on the nuclear program, because that posed the greatest threat of war, and now it's coming back. We have never been under any illusions about the character and intentions of the Iranian regime. Our aim was to involve Iran peacefully while delaying and controlling the nuclear program.

DER SPIEGEL: Shortly before Trump's decision, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented alleged evidence from the Mossad that Iran lied about its nuclear program.

Fischer: It didn't tell me anything new. We knew that Iran wanted the nuclear bomb before the deal, which is precisely why we had started negotiations. I had meetings in Israel and the United States at the time. I asked those responsible: What do you want to achieve with a military attack? The answer was: We may not be able to destroy the program, but we can delay it. It is precisely this delay that the agreement had achieved on much better terms.

DER SPIEGEL: But Iran has not given up its nuclear ambitions.

Fischer: And the Iranians are not the only ones. Take Saudi Arabia and Turkey, for example. You can draw a map of the Middle East and indicate which country is pursuing a so-called civilian nuclear program. Of course, they also want to use it to produce electricity, but the real intention is a different one.

DER SPIEGEL: Iran's expansionary role in the region has intensified since the agreement.

Fischer: Of course, Iran's role in the region is highly problematic, but it was already expanding before the nuclear agreement. Do you think Tehran's role in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria would be different without the Iran deal?

DER SPIEGEL: Sigmar Gabriel has outlined a scenario. After the end of the Iran agreement, nobody invests in Iran anymore, the nuclear program is restarted -- and the United States and Israel respond with a military attack. Is that realistic?

Fischer: It's not like a version of Iraq 2.0 is building up into a much bigger constellation. But Israel will not accept an Iranian military presence in Syria, regardless of the nuclear issue. In this respect, a hegemonic conflict is threatening to take shape there because of Iran's ambitions, which can very easily be intertwined with the nuclear issue. All this cannot be of no consequence to us Europeans, not least after our experiences with the 2015 refugee crisis.

DER SPIEGEL: It all sounds very gloomy. As a former foreign minister, do you automatically have a pessimistic view of the world?

Fischer: I don't think I have a pessimistic view. It makes me furious when people keep telling you that you are pessimistic when you are just realistic. When there's a storm outside, what can I say? The sun is shining! I'm not about to make a fool of myself. When a thunderstorm threatens, the analyst must say: There is a threat of a thunderstorm, even at the risk of being called a dark prophet. This is an historic moment, and Europe must take a big leap. Either we act now or we do nothing. Then we will be outrun and we will no longer play a role in the world.

Translated from the German By Christopher Sultan"

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The aging superpower (Bloomberg)

"President Xi Jinping’s biggest obstacle to completing China's rise to global wealth and power may not be the U.S. under Donald Trump, but a greying population.

That’s why Xi's Communist Party may soon bring an historic end to its roughly four-decade-old policy of limiting the number of children each family can have. The population-control measures — involving steep fines, forced abortions and sterilizations — could be repealed as soon as this year, Bloomberg News exclusively reports.

The demographic experiment, which once limited families to just one child, has left China with 30 million more men than women and an aging problem similar to those of much more developed economies. By 2030 — when Xi hopes to be completing China’s modernization drive — about one-quarter of the population will be 60 or older.

While the prospect of an end to the policy boosted baby-related stocks in Shanghai, demographers complain the party’s been too slow to relinquish control. Births fell last year, even after a 2015 reform that allowed families to have two children.

Xi may need to take more dramatic steps if he wants to reverse the trend and maintain the dynamic economy that Trump views as such a threat. Will China now start paying families to have kids?

For more on China’s family size limits, read this Quicktake."


Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Study shows yogurt may dampen chronic inflammation linked to multiple diseases (Medical Xpress)

"Inflammation can be good. It's part of the body's innate immune system, our first line of defense against illness and injury.

However, if the inflammatory response goes on for too long, it can lead to a condition called chronic inflammation, where the body essentially attacks itself, wreaking biological havoc on our organs and systems. Chronic inflammation is a factor in inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis and asthma. It is also associated with obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases.

A recent study—described in two papers, including one published today (May 14) in the Journal of Nutrition—provides new evidence that yogurt may help dampen chronic inflammation. The study explored the hypothesis that yogurt may help reduce inflammation by improving the integrity of the intestinal lining, thus preventing endotoxins—pro-inflammatory molecules produced by gut microbes—from crossing into the blood stream.

"I wanted to look at the mechanism more closely and look specifically at yogurt," says Brad Bolling, University of Wisconsin-Madison Assistant Professor of Food Science, whose research focuses on the role of food in preventing chronic disease.

While anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin, naproxen, hydrocortisone and prednisone can help mitigate the effects of chronic inflammation, each comes with its own risks and side effects. There is a need for additional options—particularly safe, gentle, long-term treatments. Researchers have been exploring dairy products as a potential dietary treatment for more than two decades. Findings have been mixed, setting up a scientific debate about whether dairy products are pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.

"There have been some mixed results over the years, but [a recent article] shows that things are pointing more toward anti-inflammatory, particularly for fermented dairy," notes Bolling, citing a 2017 review paper that assessed 52 clinical trials.

Bolling's study enrolled 120 premenopausal women, half obese and half non-obese. Half of the participants were assigned to eat 12 ounces of low-fat yogurt every day for nine weeks; a control group ate non-dairy pudding for nine weeks.

This investigation, among the largest human intervention studies to look at yogurt's impact on chronic inflammation, was funded by the National Dairy Council, a non-profit organization supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's national dairy checkoff program.

At various points during the study, Bolling and his team took fasting blood samples from participants and evaluated an assortment of biomarkers that scientists have used over the years to measure endotoxin exposure and inflammation. As described in the British Journal of Nutrition this past December, the results showed that while some of the biomarkers remained steady over time, the yogurt-eaters experienced significant improvements in certain key markers, such as TNF-, an important inflammation-activating protein.

"The results indicate that ongoing consumption of yogurt may be having a general anti-inflammatory effect," says Bolling.

The new Journal of Nutrition article focuses on a different aspect of the study. Participants were also involved in a high-calorie meal challenge at the beginning and end of their nine-week dietary intervention. The challenge, meant to stress an individual's metabolism, started with either a serving of yogurt or non-dairy pudding followed by a large high-fat, high-carb breakfast meal.

"It was two sausage muffins and two hash browns, for a total of 900 calories. But everybody managed it. They'd been fasting, and they were pretty hungry," Bolling explains with a smile.

For both challenges, blood work showed that the yogurt "appetizer" helped improve some key biomarkers of endotoxin exposure and inflammation as participants digested the meal over the ensuing hours. It also helped improve glucose metabolism in obese participants, by speeding the reduction of post-meal blood glucose levels.

"Eating eight ounces of low-fat yogurt before a meal is a feasible strategy to improve post-meal metabolism and thus may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases," says Ruisong Pei, a UW-Madison food science postdoctoral researcher involved in the studies.

The findings help expand the overall body of scientific knowledge about how foods impact inflammation.

Bolling's study doesn't identify which compounds in yogurt are responsible for the shift in biomarkers associated with the health-promoting effect—or how they act in the body. Solving that piece of the puzzle will require more research, Bolling notes.

"The goal is to identify the components and then get human evidence to support their mechanism of action in the body. That's the direction we are going," he says. "Ultimately, we would like to see these components optimized in foods, particularly for medical situations where it's important to inhibit inflammation through the diet. We think this is a promising approach.""


Monday, 21 May 2018

Wishing on a Star

Wishing on a Star (1978) by Paul Weller (2004 cover)

I'm wishing on a star
To follow where you are
I'm wishing on a dream
To follow where you be

And I'm wishing on all the rainbows that I see
Wishing on all the people, uh, we've been
And I'm wishing on tomorrow, when it'll come
And I'm wishing on all the lovin' we've ever done

I'm wishing on a star
To follow where you are
I never thought I'd see
A time when you would be

So far away from home
So far away from me

Just think of all the moments that we'd spent
I just can't let you go, from me you were meant
I didn't me to hurt you and i know
That in the game of love you reap what you sow

I feel it's time for us to make up, baby
I feel it's time for us to get back together
And make the best of things, oh, baby
When we're together, oh, whether or never

I feel it's time for us to make up, baby
I feel it's time for us to get back together
And make the best of things, oh, baby
When we're together, yeahhhh... whether or never

And I'm wishing on a star...

And I wish on all the rainbows that I see
Wishing on all the people,uh, we've ever been
And I'm wishing on tomorrow, when it'll come
And I'm wishing on all the lovin' we've ever done

And I'm wishing on a star
To follow where you are (oh rich out)
(I'm) wishing on a dream
To follow where you be

(said) I'm wishing on a star...

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Closer I Get To You

The Closer I Get To You (1978) by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

The closer I get to you
The more you make me see
By giving me all you've got
Your love has captured me

Over and over again
I try to tell myself that we
Could never be more than friends
And all the while inside
I knew it was real
The way you make me feel

Lying here next to you
Time just seems to fly
Needing you more and more
Let's give love a try

Oh, sweeter than sweeter love grows
And heaven's there for those
Who fool the tricks of time
With the hearts in love they find
True love
In a special way

The closer I get to you
The more you make me see
By giving me all you've got
Your love has captured me

Over and over again
I try to tell myself that we
Could never be more than friends
And all the while inside
I knew it was real
The way you make me feel

The closer I get to you
The more you make me see
By giving you all I've got
Your love has captured me

The closer I get to you
A feeling comes over me
(Me too)
Falling closer, sweet as the gravity

The closer I get (to you)

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Oslo thaws on UK joining EEA after Brexit (FT)

PM Solberg says London should reconsider Norwegian model despite its ‘political deficit’ (FT)

"Norway is open to the UK joining the European Economic Area, its prime minister has said, signalling a thawing in Oslo’s attitude to Britain taking the “Norway option” where it would be outside the EU but inside the single market. 

Erna Solberg told the Financial Times in an interview that the Nordic country was prepared to see the UK join the EEA, conceding that the option was “on the shelf” and readily available to London. 

“I think we will cope very well if the Brits come in. It will give bargaining power on our side too. And it would ease Norway’s access to the UK,” she said. 

The UK is Norway’s biggest trading partner thanks to gas sales to Britain. 

Senior Norwegian diplomats and business people have repeatedly warned that UK membership of the EEA would distort the small group — which includes Iceland and Liechtenstein — away from Norway’s priorities of protecting its agriculture and fishing. 

We would go from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in still a pretty small pond,” said the chairman of one large company close to the Norwegian government. 

The so-called Norwegian model is playing an increasingly significant role in the debate over Britain’s future relationship with the EU. The House of Lords voted last week in favour of British membership of the EEA once it leaves the EU, although Theresa May’s government opposes such an outcome and the House of Commons is likely to overturn the vote. 

Mrs May’s Brexit cabinet committee will meet on Tuesday as it continues to wrangle over customs options — including her preferred “customs partnership” — with the prime minister keen to finalise an agreed position before next month’s EU summit. 

What Theresa May can do about her Brexit woes Ms Solberg and other Norwegian politicians have previously warned that it would be difficult for London to join the EEA because it involves both agreeing to free movement of people and nearly all rules from Brussels as well as continuing to pay into the EU budget. 

One of the main reasons Mrs May opposes continued single market membership is because long-term free movement of EU nationals is seen as politically unacceptable. 

“You have to accept a couple of things that were difficult in the discussion before Brexit,” Ms Solberg said, adding there would be “costs and benefits” to UK membership of the EEA. 

She acknowledged what some have termed the EEA’s “political deficit”, in which members have to accept rules decided in Brussels. 

Oslo, in principle, has a veto over EU laws but has never used it due to the fear of how Brussels might respond. It agreed to adopt controversial plans for energy union several weeks ago despite widespread public opposition and concern over the impact on electricity prices. 

The EU as a whole accounts for almost three-quarters of trade with Oslo. 

Ms Solberg pointed to rules that she said Norway was forced to adopt despite being unsuited to them. They included regulations for slides in kindergartens, which Ms Solberg said were more appropriate to protect children from burns in relatively hot countries such as Spain, and several rules on how livestock are kept. 

“Of course there are limits [to being in the EEA]. It shows that small countries like Norway are dependent on stable rules. But I won’t speak it up as a big problem,” the prime minister said. 

Ms Solberg also warned that Norway was increasingly worried about being caught in the crossfire of a US-European trade war. EEA membership puts it inside the single market but outside the EU’s customs union, leaving it potentially exposed in trade battles between Washington, Brussels and elsewhere. 

Norway has not received the temporary exemption from US tariffs on steel and aluminium that the EU has, and policymakers in Oslo said they were even more worried about counter-measures from the EU. 

“What we are most afraid of is the secondary effects, how it increases the tension on trade, how it introduces new types of tariff barriers,” Ms Solberg said. 

Ine Marie Soreide, Norway’s foreign minister, said in a separate interview that the US tariffs “undermine the whole rules-based trading system.” 

But she noted that Oslo had still more at stake should the EU increase trade barriers in response to the US move: “Our main concern is that most of our exports go to the EU . . . We are an EEA member: we should be exempt from any tariffs and safeguards that the EU might have.”"


Big Four accountancy firms plan for forced break-up (FT)

"The Big Four accountancy firms have drawn up contingency plans for a break up of their UK businesses, an option politicians and regulators are increasingly pushing to solve conflicts of interest embedded in the industry.

The pressure on the four firms that dominate the sector — KPMG, Deloitte, EY and PwC — to prepare for a forced break-up has increased following high-profile corporate collapses that have called into question the quality of their work as both auditors and consultants for the UK’s largest companies.

Executives from all four and the next largest UK audit firms, Grant Thornton and BDO, said they had planned for a potential break up, in case regulators force them to spin off their audit from their consulting businesses.

A parliamentary report this week urged the competition watchdog to consider breaking up the four, saying they operated as a “cosy club incapable of providing the degree of independent challenge needed”. It followed a probe into the collapse of government contractor Carillion in January.

The investigation triggered sharp criticism of KPMG and Deloitte, Carillion’s external and internal auditors respectively over the past 19 years, and of EY and PwC, which had various consulting roles.

A break-up scenario could involve two options: either forcing each large firm to split into two smaller multidisciplinary firms; or making all of them spin off their consulting work to create audit-only businesses. This second option was backed by Stephen Haddrill, head of the UK accounting watchdog, in February as a potential remedy for the lack of competition in the market.

Bill Michael, chairman of KPMG’s UK business, said his firm had been thinking about break-up scenarios “for some time” as the current business model of the Big Four — which generate a growing portion of their revenues from consulting — is “unsustainable”.

“We are an oligopoly — that is undeniable,” he said. “I can’t believe the industry will be the same [in the future]. We have to reduce the level of conflicts and . . . demonstrate why they are manageable and why the public and all stakeholders should trust us.”

PwC said it had “a documented business continuity plan covering a range of scenarios that could threaten the existence of the firm”. EY said: “Working alongside regulators and standard setters, the profession can evolve to best serve business, investors and stakeholder needs.”

BDO, the UK’s sixth-largest auditor, has developed contingency plans in case regulators decide to “ringfence” audit work.

It has also planned for regulators deciding that “public interest” entities — listed companies and systemically important institutions — should be audited by audit-only firms. In this scenario, BDO would drop its 232 listed clients.

Other senior executives at the top six firms are deeply concerned that a forced break-up of their businesses would cause significant disruption for the firms and their clients, with one executive saying there would be a “bloodbath”. David Sproul, chief executive of Deloitte, told the FT in March that creating audit-only firms “would be to the detriment of the capital markets”.

Grant Thornton, the UK’s fifth-largest accounting firm, said: “We fundamentally do not believe that this is the solution to the existing systemic issues in the audit market.”

Accounting executives also argue that a forced break up of audit firms in the UK alone would be ineffective and messy without similar initiatives from international regulators.

Mr Michael said: “The [Big Four] are big beasts because there are big global companies. There will still be big, complex, hairy companies around the world [even after a break-up]. If you want to split the firms up that has to be done internationally, although maybe the UK could lead the way.”

But many academics, politicians and shareholders support calls for a break-up to tackle the dominance of the Big Four, which audited all but nine of the UK’s 350 largest listed companies last year, despite the introduction of sweeping reforms aimed at reducing their hold on the market.

Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the “only way” to improve competition was to break them up. “Unless you do that, three or four companies will continue to completely dominate,” he said.

Natasha Landell-Mills, head of stewardship at London-based asset manager Sarasin & Partners, who has previously called for a break-up, said: “In the past, the audit firms argued strongly that mandatory audit firm rotation would lead to weaker audits and potentially chaos. This has not transpired.

“[A break-up] would be difficult for the accountancy firms’ business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be bad for the public interest.”


Friday, 18 May 2018

In sickness and in health

Since 2016, I have seen more hospitals than any other year before in my life. I'm not the patient, however. I’m the boyfriend, accompanying the patient. Like many other people, I don’t like hospitals. Hospitals remind me of sickness and of death, not of birth and/or life. There’s little doubt in my mind that the increased frequency of hospital visits relates to (my/our) ageing.

Since December 2017, I have been trying to contact my current girlfriend. She ignored me as she was abroad and recovering from a prior hospital admittance. In April 2018, she replied to my newest message. Our first phone call was emotional as she informed me that she was recently diagnosed with cancer.

The first thing that went through my mind was: “Not again!” Her words immediately reminded me of 2 other sick girlfriends, of whom one died in 2016. I’m not a saint and thus my mind briefly considered stopping this developing contact. It was not an option for me. Instead, I invited her to my home to assist her in her healing process.

Since 21 April, we are mostly together at my home. The surprise is on her side, not mine. Each working day, she visits the Amsterdam Academic Medical Center for radiation treatment. The chemotherapy is through daily pills, apart from the initial chemo. I learned that chemo is not an abbreviation for chemical (poison) but originates from plants: camptotheca and topotecan.

I am genuinely worried about how much time is left for her and me together, despite the regular jokes that we both make about her (not) getting better. In our case, humour and laughter works better than tears and sympathy.

The hardest part for me is emotional attachment. The rational Leon is keeping some distance in order to avoid (my) future devastation, like in 2016. Fortunately, she prefers the rational Leon as an emotional Leon would be a burden on her. The last thing she needs is helping me stay afloat. The rational Leon does create some guilt, however, for hardly showing the emotional Leon.

Recently, I said to her that we would probably not have met, let alone be still together, when she would not be sick. After some thought, she agreed with me. She likes this thought and so do I. Some how, it feels like that we were supposed to meet. Initially, I was immediately drawn to her picture. She reminds me of two very special persons in my life.

My girlfriend is optimistic about her recovery. She told me that she told her doctor that I deserve part of the credits. In my view, she’s the only one who is accountable and responsible for her healing. Like her other friends, I’m just facilitating and being supportive.

My concerns over her health occupy my mind and interfere with my writing. It’s hard to focus on "petty" topics, like Mrs May’s Machiavellian Moves (a.k.a. Brexit) or Trump’s revolution of disruption, chaos & destruction. The rising oil prices due to Trump’s abundant chaos are a major economic boost for his Russian friends but why should I care when my friend is ill?

Save Me (1976) by Joan Armatrading - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Caught up in a whirling motion 
Such a strange sensation 
The currents uncertain 
Like sails of a mill 
I spin 
Like wheels I move in a circle 
While you stand on the bank 
Immune or evasive