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Thursday, 28 February 2019

Self-deception

I'm afraid that I have applied self-deception in some of my relationships and for quite some years. It doesn't help that I always want to see the good in people, despite their deeds and words. Neither does it help that I usually blame myself first for things that went wrong. It's rather confronting seeing someone in a totally different light than before.

According to Wikipedia, "self-deception is a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. Self-deception involves convincing oneself of a truth (or lack of truth) so that one does not reveal any self-knowledge of the deception."

I suspect that my self-deception is rooted in my eagerness of caring for someone. Hence, it's somehow related to the proverb that loves is blind. Self-deception isn't common to me. Mostly, I see people just the way they are. People in a victim role, however, pose a much greater challenge to me. 

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states: "Virtually every aspect of self-deception, including its definition and paradigmatic cases, is a matter of controversy among philosophers".

That controversy includes whether self-deception is: intentional, a belief, our own moral responsibility, morally problematic, beneficial or harmful, and "whether our penchant for self-deception was selected for or merely an accidental byproduct of our evolutionary history".

The various types of self-deception seem related to the various Greek words for love:
  • philía: brotherly/sisterly love and friendships;
  • éros: romantic love;
  • agápe: the love for a Supreme Being;
  • storgē: parental love;
  • pragma: convenient type of love like in elderly couples;
  • philautia: the love for one's own self.

The above list appears to answer some of the philosophical questions relating to self-deception. We are turning a blind eye to the ones we love and/or care for. This seems an intentional process driven by our subconscious rather than our conscious or unconscious. Most likely, this process is beneficial in the short-term and possibly harmful in the long-term, after the love has gone. 

“People go on marrying because they can't resist natural forces, although many of them may know perfectly well that they are possibly buying a month's pleasure with a life's discomfort.” A quote by Thomas Hardy from Jude the Obscure (1895).

After The Love Has Gone (1979) by Earth Wind & Fire


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

European colonisation of the Americas killed 10% of world population and caused global cooling (Conversation)

Sometimes, I notice an article that instinctively makes no sense. This is one of these articles. This article does, however, provide a follow-up on my 23 February blog on a recent Quartz article: What the 17th century’s “Little Ice Age” teaches us about climate change

Quartz: "The Little Ice Age was not thought to be caused by humans, though upcoming research in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews disputes this, concluding that war and disease in North America led to the cooling."

Quartz: "Some hypothesize that it was the result of increased volcanic activity that influenced ocean salinity which changed deep-sea water pressures and, as a result, the world’s weather. Others argue that the increased volcanic activity is the result, and not the cause, of the extreme climate."

If there would be a link between pandemics and climate change then the "Spanish flu of 1918", which "resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million (three to five percent of the world's population)", clearly challenges (see graph below) such an alleged link. 

-------

"While Europe was in the early days of the Renaissance, there were empires in the Americas sustaining more than 60m people. But the first European contact in 1492 brought diseases to the Americas which devastated the native population and the resultant collapse of farming in the Americas was so significant that it may have even cooled the global climate.

The number of people living in North, Central and South America when Columbus arrived is a question that researchers have been trying to answer for decades. Unlike in Europe and China, no records on the size of indigenous societies in the Americas before 1492 are preserved. To reconstruct population numbers, researchers rely on the first accounts from European eyewitnesses and, in records from after colonial rule was established, tribute payments known as “encomiendas”. This taxation system was only established after European epidemics had ravaged the Americas, so it tells us nothing about the size of pre-colonial populations.

Early accounts by European colonists are likely to have overestimated settlement sizes and population to advertise the riches of their newly discovered lands to their feudal sponsors in Europe. But by rejecting these claims and focusing on colonial records instead, extremely low population estimates were published in the early 20th century which counted the population after disease had ravaged it.

On the other hand, liberal assumptions on, for example, the proportion of the indigenous population that was required to pay tributes or the rates at which people had died led to extraordinarily high estimates.

Our new study clarifies the size of pre-Columbian populations and their impact on their environment. By combining all published estimates from populations throughout the Americas, we find a probable indigenous population of 60m in 1492. For comparison, Europe’s population at the time was 70-88m spread over less than half the area.

The Great Dying

The large pre-Columbian population sustained itself through farming – there is extensive archaeological evidence for slash-and-burn agriculture, terraced fields, large earthen mounds and home gardens.

By knowing how much agricultural land is required to sustain one person, population numbers can be translated from the area known to be under human land use. We found that 62m hectares of land, or about 10% of the landmass of the Americas, had been farmed or under another human use when Columbus arrived. For comparison, in Europe 23% and in China 20% of land had been used by humans at the time.

This changed in the decades after Europeans first set foot on the island of Hispaniola in 1492 – now Haiti and the Dominican Republic – and the mainland in 1517. Europeans brought measles, smallpox, influenza and the bubonic plague across the Atlantic, with devastating consequences for the indigenous populations.

Our new data-driven best estimate is a death toll of 56m by the beginning of the 1600s – 90% of the pre-Columbian indigenous population and around 10% of the global population at the time. This makes the “Great Dying” the largest human mortality event in proportion to the global population, putting it second in absolute terms only to World War II, in which 80m people died – 3% of the world’s population at the time.

A figure of 90% mortality in post-contact America is extraordinary and exceeds similar epidemics, including the Black Death in Europe – which resulted in a 30% population loss in Europe. One explanation is that multiple waves of epidemics hit indigenous immune systems that had evolved in isolation from Eurasian and African populations for 13,000 years.

Native Americas at that time had never been in contact with the pathogens the colonists brought, creating so-called “virgin soil” epidemics. People who didn’t die from smallpox, died from the following wave of influenza. Those who survived that succumbed to measles. Warfare, famine and colonial atrocities did the rest in the Great Dying.

Global consequences

This human tragedy meant that there was simply not enough workers left to manage the fields and forests. Without human intervention, previously managed landscapes returned to their natural states, thereby absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. The extent of this regrowth of the natural habitat was so vast that it removed enough CO₂ to cool the planet.

The lower temperatures prompted feedbacks in the carbon cycle which eliminated even more CO₂ from the atmosphere – such as less CO₂ being released from the soil. This explains the drop in CO₂ at 1610 seen in Antarctic ice cores, solving an enigma of why the whole planet cooled briefly in the 1600s. During this period, severe winters and cold summers caused famines and rebellions from Europe to Japan.

The modern world began with a catastrophe of near-unimaginable proportions. Yet it is the first time the Americas were linked to the rest of the world, marking the beginning of a new era.

We now know more about the scale of pre-European American populations and the Great Dying that erased so many of them. Human actions at that time caused a drop in atmospheric CO₂ that cooled the planet long before human civilisation was concerned with the idea of climate change.

Such a dramatic event would not contribute much to easing the rate of modern global warming, however. The unprecedented reforestation event in the Americas led to a reduction of 5 parts per million CO₂ from the atmosphere – only about three years’ worth of fossil fuel emissions today."


Source: https://theconversation.com/european-colonisation-of-the-americas-killed-10-of-world-population-and-caused-global-cooling-110549

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

A new Moscow on the Hudson (3)

In his recent State of the Union (a.k.a. SOTU) speech, the 45th President made an interesting comment: "America will never be a socialist country". The Washington Examiner called Trump's comment "a clear rebuke of a new generation of Democrats and socialists like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.".

Chinese Emperors and Russian Czars may have once have uttered similar statements but history proved them wrong. In 1912 (China) and in 1917 (Russia), the masses denounced their (non-chosen) leaders. A similar event happened in Cuba in 1959.

Extreme inequality, such as in China (<1912), Russia (<1917) and in USA today, will always be countered by a push for (extreme) equality following Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction".

These political waves have a remarkable similarity with an accounting framework called People, Planet & Profit or triple bottom line. In both cases, the order of events appears to be the same:
  1. Profit: basic necessity for continuity ==> Capitalism;
  2. People: additional requirement for growth and development ==> Socialism;
  3. Planet: additional requirement to preserve raw materials and retain customer base ==> Greens.

The transfers between those waves are (very) different: the first wave is often a revolution (eg, China, Russia, Cuba), while the second wave (from #2 to #3) is an evolution in human thinking. The 3rd wave is only quite recent (eg, climate change activists, greens).

Unfortunately, human misunderstanding often forces us a choice (ie, or/or) rather than applying a hybrid (and/and). Without (business) profits, there is no continuity and thus no stage 2 and 3. The alternative, of governments applying central allocation of economic inputs, has always failed.

The extreme American inequality provides fertile ground for a new movement, which has been dubbed millennial socialism by The Economist. This U.S. movement may be quite successful for decades but is doomed to fail, similar to European socialism (eg, Bloomberg).

The Economist (2019): "Yet, although the reborn left gets some things right, its pessimism about the modern world goes too far. Its policies suffer from naivety about budgets, bureaucracies and businesses."

Western European countries have tried both economic models (ie, capitalism and socialism) and have concluded that both are unsustainable. They adopted a hybrid version, which is commonly called social democracy. The Nordic hybrids are, however, quite different from the Saxon hybrids. Still, these countries are all adopting "green" political solutions.

[Don't wanna be an] American Idiot (2004) by Green Day


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Monday, 25 February 2019

Saudi crown prince defends China's right to put Uighur Muslims in concentration camps (Telegraph)

The Telegraph: "Saudi crown prince defends China's right to put Uighur Muslims in concentration camps"


"Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’’s crown prince, on Friday defended China’s use of concentration camps for Muslims, saying it was Beijing’s “right”.

"China has the right to carry out anti-terrorism and de-extremisation work for its national security,” Prince Mohammed, who has been in China signing multi-million trade deals much to the annoyance of his Western allies, was quoted as saying on Chinese state television.

Xi Jinping, China’s leader, told the crown prince the two countries must strengthen international cooperation on de-radicalisation to “prevent the infiltration and spread of extremist thinking”.

China has detained an estimated one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps, where they are undergoing re-education programmes allegedly intended to combat extremism.

The Uighur are an ethnic Turkic group that practices Islam and lives in Western China and parts of Central Asia.

Beijing has accused the minority in its Western Xinjiang region of supporting terrorism and implemented a surveillance regime.

Uighur groups had appealed to Saudi’s powerful young prince to take up their cause, as the ultraconservative kingdom has traditionally been a defender of the rights of Muslims worldwide.

But Muslim leaders have so far not broached the issue with China, which has in recent years become an important trading partner with the Middle East.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, became the first to condemn Beijing, however, describing China's treatment of its Uighur population as "a great cause of shame for humanity" last month and asking it to close the "concentration camps".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had once accused China of "genocide" but has since established closer diplomatic and economic relations with Beijing.

Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan, where Prince Salman has just visited, said he “did not know” much about the conditions of the Uighurs."


Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/22/saudi-crown-prince-defends-chinas-right-put-uighur-muslims-concentration/amp/

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Fear grows in UK car industry that Honda is just first domino to fall (Guardian)

Guardian title: Fear grows in UK car industry that Honda is just first domino to fall

Guardian subtitle: Other bumps in the road include diesel, low demand from China and the mess that is the British industrial strategy


"When Honda insisted last week that Brexit was not a factor in the closure of its Swindon plant – a decision that threatens at least 7,000 jobs – a few eyebrows were raised. The claim did not seem in accord with its previous warnings: that Brexit would be a prelude to disaster. Surely it was now the company’s civic duty to the people of Swindon to give more thought to the part played by EU withdrawal?

Proponents of Brexit, not least the prime minister, immediately leapt on the company’s comments in an effort to head off a Remainer backlash. If Honda was saying it, you had to take them at their word. Since then, after the Guardian presented the Japanese carmaker with details of a doom-laden Brexit briefing it gave Swindonites in September last year, the company has subtly altered its rhetoric.

It claimed that “no one single event” was responsible – albeit only once the fuss had died down and the spotlight had shifted. It was a small but noticeable difference in tone. It is true, of course, that there are other important factors at play, some almost certainly more influential than Britain’s relationship with the EU. They include a global car capacity glut, a free-trade deal between Japan and the EU that makes production in Honda’s domestic market easier, and the need to invest heavily in electric vehicles.

On that last issue, the UK isn’t very attractive, not necessarily because of Brexit but because, say pundits, our industrial strategy is a mess.

“Honda says the UK isn’t an attractive place to make electric cars,” said Professor David Bailey of Aston Business School. “Government policy has been all over the place, frankly. The chancellor has cut the subsidy for electric cars. Last year Theresa May gave a speech in Birmingham about encouraging electric vehicle production. As she was speaking, I couldn’t find anywhere in the city to plug in my Nissan Leaf.”

With the road ahead looking increasingly long, winding and bumpy, fears are growing that Swindon is just one domino in a chain. Jaguar Land Rover, wrestling with slumping diesel sales, limp Chinese demand and, yes, Brexit, has already cut jobs. Nissan has said it will not be making its new X-Trail in Sunderland.

This week, French auto giant Groupe PSA – the firm behind Peugeot and Citroën – will report full-year results. It also owns Vauxhall, whose plant at Ellesmere Port has been the centre of speculation for some time. A decision on its future is pending and, while PSA may not make an announcement this week, industry observers will be listening intently to the mood music.

It isn’t just Ellesmere Port. Fears are growing about possible reductions at facilities such as Jaguar Land Rover’s Castle Bromwich site and the Toyota plant at Burnaston in Derbyshire, which operates with some of the same realities as compatriot Honda.

Later this week, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders will give its latest update on manufacturing, a timely reminder of the health of the sector and what there is to lose. The SMMT has been a Cassandra-esque voice on Brexit, particularly a no-deal scenario.

Industry observers are tearing their hair out. Ian Henry of consultancy AutoAnalysis said: “If the UK was in the EU, it’s my personal view that Nissan would have made the X-Trail or some other vehicle in the UK and that Honda would have retained a plant here. The fact that we’re going to be outside it and the government has failed to provide clarity, despite the Japanese asking for it the day after Brexit, just annoys them.” "


Source: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/feb/24/honda-swindon-plant-brexit-industrial-strategy

It’s not just the EU that is alienated by Brexit. It’s Japan too (Guardian)

Guardian title: It’s not just the EU that is alienated by Brexit. It’s Japan too

Guardian subtitle: Nissan, Honda and Hitachi were the pillars of an Anglo-Japanese accord dating back to the 1980s. That deal is now in ruins


"The damage becomes more palpable by the day. So, far from winning a £350m-a-week boost to the NHS, we find that the mere prospect of Brexit is costing the economy £800m a week.

And this is only the beginning, unless the madness can be stopped. I have pointed out before that her crucial contribution to setting up the single market was one of Margaret Thatcher’s finest achievements (the finest, according to Kenneth Clarke) and I say this as one who was not slow to criticise what I still regard as her originally misconceived approach towards British industry. That sado-monetarist period of the early 1980s was so disastrous that it provoked the chairman of ICI to go to Downing Street and ask the prime minister whether she wanted the company to remain in Britain. We now have present-day industrialists in a similar state of despair.

A crucial element in the Thatcher government’s economic recovery plan was the wooing of foreign investment, most notably Japanese, to these isles. The Japanese government and industrialists were given solemn assurances that the UK was a perfect location for their investment in the vast European market. Apart from providing jobs, the arrival of Japanese practices had a beneficent effect on British management and unions more generally.

We have now had, in quick succession, Nissan and Honda announcing relocation plans – sadly, from sites in Sunderland and Swindon where the majority voted Leave. I have visited Japan many times over the years, and still have good contacts there. From the moment David Cameron announced the referendum, senior Japanese officials smelled trouble. Frankly, they could not comprehend why a British prime minister would take such a risk, quite apart from the potential threat to what had been in effect an Anglo-Japanese accord that had worked well for decades.

Honda is being polite in downplaying fears about Brexit behind its decision, but the truest cause is pretty obvious. And now Lord Adonis, who as transport secretary negotiated major Hitachi investments here after the collapse of British train manufacturing in the 1980s and 90s, warns us in the New European that Hitachi too will feel betrayed.

Which brings us to Cameron’s successor, Clarke’s “bloody difficult woman”, Theresa May. A case can be made that the crux of the crisis stems from May’s obsession with freedom of movement. Tories are supposed to believe in freedom, but not May.

I still hope that a second referendum will allow voters to have second thoughts, and young voters to have first thoughts

When she inherited the office she had desired for most of her life, the prime minister, who was apparently concerned that the Tory party was the “nasty party”, wanted to do lots of good, socially beneficial things.

Instead, the nastiness has continued – social neglect is all around us – and she has been obsessed by opposition to the kind of free movement of labour that all but the most pig-headed Brexiters can see the British economy depends on. For this she was, and is, prepared to sacrifice membership of the customs union and the single market – apparently in an effort to keep the Conservative party together, an aim which looks increasingly doomed.

Someone who tried to instil sense into the prime minister’s approach was Sir Ivan Rogers, our former ambassador to the EU. He was eventually eased out, but is doing sterling work warning of the perils ahead. He was on scintillating form in front of the Lords select committee on the EU last Wednesday. In particular, he pointed to the absurdity of the British wanting “regulatory alignment” with a club the departure from which involves wilfully choosing regulatory disalignment.

In his book 9 Lessons in Brexit, Rogers says: “Virtually the entire British political class still thinks that its free-movement preoccupations are shared in the 27. They aren’t … among the other 27 member states, without exception, free movement is not at all the same business as external migration.”

He envisages five to 10 years ahead of hard lessons being learned. Me? I am still hoping that our elected representatives will vote to Remain and, if not, that a second referendum will allow voters to have second thoughts – and young voters to have first thoughts.

I like Dr Sarah Wollaston’s analogy with the patient who has signed up for serious surgery but changes his or her mind on being acquainted with new information about the risks. Surely we are being deluged with such information by the day?"

Written by William Keegan, who is the Observer's senior economics commentator
Source: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/feb/24/brexit-not-just-eu-alienated-japan-too-nissan-honda-hitachi

R.I.P. Marleen / Leen


Marlene on the Wall (1985) by Suzanne Vega




Lean on me (1972) by Bill Withers


Rest In Peace to my Belgian friend Marleen (Leen), 22 February 2019

Saturday, 23 February 2019

What the 17th century’s “Little Ice Age” teaches us about climate change (Quartz)

"Once upon a time in Europe, the winters got very very cold and the summers got unbearably hot. “The spring of this year was like winter, cold and wet, the wine blossom terrible, and the harvest bad,” wrote the Swiss theologian Heinrich Bullinger in 1570.

Initially, this seemed like a temporary problem, just one bad year. So across the continent, cultivators shrugged off their poor harvests, and vintners sold wine made of sour grapes which consumers drank angrily as they contemplated rising grain prices.

But the extreme weather continued, season after season after season, until abnormal became the new normal. As William Shakespeare put it in the 1593 play Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent.”

In his book Nature’s Mutiny, to be published in March by WW Norton & Company, German journalist Philipp Blom posits that Shakespeare wrote those words as a literal description of the string of difficult winters he’d just endured. This period of extreme weather, which would continue for more than 100 years, is now known as the “Little Ice Age,” and Blom argues that if we look back at its effects in Europe—where they were best documented—we’ll better understand how we got to where we are today and anticipate what’s ahead as climate change increasingly affects our lives.

God has abandoned us

In Shakespeare’s time, religious authorities posited that God was punishing humans for their poor behavior with the bad weather, and they called for more piety to appease the disappointed deity. That thinking inspired European witch hunts—the idea being that burning women at the stake would somehow thaw the frozen winter earth, make the rain fall gently on the crops in spring, and cool the scorching summer sun. But the persecution didn’t succeed in changing the extreme weather, obviously, and so, very slowly, people’s ideas about how to address the crisis transformed instead.

Over the next 100 years, during the 17th century, a new metaphor for the world starts to take hold. Instead of God watching over us, the planet—and all of nature—is treated as a kind of clockwork, a mechanism that follows natural laws, which we humans can discern through observation and experimentation. Scientists get serious about exchanging information. Botanists send plants across continents, and Europe—struggling to grow grain—adopts new growths, like tulips and potatoes, which prove to be the basis for new markets and gastronomies. Economies transform. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and a tiny middle class is born.

By the time the weather becomes more temperate again, around 1700, many of the ideas that shape the world we live in today have come into being—including notions of a free market with its own logic. And, of course, the market’s “forces” are what incentivized the behavior that led to the widespread exploitation of natural resources contributing to the current climate crisis, Blom notes.

So, the snake eats its tail. The new approach to growing food and wealth prompted by the Little Ice Age has led us to where we are today, with our melting ice sheets and rising sea levels.

The more things change

The Little Ice Age was not thought to be caused by humans, though upcoming research in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews disputes this, concluding that war and disease in North America led to the cooling. Some hypothesize that it was the result of increased volcanic activity that influenced ocean salinity which changed deep-sea water pressures and, as a result, the world’s weather. Others argue that the increased volcanic activity is the result, and not the cause, of the extreme climate.

Whatever the cause, Blom contends that we can better understand the future by examining the past. History shows us how we got to where we are, as well as the difficulties that lie ahead.

If he is right, there’s reason to be both fearful and hopeful. The Little Ice Age was a time of crisis in Europe. But necessity proved to be the mother of invention. The troubles also prompted innovation and exploration, laying the foundations for a whole new way of life.

For example, when the extreme weather first set in, Amsterdam was essentially an unimpressive village in the Netherlands. Within a century, it became a bustling port city and a sophisticated metropolis, a place where intellectuals of all creeds and beliefs exchanged radical, new ideas, where the markets, arts, and publishing houses all thrived. Trading with Baltic seaports in places where grain was cultivated by serfs whose work was essentially unpaid helped Amsterdam to evolve.

The positive transformation was forced by difficult circumstances. So in the best-case scenario, we too will have our own kind of Enlightenment period to look forward to in the future. But based on history, before things get better, they will get worse, Blom predicts.

Take only what you need

His review of the Little Ice Age as it affected Europe painstakingly documents the struggles of an evolving continent. To manage under new circumstances and to feed starving populations at home, Europeans relied on mass international exploitation—slavery and colonization—growing large amounts of wealth that led to the continent’s ascent.

Wealthy Europeans squeezed the poor for profit on their own turf as well. Landowners across the continent eliminated public commons that once served as places where anyone in a village could let their animals graze or grow some grain. Farming was once done on a small scale to feed individual families but it became a big business exporting food on a grand scale from the country to growing cities, and this incentivized landowners to reclaim all their terrains. Blom explains:
The social and economic system of European feudal societies rested on land ownership and local grain production. This was its central pillar as well as its main vulnerability. When temperatures declined enough to disturb grain production and therefore undermine this pillar, the entire social model fell into decline. Europeans were forced to think of alternative ways of organizing themselves and their economic life.

This elimination of the commons drove landless villagers to the growing cities where they worked for a pittance to buy grain they once grew themselves. Meanwhile, the wealthy boosted their fortunes with speculation in markets that now offered investment in new commodities.

The fairest onion

Tulips, for example, prompted the first documented stock market bubble. A merchant from Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire sent the flower bulbs to a Dutchman in the late 1500s. The recipient gave the bulbs to his cook, thinking they were onions. He in turn threw them in a garbage heap when he realized that they weren’t edible.

But in the spring when the trash heap blossomed, the merchant sent this foreign specimen to the foremost botanist of the time, Charles de l’Ecluse, in Leiden. They survived the extremely harsh winter of 1593 and the botanist, delighted, sent the new-to-Europe flowers to his friends, naming them after the word “turban” in Turkish.

The blooms became such a sensation that entrepreneurs stole bulbs from the botanist and began cultivating tulips for sale. By 1630, the price of a single varietal of tulip bulb could equal as much as “a well-appointed country house,” as Blom puts it. A bouquet of tulips became the must-have accessory for any fine home in the Netherlands and beyond, inspiring “breathless buying and selling” by investors.

The tulip bubble burst suddenly and inexplicably in February 1637, leaving many investors destitute and driving some to suicide. The bulbs were deemed practically worthless again, tossed aside as they had been by the first cook who mistook them for inedible onions.

Fortune-telling

Blom argues that just as extreme weather of the past created new pressures that prompted novel economic models which brought unexpected riches and risks, and created unquantifiable human suffering due to exploitation, so too will the transforming weather of the future. “Then, as now, there is pressure from climate change on economic and social structures, on natural resources and social cohesion… Then as now a shift in weather patterns causes natural disasters, upending societies and creating fear, as well as exacerbating the need for change,” he writes.

Taking a historian’s view of our current situation, Blom predicts that we are in a similar position today to that of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the late 1500s, on the verge of a revolution driven by pressures extreme weather creates. In other words, the winter of our discontent has begun, only this time it’s likely to be a blistering summer as global temperatures rise, wreak havoc, and lead to extreme temperatures.

Rather than despair, however, Blom urges us to see the possibilities. Yes, there is trouble ahead. But there is also the chance that climate change will drive the next great evolution of ideas—new metaphors and new understandings of the planet—just as it did in the past, transforming Europe from a religious to a rational society. Blom says we cannot wait any longer, writing, “Twenty-first century climate change makes it a matter of urgency to rethink once more our cultural metaphors, as well as humanity’s place within the great scheme of things.” "


Source: https://qz.com/1554962/what-17th-centurys-little-ice-age-teaches-us-on-climate-change/amp/

Friday, 22 February 2019

A Harvard psychologist says people judge you based on 2 criteria when they first meet you (BI)

Business Insider title: A Harvard psychologist says people judge you based on 2 criteria when they first meet you


"People size you up in seconds, but what exactly are they evaluating?

Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy has been studying first impressions alongside fellow psychologists Susan Fiske and Peter Glick for more than 15 years, and has discovered patterns in these interactions.

In her new book, "Presence," Cuddy says that people quickly answer two questions when they first meet you:
  • Can I trust this person?
  • Can I respect this person?

Psychologists refer to these dimensions as warmth and competence, respectively, and ideally you want to be perceived as having both.

Interestingly, Cuddy says that most people, especially in a professional context, believe that competence is the more important factor. After all, they want to prove that they are smart and talented enough to handle your business.

But in fact, warmth, or trustworthiness, is the most important factor in how people evaluate you.

"From an evolutionary perspective," Cuddy says, "it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust."

It makes sense when you consider that in cavemen days it was more important to figure out if your fellow man was going to kill you and steal all your possessions than if he was competent enough to build a good fire.

But while competence is highly valued, Cuddy says that it is evaluated only after trust is established. And focusing too much on displaying your strength can backfire.

She says that MBA interns are often so concerned about coming across as smart and competent that it can lead them to skip social events, not ask for help, and generally come off as unapproachable.

These overachievers are in for a rude awakening when they don't get a job offer because nobody got to know and trust them as people.

Cuddy says:
If someone you're trying to influence doesn't trust you, you're not going to get very far; in fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative. A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you've established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat."

Source:
https://www.businessinsider.com/harvard-psychologist-amy-cuddy-how-people-judge-you-2016-1

Note LO: several URL's added for clarification purposes.

Other related sources:
https://www.learning-mind.com/judging-others/
https://www.hbs.edu/news/Pages/item.aspx?num=284
https://www.wired.com/2012/11/amy-cuddy-first-impressions/
https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/harvard-psychologist-says-this-trait-matters-most-10-ways-to-make-a-great-first-.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/18/magazine/when-the-revolution-came-for-amy-cuddy.html

Thursday, 21 February 2019

The splitting of the Tories and Labour could redefine British politics (Guardian)

Guardian title: The splitting of the Tories and Labour could redefine British politics

Guardian subtitle: Britain is split down the middle on Brexit. In response the independent MPs have made a bold break


"Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston are not the first MPs to break away from the Conservative party. The list of Tory resigners goes back to Winston Churchill in 1904 and beyond. And they are unlikely to be the last. Back in October I had a coffee at the Tory conference with a cabinet minister who confessed: “Part of me is longing for Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg to become leader so the rest of us can just leave and join a new party.”

Wednesday’s departure of “the three amigos”, as Allen called them at their press conference, does not make that much larger Tory fissure a certainty – much will depend on the Brexit endgame. But it makes it more likely. It also marks a potential watershed for the 21st-century Conservative party. When the three former Tory female MPs - and their gender is definitely part of the story -crossed the floor of the House of Commons this morning, they threw down the gauntlet to an entire generation of 21st-century Tory modernisers to either stand up or stand down.

They did something else too. The sight of a group of MPs abandoning a Tory government to sit with the opposition is unusual enough. What made their move even more unusual was that the three women went straight over to sit with the seven – now eight – former Labour MPs who themselves broke with Jeremy Corbyn’s party on Monday. By doing this they raised, in the most visible way, the possibility that these 11 independents are the outriders of a new party formed from simultaneous splits of both the two main parties in parliament.

Commentators should be wary of claiming that things are without precedent. But it is genuinely hard to think of any previous new political grouping that drew on both the main parties as this one has. That was certainly not the case with the Social Democrats in 1981, who were overwhelmingly a split from Labour. Let’s just agree that British party politics has witnessed something extremely unusual this week, whether it succeeds or it fails.

It is tempting to see the independents as the often trailed new centre party that many have expected – and some have hoped – would emerge from the simultaneous moves of Labour to the far left under Corbyn and of the Tories to the far right in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. Some of the independents see themselves that way. Sarah Wollaston was explicit that her move was “about more than Brexit”, and that she foresaw a “third way” grouping. The independents’ website also says they aim to provide a home for refugees from both parties.

Much of the commentary on this week’s events will present the independents in that light. There is some truth in it. The independents have a social market ideology that slots between the extremes on the old left-right spectrum which some still use to explain our politics. They think of themselves as centrists of both the left and right. The polls show a section of the electorate – as much as 10% in the first week of their existence – has quickly embraced the new grouping.

The independents would not exist except for the politics of Brexit. Frustration with Corbyn’s equivocations on Brexit helped to drive the former Labour MPs into the group. Despair with the Tory right’s grip on May’s Brexit strategy did the equivalent for the former Conservatives. Yet on Europe, as the political scientist guru John Curtice argued today, “There is simply no centre ground.”

Britain is split down the middle on the Brexit issue. A centrist position might arguably be to accept a soft Brexit. Yet the independents are not selling themselves as soft Brexiters but as solid remainers and advocates of the so-called people’s vote. They want a second referendum in the hope that it will overturn the first. “What is remotely centrist about this exercise?” Curtice asks about the new grouping. “On Brexit they aren’t centrists; they are extremists.”

This is neither a value judgment nor a trivial point. It is simply the case. Brexit has never sat neatly on the left-right spectrum. Most people on the left are remainers, but a significant minority aren’t. Most on the right are leavers, but plenty are not. But the left-right spectrum is not the only spectrum that matters in modern politics. Curtice argues that the axis running from social-liberal to social-conservative is just as important nowadays. Brexit fits in more predictably there. Social liberals tend to be remainers while social conservatives are mostly leavers. In Scotland, there is also a third spectrum to take account of, in the shape of the national question.

Seen in that light, the defining thing about the independents is therefore not that they are centrists. It is that, as remainers, they are social liberals. But that in turn means two things. First, they stand for something that alienates socially conservative voters. Second, they are not seeking to fill a large gap in the market – as they tend to claim when portraying themselves as centrists – but are competing with other existing socially liberal parties for votes. The most obvious such party is the Liberal Democrats, and the new grouping will have to decide whether they regard Vince Cable’s party as part of the answer or part of the problem. Similar decisions will be needed in relation to the Greens and the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties.

But the biggest challenge for the independents is to evolve an agenda for Labour voters. In 2017, Corbyn captured very large swaths of the pro-remain, socially liberal, university-educated parts of the electorate who don’t vote Lib Dem, Green or nationalist. These are precisely the people at whom the independents are aiming. But Corbyn is a leaver, not a remainer. He wants Brexit to happen. His hold on those voters is therefore at risk.

That gives the independents a clear chance, especially if Theresa May’s efforts to patch up her deal with the EU fall apart. Labour has millions of remain voters. Some Tory voters will be open to that appeal too. But the independents cannot assume that Labour remainers are all centrists in the old Blairite sense of the 1990s. The centre of gravity on the left-right axis is never stable. It must be constantly redefined in the light of changing times. And the centre has shifted a lot, as it always does. Attitudes towards nationalisation, for instance, have shifted to the left.

This is the real challenge to the independents. They have learned the hard way that the existing party system no longer articulates the divisions and aspirations of the electorate. They know what is wrong. They have made a bold break. Now they must say what they will put in its place. They may not have long. This week’s churning means an early general election just got a bit more likely."

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/20/split-tories-labour-british-politics-brexit-independent-mps

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Conservatives ‘manipulated’ by Eurosceptic ‘zealots’, former PM John Major says (FT)

"Former UK prime minister John Major will warn the Conservative party is being “manipulated” by Eurosceptic “zealots”, as he calls on the “mainstream majority” of MPs to take control of Brexit.

The Tory party membership “appears to be ‘hollowing out’ traditional Conservatives, while former Ukip members strengthen the anti-European Right of the party”, he will warn in a lecture in Glasgow on Tuesday night.

Sir John will call on parliament to show the “wisdom and the will to exert its democratic right” to stop a no-deal Brexit.

“Every so often, in our long history, there has come a moment when Parliament has had to dig deep into its soul”, he will say. “Now is such a moment.”

“I believe we have a right to expect members of Parliament to vote for an outcome that best protects the future welfare and prosperity of our nation — without fear or favour and without defence to party allegiance.”

Sir John will also round on hardline Conservative Eurosceptic MPs, warning the European Research Group (ERG), have become a “party within a party”.

“Some, who can fairly be called zealots, seem incapable of looking beyond the one issue of Europe,” he will say. “It is not just that it dominates their thinking, it seems to obsess them.” "

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/f8ea8a64-3477-11e9-bd3a-8b2a211d90d5


-------


FT Breaking News, 20 February 2019:

"Three pro-EU Tory MPs defect to newly-formed Independent Group

Three pro-EU Conservative MPs have resigned and joined the new Independent Group in a major challenge to prime minister Theresa May.

Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston announced their decision to quit in a joint statement, saying that they "no longer feel we can remain in the party of a government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP”. "

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/4bd129da-3500-11e9-bd3a-8b2a211d90d5

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The flu

By now, I am almost fully recovered from the flu that started some 2 weeks ago. Similar to 2015 - 2018, there is again a flu epidemic. Since the 2009 flu epidemic, the Dutch government is monitoring its impact on mortality rates. Dutch mortality rates have been rising following the flu epidemics ever since the winter of 2014/2015 (RIVM).

NL Times, 14 Feb 2019: "Nationwide the number of people with the flue also increased sharply, after a few weeks of decline. According to health institute Nivel, 96 out of each 100 thousand people in the Netherlands went to a GP with flu symptoms last week. The week before that it was 59 out of 100 thousand. If more than 51 out of 100 thousand people have the flu for two consecutive weeks, it is considered an epidemic."

In June 2018, a Dutch newspaper reported that Dutch longevity is stalling (a.k.a. no longer increasing) due to these waves of flu epidemics. In 2019, another Dutch newspaper reported that actuaries have negatively adjusted the expected increase in Dutch longevity - for the first time ever. This adjustment will benefit Dutch pension funds (FD).

Other countries reported similar trend reversals in formerly declining mortality rates:
  • Canada: "British Columbia’s average life expectancy drops for first time in decades due to surge in overdose deaths" (The Star-2018);
  • UK: due to "bad flu season and excess winter deaths [] from 2015 to 2017" (BBC);
  • USA: "U.S. Life Expectancy Drops for Third Year in a Row, Reflecting Rising Drug Overdoses, Suicides" (my 2018 blog).

There are also some other (very) interesting trends:

In 1918, the deadliest ever global flu epidemic, or pandemic, "infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims" (History). This flu pandemic is better known under its, slightly misleading, nickname the Spanish flu.

The Medicine Song (1984) by Stephanie Mills


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Monday, 18 February 2019

Being kind to yourself has mental and physical benefits, research shows (EurekAlert)

"Taking time to think kind thoughts about yourself and loved ones has psychological and physical benefits, new research suggests.

A study by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford has found that taking part in self-compassion exercises calms the heart rate, switching off the body's threat response. Previous studies have shown that this threat response damages the immune system. Researchers believe the ability to switch off this response may lower the risk of disease.

In the study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, 135 healthy University of Exeter students were divided into five groups, and members of each group heard a different set of audio instructions. The team took physical measurements of heart rate and sweat response, and asked participants to report how they were feeling. Questions included how safe they felt, how likely they were to be kind to themselves and how connected they felt to others.

The two groups whose instructions encouraged them to be kind to themselves not only reported feeling more self-compassion and connection with others, but also showed a bodily response consistent with feelings of relaxation and safety. Their heart rates dropped and the variation in length of time between heartbeats - a healthy sign of a heart that can respond flexibly to situations. They also showed lower sweat response.

Meanwhile, instructions that induced a critical inner voice led to an increased heart rate and a higher sweat response - consistent with feelings of threat and distress.

First author Dr Hans Kirschner, who conducted the research at Exeter, said: "These findings suggest that being kind to oneself switches off the threat response and puts the body in a state of safety and relaxation that is important for regeneration and healing."

Lead researcher Dr Anke Karl, of the University of Exeter, said: "Previous research has found that self-compassion was related to higher levels of wellbeing and better mental health, but we didn't know why.

"Our study is helping us understand the mechanism of how being kind to yourself when things go wrong could be beneficial in psychological treatments. By switching off our threat response, we boost our immune systems and give ourselves the best chance of healing. We hope future research can use our method to investigate this in people with mental health problems such as recurrent depression."

The recordings that encouraged self-compassion were a "compassionate body scan" in which people were guided to attend to bodily sensations with an attitude of interest and calmness; and a "self-focused loving kindness exercise" in which they directed kindness and soothing thoughts to a loved one and themselves.

The three other groups listened to recordings designed to induce a critical inner voice, put them into a "positive but competitive and self-enhancing mode", or an emotionally neutral shopping scenario.

All the audio recordings were 11 minutes long.

While people in both the self-compassion and positive but competitive groups reported greater self-compassion and decreased self-criticism, only the self-compassion groups showed the positive bodily response.

The signs of this were reduced sweat response and heart rate slowed by two to three beats per minute on average, compared to the groups listening to critical voice recordings. The self-kindness groups also showed increased hear rate variability - a sign of a healthy heart that is able to adapt to a range of situations.

Co-author Willem Kuyken, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford, said: "These findings help us to further understand some of our clinical trials research findings, where we show that individuals with recurrent depression benefit particularly from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy when they learn to become more self-compassionate.

"My sense is that for people prone to depression, meeting their negative thoughts and feelings with compassion is a radically different way - that these thoughts are not facts.

"It introduces a different way of being and knowing that is quite transformative for many people."

The researchers now plan to extend their research by studying the physiological responses in individuals with recurrent depression.

The researchers stress that the study was conducted in healthy people, so their findings do not mean that people with depression would experience the same improvements from one-off exercises. They did not investigate another important feature of self-compassion, the ability to directly repair mood or distress. Further research is necessary to address these two open points.

###

The full study is entitled 'Soothing Your Heart and Feeling Connected: A New Experimental Paradigm to Study the Benefits of Self-Compassion'. The research was funded by the Compassionate Mind Foundation."



Other sources:

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Radicals aren't good at knowing when they're wrong (Phys)

"People who hold radical political views—at either end of the political spectrum—aren't as good as moderates at knowing when they're wrong, even about something unrelated to politics, finds a new UCL study.

The experimental study used a simple perceptual task, and the researchers found no difference between the groups on task performance, but noted that people with more radical beliefs tended to overestimate their certainty on incorrect answers, according to the findings published in Current Biology.

"We were trying to clarify whether people who hold radical political beliefs are generally overconfident in their stated beliefs, or if it boils down to differences in metacognition, which is the ability we have to recognise when we might be wrong," said lead author Dr. Steve Fleming (Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology).

"We found that people who hold radical political beliefs have worse metacognition than those with more moderate views. They often have a misplaced certainty when they're actually wrong about something, and are resistant to changing their beliefs in the face of evidence that proves them wrong."

For the study, 381 people (in addition to 417 people in a second experiment which replicated the findings) initially completed a survey gauging their political beliefs and attitudes towards alternative world views. People on both the far left or far right of the political spectrum tended to have more radical views, involving authoritarianism and dogmatic intolerance for opposing views.

The participants then completed a simple perceptual task requiring them to look at two sets of dots and judge which one had more dots. They were then asked to rate how confident they were in making their choice, and were incentivised to judge their confidence accurately with a monetary reward.

The experiment was designed to test people on a task completely unrelated to politics, to hone in on cognitive processes without any political motivations.

People with more radical beliefs performed similarly on the task to moderates, but they tended to give higher confidence ratings when they had made incorrect choices than moderates did. Radicals' confidence on correct answers was similar to that of moderates.

A second stage of the study assessed how participants took in new evidence. After making a judgement on the dots task, participants were shown another set of dots as 'bonus' information about the correct answer, before making their confidence judgment. If they had made an incorrect choice, the next set of dots should have weakened their confidence in their choice—which it did for moderates, but not as much for people with radical political views.

"The differences in metacognition between radicals and moderates were robust and replicated across two data sets, but this self-knowledge ability only explained a limited amount of the variance in radicalism. We suspect that this is because the task is completely unrelated to politics—people may be even more unwilling to admit to being wrong if politics had come into play," said Ph.D. student Max Rollwage (Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging and Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry & Ageing Research), first author of the paper.

The researchers highlight that previous studies have found no relationship between metacognition and general intelligence, suggesting the differences in radicals are unlikely to be due to overall changes in cognitive ability.

"An important point is that our findings held true among participants with radical views at either end of the political spectrum—radicalism appears to reflect a cognitive style that transcends political inclinations," said co-author Professor Ray Dolan (Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging and Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry & Ageing Research).


More information: Max Rollwage et al, Metacognitive Failure as a Feature of Those Holding Radical Beliefs, Current Biology (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.10.053

Journal reference: Current Biology

Provided by: University College London "


Source: https://phys.org/news/2018-12-radicals-good-theyre-wrong.html

Other sources:


Saturday, 16 February 2019

Carbon reservoirs in the ocean floor may have ended the last ice age – and could bubble up again (NewAtlas)

"Current climate models say we're on track for some pretty drastic changes if we don't reduce our carbon footprint. But a new study has found a huge potential source of carbon emissions that are so far not accounted for in climate models: reservoirs of gases trapped at the seafloor, which could be released as the oceans warm up. And it's happened before, with the team suggesting that these gases belched up from the deep thousands of years ago and put an end to the last ice age.

Towards the end of the Pleistocene period, atmospheric greenhouse gas levels shot through the roof, putting an end to the last ice age. But where did all those gases come from? It's long been thought that the ocean's regular carbon cycle might have been responsible, but according to more recent calculations, that process is too slow to account for the sudden uptick.

The next idea was that seafloor reservoirs of carbon dioxide could have been the culprit. These reservoirs tend to build up around hydrothermal vents, where carbon dioxide and methane is released by volcanic activity underground. The gases mix with water and other materials to form a slurry, which hardens into a cap. There they can sit idle for thousands of years, until something comes along and disturbs them.

One such trigger seems to be warming waters – essentially, as the ocean captures more heat from the atmosphere, those caps melt and release the large stores of carbon dioxide. The gases in turn bubble up to the surface and escape into the atmosphere, exacerbating the greenhouse effect.

The new study found evidence that this is may have been what happened at the end of the last ice age. Researchers from the University of Southern California, Australian National University and Lund University examined a region known as the Eastern Equatorial Pacific (EEP). This area is a hotspot for carbon being released from the ocean into the atmosphere.

Studying ancient marine sediments, the researchers found that hydrothermal materials seemed to be deposited in higher amounts around the end of the last ice age. In particular, there was about four times more zinc in the shells of microscopic sea creatures from the time, indicating hydrothermal activity.

The ages of these marine microorganisms were correlated with data on variations in the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and the link was clear: the EEP released large amounts of carbon just before the end of the ice age, contributing to increases in the surface temperature.

But the most worrying thing about the study is that the oceans are currently warming again, and our climate models don't account for extra CO2 held in these reservoirs. If it were to be released, the outcomes could be much worse than we had planned for.

"We're using the past as a way to anticipate the future," says Lowell Stott, lead author of the study. "We know there are vast reservoirs of carbon gas at the bottom of the oceans. We know when they were disrupted during the Pleistocene it warmed the planet. We have to know if these carbon reservoirs could be destabilized again. It's a wild card for which we need to account."

The researchers say that much more study is needed to determine the level of the threat. Since so much of the ocean floor remains unexplored, we don't yet know how much carbon dioxide is held in these reservoirs. The oceans also don't warm in a uniform way, so we don't know which reservoirs are most vulnerable.

"This study shows that we've been missing a critical component of the marine carbon budget," says Stott. "It shows these geologic reservoirs can release large amounts of carbon from the oceans. Our paper makes the case that this process has happened before and it could happen again."

The research was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Source: University of Southern California "



Other sources:

Friday, 15 February 2019

What Happens If Russia Cuts Itself Off From the Internet (Wired)

"THE WORLD’S INTERNET infrastructure has no central authority. To keep it working, everyone needs to rely on everyone else. As a result, the global patchwork of undersea cables, satellites, and other technologies that connect the world often ignores the national borders on a map. To stay online, many countries must rely on equipment outside their own confines and control.

Nation-states periodically attempt to exert greater authority over their own portions of the internet, which can lead to shutdowns. Last month, for example, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo turned off its internet during a highly contested presidential election. Now Russia, too, wants to test whether it can disconnect itself from the rest of the world, local media reported last week. But Russia is much larger than the DRC, and it has significantly more sophisticated infrastructure. Cutting itself off would be an onerous task that could have myriad unintended consequences. If anything, the whole project illustrates just how entangled—and strong—the global internet has become.

“What we have seen so far is that it tends to be much harder to turn off the internet, once you built a resilient internet infrastructure, than you’d think,” says Andrew Sullivan, CEO of Internet Society, a nonprofit that promotes the open development of the internet.

"There could be catastrophic failures somewhere." PAUL BARFORD, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN—MADISON

According to local news reports, Russia’s disconnection test is part of a new law parliament proposed in December, which would require the country’s internet providers to ensure the independence of Runet, or Russia’s internet. The regulation would mandate that Russian ISPs have the technical means to disconnect from the rest of the world and reroute internet traffic through exchange points managed by Roskomnadzor, Russia’s telecommunications and media regulator. The country reportedly wants to test Runet’s independence by April 1, though no official date has been set and the new regulation has yet to pass. Roskomnadzor did not respond to a request for comment.

The internet was invented in the United States, and US companies now control a significant portion of the infrastructure that powers it. It’s possible that Russia simply wants to gain more autonomy over Runet, but Russian president Vladimir Putin could also be seeking to beef up his cyberwar capabilities or to further censor the online information available to his citizens. While its motives are fuzzy, what’s clear is that Russia has been preparing for greater internet independence for years. In fact, it first proposed disconnecting from the global net back in 2014.

The process by which it would do so remains challenging. “In short, Russia would need to do two things: Ensure that the content Russians seek to access is actually located somewhere in the country, and ensure that routing and exchanges could all occur domestically,” says Nicole Starosielski a professor at New York University and author of The Undersea Network. Russia has recently tried to do both. In 2014 it passed a law that required companies who collect personal data about Russian citizens to store it within the country. (Sites that refused to comply, like LinkedIn, were blocked.) And the country has reportedly developed its own alternative Domain Name System, so that it can access and route internet traffic by itself.

No matter how much Russia has prepared, however, unanticipated issues will almost certainly arise if it tries to dissever from the rest of the world. “I’m absolutely sure that’s the case. It may not break from the perspective of their major infrastructure grinding to a halt, but that’s a risk that they’re taking,” says Paul Barford, a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who studies computer networking. It’s difficult for internet service providers to know precisely how reliant they are on every piece of infrastructure outside their borders. “Because of the complexity across all levels of the protocol stack, there could be catastrophic failures somewhere,” says Barford.

"It tends to be much harder to turn off the internet, once you built a resilient internet infrastructure, than you’d think." ANDREW SULLIVAN, INTERNET SOCIETY

Even if disaster didn’t occur—like banking, hospital, or aviation entities failing to connect—many websites would likely stop working. Most web pages rely on multiple servers to function, which may exist in disparate parts of the world. A news site, for example, may depend on an Amazon Web Services cloud server, Google tracking software, and a Facebook commenting plug-in, all of which are located outside of Russia. “Every [web] page is made of 1,000 different things. If you’re running a website in Russia, you’d have to figure out where everything is coming from,” says Andrew Blum, the author of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet.

What about everyone else? While the United States might not be affected were Russia to shut off access to the global internet, the test could cause problems for other nations who route traffic through the country. “This is not just affecting them,” says Sullivan. “We don’t know if people have transit going across Russia.”

In trying to build a fully autonomous internet, what Russia is really doing is creating a weaker one. The global internet works so well because there are numerous paths for traffic to flow—it’s hard to totally prevent information from getting to its destination. For example, if an undersea cable ruptures between Europe and the US, your email or WhatsApp message to someone in France can simply flow over another one. Russia wants to build a system where it can account for alternative pathways, and shut them off at will.

“It represents a failure of their network. It’s a new design that has made the Russian portion of the internet less reliable,” says Sullivan. “If you engineer the system so that it’s possible to turn if off, that means you have a system that could turn off by accident.” "


Thursday, 14 February 2019

My Funny Valentine


My Funny Valentine (1937) by Frank Sinatra (1954)

Sweet comic valentine
Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
Yet you're my favourite work of art

Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don't change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is valentines day

Is your figure less than greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don't you change one hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is valentines day