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Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Brexit: what happens in the UK stays in the UK

Shortly after the outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum, nationalistic movements in other European countries dreamt about the same ideal: taking back control from Brussels. The Brexit mess has crushed those nationalistic dreams. Expressing it comes close to political suicide.

Today's blog title is a reference to a 2003 city slogan, a 2008 movie and a phrase called: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. In the context of Brexit Britain, it means that the Brexit mess is to be contained to the UK and is not to be exported to the European continent.

Mid April 2019, Guy Verhofstadt and Donald Tusk had a collision related to the title of my blog (eg, Times). Mr. Verhofstadt supports the French President, who insisted early April, that the UK should leave the EU as soon as possible. Mr Macron lost and the UK was given again a further extension (eg, Guardian). The first thing the British MP's did, was going on vacation.

Mr Verhofstadt wants to prevent the Brexit "poison" from spreading into the EU through the upcoming European Parliament election (eg, Times). However, Brexit is mostly poisonous to the UK itself. For the rest of Europe, Brexit is more of an antidote against Nationalism.

The Brexit failure isn't just political. There is a much more fundamental British cause. According to several British articles, the Brits are terrible at long-term planning and great in one-off events, like the Olympics, royal crownings or royal weddings.

Some examples:
- Guardian-2011: If we can organise the Olympics, why can't we get the basics right?
- Guardian-2014: UK planning expert: there is something wrong with Britain;
- Guardian-2014: Road safety: bad planning and reckless driving imperil pedestrians;
- Guardian-2016: Why is the UK's mobile phone coverage so bad?
- Guardian-2019: Why is Britain so bad at planning cities?
- Guardian-2019: UK banks hit daily by IT failures halting payments []

The Brexit mess indeed reveals a fundamental flaw: the British lack of planning skills. This is also confirmed by British HR studies: "UK managers lack some of most desired leadership skills, research finds" (Personnel Today-2017).

Any sane country would have sent the Article 50 withdrawal letter after (secretly) planning most of their intended withdrawal. Not the UK. They started "planning" after sending that letter. Hence, the UK remains unable meeting EU departure deadlines and needs begging for continued extensions of its own withdrawal. For Brits, it's quite humiliating. For others, it's pathetic.

Humility (2018) by the British virtual band Gorillaz, featuring Jack Black

Calling the world from isolation 
'Cause right now, that's the ball where we be chained 
And if you're coming back to find me 
You'd better have good aim

I don't want this isolation 
See the state I'm in now?


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

Monday, 29 April 2019

Crime novels and the 7 Belief systems

Several weeks ago, a question popped up in my mind following my renewed interest in British crime series on TV (eg, Father BrownMidsomer Murders, Shakespeare & Hathaway): is there a relationship between countries and crime novels?

I wondered about this relationship because British, Dutch, German, Scandinavian and U.S. crime stories differ a lot. My mother and son wondered whether any such link even existed, but the question kept lingering in my mind.

An article by Greek crime novelist Petros Markaris (b. 1937) was very helpful in understanding its connection (see article below).

My diagram reveals an unexpected connection with my concept of the 7 Belief systems and the triangle of Love, Knowledge & Power (my blogs):


















I thoroughly recommend reading the article below.

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The Crime Novel: between Society and Deduction

Written by: Petros Markaris
Published: 2014

"It is common knowledge that the modern crime novel starts with Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes. This may be true for the crime novel as a literary genre but the initial crime story goes back to the ancient Greek tragedy. It is Sophocles’ King Oedipus. In the play King Oedipus is investigating the murder of Laios, his father. At the end he finds out that he is the murderer.

This is the perfect crime plot. As far as I know, there is no modern crime novel, in which the detective finds out at the end of his investigation, that he is the culprit.

The 19th century novel is also related closely to the modern crime novel. Charles Dickens shows an interest in the crime story as early as in the fifties of the 19th century. His novels Bleak House, Hunted Down and The Mystery of Edwin Drood are very close to crime novels in the modern sense. The same goes for Dostojewskij’s Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov. Germinal and Therese Raquin by Emile Zola are based on crime stories too. In Victor Hugo’s The Miserables a policeman is chasing a fugitive throughout the 2’500 pages of the novel.

What is the difference between the 19th century novel and the modern crime novel ?

For one, it is the permanent detective hero of the crime novel, who is moving from one novel into the other. This transition establishes the main character of the crime novel as a lonely knight, closer to Robin Hood, or to Walter Scot’s Ivanhoe or to Cervantes’ Don Quixote than to the protagonists of the 19thy century novel.

However, the big difference between the 19th century novel and the crime or detective novel is in the reading habits. The crime novel has been considered for decades some sort of « digestive or, to put it more politely, as bedtime reading.

This is a misunderstanding. The 19th century novel had a high entertainment potential. The success of the novels depended on the interest and the suspense they created for the reader. This applies not only to the novels of Alexandre Dumas but also to those of Charles Dickens, Balzac and Emile Zola. Many of these novels were published initially in weekly issues and people cued up to buy each issue. In my library I still have Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and Germinal by Zola, bound into a book from the weekly issues. I bought them in the eighties of the last century in the Marché aux Puces, in Paris.

Black Mask followed the same pattern when it was published in 1920 by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. All great American detective novelists, from Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to Georgette Heyer and Erle Stanley Gardner were regular contributors to Black Mask.

Historically, two types of crime novel put their mark on the genre: the English and the American crime novel.

The English crime novel is the typical whodunit as it is based on deduction. It is constructed on successive traps set by the author for the reader. The traps are the main source of suspense. These traps are neutralized at the end of the novel with a series of deductions made by a brilliant detective. The most famous of these detectives are undoubtedly Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of the English crime novel. Perhaps because I have read too many of these novels and I am done with them. What I dislike most is the brilliant protagonist of the crime story. I keep asking myself why if he is so clever he did not find a job more suited to his genius. Policemen and private detectives are no geniuses. They are mostly very ordinary people.

What makes it worse is that some of those brilliant private detectives need a naive sidekick in order to prove their intelligence. Every time I read the famous exclamation of Sherlock Holmes: « Elementary, my dear Watson! » I keep asking myself if what Holmes means implicitly is: « You are so stupid that you cannot even grasp the elementary. »

The same applies to the relationship between Hercule Poirot and Colonel Hastings. I prefer Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot. The explanation is very simple in the case of Hercule Poirot. He is an eccentric (with his long moustache and his patent leather shoes), so he solves mysteries. With Miss Marple you keep asking yourself how such an old spinster is capable of solving mysteries. That is the reason why I find Miss Marple a more real and fascinating character.

The American detective novel follows a completely different path. Its stories are mostly based on money and corruption, combined with a complete social background. This social background makes the descriptions of New York by Dashiell Hammet and of the Californian Bay area in the novels of Raymond Chandler two of the best examples in American Literature.

The detectives of the American crime novel are quite different too. They are all ordinary people with an average intelligence running through the city, asking questions and trying to find out what happened. Most of them are loners. They have neither friends nor family. Dahsiell Hammetts’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe belong to this category but also detectives of younger crime novelists, such as Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer or Vic Warshawski, the female detective of Sara Paretsky.

Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright and poet, was a great admirer of the English crime novel. What he found fascinating was the plot, which he used to call a « mathematical construction ». He had no sympathy for the American crime novel, which to him was just a thriller. He was totally convinced that the crime novel would follow the course of the English crime novel.

Well he was wrong. The crime novel followed the American path and moved gradually from a crime novel with a social background to a social novel with a crime plot. In this respect it moved backwards and came closer to the novel of the 19th century, which was in part also a social novel with a crime plot.

There are two historical events, which eventually initiated this backward movement in the crime novel in Europe.

The first was the assassination of the Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme in 1986, which gave birth to the contemporary Swedish crime novel. Some novelists realized that the ideal Swedish society, in which they believed to live, was an illusion and that murder and violence were part of their society too.

The Swedish crime novelist Hakan Nesser published his first novel two years after the assassination of Olof Palme, in 1988. The first novel of Henning Mankell appeared in 1990.

The turning point in the Central European crime novel was the year 1989, i.e. the year of the fall of the socialist regimes in the Soviet Union, the Balkans and in Central Europe. Two hundred years after the French Revolution, Europe was witnessing another revolution, which shook its postwar foundations.

However, the fall of the socialist regimes was not only a revolution. The fall of the Berlin Wall gave birth to mafia structures and to organized crime, which spread out in Europe. These became even worse with the civil war in ex Yugoslavia and the war in Kosovo.

The British journalist Misha Glenny, who was a BBC correspondent in Belgrade during the war in ex Yugoslavia, puts forward in his book Mc Mafia : Crime without Frontiers the theory that the civil war and the Kosovo war in ex Yugoslavia created a silk road of the globalized crime, which starts in the Balkans, crosses the Caucasus, and former Asian socialist republics of the ex Soviet Union and ends in the Far East.

The second consequence was that the globalization of economy went along with the globalization of crime. As the economy became global, crime became global too.

Some figures may help to understand the impact of this new reality. The annual turnover of the organized crime is approximately 2 trillion dollars. According to the figures of Europol some four thousand gangs of organized crime are operating in the European Union. As a result the border between legally invested money and laundered money is very obscure. The majority of the money earned through organized crime is legally invested.

This new reality had a great impact not only on society but also created a new implication between money and banks and money and politics. In this context the new crime novel went a step further and became for many crime writers, especially for those with a leftist political background, a political novel.

This trend appeared earlier and is more established in Southern Europe. It is known today as the Mediterranean Crime Novel. The first author who started to investigate the implications between mafia, society and politics in Sicily was the Italian Leonardo Sciascia. Sciascia recognized as early as in 1961, in his first novel Il Giorno della civetta the disastrous effects that the connection of mafia to local politics had on the Sicilian society. He exercised a great influence on other authors like Andrea Camilleri and the younger Massimo Carlotto.

Another aspect of the Mediterranean Crime Novel is the effect that dictatorships had on the evolution of societies. The Spanish writer Manuel Vasquez Montalban is the most outstanding example of this type of a crime novel directly involved with politics.

There are two other characteristics of the Mediterranean Crime Novel, which are unique in a sense. The first of them is the city where the novel is located. The city in the Mediterranean Crime Novel is not just a background as in the American crime novel. It is one of its protagonists. The city is part of the story. It is impossible to separate the novels of Montalban from Barcelona. The same applies to a French noir novelist, Jean Claude Izzo and Marseillle. The only other crime novelist, who is not Mediterranean whose city is part of the story is Ian Rankin and his use of Edinburgh.

The other characteristic of the Mediterranean Crime Novel is the food. Food and eating are very special to the novels of Montalban. His detective Pepe Carvalho is a great cook. But also in the novels of Andrea Camilleri and Jean-Claude Izzo food plays a very important part.

This characteristic has a social explanation. The generation of these writers grew up in homes where the mother was still a housewife, so good and tasteful food was part of their everyday life. In Central and Northern Europe the emancipation of women came much earlier so the women left home and went to work. This was good for the women but bad for good cooking. In Southern Europe the emancipation of women came much later. This was bad for the women but a blessing for good cooking. That is the reason why in the novels of Central and Northern European writers the only food you get is sandwiches, pizzas and beer.

There is an author though who dealt with both characteristics much earlier. This is Georges Simenon. In Simenon’s novels Paris is a protagonist. You can discover Paris by following his main character, commissaire Maigret, from the centre of Paris to its suburbs. The wife of commissaire Maigret is an excellent cook too.

The success of the crime novel in Europe, during the last twenty years has to do with the fact that the crime novelists were the first to understand and to follow the changes in the societies and in the politics of their countries. The contemporary crime novel is perhaps not the only social and political novel but it is, beyond doubt, the most consequent one."

Source: https://www.cairn.info/revue-a-contrario-2014-1-page-161.htm

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Fox News analyst says Mueller report proves Trump did obstruct justice (Guardian)

Guardian title: Fox News analyst says Mueller report proves Trump did obstruct justice

Guardian subtitle: Andrew Napolitano argued in an op-ed the president obstructed justice with ‘unlawful’ behavior related to the Russia inquiry

Date of publishing: 26 April 2019

"Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano has argued that Donald Trump did obstruct justice, with “unlawful, defenseless and condemnable” behavior related to the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In the opinion column Did President Trump obstruct justice?, the host of the Liberty File on Fox Nation argued that the Mueller report illustrates clear and intentional obstruction of justice, constituting legal grounds for impeachment.

Napolitano, a former superior court judge in New Jersey, thereby contradicted the attorney general, William Barr, who decided there was insufficient evidence to establish that the president had committed obstruction of justice.

Napolitano’s column was accompanied by a video, shot outside Fox News HQ in New York, which spread rapidly on social media. Trump is an avid viewer of the network and user of Twitter. He did not immediately respond.

An FBI investigation into contacts between Trump aides and Russia began before Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel. Mueller’s investigation expanded to include instances of possible obstruction, among them the firing of FBI director James Comey, who told investigators he believed Trump fired him after he refused to call off an investigation into the former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

In his Fox News column, Napolitano argued that with the release this month of the redacted version of Mueller’s report, we “now know why Trump was so anxious for the FBI to leave Flynn alone”.

Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about discussing sanctions with the then Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, a communication Napolitano said “could have been unlawful if it interfered with American foreign policy”.

Trump fired Flynn but, Napolitano wrote, “in his plea negotiations with Mueller, Flynn revealed why he discussed sanctions with Kislyak – because the pre-presidential Trump asked him to do so.

“An honest revelation by Trump could have negated Flynn’s prosecution. But the revelation never came.”

Napolitano said Trump’s attempt to steer the FBI away from Flynn, successful or not, constituted obstruction, which he defined as attempts “to impede or interfere with any government proceeding for a corrupt or self-serving purpose”.

Napolitano disagreed with the special counsel’s decision not to make a determination on obstruction of justice.

“Mueller laid out at least a half-dozen crimes of obstruction committed by Trump,” he wrote, “from asking former deputy national security adviser KT McFarland to write an untruthful letter about the reason for Flynn’s chat with Kislyak, to asking [former campaign aide] Corey Lewandowski and then White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller and McGahn to lie about it, to firing Comey to impede the FBI’s investigations, to dangling a pardon in front of Michael Cohen to stay silent, to ordering his aides to hide and delete records.”

“The essence of obstruction,” he wrote, “is deception or diversion – to prevent the government from finding the truth.”

Napolitano also claimed Mueller knew Barr would block any indictment of Trump along obstruction grounds because the attorney general “has a personal view of obstruction at odds with the statute itself”.

Barr’s view, according to Napolitano, is that obstruction can only occur if someone is impeding an investigation into a crime they committed.

“Thus, in this narrow view, because Trump did not commit the crime of conspiracy with the Russians, it was legally impossible for Trump to have obstructed the FBI investigation of that crime,” Napolitano wrote.

He concluded that though such a position is at odds with broad law enforcement opinion and “wrong”, it provides Congress the opportunity to use Mueller’s report as grounds for impeachment, which would be a question of political viability, not evidence."

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/apr/26/fox-news-andrew-napolitano-trump-obstruct-justice-op-ed

Retail apocalypse sweeping across Canada and U.S. (TorontoSun)

Toronto Sun titleRetail apocalypse sweeping across Canada and U.S.

Author: Liz Braun

Publishing date: 20 April 2019

"Stores are going belly up all over North America.

The ‘retail apocalypse’ is a reality for every outlet from Abercrombie to Zellers, with select store closures for some and a total chain fail for others.

In the U.S., dozens of retailers have come and gone. Others such as Gap and Victoria’s Secret are thinning the ranks by closing less successful stores.

Here in Canada, we’ve witnessed the Sears debacle and the end of such chains as Payless Shoes, Town Shoes, Nine West (what is it with shoes?) Home Outfitters, Jean Machine, Claire’s jewelry and so on, and so forth.

How bad is it? Really bad.

It’s only April but in America it’s been announced already that some 6,000 stores are closing. That same number closed over the whole year in 2018.

The bad news is the crowd of retail workers out of a job. The good news — sort of — is that Canada isn’t feeling the pinch quite as badly.

The retail apocalypse is less terrible here in the True North than it is for our American cousins. Malls, for example, which sit empty and even abandoned in some U.S. cities, still have a vibrant life here. And international retailers hoping to conquer the world often start out in Canada on a trial run.

According to retail-insider.com, luxury brands and other international retailers continue to come here, often entering the competitive fray via Yorkdale, which rakes in the most money of any shopping mall in Canada.

So what’s the big difference between U.S. and Canadian retail?

Size matters — so says marketing maven and business strategist Anne Jardine, senior consultant at The Mind Farm.

“The main difference I see is that the pure scale of the population of the USA and the relative wealth of the population drove the country to get over-saturated in retail,” the Canadian-born, Washington D.C.-based Jardine said in a recent interview. “Favourable import tariffs with China and India, Vietnam etc. allowed for the vast availability of cheap goods and the eventual commoditization of the apparel category, fed by the ‘more is more’ cultural orientation.”

That means lots of cheap stuff, available everywhere — not a sustainable business model, added Jardine.

“The aggressive competition for foot traffic to support the bricks and mortar overhead as online became more important created a promotional frenzy and dependency,” she said. “That addiction got built into the prior year results and had to be ‘anniversaried’ into the sales results every year. I think that makes the USA unique from any other country in the world.”

Canada, on the other hand, “has not had the population to support being oversaturated in retail space and has a very different import tariff system which has regulated inexpensive imports from China. And Canadians have traditionally leaned towards a ‘less and better’ orientation,” Jardine explained.

The stores that do survive — south of the border — tend to be either high-end or low-end, with the middle market getting decimated. So you can still browse in person at Dollarama or Holt Renfrew.

The demise of brick-and-mortar stores has many causes, and not just online shopping. Shopping isn’t going away, but habits change. If your disposable income goes to take-out, Netflix and Apple Music, then you aren’t buying another pair of jeans.

The ever-widening gap between rich and poor has as much to do with the fate of stores as anything else. The middle class is getting squeezed into non-existence, and that represents a change in shopping patterns.

Consider all this a social change. Endless shopping and conspicuous consumption are fairly recent developments, and in some quarters they’re waning.

Old people — all those damn baby boomers — shop less as they enter their twilight years. Or the twilight zone, or wherever it is they reside.

Young people, such as millennials, already shop differently, preferring to spend on experiences rather than possessions. And when they do shop for specific items, they opt for quality and social value over quantity.

What will become of all the empty storefronts?

Like churches, physical stores will one day outlive their social purpose. Maybe stores can become condominiums too?

Just where the ‘town square’ will be once it’s no longer the mall or the High Street shops is a mystery.

Since ancient times, however, what people want has remained pretty much the same: bread and circuses. We all need to eat and we all like to be amused.

So maybe it’s no coincidence that Eataly — the wildly popular global purveyors of Italian comestibles — will open their first Canadian market and restaurant in Toronto’s Manulife Centre later this year.

See you there!"

US and China tech giants look increasingly similar (FT)

In my 27 October 2017 blog, China: from Hukou to Social Credit, I stated the following:
The Social Credit System will be built by the Chinese technology giants and is remarkably simple: it uses the collective data of the Chinese Amazon, Chinese Facebook, Chinese PayPal, Chinese Tinder, Chinese Uber, and Chinese WhatsApp. The combination of buying, chatting, dating, paying, social media posting, and transport is used for the ranking & rating of Chinese citizens.
In the next several decades, other countries will (slowly) follow the Chinese example. Integrating government databases is already common to prevent (tax) fraud. The fight against terrorism has required governments to expand such efforts. The forthcoming (voluntary) sale of banking transactions will enable companies to improve their ratings of individuals. Also see my 2016 blog on data ownership and PSD2. Privacy rights is slowly becoming an academic topic.
Technology has always had two faces: efficiency versus control, gadget vs spy, information vs propaganda, master vs slave, and tool vs weapon. To some extent, I am impressed by China's new Social Credit System: it has perfectly captured technology's other face. Following deeds and words, the next big step is thoughts (eg, the 1956 book and 2002 movie Minority Report).

I concluded that blog with this quote:
Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation. A quote by American inventor Dean Kamen.

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Financial Times titleUS and China tech giants look increasingly similar

FT subtitle: There is an inconvenient likeness between the main protagonists in both countries

Author: Louise Lucas, the FT's Asia technology correspondent 

Publishing date: 16 April 2019


"US tech giants have been carrying out some nifty remodelling in recent months. 

Apple is ramping up its activities in films, payments and gaming to reduce its dependence on iPhones — much like Xiaomi, the Chinese group that started out making cheap smartphones and branched into internet services including entertainment and finance. 

Google has been spending heavily on content, data centres and equipment, blowing $25.1bn last year. It is also, via the cloud, making a big bet on gaming — recalling China’s gaming and investment tech conglomerate Tencent. 

Facebook’s move to integrate its messaging app WhatsApp and social media Instagram also carries more than a whiff of the Shenzhen-based tech giant’s modus operandi

It would be too much to suggest that US tech is taking a chapter or two from China’s playbook. But there is an increasingly inconvenient similarity between the main protagonists in the US and China. 

This has two sets of repercussions, one local and one global. Locally, it means that in south-east Asia and India — the part of the globe where US and Chinese players compete on a broadly even footing — they will be doing so with more comparable offerings than was previously the case. 

Take India, where Tencent will battle with Google, WhatsApp and Xiaomi on payments. 

Globally, the backlash against big tech would appear to be calling time on the conglomerate model. Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, the BAT trinity, began — respectively — in search, ecommerce and social media. 

But Alibaba and Tencent in particular added ever more activities in a bid to keep users captive within their ecosystems for ever bigger chunks of the day: shopping, watching sports and films, listening to music or reading literature — and an app to pay for it all too. 

The duo now command such huge swaths of the economy and are so inextricably stitched into the fabric of people’s lives that Beijing is chafing at their power and influence in the same way that Washington frets about the might of Silicon Valley. 

Some financiers and start-ups believe some parts of the government are even pushing for a break-up of the duo; the government, they say, is particularly leery of a repeat of the shadow banking crisis, and would like to see finance operations carved out. 

Evidence of this thinking is afforded by the long delay — 14 months and counting — in approving Alibaba’s proposal to swap its profit-sharing arrangement with Ant Financial, its payment affiliate, for a 33 per cent equity stake. “If [Beijing] don’t like what you are doing, it just drags and drags,” says one tech banker. 

Another longtime China investor also sees the delay as deliberate. “The government likes two different companies, even though they have overlapping shareholders. 

The US has different beef — lack of competition, political bias and disregard for data privacy — but for some the answer is the same. Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, has promised a break-up should she be elected president in 2020. 

But perhaps the more pressing copycat question for investors right now is whether US start-ups will follow their Chinese peers’ path — or should that be cliff? — as they head to the public markets. 

Uber, Pinterest, Airbnb and Palantir follow in the steps of, among others, Xiaomi, Meituan Dianping, China Literature and Tencent Music Entertainment. 

There is more than a whiff of similarity between some of these and some of the upcoming US listings: cash burn, aggressive competition, unclear paths to profitability and acres of risk factors. 

Most of the Chinese IPO class of 2018 ended the year below their issue price, but the pain did not stop there. Several launched follow-on offerings before the ink was barely dry on the first one, including ecommerce group Pinduoduo, which tapped the markets six months later, and esports streamer Huya. 

The US has had endless spats over Chinese copying. Investors could find it is every bit as irksome when imitation goes in the opposite direction."

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/55435194-5f46-11e9-a27a-fdd51850994c

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Cheating men's face shapes can give it away, study suggests (Guardian)

The Guardian title: Cheating men's face shapes can give it away, study suggests

Guardian subtitle: Experts find men with more ‘masculine’ faces more likely to seem, and be, unfaithful

Publishing date: 17 April 2019

"Philandering men have unfaithfulness written all over their faces, according to research that suggests men and women are able to spot cheating chaps just by looking at them.

Experts found men with more “masculine” faces were more likely to be thought to be unfaithful, and such men also self-reported more cheating or “poaching” of other men’s partners.

However, they stressed the results were modest, and said people should be wary of deciding whether someone is a love rat based on impressions of facial features alone.

The team said being suspicious of men with masculine features – such as a strong browridge, strong jaw and thinner lips – might have offered an evolutionary advantage, allowing heterosexual women to spot a flaky partner and men to recognise a potential rival who might seduce their partner or leave them raising someone else’s child.

Previous research has suggested women are able to spot unfaithful men from their mugshot, with the masculinity of the man’s face a key factor in the judgment, while weaker effects have been found for men weighing up images of women. However, it was unclear whether people could also spot a philanderer of the same sex.

Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers described how they asked heterosexual white participants to judge the facial features of 189 white adults who had been photographed and taken part in previous research. Overall, 293 men and 472 women rated pictures of women, while 299 men and 452 women judged images of men, rating on a scale of one to 10 how likely they thought each person was to be unfaithful.

Those in the pictures had previously reported the extent of any cheating and whether they had “poached” a partner from someone else. Their photos had already been rated for attractiveness, untrustworthiness and how masculine or feminine they appeared.

The results showed men and women as a whole gave higher scores of unfaithfulness to the images of men who had self-reported more cheating or poaching.

“Therefore, perceived unfaithfulness may indeed contain some kernel of trust in male faces,” the authors said. However, there was no such effect for the images of women.

When the team examined what about the men’s faces might have offered clues to their unfaithfulness, they found the standout feature was how masculine the face appeared. Further analysis confirmed facial masculinity was linked to self-reported unfaithfulness, although it did not completely predict it.

However the team stressed many other factors are linked to whether someone is unfaithful. “The actual unfaithfulness varies in our sample of faces, and 4-8% of this variation is accounted for by the average perceived unfaithfulness of those faces,” said Dr Yong Zhi Foo, the first author of the research from the University of Western Australia.

The team said they were surprised that participants only saw cheating and poaching of partners in the face of men, and suggested it could be down to a number of factors, including women being less prone to cheating than men, or that women’s use of cosmetics masks links between facial features and behaviours.

They said further experiments with a wider range of photographed participants – including older people who might have had more time to be unfaithful – were necessary.

Dr Kristen Knowles, an evolutionary psychologist from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, who was not involved in the study, said it was interesting the research made a clear connection between perceptions of infidelity and actual infidelity.

She said the results may only be seen in men as women may be less likely to self-report they have cheated on a partner or poached someone else’s.

But Knowles stressed it should not be assumed that men with masculine faces were likely to be unfaithful. “We should be aware that these behaviours are incredibly complex, and are likely to be influenced by many factors, including social and cultural effects, personality, genetics and life experiences,” she said."

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/apr/17/cheating-men-can-be-spotted-by-their-face-type-study-suggests

The best place to build a life in English? The Netherlands (FT)

Financial Times title: The best place to build a life in English? The Netherlands

FT subtitle: Brexit or no Brexit, the UK is no longer the ‘gateway to Europe’ for non-European countries

Author: Simon Kuper

Date of publishing: 25 April 2019.

"The Dutch already sensed that their language was dying, but the news item was still shocking: the Vrije Universiteit, an Amsterdam university once synonymous with Dutch Calvinism, is scrapping its century-old undergraduate degree in Dutch language and literature because of a lack of interest. 

The five staff members are now teaching just five first-year students. More broadly, Dutch is fading from Dutch universities: ever more undergraduate degrees, and about 70 per cent of masters, are taught entirely in English. This was unthinkable in the 1970s, when my family moved to the Netherlands: my dad had to learn Dutch to teach at Leiden University. If Brexit happens, the Netherlands will probably have the EU’s largest English-language university system. 

Dutch offices, too, have become the most anglophone in continental European history. Are you a foreign bank or media company moving to Amsterdam? File your documents with the regulator in English. Settle your disputes in the brand-new, English-speaking Netherlands Commercial Court. Hire Dutch staff who will ­happily speak English even among themselves. 

The Netherlands is finding a new role: as the English-language economy in the EU that the world needs after Brexit. (Ireland will get some of the pickings, but it’s less populous, in the wrong place and has inferior infrastructure.) 

Even the Dutch weren’t always this international. My Dutch friends from childhood speak excellent English, but their children speak perfect English. In last year’s IMD Talent Rankings (by Lausanne’s Institute for Management Development), the Netherlands ranked first out of 63 economies for language skills. Alison Edwards, a linguist at Leiden University, says that when every Dutch hairdresser and bus driver speaks English, then English isn’t a foreign l­anguage any more: it’s the Netherlands’ second language. One day it could be its first. 

Already foreigners are streaming in to build their lives in English. The number of foreign students in the Netherlands (half of them Germans) has more than tripled in a decade. Top-class ­foreigners have been imported to teach them. 

The Netherlands now boasts seven of the world’s top 80 universities (as ranked by the Times Higher Education Supplement). Only the US and UK have more. I’ll tell my children: rather than forking out $500,000 to bribe your way into the University of Southern California, let’s send you to the higher-ranked University of Amsterdam for €2,083 in annual tuition. 

Younger Dutch people now compete with Brits and Americans in the global anglophone communications sphere. Think of journalist Rutger Bregman, who wowed this year’s Davos conference with his zippy exhortation to fellow conferees to talk about taxes: “It feels like I’m at a firefighters’ conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water.” His employer, De Correspondent, launches its English-language site in September. I’m guessing it will be more outward-looking than the dominant US media, since it won’t only cover countries that the Netherlands is invading or that seem to mirror domestic Dutch political trends. 

That international mindset may be the biggest Dutch asset. A lawyer in Amsterdam will have worked on international contracts; one in Frankfurt might not have. And whereas the French demand protection from globalisation, the Dutch have lapped it up for centuries (as long as it involves wealthy and/or white people). It has been calculated that Amsterdam had proportionately more expats in the 1600s than today. 

It helps that the Dutch are easy to decode. The Calvinist heritage encourages transparency: “saying what you think”. “Hollandse directheid” (as the Dutch call it) often verges on rudeness, but at least there’s no baffling etiquette to acquire. “We just aren’t that difficult,” says Udo Kock, Amsterdam’s deputy mayor for finance and economic affairs. 

He is busy courting foreign investment. The 28 companies that moved to the Amsterdam region because of Brexit last year are small beer. So are the 90 Brexit-afflicted companies that the city says are considering the move. What counts is the long term. The UK has ceased to be the “gateway to Europe” for non-European companies. Even if Brexit is binned, political instability will tarnish Britain’s appeal. The Netherlands is the nearest available substitute. 

So many office buildings have shot up in southern Amsterdam that parts of it look like a Chinese boomtown grafted on to a Dutch suburb. Even ever-sleepy The Hague is building skyscrapers. The western Netherlands — an eight-million-person metropolitan area, as big as New York — is running out of space. Dutch officials are guiding low-value foreign companies to look “just outside Amsterdam”. That can mean Arnhem, which for Amsterdammers is practically Germany but to Canadians or Japanese is under an hour by train from central Amsterdam. 

Winning at globalisation has its downsides. Many Dutch people complain that expats are driving up rents, that tourists have annexed central Amsterdam and that some students at overcrowded universities are living in tents. The greater fear is that the Netherlands will be globalised out of existence. That may be the price of success."

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/9566f2ea-6620-11e9-a79d-04f350474d62

Friday, 26 April 2019

Dutch public school system

In the Netherlands, we have 2 types of state funded education which are both public schools but differ in their (non) religious background. Essentially, Christian and other religious people often attend Christian public schools, while others attend regular public schools. The Dutch call this freedom of education, a principle that was hardly questioned.

Since about a decade, there has been a rise in Islamic public schools in major Dutch cities. They apply for similar government funds as Christian public schools. These Islamic schools have had the usual growth problems like any startup. Recently, Dutch intelligence agencies warned that some Islamic public schools have links to terrorism (eg, NL Times).

Subsequently, one of the coalition partners in the Dutch government advocated that the government should no longer fund (all) public schools with a religious background. Dijkhoff claims that it's time to abolish article 23 of the Dutch Constitution that warrants freedom of education. The reason being the continued wrongdoings at Islamic public schools (eg, Elsevier).

Abolishing state funding to all public schools with a religious background reminds me of a Dutch saying: "het kind met het badwater weggooien", which would translate in English like "throwing the baby out with the bathwater". Indeed, you have to get rid of the dirt but the solution is not to get rid of everything else as well. Especially, when these other things work well.

Dijkhoff's proposal will divide the coalition partners, of which 2 have a Christian and 2 have a liberal background. Hence, nothing is likely to happen. Article 23 has long been a (minor) target of Dutch liberal parties, whether left (D66) or right (VVD). The continued Islamic public school dramas are however quite convenient in this fundamental discussion.

I'm somewhat biased because my childhood education was at Christian public schools, and my children's education also. Christian public schools usually have a (much) better reputation than regular public schools. One of the reasons (probably) is school size. Regular public schools are/were rather massive and have nicknames like "school factories".

It's somewhat ironic that liberal parties want to abolish the freedom of education while the Latin word liber stands for free(dom). The problem with any freedom, however, is that it will someday be misused or even abused by people with ulterior motives.

The Political Islam usually handles criticism from a victim role: (i) interference in political matters is viewed as anti-semitic (in its true meaning), while (ii) non-interference in religious matters is viewed a lack of political support (my 2016 blog). This explains the evasive responses by Islamic public schools.

School (1974) by Roger Hodgson (formerly singer in Supertramp)

Maybe I'm mistaken, expecting you to fight
Or maybe I'm just crazy, I don't know wrong from right
But while I am still living, I've just got this to say
It's always up to you, if you want to be that
Want to see that
Want to see it that way
-- you're coming along!


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

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Life is what you make it

Six years ago, I dreaded the start of each new day. I was glad for the day to end and fall asleep with a new chance of never waking up again. I dreaded life. Today, I'm grateful for each new day (my 2017 blog). Each night, I have my talk with God (lyrics, video). Each morning, I thank Yahweh while counting my blessings (lyricssong). The difference is my 2013 burnout and depression.

I'm lucky that I survived that period (my 2016 blog). With the knowledge of hindsight, my burnout is one of the best things that happened in my life. I would, however, never wish this to anyone, not even my worst enemy. Finding my way out required lots of introspection: "the examination of one's own conscious thoughts and feelings". I was lucky having several breakthroughs.

For two decades, I hadn't been happy or satisfied due to a failing marriage. My work became my escape from home and eventually my sanctuary. Nevertheless, my burnout was triggered at work when I was forced to do something against my principles (ie, lying). Ever since my burnout, I now realise that having work can even be worse than not having work.

My introspection led to a new set of beliefs, which no longer includes working (eg, NYMag-2006). However, helping out friends is something entirely different (LinkedIn). The consequence was selling my house, downsizing, and relocating. It was - and is - a price that I'm more than willing to pay. I don't need a job to survive. Neither do I want a job. I'm afraid that I might get trapped again in believing that More = Better.

Today, I believe in Less = More (eg, my 2014 blogmy 2016 blog). It's quite a liberating feeling, which I recommend to anyone, provided that you believe in it. Else it's probably doomed to fail. The tiny house movement is also rooted in the Less = More principle, although the lack of affordable housing probably helped stimulate this movement.

As a consequence, I have been giving away lots of stuff because it's too much for a 1-person household. Although, charity makes you feel good about yourself, there's also a selfish angle: I believe in charity because I want to get rid of my stuff but I need finding people who accept it.

Next week, I will relocate after having lived here for almost 26 years. It's time to leave because I feel that I no longer "fit in" my neighbourhood. My neighbour (98) will miss me though and that feeling is mutual. She understands my choices but I feel she doesn't really like them.

A few days ago, that same neighbour complained about the maintenance of her garden. I told her she could also ignore the lesser parts and appreciate the beauty of the other parts. She replied she can't look at things that way. Over the years, I have noticed that her outlook on life is quite different from mine. Hence, my title of this blog: Life is what you make it.

Life's What You Make It (1986) by Talk Talk
artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Baby, life's what you make it
Celebrate it, anticipate it
Yesterday's faded, nothing can change it
Life's what you make it


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

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

You can take the boy out of the country......

.....but you can't take the country out of the boy. This English phrase and Carl Perkins song describes my feeling of moving back to the countryside. I'm not returning to my hometown (Bruce Springsteen song) though. My little town (Simon & Garfunkel song) has lots of wind and rain and open plains but not a lot of trees. Trees provide tranquility (Brilliant Trees by David Sylvian).

For nearly 26 years, I have been living in Haarlem, "situated at the northern edge of the Randstad, one of the most populated metropolitan areas in Europe". If I had to choose between city slickers and country boys (Lisa LeBlanc song), the choice would be easy. 

Although I'm still living in the 12th largest Dutch city, it doesn't feel like that. There is lots of "green" around me, including a city forest at walking distance. My garden has been visited by bats, foxes, seagulls, a woodpecker and even a buzzard, apart from many regular animals.

For many months, I was looking at the east of the Netherlands, especially the Achterhoek and Twente regions. I fell in love with Lochem, a small beautiful city of some 30,000 people, which felt like a small version of Haarlem (160,000 people).

For several months, I had an option on a city apartment at the best location of Lochem. I lost my confidence in that real estate project for several reasons. Finding a substitute was far from easy. I revisited every single decision I thought I had already taken, which was tiresome.

Some months ago, my real estate agent told me to hurry up finding a new place as I have to exit my house in the not too distant future. I was a little crossed with his (valid) remark. He is, however, also responsible for a major change in my thinking. At a certain moment, he said that I was looking at bigger places although my aim was to downsize (sic!).

After letting his remark sink in, I updated my search prospects. Suddenly a new place emerged that had been far outside my scope. Its pictures felt very well and I decided to pay a visit. The first thing I noticed, while exiting the highway, were trees, lots and lots of trees. Things went very quickly then. I made an offer during my visit. It was accepted a few hours later.

Soon I'll be a country boy again and I'm thankful for that (John Denver song). Moreover, the scenery isn't that much different from where I'm still living. It's just more quiet (eg, noise, people) and much more "green". Everything is at walking distance, including a nice restaurant at just 200 metres. 

I'm grateful for having found my new place to live. I will always remember that a Belgian friend passed away the very same day I bought my house. Yesterday would have been her birthday.

You Can Take the Boy Out of the Country (1967) by Carl Perkins

You can take the boy from the country
Dress him up until he's looking smart
All those fancy clothes will never change him
He'll still be a country boy at heart


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

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Trust

The closing remarks of my recent blog on Arrogance, empathy and hypocrisy (2) stated: "Genuine empathy requires synchronicity between your thoughts / intentions, words and deeds." I suddenly realized that this synchronicity also makes us trust people. This is probably the reason why "mind-reading" people is so important to us.

Aeon, 17 April 2019: "Another example of a lost cognitive instinct is mind-reading: our capacity to think of ourselves and others as having beliefs, desires, thoughts and feelings."

Psychology Today:
"The popular perception of "mind reading”—the act of knowing someone’s thoughts and feelings through innate, telepathic means—is likely an impossible feat of fantasy.

What is real, however, is the psychological concept of "empathic accuracy," which is the ability to accurately map someone's mental terrain by reading the cues telegraphed by their words, emotions, and body language."

The above two quotes provide a clear link between empathic accuracy, mind-reading, and "knowing" someone else's thoughts / intentions.

Whenever I feel close to "terra incognita", I look at the behaviour of animals. Slate (2013): "Animals can forge bonds across species boundaries if the need for social contact pre-empts their normal biological imperatives. A cat raised with dogs doesn’t know it’s a cat, the logic goes."

Based on personal experience, I don't believe the latter remark. I think, feel and believe that humans can teach particular cats and dogs to be friends, although their default behaviour towards other cats and dogs will remain hostile. Such friendship - like love - requires trust.

Amongst humans there is lots of this "need for social contact that pre-empts normal biological imperatives". Establishing trust between humans is essential for cooperation (my 2018 blog). Perhaps, these words are the biggest insult you can express to someone: "I don't trust you".

As Dutch statesman Johan Thorbecke (1798-1872) once said: "Trust comes on foot but leaves on horseback".

Trust (2009) by Keyshia Cole ft. Monica

I trust you, I love you, I want you, I need you 
Baby I breathe you, never leave you, life wouldn't 
Be the same without you.


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

Monday, 22 April 2019

Is Belarus Putin’s Next Land Grab? (New Republic)

The New Republic title: Is Belarus Putin’s Next Land Grab?

New Republic subtitle: Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 sparked an international crisis.

Published: 9 April 2019

"Last summer, in a small town overlooking the Russian border, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko made a stark and pointed pronouncement. “If we don’t survive these years—if we fail,” he said, “it means we will have to become part of some other state, or they will simply wipe their feet on us. God forbid they unleash another war, like in Ukraine.”

Lukashenko was referring to Russia.

In March 2014, Russia responded to the ousting of pro-Russia Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. The seizing of Crimea provoked widespread condemnation from the international community along with a wave of ongoing sanctions against Russia. Since then, NATO has redoubled its military presence in Eastern Europe, particularly in the Baltic states where, as in Crimea, a large ethnically Russia population could provide enough context for another land grab. The last few months, however, have raised the question of whether they may be focusing on the wrong places. In February, NATO’s general secretary, Anders Rasmussen, warned of a “repetition of the Ukrainian scenario” not in the Baltics, but in Belarus.

As Lukashenko is known for dramatic outbursts, his speech—which might have caused an international incident coming from any other leader—was baldly reported on the national news wire and quickly forgotten about. Ten months later, the president’s words do not sound quite as absurd as they did back in June. While Lukashenko has accused Putin’s government of trying to topple him many times in recent years, the prospect of Russian annexation, one way or another, no longer seems the stuff of conspiracy theories. In December 2018, at the meeting of the Belarus-Russia Union State Council of Ministers, Russian prime minister Dmitri Medvedev broached the topic, suggesting integrating the two countries via a joint judiciary and customs service, a common currency and, above all, a Union State constitution. The notion of deeper integration between Russia and Belarus has been bandied around since the mid-2000s. But Medvedev this time was not proffering a suggestion, but an implicit ultimatum: Russia is contemplating changes to its oil industry regulations, which would force Belarus to start buying Russian oil at non-subsidized rates—a blow that Minsk estimates will cost them around $10 billion by 2024. The message was clear: Either unite, or suffer an economic disaster.

While the Russian constitution bars Putin from serving two consecutive terms, a new union constitution could enable him to serve beyond 2024.

Lukashenko has angrily pushed back against the threat, and at a meeting with Putin in February, he made a point of stressing “the holy sanctity” of his nation’s independence. The question is how determined Russia is to see through its plans for a union, and how far it will go to achieve it. Belarus is no Ukraine, with whom Minsk stood in solidarity in 2014 over Crimea—a defiant signal against similar incursions into their own territory. Whereas Ukraine suffered for its attempts to escape Moscow’s grasp, Belarus will suffer from the fact that it has, throughout its post-Soviet history, clung too tightly to the Muscovite breast. Unlike other nations in the region, whose post-Soviet pathways have varied from western-style liberalism to steroidal capitalism, Belarus differs little from its former communist self and continues to view the old mothership as protector and patron. In a country routinely, even somewhat blithely, labelled a “Soviet theme park,” a state-run economy is still very much alive, but is largely reliant on the largesse of the Russian state, which remains one of its very few foreign investors and trade partners.

From the Kremlin’s perspective, integration is a logical step. With recession looming, why bother spending money propping up an ailing regime which could simply be absorbed? Belarus is also a keystone in Russia’s defensive strategy, buffering against NATO’s increasing presence in eastern Europe. Since the interference in Ukraine, Lukashenko has resisted Russian attempts to build military bases in his country, much to Putin’s chagrin. A union would do away with that problem.

The most salacious theory, and the one favored by Western critics, is that absorbing Belarus is all part of Putin’s retirement—or non-retirement—plan: While the Russian constitution bars Putin from serving two consecutive terms, a new union constitution could enable him to serve beyond 2024.

We remain a long way from anything of a similar kind to the use of force exhibited in 2014, or in 2008 when Russian troops shelled and occupied various towns in Georgia. Despite his swashbuckling public image, Putin is, for the most part, fairly risk averse, and any military interference in Belarus would be highly risky, requiring an enormous operation. Even if the west fails to respond in kind—it’s hard to predict with a mercurial U.S. president at the helm—a long and costly war might well ensue: Unlike in Crimea, while many Belarusians feel a fraternal affection for Russia, they do not want to become part of it. Independence is relatively new to Belarus, which, apart from a few months in 1918, has always existed as the territory of a bigger state. And however qualified that independence might presently be, it is one that ordinary citizens will not give up without a fight.

Belarusians are perhaps unusually sensitive to the possibility of invasion, having served throughout its modern history as the corridor for Polish, French and German armies. All over Belarus, old bits of military hardware can be found scattered among the fields. In a land which hosted some of the fiercest fighting of the Second World War, the surplus of tanks, planes and rockets from those years now serve as memorials to the dead—a reminder of the devastation Belarus suffered in the crossfire of two advancing armies, killing over a quarter of the populace, a proportion more than double that of any other nation in World War II.

But Lukashenko, a near-dictator in his own right, who has made himself absolute ruler through 25 years of constitutional revision and suppression of the opposition, may also be exploiting public opinion on this matter. Domestically, external enemies can have their use, particularly for a president facing a sinking economy and occasional outbursts of dissent. Internationally, Lukashenko has proved himself a master tightrope walker between east and west, courting Europe to extract concessions from Russia and vice versa. By stoking fears over the potential for a second Ukraine, he may hope to intensify the growing volume of trade with the European Union and elicit more investment from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. And while Belarus—the only state on the continent to still carry out the death penalty—becoming an EU member is highly unlikely anytime soon, Minsk is happy to hold talks with the west to give the impression that it might.

That is not to say that Russian annexation is a figment of Lukashenko’s imagination. The union is something that Moscow has pushed for, albeit tentatively, since the late 1990s. In the past few months, with the threat of recession and rising oil prices, it has become no longer notional, but possible. Who would have thought in 2013 that a year later Crimea would be a Russian territory? The same might be said for Belarus, though the process would not happen overnight nor occur with the same brute force. Any potential union will, instead, be the product of a series of calculations—the first of which it is clear we are now witnessing."

Our Man in NATO: Why Putin Lucked Out With Recep Erdogan (Moscow Times)

Moscow Times title: Our Man in NATO: Why Putin Lucked Out With Recep Erdogan

MT subtitle: Russia is on the verge of a resounding victory over NATO and the United States.

Author: Vladimir Frolov

Published: 15 April 2019


"Without firing a single shot, deploying a single tank or using a single internet troll, Moscow can soon destroy the unity of NATO by removing a key country from its military network.

What’s more, Russia will receive $2.5 billion for its efforts and not a single new sanction.

This is a victory that was unimaginable only a few years ago.

I am talking, of course, about Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s decision to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense system.

The U.S. has tried to block the deal ever since Moscow and Ankara announced it in December 2017, initially claiming that the system was incompatible with NATO air defense systems. (It turns out, however, that NATO missiles can be fitted to the S-400.)

But Washington soon put forward its main argument — namely, that the S-400 is incompatible with the United States’ newest fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet that should serve as the main aircraft of the NATO Air Force. That news triggered a “slow train wreck” in U.S.-Turkish relations.

Turkey and the U.S. are partners in an international consortium producing the aircraft, led by the F-35’s developer, Lockheed Martin. The Turkish military-industrial complex manufactures components for the fighter — chassis parts, pilot cabin, airframe, and engine components.

Turkey is meant to receive more than 100 F-35s by 2023 as replacements for its outdated F-16 aircraft. What’s more, an F-35 engine maintenance center is being set up in Turkey to serve the European region.

Participation in the entire program with the U.S. would have brought the Turkish military-industrial complex $12 billion, more than offsetting the $9 billion - $10 billion price tag for Turkey’s new batch of jets. The country has already invested $1.25 billion in the F-35 program.

For the U.S., Turkey’s role in the production of the F-35 created a powerful ecosystem of influence on Ankara’s policy and support for Washington’s leadership in the Alliance. That honeymoon might soon be over.

The U.S. now is threatening to block Turkey’s participation in the F-35 project and the delivery of its newest fighter jets (scheduled for late summer) if Ankara refuses to reverse its decision regarding the S-400. On April 1, Washington announced that it was suspending the shipment to Turkey of equipment necessary for operating the F-35 until Ankara confirmed that the S-400 deal was off.

United States Vice President Mike Pence sounded the final chord in the pressure campaign against Turkey.

“Turkey must choose,” he said. “Does it want to remain a critical partner of the most successful military alliance in the history of the world? Or, does it want to risk the security of that partnership by making reckless decisions that undermine that alliance?”

U.S. senators have also threatened to impose sanctions against Turkey in accordance with the notorious CAATSA law, whose key provision requires the imposition of sanctions against countries that make substantial purchases of Russian weapons.

This would deliver a blow to Turkey’s already unstable economy as it reels from Erdogan’s policies.

The two countries are on a collision course, with both Washington and Erdogan determined to push ahead.

In a recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Turkish leader announced that delivery of the S-400 might be accelerated: his country has already made an advance payment and Russian technicians are already preparing sites for the weapon system in Turkey.

Why is Erdogan so bent on buying the S-400? Why does he continue challenging Washington by insisting that the purchase is a done deal — even threatening to purchase Russian Su-57 aircraft if the U.S. does not deliver the F-35s?

The reason is that Erdogan feels personally insulted by the U.S.

Washington neglected the security interests of its ally in Syria. First, it left Turkey to go it alone against Moscow, refusing to help when Russian forces defeated Turkish allies in Syria.

Next, the U.S. overruled Turkish objections and armed Syrian Kurds from the Syrian Democratic Forces, transferring to their control an important part of Syrian territory that borders Turkey.

Nor has it helped bilateral relations that the U.S. has refused to extradite the man Erdogen considers his main political opponent, Islamic scholar and preacher Fethullah Gulen, or that Turkey arrested U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson on espionage charges and held him in prison for two years before releasing him in October 2018.

Erdogan figured that if Washington were unwilling to take into account his interests as an ally, he would force them to do it by creating a real threat to the interests and security of the U.S.

On the one hand, the S-400 system was a “contribution” of sorts from Moscow to compensate for Turkey’s defeat in Syria, and a “thank you” from Ankara for Russia’s willingness to consider Turkish interests in its conflict with the Kurds.

On the other hand, it is a way to force Washington to accept Turkey’s position on the Syrian conflict. Erdogan, however, miscalculated: the U.S. refused to hand Ankara a zone of control in Northern Syria and has linked delivery of the F-35s and possible sanctions to the S-400 deal — that had already progressed too far by then to cancel without losing face.

Moscow played its hand brilliantly, using Erdogan’s distrust of Washington to “bait and hook him.” Now Russia has only to reel him in.

Ankara’s desire to buck NATO was a pleasant surprise for the Kremlin, and arguably a more significant foreign policy coup than saving the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow played its hand brilliantly, using Erdogan’s distrust of Washington to “bait and hook him.”

What’s more, Moscow did not have to do anything radical — simply toss a few coals into the smoldering fire of Erdogan’s anger.

This, by the way, explains why Putin has been meeting so frequently with the Turkish leader. In its thinking and style, the Ankara regime is increasingly similar to the Kremlin, and ever more alienated from Washington.

If everything goes as planned, Turkey will de facto drop out of the military structures of NATO and will increasingly rely on military cooperation with Russia to ensure its security and interests in the region. However, Turkey will not completely leave NATO. Moreover, that is not what Moscow is angling for.

Moscow sees greater advantage in having Turkey play the “troublemaker” in NATO, serving as the one member willing to put in a good word for Russia and to ensure its security in the Black Sea.

Breaking up NATO from inside and walking away with $2.5 billion to boot — that’s quite a priceless catch."

Note LO: the Moscow Times was founded by Dutchman Derk Sauer, who is still a shareholder.

Source: https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/04/15/our-man-in-nato-why-putin-lucked-out-with-recep-erdogan-a65237