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Saturday, 29 February 2020

"Tectonic shift" in supply chains already happening (Axios)

Axios title: "Tectonic shift" in supply chains already happening

Date: 11 February 2020

"Supply chains, even for companies outside of China, are in motion already as businesses rethink their strategies in a new global environment.

Driving the news: A new survey of analysts who cover more than 3,000 companies from Bank of America Securities is finding a "tectonic shift in global supply chains."

  • Companies in more than 80% of 12 global sectors, representing $22 trillion of market cap in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific (excluding China), have "implemented or announced plans to shift at least a portion of their supply chains from current locations." (Emphasis theirs.)

What's happening: Companies say tariffs and the U.S.-China trade war have helped prompt this reassessment, but it's largely based on automation, which has made the labor-cost benefit of outsourcing and offshoring less attractive.
  • Automation was cited as a key enabler of shifting supply chains by 90% of respondents.
  • Outside of financial considerations, BofA found companies worried about national security and "ESG concerns of high carbon footprints associated with long supply chains and potentially problematic employment practices."

Watch this space: Many companies said they were considering locations in India and Southeast Asia, but companies in about half of all global sectors in North America declared an intent to "reshore" or move business back to North America.
  • "This was particularly true for high-tech sectors and industries for which energy is a key input. If borne out, this could represent the first reversal in a multi-decade trend," BofA's global research team said in the note.

What it means: The shift could mean bigger investments by North American companies at home rather than abroad, including increased spending on automation and manufacturing that "would have multiplier effects on the broader economy and be beneficial for financial services that cater to them."

Go deeper: The slippery slope of supply chain fears "


Friday, 28 February 2020

Stranded mortgage assets

During a phone call this week, I mentioned that one of my 2019 relocation criteria had been the elevation of my current location. Subsequently, I wondered if banks are already considering amending their Expected Loss calculations for (mortgages on) commercial and residential properties, following climate change. The situation is somewhat comparable to "stranded assets" in industries related to fossil fuels (eg, automotive, oil & gas).

I believe in climate change but not in climate urgency. Weirdly, this makes me a climate skeptic in the eyes of climate activists, who promote Project Climate Fear. In my view, there is adequate time (about 100+ years) for adapting ourselves to rising sea levels of about 3+ to 6+ meters (eg, Atlantic-2019, Phys-2018Phys-2020, Washington Times-2018, and my blogs of 2018, 2018, 2018, 2019, 2019, 2020). Moreover, most global sea level rise has already happened (my 2016 blog).

Possibly, this same lack of climate urgency explains why banks are lowering - rather than raising - their interest levels on mortgages for commercial and residential properties. The Probability of Default risk relating to these mortgages should normally follow location risk (eg, ocean or seaside), similar to car insurances (eg, geographical theft risk).

Alternatively, banks are ignoring the risk of "stranded mortgage assets". A Google search on "stranded mortgage assets" - in relation to expected global sea level rise - revealed no relevant articles. I did, however, notice this comment in a 2018 book entitled Stranded Assets and the Environment: Risk, Resilience and Opportunity:
"8. Although most mortgage providers generally require buildings insurance as a condition for granting a mortgage, they do not necessarily require cover for specific hazards, such as floods, to be in place." Note: italic markings in quote by LO.

Hence, it seems likely that mortgage providers deem flood risk as a part of property insurance. I doubt such a view would contain their Expected Loss, which is calculated by PD x EaD x LGD. If property insurance providers would not reimburse flood risk and/or global sea level rise then the Expected Loss calculation must take into account the probability of client bankruptcies.

Possibly, banks do realise the above but are awaiting for their competitors to move first in order not to lose market share. The end result is the same: a massive increase in mortgage interest levels, and a massive drop in real estate values. Also see a similar topic in my 2020 blog: For the last 700 years: interest down, debt up.

Who will blink first?

Stranded (1997) by Lutricia McNeal

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

Thursday, 27 February 2020

A new Moscow on the Hudson (5)

In March 2015, I wrote my initial blog A new Moscow on the Hudson. Four more followed: 2018-Aug2019-Jan2019-Feb and 2019-April. Currently, US media are writing a lot that self-declared "democratic socialist" Bernie Sanders might well become the Democratic nominee for the 2020 US presidential election. If that would indeed happen then it would be (much) sooner than I foresaw in 2015.

Liberal-left media are now writing about how to stop Sanders (eg, "brokered convention"). Their main argument is electability (eg, NYT-2019). The arrogant liberal-left think that they know better than their voters. The ignorant conservative right assume that socialism cannot and will not happen in USA. The mere fact that Sanders is surging (amongst voters and polls) is telling.

A (business or vacation) trip to America is enough to show you its vast and ever-increasing inequality (eg, racial, wealth). It's telling that billionaires like Warren Buffett and others are worried by this (eg, CNBC-2019, Forbes-2020). They publicly urge the US government to raise taxes on the rich and lower inequality. Trump did, however, the exact opposite.

By lowering taxes on the rich and increasing US budget deficits, Trump is preventing future US governments from increasing public spending and decreasing social inequality. It's a perverse but smart strategy. It may explain why budget deficits are usually soaring under Republican presidents and are mitigated by Democratic presidents (eg, the Balance-2020, Forbes-2017).

The 16th US President and Republican Abraham Lincoln (allegedly) once said: "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time" (Quote Inspector). I suppose this statement is now being tested in the USA. It could indeed explain a choice for a self-declared "democratic socialist".

The American population has never experienced socialism, apart from a few US cities (Wiki). In my West-European view, the arrogant liberal-left are falsely romanticising socialism, while the ignorant conservative right are fearing it without even knowing about it. A U-turn from "blunt" capitalism to "equalitarian" socialism is, however, doomed to fail.

The resulting American chaos and disruption would benefit other Superpowers, like China and Russia. The (alleged) Russian support for the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign should be seen in that context (eg, Guardian-2020NYT-2020, WaPo-2020). Moreover, Trump and Sanders would both guarantee further disruption, which has always been in Russian interest, whether in Europe or USA.

It will probably take decades before the USA will "invent" the Canadian and/or West-European solution of "democratic capitalism" also known as "social democracy". I suppose finding a balance or equilibrium requires making mistakes first and then learning from it.

“By seeking and blundering we learn.” A quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), a German writer and statesman.

You Learn (1996) by Alanis Morissette 

You live, you learn 
You love, you learn 
You cry, you learn 
You lose, you learn 
You bleed, you learn 
You scream you learn

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

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Virus epidemics

I'm slightly puzzled by the public response to the 2019 coronavirus. Probably, Chinese images of coronavirus fighters suggest an Ebola like virus with a fatality rate of 25%-90%, or an H5N1 fatality rate of around 60 percent. The actual coronavirus mortality rate "seems [] less than 2 percent - exponentially lower than most outbreaks that make global news".

According to the article below, "[t]he much “milder” flu viruses, by contrast, kill fewer than 0.1 percent of people they infect, on average, but are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year". The coronavirus seems about 20 times stronger and/but its mortality rate of <2% mostly applies to "people with chronic health conditions and of older age".

I think, feel and believe that viruses also have a beneficiary function apart from their lethal capacity. Science Daily-2016: "viral genetic material comprises nearly 10 percent of the modern human genome". Hence, the 1888 saying by Friedrich Nietzsche must apply here: "what does not kill me, makes me stronger".

A quote from my 2016 blog Identity and skin colour: "A gene mutation of some 5,000 years ago was responsible for developing white skin to adapt to a lack of UV sunlight in Northern European countries. The success of this gene mutation was overwhelming in human evolution." Also see WSJ-2015

The evolutionary speed of skin whitening suggests (to me) that the cause of this gene mutation may have been a virus epidemic. It's hard to conceive that a singular gene mutation in a singular child may have caused this massive evolutionary change in Europe. White-skinned black or albino babies are rare in African countries and are often deemed as evil (eg, NPR-2015, Wiki).

In my view, viruses are the drivers of evolution in all living organisms. 

"According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself." A 1963 quote by Leon C. Megginson, a Louisiana State University business professor. (Quote Inspector).

The above quote is also known as "adapt or die".


The Atlantic title: You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus
The Atlantic subtitle: Most cases are not life-threatening, which is also what makes the virus a historic challenge to contain.

Author: James Hamlin

Date: 24 February 2020

"In May 1997, a 3-year-old boy developed what at first seemed like the common cold. When his symptoms—sore throat, fever, and cough—persisted for six days, he was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong. There his cough worsened, and he began gasping for air. Despite intensive care, the boy died.

Puzzled by his rapid deterioration, doctors sent a sample of the boy’s sputum to China’s Department of Health. But the standard testing protocol couldn’t fully identify the virus that had caused the disease. The chief virologist decided to ship some of the sample to colleagues in other countries.

At the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the boy’s sputum sat for a month, waiting for its turn in a slow process of antibody-matching analysis. The results eventually confirmed that this was a variant of influenza, the virus that has killed more people than any in history. But this type had never before been seen in humans. It was H5N1, or “avian flu,” discovered two decades prior, but known only to infect birds.

By then, it was August. Scientists sent distress signals around the world. The Chinese government swiftly killed 1.5 million chickens (over the protests of chicken farmers). Further cases were closely monitored and isolated. By the end of the year there were 18 known cases in humans. Six people died.

This was seen as a successful global response, and the virus was not seen again for years. In part, containment was possible because the disease was so severe: Those who got it became manifestly, extremely ill. H5N1 has a fatality rate of around 60 percent—if you get it, you’re likely to die. Yet since 2003, the virus has killed only 455 people. The much “milder” flu viruses, by contrast, kill fewer than 0.1 percent of people they infect, on average, but are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.

Severe illness caused by viruses such as H5N1 also means that infected people can be identified and isolated, or that they died quickly. They do not walk around feeling just a little under the weather, seeding the virus. The new coronavirus (known technically as SARS-CoV-2) that has been spreading around the world can cause a respiratory illness that can be severe. The disease (known as COVID-19) seems to have a fatality rate of less than 2 percent—exponentially lower than most outbreaks that make global news. The virus has raised alarm not despite that low fatality rate, but because of it.

Coronaviruses are similar to influenza viruses in that they are both single strands of RNA. Four coronaviruses commonly infect humans, causing colds. These are believed to have evolved in humans to maximize their own spread—which means sickening, but not killing, people. By contrast, the two prior novel coronavirus outbreaks—SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome, named for where the first outbreak occurred)—were picked up from animals, as was H5N1. These diseases were highly fatal to humans. If there were mild or asymptomatic cases, they were extremely few. Had there been more of them, the disease would have spread widely. Ultimately, SARS and MERS each killed fewer than 1,000 people.

COVID-19 is already reported to have killed more than twice that number. With its potent mix of characteristics, this virus is unlike most that capture popular attention: It is deadly, but not too deadly. It makes people sick, but not in predictable, uniquely identifiable ways. Last week, 14 Americans tested positive on a cruise ship in Japan despite feeling fine—the new virus may be most dangerous because, it seems, it may sometimes cause no symptoms at all.

The world has responded with unprecedented speed and mobilization of resources. The new virus was identified extremely quickly. Its genome was sequenced by Chinese scientists and shared around the world within weeks. The global scientific community has shared genomic and clinical data at unprecedented rates. Work on a vaccine is well under way. The Chinese government enacted dramatic containment measures, and the World Health Organization declared an emergency of international concern. All of this happened in a fraction of the time it took to even identify H5N1 in 1997. And yet the outbreak continues to spread.


The Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch is exacting in his diction, even for an epidemiologist. Twice in our conversation he started to say something, then paused and said, “Actually, let me start again.” So it’s striking when one of the points he wanted to get exactly right was this: “I think the likely outcome is that it will ultimately not be containable.”

Containment is the first step in responding to any outbreak. In the case of COVID-19, the possibility (however implausible) of preventing a pandemic seemed to play out in a matter of days. Starting in January, China began cordoning off progressively larger areas, radiating outward from Wuhan City and eventually encapsulating some 100 million people. People were barred from leaving home, and lectured by drones if they were caught outside. Nonetheless, the virus has now been found in 24 countries.

Despite the apparent ineffectiveness of such measures—relative to their inordinate social and economic cost, at least—the crackdown continues to escalate. Under political pressure to “stop” the virus, last Thursday the Chinese government announced that officials in the Hubei province would be going door to door, testing people for fevers and looking for signs of illness, then sending all potential cases to quarantine camps. But even with the ideal containment, the virus’s spread may have been inevitable. Testing people who are already extremely sick is an imperfect strategy if people can spread the virus without even feeling bad enough to stay home from work.

Lipsitch predicts that, within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he clarifies emphatically, this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he said. As with influenza, which is often life-threatening to people with chronic health conditions and of older age, most cases pass without medical care. (Overall, around 14 percent of people with influenza have no symptoms.)

Lipsitch is far from alone in his belief that this virus will continue to spread widely. The emerging consensus among epidemiologists is that the most likely outcome of this outbreak is a new seasonal disease—a fifth “endemic” coronavirus. With the other four, people are not known to develop long-lasting immunity. If this one follows suit, and if the disease continues to be as severe as it is now, “cold and flu season” could become “cold and flu and COVID-19 season.”

At this point, it is not even known how many people are infected. As of Sunday, there have been 35 confirmed cases in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization. But Lipsitch’s “very, very rough” estimate when we spoke a week ago (banking on “multiple assumptions piled on top of each other,” he said) was that 100 or 200 people in the U.S. were infected. That’s all it would take to seed the disease widely. The rate of spread would depend on how contagious the disease is in milder cases. On Friday, Chinese scientists reported in the medical journal JAMA an apparent case of asymptomatic spread of the virus, from a patient with a normal chest CT scan. The researchers concluded with stolid understatement that if this finding is not a bizarre abnormality, “the prevention of COVID-19 infection would prove challenging.”

Even if Lipsitch’s estimates were off by orders of magnitude, they wouldn’t likely change the overall prognosis. “Two hundred cases of a flu-like illness during flu season—when you’re not testing for it—is very hard to detect,” Lipsitch said. “But it would be really good to know sooner rather than later whether that’s correct, or whether we’ve miscalculated something. The only way to do that is by testing.”

Originally, doctors in the U.S. were advised not to test people unless they had been to China or had contact with someone who had been diagnosed with the disease. Within the past two weeks, the CDC said it would start screening people in five U.S. cities, in an effort to give some idea of how many cases are actually out there. But tests are still not widely available. As of Friday, the Association of Public Health Laboratories said that only California, Nebraska, and Illinois had the capacity to test people for the virus.

With so little data, prognosis is difficult. But the concern that this virus is beyond containment—that it will be with us indefinitely—is nowhere more apparent than in the global race to find a vaccine, one of the clearest strategies for saving lives in the years to come.


Over the past month, stock prices of a small pharmaceutical company named Inovio more than doubled. In mid-January, it reportedly discovered a vaccine for the new coronavirus. This claim has been repeated in many news reports, even though it is technically inaccurate. Like other drugs, vaccines require a long testing process to see if they indeed protect people from disease, and do so safely. What this company—and others—has done is copy a bit of the virus’s RNA that one day could prove to work as a vaccine. It’s a promising first step, but to call it a discovery is like announcing a new surgery after sharpening a scalpel.

Though genetic sequencing is now extremely fast, making vaccines is as much art as science. It involves finding a viral sequence that will reliably cause a protective immune-system memory but not trigger an acute inflammatory response that would itself cause symptoms. (While the influenza vaccine cannot cause the flu, CDC warns that it can cause “flu-like symptoms.”) Hitting this sweet spot requires testing, first in lab models and animals, and eventually in people. One does not simply ship a billion viral gene fragments around the world to be injected into everyone at the moment of discovery.

Inovio is far from the only small biotech company venturing to create a sequence that strikes that balance. Others include Moderna, CureVac, and Novavax. Academic researchers are also on the case, at Imperial College London and other universities, as are federal scientists in several countries, including at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Anthony Fauci, head of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, wrote in JAMA in January that the agency was working at historic speed to find a vaccine. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, researchers moved from obtaining the genomic sequence of the virus and into a phase 1 clinical trial of a vaccine in 20 months. Fauci wrote that his team has since compressed that timeline to just over three months for other viruses, and for the new coronavirus, “they hope to move even faster.”

New models have sprung up in recent years, too, that promise to speed up vaccine development. One is the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), which was launched in Norway in 2017 to finance and coordinate the development of new vaccines. Its founders include the governments of Norway and India, the Wellcome Trust, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The group’s money is now flowing to Inovio and other small biotech start-ups, encouraging them to get into the risky business of vaccine development. The group’s CEO, Richard Hatchett, shares Fauci’s basic timeline vision—a COVID-19 vaccine ready for early phases of safety testing in April. If all goes well, by late summer testing could begin to see if the vaccine actually prevents disease.

Overall, if all pieces fell into place, Hatchett guesses it would be 12 to 18 months before an initial product could be deemed safe and effective. That timeline represents “a vast acceleration compared with the history of vaccine development,” he told me. But it’s also unprecedentedly ambitious. “Even to propose such a timeline at this point must be regarded as hugely aspirational,” he added.

Even if that idyllic year-long projection were realized, the novel product would still require manufacturing and distribution. “An important consideration is whether the underlying approach can then be scaled to produce millions or even billions of doses in coming years,” Hatchett said. Especially in an ongoing emergency, if borders closed and supply chains broke, distribution and production could prove difficult purely as a matter of logistics.

Fauci’s initial optimism seemed to wane, too. Last week he said that the process of vaccine development was proving “very difficult and very frustrating.” For all the advances in basic science, the process cannot proceed to an actual vaccine without extensive clinical testing, which requires manufacturing many vaccines and meticulously monitoring outcomes in people. The process could ultimately cost hundreds of millions of dollars—money that the NIH, start-ups, and universities don’t have. Nor do they have the production facilities and technology to mass-manufacture and distribute a vaccine.

Production of vaccines has long been contingent on investment from one of the handful of giant global pharmaceutical companies. At the Aspen Institute last week, Fauci lamented that none had yet to “step up” and commit to making the vaccine. “Companies that have the skill to be able to do it are not going to just sit around and have a warm facility, ready to go for when you need it,” he said. Even if they did, taking on a new product like this could mean massive losses, especially if the demand faded or if people, for complex reasons, chose not to use the product.

Making vaccines is so difficult, cost intensive, and high risk that in the 1980s, when drug companies began to incur legal costs over alleged harms caused by vaccines, many opted to simply quit making them. To incentivize the pharmaceutical industry to keep producing these vital products, the U.S. government offered to indemnify anyone claiming to have been harmed by a vaccine. The arrangement continues to this day. Even still, drug companies have generally found it more profitable to invest in the daily-use drugs for chronic conditions. And coronaviruses could present a particular challenge in that at their core they are, like influenza viruses, a single strand of RNA. This viral class is likely to mutate, and vaccines may need to be in constant development, as with the flu.

“If we’re putting all our hopes in a vaccine as being the answer, we’re in trouble,” Jason Schwartz, an assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health who studies vaccine policy, told me. The best-case scenario, as Schwartz sees it, is the one in which this vaccine development happens far too late to make a difference for the current outbreak. The real problem is that preparedness for this outbreak should have been happening for the past decade, ever since SARS. “Had we not set the SARS-vaccine-research program aside, we would have had a lot more of this foundational work that we could apply to this new, closely related virus, ” he said. But, as with Ebola, government funding and pharmaceutical-industry development evaporated once the sense of emergency lifted. “Some very early research ended up sitting on a shelf because that outbreak ended before a vaccine needed to be aggressively developed.”

On Saturday, Politico reported that the White House is preparing to ask Congress for $1 billion in emergency funding for a coronavirus response. This request, if it materialized, would come in the same month in which President Donald Trump released a new budget proposal that would cut key elements of pandemic preparedness—funding for the CDC, the NIH, and foreign aid.

These long-term government investments matter because creating vaccines, antiviral medications, and other vital tools requires decades of serious investment, even when demand is low. Market-based economies often struggle to develop a product for which there is no immediate demand and to distribute products to the places they’re needed. CEPI has been touted as a promising model to incentivize vaccine development before an emergency begins, but the group also has skeptics. Last year, Doctors Without Borders wrote a scathing open letter, saying the model didn’t ensure equitable distribution or affordability. CEPI subsequently updated its policies to forefront equitable access, and Manuel Martin, a medical innovation and access adviser with Doctors Without Borders, told me last week that he’s now cautiously optimistic. “CEPI is absolutely promising, and we really hope that it will be successful in producing a novel vaccine,” he said. But he and his colleagues are “waiting to see how CEPI’s commitments play out in practice.”

These considerations matter not simply as humanitarian benevolence, but also as effective policy. Getting vaccines and other resources to the places where they will be most helpful is essential to stop disease from spreading widely. During the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, for example, Mexico was hit hard. In Australia, which was not, the government prevented exports by its pharmaceutical industry until it filled the Australian government’s order for vaccines. The more the world enters lockdown and self-preservation mode, the more difficult it could be to soberly assess risk and effectively distribute tools, from vaccines and respirator masks to food and hand soap.

Italy, Iran, and South Korea are now among the countries reporting quickly growing numbers of detected COVID-19 infections. Many countries have responded with containment attempts, despite the dubious efficacy and inherent harms of China’s historically unprecedented crackdown. Certain containment measures will be appropriate, but widely banning travel, closing down cities, and hoarding resources are not realistic solutions for an outbreak that lasts years. All of these measures come with risks of their own. Ultimately some pandemic responses will require opening borders, not closing them. At some point the expectation that any area will escape effects of COVID-19 must be abandoned: The disease must be seen as everyone’s problem."

Note The Atlantic:
"JAMES HAMBLIN, MD, is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk and is the author of a book by the same title. | More"


The Atlantic, 24 February 2020: You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus
De Telegraaf, 25 februari 2020: Harvard-prof: ’40 tot 70 procent wereldbevolking krijgt corona’

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Love epidemic

There are 2 primal human emotions in life: Love and Fear (my 2016 blog). Both can cause an epidemic or a pandemic. Fear is easy to understand (eg, coronavirus 2019). The global rise of religions, like Christianity and its 610 AD derivative Islam, was like a love epidemic or pandemic.

It's important separating Faith from Religion (my 2016 blog). Faith represents Love for a Supreme Being (eg, Ahura Mazda, Allah, Brahman, God, Yahweh). Religion is a man-made institute and part of the Power dimension in the 7 Belief systems (my 2016 blog). Faith will replace Religion - see my 2018 blog - in the 2019 version of the 7 Belief systems.

I just realised that the forthcoming transformation from Religion to Faith (my 2018 blog) would also qualify as a love epidemic. The surge of religions marked the Age of Pisces (my 2016 blog) while a surge of Faith would be consistent with the "current or forthcoming astrological age" of Aquarius (eg, expansion of consciousness, group consciousness, my 2016 blog).

Early 2018, I wrote my blog Technology, the new Religion. You could argue that our love for technology (eg, gadgets, internet of things) qualifies as another "love" epidemic - or pandemic. The "bowed head tribe" is a Chinese term for people with "their heads lowered, gazing at their phones" (BBC-2016). A bowed head usually implies submission, in this case for Technology.

Perhaps, our "greatest love" still is our love for money (eg, greed). Our love for money has become a pandemic. Money is also one of the three beliefs in the Power dimension of the 7 Belief systems (2016 version, 2019 update). Money always sides with the winner in the Power dimension of the 7 Belief systems (eg, my blogs of 2016 and 2019).

Interestingly, our love for a parliamentary democracy (ie, the belief system Politics) has never really qualified as a pandemic. Best of all, we tolerate Politics in the absence of something better. Now that the benefits of globalism are running out, several countries are experimenting with - the perceived benefits of - nationalism (eg, cultural identity).

In several of my blogs, I have used a 1976 song by Stevie Wonder: Love's in Need of Love today (eg, 1976 song, 2001 song versionWiki). In other words, the world needs a Love epidemic. It’s important to realise that the English word for Love has (at least) 4 different ancient Greek words: agápe (divine love), éros (romantic love), philia (brotherly/sisterly love), and storge (parental love).

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Corinthians 1:13-13.

Love Epidemic (1975) by The Trammps

Say we're gonna spread the love epidemic 
All around the world 
People, now spread it to every man 
Boy, woman and girl

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

Monday, 24 February 2020

EU-27: wie betaalt, die bepaalt ?

De recente EU-27 top over de Meerjarenbegroting 2021-2027 bracht geen oplossing voor het financiële gat dat het 28e lid (VK) achterlaat. De netto-betalers willen dat de EU bezuinigt; de netto-ontvangers willen er niet op achteruit gaan ondanks het vertrek van netto-betaler Engeland.

In de meeste situaties (bijv. gezin, bedrijf, stichting, vereniging) worden de uitgaven verminderd indien de inkomsten structureel tegenvallen. Het alternatief is structureel verlies lijden en vervolgens een faillissement. Monopolisten hebben een ander alternatief: de prijs per prestatie verhogen (bijv. bus, postzegels, trein). De EU organisatie gedraagt zich als zo'n monopolist.

Alle EU instanties zijn niet door Europeanen gekozen behalve het Europees Parlement. Deze laatste instantie maakt zich trouwens volstrekt belachelijk door te pleiten voor een verhoging van 30% van de EU afdrachten wegens het vertrek van Engeland.

Het EU systeem van netto-betalers en netto-ontvangers maakt duidelijk dat er sprake is van een welvaartsoverdracht tussen rijke en minder rijke EU landen. In een Federatie (bijv. USA) gebeurt dit ook. Naast een overdracht van rijke naar arme staten ("provincies"), is er in Amerika nu echter ook een welvaartsoverdracht volgens de politieke kleur van de staten.

In tegenstelling tot Europa, wordt de federale regering van Amerika wèl door burgers gekozen. Deze politieke keuze bepaalt in belangrijke mate het uitgavenbeleid van de Amerikaanse federale overheid. In Europa is géén keuze. Kortom, nationale leiders moeten die keuze voor hun burgers maken. De Nederlandse premier weet dat de EU bij zijn burgers onder een vergrootglas ligt.

Het vasthouden aan de huidige 1% norm door de zogenaamde "vrekkige 4" landen, betekent feitelijk een gedwongen "zero-base budgettering" voor de EU als organisatie. Met andere woorden: gedwongen bezuinigingen. Niet (willen) bezuinigingen betekent iedereen te "vriend" (willen) houden. Een oud-Nederlands gezegde luidt echter: wie betaalt, (die) bepaalt.

Brexit heeft ons laten zien wat een afkeer van de EU tot gevolg kan hebben. De Nederlandse premier moet deze strijd leveren om de politieke afkeer van de EU op de extreme flanken te temperen. Het niet voeren van deze strijd zou leiden tot een verdere leegloop uit het politieke "midden". Een Nexit zou dan plotseling wèl op de politieke agenda kunnen komen te staan.

In de simpele voorstelling van zaken, zoals in de meeste media, gaat deze discussie slechts over geld; vandaar de bijnaam "vrekkige 4" of "frugal 4". Geld is echter altijd een uitdrukking van macht. Wie bepaalt wat er in Europa gebeurt: de meerderheid van netto-ontvangers, of de minderheid van netto-betalers?

Het overrulen van de minderheid zou het begin van het einde van de EU-27 kunnen worden. Wordt vervolgd.

Poen! Poen! Poen! (1955) door Wim Sonneveld en het Metropole Orkest

Noot: alle markeringen (bolditalicunderlining) door LO tenzij anders vermeld.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Today’s strongmen are weaker than we think (Niall Ferguson)

The Times title: Today’s strongmen are weaker than we think

The Times subtitle: The lesson of history is that dictators tend not to die in their beds

Author: Niall Ferguson

Date: 16 February 2020

"It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that strongmen now rule the world. The days are long gone when The Economist fawned over Angela Merkel as the “indispensable European” and the Financial Times hailed her as “the leader of the free world”. In Washington, as the recently honoured chat radio star Rush Limbaugh observed, Donald Trump is “Mr Man”, he of the three wives, in contrast to his potential rival for the presidency, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, whose only marriage is to a man. Fans of the British author Roger Hargreaves’s Mr Men series will have enjoyed this, for in many ways the president is an almost perfect Mr Man.

In London, Boris Johnson has just purged his cabinet, losing — perhaps rather earlier than intended — his chancellor of the exchequer and several other independent-minded ministers. Meanwhile, in Beijing, Xi Jinping has already begun pinning the blame for the coronavirus epidemic on provincial officials in Hubei, instead of on the excessively centralised, repressive and compulsively mendacious political system over which he presides.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman still rules the roost in Riyadh, despite having apparently ordered the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and Nicolas Maduro shows no sign of fleeing Caracas, despite having caused the Venezuelan economy to implode so disastrously that more than four million people have fled the country.

The strongmen are all around: from Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia and Rodrigo Duterte in Manila to Narendra Modi in Delhi and Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang — and not forgetting Viktor Orban in Budapest.

At the top of the authoritarian guild sits Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, who (I am told) lives the private life of one of the more lascivious Roman emperors. Wealthy beyond the dreams of Croesus (some say the wealthiest man on the planet), the master of all he surveys in Russia and far and away the most skilled player of the great game we call geopolitics, Putin is the capo dei capi. Only the other day he almost mockingly announced a reshuffle that makes Boris’s recent effort look like tinkering with the placement at a smart London dinner party. The Russian president forced his entire government to resign.

There are three problems with being a strongman. First, the stronger you become, the more paranoid you must become, as your rivals can hope to supplant you only through dark conspiracies. Second, the more paranoid you become, the less reliable the information that you receive. Who really dares to tell the boss the truth? Third, at some point you are quite likely to die a violent death, because only when you are dead as a doornail can your enemies feel safe. As the Dutch historian Frank Dikotter makes clear in his brilliant new book, How to Be a Dictator, a peaceful retirement tending to a rose garden is seldom an option for the strongman.

Benito Mussolini found this out the hard way. In April 1945, he and his mistress Clara Petacci were summarily shot and their bodies later hung upside down from a girder in Milan. Two days on, Hitler died by his own hand as the vengeful Red Army closed in on his Berlin bunker. To avoid ending up dangling from a girder, he ordered that his body be cremated, along with that of Eva Braun, his long-term mistress, whom he had married a day earlier. (Being a dictator’s girlfriend is also extremely hazardous.)

Joseph Stalin won the war but died in March 1953, at the age of 74, partly because members of his own entourage were too terrified to order prompt medical action after he suffered a stroke.

It is sometimes said that a majority of dictators die in their beds. That may have been true in the 1970s. François “Papa Doc” Duvalier died peacefully in 1971. Francisco Franco’s death in 1975 was from natural causes. So was Mao Tse-tung’s in 1976. “There is no [personality] cult without fear,” writes Dikotter, an authority on the tyranny of Mao. The Chinese strongman succeeded in terrifying a fifth of humanity.

However, bad things nearly always happen to strongmen who lose or relinquish power, as many dictators did in the 1980s and 1990s. Nicolae Ceausescu fell before a firing squad in 1989. Saddam Hussein went to the gallows in December 2006. Colonel Muammar Gadaffi was shot in 2011 while trying to escape the revolutionary wave we misname the Arab Spring.

To see just how hazardous absolute power can be, consider the causes of death for Roman emperors and British monarchs. Of the 18 emperors who ruled the early Roman Empire (27BC to AD193), according to a fascinating article on the subject, 10 died of natural causes, six were murdered and two committed suicide. The top job did not get safer; quite the reverse. Of the 59 emperors of the late Roman empire (193-476), 15 died of natural causes, 32 were murdered or executed, five committed suicide, five died in battle or from wounds sustained in battle, one died in captivity and another drowned while fleeing the scene of a military defeat.

Of the 105 monarchs of the British Isles, 19 were murdered, assassinated, executed or euthanised by their doctors; 15 died in battle.

Ottoman sultans were supposed to enjoy higher levels of security than their west European counterparts. Nevertheless, a surprisingly large number met violent ends. Of the 36 Ottoman sultans, by my reckoning, 11 were murdered, killed in battle or otherwise came to a premature end.

The key to survival as a strongman, aside from inaccessibility (on which subject see the outstanding Chinese film Hero), is to have an intimate circle of people who know they would also be for the chop if you were overthrown. However, you also need to deter any potential successor from getting impatient. One way of doing that is to have multiple sons and play them off against one another. Another option is to have no heir and project your longevity so credibly that no one dares aspire to succeed you.

Looking at our present crop of strongmen, you might be tempted to conclude that the democratically elected ones — Trump and Johnson — are more vulnerable than the authoritarians. After all, they have to face the voters every four or five years. I am not so sure. If I were Boris, my main worry would be that by promoting Rishi Sunak to the chancellorship, I had inadvertently nominated my successor.

History suggests that a significant proportion of the undemocratic strongmen will be gone within the decade — and it will not be the coronavirus that carries them off. Unless, that is, the Wuhan epidemic proves to be Xi’s Chernobyl, which it may yet. After Maduro, who soon won’t have a population left to plunder, and the Saudi crown prince, whose plans to reform Saudi Arabia are doomed to fail, Xi seems to me the most vulnerable figure.

Come to think of it, didn’t The Economist once call him “the most powerful man in the world”?"

Niall Ferguson is the Milbank Family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford


Note LO:
I've added two URL's above relating to "the Dutch historian Frank Dikotter [and] his brilliant new book, How to Be a Dictator".

De sterke mannen van deze wereld zijn zwakker dan we denken (Niall Ferguson)

Financieel Dagblad titel: De sterke mannen van deze wereld zijn zwakker dan we denken

Auteur: Niall Ferguson

Datum: 16 februari 2020

"Bijna iedereen is het erover eens dat de wereld momenteel door sterke mannen wordt geregeerd. Het is lang geleden dat The Economist Angela Merkel bewierookte als de ‘onontbeerlijke Europeaan’ en dat de Financial Times haar verwelkomde als ‘de leider van de vrije wereld’.

In Washington geldt Donald Trump, in de woorden van de Amerikaanse radiopresentator Rush Limbaugh, als ‘Mr. Man’, de man die drie keer is getrouwd. Dit in tegenstelling tot zijn mogelijke rivaal voor het presidentschap, voormalig burgemeester Pete Buttigieg, die maar één keer is getrouwd, met een man.

In Londen heeft Boris Johnson net zijn kabinet gezuiverd ten koste van – misschien eerder dan de bedoeling was – zijn minister van financiën en enkele andere onafhankelijk ingestelde ministers. Ondertussen is in Beijing Xi Jinping al begonnen de schuld van de coronavirusepidemie in de schoenen te schuiven van provincieambtenaren in Hubei, in plaats van de schuld te geven aan het buitensporig gecentraliseerde, repressieve en obsessief leugenachtige politieke systeem waarover hij de leiding heeft.

Kroonprins Mohammed bin Salman deelt nog altijd de lakens uit in Riyad, ook al heeft hij kennelijk opdracht gegeven tot de moord op Jamal Khashoggi, en in Caracas maakt Nicolás Maduro nog steeds geen aanstalten om een goed heenkomen te zoeken, ondanks het feit dat hij de Venezolaanse economie zo rampzalig heeft laten instorten dat meer dan vier miljoen mensen het land zijn ontvlucht.

Capo Poetin
Overal vind je sterke mannen: van Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia tot Rodrigo Duterte in Manila, en van Narendra Modi in Delhi tot Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang – en laten we Viktor Orbán in Boedapest niet vergeten.

Aan het hoofd van het autoritaire gilde staat Vladimir Poetin, de Russische president, die (zo heb ik me laten vertellen) privé het leven van de wellustigste onder de Romeinse keizers leidt. Als bezitter van een fortuin waarvan Croesus slechts kon dromen (volgens sommigen is hij de rijkste man op de planeet), als absolute heer en meester over Rusland en als veruit de behendigste beoefenaar van dat geweldige spel dat geopolitiek wordt genoemd, is Poetin de capo di tutti capi.

Nog maar kort geleden kondigde Poetin bijna spottend een herschikking van zijn regering aan, waarmee vergeleken de recente poging van Boris Johnson meer wegheeft van het hannesen met de tafelschikking voor een diner in de chique Londense wijk Notting Hill. De Russische president dwong zijn volledige regering haar ontslag in te dienen.

Als sterke man heb je drie problemen. Ten eerste zal samen met je macht ook je paranoia toenemen, omdat je rivalen je alleen maar kunnen verdrijven door middel van duistere complotten. Ten tweede wordt naarmate je paranoia toeneemt de informatie die je ontvangt steeds onbetrouwbaarder. Want wie durft de baas nou echt de waarheid te zeggen? Ten derde zul je op een gegeven moment waarschijnlijk een gewelddadige dood sterven, want alleen als je zo dood als een pier bent kunnen je vijanden zich veilig voelen.

Geen rozentuin
Zoals de Nederlandse historicus Frank Dikötter duidelijk maakt in zijn briljante nieuwe boek Acht dictators uit de 20ste eeuw, is de sterke man maar zelden een vredig pensioen vergund waarin hij zich naar hartenlust aan zijn rozentuin kan wijden.

Benito Mussolini kwam daar op hardhandige wijze achter. In april 1945 werden hij en zijn geliefde Clara Petacci zonder vorm van proces geëxecuteerd en later ondersteboven aan een balk gehangen in Milaan. Twee dagen later stierf Hitler door eigen hand, terwijl het wraaklustige Rode Leger zijn Berlijnse bunker omsingelde. Om te voorkomen dat ook hij aan een balk zou worden gehangen beval hij dat zijn lichaam moest worden gecremeerd samen met dat van Eva Braun, al jaren zijn geliefde en sinds een dag daarvoor zijn wettige echtgenote. (Ook de vriendin van een dictator zijn is uitermate riskant.) Jozef Stalin won de oorlog maar stierf in maart 1953 op 74-jarige leeftijd na een beroerte, deels omdat zijn entourage niet onmiddellijk medische hulp durfde in te roepen.

Er wordt weleens gezegd dat de meeste dictators in hun bed overlijden. In de jaren zeventig van de vorige eeuw was dat vermoedelijk waar. François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier stierf vredig in 1971. De dood van Francisco Franco in 1975 was een natuurlijke. Net als die van Mao Zedong in 1976. ‘Een persoonlijkheidscultus zonder angst bestaat niet,’ schrijft Dikötter, een autoriteit op het gebied van de tirannie van Mao. De Chinese sterke man slaagde erin een vijfde van de mensheid angst aan te jagen.

Maar met sterke mannen die de macht verliezen of opgeven loopt het bijna altijd slecht af, zoals in de jaren 80 en 90 van de vorige eeuw. Nicolae Ceausescu zeeg ineen voor een vuurpeloton. Saddam Hussein werd in december 2006 opgehangen. Kolonel Moammar Khaddafi werd in 2011 doodgeschoten toen hij probeerde te ontkomen aan de revolutionaire golf die ten onrechte de Arabische Lente wordt genoemd.

Xi's Tsjernobyl
Wie als sterke man wil overleven heeft een kring intimi nodig die weet dat ook zij het loodje zullen leggen als jij ten val wordt gebracht. Ook is het beter geen erfgenaam te hebben en de indruk te wekken dat je zo’n lang leven beschoren zal zijn dat niemand enige aspiratie durft te koesteren om je op te volgen.

Als je naar onze huidige generatie sterke mannen kijkt, lijken degenen die democratisch gekozen zijn – Trump en Johnson – kwetsbaarder dan de autoritaire. Zij moeten hun kiezers tenslotte om de vier of vijf jaar onder ogen komen. Toch heb ik zo mijn twijfels.

Als we de geschiedenis mogen geloven zal een aanzienlijk deel van de ondemocratische sterke mannen binnen een decennium verdwijnen, en niet als gevolg van het coronavirus. Tenzij de epidemie in Wuhan zich ontpopt als Xi’s Tsjernobyl, wat niet uitgesloten is. Na Maduro, die weldra geen bevolking meer zal hebben om kaal te plukken, en de Saoedische kroonprins, wiens hervormingsplannen tot mislukken gedoemd zijn, lijkt Xi me de meest kwetsbare figuur.

En nu we het er toch over hebben, noemde The Economist hem niet ooit ‘de machtigste man ter wereld’?"


Noot LO: 
Ik heb hierboven twee URL's toegevoegd inzake de Nederlandse historicus Frank Dikötter en zijn boek Acht dictators uit de 20ste eeuw.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Trump offered to pardon Assange if he covered up Russian interference in US election, court told (Independent)

Independent title: Trump offered to pardon Assange if he covered up Russian interference in US election, court told

Independent subtitle: WikiLeaks founder has evidence of visit from Republican congressman to Ecuadorian embassy allegedly on president’s behalf

Date: 20 February 2020

"Donald Trump offered to pardon Julian Assange if he said that Russia was not involved in a leak of Democratic party emails ahead of the 2016 US election, a court has heard.

The explosive claim – which could have profound consequences for Mr Trump’s re-election effort if proven true – emerged as Assange, 48, appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court ahead of a hearing next week about his possible extradition to the US.

Assange’s barrister highlighted evidence that former US Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher had been to see Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in August 2017, in the early days of Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the previous election.

Edward Fitzgerald QC said a statement from Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson shows “Mr Rohrabacher going to see Mr Assange and saying, on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr Assange ... said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks”.

A series of emails embarrassing for the Democrats and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign were hacked before being published by WikiLeaks in the run-up to the 2016 election.

The Mueller investigation, published in April, found Russian GRU agents hacked Ms Clinton’s private server for the first time just hours after Mr Trump’s public request for Russia to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing”.

While the report found no evidence that Mr Trump's team criminally conspired with Russia, he appeared to have claimed to know about future WikiLeaks drops in advance.

One section of the report, heavily redacted by the justice department, said: “Trump told [former deputy campaign chair Rick Gates] that more releases of damaging information would be coming.”

Mr Gates was cited as saying that after the release of the first batch, “the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks”.

It also confirmed Assange and Donald Trump Jr had spoken on Twitter, with the former thanking the president’s son for “talking about our publications”.

But after Assange – who argues his extradition to the US is politically motivated – was arrested in April, the president claimed: “I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing.”

On Wednesday, the White House issued a furious denial of Assange's lawyer's claim that Mr Rohrabacher offered him a quid pro quo at the Ecuadorian embassy on Mr Trump’s behalf.

“The president barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he’s an ex-congressman. He’s never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an email.

“It is a complete fabrication and a total lie. This is probably another never ending hoax and total lie from the DNC.”

But several former officials suggested the claims should be taken seriously – just weeks after the president was acquitted of an alleged abuse of power in encouraging Ukraine to investigate his political rival in the upcoming election.

“Lawyer’s don’t usually make claims in court they can’t prove," Joyce White, a former US attorney, tweeted.

“It sure sounds like Assange’s attorneys are prepared to back-up this claim with evidence,” said Ned Price, a former CIA official who served as a special adviser to Barack Obama.

“It’s another indication that Trump’s assault on the rule of law isn’t new; it’s been ongoing throughout his term. And imagine just how much we don’t yet know.”

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said Assange’s evidence would be admissible during next week’s extradition hearing.

Both the White House and Mr Rohrabaher have previously confirmed some of the key events in the claims made by Assange's lawyers.

One month after his visit to Assange in August, the White House confirmed Mr Rohrabaher had discussed a possible deal for the Wikileaks founder in a call with Mr Trump's chief of staff John Kelly.

Mr Rohrabacher told the Wall Street Journal that as part of the proposed deal, Assange would need to hand over solid digital evidence proving Russia was not behind Hillary Clinton's hacked emails.

It is unclear if Mr Trump and Mr Rohrabacher ever directly discussed Assange. But in Mr Rohrabcher complained to The Intercept that he had been blocked from briefing Mr Trump about his August meeting with Assange because White House officials were scared discussions it could look like collusion.

“Not only Kelly, but others are worried if I say one word to Trump about Russia, that it would appear to out-of-control prosecutors that that is where the collusion is,” Mr Rohrabacher said.

Assange is wanted in America to face 18 charges, including conspiring to commit computer intrusion, over the publication of US cables a decade ago. He could face up to 175 years in jail if found guilty.

He is accused of working with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

The extradition hearing is due to begin at Woolwich Crown Court on Monday. The decision, which is expected months later, is likely to be appealed against by the losing side, whatever the outcome.

Assange has been held on remand in Belmarsh prison since last September after serving a 50-week jail sentence for breaching his bail conditions while he was in the Ecuadorian embassy.

He entered the building in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex offence allegations, which he has always denied and were subsequently dropped.

Assange appeared in court on Wednesday by videolink from HMP Belmarsh. He spoke to confirm his name and date of birth, and sat holding a stack of papers during the hearing.

The hearing came one day after Australian MPs George Christensen and Andrew Wilkie called for Boris Johnson to intervene and stop the extradition hearing.

At a press conference on Tuesday it emerged that fellow inmates at the high-security prison successfully lobbied for his release from solitary confinement.

Speaking after the press conference, Assange’s father John Shipton said his son’s condition had improved, but said the extradition going ahead would be akin to a “death sentence”."



James Lovelock at 100: ‘The new generation of eco-warriors are too emotional’ (Telegraph)

Telegraph title: James Lovelock at 100: ‘The new generation of eco-warriors are too emotional’

Telegraph subtitle: The ‘maverick’ scientist explains why protest alone won’t save the planet

AuthorRobin Pagnamenta

Date: 18 February 2020

"James Lovelock takes a sip of tea and glances out of his window overlooking Chesil Beach. “If we are going to solve the problem, then it’s the nest of humans who are going to solve it,” the 100-year-old scientist and futurist says quietly, as rain lashes down outside over a windswept English Channel.

“I’ve got my own view on this thing: we’re in a fairly desperate position.”

Lovelock, who first theorised that Earth is a self-balancing biological organism rather than merely a rock (the “Gaia hypothesis”) has been warning about the risks of runaway climate change since the 1970s. He compares mankind’s current predicament with the challenge facing his own generation between 1939-45.

“It’s an incredible choice before us,” he says. “Do we want life as usual now, for a few more years – and then crash? Or do we cut back now?”

Last month, two of America’s leading climate scientists said the 2010s were the hottest decade on record and predicted the trend would continue unabated during the 2020s with average temperatures poised to rise to a critical level of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2035.

And while Greta Thunberg is credited with leading the green youth charge, figures released this week shows that older generations’ stewardship of the planet is in fact superior: over-55s are more environmentally friendly than the 16-24-year-olds surveyed in every area, from buying local produce to second-hand clothes, except veganism.

Often described as a maverick – although he prefers “independent scientist” – Lovelock’s views are certainly unfashionable.

His Gaia series of books became a rallying point for environmentalists in the 1970s and 80s, but Lovelock – who worked for NASA as an engineer designing instruments for the Viking lander programme to Mars in the 1960s and 70s – is no sandal-wearing hippy.

Note LO: see article for diagram about "Warmest years in the UK since 1910"

Snuggled up in his coastguard cottage near Abbotsbury in Dorset surrounded by books and accompanied by his American wife, Sandy, he remains a determined optimist despite the scale of the challenge. “It would not be at all difficult to stop burning oil and coal,” he says. “It’s just the will to do it.”

He claims beating climate change remains eminently feasible – but only through international cooperation between governments and scientists to forge practical scientific solutions, not by wearing sack-cloth or forcing people to switch off their central heating.

The answers lie, he says, in a wholesale dash for nuclear energy and other advanced scientific solutions to help protect the climate or moderate the Earth’s atmosphere artificially.

For all the green lobby’s good intentions, Lovelock cannot hide his disdain for what he views as simple-minded solutions to highly complex scientific problems – the group being “driven more by emotions based on false ideas, than by common sense or a proper knowledge of the earth.

“The greens are like unqualified doctors.”

Lovelock dismisses the idea that his nuclear ambitions are more dangerous and expensive than those currently in use. “Nuclear is far safer – 100 times safer – than any rival industry,” he says, nibbling on a digestive. “When that tsunami hit Japan and Fukushima… there was almost no nuclear disaster. “Nuclear waste? There’s very little of it.”

Such views may be provocative but Lovelock’s mischievous streak is unmistakable. Physically frail but mentally as sharp as ever, he claims solving the world’s climate woes is about money as much as anything else: “I think the financial institutions of the world are more worried about the loss of their investments than they are about global warming. Even though global warming will kill their grandchildren, probably.”

Born in Letchworth Garden City and raised in Brixton, south London, Lovelock went on to read chemistry at Manchester University. During World War II, he worked for Britain’s Medical Research Council on ways to shield soldiers from burns – refusing to conduct experiments on live rabbits, he offered up his own limbs instead.

Now, Lovelock’s work looks forward: aside from nuclear energy, he is keen on the construction in space of a giant sunshade which could be used to moderate the amount of the sun’s energy to hit the surface of the Earth.

“You get NASA to send out into space a disk, which is in a heliocentric orbit between us and the sun. And it just reflects enough of the sunlight to offset all the effects of global warming. It is a perfectly practical thing to do, and it will be exceedingly easy to dismantle. It will be moderately expensive, but not doing it will be a hell of a lot more expensive.”

Lovelock’s latest book, Novacene – a treatise on the future impact of Artificial Intelligence – was published last July. In it, he argues the world is moving into a new era which will be dominated by the emergence of superintelligent computers which will slowly but surely seize control of Earth from their human creators, and fuse with us into cyborgs.

Far from viewing this as a sinister development which threatens a Terminator-style war between humans and machines, Lovelock offers a refreshingly upbeat view: that robots who will rule the world with our blessing and support, because they will need us just as much as we need them.

He decries our tendency to see technology as a threat, rather than a new stage in our evolutionary development – partly down to “the endless stream of stuff coming from Hollywood. It’s always ‘the cyber monsters are out to get you’. And I just think it’s time we changed that negative way of looking at things.”

The rise of superintelligent computers has anyway already begun, he says, and will accelerate. “Supercomputers exist,” he smiles. “An iPhone is a supercomputer. It fits in your pocket and has wires just a few atoms thick. It could never be made by a human.”

“It’s just a short hop from where we are already to a world of cyborgs”, he says tapping his chest. “Slowly, imperceptibly we are all being dragged into a kind of mixed animal,” he says.

“I’ve got a triple wire pacemaker in my heart and I’ve got hearing aids, so electronics is coming into my existence on quite a scale already.” He adds: “It’s nothing but advantage. It won’t be that there are monsters who are controlling us.”

Superintelligent machines, he adds, will help humans solve some of their most intractable problems – tackling a warming climate, providing sufficient food and resources and helping us to administer the increasingly complex urban civilisations in which we live.

They will need us to regulate the rest of the planet and perform many of the menial tasks required to keep Earth – or Gaia – in balance. Super intelligence will come to view us much like we ourselves view plants, he says.

“Plants are about a million times slower than we are, but the farmer doesn’t go out and get rid of them. We need them and it’s a good relationship. I don’t see why that shouldn’t be true with cyborgs.”"



Friday, 21 February 2020

Second chances

In the summer of 2011, my then girlfriend and I decided to split up as a couple and go our own ways. Both of us would return to our (different) home countries. After several weeks, she returned and asked if she could join me instead. Her job opportunities at home were looking bad, compared to the Netherlands. I decided to give "us" another (third?) chance.

Initially, things were much better between us than they had been before. Her job prospects were also looking very good. My prospects deteriorated quickly after the late 2011 Greek government-debt crisis. While her situation and feelings were improving, mine were worsening. Fate had flipped our previous lives. We continued as a couple until mid 2014.

Sometimes, I still wonder about the "what, if" question because she was also my best friend. I know there is no mutual future between us. During stressful times, our characters collide hard and bad. During good times, we flourish. Unfortunately, we both have had lots of stressful times during 2010-2014. I do miss her friendship though.

Second or third chances belong to the cycle of Hope, Love, Doubt & Fear (my blogs) as well as coupling & decoupling (my blogs).

A break-up equals decoupling and is the result of Doubt and Fear. When there is Hope again, a 2nd chance on Love may cause a new coupling.

Today, I'm wondering about the premise that is underlying second, third or whatever chances.

Why give someone a second chance? Is it that you expect things to get better than before?  Do we expect that the other person has learned her/his lesson? Is it part of the revenge-retaliation cycle?

If deeds, words and intentions are not aligned (eg, revenge) then second or third chances are doomed. If Doubt is stronger than Hope then a new chance is probably doomed as well. When Love is stronger than Fear, even a 20th chance might become successful. I know as I've been there.

"We all deserve second chances, but not for the same mistake." A quote attributed to Thabiso Owethu Xabanisa (eg, FacebookLinkedIn).

Second Chance (1989) by 38 Special

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