The very model of a modern individual

July 21, 2014

I can never find a political label that fits me or a label that I would like to be fitted to.

(With apologies and thanks to Gilbert and Sullivan)

I am the very model of a modern individual,

I am well informed on matters social and political, 

I know the his-tory of Man and of theories philosophical,

Of apes and Denisovans and matters anthropological.

I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,

I understand the flow of heat in a manner thermodynamical.

About politics and sociology, I’m up-to-date with all the news,

On any subject under the sun, I have opinions and decided views.


Of science led by politics, I tend to be suspicious,

My views on global warming verge nigh on being scandalous.

On matters social, economic and all that is political,

I am the very model of a modern individual.


I know our myths and legends from time immemorial,

I can tell the tales of Duryodana, of Beowulf and Galadriel.

I can quote from the songs of Omar Khayyam and from the sonnets of the Bard,

Verses from the Bible, the Koran or from the Vedas do not come so very hard.

I am familiar with the post-modernists and privy to all the schisms,

Between environmentalism and feminism and even conservationism.

I could hum you an air from Bach or Mozart or even a Shankar raga, 

And even sing along with you the many hits of Abba.

I am quite familiar with the works of Marx and Paine and Friedman,

I can debate with you the pros and cons of abortion or execution

In short, in matters social and political,

I am the very model of a modern individual.


I don’t know what is meant by “God” and by ridiculous “Religions”,

As if we are still stuck in the dark of the Spanish Inquisition.

I have little time for Islamic jihad or rampant Zionism,

I only have contempt for Christians killing Christians.

I find I’m simultaneously, conservative and socialist,

And when I’m not a fascist, I can even be a communist.

Nationalism and patriotism seem to me artificial,

Since Nation States are merely accidents geographical.

As a conglomeration of matters contradictory,

There is no better modern individual than me.


I don’t know what I don’t know, or even all there is to know,

But I will know all that I can know, before it’s time for me to go.

In short, in matters social and political,

I am the very model of a modern individual.

Can Obama do anything other than make pretty speeches?

July 20, 2014

I was listening to Barack Obama after the shooting down of MH17. It was just another pretty speech.

Barack Obama’s place in history is assured.

He will be remembered as the first black President of the US.

The history books may have little more positive to say than that. They may mention that he did win a second term. They may well wonder why? They may mention his dithering and some of his pretty speeches. They may have many more negative things to remember. Of being a US President who despite a Democratic majority in the Senate managed to accomplish very little. In both international affairs and on the domestic front some of his failures could be catastrophic enough to earn a place in the history books.

Iraq and Syria are overrun with terrorists. Violence is flaring in Ukraine and on Israel’s borders. A humanitarian crisis is developing on our own southern border, but immigration legislation, like most all legislation, is moribund. Probes of the veterans’ health-care system, the IRS and Benghazi are sucking up attention and the administration’s time.

Now fully one third of the US thinks Obama was/has been the worst US President since the Second World War! Worse than Jimmy Carter, worse than George Bush Jr., even worse than Richard Nixon., and I can remember the loathing that Tricky Dicky engendered – both in the US and internationally.

Obama’s reputation internationally is one of pretty speeches and no substance, of a President who is so risk averse that he is virtually paralysed in any situation demanding courage and of a President who has abdicated control over his security services. The NSA spying revelations, the expulsion of the CIA head in Germany and the failure of intelligence in Libya and Syria and Ukraine, despite unprecedented levels of information gathering, give the impression of a security service completely devoid of oversight or direction. Obama’s security apparatus is going rogue but he has not the wherewithal to control or direct it.

Even domestically his healthcare flagship is less than convincing. He may have bigger failures to come both internationally and domestically, but there is little expectation of any future successes. His over-analysis and dithering on virtually every issue suggests he could possibly have been of some use in a think-tank advising a President. But they are characteristics which have not served him well as President.

But Obamacare’s “free” benefit mandates, and overregulation, has only resulted in sharply increasing health insurance costs, more than doubling premiums in many cases, another President Obama failure by his own words and standards.

But the worst President Obama failure can still be yet to come.  Obama told us that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran’s terrorist government would be “unacceptable” and he would stop it by any means necessary, with all options now on the table.  But the flower child Obama/Kerry nuclear negotiations now actually seem resigned to only trying to contain what Reagan defense expert Frank Gaffney now is calling the Iranian “Obamabomb,” to echo the Obamacare failure.

His pretty speeches have fooled a lot of people and have built up hopes and expectations. But it is not just that hopes and expectations will have been dashed. He will leave the world a more turbulent and dangerous place when he leaves the presidency than when he started. Eight wasted years.

Which idiot organisation declared MH17′s flight path as “safe”?

July 18, 2014

It now looks like it was a surface-to-air missile (of Russian make) which downed MH17 and killed 298 (not 295) people. The missile was probably launched by a pro-Russian, Cossack, separatist group in eastern Ukraine though this claim is made by the Ukrainian Security service – for whatever that is worth. It was certainly not a hand-held missile which cannot reach such altitudes.

The questions I have are:

  1. Which idiot organisation in such a war-zone, where unknown and unaccountable separatists were known to be in possession of missiles, declared the air space as “unrestricted” and therefore safe? “Malaysia Airlines said on Friday the flight route taken by the MH17 airliner that came down in Ukraine had been declared safe by the UN aviation arm, the International Civil Aviation Organisation. It also said the International Air Transportation Association “had stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions”.
  2. Why was MH17 flying south of its filed route and closer to the “war-zone” than planned?, and
  3. What were the Russians doing in allowing the separatists access to such missiles? Like giving a loaded gun to a chimpanzee.
MH17 Ukraine flight path Guardian - Flight Radar 24

MH17 Ukraine flight path Guardian – Flight Radar 24

Ukrainian air space was emptied out very quickly yesterday after the shooting down of MH17.


ukraine airspace

Ukrainian airspace after MH17 was shot down image Newsweek

Indian monsoon rainfall recovering from deficit but strong El Niño no longer expected

July 18, 2014

Yesterday the monsoon covered the entire country but while this is only 2 days later than the “long term average”, the progress of the monsoon across south and central India has been around a week or 10 days late. Until last week the rainfall was in deficit by over 40%, but heavy rains this week are beginning to eat into this deficit. In the meantime the possibility of a strong El Niño  this year, which could have further depressed the monsoon rainfall, is receding.

With 2½ months of the monsoon season left, there is now a reasonable – and improving – probability that the shortfall will end up at less than 10% of the long term average and that the hit to the Indian GDP will not be too severe.

Climate alarmists (mainly the environmental mafia) have been hoping – and praying – for a strong El Niño, a disastrous monsoon, a strong blow to the agricultural sector and an increase in farmer suicides. They are increasingly likely to be disappointed. Fortunately the cost to consumers usually reduces and the good of society usually increases with the increasing disappointment of the loony green mafia.

The best thing to have happened for Australia in years is probably the recent repeal of the Carbon tax which has – surprise, surprise – caused great disappointment to the loony green mafia.

Monsoon covers entire country 17 July 2014 - IMD

Monsoon covers entire country 17 July 2014 – IMD

ET:The monsoon delivered this season’s heaviest showers on Tuesday, drenching southern and central India with 50 per cent more rainfall than normal, while international forecasters said the rain-disrupting El Nino phenomenon would be weaker than feared.

The northern and western parts of the country remained relatively dry, but for the country as a whole, Tuesday’s rainfall was 10 per cent above normal, reducing the season’s rain deficit to 40 per cent. The deficit is still abnormally high, but two days of heavy rainfall is expected to speed up crop planting, which was half of last year’s mid-July level. 

The weather office has forecast good rainfall in many parts of the country in the days ahead. Further, the latest forecast of Australia’s weather department could bring some relief to policy-makers as it has suggested that the El Nino weather phenomenon that curtails June-September rains is unlikely to be intense this year.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology writes in its ENSO wrap-up:

Warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean over the past several months primed the climate system for an El Niño in 2014. However, a general lack of atmospheric response over the last month has resulted in some cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean.

While the majority of climate models suggest El Niño remains likely for the spring of 2014, most have eased their predicted strength. If an El Niño were to occur, it is increasingly unlikely to be a strong event.

Changes are also occurring in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) index has been below −0.4 °C (the negative IOD threshold) since mid-June, but it would need to remain negative into August to be considered as an event. Negative values are rare when the central Pacific is warmer than average. Model outlooks suggest the IOD is likely to return to neutral by spring. Conditions in the Indian Ocean may have contributed to the above-average rainfall experienced in southeast Australia during June.


Commercial airlines avoiding eastern Ukraine airspace as Malaysian 17 probably shot down

July 17, 2014

It looks like MH17 with 295 passengers and crew has been shot down over eastern Ukraine near the Russian border.

By the Russians? Unlikely.

By Russian-leaning rebels? possibly with a Russian ground to air missile.

By the Ukrainians? by air-to-air or ground-to-air missiles? Not unthinkable.

In the meantime commercial airlines are now avoiding this airspace as – for example – Thai Airways TG921 and others are just doing. There seem to be many aircraft avoiding the area right now.

TG921 and commercial airlines avoiding eastern Ukraine

TG921 and commercial airlines avoiding eastern Ukraine

Considering the number of commercial aircraft in the area, it is particularly poignant that after MH370, it is another Malaysian airliner which has been shot down. And MH370 itself disappeared due to hostile action.

A new protein (FGF1) which could eliminate diabetes

July 17, 2014

This is more than just interesting.

It may come too late for me but I suspect that by 2050, the great fear of diabetes Type 2 and the real damage it causes, will long have been forgotten. But there will still be a challenge in not allowing the solution to excuse and encourage a life-style which is essentially unhealthy. It should not become like a glutton inducing vomiting so that he can eat some more!!

A new paper in Nature

Jae Myoung Suh, Johan W. Jonker, Maryam Ahmadian, Regina Goetz, Denise Lackey, Olivia Osborn, Zhifeng Huang, Weilin Liu, Eiji Yoshihara, Theo H. van Dijk, Rick Havinga, Weiwei Fan, Yun-Qiang Yin, Ruth T. Yu, Christopher Liddle, Annette R. Atkins, Jerrold M. Olefsky, Moosa Mohammadi, Michael Downes, Ronald M. EvansEndocrinization of FGF1 produces a neomorphic and potent insulin sensitizerNature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13540

From the Press Release:

One injection stops diabetes in its tracks

In mice with diet-induced diabetes—the equivalent of type 2 diabetes in humans—a single injection of the protein FGF1 is enough to restore blood sugar levels to a healthy range for more than two days. The discovery by Salk scientists, published today in the journal Nature, could lead to a new generation of safer, more effective diabetes drugs.

The team found that sustained treatment with the protein doesn’t merely keep blood sugar under control, but also reverses insulin insensitivity, the underlying physiological cause of diabetes. Equally exciting, the newly developed treatment doesn’t result in side effects common to most current diabetes treatments. ……. 

Diabetes drugs currently on the market aim to boost insulin levels and reverse insulin resistance by changing expression levels of genes to lower glucose levels in the blood. But drugs, such as Byetta, which increase the body’s production of insulin, can cause glucose levels to dip too low and lead to life-threatening hypoglycemia, as well as other side effects.

In 2012, Evans and his colleagues discovered that a long-ignored growth factor had a hidden function: it helps the body respond to insulin. Unexpectedly, mice lacking the growth factor, called FGF1, quickly develop diabetes when placed on a high-fat diet, a finding suggesting that FGF1 played a key role in managing blood glucose levels. This led the researchers to wonder whether providing extra FGF1 to diabetic mice could affect symptoms of the disease.

Evans’ team injected doses of FGF1 into obese mice with diabetes to assess the protein’s potential impact on metabolism. Researchers were stunned by what happened: they found that with a single dose, blood sugar levels quickly dropped to normal levels in all the diabetic mice.

“Many previous studies that injected FGF1 showed no effect on healthy mice,” says Michael Downes, a senior staff scientist and co-corresponding author of the new work. “However, when we injected it into a diabetic mouse, we saw a dramatic improvement in glucose.”

The researchers found that the FGF1 treatment had a number of advantages over the diabetes drug Actos, which is associated with side effects ranging from unwanted weight gain to dangerous heart and liver problems. Importantly, FGF1—even at high doses—did not trigger these side effects or cause glucose levels to drop to dangerously low levels, a risk factor associated with many glucose-lowering agents. Instead, the injections restored the body’s own ability to naturally regulate insulin and blood sugar levels, keeping glucose amounts within a safe range—effectively reversing the core symptoms of diabetes. ……… 

I suspect a golden age of medical science is underway and it will be unrecognisable – for us – by 2050.

Tattooed ladies on Drottninggatan

July 16, 2014

So we were in Stockholm with some guests from the UK and engaging in typical tourist activities. The sun was shining with a light wind and the program was to walk down Drottninggatan to Gamla Stan and wander around the Old Town and the Royal Palace for a few hours. But my knees were playing up and it was decided that my services as a tour guide were not really either necessary or useful. I would be better employed – we concluded – in watching the tourists rather than being a tourist.

I took up station at an outdoor cafe sometime before noon. I chose my table carefully to maximise my time in the sun. I was well armed with a large coffee and a small Danish. And the world went by. (I have no doubt that every one who visits Stockholm does – at some time – walk down Drottninggatan and past my observation post).

The analogy was of watching water flowing in a river – but in both directions simultaneously. The passers-by moved in little waves, in ripples, in eddies swirling about and in large waves. Sometimes they trickled by, at times they surged past and sometimes they surged and receded and surged past again. Some determined individuals strode by with clear direction and objectives, others merely loafed by with a general sense of direction of flow but with no great urgency. Some weaved from one shop window on one side to the next on the other – but still generally forward. Some few clumps moved first in one direction, then reversed course and moved back as they caught sight of something they fancied. Kids milled around, lost sight of their parents and then found them again. Large waves of tour groups (one Chinese, one Japanese and one which sounded Russian) flooded past. But there were no collisions.

It was time for some anthropology.

Two individuals, one male and one female, went past - separately – fishing out aluminium cans from every rubbish bin. The female – by dress presumably Roma – was equipped with a trolley for her collection, wore plastic gloves  and left the rubbish bins pretty much as she found them. No fuss, no muss. The man used plastic carrier bags but left a trail of candy wrappings behind him. No fuss but much mess till the street sweeper also came by.

Inevitably one sat and watched the girls go by. Some were dressed for a Caribbean beach. Others for an Arctic winter. Nineteen out of 225 had visible tattoos (the count ended at 225 since I needed to refill my coffee). Maybe not universally representative but just under 10% of those surveyed had visible tattoos. Tattoos on arms and legs were the most common. Tattoos on ankles, a few on the face and on the back of the neck were also apparent and no special efforts were necessary to make them visible. Some were on shoulders and thighs and stomachs and chests. Here clothes – or more accurately a lack of clothing – had been chosen to make the tattoos clearly visible. Of course the number of tattooed ladies with hidden tattoos cannot be commented upon. Generally the tattoos were in shades of black but some use of reds and greens and yellows was also evident. It was a lovely day but fairly breezy and not quite warm enough for the level of undress on display. It seemed that every lady silly enough to walk bare-shouldered or bare-stomached or in a bikini top, had chosen to do so because she had a tattoo to display.

(I just note in passing that those men I observed who had  bare shoulders or chests also inevitably had some tattoo to display and triceps or abs struggling to be admired).

But the tattoos were all – every single one – ugly and disfiguring to my eyes. Not one added to the attractiveness of the subject. The already pretty girls sought to enhance their attractiveness – and failed. Attention was diverted from their inherent attractiveness to their ugly tattoos. The not so pretty ones seemed to be using exhibitionism to attract attention (as an alternative to being seen as attractive) – and also failed. The eye was drawn to the ugly tattoo and only reinforced the shortfall of “attractiveness”.

Why do people get tattoos? My less than scientific study leads me to the following “conclusions”. Like jewelry or piercings or articles of fashion or hair-styling,  it can only be to attract the attention of those around. Attracting attention itself can only be for the purpose of being “admired” or of being seen as “different” or “unique” or as a “badge”. It cannot – usually – be for the purpose of attracting contempt (though it could be for being seen as a “rebel” where some contempt is then accepted as collateral damage). Fundamentally it is for the narcissism in us, for satisfying the “Look at Me” syndrome or for the “I am Special” syndrome.

After 3 cups of coffee I needed some beer and so I had to move. But some things were clear. Tattoos are a disfigurement and are all ugly. And whatever the narcissistic aims of the tattooed ladies, they were counter-productive.


Chris Turney – lead Fool of the Ship of Fools – is selling tickets for a lecture at the Royal Institution

July 15, 2014

I don’t know who gets the proceeds from this lecture at the Royal Institution (Tickets: Standard £12, Concession £8, Associate £6, Free to Members, Faraday Members and Fellows) but one hopes that Chris Turney – he of the Ship of Fools – does not.

There is no little irony in the announcement that

“Chris Turney will present the initial findings of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014, and show how private funding brought the public and science together”.

Chris Turney made an utter fool of himself in the Antarctic, and yet the Royal Institution is  providing him with an opportunity to defend his idiocy on 17th July.

To make matters worse the Guardian, instead of bringing the chief fool on the Ship of Fools to bookwrites in its own inimitable, fawning style

 Professor Chris Turney from the University of New South Wales decided to follow in the footsteps of visionary geologist Douglas Mawson, who led one of the first scientific expeditions to the region 100 years ago. Turney and his team of geologists, biologists and geographers retraced Mawson’s steps, repeating the original expedition’s measurements as well as conducting new studies and surveys. …… 

Chairing proceedings is the Guardian’s former science correspondent, Alok Jha, who was also part of the expedition

Alok Jha’s reporting for the Guardian was particularly inane.

Why the Royal Institution is promoting this charlatan and his commercial interests is beyond me.

He helped set up a carbon refining company called Carbonscape which has developed technology to fix carbon from the atmosphere and make a host of green bi-products, helping reduce greenhouse gas levels.

Related: Turney’s tourists: the heroes who weren’t


ADHD or just bad parenting?

July 11, 2014

We are on a trip and staying at a hotel known for being very “child-friendly”.

I have forgotten how boisterous our kids were when they were 8-10 years old. But the disruption caused by a few kids at breakfast today got me wondering where the line between “letting children be children” and the responsibility of parents lies. It does seem to me that claiming that a child has ADHD is too often used as an excuse for bad parenting.

If ADHD is a “disease” – and I am not convinced that it is – then it is either due to genetics or it is inculcated after birth by the quality of nurture provided or by both. Whether nature or nurture it is caused by the parents. If ADHD is not a disease but merely “learned” behaviour – or more likely “untaught” behaviour- then it is the quality  of parenting which comes into question.  It is only if it is a purely genetic disease, where nurture plays no part, and parents can no longer have any influence that it makes sense to try and medicate the condition away.

Maybe I am just too suspicious about the pharmaceutical industry. But I remain convinced that many “diseases” are invented to find a use for compounds created by the industry. And these compounds are often the result of failed research which was seeking other solutions. Marketing strategy 101 is all about finding the question for which you have an available answer.

But for the two rowdy, noisy, clumsy, messy kids at breakfast today, It was just simple bad parenting which was letting their kids down!!

Design the change — better still, invent it, but don’t forget to manage it

July 10, 2014

(Extracts from a recent lecture on change management).

Without change even time does not exist.

Without change life itself is impossible. Elementary particles could be here or may be there. Schrodinger’s cat may be alive or maybe not. Atoms vibrate. Chemistry happens. Molecules are built. Some reproduce. Life emerges. The earth rotates. The Sun radiates. Energy is transformed. Species appear. Species disappear.  Evolution results. Continents drift. Climate changes. Energy is transformed. Radiation dissipates. Entropy increases. The Universe expands.

Before the Big Bang and the existence of time, all was stasis and maybe there will be stasis again. One day the Sun will die.

But till then we live – and die – with change. “Change Management”  appeared as a new discipline in the 1980′s to try and manage our behaviour during such change. Mergers and acquisitions across borders and cultures has given impetus to the field.

Change makes us uncomfortable but some deny it, some run away from it and some embrace it, but we all have to cope with it. The key lies in how pro-active we can be. We can classify increasing levels of being pro-active:

  1. Deny the change
  2. Observe the change
  3. React to the change
  4. Manage the change
  5. Design the change
  6. Invent the change

In the commercial world I would claim that the greatest benefit lies in being as high up among these levels as possible. I suspect that this applies to all fields of human endeavour and not just to commercial enterprises.

Denying that change has happened generally leads to isolation and eventually to extinction. That applies as well to a species as to a commercial enterprise or to an individual. Change can be gradual along existing trends or it could be a change in the trend or it can be a discontinuity and the start of a new paradigm. Observing and forecasting the changes to come is where change management begins. But there has to be a caveat here. Denying or failing to observe a change is very dangerous but so is assuming that a change is happening when it isn’t. Merely reacting to change is the norm and this passive approach means that the level of control is generally low. What will be will be. If change has happened, passive reaction must be replaced by active decisions. Even a “do nothing” option should be an active choice.

Predicting market trends is the stuff of life for market analysts and commercial enterprises. It is an attempt to observe change before it happens and to try and manage it. Even a defensive strategy should be an active decision. Establishing new products or penetrating new markets are attempts to design and manage a change. While designing a change gives a very strong position, it is no guarantee of success. Subsequent management of the change created will not happen automatically. Inventing change is the most powerful way of handling change but carries inordinate risks. A new paradigm – if created – may be quite unpredictable.

Sony invented Betamax but didn’t properly foresee the changing market they helped create.  But when they created the Walkman they shifted a paradigm. Nokia helped design the mobile telephony market but missed the switch to smart phones. Facebook and Myspace invented something new and a new paradigm of social connections ensued. But Myspace has not managed the subsequent change very well. The US invented the new Iraq but forgot to foresee or manage the change that they set in motion. The Indian electorate has invented Modi and it remains to be seen if he can manage the change and reinvent the country.

My message for all commercial enterprises becomes:

  1. Observe the changes around you (and try to forecast what they will be)
  2. Never forget to react to change
  3. Actively manage the changes which have already happened
  4. Aim to design or invent future changes but don’t forget to manage the change you create.



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