Domesticating tigers to ensure their survival

March 1, 2015

Tigers cannot survive without human intervention. They are just not capable of handling the shrinking of their traditional habitats and the changing environment. They are not evolving fast enough. Traditional – and misguided – conservation is all about trying to maintain some limited habitats in which they can survive without change. That is a misguided policy just because it tries to freeze the tiger into a genetic dead-end in an artificially maintained habitat. The tiger reserves are then little more than large zoos.

If tigers are to survive they must change within themselves. They need to adapt genetically. They have to adapt and move on. To change is to be alive. Not to change is to die. And a species which will not change “deserves” to go extinct. Traditional “conservation” is temporary and unsustainable. Conservation is stagnation.

I have long felt that real conservation must consist of helping threatened species to adapt genetically, not just freeze them into an artificial, temporary and unsustainable habitat. Of course changing a species genetically means that the unchanged species disappears. But that’s life.

Genetic adaptation – not stagnating conservation – is the way to help threatened species

So this apparently bizarre suggestion by a State Minister in Madhya Pradesh is not as crazy as it may first sound. A true, sustainable survival of tigers requires that they adapt such that they can continue living among humans without threatening humans. And that may well be a form of “humanisation” if not of “domestication”.

Deccan HeraldIn a bizarre suggestion, a senior Madhya Pradesh minister has sought a law that allows people to domesticate or keep as pets big cats like lions and tigers for their conservation.

Animal Husbandry, Horticulture and Food Processing Minister Kusum Mehdele, in a proposal sent to the state’s forest department, has cited legal provisions in some African and South-East Asian countries like Thailand which have helped bring about an increase in the population of the big cats.

Noting that there are various projects in the country for conservation of tigers, the minister, however, said that although crores of rupees have been spent on these projects, there has been no surprising increase in tiger numbers.

In Thailand and some other nations, there is a legal recognition to people for keeping tigers and lions as pets, she said, adding the number of such animals is increasing in a surprising way in these countries.

If such a possibility can be thought over, then necessary action should be undertaken and guidelines passed on, she said in the proposal sent to state Forest Minister Gaurishankar Shejwar in September last year.

The suggestion has, of course, been ridiculed by the traditional “conservationists” who are all into trying to keep the tiger and its world unchanged – frozen in an artificial environment which is unsustainable.

Indian claims of the recovery of tiger numbers may be overestimated:

Data released in January suggested India was home to 30 per cent more tigers than four years ago, with numbers rising from 1,706 in 2010 to 2,226 in 2014. Now conservation experts from the University of Oxford, the Indian Statistical Institute and the Wildlife Conservation Society have cast doubt on the assertion, suggesting the statistics were the result of a flawed method commonly used in censuses of tigers and other rare wildlife.

Pachauri feels the heat

February 27, 2015

The Pachauri train wreck continues – a harbinger of what is to come with the global warming orthodoxy. It is now becoming clear that “much of the supposed “global warming” is due to the use of “adjusted” temperatures to cool the past!” He has been asked to resign from the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, barred from entering his own offices and directed not to leave the country.

The sooner the IPCC is disbanded the better.

TOITERI chief R K Pachauri, accused in a sexual harassment case, is learnt to have been asked by the Centre to resign from the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change.
Sources said if Pachauri doesn’t leave the council on his own, the PMO would have to replace him by reconstituting the body.
Pachauri, who stepped down from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment levelled by a junior woman colleague, has taken leave from the Delhi-based renewable energy and sustainable development thinktank TERI.
He was on Thursday barred from entering his office premises by a Delhi court which granted him interim protection from arrest till March 27. He was also restrained from contacting TERI’s staff, witnesses in the case and the complainant and directed not to leave the country without prior permission of the court.
Pachauri’s anticipatory bail application will be taken up on March 27.

Swedish appeals court supports municipality in the degradation of the aged

February 26, 2015

“It is not the pain of death that frightens as much as the degradations of growing old”.

As we live longer, it seems, we also have a longer period of being useless in the eyes of surrounding society. People with diminished capabilities are provided Home Care help in Sweden. This applies also to the elderly until – say with dementia or Alzheimers – they have to be placed (hidden away) in “care” homes where their capabilities gradually deteriorate. The treatment meted out to them also deteriorates and, as we see in so many cases, the lack of care becomes institutionalised. In some cases the lack of care becomes intentional mistreatment. As the elderly become useless to society, society shows them that they are useless.

In Sweden the increase in longevity and the expenditure incurred by the welfare state leads to the care of the elderly becoming primarily a cost issue. The level of care is no longer about quality, let alone excellence, but instead of the minimum to be “acceptably” provided. Though the elderly are an increasing number of the population, politically they are grossly underrepresented in parliament. Age discrimination may be illegal but it is endemic. Privatised care givers and homes have the municipalities as their clients and paymasters. The municipalities just want to do the minimum necessary to stay within their budgets and comply with their legal obligations. So in both privatised and municipal run homes, there is an incentive to reduce costs – and the quality of care – to a minimum. And the municipalities are now using the Courts – where the elderly are hardly represented – to establish the minima they can get away with. The quality of life of the elderly is not really of concern to the municipalities. Their only concern is a minimum compliance with the law.

This is a case reported in Hallands Posten, and it shows the insidious way in which a municipality uses the courts to establish a minimum level of care – in this case how often a person needs to shower during the provision of Home Care. But what has also been established by this unfortunate judgement is that the Social Services Act does not include the “well-being” of the elderly  as being part of a “reasonable standard of living”. Clearly no care giver or care home need now help any of their charges to shower more than 3 times a week!

I wonder how many of the judges on the Appeal bench or how many members of the Home Care Board consider 3 showers a week reasonable for themselves. But of course, they are not elderly.

Hallands Posten:

An 82-year-old man who has fought to be able to shower every day lost his fight against the municipality. The Appeal Court accepted the view of the Home Care Board that three showers a week is enough.

The man has dementia and does not always manage to get to the toilet in time. He also suffers from oily skin and greasy hair and wants to feel clean and fresh every day. But the Home Care Board found that three showers a week was enough. The man appealed to the Administrative Court – which found in his favour.  The Court ruled that the 82-year-old had a quite extensive need for help and to have a shower every day was a reasonable requirement.

But the Home Care Board refused to accept that judgement and argued that it was based on a judgement of well-being. They claimed that the  Social Services Act says nothing about a daily shower to be included in a “reasonable standard of living”.

I would go so far as to say that the Courts are part of the institutionalised discrimination against, and for the degradation of, the elderly. However, they only interpret laws made by parliaments where the elderly are under-represented. But I have a measure of contempt for the Halmstad municipality which has not the courage to take a call on what is right, and instead has used the Courts to come to a minimum liability. And the well-being of their elderly citizens is clearly not of any importance.


Immortality of identity

February 26, 2015
The winner spermatazoon - Gabriel Sancho

The winner spermatozoon – Gabriel Sancho

The human reproductive process is remarkably inefficient. A male produces sperm throughout his life from puberty on. The quality and quantity deteriorates with age but he probably produces between 500 billion and 1 trillion sperm during a lifetime. Most get nowhere near where they are supposed to go, are very badly directed and eventually die. Unexpelled sperm are reabsorbed. Some few tens of millions find their way into a female reproductive system but the vast majority of these never meet a mature egg and wander around aimlessly until they die, unrequited and unfulfilled. On average a male fathers between 2 and 3 children. Each such instance requires just one sperm. There is little evidence to suggest that the successful sperm is the “best” of the bunch. It is more a case of which lucky one was at the right place at the right time. The “hit rate” for male sperm is thus – quite pathetically in process terms – around one in 300 billion. Things are much more focused on the female side. The success rate for mature eggs is very much higher than for sperm, but still quite low. A woman has a total of some 400 – 500 mature eggs, released singly during each menstrual cycle over a child-bearing period of 30 – 40 years. Of these, on average, with widespread contraception, between 2 and 3 will be fertilised by a sperm to result in a child. A hit rate of around one child for every 200 eggs. Perhaps twice that without contraception.

The inefficiency of the process is a commentary on evolution but it is still sufficient to produce more births than the replenishment rate needed to keep the total population stable. (Evolution never looks for “excellence” since it is always satisfied with what is “good enough”). In fact the resultant population growth rate has been so high that humankind has had to apply methods to further restrict the already low hit rate. In the last 100 years, globally, fertility rates have declined from over 6 to the current 2.5 per woman. Contraception, sterilisation and abortion are the methods of choice (and infanticide is now very rare but not unknown). Contraception has had the largest impact on this decline in fertility rate.

I was listening to a politician recently spouting politically correct platitudes about abortion and got to wondering how to describe the various human attitudes, in spite of a commonality of purpose (the avoidance of a child), between contraception and abortion and, by extension, infanticide.  It would certainly be incorrect to claim that a sperm or an egg are not “living”. They show in fact that “life” is a continuum from the parents, and then through their eggs and sperm to the fertilised egg, its birth and then its life as an independent individual. So why should it be that preventing an egg being fertilised, which would otherwise go on to become a foetus, causes no moral qualms but aborting that same foetus after it has been conceived is so disturbing to some? Extending that thought, what is it that makes aborting a foetus and preventing a child from being born much less disturbing than terminating the existence of that same child after birth?

I suspect that it is our concept of “identity” rather than “life” which determines.

Contraception and sterilisation prevent conception. Prior to that we cannot attribute any clear identity to one sperm within a swarm of millions. An ovum is much closer to having identity but it still only has the identity of a “component part”. In fact the sperm and eggs live under the umbrella of the identity of their originating individuals. Only one sperm in 300 billion and one egg in 200 succeed in combining and developing into a child. All the rest die unrequited. But when they die or produce a fertilised egg, they do not diminish the identity of the individuals they came from. The component identities cease when the sperm or eggs cease to be. About 70-80% of all foetuses conceived would normally come to term. After about 10-12 weeks of pregnancy this is closer to 90%. (Currently around 20 – 25% of conceptions are aborted globally). The moment of conception is unique in that it is when a new identity is formed. It is a discontinuity in the playing field of identities. It is an additional identity, connected to but separate from the identities of the parents. There is a strong case, I think, for considering the fertilised egg as the start of a new, recognisable, unique human identity even though the life of that identity is not (yet) independently viable. Many societies set a limit of 22 or 24 weeks after conception as being the point when a foetus acquires the “right” to live but this boundary is irrational. This time is based on when a foetus – if born prematurely – is considered to be viable. I don’t find this very useful since the alternative to an abortion is not usually a premature birth. I note also that the probability of a foetus reaching full term changes very little after the first 10-12 weeks of a pregnancy. A 12 week old foetus has almost the same chance of being born as a 30 week old foetus. An abortion at any time after about the first 12 weeks effectively eliminates a birth which – with a 90% probability – would otherwise occur. After birth, infant mortality rates today are generally around 5% (ranging from close to 15% in the poorest parts of Africa to less than 2% in well developed societies).

Looking at probabilities, and based on all the sperm and all the eggs that are produced by humans, contraception halves what is already a very low chance of conception. The probability of an egg being fertilised reduces from about 1:100 (1%)  – of an unidentifiable egg being fertilised by an even less identifiable sperm  – to be about 1:200. Abortion however terminates a 70-80% probability of an independent, identifiable entity coming into being. Infanticide eliminates a 95-98% probability of an independent human life continuing. Could it be that our sense of outrage is related to the probability of an independent entity coming into being? When the probability is very low we see no great harm in reducing it still further but when the probability is high we feel it “unnatural” and “immoral” to intervene?

It is possible that we intuitively assess probabilities but I don’t think that we connect “morality” to probability. I suspect that it is primarily identity and the point at which we are prepared to recognise or assign an independent identity that is the key. It is probably the same cognitive process which leads to our lack of engagement when many thousands of people – but without recognisable identities – perish in a tsunami and the close emotional engagement when somebody known suffers harm. And why it is said to be emotionally easier to drop a bomb on an unknown, unidentifiable mass of people than to be a sniper who can see his target in his sights.

A unique identity is recognisable first when an egg is fertilised. That identity cannot be foretold but it may be remembered long after the individual dies. It may in due course be forgotten. But whether or not it is forgotten, the fact of the creation of that identity remains. Forever. It is identity, once created, which remains unique and immortal.


Swedish motorists among least benefited by oil price drop

February 26, 2015

Price is whatever value people are prepared to pay. There is no morality or ethics involved except if there is a monopoly of supply or the collusion of a cartel. (And Saudi Arabia and OPEC and the oil majors are no strangers to cartels). There is no inherent reason – other than competition – for price to the consumer to follow the cost to the producer.

Following the recent drop of oil prices, the benefits to the consumer (petrol price to motorist) varies greatly between countries. The US motorist has seen the greatest benefit. India is not far behind. But the Swedish motorist has seen relatively little of the benefit.

I take 95 octane petrol/gasoline and January 2014 as the reference point.

Crude oil price 2014

Crude oil price 2014

petrol prices at the pump

petrol prices at the pump

petrol price at the pump table

I wonder why?

Patchy’s gone – joins the growing line of privileged sexual predators

February 24, 2015

There will be those who say that Pachauri’s resignation from the IPCC for sexual harassment charges will not hurt the IPCC. After all the transgressions of the Chairman are not necessarily those of others in the IPCC.

But they would be wrong.

The privileged arrogance of Pachauri parallels the privileged arrogance of the IPCC. Pachauri’s sleaze is now being exposed. The IPCC sleaze was revealed with Climategate. And glaciergate and global-ice-gate and global-warming-hiatus-gate and Kilimanjaro-gate. But with so many people in the IPCC the sleaze was spread thin. And we hear now that much of the supposed “global warming” is due to the use of “adjusted” temperatures to cool the past! The sleaze increases. Now even climate itself is denying the global warming /climate change creed.

pachauri grapples mail today

pachauri grapples mail today

I remain hopeful that wallowing in the IPCC sleaze will eventually reach a critical level and become unacceptable. The Mail Today carries details of the “creepy” nature of Pachauri’s harassment. He sounds like a love-sick teenager.

(I met him a few times back in 2000 when we were considering engaging TERI for a project. Partly because of the lack of impact he had, we engaged another party).


The Daily Mail (Mail Today), has published a detailed report on the interaction between Pachauri and 29-year-old research associate who has sued him for sexual harassment. The several text messages and emails exchanged suggest that Pachauri was relentless in his pursuit of the woman, and had on one occasion embraced her and even tried to kiss her.

When the woman ticked him off saying that such behaviour would not be entertained, he played a miffed teenager complaining that an act spurred by ‘love’ has been misunderstood by the victim as a case of sexual misdemeanour.

“Please you are not to grab me and or kiss me,” the complainant told Pachauri in a text.

To which Pachauri replied, “I wish you would see the difference between something tender and something tender and loving and something crass and vulgar. So I shall slink away and withdraw.” 

It’s a bit of a horrifying image, but you can almost picture Pachauri pouting and crying ‘not fair’.

In another email Pachauri says, “I find it now very difficult to hug you. What haunts me are your words from the last time that I ‘grabbed’ your body. That would apply to someone who would want to molest you. I loved you in the soul, mind, heart…”

While you might be shocked at the audacity of a man, who has been asked to back off by a woman for sexual misbehaviour, Pachauri’s defence will probably strike a chord with many in India.

Indian government plays down swine flu epidemic which has killed 833 so far

February 24, 2015

Over 14,000 people have been affected so far and the death toll till yesterday had reached 833. The swine flu epidemic in India is spread across the northern states – mainly – though deaths have also been reported in Telengana. But health officials both at state level and in the central government are resisting any discussion and insist that all is under control.

There are reviews and review committees galore and the bureaucratic process is in full swing. State and central government health departments are assiduously collecting data. But state assemblies will not allow debate. There is no shortage of medicines. Health departments “are on the job” but the number of states affected and the number of deaths are rising.

It is not so much being in denial as trying to sweep “unpleasantness” under some bureaucratic carpet. The public private partnership in health care is broken. It is the partnership of an underfunded and hopelessly inadequate public service and a rampant and avaricious private sector. Private hospitals are turning away “public” patients – who they are normally obliged to accept – on the grounds of lacking isolation wards. Private labs are charging exorbitant rates for tests. Tamiflu is being hoarded for the use of paying patients.

DNAEvery time a disease outbreak is reported, the government swings into action. High level review meetings are held in the health ministry and the cabinet secretariat, guidelines are issued for states, health minister visits hospitals and makes reassuring statements that  there is ‘no shortage of drugs and vaccines’. On the ground, however, government hospitals are crowded with patients complaining about lack of proper care, confusion prevails on diagnostic tests and medicines, and generally there is an atmosphere of panic among the general public. This is pretty much the picture whenever a disease outbreak occurs in India or there is a threat of a pandemic touching Indian shores. We have had a series of them in the past decade – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Avian influenza (bird flu), swine flu, Ebola and so on. The current outbreak of Influenza A (H1N1) — popularly called swine flu because it originally got transmitted to humans from swine — is no different. The last major outbreak of this flu in India was in 2009 when Influenza A (H1N1) was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. ….. 

…. The private sector today provides nearly 80 per cent of outpatient care and about 60 per cent of inpatient care. However, when outbreaks like swine flu or SARS occur private sector draws into a shell. Patients are denied admission on the pretext of private hospitals not having isolation wards or the fear of losing medical tourists. Pathological labs start charging exorbitant fees for conducting diagnostic tests, as has been happening in the case of the current outbreak. Chemists begin hoarding or black marketing essential drugs like oseltamivir (trade name Tamiflu), working in tandem with private doctors and hospitals.

Nasty, heathen, Asian gerbils were responsible for European plagues

February 24, 2015

It was fleas on the giant gerbils of central Asia which were to blame. Wet springs followed by warm summers caused giant gerbil populations in the heathen wilds of central Asia to boom. The plague carrying fleas they were infested with also boomed. The fleas jumped – as fleas are wont to do – onto domestic animals and onto humans. These thoughtless Asians forced their trade onto hapless, innocent, Christian Europeans along the Silk Road and through European harbour ports. The fleas, which carried the plague bacteria, jumped again to European rats, found the living good and multiplied. This was back in the 1300s. And for 400 years it was waves of Asian gerbils and their fleas which preyed upon the hapless Europeans. The plague outbreaks in Europe came 15 years after the wet springs and warm summers in Asia. The poor innocent European rats were demonised quite wrongly. This we now know by studying tree rings.

It is, in fact, the Asians who must be blamed for gerbils and the plague and also for language, for agriculture and for religion.

Boris V Schmid et al, Climate-driven introduction of the Black Death and successive plague reintroductions into Europe, PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1412887112

AbstractThe Black Death, originating in Asia, arrived in the Mediterranean harbors of Europe in 1347 CE, via the land and sea trade routes of the ancient Silk Road system. This epidemic marked the start of the second plague pandemic, which lasted in Europe until the early 19th century. This pandemic is generally understood as the consequence of a singular introduction of Yersinia pestis, after which the disease established itself in European rodents over four centuries. To locate these putative plague reservoirs, we studied the climate fluctuations that preceded regional plague epidemics, based on a dataset of 7,711 georeferenced historical plague outbreaks and 15 annually resolved tree-ring records from Europe and Asia. We provide evidence for repeated climate-driven reintroductions of the bacterium into European harbors from reservoirs in Asia, with a delay of 15 ± 1 y. Our analysis finds no support for the existence of permanent plague reservoirs in medieval Europe.

The gerbil theory is not implausible but it smacks a bit of confirmation bias. The 15 year time lag is less than convincing. A gerbil lives for 3 to 4 years. A flea lives 30 – 90 days. Correlation is not causation. That European outbreaks of plague came 5 gerbil lifetimes later than the population boom in Asia, and about 60 flea generations later than the flea which first infested the sorry gerbil, is a little far-fetched.


The more we know the more we know we don’t know

February 24, 2015

It’s a slow day – so far – and I can’t help yawning.

I don’t know why.

If we can describe all that we know within a circle, whether in a finite or an infinite space, it is clear that

the more we know the greater is what we know we don’t know

what we know we don't know

So the never ending search for knowledge can only increases the knowledge of our lack of knowledge. And that includes (top 3)

  • why we are
  • why we yawn,
  • why gravity is



Critical PR exercise for Greece today

February 23, 2015

Greece needs to present its own reform package today to get the rest of the Eurozone countries to ratify the 4 month extension of its bailout tomorrow. The extension was agreed on Friday provided the package to be presented today was sufficiently credible for the lender countries.

That leaves the new Greek government with the PR problem of presenting what is essentially an “austerity package” but which

  • is its own package and not “imposed” by others,
  • is packaged as something different to “austerity” for domestic consumption.

No doubt the leftist government will include items which are ideologically sound but which have little relevance in monetary terms. Among these cosmetic items will be such things as attacking tax evasion by the rich, and getting rid of some “fat-cat” bureaucrats in the civil service, reemploying some who lost their jobs and increasing some social spending.

But the bottom line is that they will have to present a package which is all about “austerity” in everything but name.

In every financial crisis in the last 40 years I am struck by how using economic jargon and quoting high-sounding economic theory does not alter the fundamental fact that a country’s economy is just like that of any household. Past profligacy leads inevitably to current austerity. That many of the profligates may have fled the nest does not alter the fact that the rest of the household must bear the burden of the austerity. There is little doubt that in Greece, the profligacy of a few (the nexus of corrupt politician/civil servants/ business) is leading now to the austerity of the many. Unfortunately not all of the profligacy is a thing of the past. Not all the profligates have fled.

A bankrupt household must increase its earnings to get out of debt. It has no other option. Of course it must first end profligate spending. All household members must “tighten their belts”. Luxuries must be given up. All external expenditure must be curtailed. Assets may have to be sold off. And Greece must do the same. (Selling some islands to Turkey is beyond the pale). The only quick way that I think Greece can increase its earnings is by tourism – not by industry which will take much longer.

And I am convinced that tourism to Greece will do much better with a Greek drachma which is allowed to find its own level rather than being forced to use a Euro which – for Greece – is at too high a level.


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