Never mind the quality

February 22, 2018

I am old enough now to be allowed to be cynical:



Being 70

February 19, 2018

So, I turned threescore and ten last week.

The Bible (Psalms 90)

The days of our years are threescore years and ten;
and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,
yet is their strength labor and sorrow;
for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

Shakespeare (Macbeth, II, 4)

Old man: Threescore and ten I can remember well: 
Within the volume of which time I have seen 
Hours dreadful and things strange; but this sore night 
Hath trifled former knowings.

The angels were not visible but there was celestial music all day. Everything I ate tasted like an ambrosia gel and everything I drank was like a single-malt, 18 year old nectar. My understandings of all things philosophical turned profound. The mysteries of life, the universe and everything were revealed. It is not just coincidence that 42 plus the singularity is a prime and exactly half of 86. Ytterbium (Yb) has atomic number 70 and is a lanthanide. There have to be 52 cards in a pack because there are 52 weeks in a year. There must be 13 cards in a suit to account for the missing 13th month. I finally understood why there are 7 days in a week and humans have five digits on each limb. I solved the last missing theorem. A teenager’s speech was almost intelligible and didn’t turn me off. A car stopped in heavy traffic and allowed me to merge into the queue. And it snowed all day.

At 70, the answer to life, the universe and everything on any limb and on any day of the week becomes obvious.

Apart from that it was just another day.

In Sweden, to be 70 is no big deal. Around 16% of the population is 70 or over. In Japan 20% of the population is 70 and over. But in India and China only about 6% are over 70. Globally, the over-70s are just under 6% of the population.


The anatomy of a promise

February 8, 2018

(The basis of a recent talk)

A promise is always about the future but it is not a forecast. It is an agreement generally between two parties, but can even be an agreement with oneself. It is primarily a psychological agreement between the parties where one party (the promise giver) accepts the obligation to perform some action. Unlike a contract where there is a balance of obligations and duties between the parties, in a promise the second party (the promise receiver) has no duties A promise is not usually legally binding, but non-performance can have social overtones and consequences. 

Promises are integral to human relationships. They are what make human cooperation possible. Most of our daily actions are to keep promises – some explicit and some implied. Going to work every day. Taking care of the family. Meeting friends. Most of these promises are made in simple language, without ceremony or any great formality. Is it worth more if the promise is given as part of a ceremony with formal text? Is it of more intrinsic value if it is witnessed by hundreds of people instead of just one or two? What is the value of a promise if it is made to yourself in the secrecy of your mind?

The value of the promise is not to be confused with the value of the action being promised. These are two separate things. I take the inherent value of a promise to simply be the likelihood of it being fulfilled. It is a probability with a value lying between zero and one. An empty promise has a value of zero. Certainty that a promise would be fulfilled would give a value of one (100%).

Breaking it down, I see that the intrinsic value of a promise (not the perceived value) depends on three parameters multiplied together. They are all probabilities of a sort. The first is the feasibility of the action being promised. The second is the intention of the promise-giver to fulfill the promise and the third is the competence, or the ability, of the promise giver to implement the promised action. If any one of these parameters is zero or very low,  then the value of the promise must also be  zero or very low. Since these are all probabilities, the probability of a promise being fulfilled can never be higher than the lowest of the component probabilities.

To promise an impossible action leaves the promise with no inherent value. If there is no intention to fulfill the promise the value of the promise vanishes. If the promise-giver lacks the ability or the competence to perform the action the value of the promise reduces correspondingly. The action promised must be

  1. feasible, and
  2. there must be an intention to fulfill the promise, and
  3. there must be competence to implement.

Then, and only then, can a promise have value.

Language is important. But again we must differentiate between language which modifies the promised action and language which is about the promise itself. When rubber-words are used in agreements – “to the best of my ability” or “using best efforts” or “by mutual agreement” – they act on and modify the action that is to be performed. They make the action required to be less stringent, easier to perform, more feasible. Rubber-words, precisely by not being precise, make future compromises possible and compromises are a necessary part of human interaction. As I learnt after my years in Japan, compromises to be made actually ensure future negotiations and continuing interaction. Imprecision in an agreement may well be what allows an agreement to be made. That also applies to promises. Rubber-words soften the action, increase the feasibility of the action to be performed and thereby increase the probability of a promise being kept.

But we also use other words and ceremonies and rituals to qualify the promise itself. To swear in a formal way or to promise  “before God and man” or to have an elaborate ceremony are all designed to increase the probability of the promise giver’s intention to fulfill his promise. They apply pressure (a peer pressure) on the promise giver by implying a loss of honour for non-performance.

The perceived value of a promise is not the same as its inherent value. This is where belief and honour come into play. Broken promises consume honour and the absence of honour in an individual leads to a reduction of belief in him. A promise not believed has no perceived value.


Generations by date of birth

February 1, 2018

The “baby boomer” phenomenon is primarily seen in countries which participated in WW2. Globally however, this effect is swamped by the increasing population and longevity in Asia and Africa. Babies born per year have increased from just under 100 million in 1950 to about 140 million now.


Birth rates are of course sinking fast but the number of births will only decline once the rate of population increase can no longer compensate. This will happen but not for another 20 – 30 years. (source: UN World Population Prospect 2012 and 2017).


The Silent Generation applies to those born before 1945.

After the Baby Boomers comes Generation X. The “millennials” are Generation Y. Generation Z has now passed and a new name has to be coined for the current generation being born. Alpha Generation seems to be the favourite.

It should be remembered that the Silent Generation begat the Baby Boomers. In N America much of the whining comes from the Millennials. But it was Gen X and not the Baby Boomers who preceded the Millennials.


When all your email is only spam

January 27, 2018

Looking at some old class photographs I realised that about 15% of my school class has passed away.


God and The Big Bang are both just labels for Magic

January 22, 2018

The Universe was subject to a “Creation Event”. It was not, and then it was, (and if it always was it is even more troublesome). The Origin of Life is also a Creation Event. These two “creations” (of the universe and of life) are the great existential questions which require Magic.

Religion relies on the “inexplicable” to justify the invocation of Gods. God-magic. Atheism relies on the “power of reason” giving the lie to the existence of Gods.  But atheism is merely a rejection of one set of labels and explains nothing. Religions vest their Gods with sufficient attributes to explain away what cannot be explained. Atheism merely ignores the inexplicable or claims the inexplicable to be a consequence of random events. Theologians and physicists alike merely give labels to what they cannot explain – as if the label is in itself an explanation. Anything inexplicable is what Magic is. Of course, Magic itself is just a label. I take the view that the nature of humans is such that some things are unknowable. The Universe exists in dimensions we cannot access or even perceive. We can, through the process of science and reason, discover the laws applying to the universe we perceive but, at every step of increased knowledge, we find new “whys” we cannot address. We now believe there are four fundamental forces of nature (gravitation, electromagnetism, strong nuclear, weak nuclear) but have no idea why they should be just four and not five or a thousand. Depending on how you classify them there are 12 or 57 fundamental particles. Why 12 or why 57 is just as much magic as when the universe was considered to consist of just fire earth water and air. Gravity and electromagnetism are just as magical now as they ever were. You could as well have a gravity-god or space-time magic. “Why time” is the essence of magic. The Origin of Life is also just a label for a Creation Event. There are weird and wonderful theories about this, ranging from a random event in the primordial soup to extra-terrestrial intervention.

All religions and theologians – at best – indulge in lazy thinking. Creation Events are just assigned to an appropriately defined God. Gods are just labels generated to answer unanswerable questions. Physicists and biologists are not quite as intellectually lazy but still resort to labels to explain away inexplicable Magic. Physics and cosmology define their own Creation Event and call it the Big Bang. To resolve all the problems with the Big Bang theory, it is deemed a singularity where the laws of known physics did not apply. It is then stated to be the start of known time which neatly dismisses any need to consider what came before. We still have no idea of how life came to be, or can be, created from non-life. Theologians merely put it down to a convenient God.

Magic = inexplicable.

The universe was created by a magical event and dances to magical tunes played by magical instruments. Life was magically created by other magical music within this universe. Atheists and priests and physicists and theologians all actually believe in Magic. God-magic is no different to Big-Bang-magic or origin-of-life-magic. A belief in a God is just as much a belief in Magic as a belief in the Big Bang is.


Dwindling peers or The loneliness of the long-distance survivors

January 15, 2018

The global crude mortality rate is just under 1% (around 8/1,000 in developed countries with some countries up to about 15/1,000). As population ages the global rate will be around 9-10/1,000 by 2100.

Of those aged 50, the annual mortality rate is about 300/100,000. By the age of 60 this has increased to about 800/100,000 and then increases sharply to around 25,000/100,000 by 90 and encompasses virtually everybody by the age of 100. (There are currently about 300,000 people world-wide who are 100 years old and a handful who have reached 115 years old). On average women live around 4 -5 years longer than men.

Defining “peers” to be those of a similar age, I assume that most people probably reach a maximum number of peer-acquaintances at a little over the age of 50. In my own case I would guess that this was probably when I was around 55.

An increasing mortality then applies to a dwindling cohort of peer-acquaintances. The longer one survives the faster one’s peer-acquaintances shrivel.

Setting peer-acquaintances to be 100% at 50 (and ignoring accretion of new peer acquaintances), their number has dropped to around 80% at 70, and have halved by the time one has reached 80. At our 50th school graduation anniversary when we were all around 65, around 10% of our classmates had passed away. By the age of 90, peer-acquaintances have dwindled to less than 10% of those who were alive at 50. Those who live to 95 have virtually no acquaintances of their own age left alive.

For those who survive to 80, half their peers have died by then. Loneliness is I think governed, not by the number of people surrounding you, but the number of peers one can communicate with. It is a cliche of course, but the longer you survive the dwindling number of your peers ensures the increase of your loneliness. If loneliness is inversely proportional to the number of peer acquaintances, then between 70 and 90 loneliness increases by a factor of 8.


Why Russia finances anti-fracking protests in Europe

January 13, 2018

The logic is rather simple.

  1. Russia has very large natural gas reserves.
  2. Russia has even larger shale reserves but these have, deliberately, not been developed yet.
  3. Russia has a very large investment in the transport of natural gas to Europe.
  4. Gazprom policy is to maximise returns on natural gas before developing shale reserves.
  5. The return to Gazprom is maximised if Europe does not develop its own shale reserves and instead increases its dependence on Russian gas.

It is not at all surprising then that the anti-fracking movement in Europe is both funded and covertly directed by Russia. The biggest success for the Russian campaign was in 2014 when many European countries succumbed to the Russian-backed, “environmental” lobbies and banned fracking. And Gazprom’s exports to Europe continue to increase steadily. Since 2014 annual exports have grown from about 145 to 190 billion cubic meters.

National ReviewIn 2014, after multiple European countries banned fracking following protests, NATO secretary general Fogh Anders Rasmussen warned that “Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organizations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — to maintain dependence on imported Russian gas.” 

In 2015 alone, the intelligence community found that RT, Russia’s state-run media outlet, produced over 60 anti-fracking stories. “There are a lot of studies that say fracking is dangerous,” one RT segment began, “So why do you think some countries and companies think it’s worth the risk?” RT conveniently left out the fact that over 60 percent of Russian exports are oil and natural gas, and that countries that “risk” fracking would no longer be dependent on the Kremlin. In addition to peddling anti-fracking propaganda in the U.S., Russia is allegedly using an offshore shell company to directly fund American environmental groups. On June 29, Republican representatives Lamar Smith and Randy Weber wrote a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin demanding an investigation into the shell company:

According to the reports, entities connected to the Russian government are using a shell company registered in Bermuda, Klein Ltd. (Klein), to funnel tens of millions of dollars to a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) private foundation, the Sea Change Foundation (Sea Change). This money appears to move in the form of anonymous donations. Sea Change then passes the money originating in Russia to various U.S. 501(c)(3) organizations such as the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, and others. These funds are dispersed as grants that will be used to execute a political agenda driven by Russian entities. The purpose of this circuitous exchange of foreign funds is to shield the source of the money.

Before it was revealed publicly, members of the Sierra Club, et al., were likely clueless that Putin and the Russians had been funding their anti-fracking initiatives. 

Russian gas exports to Europe are at record levels.


Russia is working to keep natural gas exports to Europe near record levels in 2018 after the continent’s biggest supplier, Gazprom said its deliveries this year signal it is achieving on its ambitions to expand. The state-controlled gas giant plans to ship a minimum of 180 billion cubic meters next year, Deputy Chief Executive Officer Alexander Medvedev said in an interview in St. Petersburg. That volume would be the second highest ever after at least 190 billion cubic meters expected this year, which is a record. 

Gazprom meets more than a third of Europe’s demand for natural gas, Russia’s biggest and most lucrative market worth some $37 billion in revenue this year. Tighter trade links with the Kremlin-backed company contrast with increasing tensions on the military and political front.

source Gazprom


Following tradition is fundamentally a statement of identity

January 7, 2018

There is no generally accepted “theory of tradition”. In fact, there are few theories – psychological, social or anthropological – which explain why we follow tradition. Edward Shils presented his book Tradition (1981) as the first extensive study of the subject. James Alexander in his article writes:

Shils observes, as everyone does, that the word tradition comes from traditiowhich is derived from the verb tradere, a combination of trans and daremeaning to surrender, deliver or hand over. Tradition is not as simple as trade, that is, simple exchange: it is a word which for about two thousand years has been particularly associated with the handing over of something in time, by some sort of deliberate act of preservation or repetition or recollection, so that the something is not lost to the past. Traditions enable us to inherit things from our ancestors, bestow them on our successors. Shils understands tradition in terms of tradita (the plural of traditum): things which are handed over. These, he argues, can be objects, or beliefs, or simply the ways things are done. He defines tradition simply as “anything which is transmitted or handed down from past to present”

Shils definition of tradition is all encompassing

It includes buildings, monuments, landscapes, sculptures, paintings, books, tools, machines. It includes all that a society of a given time possesses and which already existed when its present possessions came upon it and which is not solely the product of physical processes in the external world or exclusively the result of ecological and physiological necessity.

This is too wide a definition of what tradition is and is not convincing. It is however clear that actions or behaviour or things that are solely the product of physical processes in the external world or exclusively the result of ecological and physiological necessity” cannot be tradition. We breathe because we must and breathing is not “tradition”. But the manner in which we name ourselves is not dictated by necessity but by choice. Our names are established by, and are the continuation of, tradition.

But I observe that if what is/was necessity cannot be a tradition, then it must also mean that to become a tradition, some choice must have been made. An alternative to that tradition is, or must have been, available. The “handing down” across generations has not been eliminated from the definition of what tradition is but “repetition” even within the same generation has greater emphasis for any custom or behaviour to be considered tradition. 

This leads me to the hypothesis that only such actions or behaviours or production of artefacts which can later become traditions are those which involved a choice. Thereafter, repetition by others is necessary. Repetition by sufficient “others” and over a sufficient length of time converts those actions or behaviours first to customs and thence to traditions. Traditions eventually die and so, my hypothesis continues, every tradition has a life cycle. It is born, it grows up, it continues and it dies.

Why then do some actions, customs, behaviours become traditions and others do not? I suspect it is an existential thing and has to do with the preservation of our identity. Where our identity, as an individual or as a group, is reinforced or enhanced by the repetition of some custom or action or behaviour, then that survives under the label of being a tradition. Every example I can think of as “the following of a tradition”, is, at source, a statement of identity. Traditions underscore differences. Different traditions define different groups. They may be family, or social group or caste or class or ethnic or national traditions. Traditions may involve choice of dress or food or music or literature or behaviour or a method of proceeding, but they all exhibit choice. They each have something to say about the identity of the practitioner and the group he associates with or belongs to. A Sunday roast is an identifying family tradition. A school uniform or military dress is identifying. The Pyramids are identifying of the Pharaonic culture. A suit in japan identifies the salary-man.

Whenever we follow a tradition we identify ourselves and the group we belong to. Every tradition is a primal statement of identity. We follow tradition to reinforce identity.


A day like any other – but Happy New Year anyway

December 31, 2017

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