EU language war is about to begin

March 22, 2017

After Brexit, English will have no legal status in the EU. But without English, the EU language wars will surely begin. It would be a horrible loss of face for the EU if they continued to use English after Brexit. Maybe the UK could claim a royalty if they did.

Each member state of the EU nominates and registers a primary language. Only the UK has registered English as a primary language. Ireland has registered Gaelic and even Malta chose Maltese.

The European Union has 24 official and working languages. They are:

Bulgarian             French Maltese            
Croatian German             Polish
Czech Greek Portuguese
Danish Hungarian Romanian
Dutch Irish Slovak
English Italian Slovenian
Estonian Latvian Spanish
Finnish Lithuanian Swedish

The first official language policy of what was then the European Community identified Dutch, French, German, and Italian as the official working languages of the EU.

Since then, as more countries have become part of the EU, the number of official and working languages has increased. However, there are fewer official languages than Member States, as some share common languages.

On the other hand, some regional languages, such as Catalan and Welsh, have gained a status as co-official languages of the European Union. The official use of such languages can be authorised on the basis of an administrative arrangement concluded between the Council and the requesting Member State.

Part of the ridiculous bureaucracy in Brussels is a permanent staff of 1,750 linguists, 600 support staff, 600 full-time interpreters, and a further 3,000 freelance interpreters.

French MEP’s are already calling for the removal of English after Brexit. Before the UK joined the EU (1st January 1973) the EU had Dutch French, German and Italian. Spain only joined in 1986. For English to remain a “working language” would require agreement by all member states. French dominated until Sweden, Finland and Austria tilted the balance in the 1990s. With the Eastern European members now established the resistance to French and German will be all the more obvious.

English is the most spoken second language in the EU and even in France, Germany, Spain and Italy. The dominance of English as a second language in Scandinavia and in the low countries is accompanied by a very high level of fluency in English. Without English as a unifying factor, the existing cracks and splits in the EU will not only be all the more visible, they will be positively encouraged.

map by https://jakubmarian.com/map-of-the-most-spoken-foreign-languages-of-the-eu-by-country/

map by Jakubmarian.com


 

A leaner, more aggressive shale oil retakes market share from OPEC

March 21, 2017

High oil prices at around $100/barrel fueled the first shale oil boom in the US. Drilling rigs proliferated and the ensuing oil glut led to the sharp drop of price in 2015. Saudi Arabia then started a price war for a variety of reasons:

  1. to attack the shale oil industry (and take away the market share they had won),
  2. to hurt Iran whose return to the international oil market was imminent, and
  3. to hurt Russia because of the vulnerability of their budget to oil revenues

But most importantly they wished to attack the shale oil industry which was thought to have its Achilles heel in its relatively high production cost. With Saudi Arabian production cost at around $3/barrel, even a long period at low oil prices was considered a critical advantage. The strategy backfired and Saudi was forced to participate in OPEC’s production cuts to prop up the oil price. But even that action is now backfiring as the shale oil industry has emerged leaner and meaner and is now ramping up production again. Last week the oil price dropped some 10% as shale oil now retakes some of the market share it had lost.

The glut continues and we are unlikely to see prices much above $50-60/barrel for the next 2 or 3 years. The Saudi attacks have only helped shale oil to reduce its own costs dramatically. They are far less vulnerable to attack now than in 2015. At that time they needed an oil price of around $80 to make any reasonable profit. Now they are so much leaner that they are viable at oil prices even as low as $40/barrel (and some wells are now rivaling the Saudi production costs).

Oil Wars

Has OPEC Underestimated U.S. Shale Once Again?

The U.S. shale cowboys are back on their horses and leading a strong recovery in the oil patch that is not expected to falter even as WTI prices dropped last week below $50 per barrel for the first time in more than two months.

With lessons learned from the oil price crash and budgets streamlined and focused on the most prolific shale plays, U.S. drillers are giving OPEC a hard time by raising output and hedging future production. Meanwhile, the cartel members are trying to cut supply and fix the price of oil at such a range that would allow them to reap higher oil revenues, but not allow the shale patch to recover too much too fast.

Two and a half months into the supply-cut deal, it looks like OPEC is losing the campaign to prop up oil prices. The drop in prices that began last week saw them retreating to almost exactly the same level as on November 30 – just below $52/barrel for Brent – when the OPEC deal was announced, the International Energy Agency said in its monthly report on Wednesday.  

At the same time, reduced breakeven prices in many shale plays and forward locking-in of production is allowing the companies currently drilling in the U.S. to turn in profits even at a price of oil at $40 a barrel. The U.S. shale patch has not only emerged leaner and more resilient from the downturn, it has also hedged future production with contracts guaranteeing the price of the crude they will be pumping a year or two from now, Bloomberg reports, citing industry executives and analysts.

This is a sign that OPEC may have underestimated—yet again—the resilience of the U.S. shale patch when the cartel decided to collectively curtail oil supply.

Last week Saudi officials told American oil producers that there would be “no free rides” and that they should not expect OPEC to extend or deepen the output cuts to make up for the jump in shale production in the U.S.

And U.S. shale output has been steadily growing in the past few months, thanks to, and quite ironically so, OPEC’s cuts that have been supporting WTI prices at above $50 (or at least above $48 this past week). The U.S. shale patch is expected to lift its April oil output by 109,000 bpd, the EIA said earlier this week.


 

Population implosion after 2100?

March 19, 2017

One picture which is self-explanatory.

(from Our World in Data)

the rate of growth peaked in 1962 and has since been on the decline. The following visualization presents this comparison by superimposing the annual population growth rate over the total world population for the period 1750-2010, as well as projections up to 2100. In the projections you can see that by 2100, the growth rate is estimated to fall to 0.1%.

After 2100, population growth will be negative and it will be the population implosion that will be the challenge of those times.


 

Counting was an invention

March 19, 2017

A new book is just out and it seems to be one I have to get. I am waiting to get hold of an electronic version.

Number concepts are a human invention―a tool, much like the wheel, developed and refined over millennia. Numbers allow us to grasp quantities precisely, but they are not innate. Recent research confirms that most specific quantities are not perceived in the absence of a number system. In fact, without the use of numbers, we cannot precisely grasp quantities greater than three; our minds can only estimate beyond this surprisingly minuscule limit.

Numbers fascinate me and especially how they came to be.

The earliest evidence we have of humans having counting ability are ancient tally sticks made of bone and dating up to 50,000 years ago. An ability to tally at least up to 55 is evident. One of the tally sticks may have been a form of lunar calendar. By this time apparently they had a well developed concept of time. And concepts of time lead immediately and inevitably to the identification of recurring time periods. By 50,000 years ago our ancestors counted days and months and probably years. Counting numbers of people would have been child’s play. They had clearly developed some sophistication not only in “numbering” by this time but had also progressed from sounds and gestures into speech.  They were well into the beginnings of language.

Marks on a tally stick tell us a great deal. The practice must have been developed in response to a need. Vocalisations – words – must have existed to describe the tally marks. These marks were inherently symbolic of something else. They are evidence of the ability to symbolise and to think in abstract terms. Perhaps they represented numbers of days or a count of cattle or of items of food or of number of people in the tribe. But their very existence suggests that the concept of ownership of property – by the individual or by the tribe – was already in place. Quite probably a system of trading with other tribes and protocols for such trade were also in place. At 50,000 years ago our ancestors were clearly on the threshold of using symbols not just on tally sticks or in cave paintings but in a general way and that would have been the start of developing a written language. …….

My time-line then becomes:

  • 8 million YBP           Human Chimpanzee divergence
  • 6 million YBP           Rudimentary counting among Archaic humans (1, 2, 3 many)
  • 2 million YBP           Stone tools
  • 600,000 YBP          Archaic Human – Neanderthal divergence
  • 400,000 YBP          Physiological and genetic capability for speech?
  • 150,000 YBP           Speech and counting develop together
  • 50,000   YBP           Verbal language, counting, trading, calendars in place (tally sticks)
  • 30,000   YBP           Beginnings of written language?
Clearly our counting is dominated by the base of 10 and our penchant for 12-based systems. The joints on the fingers of one hand allows us to count to 12 and that together with the five fingers of the other clearly led to our many 60-based counting systems.

I like 60. Equilaterals. Hexagons. Easy to divide by almost anything. Simple integers for halves, quarters, thirds, fifths, sixths, tenths, 12ths, 15ths and 30ths. 3600. 60Hz. Proportions pleasing to the eye. Recurring patterns. Harmonic. Harmony.

The origins of the use of base 60 are lost in the ancient past. By the time the Sumerians used it about 2,500 years ago it was already well established and continued through the Babylonians. But the origin lies much earlier. ……

Why then would the base 60 even come into being?

image sweet science

The answer, I think, still lies in one hand. Hunter-gatherers when required to count would prefer to use only one hand and they must – quite early on and quite often – have had the need for counting to numbers greater than five. And of course using the thumb as pointer one gets to 12 by reckoning up the 3 bones on each of the other 4 fingers. 

My great-grandmother used to count this way when checking the numbers of vegetables (onions, bananas, aubergines) bought by her maid at market. Counting up to 12 usually sufficed for this. When I was a little older, I remember my grandmother using both hands to check off bags of rice brought in from the fields – and of course with two hands she could get to 144. The counting of 12s most likely developed in parallel with counting in base 10 (5,10, 50, 100). The advantageous properties of 12 as a number were fortuitous rather than by intention. But certainly the advantages helped in the persistence of using 12 as a base. And so we still have a dozen (12) and a gross (12×12) and even a great gross (12x12x12) being used today. Possibly different groups of ancient man used one or other of the systems predominantly. But as groups met and mixed and warred or traded with each other the systems coalesced.

If we had 4 bones on each finger we would be using 5 x 16 = 80 rather than 60.


 

Why I am an optimist

March 16, 2017

From a talk I gave on 15th March

Sometimes, I’ve noticed, I irritate people around me who would rather be sad. I wondered why I was an optimist and always saw the glass half full. 

This example came to mind. 

It is perhaps not widely known that the world is facing a new crisis. It is an inescapable conclusion if two assumptions are correct. First, that intelligence – however it is defined – is hereditary. Second, that more intelligent people have fewer children. If intelligence is inherited and the intelligent have fewer children, it does not take an Einstein to realise that the world is getting dumber every day. 

We know that intelligence is at least partly hereditary. Furthermore, all over the world, the number of children the intelligent have has fallen sharply. It is simple arithmetic that generation after generation, the world must be dumbing down. Or rather, generation after generation, children of the world must have dumber parents. 

This reasoning has a few  flaws. Intelligence is not just hereditary. It also depends on nutrition, education and the environment the child grows up in. Knowledge is also not the same as intelligence, and measurement of intelligence cannot avoid including some influence of knowledge. It has been calculated that even if we do know that knowledge is increasing, and has increased continuously, human intelligence peaked when we were still hunter-gatherers about 15,000 years ago. So although human intelligence has probably reduced, it has done so very slowly and is partly compensated for by the increase of knowledge. What is clear, however, is that intelligence is not increasing at the rate it would if it were a survival factor for natural selection. 

In any case, if and when an intelligence problem becomes a crisis, we can always solve it with the right choice of  tax system. As you all and every politician knows, no problem exists that cannot be solved by an appropriate tax system. So, in the event of a crisis, my solution would be very simple. Income tax would be scrapped and replaced by a tax on intelligence. The tax would increase with intelligence, but those with higher intelligence than the average would have their tax rate reduced for each child, while those who were below average would have their rate increased with every child. 

The world would be a very boring place without problems to solve. 

Perhaps it is so that fiddling with the tax system is not the solution to every problem, but in my worldview, problems exist to be solved. Not a problem in every challenge, but a challenge in every problem.

And that is why I am an optimist.

source unknown


 

The power of the global warming religion

March 14, 2017

Roy Spencer says it:

Global warming theory is in fact so malleable that it predicts anything. More cold, less cold. More snow, less snow.

What a powerful theory.

And what’s even more amazing is that climate change can be averted by just increasing your taxes.

But what nobody ever reports on — because it would be boring — are the storms and severe weather events that haven’t happened. For example, U.S. tornado counts have been running below average, or even at record lows, in recent years.

Amazingly, the low tornado activity has been blamed on climate change. So, too, have actual tornado occurrences!

What a grand and gloriously useful theory global warming provides us.

……. 

Winters in the U.S. are notoriously variable. Typically, if it’s warm in the East, it’s cold in the West. This is exactly what has happened this winter, except for this brief reversal before winter’s end.

Normal people call it weather. More enlightened people, in contrast, call it climate change. Next winter it could be the opposite. No one knows.

Like death and taxes, though, what is certain is that anything “unusual” that happens will somehow be blamed on your SUV.

Too much rain, too little rain, drought, flood, storms cyclones, hurricanes and – for the true fanatics – even earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are somehow due to global warming (which of course means carbon dioxide emissions).

I find the European statements (and especially the Swedish government’s) about “climate goals” particularly arrogant and idiotic.

“The government’s goal is for Sweden to be a global role model in climate conversion”.

They really think that they can change the climate? From what to what? The arrogance is boundless.


 

Divine cooking pairs

March 12, 2017

There are some spices/herbs which seem to go particularly well together. I am sure there is some very intricate chemistry together with our taste discernment which makes this so. In any case some pairings seem to be divinely matched and produce “heavenly combinations”.

These are my favourite ten – not in any particular order – and no doubt there are many more:

1: Onions and red chillies

2: Ginger and garlic

3: Coriander and green chillies

4: Asafoetida (hing) and crushed tomatoes

5: Cumin (jeera) and black pepper

6: Cardamom and cinnamon

7. Coconut and coriander

8. Turmeric and poppy seeds (khus-khus)

9: Cinnamon and cloves

10: Saffron on rice


 

Chillies are to food as the zero is to mathematics

March 10, 2017

Every so often  a new article pops up about the inherent goodness of the capsaicin in chillies. For me this is just stating the obvious, like stating the earth is round and not flat or that man-made carbon dioxide is irrelevant for global warming. To like chillies is to like sunlight and brightness.

(Getty Images)

There are few dishes or sauces which cannot be improved by the judicious addition of fresh green chillies, fresh red chillies, dried red chillies  or even – for the hard-pressed urbanite – chillie powder. From a pinch of chopped green chillies in salads or chillie flakes on pizzas (which ought to be mandatory) or a few drops of “hot oil” on all pasta dishes or chillie infused olive oil for dressings and sauces, virtually every cuisine can be improved. No barbecue ought to be allowed without a hot sauce (though the overuse of vinegar with red chillies should be outlawed). Brazilian churascarias usually do have sharp, fresh ginger and often have wasabi but could well do with having more chillies available. Traditional European cuisine (especially Eastern Europe) was long ignorant of the virtues of chillies. It was like the mathematics Europe had without a symbol for zero. They are learning now. English “cuisine” has changed immeasurably – for the better – only since the proliferation of curry houses. French cuisine is only just beginning to learn how to use chillies. It seems ridiculous to have a Michelin starred chef who does not know how to use chillies.

BBC: Why hot chillies might be good for us

As anyone who has ever eaten a really hot chilli will testify, they can cause a lot of pain.

Chillies come in many shapes, colours, sizes and strengths, but one thing they have in common is the burning sensation they cause in your mouth, eyes and any other part of your body into which their juices come into contact.

Although most people think that the hottest part of a chilli is its seeds, in fact it is the white spongy layer you find inside, called the placenta. Bite into this and you will really feel the burn. That burning sensation is mainly caused by a chemical called capsaicin, which is found in tiny glands in the chilli’s placenta. When you eat a chilli, the capsaicin is released into your saliva and then binds on to TRPV1 receptors in your mouth and tongue. The receptors are actually there to detect the sensation of scalding heat. Capsaicin makes your mouth feel as if it is on fire because the capsaicin molecule happens to fit the receptors perfectly. When this happens it triggers these receptors, which send a signal to your brain, fooling it into thinking that your mouth is literally burning.

The reason why wild chilli plants first started to produce capsaicin was to try and protect themselves from being eaten by mammals like you. From an evolutionary perspective the plant would much rather have its seeds dispersed far and wide by birds. Oddly enough birds, unlike mammals, don’t have TRPV1 receptors, so they do not experience any burn.

So producing capsaicin turned out to be the ideal way to deter mammals from eating the plant while encouraging birds to do so. But then along came an ape with a giant frontal cortex who somehow learnt to love the burn.

Humans are not only not deterred by capsaicin, most of us positively love it. So what’s going on? The ferocity of a chilli pepper is measured in something called Scoville heat units (SHU). A relatively mild chilli, like the Dutch Long chilli, is only 500, but by the time you move on to the Naga chilli, which is one of the hottest in the world, you are biting into something with a Scoville score of more than 1.3m units. The current world record holder for hotness, however, is the Carolina Reaper, first bred in Rock Hill, South Carolina. According to tests carried out by the University of Winthrop in South Carolina it scores an impressive 1.57m SHUs

So, what happens when you bite into a really hot chill? …….. Within minutes of eating my first chilli, my eyes began to water and my pulse shot up. My body had responded to an initial burst of severe pain by releasing adrenaline. This not only made my heart beat faster, but it also made my pupils dilate. Every round the chillies got hotter and both of us soon dropped out. Had we been able to tolerate biting into some really hot chillies, it’s possible we would have experienced a “chilli endorphin high”. Endorphins are natural opiates, painkillers which are sometimes released in response to the chilli’s sting. Like opiates they are said to induce a pervasive sense of happiness. It is a form of thrill-seeking – feeding our brains’ desire for stimulation. ……

…… In a recent study done by researchers from the University of Vermont they looked at data from more than 16,000 Americans who had filled in food questionnaires over an average of 18.9 years. During that time nearly 5,000 of them had died. What they found was that was that those who ate a lot of red hot chillies were 13% less likely to die during that period than those who did not. This supports the finding of another recent study, carried out in China, that came to similar conclusions.

So why might eating chillies be good for you?

The researchers speculate that it could be that capsaicin is helping increase blood flow, or even altering the mix of your gut bacteria in a helpful direction.


 

Fertility rates increasing in Eastern Europe but still below replacement level in all European countries

March 9, 2017

Eurostat has released fertility statistics for 2015.

Birth rates in Eastern Europe countries, since 2001, are rising fastest, though from very low levels. Birth rate also increased strongly in Sweden over this period.

Overall fertility rates are well below the replacement level and immigration is necessary to prevent a population implosion and an unsustainable ratio for supported population/working population. Eastern Europe is most resistant to immigration and is particularly vulnerable. Even though fertility rates have risen significantly, they are still among the lowest in Europe.

The age of women having their first child is also increasing (29 years) but surprisingly, is highest in Italy and Spain (31 years).

In 2015, 5.103 million babies were born in the European Union (EU), compared with 5.063 million in 2001 (the first year comparable statistics are available).

Among Member States, France continued to record the highest number of births (799 700 in 2015), ahead of the United Kingdom (776 700), Germany (737 600), Italy (485 800), Spain (418 400) and Poland (369 300).

On average in the EU, women who gave birth to their first child in 2015 were aged nearly 29 (28.9 years). Across Member States, first time mothers were the youngest in Bulgaria and the oldest in Italy.

Overall, the total fertility rate in the EU increased from 1.46 in 2001 to 1.58 in 2015. It varied between Member States from 1.31 in Portugal to 1.96 in France in 2015.

A total fertility rate of around 2.1 live births per woman is considered to be the replacement level in developed countries: in other words, the average number of live births per woman required to keep the population size constant without migration.

Total fertility rate below the replacement level of 2.1 in all Member States

In 2015, France (1.96) and Ireland (1.92) were the two Member State with total fertility rates closest to the replacement level of around 2.1. They were followed by Sweden (1.85) and the United Kingdom (1.80).

Conversely, the lowest fertility rates were observed in Portugal (1.31), Cyprus and Poland (both 1.32), Greece and Spain (both 1.33) as well as Italy (1.35).

In most Member States, the total fertility rate rose in 2015 compared with 2001. The largest increases were observed in Latvia (from 1.22 in 2001 to 1.70 in 2015, or +0.48), the Czech Republic (+0.42), Lithuania (+0.41), Slovenia (+0.36), Bulgaria (+0.32), Romania (+0.31), Sweden (+0.28) and Estonia (+0.26).

In contrast, the highest decreases were registered in Cyprus (-0.25), Luxembourg (-0.19) and Portugal (-0.14).

For the EU as a whole, the total fertility rate increased from 1.46 in 2001 to 1.58 in 2015 (+0.12).

First time mothers youngest in Bulgaria, Romania and Latvia, oldest in Italy and Spain.

In 2015, the mean age of women at birth of their first child stood at 27 or below in Bulgaria (26.0), Romania (26.3), Latvia (26.5) and Poland (27.0).

In contrast, this age was above 30 in Italy (30.8), Spain (30.7), Luxembourg and Greece (both 30.2).

Highest growth in number of births over last 15 years in Sweden, largest drop in Portugal.

In the EU, 40 217 more babies were born in 2015 than in 2001 (+0.8%). Across Member States, the largest relative increases were in Sweden (+25.6%), the Czech Republic (+22.1%), Slovenia (+18.1%) and the United Kingdom (+16.1%).

In contrast, the highest decrease was in Portugal (-24.2%), followed by the Netherlands (-15.8%), Denmark (-11.1%), Romania (-10.4%) and Greece (-10.2%).


 

Inheritance rules

March 8, 2017

Genes surely define the behavioural envelope within which an individual can operate. This envelope, though, is quite wide. Nevertheless, one would think that after some 10,000 generations of evolution as anatomically modern humans, living in societies where cooperation is primal, that all those beneficial behavioural traits which had a genetic component, would have by now been selected. But psychopaths are not extinct, anti-social behaviour is very common and compassion is not a survival trait to be selected for. Barbarism has not been deselected by evolution. It could be that the same genes which give religious fanaticism also give rise to artistic creativity.

One would also have expected that the intelligence we credit humans with, and see as a key differentiating factor from other creatures, would also have been selected as a trait. Of course intelligence is not so easily defined and it certainly is not just the result of an IQ test. There are suggestions, from brain size measurements, that intelligence, as given by brain size, peaked when we were still hunter gatherers, possibly because that was when individuals needed to be very autonomous and – by inference – quite selfish to survive.  IQ tests today are not a good predictor of the success of an individual in society, probably because the test does not capture those aspects of intelligence that have to do with leadership, team work or entrepreneurial ability.

There was a time when light and dark were outside human control. So far we have left evolution to take its slow, natural, wasteful, trial and error course. But the speed of natural selection is now completely out of sync with the speed of change. The few attempts to guide evolution have been discredited by the manner in which they have been applied. They have been based on the principles we have used to breed livestock and dogs by terminating unwanted characteristics and only allowing individuals with desired characteristics to have progeny. The Nazi experiments with eugenics and even Margaret Sanger’s objectives of controlling the black population in the US (by making abortions freely available) were horrible (still are in some instances), in their manner of execution. But the idea of guiding our own evolution is still sound and an idea whose time has still to come. We are already tinkering with eugenics – though in a very amateurish way – when foetuses are aborted, or IVF is used, or when sperm banks are drawn upon, or fertility drugs or surrogacy are employed. Now, we have a sort of eugenics by default. When foetuses are screened genetically as a matter of course, and when genetic manipulation and correction becomes possible then eugenics will have properly arrived.


 


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