UN and EU have forgotten that nationalism is the basis for internationalism

September 20, 2017

The part comes before the whole.

Without a definition of the number “one” there is no Number theory. Without the establishment of a single cell there is no life. No bricks no house. When an atom overwhelms an electron, it leaves and the atom is no more. Without weather there is no climate.

Multinational institutions are particularly prone to forgetting what their fundamental building blocks are. To be global one must first be local. To apply universally means first applying to each of the 7.5 billion on earth. Without a strong and healthy nationalism there is no internationalism.

The EU and the UN are excellent examples of how the “large” loses track of its roots. The EU much more than the UN tries to bully its smaller member countries and that cannot be sustained.



Automation can mitigate for a population decline

September 17, 2017

The cold hand of demographics cannot be denied. Global population will begin to decline soon after 2100. The real question is whether an implosion can be avoided, economic decline can be held at bay and that an irreversible death spiral can be avoided.

For over 100 years it has been the threat of unsustainable population explosion which has exercised the minds of governments and policy makers. There are still many people who have spent their lives confronting this problem and cannot adjust to the new reality. This reality is that fertility rate is declining across the world. There is nowhere in the world where the rate is not declining. There are still many countries where the rate is greater than the 2.1 children per woman needed to just hold the population constant.

(From the World Population Prospects 2017)

Soon after 2100 population will begin to decline everywhere across the world. In many countries population decline is already well established. Population decline is compounded by  increasing longevity and a decline in the ratio of working population to aged population. Declining (and ageing) populations threaten the start of a downward death spiral of economic decline.

John Maynard Keynes in a lecture in 1937  “Some Economic Consequences of a Declining Population.” Keynes eugenrev00278-0023

“In the final summing up, therefore, I do not depart from the old Malthusian conclusion. I only wish to warn you that the chaining up of the one devil may, if we are careless, only serve to loose another still fiercer and more intractable.”

The point is that this decline is inevitable. Demographic trends cannot be denied over a matter of 2 or 3 generations. Hopefully the decline will be slow and allow time for corrective actions – provided however that irreversible economic decline does not set in.

Mitigation by automation

The critical parameter will be whether total GDP can be maintained at a level to allow the per capita GDP to be increased or, at least, maintained in spite of a declining labour force.

For the past 500 years (perhaps more), economic activity has been consumer driven and with a surplus of labour always available. Labour and its ready availability was in itself also the capital to be employed. Growth has been achieved by the increase of production exceeding the growth of population. Agricultural production before the industrial age was primarily a function of the labour available. With the advent of the industrial age, the link between labour force and production remained strong but industrialisation allowed an enormous productivity increase. It is the introduction of industrialisation into agricultural production which has also allowed the rapidly increasing population to be fed. However the last 6 or 7 decades has seen the industrial age morph into the age of automation. Automation is now gathering pace. Growth is no longer as dependent upon the availability of labour as it was.

With population declining it is likely that GDP will – in the long term – also decline. Production cannot happen without consumption. However ii is not necessary that the total GDP decline must exceed the decline of population. In the short term there may well be an increase of per capita consumption (and of per capita production). The question becomes how to maintain production with a decreasing work force available. But this is a question that all commercial enterprises face already. In the last 60 – 70 years, reducing work force and increasing automation has become a standard method of reducing cost and increasing productivity.

Within two decades I expect that driver-less vehicles, pilot-less aircraft, army-less wars will be common place. Robot diagnosticians, AI assisted surgeons and teller-less banks are already here. Idiot-less politicians would be nice. The bottom line is that the paradigm that more employees means more production is broken.

Automation has already progressed to the level where just the availability of a young work force is no longer a guarantee that production will (or can be made to) increase. The unemployment level of the less-educated youth of the world is testimony to that. Clearly if automation eliminates the need for human labour for all routine, repetitive tasks, then it also becomes necessary to occupy these young with years of further education. Together with a population living ever longer, the dependency ratio (ratio of non-working to working population) will obviously increase and increase sharply. For a government this can be a nightmare. Revenue generation is from the working population and large chunks of revenue consumption is for the education of the young and the care of the elderly. But that is also because tax revenues are so strongly dependent upon taxing the labour force. If the dependence of production upon the labour force is weakened (as it must be with increasing automation), and since production must eventually match consumption, then the entire taxation system must also tilt towards taxing consumption and away from taxing human labour for its efforts. (Taxing production is effectively also a tax on consumption because production which is not for consumption is not sustainable). Increasing automation also breaks the taxation paradigm.

It seems to me therefore, that a population decline is not something to be afraid of. It is imperative that the decline not be allowed to become an implosion. However a slow decline starting soon after 2100 can be managed. It is going to need over the next 100 years

  1. immigration to mitigate fertility declines,
  2. increasing automation across all manufacturing
  3. increasing use of AI across all fields
  4. increasing education (perhaps mandatory to the age of 25)
  5. increasing opportunities for entrepreneurs (including aged entrepreneurs)
  6. shifting away from income or labour related taxes and towards consumption tax

I can see population developing to “hunt” for a stable, sustainable level at perhaps around 9 – 10 billion with increases coming when new world are opened up to colonise. Pure speculation of course, but as valid as anything else.

Population decline is not something to be afraid of. The next 100 years will be fascinating.


Fewer children under five dying than ever before

September 16, 2017

The 2016 GBD study is out at The Lancet.

The Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) is the most comprehensive worldwide observational epidemiological study to date. It describes mortality and morbidity from major diseases, injuries and risk factors to health at global, national and regional levels. Examining trends from 1990 to the present and making comparisons across populations enables understanding of the changing health challenges facing people across the world in the 21st century.

One section deals with Mortality, and of major significance is the deaths of children (< 5 years). Around 4.6%  – 340 million – of the worlds population of 7.5 billion is under 5 (UN World Population Prospects 2017). Death is becoming the preserve of the old – as it should be. In the last 50 years, death has shifted decisively away from children to the aged.


About 5 million recorded deaths in 2016 were of children under 5 and had reduced from about 16 million in 1970. In that time the total number of children <5 has doubled. In 2016, deaths of children < 5 has reduced to one-sixth of the proportion in 1970. Almost two-thirds of all deaths are now at ages above 50 years. There are, for the first time, more deaths at ages above 75 than between 50 and 74 and, it would seem, is poised to increase sharply.

About 40% of the world’s population (60% in Africa) is now under 25 years old. The vast majority of them will live to see 75.


Excellence is about improving the best – not of mitigating the worst

September 14, 2017

” Excellence” is always about performance. It also always implies a measurement – not necessarily quantitative – of performance against a “mean” or a “standard” value for such performance. It is not merely about “doing your best” without also surpassing existing standards.   I hesitate to call this a definition of excellence but it is a view of excellence. Continuous improvement is inbuilt in this view of “excellence”, since every time an “average” performance is exceeded, the “average” must shift. Searching for excellence thus requires continuously improving performance whether for an individual or a company or for a society. “Quality” means having some attribute to a higher (improved) level than some standard. “Excellence” is thus closely linked to “quality”. A search for excellence often implies – but not always – a search for improving quality. A value judgement of what is a “better” performance or a “higher” quality is inherent when considering excellence.

image Aberdeen Performing Arts

What is often forgotten is that searching for excellence is all about improving the best, not of eliminating or mitigating the worst. This often becomes a political or ideological matter where resources are spent at the bottom end of the performance scale. That actually becomes a search for the lowest common level and not a search for excellence. It is not possible to search for excellence and simultaneously denounce the elite. Excellence requires an elite.

Evolution by natural selection is not primarily about excellence. The only “performance” factor involved is that of maximising the survivability of an individual’s gene-set. Excellence achieved of any other performance parameter or attribute is accidental. Natural selection, then, is effectively silent about excellence but is not necessarily a bar to excellence. Artificial selection – on the other hand – is all about excellence of some particular attribute or performance parameter (breeding for strength or speed or intelligence or some other genetic factor in dogs for example).

To search for excellence, whether as an individual or as an organisation requires all three of motivation, opportunity and capability. The search fails if any one is missing. It starts with motivation – the desire to act. It can be entirely an internal thing to an individual or it can be due to external events or forces. Without motivation, opportunities are invariably missed and capabilities wastefully unused. Opportunities however are not just random events. They may occur by accident but they can – sometimes – be created and then they can even be designed. Ultimately performance improves and attributes are enhanced by actions. And actions are always constrained by capabilities. The best possible performance is always constrained to be the best performance possible.

The most common, universal barrier is that motivation is lacking. Some performance parameter or attribute is not given sufficient value. Value may be given by peers or generated internally by the performer. Without value being accorded, any motivation to search for excellence of that attribute or performance then withers. By corollary, if poor performance is not a disadvantage, then deterioration is not discouraged either (unless perhaps some minimum threshold value is reached).

Schools must consider both the excellence of individual performance and that of all students as  a group and that of learning as a concept. There can be perceived conflicts of interest here. In most schools more resources are often spent on the weakest group to bring their performance up towards the average. Being close to the average then becomes good enough. The weak students are dragged up towards the average and the strong students – if not self-motivated – drift down towards the average. They often miss the simple arithmetical fact that improving the performance of the best students provides a far greater improvement both for all the individuals and for the group and for learning in general. Often they are hampered by ideological constraints.

In large groups of individuals, whether in commercial enterprises or bureaucracies or health care or sports clubs, excellence still depends upon motivation, opportunity and capability. Clearly, if the target for which excellence is sought is not clear then there is no excellence achieved. It is much easier for a commercial enterprise to define performance parameters or attributes in which excellence is to be sought. They have also the greatest freedom of action in providing motivation, creating opportunities or acquiring capabilities. Bureaucracies are often process keepers. Excellence becomes a very diffuse concept to define. It is difficult to even conceive of excellence when the only parameters which count are minimum level of service at lowest cost.

Excellence is about improving the best – not of mitigating the worst.


Hurricane activity IS linked to solar cycles

September 9, 2017
Hurricane activity IS connected to the solar cycle.
………. years with positive SSN anomalies featuring high peripheral month sunspot numbers but low in-season numbers have, on average, significantly more (79%) US hurricanes. The SSN anomaly was shown to be statistically significant in models for US hurricanes and US major hurricanes after accounting for the other climate variables.
We are coming to the end of Solar Cycle 24 (“low in-season numbers”) but are seeing some major solar storm activity. It would seem that the conditions for hight hurricane activity are again fulfilled.
In 2010, the hurricane image was remarkably like the one being currently seen.

2010 Vs 2017 Hurricanes (image Fox)

Even before the 2010 hurricane season, this article in the International Journal of Climatology found a clear connection with the Sea Surface temperature (SST) and the solar cycle.
The relationship between US hurricanes and solar activity is investigated empirically. First, a relationship between the probability of a US hurricane and the solar cycle is shown conditional on sea surface temperatures (SST). For years of above normal SST, the probability of three or more US hurricanes decreases from 40 to 20% as sunspot numbers (SSN) increase from lower to upper quartile amounts. Second, since SST is in phase with the 11-year total solar irradiance cycle but upper-air temperature is in phase with ultraviolet radiation changes on the monthly time scale, an anomaly index of SSN is constructed. The index is significantly correlated with US hurricanes and major US hurricanes over the period 1866-2008. The chances of at least one hurricane affecting the United States in the lowest and highest SSN anomaly seasons are 68 and 91%, respectively. A similar relationship is noted using hurricane records spanning the period 1749-1850, providing independent corroborating evidence linking solar variability to the probability of a US hurricane.
Right now we are approaching the end of Solar Cycle 24

Solar Cycle 22 to 24 (image Hathaway NASA/Marshall)

The Sun is the ultimate driver of climate. 
As the authors write in their conclusions
The evidence for a sun–hurricane relationship was further bolstered by showing that a similar relationship between the SSN anomaly and US hurricanes (years of high SSN anomaly have more US hurricanes) is detectable in an archive of Atlantic hurricanes dating back to 1749. ………. 

Some marvellous inventions that changed my world (and are now obsolete)

September 3, 2017

Marvellous inventions that changed my world and which are now obsolete. (Dates are when I came across the invention).

  • 1959 – My first fountain pen
  • 1960 – first biro (not quite obsolete yet)
  • 1961 – Kodak box camera
  • 1962 – birthday present of a Sony transistor radio
  • 1963 – My own book of log tables
  • 1964 – a Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder (which I could play backwards!)
  • 1966 – a Faber-Castell slide rule
  • 1967 – allowed to use a Curta mechanical rotary calculator
  • 1968 – a Kodak Instamatic
  • 1969 – a casette tape recorder
  •  1972 – a Sinclair pocket calculator
  • 1974 – allowed to share a Hewlett-Packard 9100A desktop
  • 1975 – allowed to use a PDP-11 mini-computer
  • 1976 – using a Telex machine
  • 1977 – a Sony Betamax video player
  • 1978 – a Polaroid camera
  • 1980 – used a facsimile machine (G1)
  • 1983 – first PC (not obsolete yet)
  • 1984 – used a fax machine (G3)
  • 1989 – First Nokia talkphone (model now well obsolete)

image birmingham history

and the rest is still unfolding.


Early hominins left Africa 6 million years ago

September 3, 2017

A foot print found in Crete is probably that of an early hominid and was made 5.7 million years ago.

The single Out-of-Africa theory sometime around 70,000 years ago is already obsolete. It was more likely to have been multiple hominin crossings out of Africa into both Europe and Asia. The expansion of homo sapiens sapiens is more likely to have been in  at least two waves out of Africarabia.  Homo erectus appeared around 2 million years ago while homo sapiens appeared about 1 million years ago.  Homo sapiens sapiens then split from homo sapiens neanderthalensis around 600,000 years ago. So the footprint found is that of a human ancestor after the split with chimpanzees (c. 8-9 million years ago), after the beginning of bipedalism but well before homo erectus appeared.

image from physorg

The paper is

Gerard D. Gierlińskia et al., Possible hominin footprints from the late Miocene (c. 5.7 Ma) of Crete? Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2017.07.006

As the Uppsala University  press release puts it:

….. Ever since the discovery of fossils of Australopithecus in South and East Africa during the middle years of the 20th century, the origin of the human lineage has been thought to lie in Africa. More recent fossil discoveries in the same region, including the iconic 3.7 million year old Laetoli footprints from Tanzania which show human-like feet and upright locomotion, have cemented the idea that hominins (early members of the human lineage) not only originated in Africa but remained isolated there for several million years before dispersing to Europe and Asia. The discovery of approximately 5.7 million year old human-like footprints from Crete, published online this week by an international team of researchers, overthrows this simple picture and suggests a more complex reality. …….

The new footprints, from Trachilos in western Crete, have an unmistakably human-like form. This is especially true of the toes. The big toe is similar to our own in shape, size and position; it is also associated with a distinct ‘ball’ on the sole, which is never present in apes. The sole of the foot is proportionately shorter than in the Laetoli prints, but it has the same general form. In short, the shape of the Trachilos prints indicates unambiguously that they belong to an early hominin, somewhat more primitive than the Laetoli trackmaker. They were made on a sandy seashore, possibly a small river delta, whereas the Laetoli tracks were made in volcanic ash. …….

…… During the time when the Trachilos footprints were made, a period known as the late Miocene, the Sahara Desert did not exist; savannah-like environments extended from North Africa up around the eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, Crete had not yet detached from the Greek mainland. It is thus not difficult to see how early hominins could have ranged across south-east Europe and well as Africa, and left their footprints on a Mediterranean shore that would one day form part of the island of Crete.

‘This discovery challenges the established narrative of early human evolution head-on and is likely to generate a lot of debate. Whether the human origins research community will accept fossil footprints as conclusive evidence of the presence of hominins in the Miocene of Crete remains to be seen,’ says Per Ahlberg.


We describe late Miocene tetrapod footprints (tracks) from the Trachilos locality in western Crete (Greece), which show hominin-like characteristics. They occur in an emergent horizon within an otherwise marginal marine succession of Messinian age (latest Miocene), dated to approximately 5.7 Ma (million years), just prior to the Messinian Salinity Crisis. The tracks indicate that the trackmaker lacked claws, and was bipedal, plantigrade, pentadactyl and strongly entaxonic. The impression of the large and non-divergent first digit (hallux) has a narrow neck and bulbous asymmetrical distal pad. The lateral digit impressions become progressively smaller so that the digital region as a whole is strongly asymmetrical. A large, rounded ball impression is associated with the hallux. Morphometric analysis shows the footprints to have outlines that are distinct from modern non-hominin primates and resemble those of hominins. The interpretation of these footprints is potentially controversial. The print morphology suggests that the trackmaker was a basal member of the clade Hominini, but as Crete is some distance outside the known geographical range of pre-Pleistocene hominins we must also entertain the possibility that they represent a hitherto unknown late Miocene primate that convergently evolved human-like foot anatomy.


Stealth technology causes blindness?

August 28, 2017

In 2004, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. John F Kennedy ran over a dhow in the Persian Gulf.

Nothing untoward then till 2017:

  • In January, the guided-missile cruiser U.S.S. Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay. There were no casualties, but eleven hundred gallons of oil were dumped into the water.
  • May 9th the cruiser U.S.S. Lake Champlain collided with a fishing boat off the east coast of South Korea. Again, no casualties.
  • June 17th the destroyer U.S.S. Fitzgerald collided with a Filipino container ship in the waters off Japan. Seven sailors were killed, three more injured.
  • On 27th August, the U.S.S. John S McCain collided with a civilian oil tanker near Singapore. Ten sailors are missing, presumed dead. Five more sailors were injured.

A natural consequence of stealth technology?

If you think nobody else can see you, then you stop seeing others.


Sunday morning blues

August 27, 2017

The world is a round hole and I am square.


Big Brother was an amateur compared to Google

August 24, 2017

George Orwell’s 1984 was published in 1949.

In his fictional world every citizen is under constant surveillance by the authorities, where everybody knows that  “Big Brother is watching you”.  And Big Brother is not worried. He says “The people will not revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening.”

In many ways, Big Brother was an amateur compared to Google.

But, not to worry.

Google’s heart is pure.



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