Archive for the ‘Behaviour’ Category

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.


 

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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.


 

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.

 


 

Safest drivers are aged 75 and the young are much riskier than even the 90-year-olds

August 20, 2017

Age discrimination against the elderly is widespread and institutionalised in Europe.

There are calls in some countries (including Sweden) for elderly drivers to be retested. Sweden does suffer from a youth fetish and the experience of the elderly is often wasted and replaced by younger incompetence. Yet, the statistics do not support these bigoted calls.

Aftonbladet:

Above 80, the risk of causing a traffic accident increases. But those who call for testing of the  driving ability of the elderly have not studied the statistics. The risk of a traffic accident is least at 75, according to insurance claims statistics. ………. 
By a long way the really young have the highest risk of causing a traffic accident with their own car.  The risk that an 18-19 year old will cause a car accident is 3.5 times higher than the average. The risk then falls sharply down to around twice the average at the age of 30 according to the claims statistics of the insurance companies. These are statistically sound figures, largely confirmed by Folksam, taking into account, for example, that older people drive less. From around 40 to 80 years, the risk is close to the average. The lowest risk behavior is reached at 75 years, when the risk of having a car accident …. is about 20 percent lower than the average before it rises again and increases with age. …… 
But even though the risk increases at the end of the age curve, a 90-year-old is no more dangerous in traffic than a 35-year-old.  Last year, the Transport Agency initiated an investigation to see whether the regulations should change. One way to go is mandatory health checks at a certain age, another is an extension of the doctors’ reporting obligation. According to the Transport Agency, the investigation is expected to be completed sometime in spring 2018. But Tania Dukic Willstrand, who is studying the elderly in traffic at the State Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI), is doubtful. Other countries have introduced mandatory tests by elderly drivers. “And it has not shown increased road safety,” she says. 
Those over 80, just as younger drivers, pay a higher premium for insurance as a reflection of the risk. Even 40-50-year-olds have slightly higher insurance rate. “It’s the age when the youngsters begin to borrow mothers and dads cars,” said Dan Falconer.

Data from the US also shows much the same thing. The safest drivers are around 75 years old. But even at 90 years old they are much safer than the 18-19 year old drivers. (AAA study).


 

Manliness has more than halved in western men since 1973

July 26, 2017

There is a new paper, a meta-review, receiving much attention.

The manliness of western men has more than halved between 1973 and 2011. It reports a significant ongoing decline in sperm concentration and sperm counts of Western men. It seems that “between 1973 and 2011, the researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in perm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count, among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand ….  In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa.”

Being a meta-review this study does not shed light on the causes of this drastic decline in the manliness of western men. It speculates that this may be due to chemicals or lifestyle or smoking or obesity or pesticides or some other factor. This speculation is just speculation and smoking or pesticide use would have caused stronger effects in Asia. They are quite right, however, in not following the sheep and including global warming as a possible cause. However they seem to be ignoring some other relevant factors.

I am inclined to think that the decrease of manliness among western men sounds more like a psychological reaction to political trends. Western society just values “manliness” much less than it used to. So other factors which probably need to be considered include:

  1. the increase of gender ambiguity
  2. the decrease in men’s social status
  3. the decline of political leadership in the west,
  4. the spread of political indecisiveness,
  5. the decline of corporal punishment in schools,
  6. the decline of femininity

It stands to reason that if gender difference is eliminated then sperm count and concentration will also decline. It follows that eliminating gender difference will result in the elimination of reproduction and species extinction.

Hagai Levine et al. Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update. DOI: 10.1093/humupd/dmx022

MedicalXpress writes:  ….. between 1973 and 2011, the researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in perm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count, among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand ….  In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa. ….. The study also indicates the rate of decline among Western men is not decreasing: the slope was steep and significant even when analysis was restricted to studies with sample collection between 1996 and 2011. ….. 

While declines in sperm count have been reported since 1992, the question has remained controversial because of limitations in past studies. However, the current study uses a broader scope and rigorous meta-regression methods, conservatively addresses the reliability of study estimates, and controls for factors that might help explain the decline such as age, abstinence time, and selection of the study population.

“Given the importance of sperm counts for male fertility and human health, this study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp ongoing drop in sperm count, with the goal of prevention,” said Dr. Hagai Levine, the lead author and Head of the Environmental Health Track at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine.

The findings have important public health implications. First, these data demonstrate that the proportion of men with sperm counts below the threshold for subfertility or infertility is increasing. Moreover, given the findings from recent studies that reduced sperm count is related to increased morbidity and mortality, the ongoing decline points to serious risks to male fertility and health.

“Decreasing sperm count has been of great concern since it was first reported twenty-five years ago. This definitive study shows, for the first time, that this decline is strong and continuing. The fact that the decline is seen in Western countries strongly suggests that chemicals in commerce are playing a causal role in this trend,” Dr. Shanna H Swan, a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

While the current study did not examine causes of the observed declines, sperm count has previously been plausibly associated with environmental and lifestyle influences, including prenatal chemical exposure, adult pesticide exposure, smoking, stress and obesity. Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impact of the modern environment on male health across the lifespan and serve as a “canary in the coal mine” signaling broader risks to male health.

It also follows that western men pose less of a risk to women looking for promiscuity, but that western women who wish to have children have a better chance with men having a higher level of manliness.


 

Nuclear weapons are necessary to avoid another Hitler

July 8, 2017

Yesterday the UN again demonstrated its uselessness. More, it demonstrated, again that majorities are very often wrong and can be just plain stupid.

Countries without nuclear weapons voted among themselves that countries with nuclear weapons should not have them. The stupid voting among themselves that the more intelligent should not be so intelligent.

The UN adopted a global treaty banning nuclear weapons. Only 124 nations of 193 participated. The treaty was adopted by a vote of 122 countries in favor with one NATO member, the Netherlands, voting against and with Singapore abstaining.

The stupidity of the resolution and the vote lies in that neither those who have nuclear weapons, nor those who have experienced a nuclear strike, even participated.

 

  1. None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, UK, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — took part in the negotiations or the vote.
  2.  Even Japan — the only country to have suffered atomic attacks, in 1945 — boycotted the talks and the vote.
  3. The only NATO country to participate, the Netherlands, voted against.
  4. The other NATO countries not participating were Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.

The UN is good at sanctimonious, feel-good resolutions which are “full of sound and fury” but “signifying nothing”. It is, in fact, the presence of nuclear weapons which has put a cap on the number of deaths by war.

Time:

During the 31 years leading up to the first atomic bomb, the world without nuclear weapons engaged in two global wars resulting in the deaths of an estimated 78 million to 95 million people, uniformed and civilian. The world wars were the hideous expression of what happens when the human tendency toward conflict hooks up with the violent possibilities of the industrial age. The version of this story we are most familiar with is the Nazi death machinery, and we are often tempted to think that if Hitler had not happened, we would never have encountered assembly-line murder.

…… As bad as they are, nukes have been instrumental in reversing the long, seemingly inexorable trend in modernity toward deadlier and deadlier conflicts. If the Nobel Committee ever wants to honor the force that has done the most over the past 60 years to end industrial-scale war, its members will award a Peace Prize to the bomb.

Nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented.

The simple fact is that it is the existence of nuclear weapons which has prevented the blood-letting of WW1 and WW2 from happening again.

And which prevents another Hitler from appearing. And which will prevent Kim Jong-un from ever becoming another Hitler.


 

When acquaintances pass away

June 28, 2017

The bulk of those we “know” are acquaintances and they may number from several hundred and up to a few thousand.

If the Dunbar Number postulation is correct, we can have strong, stable, close relationships with about 150 people (minimum about 50 and maximum about 250). We  can also “feel” strong, one-way relationships with a few public figures we may never have met, and who may not even be aware of our existence (musicians, actors, politicians ….).

When somebody close passes away the measure of our grief and our reactions is dominated primarily by the closeness of the relationship and then by the circumstances surrounding the death. This has probably been much the same for humans through most of history. However it is our reaction to the passing away of acquaintances which may say more about our changing attitudes to life and death.

I am of an age now where hardly a week goes by without the passing away of an acquaintance. I am also of an age where new acquaintances come slowly. So my circle of acquaintances is beginning to reduce. Trying to observe myself, I would generalise my reactions to the death of an acquaintance as follows:

  • Less than 50 years old : Futility, cruel, tragically young
  • In their 50’s                   : Sorrow, regret, before their time
  • In their 60’s                   : Sadness, misfortune, not very old
  • In their 70’s                   : Regret, it happens, a good innings
  • In their 80’s                   : Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance
  • In their 90’s                   : Acceptance, celebration, a long span
  • In their 100’s                 : Wow! Was he/she still alive?

Of course the circumstances of a death also play some part in the reaction  – but not so much, it seems, once an acquaintance has passed 80. The same kind of tragic accident which takes the life of a 50 year old, seems not so tragic when an 80 year old is the victim. A few months ago a good acquaintance died in his 50’s following a bicycle accident, and it all seemed such a terrible waste. About a year ago an 83 year old acquaintance also died following a bicycle accident, but his death did not seem as tragic, and even included a hint of “what on earth was he doing on a bicycle at that age?”

I suppose it is because the probability of an 80 year old dying is so much higher than that of a 50 year old. Our sense of regret and loss reduces as the probability of death increases. The circumstances surrounding the death seem less important.

At 50 the probability of death is about 1: 300 but at the age of 80 this has increased to 1:20.

UK data image bandolier

Our reactions, I conclude, are probably strongly influenced by the probability of death of that acquaintance. As longevity changes, the probability of death changes, and our reactions follow suit.


 

 

“Solidarity” is overrated (and brainless)

June 22, 2017

One trade union supports another in a conflict in which it has no part to show solidarity with the other union.

Students rampage in the streets in solidarity with striking workers to show support in a conflict in which they have no direct involvement.

The EU president wants to impose sanctions on some EU members who are not showing solidarity by accepting EU immigration rules which they do not wish to follow.

“Solidarity” has been reduced to being support for one party in a conflict by a third party for reasons of “belonging to a group” but which disregards and downgrades independent thought. It is an appeal to class and is what pits “class” against “class”. “Sympathetic strikes” are not only – by definition – brainless, they demand that a “class consciousness” override thought. The fourth title of the EU Charter of Human Rights is labelled “Solidarity” but is really concerned about workers rights. Solidarity as it is used today, either as an excuse for actions committed or as a demand for actions to be taken, is always to defend actions or demand actions of a third party in favour of one of two parties in a conflict. The defence or the demand is based on group association and not on thought.

Brainless solidarity is what produces movements such as “White Supremacy” or “Black Lives Matter” or “Occupy”.

Solidarity has become a dirty word for me. But worst is that it denies sapience. It is always an appeal for a class association to overrule thought.

 


 

Would religions survive if children were not brainwashed into them?

May 25, 2017

Whether “indoctrination” of an empty child’s mind is less reprehensible than the “brainwashing” of an adult mind that has existing beliefs is not the point.  At issue is whether beliefs, which, by definition, exist outside the realm of knowledge, can be force-fed. No religion allows its followers to develop their own beliefs. All religions presume to instill their standard beliefs onto their own adherents and onto potential converts. Can beliefs be externally imposed or must they be developed internally? My own “belief” is that an idea, which is not the result of an individual’s own cognitive processes but is externally imposed, cannot be a true “belief”. All societies permit, and most approve, the indoctrination of children into the religions of their parents (or guardians). Apart from coerced conversions (which are still going on), I would guess that over 95% (and perhaps 99%) of all those who follow a religion, follow that of their parents.

Human behaviour has effectively made religion hereditary. Religion is not controlled by our genes except in that our genes may determine how susceptible we are to indoctrination. Yet our religious beliefs are determined by who our parents are. Unfortunately parents have not succeeded as well in indoctrinating children away from other undesirable behaviour. The growth or decline of religions across the world simply mirrors fertility on the one hand and the coercive conversion of peoples into the religion.

If a group of children were brought up in isolation on a desert island, by robotic instructors confined to teach only in the area of knowledge, and to answer any question in the space of ignorance with a “don’t know”, some of the children may well develop “religious” beliefs with divine power being attributed to the sun and the moon and the winds and the waves. But for there to be war between the sun-worshipers and the wind-worshipers there would first need to be those arrogant enough to anoint themselves as priests. There would be no organised religions without priests appointing themselves as special messengers of the divine powers. There would be no religious wars without “turbulent priests” bent on religious expansion. If every child was allowed, as it felt necessary,  to develop its own religious beliefs, organised religions would never catch hold. And if organised religions did exist they would merely wither and die without a continuous stream of new adherents in the form of brain-washed children growing up.

The problem lies not in whether one believes in gods or not, but in that organised religions exist and that they compete. They compete by claiming that one set of beliefs in the space of ignorance are superior or better than another set, also in the space of ignorance. The claims for the one or for the other are made by turbulent priests. It has been so ever since organised religions came into being. It is still so today, whether it is a mad mullah pronouncing a fatwa or a Hindu God-man calling for the destruction of a mosque or a Buddhist monk attacking unbelievers or a “celibate” Pope pronouncing on family values.

Who will rid us of these turbulent priests?


 

Democracy, like natural selection, has no need for excellence

April 14, 2017

Natural selection gives traits that are good enough for survival up to the time of reproduction. There is no value to be gained by being anything beyond just good enough to survive and only till reproduction is accomplished. Natural selection is about being “good enough” and there is no force which drives towards excellence. Fast enough may, in fact, be much more successful for descendants than fastest. Strong enough is good enough and there is no advantage necessarily accruing from being the strongest. The forces of natural selection are quite satisfied with intelligent enough and do not persist towards increasing intelligence. The equilibrium position is mediocrity.

And so it is with democracies. Democracies are all about winning elections, not about selection of the “best” leaders. A winning candidate only needs to be sufficiently intelligent and sufficiently competent and sufficiently rich and  sufficiently cunning and sufficiently dishonest to ensure the capture of sufficient votes. There is no value, and there may well be a negative value, in having more of a vote-winning attribute than just necessary.

Given that excellence, of any attribute, must be a minority “thing” (the bell curve again), any system promoting the majority must inevitably promote a leveling down – a chase for mediocrity. Natural selection is all about increasing population. Extinction is failure and increasing population is the measure of success. Democracies pander to the majority in a population. There will always be more of the poor than of the rich, the unintelligent will always outnumber the intelligent and the incompetent will always swamp the competent.

Excellence in sport requires special coaching and training regimes for elite squads of young athletes. Academic excellence requires elite academic institutions. Excellence in science needs its ivory towers. Excellence in companies is achieved by autocracies (including monarchies) but never by democracies. Military excellence requires elite troops.  Excellence in government and in management requires autocrats. To achieve excellence in almost any field requires elitism. “Socialist principles” abhor elitism. It is not perhaps so surprising that the essence of “social democrats” lies in leveling down, in making a god out of mediocrity.

At some point humans and human societies will find the need to drive towards improvement and a search for excellence. With no pressure to increase population humans will be freed from the constraints of natural selection and will be able to target excellence. Natural selection will have to be given direction with a strong dose of artificial selection. Once poverty is eliminated (but not the poor who must always be there) and population is stable or declining, even human societies will be freed to chase excellence. Democracies will then need to acquire some spine by institutionalising  more than just a little whiff of autocracy. Voters and candidates for election will need to qualify, votes will be weighted and elected leaders will be autocrats for their terms of office.

Leaders might then begin to lead again rather than being followers of the mob.


 


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