The less than jubilant trio aboard the Garibaldi

The leaders of the three largest countries in the EU — once Britain leaves — have been meeting on the Italian island of Ventotene. At the end of it they gave a press conference on the deck of the Italian aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi which was appropriate because most of what they spoke about publicly was defence.

But when in private discussion, defence would have been the least they would have spoken about. (NATO is already in existence for that purpose.) What’s much more important is how is the EU going to hold together? Currency Unions — where several countries share the same currency — have never yet held together for very long.

The reason is that one size — that is, the same value of the common currency and the same interest rate — does not fit all. A euro interest rate that suits Germany does not suit Greece. A low interest rate that would suit Greece and attract foreign investment and consequent prosperity would deprive Germany of funds and Germany would suffer in due course.

In their haste to become a political nation-state 50 years ago the founders of the EU forgot that it has to be an economic nation-state first. It needs centralised accounts and budgeting before all else. This is the fatal flaw in the EU and what Francois Hollande, Matteo Renzi and Angela Merkel would have really been talking mostly about during their hours together on the island.

They didn’t find the answer or else they’d have announced it jubilantly on board the carrier.

Having a chance of a fascinating environment around us

The Industrial Revolution (IR) is over and done with. Considering that only half a billion people are presently enjoying the full benefits of the IR then we can reasonably surmise that the world population — now expected to rise to about 11 billion before tailing off — will have to sink to about the same number of half a billion people world-wide in order to share the same standard of living.

As it is, the present world-wide recession — foxing economists everywhere as to how to end it and to stimulate growth — will continue at about the same level of economic activity as now. The fact that China — which has already reverse-engineered the West’s financial system and knows it, if anything, better than we do — is now grinding to a halt is a good indication that world trade must be somewhere near stabilisation point.

Unless our brains change — that is, become dulled due to some unknown toxin — then scientific discovery will continue, as also innovation, if not so much to extend the list of consumer goods but to make our production systems and our infrastructure vastly more efficient than they are now. This would also mean that we would be making smaller claims on the earth’s resources and that we will have a chance of having a rich and fascinating natural environment around us.

Goodbye to Choudary for a while

At long last, Anjem Choudary, 49, the radical Muslim cleric, has been convicted and found guilty, and is now awaiting sentence on 6 September. Born and bred in this country he has previously practised as a solicitor but also as a spokesman for Islam4UK, now a proscribed organisation.

A hard-line political Muslim, he is a believer in replacing British laws and institutions with Sharia law and clerical governments. He receives little support from the mass of Muslim immigrants in the country who find him as much a social embarrassment as the culturally non-Muslim English find him a dysfunctional individual whom they’d rather not have among them.

For over 20 years he has been clever enough to keep just an inch or two inside the law of sedition and racial hatred and, as we believe in individual freedom of thought in this country, as a development of our Magna Carta tradition, he was untouchable.

However, on YouTube some months ago he went too far in praising the Independent State of Iraq and Levant (Isil) and its savage ways. He also praised the actions of those terrorists responsible for 9/11 in America and 7/7 in this country. The court accepted this, and the jury confirmed this as being equivalent to encourage any of his adherents to do likewise. Quite why he allowed his self-control to slip we didn’t know but it was probably inevitable. A pity it didn’t happen years ago.

Olympic winners and freed slaves

On the day when all our papers will be praising our Olympic successes there’s also a first year report on slavery in this country.

Congratulations are due to Theresa May in her former role as Home Office Secretary for the success of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. On its first anniversary, 289 offences were prosecuted last year. The Salvation Army says that it has had a fivefold rise from looking after 400 victims a year in 2012 to 1800 last year in England and Wales, mostly referrals from the government — which is obviously encouraging more victims to come forward than ever before.

The Home Office reckon that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK, All slaves are held under threats, some against their families back home, and require a great deal of individual courage to make the first step but, without being complacent about it, the Act is obviously working in sensitising the police, social services and even the general public about the matter.

Almost half the number of slaves being brought into the country are sexually exploited, the same for cheap labour on building sites or agriculture with about one in seven brought in by traffickers for domestic servitude. They are fairly evenly scattered around the country except for London, which has twice as many ‘hidden in plain sight’ on a population basis.

Obscuring the developing brain

The Department of Education and Ofqual, the exams regulator, are repeating their King Canute act again this year. What they are trying to do is to pretend that an educability gap between adolescent girls and boys doesn’t exist — never mind the fact that more girls than boys are getting better grades at school-leaver A-levels.

Girls’ brains mature earlier than boys’ and, at 18 years of age when A levels are taken, are at least a year ahead of boys and nearer two. It’s no wonder that, since the final admission by the previous predominantly male job structure that females have the full rights to any job, girls have been entering a wider and wider band of subjects when at school.

At A-levels, girls finally caught up with boys a few years ago and have overhauled them every year since. They’ll probably continue to increase their percentage of good results marginally for another year or two yet — and then the differential will remain the same from then onwards.

The authorities have been trying to fiddle what should be natural results by decreasing the proportion of marks given to course work and increase those of the final exam. Boys, being risk-takers genetically, have been able to respond less stressfully than girls to exam enhancement and so the girls’ improvement over boys has been slowing down.

But this has been an artificial dodge. Who is actually to say which is the better way of teaching and testing the learning of a subject? If teachers had been told to design course so that many more marks were given to course-work and many fewer to final exam results then girls at 18 would have considerably more successful than boys. It’s a moot point which is the better or of learning or teaching a subject.

When equilibrium is finally reached in a year ro two then then the authorities will have to start giving up their attempts of playing King Canute — or, rather, his officials — and attempt that universities must start accepting girls at a younger age or, if both are required to enter at 18 years of age, then two different exams must be set.

Sugar going down the same policy route as alcohol

It looks as though the government is compromising over sugar in the same way as it has done over alcohol. In the latter case, the government knows that the diseases alcohol causes results in immense costs to the National Health Service, and a great deal of personal stress and also criminality besides. It also receives a great amount of taxation from its production, so it is happy to see the industry thrive and only occasionally warns the public of alcohol’s dangers.

Both sugar and alcohol are small molecules which means that, once enjoyably imbibed, they can spread into any parts of the body such as the brain or kidneys. Too much consumption of sugar or alcohol by an individual over too long a period causes damage to those and other organs.

We have no genetic defences against either of them because when we lived for millions of years on the African savannah we came across beehives or bunches of fermenting fruit on a tree quite rarely. We were able to engorge ourselves only very occasionally.

The government has just received the latest report on our vast over-consumption of sugar, the resultant obesity and its consequences of a string of other diseases. But as Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef and many other dietary experts are saying, the government is not going anywhere near as far enough in publicising it.

It very much looks as though the government is graduall adopting the same mixed policy as for alcohol. Being positive and negative about it simultaneously in order to optimise its taxation of the sugar industry.

Getting behind the Russians and Chinese on this occasion

Now that we know China is helping President Assad of Syria more than ever with army training and advanced personal weapons in order for him reclaim his country from Isil, Al Qaeda and other Muslim terrorist troops, is it not time for the Western alliance to be sensible and let China and Russia get on with it?

No matter how nasty Assad has become, his main purpose is to solidify the government control by the secular Ba’ath Party, just as Saddam Hussein was trying to do with his Ba’ath Party in Iraq — and largely succeeding in his case before being invaded in 2003.

In tofday’s papers, the intensely poignant photo of the five year-old boy with blood streaking down half his face, rescued from the latest bombing in Aleppo — whose name we now know as Omran Daqneesh — has alerted all those statesmen in the West who only want to win the war in Syria on their own terms that they’d better start taking some practical decisions from now onwards.

The quickest practical strategy to hand is to swing behind Russia and China on this occasion even though we may not like their own particular forms of governance when at home. It is one thing for Western governments to be tolerant of Muslim immigrants in their own countries. It is quite another to be tolerant of countries in which a religious hierarchy holds the majority of their populations in subservience.

Governments of countries such where women are oppressed, where girls are subjected to vaginal mutilation and where their brightest and best young people cry out for an interesting life ahead of them, deserve to be toppled if the right opportunities come along.

Religious governments have ideologies which makes them act more cruelly than any ‘savage’ hunter-gatherer tribe has ever been.  Other opportunities will no doubt come along in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan in due course. But right now, we have Syria and we really shouldn’t be making the same mistake that we made when invading Iraq.

Whisper it quietly — “We’re already on a gold standard”

Most people are totally confused about money and have all sorts of ideas about how it’s created. Most believe it’s governments, some believe it’s central banks, others — who think they are a little more sophisticated than the average guy — think that ordinary high street banks actually create money out of thin air when they create a credit balance to a customer. (The last don’t. They create a temporary phenomenon which may or may not keep its value as real money when the loan plus interest is paid off.)

They’re all wrong. Nobody creates money — real money, that is. It creates itself. Or, rather, it is created by word of mouth and the valuation we put on different things according to one’s feelings about the standard of life at the time.

At any moment, money happens to be a consumer good with a precise intrinsic value according to what most people think it is at that moment. A small gold coin fits the bill precisely. Essentially, money is no different from a grand piano or a television set. It just so happens, however, that money is more convenient to carry around when buying or selling things.

However, it’s only convenient in principle. In practice if you had just bought a tram ride in Manchester in 1830 for a farthing — a quarter of a penny — a suitable gold coin would be so small as to be hardly visible. It would blow away if you breathed too closely. But also, if you were on your way to buy George Stephenson’s Rocket for, say £500, you couldn’t walk straight carrying the weight of the coins. Or you might easily be robbed on your way.

So this led to surrogate gold — promissory notes, banknotes, personal cheques and, today, digits in your credit or debit card or in your smartphone. The point is, however, that every single digital unit of account of your earthly monetary wealth is represented somewhere in a portion of a gold bar in your friendly central bank vault.

You don’t believe me? Are you saying that we are no longer on the gold-standard? If not then why are all central banks of advanced countries trying as hard as they can to retain gold in their vaults? On the other hand, why are China and Russia gradually buying up all the free market gold in the West and will soon, probably, be nibbling away at the public gold in the central banks?

The answer is that China and Russia, besides being the two largest miners of ‘new’ gold out of the ground, are buying as much of the ‘old’ gold as possible because they know that another monetary catastrophe will be hitting us sooner or later. They fully intend to survive by basing the yuan and the rouble on a gold standard at a sensible price.

This is to be compared with the advanced countries of the West. We are already on a gold standard — though governments pretend to their electorates that they’re not — but at an inflated banknote/digital price that is way in the sky. It will only come down to earth when the next monetary crash occurs.

By then it will strongly to be hoped that America will agree with what China has been proposing for years — a joint dollar-yuan trading currency that will be gold-backed and thus stable for all monetary purposes in future years.

Oh for a sausage! — when it’s needed

I couldn’t help chuckling over a mini-story in my paper today after deciding that there was nothing in the serious stories that I wanted to comment on right now. It concerned a German who’d complained that a BMW had been driving too fast and who then attacked it. It’s incidental how he got within arm’s reach of the car afterwards, but suffice it to say that he’d done so because he inflicted a lot of damage on the car with a foot-long sausage — as German sausages are inclined to be, of course.

A trivial event? Nothing could be more so but it reminded me of another incident many years ago. For some reason a bus had careered off the road, mounted a traffic island and broke a street gas standard at its base. Gas poured from the pipework and those of us who could hear it pouring forth kept well away for fear of an explosion.

Not so the local butcher from the other ide of the road. He issued at speed from his shop with an armful of pork sausages and proceeded to stuff them down the pipe.  The hiss of escaping gas soon subsided to nothing. We could all stand around safely and chuckle over the event while we waited for the fire brigade to come along and seal the pipe properly.

Why a sudden menopause?

Why do we — and the dolphins or orca — usually have sudden well-defined menopauses in mid-life while all other animal species do not? In other animals, fertility only fades away gradually with advancing age in the same way as youthful strength and vigour.

Ah, but how do we know that it’s sudden in dolphins? After all, with dolphins spending almost all their time under water, and only momentarily leaping above water — and only then when they are keenly interested to observe us on our boats — or are they showing off? — it is surely impossible to know.

The realisation came only recently to a long-term scientific project studying a pod of orca — of about 80 individuals — in the Pacific not far from the shore in California. After 50 years of observations — during which they knew the history of every individual — the researchers were able to confirm a suspicion they’d had fro many years. At around the age of 40 a female dolphin had either recently given birth or she had stopped giving birth altogether. There was no half-way house — it was just like us.

The reason for the sudden change was clearly shown by the fact that the females continued to lead an undiminished strenuous life afterwards. If anything, they take to keeping the more exuberant adolescent males in line and need to be even more energetic.. They also act as midwives to young females.

More than anything else, the older females lead others in their pod to feeding grounds, particularly when times were difficult and past experience is at a premium. Youn males, even when they have families of their own sometimes return to swim closely with their mother as though to absorb her skills and knowledge.

In short, post=menopausal females were absolutely necessary for the survival of their pod. If their usual source of food failed them then one or two of the very old females might remember techniques they had seen other pods using in different regions of the ocean.

Like early man, pods with entirely different cultures and call-signs in different parts of the world, could only survive by making one particular hunting method into a fine art, sometimes eating fish as small as anchovies, sometimes by attacking creatures larger than themselves.

This razor-edge existence on one oceanic region or another requiring different skills is very similar indeed as early man’s, both having to diversify in order for the species to survive as a whole. The story of the dolphins suggests very strongly that the human menopause evolved in the way that it did for the same reason as in the orca.

Refreshment from Abbey and Nikki

A touching scene played out yesterday in the Rio Olympics, all too rare in these super-competitive Games. In one of the 5,000m heats after Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin both stumbled and fell on the track, Abbey got to her feet first but, instead of running on, put her arms around Nikki, who was still dazed, and raised her to her feet.

However, it was Abbey D’Agostino who was more seriously injured with a twisted ankle and it was then her turn to be helped. Nikki Hamblin did so by hanging back from the main group and encouraging Abbey to hobble to the end of the course.

Neither of them thus qualified for the final race but they were praised by their fellows as Abbey was taken away in a wheelchair. As an antidote to national rivalry — and which, incidentally, could never have happened in an all-male race — it was refreshing for all of us.

Ford can build self-driving cars — can it sell them?

Ford plans to be making self-driving cars for the mass market in five years’ time. Having been caught behind most other major car manufacturers in the development of the electric car — a viable prospect — Ford are now trying to catch up with driverless cars.

Whereas electric cars will require all sorts of other (attainable) research and development — laser radar sensors and long-life batteries, for example — self-driving cars depend essentially on a one-stop strategy — the successful development of error-free software, General Artificial Intelligence (GAI), that’s as versatile as the human sort. So far, this has been impossible.

It is the sudden flash of unexpected data which causes driverless cars to fail. On a motorway or a largely featureless countryside road with little data about them in the car’s computer memory such a data input can cause the car to make an inappropriate — indeed dangerous — decision sometimes.

In a city street with multiple visual points of reference already stored in the car’s computer memory, any unusual flash of new data can be immediately compared with a preponderance of pre-existing data. Thus a more ‘weighted’ relevant decision can be arrived at — rather as a committee usually takes wiser decisions than individuals.

Therefore, driverless cars could well be suitable within cities — driverless taxis or uber-cars, for example — but I can’t see them ever being popular for the daily commute from the suburbs or for freight traffic on a busy mororway.

Just about keeping the police in order

My Tory-biased morning newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, usually good for news — particularly for business news, which is why I buy it — is subject to a bit of self-censorship this morning.

In describing the death of Dalian Atkinson, a premier league soccer player of years ago, it reports that after some ttouble in the street a policemen had Tasered him he’d fallen to the ground. None of the police officers involved happened to be wearing their head-dress video cameras at the time. when they should have been, of course. All this was observed by several neighbourhood witnesses.

What the DT‘s account doesn’t mention is that Mr. Atkinson had then been kicked badly as he lay on the ground — his groans could be heard — according to one of the neighbours, Paula Quinn, albeit when appearing on BBC News. He died before arriving at hospital.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission are already investigating the case. Although it will likely find against the police — as it usually does in similar cases — it;s unlikely that the police officers concerned will be punished by their Chief Constable other than an admonishment in their records. In this way, the police are just about kept in order in this country.

Medals galore!

This country finds itself astonished, sitting second in the Gold Medal table of the Olympic Games. America, in first place with 26 gold medals, ought to have three times more on a population basis. China, in third place with the same number of gold medal as ourselves — 14 — ought to have 20 times more due to its immense population.

How has this happened? Answers include: 1. The Games are far from over yet. When all events are concluded, Britain will probably be a little further down the table; 2. Our success is probably a carry-over from the large government and lottery funds invested in athletic training prior to the 2012 London Games; 3. Statistical happenstance, rather like getting several heads in a row when tossing a coin.

But even those answers seem insufficient somehow. There’s also a background factor of culture — almost impossible to describe. Olympic gold medals are highly correlated with Nobel gold medals. It’s something to do with creativity — and, after all, almost all the sports in the Games were first developed in England in the 19th century whether by the social elite — e.g. skiing — or from the working class — e.g. soccer.

If it’s a matter of culture more than anything else then we in this country had better hang onto to its subtleties — whatever they may be. We’ll not need them so much for future Olympic gold medals but more for maintaining a high degree of innovation vis-a-vis our competitors in the advanced countries and thus continuing to be able to trade with China which is becoming a monopolistic manufacturer of all physical goods.

At least the social elite will survive

Arthur Cordell has sent me an article in the Wall Street Journal (11 August), “How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen”, by Peggy Noonan which makes the case that in the advanced countries a population separation is happening. This is no surprise to me — nor any regular readers of this website — because it’s a theme that I’m constantly discussing.

But the phenomenon is evidently a mystery to Peggy Noonan as the sub-heading of her article shows — “Those in power see people at the bottom as aliens whose bizarre emotions they must try to manage”. Nor does she attempt to discuss — or even to guess — why a population separation exists or what may happen to it in due course.

The separation used to caused by the ownership of land or not. Since the industrial revolution, it has been whether you are sufficiently educated or not. If you are, then you are able to join the new social elite which came along since 1785, when cotton spinning left the village home and went into the city factory as an automated machine.

And if you are a member of the social elite — which is a financial and investment elite also, of course — you will be remaining in charge of instituting yet more automation from year to year until almost all jobs done by the majority of the population requiring personal effort can disappear.

And what may happen to the present population divide? The majority part will continue in its present trend towards voluntary extinction as it has been for 50 years in Europe. The fertility rate is always subject to what parents design it to be — whether in hunter-gatherer or in modern times — so that the number of their children doesn’t compromise their own enjoyment of life.

So Peggy Noonan needn’t worry too much. The social elite part of the human species will survive — at least the 1785 economic shock when it’s fully played out.

Theresa May’s first mistake

Only a month since their appointment, two of our more prominent Ministers are into a turf war. Since it’s now resulted in a copy letter to Theresa May — and presumably leaked to the media — it would seem to be a more bitter dispute than usual requiring her judgement.

It’s between Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary and Liam Fox, Minister for International Trade — particularly of the larger repertoire of trade Britain will need when we leave the EU. Apparently there’s a bunch of economists within the Foreign Office and Fox wants them to transfer to his department. Johnson reuses to let them go. So there we are, Johnson and Fox are at each other’s throats just like a pair of rutting stags.

This power squabble is one of the many indulgences of Westminster politicians which angers the electorate. In this case, it’s not that ordinary people are unaware of personal ambition. There’s nothing wrong with it as such and, after all, most of the electorate spend up to the hilt on status goods in order to satisfy their own social aspirations. But politicians are elected precisely to be different — to carry out their promises to serve their constituents first and foremost — not to engage in personal feuds.

The Prime Minister will no doubt sort this out one way or another but she can’t afford to lose her own political capital by sacking both of them. But she should never have raised either of these two to ministerial positions from what has been clearly known of their personalities and past behaviour. Appointing them has been a mistake. How serious it might turn out to be in due course remains to be seen.

Gene-editing in the corridors of power

Every mother wants intelligent, healthy children. The technique by which this will be accomplished in future years is gene-editing. In addition, even though at a very early stage of development, gene-editing is already being used for treating several genetically-linked diseases that strike during childhood and at any time into middle life.

Indeed, it’s likely to become the greatest economic growth sector of any so far as the Biological Revolution supersedes the Industrial one before it. It is likely to become a major item in many consumers’ lifetime spending. Unlike the Industrial Revolution, the Biological one will have no consequences of widespread pollution, destruction of the natural environment and the extinction of thousands of animal species.

Since 1979, China has lifted itself up by its bootstraps by copying all available technologies of the West. You can’t blame the country for that. America did the same for European inventions in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, for the first time in the case of gene-editing, China has hauled itself right up to the leading edge of gene-editing research — and even applications on human foetuses.

Although normally regarded as more highly regulatory than the ‘liberal’ countries of the West, China’s culture is more ethically relaxed in the area of human gene-editing. There are some legal restrictions but not as many as in most European countries or America. In this regard, China and this country are almost on a par.

G Owen Schaefer, of the National University of Singapore has rung the tocsin in The Conversation web-site to spread the word more widely but you can be certain that, because of its economic implications, the topic of gene-editing and its future funding and development is being given serious consideration in the highest government circles in Europe and America.

Where will governments — and their people — go next?

An Olympic gold medal — the ultimate personal ornament — is not really made of gold — only gold-plated — and the Olympic Games is not really about sport — only commercial opportunism for some and sentimentalised nationalism for many. For governments that subsidise their athletes — and that’s pretty well all of them — the Olympic Games are proxy warfare.

However, shining through it all from many, if not most, young people are the good qualities which make them so attractive — enthusiasm, generosity and, usually, intensity of purpose which has enabled them to spend years in hard training to perfect their skills.

Young adults– as most of them are — also reflect a deep instinct of the human species — a great psychological need to meet and socialize in small groups. It is this instinctive quality that enables governments so easily to scale up the loyalty of small groups into full-blown nationalism.

Or at least young adults used to be manipulable — say at the time of the First World War in 1914 when millions of volunteers in several European countries went to war and died ‘for their country’. There were microscopically few volunteers when the Second World War came along in 1939.

Today, unless one’s country is actually being invaded, there are no volunteers and governments are even unable to recruit anywhere near enough full-time soldiers and sailors and pilots. The Sea Lords, for example, are dreadfully worried how they’re going to find the three thousand personnel required for the two colossal aircraft carriers.

Young people, as well as the Sea Lords, are fully aware that carriers are highly vulnerable to submarine attack no matter how well they try to protect the vessels electronically.

But returning to the Olympic Games, most young people today are nowhere as interested in active sport as they used to be. They’re not watching the Games on the television channels, but spend their time chatting with one another or playing video games on their smartphones.

The above applies to the young people in the approximate total population of 1 billion in the advanced countries. In the less advanced countries, smartphones are scarcer — at present! — but not scarce enough for them not to be aware of the huge gulf in the way of life of the advanced countries and their own.

They’re not watching the Olympic Games but wondering how to migrate to countries that have jobs or their families are saving up hard to pay traffickers. Just how the Games are going to change — or even die out — in future years is impossible to say.

The whole world situation is a problematique that’s far too complex for us to discern what may happen — still less for nation-state governments to imagine that the ‘certainties’ and institutions on which they presently rely can continue for much longer.

Democracy is Dead ! — Long Live Democracy !

Vote rigging has been going on in this country for many years in quite a number of local authority elections and even a few marginal (Labour) parliamentary seats. It came into being as one of the consequences of mass immigration at the bequest of employers of cheap labour during Tony Blair’s administration in the 1990s. Postal voting fraud by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis took place on a scale that was scarcely imagined previously.

From some of the unusual results in the country in recent elections, anybody with eyes to see knew what was going on but only in one or two flagrant cases — such as Tower Hamlets in London — was the Electoral Commission (EC) brought to bear on the problem.

Unfortunately, such was the pressure of political correctness — and coming down from a high level — that even the EC gave five-star ratings even to the worst cases and, many senior police officers were quietly prevented from prosecuting — “if you know what is good for your future career”.

Sir Eric Pickles, appointed by David Cameron some three years ago, yesterday delivered a hard-hitting report with 50 recommendations which seem to cover most of the weakness during election times.

The irony is that as the present one-person-one-vote system is being made procedurally perfect, it is unable to cope with a modern economy, increasingly fragmenting into a multitude of protective practices, each looking after their own interests — including politicians (of left and right) themselves. We need totally new methods of selecting governments.

Has cooking been necessary for our brains?

The following is a ScienceDaily precis of a paper originally written by a research team at Vanderbilt University and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Take little notice of the title. It is much more interesting — and surprising — later when it gets onto cooking.

Total number of neurons — not enlarged prefrontal region — hallmark of human brain

David Salisbury

A new scientific study puts the final nail in the coffin of a long-standing theory to explain human’s remarkable cognitive abilities: that human evolution involved the selective expansion of the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

It does so by determining that the prefrontal region of the brain which orchestrates abstract thinking, complex planning and decision making contains the same proportion of neurons and fills the same relative volume in non-human primates as it does in humans.

“People need to drop the idea that the human brain is exceptional,” said Vanderbilt University neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel, who directed the study. “Our brain is basically a primate brain. Because it is the largest primate brain, it does have one distinctive feature: It has the highest number of cortical neurons of any primate. Humans have 16 billion compared with 9 billion in gorillas and orangutans and six-to-seven billion in chimpanzees. It is remarkable, but it is not exceptional.”

In her popular science book The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable, Herculano-Houzel explains how human brains grew so large, even larger than the brains of gorillas and orangutans, whose bodies are larger than ours. Her answer is surprisingly simple. It is the invention of cooking.

Cooking allowed early humans to overcome the energetic barrier that limits the size of the brains of other primates, she has determined. However, when the human brains grew larger they maintained the basic structure of the primate brain, including the size of the prefrontal cortex, her latest study has found.

The comparison of the relative size of the prefrontal region in primate brains is described in a paper titled “No relative expansion of the number of prefrontal neurons in primate and human evolution” by Herculano-Houzel and postdoctoral fellow Mariana Gabi published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences early edition.

The researchers compared the brains of seven non-human primates of varying sizes — pig-tailed and crab-eating macaques, baboon, marmoset, galago, owl monkey and capuchin — with the human brain. They found that both the human and non-human primates devote about 8 percent of their neurons to the prefrontal region of the cortex.

In addition, they determined that volumes of human prefrontal gray and white matter match the expected volumes for the number of neurons and other cells in the white matter when compared to other primates.

Cooking allowed us to overcome an energetic barrier that restricts the size of the brains of other primates.””Our big brains are very costly. They use 25 percent of all the energy the body needs each day,” Herculano-Houzel said. “Cooking allowed us to overcome an energetic barrier that restricts the size of the brains of other primates.”

Take the case of the gorilla. It must spend at least eight hours per day foraging and eating to support its body and brain. The human brain is three times larger than that of the gorilla. If a gorilla had a brain the size of a human, it would have to spend an additional one and a half hours a day finding food.

So there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for the gorilla to support a bigger brain. Likewise, if humans ate like any other primate, we would have to spend nine and a half hours per day eating — every single day.

That’s where cooking comes in. “By cooking, I mean cutting, dicing, smashing-all types of food preparation,” Herculano-Houzel said. “Take a single carrot. If you eat it raw, it will take 10 to 15 minutes of vigorous chewing and your digestive system will only capture about one third of the calories. But, if you cut the carrot up and cook it for a few minutes, it takes only a few minutes to consume and your body gets 100 percent of the calories.”

The origin of cooking, as Herculano-Houzel defines it, dates back about 2.5 million years ago with the development of the first stone tools. Among other things, these stone tools were man’s first food processors, allowing our ancestors to slice and dice and mash their food. Evidence for the controlled use of fire appears about 400,000 years ago.

“Those early tool makers had brains about the same size as gorillas. But, beginning about 1.8 million years ago, the brains of our ancestors began growing steadily, tripling in size over the next 1.5 million years,” said Herculano-Houzel.

“It’s amazing that something we now take for granted, cooking, was such a transformational technology which gave us the big brains that have made us the only species to study ourselves and to generate knowledge that transcends what was observed first-hand; to tamper with itself, fixing imperfections with the likes of glasses, implants and surgery and thus changing the odds of natural selection; and to modify its environment so extensively (for better and for worse), extending its habitat to improbable locations.”

Two demagogues with a spark of truth in each

The Labour Party in England and the Republican Party in America are both in a state of confusion. One is led by a demagogue by accident, the other by a demagogue by conviction, but both largely the result of negligence by their respective political parties.

Strangely, although Jeremey Corbyn and Donald Trump are both replete with ideas of the last century but one — albeit opposite ones! — they have both talked of policies which are relevant today but ignored even by the Great and the Good of both of their parties.

Corbyn speaks of the plight of the poor. But perhaps not the poor so much as the plight of children who are born into poor families. Their chances of fulfilling their abilities and rising to whatever social level they deserve — social mobility — are worse today than they were a hundred years ago. And the more that automation proceeds, the more their fate will be compounded as the middling-paid jobs continue to be hollowed out.

Trump speaks of a necessary make-over of the tax system, but also of the monetary chaos by which currency exchanges stagger on in fits and starts and from which vast debts build up in the advanced governments of the world, such as America, while other governments, such as China — with at least one of its ‘pupils’, Vietnam — accrue surpluses.

The quiet sun may cause global cooling, says Valentina Zharkova

“Recent research by Professor Valentina Zharkova and colleagues at Northumbria University has shed new light on the inner workings of the Sun. If correct, this new discovery means that future solar cycles and variations in the Sun’s activity can be predicted more accurately.

“The research suggests that the next three solar cycles will see solar activity reduce significantly into the middle of the century, producing conditions similar to those last seen in the 1700s – during the Maunder Minimum. [KH — When the River Thames use to freeze over every winter sufficient to bear the weight of horses and showground equipment.]

“This may have implications for temperatures here on Earth. Future solar cycles will serve as a test of the astrophysicists’ work, but some climate scientists have not welcomed the research and even tried to suppress the new findings.” (Global Warming Policy Forum, 9 August 2016)

*****
“Some [critics] were welcoming and discussing. But some of them were quite — I would say — pushy. They were trying to actually silence us. Some of them contacted the Royal Astronomical Society, demanding, behind our back, that they withdraw our press release. The Royal Astronomical Society replied to them and said, ‘Look, this is the work by the scientists who we support, please discuss this with them.’ ” (Professor Valentina Zharkova, 9 August 2016) [KH —Prof Zharkova is, in fact, highly regarded by the RAS and has alreaey recived one of its top research awards.]

******
“The sun is in good shape and has a ‘healthy heartbeat’ which will last at least another five billion years, says Prof Valentina Zharkova, of Northumbria University. Professor Zharkova says this regular heartbeat of the sun is subject to predictable fluctuations of its magnetic field, and over the next few years as it enters a lull temperatures, here on earth, will plummet.

“Prof Zharkova says her research is ‘the first serious prediction of a reduction of solar activity and an upcoming Maunder Minimum that might affect human lives’. Her predictions fly in the face of much of what is being said and written about global temperatures.

“Prof Zharkova says: “When it comes to controlling the earth’s temperature, the sun trumps the work of mankind infinitesimally.” She added: “How this reduction of temperature will be partially offset by global warming and increasing temperatures caused by the technological progress of human civilization remains to be seen.” ” — Peter McCusker, Newcastle Chronicle, 13 July 2016

Avoiding an even bigger governmental mess

There’s a huge difference between what the typical English working person wanted 100 years ago and now. It was limited then, it is limitless now. A century ago, he or she wanted the status goods — house, car, furnishings, good clothes, ornaments, holidays that, previously, only royalty and the aristocracy could afford.

Everybody spent as much as they could possibly afford on these in order to claim his role within the social group in which he worked or found comfortable in his leisure hours.

By about 1990, there were no more status goods left. What remained, however, were those goods on which the individual depended even more fundamentally than status goods for his rank order in society. Indeed, society as a whole utterly depended on them. These are education and health. Neither of these could be mass produced at various appropriate price levels according to the different social classes.

But today, since the Biological Revolution in 1953 — the demonstration of the structure of DNA — thus overlapping with the decline of the Industrial revolution — the life sciences have already taken as great leaps forward in the 21st century as the physical sciences did in the 20th century.

And, another difference between now and then, is that, today, due to the Internet, everybody in the advanced countries is fully aware of what could be available by way of superb education and health care — if only the politics could be got right.

There are no limits in these consumer demands. Unless governments and their attendant politicians learn to define their functions much more carefully in the coming years — avoid what they shouldn’t be doing and attend that which they should be doing more of — then they and their electorates are going to get into an even bigger mess than they are already in.

Reaching limits

“Losing its oomph !” (7 August) produced an interesting exchange between Steven Kurtz and Atanu Dey. I was tempted to get involved but it will be better for them to continue — if they want — between themselves.

Just as we are a pecking-order species at social levels so we are at national levels and, in particular, at innovation levels. According to Isaac Newton’s observation, genius — that is, leading edge scientific research these days — stands on the shoulders of these before them — in that particular culture.

Discoveries — the greatest ones usually being serendipitous — and subsequent innovation doesn’t arise anywhere on earth, only in those cultures that are already ahead and prepared for the next step forward.

This is where so many economists have got it completely wrong. Get all the main political institutions right, like those in the advanced countries — so-called democracy being the main one mentioned — and limitless economic growth is sure to follow. This is not so, as the history of so many countries in the post-war years have shown us.

Countries can get so far along ‘economic development’ — usually just by copying — but then become trapped because they have no innovations of their own to follow up.

A double reason to remove Trump

On ZeroHedge today we have the following item — “As the presidential campaign enters its final stages, probing questions have emerged about the health condition of Hillary Clinton.

“Hillary’s bizarre, erratic behavior on the campaign trail (culminating with last week’s perplexing “short-circuit” comment) has left many wondering whether she is seriously ill. Hillary has at multiple times had convulsions that appear to be seizures on camera, including a series of seemingly inexplicable coughing fits.”

It would not be surprising if Hilary Clinton’s health starts to fail during the presidential campaign. After all, she’s 69 and no other candidate in American history has put so much effort into being elected. Also, even though her vote will probably hold up well — and above Trump’s — her low popularity rating must be psychologically debilitating when she’s given the most professional performances over the years.

But what if her health fails completely between now and November? Trump will then be a walk-in. There are rumours already that Trump must somehow be ditched. Hillary’s health doubles the reason why the Republicans will have to ct quickly if they’re going to act at all.

Why America doesn’t need Donald Trump

Because we are constantly evolving — that is, adapting to new circumstances — geneticists are able to backtrack along the DNAs in the bones of dead people in the past and find out the approximate dates when we acquired new variations, or mutations, in our genes. Thus, for example, we in Europe are now able to say when milk-intolerant hunter-gatherers began to be dominated by milk-tolerant farmers migrating from the Middle East some 40,000 years ago and then, a few thousand years later, by a wave of migrants from central Asia.

Genes, however, are only a small part of our DNA. Each of our 23 chromosomes can therefore be likened to a piece of string about two miles long with knots, representing genes, every metre or two. The material in between the genes was, until recently, called “junk DNA” because it was thought to be of no importance. It is, however, also evolving and, as there is about 50 times more of it than the DNA of genes themselves, then it is recently being able to give us more accurate datings when different human races coalesced.

Thus, in the coming years, each one of us will be able to trace our individual history back to even quite small groups once they had migrated out of Africa about 60,000 years go and migrated all over the world. We’ll also begin to understand why some mutations — but not others — became permanent additions to our genes according to quite different circumstances humans had to adapt to in different parts of the world.

The most important mutations of all are those which lead to more intelligence. This has applied all the way through our ancestry and, given the increasingly skilled specialisations necessary for survival today — individually and cultural — more than ever. High intelligence depends not so much on specific genes — there are far too many of them — but on reducing the number of deleterious genes that we also have in our DNA.

So far this is achieved for a small number of people by IVF treatment but in the last year or two a brand new technique — gene-editing — has come on the scene whereby precise segments of harmful material can be chopped out of an individual’s DNA and replaced with healthy gene variations.

For the first time since China entered the world trading market in 1979, the Chinese are now at the forefront of scientific research in one area. This is gene-editing. Editing one’s own and one’s children’s genes could be the greatest consumer growth market there has been so for.

If the Republican Party in America wants to follow Donald Trump’s policy of isolating China with prohibitively high tariffs then it will be even more idiotic than not having excluded him as a candidate in the first place — an opportunity that the Founding Fathers of America gave them when the Constitution was carefully framed.

Will the Olympic Games last forever?

Today, Russian athletes hoping to take part in the Rio 2016 Paralympics have been banned following the doping scandal in Russia. It’ll be tough on those — a small minority? — most of them? — who haven’t been taking drugs, but it will be a strong message to ordinary Russians that normal feelings about fair play are still important in the outside world.

This is in complete contrast to the confused way that the International Olympic Committee dealt with the non-handicapped athletes. Yes, the track and field competitors remain outlawed, but all the rest were allowed back in again whatever their past records.

It’s really an unintended confession that doping will never be fully wiped out for reasons of either individual earnings for top performers or national pride. Or will the great jamboree fall out of favour first? It is certainly very curious that, apart from the small minority who actually take part, most young people seem to be increasingly indifferent to sport.

Losing its oomph !

Even the New York Times is now waking up, it would seem. More exactly perhaps, identifying the dilemma of the economic doldrums sweeping right across the advanced countries of the world. In a thorough going article, “We’re in a low-growth world. How did we get here?”, it even hints that it may supply a solution. But then, at the end, it doesn’t, with a penultimate sentence ” . . . there’s a lot we don’t know about the economic future”. You can’t get lamer than that!

The author has evidently not been reading this blog! Had he or she done so then it would have dawned that, once the average person is able to possess all the goods and enjoy all the services that only royalty could in times past, then there are no more status items to save and work hard for. The industrial revolution lost its oomph at around 1990.

Getting a move on with shale gas

It astonishes me that the Green Party, which is against additional man-made carbon dioxide, should also be against the fracking of shale gas. Gas-fired power stations produce electricity with half the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide as a by-product than either oil- or coal-fired power stations.

That being so, our national strategy ought to be to tap into the tremendous shale rock resources that lie beneath our feet as soon as possible. Given that greater recovery rates are being developed constantly, that a site with multiple wells need only take up two or three acres, and that our birth rate will continue to decline for a considerable time yet — due to shortage of well-paid jobs for everyone — then we should have at least 200 or 300 years’ supply of energy, or even longer, ahead of us with atmospheric carbon dioxide on a downward trend..

That being so, the payment of additional bribes to local home dwellers of proposed sites is an unfortunate, but reasonable, cost to bear, in order to get the new industry started without years more of delay.

Getting the Isle of Wight on its feet

David Hoare, the Chairman of Ofsted (the UK schools inspection agency) was shopped by a fellow dinner guest as describing the Isle of Wight — situated just off the southern coast — as: ” . . . an inbred poor white ghetto.” .

He apologised later. He hadn’t said the words in public. He describes his job as “Fantastic. I love what I’m doing;”. And, with a population of 140,000 there’s no chance of inbreeding so he couldn’t have meant it strictly. He meant it as a joke, probably . . . after a glass or two of wine.

But unfortunately, with the Isle of Wight’s highly talented young people each generation tending to leave. the island is highly likely to be culturally inbred. With high unemployment, thus not being able to attract talented young people, in turn, from the mainland, then its ideas will tend to fossilize. Undoubtedly, this is why its local authority batch of state secondary schools is the second worst n the country, and the third worst at primary school level.

There’s no hope for the Isle of Wight’s children until, somehow, some highly talented teachers can be attracted there. Why doesn’t our Minister for Education do for the Isle of Wight what Deng Xiaoping did for China in 1979 when reviving the country? Establish some Free Enterprise zones where there’s no possible interference from the UK’s Education Department in Whitehall.

It’s all to do with testosterone

The latest farce to hit the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry — as serious an investigation as can be imagined — is the resignation of its third chairman within two years. The first was retired judge Butler-Sloss in July 2014, the second was City lawyer Fiona Woolf in august 2014 and the latest one, as of yesterday, is Dame Lowell Goddard, a former judge in New Zealand.

The first two resigned after an outcry from the victims that they were too closely related to the social elite. Because the upper classes are as much implicated in sexual abuse of children quite as much as — if not more than — the ordinary male then the civil service had to look for a third candidate quite outside the British social system. The search was successful, but Dame Goddard has now suddenly resigned — without giving three months’ notice, which her contract obliged her to.

Nobody yet knows why. Perhaps she wasn’t up to a ferociously detailed job — as some are claiming — perhaps she was, simply, lonely, not yet having had the time to find a new social circle in this country. Anyhow, because she had been spending months away in Australia — some say with relatives and friends — this caused the most recent outcry.

Victims, who have been waiting for years to have their cases, and their abusers, made public, are now suggesting that there are several who would make excellent chairmen — that is, not frightened of questioning upper class individuals when necessary.

And this will be necessary from time to time because, physiologically, the more socially and politically powerful an individual is the more that testosterone naturally — automatically — flows in his blood stream. And we know where that leads.

Until the next currency collapse

The announcement today, by dropping the Bank of England’s basic rate from 05% to 0.25% the UK government — Theresa May’s brand new Cabinet and the Treasury Department — means that they must be really worried that the economy is about to nosedive. The BoE has also been told to do what all the main currency blocs — China, Japan, America and the European Union — are doing . . . more Quantitative Easing. And then there’s an extra dodge of our own — a scheme to force the banks to pass on lower interest rates to households and businesses.

All this is — again — kicking the can down the road. It’s avoiding at all costs the continuation of a mild deflation which could have brought about the healthy bankruptcy of insolvent businesses all by itself in due course. It’s also avoiding the physical separation of the four big high street banks into say, a dozen or more regional banks as well as avoiding hiving off their speculative trading into true investment banks.

So on we go — plunging ahead into the mist of not bringing about a stable world trading currency and thus allowing the present massive imbalances of debt between countries and within them, to build up further. Until the next currency collapse.

A pantomime with a cast of 800

When David Cameron became Prime Minister six years ago, when the House of Lords had approaching 700 members, he said would reform the House of Lords — something people have been crying out for years — and, in particular, reduce the numbers substantially. Some suggested 250, nobody thought there should be more than 500.

Today there are 798 Lords of the Realm. In his retirement list of nominations Cameron is proposing another 40! Will this pantomime never end? This country is becoming more ceremonial and more ridiculous with every passing year.

Do universities have a future?

Every year hundreds of thousands of university students build up stupendous personal debts for tuition fees and accommodation because they — and their parents — were brainwashed into believing that, once they had their degree, they would easily be able to pay them back because they would earn substantially more for the rest of their lives.

According to Margaret Hodge, Minister for Higher Education, in 2002, the typical degree would yield a return of £400,000 in additional earnings over a lifetime. It was obvious within a few years that this was wildly wrong. In an effort to justify the original figure in 2013, the successor department, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) investigated the matter in 2013 arrived at an average premium of just £168,000 for men and £252,000 for women.

A more independent analysis carried out by the Institute for Economic Affairs came to the view that although the £400,000 premium might well be earned by medical and dentistry graduates everybody else’s was a long way under — and some were even negative! In short, in many jobs — even so-called ‘professions’ — graduates would be worse off over a lifetime than those who had never been to university.

So . . . what’s to be done? Two things can be said for certain. One is that a future government is going to have to stop treating universities as degree mills. The other is that universities are going to have to change their reason for existence and their way of doing things out of all recognition if they want to survive.

The laws of physics have reminded us — let’s get used to it

Is 8,000 years a long enough period in which emperors, kings and aristocrats could have discovered all the goods and services that are capable of being used and enjoyed?

If so, then the typical middle-class person in one of the dozen advanced countries can’t reasonably expect any more new goods and services. If so, he now has as settled and as idiosyncratic way of life in an urban or suburban environment as Inuits in their igloos living above the Arctic Circle or the hunter-gatherer Sans in the Kalahari Desert.

If so, the industrial revolution must now be considered as having spluttered to its end. It never could have been extended to all 200 of the countries of the world without the injection of at least four or five times the energy that is presently being injected — whether from fossil fuels or renewables.

The industrial revolution was already spluttering to its end in the 1980s when the financial sector pushed forward all manner of new forms of credit to get people in the advanced countries to consumer all the more. The attempt failed and economists have been ‘rewarded’ ever since by the 2008 Crisis — from which they have no solution of robust economic revival.

It was, if you like, a reminder by the laws of physics that unless you can magnify enormously the amount of energy going into the economic system then it has to stabilize some time at some level.

Is Theresa May playing hardball?

Yesterday’s cancellation of the signing ceremony for the official start of the building of the mammoth Hinkley Point nuclear reactor is astonishing to say the least. Despite years of planning and negotiations between EDF (the pride of the French government), a Chinese multinational (supplying part of the investment) and the UK government, a great preliminary fanfare had already been made of the ceremony at which senior ministers of all three countries would have been attending and signing.

And suddenly it’s all off until the autumn while the government consider the matter again! Is this because the government now have technical doubts about the design of the reactor? It could be. Or is it because it’s a slap in the face of the French who’ve been altogether too jubilant recently about what a hard time some of their civil servants are going to give us when Brexit negotiations start?

Advanced governments’ desperation

The only thing I found remotely interesting about the latest G20 Financial Summit was the triple-ranked group photo. There were 17 Finance Ministers sitting on draped chairs in the front row. Evidently, 3 of them were indisposed or had some sort of financial emergency in their own country.

Standing behind them was a second row of 18 — central bank governors presumably. But who comprised the third row of 20 individuals standing on a raised ledge behind? They had to be senior civil servants — probably top people in their respective Treasury Departments.

In terms of formal political prestige, the three rows ranked downwards when proceeding from the politicians at the bottom to the individuals at the top. However, in terms of Realpolitik, then, if the governments of the 20 countries are anything like the US and the UK, you can be sure that pragmatic manipulative power in the first two rows is less than among those along the top row.

The original intention of the Summit was, in the words of one newspaper — “to stimulate a new era of innovative economic growth”. But what did the Summit decide? Certainly the date of the next Summit. Stimulating growth? Hardly.

Besides, if there were a method of getting hooked onto a growth path again you can be certain that the country that discovered it would not be sharing it at a meeting with potential competitors. It would get on with it as fast as it could in order to establish an advantage before the others catch on

The only possible reason for the G20 Summits to be held at all — and the inevitable group photos — is that governments of 20 countries are trying to convince their electorates that they are conscientiously trying to do their best. Individually, they all know that they are baffled.

More to the point, advanced governments are becoming pretty desperate, not yet able to face the possibility of having to explain to their electorates that the industrial revolution as we have known is largely over and done with and that a totally different era is gradually taking shape.

Reading and writing will still matter

The current fashion on news web sites is lashings of colour photos and little text. Websites are going through the same change that print went through 70 years ago. Just because colour photos have now become cheap and easy to display then we should have as many of them as possible — let words go hang.

The fashion will go, but only when the news media get a better hang of the wider market — that is, when, finally, sales of newspapers stop declining and stabilise. That is, when it is fully recognized that what is actually happening in the advanced countries is an increasingly deep division between the majority of dumbed down jobs — in which people have little need to read and write at all — certainly not to write — and a minority of increasingly specialised jobs for which precise reading and writing is more important than ever.

Money is horses for courses

Since my posting, “Pot calling the kettle black” (26 July), Lawry de Bivort sees the question “as one of a general existential struggle between governments/nations and globalized corporations.” He then asks three questions “Which will prove more valuable? Which more fair [to individuals]? Which more safe?

I thought much the same a couple of years ago when I first began to write about the increasing mutual wariness between government and big business (except when personal corruption of politicians is concerned !), but I’m less sure now. Yes, there is certainly fierce competition between businesses that make the same product and, Yes, there is even more fierce competition between governments from time to time.

The latter is fiercer because it involves the instinctive territorial protection of one’s own culture. It causes demonization of the enemy and ‘justifies’ all sorts of emotions and brutal behaviour. In the former case it is a purely rational contest — and there’s always a cool-headed objective observer who will decide the outcome — the customer.

But as to warfare between business and governments I am no longer so sure. I think there are going to be many spats between them. Because each side is powerful in its own way then they don’t last long. For example, we recently had a major spat between the proncipal smartphone manufacturers — Microsoft, Google and Apple — and the US and UK governments as to whether the latter should be able to dip into e-mails whenever they want and insist on them being de-encrypted.

Both governments lost early on in legal proceedings, America in the courts, the UK in its inability to draft exactly the right legislation that wouldn’t also damage individual privacy. I suspect, however, that some quiet compromise has been reached when it comes to the possible de-encryption of suspected terrorists’ e-mail — although terrorists can always add encryption of their own, thus evading both the makers of smartphones and governments and really making an ass of the latter.

There are, of course, all sorts of tax evasion spats between big business and governments but these are relatively minor compared with one major spat that’s on the cards and which I described in my previous posting today, “Business taking the decisive step — again!” This is something that’s definitely going to happen in my view. And big business will certainly win this one.

At the end of the day, money is about a device that is convenient for business and customers. Money can only be augmented when any particular economy gains a higher — more interesting — standard of living. Governments should simply not be involved with the production of money in any way and need only tax it for necessary purposes. It’s horses for courses really.

Business taking the decisive step — again!

Ask 1,000 people where do they think money comes from and 999 will reply “government”. This is an indication of just how how confused most politicians, economists and central bankers are about money and its origins.

The earliest two sorts of coins both arose independently at around 900BC, both invented by single-sail sea merchants on short hauls trade — during good weather! — along the coastline — the Mediterranean in the case of Greek merchants and the long single coastline of China.

In bartering goods-for-goods both of them had a need from time to time of leaving a balance of goods of highly-concentrated value — coins — with the counter-party after bartering goods that didn’t quite match up in value. The coins had high value because they could also be melted down and used for other purposes if necessary — gold for status ornaments, bronze for arrow-heads, etc.

Since the 2008 Crisis, many of the largest high street banks in the free world are a little safer than they were then but the total amount of debt is greater than ever and the whole world’s negative balance of trade — an impossibility in any sane monetary world — is greater than ever before. No wonder that four of the world most experienced central bankers believe that a far worse catastrophe than 2008 lies ahead of us.

Come the next catastrophe, the leading Western governments will not be able to print money as they did in 2008 because they’re already deeply in debt. If they printed any more. it would then be both a farce and mass hyperinflation in all countries in the free world.

This is when, I believe, business will re-invent money. Why should their business future and the world economy be subject to the unstable monetary world as devised by governments? Given the software talent and experience that already exists, a digital currency could be devised almost overnight.

So long as it was backed up by something of value — say, X grams of gold, or a kilowatt-hour, or the cost of a daily nutritious diet — and a totally transparent ledger maintained from day one — then we could have an entirely stable world currency radiating downwards to almost everywhere that presently uses money within a week or two.

The missing ingredients in creativity

Every year in this country we spend a day in self-abasement when the results of the OECD’s International Maths and Science Test of schoolchildren is published. We find that Britain is anything from 15th to 30th on the list. Surely, we say to ourselves — or our newspaper editorials do — we should be somewhere near the top! Instead, a bunch of Asian countries dominate the list. If, in one particular year, we happened to have slipped down the league table from the previous year, we chastise ourselves even more than usual.

But it’s as well to reflect on the whole list of the 76 countries that have taken part. And then to look at the marks obtained in the maximum score of 600. And then to work out some percentages to get a much more balanced view of the whole show. The latest results published in May this year show Singapore at the top of the list, closely followed by Hong Kong and China, with 95% of maximum marks. The highest European countries are Finland (7th), Estonia (8th) and Switzerland (9th) all with 90% of full marks.

But what about Britain and Germany? They happen to be the most prolific countries in the world regarding numbers of Nobel prizes in science and the Field medal in maths. On a population basis, they are more than five times more creative than America, number three in the prizes games. They are, respectively, 13th and 19th in the OECD list with 88% and 85% of full marks compared with America, 29th in the list with 82%.

The question is — Should rich British, German and American parents be sending their schoolchildren and college students to Singapore, Hong Kong and China? Or should those of the latter countries be sending their children to ours? It’s a no-brainer, of course. Creativity is something to do with lateral thinking, relaxation and all sorts of other cultural subtleties which are clearly missing in authoritarian regimes.

The lost opportunity for sport

So the International Olympic Committee, which had the chance of banning the whole Russian team — additional to track and field eventers — from taking part in the Rio Olympics, lost its bottle. By leaving the decision to each sport’s Federation, athletes from other countries can never be sure whether any Russians they’ll be competing with are doped or not

It’s been a bad decision which probably means that there’ll be no chance of drug-free international sports events from now onwards.  Also, never mind the longer term dangers that drugs impose on the individual health of the athletes themselves, it is much more seriously part of the continuing exploitation of sport as a spectator-heavy business with far wider health penalties for all concerned.

The big lie about Tibet

One of the greatest lies ever sprung by Western politicians on their credulous electorates — and still widely believed — is that the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 was an illegal and brutal effort.

How legal or illegal the Chinese occupation was, who can say? International law is a very elastic thing, and, as for domestic ownerships, it’s usually the case that possession is nine-tenths of the law. How brutal or relatively unbrutal the invasion was will probably never be known for a considerable time until private accounts start coming into light.

But one thing for certain is that, in 1949, Tibet was a deeply feudal society in which most of its people were serfs. It was, in fact, very similar to Tudor England where about one third of the productive land was owned by church and monasteries and two-thirds by no more than about 200 aristocratic families. In Tibet’s case there were no churches, of course, only monasteries, and the other land owners were about a score of aristocrats.

We can be reasonably certain that the average Tibetan today is a great deal happier than his grandparents were and if there’s any call for national independence — which is highly likely in due course — it will come under the aegis of a well-educated Tibetan middle-class, not the Dalai Lama and his Buddhist abbots.

Pot calling the kettle black

How ironic it is that, after years of Western politicians — mainly Americans, but with British not far behind — telling Chinese politicians how to run their affairs, we find that government after government in the advanced countries are being told by intelligent observers in academia and the media that their governments are “broken”.

“Broken” is rather strong language but we understand what is meant and, as far as we can see, what with Donald Trump being a Presidential candidate, the decision to leave the EU by Britain, chaos reigning in one party or another in all advanced countries and growing scepticism by their electorates, the description is not far off. If it’s not far off now, it soon will be unless politicians and their advisors, economists, can’t pull something out of the bag.

“A bright hi-tech future” is what William Hague, sometime leader of the Tories, calls it in an article in today’s Daily Telegraph. We now have more innovations than ever before. All we have to do, for this country to rise like the Phoenix, he reckons, is to be more thoroughly enterprising than ever before.

He’s quite right in his assumption. We — in the advanced countries because of our monopolisation of scientific research — certainly do have more innovations than than ever before. But where are the innovative consumer goods of any ‘weight’, such as a house, a car, a television set? Which one — or two or three — will William Hague select for enterprise?

He hasn’t a clue. Neither can any of the top dozen or so of the major multinational corporations. They would give billions — tens of billions — for the merest glimpse of anything that is uniquely new. All that we have today on the drawing board are refinements of what was invented 100 years ago.

We’ll bave masses of innovations and their applications but they’ll be in the producer and infrastructure fields, not brand new consumer goods. We already have enough of those to occupy our leisure. Also the investments required will be so increasingly expensive that only governments or ad hoc associations betweeen them — will be able to afford them.

We’re moving into a totally new era of robotized jobs and informational services. Instead of politicians telling the Chinese — or us — what they’d like us to be doing, perhaps they’d better start reforming their own systems and make them more relevent to the needs of their electorates.

Why families become smaller

In a recent study of whether religious parents tend to produce more children than the average, and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, it was found to be true. This study depended on data from 3.6 million women of various faiths in 32 countries.

The authors of the study speculate that the reason for this might include (a) greater marital happiness and stability; (b) a lower likelihood of using contraception; and (c) a greater likelihood of holding traditional views of marriage and childbearing.

Because data for (a) and (b) were not known for the 3.6 million women then they must remain speculative or, at best, only by-products of (c) which is really a catch-all and is only another way of saying that “traditional views of marriage and childbearing” belong to the past — that is, to the agricultural era before urbanisation.

And, of course, all parents in an agricultural society — usually without state, or even local, welfare in old age — have got to produce more than merely a replacement number of two children per family in order to ensure that there’ll be enough children to look after them when they become too old to look after themselves.

The one exception that the researchers discovered does, in fact, prove the rule about agricultural culture being the basic reason. This was of Brazilian women, almost all of whom are Roman Catholics — the faith in which large families are greatly encouraged — who turn out to have small families.

These are on the cusp of rapidly changing from an agricultural society to that of being an urban one. Whether the parents are living in poverty in a favella or not, very many second and third children are simply not conceived for the sake of being able to afford a television set and a washing machine.

Always a danger

The Munich mass murderer turned out to be nothing to do with fanatical Islam at all but fell into the all too frequent pattern of being a lonesome male, usually young, though not always when we remember the massacre in Scotland in 1996 when Thomas Hamilton, 43, killed sixteen children and one teacher at Dunblane Primary School near Stirling.

The Islamic State terror movement is probably on its way out now, having been largely routed in Syria and hopefully in Libya, too. It will have a few isolated reverberating echoes in Europe and elsewhere for a year or two yet and, of course, its basic reason for existence — Sunniism versus Shiaism — will continue full blast in Iraq for some considerable time yet but, by and large, Isil will have been a passing historical phenomenon.

Not so, massacres by young male loners. Products of inappropriate childhoods, or having been bullied, or having a genetic mental handicap, they are individuals who never quite made the usual sorts of friendships in adolescence that most people do. Unable to socialize in the increasingly individualistic modern world without long term birth communities in which their personalities can be recognized and modified in time, a small percentage of male loners are always going to be a danger.

Ban the Russian government

By all means, let the International Olympic Committee ban the entire Russian team from the Rio Olympics. But not because most of their athletes will have been on performance enhancing drugs. This will never be entirely eradicated in the case of a few dishonest athletes while there are huge prizes for sportspersons. Ban the Russians because their whole government has obviously been implicated in deception against most of the athletes of the free world.
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“All’s fair in love and war” is acceptable enough. But a ban would reassure ordinary Russian people that the instinct for fair play has not entirely been smothered elsewhere in the world even though it must be in short supply in their country.

An Anglo-French absurdity

Scores of thousands of British holidaymakers and thousands of .lorries are now stuck in a traffic jam which is 11 lanes wide at the port of Dover and 3 lanes wide stretching for many miles into Kent. Some were stuck all Friday might and didn’t get onto the ferries until later yesterday. Many won’t get away until later today and many not until Monday. Many are stuck with young children in the car and all are short of food and water.

Supposedly, the cause is the terror alert in Europe. But why should this mean that French customs officials are only servicing one lane at a time? It’s also the peak holiday season for the Brits. Is not this the best time to make a pay claim? Then again it could be revenge by French trade unions for this country voting to leave the EU. Or could it be pique by President Hollande because our new Prime Minister, Theresa May, made her introduction to Angela Merkel before him?

At all events, no-one seems capable to resolving this absurd situation.  Not even our Mrs. Thatcher 2.  We used to fight wars for far less provocation than this — particularly with the French

Letter to The Economist

“You write in your editorial (“Breakthroughs and brickbats”, 23 July) that ” . . . [economists] should study instability instead of assuming that economies naturally self-correct.” Yes, there are instabilities in the world economy. We’ve just experienced one — the 2008 Crisis. But this is due to a Third Body — the financial system — which is strictly extraneous to the essential one — producers negotiating with consumers.  In the case of economics, however, the Third Body is more subject to instability than the main narrative.

“Focussing on suppliers and buyers, they operate in a physical system which, like all such systems, is subject to the laws of physics and, in particular, the laws of thermodynamics and the principle of least intrinsic effort (or maximum energy dispersal or entropy).

“Given a fairly constant injection of energy into the economic system from year to year, then the principle of least effort has it that the system will always hunt towards its most efficient state. This applies from the level of the sub-atomic electron and upwards. If it’s impeded from time to time by adverse economic decisions such as QE — themselves the products of the physical systems of the human brain — then stabilisation will take longer. Nevertheless, the hunt to maximal efficiency will resume. Neoclassical economics is right after all.”

Destroying justice

In this week’s first Leader, the Economist considers –like mosf everybody else — that the recent bloody fracas in Turkey was a failed military coup.  I disagree.  I think it was a highly successful hoax which allowed Erdogan to plunge mush further backwards into power-Islam than by the normal drift that has been going on for the last year or two.

I agree with the Economist , however, in saying that Erdogan is now destroying the very democracy which he says he protected when defeating the coup.

Even nore important than democracy, however, is that, in arresting 2,300 judges, Erdogan seems to have also destroyed whatever semblance of justice the country might have had before last week.