Raise your glass to Karma-Cola!

If I remember correctly, I’ve only drunk a coke twice in my life.  Nevertheless, I’ve often  been intrigued about Coca-Cola.  Why the mystery about its formula?  How is it, with such a popular drink all round the world, that another rival, apart from Pepsi-Cola, has not entered the scene to share in what must be massive profits?

A small item in my newspaper today telling me of Karma-Cola gave me a prompt to satisfy my queries — the first of them anyway.  In brief, the mystery about its formula stems from its early beginnings in the 1890s when it was a highly addictive drink, containing both cocaine, obtained from the coca leaf, and caffeine from the Kola nut. The American government clamped down on the use of coca in 1904.  Coca-Cola now uses coca leaves bought from a highly regulated company, the Stepan Company, which extracts the cocaine which it then sells to pharmaceutical companies for some of their (highly regulated) products.

As to the caffeine — still mildly habit-forming — attempts were made to prevent Coca-Cola using the cola nut also. This was finally cleared by the government so long as its concentration is printed on the bottle label.  As I don’t have a bottle of coke handy, I can’t confirm this — at least on coke sold in this country.

As to the second question, Coca=Cola outsells Pepsi-Cola 40:30 in America but probably 40:20 in the rest of the world.  So where does Karma-Cola, a new Fairtrade producer, come into this?  It is challenging the two other Colas with a drink made from organic products only.  It prints all its formula on the bottle (cola nuts, vanilla, roast barley malt, coriander, nutmeg and lime essence). It sends 3p on every bottle sold back to small cola farmers in Sierra Leone and, so far, they’ve donated £75,000..

Karma-Cola’s Simon Coley and his co-founder decided that there’s a sufficiently sizeable Fairtrade market in the UK to give a large enough baseline from which to launch a challenge.  Good luck to them!

Giving some real chances to the young of the North

Jim O’Neill, when retiring to his homeland after many years as chairman at Goldman Sachs, decided to take a stand at the large economic gulf that exists between the cities of the north of England and the south, particularly London, of course, which is prospering. Initially he headed an enquiry as to the causes and what might be done to alleviate the situation.  He came up with the idea of the Powerhouse of the North to be assisted mainly with infrastructural changes, mainly improved transport..

George Osborne, the Chancellor, followed this up with promises of big grants to the northern cities so long as they carried out many taxation changes and also petty ones such as people voting for the mayors of the larger cities so that, hopefully, more dynamism could be injected.

Dr Madsen Pirie, founder of the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) has followed up this further with special reference to the jobless young who are steadily accumulating. He’s come up with the idea of Charter Cities, particularly in the north, which would have additional benefits from London so long as they gave additional benefits to the young, such as relief from some taxes.

I liked his ideas but I thought that not enough attention is sill not being paid to the young — and, in particular, the brightest of the young who  normally make a bee-line for London if they have more than usual enterprise and vitality.  So I wrote a comment to Sr Pirie’s post on the ASI blog as follows:

I much like this idea.  On the evidence that by far the most significant ideas == in the arts, sciences or business — occur to individuals under the age of 30 (for males, 25 for females) — by which time their frontal lobes are fairly fully developed — then there’s little hope for a Powerhouse of the North unless the Charter Cities concentrate hard on retaining, or attracting, the brightest young people.

All good ideas originate in one mind only (even though, as Newton said, they may stand on the shoulders of others beforehand). Yet the vast majority of good ideas fall by the wayside — usually immediately — because the innovator doesn’t have any friends or contacts who would take the idea seriously. While venture capitalists reject most proposals that are put to them for intuitive reasons, they also reject many ideas that they think are first class.  These ideas perish because the innovator also doesn’t supply a team who are already committed to the idea and will manage the business in its early years. ‘Pure’ venture capitalists are not interested in managing schemes, only in capital gain.

I would therefore like to amplify Dr Pirie’s excellent idea by suggesting that Charter Cities should also have access to venture capital, or make it available from their own resources, and do what the professionals do — be available for business proposals. Existing venture capitalists would, I am sure, be agreeable to lend one or two of themselves to any assessment panel that a Charter City may convene from time to time — for their own possible purposes as well as the Charter City’s.

My suggestion is subject to a few constraints:
1. Proposers must be under 30 (or 25) years of age;
2. Proposers must also supply a management team of no more than six named individuals  — the maximum group size for effective decision-making — who are willing to be interviewed and who want to take part in developing the business;
3. Proposers and their named teams must have lived in the particular Charter City for at least a year before making the proposal, and preferably since childhood — that is, when cultural loyalty to the City is mostly laid down — and also commit themselves to keeping the putative business there for at least five years;
4. The investments will be open-ended — subject to competition between different Charter Cities — but, apart from financial audits, no further assessment is made for three years.

Although Jim O’Neill is undoubtedly committed to the idea of the Powerhouse of the North, I wonder just how much George Osborne is — considering that he’s setting himself up to be next Prime Minister.  In any case, their idea heavily weighted from the infrastructure angle.  This is necessary but not sufficient while some missing ingredients — the huge potential of the young — are still under-appreciated.  It’ll fare no better than several schemes of governments since the 1920s.

Males are penalised as well as females

Writing in The Oldie, Blanche Girouard, a teacher at the elite St Paul’s Girls’ School, says that girls don’t need high level exam results or go to Oxford University in order to be happy. She wrote: ” .. .  today’s girls aren’t going on nature walks or learning poetry off by heart — they’re cramming their hands full of facts.” In the present ‘career’ era many school-leavers would simply like to get married and have children instead of being pressurised by their schools, and often by parents.

As a male and not a teacher at a girls’ school I don’t feel qualified to give any opinion on Ms Girouard’s views.  However, there are two facts that are very much to do with girls taking exams and having children.  They are:

1. Girls who have children at 18 years , rather than at 29 — which is average in this country these days — will have healthier children and be healthier themselves for the rest of their lives;

2. Female brains at 18 years are three years more developed than male brains.  They are now beginning to dominate their male peers at university in every subject. At the time of graduation they are still two years ahead of males. Now that women’s libbers have hard-pushed the idea of women having careers — which is fair enough — then it would only be fair that girls of 14 or 15 should take the same university entrance exams as boys of 18, or that they take exams of a a different standard at 18.

There’s still a lot that’s badly out of kilter in the life stories of men and women and it’s not just women who are being penalised.

The smartphone and the Third World

It’s no use sending governmental aid to Third World countries.  Almost all of them are dictatorships and the money finds its way quickly into rulers’ hands and as loyalty bribes to their immediate supporters. This has not only been the practical experience of the last 50 years of governmental aid but also several economists such as William Easterly and Angus Deaton (the winner of this year’s Nobel prize in Economics) have all said the same after what amounts to lifetimes’ study of the problem.

The best that can be done, according to Angus Deaton, is for the Western-based charities to teach those at subsistence levels of poverty a few minimal techniques which can be carried out with modest donations placed directly into the hands of individuals, not governments — use of a bicycle, new condensation and irrigation schemes to save water for better crops, sand dams, very simple technologies, better midwifery care, safe abortion techniques, reading and writing, etc — in order to lift them just onto the health side of the poverty threshold.

Any advancement from then on requires massive investment in further education, advanced health care, scientific R&D, production for goods that can sell into the trading network of the dozen advanced countries.and thus simply can’t be done given the governmental corruption of most deserving countries.

William Easterley goes a little bit further in his article in today’s Sunday Times. The people of the Third World countries, indoctrinated as most of them are into cultural submission must be stimulated into claiming political freedom. This can only arise initially from exceptional individuals. Easterley thinks that the idea of freedom is actually sparking into life and in the same way that it did in the case of rare individuals in no more than four countries on the northern rim of Europe — Britain, France, Holland, Germany — in the 17th and 18th centuries in refusing to be cowed by the dominant political power of the time, the Medieval Church.

So, how could the idea of freedom be stimulated? I suggest that we now have the possibility via the mobile phone.  Still too expensive to be bought by more than a small fraction of Third world populations at present, its price will undoubtedly become at least a quarter of what they are now — and very possibly less — if the previous history of electronic goods such as radio and television are any guide.

However, because I think that the minimum threshold of a country’s advancement requires leading edge scientific research and this, in turn, already needs some sort of highly profitable industry to pay for it, then even with the cheapest smartphones and most skilful propaganda from the advanccd countries stirring up the idea of freedom, I still cannot see how the Third World can develop as we have done.

Asteroids won’t help the economy to grow

The topic of mining asteroids for valuable resources has come up recently — one senior man in a mining corporation given publicity on the Internet suggesting that we might find an asteroid with high concentrations of platinum. An economist has replied that if a lot of platinum were available then it would simply become very cheap.  It’s water we really need on earth. I replied as follows:

Humans desperately need water because its dire shortage happens to be one of the ways by which the world economy finds its automatic level of activity — that is, the law of least effort (or maximum thermodynamic efficiency, if you like). Because the ultimate size of a stabilised world economy is much more critically dependent on incoming energy — solar plus fossilised solar — then the present price of energy suggests that the world economy is probably heading downwards rather than upwards towards stabilisation. Mining ex-earth for anything except energy — even water — would not make the slightest difference to the size of the ultimate stabilised economy.

Be sensible for a change, Mr Cameron

By all means wish Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other Isis leaders dead — it’s an understandable retribution that many of us might share — certainly the present writer — but proclaiming it from the housetops every day is beginning to sound like hysteria.

It’s the underlying causes that really need to be attended to. The big one is that millions of  Middle East people, as another 5 billion around the world, are deeply aware of the yawning gap between their standard of living and ours. This will become increasingly obvious to them as smartphones become cheaper in the coming years. Lying above that, more visibly, is that many religious mullahs and fanatics, are desperate that they might lose their power if their Muslim flocks become Westernized.

Oppressive governments have in history lasted for long periods but only when they have access to superior weapons that their people don’t posssess. If Obama, Cameron and Hollande were to put their thinking hats on they would give enough superior weapons to those troops  which are actually fighting Isis on the ground — Assad’s government troops, the Kurds, those amateur Shia forces led by senior Iranian commanders.

One wonders whether the allies are using the war in Syria and Iraq more keenly as test pads for the further development of laser weapons and drones. It is quite astonishing that the oil pipelines and trucks by which Isis funds itself were not attacked until a few days ago when the Russians came on the scene. Do the Western allies really want the war to end?

Good news from King Tutankhamun’s tomb

Archaeologist Nicholas Reeves has always been puzzled by the fact that Tutankhamun’s was discovered  (in 1922) in the sort of tomb that was usually reserved for queens 3,000 years ago.  Could it be that Queen Nefertiti’s tomb is actually there and Tutankhamun — her son — was added later, blocking-off access to her tomb and thus adding an exra layer of protection from tomb robbers.

He persisted long enough to persuade the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry and a Japanese expert with stone-piercing X-ray equipment has been taking soundings.  First results are encouraging and are now being studied in more detail before decisions are taken to take an intervening wall down if necessary.

Altruism versus rejection

A classic example of the instinct of cultural rejection being more powerful than the instinct for generosity is occurring right now in Littleton-upon Severn. The team of civil servants to whom David Cameron has given the task of integrating 20,000 Muslim Syrians refugees presently living in Jordan into the life of this country happened upon Littleton-upon-Severn, a comfortable middle-class village of 100 houses in the county of Gloucestershire.  It happens to have a empty business park next to it, which would ideally serve as a reception centre for 1,000 of the refugees.

The villagers have rejected the proposal, particularly as Cameron has promised to house the Syrians over the next 20 years. Littleton-upon-Severn would likely be occupied for all that time until individual families are dispersed individually to final homes with jobs and English language training.  Although the reception centre would be entirely self-sufficient and have no economic impact on the village, it isn’t a prison camp so some of the refugees — certainly the children and teenagers among them — might well want to take walks into the village nearby. Thus, the villagers clearly don’t want to happen.

Usually, middle-class people are well to the fore in charity efforts to help the unfortunate. Usually, however, they are professionals with good salaries, retired people with pensions or young people already being trained in the professions or spending a gap year before resuming education.  Their jobs or their leisure time will never be affected in the same way as working-class people who might be.  The Littleton-upon-Severn situation is thus an obverse example of what is usual.

What need to be said is that everybody — rich, middle-class or working-class — has an instant for both altruism and for job or social rejection especially if ingress numbers appear to be too high. Which instinct comes out on top in all cases depends on circumstances.

The fundamental reason why the EU will split

Alan Sked, Professor of International History at the London School of Economics, describes how the EU was founded in today’s Daily Telegraph.  At the end of his article he is of the opinion that, at the next referendum in 2016 or 2017, the pro-EU campaigners will find it a great deal more difficult to fool the British people into remaining in the EU than in the original referendum in 1973 when they joined:  “especially given the obvious difficulties of the Eurozone, the failure of EU migration policy and the lack of any coherent EU security policy.”

No doubt trained in the humanities, like most politicians and civil ervants, and not the human sciences, which has a great deal to say why organisations hold together — or not as the case may be — still hasn’t grasped the main reason why the EU cannot hold together. It is that any stable organisation has to have a single culture, or enough of it to overcome — or to delay — devolution tendencies.

The minimum requirement for a single culture is a single spoken and written language.  During the formation of almost all nation-states == though some, like Spain and Italy have never been complete — a single language has been a high priority.  This is what the original EU plotters — as Prof Sked describes them — entirely missed out of account.  Failures of the EU migration policy and security policy are by-products of the lack of a single language and culture.

Why major nation-states are always at war

In a male the protection of his livelihood is the strongest of all instincts. Without it he has no social level in any working group and, without this status ne female is going to choose him.  No female has any method of comparison when judging his worthiness to become a parent — of being offered sex, his biggest enjoyment, voluntarily and at no cost — at no immediate cost anyway!

Because of this, the protection of a group for its continued existence  — whatever else it may be doing at the time — is never far from foremost in its collective mind.  As groups become larger — say to the typical sizes of nation-states — the protective power grows to huge proportions because it has a far wider choice of exceptionally forceful individuals to become leaders. Thus all nation-states are in a state of extreme wariness concerning the foreign policies of others  — particularly (for traditional reasons) those geographically closest to it.

In each nation-state, anything that another nation-state may be doing that impinges, however marginally, on its own well being arouses an inevitable response, or at least a building up of frustration that may be added to any future slight.  This means that every nation-state is at least on the edge of war and, as often as not, actually at war.  Moreover, either condition is welcome to, if not sought by, leaders of governments because it adds to their personal profile and sense of power.

Nowadays, the major nations cannot afford to go to war with one another in a physical way with large armies, only against much smaller and weaker entities.  Besides, the methods of warfare now available to major nation-states are mutually destructive. But all major nation-states, will have multifarious sectors within their  economies so there will always be many policies that may jar on others — so many, in fact, that there will always be a minority in which they have different policies.

For example, Britain and America have different bank regulations and corporate taxation.  They watch each others’ changes like hawks.  Although these seem to be trivial when compared with out-and-out military warfare, they are two of the factors that, over the longer term, leads to exactly the same result — the raising or the lowering of the economic power of the countries concerned, their relative standing in the global league table and the relative happiness of their people.

All the more reason to isolate Isis

Listening to several experts of what is going on in Syria on BBC Newsnight last night, I am more than ever convinced that isolating Isis in Syria and Iraq is the only solution.  Besides the Isis brand of terrorists and Assad’s troops there are at least three other mutually antagonistic forces.  It is probably the most complex civil war that has ever taken place in history.

Even if Isis were defeated — and there is absolutely no sign of this yet — then it is impossible to say just what the situation would be afterwards. It is likely that Iraq would gain some sort of unity, but it’s totally impossible to forecast just might continue to happen in Syria.  It is complicated beyond anything that politicians and diplomats ever have to deal with. The only solution is for Syrians — or different regional cultures within it — to sort out a solution themselves.

Governments as the only funders of scientific research

In any advanced country there is a constant rumbling argument going on between those — generally on the left — who believe that government funding of science should increase and those — generally on the right — who  believe it should be left to the universities, private foundations and themselves on the basis that only private industry can soss out worthy ideas better than governments.

The rumbling argument has erupted to a higher level with the recent publication of a brilliant book by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, of Sussex University, The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs.Private Sector Myths. She had also written an article in the Guardian.  She is saying that government spending on scientific research produces more innovations than from other funders.  While Mazzucato is more correct than otherwise, she spoils her case with her political alignment.  She ought to pitch her case on more fundamental grounds.

As advanced governments become increasingly tax-competitive towards one another — in order to attract profitable multinationals — they will have to become more efficient and thus slim down towards their bare bones.

These will be internal and external defence, of course, but also more efficient national, regional or city-wide infrastructures, whatever sort of future governments there may be.  Because private industry leaves infrastructure development alone, except as sub-contractors, governments alone will have to be responsible for funding infrastructure research.

But because private industry is also leaving basic scientific research alone then, if governments desire a top-rank economic future, then they will be responsible for that, too — leaving any development of it to private industry which has its own additional personal incentives and thus drives more immediate competition in sifting the good innovations from the bad.

Note also that as increasingly fierce competition cause multinational profits to decline — and thus their R&D also — they are going to be increasingly dependent on break-through fundamental research ‘on a plate’.  All the more reason why governmental  funding of scientific research will have to increase.  Any government which is doing its job properly and not pandering to the immediate selfish wants of its electorate will be doing so.

Nation-states will continue fighting

The recent proposed take-over of Allergen (in Ireland) by Pfizer (of America) in order to be head-quartered in Ireland and thus pay much lower corporate taxes for their world-wide operations than in America is causing consternation.  That is, in advanced countries’ treasuries everywhere — except in Ireland!  Very often companies place their headquarters in ‘nationette-states’ such as the Cayman Islands, Jersey or Luxembourg which charge very low, if any corporate taxes. They make their money by leasing sites — large numbers of them in each case — to companies.

Sir Simon Jenkins, well-known for being a supporter of several good causes, is quite upset by this. and thinks that it reduces the credibility of governments. So, as regards the Pfizer-Allergen affair,  he’s written an article n the Guarrdian, “Another big corporation is fragrantly dodging tax.  This must be outlawed”.

But Jenkins doesn’t appreciate that tax havens will never be extinguished because competitive taxation is the only method of continuing (permanently endemic) warfare between nation-states that’s now available to them — military methods now being mutually destructive.  At the same time, competition between multinationals of every consumer product and production good is going to become fiercer, so, in addition to their own internal cost savings, they’ll continue to be looking for every taxation trick in the book.

So, in effect, each party will have two different battles on its hands.  The net result will be a great slimming down of both governments (George Osborne leading the way?) and multinationals (with increasing automation).

(It’s interesting that pharmaceuticals are leading the way — that is, more desperate than most manufacturers so far. Their ‘pot-luck’ type remedies will soon face increasing competition from uniquely customised genetically-defined procedures. These will not require 20-year development latencies for governmental acceptance and are thus much more likely to be small businesses than large ones.)

Nation-states will continue fighting by offering low corporate taxation in order to attract them and their employees to their domains.

Our genes are constantly changing

Moat people assume that evolution is all very well if we’re talking of dinosaurs but it needn’t apply to us.  We are, as it were, a perfected species — the top predator of 5,000 other mammals.

Well . . . we might be top predator for the time being but we’re certainly not a perfected species because, like every other single species on earth, our genes are steadily adapting to changing circumstances all the time, however subtle they may be.

A high level international team of researchers with nine different funding bodies behind them have just published in Nature journal the results of DNA analyses of 230 individuals who lived from Siberia through Turkey to Europe from between 3,000 and 8,500 years ago. As man adapted from hunter-gathering to farming at least a dozen significant mutations occurred and were consolidated widely in the genome because they were beneficial. These are in genes associated with height, immunity, lactose digestion, skin pigmentation, eye colour and celiac disease risk. etc.

What has happened in the last 3,000Years? With the subsequent Iron and Bronze Ages, mass intensive peasant agriculture, mass genocide, industrialisation and, very recently, increasing advanced education and training, then more genetic variations will have occurred. It is known, for example, that the head shape has changed, as also the jaw and teeth, but there’ll  be more. The full listing of these — and the dates when the changes took place — will have to wait for an equivalent research team.

What interests me particularly is that in the advanced countries populations seems to be dividing into a minority of the highly educated and a majority of much less training and education. There’s not a lot of inter-breeding between them.  In Britain this has been gong on significantly for about a hundred years.  Are there any mutational changes going on in one and not in the other?  As specialisations increase and necessary educational thresholds will these two population continue to draw apart.

Lasers put American gun law into the right perspective

There have been over 400 laser attacks on pilots landing airliners in this country this year and over 3,700 in America. There hasn’t yet been a crash — no doubt because most landing are automated — but many pilots have received severe burns to their retinas. It can only be a matter of time before there’s an attack on a pilot causing multiple deaths.

Intrinsically only a little less dangerous than guns, laser purchases will have to be registered before too long.  Indeed,  before lasers catch on with terrorists and gangs.

The Republican Party in America is strongly behind the principle that all Americans should be allowed to carry a gun to protect themselves from oppressive governments.  There’s an element of truth in that, particularly as, when the Republican Party was formed, America had not long fought a civil war.  However, while it is possible in those days that ordinary Americans could have overthrown an oppressive government with their hand guns, they could not do so today.

Which takes us to lasers.  Would the Republican Party in America today — or any other interest group — say that ordinary Americans should have the right to carry lasers? Of course not.  Lasers are too dangerous, particularly in the hands of young males. They are battle weapons, not playthings for ordinary people.  The same logic should now apply to possessing guns. Governments have weapons that are far too powerful for ordinary people with guns, even automatics, to compete against when thinking about insurrection.

Guns are now carried in America for quite different reasons. There were 11,000 homicides and 84,000 injuries in America in 2013.  In this country we had between 15 and 38 a year in the last five years. This is by no means as proportionate with America as with lasers. But then, ownership of guns has to be registered here.

Whether America should have gun laws or not is no business of mine.  I am merely pointing out that the logic of current culture suggests that it is about time it did so.

The real causes of Isis

It was the attempted introduction of democracy into Iraq that actually caused the present day phenomenon of Isis.  The invasion took away the top power layer of Iraq — namely Saddam Hussein and his secular Baath Party — leaving Sunnis, Shias  and Kurds, the Sunnis being senior in the hierarchy.  For safety, fearing Sunni oppression, most Kurdish families in central and southern Iraq fled to the north of the country where they were in a majority and could thus look after themselves.

Immediately after the invasion the Shias, relying on the Americans for safety, immediately resumed their traditional Medieval festivals where we saw hundreds of young men whipping themselves raw with chains of iron.  Immediately after that, the Sunnis started unleashing bombs attacks on Shias wherever they could be found in crowds in the market place or in police recruitment queues.

Not long after that the Americans tried to impose democracy via a new constitution so that the Shias could have at least equal political power with the Sunnis. The Sunnis continued their terrorism of Shias, aided for a while with Al Qaeda personnel from Afghanistan. Later on, when that didn’t work out, extremist Sunnis started gathering round Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Thus would never have happened if the Americans had left the Hussein-Baathist-Sunni-Shia hierarchy alone.  Previously, this was never preventing the more intelligent Shias finding their way into the professions and scientific work — and a wish to become Westernized — just as the Baathists and Sunnis were already doing. Gradually, he old hierarchy would have changed into a new one depending on ability and democracy of one sort or another could have been introduced by the Iraqis themselves when they were ready for it.

Each one of all cultures believe their own culture to be superior to all others and are almost impossible to change unless it comes from within.  Western culture generally — America and Britain in particular —  with its painfully acquired quirks, such as one-person-one-vote elections, are as intractable as any other.

In this country we  are awaiting next year the Chilcot Equiry Report which has postponed publication year after year giving everybody who will be criticised a fair chance of responding. This delay suggests that, unlike almost all previous major Enquiries carried ou by ex-senior civil servants, this will be an honest report, not a whitewash.

If so, this will justify the opposition of those — at first a minority — against the invasion of Iraq. If so, this will also give a full account of the total fiasco that the American and British armies made of the occupation and which thus led to Isis in due course.

America and Britain are the real causes of Isis

It was not so much the invasion of Iraq that caused Isis but our attempt — almost exclusively American — after the invasion to manipulate Iraq into a practical one-person-one-vote type of democracy when Iraq wasn’t ready for it. For any reader who is prepared to go along with this view tentatively then I’ll follow with a slightly longer post to justify this position.

The population catastrophe that dare not speak its name

Combining what I wrote in the last post with what I wrote on Sunday (“Man’s colossal mistake”) our ‘benefaction’ — of Western medicine, including all the existing antibiotics — to the Third World in the last 150 years will also hit us before too long.

Western medicine, which has caused the hyper-magnification of the population of the Third World over the past 150 years from 1 billion to 7 billion so far, is going to cause a hyper-reduction of our population in the coming years.

The immune systems of a proportion of all of us will have natural resistance to one or other of the killer diseases which one or other of the 20 or so antibiotics have hitherto enabled us to overcome. But not all of the diseases of others that might be passed on to us inadvertently.

Thus until a solution is found — and there has been none remotely suggested so far — the catastrophe will not come as one almighty world-wide event but as a series of epidemics in one region after another, each sweeping away a fraction of the population each time. This is likely to persist for several generations until the fraction of people remaining have a fairly wide level of resistance to the most common killer diseases.

Unless and until new antibiotics are discovered and developed, our colossal antibiotic mistake will remain as it is now — something that cannot speak its name.

But there’ll still be another an Apocalypse

I was in error four days ago (“A looming antibiotic Apocalypse”) when I wrote that bacteria seek to exchange packets of genes “with alacrity”. In fact, they’re very slow.  Recent research by Dr Rene Nichus, a DPhil student in the Department of Zoology at Oxford has shown that the reason why antibiotic resistance can travel so quickly from one part of the world to another is migration. Bacteria are fast movers and different types are constantly intermingling with one another.

Thus, by one means or another, resistance to the last remaining effective antibiotic by even just one bacterium in China or elsewhere is a danger to patients and hospirals everywhere. Unless a completely new family of antibiotics is discovered soon then many millions of deaths are inevitable in the near future.

Tracing our family tree

Our ability to digest milk may not be the most exciting topic in the world for most of us but it leads to an interesting insight as to how and where Europeans — and thus most Americans — came from.

Until recently it was believed that Europeans mainly came from Anatolian farmers in Turkey, migrating eastwards about 8,000 years ago and largely displacing the hunter-gatherer Europeans — though intermarrying with some of them also — that had been here for about 40,000 years before that . Neither, however, could digest milk, according to DNA analysis of their fossil remains. They were in the same condition that their forebears had always been. This is that once a child had become warned from mother’s then the gene that could digest lactose was turned off permanently.

But DNA analysis also shows that the gene was turned on again in Europe about 4,500 years ago. It was therefore supposed that this happened among the farmers. It has now been proved that the awakened gene came from Great Steppe sheep herders in Russian who entered Europe.  Their gene had already been turned on again permanently many thousands of years before that.

So Europeans stem from three main peoples.   But the same DNA analysis — from research at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide — also gave clues as to genetic changes at thousands of other sites along the genome. In due course, when all these are analysed and enough fossils dug up, it will mean that each of us, once our DNA is known, would be able trace our ancestry — either through the male line or the female line — fairly accurately with relatively unimportant generation gaps. We’ll be able to identify each tribe our ancestors belonged to and their individual movements from place to place  ever since we left Africa 60,000 years ago.

Brian Reader will become another English hero

The seasoned criminal ring leaders of the Hatton Garden robbery have now been brought to court.  We will be regaled once again with all the details of how they drilled through a metre of reinforced concrete, broke open steel boxes and took away many millions of pounds worth of (mainly) diamonds, watches and other family knick-knacks.

It won’t beat the Great Train Robbery of 1963 for fascination but will gain the secret approval of many as being a another poke-in-the-eye of the authorities. The Hatton Garden trial will entertain us for days as we learn a little more about the personalities involved. One of the criminals who’s already gathering a sort of fan club is Brian Reader, the “Guv’nor” of the team and already an old-age pensioner (76).

As cool as you like, he travelled on a London No. 55 bus to the scene of the crime — that is, when it was a scene before the crime took place! — using his free old person’s bus pass in doing so. He has all the makings of being considered another Arthur J. Raffles — as indeed Ronnie Biggs became after Great Train Robbery fame.

Another fantasy of David Cameron

In order to strengthen his case for the bombing of Isis forces in Syria to be debated in in the Housee of Commons next week. David Cameron is now suggeesting that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is after gaining nuclear weapons.

Of course, if offered to them, Isis wouldn’t turn down a ready-to-use tactical (miniaturised) nuclear weapon.  But the only known sources would be the American and Israel governments — with perhaps weapons developed in China or Russia also. No chance from any of those!

Knocking some sense into David Cameron

There is, of course, no way of knowing that Isis attacks on London or other parts o the UK might, or might not be planned.  However, if David Cameron persists in his wish to bomb Syria, and the House of Commons foolishly goes along with it, then it is almost certain that something special — at least as serious as Paris — will be carried out in London.

Cameron is also announcing the formation of two special ‘strike brigades’ of 5,000 soldiers each.  It is difficult to see what use they can ever be in preventing a well-planned attack during a normal busy day or leisure districts in the evenings. It’s really only an attempt to assure th public

I suspect that some less impulsive heads will be knocking some sense into Cameron’s head today and we’ll have a policy U-turn before too long

The astonishing latency of Isis

It is ironic that the smartphone, the iconic product of the advanced world, is also the only item that the potential terrorist needs to take with him when he joins other immigrants entering Europe.

It is this  fact of life that Jean-Claud Juncker, the President of the European Commission — desperate to preserve the EU and its border-less condition — immediately resisted when the Paris massacre occurred. He declared that it was on way related to the wave of immigrants entering Europe.  A few days later we now know that at least three, and possibly six, of the terrorists had first entered the EU alongside the genuine migrants — and only two or three weeks beforehand.

Once inside, a terrorist only has to use encrypted e-mail to find a network of safe houses, and can then organise the supply of weapons and explosives at leisure. If he stays too long in any one place then GCHQ and other authorities might guess that something new is happening but in no way what it may be or where it may happen.

As well as the Paris episode, the astonishing latency with which Isis responded to the Russian bombing attacks in Syria speaks of an organisation that is far more flexible that the authorities have ever imagined.

The UK — a failing advanced nation-state

The above is subject to three provisos:

1.  It applies only to the bulk of the UK population outside a region bounded by Oxford, Cambridge and London — with six of the world’s top universities — which is already a viable regional economy and may well survive and possibly thrive in future decades;

2.  The recent launch of Free Schools may, if there are enough of them and of the quality of the grammar schools that the Labour government of the 1960s scrapped in the name of egalitarianism, redeem the atrocious results of state schools of the last 130 years.  As it is these days, we have a country which has an almost static social mobility.  This means that innumerable bright children and students never get anywhere near the socio-political elite that takes all the important national decisions.

3.  By some quirk, although the UK has lost its potential excellence in almost all sectors of the world economy, we are still moderately well represented by research in the biological sciences.  We still make discoveries on a par with Germany and America.  As medicine is already a growth sector in advanced countries, and as more genetic diseases are dealt with and better quality children become more widely available to parents (by excluding deleterious mutations) in the coming decades, then our biological expertise might be enough to reverse our present economic decline.

The rot started in the 1850s when the UK almost completely lost its lead in science and engineering to Germany and America. This involved some hard-to-understand strong cultural reaction by the descendants of the original entrepreneurs and industrialist of the 1800s which has deeply affected our universities, business, civil service and politics and still saturate us with political correctness.

The piquey Church of England

The Church of England (CoE) is having a fit of pique at present, not to say, stupidity. When its proposed Christmas commercial was turned down by many cinema operators, the CoE then proposed that all Christmas adverts in cinemas should be banned!

The cinemas, under the Digital Cinema Media (DCM) association, refuses all adverts based on “religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief” on the grounds that some of their audiences might find them offensive.  If DCM had accepted the CoE advert — very professionally done from all accounts — then how many more religious sects such as Seventh Day Adventists, Church of the Latter Day Saints or even the Scientologists would be booking space?

Most contentiously of all, the chances are thatone of the Muslim organisations in this country that wants to see Sharia law replacing our House of Commons would want to make and place cinema adverts. If so, there’d be riots in more than a few cinemas all over the country.

Grow up, CoE!  You’re in an existential dilemma that a few Christmas adverts were not going to repair even if, foolishly, they’d been allowed.

Consequences of status goods

Irwin Stelzer is the latest, in a small but growing list of economists I’ve come across recently who has said what I’ve been saying for the last ten years or so on the Internet. He writes in today’s Sunday Times: “For now, people have enough “stuff”, and want “experiences” . . . “.  I’ve been more specific about what “stuff” really means, namely status goods.

These are goods at more than pocket-money prices that actually give someone a psychological uplift in feelings of social status — and mostly accepted by others as real — goods such as house, car, home furnishing, clothes and personal ornamentations. All these exit in a huge variety of price ranges and quality brands giving very precise information as to their possessor’s social status, or claims to it anyway.

Increasingly, however, even at each of the many price and quality levels of the ‘standard stuff’ the manufacturers are becoming larger, more globalized and more competitie than ever before. For example, whereas 50 years ago there were only three for four luxury cars produced for the upper-middle-class market, such as the Rolls Royce, there are now at least a dozen or more marques that are even more expensive.

Growth-economists tend to believe that economic growth will be due to more new consuner goods beng invented and produced.  What some — such as Irwin Stelzer and myself — are saying, however, is that we’ll always have the same limited kit of status goods as now.  The difference will be that there’ll be many more gradations of price and quality.  Furthermore, as is already the case with the production of some of the latest luxury cars, a great deal of automation will come into play, increasingly intermixed with human skills along the production track.

Hitherto, manufacturers in the advanced countries who wanted to make things more cheaply sent their production to China or other cheap-labour countries and subsequently to cheaper labour countries.  But this passing the parcel strategy can’t be continued indefinitely into the future. The managerial costs of this sort of arbitrage are too great.  Teeth have to be gritted to make higher investments in the next stage of automation instead.

One by one, the production of each status good will become comprehensively automated. And, with almost nil labour costs, will be able to be withdrawn — back to the advanced countries from which they’d begin their existence over 200 years ago at the start of the industrial revolution.

So far, Third world countries have been given short-change by the way that the industrial revolution and international trade has unfolded since about 1780.  As the automation revolution proceeds from now onwards then they are going to be even more short-changed.  This will only be able to be remedied when they get their populations down to a fraction of what they are now.  In a couple of hundreds years, their averagely waged workers will then be able to afford to buy the status goods and afford the way of life that they earnestly wish for today.

Man’s colossal mistake

Man’s greatest mistake occurred when the world population was dramatically boosted from a stabilised figure of 1 billion in the 18th century to 7 billion today.  In future years, it cannot peak at less than 10 billion because there are at least 3 billion people who are past child-bearing who have yet to grow old. With luck, the number of children being born today is probably at or past its peak.

It has left us with a problem, however, because we now have 5 billion people (apart from China), rising to 8 billion who want what 1 billion of the advanced world have already got by way of consumer goods and services.  It is quite clear already that they can’t have them — apart, that is, from the mobile phone. This will undoubtedly become so cheap that almost every adolescent and adult in the world, however poor, will possess one and (probably) use it, so long as their government ensures that they can be charged up with enough free electricity.

This, of course, will only make the frustration of the 8 billion all the worse because they will all the more often see on their screens just what they are missing by way of an advanced way of life. We are therefore all the more likely to experience continuing pressure of migration into the advanced countries — wherever there’s a chink — as well as outbreaks of terrorist anger.

The original mistake was made with the best or worst of motives — depending on your viewpoint — when Christian Europe and America took the benefits of modern medicine to the rest of the billion in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Babies and mothers no longer died in great numbers during childbirth, people lived to much older ages, and killer diseases were kept at bay. It was this that caused the stable 1 billion population to start leaping upwards exponentially from then onwards to reach our present grotesque numbers.

Christian missionaries and doctors were motivated by their belief that every person has a soul and so they were keen on saving lives.  Colonial administrators in the British, German, French and Belgium Empires around the world also wanted to maximise the number of people they could tax and exploit.  Whatever one’s attitude to those motivations, that’s what happened. Undoing all this will take centuries and quite another story.

Overthrowing Isis

The almost total shutdown of Brussels today must encourage Isis enormously — that they are winning the battle of creating panic and almost-despondency in Europe.

Apparently, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gained his doctorate with a dissertation on the battles won by Sunni Arabs as they swept out of Saudi Arabia in the early centuries of Islam. But he did not dwell on how the Caliphs administered power afterwards?  As previously mentioned, they were liberal in that they allowed all manner of other religions to continue.  Those who became converted to Islam were released from taxation and, in that way, whole countries became totally Muslim in the course of several generations.

Al-Baghdadi doesn’t allow the ‘luxury’ of voluntary conversion because he kills or enslaves all those who are not Sunnis already. In the Iraqi population the Sunnis tend to be professionals and merchants. so they’re articulate — and powerful — enough.  There are already rumours that they are complaining about the ad hoc nature of Isis taxation.  It’s to be remembered that only a few years ago the Sunnis of Anwar province expelled Al Qaeda — notionally fellow enemies of Shias — almost overnight when they became too burdensome. Numerically, they could easily do the same with Isis when it tries to become too oppressive.

It very much looks as though my preferred solution of isolation is happening anyway by default.  If so, the internal overthrow of Isis can only be aa matter of time.

“We can destroy Isis in 14 days”

This is what some of our top army generals are saying according to Sunday’s newspapers.. They are talking, of course, of mass ground troops.  But this is all so hypothetical.  No Western government is willing to do this and there are no supposed allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, or Iran coming forward with offers.

Is it going to be left to Kurds, whose Peshmerger troops are the only ones that have been successful so far?  Not likely.  Until the Kurds receive assurance from all he major nations involved that they can have their independent nation-state at the end of all this, they are not going to do much more than defend what is already their own territory.  They’ve been let down too many times before.

More bombing of Isis in Syria will only provoke more resistance, more radicalisation of young Muslims and more terrorist attacks outside Syria. The only solution is to isolate Isis as much as possible, strengthen our own secret services at home as much as possible and wait until the fanatics are overthrown by the Sunnis and Shias of Iraq and Syria, perhaps even in association in order to do so. It’s not the dramatic solution that politicians would like but the only practical one that’s available.

More on new currency

Thinking a little more about what a consortium of multinational corporations might do in fhe event of another monetary seize-up like 2008, I cannot think that they’re going to be inhibited in setting up a new (digital) currency under any sort of misapprehension — which most people believe — that only central banks can issue money.  That is not so.  Whatever has intrinsic value and can be easily carried around is money.  It doesn’t need any sort of official blessing.

In the case of the 2008 crisis, and because the banks had run out of money, then governments’ priorities were to ensure that the banks’ cash machines had money in them when people went to work on the Monday morning.

In a new monetary crisis which might be in danger of paralysing the whole world trading system, the consortium’s first priority would be at the other end — keeping the big wheels — themselves — turning and then the others to follow so that everything by way of existing trading contracts could continue.  While a new currency was being achieved, ordinary people would have to be ignored for a few days even if this meant they couldn’t buy food for a while

So long as the members of the consortium issue the new currency up to the value of their cash reserves in buying assets that are easily saleable — and no more — then their new digital currency would be totally trustworthy.  If, for example, they chose gold as their easily saleable back-up then the world price of gold would rise, probably steeply.

This would be a double incentive for the consortium’s suppliers and customers to change any cash savings they had into gold in order to buy the new currency. In fact, those who moved very quickly would made immense profits as the world price of gold rose.  These would only tail off as the furthest suppliers in the world economy (food shops) were reached with the new currency.

Because, presumably, person-to-person transactions would be possible, then evasion of paying taxes would be theoretically possible.  If governments were tardy in changing their national currencies into the new currency then public pressure would force them to as soon as wages were being paid in the new currency and food in the supermarkets priced up in it.

We would then be back to the same healthy monetary condition that existed before the Bank of England (BoE) was founded in 1696 and obtained special privileges from the British government.  Among other things, this allowed the original shareholders of the BoE both to be able to lend their gold to the government and print an equivalent amount of money to lend to private applicants — thus doubling their money almost overnight!

This was the first confidence trick that central banks have played.  They have several more up their sleeve but what they would like to do now is to resume their usual one. This is to set basic interest rates at such a level that they’re always lower than the rate of inflation so, as far as their national debts are concerned, they can pay back good money with bad.

I would be very surprised if Google, Microsoft, and Apple, among other multinationals were not quietly discussing what they could do in the event of another monetary crash.

Future currency

In a discussion about the future of bitcoins this morning the following is what I wrote.

Bitcoin?  It’ll die all by itself because the ‘currency’ is a nonsense.  On the other hand, if we have another 2008-like monetary collapse of the existing fiat currencies — for which governments will then have no immediate solution — then nothing will prevent the immediate emergence of a new trading currency of intrinsic asset value so long as it’s launched by those whose future interests are also totally dependent on it — for example, a consortium of the largest multinationals — and thus trustworthy.

A digitally represented encrypted currency would then be able to spread fanwise via all the consortium’s suppliers and sub-suppliers until it reaches down to all the world’s supermarkets within ten days (maximum existing reserve period of food in transit).  Governments would then be forced to re-base their nationalistic currencies transparently.

Appendix on gene-editing

As an appendix to what I wrote about gene-editing yesterday (“Could GM humans exist within two years?”) I’ve just come across mention of an international conference on the subject.  The participants are not at governmental level but very close. The three co-hosts are the US National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine, along with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the UK’s Royal Society.

This underlines research scientists’ great concern that gene-editing raises more than usual dangers if it’s pushed forward too prematurely or if it goes astray. Not only can totally unexpected genetic consequences occur but also, once embedded in DNA, some perhaps not revealing themselves for decades, can spread into the general population — in effect, existing in perpetuity.

One incidental fact about the conference to note is that China looks as though it’s full apprised of the huge potential importance of this new technology.

Like happiness, wealth and income are relative, and judgements are innate

A lot of prissy arguments often take place between economists when deciding whether income tax should or should not be taken into account when judging income differential between the rich and the poor.

We don’t need precise figures to make judgements about what is fair.  In recent years we, and a few other higher species, have been scientifically demonstrated to have an instinctive perception of what is fair and what isn’t in any given situation.

Otherwise, there would be no such thing as common law — something we still trust for certain purposes that are too expensive to proceed under statutory law or where the latter becomes unreliable (think the O. J. Simpson case!).  If Cloud had come along before meritocratic power organisations called state bureaucracies 100 years ago then we’d now be living under subtly adjusting common law, not statutory law.

Differentials are also relative to culture — size, era and other factors. Differentials that are acceptable in a large organisations can be outrageous if attempted to be applied in small ones. The 20-fold difference in income between the Japanese CEO of a large business and its average worker is — to my mind — acceptable.  The 250-fold incomes differentials in American and European big businesses are an abomination (but which, it is to be hoped will abrade substantially in the coming years as the world wide economic hiatus continues, fortunes are lost and many big companies go bankrupt.).

Historically, differentials in wealth between what are considered to be the very rich today and the average are modest to those in Victorian times, and those, in turn, many times less than in pre-industrial times when, in this country, the very rich were 200 heads of families who owned three-fifths of the arable land of the country. Not long before that, one family in Poland owned half the land. Further back we had William the Conqueror, or Genghis Khan or Chinese or Aztec Emperors who owned everything in their domains.

No, don’t need to know figures before or after taxes and state benefits in order to make intuitive judgements of fairness.

The magician of English farming

Jin Slater has just died and his obituary appears n all the quality newspapers this morning. He was a financial Wunderkind in this country in the 1960s and ’70s.  My newspaper calls him “the investor with the golden touch”. At one time he was worth £200 million (a billionaire in present-day terms) when in association with Peter Walker as Slater Walker Associates before the latter decided to go into politics. But Slater himself stayed in business and was considered to be a ruthless operator.

Maybe he was, but he could also be thought to be a magician.  Strangely for him, he bought a number of farms scattered about the centre of England. Within a year or two, the value of those farms multiplied because the government bought them up for the M1 Motorway, the first British version of the German autobahn in this country.  Coincidentally, his old pal Peter Walker had by then become the Secretary of State for the Environment which had the final say in the planning of our early motorways. Of course, prior to a public announcement and being a responsible Minister of the Crown, Walker wouldn’t have divulged the route of the M1 to anybody else beforehand, would he?  Jim Slater was just a very lucky person — one might say a magician with money, as financiers often are.

Humans being human as always

The book of the week — and maybe book of the year — looks as though it is The Future of the Professions by father and son, Richard and Daniel Susskind. In it they attack the final redoubts of those who think that their jobs will never be automated. We are talking of such people as lawyers, accountants, doctors, financial experts, engineers, economists, even psychiatrists — those modern sophisticated versions of the crude professions of Medieval times.

Even modern professional jobs will crumble — so the Susskinds say — before the combination of the Internet and new computers, the latter — as the Susskinds don’t say — almost certainly going to be based on synthetic DNA circuits and a new genre of algorithmic software on which serious progress is already being made.

But it’s irrational to think that every single professional job will be automated. The last computer made would have to be as clever or cleverer than its creator!  Not even proponents of Artificial Intelligence with their standard software and simplified neuronal circuits have made that claim.

The only professionals who will not be made redundant are those who will actually programme the next generation of computers that will be even more profitable — that is, energy efficient — when making or delivering the thousands of products and services that we will still be needing.  And teams of these professionals will be full-blown humans in every respect, trading ‘secrets’ of programming with other teams when mutually profitable, or competing fiercely with one another on other occasions.  Just as human beings have always done.

A looming antibiotic Apocalypse

The bad news is that biologists in China have discovered one bacterium there that is now totally resistant to all known antibiotics. One or more of its mutations will now spread around the world and many existing hospital procedures will be rendered useless in due course. This is what epidemiologists have been expecting somewhere in the world sooner or later and have been trying to tell governments, training hospitals and farmers (who dose up all their animals with antibiotics) about for many years.

The good news is that those who are researching the new recently-discovered bacterial ecosystems in the soil say that there are other penicillin-type chemicals there.  The problem is that these new bacterial systems are very difficult to keep alive in the lab and thus they’re difficult to investigate in the usual way.  Even if some wonderful new antibiotics are in the soil there they’re unlikely to be elucidated quickly.

On the suggestion of my local doctor I have one powerful (that is, not often used) antibiotic at home on the strict understanding that it’s used only as a reserve if I need it in an emergency during the night and can’t get hold of a doctor.  Since the news from China it looks as though this might be useless before too long.

Doctors are nowhere near well enough trained in genetics, bacterial genetics as well as human DNA.  If they had been given more training in bacteria then they wouldn’t have prescribed the enormous amounts of antibiotics as they have done in the last 30 years.  (Bacteria don’t have sex with each other as we do when we exchange all of our DNA both ways.  They exchange small packets of genes with others with alacrity — even if they’re bacteria of a different type — almost as soon as they touch.  Thus a brand new mutation that causes resistance to the very latest antibiotic can spread around the world in months )

“Shock and Awe”

President G. W. Bush was very proud of the above epithet that Donald Rumsfeld, his Defence Secretary, gave to the intensive initial bombardment of Baghdad when the US and the UK invaded Iraq in 2003.

Considering that there are no US or UK ground troops fighting Isis terrorists in Iraq — even though we’ve been bombing them from a great height or using unmanned drones — and the brutality of burnings and executions that Isis has applied to many Western prisoners, then I think we can say that Isis is now‌ scoring a far greater Shock and Awe victory over us than we ever did in 2003.

Could GM humans exist within two years?

The biotech firm Editas Medicine says that humans who have had their DNA genetically modified could exist within the next two years. Nonsense.  Even in America, where there’s no popular resistance to GM foods, such a procedure might take years to gain a licence. In the EU, where even GM cereals are not yet allowed human GM might never be (as long as the EU exists, that is!).

Editas Medicine thinks that the poignant case of someone born with Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA) — which causes severe vision loss at birth — will suffice to obtain fast-track approval. They can correct the condition, they say, by gene editing.  This involves the excision of a gene with a harmful variation and replacing it with what could be called a ‘standard’ gene.  This — the procedure and the desired result — may very well be possible, but it still might not be allowed.

While GM cereals are innocent enough, GM human genes are certainly not.  The reason is that the DNA of soya or wheat or maize contain a huge number of genes already — far more than humans’ 23,000 — and it’s only a matter of adding one extra gene with the required trait (for example, resistance to a particular virus). The added gene simply adds to the ‘repertoire’ of the existing DNA.

In humans every gene is multi-purpose.  It takes part in many different functions of the body. At any one time all active genes are associating with other genes to do what the body needs. If you alter one variation of a gene it might have several different effects and, paradoxically, some gene variations which are harmful in causing one condition might be beneficial to another.  Sickle cell anaemia, for example, is not a pleasant disease to have but sufferers are also protected from malaria, so there’s a net gain if you live in a malaria-infested region of the world.

So proving that gene editing in a case of LCA might be successful in giving the child full vision it may have adverse effects elsewhere.  Some LCA patients also experience central nervous system conditions, such as epilepsy, developmental delays and motor skill impairment and these may not be apparent for years.  Will GM treatment for vision also correct these other handicaps? — or could they be made worse? — or could there be additional adverse effects?

On the face of it, Editas Medicine don’t have a chance of pulling this off — legally — within two years. Or is it going public and this is publicity in order to attract share-buyers?

The non-mistakes of the original Caliphs

Recently, Arthur Cordell wrote the following: “But what to do when Isis is committing genocide against the Yazidis?”  This was a comment to my post “Dealing with Isis” (17 November) in which I gave my view that the best way of dealing with Isis is to isolate them — financially and physically.  Arthur’s comments give me a great deal of thought.

We know that when a village of Yazidis was captured by a sudden Isis advance, the men, boys and old women were slaughtered and the girls and young women were either forcibly married to the terrorists or treated as prostitutes.  As I understand it, however, most of the remaining Yazidis in the larger region around moved to the territory controlled by the Iraqi Kurds where they were given shelter.

The serious mistake that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is making in trying to extending his caliphate (so far, quite successfully) is the thought-control of the people he’s laid claim to and the massacres of the Shias and other Muslim schisms.  However, the original (Sunni) forces that swept out of Saudi Arabia in the 700s and 800s establishing many caliphates all over the Middle East is that they made no attempt to convert the people they conquered to Islam. Whether they were Jews, Christians, Zoroasrians, Sufis or whatever, they were left alone.  But they had to pay taxes!  If families converted voluntarily to Islam they didn’t!

In levying taxes, al-Baghdadi is already meeting resistance among businessmen, according to reports, particularly among the hitherto prosperous Sunni merchants of Anwar province who have, so far, made some attempts at resistance, including in one case giving lodgings to some secretly advancing Shia troops. This particular attempt at at an uprising came to nought, but it is pretty certain that more attempts will be made when taxes become more burdensome.

Also, if the central banks of all the countries surrounding Isis-occupied land can be persuaded not to send any more money from supporters or suppliers into Isis’s accounts then al-Baghdadi’s reign could be foreshortened.  To my surprise I learned recently that the Syrian central bank has been doing so because President Assad needs the oil from some of the wells that Isis now controls.  This is an intolerable situation that could have been sorted out a long time ago if the politicians of America, Britain, France and others had not been so confused over the civil war on Syria and on who to support and who not to support.

Becoming as ridiculous as Tony Blair

Cool heads are required for dealing with Isis, whether in Syria or attacks on mainland Europe.  And cool heads from governments more than any other entity.  Instead, politicians are too easily tempted by the personal power they gain when setting themselves up as leaders against an enemy.  President Hollande and Prime Minister Cameron have already acted emotively in this way — raising panic generally — and this morning we hear that French Prime Minister Valls is at it also.

(Neither has yet gone to the ridiculous extent that Prime Minister Tony Blair did in 2005 when he lined up army tanks at Heathrow Airport!  Were they expected to attack one or two terrorist airplanes that were about to land and attack us? The Army Generals were supine enough to go along with the decision instead of making a few diplomatic noises in high places first. The tanks were removed the next day, of course, before ridicule could echo round the land!)

Anyhow, last night, PM Valls suggested that France could face chemical or biological attack from Isis terror groups.  This will immediately spark-off one or two French newspapers — and probably some of ours — to remind millions of people about the deadly Sarin attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995 when another extremist religious movement, Aum Shinrikyo, was at it. This killed 12 passengers, severely injuring 50 and caused temporary vision losses for nearly 1,000 others.  How do stressed underground passengers improve things?

Ridiculous copyright law

As an internet publisher of music scores for some years — and threatened with legal action more than once — I became well educated in the various tricks that conventional publishers would use to protect purported copyright, often on works that were hundreds of years old. One of the tricks is to use an ‘editor’. (No-one is more heavily copyrighted than J. S. Bach, 1685 – 1769!).

I was reminded of this in reading the story of the attempt of a Swiss foundation, Anne Frank Fonds (AFF) to extend the copyright of Anne Frank Diaries when it falls out next year. They have appointed an editor whom they now say becomes a joint copyright holder and thus extend the copyright for his lifetime plus 50 years.

M’mm . . . I doubt whether AFF can get away with it. One very well known music publisher tried that one with me but promptly shut up when I challenged them to take me to court.

Copyrght law, particularly in the EU, is unfair and a total mess.  Not only did the EU extend the author’s copyright to 50 years after death but made it retrospective — a playing around with time that even Einstein couldn’t conceive of.  For example, Edward Elgar’s music fell out of copyright in 1984 — 50 years after his death — but then a few months later it was mysteriously reapplied so, according to EU law, it won’t be out of copyright again until 2034!

Europe not quite an abyss!

In apparent contrast to what I wrote yesterday (“The Decline of the West?”) Jeremy Warner in today’s Daily Telegraph writes that “Europe is sliding towards the abyss, and the terrorists know it.”  Clever chap, nowhere in his article does he specify whether he means Europe or the EU!  There are only two clues.  One where he talks of France abrogating EU spending policy in order to fight Isis, the other where he briefly mentions Quantitative Easing, an EU by-product.

So there we are then. But even in yesterday’s enconium to “Europe”. I only meant the countries along the northern fringe — the ones that, with America, win 95% of the Nobel prizes in science subjects. As the world economy inexorably proceeds in the next few decades to automation, high skills in every remaining job sector and the mass shedding of much of the ordinary work of today, I see no comfortable future for any country that doesn’t have a leading edge in at least one scientific subject and thus able to continue to trade high value products and services and maintain a high standard of living.

I don’t suppose that Warner would agree with my forecast for one minute but at least we’re agreed about the abyss facing the EU.

The Climate Change Conference in Paris is already a dead duck

It’s not what people say about an issue, it’s what they actually do about it that reveals what they truly think.  On this basis, so many nations have now trimmed back on their intentions to reduce carbon emissions — including ‘goody-goody’ Britain which tried to set an example to the world — that the United Nations Climate Change Conference (CCC) in Paris later this month is already a dead duck — if it’s noticed at all by the media since the Paris massacres and what to do about Isis.

According to the original intentions that countries originally made when the CCC was being planned a year ago, the world’s temperature rise was going to be limited to around 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.  Bjorn Lomberg, the founder of the Evironmental Assessment Institute, which includes some of the world’s most eminent economists, has calculated in a peer reviewed paper that the contributions that countries are actually bringing to the table in Paris cut temperatures by just 0.05 degrees Celsius and sea level reduced by only 1.3 centimetres.

The CCC is broken before it meets. Even if there were total agreement on the reduced commitments it is hardly worth meeting at all.

What about the slaves of rich Arabs in London?

It is astonishing to learn of cases of slavery in this country. A few minutes ago we hear of a Dr Edet and his wife, a nurse, who acquired a 14 year-old boy from Nigeria 24 years ago and kept him a slave ever since.  Harrow Crown Court have already found them guilty and they will be sentenced shortly. Those who know these things tell us that there are many other cases scattered around the country.  Usually these terrible situations are well hidden and the police require tip-offs before they can act.

But what about the sizeable number of slaves who are known to exist in some of the most expensive London houses — particularly those owned by Arabs  — and treated particularly harshly treated because of it?  The police can’t enter without direst evidence for a search warrant and only single instances turn up every few years. Even so, why doesn’t the British government not allow the London Metropolitan Police to make threatening noises?  Carried on for long enough, these would be sufficient to cause the slave owners to stop the practice in London.  Or is it that British aerospace firms have such lucrative defence contracts with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates?

Inability to learn from the past

For all the obloquy and venom that is now being poured on Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, by Westminster politicians of all parties, the quieter members of the Great and the Good agree with him. Bombing in Syria and Iraq is an illegal act under international law.  The UN has given no consent.

And, as a practical measure, just what does bombing do?  Besides the Isis terrorists it kills, innocent people die, too, and more innocent people are affected.  Resistance on the ground is hardened, as was learned during the Second World War and Vietnam. It is said that for every terrorist killed by bombing two or three children and teenagers will become terrorists as a result. The ex-head of MI6 said much the same thing on television yesterday. Have we no way of learning from the past or is the instinct for warfare too strong?

Which are the best funders of innovation?

Matt Ridley recently wrote an article condemning government funding of Research and Development (R&D)

The quirks or accidents that occur to single minds and then lead on to major technologies scarcely matter compared with the reception given to the original innovator by immediate friends and colleagues — whether governmental, private and academic.  One of the greatest of all mankind’s innovations — the regular drilling of cereal seeds in straight lines — never occurred in grain-growing Europe for at least 5,000 years.

And, even then, European farmers had to be convinced by evidence coming along the Silk Road from China.  And in China for 3,000 years before that, the idea, which must have occurred thousands of times to thousands of individuals, rose and perished immediately before being adopted by those around the first eccentric farmer.

Matt Ridley has a good mind — there’s no doubt about that — particularly on genetics, which is also my own partiality, but it doesn’t make him infallible on every subjcet he writes about. Once again, it is the immediate reception given to new ideas — or funding proposals — that is all impotant. and that can be governmental as well as any other body.

As Marcia Angell notes in her book “The Truth about the Drug Companies”(2004) only three of the seven high-priority drugs of 2002 came from pharmaceutical companies. As Mafiano Mazzucato notes in her book, “The Entrepreneurial State” (2014) only 27 of the 100 top inventions annually listed by R&D Magazine in the 2000s were created by a single firm in contrast with government alone or a collaboration with government-funded entities.

Almost all the key scientific research behind the iPhone was done by government-backed scientists and technologists. Of two of the most successful wide-variation Ebola vaccines, one was from a state-backed Chinese team and the other from a state-supported Canadian university.  How many more spanners do you need to destroy the simplistic private industry-funded case of Friedman, Schumpeter, Ridley and all?

The list of status-imparting consumer goods is complete now for those in the advanced countries. The first phase of the industrial revolution is over.  There are only embellishments or enhancements of existing consumer goods to come.  No wonder that the R&D budgets of the major consumer goods multinationals are declining to zero. They already don’t know what to with their accumulated profits.

Where will be the groups to support many more quirky and accidental discoveries of future innovators — those that will establish major new production methods and major new industries?  And who will finance the funding of research needed for more efficient national infrastructures? Competition for these will be increasingly fierce between countries in order to attract good employers in future years.

Governments are going to be involved increasingly in R&D.

Dealing with Isis

Just as President Hollande is painting himself into full battle colours President Obama is going off the idea of intensive bombing of Isis in Syria and Iraq.

Quite rightly, too.  Countries with religious governments should either be left alone to work out their own salvation or some all-party Middle East political solution should be tried which, hopefully, will also put paid to the absurd historical enmity between Sunnis and Shias which revived when Bush and Blair invaded Iraq in 2003.

The latter ‘solution’ of Obama’s State Department is also supposed to help ease the various Middle East populations into non-oppressive governments, jobs and our Western standard of living.  That, unfortunately, is a step too far.  We don’t even know what to do about our own economies as automation moves steadily into our jobs.

There’ll be  no short cut from the massive cultural changes that Muslim countries will have to make. Isolation — and principally from its sources of funds — is the best way of dealing with Isis in the short term and countries in the longer term.

As always, real social and political change can only come from within a culture, not in patronising attempts from the outside.  Dictators such as Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are — or would have been — more neatly brought down by their own people — as European countries had to do one by one when making their transition from royalties and aristocracies into becoming nation-states.

The decline of the West?

Is the West in decline?  As an Ipsos MORI’s Social Research Institute reports has it: “The assumption of an automatically better future for the next generation has gone in much of the West.” Did the massacres in Paris last Friday — and the slipping through police hands of a key terrorist — signify growing weaknesses?

Was Robert Kagan right in 2003 when he said: “Americans are from Mars, Europeans from Venus”, meaning Europe is becoming spineless, weak and flabby?  Previously. existential philosophers, particularly French ones such as Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, have spoken of man’s disorientation, and particularly Europe’s. And then, in 1918, we had Oswald Spengler’s definitive work — as it used to be considered anyway —  The Decline of the West.

Waste deep in doubt, does Europe have a future?  I suggest it does — not the European Union, mind you, but Europe itself.  And especially the northern fringe of Europe  — the region formerly of the Reformation, independent thinking and the beginning of science.  It’s science that’s the key because doubt is as important as curiosity.  Curiosity drives investigation and theory-making but then the doubt of other scientists, not to say their critical testing of the theory, has to take place before any new ideas can be established.

Intellectual progress can only proceed with doubt as a constant companion — never too dominant to inhibit the continuing search. but also never too slight to allow sloppines to take place.  Institutions — one should say ideologies — that never doubt their assumptions fail to adapt when reality, as always, changes. With some doubt, but not too much, my money is on Europe to maintain its scientific doubt and move on.