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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Being tested

I am grumpy today. Grumpy because another month has passed without tangible progress. There is intangible progress though but that's hard to measure – by definition. Today is not a good day for asking me how I feel. Today is a day for solitude and for preventing negativity slipping back into my life. Actually today I'm wondering whether I'm still “being tested” by Life, God and/or the Universe. And I'm inclined to answer that question positively.

My lack of tangible progress does not imply that I do not know my way forward. I do. Else it's even impossible to perceive (a lack of) progress. The end of each month just includes certain items that visualise my lack of progress. It's almost like preparing the monthly financial statements and looking at the Profit & Loss, cash flow statement, and the Balance Sheet. The main difference is that I'm discussing them with myself.

I used the analogy of a fisher man to a friend: the fish don't bite and the float of my fishing rod still shows that I'm fishing in rough water. Perhaps I'm using the wrong bait. I do change the bait now and then to test its effectiveness. Perhaps I'm fishing at the wrong location. To be entirely clear on this analogy: stop fishing would equal giving up hope. And I'm not doing that.

Remarkably, I couldn't find useful information on my favourite website PsychologyToday.com. Consequently, I'm a little bit in uncharted waters. Nevertheless, my friend made a valid remark: we are being tested each and every day. I agree with that view although we may not perceive it that way in practice.

Each and every day, we are being tested as temptation is all around us: dating a married person, not scanning grocery items at the cashier’s check out, lying to people in order to benefit, not offering time to people who may need it, and so on and so forth. Each and every day, we get a chance to be the person we (don't) want to be.

In general, people admire a person that lives up to his/her principles: Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King. Nevertheless, people seldom like to be tested like their heroes were. Often it's like the famous Groucho Marx saying: “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well I have others.”

The feeling - and notion – of “being tested” also implies that you are the subject of a test which is being performed by someone / something else. It's not always easy to accept that you're not in control over your own destiny. Especially nowadays, where there is such an emphasis on individualism.

Accepting a “power” in our life (e.g., Allah, God, Universe, Yahweh), which is higher than ourselves, seems to conflict more and more with our strive for individualism. Even governments struggle with - and suffer from - this phenomenon. Government are no longer regarded as a (higher) power but merely as - more or less failing – political institutions.

Being tested each and every day is how character is built. Abraham Lincoln once said: “Character is like a tree and reputation is like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” And let's not forget: the more slowly trees grow, the better is the quality of their wood. Fast growing trees – like willows – bend and break easily. Easy come, easy go.

It was difficult finding one quote that summarises all. Hence, I give two quotes today:

U2 - Out Of Control (1979, single) - Boy (1980, album) - (artists, lyrics, Wiki)


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Suspicious Minds

Today it happened to me again. I perceived seeing several inconsistencies and got suspicious. In case of an incoming message from Amina, a 26 year blonde female from Accra, Singapore, showing a touristic profile picture from Paris, most people would get suspicious. My suspicion in another case is much more difficult to explain and too personal/private for this blog.

Daniel Freeman, a consultant clinical psychologist, has written a book, Paranoia: The 21st-Century Fear, with his brother Jason Freeman, a writer. Their thesis is that we are suffering from paranoia more than ever before. It was a mental disorder that was once thought to afflict 1% of the population - basically, people with schizophrenia - but now, according to studies, it affects 25% of us. Guardian

Over the last 15 years, as a research fellow for the Wellcome Trust, Freeman has found links between paranoia and urbanisation, globalisation, migration and wealth inequality, increased power of the media, CCTV cameras and the internet. Urbanisation particularly fascinates him. There are a number of really consistent results looking at the adult population in Sweden, showing people in urban areas have higher levels of paranoia. But we don't know exactly why," he says. Guardian

An environmental or social influence, however, is nothing without a psychological reaction. "This is another main reason why I believe paranoia is on the increase. Because we are constantly reminded, in the press, of threats from other people, we overestimate the chances of these events happening to us. There is a lot of research on this. It is what is known as the 'availability heuristic'. We make an estimate of the likelihood of a particular event simply by how easily we bring it to mind. Our children are getting fat because we aren't letting them out to play enough. We're scared they will be run over or abducted by strangers. In fact, the risks to the health from obesity are much higher than the risks of either of those events." Guardian

Paranoia rises in your teens and 20s, drops off and then kicks in again in old age, when debilitation and hearing issues have an effect. But there is a great reticence about it. "Go into a bookshop and there are loads of books on anxiety, on depression. [ ] Nothing on paranoia". Guardian

The increase in urbanisation and the increase of paranoia indeed shows an interesting correlation. In my blog of 28 May 2015, I mentioned an FT article by Dutch American Ivo Daalder on the rise of global city states. According to his article "For the first time in human history, more people now live in cities than in rural areas. By 2050, 6.5bn people, two-thirds of all humanity, will live and work in cities. In 1950 fewer than one billion did so."

Personally, I prefer the sounds of nature rather than city sounds. The abundance of artificial lights and unnatural electronic sounds easily become agitating. The waiting in continuous queues even makes things worse. Obviously, it doesn't help that most people around you are strangers rather than familiar faces. Also see my 10 September 2015 blog on the human distrust towards strangers. 

To me, urbanisation feels like creating ginormous battery cages similar to animals like chicken. Despite a maximum of 7 or 8 per battery cage, chicken still get stressed: they fight each other and lose health (e.g., feathers, infections, viral diseases). A next step towards paranoia amongst chicken doesn't seem far fetched. It's easy to see a parallel with human beings. Urbanisation is rather new to human social structures and to me it's unclear whether the benefits (e.g., work/income) outweigh the cons (e.g., health, loneliness). To be continued in my next blog.

Elvis Presley (1935-1977) – Suspicious Minds (1969) - (artist, lyrics, Wiki)


Monday, 28 September 2015

Automotive emission scandal - part 3 - systemic risk

When I wrote about the emission scandal at VW/Audi in my blogs of 19 and 22 September, I already had another company in the back of my mind as I was wondering whether VW/Audi had built that software device themselves. When other German brand names popped up (e.g., BMW, Opel), it became more and more likely that this other company had to be involved.

Robert Bosch is the world leading supplier of automotive parts and systems to vehicle manufacturers and the automotive aftermarket. Its market coverage is huge: for several car parts it's over 90% (Bosch). Consequently, Robert Bosch is by far the main EU Automotive (sub-component) supplier in sales and in workers. Slightly more than half of its business relates to vehicle sales (EU).

Yesterday the Independent wrote the following: "Other reports suggested that VW was informed that the software was illegal as early as 2007. The Bild am Sonntag newspaper said that Bosch, the car component specialist which developed the software, had written to VW in that year warning that it should be used for test purposes only. Bild said that, like the reported technician’s warning, the Bosch letter had turned up in an internal VW company report that the board examined last week. It said Bosch had told VW that its plans for the software were “illegal”."

Now it gets really interesting: an "illegal" software device produced and sold by Europe's biggest car part supplier and which was subsequently installed in 11 million cars of VW / Audi. Given the European market dominance of Bosch, it is quite likely that other - non-German - brands will also have bought and installed this "illegal" software device.

From a risk management perspective, the situation is quite serious. The interconnectedness - and thus contagion risk - in Automotive is high given the high concentration at the (car parts) supplier side. To some extent, there is even a systemic risk: the risk of collapse of an entire market. To a lesser extent, systemic risk in Automotive was already revealed after the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan. 

The disaster, and subsequent flooding in Thailand, dramatically affected the vehicle and supply chain in Asia – and not just for Japanese automakers. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler also rely, although to a lesser extent, on certain supply components from Japan. The tsunami forced all three companies to establish contingency plans for where to get materials such as paint dye or computer chips for navigation systems if disaster strikes again. (source, other relevant source)

The official blame game will soon start: car manufacturers will blame the car parts supplier for selling them "illegal" software devices. The car parts supplier will blame the car manufacturers for willingly installing "illegal" software devices which were just meant for "test purposes". Nevertheless, the volume of sold "illegal" software devices does not at all suggest that they were meant for "test purposes" unless we take a sarcastic view on this. 

Basically, the car manufacturers have acted as a 'fence". A fence is an individual who knowingly buys stolen property for later resale, sometimes in a legitimate market (Wiki). The legal liability for this emission scandal has become rather opaque since the involvement of Robert Bosch.

As my grandfather used to say: "Everything that relates to rubber, stinks". And he built trucks.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Professional care

There's still a lot of debate on the role of auditors. After any crisis, people claim that auditors should have seen it coming and should have warned about it. However, nobody claims that a doctor should do the same. Nevertheless, doctors and auditors both investigate the healthiness of their “patients”. One of the main difference is the role of their patients within society.

Both doctors and auditors call their patients “clients”. Both are paid by their clients although doctors may be reimbursed indirectly through a medical insurance company. In both cases, the patients – sorry, clients – may think they know better than their professional adviser. The auditor is typically more sensitive to that (commercial/financial) pressure.

In both cases, the professional opinion is used by other – so called “third” - parties (e.g., banks, life insurance companies). In case of malpractice, there's a big difference however: auditors cannot hide behind professional secrecy - unlike doctors. Other doctors are generally not very eager to issue opinions that may then be used for legal purposes - unlike auditors.

Both professions are somewhere in between art and science. Expressing professional (e.g., audit, medical) opinions is based on observations, knowledge, experience but also gut feeling. Patients - or clients - may not always give reliable information about their health.

Doctors claim that there is no competition between doctors. Either a client/patient respects and trust his doctor or (s)he moves on to a more suitable doctor. This situation has become very different for auditors. I think and feel that there's a correlation between the (start of the) legal audit requirement and the (start of the) deterioration of respect and trust - and audit fees. This legal requirement has created a commodity. And commodities are generally price driven.

Respect and trust of the client is key. Professional liability and legal responsibility determine the boundaries in this delicate relationship. There's no hiding behind professional secrecy for auditors. Expect full disclosure in case of (alleged) malpractice. Dutch Finance Secretary Jeroen Dijsselbloem recently advised auditors to apply a safe zone before these boundaries are reached. (source)

Although it wasn't their desired exemption of the EU competition clauses, Dutch doctors were recently allowed to negotiate – as a profession rather than individual professionals – with the medical insurance companies to get better conditions for reimbursement of their professional care towards clients/patients. Negotiating higher prices is still illegal. (ACM, NOS, NRC)

Ironically, less competition in the audit profession may actually improve the quality of their output. Auditors should become professionals again rather than companies selling an audit opinion. I'm afraid that more regulations will further deteriorate the quality of an audit opinion. It's like the saying: the operation (audit) was successful but the patient (company) died.

Applying fixed reimbursement rates for auditors - like doctors - would remove competition on prices. Once price becomes non-negotiable, clients of auditors would then strive for getting the best service. Auditors would then need to compete on service. Society as a whole may benefit.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Robin Hood in the USA

The NY Times of 16 September 2015 reported that “Median household income in the United States was $53,660 last year, the Census Bureau reported, and the poverty rate — 14.8 percent — also saw no improvement. About 46.7 million people were in poverty in 2014, the bureau said, the fourth consecutive year in which the number of people in poverty was not statistically different from the official estimate for the prior year.”

Median income is the amount that divides the income distribution into two equal groups, half having income above that amount, and half having income below that amount. Mean income (average) is the amount obtained by dividing the total aggregate income of a group by the number of units in that group. (Wikipedia) The 2013 average household income is $73,487 with 35% households above.

I'm more and more convinced that rising inequality explains the political successes of Bernie Sanders on the left and "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" on the right. It's not only a US phenomenon though. The ridiculously high rewards in some industries have been an excellent source for polarisation and radicalisation in many other countries. In essence, it's a phase of disorder looking for a new equilibrium. Also see my September 8 blog: Equilibrium and disorder.

In a 1-man-1-vote system, interesting developments could occur. The mere fact that Bernie Sanders is now eclipsing Hillary Clinton (NYT) in the polls puts him in the major league of players. However, the popular vote does not count in the USA as 2000 Presidential candidate Al Gore well remembers. There are many voter restrictions in the USA aimed at benefiting political parties at both sides.

The primary message of Bernie Sanders mirrors that of Robin Hood: take from the rich and give to the poor. It's a simple and effective message. It could indeed make him the President of a country that has little respect for the poor – and several other “minorities”. The visit of Pope Francis to the USA underlines that too: the poor, the refugees, and the prisoners get his attention. (NYT)

The message of Bernie Sanders also mirrors “similar” messages in South America. The entire American continent is in search for a new equilibrium – even Venezuela but in a different direction. An equilibrium is always in the “middle” and never at the far ends. Ruthless capitalism and authoritarian communism have both proven to be unsustainable concepts. Despite their differences, they do have 2 things in common: they benefit a few at the top and disrespect the masses below.

To a large extent, capitalism and communism are even the same system but with a different name. Even the legal system hardly brings a difference: in one system justice (or protection) is for the politically well-connected, and in the other system justice (or protection) is for the rich. What does "freedom" really mean when you can't pay your bills? Survival is all that matters in the end.

In my view, Bernie Sanders deserves a chance in restoring one of the core values of America - equality. It will get worse for a few but it could hardly get worse for most.

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. Abraham Lincoln

Friday, 25 September 2015

JUST DO IT

One of the most annoying replies you can get in your life is: "I will try". You just spent considerable time helping someone and then you get this disappointing remark. Based upon this reply, you already know that this person will most likely not bother to try - let alone do it. It's probably the same reason why the Nike slogan "JUST DO IT" has survived time. You just can't misunderstand its message.

Yesterday the reply "I will try" came up in a chat with someone new. That person was complaining to me about the unfairness of life. The rearview mirror was the focus, not the future. Probably that person was counting on my sympathy. Yet, expressing sympathy usually worsens the complaining. The last thing such a person really needs, is soothing words. I know. I've been there myself.

The phrase "I will try" implies that the person expects to fail while doing it. That expectation is based on insecurity - on negativity. Failing is more important to negative people than positive people. Failing reaffirms a negative self image, or self esteem. Avoiding to fail - and thus to try - makes sense to them. A positive person would think: "What's the worst that could happen? Yes I could fail but I will never know if I don't try". Negative people see the downside, positive people the upside.

People who are caught in the trap of negativity, amplify their own problems. All problems become interconnected and the start of the solution seems to drift further and further away. Yet, they are well aware how to solve their own problems but lack motivation to start as their problems appear too big. Part of the solution lies in slicing the elephant: the smaller the steps, the easier to make them.

The real solution lies in re-igniting the person's motivation. That is the reason why I do not believe in expressing too much sympathy. As we say in Dutch: "Zachte heelmeesters maken stinkende wonden", which would translate like "Soft doctors create stinking wounds". The official English translation however is: "Mild physician, putrid wound". (Dutch proverbs).

Appealing to the inner pride of a person may re-ignite the inner strength - or motivation. It may take a while finding it though. Yesterday I was lucky as it took me one to two hours to see - and more important, to feel - the sparks coming back to life. Feeling the Light replacing the Dark side, brings hope and joy - and satisfaction to me. It was a day well spent.

Afterwards I realised that there had been another memorable event in this conversation as this person has a "competing" religion. In principle, that should not pose a problem. In practice however, it usually does. Nevertheless, the conversation was remarkably sanguine. With hindsight, it felt to me as if we both have one religion - although some names are spelled quite differently.

One love. One blood. One life. You got to do what you should. One life. With each other. Sisters. Brothers. One life. But we're not the same. We get to Carry each other, Carry each other. (Lyrics from the song One by U2)


U2, featuring Mary J. Blige - One (1992, 2005) - (artists, lyrics, Wiki)

Thursday, 24 September 2015

You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with

Recently, the daily TED newsletter mentioned an interesting video called "How to find work that you love" by Scott Dinsmore. Actually, this is a question which is also still on my mind. I am not sure if my writing will ever earn me a living. So far it doesn't earn me anything. Yet it has become my newly discovered talent and my new passion. Stopping now is not an option to me.

Scott Dinsmore calls his organisation 'Live Your Legend'. I like - love - this expression as it feels like the right thing to do. I used the term 'legacy' rather than 'legend' in my blog of 26 August 2015 called "I'm a Believer". I suppose these two terms also show the difference in perspective between people from USA and Europe. Americans always think BIG in just about anything.

One of the most intriguing statements in this TED video is a quote by motivational speaker Jim Rohn which says: "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with."

This quote relates to the law of averages, which is the theory that the result of any given situation will be the average of all outcomes (BusinessInsider). Strictly speaking, this interpretation of statistics is wrong: "The law of averages is a layman's term for a belief that the statistical distribution of outcomes among members of a small sample must reflect the distribution of outcomes across the population as a whole" (Wikipedia). In case of a so called normal - or Gaussian - statistical distribution, the minimum sample size needs to be 400 in order to reach a 95% probability (Wiki).

When it comes to relationships, we are greatly influenced — whether we like it or not — by those closest to us. It affects our way of thinking, our self-esteem, and our decisions. While it's ideal to be closely surrounded by positive, supportive people who want you to succeed, it's also necessary to have your critics. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, "Tell Me What I Did Wrong: Experts Seek And Respond To Negative Feedback," novices have a preference for positive feedback, but experts want negative feedback, so that they can make progress. (BusinessInsider)

When I look back at the past 2 to 3 decades then I recognise another phenomenon: social climbing. Social climbing is actively changing this average of 5 people by gaining new people you spend (most) time with, and losing others. When in a relationship it's not always easy retaining old friends once your partner starts criticising them. Your partner may even be right in his/her observations. Worse, such friendship once brought added value to you but you lose track of that over the years.

Often we fool ourselves by claiming that we haven't changed. Our appearance, behaviour, character, goals, innocence, and even our core values in life do change. For some this change implies progress and for others not but we are never ever the same person. Life's experiences and especially its scars do shape us. It's like the (same!) boy on the cover of the U2 albums Boy and War.

As a result of my self chosen solitude, I have become my own average. I now suddenly think and feel that I'm delaying selecting these 5 persons considering the continuous progress that I'm still making. Saying 'goodbye' isn't really easy for me and thus delaying saying 'hello' makes perfect sense.  

The Beatles - Hello, Goodbye (1967) - (lyrics, Wiki)


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Jealousy - part 2

Yesterday a new reader wrote to me that my blog about jealousy was 'shallow'. I must agree. I was upset and wrote an emotional blog. I did mention that my experience to jealousy was limited to a single 2012 incident. It's not the best excuse however for writing a shallow blog. Today I aim to put jealousy in a much broader context.

Part 1 of my blog on jealousy suggested that jealousy is limited to love. Well, indeed it is. There is however another type of jealousy which is called 'envy' (NL: afgunst). Envy can be about anything. People can envy other people for having something - or for not having something. I think and feel that envious people feel insecure about (some of) their choices in life when they see other people having made different choices. This may also explain why I seldom feel envious as I don't regret the choices that I have made in my life. Regret is a waste of time - and emotion.

Evolutionary psychologists have spent years researching jealousy. In her review of the literature, Harris (2004) writes that evolutionary psychologists suggest that jealousy might have given a “fitness advantage” for men and women. More specifically, Buss (1995) concluded that a specific set of brain circuits determines a jealous reaction, and found that men were more jealous about physical infidelity while women were more jealous about emotional infidelity. PsychologyToday

Insecurity is the most common source of jealousy. People often throw around the term "inferiority complex," which is not a clinical term, but refers to an underlying impoverished ego or low self-esteem—a jealous man who feels insecure in his romantic relationships, for example, does not feel confident that he is good and valuable enough to keep another person interested in him over time. It’s important to note that insecurity is usually not absolute in men and women (PsychologyToday). The other 2 - less common - reasons for jealousy are obsessive thinking and a paranoid personality.

If you ask a jealous person whether he (or she) was justified in feeling jealous, he would probably cite several examples where jealousy was actually founded in fact. In other words, a partner really was cheating, or truly did betray him! (PsychologyToday). Interestingly, the same happened in my case. Might jealousy be like an evolutionary alarm going off, activated by our (sub)conscious??

There is a lot of nature-nurture - or evolution-culture - debate about jealousy (NYT). The fact that jealousy is also seen in domesticated animals, like cats and dogs, does not really help this debate. In my view, the cause for jealousy is an interesting but primarily academic discussion that ignores the real issue in jealousy: is jealousy (ever) justified? Claims of jealousy are often belittled. The two less common reasons for jealousy are often used for that purpose: obsession and paranoia. Jealousy may even be projected on someone through reverse psychology.

The purpose of jealousy might be to protect social bonds - even in animals. It's rather ironic that the way jealousy is expressed often leads to the opposite of its purpose. PsychologyToday: For extremely jealous individuals, their jealousy almost always leads to the end of relationships.

In my view, jealousy is a useful - evolutionary or cultural - tool. Expressing jealousy is the dangerous part. As the saying goes: Forewarned is fore armed (NL: Een gewaarschuwd mens telt voor twee).

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

VW / Audi fraud - part 2

My September 19 blog was about the VW fraud in the USA. I wrote: "Actually, I would be very surprised if this fraud would be limited to the USA. And a joint EU and US penalty could seriously hurt this car manufacturer." Today, 22 September, VW issued a de facto Q3 profit warning after booking a 6.5 billion Euro provision that relates to 11 million cars worldwide. (NYT)

However, this VW/Audi accrual only amounts to Euro 590 per car. The NYT states that "under the terms of the Clean Air Act, the Justice Department could impose fines of as much as $37,500 for each recalled vehicle, for a possible total penalty of as much as $18 billion". The VW/Audit accrual may thus be largely understated. Perhaps to prevent panic on the stock markets. Last Monday, the news resulted in a 20% share price plunge for the company. Today it's another -18% so far. 

On September 20, the German government called on other German automakers Monday to clarify whether they had manipulated emissions data from their diesel cars following accusations that Volkswagen had rigged emissions tests in the United States. “We are confronted with a case of massive consumer cheating and environmental damage,” Jochen Flasbarth, Germany’s deputy environment minister, said in a statement. German rivals Daimler and BMW said the accusations made by U.S. authorities against VW did not apply to them, according to Reuters. (Politico)

Actually, the reply by BMW and Mercedes may have been premature. I am still wondering which department at VW/Audi could have authorised this software manipulation. The only department I can come up with is the manufacturing / technology department in order to meet emission demands. In my view, the Sales and Finance departments are unlikely to have authorised this as they are much more aware of the massive consequences of such a fraud. Consequently, top management in Automotive may not even know - yet - about such manipulation with their various brand names.

I suspect that the reputation of various car manufacturers may get a serious dent in the forthcoming months. In my view, it is unlikely that only VW/Audi has adopted this approach to manipulate emission data from diesel cars. And why only diesel??

In November 2014, the US administration announced the largest penalty ever for a violation of the Clean Air Act after the Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia agreed to pay a combined $300 million as part of a settlement for overstating vehicle fuel-economy standards on 1.2 million cars. (NYT)

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published that "Apple Inc. is accelerating efforts to build an electric car, designating it internally as a “committed project” and setting a target ship date for 2019, according to people familiar with the matter". On 14 September, the NYT published "that John Krafcik, an auto industry veteran, would become chief executive of its self-driving car project this month."

As already mentioned in my blogs of January 26 and March 15, Apple and Google are reshaping the the Automotive industry. Initially, it looked as if Automotive would become the hardware platform for "software" companies like Apple and Google. Today, things are much more serious. The emission scandal at VW/Audi (and others?) may well become the turning point in Automotive history.


The Neanderthal

Yesterday's blog mentioned the Neanderthal. To my surprise the Neanderthal are far more interesting than I would ever have imagined. In essence, the Neanderthal were bigger, stronger, taller and more intelligent than modern humans. Contrary to the widespread idea that Neanderthals were ape-like or inferior, the Neanderthal were much more like an intelligent Tarzan. So why did they go extinct??

As the 2014 study by Thomas Higham of Neanderthal bones and tools indicates that Neanderthals died out in Europe between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, and that Homo sapiens arrived in Europe between 45,000 and 43,000 years ago, it is now apparent that the two different human populations shared Europe for as long as 5,000 years. (Wikipedia)

Neanderthals were closely related to modern humans, differing in DNA by just 0.12%. Although both species co-existed, there is only limited evidence - and a lot of controversy - whether they interbred. Some studies suggest that our Neanderthal-inherited genetic material is about 1 to 4 percent. Other studies carried out [..] have cast doubt on the level of admixture between Neanderthals and modern humans, or even as to whether the species interbred at all. One study has asserted that the presence of Neanderthal or other archaic human genetic markers can be attributed to shared ancestral traits between the species originating from a 500,000-year-old common ancestor. (Wikipedia)

Neanderthals were large compared to Homo sapiens because they inhabited higher latitudes [..] and their larger stature explains their larger brain size because brain size generally increases with body size. With an average cranial capacity of 1600 cm3, the cranial capacity of Neanderthals is notably larger than the 1400 cm3 average for modern humans, indicating that their brain size was larger. Males stood 164–168 cm and females 152–156 cm tall. Studies on Neanderthal body structures have shown that they needed more energy to survive than any other species of hominid. When food became scarce, this difference may have played a major role in the Neanderthals' extinction. (Wiki)

So why did the bigger, stronger, taller and more intelligent Neanderthal lose from their co-existing competitor Homo sapiens? There are several hypotheses but a cocktail of these hypotheses may provide a more convincing line of thought. In essence, the hypotheses vary from climate change, human inflicted diseases, interbreeding and absorption, violent conflict with Homo sapiens, and - intriguingly - the domestication of the dog by humans.

A cocktail may look like this: the arrival of Homo sapiens from Africa also brought African pathogen (e.g., virus, bacterium, prion, fungus, viroid, or parasite) to the Neanderthal who had already adapted to European pathogen. This caused major and widespread diseases to the Neanderthal. A weakened Neanderthal population could neither compete with Homo sapiens nor survive the severe Last Glacial Maximum which started some 100,000 years ago and reached its maximum 26,500 years ago. 

Moreover, Homo sapiens operated in groups and used dogs in its hunt for food. "By contrast, there is no evidence of any kind that Neanderthals had any relationship with dogs and instead they appear to have continued to hunt mammoths and elks on their own, a punishing method for acquiring food". (Guardian)

Intriguingly, the domestication of wolves may have changed our appearances as well. The wolf possesses white sclera as does Homo sapiens though, crucially, it is the only primate that has them. Thus the mutation conferring white sclera could have become increasingly common among modern humans 40,000 years ago and would have conferred an advantage on those who were hunting with dogs. “The main advantage of having white sclera is that it is very easy to work out what another person is gazing at,” added Shipman. “It provides a very useful form of non-verbal communication and would have been of immense help to early hunters. They would been able to communicate silently but very effectively.” (Guardian). 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Redheads, gingers, and strawberry blondes

One of the most intriguing hair colours is red, or ginger, or strawberry blonde. There are plenty of nicknames for redheads and some of them even relate to evil. There are also plenty of allegations, rumours and tales about people with red hair. Probably because humans with red hair are rare. And minorities easily become the scape goats of society as someone always needs to be blamed.

Although red hair is an almost exclusively northern and central European phenomenon, isolated cases have also been found in the Middle East, Central Asia (notably among the Tajiks), as well as in some of the Tarim mummies from Xinjiang, in north-western China. The Udmurts, an Uralic tribe living in the northern Volga basin of Russia, between Kazan and Perm, are the only non-Western Europeans to have a high incidence of red hair (over 10%). (source: Eupedia, also see Wikipedia)

The 45th parallel north, running through central France, northern Italy and Croatia, appears to be a major natural boundary for red hair frequencies. Under the 45th parallel, the UV rays become so strong that it is no longer an advantage to have red hair and very fair skin. Under the 41st parallel, redheads become extremely rare (Eupedia). The 41st parallel north is basically where Africa starts.

The origins of haplogroup R1b (LO: red hair) are complex, and shrouded in controversy to this day. The present author favours the theory of a Middle Eastern origin (a point upon which very few population geneticists disagree) followed by a migration to the North Caucasus and Pontic Steppe, serving as a starting point for a Bronze-age invasion of the Balkans, then Central and Western Europe. This theory also happens to be the only one that explains the presence of red hair among the Udmurts, Central Asians and Tarim mummies. (Eupedia)

Scientists do not rule out that red hair is inherited from the Neanderthals who evolved alongside Homo Sapiens for 600,000 years. A 2007 genetic study suggested some Neanderthals may have had red hair and blond hair, along with a light skin tone. However, this Neanderthal link may be totally wrong as the Neanderthal population became extinct within a few thousand years after arrival of Homo Sapiens in its territory. The fairly rapid extinction of the Neanderthal population is even the cause for several hypotheses. (Eupedia, other, GuardianWiki-1, Wiki-2)

A 2007 report in The Courier-Mail, which cited the National Geographic magazine and unnamed "geneticists", said that red hair is likely to die out in the near future. Other blogs and news sources ran similar stories that attributed the research to the magazine or the "Oxford Hair Foundation". However, a HowStuffWorks article says that the foundation was funded by hair-dye maker Procter & Gamble, and that other experts had dismissed the research as either lacking in evidence or simply bogus. TheNational Geographic article in fact states "while redheads may decline, the potential for red isn't going away". Red hair is caused by a relatively rare recessive gene, the expression of which can skip generations. It is not likely to disappear at any time in the foreseeable future. (Wiki)

Nowadays, redheads are almost trendy: "6 Reasons You Need To Start Dating A Ginger Now" (men, women) compared to articles like: "Redheads Are Least Desirable To Men AND Women" (YT)

REM created the most dangerous of all musical redheads: one who’ll “cut your heart like diamonds” but who’s so alluring that kissing her is a must. Of course, the final line about keeping away from redheads is crap. (source)

R.E.M. - Redhead Walking (2008) - (artists, lyrics, Wiki)


Sunday, 20 September 2015

Jealousy

To my own astonishment I noticed that I have never written anything about jealousy. Now is a good moment as I have just lost a brand new Facebook friend due to jealousy. My Facebook friend is - or better: was - a former colleague of my former girlfriend. My former girlfriend thinks that I am after her former colleague. Well I am not and I am pretty sure about that.

I am partly to blame for this incident. A week ago, I had told my former girlfriend that I was amazed how pretty her former colleague looks as I had finally seen her picture. My ex gf had often mentioned her former colleague but I had never seen her. My ex gf's response a week ago should have alerted me - with hindsight. Today we exchanged some nasty messages about this new FB friendship. I also accused her of just being jealous as I fail to see any other explanation.

I just had a FB chat with that former colleague and she didn't understand the attitude of my former girlfriend. Neither do I as my former girlfriend should be happy in love with her new boyfriend. I did accuse her of being jealous but seriously, how could she even be jealous of me befriending her former colleague?? Nevertheless, that former colleague and I agreed that it would be better not to be FB friends anymore to avoid further negative emotion from my former girlfriend.

Until late 2012, I had never even felt jealousy in my life when it comes to women. With hindsight, the most logical explanation is that I had never been in love until then. Late 2012, I strongly felt that a Kenyan woman was making a move on my Kenyan girlfriend. Out of nowhere, I got a sudden and immense attack of jealousy. My first ever. Later my Kenyan girlfriend confirmed that this woman had indeed been planning to steal her away from me.

Since late 2012, I see jealousy as the ugly, dark side of love. I think and feel that it is a very powerful negative emotion in the brain and most likely very capable of taking over the logic of the mind. I was very surprised to experience this emotion. Actually I was also a little afraid as this emotion was so powerful. It took my mind some minutes to get in control again. The anger lasted much longer.

For as long as we can remember, women have had a reputation for jealousy and cattiness. 73% of women admitted to feeling jealous, as opposed to 27% of men. 63% of single women said they felt jealous of their married friends, while 37% said that they loved being single. (YourTango)

Initially, less than half the women surveyed said that they struggled with trust issues, but questions about specific instances of jealousy suggested otherwise. 53% of women secretly check their partner's emails and phone history. The same percentage of women flirt in front of their husband to make him jealous, and a whopping 77% married women say they would feel jealous if their husband had a close, platonic female friend. Oddly enough, only 13% of women said that their husbands would feel jealous if they talked to another man. The 53% of coupled-up women who flirt with other guys might want to rethink that strategy. (YourTango)

The problem for men is that women use jealousy as a tactic for defense and offense. Nevertheless, the old saying is: "The best defense is a good offense" (Wiki).

My advice to my ex gf (and myself) is from the song below: "Get yourself a life and make it work".


Beverly Knight - In Your Shoes (2009) - (artist, lyrics, Wiki)


Saturday, 19 September 2015

VW / Audi fraud - part 1 - Isn't it ironic

My mother used to say that my grandfather had an expression for Automotive: "Everything that relates to rubber, stinks". And he was working in that Automotive industry. So I suppose that he was knowledgable. This memory came to my mind when I read about the massive - nearly half a million - Volkswagen / Audi recall in the USA. In itself recalls are not breaking news. This one however is.

Yesterday's breaking news alert by the NT Times announced that: "The Obama administration on Friday directed Volkswagen to recall nearly a half-million cars, saying the automaker illegally installed software in its diesel-power cars to evade standards for reducing smog."

"The Environmental Protection Agency accused the German automaker of using software to detect when the car is undergoing its periodic state emissions testing. Only during such tests are the cars’ full emissions control systems turned on. During normal driving situations, the controls are turned off, allowing the cars to spew as much as 40 times as much pollution as allowed under the Clean Air Act, the E.P.A. said." (NYT)

"Agency officials issued the car company a notice of violation and said it had admitted to the use of a so-called defeat device. The recall involves 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from model years 2009-15. The recall covers roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the United States since 2009. Affected diesel models include the 2009-15 Volkswagen Jetta, 2009-15 Beetle, 2009-15 Golf, 2014-15 Passat and 2009-15 Audi A3." (NYT)

"Friday’s notice of violation was the Obama administration’s “opening salvo” in the Volkswagen case, said Thomas Reynolds, an E.P.A. spokesman. The Justice Department’s investigation could ultimately result in fines or penalties for the company. Under the terms of the Clean Air Act, the Justice Department could impose fines of as much as $37,500 for each recalled vehicle, for a possible total penalty of as much as $18 billion." (NYT)

“This is several steps beyond the violations that we’ve seen from other auto companies,” said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group. “They appear to have designed a system with the intention to mislead consumers and the government. If that’s proven true, it’s remarkable and outrageous. It would merit a heck of a lot more than just a recall and a fine. We would see criminal prosecution.” (NYT)

Actually, I would be very surprised if this fraud would be limited to the USA. And a joint EU and US penalty could seriously hurt this car manufacturer. It's Group Equity is some 90 billion (AR 2014) and the EU fine would most likely be a multiple of the US one considering VW's massive European car sales volume and the small American volume. As VW employs nearly 600,000 people (AR 2014), there needs to be a sensitive trade-off between the fines and its going-concern.

It is getting more and more ironic that my business experience is in Automotive and Banking......

Alanis Morissette - Ironic (1996) - (artistlyrics, Wiki)


Friday, 18 September 2015

Saying "NO"

This week the CEO of a Dutch insurer suddenly resigned within less than 2 months after joining that company. Rumour has it that the authoritarian Chinese management style conflicted with the Dutch consensus management style (FD). Allegedly, the new Chinese owners didn't appreciate hearing his "no" to their requests or - more likely - demands.

Saying "no" in management positions is far harder than saying "sorry". I have learned to avoid the "no" answer by asking for priorities, for deadlines, and even which other tasks to delay. Usually that helps in creating attention and awareness for your situation. Saying "no" is rather final and usually taken in a wrong and offensive way. You should be prepared to pack your stuff in such a case.

Yesterday evening I got a request from a friend to visit me today. I was already thinking about excuses when I suddenly realised how hard it is to just say "no" to someone you know. With strangers it's rather easy to say "no". Actually I almost enjoy saying "no" when I receive cold calls from telemarketing agencies. It almost feels like payback for all the times I wasn't able to say "no".

Saying "no" to your children is even harder. Many parents feel guilty for not being "perfect" parents - the ones that we only see in movies. That guilt may often come from not spending enough "quality" time with their kids. Children may not yet have a degree in psychology but they are very quick to leverage on their parents' guilt feelings.

Saying "no" is drawing boundaries: to here and no further. Knowing someone's boundaries may lead to mind games in which the flexibility of those boundaries is being tested. Children are experts in testing the boundaries of their parents. Overstepping the boundaries is testing their flexibility. Love and guilt are the two main leverages to reach their goal.

In my efforts to reconcile with my children (following the long and nasty divorce), I have let them overstep nearly all of my boundaries. It probably even earned me their disrespect. And they are right. Today I face the consequences of that failed approach. I now just mirror their approach to me: total silence meets total silence.

I may never get over this pain: having worked my ass off to provide them with nearly everything they wanted or desired, and then being dumped as a parent. Everyone claims that their "no" may just be temporary. I am far less convinced of that. Sometimes I fear my own response whenever they will reach out again. More likely is that I will not even be around by then. Probably somewhere abroad while being a full time father, pensionado and writer.

“No is a complete sentence and so often we forget that. When we don't want to do something we can simply smile and say no. We don't have to explain ourselves, we can just say "No". Early on my journey I found developing the ability to say no expanded my ability to say yes and really mean it.
My early attempts at saying no were often far from graceful but with practice even my no came from a place of love. Love yourself enough to be able to say yes or no.” Susan Gregg

Rolling Stones - (Daddy You're A) Fool To Cry (1976) - (lyrics, Wiki)


Thursday, 17 September 2015

It's just a game..................

No doubt each of us has heard these words - it's just a game - after losing a heated game. Playing games may bring the best - and worst - of us into the spotlight. Why is a game seldom "just a game"?

And I'm not the only one. Urban Dictionary even states: "The most infuriating and bloodlust inspiring phrase a gamer can hear. A phrase that makes you wishes that the person who said it was in the game so you can blow their head off. It is interesting to note that in all cases the gamer did not ask anyone’s opinion regarding the way he/she spends his/her free time, making the statement an unprovoked insulting comment. This bane of the gaming world is often said by a parent/brother/sister or romantic significant other who does not understand the time and effort spent in the game".

I may have lost a friend during the past several days. This online strategy game that we are both playing is also part of the bruise to our friendship. Also see yesterday's blog: can we still be friends?

Games are never really games that people play (Alan Parsons Project). Games still mirror the spirit of medieval times which were all about glory and honour. Why do we pretend that a game is just a game? Why do we call the ones who dare not enter the game "chicken" or "cowards"?

Games are about competition. Entering a competition requires a skill set, perseverance and endurance. You better do not enter when you do not have the stamina to finish.

Competition is at the core of our humanity but we are not alone. Competition rules anything that lives. Wikipedia: "According to evolutionary theory, this competition within and between species for resources plays a very relevant role in natural selection [..]", or Darwin's 'survival of the fittest'.

Any job is also like entering - or being in - a competition. It may however take a while seeing and feeling it this way. Yet, it helps in achieving alliances (friendly colleagues), bonuses, promotions and - most of all - results. This corporate game even has a nickname: "rat race". Two illustrative words that cannot be misunderstood. 

The sign of the Rat is the first of the 12 animals in Chinese Astrology. A person born under this sign is extremely hard-working. They want to achieve their goals so much that can seem to be selfish or stubborn, but those who knows rat-people understand that they believe in what they are doing and approach it whole-heartedly (source). Being a (1960) Rat myself, I fully agree to this.

I like playing games but only when I know in advance that I am good at it. Else I do not enter the game. Why waste my time, energy and resources on things that I know in advance that I cannot win? I know my limitations fairly well. My assets are not in physical strength but in mental strength, in strategy, in tactics and in operations. I enjoy winning and analyse my losses to gain lessons learned. I'm not a sore loser. I bite my tongue and await my next chance. To feel the satisfaction of winning. 

Everyone is a winner but you need to find your own game.

Hot Chocolate - Every 1's A Winner (1978) - (lyrics, Wiki)


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Can we still be friends?

Today's blog title is borrowed from a famous Todd Rundgren song but many of you will only know the near perfect version by the late and great Robert Palmer. I also love the duet between Daryl Hall and Todd Rundgren at LFDH. For the ones who do not know this song at all, sit back and enjoy.

The focus in the question - Can we still be friends? - can be on 'friends', on 'can' or on 'still'.

I have lost many friends due to my divorce, my working and living abroad, my burn-out, my continued lack of employment, and - last but certainly not least - last year's break-up with my gf. Now I look at back at these years and mainly see my overdue transformation. During those years I was mainly fighting this change, fighting people, and most of all fighting myself.

I used to be the one pushing and pulling the friendships and networking - 'more is better'. However, friends are like bankers who lend you their umbrella when it’s sunny and want it back when it rains (quote) - a.k.a. fair-weather friends. Today I prefer 'less is more' - even with friends. In rare cases I am in serious doubt whether a person belongs to my past, present or future. The title of today's blog - and song - may only apply to a few persons. The rest belongs to my past.

Friendship can only exist when mutual expectations are in line. I give a lot of myself and expect a lot in return. That expectation is often in vain and that is the main reason why friendship fails. The solution could be in lowering expectations and downgrading friends to acquaintances. The solution might be in increasing expectations. Only a true friend then still meets - or exceeds - expectations.

This difference in mutual expectations is - in my view - the sole reason for Oscar Wilde's legendary remark: "Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship". If you don't believe me then please watch this funny YouTube video. Men hope for a friendship with benefits (FWB), women want - and expect - a "neutral" friendship. Latter is just wishful thinking but it takes many women many years to figure out this expectation gap.

Time (zones) and distance are two other important factors for any friendship, besides expectations. Interestingly, they may even work both ways: improve and deteriorate although the latter is more likely. There is a (Dutch) saying: "A good neighbour is worth more than a distant friend." It seems to be an adaptation from the Bible: "Better is a neighbour who is near than a brother far away". From a strict practical point of view this is certainly true. To me, friendship is priceless.

Today I wonder: how many "bruises" can a friendship still endure? Is a "bruise" a sign that friendship is being tested to its bones? Or is a "bruise" a sign of "abuse" within a friendship? Bruises are a sign of vulnerability whether physically or emotionally. Dealing with your bruises - or vulnerability - may be the ultimate test for any friendship.

Don't lick your wounds unless you care to taste the sting a second time. Richelle E. Goodrich quote


Can We Still Be Friends? - Todd Rundgren and Daryl Hall - Live From Daryl's House


Can We Still Be Friends? - Robert Palmer (1949-2003)

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Love, Betrayal, Closure and Healing (part 2)

Perhaps you may have noticed the subtle title change in today's part 2. Yesterday's blog ended with the question how to find closure. After seeing a most impressive TED video – Beyond Closure by Nancy Berns - I have concluded that I was looking for the right answer to the wrong question. The proper question is: how does one heal? (e.g., betrayal, broken heart, from a loss).

Nancy Berns is a sociologist at Drake University. In this video "she looks at the space between grief and closure and has found that not only is closure a fabricated concept, it is doing us more harm than good" (TED). She wonders why do so many people judge someone for choosing to carry his/her grief and loss forward? Nancy Berns states that our society has this popular idea that we need closure (e.g., of our grief) in order to move forward.

The basic message of that TED video is that the need for closure is often misguided. Healing is far more important than closure. Closure assumes that grief and joy are two separate entities and not interconnected. It assumes that we can “close” our grief and can continue living a happy life - without grief. That assumption is flawed. Nancy Berns states that "closure does not even exist".

Actually, I think I was getting quite obsessed with this need for closure until I saw this TED video. Her words are comforting and consoling. Watching this TED video was quite emotional. I sincerely recommend it to anyone who experienced grief.

Remarkably, there is not that much (relevant) information available on healing. Many Google search results seem totally irrelevant. However, let's start with the popular saying that time heals all wounds.

Time, in and of itself, does not heal all wounds. There is no magic in the one- or two-year anniversary date following a loss. Whether real or imagined, the majority [..] who have lost their life partner spend much of the first year worrying about their basic survival needs. Once these issues have been resolved, the emotional impact of the loss may dominate the subsequent year. (source)

“Love heals. Nothing else does.” I found this “simple” remark in the TED conversation "How do we heal?" Actually, this remark makes perfect sense to me as the simplest and most obvious answers are often the best answers. Hence, a love that was betrayed can only be cured – healed - by a new love. In other words: a heart that is closed, will always yearn for love – especially its lost love. A heart that reopens finds a spot for “storing” its lost love. That is the essence of healing.

Reopening my heart requires overcoming the fears that were caused by the betrayal – or the loss of a loved one in other situations. Francois de la Rochefoucauld once said: “We promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears.” And also: “Hope and fear are inseparable. There is no hope without fear, nor any fear without hope.” His statements are very true in my case.

My challenge lies in breaking the vicious circle of blooming hope and crushing fear. That requires courage and patience (i.e., time). Some people will appear too soon, others too late. Some are worth the courage, and others are not. Time will tell. Some day, I hope to write part 3 of this blog. For now, I feel that I have made an important step towards healing following writing both blogs.


 The Healer (1989) - John Lee Hooker (1917-2001), featuring Carlos Santana (lyrics, Wiki)


Monday, 14 September 2015

Love, Betrayal and Closure (part 1)

On 6 January 2013, I left her. The day before her birthday. I may never forget that day. I didn't feel much during our goodbye. Probably as the 3rd week hadn't been as great as the other two weeks. Today I'm still talking about her - and sometimes even with her. She's the only woman whom I've ever loved. She's also the same woman who caused a massive 12-18 month heartache. She's also the same woman who has messed up my love life. I don't trust women anymore since her betrayal. Even my respect for women seriously suffers from it as I only expect more liars and cheaters.

Her betrayal started a few days after my return when I noticed that I could read her messages. She forgot to log out. I had already felt something was wrong when she refused to share them with me, even after I had shared mine with her. We had fun together reading my messages. After reading hers, I was devastated. Was this the same woman I had been with? After months of denial, I finally acknowledged to others and myself that I had once loved her. I dropped my excuse that it had only been 3 weeks. I finally understand John le Carre's words: "Betrayal can only happen if you love".

I have forgiven her betrayal and her lies. I cannot forget them however. I wish I could archive them to my memories and just remember the good times. I cannot. My brain, heart and mind are not in sync about her. My heart does not see her as a bad person - and may never. My brain is somehow still addicted to her. My mind is severely confused about her but has finally accepted the possibility (or reality) that she was a con artist. 

How do you overcome betrayal? Betrayal by someone you love - or loved. I really thought that forgiveness was the hardest part. Well, it isn't. And forgiving her already took considerable time. Perhaps I haven't really forgiven myself for having been with her. Somehow I doubt that as the alternative would be that I would not have loved at all. Alfred Lord Tennyson once said: 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I think and feel that he was/is right.

The real problem is in closure. To stop thinking about why, what, when and how. Some time ago, a friend offered me the help of a local private investigator. His efforts resulted in even more questions. Until today she is still an enigma to me. I have no clue whether she is a skilled con artist - or not.

Worst of all is that I seem to be unable to move on as I can't find closure. Her betrayal is still like an open wound in me. It's like my heart is carrying a sign that says “CLOSED for REPAIR”. I must repair it before being able to move on.

Perhaps I could find closure in seeing her again. She has also suggested meeting her again. I'm afraid that I would be under her “spell” again, once I gaze into her big brown eyes. And seeing her again could easily reinstate my addiction to love. So far, 6000 kilometres is a safe distance.

Perhaps I could find closure in communicating with her. Unfortunately, she seems to be the 3rd person in my life who is in denial. Hence, effective communication with her is quite difficult. Whenever she feels pressure then she immediately uses reverse psychology and projection.

It's very, very hard for me to accept that I've been betrayed by someone whom I trusted - with my heart. To some extent I do blame myself: why did I open my heart to her? I only feel betrayed as I loved her - betrayal can only happen if you love. I must find closure to move on. But how?

To be continued..........

Friday, 11 September 2015

What if dreams come true

This week I achieved a milestone in the online game I'm playing. Never really expected to ever reach that milestone. Now I've passed it already by nearly 20%. I've no clue what new milestone I should set. I continue playing as I like that game. Nevertheless, what to do when dreams come true?

I would like to quit my online game but it's addictive. Highly addictive. Moreover, what's the alternative? Writing more blogs? Writing a book? Nowadays, I use the game for leisure and also I minimise spending time there. Still it takes me some 2 hours each day which is far less than what it used to be. I did reduce watching TV but its lousy programming is another reason.

I'm still struggling whether I should set a new goal in my game or just quit. Perhaps I should focus on another - retirement - dream: a small self-sustaining hacienda on the island of Sicily. Or a small beach house along the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya. Such dreams keep us motivated to go forward in life rather than use its rear view mirror and complain, feel sorry for ourselves and nag to others.

But what if all dreams come true? What's next?

Perhaps our individual compass in life will provide the answer. Some will be disappointed. Others will enjoy. I think and feel that I'm afraid that it would be “over and out” once I stop dreaming. Hence, my mind is always busy and often even in overdrive. The interconnectedness of ‘everything’ is one of my favourites to contemplate about.

Perhaps new dreams will come along the way. I would like that. Sometimes new dreams occur to me while reading or watching a movie. The most recent one is still on my mind and came to me while watching the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (IMDb). I'm convinced that personal care for the elderly will 'soon' be too expensive in Europe given existing short supply of labour and resulting high salaries/wages. It's feasible however to use cost-of-living arbitrage and provide comfortable foreign low-cost solutions for the European elderly. Also see my May 19 blog. That dream may however be for others to fulfil. Hence my repeated mentioning of it.

Perhaps it even makes sense that it's “over & out” when all dreams have come true. How would we feel to be left with unfulfilled dreams once it's time to go?? So we end up with a fragile balance of fulfilling our dreams and making sure that there will be new ones to still motivate us going forward.

Fulfilling our dreams is necessary to avoid regretting not having lived our life to its full potential. Dreams are necessary to motivate ourselves to continue living our life. Some dreams are even larger than individual human mortality. Others will then continue fulfilling that dream. As Martin Luther King once said: I have a Dream. (Wiki)

I may not like my dreams at night but I sure like to have and fulfil my - daylight - dreams. It makes me feel alive and kicking. It's better to burn out than to fade away. Neil Young


Dreams (1977) by Fleetwood Mac (artistslyrics, Wikipedia)

Alive and Kicking (1985) by the Simple Minds (artists, lyrics, Wikipedia)

Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) (1979) by Neil Young (artistlyricsvideoWikipedia)

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Strangers

The influx of refugees into Europe causes discomfort with several European countries and its citizens. People are afraid to lose their job. People are afraid of increased crime rates. Strangers are usually considered “different” from the existing population (e.g., behaviour, customs, language, religion, skin colour). In general, people do not trust strangers. Why is that?

Crime studies indicate that crimes are more likely to be committed by non-strangers than strangers, except for robberies - which makes perfect sense. "In 1996, approximately one-third (34%) of all [LO: Canadian] victims of police-reported violent crime were victimized by a stranger. Most violent crimes (60%) involved a perpetrator known to the victim. Robbery is the only violent offence that is typically committed by strangers. In 1996, over eight in ten robberies (83%) were committed by strangers." (source). The reason is simple: non-strangers are more likely to have a motive.

The majority of human history must have been very different than our present day societies. Seeing a stranger was then already cause for caution. A stranger may be a spy on a reconnaissance mission. Seeing groups of strangers must have been plenty reason for alarm in those days. An invasion – and thus war – would be forthcoming.

Nowadays, we have (more or less) democratically elected governments that issue laws to which (more or less) its citizens abide, our property rights are (more or less) protected by these laws, and the police investigates crimes and brings perpetrators to a legal system that (more or less) determines guilt and innocence.

However, this rather recent system of separation of powers - or  “trias politica” - does not wipe out 2.5 million years of accumulated distrust towards strangers. Distrust towards strangers is “inside” our DNA and will still be for many centuries to come.

The political solutions for strangers have changed over the last few decades. Until some decades ago, it was usual that strangers flock together in certain neighbourhoods. Several large cities still have the reminders of that (e.g., Chinatown and Little Italy in New York City). In some cities, these neighbourhoods were mostly known for sharply increased crime rates (e.g., banlieues in Paris and Bijlmer in Amsterdam). In recent decades, Amsterdam has been quite successful in reclaiming these potential ghettos to its city. The situation in and around Paris has further deteriorated.

The current political solution is assimilation and integration. In case of small numbers, this solution may actually work. In case of large numbers, a second national language may even evolve (e.g., Spanish in western and southern parts of USA). The real problem with refugees and politics is that refugees are potential voters – and usually for labour parties. Politicians from left and right thus have opposite interests when it comes to solutions for refugees.

Refugees do not care about borders. The planet belongs to humanity. Like warmth flows to cold (see September 8 blog), so do refugees flow to a safe harbour. Arguing that the Middle East should take care of its “own” people, is denying reality when it comes to equality, fraternity, freedom, security and safety. The fact that some Middle East countries give substantial donations is already generous.

There are no strangers here; only friends you haven't yet met. W.B. Yeats, Irish poet, 1865-1939

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Show some emotion

Some weeks ago my ex girlfriend went abroad. I just asked her how she's doing there. She replied “Fine thanks and you?”. I told her that I'm doing as fine as I can be (given my circumstances). Then I wondered if she would tell me the truth. So I asked her whether she would tell me if she would not be fine. "No certainly I will not :-)", she replied. Why do people prefer to hide their true emotions?

At a young age, we learn from our parents that it's better to hide our emotions. In each class there's always one kid who is the outlier, the freak, the weirdo (NL: pispaaltje). You really do not want to be him or her. So it's better to hide your emotions in order to prevent becoming the center of negative attention. We seem to master that craft in later years.

Hiding your emotions can become a serious obstacle at work. Everyone has seen colleagues at work struggling to solve a problem and being to proud to ask for help. At least that is what we assume how they feel. Actually, they probably hate it to show their weakness to others. At least that is what they assume how we would feel about them.

People are often afraid to ask for advice, because asking for help “implies incompetence and dependence, and therefore is related to powerlessness.” But a new Harvard Business School–led study suggests that asking for advice makes you look more, not less, capable. “Individuals perceive those who seek advice as more competent than those who do not seek advice,” the authors write. The reason: When you ask someone for advice, you validate his or her intelligence, experience, and expertise. And because you've made a person feel good, he or she feels good about you. (Slate)
 
Hiding your emotions is most likely the most serious obstacle in relationships. In general, when it comes to emotions, men like to keep their emotions to themselves, while women like to talk about them – especially the ones of others, including their partner’s. That different mind set is often the cause for new emotions/problems. It then becomes “easier” to hide your emotions.

Actually, the answer “fine” has become the default indication that you are not willing to talk about how you're doing. This makes perfect sense in case of a waitress or a shop attendant who also have other clients to serve. It may even make sense towards people who are no longer privy to know your situation. Between friends – and colleagues - it doesn't really make sense. Friends and colleagues are supposed to help each other in the interest of friendship, team results and company results.

Showing your emotions may make you feel vulnerable and weak but it also makes you authentic / genuine, sincere and transparent. Basically, we are even looking for such qualities in business and private life. But when we find them then we struggle to accept them and try to blend this minority into the majority. Another emotion (disappointment) in the making.

The challenge is to dose your emotions, to pick the right person, time and place. Achieving results may require a poker face during the game. Winning and losing is not the time for a poker face. People without emotions express a lack of sincerity, even a lack of humanity.

Show some emotion, Put expression in your eyes. Light up if you're feeling happy, But if it's bad then let those tears roll down. Joan Armatrading (artist, lyrics, video, Wiki)

Joan Armatrading – Show Some Emotion (1977)


Lady Gaga - Poker Face (2008) - lyrics, Wiki


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Equilibrium and disorder

Yesterday's blog about Time made me aware of the existence of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. The Economist: "The second law of thermodynamics puts into mathematics, the commonplace observation that heat flows from hot things to cold ones, and not the other way around. This mathematical treatment, though, has many consequences. One of the best-known is that any system will become more disordered as time passes. [..] This is because there are many more ways for a system to be disorderly than orderly."

What is even more interesting than that observation is that Nature - and even our entire Universe - is always striving for an Equilibrium - a balance. It is like the saying "Opposites attract". Remarkably, there is not even a Wikipedia article on 'equilibrium', just a reference site with links (e.g., books, movies, music). The most interesting link - to me - is the Wikipedia page called List of types of equilibrium which groups the various kinds of equilibrium in the field of biology, chemistry, economics, game theory, physics, and - of course - other.

In my view, the disorderly aspect of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is just a move towards a new equilibrium. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old, the Universe is some 13.8 billion years old (also see my blogs of March 9 and April 11). It is hard to see a permanent state of disorder in both. Disorder is a temporary state while equilibrium is a permanent state (ceteris paribus).

The eternal move towards equilibrium might be the greatest force of Nature - ever. I think and feel that equilibrium is related to sustainability. Only an equilibrium is sustainable. Anything else is not. Compare it with a perpetuum mobile machine: it doesn't exist. The equilibrium is rest. The mobility part is a temporary state of disorder until the next equilibrium.

Considering the above, I think and feel that even a relationship (e.g., animals, humans) is just another form of an equilibrium. A break-up or divorce is a temporary state of disorder until the next equilibrium comes along. This may even explain why we are always searching for some kind of equilibrium in our life. Yet sometimes I feel like a magnet too: when people come to close to me then an opposite force becomes active too. In the Universe such a force would be called gravity. Yet, this same gravity also seems essential in shaping an equilibrium. Push and pull between men and women ultimately results in a new equilibrium - or a relationship.

The purpose of Life seems to be a state of Equilibrium. The fundamental forces of nature behind it are gravity and electromagnetism. According to Wikipedia there are even two (2) other fundamental forces of nature, being strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force (Wikipedia).

Gravitation and electromagnetism act over a potentially infinite distance across the universe. They mediate macroscopic phenomena every day. The other two fields act over minuscule subatomic distances. The strong interaction is responsible for the binding of atomic nuclei. The weak interaction also acts on the nucleus, mediating radioactive decay (Wikipedia).

In a certain way, mankind - and its inherent mobility - is the disorder within a universal Equilibrium.