Freeing the whole job selection process, not just the free schools

Social mobility between the bottom ranks of society and the elite is now becoming as low as it ever has been from before the industrial revolution, and probably from most periods of history before that. The reason is that the new crop of extremely prosperous industrialists in the 1800s established private fee-paying schools so that their children — that is, boys — could learn the graces of the aristocracy as the upstarts joined with them in wealth and power and influence in every important sector of the economy.

In recent years, however, successive governments — of both left and right — have realised that specializations are growing and thus that intelligence and skill are premium qualities for the success of nation-states in future years. Besides freeing schools from state control, as Labour began seven years ago, the present Tory government is about to insist that all employers should know what school a job candidate went to before being interviewed.

Some, such as Lord Waldegrave, head of the board of Eton college, have protested, saying it will prejudice employers against candidates from private schools. That’s extremely doubtful for a start — it’s likely to be the other way round if we’re talking of highly-paid jobs or prospects. But in any case, any interviewer worth his salt can decide within seconds from the regional accent of the candidate and the clothes he wears — even from the way he enters the interview room.

Subsequently encouraging the candidate to talk about whatever subject interests him the most will fairly soon establish his level of articulacy and thus a good guide to general intelligence and creativity — if that is really what the interviewer is looking for.

The intellectual blooming of Africa?

Because our species started in Africa 200,000 years ago but didn’t leave Africa until bout 60,000 years ago — and then only few hundred of them — then mutations to Africans’ genes — to good, bad and neutral effect — have accumulated far more often than in those of us in Asia and Europe who are descendants of the original emigrants.

Because of the large number of mutations in every one of Africans’ 20,000 genes, then they have disproportionately taller individuals than we do. They also have disproportionately shorter people we do, too. It means that, in many sports requiring great physical skills and co-ordination, Africans are always among the winners. Or at least they seem to be in some sorts in the Olympic Games.

It also means that, because mutations — good, bad and neutral — can occur in brain genes as well as in muscle genes — then Africans ought also to be capable of great intellectual feats and become superior to us in some disciplines. So they might be, once enough of them have had enough experience in Western type education. Some economic historians, such as Deirdre Nansen McCloskey think that this may turn out to be the case.

However, some back of an envelope maths is in order here. Although only a few hundred humans left Africa 60,000 years ago their numbers have expanded enormously since then to literally billions. Because mutations occur at a constant rate every generation then the number of mutations that have occurred in non-African man in the last 60,000 years must be approaching the number that African man has acquired in the last 200,000 years.

This suggests to me that the average number of mutations of non-Africans is any fairly large region — if not in the world as a whole — a figure that won’t be known for several years yet — is probably similar. However, intellectual attainment — and inn ovative creativity — is not just about the number of good mutations of brain genes within any culture, but on the mental freedom within that culture.

What if it’s the last gorilla group?

An interesting story of today is to hear of the four- years old boy who fell into the moat surrounding a gorilla enclosure at Cincinnati Zoo. The gorilla, a 100lb (180kg) 17-year-old male western lowland male named Harambe, grabbed the child, dragging him trough the shallow moat.

He was probably not going to be aggressive to the child — he was no threat, after all — but the chances were reasonably high that the boy might have been badly injured or even die. A tranquillising dart might have been too slow to take effect, so the keeper took the decision very quickly to shoot the gorilla. It was a no-brainer.

But what if there were a situation where the last remaining group of western lowland gorillas were pitted against an equivalent number of humans? Which one would you save?

There’s an argument that the gorillas had a few genes the knowledge of which, one day might be of enormous benefit to the future survival of humans as a whole. But it is no use saying that the DNA of gorillas could have been preserved for thousands of years after their demise because we will still like to know just how versatile their genes had been in life.

Politicians are falling into the same credibility chasm

In the present Referendum debate in this country — and no doubt in the Presidential election in November in America — the politicians persist in the same aggressive shouting matches of which their electorates have been complaining for years.

“We want facts,” they cried. Well . . . three or four weeks ago we got them. A plethora of facts from both sides. The trouble was that they were so dubious, even devious, from both sides tht they quickly became recognizable as untrustworthy. If anything the chasm of credibility is wider than ever.

The basic problem with the type of one one-person one-vote elections is that this was developed in the 19th century when there were only one or two important issues at any one time — the cost of tariffs on important grain, or the length of the working week.

Today we have at least a dozen current issues. The simple left=right adversarial type politics won’t work any longer and we need to devise a new system of election — something that combines the expertise of the civil service together with the emotional nature of ambitious individuals with high testosterone.

What do we do about personal power?

Scientists are human and are as susceptible to bribery as any other job sector. Thus when some bureaucrats at the UN and in the EU heard of the possibility that man-made carbon dioxide could cause atmospheric warming this was a golden opportunity for them to increase their power by by being able to offer research grants to scientists who could prove the case once and for all.

This elicited such a flurry of applications that it became a joke, even at scientists’ own expense, that almost any research proposal that happened to mention global warming was successful. The basic fact, first discovered by Svante Arrhenius, over 100 years ago, that carbon dioxide gas was an efficient absorber of infra-red heat was re-established thousands of times without drawing attention to the fact that water vapour was almost as efficient — but there is a great deal more of it on average around the world.

In short, no adequate theory — as one normally expects and as science normally proceeds — arose from all the research. A computer model, built from algorithms that satisfied measurements in recent decades, but none before about 1750 when Europe was in the grip of a miniature ice age, is the only offering so far.

How different has been the reception given to a letter written by 150 international scientists, doctors and medical ethicists from such institutions as Oxford University and Harvard and Yale universities in the United States asking the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) asking them to consider a recommendation to move or delay the July Olympic Games in Brazil !

This would be to prevent the possibility of half a million people who will attend the Games but then disperse the Zika virus into many cities all round the world when the Games have ended. This might well multiply the number of babies — already in their thousands in Brazil — born with Zika-linked brain defects.  Both the WHO and the IOC have summarily rejected the letter, saying that the disease is already penetrating other parts of the world outside Brazil. Seemingly, it doesn’t matter that the disease might have much worse effects.

In both of the above cases — global warming or the Zika virus — the decision by the members of the respective decision-taking groups has not been a surprise. Any other decision would have nullified, or at least diluted, their personal power — and that’s been one of our primal urges ever since we left the trees. Unfortunately it’s not as necessary as it was then and we need altogether new methods of appointing our decision-making bodies.

The coming hyper-competition between nation-states

The greatest unfairness in life and by far the biggest handicap in any country’s potential is that children are brought up quite differently from one another. In early man, however, and for millions of years beforehand, all the youngsters of a group had an almost identical upbringing, playing and working together.

This meant that their abilities could emerge principally from the individual variations in the genes derived from their parents and much less on the social environment in childhood.

This also meant that for maximum intelligence, good looks and health in early man, the closer an individual was to the average in terms of gene variations the better. Today, however, when the experiences of childhood are unique, the parents’ influence on the expressions of the child’s genes can be considerable. The product of this can be a much more extensive spectrum of abilities.

When tested, say, in a narrow selection of mental problems, such as an IQ test, it is possible for an individual to appear dull at one type of problem and a genius at another. Although the results of the different sorts of questions in an IQ test are generally similar and can be relied upon for recruitment into average and low level jobs, the test is not really relevant for much else.

The most thorough method of testing for intelligence is what goes n anyway in childhood — socialization — the judgement of one’s peers — the voluntary conferring of a place in the hierarchy. And this is really the principal role of a good teacher — to observe mainly and to help when a child — always eager to learn before puberty — ask for it.

To return to the task in hand — to reduce unfairness and to maximise the ability of a nation’s children and then, subsequently, its adults, a nursery experience is necessary for everyone. If possible, with a far higher number of carers, monitors and teachers.

I’m pleased to say that, after 20 or 30 years of neurophysiological research, that Prime Minister Tony Blair — whatever else one might have thought of him — and his ex-civil servant side-kick, Jonathan Powell — finally got the message and managed to get some light into the bureaucrats at the Department of Education and to resist the reactionary teacher trade unions

Competition between nation-states is going to be far more intensive than ever before — particularly between advanced countries — as we reach the limits of just how much more energy can be injected into the world economy. Only those that can minimise the intellectual wastage of its new-born children will be able to maintain their advanced status in the years to come.

What might have been

There was a chance in 1971 that the world’s monetary system could have been regularized and that the 2008 Crash would never have happened. Instead, America continued to print dollars and spend them like a man with no arms. It also meant that inflation was institutionalized as never before. Massve debts accumulated and completely outweighed the loan side of the world’s balance sheet. That’s where we are now.

After the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1942, the American dollar was placed in a privileged position so that gold — most of it already in America’s possession — could only be bought by dollars. By the late 1960s, however, some European countries had recovered sufficiently from the Second World War to have earned some dollars from trade and were queuing up at the New York Federal Bank’s gold window.

Within a few years, America’s gold reserves hurtled down from 21,000 tonnes to 11.000 tonnes and would have disappeared completely within another year or two had not President Nixon decided to take the American dollar off the gold standard completely. This meant that the American dollar could keep on inflating and America could continue to do what it was doing militarily over the world.

If, on the other hand, he had kept the dollar on the gold standard but allowed gold to find it own free market price without manipulating it, then the world’s balance sheet would be somewhere around zero, as it ought to be. Debts are paid promptly and bankruptcies, even of banks, are encouraged, in eras of no inflation. Certainly the 2008 Crash would never have happened.

Global growth is our priority

After two days of the latest G7 Summit, global growth was announced as their priority. The problem is, of course, that seven of the most powerful countries of the world don’t know how to achieve it, never mind the hundreds of thousands of graduate economists they share between them..

Has it not occurred to them that the industrial revolution has come and gone in the advanced countries? The typical citizen in these countries has all the basic goods such as food, labour-saving goods such as washing machines and all the basic kit of status goods — house, car, etc.

It’s becoming a different ball game now with jobs being replaced  or dumbed down  by computers.  Is that too much to understand? The leaders of the G7 countries are plainly worried that if economic growth is not resumed then we will inevitably go backwards. Considering that innovations will continue apace whatever grounds are there for saying that?

What’s the difference between a highly intelligent person and an intellectual?

The above question is currently arising on the Internet. Answer:

A highly intelligent person does what it says on the can — carries out ordinary jobs but does so with such ease that she achieves high social status more often than not.

On the other hand, an intellectual, quite often not as intelligent as might be expected — Einstein was a good example — try to tackle jobs which even highly intelligent individuals may balk at, or indeed find of no interest. If she succeeds, however, and enough of the highly intelligent approves, then she may also gain high status. But until then an intellectual may have no social status worth speaking of at all.

Few highly intelligent persons die without making some mark on the world. Many intellectuals die without making any mark at all.

Standing Alzheimer’s Disease on its head and making a big step forward

It has been a growing puzzle in recent years that the posr mortem brains of individuals who had never shown any symptoms of Alzheimer’s when alive can be as full of plaques — amyloid-beta peptide — of anyone with the full-blown disease.

A paradigm shift was clearly required, but such are easier said than done. It took research into mice’s brains to bring it about. In the latter, it was discovered by researchers at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital that the amyloid-beta plaques were, in fact, protecting the brain against microbial attack, and not in any way harmful in themselves.

The amyloid-beta plaques are natural products of immune systems and send out fibrils in order to entangle and trap bacterial infections and prevent them proliferating.  It would thus appear that something similar is going on in our case and is very much bound up with the immune systems we happen to be born with.

Years of further research will still be needed but it looks as though scientists will be on the right track now. We can fervently hope so.

Reaching tolerable limits

The reason why the standard of living of the typical person in the dozen or so advanced countries cannot spread into the rest of the world within 200 or 300 years at the very least is that the present per capita use of energy every year would have to be multiplied at least seven or eight times during that period.

In actuality, the present use of energy to power the world’s production and transportation system will probably rise by another 30% to 40% as China’s standard of living gets close to ours, but this would be just about the limit. It is difficult to believe how India, Brazil, Indonesia or any other country can break into consumer goods exports because China will be making the whole world’s.

Anything beyond this would be increasing the rate of destruction of the natural environment or of other species far beyond anything that would be tolerable in any well educated society.

Foolish anti-immigration policy of the EU

The photo looming large in most newspapers this morning of the boat capsizing into the Mediterranean and dunking 500 migrants is as much the EU’s fault as the traffickers’. It’s only because the expressed aim of the EU patrol vessels is the arrest of the traffickers as well as saving lives. In announcing the policy in this way EU politicians needed to save their face by giving the appearance of wanting to stop the migration.

What happened? The traffickers in north Africa promptly stopped piloting the boats — as they were doing previously in order to be able to take the boats back to Libya once they’d delivered the migrants. Some traffickers — we don’t know what proportion of them — are actually telephoning the authorities in Italy to let them know when a boat load of migrants set out.

The fact of the matter is that migration into the EU is a new business opportunity and, so far, no laws need to be broken in the migrants’ countries of origin. Human traffickers are only special cases of tourists’ agents, but the Brussels bureaucrats and the EU politicians affect not to know this and thus can’t begin to come up with pragmatic policies.

Is our intelligence up to the job?

Frans de Waal, the dean of all primatologists has spent all his lifetime watching and testing animals, especially chimpanzees, but many other species as well. At the same time, particularly in his later years, he has been trying to get across to a reluctant world the idea that many other species besides ourselves have intelligence. He’s also condensed all that into a book Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are?

It is not just that other animals arrive at intelligent decisions — which 50 years ago was put down by biologists solely to instincts — but that they seem to be able to theorise in the same way we do. It has even been shown that some species have some notion of counting and arithmetic. Dog owners who know their animals very well can easily tell when their pet is pausing to do some problem solving.

A great many species, if not all of them, are just as intelligent as we are relative to the specific confines of the environment in which they live. It is only in this regard that we can claim some merit. Strictly a savannah-only species 200,000 years ago, our immediate predecessors suddenly acquired some new brain genes which caused us to do some unusual things such as wandering into new habitats such as sea shores and mountain tops — eventually, of course, leaving Africa altogether.

Whereas other top predators are totally dependent on populations of specific prey species, we have become a general ;purpose species. We are able to turn from one food source to another and to become comfortable in a wide variety of distinctly different habitats. No other animal could possibly survive in an equatorial rain forest in New Guinea as well as in the Arctic north. It’s true that we didn’t quite manage to survive in Antarctica once that continent became too cold but we are managing to do so in recent years!

Yes, we’re entitled to say that we have a far more versatile intelligence than other animals but is it totally up to the job relative to the specific confines of the earth in which we now live? That still remains to be seen.

The absurdity of global warming prophylactics while we wait for an adequate theory

The more that one considers the carbon tax measures that are earnestly put forward at vast assemblies at Kyoto, Paris and more to follow, the more absurd they all become. Countries such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia with pretensions to becoming as advanced as the top dozen countries will never materially reduce their coal and oil imports.

The so-called renewable technologies such as solar cells and wind turbines — whose electricity generation is at least twice as expensive as that derived from fossil fuels — can never be more than 20% of the whole in 30 or 40 years’ time.

Yet in that period most of the world population will then be living in the cities — or in refugee camps — driven there either by the industrialisation of farmland or exhaustion of their soils. Once away from the culture of the countryside, parents soon reduce the number of children they want in order to afford consumer goods even if, in most cases, they are little more than television and smartphones.

Once world population has peaked at around 11 billion, no one knows how far it will drop. Looking at the existing trends in the advanced European countries, it is likely to go a very long way down. This phenomenon plus the wider use of shale gas, which emits half the carbon dioxide of coal and oil, will mean that man-made global warming — if indeed it’s the instigator — will then be reducing — and fast.

In 30 or 40 years’ time we might also have an adequate theory of why we’ve had global warming for the past 200 years or so.

Are there any similarities between Jeremy Corbyn and John Maynard Keynes?

A friend has asked me whether I see any similarities between Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of today’s Labour Party in England and John Maynard Keynes, so far the most quoted economist of the last century.

My answer is that they are very similar in having what can only be interpreted — from everything that is known about them — as a genuine sympathy for the poor. Also, their policies — injecting more printed money into the consumer demand side of the economy — are almost identical.

Even though they both hailed from middle-class parents of about the same socio-economic level they both went in opposite career directions as soon as they left school.

Not surprisingly, their motivations have been entirely different. Corbyn’s candidature for the leadership of the Labour Party had to be thrust on him. He’d previously spent 30 years as an MP as a thorn in the side of whatever government, Labour or Tory, happened to be in power with absolutely no attempt for preferment.

In contrast, Keynes rapidly leaped upwards as a young man and, long before he was 30 years of age, was a member of the social elite — indeed on close terms with the highest levels of the social, political and business elite in Edwardian England. Whatever he did and wrote was impelled by personal publicity.

This doesn’t detract in any way from Keynes’s sincere feelings for the poor but his feelings were strictly from on high — to be compared with Corbyn who, by the way he rides a bike, dresses, speaks and the friends he makes, regards himself as a fellow worker.

A whole book could be written on the Corbyn-Keynes theme but the above will have to do for the present.

More than skin-deep

An Israeli start-up called Faception says it has developed a technology that can read your basic personality by looking for character traits in your face that are undetectable otherwise. Whether this turns out to be a confidence trick or a case of misplaced enthusiasm — as many business launches are — we’ll have to wait and see.

According to Faception it can allocate people’s faces into 15 types, with 80% accuracy, varying from extroverts, pedophiles, geniuses, white collar-criminals and so on. It says that it’s already signed a contract with a homeland security agency to help identify terrorists.

There cannot be a more complex criss-crossing of muscles than those under the skin of the human face, and various permutations of these will correlate sensitively with our most frequent emotions.

Even if we are not expressing emotions outwardly — indeed, trying to disguise or restrain them on occasion — neurophysiologists tell us that the muscles responsible for showing our emotions are twitching microscopically all the same. Perhaps Faception’s technology can pick up the infra-red warmth that even these movements radiate to the outward world.

We’ll have to way and see for the verdict on Faception. At face value (sic!) this technology could be another invasion of privacy by government or other parties trying to exploit us. On the other hand, it could be a welcome aid that will protect us from terrorism — which is rapidly becoming the prevalent form of warfare in modern times.

The pecking order of world trade

The World Bank, which dropped ‘First World’ and ‘Third World’ countries from polite conversation thirty years ago has now abandoned their successors, ‘developed’ and ‘developing’. The reason is that all countries are successful now and there is less and less to choose between them.

So it is when you confine yourself to what the World Bank considers to be all-important criteria — infant mortality, life expectancy, education and public health. Unfortunately, the World Bank doesn’t consider the consequences when these have been achieved or, as now, partly achieved.

Respectively we have — vast world over-population and the prospect of continuing massive migrations for years, the increasing financial and emotional burden of old people, deeply thwarted aspirations among the young, more world-wide vulnerability to diseases than ever before.

The reality is that nothing is achieved without a price. And the price is that all the countries of the world are segregated as never before. Most high value trade — sophisticated services and scientific innovations — is confined to no more than a dozen advanced countries, medium value trade — consumer goods — is mostly confined to China, low value trade — tourism, food production and mineral resources — to, probably, only a minority of the remaining countries.

The value of trade of all the countries below the advanced dozen has been growing since the Second World War but only because the volume has been growing. But the growing volume is almost all between themselves.

There’s not a smooth gradation in trade between all three categories of countries mentioned above — making for six permutations of trade — A-A, A-B, A-C, B-B, B-C, C-C — but, rather a pecking order of six. And the six trading levels will remain until each country develops a sensible population policy that doesn’t wreck the planet and destroys thousands of species of life but also gives its people the same sort of standard of living that, say, an upper middle-class person in an advanced presently enjoys.

On not preaching evolution

According to a recent study — so far, only in Arizona — most professors of biology don’t believe it’s their job for their students to accept the theory of evolution, only to understand it. Does this mean that some students in America learn enough about evolution — in order to pass an exam perhaps — but don’t actually believe that it happened — indeed, still happens?

Apparently so. Evolution seems to be a highly sensitive topic in America where more people than not call themselves Christians of various sorts, many evangelical sects being strongly opposed to evolution. Muslims are also not supposed to believe in evolution either. In both cases I don’t blame the professors for not flogging a dead horse.

The senior author of the study, Sara Brownell, an assistant professor at Arizona State University — who now wants to extend her study across all American States — says: “Why would we want to teach evolution, if we don’t want our students to accept it?”

Does she want a religious-type ‘born-again’ conversion to evolutionism? It’s then in danger of becoming something that can be twisted into an ideology, such as the ‘master race’ Nazis of 1930s Germany. This is not how culture actually proceeds from generation to generation.

Why nine billion people will either starve or face inadequate nutrition

It is not as certain as night follows day but almost that when considering the future size of the 1 billion population of sub-Saharan Africa. It is destined to rise to at least 2 to 3 billion in 30 years’ time. Long before then it will almost certainly produce ethnic and religious wars and, probably suffer epidemic diseases of the Ebola or Dengue Fever variety. None of these, however, will bring population down with a bump.

The only way that average family size can be brought down from well over four children per family to a replacement two, or fewer, is when peasants leave the land and its highly macho culture and live in cities which have a sufficiently intrinsic economy in which there may be low level jobs and some sort of minimum welfare — even if it’s only free electricity for television.

Such cities are relatively lacking in sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile in 30 years’ time, at least 300 million people in the coastal provinces of China who have not yet reached protein sufficiency in their diets, and a further 600 million people of the interior of China who hardly have any protein at all will be increasing their demand for nutritious food.

Assuming that the Chinese government is successful in its aims to bring all its people up to a reasonable standard of living — albeit not quite middle class — then those 900 million people will require the equivalent of 9,000 million people’s grain as protein feedstock for feeding sufficient beef, pork, sheep, chicken and fish.

Given that the rest of world will top out at about 11 or 12 billion people then that leaves only a fraction (12 – 9 = 3 billion) of today’s and tomorrow’s population that will survive without starvation to some extent or lack of adequate nutrition.  Nature will have its way even in our own species.

Germany will not be up to subsidizing Italy

The temperature is rising in the Referendum debate in England. At least it is between the politicians on both sides. Some of them are becoming quite hysterical. As for those of the public who called for more specific information a few weeks ago, they’ve now received so many spurious statistics from both sides that many of them might decide not to vote at all on 23 June.

Since the Referendum was announced, my own view is exactly that of Roger Bootle who wrote in my paper’s business supplement today. In one sense it hardly matters any longer whether we are in the EU or out, its finances are in such a mess that the euro will end up in queer street before too long.

Greece may possibly be saved again with a rollover of their present deadlines, but Italy will be joining them soon. And Italy is a far bigger country with far bigger debts. Germany may be up to the task of subsidizing a miniscule country but hardly one nearer its own size.

Will Xi Jinping do the necessary thing?

Because the effort of learning Chinese characters is so great, even a well-educated Chinese person with a wide speaking vocabulary can read and write no more than about 3,000 to 4,000 words. This is to be compared with 30,000 or 40,000 words able to be written or read by  well educated people in other languages.

Chinese characters — each of them a whole word — are non-phonetic. Therefore, a new concept, although able to be spoken, cannot be written down or read about. The best that can be done is to string along several characters in a row. If the new concept is important then the literary authorities in the government will invent a new character shape so that it can thenceforth be written and read in succinct form.

This also means that a new concept arising outside China finds it difficult to make headway within China until its verbal form — a Chinese imitation of the foreign pronunciation — is spoken frequently enough to demand a new character all of its own. This is to be compared with a new concept arising outside China — often imprecise to start with — that is often given a useful Latin or Greek root immediately and can be written down as well as spoken almost as soon as it is invented.

This is partly an explanation — the other part being highly constricted authoritarian education — why China is so uncreative even though, by copying, t is often at the forefront in many Western technologies  but finds it difficult to proceed further into new and unknown territory. This is why China, with 160 times the population of Israel has scored only 9 Nobel prizes in the sciences compared with 6 for Israel, a country only 50 years old.

The irony is that had China, 67 years ago at the time of the Communist Revolution, adopted a phonetic system of writing suggested by Mao Zedong — but thrown out by his peers — then the country might well have been further forward in the creative department. Mao took revenge on fellow government ministers in later years by launching the Cultural Revolution (1966 -1976) which not only persecuted and killed many of the intellectuals of that period but also brought a great deal of scientific research to a halt.

The Cultural Revolution and Mao’s previous campaign, the Great Leap Forward (1957) — which caused the death by starvation of at least 30 million people — was sufficient to cause Deng Xiaoping to draw up another system of government once Mao had died. This was in order to prevent another dictator arising in China. This seemed to work for a while, but today we have Xi Jinping with — it would seem so far — far more powers than Mao Zedong ever had.

Xi Jinping is calling for the modernisation of China above everything else. But will he have the imagination to realise that the ancient Chinese script — wonderfully attractive though it is to the eye — is one of the principal causes of China’s relative backwardness and is a hindrance that ought to be gently put on one side?  There’s no sign of phonetic words so far.

Has it been my birthday or something else’s?

It is my 81st birthday today.  As befits such a day I have been reflecting on my life with all its mistakes and follies, but can only conclude that I’ve been in the same boat as everybody else.  My life has been a playing out of the personality that I happened to have at puberty — a product of what genes I was born with and subsequently weakened or strengthened by the adult world which conditioned me as a child.

Many of the decisions I have taken since puberty have been attempts to modify my basic personality at crucial junctures in my life.  Some of these have succeeded and some have failed, though which is which I cannot say myself, not being able — as Robbie Burns has said — to see myself as others see me.

Modern neurophysiology tells us, however, that all conscious decisions are preceded by a preparatory unconscious powering-up of neurons in our frontal lobes. Their electrical potential can be clearly seen and measured before our ‘free’ decision is taken.  Presumably, in the case of some decisions, they may all have been dependent on one electron, whether it assists the power surge or diminishes it.

If so, then where does the electron come from?  If you believe in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics then the electron has come from nowhere and everywhere. It is only its probability of acting at the decision point that’s important. If, however, you believe in the Bohm-de Broglie interpretation then the electron was guided to add to, or detract from the power surge by a pilot wave coming from a deeper quantum field.

Until the problem of quantum physics is resolved — if it ever will — then I really won’t know whether my 81 years have been truly mine or not.

Why aren’t soldiers complaining?

A question that’s going the rounds on the Internet is as follows:

“Why has no one been able to explain to me why youg men and women serving in the British, Canadian, Australian or US Military for 20 years only get up to 50% of their pay on retirement, while politicians who hold their position receive full pay after serving one term?”

The answer is that all young people from the age of puberty — often a confused and directionless puberty — until the age of about 30 while their brains are developing are eager to enter the adult world. In order to make out and be accepted during this period they are highly biddable by the adult world, and are inevitably exploited in all sorts of ways.

Underlying all that there is in any case a powerful instinct of loyalty to the culture in which one was brought up as a child. Above it all is that the defence of one’s own culture is paramount and can easily by elicited by the social elite for some reason, whether a genuine need for defence or merely a pretext.

In normal times, it is thus relatively easy for young people to be recruited. Once in the armed services, a high degree of mental conditioning is maintained and few questions are asked about terms and conditions of service as is normal in non-military jobs.

It is interesting why the question is now arising. It never used to be. It is probably much to do with the increasing lack of credibility in the nation state. This reveals itself in non-voting by young ;people at general election times but, also, to the extreme difficulty that all advanced governments are now experiencing in recruiting enough young people for their armed services.

Only part-relief

Leaflets are now being air-dropped by American planes into Raqqa, hitherto the Isil headquarters in Syria, telling citizens to flee. Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are now closing in on the city. This can only be the beginning of the end for Isil in Syria and Iraq.

Indeed, the most senior leadership of Isil had already left Raqqa last year for Libya. There also, similar coalitions of forces are slowly building up to fight the 5,000 jihadists.

At long last, it looks as though the Isil terrorism of the last two years is now coming to an end. However, two problems remain: (a) the mutual hatred between Sunnism and Shiaism — that is, Saudi Arabia and Iran — is building up, not declining, (b) a multi-$billion industry of human traficking now has routes deep into Asia and Africa where there are millions of potential economic migrants desperately wanting jobs in Europe.

Africa will be quarantined next time

Apart from two anomalies, fast declining birth rates suggest that world over-population is now destined for stabilisation and then decline.

One anomaly is that the present population of 7.4 billion contains a ‘plug’ of about 3 to 4 billion people who, 30 or 40 years ago, would have died long before old age. This would have enabled the present world population to be already poised to decline. Today, we have to wait a little longer.

The second anomaly is that of Africa. So far, the continent is such a dysfunctional mess that it is impervious to the changing birth rates in the rest of the world. This means that the present population of about 1 billion will, other things being equal, rise to 3 or even 4 billion all by itself in the next 30 years or so.

But Nature never — ever — tolerates an overlarge population without forcing some change. Of the traditional Four Horseman of the Apocalypse — starvation, warfare, death and disease — the first three already have marginal effects. The fourth has yet to happen to any significant extent.

The outbreak of Ebola last year has given us indications already of what could happen in Africa — and would have happened unless Western governments, medical charities and academic researchers had not piled in to help.

Africa, containing a large equatorial region in which mutations of viruses and bacteria proceed at a faster rate than in temperate and cold parts of the world, will continue to generate Ebola-type diseases regularly. The next time, however — and in succeeding times — the West, after weary years of fending off would-be African migrants into Europe, is highly likely not to help as it did with Ebola, but simply to quarantine Africa until the epidemic has its way.

Boys — long in limbs and short of brain

There’s another interesting angle on the phenomenon that boys — and indeed men up to the age of 30 — are years behind girls and young women in brain development, as mentioned in my posting, “Cleverer females” (12 May).

It would seem that it’s a chicken and egg question. At the same time as girls’ brains are apparently racing ahead of boy’s brains, so are boys’ limbs lengthening in spurts. The result of this that a boy-sized brain finds it difficult to control a teenager’s body. Teenager-males go through periods when they find it difficult to coordinate their movements fully and they become gawky in their gait.

Whereas girls’ bodies and brains grow hand-in-hand, as it were, as they grow older, boys’ physical spurts leave their brains behind somewhat. Until the their brains catch up — mainly by the full development of the frontal lobes — then they are much less able to control the growing length and strength of their limbs.

We owe Dr Maria Christina Bisi of the University of Bologna — the oldest university of Europe incidentally — to thank for a series of tests on adolescent boys.  On was to walk backwards in a straight line while simultaneously carrying out some mental arithmetic. Almost all failed, while girls could do this easily. This leads to the interesting question: Which came first: retarded brains or advanced bodies?

The ups and downs of golf and croquet

Since yesterday, the famous Muirfield Golf Club appears to be surprised that it will not henceforth be chosen for future Open Golf Championship now that it has voted to exclude women from membership.

It would seem that the male members of Muirfield are confused as well as being reactionary. Of course, a private male club is entitled to remain strictly male if it wants to be, just as a private female club is. But Muirfield Golf Club is not private. It is a public institution and normally seeks as much publicity as possible in order to raise its reputation — and its membership fees!

There’s another aspect, too, as Jemima Lewis writes in my morning paper: “The Muirfield golf dinosaurs give the dying game a bad name.” Yes, golf generally is declining, both in playing members and in followership. It is part of the cannibalizing effect of a society with so many leisure time opportunities. Tennis is dipping down, too. Croquet is very much on the up.

Two Folies de Grandeur

The two mammoth aircraft carriers, each capable of delivering 108 air sorties a day, will ensure that potential enemies “think twice” about starting wars, according to a senior naval officer.

If you believe that, you’ll believe anything. They are folies de grandeur — yet more signs that this antiquated country can’t yet let its glory days of the British Empire go. HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to be completed in 2021, the other in 2024. The running costs of both will be substantial and the chances are, if this government, or the next, cannot get its national debt in order, that neither will become fully operational. The chances are very high that the completion of the second one, already named The Prince of Wales, will become so stretched out that it will never be commissioned.

This country is not a ‘Little England’.  We are among the two or three leaders in the world in several areas of scientific research, particularly in neurophysiology and genetics. High quality education and health procedures are already economic growth areas and will be the most competitive trading arenas in future years. Aircraft carriers are excuses for politicians to impress the punters. The educated 25% of the population have little to worry about surviving in the coming decades.

The latest word on antibiotics

It would seem that my previous posting is now out of date. Immediately after uploading it, an article from TheScientist appeared in my In Box.

This tells me that Andrew Myers of Harvard University and colleagues have been synthesizing new molecules from scratch, based upon the structure of a natural antibiotic, erythromycin, first discovered in a soil sample in 1949. So far, Myers’s team have created more than 300 synthetic molecules.

They are now evaluating these against an array of different bacteria, including two strains of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE) isolated from clinical samples. “Some of these are really scary bugs,” said Myers. He is in little doubt that hundreds more new antibiotics of various degrees of effectiveness will be synthesized in due course.

This has been a paradigm shift in the battle against killer bacteria. Unlike the other big battle of developing vaccines against viruses, this one seems to have the potential to match the speed of bacterial mutations. What must be borne in mind, however, is that bacteria will be always able to dissipate resistance against the new antibiotics as much as against the present ones.

From now onwards, no matter how many new antibiotics can be synthesized they’ll have to be used by doctors according to strict schedules so that resistance by any particular bacterium is not given the chance of building up world-wide resistance.

It will be a numbers game in which natural mutations of bacteria will always give them the ‘first kill’. The new antibiotics will enable man to make a rapid ‘second kill’ and thus confine any new bacterium to a small region in which it can then die out naturally.

Steering criticism in the right direction

Ethically, some pharmaceutical businesses are far from shining knights but they should not be blamed by Jim O’Neill — Commercial Secretary to the Treasury — for not funding research into antibiotics.

Now that most bacteria are resistant to most of the available 20-odd antibiotics, and some to all of them — even the very latest and most powerful — then the world is now poised on the very edge of widespread epidemics, particularly to the deadly Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

As a retired economist who worked for Goldman Sachs for many years O’Neill doubly ought to know that money preferentially flows to less-risky investments where there is a known and growing consumer demand already.

Thus, pharmas are spending deeply on research into diseases such as Alzheimer’s which, if successful, will probably involve high dosages every day for the rest of patients’ lives, and much less, if anything at all, on antibiotics which are used only briefly for a week or two at the most.

Most antibiotics are spin-offs from from the original penicillin, products of one particular family of underground fungi. However, it is being realised that the world of underground fungi — but which can release microscopic spores into the air — is vastly greater than has been remotely appreciated until a decade or so ago.

A large number of new antibiotics are likely to be found from fungi somewhere in the world but it is going to require investments on a far greater scale than contemplated hitherto. This is plainly a governmental ‘infrastructure’ issue and O’Neill ought to deflect most, if not all, of his criticisms against the civil service department that owns him.

Updating Herodatus

There are millions, if not billions or trillions, of possible permutations that 20,000 human genes can arrive at during the development of the fetus in the human womb.

Such is the number of permutations. overwhelmingly greater than the number of people on earth — seven billion so far — that it means each of us has a unique personality. Such a personality, modified only by unique indoctrination in childhood, is launched at the time of puberty and remains ours for life.

If Herodatus (484 – 425BC) had included the above in his “circumstances” then he would have been correct when he wrote: “Circumstances rule men, men do not rule circumstances.” Histories.

The era to follow this one

In an otherwise unremarkable day I have to thank a reader for sending me a book review by David Torman from the MIT Technology Review — “Tech Slowdown Threatens the American Dream”. He summarises the case made by Robert J. Gordon in his recent book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth and a riposte by Tyler Cowen in his book Is Innovation Over? The Case Against Pessimism.

Gordon’s argument is similar to my own in my postings of the last couple of years — that the great wave of economic growth and massive innovation on the consumer goods front is now over. The weakness of his case, though, is that he dismisses the possibility that innovation can continue at all. Cowen pours water in this — as do I — by saying that there is no reason why innovation can’t continue. “There are more people working in science than ever before, more science than ever before.”

Where I differ from Cowen is that I think the typical middle-class person in the advanced countries is largely content with what he has already. He has no time, space or energy for new consumer goods. On the other hand, he would very much like to have much improved education and health care services. Innovations for these will surely come from the largest sector of scientific research of all — biology.

Choosing the winning countries

Looking at the latest Wikipedia list of Nobel prizewinners in science (physics, chemistry, physiology/medicine) and calculating ratios of the number of prizes per 1 million population per country one finds an unexpected distribution. In soccer terms we have one Superleague, a credible First Division and two more.

Superleague (more than 2.0)
Switzerland — 2.50
Division 1 (1.0 – 2.0)
Austria — 1.88
Sweden — 1.65
Denmark — 1.61
UK — 1.41
Hungary — 1.12
Germany — 1.07
Netherlands — 1.00
Norway — 1.00
Division 2 (0.5 – 1.0)
US — 0.77
Israel — 0.75
Division 3 (0 – 0.5)
The rest of the world (90 countries)

As to the top nine countries, if their cultures remain stable and if their governments fund basic scientific research well enough then they ought to survive the coming decades. In short, they will be able to develop advanced services, production goods and infrastructure design in order to trade with China, which will be able to make all the consumer goods fit for urban living for all those who can afford them.

Division 2 is interesting. Although America has won the largest number of prizes (246) it is only half as creative as the first nine countries. And even that is only due to its recruitment of 84 scientists who were born elsewhere in the last century. Had they not become naturalised Americans the US would only have achieved 0.47 prizes per million and would belong in Division 3.

Israel, with only 6 Nobel prizes so far since its inception in 1947 is perhaps disappointing but, because of its fraught circumstances, a great deal of its scientific research lies in weaponry or advanced communications and is not published. However, it’s only a matter of time before the scholarship tradition of Judaism comes to the fore. On a wider scientific front in America, 25% of its Nobel prizes are won by Jewish-Americans, 3.0% of the US population.

As to Division 3, countries such as , Finland (0.36), Poland (0.18), Japan (0.16), Italy (0.20) and Russia (0.12) night succeed in future years if they can develop their existing scientific facilities, but as for most countries of the world, only able to offer food or minerals for export they’ll have to wait until their populations are a great deal lower than they are now before their citizens can comfortably share the same standard of living as middle-class people in the advanced countries do already.

US and THEM for decades to come

It is ironic that just as the medical benefits of Christian missionaries from Europe and America have been the principal cause of world over-population in the last 250 years, so it is that the missionary elements of the other monotheistic religion, Islam — Isil, al-Queda, etc — are the principal causes of the pressures building up to attempts at mass migration.

Warfare has been the main trigger so far in causing refugees to flee benighted regions in the Middle East, but this was quickly latched onto by purely economic migrants — and this time from Africa, too. By now, it is already apparent that some powerful businessmen with sizeable, deeply sinewed organisations are emerging from the ruck — buying rubber dinghies from China and developing courier services in an increasing radius around the EU and stretching deep into Asia and Africa.

It will not be long before the EU politicians will be forced into the only brutal policy left to them — the blockading of all exit points along the eastern and southern coasts of the Mediterranean. This summer is likely to be the beginning of warfare between 500 million of US and, potentially 1,000 million of THEM that will last for decades to come.

The largest tragedy of them all

The greatest tragedy in mankind’s history was the diffusion of Western medical technology from Europe into the rest of the world. In a period of 250 years from the 19th century onwards this caused the world population of under 1 billion to arrive at over 7 billion today.

And, because we have already ‘saved’ something like 4 billion middle-aged people from early death then the present 7 billion will inevitably rise to 11 or 12 billion in the next 30 years before there’s any chance of tailing off.

Why did Western medical technology expand? Was it altruism on our part or was it by-product of our power syndrome as European countries vied with one another to establish colonies all round the world as trade outlets?

As we established colonies so did we also send our missionaries, and it was they, rather than administrators, who were the actual agents of change — part of their propaganda kit. What they misconcieved as kindness to their converts has, in the fulness of time, become the cause of starvation, misery and oppresssion that far exceeeds anything that had gone on before the 19th century

Human trafficking — a new economic sector

The human traffickers whom European politicians find it so easy to condemn are not all criminals. They are businessmen.

Like all businessmen in any particular sector of activities they contain a mixture of good businessmen and bad ones. Sooner or later, the good businessmen — those who pay attention to what the customer wants — prevail over the bad businessmen. Bad businessmen break laws — whether statutory or instinctive — while good businessmen evade statutory laws but play fair with their customers who have paid money for the service.

The good businessmen, those mainly in North Africa, telephone the authorities in Greece or Italy that another dinghy has been launched so that an EU patrol boat can pick up the immigrants and deliver them safely on dry land. This is something that is rarely, or barely, mentioned in the media or by politicians.

The long and the short of all this is that where there is a great customer need there’ll always be businessmen to supply it.

Yuans or dollars in future years? A no-brainer

Despite the sneers of most orthodox economists about the gold standard, it is still the case that all the central banks of the world — when they can afford it — are buying gold for their vaults. It is still a currency as far as they’re concerned.

China’s largest bank, ICBC, has just bought Barclays gold vaults in London. Barclays is fast giving up its bad old ways — including gold price manipulation — that brought it to disaster in 2008. The former, it would seem, is now setting up an extension to its Shanghai Gold Exchange whereby anybody with yuans (renminbis) can be paid in gold instead if desired.

Since its inception as an international trading currency about ten years ago, the Chinese yuan now mediates about 17% of world trade and is growing steadily. This compares with about 75% of world trade using American dollars — and steadily declining. Within about 20 years it will be 50:50 and then multinationals will be able to choose to trade in yuans or dollars.

When one currency will be able to be backed up with gold and thus be automatically self-balancing, and the value of the other subject to the whim of the American government, it’s a no-brainer to ask which will then become the preferable currency.

Kicking Oxbridge into fairness

At the present time it is 20 times more likely that a student from Eton or Harrow will be accepted by Oxford or Cambridge universities. At the present time it is 6 times more likely that a student from any of the other 100 odd private schools in the country will be accepted by Oxford or Cambridge universities.

All that is going to change — at last! The new Education Act, the first for 20 years, is published as a White Paper today and will be in the Queen’s Speech on Thursday for legislation next term. Among many other proposals it will require all universities to publish the gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background of their intake.

Some are saying that fair entry into the elite universities from now onwards will require quotas. Lord Patten, one of the most eminent of the Great and the Good and the Chancellor of Oxford University has come out against this, saying it will hit standards at university level.

Whether he is correct or not in the immediate future doesn’t matter. It’s the future transparency of the data that will bring fairness about in due course. Suffice it to say that Oxford and Cambridge Universities will no longer be able to dilly-dally along the way as they have been doing for many years until now.

Reaching our overshoot

Because our daily lives in urban and suburban society are as full as they’re ever going to be, then any new product can only make headway by cannibalizing — completely or partially — on the time and energy previously devoted to the existing products.

In this light, then the 2008 Crash may not have been so much a catastrophic end to a dysfunctional monetary system as a winding down of the world trading system — a premature winding down — something that would have happened anyway over a longer period of years.

Considering that China’s exports of consumer goods are now tailing off we may now take it that the fundamental laws of thermodynamics apply — as they always must — and, in particular, the trading system is now finding its minimal effort of proceeding. That billions of people now alive on earth will be unrequited is beside the point, just as it’s always been whenever any other species has overshot its numbers.

What made America so great?

1. It was fortunate enough to discover large oil fields on its own soil during the same period when it had massive investment from Britain with which to develop the railways;

2. It was able to be a huge supply nation to European countries during the First World War — even to both sides (gun cotton) simultaneously in the early stages;

3. From its post-First World War years of prosperity and onwards it was able to recruit the cream of British and German scientific brains.

America is now three nations — social elite, white majority, African-American minority — with a fourth, Hispanics, well on the way. If Trump becomes President I wonder how he’ll restore America’s former greatness?

Our duty is to our automated economy

Libya’s new Prime Minister — that is, one who was installed by America and Britain — says that he’s now been abandoned. The West “has a duty” to help him.

No country has a duty to hep any other. There is no such thing as ‘duty’ other than it is an expectation that is enforced by a stronger predator whether from within a family, or group, or nation, or from the outside. It is, in fact, the ‘help’ and interference of advanced governments over others that has caused most of the problems — such as gross over-population and under-nourishment — of the present-day world.

Rarely has man treated man quite so badly as when men, women and children were treated in their millions during the 1780-1850 period in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. We’ve paid the price — or, hopefully, most of it — already. If we have a duty then it is to adjust to the inevitable fully-automated economy of the coming years as untraumatically as possible. We will need all our concentration for that, never mind imagining that we can help others.

Hottest month ever — not yet anyway

According to the Met Office we have just had the hottest April ever — at least since records began. This is going to mean that the man-is-to-blame lobby will be more strident than ever before, calling for further reduction in fossil fuel use.

But it’s not going to happen. Has it not registered before now that emergent countries such as China, India, Brazil and whatever else are not going to reduce their dependence on coal, oil and gas until the advanced countries do so? And even if the latter countries were, it’s questionable whether the emergent countries would follow.

We just have to hope that the present global warming is indeed man-made and not just the latest natural blip of the dozen we’ve had since the last Ice Age. If the former, then all we have to do is to be patient and wait until the oceans absorb the CO2 surplus.

Europe as a new continent, Africa incrementum

David Miliband, the man who might have become Prime Minister seven years ago — had he struck when the iron was hot — has now come out with a supposedly radical plan to solve the refugee problem in Europe.

Let us note that he chooses to call it a refugee problem. Most call it an immigration problem with only a fraction of the travellers being genuine war-torn refugees. It is quite clear that most are economic migrants. There is nothing unworthy about economic migration, of course. It has happened throughout history. But mis-describing the problem causes the economics at the receiving end to be overlooked. Rightly or wrongly, it is the job fears of the indigenous people of Europe that is the root of the problem.

Timing his proposal for the World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul a few days away Miliband is only repeating what Angela Merkel said a few months ago — that Europe could easily accommodate at least a million immigrants right now. But this would be the least of it. Once accommodated, one million would be followed by ten million from Africa, and then ten million would be followed by one hundred million.  And then more.  Europe would become a new continental species, Africa incrementum.

Dealing with Boko Haram?

Boko Haram, is Hausa for “Western education is forbidden” and is now joining up with Isil in Libya, according to a UN Security Council alert. In a statement, the UN has said that Boko Haram now undermines the peace and stability of West and Central Africa. What’s to be done?

Can, in fact, anything be done? Nigeria, where Boko Haram first arose in 2009, has so far been unable to eradicate it. Tomorrow it is holding a conference in Abuja to which senior politicians from Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger will gather with those from France, Britain and America.

Surely we have learned by now that nothing constructive will be decided. We are a fiercely cultural species in which our group, or region or country cannot possibly see into others’ cultures, no matter how much we try to empathise with the sufferings of some. Interference will only make things worse in Africa, just as it already has done in the Middle East.

The starvation and brutality to come

If I seemed too complacent in my posting yesterday, “Corruption over the longer term” — that it would be driven to low levels — then Steve Kurtz takes me to task. In his Comment he writes that I’m assuming that “economies don’t undergo chaotic breakdowns where barter, theft, black markets, etc would proliferate.”

I’m not assuming that. It’ll be the least of it in many countries — in most countries actually. I think we’ll see starvation on a massive scale as the new Chinese middle class demand the same level of high class protein that advanced countries already have. Such protein will need grain feedstock that will deprive at least three or four billion people of sufficient carbohydrate food in the next 30 years.

I think we’ll see genocide and savagery on an even wider scale than we already do. This Spring already sees the EU shaping up to massive brutality in keeping millions of Africans out of Europe as politicians try to pacify their own electorates. With Africa’s population destined to grow from one billion to at least three billion in the next 30 years pretty well a total blockade will have to be maintained by Europe for that period — especially as human jobs continue to be automated.

It is only the wildest and most irrational economic growthist who can deny that the world population — tragically through no fault of its own but only of well-meant medical care — has grown far too large for any sort of peaceful adjustment.

A bit of Bathonian sang-froid

Exciting times here in Bath in the early hours of this morning. An unexploded 500lb German bomb resulting from the second World War was discovered yesterday during building renovations. It is. of course, cordoned off while an army disposal squad deal with it and 1,000 residents all around have been advised accordingly.

What’s interesting about this is that, normally, the police give people no options. The police love to exert as much power as possible, almost whatever the circumstances. They simply tell people to move and they, being ever amenable to authority, move.

But Bath is a bit different from most towns and cities in the country. It’s a high IQ place. Evidently, some senior policeman — also more intelligent than usual — decided that Bathonians were not to be treated like sheep. The situation was explained to them. They replied: “Thank you very much,” and went back to bed.

Corruption over the longer term

A major Anti-Corruption Conference is being held today on London. As the host, Prime Minister David Cameron has already announced what Britain is going to do — or at least is going to try to do — and this is to create a register of all foreign companies owning properties in the country and of their personal beneficiaries. The register would mean “corrupt individuals and countries will no longer be able to move, launder and hide illicit funds through London’s property market . . .”.

Will we ever get rd of corruption? Unlikely. Every man is basically selfish and thus “every man has his price” even if it’s not always for money. Offers of promotion, sex or reputation will do just as nicely for some. Corruption is endemic and will always exist at some level or another. But will it be at a high level or a low level? That’s the crucial question. There’s a two-part answer, one ancient and one modern.

It is now being shown by evolutionary biologists from careful experiments that many higher animals can count, and compute and compare end-results. This applies whether we are talking of intuitive feelings of right and wrong results in mathematics but also of fair comparisons — in fact, the basis of common law in our own species.

The modern part of the answer is that we now have the Internet. There can now be little doubt that, on balance, secret information is exposed sooner or later by hackers or whistle blowers. It is not so much that the innermost deception is always revealed in detail but that so much else gathering around the periphery is leaving a ‘black hole’ on which our basic intuition can act.

Despite the fact that we hear of corruption more than ever before we can be reasonably positive about driving it down to low levels over the longer term.

Cleverer females

Five in six colleges and universities in this country now have more female than male students. Within a few years it will be all of them, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has calculated.

It’s all changed from as recently as 20 years ago when women’s lib had not yet penetrated schoolgirls minds sufficiently — persuading them that they can be as clever as boys in every speciality. It has now! What’s now being exposed is something that only neuroscientists were fully aware of 20 years ago. Women’s brains mature, on average, two to three years ahead of men’s brains. Women going to college or university at 18 are considerably brighter than their male peers. The males don’t catch up un til they are nearer 30.

The HEPI is recommending that “more institutions consider setting themselves targets for male recruitment in future.” How pathetic! Does it think that this will do anything at all? What’s needed is either (a) the setting of different standards of exams taken at 18, or (b) Widening the age band of those taking entrance exams. The second seems a far better solution to me.

Evading the real issue

Prime Minister Cameron won’t debate face to face on the Referendum issue with Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage because they’re both more intelligent and forceful. Pity, because both would have brought up the vital element in the whole issue — the one that forced Cameron into allowing a Referendum in the first place — mass immigration over the past 20 years or so.

The real issue in the debate is nothing to do with economics. No one can possibly tell — never mind prove — whether this country’s balance of payments will do better after 23 June by staying in or leaving the EU. It’s a purely emotional issue — that is, an instinctive issue. How much can any indigenous culture stand by way of absorbing a different culture, particularly if it’s distinctively different?

Blanking out the Queen

I was wrong yesterday (“The Queen calls Chinese officials ‘rude’ ! How refreshing !”) when I opined that the Chinese government wouldn’t be bothered. Evidently they were bothered because their censors blanked any news item — BBC, CNN, etc — that mentioned it on domestic television.

What bothers them is not so much that the Queen has a view but that the idea — that Chinese government officials are rude — should have the chance of taking off and becoming popular among the Chinese public. More than any government in the world, the Chinese don’t want any specific ideas, good or bad, to become highly popular because it can then become organized by one ambitious person or another and become a threat to the government itself.

Even Falun Gong — otherwise, the practice of meditative and physical drilling in public — was jumped on like a ton of bricks some 20 years ago when it looked as though it might become rampant. On the face of it, Falun Gong, seemed very little different from Tai Chi — which is widespread in China. But whereas Tai Chi in public is spontaneous and highly localised, Falun Gong was being organised nationwide and even had its own logo. Many Falun Gong organisers served long years in prison.