February 2016

February 2016 letter

Well February started with gusting winds and rain but Harry managed to get the last three pieces of framing safely up and almost in place. But he had a couple of dizzy spells with a funny pulse so on the 3rd he went to the doc. The doctor sent him to a specialist who bunged him in hospital for tests. It is not serious, we are told, but needs medication and they want to watch that the medication is effective/safe for him. He will have another examination next month at the hospital.

The microcar was to be deliver on the 4th – but no problem, I would take delivery and write the cheque. Then I realized that our only remaining cheque book was in the car parked outside the hospital in Bourges. So the delivery was rescheduled for the following week. Neighbours, Sylvain and Sandra, drove me the Bourges to take things to Harry and get the cheque book.

Ginger was very upset when Harry didn’t come home – and very happy when he did come.

Also on the 3rd we had hail, and for the first time I saw hail coming in at almost a horizontal angle – very small but numerous stones and an extremely strong wind. One of our not too healthy trees broke in the wind. We get the edge and sometimes the tail of the Atlantic storms that Britain has been getting. Thank goodness we have not been getting the center of the storms.

Harry was home when the new car was delivered. It seems to be just what we need. We have started to use it and the middle of the month after we got insurance for it. It seats two, is completely enclosed from the weather and has a heater. It is a diesel so does not have a restricted distance from home. It is ‘san permit’ (SPV) like the Twizzy so I can drive it.

I have taken some time off Facebook and some other regular websites to catch up on many things. I also was sorting some things on the computer and managed to lose hundreds of bookmarks with a single key stroke – a lot of reading that I don’t have. I had a very odd emotion when it happened, a mixing of a sickening feeling of lost and a feeling of relief from a burden, in an equal and simultaneous rush of both feelings. On the other hand, my clean up managed to locate our winter cloths – at last.

The rainy and windy weather changed for Bob McIlwaine’s visit 15th-18th and started again when he left. The good weather allowed him to do quite a bit to help Harry with the garage. (photo below) It was a nice visit.

Shortly after Bob’s visit, Harry came down with a terrible cold. He is now improving at the very end of the month.

Also at the end of the month, despite all the bad weather this month, the very early spring flowers are coming out. Spring is about to spring.

Below is: Garage Building – Bob’s help, Happiness is over-rated – meaning as important as happiness, Explaining Piketty – a piece from Edge on the economist’s message, Corporal Bullard – first Black American pilot from a French perspective, Joke – meta-joke cartoon, Conspiracies and Cullusions – A calm view of conspiracies, Feb image Riches Heures du duc de Berry panel for February.

Garage Building

In the first few days of Feb. the last three pieces of wood in the framing were put in place but not finally fixed in place. And that is how it stayed during Harry’s hospitalization and until Bob arrived. Nothing was done after Bob left either because of weather and Harry’s cold. In the single photo below you can see: scaffolding was taken down from the east (left) wall and then erected on the west (right wall), the last bit of framing was fixed in place, another lift of sheathing was put of the south of the roof. Bob also helped charge the Twizzy and then move it to its old parking space. The photo shows a bit of the new Microcar too. (click to enlarge)

Happiness is over-rated

It seems to a lot of people that the most important thing to aim at is happiness. Fine. But the ‘pauliana’ accent on everything having to be positive (that seems to go with the single-minded pursuit of happiness) can get a little tiresome. Some studies contrasted happiness and meaningfulness in life. I really react against calling it meaning. The word seems to have too much baggage. But (aside from what it is called) a purposeful, useful, socially engaging life is not necessarily always happy. Many of us pursue this sort of life without too much regard to how much happiness is available. The studies showed that happiness and meaningfulness shared many aspects. But here is the list of differences that are found.

Baumeisters differences:

  • Finding one’s life easy or difficult was related to happiness, but not meaning.
  • Feeling healthy was related to happiness, but not meaning.
  • Feeling good was related to happiness, not meaning.
  • Scarcity of money reduced happiness more than meaning.
  • People with more meaningful lives agreed that ‘relationships are more important than achievements’.
  • Helping people in need was linked to meaning but not happiness.
  • Expecting to do a lot of deep thinking was positively related to meaningfulness, but negatively with happiness.
  • Happiness was related more to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaning was related more to being a giver than a taker.
  • The more people felt their activities were consistent with core themes and values of their self, the greater meaning they reported in their activities.
  • Seeing oneself as wise, creative, and even anxious were all linked to meaning but had no relationship (and in some cases, even showed a negative relationship) to happiness.

It seems that happiness has more to do with having your needs satisfied, getting what you want, and feeling good, whereas meaning is more related to uniquely human activities such as developing a personal identity, expressing the self, and consciously integrating one’s past, present, and future experiences.

Not only do some feel they should be maximizing their happiness, they feel they are owed it. If they are not happy they feel they are failing. This this is not a healthy road to take.

Many scientists agree the meaning has two major components (maybe more). One is cognitive processing or making sense and integrating experiences. This aspect leads to perseverance, passion, self-distancing and gratitude. The second component is purpose or actively pursuing long-term goals that are in keeping with one’s identity and over-above narrow self-interest. Meaning in life may cause negative emotions in the short-term but give long-term well-being, satisfaction and resilience.

The positive emotion of happiness was negatively related to optimism and can cause emotional suppression in the long term. A long-term pursuit of happiness as the main goal is associated with loneliness and a lack of a sense of well-being.

A great life happens when there is a combination of happiness and meaning with each contributing to the other. It happens easier if one goes lightly on the happiness pedal.

Explaining Piketty

2016 : WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST INTERESTING RECENT [SCIENTIFIC] NEWS? WHAT MAKES IT IMPORTANT? S. Abbas Raza answer – Increasing inequality of Wealth and Income is a Runaway Process of r > g

One of the biggest challenges facing us is the increasing disparity in wealth and income which has become so obviously apparent in American society in the last four decades or so with all its pernicious effects on societal health. Thomas Piketty’s extensively data-backed tour de force Capital in the Twenty-First Century gave us two big and alarming pieces of news about this trend: 1) Inequality is actually worse than we thought it is, and 2) It will continue to get worse because of structural reasons inherent in our form of capitalism itself, unless we do something.

The top 0.1 percent of families in America went from having 7 percent of national wealth in the late 1970s, to having about 25 percent now. Over the same period, the income share of the top 1 percent of families has gone from less than 10 percent to more than 20 percent now. And lest we think that even if wealth and income are more concentrated now, America is still the land of opportunity and even those born with very little at least have a good chance to move up in economic class, there is a depressing number of studies which show that, contrary to this optimistic notion, according to standard measures of intergenerational mobility, the United States ranks among the least economically mobile among developed nations.

Piketty shows that there is an internal feature of capitalism which increases inequality: as long as the rate of return on capital (r) is greater than the rate of economic growth (g), wealth will tend to concentrate in a minority, and that the inequality r > g always holds over the long term. And he is not some lone wolf academic with an eccentric theory of inequality. Scores of well-respected economists have given ringing endorsements to the central thesis of his book, including economics Nobel winners Robert Solow, Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul Krugman, who has written that:

Piketty doesn’t just offer invaluable documentation of what is happening, with unmatched historical depth. He also offers what amounts to a unified field theory of inequality, one that integrates economic growth, the distribution of income between capital and labor, and the distribution of wealth and income among individuals into a single frame.

The only solution to this growing problem, it seems, is the redistribution of the wealth concentrating within a tiny elite using instruments such as aggressive progressive taxation (such as exists in some European countries which show a much better distribution of wealth), but the difficulty in that is the obvious one that political policy-making is itself greatly affected by the level of inequality. This creates a vicious positive feedback loop which is making things even worse. It is clearly the case now in the United States that the rich are not only able to hugely influence government policy directly, but that elite forces are able to shape public opinion and affect election outcomes through large-scale propaganda efforts through media they own or can control. This double-edged sword is being used effectively to attack and shred democracy itself.

The political dysfunction resulting from the current severe levels of inequality makes it extremely difficult to address our most pressing problems, for example, lack of opportunity in education, lack of availability of quality healthcare for all, man-made climate change, and not least, as I pointed out above, the indecent injustice of inequality itself. I am not sure if there is any way to stop the growth in inequality that we have seen in the last four or five decades anytime soon but I do believe it is one of the very important things we have learned more about just in the last couple of years. Unfortunately the news is not good.

One of the big problems today is wealth inequality. We are approaching the sort of inequality that we see in a Dickens story. It is obvious that the economic system on its own is not going to correct the situation and neither is ordinary politics if the rich can control the political game. In the end either laws will get passed and implemented to reverse inequality or there will be some sort of revolution.

An economist, Thomas Piketty wrote a large large book (Capital in the Twenty-first Century) in which he trace the history of capitalism and showed that left to it own devises, capitalism will increase inequality continuously. It is very extreme now and if nothing is done it will continue to increase.

He also explained why unregulated capitalism increases inequality.

Piketty shows that there is an internal feature of capitalism which increases inequality: as long as the rate of return on capital (r) is greater than the rate of economic growth (g), wealth will tend to concentrate in a minority, and that the inequality r > g always holds over the long term. And he is not some lone wolf academic with an eccentric theory of inequality. Scores of well-respected economists have given ringing endorsements to the central thesis of his book, including economics Nobel winners Robert Solow, Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul Krugman, who has written that:

Thomas Piketty’s extensively data-backed tour de force Capital in the Twenty-First Century gave us two big and alarming pieces of news about this trend: 1) Inequality is actually worse than we thought it is, and 2) It will continue to get worse because of structural reasons inherent in our form of capitalism itself, unless we do something.”

Corporal Bullard

Eugene Jacques Bullard was the first Afro-American pilot. He stowed away on the ship to Europe when he was young and settled in Paris, boxing and playing in music hall. He was living in France and when WW1 started he enlisted in the French foreign legion. He saw action at the Somme, Artois, Champagne,and Meuse. The legion took very heavy casualties in these battles. He won the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire for his bravery when he was seriously wounded. When he recovered he joined the French air force and became a pilot. In the Lafayette Flying Corp he did 20 combat missions. When America joined the war they invited America pilots in the French forces to join the US air service. But Bullard was not invited because he was not white.

Bullard became a jazz drummer, married and had two daughter. He owned a nightclub in Paris by the time WW2 started. Many visiting black Americans played in the club. The L’Escadrille club was a favorite with German officers and Bullard was their popular friend. But he was also secretly understanding their German conversations and passing the information to the Free French. He was a spy. Later he enlisted again in the French army, was wounded the left the front. He and his daughters escaped to Spain and returned to the US. He have 15 French medals and was invited to help light the fire at the grave of the unknown soldier.

When he moved back US he was just an ordinary black man although he was a hero in France. He suffered injuries when beaten in a riot by law men. It was captured on film but no one was prosecuted. He was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur by the French government in 1959 but the Americans did not notice. A year later DeGaulle visited the US and said that he wanted to meet Bullard. The White House went looking for this unknown famous man and found he was an elevator operator in New York. DeGaulle was able to meet him. He died a while later in 1961, still practically unknown in his home country. He was buried in the French military cemetery in New York.


Conspiracies and Collusions

Conspiracies happen, we know that they do for we have examples from almost every period of history. |So we know that not all current stories of conspiracies are false but that seems to be the position taken by the media and a great many people. Of course we also know that not everything that happens is a conspiracy as some people would like us to believe. Some things that are called conspiracies are really legal collusions that are done quietly but not secretly.

But we should be able to guess how likely a conspiracy theory is to be true. Is it plausible?

Mathematicians have modeled very large grand conspiracies and found that they are too big NOT to fail. If large numbers of people are in the secret ring, it will not hold. So … if some secret world order is controlling everything from high level diplomacy to your local police officer, it is a false conspiracy or is one that will fall apart in a very short time, like the next week. Someone who is convinced of a particular smallish conspiracy but keeps being told of his theory’s weaknesses, may rid himself of the weaknesses by including more individuals and organizations in his conspiracy theory. As it gets bigger and bigger and it also gets less credible instead of more so.

This does not mean that there are not large collusions. And often they are also not that secret. The oil companies and associated companies seem to be colluding to counter climate change science. So are the politicians that they donate money to; so is the media that depend on their ad revenue and owner’s views. And so it goes on getting fairly big – but it is not a conspiracy because it is not that secret and only sometimes marginally illegal. There may in fact being smaller groups actually conspiring illegally within large collusions.

In many cases, the people and institutions that are accused of conspiring are too interested in truth and in openness to be credible as a conspiracy. A few scientists may conspire or a few lawyers, but it is too hard to believe that large masses of scientists or lawyers would conspire.

Another aspect is who is to gain by an event and do they have the ability to have arranged the event. It seems reasonable to be suspicious of people arguing for a conspiracy (or against it) if they have a lot to gain or lose. Usually both sides have at least some stake in how the event is viewed.

We all wonder about things, try and connect the dots, listen to experts etc. and sometimes the official story is convincing but occasionally it isn’t. But there are people who look for conspiracies everywhere, conspiracies under the bed, huge unlikely monster ones. It is a sort of ‘condition’ but so is unending, unquestioning believe in the authorities.

So where do I stand on some conspiracy theories?

The famous conspiracy theories around JFK’s shooting, all appear more plausible than the Warden report. But no one scenario is that much more believable than the others and it is probably too late for evidence to surface that would settle the mystery. So I accept that there probably was a conspiracy but have no idea of who, what and how it was done.

There are a number of conspiracy theories around 9/11, but none are more convincing than the official story. Although there do seem to be a few weak spots in the official explanation, there seem many more such spots in the various conspiracy theories.

I never took the Jade Helm conspiracy seriously – it was a good laugh – and not the way the US military or Walmart would act. And I am not likely to take seriously anything that the wing-nuts say about the government, the Clintons, Planned Parenthood, etc. They have themselves conspired to create ridiculous defaming accusations.

GMO is a complex one for me. I do not think that it is likely that genetic modification is itself unhealthy (I’m not into calling them frankenfoods). Most modification would be harmless. But I do believe that the companies involved such as Monsanto are involved in a collusion to control agriculture/food production (through seeds, pesticides, buying large tracts of land, nasty legal practices, weird patent rules, money to scientists/politicians/media). There may be some little conspiracies in this drive to control agriculture but mainly it is just a collusion. And a extremely dangerous one.

Vaccines are a slam dunk. I believe they are safe (way safer than most drugs and safer than the diseases they protect against). I believe they are effective. I believe it is good public health to eliminate the diseases for which we have vaccines. I also believe that autism is a developmental disease that begins its damage before birth and is noticeable about the time that children get their shots. It has nothing to do with vaccines. The person who started this idea has been shown to have lied for his own benefit. He has been disgraced by courts and medical bodies. He is the one who did something illegal. The vaccine hoax appears to stay alive because of how much people disparately want to believe it. Parents do not want to think autism is due to their genes or their environment/lifestyle during pregnancy and they want someone to sue.

I also do not think there is a conspiracy of scientists to convince people of a climate warming problem that does not exist. Quite the opposite, there seems to be a collusion to minimize the facts about the warming. I suspect this is a wider collusion and includes an attack on science in general using the expertise of the tobacco lobby’s long fight by the fossil fuel companies and others.

Recently there has been in the news a revelation that Nixon caused the failure of Lydon Johnson’s attempt to end the Vietnam war. It seems pretty clear cut – Nixon was a traitor who cost many thousands of lives and managed to have it kept secret. So there are still successful conspiracies in modern times. Still, too many people knew about it for it to stay secret for ever.

Feb image

Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry shows how winter was around 1400. (click to enlarge)



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About Janet Kwasniak

Retired pensioner, raised in Canada but UK citizen living in France, interested in Science and many other things.

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