Newsnotes 2012 06

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams

Austerity for the 99%

Riding Both Sides of a Bubble [Financial Crimes Seldom Punished Seriously]

Paying For Praise [Corrupting US Accademics]

British Decline

The Greek Resistance.

Goodbye, Reagan Democrats

Why no Chinese should trust the USA.

Middle East in the balance

Born To Be Grouped [the usefulness of Group Thinking]

Blonds of the Second Kind [Blond Hair not Racial]


Austerity for the 99%

People in Western Europe and the USA lost confidence in state power in the 1970s. This was an odd thing to do, since increased state power after World War Two had given them an unprecedented run of prosperity and a lot of personal freedom. The West was in a certain amount of trouble in the 1970s, in part because the Arabs realised that they were selling their oil far too cheaply. But this was no reason to abandon a successful system or to sneer at it as wicked “Corporatism” with overtones of fascism. It was actually the system that prevented a re-growth of fascism, by accepting that there had been some justice in both the fascist and communist criticism of old-style liberalism. It also showed that social justice and employment could be produced in a tolerant society with open politics. It had succeeded for a quarter century.

It needed to be fixed, not broken.

Actually the system of state management and tax-and-spend was fixed and not broken, but it was fixed for the benefit of the rich. The rhetoric of ‘free markets’ has gone along with more and more regulations, and a tougher climate for small business. State spending was denounced as a burden, but the state budget has not shrunk at all. Taxes were denounced as robbery, but ordinary people still pay them, only the rich can afford complex work-rounds that mean they pay very little tax. And to make up for tax evasion by the rich, governments were encouraged to run up debts, with full knowledge that this would cause trouble in the long run.

The crisis of 2008 saw the whole edifice of speculative finance come close to collapse. Government money was pumped in to keep the system afloat. Government debts had nothing to do with it. But the massive distrust of the state, which applies right across the political spectrum, meant that there was no question of reacting by nationalising of banks or disentangling honest savings from speculation. The profitable parts of entities like Northern Rock were sold off as soon as possible, with the state left with all the bad debts. This was then seen as requiring austerity and cuts in state spending, overseen by people who already viewed all cuts in the civil and welfare sections of the state as a welcome improvement.

Austerity has meant dampening down the real economy by cutting state spending, rather than raising taxes on the rich. It means giving priority to reassuring financiers – but they long ago ensured that pension funds would be lured into this ‘web of sin’ so that ordinary people also have a stake in it.

All of this was justified as necessary for ‘Capitalism’, identified as the only possible source of wealth. Actually the system that grew up in the 1980s is completely different from anything that existed before, and represents a capitalist extreme.

Britain’s Industrial Revolution happened under broad state supervision. Nothing in the 18th century in Britain grew faster than the state, and the Victorian state was bigger again. But those were the years of success, though they broke all of the current conventional wisdom and people insisted all along that tax was ruinous and collapse immanent.

There is a big difference between tolerating small enclaves of capitalism, allowing it widely but under rules, encouraging it in areas or else placing extensive trust in it. Or keeping a superstitious devotion to ‘Free Markets’ even when they are visibly not delivering their promise.


Riding Both Sides of a Bubble [Financial Crimes Seldom Punished Seriously]

Society needs markets and money to be stable and trustworthy. But the class of speculators who rose in the 1980s thrive on instability and uncertainty. And persuaded politicians to let them create chaos.

“It is no exaggeration to say that since the 1980s, much of the global financial sector has become criminalised, creating an industry culture that tolerates or even encourages systematic fraud. The behaviour that caused the mortgage bubble and financial crisis of 2008 was a natural outcome and continuation of this pattern, rather than some kind of economic accident…

“Total fines on the banks for their role in the Enron fraud, the internet bubble, violation of sanctions against countries including Iran and money-laundering activities appear to be far less than 1% of financial sector profits and bonuses during the same period…

“There have been very few prosecutions and no criminal convictions of large US financial institutions or their senior executives. Where individuals not linked to major banks have committed similar offences, they have been treated far more harshly…

“When did Wall Street insiders know there was a really serious sub-prime mortgage bubble, and that they could game it? Many of the clever ones knew by about 2004, when Howie Hubler at Morgan Stanley first started to bet against the worst securities with the approval of his management. But you can only make money betting against a bubble as it unravels. As long as there was room for the bubble to grow, Wall Street’s overwhelming incentive was to keep it going. But when they saw that the bubble was ending, their incentives changed. And we therefore know that many on Wall Street realised there was a huge bubble by late 2006, because that’s when they started massively betting on its collapse…

“To begin with, a number of big hedge funds figured it out. Unlike investment banks, however, they couldn’t make serious money by securitising loans and selling CDOs (collateralised debt obligations), so they had to wait until the bubble was about to burst and make their money from the collapse. And this they did. Major hedge funds including Magnetar, Tricadia, Harbinger Capital, George Soros, and John Paulson made billions of dollars each by betting against mortgage securities as the bubble ended, and all of them worked closely with Wall Street in order to do so…

“As we saw, Morgan Stanley started betting against the bubble as early as 2004. Conversely, JPMorgan Chase mostly just remained prudently above the junk mortgage fray. Goldman Sachs, though, was in a class by itself. It made billions of dollars by betting against the very same stuff that it had been making billions selling only a year or two before.” [A]

It’s not much different in the UK;

“Hedge fund boss Alberto Micalizzi has been fined £3m and banned from working in finance by the City regulator, the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

“The penalties are for concealing losses of $390m (£250m) and lying to investors in late 2008.

“Mr Micalizzi and DDCM are referring the decision to the FSA’s Upper Tribunal, which may overturn it…

“The FSA’s ruling said: ‘Mr Micalizzi’s behaviour is amongst the most serious that the FSA has encountered,’ describing him as demonstrating ‘a total lack of honesty and integrity’.

“It said that Mr Micalizzi’s fund hid its losses by buying a bond and then artificially revaluing it to create a $400m gain.

“It also said that Mr Micalizzi deliberately concealed the true value of the fund from a new investor who had invested $41.8m.

“The fund was liquidated in May 2009 with $10m left in its kitty and no payments have been made to investors since then.”[B]


Paying For Praise [Corrupting US Accademics]

“Over the past 30 years, significant portions of American academia have deteriorated into ‘pay to play’ activities. These days, if you see a famous economics professor testify in Congress, or write an article, there is a good chance he or she is being paid by someone with a big stake in what’s being debated. Most of the time, these professors do not disclose these conflicts of interest, and most of the time their universities look the other way….

“In November 2004 Hubbard co-authored an astonishing article, jointly with William C Dudley, then chief economist at Goldman Sachs. The article, How Capital Markets Enhance Economic Performance and Facilitate Job Creation, warrants quotation. Remember, this is November 2004, with the bubble well under way: ‘The capital markets have helped make the housing market less volatile … ‘Credit crunches’ of the sort that periodically shut off the supply of funds to home buyers … are a thing of the past.’

“Hubbard refused to say whether he was paid to write the article. He also refused to provide me with his most recent government financial disclosure form, which we could not obtain otherwise because the White House had destroyed it. Hubbard was paid $100,000 (£63,000) to testify for the criminal defence of two Bear Stearns hedge fund managers prosecuted in connection with the bubble, who were acquitted. Last year, Hubbard became a senior economic adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign…

“Most of our information about Summers comes from his mandatory government disclosure form. Summers’ 2009 disclosure form stated his net worth to be $17m-$39m. His total earnings in the year prior to joining the government were almost $8m. Goldman Sachs paid him $135,000 for one speech.

“Summers is a compromised man who owes most of his fortune and much of his political success to the financial services industry, and who was involved in some of the most disastrous economic policy decisions of the past half century. In the Obama administration, Summers opposed strong measures to sanction bankers or curtail their income.” [C]

But universities have become dependent on corporate funds, mostly because a large section of the working mainstream decided that they were too expensive to fund out of taxes. Letting them be financed some other way seemed easy. But it’s cost ordinary people a lot more in the long run.


British Decline

“Britain’s economic model – based on an inflated housing market, ever rising consumer debts and freewheeling financial services – is broken. It is unable to re-generate growth even four years after the financial crash, and is unlikely to do so for at least another couple of years.

“The bankruptcy of the existing model has prompted talk of ‘rebalancing’ the economy through the revival of the manufacturing sector. Even the chancellor, George Osborne – not known for his love of industry – talks of the need for a ‘march of the makers’. Unfortunately, after three decades of relentless de-industrialisation, Britain’s manufacturing base is hopelessly weakened, and its revival is going to be a long, hard slog.

“Some people have found solace in the fact – brought to attention by Peter Mandelson – that Britain is still the sixth largest manufacturer in the world. But this is essentially on account of Britain having one of the largest populations among the rich countries. In terms of per capita manufacturing output, a more accurate indicator of a country’s prowess, Britain ranks only about 20th – behind even Luxembourg and Iceland, not to mention South Korea and Taiwan…

“Despite all this, the government’s approach to renewing the sector is to repeat the same old, failed strategy of cutting (personal and corporate) taxes and ‘red tape’. The theory behind it is that wealthy people and corporations need to be given more incentives to invest and create jobs by making it easier for them to do business (deregulation) and to keep more of the income they generate through their businesses (tax cuts). If only it were that simple…

“Things like growth prospects, technological progress, quality of labour force and infrastructure are far more important. The truth is that, if there is money to be made, businessmen will invest regardless of the level of regulations. This is why the 299 permits that were needed to open a factory in South Korea in the early 1990s did not prevent the country from investing 35% of its income and growing at 10% per year at the time.”[D]

This is from Ha-Joon Chang, an economist of South Korean origin and author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. He’s got it pretty much right: strengthening the bosses has made the bosses richer but no more competent.

What should also be said is that South Korea and other success stories had no choice except to produce useful products. Parts of Britain have been able to flourish as a global financial parasite: a bloated financial sector that really produces nothing and is gambling on a gigantic scale. This sector has been protected at the cost of all else.


The Greek Resistance.

“During two years of tough austerity measures, the Greeks have seen their society break down into pieces. Homeless people began to appear on the streets in large numbers, malnourished children forced the ministry of education to start serving meals in some schools for the first time since World War II, the health system collapsed, drug addiction and HIV levels exploded, and crime rose – transforming some areas of the capital city, Athens, into ghettos.

“On top of that, unemployment is above 20 per cent, one out of two young Greeks are out of work, wages are gradually falling towards levels prevailing in Bulgaria, the economy is in its fifth year of recession, and social insurance organisations such as the Institute of Social Insurance (IKA) are collapsing due to the haircut on Greek bonds – which critically reduced the organisations’ reserves.

“According to OECD statistics, the Greeks have lost about 25 per cent of their income in just two years. This could be characterised as analogous to a humanitarian disaster caused by an earthquake of magnitude 7.0.

“Not surprisingly, then, Greece’s political system has followed down the path of social decay. For the first time in Greece’s modern history, the extreme social fragmentation described above was reflected in Greek politics. For 37 years, Greece has been a two-party European democracy, with a conservative and a social democratic party succeeding each other in power. Two or three minor parties also typically made it into parliament.” [E]

What’s been happening is that the most vulnerable have had New Right principles imposed on them. This includes a partial reversal of the post-1945 idea that the state had to look after people’s health:

“Every morning a queue forms outside the Medecins du Monde clinic in central Athens. In it wait immigrants from Afghanistan and Algeria, Roma gypsies, homeless people – and, increasingly, Greek families.

“Funded by charitable donations, the clinic is intended as a safety net for groups with no other way to access the Greek health system. In recent months, however, their ranks have swelled with Greeks who – unemployed and no longer covered by social security – have no other place to go for essential medical treatment.

“On Friday last week, children queued for the routine polio vaccinations needed to start school. A pregnant woman waited alongside an elderly man with heart problems who can’t afford the daily drugs he needs to keep him alive. ‘Two years ago these people had a normal life,’ says Nikitas Kanakis, president of Medecins du Monde, which runs four such clinics in the country…

“When the Argentinean economy collapsed just over a decade ago, riots swept the country and hospitals in Buenos Aires faced severe shortages. Yet while the government cut overall health spending, they protected many in greatest need – funding maternal and child health, where there were improvements as a result. Prioritising vaccination, chronic disease and drug addiction yielded similar positives.

“There may also be lessons from the restructuring of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe during the early 1990s, when mass unemployment resulted in increased rates of adult male mortality, particularly due to cardiovascular disease. That is partly because unemployment undermines morale, and people seek comfort in risky behaviours such as smoking and drinking, says Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, a health policy expert at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. The public health toll is exacerbated by people having less money to pay for health services, making them more likely to delay treatment. ‘You’re going to see an increase in the pressure on healthcare systems at a time when they are struggling to do what they were able to do in the past,’ says Lloyd-Sherlock…

“When the Argentinean economy collapsed just over a decade ago, riots swept the country and hospitals in Buenos Aires faced severe shortages. Yet while the government cut overall health spending, they protected many in greatest need – funding maternal and child health, where there were improvements as a result. Prioritising vaccination, chronic disease and drug addiction yielded similar positives.

“There may also be lessons from the restructuring of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe during the early 1990s, when mass unemployment resulted in increased rates of adult male mortality, particularly due to cardiovascular disease. That is partly because unemployment undermines morale, and people seek comfort in risky behaviours such as smoking and drinking, says Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, a health policy expert at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. The public health toll is exacerbated by people having less money to pay for health services, making them more likely to delay treatment. ‘You’re going to see an increase in the pressure on healthcare systems at a time when they are struggling to do what they were able to do in the past,’ says Lloyd-Sherlock.” [F]

Of course rich people also get diseases, though not as often as the poor. Their meanness is self-defeating: they are creating pools of dangerous infections. And their 1990s policy for the former Soviet Union was also self-defeating. Ukraine ended up weak and paralysed by conflicts between three egoistical leaders, one of them currently in jail. But Russia under Putin bounced back and is a determined foe of the Anglo global order.

[This was before the ‘Second Orange Revolution’, which happened in February 2014 and turned a bad situtation into a catastrophie.]

A few trillion invested in rehabilitating Russia instead of looting it might have produced something very different. Financier George Soros has complained that he proposed something like the Marshall Plan, which did successfully turn West Germany and Italy into reliable US allies. But he was a minority: for most of the New Right it is a ‘Transfactual Truth’ that State is Bad and Private is Good. The more their methods backfire on them, the more determined they are to uphold the creed.

You might think that what’s happening in Greece would mean the Radical Left sweep the board, Tsipras and Syriza. Sadly, it seems that old patterns of thinking die hard. How the second Greek election will go is anyone’s guess.

[Syriza made modest progress in 2012, then became much the biggest party in 2015.]


Goodbye, Reagan Democrats

President Franklin Roosevelt cured the USA’s Great Depression by stitching together a coalition that had the white working class at its core. Functionally it was socialist, but because it occurred within the old and corrupt structures of the Democratic Party, socialist ideas never got through to most people. When the traditional white working class felt its position under threat in the 1970s, it was easy for ex-actor Ronald Reagan to sweet-talk them into a raft of anti-socialist measures that he promised would set things right. A lot of them still voted for Democrats at a local and state level, the level they understood reasonably well. But for the mysterious world of national economic and global politics, they believed that he was their man

He wasn’t their man, he was their Pied Piper and has led them to ruin. Republicans were radicals in the mid-19th century, but it was mostly the radicalism of rich men seeking an atomised society. There was solid continuity between this and the later shift rightward under Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The basic idea was to fragment the society and let the rich have as much freedom as possible.

Reagan Democrats relied on steady blue-collar jobs with a high wage. The rich preferred cheaper immigrants, or else shipping the jobs overseas. They also liked importing skilled workers from countries that had a sound overall education policy, unlike the USA which produced some very good people from its best universities, but produces many more rather useless and maladjusted from lower down a system that prizes only immediate success.

The upshot is that the USA is ceasing to be a country with the white working class at its core, or with whites in general at the core. It also isn’t the long-settled Afro-American who are replacing them: they too are in many ways a community in decline, with the two groups still pointlessly antagonistic to each other. Meantime new people are coming in and the nature of the society is changing:

“After years of speculation, estimates and projections, the Census Bureau has made it official: White births are no longer a majority in the United States.

“Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births in the 12-month period that ended last July, according to Census Bureau data made public on Thursday, while minorities — including Hispanics, blacks, Asians and those of mixed race — reached 50.4 percent, representing a majority for the first time in the country’s history.

“Such a turn has been long expected, but no one was certain when the moment would arrive — signalling a milestone for a nation whose government was founded by white Europeans and has wrestled mightily with issues of race, from the days of slavery, through a civil war, bitter civil rights battles and, most recently, highly charged debates over efforts to restrict immigration.

“While over all, whites will remain a majority for some time, the fact that a younger generation is being born in which minorities are the majority has broad implications for the country’s economy, its political life and its identity. ‘This is an important tipping point,’ said William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, describing the shift as a ‘transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multiethnic country that we are becoming.'” [G]

All of this is fine by me. The more interesting aspects of the USA seem safe. Some interesting might-have-been outcomes are lost, but it’s much too late to fix that.

Why no Chinese should trust the USA.

The USA has the third largest population in the world, and has been secure as Number One since the Soviet collapse. But they wasted 20 years and failed to gather in a mass of new allies in the way the Keynesian-era USA managed to do. You don’t need much political skill to persuade the Poles to hate the Russians, and to cleave to the USA on that basis. But they’ve alienated Russia, helped create the current turmoil in the Ukraine and wholly lost their chance of influencing China.

The USA faces the prospect of being overtaken by China in the next decade, and by the Republic of India by 2050. And obviously are not happy about the prospect. China is correctly seen as the immediate threat to US hegemony. But if China fell into turmoil, India would probably become the next target. Just as Japan was briefly built up as the foe in the early 1990s, feared until it suffered an unexpected economic stand-still that I’ve always suspected may have been intentional. Japan removed itself from the danger zone, and the 9/11 attacks on the USA in 2001 got them involved in futile wars in the Muslim world.

China continues to rise, with the usual forecasts of immanent chaos from Western experts, the sort of forecasts that have been around ever since Mao booted out the massive Western presence in China. China’s status in 1949 was so low that the British Navy felt quite confident sailing its warship up the Yangtze in the middle of China, despite the Chinese Communists telling them not to. The ‘Amethyst Incident’ cured that: a British rescue mission for the stricken warship was decisively beaten by shore-based artillery, something any self-respecting Chinese government might have done decades earlier, had they not all been in such awe of foreign power. It was left to the Royal Navy to make a claim for a kind of victory after sneaking away at night and reaching the ocean. This event was made into a 1957 film, Yangtse Incident, which can be seen on DVD. Some Chinese crew members who stuck loyally to the ship during the danger were rewarded by being completely ignored in the film version, the sort of disrespect that they completely merited for serving foreigners against their own people.

Chinese dissidents may be doing a good job when they protest within their own society. When they look to the West to support they are making a fatal blunder. The West does not want China to go on rising, and anything is grist to the mill. The Chinese government takes a hard line with such dissidents, as any self-respecting government would be bound to do.

China has asserted itself, but not unreasonably. China’s rise is nothing for ordinary Britons or US citizens to worry about. Such a shift in world power would bring down an Overclass that has been noticeably bad at sharing. And has not been that great at exerting power: the New Right are dominated by the Libertarian viewpoint, which throws away religion and does not substitute a secular creed of sharing. Prides itself on not having one, and then cannot understand why things go wrong.

The New Right like to see the rise and fall of ‘Totalitarianism’ as the main theme of the 20th century. They see it ending with the “failure of Communism”, which supposedly justifies their own ultra-capitalist programme. I’d see the main theme as being two interlocked processes: Europe’s loss of a global hegemony that would have seen unshakeable in 1900, and the massive collapse of Christianity in Europe. This in turn makes a split with the USA more likely, because Christianity in the US is currently an aggressive creed that is imposing itself on politics.

But could China build a US-style hegemony if it gets to the top and the US declines steeply? If the British and US records are imperfect, the plausible alternatives are considerably worse at it. Japan in the 1930s alienated China when they might have been ‘Elder Brother’. In their brief peak in the 1980s they did no better, settling for being ‘Honorary Whites’ rather than standing up for Asia. Now it’s China’s turn, but China is sufficiently vast and alien to have no reliably cultural allies except possibly Burma (Myanmar). The Republic of India has done no better. The two are currently loosely teamed up as BRIC, a pragmatic alliance on the basis of bringing the USA and European Union down to equal status. Once that’s done there would be little common interest.


Middle East in the balance

For weeks now, we were reassured that the Islamist candidate in Egypt was insignificant and would get nowhere. He came top and may well win, despite being a ‘spare’ after the electoral law was manipulated to exclude the best candidate. The alternative seems to be a return to the Mubarak system without the man himself.

The third candidate seemed vaguely hopeful, a Nasserite socialist. But also a man without a party behind him. And Al-Jazeera suggests that much of his support was displaced liberals, voters without a decent candidate of their own.[H]

Meantime there are multiple interpretations of the killings in Houla in Syria. It may have been the militia from neighbouring Alawite villages. It may have been wholly staged by mercenaries hired by enemies of the Syrian government, to revive the issue when it had seemed to be dying down with the possibility of gradual reform. The Anglosphere is blaming the government but the Russians and Chinese remember what was done in Libya and will not let the United Nations authority be abused again.

And Libya remains in complete chaos, with no signs of any new order emerging from the chaos.

[It was indeed “a return to the Mubarak system without the man himself”, with an army coup that the West was supportive of.]


Born To Be Grouped [the usefulness of Group Thinking]

“Almost all great artists and scientists travelled in rarefied circles of people, who shaped and melded their ideas. William Wordsworth’s work was sparked by his association with the other romantic poets; the Impressionist painters worked as a group; Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque formed the Cubists; and Charles Darwin hung out with influential geologist Charles Lyell and Charles Babbage, the father of the computer. The social circles in which these artists and scientists moved seemed to foster the free-flowing ideas from which great movements and discoveries sprang.” [I]

There are many other examples. In my book about Adam Smith,[J] I noted that he was close to three other remarkable minds: philosopher David Hume, pioneering geologist James Hutton and noted chemist and physicist Joseph Black. Black was also an influence on James Watt (of steam engine fame). And one of their associates was John Robison, the first populariser of the notion of a Masonic conspiracy causing the French Revolution. (Jews were added later.)

It’s not just the world of ideas. Almost all large businesses have a Board of Directors, which can pool experience and probably do better than any one individual alone. Theorists of capitalism hype heroic individuals, but the reality is ‘groupthink’, mostly of a positive sort, at least for the survival and growth of the business.

All sorts of thinking can benefit:

“When people get together to debate and argue against each other, they can counterbalance the biased reasoning that each individual brings to the table.

“As a result, group thinking can produce some surprisingly smart results, surpassing the efforts of the irrational individuals. In one convincing study, psychologists … looked at performance in the Wason selection test – a simple card game based on logical deduction. When thinking about this task on their own, less than 10 per cent of people got the right answer. When groups of 5 or 6 people tackled it, however, 75 per cent of the groups eventually succeeded. Crucially for the argumentative theory, this was not simply down to smart people imposing the correct answer on the rest of the group: even groups whose members had all previously failed the test were able to come to the correct solution by formulating ideas and revising them in light of criticism…

“Given that the skills of the individual members do not seem to predict a group’s overall performance, what other factors determine whether it sinks or swims? … a series of studies designed to measure a group’s ‘collective intelligence’, in much the same way an individual’s general intelligence can be measured by IQ tests. The tasks ranged from solving visual puzzles and brainstorming ideas to negotiating how to distribute scarce resources.

“She concluded that a group’s performance bears little relation to the average or maximum intelligence of the individuals in the group. Instead, collective intelligence is determined by the way the group argues – those who scored best on her tests allowed each person to play a part in the conversations. The best groups also tended to include members who were more sensitive to the moods and feelings of other people. Groups with more women, in particular, outperformed the others – perhaps because women tend to be more sensitive to social cues…

“Such results are exactly what you might expect from a species that evolved not to think individually, but to argue in groups.” [K]

It’s part of life: losing your borders, becoming part of a group. It is done by many mammals and some other creatures, though less than you’d think. Detailed studies of flocks of birds and shoals of fishes showed them to be surprisingly disconnected: each member thinks it is useful to be part of a group, but no more. We humans have what’s probably the highest developed group identity. Much the biggest assembly of individuals among primates. Other animals with larger groups seem either to have no individual identity (like ants) or to be a mere mob with no notion of mutual care.

We also have what may be unique, the ability to reflect on membership of a group and maybe change it. We still have the problem that people can think just of their own group and deny human sympathy to others. Fascism and other forms of aggressive nationalism and racism do that. But we can also reject it.


Blonds of the Second Kind [Blond Hair not Racial]

“Science can’t yet tell us whether they have more fun – but it has uncovered a new genetic change that makes people blonde. And contrary to long held belief, it seems golden hair hasn’t simply been introduced across the globe by travelling tow heads, but instead evolved separately in different human populations.

“Indigenous people of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific have some of the darkest skin pigmentation outside of Africa. But unlike most other tropical populations, they also have a high prevalence of blonde hair. Up to 10 per cent of the population is fair haired, the highest proportion outside of Europe. Until now, this odd trait had generally been attributed to the introduction of blonde genes by European explorers and traders in preceding centuries…

“Analysing saliva samples from 43 blondes and 42 dark-haired Solomon Islanders. A genome-wide scan pointed to a single strong difference between the groups at a gene called TYRP1. Further analysis revealed that a single-letter change in the gene accounted for 46 per cent of the population’s hair colour variation, with the blonde allele being recessive to the dark hair allele. The blonde mutation wasn’t found in any of the 900 other individuals sampled from outside the South Pacific…

“TYRP1 is known to be involved in skin and hair pigmentation in several species. In normally black mice, for example, a mutation in the gene produces light brown coats. A rare kind of human albinism is also caused by mutations in TYRP1, which produces reddish skin colour and ginger hair. TYRP1 isn’t, however, one of the genes that produces blonde hair in Europeans. The novel blonde mutation in Solomon Islanders is likely to have cropped up around 10,000 years ago, and it appears to be the same one behind blondness in Fiji and other regions of the South Pacific.” [L]



[A] []. From Inside Job: The Financiers Who Pulled Off the Heist of the Century by Charles Ferguson

[B] []

[C] [[]

[D] []

[E] []

[F] From issue 2866 of New Scientist magazine, page 6-8

[G] []

[H] []

[I] Genius networks: Link to a more creative social circle From issue 2866 of New Scientist magazine, page 37-39

[J] Adam Smith: Wealth without Nations

[K] The argumentative ape: Why we’re wired to persuade, by Dan Jones. From issue 2866 of New Scientist magazine, page 32-36.

[L] From issue 2864 of New Scientist magazine, page 16.

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