Lessons Learned From Self-Colonoscopy

Yeah, I know. Made you sit up, right? Me too, the first time I read it. I mean, who on earth…?

The full title is” Colonoscopy in the Sitting Position: Lessons Learned From Self-Colonoscopy by Using a Small-Caliber, Variable-Stiffness Colonoscope” and is title of the project of one of the 2018 winners of the Ig® Nobel Prize which is awarded for “For achievements that first make people LAUGH then make them THINK”

Other winning ideas include using roller coaster rides to try to hasten the passage of kidney stones, measuring the frequency, motivation, and effects of shouting and cursing while driving an automobile, and using postage stamps to test whether the male sexual organ is functioning properly at night.

All of these projects are backed up by real scientific papers as in this abstract:

A stamp technique was developed to detect complete nocturnal erections for the evaluation of impotence. The test correctly detected complete nocturnal erections in 22 potent men and absence of complete nocturnal erections in 11 impotent men (P value under 0.001). This is a simple, useful screening test for organic impotence.

It will cost you $39.95 to read the full paper. $39.95 also buys a lot of stamps for self experimentation. I leave it up to you which path of knowledge you prefer to take.

Which musical instrument to learn?

So, there’s this YouTube guy with the name of Brendan Kavanagh who likes to play public pianos to the delight and surprise of passersby. In one of his most recent videos he is trolling a loud cell phone user who eventually leaves the scene. This got me thinking: what if there hadn’t been a piano present? What would have BK done?

It got me thinking because of a story my Latin professor told us in school. Apparently, he was somewhat of a ladies’ man during his uni years (1940s) and liked to enrich our lives with anecdotes from his life.

He and his friend both fancied the same young lady. After many dates and attempts to get her to commit to one or the other suitor the three of them agreed to go on a communal date at the end of which the young lady would announce her choice of lover. It being the late 1940s and the students having almost no money they decided to go to the movies together followed by a very small dinner and finally coffee at the young ladies’ room where she would announce the winner of the contest.

And so it went. The evening went by in an excess of manly lovecraft, with the friend lugging his violin case everywhere because the trio met after their afternoon music lessons. My professor was confident that the friend’s bulky violin case would surely turn the young lady against him because she was frequently bumping into it. My professor was studying the piano and was therefore free of any such encumbrances.

Coffee arrived. And that is when the friend’s secret plan came to fruition. It soon became clear why he proposed that they meet directly after their music lessons. The “friend” pulled the violin out of its case and began serenading the young lady. She was completely overwhelmed and announced him the winner of the contest. My professor was fuming. He was fuming because he knew that he was a much better piano player than his friend a violin player but there was no piano in sight for him to prove his artistry. He left abruptly.

He concluded his story with this recommendation: “If you are going to learn to play a musical instrument pick one that you can carry with you!”

I always carry a harmonica with me. I can’t play it, but just in case.

Afghanistan’s organic meth production

This article in The Economist caught my attention. Afghan meth producers are switching to the ephedra bush, a natural source of the meth precursor chemical pseudoephedrine, because governments are tightening control of sales of medicines containing pseudoephedrine. Switching to this plant-based method has also significantly reduced production costs. Organic meth is here.

Chinese and Burmese villagers have been known to use the ephedra bush as well. But Afghanistan’s lawlessness and its ready-made distribution networks, thanks to the other drugs produced in the country, along with the extremely low cost of farming, could soon make it a fearsome competitor in the global meth business.

I wanted to use the article as a springboard for writing more on the topic of humanity’s drug abuse problems but my revulsion to it increased almost exponentially the more research I did. It is a truly horrid situation and one that will be with us forever. As long as there are users there will be suppliers.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported this in the World Drug Report of 2018:

About 275 million people worldwide, which is roughly 5.6 per cent of the global population aged 15–64 years, used drugs at least once during 2016. Some 31 million of people who use drugs suffer from drug use disorders, meaning that their drug use is harmful to the point where they may need treatment. Initial estimations suggest that, globally, 13.8 million young people aged 15–16 years used cannabis in the past year, equivalent to a rate of 5.6 per cent. Roughly 450,000 people died as a result of drug use in 2015, according to WHO. Of those deaths, 167,750 were directly associated with drug use disorders (mainly overdoses).

To visualize: imagine, the city of Edinburgh empty because its population died from drug use. Or the whole country of Malaysia suffering from drug related disorders.

Democracy and security are also at stake:

The expansion of the global cocaine and opiate markets suggests that there will be a substantial increase in the profits derived from drug trafficking and related illicit financial flows, which may also contribute to the financing of other threats such as terrorism. The cocaine- and opiate-related economy is already having a major impact not only on the licit economy but also on democratic processes.

I think its time to write that article on unicorns and rainbows that I have stashed away somewhere…

Spend $1.7 trillion on climate adaptation and make four times that much back

They never stop, do they? This time its the Global Commission on Adaptation, a nongovernmental organization led by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Give us your money and we will make it grow for you. There will be no money in your pocket, of course. Instead the:

“benefits include the losses that don’t occur when cities are better equipped to withstand extreme weather events. But there would also be positive benefits such as increased economic productivity and technological innovation, as governments and businesses make the investments to build better, modern infrastructure and tools.”

Sounds a bit vague to me and, once again, the cities grab all the money. Cities are insatiable. The mass suicides of about 60,000 farmers in India over the past 30 years attributed to climate change and the resulting indebtedness mean nothing to these people. If it did, there wouldn’t be 60,000 dead Indian farmers.

The Swedish billionaire Johan Eliasch (worth £1.35bn), the owner of global sporting-goods group Head NV, offers an explanation, this time for Africa:

“Thirty years ago, there was a lot of deforestation in the Congo Basin. That led to rain falling in the wrong places, so people in Darfur got displaced and had to move because they couldn’t feed themselves, and that led to land-grabbing, and that led to conflict. It also had the effect of raising food prices, which triggered the Arab Spring. And after the Arab Spring, there was another crisis in Syria. Because of the Syrian conflict there was a refugee crisis that was confused with the EU’s immigration policy, which led to Brexit. And that’s not a joke, though it sounds farfetched. There is cause and effect to everything we do.”

The deforestation in the Congo basin is caused mainly by small-scale farming, contributing to around 84 percent of deforestation. This kind of farming is primarily done for subsistence by families that have no other livelihood options due largely to poverty stemming from political instability and conflict in the region.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) holds the largest share of Congo forest – 60 percent. The DRC is also one of those places in the world where nobody can win, ever:

More than one hundred armed groups are believed to operate in the eastern region of the DRC. Despite the presence of more than sixteen thousand UN peacekeepers, these groups continue to terrorize communities and control weakly governed areas. Millions of civilians have been forced to flee the fighting: the United Nations estimates there are currently 4.5 million internally displaced persons in the DRC, and more than 800,000 DRC refugees in other nations.

How do you fix this kind of dread? With “Technological innovation, as governments and businesses make the investments to build better, modern infrastructure and tools”? I don’t think so. These kind of solutions only work in politically stable societies, if at all.

What to do with these wasted lives? Can they be saved? How do we stop society from producing them in the first place? If we threw $1.7 trillion at this problem, what would change?

Top Ten Most Censored Countries

The Committee to Protect Journalists has just published its top ten list of most censored countries and here they are:

  1. Eritrea
  2. North Korea
  3. Turkmenistan
  4. Saudi Arabia
  5. China
  6. Vietnam
  7. Iran
  8. Equatorial Guinea
  9. Belarus
  10. Cuba

I have never heard of the Committee to Protect Journalists before but I am sure they mean well. Their blog is full of bad news stories about journalism and their offerings include an emergency response team, safety advisories, a safety kit, and an advocacy center among other things. They even have a graph showing the number of journalists killed since 1992 and you know what? 2019 is the best year with only 16 journalists killed so far.  One probable cause could be that are are fewer journalists: from 2008-2018, 33,000 newspaper jobs were axed in the US.

Censorship may be alive and well but the journalists are too and that is a good thing.

Tourism contributes 10.4% to the global GDP. Too bad.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), “a United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism”, reports that destinations worldwide received 671 million international tourist arrivals between January and June 2019, almost 30 million more than in the same period of 2018 and a continuation of the growth recorded last year. The drivers of these results have been a strong economy, affordable air travel, increased air connectivity and enhanced visa facilitation.

First, who knew there was a United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism? I wonder if the UNWTO sanctioned the rape of Venice by mega cruise ships floating up the Canale Grande? Or are they the ones responsible for the closing of Maya Bay in Thailand due to over-tourism? I mean, everywhere you look these days there’s a bloke dashing at you on a mountain bike, or Instagrammers or YouTubers or Selfie-takers getting in your way and ruining the best spots, sometimes forever. One would think the UNWTO would have a handle on these things.

The solution: virtual reality. Everybody stay home and put on your VR gear and go on the trip of a lifetime, just like in the Total Recall movie. Or build fake Venices and Hallstatts and go there, like the Chinese do.

Even better: sensory suits worn by expert travelers that you can dial into live via your VR suit. Experience what they experience, from free-style mountain climbing to burning your bum on Sichuan hot pot.

Stay home. You don’t have to go everywhere. And if your home sucks use your travel money to make it better. That will raise the GDP too.

I worry about Hong Kong

I have been following the events in Hong Kong with grave concern for some time now but this article in the Asia Times brought my concerns to a point: how long will China stand by and let the citizens of Hong Kong voice their grievances? The South China Morning Post chimes in with series of articles on the situation in Hong Kong and quotes Gal Luft, co-director of the Washington-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security:

“China is not going to relinquish sovereignty over Hong Kong. What is more likely to happen is that international businesses, which until recently viewed Hong Kong as paragon of stability, will no longer view the island as such and will begin to flock to greener pastures. Nothing can harm Hong Kong’s future more than a business exodus. Yet, this is exactly what the protesters are toying with.”

China, like a Komodo dragon that has bitten its prey, can simply sit by and wait for the poison of money to take its toll and make Hong Kong a captive again.

Update: The British are coming!

Tatler reports that UK applications to North American universities are booming.

It’s not Felicity Huffman and the tiger parents of the US who are going to extreme lengths to secure places for their children at top American universities – the fever has well and truly caught on in the UK. Sparkling campuses, top-notch pastoral care and wide-ranging liberal arts degrees, combined with pupils’ desire to be global citizens, are luring leavers across the Atlantic.

Since tuition costs in the UK are approaching US levels parents are considering sending their offspring to US universities after reassessing the comparative value of a degree at a British institution. That, and the desire of students to widen their horizons and relishing the global perspective that studying abroad offers seem to be the prime motivators for this new trend.

Update: Tatler (where would I be without it?) reports that an American billionaire has just granted £150 million to Oxford University, making it the largest philanthropic gift in British history. The Stephen A Schwarzman Centre, named after its benefactor of the Blackstone private equity group, will be a one-stop shop for the humanities, placing English, history, linguistics, languages, philosophy, music and religion in one building. Where all those graduates are going to find jobs is another matter. Maybe at their local Job Centre, the one-stop shop for graduates with useless degrees.

Its been a while….

I know. Its been a while since I have written a new post.  Not that it matters to me. After all, I maintain this blog for my pleasure, not yours. Reader satisfaction is purely coincidental and not always guaranteed.

Truth is, I do check the stats once in a while. I don’t apply search engine optimization tricks so the stats are dismal, which suits me fine. As I said before, I do this for my pleasure and not because I want to preach to millions. It appears that I have a faithful following of about 350 readers, which prompts me to reach out and share my thoughts once in a while.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of people you are, dear readers. Why do you read this blog? I respect your desire to do so but I do question your motives. Not in a derogatory way, of course, but just wondering why. A typical early Sunday afternoon question, one might say.

Having just watched one of my up and coming young heroes win the Formula 1 race in Monza, Italy, and looking forward to the animalistic and aggressive “playing” style of Rafael Nadal later this afternoon at the U.S. Open tennis championship, I find myself in a rather mellow mood even though my hero, Roger Federer, was knocked out of the championship early on. My explanation: he is a mountain boy and does not do well in the heat and humidity of New York City in August. I know I wouldn’t. I would die after the first game, let alone a set.

Yes, I have heroes, for lack of a better word to describe people whom I admire for their poise, discipline, focus, and general humanity. They are just good people, especially Federer. I have never seen the man loose his cool on or off the court, unlike some of those louts in other, mostly team, sports, in the USA and abroad. Roger is just a true gentleman who loves his family and his sport. Why can’t I be more like him? Because I’m a lazy underachiever, that’s why. The secret is out.

Update: Nadal won his match after five grueling sets. He fought like a wounded tiger until the end and prevailed. Bravo!

Mexico president says El Chapo’s drug wealth should go to Mexico

Reuters reports that El Chapo’s drug wealth, said to be billions of dollars, should go to Mexico’s indigenous people.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced earlier this year the creation of a “Robin Hood” institute to return ill-gotten wealth to the Mexican people.

Mexico ranks 138 out of 180 countries in the corruption scale maintained by Transparency International. What can go wrong?

Fake News Equals False Memories

The journal Psychological Science reports on a study with the title “False Memories for Fake News During Ireland’s Abortion Referendum”

The Association for Psychological Science analyzed the report and concluded that it was possible to generate fake memories using fake news. Tell the same lie to people every day and soon they will believe it.

The next step: Tyrell Corporation of Blade Runner. Implanting memories was/will be their specialty. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Fashionable fatalism in education

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an opinion piece on how univeristy professors in the humanities are giving in to “fashionable fatalism” in the face of attacks on the field and its teachers: dwindling undergraduate enrollments, declining public respect, right-wing attacks that caricature humanistic study as evidence-free ideological indoctrination, and a lack of jobs. There is a sizable of minority of educators who just give up:

Fashionable fatalism is different from genuine despair. It involves pessimism shot through with condescension, joined with the reflexive dismissal of proposed remedies. The fashionable fatalist does not undertake a careful examination of worrying trend lines and decide that giving up is, in some specific case, the most rational course of action. Instead, she derives narcissistic solace — the thrill of martyrdom — from her unshakable certainty that matters can never improve.

The article concludes with this:

The feeling of helplessness in matters of grave importance is not a problem faced just by academic humanists. It is a universal human predicament. How we respond may teach us something about ourselves.

That’s right, professors. Time to leave the ivory tower and suffer with the rest of us.

Vienna, Austria: World’s Most Liveable City. But For Whom?

Vienna, Austria was voted the world’s most liveable city by both the Economist and Mercer. As to the validity of such rankings I point you to this article by Citylab which dissects the ranking of Zürich over Vienna by Monocle.  Economist, Mercer, Monocle. Do these firms speak for the man on the street or for a specific elitist clientele? I quote Citylab:

This brings us to the larger problem of city rankings in general, issues that reflects the problems of technocracy itself. By using data as a driver, such rankings present themselves as dispassionate and impartial, as if they are simply removing the lid on a machine to reveal objectively how the engine beneath is functioning. They nonetheless represent a worldview taken from a highly specific angle, one that is full of scarcely acknowledged assumptions about who the imaginary citizen they address is.

They assess, broadly, how much potential a city possesses when seen from a privileged point of view: that of a straight, affluent, mobile, and probably white couple who works in something akin to upper management and has children. Remove even one of those characteristics from the equation and the results often seem way off the mark.

I lived in Vienna for 25 years and was happy to escape back to the USA in 1985. I just couldn’t put up with all the restrictions anymore. It was suffocating. Having a Slavic last name didn’t help either as one morning the Austrian immigration police came knocking on my door demanding to see my papers. My American passport and my United Nations badge sent them off but left me wondering how my day would have ended without them.

I still have relatives and friends in Vienna. One of them recently shared an email he wrote to his father who had left Vienna over 30 years ago to retire in southern California. Now ageing and alone, his father was getting homesick for Vienna and was contemplating moving back there to see his life out. This is what my friend wrote to his father about life in modern Vienna and Austria:

You are understandably homesick, but there are a few things about Austria you need to be aware of:

Vienna has changed a lot. Two families I know have moved out from Vienna as they don’t feel welcome here anymore.

It is full of refugees. I tried talking to a sales person yesterday to find out the price of something and he didn’t understand a word. So I had to leave.

Baden is full of Russians. Hallstatt and the vicinity are full of Asians. The Salzkammergut is full of Arabs.  The signs in the shop windows there are now either in Russian, Chinese or Arabic.

I don’t want to travel to my beloved Salzkammergut anymore. I don’t feel welcome there. They complain of roosters crowing so the farmers have to get rid of the roosters. They complain of church bells ringing so the churches have to stay silent.

The Vienna and Austria of before have long gone. Everything is terribly expensive. I hardly go out anymore.

Medical treatment of the elderly is not very good here. Thomas had four bypasses, three of them have clogged up again. The Austrians will not operate on him anymore with the reasoning that he is old and his heart won’t make it anyway. He is 75. The doctors won’t even try anymore.

You can‘t live in a senior home as they are too expensive now. There was an article in the newspapers that they treat the elderly horribly there now. They are not well controlled as they are private.  You will have problems getting around with your walker.

On the surface everything is like the old Austria you know. But below the surface things are terrible. I feel like living in an expensive Austrian Disneyland. You are only welcome if you can pay your way to everything. For instance, there is a hospital that is like a baby factory for rich Russians, who come for artificial insemination and gender determination of their children. This is not allowed for Austrians. But if you are a rich foreigner, then there is no problem.

No comment. The email speaks for itself.

Vienna and Austria have sold out, as have other small and not so small European cities and countries. It is hard to say no to so much money, especially if tourism is a major part of your GDP. But silencing church bells for the sake of tourism goes too far.

YouTube is a garbage fire. Google is mean. We are victims.

New Scientist magazine has named YouTube a garbage fire that is best shut down for the public good. It claims that Google, which owns YouTube, is using special algorithms to get viewers hooked on YouTube, allowing Google to rake in more money for ads:

It is working hard to sculpt its users into the ideal audience for video adverts. And the ideal audience is one that can’t look away. Ever.

I don’t know why NS is upset about this situation. Regular TV has been doing this for decades. Big studios spend millions of dollars on huge departments whose job it is to keep you glued to that chair in front of your TV.

NS claims that the random selection/suggestion of YouTube videos expose viewers to ever more extreme content. That may be true but it is the user who must click on the thumbnail to view the video. Sure, some people can get lost in a rabbit hole by following the suggested videos but using common sense will prevent this from happening to you.

NS is portraying viewers as hapless victims, unable to withstand the lure of click bait videos or extreme content, thus repeating the lament du jour: we are all victims and the Big Bad Tech Companies are making us do things we don’t want to. Google is mean and robbing me of my safe space.

Your freedom is just a mouse click away. Close that window if you think Google is manipulating you. Shut down your Komputer and settle down in front of your TV and binge-watch the latest, highest rated (by Rotten Tomatoes) TV show instead. Or play with your smartphone, or your tablet, or your video game, or your digital camera, or your web-aware microwave oven, or your digital pet/spouse/sex doll/pizza/garden hose/fridge/watch/shower or whatever gadget is lit/dope/in/hot at that particular moment. Just make sure your alternate activity includes interacting with electronic gadgets and precludes interacting with real humans in real time and in real physical space. That’ll show Google who’s boss.

Or read a book. Oh, wait, I have a Kindle for that.

After 25 years adoption of complex digital technologies remains slow

The McKinsey Global Institute recently published Twenty-Five Years of Digitization, a report offering insights to help business leaders navigate this still relatively new digital world.

McKinsey quantified the pace of digitization in the U.S., Europe and China, and found that, on average, all three economies have achieved only around 20% of their total digital potential. Adoption of complex digital technologies remains slow. One of the reasons cited for this is that:

The typical observation is that technology takes time to spread globally; for instance, it took more than 40 years for the first car to be used in most countries. In general, however, the adoption rates of new technologies have decreased significantly in recent years with the newest technologies only needing a few years to diffuse in all countries. What is more crucial for the impact of technology on productivity is the integration of that technology into new workflow and business practices.

In other words: the problem is us. You and I simply aren’t adopting new technologies fast enough. Makes you wonder how the world can still go around while we remain stuck in our ways.

Americans spend over $300 billion annually on illicit drugs and alcohol

A new RAND study claims that Americans spend nearly $15o billion a year on illicit drugs. Another study finds that Americans spend $158 billion a year on alcohol. Imagine: over $300 billion a year just to get high, or low, if your’e into that. That is almost half of the amount the US spends on education per year ($706 billion).

Missing from the report is how US spending compares to the rest of the world, like Latin America or the EU. That would have been interesting to know. My preliminary research shows that Americans are world champions in both areas: illegal drugs and alcohol. Add to that the estimated 250 to 300 million guns owned by private individuals and the US is the undisputed drug, alcohol and gun capital in the world. Is that the eigendynamik that keeps the US going? Is the Chinese plan of undermining the US by pumping in fentanyl through Mexico failing? Are illegal drugs making us stronger in some twisted Darwinian way by weeding out the illegal drug users through premature deaths?   In 2016, approximately 174 people died every day from drug poisoning, outnumbering deaths by firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide and homicide. Let that sink in for a while.

On another front one can see the tax numbers dancing in the eyes of certain politicians: if only we could declare these drugs legal, like we did for marijuana, we could tax the hell out of them and realize our dream: free everything for all!

That day will come, maybe sooner than you think. Already, a judge in Mexico has legalized recreational use of cocaine. These drugs could be declared legal just like the federal regulations allow “emotional support animals” on airplanes, including pigs and rats. I look forward to somebody making the connection between needing illegal drugs for emotional support while citing the emotional support animals case as legal precedence and finding a federal judge crazy enough to support that motion.

Just connecting some dots here…

Think before you share!

Misinformation, that is.

Purveyors of disinformation—content that is intentionally false and designed to cause harm—are motivated by three distinct goals: to make money; to have political influence, either foreign or domestic; and to cause trouble for the sake of it.

Those who spread misinformation—false content shared by a person who does not realize it is false or misleading—are driven by sociopsychological factors. People are performing their identities on social platforms to feel connected to others, whether the “others” are a political party, parents who do not vaccinate their children, activists who are concerned about climate change, or those who belong to a certain religion, race or ethnic group. Crucially, disinformation can turn into misinformation when people share disinformation without realizing it is false.