Another banking scandal

A leak of data from Swiss bank Credit Suisse has shown that it provided services for many years to known criminals and fraudsters involved in torture, drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption and other serious crimes. It’s the latest huge scandal to hit the Swiss bank, say investigative Guardian reporters. The leak points to widespread failures of due diligence by Credit Suisse, despite repeated promises over decades to weed out dubious clients and illicit funds. The huge trove of banking data was leaked by an anonymous whistleblower to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. (Kalyeena Makortoff and David Pegg, (The Guardian 26 Feb 2022).

My comment: It seems only weeks since a similar scandal involved HSBC bank, since when the matter has disappeared from the news. Major criminal activity cannot be reduced until governments really clamp down on corrupt banks, which ought to be relatively straightforward, but doesn’t seem to be. One wonders (naively) why?.

Brain surgeons

Aerospace engineers and brain surgeons are not necessarily brighter than the general population, a new study has found. Researchers examined data from 329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons who completed 12 cognitive tasks. They found that only neurosurgeons showed a significant difference, with quicker problem-solving speed but slower memory recall compared with the general population.

Comment: Don’t know about you but I would be very happy with the cognitive ability of any of these people, whichever skill they have chosen. I’m glad they are alive, well and working. There are more than enough dim people out there.

Anti- refugee legislation – now??

As we’re watching the horror of this war and refugee crisis unfolding in Ukraine the UK Government is picking this moment to dismantle the refugee protection system in the UK.

This post-Brexit overhaul of the asylum system – if passed in its current form – will punish people who ask for our help. It will disbelieve, detain and criminalise refugees. That goes for Ukrainians and anyone else fleeing war and persecution.

The Anti-Refugee Bill returns to the House of Commmons shortly and MPs will be voting on whether to pass this Bill. We should be doing everything we can to help Ukrainian refugees. That includes scrapping the Anti-Refugee Bill.
(CEO, Refugee Action).

My comment: Totally agree. Meanwhile, the rest of us should send money.

Getting by

Jonny Greenwood is Radiohead’s keyboardist. When he joined the band in his teens, he had no idea how to play the instrument. The previous player had been fired for playing too loudly.

“So when I got a chance to play with the group,”he said, “the first thing I did was to turn my keyboard off when I was playing, Luckily, the other band members always made such a noise on their guitars that they didn’t notice his silence – which bought him time to learn the instrument. The band leader would say, “I can’t quite hear what you’re doing. But I think you’re adding a really interesting texture”.

My comment: Living a bit dangerously, but it turns out it never mattered whether others could hear his contribution or not! Good story.

Misperceptions of the truth

There is a clear story in the way Americans perceive our country.

We assume there are far fewer white Christians than there actually are, and that there are far more of everyone else – people of color, immigrants, non-Christians, non-straight people and non-binary people. To be fair, Americans also overestimated the number of left-handed people (estimate was 32%; reality is 11%). But it’s hard to ignore the directionality of our misperceptions.

These misperceptions have real political consequences.

In 2014, researchers Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson surveyed hundreds of white Americans who identified as political independents. They told half of them that California had recently become a majority-minority state – that white people were no longer the majority. The other half (the control group) weren’t told anything about white people becoming a minority.

Then they asked everyone the same question: do you lean toward Democrats or Republicans?

Those who were told white people were now in the minority in California were significantly more likely to support Republicans. Among people who live in the American west, the control group favored Democrats 31% to 16%. The group that was told California was now minority-majority flipped their preference – 33% leaning toward Republicans, 19% leaning toward Democrats.

In other words, white Americans lean toward Republicans when they think they’re becoming the minority.

To be clear, America really is browning. In 2013, the majority of newborn Americans were people of color. In 2014, the majority of public school students were kids of color. And in the next 25 years, America will no longer be a majority white country – at least according to the US census’s racial categories.

But conservatives have long known that stoking racial or faith-based fears works, and they’re leaning into this messaging.

I spent much of my childhood attending white evangelical Christian churches in the midwest, and I remember sermon after sermon painting Christians as victims. It started with a story about how Christians were being persecuted in a foreign country, often China, and how that echoes the biblical stories about Christians being persecuted. Inevitably the sermon would turn to Jesus being executed by the Romans, and then extrapolate this persecution to our lives as American Christians. The message was clear: it’s us versus the world – and the purpose of everyone else is to squash the fire of our faith.

It was immensely effective and often translated into policy positions, like being anti-abortion and pro-Iraq war. But more importantly, it painted white Christians as an aggrieved group – a belief that it’s not just you under attack, but people like you. This victim complex can be critical to political movements. That’s partially what drove thousands of people to Washington on 6 January 2021 to protest against the presidential election results. For an individual protester, it made no sense to call out from work, get on a bus and march on the Capitol; the outcome would have been the same regardless of whether or not you showed up. But if you tell yourself that you’re joining a group of “patriots” who are being erased from this country, and that you’re fighting for the soul of America?

My comment: Well, that story makes sense – and even though it’s patently incorrect, it’s the story that’s winning.

P & O Ferries – mass sacking

The British ferry operator P&O, carrying cars and their owners across the Channel, has summarily and instantaneously sacked 800 of its workers, apparently without even ten minutes of notice, and has replaced them with cheaper agency staff.

The Mirror describes the “despicable billionaire chiefs” behind the sackings as “scum,” while The Guardian says ministers and trade unions have condemned the move.

My comment: So travel to and from the Continent is down, along with bookings. Hardly surprising, given the virus and the time of year. But this is quite extraordinarily brutal and I hope the company is taken to Court and made to pay at least a month’s worth of salary in lieu of notice. Meanwhile, I need no reminding to avoid crossing the English Channel on a P & O ferry anytime soon. As an employer you have a moral duty to treat your staff with dignity and humane consideration. There should be no place for this display of heartless capitalism.

Canoes and kayaks

A Washington state lawmaker has introduced a bill requiring life jackets in canoes and kayaks, but wants to exempt Native Americans due to their “eons” of experience. Native Americans have the highest drowning rate of any racial demographic, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nevertheless, State Rep. Cindy Ryu said that her bill exempts “tribal members” because they have been “very used to our cold waters for eons.” (The Week Feb 25, 2022)

Comment: totally baffling

Quote of the day

“Something we may learn from this research (about dying. Ed.) is that, although our loved ones have their eyes closed and are ready to leave us to rest, their brains may be replaying some of the nicest moments they experienced in their lives.”

Dr Ajmal Zemmar, a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville, and his team accidentally recorded a man’s brain activity as he died. It showed an increase in waves associated with dreaming, meditating and retrieving memories. (The Week, 23 Feb 2022)

My comment: That’s reassuring. But what if you are in severe pain?

In tiny Italian town 10 residents are 100

Vittorio Lai, nicknamed Pistol, still drives and hunts wild boar, and tecently became the latest person in Perdasdefogu, (pop.1,765) a remote mountain town on the Italian island of Sardinia that set a world record for longevity, to celebrate his 100th birthday.

He will be joined this week by another sprightly centenarian, Piuccia Lai (no relation), who has no qualms about hopping on a plane to visit her sons in Milan, bringing the total number of over-100s in the town to 10 among a population of 1,765.

Sardinia has been identified as one of five regions in the world that have high concentrations of people who have eclipsed the century milestone. There are 534 people across the island who are 100 or older, or 33.6 for every 100,000 inhabitants.

But Perdasdefogu, a town tucked high up in the rugged mountains of south-eastern Sardinia accessible only by a narrow, winding road, is unique in the sense that the number of centenarians in a town of its size is 16 times the national average.

“The presence of 10 centenarians confirms the exceptional longevity of the inhabitants of Perdasdefogu, and moves the bar even higher,” said Luisa Salaris, a demographics professor at the University of Cagliari.

Perdasdefogu shot to fame in 2012 when the Melis family, made up of nine brothers and sisters, entered the Guinness World Records as the oldest living siblings on Earth, with a combined age at the time of 818.

The town’s longest-surviving citizen to date is Consolata Melis, the eldest of the siblings, who died in 2015, aged 108. Antonio Brundu, who turns 104 in March, is the current oldest resident.

Vittorio Lai earned his nickname after killing his first wild boar at the age of 13. “I took my father’s rifle, the head of the hunting group,” he told the newspaper La Nuova Sardegna in an article written by historian Giacomo Mameli. “In those days, hunting freed the town from hunger.”

The whole town ordinarily comes together to mark a 100th birthday, but owing to coronavirus restrictions, Lai celebrated by treating family and a few friends to lunch. He said he has worked “hundreds” of jobs over the course of his life. “I was a shepherd, a labourer, a warehouse worker and a cook, but without knowing how to cook.” His wife, Maria, is 97. “She wanted to become a nun,” said Lai. “And so I said: ‘OK then, I’ll become a priest or a friar.’”

Piuccia Lai is celebrating her birthday on 21 February in Milan, where she will meet the mayor, Giuseppe Sala. “I’ve lived through hunger and war, during fascism and democracy,” she said, adding that she had voted as a woman for the first time on 2 June 1946, and she had known 10 popes, although she was born just after the death of Benedict XV, meaning she has been alive during eight papacies.

Several scientists have studied Perdasdefogu, with explanations for the town’s longevity ranging from clean air and active lifestyles to a diet containing plenty of fresh vegetables. Lai said he never leaves the table with a full stomach, eats little meat and drinks little coffee.

For Mameli, the key is the town’s sense of community. “It’s close-knit; there are some exceptions, but we all love and look out for each other.” (Angela Giuffrida, Monday, 14 February 2022).

My comment: Accounts of life in some of these peasant communities mirror the accounts of the lifestyles of Epicurus and his followers: physically active, modest and vegetarian.


Staring ‘is sexual harassment’. London commuters are being warned that staring is sexual harassment. Posters have started appearing in stations across the capital as part of a Transport for London campaign against “common examples of sexual harassment” – including catcalling, exposing, pressing, cyber-flashing and touching. Also on the list is “staring”, with one poster reminding travellers that “intrusive staring of a sexual nature is sexual harassment and is not tolerated”. A 2019 Centre for London survey found that women are nearly twice as likely as men “to mention personal safety as a barrier to walking and using public transport”, said MyLondon. (The Week, 12 March 2022)

My comment: As a male I am not confident of being able to explain the difference between staring and appreciation, or to establish my well-known innocence. If appreciation of beauty is now sexual harassment I must have been guilty once or twice (?) in the last 65 years. Oh dear!

Covid and education

Up to 70% of 10-year-olds in low-and middle-income countries cannot read or understand a simple text, up from 53% pre-Covid, the research suggests.

Classroom closures continue to affect more than 635 million children globally, with younger and more marginalised children facing the greatest loss in learning after almost two years of Covid, according to the UN children’s agency, Unicef, which called for intensive support to help students recover.

Across the world, children have lost basic literacy and numeracy skills and their mental and physical health has suffered. In South Africa, schoolchildren are between 75% and a whole school year behind where they should be.

Learning losses have been seen in the US, including in California, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland. In Texas, two-thirds of children in grade 3 (age eight to nine) tested below their grade level in math in 2021, compared with half of children in 2019. (The Guardian 25 Jan 2022).

My comment: This is a disaster. There are already enough people in the US whose general knowledge is sketchy (to say the least) and whose comfort with several other disciplines (math, languages, science, history to name a few) seems shameful.

Psychedelic researcher had ‘relationship with pigeon’

A psychedelic researcher spent 15 years in a relationship with a pigeon who she believed judged her for not being able to fly. “I know telepathy exists because I had this passionate relationship with a pigeon who I brought up from a baby and he fixated and fell madly in love with me and I with him,” said Amanda Feilding, 79, in an interview with Vice TV. Feilding also revealed that she once drilled a hole in her own head after an LSD trip.(Vice TV).

My comment: It was the food what you fed him, duckie.k