Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The power of pessimism: We're told to 'think positive' yet a new book argues we'd be far happier if we embraced negativity

I broadly agree with this.  High self-esteem is toxic.  Christian humility works a lot better.  I have had a very easy life because of my pessimism.  I pessimistically foresee bad things that might happen to me and so avoid them.  People tell me I am lucky but it is my pessimism that makes my luck  -- JR.

Uplifting self-help books, looking on the bright side and repeating positive affirmations to ourselves - a day never seems to pass when we’re not told to be as upbeat as possible. So why, then, do most people in modern Britain seem to be more stressed, miserable and confused than ever?

One expert claims to have found the answer. In a fascinating new book, Oliver Burkeman, an author who specialises in writing about psychology, claims we’d have a much better time if we actually took a more negative view of life.

It’s time to embrace failure, insecurity and pessimism instead of trying to run away from it, Burkeman says, and simply stop trying so hard to be happy if we want to feel more positive about life.

‘For a society so fixated on achieving happiness, we seem remarkably incompetent at the task,’ Burkeman says. ‘One of the best-known general findings of the “science of happiness” has been the discovery that the countless advantages of modern life have done little to lift our collective mood.'

Romance, family life and work often bring as much stress as joy. Economic growth does not necessarily make for happier societies, just as increased personal income doesn’t make for happier people.

The huge number of self-help books available to us these days also fail to make us happy. This is why publishers refer to the ‘18-month rule’, which states that the person most likely to purchase a self-help book is someone who, in the previous 18 months, purchased a different self-help book — one that evidently didn’t solve all their problems.

The existence of a thriving ‘happiness industry’ clearly isn’t sufficient to engender happiness, and it’s not unreasonable to suspect that it might make matters worse. So what does help?

After years spent consulting specialists — from psychologists to philosophers and even Buddhists — Burkeman realised they all agreed on one thing: the effort to feel happy is precisely the thing that makes us miserable. And it is our constant struggle to eliminate the negative — insecurity, uncertainty, failure, or sadness — that causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain or unhappy.

Instead, they argued for an alternative — a ‘negative path’ to happiness. It involved learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity, stopping trying to think positively, and becoming familiar with failure. In short, in order to be truly happy, we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions — or, at least, to learn to stop running so hard from them. So how can pessimism really be as healthy and productive as optimism? Burkeman explains:


Behind many of today’s most popular approaches to happiness lies one simple philosophy — positive visualisation. If you picture things turning out well, the theory goes, they’re far more likely to do so. And, yes, focusing on a positive outcome, rather than a negative one, seems like a sensible way of maximising your chances of success.

But according to the German-born psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, spending time and energy thinking about how well things could go actually reduces most people’s motivation to achieve them. For example, in one experiment, subjects who were encouraged to visualise having a particularly high-achieving week at work were shown to achieve significantly less than those who were invited to think about the coming week, but given no further guidelines on how to do so.


In experiment after experiment, Oettingen and her team found that people responded to positive visualisation by relaxing and doing less. They seemed, subconsciously, to have confused visualising success with having already achieved it.  By choosing to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared when things eventually happen that she can’t persuade herself to believe are good.

This is a problem underlying all approaches to happiness that set too great a store by optimism. It’s important to keep a realistic view of what lies ahead if you want to feel truly happy.


Do you lie awake at night, worrying that you’ll lose your job? Do you fret that your   partner might leave you and that you’ll be left all on your own? We normally try to assuage our worries about  the future by seeking reassurance — by trying  to persuade ourselves that everything will be  all right. But positive reassurance is a double-edged sword. In the short term, it can be wonderful, smoothing away worries. But in the long term, it requires constant maintenance.

If you offer reassurance to a friend who is in the grip of anxiety, for instance, you’ll often find that a few days later she’ll be back for more.

Worse, reassurance can actually exacerbate anxiety. When you reassure your friend that the worst-case scenario she fears probably won’t occur, you are inadvertently reinforcing her belief that it would be catastrophic if it did. But it is also true that when things do go wrong, they’ll almost certainly go less wrong than you were fearing.

Those fears are based on irrational judgments about the future, usually because you haven’t thought the matter through in sufficient detail. Thinking about, rather than trying to ignore, the worst-case scenario is the way to replace these irrational notions with more rational judgments. Imagine how wrong things could go for you in reality, and you will usually find that your fears were exaggerated.

If you lost your job, there are steps you could take to find a new one; if you lost your relationship, you would probably manage to find some happiness in life. Looking on the downside and  actually confronting the worst-case  scenario saps it of much of its anxiety-inducing power.


If we’re going to be positive about life, we need to have some goals to aim for, don’t we? Or do we? According to many self-help scientists,  setting ‘positive’ goals for yourself can often mean setting yourself up for failure — even disaster — rather than the success you might imagine. What motivates our investment in goals and planning for the future, they suggest, is rarely any sober recognition of the virtues of preparation and looking ahead. Rather, it’s how deeply uncomfortable we feel when life is uncertain. We hate not knowing what is around the corner, so we set goals to try to bring some certainty into our lives.

It is alarming to consider how many major life decisions we take primarily to minimise present-moment emotional discomfort. To understand what this means, try the following exercise. Consider any significant decision you’ve ever taken that you subsequently came to regret: perhaps a job you accepted even though, looking back, it’s clear that it was mismatched to your interests or abilities. If it felt like a difficult decision at the time, then it’s likely that you felt the gut-knotting ache of uncertainty; afterwards, having made a decision, did those feelings subside?

If so, this points to the possibility that your motivation in taking the decision was simply the urgent need to get rid of your feelings of uncertainty.

Taking a more relaxed approach to your future, working with what you have now and moving forward in small steps, rather than setting up one big, inflexible goal, is a far less pressurised way to live. It’s an attitude that made a chemist realise the insufficiently sticky glue he’d developed could be used for Post-it Notes. Trust the uncertain things beyond your control and go with the flow.


We tend to assume that having high self-esteem is a good thing, but some psychologists have long suspected that there might be something wrong with the whole notion — because it rests on the assumption that your personality can be given a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ rating. When you rate your ‘self’ highly, you actually create the possibility of rating your ‘self’ poorly. It’s a preposterous over-generalisation. We all behave in good ways and bad ways. Smothering all these nuances with a blanket notion of self-esteem may prove a recipe for misery.

It’s better to rate each act as good or bad. Seek to perform as many good ones — and as few bad ones — as possible. But leave your ‘self’ out of it.


'Nightmare' plans for 6-month paternity leave to be rewritten after opposition from British businesses

Ministers have been forced to rethink plans to allow parents to share leave after the birth of a child following opposition from business and campaigners.

The plans, announced in the Queen’s Speech and championed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, would see maternity leave end at 18 weeks and allow fathers up to six months’ paid paternity leave.

Ministers say the measures will offer more flexibility to families with woman breadwinners, and would allow fathers to spend more time with children.

But businesses said the proposals would result in a ‘nightmare’, increasing red tape because workers could take their leave in ‘chunks’ of weeks or months.

Employers would be forced to keep jobs open and would not be able to refuse requests for the time off.

And women’s groups have called for a minimum of 26 weeks’ ring-fenced maternity leave, saying any less would pressurize new mothers to return to work.

The issue also caused a cabinet split with ministers – including Chancellor George Osborne – arguing the proposals should be scaled back.

Now Whitehall sources have revealed that while the Coalition remains committed to parental leave, ministers are having to rethink the plans to keep business on board. One said: ‘It is frustrating to have been attacked by people who ought to be in favour of what we are doing, but we need to address their concerns.’ Insiders admit it may not be possible to introduce all the planned changes before 2015.

Currently mothers are entitled to take 12 months’ maternity leave, of which nine months are paid, and fathers can take two weeks’ paid paternity leave.

Last year a Government consultation proposed that mothers should automatically get five months’ paid maternity leave, while fathers should get six weeks’ paid leave.  The couple would then be allowed to ‘share’ a further seven months of parental leave, with all but the last three months paid.  This means that if the mother chooses to go back to work after five months, the father can have six paid months off.

Business Secretary Vince Cable was expected to respond to the consultation before the summer recess but the Department for Business said that no date had been set.

Adrienne Burgess, of the Fatherhood Institute, urged the Government not to backtrack.  She said: ‘The proposals are an opportunity to offer families real flexibility and choice and would have a transformative effect in many homes.’


English anti-Muslim group joins up with young Sikhs

Sikhs have been fighting Muslims for hundreds of years

At first, the dozen white men mingling with 300 or so Sikh demonstrators besieging Luton police  station went largely unnoticed.

They stood on the fringes, content to observe. But as the night wore on and the intensity of the protest increased, the white men grew more raucous and aggressive.   What was remarkable about their presence was that they were members of the far-Right English Defence League.

They had turned up to express support for their Sikh ‘brothers’ who were angry at the way detectives had handled an allegation that a young Sikh woman had been sexually assaulted by a Muslim man.

The EDL makes no secret that it loathes Islamism, but stresses that, unlike the British National Party, it embraces all other creeds.

That said, when EDL supporters have taken to the streets in the past they have done so with St George’s flags and banners bearing inflammatory slogans.

In Luton all 12 men, including EDL leader Tommy Robinson and his right-hand man Kevin Carroll, wore a rumal, the traditional Sikh headscarf.

That night – May 29 – racial tensions had risen in the multicultural  town and this time it was Luton’s usually equable Sikh community that was angry.

Bringing traffic to a standstill, female protesters lay down in the dual-carriageway that splits the town centre. Others demanded answers from individual officers.

While there was much anger  and plenty of noise, there was no violence, and by midnight it was all over. Yet that night a curious  alliance was formed.

A Mail on Sunday investigation has established that the leadership of the EDL has aligned itself with groups of radical Sikhs from Luton, the West Midlands and other parts of the country, who are furious that young women in their communities are, as they see it, being sexually exploited and groomed by British-Pakistani Muslims.

Two days after the protest, Sikhs and EDL members held a secret meeting in Luton to discuss a joint response to the problem. Both sides are said to have favoured acts of vigilantism.

There has been unofficial contact between Sikhs and the EDL for some time, and the links were cemented at the protest.

Asked about the secret meeting, Mr Robinson said: ‘Who told you about that? We can’t comment on exactly what we will do with the Sikhs but we will do whatever we can to work together, raise awareness and combat the problem.’

When pressed about plans to carry out vigilante acts, Mr Robinson – who earlier this year was the focus of a Channel 4 documentary called Proud And Prejudiced – said:

‘When the police fail to protect the community, when they fail to protect daughters, we have to protect them.  ‘We live in a community where Muslim paedophile gangs are operating without police pressure. If  a Sikh girl is attacked in Luton that is my problem because she is a member of my community.  ‘I class everyone in my community as everyone who is non-Islamic.’

The EDL has held many demonstrations across the country since it was formed in Luton in March 2009 after Muslim radicals disrupted a homecoming parade by the Royal Anglian Regiment. It has become the most significant far-Right street movement in Britain since the National Front in the Seventies.

Nick Lowles, director of the anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate, said: ‘We are aware there has been contact between the EDL and a small group of radical Sikhs. But there is nothing to be gained by anyone in the Sikh community linking up with the racist EDL.  ‘We need to tackle the issue of child exploitation, but it needs to be a community-wide response.’

While the EDL supporters in Luton were welcomed by some, the town’s  Sikh elders viewed their presence at the protest as opportunism.

They accuse EDL leaders of trying to hijack the protest and exploiting difficulties between their community and the town’s large Pakistani Muslim population.

The issue of grooming is at the heart of that discord.  The group of radical Sikhs says it receives about three calls a week from Sikh parents fearing their children are being targeted.

There have been few prosecutions, however, largely because the issue touches upon notions of honour and shame.

Jasvinder Singh Nagra, of the Luton Gurdwara temple, said: ‘Young girls of school and college age are being targeted by men from the Pakistani community.

They are duping them into believing they  are in love and it all comes to grief because they are treated as sex toys.  ‘A small proportion of the Pakistani community feel it is fair game to go for Sikh and Hindu girls.

‘In the past, the Pakistani community have not taken this seriously and neither have the police. They have not looked into the role played by coercion or blackmail.

‘We know that at colleges and  universities you have young Muslim men wearing the kara [a bangle worn by Sikhs] to pretend they are part of the community, or they change their names to pretend to be Sikh and our girls fall for it.

‘Before they know it they are with this man and then compromising photographs will be taken of her. She will be threatened with having these shown to her family and the fear of losing honour is a very  powerful tool to make her do what the man wants.’

But Mr Nagra said protest organisers did not share EDL’s values. ‘The arrival of the EDL was a total surprise to me,’ he added.  ‘They were there to try to make an alliance over what they felt was a common issue. It caused a great deal of anxiety because we wanted, above all, for the protest to be peaceful.

‘The EDL leaders were showing off to our young people by being very aggressive in the way they spoke to the police, pretending to be doing it out of solidarity.  ‘I would advise our young people not to be lured down the EDL route of taking the law into our own hands and vigilante activity.’

In response, the day after the protest, some 40 leaders from the Sikh and Muslim communities met at the Gurdwara to discuss their differences in a two-hour meeting.  Mr Nagra said: ‘I was delighted that so many people from the Pakistani community came.’

Zafar Khan, of the Luton Council  of Faiths, who chaired the meeting, said: ‘The idea that there is an orchestrated campaign by young Muslim men to target young Sikh women is totally insulting and wrong. This is the language of the EDL.’  He added: ‘The threat of the EDL is very great in Luton. We have a  lot of experience in dealing with them and that is why we reacted so promptly.  ‘Now we will meet every couple of months to talk about inter- community issues.’

A Bedfordshire Police spokesman urged anyone with evidence of grooming of people ‘from any faith or group’ to come forward, but added that there was nothing to indicate that ‘systematic’ grooming of Sikh girls was taking place in Luton.


Backgrounder: UK underage sex ring sparks racial tensions in England

She was lonely in the way only an adolescent girl can be: No friends, no boyfriend, not much of a relationship with her parents. So she felt special when a man decades older paid attention to her, bought her trinkets, gave her free booze.

Then he took her to a dingy room above a kebab shop and said she had to give something back in return. His demands grew: Not just sex with him, but with his friends. It went on for years, until police charged nine men with running a sex ring with underage girls.

The story of Girl A, as she became known in court, is tragic by any measure, but it has also become explosive. Because there is no getting around it: The girls are white, and the men who used them as sex toys are Asian Muslims, mostly Pakistanis raised in Britain. And it's not just Rochdale -- roughly a dozen other cases of Asian Muslim men accused of grooming young white girls for sex are slowly moving to trial across northern England, involving up to several hundred girls in all.

In today's Britain, which prides itself on being a tolerant and integrated society, the case has stripped away the skin to expose the racial sores festering beneath. It is also feeding an already raw anger against the country's Asian Muslim minority, in a movement led by far right groups at a time when the economy is stalled.

"You can't get away from the race element," says prosecutor Nazir Afzal, a British Muslim with family roots in Pakistan who ended several years of official indifference to the girls' plight and finally brought the perpetrators to trial. "It's the elephant in the room."


From a distance, Rochdale looks like a picture-perfect English city, with the 800-year-old Parish Church of St. Chad perched high above the streets, and the Victorian Gothic Town Hall just below, its clock tower resembling the one that houses London's Big Ben.

Up close the flaws become clear. Like missing teeth in an otherwise sparkling smile, a fair number of downtown shops are boarded up, or have been turned into pawn shops or dueling "pound shops" where almost all items cost 1 pound ($1.60) or less.

The Pakistani community started to grow half a century ago, when the town's cottons mills were flourishing. The newcomers, most of them from poor rural villages, were drawn by the promise of steady jobs and a chance to educate their children in English schools.

A number of mosques became part of the skyline, particularly the showcase Golden Mosque, winner of several design awards. Today, Muslim men wearing beards and decorated caps and women in black robes and veils are a constant presence on the downtown streets.

Nearly 1 million Pakistanis live in England — far more than in any other European country — with about 25,000 settled in the greater Manchester area that includes Rochdale. The government's equality commission reports that more than half of the Pakistanis in Britain live in poverty, far more than the general population, with just under 75 percent having no formal savings.

They face hard times now. The closed shops are signs of a double-dip recession that has hit northern England harder than the more affluent south, which includes London, with its financial district and well-to-do suburbs.

The mills have long since closed; the local newspaper trumpets gloom and doom: A tripling in the number of homeless, a sharp rise in youth unemployment, more people seeking housing benefits.

Even the local McDonald's, long a fixture in the town center, has moved out.

It was in this environment that Girl A lost control one summer night in 2008.

After drinking heavily, the 15-year-old went to the kebab shop in nearby Heywood where she had first met her "boyfriend." She started screaming and busting the place up. When police were called, she told them she had been raped -- repeatedly -- and offered up her semen-stained underwear as proof.

Greater Manchester Police detectives concluded the girl, who was below the age of consent, was telling the truth, but Crown Prosecution Service lawyers recommended against pressing criminal charges, reasoning that the jury might not believe a troubled, hard-drinking, sexually active young girl. The case was quietly dropped after an 11-month inquiry.

The abuse intensified. The ring of predators grew; the circle of victims widened. Eventually there would be at least 47 victims or witnesses.

The girl was driven around at night, forced to have sex with more and more men, sometimes up to five a day, in cars or restaurant backrooms or grubby apartments. The men threatened her if she complained. There seemed to be no escape.

She was trapped in a secret world of sex acts that took place late at night when most people in Rochdale were safely tucked away in their homes.


The Rochdale men do not fit the classic profile for sex offenders in Britain -- the majority of pedophilia crimes are committed by white men who target boys and girls via the Internet. However, there is a consensus among prosecutors, police, social workers and leading national politicians that "street grooming," which happened in Rochdale, is largely dominated by Asian men.

Ella Cockbain, a University College of London crime science specialist, says research shows that mostly Asian men make up the big groups of offenders who work together. She chooses her words carefully because the sample size is small and the topic sensitive.

"There are definite patterns emerging that would be foolish to ignore," she says.

Mohammed Shafiq, a British Pakistani who directs the Ramadhan Foundation in Rochdale, has angered some in his own community by suggesting that police at first did not pursue the case aggressively for fear of appearing racist because of an obsession "with the doctrine of political correctness."

Shafiq says that a "tiny minority" of Pakistani men feel white girls are worthless and immoral — and can be abused with impunity.

"They know if they took someone from the Asian community, it pretty quickly is going to be found out," he says. "But those white girls are available, so they think they can get away with it."

The men in the Rochdale sex ring were remarkable only in their ordinariness. They were part of British life, but on the fringes — the sort of people most Britons don't really notice when they pass them on the street.

Many were taxi drivers, accustomed to working all-night shifts with long down time between fares, and they frequented the late-night kebab takeout shops offering familiar lamb, chicken and falafel dishes. Their cab stands and the kebab shops were often the only businesses that remained open after the bars closed.

Most of the men were first or second generation Pakistanis raised mainly in Britain. Only one had faced previous sex charges: Ringleader Shabir Ahmed, at 59 the oldest in the group, who was accused of repeatedly raping a young girl in a separate case. Ahmed, known to the girls as "Daddy," was convicted of 30 counts of rape in that case last week.

Some of the men had families and small businesses. The ring included Abdul Rauf, 43, who would later claim to have experience as a Muslim preacher, which local Islamic leaders dismiss as a total fabrication. A few had ongoing contacts with local politicians.

The men were neither affluent nor dirt poor. They lived outwardly stable lives but had few obvious prospects for advancement.

They were finally brought to justice after health workers reported a large increase in the number of underage girls in the Rochdale area claiming to have suffered sexual abuse. The next year, Afzal, the new regional chief of the Crown Prosecution Service, reversed the earlier decision by prosecutors and decided to press the case in court, with Girl A at its core.

"It was a no-brainer," Afzal told the Associated Press. "She was immensely credible. And the police now had evidence of a wide network."

Eleven men were charged with offenses ranging from rape to conspiracy, and police suspect more were involved. The men had such psychological power over the girls that even during the trial, one girl talked of a defendant as her boyfriend.

Parliament has launched an inquiry based in part on reports that the abuse is far more widespread than originally thought. Afzal said his office is handling roughly a dozen other similar cases, including one that involves 13 men accused of operating a sex ring with 24 girls.

Afzal says that as a Muslim he is sickened by the crimes.

"Rape and alcohol and abuse are not part of Islam," he says. "Just because they have a beard and go to the mosque doesn't make them good Muslims."


As the Rochdale trial reached court, the issue of race and religion burst into the open.

One far-right protester carried a sign making reference to the meat favored by many observant Muslims because it meets strict religious guidelines. "Our girls are not Halal meat," the sign read.

Inside the court, Ahmed, a key defendant, fought back hard. He accused the all-white jury of racism. He accused one girl of thinking whites were superior, and denigrated them all as greedy money seekers. And he accused white society of neglecting its girls and tolerating, even encouraging, bad behavior.

"You white people train them in sex and drinking, so when they come to us they are fully trained," he said.

The jury found nine men guilty and set two free. Judge Gerald Clifton articulated what many felt but were reluctant to say out loud when he accused the men of treating white girls as worthless because "they were not of your community or religion." Then he sentenced them to a total of 77 years in prison.

The May verdict further polarized Rochdale. Pakistanis were horrified at the stigma on their community and enraged that the men claimed to be Muslim.

"They are playing the Muslim card, pretending they are good Muslims, but they are not," says Irfan Chishti, who runs an educational program at one of the town's mosques. "This was a great sin under Islam. If Sharia law was in place, the punishment would be very severe."

Even while he and other leaders of the Rochdale Council of Mosques were discussing the case, about 40 protesters from the far-right British National Party held an unauthorized rally on the nearby Town Hall steps. The far right has seized on the case, claiming that some British Pakistanis follow a code they believe is practiced in parts of the Islamic world that allows men to have sex with girls under 16.

Louis Kushnick, founder of the race relations resource center at the University of Manchester, said it has become convenient for white residents — including those beyond the far-right movement — to blame Muslims for the sex crimes.

"You hear people talking about this, and it becomes tied to Islam," he says. "People say they are Muslim men, they see women as inferior, they have contempt for white women, so it has nothing to do with the rest of us."

That view overlooks all the problems that left the girls vulnerable in the first place, he says, citing a deficient school system and a government-backed child care regime riddled with neglect and abuse. And he says the prolonged economic downturn has intensified resentments, with whites and Asians competing for the same "crap" jobs.

"Blaming the Muslims lets us avoid addressing these questions," he says. "Once we blame 'The Other,' we think we have an explanation that makes sense."

Many in Rochdale are wary about discussing the case. Graduate student Heather Eyre, 25, says the trial has badly divided the city.

"It shouldn't have mattered that they are Pakistani," she says of the abusers. "But it's stirred up hatred. Some say they should be deported, and some parts of the Asian community say the jury was racist. Then the far-right groups came in...this case has been good for the English Defense League."


The girl who first told police about the abuse, now a young woman of 19, has moved out of the area. In a brief pooled interview before she withdrew from the public eye, she refused to call the crimes against her racial in nature, but said she was shocked Muslims would commit such acts.

She said that in 2008, when the grooming began, there was no awareness of this type of crime involving Asian men and white girls.

"Now it's going on everywhere," she said. "You think of Muslim men as religious and family-minded and just nice people. You don't think...I don't know...You just don't think they'd do things like that."

When the abuse started, she said, she felt anger and shame, then became resigned and, finally, numb.

"After a while it had been going for so long and so many different men that it became like I didn't feel anything towards it anymore," she said. "It just weren't me anymore. It just became something I had to do....Once you're in it, you're trapped. I just think what they did to me was evil."



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCHAUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site  here.


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