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Items filtered by date: Friday, 23 July 2021

Laurent Simons, who is half-Belgian and half-Dutch, obtained a bachelor’s degree with distinction from the University of Antwerp in just 18 months.

It can be tough having high-achieving siblings. Every family gathering becomes a battle for which child is more successful or who’s smarter than who, and before you know it you’re fist-fighting your sister in the kitchen over whether Mahler was more influential than Pythagoras.

Well, just be glad you don’t have to invite Laurent Simons to Thanksgiving this year. This Dutch-Belgian wunderkind has not only completed a bachelor’s degree in physics, but he did so in half the time it usually takes and still managed to get the highest grade in his class.

At the age of 11.

“I find it flattering that people compare me with Einstein,” Simons told The Telegraph. “But I think everyone is unique. Einstein is just Einstein and I, Laurent, am just Laurent.”

As if that isn’t humiliating enough, this wasn’t even Simons’ first attempt at college. After completing high school by the age of eight, he originally enrolled in Eindhoven University in 2018 but dropped out when college officials refused his schedule. He then took some courses at the University of Ghent, before eventually transferring to the University of Antwerp, where he graduated this month.

Although this lost him the chance to become the youngest ever college graduate – that distinction remains with University of South Alabama Class of ‘94 alumnus Michael Kearney, who received a degree in anthropology at the age of ten – Simons is sanguine.

"I don't really care if I'm the youngest,” he told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. “It's all about getting knowledge for me.”

With diploma in hand, Simons’ next step is to officially start and complete his master’s degree, a University of Antwerp spokesperson told The Brussels Times. After that, the goal is a PhD.

“As well as his home country, Belgium, he will be studying in the US, Israel and the UK, too,” Simons’ father, Alexander, said. “Lots of the world’s best universities are located [in the UK] so [it] had to be on the list.”

And, at an age where most of us are just hoping to get through puberty unscathed, Simons has big plans.

Laurent’s mother, Lydia, has defended the family from accusations that her son should be having fun rather than studying.

“I can imagine that a lot of people think ‘leave him alone, he is still young’,” she said.

“But people who say that have not had a child like Laurent. Everyone, including psychologists, who want to give advice, just can’t, because there’s never been a case like this before”.

“Immortality, that is my goal,” he said, inadvertently revealing that he probably doesn’t read IFLS. “I want to be able to replace as many body parts as possible with mechanical parts.”

His vision of a cyborg-filled future isn’t just some vague notion, though – the miniature mastermind says he’s already mapped out the path to achieving his dream.

“Quantum physics – the study of the smallest particles – is the first piece of the puzzle,” he said. “I want to work with the best professors in the world, look inside their brains and find out how they think.”

 

Published in General/Features

A social experiment in Iceland has investigated the pros and cons of working a four-day week. Now, the brains behind the trial have released a report and the findings are quite something: not only did people report feeling happier, healthier, and less stressed, many workplaces also became more productive.

The experiment was run by UK-based thinktank Autonomy and the Association for Sustainability and Democracy (ALDA) in Iceland. The full report, released on Sunday, can be read here [PDF].

From 2015 to 2019, two large-scale trials saw 2,500 people in Iceland (more than 1 percent of the country’s entire working population) cut their working hours from around 40 hours a week to 35 or 36 hours. The participants worked in a range of environments, including offices, shops, hospitals, daycare centers, etc, and involved those who worked a typical "9-to-5" day as well as non-standard shift patterns. Throughout the trial, the researchers interviewed workers and gathered data on their well-being and changes to the workplace.

The benefits were clear: peoples’ well-being increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and risk of “burnout,” to physical health and work-life balance.

Most participants reported having more energy for other activities, such as socializing, exercising, and hobbies, while explaining the cut in hours allowed them to spend more time with their families and made it easier to complete other home chores. These benefits were especially noticeable among the single-parent families included in the trials. Men in heterosexual partnerships also took on more housework and greater domestic responsibilities, sharing out the division of labor more evenly.

“I work less… For me, it is like a gift from the heavens. And I like it a lot,” one participant said in an interview.

Crucially, productivity was either maintained or improved in the majority of workplaces. The researchers put the improvement in productivity down to better morale at work.

“Moral has been good here, and always has, but it got even better,” a manager said.

Much of the data is self-reported, and though there is what the report calls quantitative data, it's unclear how things like work efficacy increases were measured across the board. However, following the apparent success of the trial, unions were able to renegotiate working patterns and now 86 percent of Iceland’s workforce has moved to a shorter working week.

“The Icelandic shorter working week journey tells us that not only is it possible to work less in modern times, but that progressive change is possible too,” Gudmundur D. Haraldsson, a researcher at Alda, said in a statement.

“This study shows that the world’s largest-ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success. It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks – and lessons can be learned for other governments,” added Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy.

While Iceland is known for its socially progressive initiatives, it is not alone in its push towards a shorter working week. A number of similar trials are now being run across the world, including in Spain and New Zealand. Even Japan, a country with a notoriously intense attitude towards work, has recently encouraged workplaces to allow their employees to choose to work four-day a week instead of the typical five.

Published in Lifestyle
Saturday, 24 July 2021 13:56

As America Recedes, China Rises

As our July Fourth celebrations were beginning, the U.S. quietly closed and abandoned Bagram Air Base, the largest American military base between the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea.

Afghan looters were soon seen scavenging inside the base.

The long retreat of the American Empire is underway, and this longest war is likely to end in bloody retribution for the Afghans who sided with us against the Taliban and are left behind.

When the last American departed Bagram, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. is making plans for "an emergency evacuation of the American embassy in Kabul amid concern that a worsening security situation in Afghanistan could imperil the remaining military and diplomatic corps."

Apparently, we are preparing for a possible Saigon '75 finish to the war launched by George W. Bush 20 years ago. Pressed by reporters on the grim situation in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden did not want to reflect on or talk about what might be coming.

"I want to talk about happy things, man," Biden told reporters. "Look, it's Fourth of July ... it's the holiday weekend. I'm going to celebrate it. There's great things happening."

In that same edition, the Journal reported that China has moved 50,000 troops to the border region with India where forces of the two nations, in June 2020, had their bloodiest skirmish in decades.

Other reports suggest that China intends to fill the vacuum left by the departure of America's power and provide billions from its Belt and Road Initiative to build a highway from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Peshawar, Pakistan.

As America executes its strategic retreat from Central Asia, China is on the move.

In addition to militarizing its frontier with India, China is reasserting its maximalist claims to the South China Sea, ending independence and crushing democracy in Hong Kong, continuing cultural genocide against the Uyghurs, and regularly sending swarms of warplanes toward Taiwan to transmit the message to Taipei that annexation is but a matter of time.

Nor was Chinese President Xi Jinping's address on the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party an exercise in nuance.

"We'll never accept insufferably arrogant lecturing from those 'master teachers!'" said Xi, drawing a roar from the crowd of party members and veterans. Clad in a Mao suit, Xi had other warnings for those who seek to stand in the way of Communist China's destiny:

"The Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us ... Whoever nurses delusions of doing that will crack their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people."

Undeniably, Xi and his predecessors have an awesome record, as the Financial Times relates:

"China's emergence over the past four decades ranks as the biggest and longest-run economic boom in history. Its annual gross domestic product rose from a mere $191bn, or $195 per capita, in 1980 to $14.3tn, or $10,261 per capita, in 2019. It has raised more than 770m people from poverty and transformed the Chinese economy into a high-tech powerhouse that is on course to eclipse America's in size. This transformation is the landmark achievement of the Chinese Communist party, which celebrates its 100th anniversary on Thursday."

China's growth could not have been achieved had it not been for the U.S. decision to throw open the world's largest consumer market to Chinese-made goods, to bring Beijing into the World Trade Organization, and to sit idly by as a huge slice of U.S. industry and manufacturing was transshipped to China for production there and not here.

Between 1990 and 2021, U.S. imports of Chinese-made goods provided Beijing with the trillions it has accumulated to finance its strategic objective of becoming the first power on earth.

But this is water over the dam. Where do we go from here?

China's assets are impressive. At 1.4 billion people, it has the largest population on earth. If its growth rate continues, it will have the largest economy. Its strategic arsenal of nuclear weapons is a fraction of ours, but given the horrendous damage these weapons can do, a nuclear war would be ruinous if not mortal for both countries.

In terms of conventional military -- ships, soldiers, planes, guns, missiles and bases in the East Asia-Western Pacific theater where any war between us would be fought -- China's advantages are greater.

And of the issues over which we might fight -- islands, rocks, reefs in the South and East China Seas, and Taiwan -- none of them is claimed by us or vital to us. All are claimed by China as rightly theirs.

In the Cold War with the USSR, time, it turned out, was on our side. But in the last decade, Xi Jinping might fairly see time as having switched sides. Either way, we are surely better off relying upon our abilities rather than our weapons to win the competition and settle the rivalry that may settle the future of mankind.

Patrick J. Buchanan

Published in Politics

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