Who are Trump’s American “elite”?

– They have a measure of actual education.
– They believe in and keep up with advances in science.
– They possess a measure of self-control and self-discipline.
– They have empathy for the poor, the sick and the dispossessed
– and actually give real money to charitable causes.
– They are polite and considerate of others.
– Their IQ ranges from average to excellent.
– Their emotional ages are normal for their actual age.
– They avoid crude language and name-calling.
– They do not have affairs with Playboy Bunnies.
– They do not have multiple bankruptcies or stiff innocent suppliers.
– They keep their word and need hard evidence before a change of mind.
– They can actually read a whole page of briefing and make head and tail of it.
– They do not brag about how rich they are and regard bragging as rather tacky.
– They have a better attention span than a gnat.
– They do not owe their start to sleazy assistance from the Mob.
– They take regular exercise and do not fake good health.
– They can take advice.
– They prefer to tell the truth.
– They don’t bully or approve of bullying.
– They don’t have a kiddy’s diet of Big Macs three times a day.
and lastly –
– Like Epicurus, they drink a glass of wine in the evening and lean towards . moderation, consistency and courtesy.

No wonder, dear Reader, they are so despised.

Name withheld to avoid Twitter frenzy

A thought from CERN, Geneva

I have just been to CERN and was reminded that Epicurus was a forerunner of todays particle physicists.

Epicurean atomism was remarkably similar to nineteenth-century atomic chemistry: atoms as indivisible, eternal building blocks, things regarded as mere accumulations of atoms colliding with each other. More, the Epicureans came up with a “many worlds” cosmology long before twentieth-century quantum physics did, if for different reasons.

Wrote Epicurus:
There is an infinite number of worlds, some like this world, others unlike it. . . . For the [infinite] atoms out of which a world might arise, or by which a world might be formed, have not all been expended on one world or a finite number of worlds, whether like or unlike this one.”

Migrant ruling

The US attorney general has decreed that victims of domestic and gang violence should not usually qualify for asylum. Jeff Sessions’s ruling overturns a 2016 decision by an appeals court to grant asylum to a Salvadorean woman who said she had been repeatedly beaten and raped by her husband. Sessions said abused wives did not count as a persecuted “group”, adding that the law was not designed to protect citizens from private crimes or to “redress all misfortune”. A lawyer working with immigrants called the ruling “a death sentence to potentially thousands of people fleeing harm” in Central America and Mexico. (The Week, June 15,2018)

For most of the history of the United States new migrants arrived for a host of reasons, political, economic and personal. Everyone is, or is descended from, migrants, and migrants are essential to the economy. They work hard and pay their taxes. To refuse residency to drug dealers and known gang members is rational; to deny entry to abused women and children is cruel, as is returning children, brought in infancy to the United States, to their original country. And to overturn an appeals court ruling looks to me to be gross Federal over-reach, begging the question, “what is a public and what is a private crime?” Epicurus, standing for moderation and common sense would say that all violence, in public or in private, is an offense, and the victims should be protected. If Latin American regimes can’t or won’t protect their people the US should set a humane example.

Scary? The African conundrum

“By the year 2030,Africa will represent about one quarter of the world’s workforce. By 2050 the African population is expected to double to more than 2.5 billion people, with 70% of them under the age of 30”. ( Rex Tillerson, American Secretary of State, quoted in the Washington Post, March 8, 2018).

The above statistics should be viewed in the light of the increased desertification of Africa as a burgeoning population tries to farm marginal land, the huge increase in the number of Moslems (nothing against them, but family planning is not generally a Moslem priority), and the refusal of the Trump people and the Catholic Church, who refuse to see the writing on the wall. What will happen to those young Africans? How will they earn a living, or will,they follow the increasing number of migrants reaching Europe?

A (humane) Epicurean would prioritise helping African women. We, and the Africans, really have to abandon the outdated religious ideas about family planning that are damaging to the lives of women and helping to wreck our planet.

The crisis facing young women.

Over the last few months, I’ve come to believe there is a crisis facing young women. Of course, this is based only on my own knowledge and experience, which is primarily of British and university-educated women, but I think it applies more generally as well. The crisis is complex and multifaceted, but I believe it has some key components:

  1. An immense pressure to succeed. In an increasingly globalised and competitive world, no longer is it acceptable to be average. Young people, and women especially, are told they must excel at everything they do if they are to lead a happy life. The traditional aspects of society- the religious institutions, many families, and certain media outlets- insist women must be brilliant as wives and mothers. Equally pushy are the more progressive elements of society, who argue that women should have outstanding careers, to achieve parity with the most successful men, even when this isn’t always what women want. The combined pressure to be amazing both at home and at work causes considerable distress amongst young women.
  2. A worsening mental health crisis. Anxiety, depression and other mental disorders are on the rise. And while the nation’s deteriorating mental health affects both men and women, I think it has affected women more. Despite a general increase in mental health awareness, women are still expected to have a stiff upper lip. As a society, we don’t talk about our personal lives and struggles enough. This aversion to openness makes individual struggles harder, particularly for women, whose struggles are more frequently dismissed by other women as well as men. To make matters worse, when men are suffering, the effects are more visible because men are more prone to be violent and aggressive, making their problems seem worse. Women’s poor mental health can be less obvious, so a resolution to their problems is less likely.
  3. The higher education boom. University is portrayed as a liberating institution. Freed from the constraints of home and family life, women can enjoy the benefits of living independently. For most women, this is a fantastic opportunity. As a man I don’t mind that an increasing majority of graduates are women. But even those for whom university is a net benefit, there are often significant drawbacks. Women at university face far too much pressure to succeed, both academically and socially. Being weird or even just unconventional is less acceptable for women. Also, in my experience, women are more likely to be bullied and ostracised at university. I’m not suggesting that fewer women attend university. But we must relinquish our expectations of how women at university should be.
  4. The increasing prominence of social media. The vast majority of young people use social media extremely frequently. It’s become an essential aspect of keeping in contact with others. But the effects of constant social media use are often awful for women. On photo-based platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, women must maintain the best possible image, which will often be commented upon and compared to others. On text-based platforms, women are pressured to have a regular presence; it is harder for women to disconnect from the online world. To make matters worse, women are more likely to be harassed online. The bullying of female MPs like Diane Abbott or Jess Phillips is horrendous in scale, but it is hardly surprising.
  5. The decline of traditional gender roles. Our society used to have clearly-defined gender roles, which had a largely religious justification. Men would be the head of the family and the primary breadwinners, and women would look after the household and the children. This was a violation of women’s rights, which had some sort of logic in an overwhelmingly religious society where most jobs required physical strength. In an increasingly secular society with a service-based economy, traditional gender roles are thankfully obsolete. But part of the appeal of religion and traditional morality was that it gave people purpose and certainty. Although the absence of religion has been liberating, many women are simply unsure what to do with their lives. Freedom, however welcome, does not always lead to happiness.

Overall, these five factors amount to a crisis for young women. I do not think this affects all women, or even necessarily most. But life can be considerably harder young women than it ought. To resolve the crisis, we must end any damaging preconceptions of what constitutes womanhood. For the traditional elements in society that remain, it means we cannot expect women to be the best wives and mothers- the roles we used to cherish. However, the progressive left must not propagate the notion of a career-centered life as an ideal. We must be far more open in talking about our personal lives, and those who wish to live an unconventional life, whether in the real or virtual world, must be left alone. And while a strict adherence to a dogmatic view of the sexes is increasingly rare, we must be supportive of those who find the age of social liberalism unnerving and insecure. The modern world can and should be a golden age for women. With a more consistent application of the principles of liberty, we can make it so.

Thought for the day: Far-sighted Seneca

Two thousand years ago, Seneca reflected on the very matters that have consumed the minds of right-thinking men through all eras of humanity to the present day:

“We are mad, not only individually but nationally. We check and punish manslaughter and isolated murders, but what of war and the much-vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples?”

Phone ban in schools

French children up to the age of 15 are to be banned by law from using mobile phones anywhere in school grounds – including at break times – from September. French children are already banned from using phones in the classroom under legislation passed in 2010. The new, more wide-ranging law – which was passed by MPs last week and is expected to be approved by the senate – is aimed at improving pupils’ concentration; stopping them from playing on phones during lessons; helping to prevent cyberbullying, the sharing of pornographic images, and sexting.

President Macron had made introducing a “detox” law, (to ween children off their screens) one of his campaign pledges. However, it will now be up to individual schools to work out how to enforce the ban: critics have warned that because teachers have no legal right to confiscate phones, this could be difficult. (The Week, June 15,2018)

This seems a no-brainer to me. Yes, some kids will still be cyberbullying, sharing pornographic images, and sexting out of school hours, but the point needs to be firmly made that children are in school for the purpose of education, and “social” use of phones should be banned in schools for all ages. At my grandson’s school the children have to put their phones, under adult supervision, into lockers the moment they arrive at school, and there they stay until the end lf the school day – no exeptions. Break the rule and you are out.
Is this a violation of liberty? NO!

Amazon Echo and electronic snooping

A Portland couple were discussing hardwood floors. Their Amazon Echo was listening, recording their discussion, then sending the recording randomly to someone in their contacts list, without the couple’s knowledge.

The wife told Seattle TV station KIRO 7 that they learned something was amiss when they received a phone call from an employee of the husband who lived in Seattle, telling them that he had inadvertently received a recording of their conversation, and telling them to unplug their Alexa devices right away. Which they promptly did, including the devices that controlled their home’s temperature, lights and security.

The couple had essentially been bugged. “I felt invaded,” Danielle told KIRO. “A total privacy invasion. Immediately, I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again. I can’t trust it.”

How did this happen? Here is Amazon’s explanation of the episode:

“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like ‘Alexa.’ Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, ‘[contact name], right?’ Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ‘right’. As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”

So Alexa heard the background conversation and misconstrued it as a series of specific directives five times in a row. And it all happened without the people in the room knowing that the device was listening, much less recording their conversation and shipping it out, supposedly on their behalf.

Why was the Echo recording the conversation in the first place? Amazon’s Echo uses seven microphones and noise-canceling technology to listen out for its wake word. It records about a second of ambient sound on the device, which it constantly discards and replaces. But once it thinks it hears its wake word, the Echo’s blue light ring activates and it begins sending a recording of what it hears to Amazon’s computers.

There was the time an Echo ordered a $170 dollhouse for a 6-year-old who asked Alexa for one. And the time Burger King ran a TV ad that asked , “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” — causing all installed Google Home devices to burst forth with info from the Whopper Wikipedia page.

While “home assistants” such as the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod have been big sellers in the past few years, they’ve brought with them a litany of privacy and practical concerns. As Daniel Kahn Gillmor, a staff technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, commented to the Washington Post, “These are potential surveillance devices, and we have invited them further and further into our lives without examining how that could go wrong. We are starting to see examples of that.”

If you have one of ghese gadgets go into the Alexa app, tap Settings —> History, and then listen to the recordings Alexa has made of you and your family. (While you’re there, you can also delete them).” (based on an article on NPR, May 26, 2018)