So much for the ‘Mediterranean diet’

Children in Italy, Greece and Spain are now the fattest in Europe. More than 40% of boys and girls aged nine are either overweight or obese. Sweets,junk food and sugary drinks have displaced the region’s traditional diet based on fruit and vegetables, fish and olive oil. (World Health Organisation)

One study suggests that your bank balance is the important factor. Researchers at the Mediterranean Neurological Institute in Italy, who carried out a study of more than 18,000 men and women over four years, found a 15 per cent reduction in cardiovascular risk for those on the Mediterranean diet, but only if they earned £35,000 a year or more. For the less advantaged, the benefits of the diet weren’t seen at all.

Even though all study participants followed the Mediterranean diet, those with higher incomes tended to eat food that had more heart-protecting antioxidants and polyphenols, and which was grown with fewer pesticides. Those with lower incomes had less access to a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and tended to buy foods that had lower nutritional value (International Journal of Epidemiology, doi.org/cbhh).

“The real extra virgin olive oil that was used in the Predimed trial is about 8 euros per bottle,” says Marialaura Bonaccio at the Mediterranean Neurological Institute. “So the question is, do I get the same benefits from a bottle of olive oil that costs 10 euros, as compared to the lower quality one that I paid 2 euros for?” She suspects that the difference in benefits may come down to higher quality foods that cost far more. “It’s a real paradox. When the Mediterranean diet was discovered, it was the diet of the poorest people in Italy and Greece. Now, it’s the diet of the rich people,” she says.

By the way, the World Cancer Research Fund is warning that as many as 12 different kinds of cancer are now linked to being overweight. It has launched an online tool to help people assess the risk posed by their diet and lifestyle.

All this sounds very familiar: health linked to income. Many people think that obesity is a matter of choice and no business of anyone else’s. Well, it is actually. Aside from anything else it increases national health costs for everyone, rich and poor. But it also reduces the quality of life and its length for poorer people. Not much point in championing the interests of the less well off if you are also indifferent to their health and longevity.

Trending today: Persuasion Art (a modern poem)

I have always wanted to be an artist.
I have dabbled in painting, drawing, singing, acting,
Pottery, writing, poetry, verse and music composition.

But these days the most celebrated art is
Concept Art.
How could I muscle in on it?
Unmade beds have been done, along with
Sitting opposite someone, stock still, saying nothing all day.
Blue paintings are old hat, and putting Coca Cola logos on ancient
Chinese pots is an art already established as meaningful.

And then it came to me! I recently realized that
I had already devised a new trend in the art world:
Persuasion Art.
And I had been doing it all my life!

Who persuaded twenty-five housewives to separately pick up a foreign hitchhiker in rural America?

Indeed, who inveigled his way for three whole working days
Into the office of the Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations
Committee and sat in on all the meetings, convincing all and
Sundry that he was a journalist?

Who persuaded numerous concerned mothers that their daughters
Were safe in his hands?

Who looked sufficiently competent (hah!) that a reluctant bank manager
Agreed not to foreclose on his business?

Who persuaded 120 restive suppliers to extend their credit for six months?

Who persuaded an Oxford college to offer a definite place to a young man who had not yet taken A Levels, was the world’s worst mathematician, and who had minimal Latin?

Who convinced a committed and successful economist to abandon her career and devote herself to music, while knowing nothing about it (along with said Persuasion Artist)?

Who talked his way out a severe Army reprimand when (falsely) accused of over-enthusiasm with a group of elderly ladies in a Cypriot village?

And who claims that his incompetence as a soldier finally convinced the British government that the draft was a menace to national security?

And now, Dear Reader, to persuade you that this is a poem……….

Cementing the Oligarchy

“My judicial philosophy is straightforward. A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written and a judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent.”
(Brett Kavanaugh, nominated by Trump for the Supreme Court yesterday).

Sounds correct, sounds innocuous. But in reality Kavanaugh‘s actual record appears to favour the Oligarchy, the banning of abortion, support for party gerrymandering, skepticism about immigrants and their rights, indifference to the environment and the plight of the poor and the black, the dumbing down of schooling and the elevation of ignorance, lack of belief in global climate change and human rights, and the literal interpretation of a Constitution over two hundred years old. This is not unusual – it describes a right-wing, politicized conservative lawyer, not a man wanting to do his best for all the people.

Although Epicurus taught indifference to politics, I believe times have changed (giant understatement!) and that the future of the planet itself is at risk. It wasn’t in the 4th Century B.C. Right wing conservatives poohpooh this mamby- pamby stuff and joyfully continue the plunder and the dismantling of what democracy we have left. This is short-sighted, immoral and distressing.

All un-Epicurean. Epicureanism stands for moderation and the greater good of all people. It stands for humanism and the rights of man, not a party or a rich group of corrupt election donors and politicians on the make. It respects the poor and the excluded, amd seeks to restrain aggressive capitalism and greedy bosses.

The gulf between Left and Right is becoming too wide. The government doesn’t care; on the contrary it rejoices in the turmoil. This could end very badly, if not addressed.

How to raise children, Epicurean-style

It goes without saying that raising children is one of the most important things humans do. But there is so much bad advise on how to raise your children. In this post I’ll try to address what both the liberal secularists and the religious conservatives get wrong on parenting, and how to do it in an Epicurean fashion. Bearing in mind that this is written by someone who isn’t a parent, so comments and criticisms are more than welcome!

  1. Encourage independence of thought and action. Teaching your children independence has a vast array of benefits. It makes them more intelligent by giving them decisions that have consequences. It teaches them to learn things for themselves. It makes them happier, particularly if they make a decision that goes well. It instills a mindset of tolerance; as they learn to value their freedom, they believe in freedom for others. Most importantly, it allows them to learn from their mistakes.
  2. Trust your children as much as you can. Children can only act responsibly if they are given responsibility. Constantly questioning your children or disbelieving them will only cause friction. A healthy relationship has to start somewhere.
  3. Avoid being over-protective. This is a difficult one because parents naturally want to prevent their children from being harmed. But children are happier when they are freer. In Germany, children are encouraged to climb trees and spend a lot of time outdoors, even if the chances of them getting injured are higher. The idea that children should be protected from a little cold or rain is ludicrous in my view.
  4. Enstill your children with a strong set of morals. Post-modern moral relativism has gone too far in my view. Children need to know the clear difference between right and wrong, even given situations that are quite complex. Without this, children will always seek ways to bend the rules.
  5. Don’t pander to children. The most egregious example of parental pandering in the modern age is in food. Many parents will only cook a small choice of food because that is what their children like, supposedly. Whether its cutting bread a particular way, or always boiling vegetables to the same softness, parents are encouraging children to be particular. Rather, parents should expose their children to as wide a variety of food as possible. And while its often best not to force your children to eat it, you must not prepare a more familiar alternative. Hunger as a punishment for fussiness is perfectly appropriate. On a broader note, children must not expect to get their favourite toys or anything they see that they like. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of generosity. But for the most part, if children want something, they should have to earn it.
  6. Allow a little bit of immaturity. The idea that children must always behave like adults is insane and unrealistic. Children are by nature sillier than adults. As long as that silliness is not hurtful or totally beneath the age of the child in question, it should be allowed. One of the benefits of having children is that it cheers up people that would often otherwise be very sombre.
  7.  Don’t shy away from sex/nudity. One of the most preposterous contradictions of the morality of the modern age is that graphic violence is far more acceptable for child viewing than anything that could be construed as sexual. Instead of censoring all nudity and sexual content, parents should educate their children to be mature on such matters. If they don’t, the children will find out for themselves sooner or later. The only way for people to grow up with healthy attitudes towards sex is by proper parental instruction.
  8. Give your children an academic and cultured upbringing. Take them to as many museums, art galleries and theatres as possible. Read them Shakespeare, Homer and Dickens. Watch intriguing and important films with them. Put classical and jazz music on the radio. You’ll find this will give them a huge boost in life: you will always impress on when being interviewed for a job or writing a university application if you have a broad range of interests. You’ll also make your children more interesting people.
  9. Challenge your children, without being impossibly pushy. Children need to be taught the importance of ambition and aspiration. They need to be taught to work hard to achieve success. But there is a danger in pushing them beyond what is realistic. If that happens, children will feel demoralised and inadequate. This may manifest itself in mental health problems later in life.
  10. Regulate children’s use of technology. The overuse of technology, and in particular social media, can be detrimental to children’s happiness and mental development. Technology can be a wonderful resource, both for entertainment and information. But allowing children to whittle hours of their lives away online is a recipe for disaster.

Does God exist?

The late Stephen Hawking famously declared that there was no need for a creator. He was an atheist who stated that science offered a more convincing explanation of life and the universe than god or gods. He believed that the universe is governed by the laws of science. In his 2010 book, “The Grand Design” (written with Leonard Mlodinow) he wrote that the Big Bang was inevitable and spontaneous. “Because there is a law such as gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing……..Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going”.

Interviewed on ABC News Hawking said, “One cannot prove that God doesn’t exist. But science makes God unnecessary. The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a creator.”. On other occasions he expressed the conviction that there is no God. “No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. There is probably no heaven or afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe.

Epicurus believed that there might be gods on Mount Olympus, but they spent their time making merry and chasing goddesses. They took no interest in the doings of mankind. This, I suspect, but can’t prove, was a “ politically correct” statement that avoided blowback from priests and believers. In fact, I think he was, privately, an atheist, who laughed at the stories about the gods and preferred a scientific approach to life and the universe.

We can, as Epicureans, support both Hawking and Epicurus, but we must do so respecting the beliefs of others and putting our views forward politely, with a smile, especially for those who are religious but who try to learn and understand physics and modern science, butfind religion is a reassuring comfort.

Learning English

770,000 people living in England speak hardly any or no English. The British communities secretary Sajid Javid, is promising to expand teaching of English for immigrants. Up to 70% of those needing it are women, mostly Pakistani or Bangladeshi. Javid said that when his mother learned English 15 years after arriving from Pakistan it “transformed her life”.

770,000! I cannot imagine leaving the country of my birth for a foreign land on a permanent basis and not making an effort to learn the local language. There are still cities in Britain where Pakistanis and Bangladeshis only speak their native- born dialects. This must have led to isolation, alienation, self-segregation, potential exploitation and miserable half-lives.

Some men have clearly found it “convenient” to have their wives stuck at home, unable to communicate with the indigenous natives. Many young women have now rebelled, become educated and have successful careers. But the old religious culture persists – women are treated as second-class citizens. I think it is a human right for women to be able to go to classes, learn the local language, and integrate. No medieval-minded man should be allowed to stop them. Sajid Javid is right, even if late in the day. He is, in effect, finally undermining the male domination that is prevalent in poor moslem communities. Good! Epicurus would applaud. You cannot have a cohesive society if part of it can’t speak a word of the language after years of residence in a country.

Being interrupted in full flight

From Bryn Glover, Kirkby Malzeard, North Yorkshire, UK

“May I report a highly effective way to counter interruptions while talking?

“In the 1980s, I sat on the council of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs trade union in England. Meetings were always attended by the extrovert and voluble general secretary, Clive Jenkins. He would frequently interrupt speakers during what were otherwise disciplined and strictly non-interrupted meetings in order, as he put it, “to be helpful and progress business”.

“One member, who seemed to be interrupted more than others, developed the technique of instantly stopping speaking and waiting in silence until Clive, with his usual sweet smile of acknowledgement, had finished.

“She would then immediately continue speaking at precisely the same point in the sentence she had been delivering when interrupted. There was never any loss of sense, grammar or syntax. It was as if the interruption had never occurred. This was so effective that it eventually cured Jenkins of his habit. It is a very difficult trick to carry off, but it can be devastating”. (New Scientist, March 10, 2018)

One of the things that always brings me up with a jolt is when you are in the mid-sentence and your listener’s phone goes off, or there is a similar interruption. Then, at the end of the telephone call your listener totally ignores the fact that you were speaking and changes the subject totally, as if you had never opened your mouth.

I fear we are all sometimes guilty of this, myself included – it is probably not deliberately rude, just a matter of lack of attention. Should one simply stop worrying about it, or should one be developing the above technique of resuming precisely where one left off? Or am I a boring my listeners out of their tiny minds? (Will have to ponder that!)

Epicurus was, apparently, a good and attentive listener, whose popularity was based, not only on what he had to say, but the courtesy he showed by scrupulously commenting on the views of others. It helps cement relationships.

The BBC

On a random day (before the royal wedding) these are the subject headings of BBC News as received on my I- pad:
– Playing fantasy football with artificial intelligence
– “FatTax” row forces New Look price review
– Single, 30,and time to leave home
– Meghan’s father may not attend wedding
– Dealing with a child who won’t sleep
– Kristen Stewart goes barefoot at Cannes
– How to dress a royal groom
– Willow Smith reveals how she used to self- harm
– Scariest moment in my police career
– Are these (photo) Yorkshire pudding or Yorkshire pancakes?
– Cold war over ice cream at school
– House-bound woman crowd-funds for chair
– Arsenal’s medical head, Lewin, loses job

Meanwhile, the world was roiled by the Trump policy on Iran, protestors were being shot in Gaza, autocrats were being elected in countries like Hungary, Turkey, etc, mini-wars against terrorism were popping up all over Africa. Brexit was in its usual chaos, Argentina was going broke – yet again, etc, etc.

What is wrong with the BBC? It used to be the prime newscaster, respected throughout the world. No wonder people get their news from Facebook. You have to get it from somewhere, even if it’s fake.

Charles Krauthammer recently died. This is his view of the United States

“America is the only country ever founded on an idea. The only country that is not founded on race or even common history. It’s founded on an idea and the idea is liberty. That is probably the rarest phenomena in the political history of the world; this has never happened before. And not only has it happened, but it’s worked. We are the most flourishing, the most powerful, most influential country on Earth with this system, invented by the greatest political geniuses probably in human history.” — Charles Krauthammer

“…..not founded on race?”. “……..”founded on liberty?” Mr. Krauthammer was a very prominent political commentator with a great command of English and political rhetoric, a product of Oxford (I encountered him in his wheelchair at a dinner once, a propos of nothing). Clearly, he truly believed what he said, erasing from his mind the centuries of oppression of black Americans. He seemed totally indifferent to the political corruption caused by money in politics (the result his party’s policies), the emergence of a powerful and ruthless oligarchy, the dissolution of the American Dream, the effects of continual, non-stop and incompetently run wars that have made the country so deeply indebted…. no need to go on. He and his like are blinkered, and while they cannot see the obvious that the rest of us can see, the country will continue on its downward path. The Chinese must be laughing at us.