Immigration

Border Patrol arrests along the Mexico border reached their highest levels since 1986. Historical data shows fiscal year 2021’s figure was the highest total ever recorded. U.S. authorities detained more than 1.7 million migrants along the Mexico border during the 2021 fiscal year that ended in September, and arrests by the Border Patrol soared to the highest levels ever recorded, according to unpublished U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by The Washington Post.

Illegal crossings began rising last year but skyrocketed in the months after President Biden took office. As CBP arrests increased this past spring, Biden described the rise as consistent with historical seasonal norms. But the busiest months came during the sweltering heat of July and August, when more than 200,000 migrants were taken into custody. (Nick Miroff, New York Times, October 20).

My comment: I have the greatest sympathy with all the people who trek north under the most trying circumstances. But even I accept that there has to be some limit to the number of migrants any country can cope with. What is missing is reporting on the policies, inactions and conditions in the countries whence the hordes of migrants are coming. If the main problem is local gangsterism and extortion let’s talk about what the US can do about law, order and corruption in countries like Guatemala (if anything), but at least lean on the individual governments to confront the gangs, or, as climate warming gets worse the numbers of migrants will only grow. Am I being naive? Epicurus might well point out that the migrants yearn for peace of mind, but one persons peace of mind is another’s feeling of helplessness and loss of control.

Scim, scam

We have been phoned about every five days by men purporting to be raising money for police charities. Nobody else phones us so often.

I checked, and was told that this was not genuine and that the police were expressly forbidden to ask for money from the public, whether they are current or retired member of the force. I have subscribed to Do Not Call and I asked the last “policeman” to give me his name and National Insurance number (!),(whereupon he rang off).

Isn’t it sad? So much is geared to fear of, or dealing with, scammers, fraudsters, crooks and thieves. I wonder if the ancient Greek world was as full of fraudsters like this? Of course, they had their beggars and those desperate for food and roofs over their heads, but they didn’t have the tools – computers, phones, pickable pockets, credit cards and the sheer number of modern “things” that are steal-able to make the lives of others constantly wary and anxious Are we better off? No, unless we determinably work at peace of mind, consideration for others, kindness and thoughtfulness.

Epicureans are for the simple life. I used to have a Facebook presence. Do I miss it? Absolutely not! And now it appears in any case to be deliberately malign in many ways. Walk away.

Romance scams

loneliness pushed many Americans online in search of a love connection. But romance scams often left them with an empty bank account as well as a broken heart.

For the past three years, people have reported losing more money on romance scams than on any other type of fraud, according to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Database. Last year, the reported losses for romance fraud reached a record $304 million, up about 50 percent from 2019. Adults 60 and older reported losing about $139 million to romance scams in 2020, a new report from the FTC finds. That’s a significant increase from the $84 million seniors lost to such scams in 2019.

It’s important to note this is only what people reported to authorities. In this loathsome scheme, con artists use fake dating profiles to impersonate people looking for romantic relationships. The contact could also start as a friend request or message on a social media platform. The criminals ultimately persuade their victims to send them money via gift cards or wire transfers. Before covid, schemers made up all kinds of reasons not to meet in person, and the repeated cancellations could alert some people that they were being bamboozled. But the pandemic has given criminals cover. Guidelines on social distancing provided a plausible excuse to keep the relationship online and avoid meeting in-person.

“What scammers do in a romance scam is they make up reasons why they can’t meet their supposed love in person,” says Kati Daffan, an assistant director in the Federal Trade Commission’s division of marketing practices.

The pandemic inspired new twists to the stories that scammers typically use to defraud their victims. scammers are incredible about coming up with believable stories – he couldn’t travel because of the pandemic or because of a supposed positive covid-19 test.

The FBI estimates that more than 23,000 people lost more than $600 million in confidence fraud, including romance scams, last year. This is up from $475 million in 2019. Kathy Stokes, director of AARP Fraud Prevention Programs. blames isolation because of the pandemic, loneliness and, in the case of a widow or widower, grieving. These make people more vulnerable and susceptible to being generous. Scams can go on for months or years, draining people’s life savings. One victim lost half a million dollars. Once they realize that it has been a scam, they are devastated financially and emotionally. Some take their own lives.

Criminal enterprises, often transnational, target widowed and divorced seniors on dating sites such as Match.com, Christian Mingle, JSwipe, and PlentyofFish, concocting sob stories about needing funds to pay taxes, cover travel costs or pay down debt. Many victims are often too embarrassed to come forward and admit they were hoodwinked. (Edited version of articles by Michelle Singletary, The Washington Post and Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News).

My comment: Epicurus believed in peace of mind above all. Ataraxia in ancient Greek. Peace of mind has to be accompanied with care in dealing with over- friendly strangers, who have been with us for centuries. “Buyer beware!”

I’m outa here!

One pays for things like blogs and websites. Money, that is.

Today I decided I want to move to another planet, a planet without hi-tech stuff or teeming with fraudsters.

I tried to renew my subscription for this blog domain. Should be easy, yes? No.

It seems that my wife, minutes before, had tried to order something from a famous company with a French name. I knew nothing about it till later.

Well, our credit card people decided that trying to pay a French company had to be fraud, and they suspended use of the credit card. Unknown to my wife I was simultaneously trying to pay the hosting subscription for Epicurus.Today
I was told that the card had been suspended for possible fraud, and I had to abandon my efforts.

There was no fraud, just a whole load of wasted time and making a fool of myself with the hosting company. To wind up my frustration, the security person at our credit card company asked, among a host of other questions, who we spent xxx dollars with on October 18th. Turns out it was a food delivery, but I hadn’t a clue. Our front door is sometimes like a left-luggage area. Fortunately my wife knew the answer, but the point is that the afternoon was wasted with all this, and I ended desperate to catch the first rocket to……to…..anywhere else in the universe.

This is all a huge waste of time (I imagine, dear reader, that you have had similar annoyances connected with credit cards, computers phones etc.).

Upshot: I went back on the hosting site to finally pay, only to learn that it takes TWO DAYS to clear the suspension of our credit card!

When I get to the new planet I want to pay what I owe with pebbles.

Facebook et al

US Senators have accused Facebook of disregarding research showing harm to teens.

Senators grilled Facebook executives recently, accusing them of ignoring internal research indicating that social media can harm teens. Lawmakers demanded that Facebook executives explain the company’s efforts to attract young users despite evidence that Instagram, owned by Facebook, makes body image issues worse for many teen girls, and is linked by teens themselves to anxiety and depression. “Instagram is that first childhood cigarette meant to get teens hooked early,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). “Exploiting the peer pressure of popularity and ultimately endangering their health.” Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, said the company’s platforms “actually add value and enrich teens’ lives.” [The Wall Street Journal]

My comment: “….actually add value and enrich teens’ lives? “. Really, Antigone Davis – are you serious? Everything I have heard and read suggest that the company’s platforms make them feel inadequate and unhappy. Why do we inflict this on kids in the name of “freedom of speech”?

Another big lie

A school administrator in Southlake, Texas, advised teachers last week that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also have a book with an “opposing” perspective.

The only “diverse perspective” on the Holocaust is Holocaust denial: the odious contention that Hitler didn’t arrange the murder of 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of Roma, homosexuals, Poles and political prisoners; that Auschwitz and Treblinka were fabrications designed to discredit the Nazi’s quest for racial purity? Did anyone suggest that, under the new guidelines?

One can’t help wondering if the response would have been quite so widespread and intense if it had been suggested that books on race relations be countered by other books addressing the toll – the very existence – of systemic racism. In fact, Rickie Farah, a fourth-grade teacher in the Southlake district, was recently reprimanded by the school board trustees for making Tiffany Jewell’s This Book is Anti-Racist available to her students; her case attracted minimal attention beyond the local press it would now be illegal to teach The Diary of Anne Frank without citing the loathsome broadsides that have questioned the diary’s authenticity, among them Ditlieb Felderer’s 1979 Anne Frank’s Diary, A Hoax, which calls the iconic journal “the first pedophile pornographic work to come out after World War II”.

The question of what specific books and topics can and can’t be taught is only part of what’s so disturbing about Texas law HB 3979 and the advice to teachers. What’s troubling is the idea that legislators, rather than educators, should determine and impose limitations on a school curriculum. The problem is the way in which administrators have interpreted the new law to mean that teachers and their pupils should ignore the evidence of history, that students shouldn’t be encouraged to distinguish between what actually happened and what didn’t, and that a range of hot-button subjects are not merely inappropriate but forbidden to mention in a classroom setting.

If teachers are obliged to tell their classes that there is “another point of view” about whether the Holocaust occurred, must American history lessons now also include books asserting that the United States was never a slave-holding nation or that racism ended with the Emancipation Proclamation? If the discussion surrounding a novel or story leads a class to conclude that LGBTQ+ people are entitled to basic human rights, must the class be asked to seriously consider the opposing view: that those rights should be denied to anyone who differs from the heterosexual norm?

My comment: My father arrived with an advanced guard at a mass extermination camp in Northern Germany at the end of the war. He left me in his Will a leather-thonged, bloody whip which he took off a Nazi guard, who he arrested. Dead, naked bodies were in piles in clear sight. His words to me? “Never forget!” Holocaust denial is a gross obscenity and a deep moral failing.

The Great Resignation

“Scarce labor is becoming a fixture of the U.S. economy, reshaping the workforce and prodding firms to adapt by raising wages, reinventing services, and investing in automation,” The Wall Street Journal reports. The exodus of workers spans the labor market but is most pronounced in the service industries, and the numbers are very large: 4.3 million Americans quit in August alone, the Labor Department said this week, the highest number since December 2000. (Peter Weber)

Analysts are calling this the Great Resignation. Here are some numbers:

2.9 percent — the share of the nation’s workforce that quit in August
4.8 percent — the U.S. unemployment rate in September, a pandemic low
293,000 — jobless claims last week, a pandemic low
309,000 — women 20 and older who dropped out of the workforce in September
182,000 — men who were added to the workforce in September
108,700 — drop in the number of child care workers in September versus February 2020
10.4 million — unfilled U.S. jobs (Labor Department)
51 percent — business owners who said the have jobs openings they can’t fill (National Federation of Independent Business)
48 percent — the share of America’s working population actively looking for a job or watching for opportunities (Gallup, July)
61.6 percent — labor participation rate in September, versus 63.3 percent in
4.3 million — jobs that have vanished with the pandemic-era drop in labor participation
22 — number of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal, out of 52, who predicted labor participation will never return to pre-pandemic levels
40 percent — share of the 4.3 million people who quit in August from restaurant and hotel jobs
930,500 — drop in restaurant and bar jobs in September versus February 2020
12.7 percent — increase in hourly pay at bars and restaurants in August versus February 2020
7.3 percent — increase in price of restaurant meals in September versus February 2020
3.6 million — number of new retirees between February 2020 and June 2021
“You might be wondering why is everyone quitting now — like, right now,” Trevor Noah said on Thursday’s Daily Show. “I mean, people have wanted to quit their jobs since the beginning of time.” In this case, “it turns out there isn’t one reason people are quitting their jobs,” he said, “because the pandemic has given people a million reasons to quit their jobs.” (The Week, 16 Oct, 2021)

My comment: Lousy pay,long hours, uncertain medical care, shortage of childcare, and the top earners are creaming off the profits for personal use like (almost) never before. What do you expect?

How did Epicureanism work day by day?

Epicureans did not pool their assets in any communal fashion, as other philosophical groups actually did; the argument was that such a practice would either indicate or, worse yet, foster mutual suspicion.

It is hard to define such terms as “job” in the context of the ancient world; “Old Money”, Athenian patricians –men only, of course– were landed gentry, and looked down on the dirty business of actually making money; many (most?) members of the large, mercantile class were “metoikoi”, i.e. resident-aliens, Greeks usually, but non-Athenians, who had significant monetary/economic power but no political, citizen rights; craftsment and artisans were yet a rung lower; farmers, lowest of all.

But we should not superimpose present-day concepts on a socioeconomic reality long, long gone.

It is also difficult, or rather impossible to impute our modern sense of “tuition” in Greek antiquity. Suffice it to say that teachers of all sorts (philosophers, sophists, etc.) did customarily receive some sort of payment or other “for services rendered”. There appears to be some evidence that Epicurus was somehow “paid”, albeit probably very modestly, and that he disposed of his modest possessions with generosity both prodigious and judicious. After all, he was totally committed to making do with less than most other people.

It is hard to imagine what “normal jobs” other Epicureans would/could have had: Athenian women were notoriously under their husbands’ thumbs. Paradoxically, the permissive Athenians were scandalized by the hyper-macho, militarist Spartans, whose society they (the Athenians) derided as “gynekokratia”, i.e. Women’s Rule: with men in the barracks from the cradle to the grave, Spartan women took care of just about everything in that city’s everyday life. But Athenian women were domesticated to a fault. The only notable exception would have been prostitutes, and we do know that Epicurus welcomed them into in his microcosm, much to the shock and disapproval of others. Prostitutes were human, after all.

Slaves were a special case. Some were modestly “educated”, although of course not in the fullness of the liberal arts, reserved for free-born citizens alone; they may have caught a glimpse of reading/writing skills, looking over their masters’ shoulders, and some adopted important roles. Epicurus’ reliance on rote memorization may have had a practical tie-in with the low level of literacy anywhere below the upper crust of Athenian society.

So, it is plausible that the Garden was more a meeting place than some sort of a “full-time residence”. Again, Athenians were (and still are!) notoriously outgoing: early in the 20th century, a literary tourist wrote that “these people are like cats in midsummer”, always strolling about, stopping to chat with whoever might have been in the Agora (still extant, albeit in ruins), spending the bare minimum of time in their own houses. “Home” for ancient Athenians may have meant little more than “a place to sleep”. Free-born Athenian men were the quintessential roaming tomcats; domesticity, and love thereof, is distinctly a Roman sentiment.

My comment: Epicureanism was/is a humanist set of beliefs. Epicutus welcomed women and slaves, as well as men of all ages, to the garden and treated them as equal human beings with equal rights and due respect. They were encouraged to question and debate, and, probably, to comment on current events, politics and the treatment of men, women and children who lived both within and outside the city. Meals were very simple, preachifying modest and talk and debate plentiful. The lack of “controlling instinct” was in due course regarded as a threat by the Catholics. It, Epicureanism, and the free thought it implied, was a threat to Catholicism.

Vaccine refusal

“It’s an uncomfortable thing to admit, but in the countercultural movements where my sympathies lie, people are dropping like flies,” writes George Monbiot for The Guardian. Acquaintances are becoming “seriously ill with Covid, after proudly proclaiming the benefits of ‘natural immunity’, denouncing vaccines and refusing to take the precautions that apply to lesser mortals”, he says.

Mourning what he sees as anti-vaccine conspiracy theories “travelling smoothly from right to left”, he writes of “hippies who once sought to build communities sharing the memes of extreme individualism”. Granting that “there has long been an overlap between certain new age and far-right ideas”, Monbiot adds that “much of what we are seeing at the moment is new, because “the old boundaries have broken down, and the most unlikely people have become susceptible to rightwing extremism”. He concludes that the trend has been “accelerated by despondency, confusion and betrayal” on top of the Covid pandemic. However, “there’s a temptation to overthink this”, he says: “we should never discount the role of sheer bloody idiocy”. (The Week 22 Sept 2021).

My comment: I would be mortified if I thought that I had refused vaccination, caught the virus, and had passed it on to family, friends and neighbors. I would never forgive myself. From everything we know, Epicurus himself would have shared my distress and mortification had he, carelessly and selfishly caused sickness and death to others when he had the opportunity to avoid doing so. It’s called consideration a care for others.

Rhino study wins Ig Nobel award

Studies that discovered it is safer to transport a rhinoceros upside-down and that beards may be an evolutionary development to help protect men’s faces from punches, have won Ig Nobel prizes. Another study to receive an award studied the ways cats communicate with humans. The prizes, awarded by science magazine Annals of Improbable Research, were announced at the 31st annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. (Washington Post 22 September 2021)

My comment: Have they nothing better to do? Having said that, the rhinoceros story is really interesting. How often do you think a rhino needs to be transported, and how do you get it upside down? And a technical matter: does upside down mean lying on its back (which it might quite like), or head down and hind legs up in the air?

Remind me to make enquiries before visiting a zoo. A very angry rhinoceros is a thing to behold.

What has this to do with Epicurus? Well, he had a sense of humor and might have asked the same questions. Well…..o.k. Not really.

Supreme Court starts new term with abortion, guns on the docket

The US Supreme Court has been hearing the first in-person arguments since the March 2020 coronavirus lockdown. The high court, with a newly expanded 6-3 conservative majority, has a politically charged docket. The court will consider:

– trimming or eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion, established in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

-cases that could lead to expanded gun rights and a narrowing of the separation between church and state.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who once firmly guided the court as its ideological center, now has five more conservative justices to his right, with the replacement of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Polls show Americans increasingly see the court as partisan rather than impartial. [The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times].

My comment: This is getting very worrying indeed. Daily there are stories about what one can only call the wannabe dictator, who will stop at nothing. Where are the the lovers of democracy, and will they defend the Constitution? It is not clear – at all. Did you ever think you would see such a thing in the USA?

Violence against women

The following are some facts about violence against women in the UK:

– A woman dies at the hands of a man every three days.
– 1,425 women were killed in the UK between 2009 and 2018.
– Almost all young women have experienced sexual harassment in public places.
– Almost one in three women will experience domestic abuse.
– Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.
– Half a million women are raped or sexually assaulted every year, and 90% of the women know the man who raped them.

My comment: Epicureanism is a belief system that stresses kindness, thoughtfulness and consideration to everyone. It rejects chauvinism, sexism and racism and treats everyone as having equal rights. Thus, a man should be a gentleman and treat ladies accordingly. Unfortunately, men feel they are falling behind women, who are just as smart but who feel increasingly empowered. Good on them! Grow up, lads!

Bullying vs. transphobia: the Sussex culture war

The University of Sussex, UK, has said it will not tolerate threats to “academic freedoms” amid calls for a professor to be sacked over her views on transgender issues.

Defenders of Professor Kathleen Stock, an expert in analytic philosophy, have claimed transgender activists have launched a campaign to “bully” her out of her role, The Telegraph said, distributing posters “which call on the university to fire” her over her views.

A group calling itself “Anti Terf Sussex” (Terf stands for trans exclusionary radical feminist) has described Stock as “one of this wretched island’s most prominent transphobes, espousing a bastardised variation of radical feminism in online posts.

In January, “hundreds of academics” criticised the decision to give her an OBE for services to higher education in the New Year honours list, The Guardian reported. In an open letter, they condemned Stock for using her status to “further gender oppression” and said they denounced “transphobia in all its forms”. (News carried by TheWeek)

My comment: Has anyone any idea what they are arguing about? It reminds me of a quote (which I cannot remember accurately) about academic quarrels mounting in virulence and loathing in inverse proportion to the importance of the issues.

216,000 children abused by French Catholic clergy

I case you haven’t read the news, some 216,000 children – mostly boys – have been sexually abused by clergy in the French Catholic Church since 1950, a damning new inquiry has found. The head of the inquiry said there were at least 2,900-3,200 abusers, and accused the Church of showing a “cruel indifference towards the victims”. Pope Francis “felt pain” on hearing about the inquiry’s finding, a Vatican statement said.

One of those abused said it was time the Church reassessed its actions.
François Devaux, who is also the founder of the victims’ association La Parole Libérée (Freed speech), said there had been a “betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children”.

The inquiry found the number of children abused in France could rise to 330,000, when taking into account abuses committed by lay members of the Church, such as teachers at Catholic schools.

For Mr Devaux it marked a turning point in France’s history: “You have finally given institutional recognition to victims of all the Church’s responsibility – something that bishops and the Pope have not yet been prepared to do.”

According to the Vatican statement, the Pope learnt about the report after he met visiting French bishops in the last few days.
“His first thoughts are for the victims, with a deep sadness for their wounds and gratitude for their courage in coming forward,” it read.
“His thoughts also turn to the Church in France, and that, in recognising these terrible events and united by the suffering of the Lord for his most vulnerable children, it can take the path of redemption.”

Pope Francis said he felt “deep sadness” for the victims after hearing about the inquiry, a statement said
The report’s release follows a number of abuse claims and prosecutions against Catholic Church officials worldwide.
The independent inquiry was commissioned by the French Catholic Church in 2018. It spent more than two-and-a-half years combing through court, police and Church records and speaking to victims and witnesses. Most cases assessed by the inquiry are thought to be too old to prosecute under French law.

The report, which is nearly 2,500 pages long, said the “vast majority” of victims were boys, many of them aged between 10 and 13.
It said the Church had not only failed to prevent abuse but had also failed to report it, at times knowingly putting children in contact with predators.
“There was a whole bunch of negligence, of deficiency, of silence, an institutional cover-up,” the head of the inquiry, Jean-Marc Sauvé, told reporters on Tuesday. Until the early 2000s, the Church had shown “deep, total and even cruel indifference” towards victims. “The victims are not believed, are not listened to. When they are listened to, they are considered to have perhaps contributed to what they had happen to them,” he explained. He added that sexual abuse within the Catholic Church continued to be a problem.

While the commission found evidence of as many as 3,200 abusers – out of a total of 115,000 priests and other clerics – it said this was probably an underestimation. “The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence,” the report said.

Olivier Savignac, head of victims association Parler et Revivre (Speak out and Live again), was abused at the age of 13 by the director of a Catholic holiday camp in the south of France. He told the Associated Press news agency that before the abuse, he had thought of the priest as “someone who was good, a caring person who would not harm me”. We keep this, it’s like a growing cyst, it’s like gangrene inside the victim’s body and the victim’s psyche,” he said.

The inquiry found that about 60% of the men and women who were abused had gone on to “encounter major problems in their emotional or sexual lives”.

This was over 70 years ago and more than half the cases were before 1970. But still – for many French this will be the moment they wake up to the sheer scale of the phenomenon of Church sexual abuse. What was once anecdotal and prurient is suddenly a defining feature of society.

The burden of the report is that ad-hoc expressions of repentance and a bit of tinkering with ecclesiastical structures are no longer good enough.

There has to be recognition that sexual abuse of youngsters by priests was systematic. It was the Church – not rogue individuals – that was responsible.
Many in the Church will be horrified by what they discover. Many will welcome the moment as a catharsis. As Sister Veronique Margron, president of the Conference of Religious Orders, put it: “If the Church must tremble, well let it tremble.” (An edited version of an article by Hugh Schofield, Paris correspondent, The Guardian).

My reaction: The United States, now France! Going back centuries the toll could be in millions. One could be excused by assuming that all majority Roman Catholic countries have had similar problems. Words probably fail us all! How can priests hold forth from the pulpit and remain respected?

Help!

I recently asked a British publisher if they could send a publication to an address in Washington DC. The publication never, apparently, arrived, so I contacted said publisher again. This time they said they had sent it to

“Washington DC, United States Minor Outlying Islands”

I had to point out to them that Washington DC is the capital city of the United States, not an outlying island (although maybe it would be better off if it were!), and suggested that their version of the address might be enough to explain why copies have gone astray, such is the disfunctionality of US Mail.

Why am I telling you this pathetic story? Well, the lack of any general knowledge is not confined to the boondocks of the United States, but is well and blooming in the “United” Kingdom.

Depressing, isn’t it?