Religion and prosperity

It is well documented that less religious nations tend to be more prosperous. This is most true of the advanced democracies, but also usually holds elsewhere – see how officially atheistic China outperforms more pious India.
The trend tends to hold up within countries too: the most irreligious US states are better off than the most theistic. And over time, the global rise in nonreligion parallels that of the middle class. The big debate is not whether mass nontheism is better for societies than belief in the gods, but why the connection exists. A new study attempts to answer this. (Science Advances, doi.org/gdtmtn).

One possibility is that the better people feel they are doing, the less they feel the need to seek the aid and comfort of deities. Consumerism also converts many from frugal, pious churchgoers into irreligious materialists. In this case, religion is merely the victim of modernity. Another idea is that secularisation precedes and even drives socioeconomic gain. The latest paper backs this idea, using analysis of socioeconomic patterns in the 1900s, when theism really started to nosedive.

It finds that in most nations, and the planet as a whole, secularisation ran ahead of socioeconomic gains. It makes a good case, but I wonder if the measurements of secularisation and socioeconomics it uses are sufficient in scope to tell the horse from the cart in this way. And it is notable that the rapid rise in US nonreligion in the past decade or so, from 30 per cent to 40 per cent, is long after economic modernity.

Ultimately, the analysis suggests that the rise in personal and societal freedoms affects dogmatic spiritualistic religion (the extreme sects, American evangelicals etc) while also promoting capitalism, which tends to make lives better. Add the fast-growing set of nontheistic parents producing nonreligious children, and it looks like a potent feedback.

While we can argue over the details, the analysis is yet another science-based blow to the idea that religion is inherent and vital to individuals and societies. Instead, a world afflicted with religious strife needs to know that there is not a single example of a modern democracy that is highly religious and highly successful.

(This article appeared in print under the headline “Beyond belief” in Science Advances, and in The Week. Gregory Paul is an independent US scientist, author and palaeozoologist).

My comment: I believe one can be kind, thoughtful, generous, respectful, polite, forgiving, a good citizen and neighbor, and (hopefully) good natured without the intervention of a deity and without spending Sunday mornings in church. I personally support the absolute right of anyone to espouse organized religion if that offers peace and reassurance – just don’t sit in judgement of others.

Religious pilgrimages

There’s plenty of evidence that pilgrimages accelerate the spread of infectious diseases. The Kanwar pilgrimage in India, which attracts millions to the river Ganges, has led to some of the worst mass cholera outbreaks in history; the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca was blamed for a deadly outbreak of bacterial meningitis in 2000.

So it was “common sense” for the Romanian government to ban the recent annual pilgrimage to the city of Iasi, where tens of thousands of Christians from all over the country gather to pray at the tomb of Saint Parascheva. The authorities knew that, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it could be a medical “catastrophe”.

But the Orthodox Church had other ideas. Having built up a “tourist empire” around the pilgrimage, it was loath to lose out on its annual cash injection, and encouraged worshippers to make the journey anyway. Thousands descended on the city, joining a reported 2.5-mile queue to reach the tomb. Some could even be heard chanting “Down with doctors!”.

Alas, an uptick in coronavirus infections is now sure to follow. The Romanian Orthodox Church claims to stand for “morality in society”; its irresponsible behaviour is truly disgraceful. (Alexandru Toma Patrascu, Contributors.ro (Bucharest) and The Week, 24 October 2020)

My comment: Epicureanism is an inclusive, caring philosophy that advocates a pleasant life, caring for others as they care for you. There are too many people who see faith as a weapon to gain power, make money and influence the ignorant. The crass selfishness of a distressingly large number of people throughout the world when it comes to covid 19 illustrates what a huge amount of work there is remaining.

Masks

Large numbers of people, mostly in the mid-West, refuse to wear masks in public places within and without buildings, claiming that doing so infringes upon their “liberty”, and that mask searing and social distancing is at the “discretion” on the individual (ah! the individual!). This, notwithstanding the raging virus that is filling hospitals and killing people of all ages at an ever-increasing rate, while effete politicians talk about freedom.

Let me try and get this right. May we assume that, for the sake of this argument, most of the mask-deniers are White and call themselves christian. (I haven’t capitalized thais because what they are doing is as un-christian as it comes, selfish and careless of the health of others. These people are complicit in what is in effect a rolling manslaughter).

Pray tell me, what section of the Constitution gives people the right to infect others in the name of liberty? The bible? Where exactly, in the Bible, excerpts of which a majority of these people listen to every Sunday, does it advocate “every man for himself”, and tough on the hundreds of people dying of Covid every day, some of whom you might have infected? I would have thought that refusal to protect others from your disease would be regarded as unchristian, if not unattractive and bloody-minded. The hypocrisy of all too many people is on open display. The “love thy neighbor” bit apparently glazes over the eyes of these people, and is inconvenient. Epicurus believed we should respect and look after others as much as humanly possible, and protect them from harm if we possibly can.

A few quotations from works on Epicurus

The laws are laid down for the sake of the wise, not to prevent them from doing “wrong , but to keep them from being wronged” (The Essential Epicurus”, by Eugene O’Connor, Great Books in Philosophy series).

Happiness and blessedness do not belong to abundance of riches or exalted position or offices or power, but to freedom from pain and gentleness of feeling and a state of mind that sets limits that are in accordance with nature. (The Essential Epicurus”, by Eugene O’Connor, Great Books in Philosophy series). Used 11/18/19

“Live your life without attracting attention”.

The laws are laid down for the sake of the wise, not to prevent them from doing wrong , but to keep them from being wronged. (The Essential Epicurus”, by Eugene O’Connor, Great Books in Philosophy series).

“In constant motion,atoms collide with each other, and, in certain circumstances, they form larger and larger bodies….the sun and the moon are made of atoms, as are human beings, water, flies and grains of sand.There are no super- categories of matter, no hierarchy of elements. Heavenly bodies are not divine beings who shape our destiny for good or ill. ……they are part of the natural order….subject to the same principle of creation and destruction, they govern everything that exists”. (The Swerve, page 63).

“Great abundance is heaped up as a result of brutalizing labor, but a miserable life is the result”. (The Essential Epicurus”, by Eugene O’Connor, Great Books in Philosophy series).

“He who is not satisfied with a little is satisfied with nothing”. (Vatican sayings, 68)

What the Greek philosopher offered was not help in dying, but help in living. Liberated from superstition, you are free to pursue pleasure. (The Essential Epicurus”, by Eugene O’Connor, Great Books in Philosophy series)

A prescient book written in 2019

The Monmouth University Polling Institute conducted a poll in 2019. One thousand people were interviewed about their attitude towards religious fundamentalism, ethnocentric prejudice, and their political views and affiliations. The book written on the subject, “Authoritarian Nightmare: Donald Trump and his followers” by John Dean and Bob Altermeyer, was reviewed in the Washington Post on October 4th. The following points are abstracted from that review:

– Most Trump supporters are highly authoritarian and religious. If necessary, were Trump unavailable, they would back another “strong” leader to take his place.

– Trump followers are overwhelmingly concerned about the “corruption” of American society. They don’t care about incompetence and dishonesty and are highly prejudiced against non-Anglo colored people, and would back him just as long as he protected them from the “danger“ of “lawless” minorities and immigrants.

– Trump supporters would support prosecution of his opponents, and would back him in the event that he had purportedly lost re-election in 2020 if he claimed it to be fraudulent. 33% of respondents would “follow him anywhere”.

– Trump Followers would label a Trump loss of office as “fake news”.

They are not self aware, and do not care what people think of them. They assume that the “swamp” occupants look down on them anyway and they don’t care about the views in the outside world, applauding Trump’s treatment of women, the military, immigrants and their children etc.

The book concludes (well before the election) that the US could be facing more strife and existential challenges.

My comment: Relevance to Epicureanism? Solely, peace of mind. I never dreamt I (or anyone else) would bear witness to what suspiciously like an attempted coup in the United States of America. Now, talking heads seem to fear this, too, but can’t believe it is actually happening, enabled by huge numbers of people.

……..and following on from yesterday

Teen girls’ self-harm crisis

Back in 2018 The Guardian ran an article about social media and a rise in school work being blamed for the doubling of U.K. hospital admissions of teenage girls for self-harm.

According to British National Health Service figures, in the two decades since 1997, the number of girls under 18 admitted rose from 7,327 to 13,463. The figure for boys remained broadly the same. The number of girls being treated for attempted substance overdose rose more than tenfold to 2,736. Research published the previous October found that self-harm reported to GPs among teenage girls under the age of 17 in the UK increased by 68% over a period of three years. The study also found that self-harm among young people aged 10 to 19 was three times more common among girls than boys, and those who self-harmed were at much greater risk of suicide than those who did not (From The Guardian, 6 Aug 2018)

My comment: So two years ago the Press was publishing horror stories about the effects of social media, in this case on girls. Leave aside political lies and fake news for a moment (and that is disgraceful enough, goodness knows) and think about the societal effect of social media on the young. As far as I know nothing has been done about this, not will it because people are making money out of it. (Somebody just phoned me from a research project wanting to talk about social media – I had pleasure in saying I would have nothing to do with it).

Miserable teenagers

A survey by the Children’s Society in the UK has found that Britain has the least happy teenagers in Europe. The charity’s chief executive, Mark Russell, believes he knows the reason. It’s down to “the increase in child poverty”, he says.

There are two big problems with this explanation. The first is that “there hasn’t been a rise in child poverty in the UK”. The second is that our children are actually far better off than many others in Europe. Take Spanish youngsters: 82% reported themselves happy in this survey (compared with a mere 64% of their UK peers). Yet a Eurostat study by the European Commission shows they’re of equal risk of poverty or social exclusion as British children. Their peers in Greece, Italy and Romania are at considerably more risk, yet they rank among Europe’s most cheerful teenagers.

In fact, the correlation appears to be the opposite of the one Russell identified. It’s not a lack of money; if anything, it’s the “appurtenances of affluence” – feelings of entitlement, social media-fuelled dissatisfaction and envy – that are making our children dissatisfied, envious and miserable.
(Rod Liddle, The Sunday Times and The Week, 5 September 2020).

My comment: In the “good ‘ole days” we had no Facebook (which doesn’t mean there was no bullying, one-up-manship, or showing off). But, rose-tinted spectacles firmly on my nose, I recall a teenage-ship full of reading, music, school uniforms, the importance of sport, and talk (only) about girls; and that’s about it. Probably just as well!

An explanation for the huge divide in American society

The following is a slightly edited version of a review by Tom Krattenmaker of a book by Kurt Anderson: “Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History”: (Random House, 2020). I quote:

“The paradigm shift of the 1980s really was equivalent in scale and scope to those of the 1960s and the 1930s. Key intellectual foundations of ourlegal system were changed. Our long-standing consensus about acceptable and unacceptable conduct by big business was changed. Ideas about selfishness and fairness were changed. The financial industry simultaneously became reckless and more powerful than ever. The liberal establishment began habitually apologizing for and distancing itself from much of what had defined liberal progress. What made America great for centuries, a taste and knack for the culturally new, started to atrophy in the 1980s.

This conservative momentum – the Reagan revolution – kept charging ahead through the 90s and onwards. Eye-glazing changes in business and financial regulations gave oligarchs their victory and their spoils, while leaving the vast majority of Americans in a state of ever-increasing economic insecurity, stranded on the wrong side of a canyon of income inequality not seen since the Gilded Age.

The villainous masterminds of the story – people like the Koch’s, Richard Mellon Scaife, Joseph Coors, and Robert Bork, and think-tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, hid their plan to make a tiny number of people super- rich and replace FDR’s New Deal, projecting a veneer of philosophical and ethical worthiness that persuaded the media and the public that it would be best for everyone if business was less restrained.

This was achieved firstly by manipulating the boring rules and regulations that protect the public from predatory capitalism. Secondly, ramping up the pre-existing spirit of extreme individualism and self expression that took off in the 1960s. The message was: “O.K, hippies and liberals, you win. From now on, it’s maximum freedom and individualism for all. You have your sexual and artistic self- expression by all means. You do your thing and we’ll do ours” (that is, make pots of money). Thirdly, conservative interests played on the public longing for the “good old days”, manufacturing nostalgia for a public ready for calm after the tumultuous 1960s.

The book brings us up to date with the virus that has tested us and found us wanting. On top of the unaddressed climate crisis and the extreme form of short- term, profit- obsessed capitalism that serves only the plutocrats, it is clear that the current paradigm is played out. Incoherent support of Trump is a cry of anger and frustration, a cri de coeur from a huge section of the population who feel the promise of America has evaded them. They blame Washington while in fact it is the “conservative” plutocrats and money men who have skewed life to their own selfish benefit and then blamed Democrats and the Washington civil service.

My comment: We have to restore the sharing of economic power and wealth we once had (I think!). Enough is enough.

Evangelicals in the US

Prior to the election in swing states where lots of evangelicals vote, $140,000 worth of billboards contrasted biblical quotes with those of President Donald Trump. One had an image of Jesus on the left with the phrase, “Turn the other cheek,” while on the right was a photo of Trump saying, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” The signs were up in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and more.

With exit polls trickling in that suggest Trump’s support among white evangelicals slipped around 5 percentage points nationwide to 76 percent, and more in a few battleground states, the coordinated effort among this group that makes up roughly one-fifth of the electorate might have ensured victory for Joe Biden.

The billboards—part of a campaign dubbed, “His Words Matter”— were courtesy of Vote Common Good, which spent $2.5 million to defeat Trump, and teamed with other organizations such as Faith 2020, Catholics for Biden, and The New Moral Majority. They went on a bus tour, stopping in 41 states for rallies that drew as many as 250 evangelicals each, and always made the local news on TV and in newspapers; they mailed postcards to Republican voters in Michigan urging them to vote against Trump; and they cut commercials with evangelicals pledging to do just that.

In Wisconsin,Trump is poised to lose by less than 1 percent of the votes, as is the case in Georgia and Pennsylvania, while the difference in Michigan is about 2 percent. In Kent County, Michigan, considered an evangelical stronghold, Biden earned 50,000 more votes than did Hillary Clinton four years earlier, ensuring it flipped from Republican in 2016 to Democrat in 2020. (Newsweek 11/13/20).

My comment: A British evangelical told me a while ago ago that she thought American evangelicals were not true evangelicals – real evangelicals are Christian and behave as true Christians behave: With loving kindness and tolerance, to start with.

Climate change is not a scam!

Like many other climate-vulnerable nations across the globe, Bangladesh is trying to save lives, shore up healthcare systems, and cushion the economic shock for millions of people, all while avoiding fiscal collapse.

But this is not a cry for help; it is a warning. For while other countries may be less exposed to the climate crisis, they will not be able to escape its destructive force for long. Countries more fortunate than mine should take a long, hard look at what we are battling. Recent research suggests rising sea levels will force hundreds of millions of people to abandon low-lying coastal cities worldwide by mid-century. Will the global community act in time to avert this catastrophe?

The climate crisis is a national security threat to the US. We already see the effects.

Our climate emergency and Covid-19 are global threats. Both were predictable, and we could have – should have – done much more to minimize the risks. But now that they are upon us, the best way to respond, surely, is through concerted international action.

Both the climate crisis and the pandemic are complex problems with many ramifications. They will either be solved collectively, or not at all. It will be futile to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to secure a Covid-19 vaccine for one nation alone, if the pandemic is allowed to rage elsewhere. And it will be similarly pointless for a majority of nations to rein in their emissions and build more sustainable economies if the world’s largest emitters do not do the same.

41% of global insect species have declined over the past decade, threatening a ‘catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems.’

The G20 countries are responsible for about 80% of total global emissions, while the bottom 100 countries only account for 3.5%. The world cannot successfully tackle the climate challenge without significant action from everyone.

The 2015 Paris agreement is still our best chance to contain global warming and limit its most pernicious effects. To date, 189 countries have ratified a treaty that commits them to collectively cut emissions to stop global temperatures from rising by more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, and to try to limit the rise to 1.5C if possible. That last, more ambitious goal was proposed by the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF)– a group of 48 countries disproportionately affected by a warming planet, Bangladesh among them. CVF nations have been at the forefront of climate adaptation as well as climate change, promoting initiatives such as building stronger shelters against cyclones and replanting mangrove forests to protect coastal communities from sea surges. In acknowledgment of this important work, the Global Center on Adaptation will open an office in Dhaka this month to extend these best practices across South Asia.

The world’s poorest, most vulnerable countries to climate change have kept their side of the bargain. The rich world has not. International funding for climate adaptation is still far short of what is needed. Furthermore, new, more ambitious climate initiatives are unlikely to succeed without greater leadership and world-class technology and pioneering climate research that has delivered so many ground-breaking solutions to date.

If we don’t increase our ambition, we will all lose out. As many countries and companies can attest, finding low-carbon solutions and minimizing climate risks are the best ways of building more resilient, more efficient and more competitive economies. We all benefit from thriving trading partners in a low-carbon resilient world. Surely no one is in favor of the alternative – a fractured global order in which even rich countries are impoverished by the destructive force of global warming.

The climate crisis, Covid-19 and its economic fallout are crying out for international leadership and cooperation. No country should turn its back on the rest of the world at this time. At the next UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, countries must commit to enhancing their nationally determined contributions and ultimately our collective existence. (Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh and chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum)

Easements as tax breaks for the wealthy

Conservation easements grant write-offs to multiple partners, each buying a share in a tract of land. This is a way the very rich avoid paying their fair share of tax, saving $2 in taxes for every $1 paid for the tax shelter, according to a Senate report. It costs about $10.6 billion of tax revenue every year, revenue lost to the public purse. All the investors have to do is promise not to develop the already-protected land, which is usually in remote and sparsely populated spots.

My comment: The good news is that this tax avoidance scam is attracting the attention of of the IRS and lawmakers. However, reflect on the unhealthy relationship between the very rich and the aforesaid lawmakers. (Anyone like a bet with me as to whether these write-offs and other similar schemes are finally made illegal by Congress? Not the remotest chance. Ed.)

My take: Armies of accountants are employed finding apparently legal scams for rich people anxious to avoid tax. This is all part of the egregious inequality in the US, an inequality that has helped get us into the present political and social crisis.

Report on the author’s peace of mind

I have never made blog entries personal (well, not often!) but I feel like mentioning the fragile state of my ataraxia, better known as peace of mind.

I spent part of my youth studying pre-war nazi and fascist takeovers in the 1920s and 1930’s, and subsequent events. My university tutor warned that, given the right economic and political conditions, similar takeovers by “strongmen” (or weak men with inflated egos), could readily appear again, and that democracy, however imperfect, can be lost if you have huge discrepancies of wealth and poverty, and a “lumpen-proletariat” with abundant grievances and lousy education and job opportunities.

I never thought for a moment that such a thing could happen twice in my life, and certainly not in the US. This time there is no Roosevelt or United States (as it used to be) to rescue democracy – we have offended and disillusioned all other countries except our watchful enemies.

If there is any parallel at all with the past then we have hard times ahead. Let us hope that the momentum is towards support of the Constitution and the law, and that the coddling of the President stops – quickly.

Lower emissions owing to coronavirus

Global carbon emissions are likely to see their steepest fall this year since the second world war, according to researchers who say coronavirus lockdown measures have already cut them by nearly a fifth. But the team warns that the dramatic drop won’t slow climate change.

The first peer-reviewed analysis of the pandemic’s impact on emissions predicts they will fall between 4.2 and 7.5 per cent on last year. A rise of around 1 per cent had been expected for 2020 before the crisis.
This is an unprecedented drop.

Researchers have found that restrictions imposed around the world had cut daily emissions by 17 per cent, but this only takes the world back to 2006 levels, a sign of how much emissions have grown in recent years.

The reductions have been fairly uniform globally, but the team cautions that the precipitous drop will make little dent in future global warming. If emissions go down 5 per cent this year overall, given that climate change is a cumulative problem, it basically makes little or no difference at all. The world is still on course for at least 3°C of warming. The UK Met Office expects a tiny dip in atmospheric CO2 levels this year, but projects that they will still be the highest in at least 2 million years.

A report last year found that emissions must fall by 7.6 per cent every year this decade to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of checking warming at 1.5°C.
Governments need to support green measures and address fossil fuel industries or emissions will simply go up to their previous levels .
(Journal reference: Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/s41558-020-0797-x
Adam Vaughan, New Scientist).

My comment: Can you imagine any government at the moment having the determination to tackle the problem vigorously? A well-meaning Biden government, for a start, will be blocked by the Senate and the Supreme Court by the looks of it.

Tropical storms

Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in 2017, killing 68 people and costing $125 billion in damages. 100 high-resolution simulations of how tropical cyclones behave in three types of conditions have been conducted – those between 1950 and 2000, those similar to the present and also various future scenarios. Conclusion: as the world warms, there are going to be a lot more slow-moving tropical cyclones like Harvey, according to the models.

Obviously, a slow-moving tropical cyclone dumps far more rain in one place than a fast-moving storm of a similar size and strength. The winds can also do more damage, because they batter structures for longer.

Harvey, for instance, dumped more than a metre of rain in parts of the Houston area. Other recent storms, including Hurricane Florence in 2018 and Hurricane Dorian in 2019 have also been slow-moving, leading to suggestions that climate change is increasing the odds of slow-moving storms. We all get poorer every time a climate disaster strikes.

We have a marked slowdown of storms as the world warms, due to a poleward shift of the mid-latitude westerly winds. It is these prevailing winds that push cyclones along and determine how fast they travel. This increases the risk of storms causing extreme flooding that, among other things, could break dams and spread pollution from factories and farms.

Other studies suggest that warming will lead to tropical cyclones becoming stronger, producing more rainfall, intensifying faster – giving people less time to prepare – and forming in and affecting a wider area than they have previously. (Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI 10.1126/sciadv.aaz7610, Michael Le Page, NewScientist. 11April 2020)

My comment: Now comes news of disappearing beaches in the West Indies as the sea level rises. Most Caribbean islands thrive on tourism. No beaches, no income.

The Wreck – a poem

I sit gazing over the warm waters of Islamorada –
The seabirds, the distant lighthouse, the wind-surfers,
Kayakers, and jet-skiers skudding to and fro.
Islamorada about relaxation, slowness,
Extended time, warmth, sun and beauty.
Rather than their busy-ness what intrigues me
Is what seems to be a wreck,
Marooned on the outer edges of the reef.
From the beach it reminds me of the carcass of a
Giant Wildebeest on the Africa savannah,
Its gaunt ribs, bleached by the sun, pointing to the sky.

My imagination takes control. No, it must be old,
A large, wooden fishing boat, forlorn and abandoned.
What accounted for its demise, the summons of death?
Did a storm or a hurricane drive the boat ashore?
Is there some treacherous current out there?
Did the skipper, reveling in a good day’s fishing,
Take a lazy short-cut across a sandbar toward the jetty?
Were the crew celebrating the catch with one too many beers,
With the engine at full blast, the steersman inattentive,
Drink in hand, came the sudden halt, the lurch,
As boat grounds on the reef in a falling tide.
At that speed it stresses the keel and chines.
Chaos! Maybe broken planking in the hull?
Maybe water pouring in?
Broken glasses and whisky pouring from the bottle.
A sudden sobering up, a ship abandoned.

Or was it more sober, a simple mistake?
Perhaps a freshening gale and the need for a secure mooring
Led to a moment of distraction and impatience?
The water is shallow, no lives were at stake.
At worst the crew could reach land and struggle in
Through choppy waters, touching the weedy bottom.
Best get the boat straight to safety. A risk taken.
All at once the boat was so firmly lodged that
Nothing could refloat her.

That was a year ago and every day the sea claims
Another piece of stringer here or a grab-rail there,
As the fishing boat gradually disintegrates.

————————————————————

“The remains of that boat out there, offshore”, I ask.
“What is its story? Was there an accident or perhaps a storm?”
” A boat? There is no boat”, comes the reply. ” Oh, that!
“Look again. That is no fishing boat; it is a
Tree,
Dislodged up-coast in a winter storm.
It floated down from Key to Key and settled upon
The sandbar, where now you see it”.

So much for my daydreaming! And my eyesight.
But I still prefer the more exciting version.
(Robert Hanrott, 1995)

Every qualified citizen should be allowed to vote

An astronaut, miles above the Earth in a spacecraft voted in the American election with an encrypted ballot. I thought that was wonderful. On the other hand ruthless gerrymandering has discouraged thousands of US citizens from getting to the polls in person. The President has spent huge amounts of time trying to discredit mail-in voting.

Polling stations have been closed, constituency boundaries have been re-drawn to ensure a certain outcome, and in one case at least there is only one dropbox in a whole (large) county. If you don’t have a car, cannot drive owing to age or ill health, or there is no public transport, you can be deprived of your vote unless ballots are mailed to you. Nonetheless, many poor people and minorities have voted in huge numbers. The response from the populists has been that the voting is fraudulent – a fraudulent lie in itself.

Epicurus would not be surprised at the gerrymandering etc, (he disliked politicians) but would rejoice in the fortitude and determination of people who, somehow or other, have still managed to vote and exercise their rights as citizens, and in huge numbers. Well done! And thank you to the poll workers, too! Democracy at work! (But we haven’t seen the last of those who would rob us of peace of mind or our rights as citizens, whichever party you voted for).

………..Three hours later: Relief!! Maybe now some peace and quiet.

Polititicization of science

The politicization of science in the name of religion and political partisanship is not new to the United States, but transformation of traditional geographically and economically based political parties into religiously oriented ideological coalitions marks the beginning of a new era for science policy.” (Jon Miller and colleagues, Michigan State University in “Science” magazine)

My comment: It marks the beginning of a new era for Epicureans as well, however they interpret Epicurus! It is all very well advocating keeping your head down and not getting involved, but there will at this rate come a point when rational people, such as Epicureans, will be persecuted and discriminated against for their independence of mind.  It is already happening in isolated spots for scientists and is alive and well in small communities with mega-churches, where conformity to church teaching is obligatory if you want a social life.

Guns and the election

In this pandemic year, gun sales have already totaled more than 17 million (including many first-time gun buyers). A record 15.1 million weapons were sold between March and September alone. Even for the country whose citizens were already (by far) the most heavily armed on the planet, this is record-breaking territory. We are an armed nation. No surprise then that, in these stressful election and Covid-19 months, gun deaths rose significantly in red states as well as blue states, red cities along with blue ones.

My comment: What is being openly discussed in Europe is right. After a century of dominance the moral and democratic hegemony of the United Sates in the Western world is truly over, gone, caput.

For me, anyway, the above statistic is obscene. And this comes from someone who, for decades, has been a fervent admirer of the country and its values, who married an American and came here to live. Let us hope there are still some grownups around to calm the country.

Modern silliness

The U.K. National Trust is the British organisation that looks after historic houses and gardens. (Up to now it has done a great job, a tourist’s must-see. (Ed.)

But the Trust’s “Ten-year Vision” seeks to reposition it in a manner that provides a telling example of the relentless politicisation of areas of life that should escape politics. Its raison d’être, you’d think, was to preserve historically significant houses and gardens for public enjoyment. Wrong. The Trust’s “Ten-year Vision” talks instead of the need for a “revolutionary” move away from the “outdated mansion experience” (sic) Underpinning “our 21st century ambition”, it says, “is our renewed commitment to… playing our part to create a fair, equal society” (Excuse me! What? Ed.)

And it’s not just the Trust. Football and rugby players have to kneel before every game “in obeisance to a protest movement sparked in another continent”. A male-voice choir of police employees in Wales has been told it can no longer associate itself with the police because it does not accept women members. (Male voice choirs are an old Welsh tradition. Ed) Such intrusions into the domain of independent societies threaten the very basis of pluralist society. “If we bow to the demand that all human activity must be understood and mediated through a political lens, we will live to regret it.”
(Niall Gooch, UnHerd, The Week, 24 October 2020)

My comment: How, pray, can an organisation set up to preserve stately homes possibly create a “fair, equal society” unless it fills them with poor moslem migrants? This is beyond crass and devalues the work of the many people genuinely trying to create a more fair society. I am no longer a member of the National Trust, but if I were I would resign. It has been taken over by morons.

Uncaring healthcare

Americans complain about healthcare and its cost. Brits, on the other hand, myself included, are proud of the “free” National Health Service. Or, to be exact, what used to be the National Health Service before the “Conservative” government started privatizing it by stealth and making it a profit center. Now read on………

To The Guardian
I have just seen an official circular from a large group medical practice in Manchester, announcing that, because of winter pressures, the Covid pandemic and the designation of Manchester as a high-risk zone, they will now be dealing only with “urgent” cases, nothing of a “routine” nature. If we have Covid symptoms we are instructed to get a test, but the surgery is unable to arrange it; “minor ailments” are to be taken to a pharmacist, or “please implement self-care where appropriate”.

What is not made clear is how a patient is to know if a symptom is “minor” (what if a tickly cough, for example, is lung cancer?), or how a patient is to know when self-care is “appropriate”.

There you have it: non-healthcare made official and explicit. The virus is proving to be breathtaking in more ways than one. Can we have our money back?
(Philip Barber, consultant respiratory physician, Manchester)

Lockdown pollution

During lockdown, road traffic fell dramatically all over the world. In Scotland, it was down 65%.

And yet all those cars being off the road didn’t make much difference to levels of air pollution. A team at the University of Stirling analysed levels of PM2.5 fine particulate matter recorded at 70 roadside locations around Scotland from 24 March – the day after lockdown was introduced – to 23 April. They then compared the data to the same periods in previous years, and found no significant difference. However, they did detect a fall in levels of nitrogen dioxide. Based on these findings, the researchers say that cars may not be key contributors to outdoor pollution in Scotland, and that people there may be at greater risk from air pollution in their own homes, especially if smoking or cooking is taking place in poorly ventilated spaces.
(The Week 19 September 2020).

My take: My personal betes noirs are the people who sit in their parked cars on our block with their car engines running, sometimes for half an hour or more. And it isn’t even cold. Meanwhile, they are concentrating on their cellphones or i-pads. I cannot imagine myself fouling the air of nearby householders, but apparently this point has not occurred to some out-of-towners who come into the city to work or to shop, without a thought for the rest of us. The idea of consideration for others was drummed into me as a child relentlessly. This modern selfishness, masquerading as “liberty”, is anti-social and obnoxious. And unepicurean.

Pension problem in UK

By 2028, British people won’t be able to claim their state pension until they’re 67.

According to a new study, however, there is a potential problem: although we are living longer, we may not be healthy enough to work for longer. Researchers at Keele University and Newcastle University used data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to calculate how long the typical 50-year-old in England can expect to remain healthy and in work. They found that the “healthy working life expectancy” of this age group is about nine years – which means many people may not be healthy enough to work to the current pension age, let alone future ones. Predictably, healthy working life expectancy was higher for people in non-manual jobs than in manual ones. It also increased alongside education level. “Our results suggest that many people will find it challenging to work for longer,” said lead author Marty Parker. (The Week, 11 July 2020 and The Guardian)

My comment:  Connect the dots.  The government has spent years privatizing and reorganising the National Health Service, until now it is barely able to cope with Covid 19.  The NHS used to be the crown jewel of the British government. A successful project run by government is, however, considered unacceptable by hard-line Tories, who require everything to make a profit and be run by political friends.  Sound familiar?  As the Johnson government is just finding out, the idea of “making Britain great again” is a pipe-dream.

“The Rueful Hippopotamus” (to lighten the gloom)

Research now seems to indicate
That hippos can communicate,
Like dolphins or the great blue whale,
With clicks. And thereby hangs a tale,
For they can hear beneath the water
Things on land they didn’t oughta,
And from the bank can hear what’s said
By colleagues on the river bed.

Imagine you’re a great bull hippo,
Flumping down to take a dip-oh
In the greasy, grey Limpopo
With the girls in your seraglio.
You’ve had a hot and tiresome day
Chasing other males away.
You’ve gored them, left them sore and bleeding;
Now you are intent on breeding.

You’ve had your fill of the savannah.
You’re young, you’re fit, you’re top banana.
Why, every female hippolump
With big brown eyes and handsome rump
Is sure to swoon and yearn to be
The mother of your family.
Ah! Potty, with inviting lips;
And Mussy, with the sexy hips;

Heffy, with her nostrils flaring;
Lumpy, her whole midriff baring!
Yes, all will find you simply stunning.
Just one word and they’ll come running!
With thundering and galumphing stride,
You trundle to the riverside.
But nowhere, nowhere can you spy
Your eager hippopotamae.

And then to your acute dismay
You hear an amorata say,
Oh, dearie me, oh, what a shocker,
(Straight from Davey Jones’s locker,
Deep below the surface swirl:)
”He don’t know how to treat a girl.
I don’t expect no chocs or flowers,
Or sweet-talk that will last for hours.

“But when in heat and I’m his squeeze,
I wish he’d simply add a ‘please’.
“I quite agree.” (another voice)
“I wish we girls could have a choice.
He’s rude and gruff and rather rough,
And isn’t even good at stuff.
He’d like to think he’s quite a stud;
I’d much prefer to doze in mud.”

(A third voice) “Yes, he’s humourless and brusque
And far too quick to use a tusk.
I too agree with both of you.
My preference is for a zoo.
At least in zoos you laze away
With three square, well-cooked meals a day.
And if you have to mate, o.k?
You do it on a Saturday
With hoards of visitors in sight.
They keep a hippo male polite.”

You’re shocked, you’re shattered, angry too.
Was this gossip aimed at you?
Such comments make a chap’s skin crawl.
You never fancied them at all!
And lest you lose your pride and face,
You move off to another place,
Flumping down to take a dip-oh
In the greasy, grey Limpopo.