Another day, another billionaire Twitter storm

Billionaire Lloyd Blankfein joked as he announced his 2018 retirement as Goldman Sachs CEO that he looked forward to “unrestrained tweeting” in the years ahead. But the Twitter life apparently bored the billionaire, and his twitter account went silent for three months — until last week when Senator Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary. Sanders, a Blankfein tweet ranted will “ruin our economy.” As a nominee, Blankfein says, he’d be the Russian pick “to best screw up the US.”

Blankfein seems to be engaging in some Trumpian projection here. Few Americans, a just-released Better Markets report details, have done more to “ruin the economy” in real time than Blankfein in his 12 years as Goldman’s top exec. The bank reached ”new heights of lawlessness” in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash, Better Markets notes, and then “continued to violate the law in the post-crash era.” The new report may be the best evidence yet that Wall Street, as a certain senator from Vermont charges, has only one essential business model: “fraud.”  Chuck Collins, Inequality.org  2/17/20)

My take: I won’t edge into party politics and comment on Bernie – it is inappropriate. However, Blankfein is an example of a small number of people who  have successfully manipulated both the economy and society to engineer a situation where capitalism, as it has developed, is working for them but not for ordinary people, either in the US or anywhere else. Billionaires like Blankfein can buy anything they want and have special privileges when they want the ear of a politician. Meanwhile they pay little or no tax, and in some cases give little to charity.  If I were Blankfein I would keep rather quiet.

 

 

 

Some thoughts from Lucretius…

In the words of Lucretius: 

“..we are all born from the same celestial seed;  all of us have the same father,

from which the earth, the mother who feeds us, receives clear drops of rain,

producing from them bright wheat and lush trees, and the human race, and the species of beasts,

offering up the foods with which all bodies are nourished, to lead a sweet life

and generate offspring…”.     (de rerum natura, bk.II, lines 991- 97)

and he might have added (less poetically):

There is only one Earth that nurtures us and is bountiful.

To foul the seas, pollute the air, then to deny all responsibility;

To spread soullessness about, and concrete the land for short-term gain,

To tolerate starvation amid plenty;  to allow the purchase of the political process;

To import the desperate only for cheap labour; to disrupt public lives for private gain;  

To allow the cost of a roof over the head to grow too high to be affordable for the working man; and to lumber the young with massive college debt ………

All this is foolishness ………….Or maybe mass suicide.  Epicurus told us to live a life of pleasure, to care for our children, for our neighbors and for the planet, and (by inference) to keep life on Earth sustainable and liveable.

Rich, care-less sirs, you climate change deniers – we have your names;  they will be carved in halls of infamy.

688,000 people will no longer receive food stamps

Over the summer the U.S government announced a new plan to end the food stamp program for thousands of low-income people, mostly immigrants.The new rule will tighten work requirements for able-bodied adults with no dependents, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a call with reporters.

Under current law, able-bodied adults without dependents can receive SNAP benefits for a maximum of three months during a three-year period, unless they’re working or enrolled in an education or training program for 80 hours a month. But states have been able to waive this time limit to ensure access to food stamps during the ups and downs of reentering the workforce. Before this rule, counties with an unemployment rate as low as 2.5% were included in waived areas. The new rule, which is set to take effect in April will tighten the criteria for states applying for such waivers, making 6% the minimum unemployment rate for a county to receive a waiver…. It arrives as part of a broader effort to limit access to the federal food safety net, the first of three such measures in the works. The USDA initially estimated that up to 750,000 individuals would be dropped from SNAP if the proposal took effect. The USDA now says the figure is 688,000. (Washington Post).

My comment:  Epicurus famously welcomed slaves, women, the rich and the poor in his garden.  He offered (rather unattractive) meals consisting of nothing more than bread and water, but at least he and his friends could discuss philosophy over something to eat.

Fast forward, in what some call the richest country on the planet, and at a time of full employment when we need more workers, immigrants, in desperation, are being denied sustenance and are effectively being forced to leave the country and return to their crime-ridden and job-scarce countries.  This is nonsense, and a disgrace, but it seems that the religiously-inclined are content with it. Christianity only applies to the deserving, apparently. So that’s o.k.

If you subscribe to the teachings of Epicurus it is not o.k.

 

 

Save us from priests like this!

A Catholic priest in Rhode Island has defended his decision to ban all lawmakers who voted in favor enshrining abortion protections under state law from receiving communion at his parish.

Recently, Reverend Richard Bucci, a Catholic priest in Rhode Island,  declared that every legislator who voted last year to pass the bill codifying the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision will also not be allowed to act as witnesses to marriage, godparents, or lectors at weddings, funerals or any other church function.

The announcement was listed in the Sacred Heart Church in West Warwick’s weekly bulletin and included dozens of names in the House and Senate. The decision was made a few days after the 47th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade ruling.

Bucci claimed that the legislators had sneaked the legislation through without telling the public, a claim vehemently denied by State Representatives who passed the measure, who campaigned on the issue and whose votes are on the record.

One Representative said of the Church : “They have a problem with the lack of respect for the separation of church and state, and for our votes on behalf of our constituents being punished by a church who protected child abusers.”

Bucci has now doubled down his defense on the ban, while hitting out at those who raised issues of child abuse within the Catholic church.

“We’re not talking about any other moral issue where somebody’s making a comparison between pedophilia and abortion,” Bucci is reported to have said: “Well, pedophilia doesn’t kill anyone, and this does.”

Pedophilia doesn’t kill anyone, and this does”. 

No wonder church donations and attendance are down.  It virtually endorses pedophilia.  I would argue , with equal conviction,  that bringing a child into this roiling world, unwanted and unloved, is a sin, potentially condemning another human being to a life of misery. This is what their god wants?

 

 

Breathing your way to better memory and sleep

More than half of us breathe the wrong way , missing out on better health and altered consciousness.  Here are some tips on how to breathe properly:

Breathing exercise Pranayama – Alternate nostril breathing, often performed for stress and anxiety relief. (Microgen)

It may be the most natural thing in the world, but breathing is surprisingly easy to get wrong – and that matters more than you might think.

Most of the time, the right way to breathe is through your nose. The nose  is exquisitely designed to trap dust and other foreign bodies.  Beyond your visible nose lies the nasal cavity, a cavernous space the size of a gaping mouth. This is lined with folded membranes designed to warm or cool the air to body temperature, add moisture and trap pathogens in yet more mucus. Your sinuses – air-filled spaces that connect to the nasal cavity – swirl the air around more and add nitric oxide, which kills bacteria and viruses and relaxes the blood vessels in the respiratory tract, allowing more oxygen to pass into the blood.

The upshot of all this is that nose breathing adds 50 per cent more air resistance than breathing through the mouth. That gives your heart and lungs a workout and increases the vacuum in your lungs, which allows you to draw in up to 20 per cent more oxygen than breathing by mouth.

As if that wasn’t enough, nasal breathing boosts brain function and is important for learning and memory.  The explanation is that the nasal cavity has a direct line to the emotional and memory processing centres of the brain, via sensory neurons that connect to the brain’s olfactory bulb.  These neurons sense air moving in and out of the nasal cavity and lock brainwaves to the same rhythm.   Synchronised brainwaves then spread beyond the scent-processing brain areas into regions responsible for memory, emotion and cognition.

Nil by mouth

According to some estimates, more than 50% of children and 61% of adults breathe through their mouths too often. As a result, we also risk bad breath, poor sleep, learning difficulties, tooth decay and even malformation of the jaw.

As for how fast to breathe, if it is calm you seek, slow it down to about six breaths per minute. This triggers a reflex that widens blood vessels and reduces heart rate. Concentrating on a long, slow exhalation also stimulates the vagus nerve, which is in charge of the rest-and-digest response, the opposite of fight or flight. Breathing more slowly still might even lull you into an altered state of consciousness  lAt three breaths per minute, theta brainwaves increase together with a zoned-out state that looks like slow-wave sleep, a deep state of slumber.

There is also humming. Humming sets up swirls of air in the sinuses, which boost production of nitric oxide  15-fold, with all its immune and cardiovascular benefits. The only time that nose breathing falls short is when you need to fill your lungs quickly. In an emergency, a gasp of air through the mouth works wonders. Just try not to make a habit of it.  (Lightly edited version of a recent article by Caroline Williams, in the New Scientist, 8 Jan 2020, On health)

Electric scooters: the opinion of The Guardian

“Having new sorts of transport devices on our roads would also help push cities into thinking beyond the simple “car/pedestrian” binary – essential in the long run if we’re to tackle the climate crisis. This is not a plea for the Silicon Valley model of picking up and dropping rented scooters wherever you want: discarded scooters littering the pavements are a pain and an eyesore. But allowing these things on the road? It’s a no-brainer.  (Alex Hern, The Guardian)

My take:  Tell this to the elderly people in my neighborhood!  Our city government are proposing to allow 10,000 more scooters onto our already crowded streets. The sidewalks are not exactly littered with scooters, (just left any-old-how on the sidewalks). That would be an exaggeration. But only an exaggeration because the proposed additional 10,000 haven’t yet appeared.

Scooters are used by young people who think they are immortal, it seems. They wear no helmets or reflective devices on their clothes at night. They travel everywhere at maximum speed in car lanes if they can get away with it,  and park, yes, any-old-how, not thinking of pedestrians and the ubiquitous little ole ladies. It is only a matter of time before the serious accidents start to happen. I love The Guardian, but sometimes it lets theory trump common sense.  At least impose some enforceable rules!

White, working class boys are performing badly academically

The educational under-performance of Britain’s white working-class males is “desperate”. Less then 10% of white boys from deprived backgrounds go to university, the lowest share of any demographic group. Boys lag behind girls at all stages of schooling – in few other areas, says the Higher Education Policy Institute, is there “such a big gender gap but so few proposals to remedy it”. Where white working-class boys are concerned, one thing is paramount: to bring degree courses closer to their social context and aspirations. Investing more money in the further education colleges and technical courses that have been allowed to wither should be the Government’s urgent priority.   (Miranda Green, Financial Times and The Week 11 January 2020)

My take:  Years ago the British government made a really stupid decision (so what’s new?)  They allowed technical colleges and polytechnics to call themselves “universities”.  At one point, Oxford Polytechnic was arguable harder to get into than the big university down the road.  So, instead of only offering practical and training, these new universities became more and more academic, leaving the young lads with fewer training-for-life opportunities.

Secondly, in the old days the way to get on in life was to join a big company as apprentices and be trained on the job over a period of years. The pay was not great, but there was a reliable future ahead for young lads. This is what the Germans did and still do, amazingly effectively.  This more or less disappeared in England.  I strongly believe in education – the broadening and training of the mind – and in the arts as a means.  But this is not necessarily appropriate for everyone and especially for non-academic lads good with their hands.  The latter are now floundering, and it is the fault of governments.

Bring back apprenticeships!

The relevance to Epicureanism?:  We should be offering opportunities to everyone whether from poor of well-off backgrounds.  How can you achieve ataraxia when you feel you have no future?

Recycling waste

Newsletter note from a neighbor who moved to the US from China:

“Hi neighbors, I know lots of you have heard of the recycling crisis in the US since China’s ban on importing foreign garbage in 2017. There are many articles about this issue, such as this one from the guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/21/us-plastic-recycling-landfills. It says: “As municipalities are forced to deal with their own trash instead of exporting it, they are discovering a dismaying fact: much of this plastic is completely unrecyclable.

“The issue is with a popular class of plastics that people have traditionally been told to put into their recycling bins – a hodgepodge of items such as clamshell-style food packaging, black plastic trays, take-out containers and cold drink cups, which the industry dubs “mixed plastic”. It has become clear that there are virtually no domestic manufacturers that want to buy this waste in order to turn it into something else.

“Take Los Angeles county.  The Guardian reports that recycling facilities are separating “mixed plastics” from those plastics which still retain value – such as water bottles, laundry detergent bottles and milk jugs – and, contrary to what customers expect, sending them directly to a landfill or incinerator.

”I also want to add that the process of recycling is super-polluting. My hometown in China is not far from a processing center that used to accept plastic recycling from the US.  The cancer rate there skyrocketed and the groundwater is now no longer  drinkable.”  (Name withheld)

I once went round a recycling plant with my wife. Most plastics, we were told, were being recycled. At that time we had to separate out different types of plastic, ready for collection. What I didn’t take on board is that the (mostly Asian) countries that took the recycling were stopping doing so.  It now seems that most of it now goes into landfills – not a happy situation, to say the least.

What is nor explained is why the plastics have to be used in the first place (cost, presumably).  Salad, for instance, comes in large, clumsy clear plastic boxes. Why is  it impossible to produce mass recyclable plastics, or similar materials that are transportable, light and hygienic?  This  would be welcomed  by everyone, or at least all those who would welcome reducing the role of oil-producing companies.

 

 

 

$16 trillion bad dream?

The year 2019 saw the continuation of “the world’s most bizarre financial experiment ever”, said Merryn Somerset Webb on MoneyWeek.com – “negative interest rates”. The European Central Bank and the Swiss National Bank were among those charging investors for the privilege of holding their bonds. There are now $16trn-worth of negative-yielding government bonds in the global economy – an unprecedented development.

No one knows what this means, or how much we should fear it. Perhaps, as former US Fed chair Alan Greenspan observes, “zero has no meaning”. Or perhaps it is a sign of something “more terrifying” to come.  (The Week, 28 December 2019).

 Negative interest rates are a tool of monetary policy used by the European Central bank to help stabilise the economy, but their effects long term are not certain.  As I understand it, if there were a recession the central banks have already used all the tools available to effect a maximum stimulus, and this is the urgent and macro problem that we face in the future.  Are there enough resources  in reserve to withstand yet another new crisis that effects the world economy?  The  coronavirus comes to mind.

 

 

 

 

Ugly inequality

The US is not the only country where widening inequality is a disturbing trend. In the UK a recent Office for National Statistics report estimates that the top 10% of earners now own 45% of Britain’s £14trn total pot, while the bottom 30% own less than 2%.   (The Week, 28 December 2019).

If I regularly return to this problem it is because historically inequality nearly always eventually leads to decline, social discontent, loss of ataraxia, even revolution (as in Tsarist Russia, 18th Century France, and various other countries in our very lifetimes).

This is not something sought after by Epicureans, to put it mildly.  It destroys trust, social cohesion and fairness, and puts too much power into the hands of far too few.   It is not surprising that it suits politicians, who can fund their elections with sordid deals in back rooms with a small number of very rich donors (who are doing very well at present, thank you),  but it makes “one person, one vote” a charade.

Why can’t  all our fellow citizens see this?  Why do they tolerate it, along with gerrymandering?  I can’t believe that they are less intelligent than the people who lived at the time the American Constitution was devised or that social media sucks up all their thinking time.  Maybe they are just disengaged?

 

 

Decline in Croatia, boom in Spain

(A few statistics, I’m afraid…..)

The prime minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenkovic – whose government has just assumed the rotating presidency of the EU – has warned that his country is suffering a “population loss equivalent to losing a small city every year”, and called for EU-wide strategies to tackle the “existential” threat in southern and eastern Europe posed by falling birth rates and mass emigration.

Last year,  230,000 Croatians left their country (mostly for Germany, Austria and Ireland) between 2013 and 2016; the country’s population is just 4.2 million. The populations of ten of the EU’s 28 member states fell in 2018, with the biggest relative drops recorded in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Croatia and Romania.

But….the Financial Times reports a quite different situation in Spain:

“A decade after Spain faced economic crisis, prompting hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country, its population has reached its highest ever level as immigrants and returning locals flood into the eurozone’s fastest growing major economy. Spain’s population grew by 276,000 people in 2018 to nearly 47 million, the fastest annual increase since 2009. The rise came largely from immigration, both from traditional sources in Latin America, especially Venezuela and Morocco as well as other European countries such as Italy and Portugal.

“In the four years to 2016, Spain’s population declined by nearly 400,000 people. The fall reflected the severity of the crisis that hit the country: between 2008 and 2013 the Spanish economy shrank by nearly 10 per cent. At the end of 2013, more than one in four persons of working age was unemployed; nearly 60 per cent of those under 25 seeking a job could not find one. Now Spain is more than four years into a strong economic recovery. The improving picture in the labour market helps explain the migration inflow and the fall in emigration by Spaniards. More Spaniards returned home than left the country last year, for the first time in at least seven years.  Spain’s economy has been expanding at twice the eurozone average since 2015 and it is expected to continue to do so this year.

My comment:

Of course, what isn’t discussed is why the population declining in countries like Croatia and Italy but growing in Spain? The improving picture in the labour market helps explain the Spanish migration inflow and the fall in emigration by Spaniards. But the labour market usually responds to government policy.  So what is wrong with Croatia and Italy?  is it government incompetence or could it be a culture of corruption, or both?  Corruption in Eastern Europe is a well- known problem.

Epilepsy

Sufferers of epilepsy suffer disgusting attacks.  Trolls are targeted people with epilepsy on Twitter with seizure-inducing videos, flashing and strobing Gifs and videos, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Legal advocacy director Allison Nichol said: “These attacks are no different than a person carrying a strobe light into a convention of people with epilepsy and seizures, with the intention of inducing seizures. 

About 20,000 people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy, which makes them susceptible to flashing lights at certain intensities or certain visual patterns. It is most common among children and teenagers. Although smartphone displays, modern computer monitors and TV screens are somewhat less likely to trigger seizures than older equipment with a slower screen-refresh rate, a growing number of people are having seizures triggered by flashing images on Twitter and Facebook.

“When it comes to deliberately targeting people with epilepsy with the intention of causing a seizure, we need to call that behaviour what it is – a pre-meditated and pre-planned intention to assault,” said chief executive Clare Pelham said. (BBC News 18 Dec 2019)

My comment:  What sort of person gets up in the morning and decides to go to the trouble of persecuting a harmless group of (mostly young) people highly susceptible to flashing and strobing lights that bring on seizures?   I doubt the proportion of sick, cruel bullies in any population has increased, but as the overall population increases so does the proportion of the weirdos and the deliberately cruel, I suppose.  We should bring them to account and, preferably lock them up.

Young adults need a home of their own

“Home ownership is in steep decline, but don’t let it bother you, declared The Economist recently: the British need to get over their property “fetish”. I beg to disagree, says Liam Halligan. The fact that well over half of 25- to 34-year-olds today are locked out of the property market should concern us deeply. Only 41% of those in this “crucial family-forming age” are property owners, compared to 67% in 1991. Even many professional couples in that age group, people who as children grew up in leafy suburbs, now find it impossible to get on the property ladder. And almost a third of 20- to 34-year-old men are still, amazingly, sleeping in their childhood bedrooms. “Such a sudden reversal in generational fortunes, on such a large scale, tears at the social fabric.”

“It’s not just that owning your own home is cheaper and more secure than renting it. It’s that it roots people in their local community; it gives them a stake in the economy through their ownership of capital. A society loses its cohesion when these benefits are concentrated in the hands of an ever more exclusive class of property owners.  (Liam Halligan, The Sunday Telegraph and The Week, 1 Feb 2020)

The same problem applies to the US.  Yes, in due course parents die and bequeath pleasant homes to their children.  But by that time the offspring are in their fifties.  The price of housing is a huge problem, and it is unacceptable that younger people should either have to live with their parents for years on end, or pay sky-high, ever-increasing rents on (often) insecure incomes that barely increase year on year.   The rich have contrived to inflate land and house prices for their own benefit.  Developers in England have been sitting on land formerly public ally owned, now zoned for housing for years, pushing up the value for their own benefit.  The government does nothing.  No wonder some young people feel their future has been stolen.

I am old myself and ashamed of the inequality and unfairness of a rigged system. No good will come of it.  This is a matter both of common sense and equity.

Follow Epicurus

They peddle fear here:

They peddle fear of terrorists and sudden death,

They peddle fear of rapists and angry drivers,

They peddle fear of government and paying tax,

Of deer ticks, butter, sugar, fat, untested drugs;

Of unknown visitors and dark-skinned men,

Of invasion, war and sudden death,

Of gunmen holding up cashiers,

Of bombs in culverts, school kids murdered with guns.

They peddle inquietudes, nervousness, distrust,

And to the terrified, apprehensive, cowed,

They preach damnation, hellfire in the afterlife.

The more they frighten us the more it gains the vote.

 

And the opinion-makers drivel on in biased turpitude,

Yapping in support of party, church and power.

Command, empire, sway, rule, dominion, supremacy

All depend on mongering fear and bald mendacity.

 

But then there is Epicurus,

His character assassinated by the church,

Maligned, misrepresented, damned by rote.

He only sought a tranquil mind, a life of peace,

Fearing nothing.  For fear, he said, brings pain.

As for politics?  Striving, ambition, restlessness.

There are no active gods, said he, no afterlife,

No spirit out there, evil or benign,

Rewarding, punishing, damning you to hell,

No trumpets, choirs, or seats of the almighty.

Just atoms, molecules, and, in them, everlasting life.

No devils, angels, harps, or golden cities;

No god resembling, oh!, coincidence! a man!

No omniscient god who reads your thoughts,

Or manages the minutiae of your life.

Your life, indeed! Your life it is, subject to fortune,

Tribulations, ups and downs, but in the end just yours.

 

Try not to chafe and fret, but seek a mental peace.

Pursue the arts, activities you love.

Don’t worry over things you can’t affect.

Seek simple pleasures, food and friends.

Forsake consumerism, shops and malls,

Buying only what you really need.

Do no harm. Mend fences where required.

Cultivate  your garden and your peace,

Or get a dog.

All to be done in moderation and with joie de vivre,

For simple pleasures trump all wild excess.

Be fun, be smiling, for life is to be lived – 

What follows lasts a long, long time,

Should some abuse you as an atheist,

Remember! it is a propaganda word, and just a word,

Spoken by people with their own agenda

 

Follow Epicurus! Till your garden, walk your dog,

Enjoy Nature while we have it still.

Reject all superstition, think for yourself

Believe not the religious memes of modern life.

Be gentle, thoughtful and and ask yourself…

Why do they peddle fear here?

(Written in January 2006 by Robert Hanrott)

The American preoccupation with bathrooms

“Why does America have “so many damn bathrooms”? It’s a question many foreign visitors ask themselves, and with good reason. Over the past half century, the number of bathrooms per person in the US has doubled, to a 1:1 ratio, and these rooms are continuing to multiply. They’re getting bigger, too: the typical size of a bathroom in a new family home in the US has doubled since the 1970s, from 35sq ft to 70sq ft.

“The obsession with what used to be the smallest room in the house has reached particularly insane levels among the super-rich. Last year, it was reported that a $49.9m mansion in Bel Air, California had eight bedrooms – and 20 bathrooms. Across the nation, the share of houses with ten or more bathrooms has almost doubled in the past decade. This is partly down to America’s abundant space, but it’s also a matter of fashion. With their Jacuzzis, steam showers, rainfall heads and other “gizmos”, bathrooms have become status symbols, but they’ve also acquired a new role as sanctuaries where people, in today’s constantly connected world, can luxuriate in seclusion. The bath, originally conceived by the Romans as a space to “convene with the world, has become one of the last places where we can truly disappear from it”.  (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic)

Weird.  It must be mainly a Californian thing.  In twenty-five years I have never heard a single person talking about bathrooms or the number of them they have.  Maybe that’s because they think it is a bit silly and over-the-top?    Or maybe our neighbors are already extraordinarily clean and don’t need multiple bathrooms?

If some people have all this money to throw away, perhaps they might use it instead on donations to charity.  There are folk out there who could use the help.

As the U.K. shuffles out of the EU, a revealing letter

To The Economist:

“So, three-and-a-half years after the Brexit referendum, Britain is leaving the European Union on 31 January. For millions of people, particularly in eastern Europe, the country we tend to call “Anglia” has been a benchmark of nobility, of spirit and excellence. Britain is deeply embedded in our cultural make-up. During the War, our grandparents listened to Winston Churchill on the wireless, grateful to know that there was a place in this world where the bad guys’ writ did not run. For our generation, literature from an early age consisted mostly of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Winnie-the-Pooh and The Wind in the Willows. Later, the explosion of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, the Kinks, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and the rest blew the cobwebs of communist propaganda out of our souls. The Beatles made us, as New Wave, New Metal and the New Romantics were to make our children.

”When the propagandists railed against the “Iron Lady of imperialism”, we would say to each other, “Iron Lady? Sounds promising”. As Margaret Thatcher defeated tin-pot dictators on the other side of the world, we were wishing she would do something about our lot over here. As she later did.

”In the 1990s, we were fully aware that France and Germany wanted no truck with us east Europeans, and it was Britain that ultimately engineered our entry into the EU. It is our EU membership that has kept us away both from the clutches of Russian imperialism and from the temptation to revive the ideology of provincial fascism we experienced before the War.

”Tens of millions of us are grateful that Britain has always been there for us. Which is why we watch Brexit with great sadness, feeling a wrenching sense of loss. Originally, we thought that the results of that wretched referendum were some kind of cosmic joke. Now we have become reconciled to the fact that the British are, indeed, leaving us, much as we would wish it otherwise.”

Evgenii Dainov, professor of politics, New Bulgarian University, Sofia

Well, it’s done now.  In a year’s time we will begin to see the full effects on the lives of millions of people, and the EU can no longer be blamed.  Current events have massively disturbed my own ataraxia, but then I won’t have to live with all these changes for a full lifetime, as will my younger family members, bless them.

Complaining about service when things get really bad (2). See yesterday’s posting

Still no favorable resolution? Fortunately, there are third-party programs that can help.

If you paid with a credit card, the federal Fair Credit Billing Act and the policies of credit card issuers help you withhold payment for goods and services you think  are defective or not delivered as promised. If you cannot resolve the matter with the service provider, contact your credit card bank to dispute the charge (you usually can do this even if you’ve already paid the bill). Once you’ve requested this “chargeback,” your credit card bank will place a hold on the disputed charge and investigate. The service provider can protest the chargeback, but sellers rarely successfully reverse chargebacks if the customer has returned (or tried to return) the goods or can document the service defect.

Another option in the united States is to file a complaint with the local government consumer agency. These consumer protection offices have legal authority over many types of businesses, and should refer matters it can’t handle to a more appropriate state or a federal agency. The matter might be resolved via phone or email, but these offices may also perform inspections, gather evidence from third parties, do legal or technical research, or mediate the dispute. Staff might do more than resolve your complaint; they might get the supplier to agree to change it’s business practices or even force the business to pay penalties.

The Better Business Bureau can also  help, but government agencies have the force of law behind them. The government can conduct formal investigations and use law enforcement tools to obtain the facts that will help them negotiate a settlement on your behalf. even pursuing legal action if evidence shows the merchant has violated the law.  There are also private-sector mediators who can help you and the business come to a resolution, although such mediation may be of little value with businesses that have no incentive or desire to work out a settlement.

The last resort is to bring an action in small claims court. Most courts have legal advisers to help you prepare your case. But the Epicurean way is always to negotiate a resolution quietly and politely, if you can.  

Complaining about service (part 1)

Although most of us gripe about service headaches to family and friends we seldom—studies show it’s as few as one out of four—complain to the company that dropped the ball. And many consumers who do complain to businesses do so ineffectively.

A lot of consumers remain silent because it seems like too much trouble to complain or they want to avoid a confrontation. Others don’t complain because they think it won’t help—the warranty expired a week ago so the store won’t do anything. But generally, telling a company—especially a reputable company—that things didn’t go well usually produces good results. The trick is to complain competently, and to diligently follow up.

I have always asked to speak to the company’s owner or manager, stating  the facts as I saw them and what the company could do make amends. One should be polite and reasonable. No one responds well to hostility.  (When I ran a company I made it a rule that all complaints had to come over my desk, and I dealt with them personally.  This is not a common habit, but it is very effective in gaining  good will).

If your phone call fails to yield results, put it in writing. Attach to your email, or enclose with your letter, copies of relevant documents such as contracts, invoices, receipts, and previous correspondence.

Another option is to post your complaint—and your desired resolution—on Facebook or Twitter and tag the company. This forces the company to decide whether it wants to gain good or bad publicity from your dispute. While it’s not too risky to ignore one customer’s complaint, many companies don’t ignore complaints that have been broadcast to hundreds of other potential customers. Many companies, particularly national ones, have staff who monitor social media websites to resolve complaints quickly and show that the company is responsive to its customers.

Tomorrow I will discuss what to do if the problem escalates.

Younger people today don’t have the IQ they used to have

Our IQ levels are gradually falling compared with previous generations, if IQ tests are an accurate gauge of intelligence.

Scientists in Norway analysed scores achieved by 730,000 young men, born between 1962 and1991, who did IQ tests as part of their national service. They found that for many years the IQ levels of entrants rose by about 0.3 points a year on average. This is consistent with the Flynn effect: the steady rise of IQ scores, by about three points a decade, observed across the developed world in the 20th century, a phenomenon put down to massive improvements in education, diet and healthcare over that period.

However, IQ levels peaked among the cohort born in 1975, and then began to fall, at a rate equivalent to seven points per generation. The researchers speculate that changes to teaching methods and the shift to screen-based entertainment could be responsible for the change.

My non-scientificmore guesses about the reasons:

1.  Have a problem? Google it.  You don’t have to think, internalise it for more than minutes or reconcile it with other related things?  The correct information is only a finger-touch away.  The brain is not as exercised as it was years ago.

2.    Fewer actual conversations and exchange of information than used to be the case.

3.    Distractions, such as constant attention to cellphones and too much social media and movie streaming

4.   Lack of rigor in education (nowadays it seems as whole essays can be downloaded from the internet to fulfill an assignment or even during an exam – or is this a folk tale?).

It isn’t included in the ancient documents, but I believe Epicurus believed in constant striving for self-improvement and better understanding.  We may not be making that easy.  Kids like to be stretched.

 

The hypocrisy of the Amazon-using classes

“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)

Well, that was prescient!  What immediately comes to mind is Amazon – huge numbers of people working long hours at pitiful wages so that we can get some not-very-important product we could otherwise walk half a mile to buy (and be fitter for it).
I say this while invariably hesitating before clicking on the “ buy now” button.  But I still press that button and order from Amazon, which, yes, makes me a hypocrite.

We need to pay more for the convenience of Amazon, and Amazon needs to pay its staff more.  And the boss needs to pay loads more tax, and stop trying to avoid what he does pay.  Paying tax for the benefit of the whole community is both Epicurean and, one would have thought, simply common sense. How those taxes are used apportioned is another matter altogether.