The bright side of Brexit

To The Times

A visibly noticeable benefit of Brexit is that we will be able to have whiter teeth. The problem lies with EU bureaucracy. The EU allows less than 0.1% of hydrogen peroxide in over-the-counter products, which means that their effectiveness is low. In America, up to 10% is considered safe, and Americans have whiter teeth. A further benefit of a post-Brexit move to allow effective home whitening kits would be to reduce the high income inequality caused by dentists charging high fees for whitening while lobbying Brussels to maintain the low concentration limit for home products.

John O’Keeffe, London. (The Week. 2 Mar 2019)

And white teeth are the only benefit I can think of in this extraordinary example of casual self-harm, called Brexit.

Intimacy coordinators

In the old days society seemed to survive without endless depictions of bogus, badly presented sex in every movie or play.  Things were more subtle. You were given the hint, and that hint was sufficient to get across the idea that the couple on the screen would be having sex, but off-screen. It was left to the imagination, arguably more fun and, I would argue, more titillating (not that I need it personally!) Nowadays you cannot watch a Netflix movie without a sex scene, each instance very similar to the last, begging the question,”That looks very awkward.  Can  one really do that in real life and enjoy it?”

It seems that the market for sex scenes is so big that studios are employing “intimacy coordinators”.  These people try to assuage the anxiety of young female actors, who are naturally worried that images of them topless, and pretending to indulge in oral sex, will be there on the internet for the rest of their lives.  Intimacy coordinators have arrived owing to heightened Me-too concerns about consent, harassment and sexual assault, and to deal with the vulnerability of actors in the face of the market for ever more  explicit sex scenes.  It has to be said that some actors will do anything they are told to attract viewers and to make more money, but these must be in the minority.

The sad fact is that huge numbers of young American men have no girlfriends and are having no sex.  Is there a link here with the numbers of movies being produced with sex, if not porn, used by young men to substitute for tender, loving relationships?

There is no evidence about the marital status of Epicurus, but since he believed that pleasure was a major objective  in life, one assumes that he would look askance at the plethora of sex scenes in movies, with or without intimacy coordinators.  He would advocate loving marriage. (genders irrelevant), single-minded devotion, and a dedication to making one another truly happy.  There is little in the world more wonderful and exhilarating than that, if you can achieve it.

 

A very short introduction on the 20th

Hi, I’m Oscar. I’ve recently connected with this blog’s founder, Robert Hanrott, and accepted his invitation to be a regular contributor on Epicurus Today.

My goal here is to produce weekly content that is both digestible (i.e., brief) and thought-provoking. That said, I also aim to contribute more lengthy – in-depth – essays on a monthly basis.

About me: I’m a student. I’m multilingual. I love books and I play musical instruments…and yada yada yada and blah blah blah – most importantly, I’m a work in-progress. Success for me, is if today I’m better than who I was yesterday; and if tomorrow I’m better than who I am today. I try my best to not miss an opportunity to do good and resist opportunities to do bad.

I first came under direct Epicurean influence early into high school, by the blessing of my then-girlfriend – who thought that I think a lot and rather actively encouraged it by getting me into the book 100 Essential Thinkers by Philip Stokes. Therein was my first exposure to Epicurus, the sage himself. It was truly a serendipitous encounter because we were rushing through a nearby shopping mall – as a short-cut – and chanced upon the book as it caught my attention and I suddenly – if not abruptly – stopped to investigate more closely and point it out to her. This was the exact opposite of a blessing-in-disguise – it was sober and disguise free – a chance blessing, I’m so grateful happened to me. Later it was all the more remarkable, to finally connect the dots and realize just how much earlier I was under an Epicurean influence.  It seems that my whole childhood through to my adolescence was under, albeit indirect, Epicurean influence.  Between my chores and paper route job duties I was able receive despite not having cable, on my earlier black & white television and later colour television set, clear over-the-air broadcast coverage of the public channel CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) which aired my to-this-day favourite show The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, a show inspired by Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura and one of my greatest joys growing up.

Like with many things in life, finding a suitable spot online for advancing the legacy of Epicurus with forward thinking contemporaries, takes some searching around and experimenting. I’m happy to have found as kind a host as Robert Hanrott and landed with the opportunity to contribute to that end on Epicurus Today.

I’ll leave you with a song: Star Treatment by Arctic Monkeys

 

Happy Twentieth! 🙂

Next Time: Publicly-Funded Superstition

Reflections on morality

The idea that you cannot have a “moral compass” without religion is, in my opinion, mistaken.  Morality is the set of principles adopted by the human race, from time to time and from place to place, to allow us to live together in harmony.  Moses may have theatrically produced the Ten Commandments from the mountain top, but for the majority of human beings morality is common sense.  It comes naturally to the sensitive person who wants to get along in life, who wants to please and have friends, who wants to avoid violence, anxiety and strife.  I agree, however,  that sending kids to Sunday school can do little harm and maybe some good.

I have a hypothesis (not very profound):  consideration for others and pure-self-interested morality works on a Bell curve principle.  At one end are the saints, not necessarily religious and rather few.  In the middle, the great majority, are those who instinctively adopt a sense of common morals (no murder, theft, assault; look after the old, succor the young etc).  On the far side, however, are the mentally challenged, the bullies, the paranoid, the violent, the selfish and chronically anti-social, not to mention the attention- seekers.   A lifetime of Sunday school, lectures and homilies are going to have no effect, because they were born this way.  They are sociopaths, and may be best put somewhere where trained people can look after them.

All religious people bring up Stalin and Hitler to illustrate the immorality of godless-ness.  In my opinion it is irrelevant.   Hitler was born in Austria and claimed, I believe as late as 1943, to be a devout Catholic.   The crimes of Stalin had little to do with Marxism-Leninism.  The fellow was a cruel murderer and paranoid control freak.  Given turmoil and revolution these people tend to turn up on top.  He was interested in power, not ideology.  His attitude to ideology was dismissive.  If nothing else he was pragmatic.  No, you cannot use these two “gentlemen”.

Let me try Philip II of Spain and his successors on you.  Philip was known as a devout Catholic, immersed in the morality of the church, in a Court so boringly religious and moralistic that even the papal nuncios were taken aback.   But he was responsible for untold massacres, rapes, and torture, all supervised, or at least consented to, by attendant priests, mostly Jesuit.   (No, I won’t mention the inquisition, Galileo, the graft and corruption of pre-Reformation Popes.  It is too embarrassing).

It is fair to raise the issue of China.  Those who have close dealings with Chinese businessmen report that there is an unusual incidence of  lying, cheating and corruption in business, government and industry, and that our concept of ethics and morality does not resonate there (in an earlier draft of these comments I put it more harshly).

If true, is this down to Communism and godlessness, which only took over less than 60 years ago?   Perhaps.  The ultra-right would like to blame Communism and the Cultural Revolution.  But then you have to remember the effects of the Chinese revolution, social turmoil, Mao (another paranoid power-crazed monster), and the huge problems caused by unprecedented movement from village to faceless city.  The truth may be that in a small village, where everyone knows one another, the elders keep the lid on disruptive behaviour.  In the mega-cities people  have no roots,  no friends and no anchors.  it’s  every man for himself.   In situations like this morals come second to survival.  I have no idea what China was like before the Communists took over.  Maybe it has always been a free-for-all there.

Morals preceded religion, at least they preceded Christianity. The Christians adopted the moral code it found at the time and many practices from the pagans (who were fun guys!), and added heaven and hell,  fire and damnation, to frighten us into conformity with State and church thinking.  Christianity, for instance, started off absolutely opposed to war, but once it became the official religion, fully supported the Emperors in their vicious wars of dominion.  Christian emperors massacred as many harmless civilians as non-Christians.   Morality had nothing to do with it.  Power was the driver.

I take issue with  the nonsense idea, espoused by the Christian Right, that atheists are immoral.  On the contrary, the atheists I know are humane, decent, kind, thoughtful and moral.  The fact is, some people are good and others are not so good.  Among the “moral” Christians there are some really good people who lead a fine moral life while still retaining a sense of humour and managing to enjoy it all (some members of my own family fall into this category).  On the other hand the ranks of the Christians appear to contain as many pornographers, wife-beaters, philanderers and thieves as elsewhere.

Every man has the ability to choose his road in life. The idea that the Intelligent Designer has fore-ordained our roles in the world is bunkum.  The difference between the Christian right and  Epicureans is that we  think for ourselves and are relatively rational (or try to be).  We eschew the fear (or try to) that is fostered by the Church and governments. Meanwhile, as individuals, we can be good and bad, moral and immoral like everyone else. If American Christians think they represent “morality”, may they answer for their presumption in their heaven (that might prove a disappointment, but I can no more prove its existence or non-existence than they can).  Up the moral minority!

 

Myths about America , Part 2

Myth #2: Good governance entails fiscal responsibility.

This is one of the hoariest shibboleths of modern American politics: feckless Democrats tax and spend; sober Republicans stand for balanced budgets. So President Ronald Reagan claimed, en route to racking up the massive deficits that transformed the United States from the world’s number one creditor into its biggest debtor. George W. Bush doubled down on Reagan’s promise. Yet during his presidency, deficits skyrocketed, eventually exceeding a trillion dollars per annum. No apologies were forthcoming. “Deficits don’t matter,” his vice president announced.

Then along came Trump. Reciting the standard Republican catechism, he vowed not only to balance the budget but to pay off the entire national debt within eight years. It was going to be a cinch. Instead, the projected deficit in the current fiscal year will once again top a cool trillion dollars while heading skywards. The media took brief note — and moved on.

The truth is that both parties are more than comfortable with red ink. As charged, the Democrats are indeed the party of tax and spend. Yet the GOP is the party of spend-at-least-as-much (especially on the Pentagon) while offering massive tax cuts to the rich.  

(Andrew Bacevich writes for TomDispatch) 

I’m not so naive as to believe that the nation’s budgetary income and expenditure should be equally balanced, or that there should be an annual surplus for years on end.   Normally one would expect that in years of growth there would be a surplus, and that in years of recession ,or low growth, the government will borrow.  You can have a small-ish deficit if the economy is growing in real terms.  But it is highly unusual to have the current situation where the economy is doing well and unemployment is low, and the country is running on a massive deficit.  This is mainly because of the tax cuts for corporations and the rich, who are collectively paying less tax than ever.  Notwithstanding that indebtedness is rising alarmingly.  I suppose the idea is that the next (Democrat) government will be blamed for the outcome in the sordid game of skewering your opposition, which is composed of your fellow citizens.  This is not patriotic, it is not  Epicurean, and it is not wise.

Myths about America

Myth #1: The purpose of government is to advance the common good.

In modern American politics, the concept of the common good no longer has any practical meaning. It hasn’t for decades. The phrase might work for ceremonial occasions — inaugural addresses, prayer breakfasts, that sort of thing — but finds little application in the actual business of governing.

When did politics at the national level become a zero-sum game? Was it during Richard Nixon’s presidency? Bill Clinton’s? While the question may be of academic interest, more pertinent is the fact that, with Trump in the White House, there is no need to pretend otherwise. Indeed, Trump’s popularity with his “base” stems in part from his candid depiction of his political adversaries not as a loyal opposition but an enemy force. Trump’s critics return the favor: their loathing for the president and — now that Trump’s generals are gone — anyone in his employ knows no bounds.

It’s the Mitch McConnell Rule elevated to the status of dogma: If your side wins, mine loses. Therefore, nothing is more important than my side winning. Compromise is for wusses. (Andrew Bacevich in TomDispatch. His most recent book is “Twilight of the American Century”, published by the University of Notre Dame Press)

The deliberate and knowing promotion of division, racism and hatred of your fellow citizens is anti-Epicurean.  Epicurus, were he alive to day, would probably be discovered in Canada, having fled a country where ataraxia and polite debate are for wimps, wimps who are stupid enough to have served their country in the military or the civil service, and are glad to give something back to the land they were born in.

Cuckoos in the nest

The practice of “cuckooing” – victims’ homes being taken over by gangs as bases for illegal activity – is now estimated to affect thousands of people across the UK. Urban dealers typically befriend vulnerable people in rural and coastal towns, offering drugs to gain their trust. Victims often include those who are addicted, or who have mental-health issues, or both, although elderly people, sex workers, single mothers and those in poverty are also at risk. One common scenario is that a drug user gets into debt, and is forced to let a gang member move in, using their home to store, process and sell drugs.

In 2017, three-quarters of police forces in England and Wales documented evidence of cuckooing related to county lines activity ( see below for explanation) alongside tales of violence and child and sexual exploitation. For those caught up in it the reality can be horrendous: “One chap started taking drugs… then county lines started and his house got taken over,” said Superintendent Caroline Naughton of Dorset police. “In the past four years, he has had his teeth pulled out and been beaten up really badly. It starts as a friendly relationship.” But the “violence” soon follows.  (The Week 13 Feb 2018)

In the United Kingdom, the term “county lines” is a neologism referring to the practice of using children to traffic drugs into rural areas.  A 2019 estimate by the National Crime Agency estimated the total turnover of all county lines activities throughout the UK as about £500 million.

Key facts about illegal drug use in the UK

Drug misuse related hospital admissions (England)

  • There were 7,545 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of drug-related mental health and behavioural disorders, 12 per cent higher than 2006/07.
  • There were 14,053 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of poisoning by illicit drugs, 40 per cent more than 2006/07.

Deaths related to drug misuse (England and Wales)

  • In 2016 there were 2,593 registered deaths in England and Wales related to drug misuse. This is an increase of 5 per cent on 2015 and 58 per cent higher than 2006. Deaths related to drug misuse are at their highest level since comparable records began in 1993

Drug use among adults (England and Wales)

  • In 2016/17, around 1 in 12 (8.5 per cent) adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales had taken an illicit drug in the last year, compared with 10.1 per cent in 2007

Drug use among children (England)

  • In 2016, 24 per cent of pupils reported they had ever taken drugs., compared to 15 per cent in 2014.

 

Pax Americana under threat

Back in 2001, when George W. Bush came to power, he and the neocons could see nothing standing in their way.  There was a  weakened and impoverished Russia (still with its nuclear arsenal more or less intact).  There was a Communist-gone-capitalist China focused on its own growth and little else. And there were a set of other potential enemies, “rogue powers” as they were dubbed, so pathetic that not one of them could, under any circumstances, be called “great.”

In 2002, in fact, three of them — Iraq, Iran, and North Korea — had to be cobbled together into an “axis of evil”  to create an adequate enemy, and to offer an excuse for the Bush administration to act preemptively. It seemed obvious then that all three of them would go down before the military and economic power of the US  (even if, as it happened, two of them didn’t).

It seemed as if the United States was the single, unrivaled world power,  even after the terror attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.   The National Security Strategy of that year was expressed as follows: “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” Anywhere on the planet, ever, In February 2001,  Charles Krauthammer, a  neocon, wrote in the Washington Post, “America is no mere international citizen. It is the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome. Accordingly, America is in a position to reshape norms, alter expectations, and create new realities. How? By unapologetic and implacable demonstrations of will.”.  ( Tomgram 14 Feb 2019).

This was all a delusion.  Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that military power alone doesn’t do the job against dedicated and ideological insurgencies – diplomacy is the other indispensable activity, and the US government has done its diplomacy ineffectively.   Since then any number of bush fires (forgive the pun) have meant that US forces have had to be deployed to “keep the peace” in multiple countries, and no one is even pretending there has been a victory – anywhere.  It is clear now that China is catching up technologically, showing, unfortunately, what can be achieved  by an intelligent autocrat.  China could be the dominant world power within 25 years.  Untold amounts of money, lavished on the Pentagon, have not given us peace .

Epicurus , I believe, surveying this dismal scene, would point out that empires or hegemonies often collapse because they run out of money conducting useless wars, cutting “domestic programs” to pay for them .  The US used to be greatly admired throughout the world, but no longer has the “big idea” that is almost universally admired.  From  outside, the US has given up on democracy and any pretense at economic fairness and is (metaphorically) thrashing around, bashing its head militarily against brick walls, while pandering to the rich.   This no longer works.  As we confront China, stop the bashing!  Concentrate on putting our own democracy in order (it isn’t in order at the moment), then think about the uses of “soft power”: generosity, human rights, fair voting for all, and generosity and humane behavior  at home and abroad.

 

Something to make you smile

This notice can now be found in all French churches:

En entrant dans cette église, il est possible que vous entendiez l’appel de Dieu.
Par contre, il n’est pas susceptible de vous contacter par téléphone.
Merci d’avoir éteint votre téléphone.
Si vous souhaitez parler à Dieu, entrez, choisissez un endroit tranquille et parle lui.
Si vous souhaitez le voir, envoyez-lui un SMS en conduisant.

Translation:
It is possible that on entering this church, you may hear the Call of God.
On the other hand, it is not likely that he will contact you by phone.
Thank you for turning off your phone.
If you would like to talk to God, come in, choose a quiet place, and talk to him.
If you would like to see him, send him a text while driving.

Britain’s skills shortfall

To The Observer
One reason so many eastern European workers came to Britain – famously, Polish builders – was that however bad the old communist states were, at least they had good technical education systems. In the UK  we have governments dominated by people who went to schools where the academic route was taken for granted, and who simply don’t understand vocational education. We could have a fantastic system, but we persistently undervalue and underfund it.

This political failure was always the case, even under Labour, but since 2010 the Tories have cut funding by nearly a quarter. That’s why we have such a lack of the kind of skills required for what we persist in calling “low-paid jobs”.
Jeremy Cushing, Exeter

I entirely agree!  In Central London almost all the painters, electricians plumbers, woodworkers etc. are from Central Europe.  And very skilled and hard- working they are.  When they go to technical schools they learn about everything needed to keep a customer’s house upright and working satisfactorily.  And they work hard!  All too many Brits, when we depended on them,  turned up late, drank tea and went home at 3 p.m.  The trained Poles were particularly welcome.

But now, apparently, the Polish economy is good, the Poles in Britain don’t feel welcome, and they are leaving in large numbers.  One of the things that the Brexiteers haven’t considered is the backlash when the man or woman in the street can’t find anyone trained to fix the plumbing, because they have all gone home.  It will be the  fault of the Tories/ Brexiteers and their snooty attitude, as Mr. Cushing (above) points out, towards “low-paid jobs”, (which are about to become rather high paid ones, one suspects) .  Of course , these Tories will not take responsibility.  They will have lost the ability to blame the EU, but will find another bogus scapegoat.

Not surprising that Epicurus despised politics. Not a lot has changed.

 

 

Unexpected conversations

Exchange in a grocery store queue between an elderly white man (me) and a younger African American :

”What do you think of Brexit?”

Me: “ Put it this way, it is the greatest disaster since William the Conqueror invaded England and brought with him Continental feudalism.  It took centuries to repair the damage”.

African American: “ That’s better than we’ve managed in the US.  We still haven’t gotten rid of feudalism”.

Laying the foundations of the next financial crash

Six years ago banking regulators put in regulations aimed to prevent such high-risk lending from once again damaging the economy.  But in recent years the big banks and  financial companies have created massive pool of credits, known as leveraged loans, to hundreds of cash-strapped companies, many of which could be unable to repay if the economy slows or interest rates rise.

  In 2011 Timothy Long, chief national bank examiner at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) warned that  high- risk, leveraged loans could potentially cause a repeat of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.  Subsequently “guidance” warnings, usually observed by banks, were issued, there was a big regulatory push in 2015, resulting in a drop in the value of dodgy leveraged loans made from $607 billion in 2013 to $423 billion in 2015 –  and bitter complaints from bankers.  The tightening up has now been un-tightened.

Politicians such as  Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.)  clamored  to loosen up the rules and regulations. (10 of Toomey’s  17 biggest campaign contributors are financial companies), and other Republicans demanded the regulators not enforce leveraged-lending “guidance” warnings, claiming that they were  confusing,   In early 2018 the new head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Joseph Otting, commented that banks, with regard to leveraged loans, “have the right to do what you want as long as it does not impair safety and soundness. It’s not our position to challenge that.”  As a result the banks went crazy, issuing a total of $1.271 trillion in leveraged loans in 2017 and 2018, 40 percent more than in 2015 and 2016, all with fewer restrictions on the borrower and fewer protections for the lender in the event of default.

Sensible regulators believe that, with the U.S. economy entering its 10th year of growth, it is only a matter of time before a downturn begins and many of these loans unravel. When companies default on their loans, bankers retrench and won’t lend as freely, worried about extending money to other companies that could also default. This can quickly affect the broader economy, leading to layoffs and bankruptcies, and halting new investment.

Officials at the Fed, which is charged with spotting risks posed by large financial institutions to the financial system and broader economy, announced plans in March to scale back the process they use to monitor the way large banks weather a recession. Officials said banks had made improvements in how they prepared for the next downturn.  And now Trump has nominated Herman Cain and Stephen Moore, to open seats at the Fed. Both are big proponents of stripping back regulations and have called for immediate steps to make the economy grow even faster.  Some people are slow learners.

 We are all going to be affected by stupid actions of politicos and ignorant placemen with very short memories and no idea what they are doing.  (A foreshortened version of an article in  the Washington Post, 6 April 2019).

Air pollution is affecting us all

Air pollution’s human toll:   children born today will have their lives shortened by 20 months on average by the toxic air that is widespread across the globe, with the greatest toll in south Asia, according to a major study. Air pollution contributed to nearly one in every 10 deaths in 2017 – bigger than malaria and road accidents , and comparable to smoking and road accidents, according to the State of Global Air (SOGA) study. There are signs that actions taken by governments are working, including reducing forms of some particulate pollution in the developed world, while China’s levels of air pollution are also starting to fall. The report found ground-level ozone remains a major problem in rich countries, where it is produced by nitrogen oxides and similar pollutants emitted from traffic and industry.  (The Guardian 3 Apr 2019)

One  thing is clear: huge numbers of Americans,  in particular, usually get into their cars and drive  if they want to buy food, go to church,  a meeting, workplace, or anywhere else.   Public transport, even in the capital, caters to a very small subset of people. The oil and the car industries wanted it this way from way back, opposing decent railways and good bus services.  The result is that air quality in the cities is polluted.  In my opinion gas prices  are too low and there is no incentive for people to leave their cars at home (cue for cries of disagreement!).  Where I live, in a big city, the gas price hovers around $3.50, more or less, and is lower than that in country districts.  Notwithstanding the yells of anguish there ought to be a higher tax on fuel to help the fight against the effects of climate change, and to reduce emissions in general, but particularly in the cities.

Walking is an option, and good for you, that is, if you can avoid the heavily trafficked, fume-ridden streets.

That’s the way to do it!

“Joe Biden joked about the controversy that has engulfed his campaign-in-waiting in his first public appearance since several women accused him of touching them inappropriately.

“Biden arrived on stage at the Washington Hilton to address the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) conference and shook the hand of the union president, Lonnie Stephenson, before giving him a brief hug.

“I want you to know, I had permission to hug Lonnie,” Biden said to laughter from the crowd.”  (Report in The Hill, 6 April)

Coming from Britain,  the first thing that struck me about the United States was, with some great exceptions, the seriousness of people I met. Sweeping generalisation though it may be, I came from a business environment where  jokes and funny remarks started at 8 in the morning and finished when everyone dispersed home, often from the pub.   Employed on customers these jokes and ironic comments were an important part of our business model, as the business school types would call it.

Isn’t it nice to hear Biden make a joke of hugging Mr. Lonnie Stevenson. A joke!  Wow! The constant torrent of political correctness is really getting boring, actually BORING, even to this liberal Epicurean.  Yes, Biden is a touchy-feely guy, but he seems a nice man.  You can criticize some of the decisions he made years ago, or say he is too old to do the job of President vigorously enough.  But to try to get him ruled out of contention for President is taking yourself way, way too seriously.  I recognise that  his actions are paternalistic and make some people  uncomfortable, but he thought at the time they were encouraging and supportive.  He seems to be adjusting to the new paradigm. Lighten up, Ladies!

Where the British went wrong. (a bit long, but something to debate)

We are now well into the third version of the German European empire.  Startling claim?  Only if you haven’t studied history.

German Empire, Mark 1  (if you exclude the medieval “Holy Roman” version):  the strikingly stupid German Kaiser, sitting astride a belligerent Prussian- dominated army and a burgeoning industrial economy,  jealous of the British and French empires, invades France and starts the disastrous First World War.  Millions killed, but Germany is put back into its box after four harrowing years.

German Empire, Mark 2:  Hitler, bent on revenge and a desire to eliminate the despised Soviets and the Jews,  momentarily dominates the whole of Europe to the gates of Moscow.  Even more millions killed, but Germany is put back into its box after  six years harrowing warfare, with the help of the USA, which then becomes the very Great Power that Hitler wanted Germany to be. .

German Empire, Mark 3:  this is a more benign edition of empire.  Put on its feet after 1945 with the benefit of the Marshall Plan, Germany is restored as an industrial power, and, with France as major partner, creates the EU (after some preliminaries like the Iron and Steel Community etc).  As the EU grew in number of members so the principle economic powerhouse of the EU, Germany, became the most powerful single member.

A key moment was the introduction of the Euro, the  first step to total union.  This has allowed Germany to lend to weaker EU members, like Greece, who have  used their loans to buy more and more German goods, getting more indebted and unstable, a sort of not-very-virtuous circle.  It has been in the interests of Germany to encourage expansion of the EU and movement of people to man the factories.  But what has suited Germany, now with an economic empire, has not always suited other member countries.

From a British point of view the Germans, backed by the French, are bossy, bureaucratic and intolerant of compromise.  The EU has protected the peace and has done great things for trade, health safety at work, fairness in business, equal rights,  monopolies  etc. – overall a good record.  But Germany has not listened to the protests about migration and unification and is viewed as having foisted all the things they want onto unwilling satellites (especially, and allegedly, the UK).

The British, on the other hand, have sniffed at the Germans and the French bureaucratics and said “no thank you”  – which is stupid.  I remember someone saying, way back when the UK joined the EU,  “You have to have Britain as a counterweight to Germany, along with experienced and pragmatic  civil servants who can inject simple, common sense into the diktats from Brussels”.

At first this was the case – there were hundreds of high-level, experienced British civil servants in Brussels.  Gradually they retired or withdrew, and the European parliament became splintered .  While this was happening some rah-rah resurrections from the 19th Century Indian Raj, on the right wing, backward- looking wing of the Conservative party, manoeuvred the country into the dire EU-hostile state it is now in.

Britain should be the counter-weight, the down-to-earth organiser, the country with the Common Sense, stopping the expansive ambitions  of Germany .   But no, the Continentals are still regarded by some as pesky foreigners, to be looked at with suspicion and patronised.  Britain has been hands-off.  From the other side the view of Britain from Berlin and Paris probably cannot be put into print.

Some think the EU will collapse anyway and that it is better to leave now rather than suffer a worse fate in the final calamity.  I don’t share this prognosis. Bigness is the world order of the day. Instead of grumbling on the sidelines the British should be in there, making it work, ensuring stability, no more wars.  In two words: “Epicurean moderation”.  We should have had our very best people in Brussels, trying to moderate the actions of Germany, supported the smaller countries, and avoided the drift towards the extreme Right in Eastern Europe.   A huge opportunity, jettisoned in favour of being a  small, alone island, now with few friends.  Historians will have a field day.  And how long will German empire Mark 3 last?  Not long if China and Russia have their way.  We are better together than apart, and will learn that lesson the hard way.

Epicurus believed that a pleasant life, with minimal politics, and plenty of friends, and yes, moderation were the secrets of life. Were he alive today he wouldn’t believe the stupidity (and irresponsibility of the some of) the British.

 

 

What you can do to help cut plastic waste

In our personal drive to reduce plastic waste, we should beware easy, but false, solutions:

  •   Cutting out single-use plastic – water bottles, straws, disposable plates and so forth – is a good place to start reducing waste. But make sure you aren’t inadvertently increasing your carbon footprint. A cotton tote bag must be used 131 times before its environmental cost falls below that of a disposable plastic bag, mostly because of the impact of growing cotton. Similarly, you must use a steel water bottle 500 times for its carbon footprint to shrink to less than that of a disposable PET bottle. One undergraduate study found a permanent plastic bottle to result in less carbon emissions than a stainless steel one.
  •  Reducing the packaging you use by buying large containers and, for example, avoiding single-serve yogurt pots, also helps. 
  •  Switch to bar soap. It is a complicated life-cycle analysis, but it tends to have a much lighter footprint than liquid soap from a dispenser.
  • Buying concentrated forms of products such as detergents is also a case of more bang for less packaging. Life-cycle comparisons show they reduce other environmental impacts, to
  • Boycotting mixed packaging, which often can’t be recycled, may also help: for instance, crisp bags and stand-alone pouches that are all the rage for baby food. 
  • Avoid black plastic food trays, whose colouring confuses the infrared detectors used to distinguish plastics in most recycling plants. Go for brands that have made meaningful packaging changes, such as the few drinks companies using 100 per cent recycled PET.
  • Taking any recyclable waste home with you helps if, as in the UK, kerbside recycling is much easier and cheaper for local authorities. If you tip it into a public bin, it’s unlikely that anyone will take the time to separate it out for recycling. (New Scientist May 19, 2018)

Money Talks, Big Time

Despair about the state of our politics pervades the political spectrum, from left to right. One source of it, the narrative of fairness — we all have an equal opportunity to succeed if we work hard and play by the rules; citizens can truly shape our politics — no longer rings true to most Americans. Recent surveys indicate that substantial numbers of them believe that the economy and  political influence are both rigged, and that money has an outsized influence on politics. Ninety percent of Democrats hold this view, but so do 80% of Republicans. And careful studies confirm what the public believes.

None of this should be surprising given the stark economic inequality that now marks our society. The richest 1% of American households currently account for 40% of the country’s wealth, more than the bottom 90% of families possess. Worse yet, the top 0.1% has cornered about 20% of it, up from 7% in the mid-1970s. By contrast, the share of the bottom 90% has since then fallen from 35% to 25%. To put such figures in a personal light, in 2017, three men – Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates — possessed more wealth ($248.5 billion) than the bottom 50% of Americans. (Rajan Menon, Tom Dispatch, April2, 2019)

Back to the gilded age.  At least the super- rich at the turn of the 20th Century, had some style, even if they were hard, grasping people for whom it was impossible to have enough money.  And in due course their monopolies were broken up and some of the men themselves set up huge charities that are still disbursing money today to help the less fortunate.  Bill Gates is following that path; Jeff Bezos is a different matter.  He could start by being more generous to his own employees.

But this is chump change – you have to tax them and tax them, and break up all the burgeoning monopolies, whatever the industry.   The current situation cannot stand for long; it is shameful and self- defeating. I wish Americans learned history, for at this rate they will repeat it for sure!

Disappearing Louisiana

Since the days of Huey Long, in the 1930s, Louisiana has shrunk by more than two thousand square miles. If Delaware or Rhode Island had lost that much territory, the U.S. would have only forty-nine states. Every hour and a half, Louisiana sheds another football field’s worth of land. Every few minutes, it drops a tennis court’s worth. On maps, the state may still resemble a boot. Really, though, the bottom of the boot is in tatters, missing not just a sole but also its heel and a good part of its instep.  The problem is climate change and the actions of the Mississippi.

Atmospheric warming, ocean warming, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, deglaciation, desertification, eutrophication (excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to runoff from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen) –   these are just some of the byproducts of our species’ success, and they show up most notably in the delta area of the Mississippi river.   The most recent equivalent disaster was  the asteroid that ended the reign of the dinosaurs sixty-six million years ago. Humans are producing no-analogue climates, no-analogue ecosystems, a whole no-analogue future. There  are so many of us—nearly eight billion— that solving a problem so huge seems impracticable.  (a small section of a New Yorker article, 27 March 2019).

Meanwhile, one would have had to be asleep for months, like Rip van Winkle,  if you have not been aware of the recent hurricanes, the flooding , the weird and increasingly sudden temperature changes .  It suits the oil and coal people to pretend this is all a hoax, or only temporary..  But no, it is not temporary and will not go away, and it’s going to cause mass migration, violence, homelessness, food supply problems and disruptions to life we haven’t yet imagined.   We can put up memorials to the. naysayers ( this was all z ‘s fault) but that will do no good.  It is the young I worry about.  Meanwhile, I am walking everywhere I can.  It’s the Epicurean thing to do, despite the vehicle emissions from, yes, fossil fuels.

Time off in Greece

Kefalonia

 We came, we saw, we sunbathed

 Odysseus, who came from Ithaca, just next door,
Found Kefalonia a bore.
No dragons, no beasties, no Charybdis or Scyllas,
Just a load of young Brits drinking beer in their villas.
From the earliest moment when he was a boy,
He wanted adventures, like leveling Troy.
But although he had traveled quite a lot,
He seemed to ignore this particular spot.

Here people are friendly, the climate sublime,
The countryside scented with sage and with thyme.
The olives are ancient, the beaches are sandy,
The food is so-so, but the markets are handy.
But except for Corelli and his mandolin,
There is little to stimulate adrenaline.
It’s an excellent place to just lie in the sun,
But nothing occurs here, when all’s said and done.

No, history’s passed by this particular isle – –
A backwater now, as it’s been for a while.
Top Romans arrived, found the island quite pleasant,
But generally gave it away as a present.
The Venetians came by and proved a mild menace,
But the wine wasn’t good, so they went back to Venice.
The odd conqueror conquered, but promptly departed;
The British came too, but were rather half-hearted.

No sign of a palace of mythical kings,
No civilizations or mystical springs.
No rivers to hell and no acropoli
To attract foreign visitors happening by.
The hire cars are hired, but most sit in the sun,
For where would they go if they went for a run?

No wonder the Italians and British all choose
The beach and the poolside, banter and booze.