Warming of the Globe

To The Economist

Limiting temperature rises to 2°C above pre-industrial norms would still leave atmospheric carbon dioxide at well over 450 parts per million (ppm). We evolved – and until less than a century ago, lived – on a 300ppm planet. We need to return the Earth’s climate to its pre-industrial state, without doing the same to the economy.

The UN recently hosted the first Global Forum on Climate Restoration. Entrepreneurs and climate scientists discussed the undoubtedly gargantuan challenge of removing and permanently storing around a trillion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2050, and presented technically viable ways to do this. Even if market-based approaches to remove carbon dioxide fail entirely, and they won’t, a reasonable estimate is that it would cost 3-5% of global GDP for 20-30 years to return the atmosphere to 300ppm. As a comparison, ten years ago America diverted 3.5% of its annual GDP to prevent the financial system from collapsing. That felt like a good investment. So does this.  (Jon Shepard, Global Development Incubator, under the title “A cooling investment“)

My comment: A minority of people throughout the world are trying hard to concentrate the attention of politicians to the scary warming of the planet, so far with small effect. The best news today is that BP has announced that it will stop oil exploration and development and concentrate only on renewable energy.  But this is just one company.  A large number of Americans seem to think that warming is a hoax.  Their names and activities will go down in history as betrayers  of the human race.  But in a culture where money is god, and you have no right to stop them making money, however recklessly and selfishly, this is how it is and will quite possibly destroy civilized life. But who cares?

 

American storm troops.

“He sent what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called his “unidentified storm troopers” togged out like soldiers in a war zone onto streets filled with protesters in Portland, Oregon. Those camouflage-clad federal law enforcement agents were evidently from the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service and the Customs and Border Protection agency.

Soon, hundreds of them are evidently going  to “surge”– a term that should sound eerily familiar — into Chicago and other cities run by Democratic mayors. In such a fashion, the Administration is quite literally bringing this country’s wars home. Speaking with reporters in the Oval Office, Trump recently described everyday violence in Chicago as “worse than Afghanistan, by far.” He was talking about the country the U.S. invaded in 2001 and in which it hasn’t stopped fighting ever since, a land where more the 1000,000 civilians reportedly died violently between 2010 and 2019. By now, violence in Chicago (which is indeed grim) in the mind of the Great Confabulator, become “worse than anything anyone has ever seen”, and so worthy of yet more militarized chaos”. (William Astor, Tomgram july 26, 2020).

My comment:  I happen to have a history degree, one of my tutors having been a senior translator at the Nuremberg trials.  He was an expert on Europe in the period leading up to the Second World War.   All the time I am reminded of his horrific stories and regret that Americans have such superficial knowledge of the history of fascism, enabled as it was by the aftermath of the 1929 financial disaster.  The modern parallels are truly scary, the personalities involved weirdly parallel, the activities of Q-Anon little different from German, Italian and Spanish fascism of the 20s and 30s.  Epicureanism  is partly about peace of mind.   Hard to maintain!

Meanwhile, the world temperatures are rising…….

Verkhoyansk, Russia

The highest temperature ever seen in the Arctic circle – 38°C – has been recorded in a town in Siberia. Scientists had previously predicted that the Arctic circle would not experience temperatures like that until 2100. A small town with a population of 1,000, some 3,000 miles east of Moscow, Verkhoyansk is known for its exceptionally cold winters. Its record low of -67.8°C is one of the coldest temperatures recorded on Earth. In summer, it typically reaches highs of 20°C.

However, Siberia has been in the grip of an exceptional heatwave for more than a month, causing wildfires that have sent smoke stretching over thousands of miles. On 23 May, the mercury in Khatanga, more than 100 miles north of Verkhoyansk, hit 25°C, an astonishing 13°C higher than its previous record.  (The Week 27 June 2020).

My comment:  There are governments that are actually trying to devise responsible policies to fight global climate change.  But for some, the United States in particular, the whole thing is being treated as a hoax devised to damage the economy and to make life harder for the pampered super-rich, who effectively control the current government and dictate policy.  For them the clear and obvious effects of warming are to be treated as party political. Global warming is deeply inconvenient for these selfish people and is best ignored or treated as party politics.

I won’t live to see the worst effects of the calamity facing the planet, but i feel for and fear for those who come after me and I doing my pathetic best not to make matters worse.

How can they sleep at night?

For an example of just how heartless and profit-obsessed health insurers are, take a look at what is playing out in Connecticut, where Cigna is based.

 Low income people with diabetes in Connecticut and other states are having a hard time paying for the insulin that they must have to stay alive–even though they have insurance. That’s because in many cases, their copays and deductibles are so high they can’t afford to pick up their prescriptions.  One in four Americans, many of whom are insured, are putting their lives at risk by rationing insulin.

To provide some relief, Connecticut lawmakers have introduced legislation that would cap the cost of insulin supplies at $25 a month for people enrolled in health plans regulated by the state, including Medicaid.   Unfortunately, the proposed law would NOT apply to people who get their insurance through an employer (as most Americans do) because employer-sponsored plans are exempt from state oversight. So even though the bill would only apply to a relatively small segment of the population in Connecticut–the poorest who have to buy coverage on their own without the help of an employer and those who are enrolled in Medicaid–lobbyists for the insurance industry are trying to kill the bill. 

 The bill undoubtedly would save lives, but that is of little concern to the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, the lobbying group for the state’s insurers, which argues that “capping copays unfortunately doesn’t do anything to address the actual cost of the drugs and the supplies.”

There are two things to understand here. One, we are talking about a relatively small amount of money, pocket change, really, when you consider the enormous profits the big insurers are making, especially during the pandemic, but the insurance industry doesn’t want to give up a dime in profits. It is putting the interests of shareholders above the interests of patients. 

 The other thing to understand is that the insurance companies, through their public comments, are acknowledging that they are largely incapable of holding down the cost of medications by any means other than making their customers pay more out of their own pockets for life-saving drugs. 

 The insurance industry’s top lobbyist in the state was quoted as saying that insurers use copays as leverage in negotiating lower prices with pharmaceutical companies. That is tantamount to an admission that insurers view patients as hostages and are telling drug makers, “I’ll deny this patient affordable access to a drug she needs unless you lower the price.”

 This should not be happening in America. If health insurers can’t come up with more acceptable ways to help their customers manage medical expenses than by using them as hostages, what is their “value proposition?” 

 One of the things health insurance lobbyists will not admit is that health insurance executives and their shareholders actually benefit from rising health care costs. The more prices go up, the more insurers can force their customers to pay in premiums, copays and deductibles. Higher premiums translate into higher revenues and profits.  By increasing copays and deductibles, insurers make their customers pay more out of their own pockets before their coverage kicks in. As long as we allow this rigged game to go on, shareholders will continue to win at our expense. 

 It is outrageous that people with insurance are dying every day in this country because of ever-increasing copays and deductibles. It is equally outrageous that industry lobbyists would try to block efforts that could save some of those lives.  (Wendell Potter, Tarbell, 7/24/2020. Mr Potter used to be an executive at Cigna and is now a daily critic of the health insurance industry).

My comment:  I don’t know how those people sleep at night.  

Twelve Commandments for Seniors

                          

#1 – Talk to yourself. There are times you need expert advice.

#2 – “In Style” are the clothes that still fit.

#3 – You don’t need anger management. You need people to stop pissing you off.

#4 – Your people skills are just fine. It’s your tolerance for idiots that needs work.

#5 – The biggest lie you tell yourself is, “I don’t need to write that down. I’ll remember it.”

#6 – “On time” is when you get there.

#7 – Even duct tape can’t fix stupid – but it sure does muffle the sound.

#8 – It would be wonderful if we could put ourselves in the dryer for ten minutes, then come out wrinkle-free and three sizes smaller.

#9 – Lately, You’ve noticed people your age are so much older than you.

#10 – Growing old should have taken longer.

#11 – Aging has slowed you down, but it hasn’t shut you up.

#12 – You still haven’t learned to act your age, and hope you never will

Iceland: The dark underbelly of sexual equality

Iceland has long enjoyed a reputation as a paragon of sexual equality. For the past 11 years, it has led the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, and its women benefit from high levels of education and equality in the workplace.

But this masks some “insidious problems in Icelandic society”, say Sigrún Sif Jóelsdóttir and Grant Wyeth. In what has been labelled the “Nordic paradox”, women in Iceland and other Nordic countries have gained “significant structural equality” yet still face disproportionate violence against them. For instance, while globally 38% of murders of women are committed by a male partner, the figure in Iceland stands at 50%.

Sexual assault is also common: one in four Iceland women have been raped or sexually assaulted in their lives – compared to one in ten in Europe as a whole. One theory to explain this so-called paradox is that perpetrators of violence are protected by justice systems that tolerate and excuse their behaviour. Another is that increased gender equality “fuels male resentment” which is channelled into violence. But whatever the explanation, it has to change. If the world is to continue celebrating the country as a “global exemplar”, Iceland must confront its failure to end violence against women – and fast.   (The Week,  25 July 2020,  and Foreign Policy, Washington)

My comment:  This is really weird.  Why should men get violent because their partners are  earning more than them and asserting their equality? Personally, I think gender equality is one of the best things in modern life.  It means the whole onus of income and living standards is not on the shoulders of the man.  One can relax a bit, do something for oneself, while scrupulously helping around the house( of course!), maintaining peace and amity. Grow up, guys!  Be thankful you are not permanently stressed having to do more than your share!

Epicureanism, among other things, stands for gender equality and unwavering respect for one’s spouse or partner.  No ifs or buts.

China and the internet

Not long ago we fondly believed that one thing all nations would have in common was access to the same digital technology, that is (mainly) the internet. We were wrong. Ever since Beijing began building its Great Firewall in 1996, its censored version of the web has diverged from the one used by the rest of the world. And as tensions between China and the US escalate, this divergence is now spreading to other tech areas. Beijing is creating more of its own bespoke computer hardware; it is investing huge sums in 5G technology and AI; it is poised to disconnect itself from GPS, the universally used satellite navigation system run by the US air force, and switch to its own BeiDou network.

Last year, Beijing ordered all government offices to remove foreign computer equipment and software within three years. Meanwhile, the US has blacklisted Huawei and other Chinese firms, leading Huawei – which can no longer license Google’s Android operating system – to start developing its own system, Harmony OS. The US and China seem to be priming the world for “a digital cold war”. Welcome to “the splinternet”.   (The Week, 27 June 2020, and Margi Murphy and Matthew Field in The Daily Telegraph).

 My comment:  Anyone who knows any history could have warned politicians and big companies that China has for many years had a ( justified?) chip on its shoulder about being pushed around by, and a desire to get even with, the West (and Japan) for perceived humiliations of the past. Now  China is becoming Major Power No. 1, with massive help from Western capitalist corporations, and is exerting huge economic influence in a ruthless fashion, based by large-scale theft of Western know-how and the incarceration of all who, even modestly, disagree with the Party, including the poor Uighers, who have done nobody any harm.

One used to be assured that a constitutional and democratic United States would defend Western values.  Now that this can no longer be taken for granted and the US is becoming more like an average African country, with an autocrat-admirer in charge, the peace of mind I personally used to have in the political future has massively diminished.  As China displaces the US, none of us can rest easy.

US universities are charging full fees for ‘virtual’ class this fall.

Schools with huge endowments are pretending remote learning is the same experience as learning together with your fellow students. Excuse me?  Harvard is one of the colleges who will offer the bulk of their courses online. But they refuse to reduce the cost of tuition.

Colleges and universities are in a bind. Coronavirus continues to rage in many parts of America, making the sort of communal gatherings that are hallmarks of collegiate life outright dangerous. Lecture halls, libraries, football games and dorm-room parties can all be superspreader events.

Some educational institutions have already declared that almost the entire academic year will occur remotely, while others are forging on with in-person learning.  For schools that have decided against in-person instruction, the caution exercised is understandable. The University of California system, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Rutgers have all declared that the bulk of their course offerings will be online. About  60% of schools are meanwhile still planning an in-person start to the year.

What colleges are not doing is reducing tuition costs, even though a significant portion of the value these educational institutions provide is now lost indefinitely. Only Princeton has offered a 10% price cut. Harvard, with its $40bn endowment, is still charging full tuition. So are Rutgers and the University of California schools, both public universities.

Though they charge less than private institutions, Rutgers or a University of California school aren’t cheap. In-state students at California public universities still pay about $14,000 a year to attend. At Rutgers, in New Jersey, in-state students pay a little more than $12,000. (At both schools, out-of-state tuition is far higher, more than $40,000 and $30,000 respectively.)  Altogether, college costs have soared, and now almost every institution, in the age of coronavirus, faces a reckoning.

Remote learning, no matter how well-intentioned, is a diluted product, and students deserve a tuition reduction for sitting at home and staring at a laptop screen.  Professors cannot connect with students in the same way. And the ancillary benefits of college – making friends, networking with peers, joining clubs, playing intramural sports – are all lost.

There is an argument that students, especially at prestige schools, are still getting the value of a degree and therefore should pay the full freight. Isn’t the diploma ultimately what matters? But that’s not how colleges and universities pitch themselves to unsuspecting freshmen.

College life is not merely about scoring a dream job right after graduation. It’s supposed to be an experience. Behold our manicured lawns, our successful basketball team, our state-of-the-art fitness center, the newly revamped computer lab – and pay dearly for them. Part of the tradeoff of taking on crippling debt is supposed to be the creation of unforgettable memories, those four life-changing years you’ll never have again. Remote learning promises none of that.

Public schools are in a tougher position than their wealthier private counterparts. Tuition is how they generate much of their revenue, particularly after decades of cost-cutting by state governments. Many states have left world-class public institutions begging for money; the cuts after the 2008 economic crash were especially deep. Without a massive federal bailout package, public universities and community colleges will be suffering for years to come, starved of tax revenue in the wake of the pandemic.

Still, these public institutions can offer tuition discounts while seeking cuts elsewhere. Greg Schiano, the Rutgers football coach, for instance, makes an astonishing $4m annually!   The athletics arms race means that scores of colleges, like Rutgers, have run up huge deficits.

College costs have soared over the decades owing to declining public aid, expensive athletics, increased demand, and the rising cost of staff.  Now almost every institution, in the age of coronavirus, faces a reckoning. They can continue to overcharge students. Or they can attempt a measure of economic justice at a time when, from the White House on down, it’s utterly lacking.  

  • Ross Barkan , The Guardián July 11 2020. ( lightly edited for length)

My take: Start with taking a good look shrinking nonessential expenditures like athletics.  But to charge for in-person tuition and only offer the internet is downright dishonest.  Meanwhile, note the author’s question , “Isn’t the diploma ultimately what matters?” No, the objective is to educate you, to learn critical thinking, to set you up for a lifetime of learning.  All that seems to matter is the piece of paper, alias a “ job”.  Don’t get me started!

Dealing with pain

Around a decade ago, scientists identified a gene called SCN9A – which plays a key role in transmitting pain signals up the spinal cord – and found that people with a mutation of this gene barely experience pain. Now, in experiments on mice, scientists at the University of San Diego in the US have discovered that by using a variant of the gene editing technique Crispr, they can temporarily disable SCN9A, and so block its pain-inducing effects.

If this technique can be applied to humans, it could lead to the development of new painkilling treatments that are more effective, and much safer, than existing ones. Currently many of the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain are reliant on opioids – which are addictive, have unpleasant side effects and are highly dangerous. In the US, tens of thousands of people a year die of overdoses from painkilling narcotics, and around two million are addicted to them. The San Diego team hopes to start human trials next year.  (The Week, 18 January 2020).

 My comment:  I write as someone with constant, if low level, back pain, like so many my age.   I have exercises to deal with it, but resist taking painkillers, if possible, and absolutely won’t succumb to opioids.  So this  news is potentially good news.

Undertakers now suffering

Oslo

Norway’s response to the pandemic has been so effective, the country’s overall death rate has actually fallen – and six firms of undertakers have had to apply for state aid as a result. Erik Lande, a funeral director from the town of Lyngdal, said he’d normally expect to organise 30 funerals a month in the spring, but after lockdown was imposed in March, that fell to ten. Not one of those deaths was from Covid-19. “It not only broke the back of the coronavirus, but other viruses too,” he said. “So much so that some of the old and sick people who would have died in normal circumstances are still around.” Norway has recorded just 255 Covid deaths. Overall deaths were down 6% in May, and 13% in June.  ( The Week, 20 July 2020)

My comment:  Sorry for the  Norwegian undertakers ( hint: move to the US.  Whoops!  Sorry, take that back. The US government won’t let you in.  Can’t have foreigners come and take our jobs!).  But nonetheless, we could benefit from the clever Norwegians who have done such a stellar job looking after public health.  Regrettably, too many Americans do not value or respect well organized government.  It’s all about “liberty” to do whatever you want, regardless of its effect on others, including their deaths-by-virus. Unfair remark?  Wish it were!

Police violence Is enabled by massive spending

The Black Lives Matter protest movement shows again why America needs to defund bloated and militarized police departments.

The brutal videotaped killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, has pushed Americans to the limit of what they will tolerate from police.  While many of the problems can be laid at the feet of the current administration, which abolished the modest Obama police reforms, the current status quo of accepting and encouraging racist and murderous policing has been a largely bipartisan project at the federal, state, and local level.

Both political parties have had many years to rein in the culture of police brutality.  Apparently, huge efforts to reform the LAPD resulted in only the mildest changes. The liberal city, dominated by Democrats, continues to have the largest number of police killings nationwide, and the black female district attorney, Jackie Lacey, has refused to prosecute a single officer during her tenure.  The demand that those who violate rights should be held legally accountable has gone unmet. Like the LAPD, the NYPD has enjoyed the protection of a largely liberal and Democratic political landscape.

Obama’s federal oversight of police departments through court-ordered consent decrees was a start, but in his last act as Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions undid the Obama-era consent decrees.  The flow pf military equipment and weapons to local police departments then resumed.   

Now, as mass protests are taking place all over the nation, the images of well-armed and flak-jacketed police facing off against protesters and violently subduing them while remaining encased in protective gear stands in stark contrast to our desperately under-equipped health care workers who have been vainly trying to save as many lives as possible during the coronavirus pandemic.

Police are clad head to toe in high-tech gear, face shields and body armor, with no shortage of plastic handcuffs, rubber bullets, and tear gas canisters. The optics of these modern-day gestapo-like forces roaming city streets, bashing in heads and firing tear gas into the faces of unarmed protesters are a reminder of just how many federal and state-level resources we have poured into law enforcement over the years at the expense of health care, education, and other public needs.

Even as the economic collapse triggered by the pandemic threatened to devastate public school systems, in the liberal havens of Los Angeles and New York City, law enforcement budgets remained unscathed. California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed big cuts to schools to compensate for massive budget shortfalls at the same time that LAPD officers were receiving $41 million in bonuses. 

And while the pandemic is forcing cities to make hard choices about which public services to slash, police departments have remained immune to cuts. Democratic Party’s state and local leaders, have poured money into our domestic armed forces—the police—to fuel a war on us, and especially those among us with black or brown skin. The  police cannnot solve problems caused by poor education, health care, and jobs.  Money should be diverted into education, health care, and jobs.

My comment:  I would quote Author Alex Vitale’s 2018 book, “The End of Policing”.  It.has the following quotation: “The problem is not police training, police diversity, or police methods. The problem is the dramatic and unprecedented expansion and intensity of policing in the last forty years, a fundamental shift in the role of police in society.  “The problem is policing itself.”. The solution, he says, “is to dramatically shrink police functions ….. We must demand that local politicians develop non-police solutions to the problems poor people face.

  (This posting is an edited-for length version of an article by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute)

A moral catastrophe: not just in the United States

Care England, Britain’s largest representative body for care homes, reckons that by the end of April 7,500 residents may have died of the virus.  But only those who die in hospital after testing positive are included in the statistics. Elderly sufferers, unseen, disregarded, have gone uncounted. Average life expectancy in nursing homes is only two years anyway, but that’s no excuse for shrugging our shoulders. In a civilised society, defending the most vulnerable is an overriding moral duty.

The disease  spread “like wildfire” among the 400,000 residents of Britain’s care homes. In one Staffordshire nursing home, 24 died during a three-week outbreak of Covid-19. And a care home in Peterborough lost six residents – a third of its total – in ten days.

And the people looking after them get “far less protection and guidance” than those in the NHS.. Carers are “the forgotten front line”. Yet as we see, their work is just as important. The “unglamorous” tasks they undertake include washing, feeding, dressing and medicating residents, many of whom have dementia. And then there’s the emotional support that they provide. It’s work that requires “compassion and intelligence”.

 The million people who work in the sector are horribly underpaid. Half earn less than the real living wage – and they’re four times more likely than others to be on zero-hours contracts. Their plight is an index of the Government’s failure over the years to pay anything more than lip service to addressing social care. The UK’s 11,300 care homes – most of them small businesses reliant on funding from residents’ fees and councils – have long had to endure “endemic” staff shortages and budget shortfalls. No wonder they were so acutely underprepared for this crisis.

And the Government’s new immigration rules will make things worse.  A fifth of carers are migrants. But while foreign doctors and nurses working here are to have automatic visa extensions, carers have to pay to apply for theirs. Nor will we be able to replenish the supply of carers from abroad, as they don’t earn enough to qualify for a work permit and will be classified as “unskilled workers”. The people who keep our social care system afloat, “just as heroic as NHS staff”, are being treated as second-class citizens. It will take more than a shiny badge to fix this injustice.  (The Week,  25 April 2020).

My comment: the reality (and I hope I am wrong!) is that in the U.K. and the US the elderly are regarded as an expense item in the national budgets – fewer oldies, lower taxes? To compound this, there are sections of the community in both countries who resent, disregard or despise immigrants.  And yet, one day the types who feel that way may be cared for by underpaid immigrants.  Hah!

Bezos, give back!

For the richest man in the world, $13 billion is just one day’s profit – a day’s profit that happens to be more than the entire GDP of 77 countries across the world. In one single day, Jeff Bezos makes more money than he could ever hope to spend in one lifetime and became one step closer to becoming the world’s first trillionaire.

Even if Congress passed a temporary billionaires’ tax that only taxed profits made since early March, Jeff Bezos would still be the richest man in the world, and the US would have over $560 billion to fight the corona virus. (Julia Conley)

My comment:  I don’t envy Bezos; I buy from him, sometimes two or three times a week.  His company is extremely well run, and I admire the way he has built it, relatively quickly, into a behemoth.  But with riches come responsibilities.  Decency requires him to pay decent wages.  It also requires him to contribute to the country that gave him his opportunity, and he can do that, firstly, by insisting on a tax rate that would help the country out of the appalling mess that it’s leaders have gotten it into.  Secondly, by actively giving to non-profits who help the poor, the sick, the jobless and the under- educated.  The need is huge; and yet, what he gave he would never miss (at least I can’t imagine why he would).

Neanderthal genes

A chunk of Neanderthal DNA carried by some people living today appears to reduce the chance of miscarriage and promote fertility. The finding is the latest evidence that Homo sapiens benefitted from Stone Age sexual encounters with other human species.

Genetic studies suggest  that people of non-African modern humans descent carry about 1 – 2% of Neanderthal DNA in their cells.  This might have helped homo sapiens cope with Eurasian diseases which they had never encountered during their evolution in Africa.  

Researchers examining data from the UK Biobank, which includes the genetic and lifestyle information of more than 450,000 people in the UK, found that women who carry the Neanderthal allele were less likely to have experienced a miscarriage or unexpected bleeding during early pregnancy.

An earlier study indicated that the Neanderthal allele is also linked with a higher chance of premature birth. But the new study puts that earlier finding in a new light. It is thought that some of these premature births would have been miscarried if the woman lacked the Neanderthal allele. In other words, it might preserve pregnancies that would otherwise be lost at an early stage.

So that is positive, but there is also a downside: the PGR Neanderthal allele is also linked to a higher occurrence of ovarian cancer. Nothing is simple !  

(Colin Barras, New Scientist 8 June 2020, (Journal reference: Molecular Biology and Evolution, DOI: 10.1093/ olbey/msaa119).

My comment:  I subscribe to 23and Me and have contributed to 99% of their research projects, maybe because they told me that I carried more Neanderthal genes than most of their contributors.  The knowledge I have gained is practically speaking useless, but it’s fun.   For the record, research shows that those with more than normal Neanderthal genes are more intelligent, more affectionate, and ( according only to me) more accepting, gentle, sociable.and cooperative. Early Epicureans, actually,  They died out because homo sapiens were rude, violent, aggressive, greedy and none of the  more charming things listed above.  ( If you can’t advertise yourself no one is going to do it for you.  There. End of blatant self-promotion).

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Making a dog’s dinner of Brexit?

“The UK’s new start – let’s get going.” That’s the lame slogan unveiled this week to exhort businesses to prepare for Brexit proper in January.   For UK consumers, that “sunny” new start means sky-high phone roaming charges, comprehensive travel insurance to cross the Channel, and the need to visit a vet four months in advance if you want to take your pet. For businesses, though, the situation is even worse. Under the border plans laid out by Michael Gove this week, importers face retrieving their goods from a “vast and stupendously pointless lorry park being put together at a cost of £705m”. Exporters face similar challenges in reverse.

And all told, officials predict a “post-Brexit bureaucracy burden” of 215 million customs declarations, overseen by 50,000 new customs agents, costing businesses £7bn. This “godawful mess” of red tape makes a mockery of Brexiter promises of reinvigorated trade. And even this supposes a best-case scenario of a trade deal, rather than a “no-deal crash-out”, and “crippling WTO tariffs”. Let’s get going? Let’s not.    (James Moore, The Independent, The Week, 18 July 2020)

My comment:   All this  was quite unnecessary. I thought it would be a potential disaster, culturally, practically and economically. The  characters involved in Brexit spoke for themselves. But I hadn’t factored in the earnest desire of bureaucrats to create bigger and better bureaucratic methods of really irritating the populace.

What is the national benefit to the  the “new, vibrant Britain” is all this stuff? The current political establishment ( living back in the 19th Century) is not qualified for the job it has voluntarily chosen to do.  Con-men thrive in all directions, but they are incapable of devising any sensible directions.

Being a gentleman

I have to say that the modern world – and especially politics –  can be crude, vulgar, and lacking any kindness and thoughtfulness for others.

If there is one thing that separates those who espouse Epicureanism from most (not all!) of the rest of the human race , or the male half of it, anyway, is the old-fashioned concept of the. gentleman.  What are the character traits of a gentleman?

  •  Courtesy and politeness to everyone, young and old
  •  Kindness and thoughtfulness for others less well off than yourself
  • Patience with those less mentally agile than yourself
  • Honesty  (lie to nobody. Period)
  • Integrity  (having strong moral principles)
  • Reliability:   Always do what you say you will do
  • Loyalty to family, co-workers and country
  • Sense of humour (under-rated in some parts of the world!)
  • Mild self-depreciation  (no boasting)
  • Respect for rich, for poor, for black, for brown, for old and young
  • Viewing money as a necessary thing in life, but secondary to how you deal with others.
  • Consideration for the sick, the old, and the poor.  With that goes generosity towards not-for-profit organisations seeking to serve deserving causes.

 

We get too much choice, not too little

Choice

They think we’ll rejoice, offered infinite choice,

But in fact more is less; indecision means stress.

How did they ever think it was clever

To propose the adoption of every damned option

Under the sun, instead of just one?

 

Just take the car, where they’ve gone far too far.

Do I have to recap the ten types of hubcap

The number of doors, colored carpets on floors,

The bumpers, the hoods, powered windows, faux-woods?

One mentally cowers faced choice of horse-powers,

Different colors and trims and personalized shims,

When on the turnpike cars look much alike.

Henry Ford, please come back and offer just black!

 

Take the cereals on offer three hundred they proffer,

And do so in aisles that stretch out for miles.

They have now added in every known vitamin,

So you’re glutted with C and gutted with D.

If you read all the labels, ingredient tables,

I very much fear it would be a career.

 

Hi-tech sort of gear is a category where

They include lots of stuff that you don’t use enough,

Or remember it’s there, or particularly care.

The shops you buy through mostly haven’t a clue;

The instructions are vast, and a whole day has passed

Before you work out what the feature’s about.

And I’ll have a good bet that at once you’ll forget

What buttons to press, and you’ll just have to guess.

 

Oh, take me back home where the buffaloes roam

Where you rock in your chair in fresh air with no care;

Where in the boondocks the shops have small stocks,

And you’re settled and done with a “choice” of just one;

And you buy your provisions with no endless decisions,

Just a simple invoice and no multiple choice.

 

So who’s going to tell the people who sell

To in future decline to over-design?

Who’s going to complain “Wish you’d just keep it plain.

Let it do just one task, that’s all that we ask.”

I have just made a start: “Give us less a la carte!”

Come, you too can rejoice with more time and less choice.

(Robert Hanrott)

 

Water crisis

Millions of Americans are facing unaffordable bills for running water and risk being disconnected or losing their homes

Water bills weigh heavily on many Americans as utilities have been hiking prices to pay for environmental clean-ups, infrastructure upgrades and climate emergency defences to deal with floods and droughts. Federal funding for America’s ageing water system has plummeted, and as a result a growing number of households are unable to afford to pay their bills.

Typical story: Albert Pickett inherited water debts from his mother after she died. Pickett applied to get on to a repayment plan, but the water department refused as he didn’t have the money, several hundred dollars, required as a deposit. Cleveland Water didn’t inform Pickett, who survives on disability benefits, about his right to appeal – instead, they turned off the taps in 2013. “Without water you can’t do anything. I lost my family, my wellbeing, my self-esteem. It was humiliating, like I was less than human,” he says.    (The Guardian. July 7 2020)

My comment:  All who subscribe to the thought and ethics of Epicurus will be shocked at this situation, brought to my attention by a British newspaper!  The  disgraceful treatment of poor Americans by the money-crazed local, reactionary local officials should be outed and shouted out above the rooftops.  We need to get rid of all local officials who are tolerating the situation.

I take it there are still some decent, kind, thoughtful and considerate people out there, even if they don’t vote the same way as I do. Black lives do matter.  So do those of poor whites.  End profiteering!

Inequality thrives

Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat has a good thing going.

Corbat pocketed $24 million last year and $24 million the year before. This year, Citibank, the world’s largest credit card issuer, has an even better thing going. Citi is paying just 0.35 percent interest on corona-crisis loans from the Federal Reserve and charging customers as much as 27.4 percent in credit-card interest. That spread is generating oodles of dollars that Corbat would like to pass on to Citi shareholders like himself. But the Federal Reserve wants Citi and other big banks to sit on their cash as a guard against a financial system crash, and last month announced mild limits on the dividends banks can shell out.

Corbat remains unimpressed by Fed worries about financial fragility. Notes the Citi CEO: “From our perspective, our dividend is sound, and we plan on continuing to pay it.” Corbat’s solicitude for the well-being of his shareholders doesn’t seem to extend to his customers. This past spring, Citi accounted for four times more credit-card complaints to federal regulators than any other major bank.  (inequality.org, June 2020).

My comment:  What do you expect?  The priority is making money, with attendant privileges.   Customers are a background irritant, to be impatiently attended to  between being wined and dined by politicians and lounging on the yacht.

Fertility rate: ‘jaw-dropping’ global crash in children being born”

Falling fertility rates mean that nearly every country could have shrinking populations by the end of the century. 23 nations – including Spain and Japan – are expected to see their populations halve by 2100.  Countries will also age dramatically, with as many people turning 80 as there are being born.

The fertility rate – the average number of children a woman gives birth to – is falling. If the number falls below approximately 2.1, then the size of the population starts to fall. While in 1950, women were having an average of 4.7 children in their lifetime, the global fertility rate nearly halved to 2.4 in 2017. A study in The Lancet projects that it will fall below 1.7 by 2100.   As a result, the researchers expect the number of people on the planet to peak at 9.7 billion around 2064, before falling  to 8.8 billion by the end of the century.

Why is this happening?   It has nothing to do with sperm counts or the usual things that come to mind when discussing fertility.   Instead it is being driven by more women in education and work, as well as greater access to contraception, leading to women choosing to have fewer children.

Japan’s population is projected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century.  Italy is expected to see an equally dramatic population crash from 61 million to 28 million over the same timeframe.  These are two of 23 countries – including Spain, Portugal, Thailand and South Korea – expected to see their population more than halve.

China, currently the most populous nation in the world, is expected to peak at 1.4 billion in four years time before nearly halving to 732 million by 2100! The UK is predicted to peak at 75 million in 2063, and fall to 71 million. 

This is a global issue, with 183 out of 195 countries having a fertility rate below the replacement level.  It is great for the environment, with lower carbon emissions and less deforestation.  The problem is that there will be more old people than young people,  a shift from young to old.  The number of under-fives will fall from 681 million in 2017 to 401 million in 2100, but over 80-year-olds will soar from 141 million in 2017 to 866 million in 2100.

Who pays tax in a massively aged world? Who pays for healthcare for the elderly? Who looks after the elderly? Will people still be able to retire from work?  (By James Gallagher, Health and science correspondent, BBC;  researcher Prof Christopher Murray, and The Lancet, 15 July 2020)

My comment: There are too many people in the world, and too many semi-educated and poorly brought-up people at that.  However, the comment about taxation and who is going to look after the oldies is a killer, I agree. Life is going to get increasingly tough.  But maybe a greatly reduced population is the price we have to pay for the survival of the human race at all.  We can’t go on grossly abusing the planet indefinitely.

Apparently a true story

This  is apparently the actual dialogue, from the WordPerfect customer support Helpline,  transcribed from a recording monitoring the customer care department. Needless to say the Help Desk employee was fired; however, he/she is currently suing the WordPerfect organization for ‘Termination without Cause’.

Operator:         ‘Ridge Hall, computer assistance; may I help you?’
Caller:              ‘Yes, well, I’m having trouble with WordPerfect ‘
Operator:         ‘What sort of trouble?’
Caller:              ‘Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away.’
Operator:         ‘Went away?’
Caller:              ‘They disappeared’
Operator:         ‘Hmm. So what does your screen look like now?’
Caller:              ‘Nothing.’
Operator:         ‘Nothing??’
Caller:              ‘It’s blank; it won’t accept anything when I type.’
Operator:         ‘Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out?’
Caller:              ‘How do I tell?’
Operator:        ‘Can you see the ‘C: prompt’ on the screen?’
Caller:              ‘What’s a sea-prompt?’
Operator:         ‘Never mind, can you move your cursor around the screen?’
Caller:              ‘There isn’t any cursor; I told you, it won’t accept anything I type.’
Operator:         ‘Does your monitor have a power indicator?’
Caller:              ‘What’s a monitor?’
Operator:         ‘It’s the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV. 
                          Does it have a little light that tells you when it’s on?’
Caller:              ‘I don’t know.’
Operator:        ‘Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where 
                         the power cord goes into it. Can you see that??’
Caller:             ‘Yes, I think so.’
Operator:       ‘Great. Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if it’s 
                         plugged into the wall..
Caller:             ‘Yes, it is.’
Operator:        ‘When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that 
                         there were two cables plugged into the back of it, not just one? ‘
Caller:              ‘No.’
Operator:         ‘Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and 
                         find the other cable.’
Caller:              ‘Okay, here it is.’
Operator:          ‘Follow it for me, and tell me if it’s plugged securely into 
                          the back of your computer..’
Caller:               ‘I can’t reach.’
Operator:          ‘OK. Well, can you see if it is?’
Caller:               ‘No…’
Operator:          ‘Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over?’
Caller:               ‘Well, it’s not because I don’t have the right angle — it’s because it’s dark.’
Operator:          ‘Dark?’
Caller:               ‘Yes – the office light is off, and the only light I have is 
                          coming in from the window.’
Operator:          ‘Well, turn on the office light then.’
Caller:               ‘I can’t..’
Operator:          ‘No? Why not?’
Caller:              ‘Because there’s a power failure.’
Operator:         ‘A power …. A power failure? Aha. Okay, we’ve got it   
                         licked now. Do you still have the boxes and manuals and   
                         packing stuff that your computer came in?’
Caller:              ‘Well, yes, I keep them in the closet..’
Operator:         ‘Good. Go get them, and unplug your system and pack it up just like it was when you            

                          got it.  Then take it back to the store you bought it from.’
Caller:              ‘Really? Is it that bad?’
Operator:        ‘Yes, I’m afraid it is.’
Caller:              ‘Well, all right then, I suppose.  What do I tell them?’
Operator:         ‘Tell them you’re too damned stupid to own a computer!’

A little matter of gross hypocrisy

Bet you didn’t know!  The Anti Defamation League (ADL), a self-proclaimed Jewish civil rights group, is the largest non-governmental trainer of police in this country, facilitating an exchange of the worst practices between U.S. police, ICE and FBI, and the Israeli police and military.  This is kept rather quiet, for obvious reasons.

The US government gives billions to fund Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land.  Arms companies “field test” their weapons and technology on occupied Palestinians.  Meanwhile, organisation that claim to speak for Jewish community defend the state of Israel while currently paying hypocritical lip service to Black lives.

It has to be said that U.S. police exchanges with Israeli forces are not responsible for the centuries of deadly violence American police have dealt to Black people on our own streets in the US. The militarized tactics and technologies acquired through police exchange programs go directly to executing the unchanged mission of the American police, established long before the founding of the state of Israel.

But  the ADL “solidarity” with Black lives in the U.S. means nothing if they maintain their partnerships with the U.S. police and help export the tactics used by the Israeli military to oppress Palestinians.

My comment: This is part and parcel of the overall militarization of US police forces, a militarisation that one would think should be unconstitutional.  There is no rationale for overwhelming force on the streets of America, except in the messed up minds of White supremacists and ethics-free politicians who will stop at nothing to scare up the votes. But, in addition, to export weapons and technology to overawe, bully  and kill defenseless Arabs,  is a scandal.  It is also anti- Epicurean.

Now is the moment for the ADL to stop organizing police exchanges!  

The shame Americans should feel: corona virus and the big donations

Why is the US corona virus situation such a disgraceful mess?

All politicians in America depend on big donors for their elections. That is a given. But some governors, (mainly in the South) are more than ever in the pockets of the super-rich in a country of obscene disparities of wealth. Having donated handsomely, the billionaires want urgent pay back. Massive tax breaks are not enough for these people.  In the case of the virus they wanted, and got, the re-opening of closed-down economies, nearly all of them far, far too early and sloppily, egged on by the President and fear that their re- election could be iffy if businesses remained closed.

So I hope the governors and other state and federal politicians are pleased with themselves.  In return for the reopening of the economic spigots they have full hospital beds and alarming numbers of infections and deaths.  Has it occurred to them that this is tantamount to man and woman-slaughter?  What do their deeply religious and holy supporters think.  Apparently, they don’t care either.

I get to read news from all over the world. Countries which are nowhere in the wealth scale dealt with covid19 better than this. We are suffering because of greed, and we should hang our heads in shame.  It has been an incompetent mess, but I can guarantee that none of the people responsible will ever be accountable.  If you are not sick of this you haven’t been paying attention!

This is not about politics; it is about Epicureanism and humanism, and basic care for the health and welfare of one’s fellow citizens.  Why is this so hard to understand?

Supreme Court and religion

”In two blows to church-state separation, Justices Breyer and Kagan joined the conservative majority on the Supreme Court in granting even more preferential treatment to religious bodies. In one case, the court gave the green light to religious employers to apply the “ministerial exemption” to pretty much any employee; a teacher is a coach is a priest, and none can seek legal redress if they feel they’ve been discriminated against on the job. In the other case, employers who think it’s wicked for women not to want a baby every time they have sex can get out of covering birth control in their health insurance policies.

“It is a clear win for the First Amendment and religious liberty when the highest court affirms the right of religious institutions to be free of government interference and meddling,” said Grazie Christie, a radiologist and policy advisor for The Catholic Association.

“The AP reports that the US Roman Catholic Church has recently “used a special and unprecedented exemption from federal rules to amass at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid, with many millions going to dioceses that have paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy protection because of clergy sexual abuse cover-ups.” They go on to say the haul may have been twice that much—reaching or even exceeding $3.5 billion. Guess this is the kind of meddling that’s A-okay with the church.

“In short, SCOTUS says let the churches do whatever they please, and the Trump administration gives them buckets of money to do it with.

“This isn’t religious liberty—it’s religious exceptionalism and bigotry. Religion should never be an excuse to discriminate, and our government should never put church before state.”.   (Jennifer Bardi,  Senior Editor, The Humanist 11 June 2020).

My comment:  I don’t want our tax dollars directed to re-filling the coffers of a church which has cast a blind eye on sexual predation, and mis-handled the whole issue.  I think it appalling that  “religious employers” should be allowed to decide whether or not an employee should or should not have a baby and exclude her from company health policy at will.  This whole issue is being dictated by a small minority of religious extremists who should get out of the bedroom and concentrate on helping to suppress Covid-19, which they have uncaringly ( and, I would argue, greedily) allowed to roar back.

There is absolutely nothing Epicurus would have in common with these cruel and intrusive people.

 

A weird question to the New Scientist, plus two answers

“If I wanted to be buried so that I was eventually fossilised, for possible discovery in the far future, where would be the best location on Earth to do this?”  (Jonathan Wallace, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)

If your aim is to be fossilised after you die, I would suggest that you ask your relatives to sink your body rapidly into one of the “dead zones” that occur in some of the world’s seas. Where large rivers meet the sea, the massive organic load sometimes results in low-oxygen conditions over vast areas that are largely devoid of most living organisms.

In such anoxic conditions, your body is unlikely to get eaten by fish, crustaceans or other scavengers. At the same time, the huge amount of sediment coming from the river as the current slows should ensure that your body will be rapidly covered by layers of sediment that will potentially become sedimentary rock in aeons to come.

A good location might be in the Gulf of Mexico, in the area where the Mississippi disgorges itself. Parts of the Black Sea would also be good candidates.

Jon Noad

12055345767968669487.jpg

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

There are many ways to get fossilised. If you want the process to go quickly, then find a tree that exudes resin. Leave your body at the base of the tree and allow the resin to gradually cover it.

Eventually, the resin will turn to amber. The only problem is that you would need to find a very large tree, because the amount of amber created by this process is generally quite small. It might be possible to fossilise your head, but probably not your whole body.

Other places where at least parts of your body could be encased in sediment include streams that run through limestone. The dissolved lime (calcium oxide) precipitates as travertine, a sedimentary rock that is a form of limestone rather like the calcium carbonate that coats the element in your kettle. Travertine can quickly cover small items.

A slower yet perhaps more straightforward approach would be to bury your body beneath the sea or a lake bed, in an area where there is little oxygen permeating into the substrate, so that scavengers cannot invade the sediment and eat you.

Many soda lakes in Africa fit this profile, although their alkali water can be caustic, and might eat away at your remains. But the calcified remains of animals found around Lake Natron in Tanzania suggest that this method could work.

Choose a lake with slow-moving currents, because the sediment being deposited will be fine-grained. This will lead to less disturbance and to better preservation of your soft parts as a black carbon film, and with luck may even preserve your facial features. Deep sea beds should also work well, which is what created the famous Burgess Shale in British Columbia, Canada, for example.

The best option may be northern Australian coast. The unique geochemistry of the mangrove muds lead to animals such as mangrove lobsters (Thalassina anomala) becoming fossilised in as little as 5000 years.

12055345767968669487.jpgBurying your corpse here should guarantee fossilisation, with the bonus that a nodule called a concretion will form around you that will preserve your skeleton in three dimensions.

My comment:  I know some people who are already fossilized, without the need for burial anywhere.