Our understanding of the cosmos is wrong?

The Hubble constant may not be that constant after all.

Something is wrong with the expansion of the universe. Nearby galaxies seem to be moving away from one another too fast, we don’t know why, and every new set of data just seems to make the problem worse.

We have two basic ways to measure the expansion of the universe, which is described by the Hubble constant. The two methods have always returned clashing results, and many astronomers and cosmologists hoped that one of them was simply wrong. Now, a third independent method has solidified their disagreement. It seems more and more that both methods are correct – which could require a major reworking of our understanding of the universe.

One of the ways we measure the Hubble constant is by using the cosmic microwave background   (CMB), the remains of the first light to stream across the cosmos after the big bang. Patterns in that light can tell us how fast the universe was expanding then, and researchers then use models of how it has evolved to tell us how fast it ought to be expanding now.

The other main way is using what astronomers call the “distance ladder”, in which we measure the distance to stars called Chid variables, link those distances to nearby supernovae, and use those supernovae to determine how fast relatively nearby galaxies are moving away from us. The distance ladder method has consistently resulted in an expansion rate more than 9 per cent higher than the CMB method, causing much consternation among astronomers.

Disagreements

“If you have two measurements that don’t agree, there is always a chance that one of them or both of them are wrong,” says team member Simon Birrer at the University of California Los Angeles. “But if you bring in a third independent measurement that comes close to one of the previous ones, then people start believing that this tension is really there.”

Now, an international team of astronomers has made that third measurement of the Hubble constant using gravitational lensing, a phenomenon where light from a distant object is bent by the gravity of a closer galaxy on its way to our telescopes. When the light arrives, it often forms several smeared images of the farther object, like looking at a light through the bottom of a water glass.

The light that forms each image travels a different path around the closer galaxy, so, as the distant object changes in brightness, there is a time delay between when that change shows up in each image. That time delay is based on the distance the light has traveled, so we can use it to measure the distance to the original object. When that is combined with the rate at which it’s moving away from us, we end up with a measurement of the Hubble constant.

Birrer and his colleagues went through this process for three quasars, some of the brightest objects in the universe which reside at the centres of some galaxies. Their measurements matched the results from the distance ladder method. (Leah Crane, New Scientist 11 July 2019)

If you don’t fully understand all this, then you are in good company!  But, that aside, I think it is wonderful and reassuring that human beings are still devoting their lives to untangling the secrets of the universe, and that so far the know-nothings and moneymen have yet to stop them.  The human race has a long way to go, if it survives.  Good luck to the scientists!

Amazon, exploiters

One survey of Amazon facilities showed that74% of Amazon workers skip going to the bathroom to avoid having their pay cut, and over 80% said they would never apply for another Amazon job again.

I once worked for an American company doing contract document copying .  The hours of work were 6 a.m to 6 p.m , with half an hour for lunch.  You had to get permission from the supervisor to go to the toilet and were docked pay if you were away from the machine for more than five minutes.  This was as close to slave labour as I ever got, but it had a good side – when I eventually ran my own company the workers were treated as human beings.

Yes, I admit to using Amazon.  I sent a book to a member of my family and it reached her almost exactly 24 hours later.  Regrettably, you can’t beat that (even if the speed, in this instance, was unnecessary).  But I am increasingly regarding using Amazon as a moral issue.

Obesity

Excess weight causes about 1,900 more cases of bowel cancer than smoking in the UK each year. There are also 1,400 more cases of kidney cancer caused by excess weight than by smoking each year, 460 more ovarian cancers and 180 more cases of liver cancer. Meanwhile, the overall smoking rate has declined to 14.7%, down from 19% in 2011. But across the UK, obese people outnumber smokers by two to one.  26% of adults were classified as obese in 2016, while 40% of men and 30% of women were overweight.

Those with the highest levels of obesity are risking serious illnesses and premature death at a rate 50% higher than those with a healthy weight, according to a recent study of 2.8 million people. This includes 12 times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, 22 times the risk of sleep apnoea and nearly four times the risk of heart failure. Even the least obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 to 35, have twice the risk of high blood pressure, nearly twice the risk of heart failure and nearly six times the risk of sleep apnoea. (Cancer Research UK and Alison Rouke, The Guardian, 28 April 2019)

Sorry about all these statistics, but they matter, because this issue is not taken seriously.

I am aware that this  is a contentious issue (on this blog, aside from anywhere else).  Some people think it is a private matter – if people knowingly over-eat and get fat, that is their affair.  Other people have a genetic propensity to obesity they cannot help.

Nonetheless,  obesity is costing the British National Health huge sums, not just in terms of treatment, but in ancillary things like special handling equipment, ambulances, reinforced hospital beds etc.  Those who eat well and exercise are paying towards the treatment of the obese.  The  huge and mounting cost is giving the Tory government an additional excuse for subcontracting  healthcare in England, mostly to for-profit American companies.

Ambassador Darroch’s unresolved resignation

The shoddy, shabby treatment of the. British Ambassador to Washington raises the immediate question: who leaked his very accurate assessment of Trump?

My favourite explanation is  that the Foreign Office computer system was hacked by an insider with a view of getting Darroch replaced  – by Nigel Farrage.

Who would want this and why?  Principally, Boris Johnson (an act-alike Trump) who has warned May not to make a new appointment until he is installed as PM.  Farage and his extremist Brexiteers are a serious threat to the Tories.  They got more votes than the Tories in the recent local elections, and when Boris (assuming he is in fact, gulp!, Prime Minister) has to call a general election, the Tories could be wiped out.  The Washington job gets Farage out of the way, panders to the latter’s cocky self- importance, and would have the delighted acceptance of Trump.  Moreover, almost any trade deal with the US would be unpopular with the British people, and Farage, heading the British trade negotiations, could be blamed for proposals to sell off the National Health, put British meat producers out of business and flood the market with what Brits regard as second rate, if not unhealthy, food.

The Tories do little in the way of governing for all the people, but no one can complain about them lacking ruthlessness.  To undermine the job of an experienced ambassador, paid to tell the truth as he sees it, is a new low, and illustrates why Epicurus despised power- seeking politicians and advised us to avoid our involvement in party politics.

 

Three expert comments on fighting the climate crisis: who is right?

1. Report by The Guardian

A study released last week suggests that planting one trillion trees would be one of the most effective – and cheapest – ways to tackle the climate crisis. As ever, the question is whether mankind can organise itself enough to actually start planting. In view of the surge in Amazonian deforestation under Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil it looks as if time is not on our side.  (The Guardian)

2.  Letter to The Guardian

The Trouble with forests

Tree planting may have “mind-blowing” potential to tackle the climate crisis. However, the climate crisis is only one symptom of our continued destruction of the planet. The climate crisis has barely got going, but we are already in the midst of an extinction crisis that could soon rival that of the Cretaceous, when the dinosaurs became extinct. Today, we are losing species at a mass extinction rate, and at this point it’s nothing to do with climate.

Planting billions of trees will accelerate the extinction crisis, because closed-canopy forest is not the natural state on most continents. During the ice ages, and the intervening interglacials that dissected them, areas that we regard as natural forest today weren’t closed canopy, but instead were savannah or steppe, habitats that also absorb and store a great deal of carbon.

Covering these areas with closed-canopy forest will reduce biodiversity and condemn many species to extinction – species that still survive in the remaining fragments of these habitats, or in the farmland that we have replaced them with. Planting billions of trees may be one way of solving the problem, but will create more. Perhaps we can just produce less carbon in the first place. We have the technology, and we know how to make it work. (Martin Dohrn, Bristol)

3. Letter to The Guardian

Your article reinforces the idea that the only way to get a tree or forest is to plant it. Creating woods in serried ranks of trees in plastic tubes that are often left long after they should be removed (is not the way to go). Planting saplings grown abroad is almost certainly how ash dieback came to Britain.

Any piece of land, anywhere in the world below the treeline, left alone without any human interference or expense, will undergo a natural growth via scrub to a fully mature forest of properly native trees. As it does so, it will be taking lots of CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Whether the new forest is planted or natural, when it is mature it no longer has any good effect on CO2 levels: the rotting dead leaves and fallen trees release exactly the same amount of CO2 as the trees take in by photosynthesis.   To make a mature forest a contributor to CO2 reduction you need to cut down the mature trees and use the wood for building (or burn it to replace fossil fuels). Then let the felled forest regrow.( Dr David Corke, director, Organic Countryside CIC).

So the message seems to be “cut down what we already have and let nature take its course?”  But this takes time. Do we have it?

 

 

Not so nice

With a personal fortune worth just shy of $20 billion, Susanne Klatten ranks as Germany’s richest woman. She and her billionaire younger brother Stefan own a huge stake in BMW and a host of other enterprises.

But Klatten these days is feeling annoyed. She doesn’t feel her family is getting the appropriate respect. As the 57-year-old last month told a business journal: “Many believe that we are permanently sitting around on a yacht in the Mediterranean.” Having to be “a guardian of wealth,” Klatten continued, “has personal sides that aren’t so nice.”

Also not so nice: How Klatten’s family became fabulously rich in the first place. The family patriarch, Günther Quandt, ingratiated himself to Adolf Hitler early on and became one of Nazi Germany’s biggest armament tycoons, rising in 1939 to the status of “war economy führer.” Quandt’s battery plant would even have its own concentration camp, supplying slave labor. The Quandt family never publicly acknowledged any of this sordid history until after a  2007 documentary on the Quandts ran on German television. Not nice at all.  (Inequality.org)

Inequality.org write regular short mini biographies of the very rich.  This typifies the “poor little rich girl” attitude of some.  When interviewed she complains about lack of respect.  For what, exactly?  The respect would be emerge were she to be seen to be making amends to the world for Günther Quandt‘s complicity in the grim crimes of Nazism, at the very least giving generously to the poor and to charity generally.  Most of us would put up with aspects of wealth that “aren’t so nice” for such a nest- egg.  But one of the things that is general and fairly predictable is that so many of the super-rich actually feel sorry for themselves, or pretend thus to feel.

As a follower of the thoughts of Epicurus I would like to think I would continue to live comfortably, yes, but give away the majority of such a huge fortune that neither I nor any of my descendants could possibly spend.  But then – would I? Easy to be holier than her, but in possession of $20 billion……….?

Geography teachers do deal with population

From Tony Dale, Oxford, UK, in reply to a letter in New Scientist dated May 25

Contrary to what Graham Lawton seems to suggest, population isn’t a fringe or a taboo issue, at least not in schools in England. Geography deals with it in depth. It is discussed as “population change” rather than “population growth”. Students examine various models for predicting future population change and factors which may influence it.

Students are left in no doubt that high fertility rates in some regions, and rises in others with already substantial populations, will account for a growth in world population to around 10 billion by the mid-century. They are also made aware that improvements in reproductive health and women’s education may well slow down and even reverse that growth by the end of the century. When population does appear on the global policy agenda, there will be many geography students who will ask: what took you so long?

(My take). Ten billion! And already changing climatic conditions are destabilising the Sahel region of Africa and are responsible for an increase in migration north.  This migration can only grow in intensity and is a huge threat to Europe.  We blame corruption and drug gangs for the similar migration north in the Americas, and there is little discussion about the effects of climate change in Central America – but it must be having a disrupting effect, an effect the corrupt leaderships of the countries involved are wholly unable to address.

People seem to think that the climate crisis is just a matter of a few more hurricanes and super-hot summers. The political and economic implications of a heating planet are huge – and instead of proposing a family planning blitz and cutting harmful emissions we shrug our shoulders and invoke personal freedom. Meanwhile we elect clowns because they tell us the crisis is bogus – and it suits us globally to believe them.

We need more Epicurean pragmatists, not effete politicians looking over their shoulders at their religious constituency. Established religion has no useful role in this crisis , except as an emotional palliative.

Is organic food really better for you?

If you know where to look in academic journals, it turns out there is indeed lots of good evidence to suggest that some organically grown crops can be higher in certain vitamins and minerals. The tricky thing is, there are also lots of studies that suggest the exact opposite is the case. The more you delve into the literature, the more confused and conflicted the answer to what seems like a simple question appears to be. There is very good reason for this.

Imagine you are a scientist trying to solve this conundrum. You might, for example, buy a range of fruit and vegetables, grown both organically and conventionally, then test these crops for nutrient content and compare the results. After all, this kind of like-for-like comparison most realistically reflects the choices available to consumers, right? But here is the problem: this isn’t a like-for-like comparison at all. The crop varieties grown by organic farmers are often not the same as those grown by conventional ones. As genetics tends to be the principal factor that determines the chemical make-up of a crop, the unique DNA of one variety can result in a very different nutrient profile to another, even if they are grown under the exact same conditions. One head of lettuce might look and taste nearly identical to another variety grown next to it,  but their level of nutrients , like vitamin A can vary 20-fold.

The organic and conventional crops on your supermarket shelves will probably differ in other important ways, too. They are often grown in very different climates, even continents, with distinct soil chemistry, irrigation levels, ambient temperatures and sunlight exposure, all of which have been shown to dramatically affect the nutrient composition of crops. Studies have demonstrated that this can vary in the same plant – with two apples from the same tree having different levels of nutrient – even on two sides of the same fruit.

All this is before we get on to how the storage, transport and display of crops can affect their nutrient levels. For instance, we know that simply being exposed to the fluorescent lights of supermarkets can result in a crop of spinach being similar to a crop stored in darkness. This is because even once harvested, the fresh fruit and vegetables are still alive and so constantly react to their environment,  like plants in a field. This creates a hugely complex set of variables that it is almost impossible to control for.

There are many reasons why you might wish to go organic. But given the complicated and often contradictory nature of the evidence so far, it is impossible to claim that organically grown fruit and vegetables are automatically a nutritionally superior choice without cherry-picking studies (or parts of studies) that support this narrative, while ignoring evidence to the contrary. (by James Wongbotanist and science writer, in the New Scientist, 6 July 2019)

Scientists fired from Environmental Protection Agency

Trump has told all agencies to cut at least a third of their advisory committees by September, thus  weakening the science-based regulations process that the administration has pushed back against since Trump took office. 462 committees are potentially on the chopping block, excluding agencies that are mandated by law.  The exclusion of scientists from health matters is particularly troublesome – the civil servants are generally good and conscientious people, but they don’t necessarily have the needed technical medical expertise.

The inclusion of scientists in land management issues, for instance, is a way to bring in local voices, as well as industry leaders, to discuss how best to manage public lands.  It is also a transparent way get scientific input.  But the Administration has spent two years neglecting and undermining the advisory network, and are now trying to use that neglect as a justification for removing these very advisory boards for “not being useful.”

The Trump administration in recent years has shuffled career scientists out of their positions, put limits on which science experts are qualified to sit on advisory boards and created a special White House panel that’s designed in part to counter the science linking climate change to national security threats.

Where does this extreme dislike (fear?) of science and scientists come from?  Some of it must be suspicion of the mysterious and unknown.  The Republicans are now the party of the proudly and fundamentally ignorant; generally coming out of school with no science at all, wary of scientists who use technical (elitist?) words, and lacking  the vocabulary to learn about or discuss science even if they wanted to.  This is the inevitable outcome when education has withered, as funding has been cut, and good, broad  education has become something that only the rich can afford.

Without science and the scientific method we would still be digging turnips, riding horses, and strapping swords to our belts when we go out.

Comedians as presidents

“Jesters and satirists have always been valued for speaking truth to power. But now they’re winning office themselves. When comedian Beppe Grillo joked his way into Italian politics a decade ago, he seemed a one-off. Turns out, he was a “harbinger of things to come”. Since then, Tiririca – an actual clown – has become a congressman in Brazil (“It can’t get any worse”, was his campaign slogan); the comic actor Jimmy Morales is president of Guatemala; and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, who played a president in a TV comedy, has just become Ukraine’s president. What’s going on?

“The rise of the comedian-politician is partly due to the fall – in the online era – of the barriers to entering politics: instead of holding rallies and pressing the flesh, Zelensky was able to broadcast his message with stand-up routines and the social media. But it’s also a symptom of voter disillusion with mainstream politicians: seeing an outsider mock the political elite is one sure benefit they can get from politics. Electorates “that look to their politicians for entertainment are living through humourless times”. (Jenny Lee,  Financial Times,  25 May 2019)

She left out, maybe because it is glaringly obvious, Trump in the US and Boris Johnson in the UK, both of them popular with a certain segment of the electorate who seek superficial entertainment from the serious business of actually running a country.  Not only are these joker-politicians iconoclasts, supposedly “strong” and “telling it how it is”, but they know how to use the media and play to the gallery, with the collusion of the printed and broadcast Press (Trump-hostile CNN advertises Trump on a minute-by-minute basis).  Not for any of these people the gritty business of reading long, involved briefs and using experts for advice. They use instinct and the lowest common denominator, with a sharp eye on the polls and trending ephemera on social media.  Nothing is serious, at least until they start trade and real wars.

One is reminded of the latter days of the Roman empire, when the mob required bread and circuses and emperors came and went, occasionally three in one year, never mind the barbarians at the frontier.  At this distance we can see that the Roman empire was dysfunctional and was in decline.  Well, the modern jokers are signaling  to us all – it’s deja vue all over again.  If this new crop of “leaders” don’t produce utter chaos, the climate crisis will, in any case.

 

The allure of handwriting

“We are more than ever obsessed with individual identity, our personal brand, putting our stamp on the world. But we bow to the plain text of the smartphone, bland and unblotted. A WhatsApp message will never have the personality of a sibling’s spider-scribble. Digital communication can never match the intimacy of a handwritten letter. If you want to tell someone I love you, I miss you, I’m sorry, I’m thinking of you, do it by hand, sealed in an envelope. Embarrassed teenagers confessing to a crush now do it by Snapchat. A few seconds and the message vanishes. Blushes are spared, but so much else is lost.”.    (Laura Freeman in The Daily Telegraph)

I can never forget the endless battles as a child between my parents and myself about thank-you letters, in particular: Grumble , grumble, grumble….why can’t I just phone them?  I can’t think what to say……we are not going out until you have thanked Aunt Agatha…….those were the days of courtesy and received manners, and woe betide you if you didn’t write promptly.  Nowadays, one can adopt the principle that those who send you emails get emails in return; and those people, diminishing in number, who typically still hand-write their thanks get hand-written letters. I think the latter are so nice, and seem somehow more heartfelt and genuine than a dashed-off email. They actually  take little more time, and, as for actual content, well, this is an opportunity to charm and be a bit creative.  For that you need more than simply the ability to do joined up handwriting.

Are parents still patiently insisting that their children say “please” and “thank-you” and write thank- you letters?  Are they teaching consideration and courtesy? Some definitely are, and it is much appreciated.  It is also Epicurean.

Technology reducing ataraxia.

For days I was wrestling with a recalcitrant email system.  Emails refused to depart from my computer, and I could find no one who understood even how the system works, let alone correct it.  I paid a silly amount to someone purporting to be an expert, but it turned out he wasn’t .

So let me be an epicurean philosopher for a moment and ask the question, “Why are we doing all this technology to ourselves?  What is the point, except to illustrate that collectively we can do it, and someone, somewhere is making a pile of money at it?”

Apparently, 5G, a system that is going to take over the world, is going to allow you (yes!) to connect your electric kettle to the internet. Nothing will be isolated. Big Brother can surveil electronically in real time how many slices of bread you are toasting for breakfast.  Why?  Don’t ask!

There are lots of us increasingly feeble old people, and few can understand computers or electronics.  Wait till the 20s/30s crowd, who are foisting all this technology upon us,  reach old age – because they will.  By  that time it will be too late. They will be getting confused, forgetful and stressed – and will have done it to themselves.  But I suppose the imaginations of these techies doesn’t run to imaging themselves old and feeling helpless.  If the greatest threat to us all is  the climate crisis, the second is the complexity and ubiquity of technology, which frequently doesn’t work, and no one seems to know why.  Wait till it happens to you – and repent!

This an an epicurean blog.  We believe in a happy, contented life with peace of mind.  I fear it is all going wrong!!

The crisis among conservatives

“In Britain and the US a deep crisis of conservatism has been building since the end of the Reagan and Thatcher governments. It is a crisis of competence, of intellectual energy and coherence, of electoral effectiveness, and – perhaps most serious of all – of social relevance.”.  (The Guardian, 28 May 2019).

If this is true conservatives haven’t noticed it.  They still cling to the idea that, if you keep cutting government services and help to the sick and poor, and you pass on the savings to the rich and to big companies in the form of tax cuts, “all boats will be raised”.  This tripe has been disproved repeatedly.  What this policy (their only policy?) does is to allow companies to  buy back their shares, a particularly useless waste of money, enhancing  the wealth of a small minority, ensuring the financial support of the very rich, and delighting the authorities in Panama and other money sinks.  The old idea of government was to pay attention to all citizens, rich and poor. Remember that?

Those who espouse Epicurean principles are not supposed to dwell on politics. That was all well and good when government was small and barely impinged on daily life. Now what governments do has a real, daily effect on the citizenry.   The likelihood that Boris Johnson will be the next British Prime Minister must seem incomprehensible to the rest of the world. Regrettably., it could mean a general election and the distant prospect on an equally incompetent and out-of-touch Labour Party assuming office.  Either way, bye-bye Britain as a functioning, respected country the rest of the world can do business with. In the scale of history, all this will pass; but whether it passes in our lifetimes is a matter for conjecture.

 

 

 

Cold water fish move North

My wife and I went mackerel fishing off the coast of Dorset, in Southern England. There were about 15 people on the boat, the weather was glorious and the catch quite good, enough for everyone.  We had fresh, baked mackerel for dinner that evening, caught on the end of a line.

I got talking to the owner of the boat, who told me that, this size of catch was now getting unusual. In the whole month of April he and his fellow fishermen had caught only 7 (yes, 7) mackerel.  He told me that the mackerel shoals were abandoning British waters and were moving North as result of the warming of the Channel waters.  If you want to fish for mackerel now, he told me, you have to go to the seas around Iceland to find the sort of numbers you used to get.

I wish Mr.“global climate change is all a hoax”Trump and his his fellow climate deniers could have heard these comments. What preposterous explanation would they have offered this fisherman for his calamitously falling catches.  The warming seas must be hurting him seriously., and his future as a professional fisherman looks scary.  All over the planet real people are having their lives and livings threatened, and Trump is boosting oil and gas production  and scrapping rules that mitigate the effects of a warming planet.  He will not be hurt, but his children and grandchildren certainly will be. He doesn’t care.  Epicurus distrusted politicians, justifiably – little has changed in that respect.

Dementia misdiagnosed

Hundreds of thousands of older people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s may, in fact, be suffering from a different disease.   According to new research, the condition, known as Late, affects a fifth of people over 85. Like Alzheimer’s, Late leads to memory loss, cognitive decline and mood disorders (although its progress tends to be slower). The disease’s neurology, however, is very different: rather than deposits of sticky amyloid plaques and tau proteins, the brains of Late sufferers contain a misshapen form of a different protein, TDP-43. “Those who work on dementia have long been puzzled by patients who have all the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, but whose brains do not contain the pathological features of the condition,” says Professor Robert Howard of University College London. “We now know that these puzzling patients are probably suffering from Late”. The authors of the study say Late’s discovery could help explain why attempts to find a treatment for Alzheimer’s haven’t been more successful. Trials of drugs based on clearing out amyloid plaques have probably included significant numbers of participants who had Late, and not Alzheimer’s – which would have skewed the results.   (The Times and The Week, 11 May 2019)

For those “late” in life memory loss and confusion are particularly scary.  Recently, trying to resurrect a TV streaming system I hadn’t used for months,  I stood there without a solitary  idea as to how to set about it – what to plug into what or the baffling sequence of buttons to press on the two quite different TV gizmos.  Rescued by a clever wife we got the system working.  I mention this not only to praise a wife with a memory, but to protest about the complexity of everything we have to do these days, and the wide gap between people like me and the young people who write the instructions, for whom this stuff is as simple as eating breakfast.  A big “thank you” to scientists and medical researchers. Your work is so often disrespected on social media, but I, for one, am glad you are out there.

 

”I Did it All Myself” – the cry of the very rich

I did it all myself.

For sure, I did it all myself.

I never used networks or old college friends

On whom the success of so many depends.

I went out to work at the age of eighteen

Thin as a rake, but determined and lean,

And I laid rows of bricks and mixed tons of cement,

Made ten bucks a day for my food and my rent.

Twelve hours with no break did I labor on site,

And I did my book-learning by candle at night.

Then one day the boss man said, “Hey, come here, kid,

I’ve been watching you, boy, and I like what you did.

You’ve got brains, you work hard, but your problem is knowledge.”

So I chucked it and went to community college.

I learned my house building from sewer to gable,

And earned extra money by waiting on table.

Then I built up a  company, just as I’d planned,

Scouring the country, developing land.

I have been real successful, the business has grown,

And I’ve ten million bucks that I’ve made on my own.

I’d have made twice as much and could maybe relax

If it wasn’t for government, liberals and tax,

The planners, the lawyers, the dumb regulations,

Activist judges, red-tape strangulations;

The NIMBYSwho get up a great caterwaul

When you build on a green field a new shopping mall.

It’s always the do-gooding, meddling few

Who complain at the loss of some trees or a view.

No, all the restrictions should now be relaxed

And government prohibitions be axed.

We don’t need these laws, they all need up-ending,

And let’s call a halt to all government spending.

Send bureaucrats off up to Mars in a rocket,

But stop pilfering profit from my hard-earned pocket.

Sack all pen-pushers, ignore stupid rules

Made for the work-shy and drawn up by fools.

The need for it’s gone, it is all over-blown.

After all, what I’ve done, I have done on my own.

………..Truth replies

Are you telling me your parents had nothing to do

With the bundle of talents and hang-ups that’s you?

Where is the mention of school on your part,

That taught you the culture and gave you a start?

You must owe a debt to some of your teachers,

Those lousily paid and unrecognized creatures.

Who established the college you studied at later?

It wasn’t the wages you earned as a waiter.

Who paid for the roads that we all take for granted?

Our whole infrastructure was not simply planted,

But grew from decades of investment, and sacks

Of public subventions you now spurn as “tax”.

What is the value you put upon peace,

Containment of crime and the role of police?

Who bought your houses, your suburban sprawls,

Your gas stations, offices, car parks and malls?

Why, government workers, contractors and such

And similar folk whom you now hate so much.

The fortune Five Hundred fattens and waxes

On recycled money from Federal taxes;

Directly or not, here’s a thought to astound:

You probably shared in this merry-go-round!

Who laid the ground rules that draw to this nation

Immigrants swelling a huge population,

All needing housing?  These guys you can thank

For increasing your profits and cash in your bank.

Have you had no advantage from new medication?

Half the research is paid from taxation.

Have you had no advantage from rules about drugs,

Or water we drink, free of threatening bugs?

I bet were you sick I would hear through your sobs

“Wish they’d get a grip and start doing their jobs.”

Scrap Social Security?  Wow, you are plucky,

But perhaps, just like you, everyone will get lucky,

The market might rise and its rise might not vary,

Believe that? Believe in the good Christmas Fairy!

Thank God for the people who faithfully strive

To frame equal rules which have let business thrive,

Where corruption is modest, the playing field fair

And the whole business culture’s not governed by fear.

You’d have a real reason to grumble and moan

If you had to do business in Sierra Leone.

No, none of us prosper alone, I would say.

A little humility goes a long way.

( From a book of light verse called “ The;Rueful Hippopotamus” by Robert Hanrott, available on Amazon)

A “vicious cycle” in energy use

Extreme weather is commonly seen as a product of climate change. But it is also becoming a significant driver of the crisis, a new report suggests. In its annual review of global energy trends, BP calculates that global demand for energy grew by 2.9% last year – the biggest rise since 2010 – and that a significant factor in this was the number of much colder and hotter days than normal, which led to a greater use of air conditioners, fans and heaters.

As a result of this additional energy usage, carbon emissions rose by 2% – faster than in any year since 2011, and roughly the carbon equivalent of having 400 million more cars on the roads. Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist, warned of a “worrying vicious cycle: increasing levels of carbon emissions leading to more extreme weather patterns, which in turn trigger stronger growth in energy and carbon emissions”.

While the report acknowledges the “extraordinary growth” in renewable energy – up 14.5% last year – it argues that to tackle climate change we must also find ways of making fossil fuels, BP’s product, less damaging. The oil and gas multinational has called for countries to switch from coal-generated power to gas (which produces fewer emissions), and for more government investment in carbon capture technology, to eliminate the emissions from the flues of power plants before they reach the air. (The Week, 22 June 2019).

Did I read this correctly?  One of the big fossil fuel producers, BP, which has fought the idea that its product is responsible for global climate change with every means in its power, now wants greater use of the very natural gas it now produces ( of course) and wants us, the public, to invest in carbon capture from power plants to make its own product harmless.  Excuse me – but they produce the product that results in the emissions; they should pay for the carbon capture, big time.  Talk about shameless cheek!

CEO pay

Iger: too much reward for too little risk?

“Something is rotten in the magic kingdom.” That’s how Abigail Disney, great-niece of Walt, viewed the pay award of $65.6m (£50m) to Disney’s boss, Bob Iger. “Naked indecency”, she called it. Not that she felt he didn’t merit a bonus for his management skill; it was the size of his reward she objected to. And she’s right.   Chief executive pay, here and in the US, has become divorced from any balance between risk and reward. Walt Disney, an artistic and business genius, built an entertainment empire from scratch and stood to lose everything if it failed. “Iger, when all’s said and done, is an employee whose great rewards were never balanced by personal risk.” When he and other CEOs get obscene windfalls, it makes capitalism stink; it plays into the hands of our “avowedly Marxist” shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who plans to expropriate ordinary shareholders in big companies by handing 10% of their investments to employees. Businesses that fail to exercise proper judgement over bosses’ pay should beware. They “will themselves be judged, and not to their advantage”.  (Dominic Lawson,  The Sunday Times, The Week 4 May 2019)

Moderation is the keyword of Epicureanism, and such barefaced greed is immoderate.  Perhaps there should be a general rule – unless fifty percent, or over, of shareholders vote at annual general meetings (or at least fill in the absentee ballots sent them) no changes of Board personnel or its pay can take effect?  No doubt some will cheat and cook the books, but in due course they will find themselves looking for new jobs.  The shareholder-Board relationship is moribund, dominated by big, faceless investors and pension companies, who conduct their own businesses in likewise undemocratic ways and pay little attention to the underlying health of the enterprises they invest in  Company boards, meanwhile,  care not a jot for their shareholders or public perception.

Sent from my iPad

Good news – A quick scan for prostate cancer

A new non-invasive MRI scan for prostate cancer could “revolutionise” diagnosis of the disease, scientists have claimed. Men in the UK aren’t screened for prostate cancer because the existing blood test – which looks for raised levels of the protein PSA – is unreliable. Most men with raised PSA levels don’t have cancer, but must have an invasive biopsy to establish this; the test misses around 10% of tumours; and it cannot distinguish slow-growing ones that don’t need treatment from the most aggressive kinds. The developers of the new ten-minute scan, which is being tested on 350 men this summer, claim it produces fewer “false positives” and can detect if the cancer is one that requires immediate treatment. Prof Mark Emberton, Dean of the UCL faculty of Medical Science, and one of the scientists trialling the test, said he hoped that the NHS would eventually adopt it as a routine screening tool.  (The Week, 22 June 2019)

This is very personal to me.  As far as I can establish every male among my ancestors for over two or three centuries appear to have died of prostate cancer, including (definitely) my father and grandfather.  It is a genetic inheritance, and I am the first to survive it, thanks to a good surgeon and modern medicine. It is, in my family’s case, diagnosed within the first six months of the 60th year – reliable as a clock.  But the biopsies are literally hit or miss, and I was told that the cancer is usuallh more aggressive in reality than the biopsies indicate.  This news gives me Epicurean peace of mind.  I have two sons, and it is reassuring to know about this advance in detection.  Who knows, by the time they are 60 prostate cancer could be detected harmlessly with an MRI and zapped with an injection?

 

Married Catholic priests?

Manaus, Brazil

The Vatican has opened the door to the possibility of married men becoming priests in remote parts of the Amazon basin. There is currently a drastic shortage of priests in the region – which extends across the borders of nine South American countries – and ministering to such a far-flung flock poses severe logistical challenges. Pope Francis first mooted the idea of ordaining viri probati (men of proven virtue) in remote communities two years ago. Now, the idea has been slated for discussion at the Amazon Synod, which is scheduled for October. The candidates for the priesthood should be “elderly men, preferably indigenous, respected and accepted members of their communities”, with grown-up families, says a document outlining the areas for discussion. Currently, the only married Roman Catholic priests are former Anglican priests who converted.  (The Week 22 June 2019)

Sounds to me like the beginning of an unavoidable change.  As candidates for the priesthood become fewer and fewer it seems inevitable that older, married men – and women – are accepted as priests.    And a good thing , too. I used to know an Anglican priest who was married, had worked for years for British Petroleum, and had become a vicar in middle age.  A wise man and a good listener. with a bit of charisma.  That’s what these churches need for pastoral work and for rebuilding congregations.  Not that, as a follower of Epicurus, I have any particular right to advise anyone about the policies of the Catholic church!