The Supreme Court

In 2012 Amy Coney Barrett told a class at the University of Notre Dame that a “legal career is but a means to an end……and that end is building the Kingdom of God.” As one Senator said of Barrett in 2017, she has “a long history of believing that religious beliefs should prevail.”

Does she mean by “religious beliefs” the sexual interference with choirboys as practiced by Catholic priests, probably for centuries? Those of us who have Epicurean or just plain humanist beliefs arguably have a better morality than that, without any effort whatsoever. The cheek of it!

The young will suffer most long- term from the pandemic

“Young people are fuelling the coronavirus.” So suggested the World Health Organisation last month, after youngsters defying distancing rules were blamed for rising infection rates across Europe. In Preston, UK, councillors even urged local youth not to “kill granny”.

But the young are not to blame for this pandemic. They are its “forgotten victims”. UK national debt has reached a “staggering” £2trn – a burden which will take decades to pay off, and which will fall hardest on a generation that has already given up so much. To protect the nation from a disease that rarely endangers them, the young have sacrificed their education, along with all the fun of being young. Already, the number of under-24s claiming benefits has doubled; now hundreds of thousands more young people are entering the labour market at the start of what may be the worst recession in 300 years.

There’s no sugar coating it, the outlook is bleak. There are 60% fewer graduate jobs on offer than at this time last year; and that will put more pressure on non-graduate jobs – at a time when they are also being cut in droves, as restaurants, bars and shops close down. U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s £2bn Kickstart scheme – creating apprenticeships for under-25s – may help some; but as the furlough scheme draws to a close, it can’t stop the approaching “jobless tsunami”.

Even those who have found work are struggling. Senior staff may like working from home; but for young people starting out, it can be lonely and frustrating: how do you shine, if you only see your bosses in awkward Zoom meetings? In previous recessions, the young could flee abroad in search of adventure or opportunity. Now, that avenue is closed, leaving them festering at home, their independent lives curtailed, their dreams abandoned.

The Tories have a history of rewarding the old, who vote for them; but today’s young have loud voices. If they feel the burden of this recession is falling on them disproportionately, it will have “ugly” political consequences. (Sunday Times, The Week and others 5 September 2020)

My take: When I was 19 I was an army officer responsible for 45 people in Cyprus. Later I hitch-hiked round America and down to Central America, all with the knowledge that there would surely be a job for me later, and when else could I have time for adventure? Now young people can’t travel or find a job. This is really sad, and will not end happily.

The marshmallow test

“How old were you when you realised that hard work and sacrifice weren’t worth it? Some realise it at retirement, when, after a lifetime of indispensability and missed weekends, they have failed to reach the top and are smoothly replaced and forgotten within a month or two.

For others the revelation strikes later. ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’ is always one the top regrets of the dying. A few precocious individuals work it out in time to fail the ‘marshmallow test’ in infancy. Asked by a stranger with a clipboard if they’d rather have one sweet now or two later, they sensibly surmise that given the inherent randomness of the universe, ‘later’ is just too much of a gamble.” (Martha Gill,The Times)

My comment: Oh, how I relate to this! I had a business in the London area. I worked long hours every day, including most weekends, conscious that I was responsible for a staff which at one point numbered 120. Then, POUFF!! the Apple Mac was introduced and our products were no longer wanted. Caput! My company was history, and was taken over (for very little). The new owner was heartily disliked by the staff, which drifted away. I married my American wife and have lived much more happily ever after, but my former colleagues – well, dispersed to the winds, they probably reflecting that their hard work had been for nothing much, except for the companionship (and the endless jokes that were the hallmark of the company). What did we do it all for? Sad!

In memoriam

Yesterday, my brother-law, Martin Dean, died of heart failure in a hospital in Taunton, England. He had been in poor health for quite a long time. He was an economic historian, a tourism officer and local Council employee, and author of a book on railways.

Rest in peace, Martin. We will miss you.

(Forgive me, but I don’t feel like posting normally on this blog today)

Couples sleep better together

It is well established that people in stable relationships tend to have better mental and physical health than singletons. Now, scientists have discovered a possible explanation for this: it seems that sharing a bed promotes good sleep. Humans sleep in cycles, shifting between rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep – during which vivid dreams occur – and non-REM periods.

Though all sleep is important, uninterrupted REM sleep is thought to be particularly beneficial to both mind and body. For a study at the Centre for Integrative Psychiatry in Kiel, Germany, 12 heterosexual couples spent four nights in a sleep lab, two of them with their partners and two alone. The researchers observed that on the nights when participants slept with their partner, they experienced around 10% more REM sleep, even though they thrashed around more. The authors of the study suspect that physical proximity to a loved one promotes certain sleep-boosting hormones, though more research is needed to establish this. They also note that their findings might have been different had any of the couples been heavy snorers. “That could certainly worsen the sleep of a partner, no doubt about it,”. (Henning Drews,The Times. and The Week)

My take: The conclusions might well be correct, but I am a bit turned off by the fact that only 12 couples were subject to this research.  How can one apply the results to the population in general, using such a tiny sample?  I note that the results of this research are not carried in the New Scientist, for instance.

The myth attached to raising taxes on the super-rich

“When state governments consider raising taxes on rich people, rich people in those states like to claim that if their taxes are raised too much, they’ll just pack up and leave for another state with lower taxes. If this were true, states raising taxes on rich people would end up losing tax revenue at the end of the day, making it seem like keeping tax rates on the rich low is the best option. But it’s not true, even if it so widespread as to seem like common knowledge. It’s so pervasive that it has stopped even the most vocally progressive Democratic leaders from taxing the rich in any substantive way. So we need to dispel the myth once and for all.

“Despite a couple of high-profile cases of cowardly millionaires fleeing their homes for states with no income taxes, the overwhelming majority of millionaires don’t leave when their tax bills go up. It turns out that all those rich people threatening to leave are almost crying wolf. For years, study after study has shown that millionaires don’t leave in significant enough numbers to affect state revenue when their rates change.

“This makes sense if you think about it. If you’re a rich person, a slight increase in your tax rate doesn’t actually affect your day-to-day life or standard of living all that much. Most rich people can afford to pay more without much trouble, especially considering that many already avoid paying their fair share in both federal and state taxes thanks to a dizzying array of loopholes, tax breaks, and special privileges that help many of them pay a lower tax rate than working class folks. Tacking a couple extra percentage points onto a state income tax isn’t even going to make a dent in their overall wealth, and they’ll likely still be paying disproportionately less than ordinary Americans.

“If anything, rich people are less likely to move for financial reasons. While rich people might like to live in a low-tax state, they’re not going to uproot their lives to avoid paying slightly higher taxes. Their homes are there, their businesses and professional connections are there, their families are there, and their friends are there. That’s a lot to give up for a negligible financial loss.”.  (Patriotic Millionaires, 22 Sept 2020).

My comment: I like Patriotic Millionaires.  It’s very existence shows that not all the super-rich are selfish, greedy so-and-so’s, and it’s opinions have more credibility than the blatherings of the corrupt.

America – land of massive inequality

The top 1% of Americans have taken $50 trillion from the bottom 90%.  This has been done by way of unemployment, scant benefits, unfair tax laws, and lopsided investment and political give-aways of our money.

Now, the RAND Center has put a number on just how much wealth the top 1 percent has stolen from the rest of the country over the past few decades: a staggering $50 trillion. This analysis sheds light on the dark void of wealth inequality between the ultra-rich and the bottom 90% of Americans – and our desperate need for the government to do its job and reverse the robbery.  (Nick Hanauer and David M. Rolf, Patriotic Millionaires, 17 Sep 2020).

My comment:  This has happened with the full assistance and complicity of politicians.  It undermines democracy and the Constitution, and is actually physically dangerous in the longer term ( read some history!).  How can one have confidence and peace of mind under these circumstances?

 

Voter suppression

“Between 2014 and 2016, Republicans removed almost 17 million voters off the voter rolls. In addition to the voter registrations being invalidated before the current election, Republicans are enacting a plan to disenfranchise the black vote by rejecting their mail-ballots. It doesn’t get much worse than this.

“Mail-in ballots by black voters are being rejected at the rate of 4.7%. White voters’ mail-in ballots are being rejected at the rate of 1.1%. Black voters have currently mailed-in 13,747 ballots, of the 642 have been rejected. 

”White voters have cast 60,954 mail-in ballots; of them, 681 have been rejected. Republicans will pull all the stops to keep control of the Senate to reelect Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. The Republican vote cheating strategy is systemic.”

( The Guardian, 20 Sep 2020)

My take:  It is un-Epicurean to talk politics in public. Of course, I know this, but I am also an historian  and recognize creeping coups when I see them.  There is no peace of mind when justice, fair dealing and the Constitution are undermined, all the more so with the support of ardent “christians”.  Alas, where can one find peace of mind at the moment?

Race hatred is not at all confined to the US

Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, UK

Far-right activists have been filming themselves storming hotels that are being used by the Home Office to accommodate asylum seekers, confronting residents in their rooms, and demanding to know which countries they are from.

In a series of videos posted on social media, activists with the group Britain First can be seen banging on doors and haranguing residents at hotels in Bromsgrove, Newcastle, Birkenhead, Warrington and Essex. On Saturday, a 30-year-old man was charged with common assault after far-right activists entered a hotel in Coventry. However, an apparent attempt by the group to target asylum seekers in Camden, northwest London, failed last month, when its members turned up at a hotel that is being used to accommodate rough sleepers during the pandemic.  (The Week, 5 Sept 2020)

My comment:  At some time in the past, maybe the far distant past, most families have migrated from some other region or country. If you look at, say, one hundred family trees I bet you would find migrants and asylum seekers in most, if not all of them.  My own (Huguenot) family moved from France to escape the Catholic persecution with not a penny to their names, no doubt enduring prejudice and name-calling in London’s East End.

What we should be doing is helping to stabilize the countries whence come the migrants, and incentivize them to stay put, if that’s what these disagreeable thugs want.   The fact is that most migrants make excellent, and enthusiastic, citizens.

An unacceptable taxpayer bailout

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (Cares) Act, the 2 trillion dollar bill passed last March, granted forgivable loans to “qualifying businesses and non- profits”.  The Small Business Administration, which administered part of the Act, declared ( but tried to keep it quiet) that houses of worship and religious private schools qualified under the Act.  It handed out $ 7.3 billion in taxpayer money to over 88,000 religious organizations.  In late July banks started forgiving these “loans”, thus making them grants that don’t have to be repaid.  Five hundred church   representatives were involved in negotiations over this give-away, along with the White House Faith and Opportunities Initiative team, the surgeon General (for some weird reason), and the Deputy assistant to the President, Jenny Lichner.

Churches and other religious organizations are tax-exempt charities that do not have to disclose their income to the IRS.  Not only that, but this whole thing is blatantly unconstitutional (separation of church and state).  Church leaders were assured that no strings were attached and that they were still free to discriminate on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation!

But maybe the most obnoxious aspect of this story is that the Catholic church, with 17,000 parishes, received $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid, with millions going to dioceses that have paid huge settlements (or sought bankruptcy protection) owing to clergy sexual abuse cover-ups. The Catholic church has, in short, received approval for an estimated 3,500 forgivable loans, while holding property which, in 1918 was valued at half a billion dollars (yes a hundred years ago!).

My reaction:  We, dear reader, are paying to restore the finances of a church that has been abusing choirboys and others (for centuries?), and has been universally condemned for doing so.  Which is why I support the teachings of Epicurus, despite a religious upbringing in the Anglican church.

I don’t think the word “corruption” quite captures what we are seeing, do you?

(This post is a precis of an article in The Humanist magazine, Sept/ Oct 2020)

We’re all sitting down more

We’re frequently exhorted to get off our sofas and get active, but it seems such public health campaigns are not having enough impact.

A pan-European study has found that since 2002 people have tended only to become more sedentary. In 2002, just over 49% of Europeans displayed “sedentary behaviours” – meaning they spent more than four and a half hours a day sitting. However by 2017, that had crept up to 54.5%. Among British men, the change was more extreme. In 2002, 45.7% showed sedentary behaviours; by 2017 this had risen to 57.2%. Among women, the proportion rose from 42.4% to 49.4%.

“This negative lifestyle change presents a major risk factor in the development of many chronic diseases such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, cancers, and even premature death,” report its authors, in the journal BMC Public Health. They speculate the rise could be down to longer commutes, more labour-saving devices, and the growth of screen-based recreation.   (The Week, 5 Sept 2020)

My comment:  My wife and I go forwalks outside every day.  We also have two flights of stairs which, because of the design of the house, means that we have to go up and down those stairs multiple times a day.  Homes with more than one storey are better for your health, but more tiring.  Problem: I enjoy drawing and water colors.   Result ? A lot of sitting.  Who am I to lecture?

Brexit blues

Why on earth is Boris Johnson illegally revoking the EU withdrawal treaty which he himself so enthusiastically signed, claiming it gave Britain an “oven-ready” Brexit?

Polly Toynbee’s theory is that he is trying to shift the blame for the pain that would follow crashing out of the EU without a deal – on top of a pandemic-induced recession, the worst in 300 years.

Britain is, to put it mildly, under-prepared for leaving the single market and customs union in just four months’ time. As the Guardian reveals, traffic jams of 7000 trucks at UK ports  and two-day delays to enter the continent are just two expected effects of government policy. Who better to scapegoat for the chaos and catastrophe than Brussels?

It is also suggested that Johnson wants a freer hand post-Brexit to funnel state aid to industry in the “left-behind” English regions which voted for him but could be hammered by Brexit. Ireland is the collateral damage.  (Edited versión of an article by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian, 9/16/20)

My comment:  One of the things Tories desperately need to justify wrecking the country is a trade agreement with the United States.  They haven’t read the the news.  For a start Trump  reiterates his “America First” message ( e.g expect no favors, or prioritization from the US).  Secondly, if Biden wins the election he has a pile of work the height of Everest, and a trade deal with the UK must be near bottom in terms of the mountain.  In short, forgeddit!   I’m afraid Britain is about to become the basket case of Europe.

Rumination: I am a citizen of the US and the UK.  To lose one country is a misfortune.  To lose two simultaneously seems careless.

Dumb protests

“Thousands of demonstrators – many of them carrying placards proclaiming Covid-19 to be a “hoax” or a “scam” – recently gathered in Trafalgar Square in London to protest against lockdown restrictions. Among the speakers was Piers Corbyn, the older brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was fined £10,000 for his part in organising the rally, in defiance of the new rules restricting public gatherings of more than 30 people. He described the rally as an “epic success”.”

(The Week, 5 Sept 2020)

My comment:   So what, for these crazy people, would not be a “ hoax” or a “scam”?   Maybe, several members of their own families on life support in hospital?  Or, more likely (since they are focused solely on their own convenience), catching covid 19  themselves and ending up on a ventilator?  Why do we give publicity to these deeply ignorant and selfish people?

For those of us influenced by the civilized and inclusive teachings of Epicurus, the advice of scientists is impartial and informed, and trashing it is totally self-defeating and socially toxic.

A second version of a poem called “Dawn”

Dawn on an early March morning.
The still, silver surface of the sea
Merges softly with the morning mist,
Confounding the division between earth and sky.
A tropical sun peeps above the sea,
Likes what it sees, and hurries up,
Wreathed in purple, gold and white,
Catching the masthead of an anchored yacht
Swinging lazily in the warm and breathless air.

All else is misty grey and tranquil.
The creeping tide slackens with the flood,
And not an eddy, swell, or ripple —
Or the faintest gust or drift of breeze —
To break its placid and unruffled calm.

A sandpiper pecks along the water’s edge.
Here is someone with no leisure to reflect.
Then come the pelicans – – comic birds,
Ushering in the business of the day,
Quartering the waterfront for food
And skimming the shallow sea, their wings outstretched.

Soon men will rise and greet the day,
Their noise and clamour closing out the dawn.
Helicopters, generators, growling, grinding.
Cars and car horns, revving engines, gears,
Strimmers, mowers, arguments and slamming doors,
The cellphone tunes, inconsequential chatter.
Modern man cannot function without toys
That make a constant, reassuring noise.

For you who yearn for silence and for calm,
Join me in my morning meditation.
Rise before the sun; sit with me on the soft, soft sand.
Watch the light and shadow in the coconut palms,
The glint of livid sun on water.
Hear the rustle of the palm leaves.
Listen to the gentle lap of water, the wings of passing birds,
The mild plop of fish in the water,
The sea crab scuttling to its morning meal,
The tide as it inches in
Covering the sandbar and any hint of shallows.
Hear the distant sound of a bird calling its mate;
Listen to the silence and the sounds of dawn.

A punt is poled slowly, quietly near the reef.

Man has fished like this for centuries,

Seeking food, and peace, and solitude.

Timeless.  A special moment.  A memory.

(Robert Hanrott)

Q – Anon : patriots???

“Are Republican leaders really willing to throw in their lot with demented conspiracy theorists? “The answer, for the moment, would seem to be yes. President Trump tacitly endorsed the far-right QAnon cult the other day, saying its followers were patriots who “love our country” and, more importantly, “like me very much”. When a reporter pointed out that QAnon followers believe Trump and a mysterious figure called “Q” are secretly saving the world from a satanic, “deep state” cabal of paedophiles who eat children, the president responded, “Is that supposed to be a bad thing? If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it”.  (taken partly from an article by Jonathan Zimmerman,  USA Today, and The Week, 5 September 2020)

My comment: This blog is intended, not to discuss party politics, but to rehearse what stance we might – or should – adopt towards trends,  events and cultural changes in the modern world, using the principles established by Epicurus.  But this “movement” has to be commented upon and labeled for what is is.

The issue of so-called QAnon is a no-brainer. Excuse me! “paedophiles”? “deep state cabal”?  “Eating children”?  “Communist controlled?” Have we really descended to this?  Did these people ever get any discipline or advice from their parents? Did they ever go to school, and if so, what on earth did they learn?  These peddlers of hatred and fantasy have no place in the modern world, and to give them a minutes-worth of credence is shameful, medieval and laughable – except it is not only dangerous but makes the rest of the world laugh at us. (Believe me!)

 

Addendum to yesterday’s post: Unhappy teenagers

Britain has the least happy teenagers in Europe,  at least that’s what a new survey by The Children’s Society tells us. Why might this be? The charity’s chief executive, Mark Russell, believes he knows the reason. It’s down to “the increase in child poverty”, he says.

There are two big problems with this explanation. The first is that “there hasn’t been a rise in child poverty in the UK”. The second is that our children are actually far better off than many others in Europe. Take Spanish youngsters: 82% reported themselves happy in this survey (compared with a mere 64% of their UK peers). Yet a Eurostat study by the European Commission shows they’re of equal risk of poverty or social exclusion as British children. Their peers in Greece, Italy and Romania are at considerably more risk, yet they rank among Europe’s most cheerful teenagers. In fact, the correlation appears to be the opposite of the one Russell identified. It’s not a lack of money; if anything, it’s the “appurtenances of affluence” – feelings of entitlement, social media-fuelled dissatisfaction and envy – that are making our children miserable.  (Rod Liddle, The Sunday Times and The Week 5 September 2020).

My comment:  Mr. Liddle might have a partial point, but he omits (typically for a conservative) the issue of fear for the future. What is the future for the young,  and what do they have to look forward to?  I refer to climate change.  If the horrendous fires in California and Oregon don’t alert you to the danger, you have your head in the sand.  I can hear the unspoken words, “yeah, it’s going to upend the human race, but let me get through my allotted years, comfortable and undisturbed, and let the kids sort it out. Just don’t mess with my cosy way of life – I deserve it.”

Epicurus would, were he alive, would actively opt for addressing the problem head on, as far as is humanly possible.  He would spot the lack of ataraxia among the young, and draw the correct conclusions.

We had a really mean Mom

“While other kids ate candy for breakfast, we had to have cereal, egg and toast.

When others had a Pepsi or a Twinkie for lunch, we had to eat sandwiches.  And you can guess, our mother fixed us a dinner that was different from what other kids had, too.

Mother insisted on knowing where we were at all times.  You’d think we were convicts in a prison. She had to know who our friends were, and what we were doing with them.  She insisted that if we said we would be gone for an hour, we would be gone for an hour or less.

We were ashamed to admit , but she had the nerve to break the Child Labor Laws by making us work.  We had to wash the dishes, make the beds, learn to cook, vacuum the floor, do laundry, and all sorts of cruel jobs. I think she would lie awake at night thinking of more things for us to do.

She always insisted on us telling the truth.  By the time we were teenagers she could read our minds.

Then life was really tough.  Mother wouldn’t let our friends just honk the horn when they drove up.  They had to come to the door so she could meet them.

While everyone else could date when they were 12 or 13, we had to wait until we were 16.

Because of our mother, we missed out on lots of things other kids experienced.  None of us have ever been caught shoplifting, vandalizing other people’s property, or being arrested for any crime.  It was all her fault.”

Now that we have left home, we are all God-fearing, educated, honest adults.  We are doing our best to be mean parents, just like Mum was.

I think that’s what’s wrong with the world today.  It just doesn’t have enough mean moms anymore.    (Mike Doyle)

My comment:    He might have added:  “We weren’t allowed to spend time on social media, ending up feeling inadequate”.  But then he is talking about a different era, when discipline, politeness, reliability, learning useful life skills – and telling the truth – were givens.  (it must be my age!)

Bumble bees

Information collected by a University of Ottawa team using data collected over a 115 year period and covering 66 bumblebee species, show that bumblebees are in drastic decline across Western Europe and North America, owing to higher and more extreme variations in temperature. The likelihood of the bee population surviving has declined by 30% in the course of a single human generation. The trend appears to be “consistent with a mass extinction”.

As pollinators, bees play a part in every aspect of the ecosystem. They support the growth of trees, flowers, and other plants, which serve as food and shelter for creatures large and small. They contribute to complex, interconnected ecosystems that allow a diverse number of different species to co-exist.

Bumble bees are social insects who live in colonies, usually located in nests underground containing between 50 and 500 individuals. Except for new queens, which hibernate in winter, bumble bee colonies die in late autumn.

Bumble bees do not produce honey, but pollination services they provide are worth more than that product would yield.

Commercially traded bumble bees have become big business during the past two decades as demand for bumble bee-pollinated berries, peppers and, especially, hothouse tomatoes has skyrocketed.  But how are we to protect their numbers?  (Sources:  a variety of newspaper reports, including The Times, The Guardian and The Week)

My comments: Locusts swarming in East Africa, flooding, bigger than ever storms, California almost literally on fire – and now the bumblebees are dying.  And to those with vested interests in the status quo (we know who you are!) dismiss it all as “fake news”.  This gets scarier every week. Truly, it is getting more difficult to find ataraxia.  But it doesn’t matter about me ; it’s the grand-children’s generation that I fear for.  How we need leadership!

Curing the common cold

Not exactly on the forefront of our minds at the moment, but we may be closer to defeating Covid 19’s  less deadly cousin – the common cold.  A vaccine that protects against one of the most common cold viruses could be available as soon as 2024, after it has proved safe and effective in clinical trials. 

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is so contagious that more than 90% of people have experienced their first infection by the age of two. While it typically causes mild cold symptoms, it can cause severe illness in the very young and elderly, with at least 70,000 people around the world dying every year after catching the virus.

The vaccine developed by Bavarian Nordic can triple the levels of RSV-fighting antibodies in the blood. The immune response was shown to last for six months – enough to cover a winter cold season – and was restored with a booster shot after 12 months. US company Moderna, known for its Covid-19 work, is also developing a combined vaccine to protect children against other cold and influenza strains.  (Athens Week 22 Aug 2020)

My comment:  Oh, how I wish the politicians would respect the scientists!  One can only assume that they had zero science in school, and the subject seems too difficult to comprehend, like learning Chinese.  What you don’t understand you are fearful of.  Regrettably, it’s a human failing, which, when a covid 19 vaccine comes onto the market, is quite probably going to guarantee that only part of the population, proportion unknown but too high, is going severely reduce the number of beneficiaries.

Moral: Too much of American schooling (can’t say “education”) is inadequate.

I was taught science as a teenager by the same man who taught my father! But, poor though my science is, I am in awe of the subject and deeply respect the professionals.  Why do too many people treat it as voodoo?

The global scale of lead poisoning

One in three children around the world have enough lead in their blood to endanger their long-term health, scientists have found. The Unicef-published report, based on blood tests performed on hundreds of thousands of children worldwide, estimates that around 800 million under-19s have at least five micrograms of lead in their blood per decilitre – widely defined as the potentially unsafe level for children.

Though the use of lead in petrol, paints and water pipes has been phased out, a number of sources of exposure still remain – including car batteries, which use lead and acid to generate a charge, and food additives containing lead compounds, which are used in some countries to sharpen the colours of spices. Exposure to even modest levels of lead can cause symptoms ranging from pain, vomiting and seizures to developmental delay, mental difficulties and mood disorders.

Nicholas Rees, a policy specialist at Unicef and co-author of the report, described the findings as “absolutely shocking”.   (The Week 15 Aug 2020)

My comment: The situation in the US is getting worse as safety and health regulations are being (or have been) scrapped or rolled back to please big business.  The US health system is already skewed quite enough towards those with money to pay for it, good if you can afford it, but “exclusive” (shall we call it).  Epicurus, were he alive today would advocate a healthcare system accessible to all.  But first, he would demand that dangerous substances, such as lead, are immediately banned in products handled, breathed or eaten by the public.  Common sense?  Mmmmmh!

Why do I even have to discuss this?

The new brand of fascism

President Macron has condemned the defacing of a memorial to the victims of a notorious Nazi massacre in the Limousin. In 1944, SS troops stormed into the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, and killed nearly all of its 642 inhabitants. The men were shot in the legs and then set alight; the women and children were burnt alive in the church. Only a handful of residents survived. Oradour has been preserved as a memorial ever since. Last week, vandals crossed out the word “martyr” on the main entrance sign, and added “menteur” – “liar”.   (The Week, 29 Aug 2020)

My comment:  The rise of extreme right wing know-nothings is not confined to the United States.  It is fueled by social media where you can say the most outrageous, cruel and hurtful things with little or no come-back, prepping impressionable young people with lousy “education” to reject moderation, kindness and decency, the hallmarks both of Epicureanism (and genuine Christianity).  We have to forthrightly fight back against this monstrous trend, used by ruthless politicians and racists to undermine social peace and well-being.

(One of my university tutors was simultaneous translator at the war crimes trial of the people who ordered the Oradour atrocity – I will never forget the tears that welled up in his eyes as he described what he heard.  Too few people are educated on the terrible damage wrought by extreme, violent bullies who deliberately violate historical fact)

An Epicurean Poem ( about peace of mind)

    Dawn   

A still, warm, and breathless tropical night,

Before the birds awake and fishes stir.

There is no breeze or whisper from the palms,

Only a gunmetal gloom and swish of waves

Gently shifting seaweed on the sand.

I lie on a hammock counting intervals

Between the flashing lights of marker buoys,

And watching the passage of a distant ship,

Lights blurred and blinking in the sea-fog.

As I sit there the dark morphs into misty grey,

And, herald of the day, a lonely fish

Skitters the water beneath the wooden jetty.

Robert Hanrott,  February 2006

The holocaust was not only about Jewish people

When you read about the Holocaust consideration is mainly given to anti-semitism.  Added is often the information that “millions of others” were also killed. In reality Nazi racism extended to Roma and Sinti people, (Gypsies, as they are otherwise known).  In the former Czechoslovakia 90% of the Roma and Sinti people were murdered, and those left have tried for many years to get reparations, but have been ignored by government officials and museum boards, who seem to assume that the murders were somehow unconnected with the Jewish holocaust.

A letter dated 10 March 1944, signed by Himmler, expressed the goal of genocide against Romani and Jewish people in brutally bureaucratic language.  Roma victims were, like Jewish victims, deported to concentration and death camps, Auschwitz included.

The fact is that the Roma holocaust is not only forgotten, but anti-Romani racism is very common, even in England where in the recent election the Tory Party manifesto outlined a pledge to “seize the property and vehicles of trespassers who set up unauthorized encampments”, a promise aimed at Gypsy and  Roma communities.  On the Continent there is a rise in the numbers of murders of Romanies. A Roma holocaust survivor is quoted as saying, “ I’m afraid that Europe is forgetting its past and thatAuschwitz is only sleeping”.   (Prospect magazine March 2020).

My comment: My family had its run-ins with the “travelers” (as the Gypsies used to be called in England), but the worst that happened was that our hens and our toys disappeared at night – the culprits had nothing;  we were fortunate.  While we feared them, nothing excuses the treatment they have had over many years from racists and bigots.  More should be done to given them constructive alternatives to the wandering life.

Homelessness

I have recently been traveling short distances by bus. On almost every (free) trip there is some poor soul, disheveled, hair down to his shoulders and carrying a weird assortment of plastic bags etc.

Homelessness where I live is all too common and affects both black and white communities.  They closed the hospital/ hostel called St. Elizabeth’s,  a haven for homeless people.  There seems nowhere for these poor souls to go. Recently, a man I spoke to said that he, his wife and children, were camping in the local library (there was no reason to think he was lying).

Many  have lost their jobs and homes (the virus is only one reason) and have psychological problems.  I keep some cash on me on the way to the gym to help anyone clearly in distress. (Yes, there is the drugs question – is that what the money will go on?) Notwithstanding the fact that you cannot know all the circumstances, I consider it a disgrace that these homeless people are not looked after.

For a quarter of the money handed by the current government to the ultra-rich in the last few years, every one of these homeless people could be given a roof over their heads, however basic.  Now that would be Christian!

Without  regard to gender, income, class and origin Epicurus welcomed people into his garden.  The least we can collectively do is to contribute towards giving the homeless shelter and food – and a bit of self-respect.  I will stay off the politics of all this, but the implications are obvious to everyone.