Dynastic wealth and greed

When Cordelia Mellon Scaife was born in 1928 she was the world’s “richest baby”. Her grand-uncle, the industrialist-turned-U.S. treasury secretary Andrew Mellon, spent his lifetime squeezing workers and fighting to cut rich people’s taxes. But Mellon’s impact on American life didn’t end with his 1937 death. His heir Richard Mellon Scaife — Cordelia’s brother — spent his inheritance bankrolling the right-wing organizations that funded the Reagan pushback against the New Deal.

Cordelia, the New York Times revealed last month, made an equally destructive impact. She quietly became the nation’s single largest donor to anti-immigrant ideologues, bankrolling the. founding and operation of the nation’s three largest anti-migrant groups.” Her life’s goal: keep the United States from “being invaded on all fronts” by immigrants who “breed like hamsters.” Before her 2005 death, Cordelia Mellon Scaife May exhorted her foundation’s board “to exercise the courage of their convictions” once she departed. Thanks to the Mellon dynastic fortune, that foundation now holds assets worth half a billion, and continues to oppose immigration, particularly from Latin America. And this  in a country built by immigrants for immigrants.

One could argue that Epicurus had nothing against people being successful and making money, but he would expect them to do good with it, as well as living comfortably; that is, help those poorer  than were and pay a rate of taxation that underpinned a fair and thriving community.  He would also expect them to be decent and caring employers.  The current capitalist system is based on the idea that if a person is born poor he or she can, with hard work and a good idea, become rich.  This is true of a tiny fraction of the population, and the odds against it are growing, unremarked, year by year.  One day Americans will realise that the system is loaded against them.  How long will it then last?

 

Back pain: probable causes and what to do about them, Part 2

I have just read a fascinating book by a neurologist about psychosomatic illness, (“It’ all in Your Mind” by Suzanne O’Sullivan) where patients present with no obvious symptoms and all tests prove negative. And yet they are having the most scary fits and other signs of illness.  The aim of the book is to point out that many symptoms originate in the brain ( psychsomatic) and the answer lies with psychiatrists, not ordinary doctors. But since most people resist the idea that they have some purely mental disorder, it is fearfully difficult to get the patient treated.

The fundamental point is that pain is generated by the brain. Although we have cells in our body that send messages to the brain to alert us to potentially damaging stimuli, like heat, or a sharp object pressing against the skin, it isn’t necessary to stimulate these cells to feel pain, nor is their activity always directly related to our experience of discomfort.  Even anticipation of pain can make you think you are subject to it. To complicate matters, its intensity or the anxiety caused by it – are controlled by separate brain circuits, and these can be triggered or suppressed, say, by listening to music or watching a gripping film. With constant, low- level pain that pain becomes embedded within their persona.

So what can you do if you have constant back pain?

Bad:

  1. Back belts, shoe insoles and any other ergonomic products are ineffective. Scrap them.
  2. Do not fall for “bed rest”. it is one of the worst things you can do. The  lumbar multifidus muscles, which keep our lower vertebrae in place, waste and become inactive.
  3. People who switch to standing desks say they feel less back pain.
  4. Do not take opioids, succumb to the idea of back surgery, or have injections bad for you), or have MRI scans. They tell doctors little about the source of pain but cost a lot.
  5. Don’t tell sufferers with back pain to “stop thinking about it.  It’s irritating.

Good:

1.  Work normally, get plenty of exercise (very important the experts say).

2.  Go to a physical therapist and get a set of appropriate ecxercises to do – twice a day. Concentrate on your posture . Sit on your “sit bone” not your loser , bent, back.

3.   As a sufferer myself I am trying to train my mind by telling myself that there is nothing physically wrong with me that can be medically fixed.  Instead, the constant low back pain is a construct of the mind, and I am telling it to stop and leave me alone!  Daft?  I’ll let you know!

(Part of an unusually long article by Helen Thomson in New Scientist, heavily edited to get the main points)

The back pain epidemic: Why popular treatments are making it worse

Chronic back pain is on the rise – in part because the way we treat it often does more harm than good. It’s time to think differently about our aches.  One in four adults are experiencing it right now, and 90 per cent of people having back pain at least once in their life. Nearly a quarter of all primary care appointments for adults are for back pain.Back pain is a leading cause of disability around the world. In the US alone it costs an eye-watering $635 billion a year in medical bills and loss of productivity.

Much of the blame has fallen on our increasingly desk-bound lifestyles and growing lifespans, which mean more years of wear and tear on our spines.   Slumping in front of computer screens puts pressure on the muscles, ligaments and discs that support the spine and can deactivate muscles that promote good posture.   Obesity (amplifies the mechanical strain on the back and decreases mobility, and increases the production of inflammatory chemicals associated with pain.) and smoking (associated with a clogging of the arteries, which can damage the blood vessels that supply the spine) , are both huge contributors to back pain.

Identifying which of these problems has led to your own back pain is incredibly difficult. According to one study in the US, Less than 1 per cent of people who seek help will have something seriously wrong,  It turns out that MRI scans simply cannot indicate to a doctor what is wrong. They are not only be a waste of time and money, but it can actually worsen your back pain. Once you start to look for abnormalities, you will find them. Once that happens, doctors are more likely to prescribe painkillers, steroid injections or surgery, which may be unnecessary, ineffective and sometimes harmful.  In fact, people  who have had an MRI are more likely to move on to surgery, exposing them to the risk of infection and other complications. “The potential for harm has been shown in many studies,” says Buchbinder.

In the UK, for instance, patients are offered anti-inflammatory steroid injections, but these have been shown to be no more effective than placebo. They can also cause increased appetite, mood changes and difficulty sleeping.  In the US doctors tend to prescribe stronger opioid painkillers than are necessary,  fuelling the opioid crisis that has decreased life expectancy in the US. Backache is the number one reason for prescribing opioids. (Part of an unusually long article. Helen Thomson in New Scientist)

Tomorrow: The probable causes of back pain and what to do about it

The Real Price of Clothes

We’ve heard about sweatshop factory collapses and fires in countries like Bangladesh. We’ve seen stories about labour conditions abroad and we should by now be aware that the people who make  our clothes earn so little they can barely, if at all,  afford to feed their families,. On top of that people are dying slowly of formaldehyde poisoning from the synthetic indigo dye coloring the jeans so many people wear.

The fashion industry employs one out of every six people in the world and pays less than two percent of them a living wage. On top of the direct human cost, the industry is responsible for 20 percent of all industrial water pollution and 10 percent of carbon emissions—not to mention untold piles of clothes that end up in landfills, because one fifth of the 100 billion garments made each year go unsold and unworn.

However, things are starting to improve.  Retailers are starting to shift their supply models, and designers are embracing “circular and slow fashion”,  which I take to mean returning to former ideas  and not changing frenetically all the time, season by season, with the waste that implies. Fashion manufacturers are using cutting-edge technology to recycle or bio-engineer fabrics, and consumers are consciously buying less. (an edited version of a piece in American Scholar).

A morning recently spent in John Lewis in London’s Oxford Street, left me slightly dazed.  There couldn’t be enough people with enough money to buy half the garments on display.  Many were charming, but some of the colours were ugly and the styles (to my male eye) were unflattering .  At which point I should point to my credentials, slight though they are – my mother was a successful fashion model in the 1930s and she frequently took me shopping, explained things to me and asked me to comment on this or that dress in the shops.  So I have a modest interest, even now, in the subject.

 

Dating without drama

Apparently, an increasing number of men want joy, laughter and happiness in a girlfriend – and no drama.  They appear to be looking for a partner who never gets angry, afraid or sad, who never worries about her family, money or her job, never complains, and by extension, gives the impression she will be quite content to be messed around by thoughtless men.

This is, of course, ridiculous. These men must be very spoiled by their parents.  Presumably, everything in their lives has so far run faultlessly and smoothly.  Poor dears, they must not be bothered by real life.  It is understandable that one might avoid someone with a severe personality disorder, but “no drama” infers that the lads will only be happy with someone with no issues.   Good luck with that!

Is this a side-product of internet dating?  The internet promises an infinite number of possible matches, or at least appears to.  If one lass doesn’t work out there are hundreds more to try out.   Why choose a challenging young woman if a fun one is an easy option.  But what we think we want isn’t necessarily what’s best for us.  In the old days you might connect with a difficult partner and you had to make the best of it and learn to cope, to be patient and understanding.  The perfect partner has wings, a long dress, a golden trumpet and is depicted on church walls, a mythical angel.

We are breeding a lot of selfish people who, if things don’t go precisely their way, grab their teddy bears and go home alone, or at least opt out, stay home and watch a Netflix movie.  Dedicating your life to another human being with a few natural, human failings is a wonderful and fulfilling thing.  You are a better person for it, in sickness or in heath.

Mea Culpa

I owe the readers an apology.  I have spent far too much time alluding to politics on this blog, something Epicurus would tut-tut about were he with us and had a computer.

I live between the US and the UK, both unhappy places, and have allowed myself  ( I like to think for patriotic  reasons) to dwell too much upon the divisive politics in both countries.  I realise millions are absorbed in them as well, but that is no excuse.  This is the Epicurus.Today blog, and Epicurus not only advised us not to involve ourselves directly in (party) politics, but, if we were to achieve calm and peace of mind, to ignore the subject.  Yes, that is a bit difficult to do!

Why do I raise this now.  Because I have been attending lessons in the Alexander Technique, famous among actors and musicians.  The teacher told me that, far from reaching a state of ataraxia, I was  getting more anxious and uptight, and that this did nothing for my health and was probably making me grumpy.  He is right!  Too much time exclaiming , “Oh. no! I don’t believe it!  ( Does this ring a bell, perhaps? )

So I have made a directional decision:  I will henceforward try to choose subjects which are not directly party political, and will concentrate on subjects which you ought to know about, but which are concerned with decency, consideration, human kindness (or unkindness), selfishness (or unselfishness), greed generosity etc.  In other words subjects concerning human behaviour, and what Epicurus might say about our collective faults and foibles.

I hope I won’t lose you!  Think of it this way, I am trying to illustrate Epicurean principle with real-life examples.  There is little Epicurean about current politics, which could be causing us to age, to be bad tempered  and jump up and down.  Best keep the latter for the gym!

Optimism boosts longevity

People with optimistic outlooks tend to live longer than their more negative peers, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine have found. The study drew on data from two long-running studies of Americans aged over 60: one of 1,500 male war veterans, and one of 70,000 female nurses. At the start of both, the participants had completed questionnaires to gauge how optimistic they were, and had also been asked about other factors likely to influence their longevity, including diet, health and exercise.

Analysis of the data revealed that most optimistic participants lived 10% to 15% longer on average than the least optimistic ones, and that they were significantly more likely to live to the age of 85. “Healthier behaviours and lower levels of depression only partially explained our findings,” said lead researcher Dr Lewina Lee. “Initial evidence from other studies suggests that more optimistic people tend to have goals and the confidence to reach them, are more effective in problem-solving, and they may be better at regulating their emotions during stressful situations.” The exciting possibility raised by the findings, she added, is that we may be able to “promote healthy and resilient ageing by cultivating psycho-social assets such as optimism” in people.  (The Week, 7 September 2019)

This is mainly common sense, and must be the very devil to quantify. However, it poses the problem “how can one be optimistic when you see your ordered world so casually disordered by people so dissatisfied with the world that they can condemn the world to potential chaos”.  I refer in particular to the climate change deniers, who might live a year or two longer owing to their optimism, but are condemning millions to chaos and early death with their stubborn denial.  These people are not admirable.

As for world politics….well…..   Last night we watched a movie on the rise of Hitler, a reminder of how human beings never seem to learn.  They say they want “strong men” who “get things done”.   But seldom are these paragons able or prepared to think things through before lurching in and causing chaos.  I am thinking of Brexit, of course. The politicians involved in it had multiple years to identify the difficulties, but were too lazy and effete to do the work. So we, the people, suffer.  Hard to be optimistic.  But then Epicurus knew this and warned against involvement in politics.

 

 

The Bahamas and Donald Trump

The president, however, has other ideas, no doubt worried about the reaction of his base to an influx of black Bahamians.  “Evacuees had to have “totally proper documentation” he proclaimed. The United States, has “had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there… including some very bad people. We are going to be very very strong in that,”  adding that “large sections, believe it or not, of the Bahamas were not hit” by the hurricane. (It would be laughable if it were not true. Ed)

More than 100 Bahamians, trying to escape the hurricane’s devastation, were ordered off a ferry departing storm-ravaged Freeport, told by a crew member over the ship’s intercom system that if they attempted to enter the United States without a visa, ”You will have trouble”.

The Trump administration has been asked to help hurricane survivors, either by suspending traditional visa requirements, or by extending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to the Bahamas. TPS gives citizens of countries affected by natural disasters or civil unrest the ability to temporarily live and work in the United States, a status that can be extended for years.

The Trump administration is hostile to granting and extending TPS designations. The Department of Homeland Security is currently entangled in a federal court case after seeking to terminate TPS for South Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador, which would strip protective status from more than 300,000 people.  Without TPS, Bahamians are left with uncertainty about their immigration status beyond the discretionary entry promised by CBP

“The United States government should help ensure that those who were left with nothing can easily seek shelter with their families in the United States,” wrote Reps. Brian Mast and Stephanie Murphy, a Republican and Democrat of Florida, respectively, in a letter calling on President Trump to “expedite, waive, or suspend certain visa requirements” for Bahamian citizens affected by the storm. The letter was co-signed by 18 other members of Florida’s congressional delegation.

Morgan has said that his agency will continue to allow for discretionary entry on humanitarian grounds—within reason. There are still people that are enemies to this country,” Morgan, adding that his agency wouldn’t send Bahamians with criminal convictions back to their storm-ravaged country, but would turn them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  (,Scott Bixby, National Reporter)

This should be a no-brainer.  These poor people suddenly find themselves homeless and jobless, owing to no fault of their own.  The Epicurean thing to do is to accept them, look after them and help the Bahamas recoup its losses.  But Trump’s first reaction is to say “no”  to foreigners, especially if they are not white.  And his “christian” base seem to think that’s acceptable.  At least the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is reasonable, but for how long?  Morgan is only “Acting”.

Sit less, move more, live longer

“You don’t need to go to the gym to benefit from exercise: even activities such as walking slowly or washing dishes can significantly boost a person’s longevity, a study has found. Researchers from Norway looked at data on 36,000 people with an average age of 63 whose activity levels were monitored over six years. Any exercise, no matter how light, was associated with a substantially lower risk of death.” The scientists said the “public health message” of their study was: “Sit less and move more and move often.”. (The Week, September 7, 2019)

Their bottom line is “a bit of light exercise is better than no exercise at all”.   I go to a gym for about an hour and a half three times a week, wherever I am.  My wife does even more, walking for an hour every day, before even getting to the gym.  We are typically the oldest people there, every time.   We both find that this regime gives us more energy and alertness, and we get a lot done, more (we both think) than many people our age.  We can do this because we have deliberately made it a habit that we never debate.  I have no problem with the minimalist prescription above – we are entitled to choice.  But now I cannot personally do without the gym.  It’s a form of medicine.

Jokes under scrutiny

Is it possible to be a comedian when you don’t know who you’re making jokes for? When you’re unsure who is listening, and what mood they’re in? How can comedians tell the jokes they want to tell in a world where the butt of those jokes can turn a community against you? Can comedy survive in this age of outrage?”

“No longer does a joke stay in the room where it was told. If it’s filmed and put online, it reaches an audience for which it was never intended. If it’s repeated on social media – removed from the atmosphere around it and the build-up created by the comedian and sent out to people who don’t even want to hear it – it travels further; and something is different. The words are the same, but it’s not the same joke.”   (Edited comments by Miranda Sawyer in The Observer Aug 11 2019)

 Maybe, after decades, time and tide have made me more grumpy, (what? me?), but I do think “comedy” has become more vulgar and crude, less clever, as a  generalisation.  I literally don’t even understand some of the comedians.  Comedy is seemingly aimed at the young on social media, leaving us old guys scratching our heads.  This is a shame because we need all the laughs we can get, such is the state of the world.  One thing I’m sure of – jokes are seldom enhanced by crudity and put-downs.  And you can’t tell jokes without using the”f” word, best return to your day job.

Try having a conversation about Brexit!

In reply to my posting about winning arguments, Carmen, a regular reader ( thank you, Carmen!) makes the following point:

“A pre-problem which I’ve experienced before even reaching a “how-to-win-the-argument” mode, is  establishing an agreement–stated or implied– to commit to a conversation. People are adept at giving their political viewpoints but at the same time setting up subtle speed bumps to deter subsequent conversational exchanges.”

I have recently spent time  in London, and have been disturbed at the huge divisions caused by Brexit. Start what you think is a reasonable conversation, conducted by polite and well-educated people, and far too many (for my liking) simply cut you off at the pass.  By that I mean they state their viewpoint in such a final and definite way that you are left with no alternative but to think “Um….” and change the subject.  This is tough because my wife, who is American, asks pertinent questions, wanting insights and real information.  She has, like me, been frustrated.  These are actual comments we have heard:

– “The EU is corrupt and needs reform” (more so than the British Parliamentary system? Wow!),

– “The Euro is bound to collapse and we need to get out before it does”. (a self-fulfilling prophesy).

– “We are fed up with the whole thing.  Just get us out and let us get on with our lives”. (a popular sentiment, if totally irresponsible).

– “We have had enough of being told what to do by Brussels bureaucrats!  Straight bananas indeed!” (Most of the stories are made up, Boris Johnson, as a journalist, being one of the chief story fabricators. It’s been a decades-long emotional crusade by the hard-right British media, which is the majority of the media).

– “I’ve met him (Boris). He’s very charming and very impressive” (well, yes, he’s a politician)

– “He’s strong, knows what he wants and gets things done” (O.K, but are they the right things?)

– “ He’s going to stop all this immigration. It’s ruining the culture”. (This from an immigrant taxi driver).

”He’s very clever.  He knows what to do”. “What would you like him to do?“  “Oh, I don’t know – I’m not a politician.”  (makes you despair, doesn’t it?)

All the above said with such conviction and finality that any attempt at conversation withers. Particularly disturbing if the person you are speaking to is a member of your family or a life-long friend.  One would have to go back centuries to find the country so deeply divided; but of course it is not alone!

Voting machines: in the age of Trump can they be trusted?

A report by the New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice examined the number of aging or outdated voting equipment used throughout the country and found that during the 2018 midterm elections, 34 percent of local election jurisdictions were using voting machines that were at least a decade old as their primary form of voting.   At least eight states – Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky and New Jersey- will be using  paperless voting equipment, or machines without paper records, as the primary polling place equipment in the 2020 elections.

The report found.that in 2020 around 12 percent (down from 20%) of Americans, or about 16 million people, will vote on paperless machines and will have no paper record of how they voted.  These machines are a security risk because they don’t allow election officials or the public to confirm electronic vote totals.  Pennsylvania, Georgia and South Carolina will have replaced paperless voting machines by 2020, while Arkansas, Virginia and Delaware have already completed the process.

The  Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is what is driving the change to adopt election audits and replace outdated voting systems with “a voter-verified paper trail,” in which machines at least print out a paper record of the vote.   12 states are now exploring or using risk-limiting audits, which involve manually checking a sample of the votes cast to ensure they have not been tampered with. 

Nonetheless, “States and counties need more resources for items like cybersecurity support for local election jurisdictions and upgrades to voter registration databases and other critical election systems,” the Brennan Center report said.  (An edited version of an article in The Hill 13 Aug 2019)

Maybe I am seeing conspiracies where there are none, but the reaction of Republicans to accusations of Russian influence in the last election gave the impression that Republicans didn’t care (or even welcomed) Russian subversion of the system, since it benefitted them.  Which could be interpreted as treachery.  The same can be said for the alleged funding in Britain of Brexit with Russian money.  Putin must be loving all this!

Study links sleep deprivation with cardiovascular disease

People who struggle with sleep might be at greater risk of developing cardiovascular problems, according to Prof Hugh Markus, of Cambridge University.  Those (including the author of this posting) who are genetically predisposed to insomnia have a greater risk of heart failure and coronary heart disease.

I think I must have personally tried every drug and sleep aid available, and nonetheless can have frequent strings of four or five sleepless nights in succession.  Much time has been spent visiting puzzled sleep doctors. 

Latterly, I have developed two cocktails of fairly reliable sleep aids, one I use for about three weeks in succession, then, when it is feeling less effective, change for about a week to a second mixture.  Despite assaulting myself with weird blends of pharmaceutical, my heart is as strong as an oxen. So the problem of sleep- deprivation is similar to that of diet, that is, we are all different physiologically, and the answers can only come with determined experimentation, hopefully with safe drugs.  This is a do-it-yourself industry; sleep doctors focus mainly on sleep apnea, which they know how to treat.

How to win an argument

  • Many arguments are made with minimal understanding, or are based on false premises. Simply asking for more detail and forcing someone to take you through their thinking step by step can expose this.
  • It’s not enough just to give evidence that something is false. To convince the other party, provide an alternative explanation to fill the gap (lawyers do this when they point to an alternative suspect in a trial).
  • If you attack someone’s entire ideology in one discussion, their defences go up. Try to disentangle their various beliefs, or show how changing one might support others.
  • In general, people are much more rational and willing to own up to the limits of their knowledge if they are treated with respect and kindness in an argument.
  • Encourage your opponent to view the argument from another’s perspective – a stranger, or a person from another country, if the argument is political. This can make them more receptive to the facts.

The British crisis: MPs discover they have spines

In 1689 the Act of Settlement decreed that sovereignty lay with the King in Parliament.  By the turn of the last century the King had become a figurehead and Parliament reigned supreme.  Supreme over the executive as well.  More recently the executive has grown in power.  Why is that?  Because Parliament has allowed it to happen. In modern times, as long as MPs keep their jobs they have more or less voted according to Party, and if the Prime Minister disapproves of them their constituency party has fired them. By avoiding rocking any boats, the MPs collectively have empowered the Executive and diminished their own power.

Yesterday, MPs finally stood up to the government (that is, Boris).  The Commons voted 328 – 301 to take control of business for an anti-no-deal bill.  Even before that, one Conservative MP, Phillip Lee, quit the Tory party of his own accord, actually during Johnson’s speech, and joined the Liberal Democrats.  Clearly, principle is emerging, blinking in the light, from the thicket of inertia and amateurism. Corbyn, Labour leader, insisted: “There is no consent in this house to leave the European Union without a deal. There is no majority for no deal in the country … Get the bill through first in order to take no deal off the table”.  For the UK this looks like an overdue rebellion .

His authority temporarily shredded, the prime minister said he would hold a general election on October 15th, This will be a fraught affair.  It is quite possible that Johnson will get a bigger majority and will thereby be able to preside over the misery and chaos he dismisses as Project Fear. Prior to the referendum, neither he nor his Brexiteer friends ever had the foresight, thoroughness or intelligence to investigate and confront all the difficulties surrounding Brexit for the umpteen years the right wing was up in arms about the dastardly EU.  They just used emotion and shameless lies about it.  Now, many people “just want it over”. Contrary to some opinion the Brits are not a universally wise, educated and thoughtful lot (!).  Rather, put them down as gamblers, who don’t much like detail or having to think things through; they just want to concentrate on their own lives (and maybe avoid a Corbyn government).   My guess is that the Tories will increase in numbers in the House of Commons and that the British will have the excitement of a crash out of the EU, blaming the EU for being stubborn, of course.  Spoiled boys never take responsibility.

There.  I have done my reporting job.  Now I would like a nice, calm Epicurean day, without anxiety and without having to think about it.  I just want it over.

 

 

Apathy: a follow-on from yesterday’s posting

From the Daily Telegraph

“These days, all of us are engaged in politics. Fanatically engaged. Furiously engaged. Twenty years ago, when I was in my teens, apathy was all the rage. In the newspapers, practically every political column was about the lack of interest in politics. Anxious MPs thought apathy was a bad thing. They assumed it meant people felt powerless to change anything. Certainly that was true, for some. But maybe the rest didn’t actually want to change anything – nothing big anyway. Maybe they took no interest in politics because on the whole, they thought life wasn’t too bad. A lesson for the future. Mass engagement is a sign things are going wrong. In a healthy democracy, no one would vote at all.    (Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph)

Last night there was a live television debate between  Brexiteers and Remainers, an event that threw me personally into a  profound few hours of utter misery.  How, I thought, could anyone do this (potentially wreck the country, manfully doing the work for a delighted Putin in Moscow)? How could we have arrived at this position where a group of lazy-minded, irresponsible politicians  can impose this disaster upon the country, without ahead of time doing even a single morning’s work on the snags, the pitfalls and downsides – often known as “planning” – of what they were doing, nil, nada. That is, break up the United Kingdom, and, quite possibly, the EU itself?  Does no one know any European history?  No one has asked the British people if they want their country to become world No.1 tax haven, the Panama of Europe, welcoming every sleazy crook in the world, each a business opportunity for politicians obsessed with money; and meanwhile, reversing regulations on health, safety, job security, housing and help for the poor.  In the old days we executed those who did this much harm; now we install them in No. 10, Downing Street.

Yesterday, I suggested that one should try to remain optimistic when all around you are in despair, rationing the intake of depressing news. Whatever helps one achieve ataraxia.  Clearly, the writer is wrestling mightily to restore that magic moment!  Understatement of the morning.

 

 

 

 

Optimism

Being optimistic has been linked to a longer life, with those who see the glass as half full having a better chance of reaching 85 or older. Optimists also have a longer life in general, according to Boston University medical researchers who analysed data from two previous long-term research projects. They found the most optimistic women had a lifespan almost 15% longer than the least, while for men the difference was 11%. Previous research has suggested people who are more optimistic might lead a healthier lifestyle – once that was taken into account, the most optimistic men and women still had a 9-10% longer lifespan.  (The Guardian, 27 Aug 2019)

Common sense, really.  The problem is to remain optimistic when all around you are in despair.  Maybe the trick is not to follow the (increasingly depressing) news, or to look at a week’s news in one big session once a week and read a book for the rest of the time.  Whatever helps you achieve ataraxia.

Should CERN build an even more expensive collider?

There is a problem with the current physics .  We have quantum theory for very small particles, relativity for the big stuff, and the Standard Model, which includes all the weird particles discovered by physicists all over the world.  All seem true individually, but relativity and quantum theory contradict one another and the Standard Model doesn’t seem to work- if you plugged it into the universe  the universe would apparently vanish.  Physicists can only study approximately 4% of a vast universe, the rest being dark energy and dark matter, and we don’t know yet what exactly these two phenomena are.  All in all we are still in a state of stupendous ignorance.

The current plan is to build the Future Circular Collider, 60 miles liong under Lake Geneva and costing 20 billion pounds.  When we are faced with huge problems of climate, population movements, water shortages etc should we be concerning ourselves about physics?

My answer is an unequivocal “yes”. The reason is that politicians and the voting public are simply not going to solve or ameliorate the problems of Planet Earth. There is too much money at stake and too little will-power.  If anything is to improve it will improve through advances in science that  help everyone, from the young to the old, from the poor peasant to the fat cats, the rich, and the selfish.  Just as long as the science isn’t politicized, because the nationalists and self-styled “strong men” politicize everything for their benefit, if they can.

Ignore the ignorant and self-obsessed and let us gather as much knowledge of the universe as we can, trusting that the scientists can repeat their successes, such as creation of the internet.

The moral self-image

Would you return a lost wallet lying in the street?  Of course!

Researchers left 17,000 wallets in 355 cities around the world (wow! big spenders!), some containing money, small or large amounts.  They found that, when cash was found the finders tended to return it to the owners.  If the wallets contained small amounts, say £10, the rate of returns was 51%., but at £75 the rate rose to 72%.  Clearly, most people see themselves as honest, as having a conscience, and would be shocked to be regarded as thieves.  Researchers concluded that, for most people, a moral self-image is important, and that they get quiet satisfaction from being seen to do the right thing.

Supporters of Epicurus would suggest that simple things like returning lost money to its owner are part and parcel of living a life peace of mind and contentment.  Do nothing that tends to increase anxiety or fear or is in conflict with your conscience.

Borrowing like there is no tomorrow

The US federal government will rack up $12.2 trillion in deficits through 2029, according to a new projection from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), an $809 billion increase from its last projection in May.

CBO, Congress’s official budgeting scorekeeper, said that the deficits would average 4.7 percent of GDP through the next decade, a significant increase from the 2.9 percent average over the past 50 years. This huge debt has to be serviced, which means that you have to cut other expenditures to service it. We have had a long run with full employment, thanks to Obama.  Usually, when the economy is healthy, the debt comes down; it needs to so that there is borrowing capacity to tide the country over the next (inevitable) slowdown.  Only under a Republican regime does the debt nowadays go up.

In the old days it was the Democrats who spent, spent, spent.  Now it is the Republicans, formerly “fiscally responsible”, who are blithely trying to get Trump re- elected – at any price..  Of course, it will be the poorer people in the boondocks, who vote Republican, whose services will be cut.