Here is something termed a “moral test”. How to look at it.

As of 18 February 130 countries had not received a single coronavirus vaccine dose.

The UN has criticised the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of Covid vaccines, revealing that 10 countries with the money to buy them have administered 75% of all vaccinations, while 130 countries have not received a single dose.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, called for an urgent global vaccination plan to ensure more equitable distribution, saying: “At this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community”.  (The Guardian 18 Feb 2021).

My comment:  I would be a total hypocrite if I uttered a bleeding heart comment on this, claiming that I supported sharing the available vaccines around the world according to percentage of needy people per nation.  I am very lucky, along with my wife, to have had our two vaccinations.  But I shall not quickly forget my own acute anxiety about vaccination (or lack of it) because of the chaotic and ill-thought-out system of our local government.  I was nervous about it for weeks. Self-interest took over.  Was that wicked?  My answer is – it is human.

Is it more moral to ship all available vaccines to, say, Africa, leaving our own population to take its chances?  Mmmmmmh.  What I do know is that America,  Britain and other “advanced” countries have developed the science, technical  education and production techniques to be able to create this miracle, and the fact is that there would be no vaccines without  our dollars and pounds  and our scientific expertise.

On this matter I don’t feel it necessary to beat my fellow citizens up at all.  Once the vulnerable populations are fully protected and production is fully ramped up, then we should ship vaccines all over the world to whoever needs them.  Use my tax dollars to subsidize this or send the stuff free, by all means.  But I think the UN secretary general is being unfair, or at least unrealistic.

 

Reassuring news, sort of.

More than 100 prominent evangelical Christian pastors and church leaders have condemned the “perversion” of Christian nationalism and its role in the insurrection at the Capitol on 6 January.

In an open letter, the leaders said they were speaking out because they did not want to be “quiet accomplices in this ongoing sin”, and called on all members of the church to make it clear that Christianity was not compatible with “calls to violence, support of white Christian nationalism, conspiracy theories, and all religious and racial prejudice”. (The Guardian. 2/25/2021)

My comment:  Nice to see an evangelical church opposing so- called “christian” nationalism.  However today’s edition of the Washington Post carries a report on the Godspeak Calvary Chapel, north of Los Angeles, where the pastor, RobMcCoy dismisses covid 19 as an “ overblown sham” and rails against pandemic restrictions and what he considers the  “trampling of  religious liberties”.  Attendance has tripled to about a thousand every Sunday, packed in with no one wearing masks and mostly rejecting vaccination as well.

Followers of Epicurus believe in the manifold benefits of science.  Even more so, they believe that vaccination denial and refusing to abide by common sense rules against spreading the virus are selfish, imperiling others. If you want to die a horrible death so be it, but don’t kill or endanger other human beings in the process.  The rules are essential both for health and peace of mind.

 

Universal basic income

The world’s most robust study of universal basic income has concluded that it boosts recipients’ mental and financial well-being, as well as modestly improving employment.

Finland ran a two-year universal basic income study in 2017 and 2018, during which the government gave 2000 unemployed people aged between 25 and 58 monthly payments with no strings attached.  The payments of €560 per month weren’t means tested and were unconditional, so they weren’t reduced if an individual got a job or later had a pay rise. The study was nationwide and selected recipients weren’t able to opt out, because the test was written into legislation.

The study compared the employment and well-being of basic income recipients against a control group of 173,000 people who were on unemployment benefits.

Between November 2017 and October 2018, people on basic income worked an average of 78 days, which was six days more than those on unemployment benefits. There was a greater increase in employment for people in families with children as well as those whose first language wasn’t Finnish or Swedish – but the researchers aren’t yet sure why.

When surveyed, people who received universal basic income instead of regular unemployment benefits reported better financial well-being, mental health and cognitive functioning, as well as higher levels of confidence in the future.  When asked whether basic income could help people dealing with situations such as the economic fallout of the covid 19 pandemic, Ylikännö said that it could help alleviate stress at an uncertain time.

“I think it would bring people security in very insecure situations when they don’t know whether they’re going to have an income,” she said.

The findings suggest that basic income doesn’t seem to provide a disincentive for people to work.  However, the effect of basic income was complicated by legislation known as the “activation model”, which the Finnish government introduced at the beginning of 2018. It made the conditions for accessing unemployment benefits stricter.

The timing made it difficult to separate the effects of the basic income experiment from the policy change, said Ylikännö. “We can only say that the employment effect that we observed was as a joint result of the experiment and activation model,” she said.  Preliminary findings from February last year  had previously found no difference between the two groups for the number of days worked in 2017.

“Money matters, but alone it’s not sufficient to significantly promote either labour supply or demand,” said Ylikännö.

Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2242937-universal-basic-income-seems-to-improve-employment-and-well-being/#ixzz6iFQChI4B   ( New Scientist)

My comment:  If you tried to introduce this in the US or U.K. there would be uproar from the traditionalists.  Money for nothing?  Discourages work, they would say.  But it’s an interesting idea, which would help the struggling poor, the single parent and others, and would foster both social cohesion – and happiness.  We need more happiness and less worry!

 

If you start that……….,

A divorce court in China has ordered a man to pay his ex-wife the equivalent of $7,700 as compensation for housework during their marriage.

The case fell under a new civil code in China that enables someone to seek compensation during a divorce if they were the primary carer for children or elderly parents, or shouldered a disproportionate burden of housework. The ruling sparked much furore online, with a large poll from one Chinese media outlet showing that 94% thought the ruling didn’t give the woman enough*  (The Guardian, 24 Feb 2021).

* Yes!!

My comment:  This is a mare’s next.  There is  a host of scenarios here:  who has left the marriage in the first place;  can fault be attributed; who paid the mortgage,  how much of the husband”s money was passed over to the wife for living expenses …..goodness, all sorts of issues and quarrels could emerge.  Is there a fair way of working out the value of housekeeping, cooking and child- raising?   If so, I would like to hear ideas.

Meanwhile, on a personal note (and some some thirty years ago), in parting with my then wife in as civilized way as possible, I gave over the deeds of the house and all the furniture and fittings to her, plus a monthly stipend.  No lawyers. But then I had a greater earning ability than she did at the time.  A comparatively amicable parting, and epicurean peace of mind.

 

Choice – a poem

They think we’ll rejoice,

Offered infinite choice.

But in fact more is less;

Indecision means stress.

Why think it is clever – –

While wasting our time

(a maddening crime) – –

To propose the adoption

Of every damned option

Under the sun,

Instead of just one?

 

Just take the car,

Where they’ve gone much too far.

Do I have to recap

The ten types of hubcap

The number of doors,

Colored carpets on floors,

The bumpers, the hoods,

Powered windows, faux-woods?

One mentally cowers

In the face of horse-powers,

Different colors and trims,

And personalized shims.

 

Take the cereals on offer:

A hundred they proffer,

And do so in aisles

Stretching out there for miles.

Vitamins added in endless array

In confusing proportions of C, D and A.

If you read all the labels,

Ingredient tables,

I very much fear

It would be a career.

 

Hi-tech sort of gear

Is a category where

They include lots of stuff

That you don’t use enough,

Or remember it’s there,

Or particularly care.

The shops you buy through

Mostly haven’t a clue;

The instructions are vast,

And a whole day has passed

Before you work out

What the item’s about.

 

Oh, take me back home

Where the buffaloes roam,

Where you rock in your chair

In fresh air with no care,

Where in the boondocks

The shops have small stocks,

And you’re settled and done

With a “choice” of just one;

And you buy your provisions

With no endless decisions,

Just a simple invoice and

No multiple choice.

 

So who’s going to tell

The people who sell

That we’re doing just fine

 Without over-design?

Who’s going to complain:

“Keep it simple and plain”?

Let it do just one task,

That’s all that we ask.

I’ll make a new start:

“Give us less à la carte”!

Come, you too can rejoice

With more time and less choice. 

The thief

Only in America!

A thief who stole an Oregon woman’s SUV with her 4-year-old child inside drove back to criticize her parenting. The unnamed woman left the vehicle idling outside a store while she ran in to buy milk. The suspect stole it and drove off, but briefly returned to demand the woman remove her child. Police said “he actually lectured the mother for leaving the child in the car and threatened to call the police.”.   (The Week)

My comment:  I hope she in turn lectured him about theft and actually called the police, not simply threatened to.

Revisionist history

 An education commission formed by the Trump administration after last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests issued a report this week equating progressive politics with fascism and accusing American educators of brainwashing kids.

The “1776 Report” prepared by the 18-member commission—with no professional historians—called for “patriotic education,” blasting educators for highlighting the nation’s “sins.” The commission decried the notion that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were hypocrites for owning slaves, saying that slavery “has been more the rule than the exception throughout human history.” The report, which President Biden plans to rescind, also claimed that the civil rights movement “almost immediately turned to programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders.”

James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, called the report “a hack job” and “cynical politics.”. (The Week)

My comment:  I must say that wasting your time attacking national leaders long dead seems pointless.  They were what they were.  Times were what times were.  What we should now be doing is improving the lives of African Americans, ensuring equal access to education, healthcare  and job opportunities etc. The way of life and the attitudes  of the Founders were hugely different to that of their present-day descendants.  Two people I can immediately think of had ancestors who held slaves, but certainly disagree with the institution of slavery – quite the opposite.

Concentrate on what you can improve today instead of wasting hot air on the late 18th Century and its manifest faults and dubious attitudes.

I

Naming diseases

“If it was racist to call the virus the ‘Chinese virus’ or ‘Wuhan virus,’ why do you insist on referring to the ‘U.K. variant?’” —Chuck in Wisconsin

For whatever reason, we — media, health experts, politicians, humans in general — have historically referred to novel viruses by their unique new “thing.” But not only is that nomenclature not always accurate, it can also do serious harm.

Take the 1918 influenza pandemic as an example. It did not originate in Spain; the first known case was discovered in the United States. But newspapers covered the effects in Spain first, and so it was called the “Spanish flu.” With the benefit of hindsight, we can correct the false naming convention, but we should also be wary of falling into the same misconceptions in the future.

From Jan. 1 to Feb. 11, 2020, The Washington Post published 31 stories that used an inaccurate naming convention for the coronavirus, out of a total of 175. During that time, there was little information about the virus and even less guidance for media. On Feb. 11, the World Health Organization announced an official name, and the media widely started referring to it as the “novel coronavirus” and “covid-19.”

We’re in kind of a similar situation now with the variants. The media, including The Post, quickly adopted location-based naming for the variants — e.g. the “U.K. variant” for the variant that was first discovered in the United Kingdom. (We should add that the reason it was found there first is probably because the U.K. is on the forefront of genetic sequencing, and has far outpaced other countries in the sheer number of sequences it runs).

But The Post has since changed how it refers to these variants: On Jan. 27, the Post’s stylebook (internal guidelines) was updated to prefer “the variant first identified in the U.K./South Africa/etc.”

You might still find the location-based names in some places, like in headlines where it isn’t possible to fit both the news and “the variant first identified in South Africa.” We are hoping the World Health Organization soon comes up with guidance that all media can follow.

Naming novel things, especially in technical stories, is always a challenge. We have to weigh what readers are familiar with alongside what’s technically accurate. We try to find the right balance. There’s little point using nomenclature that readers don’t recognize, but we also understand the weight of our words and the influence they have? ( Washington Post 8 Feb 2021)

My comment: When the “British variant” hit the news I half worried that, owing to my British accent, a brick might find its way through our front window.  After all, a prominent person calls covid 19 the “Chinese virus”,  and apparently people who look Asian have been picked on.  Small minded, isn’t it?

A tale of cruelty and despair in the UK

The way dementia patients in British care homes have been treated during this pandemic “should make us sick with shame and pity”. Afflicted by an illness that attacks their memory and sense of self, they draw special comfort from the presence of loved ones. Yet in the name of infection control, the Government has seen to it that this vital human link has been denied them. No longer visited, they feel confused; abandoned. But it’s not the fault of the care homes: it’s the grotesquely inflexible official guidelines, which prohibit those who run the homes from devising sensible precautions while still acting humanely towards those in their charge.

That’s why John’s Campaign, a not-for-profit movement aimed at getting the Government to reform these cruel rules, is so worthy of support. One of its main concerns is to ensure that family carers are no longer seen as “visitors”, but instead treated as a crucial part of the clinical team needing the same protection, testing and status as other key workers. The Government must be made to bring this “avoidable suffering” to an end.  (Nicci Gerrard, The Observer and The Week, 19 September 20)

My comment: I have personal experience of a relative who had severe memory loss.  Along with that she could be violent, owing to extreme frustration.  This was before the pandemic.  It was an extreme test of patience and empathy, and I felt for the nurses who looked after her and knew how to calm her.  She would ask me repeatedly when she was “going home”, and I just as repeatedly changed the subject because she couldn’t go home or look after herself there.  The most wrenching and upsetting period of my life.  But it was right that my sister and I should be part (or part- time) involved with her care.  The staff of the home were saints, bless them

Quote of the day

“Reputation is what other people know about you. Honour is what you know about yourself. Guard your honour. Let your reputation fall where it will.”
(Novelist Lois McMaster Bujold, quoted in The Times)

My comment: What you know about yourself can give you secret misgivings, e.g you know you lied to someone when you were younger, or were unkind to a girlfriend , or told a tall story at a job interview.

Well, we all make mistakes; we are human.  It is the self-knowledge and the effort to avoid similar or maybe more egregious mistakes in the future that matters.  Otherwise, a decent person could not live with himself.  Some people never improve because they are incapable of self-analysis and their moral compasses are stuck on “Me, me, me”.   I think one’s reputation grows naturally as the urge to lead a kind, truthful, thoughtful and generous life grows with experience and self-knowledge.

Shocking statistics

More than 25% of Americans are likely to refuse the vaccine, according to an international study

Only 11% of US citizens said they trusted their government to be a reliable source of information on vaccines, compared with 30% in the UK. 

Three out of four Republicans don’t think Joe Biden won the election  legitimately. About 45% even support the storming of the Capitol (The Guardian. 8 Feb 2021)

My comment: We are, indeed, in a shocking mess. The words of one solitary individual can persuade three quarters of a major political party that an election has been stolen, and without a shred of evidence!  I would like to think that a measured, caring, thorough , inclusive and empathetic approach , and a commitment to caring for all citizens, Republican and Democratic, will win out.  It calls to mind the words of the song… “ I’m glad I’m not young anymore”.  But then, it is not Epicurean to be negative and depressed about the world.  so cue  for the words of another song: “Always look on the bright side of life.”

Revisionist history

An education commission formed by the Trump administration after last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests issued a report this week equating progressive politics with fascism and accusing American educators of brainwashing kids.

The “1776 Report” prepared by the 18-member commission—with no professional historians—called for “patriotic education,” blasting educators for highlighting the nation’s “sins.” The commission decried the notion that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were hypocrites for owning slaves, saying that slavery “has been more the rule than the exception throughout human history.”

The report, which President Biden plans to rescind, also claimed that the civil rights movement “almost immediately turned to programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders.” James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, called the report “a hack job” and “cynical politics.”

My comment: My MA (or Special Subject) at university concentrated on American history leading up to the civil war.

History in part is an exercise in understanding how we got where we got. It is also a study of human nature and motivations and how to avoid the mistakes of the past. History is constantly mis-used to present simplistic and misleading narratives to justify current actions by politicians. However, nothing is ever simple and straightforward, which helps make twisting the subtle and complex truth tempting for those who wish us ill.  You can do worse than examine the messages of Hitler and Mussolini.  There are – ahem,! – more contemporary examples. Beware of them and seek the truth yourself.

Reining in social media and it’s abusers

Most would-be reformers of social media want to rewrite Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which largely exempts social media companies from legal liability for what users post on their sites. But attempts “to ‘fix’” Section 230 would massively backfire, forcing Twitter, Facebook, et al. to heavily censor all controversial posts on all their sites lest they be sued into oblivion.

We often forget, however, that Section 230 doesn’t forbid suing users of social media for libel or holding them accountable. The problem is anonymity.  The nastiest and most irresponsible posters hide behind fake names and handles. Forcing users to register with, say, a credit card or other ID and use their real names might cut the sites’ user bases in half, but “advertisers would rejoice”—and it would limit the need for “tens of thousands of content moderators.” If you post threats or libelous attacks on people, you will risk getting sued. “Post about buying zip ties and invading the Capitol, and the FBI knocks on your door.” Ending anonymity “would put an immediate damper on today’s worst offenders.”.   (Andy Kessler,The Wall Street Journal,  2/3/2021).

My comment:  There should be no “get out of jail” card for anonymous posters.  If you are so frightened of commenting in your own name – then why?   Have the courage of your own convictions, even if you risk conviction.  Cowardice seems to be a rapidly expanding disease, in parallel with covid 19, and we should have a treatment for it –  openness and ownership of views, however disagreeable.

And for the record: this blog expresses many opinions, day by day, that I happen to know are not shared by some readers.  But I have a right to express them, and am willing to defend them  if challenged, without thinking up some stupid bogus handle to hide my identity.

Road deaths

Since 2010 there has been a steady increase in people being killed by motorists in cars.  In that year 4,302 pedestrians were killed on American roads. Since then the total of deaths has steadily increased. In 2018 41% more pedestrians were killed than in 2008.  Drivers, on the other hand, have become safer, that is, unlikely to be hurt badly in a collision.  This fatality rate is mirrored in Europe. In fact, everywhere in the world it is more dangerous to be walking than driving.  Yes,  cars pollute, but they are also killers (actually, the fault lies with the driver, not the machine)

My comment:  Cars are  increasingly made like tanks, and drivers drive far too fast, often speeding through red lights and apparently imagining themselves in some video game.  I know because I walk a lot around the city and have to be vigilant about the traffic.

The fact is that governments everywhere cater to motorists and spurn pedestrians.  I can’t remember how often I have been crossing on a (striped) pedestrian crossing and have had to stop mid-street to let a car pass a foot or so away. Some drivers don’t seem to know what a pedestrian crossings is; drive over a crossing in England when a pedestrian is walking across it and you are banned driving. Period.  My personal view is that 16 is too young to be allowed to drive solo; but then that  “infringes upon individual liberty”, a phrase convenient to all who do whatever they want to do.

Are we taking the threat of China and its chief megalomaniac seriously enough?

Up to 200 academics from more than a dozen UK universities are being investigated on suspicion of unintentionally helping the Chinese government build weapons of mass destruction.

  • China overtakes Russia as world’s biggest state hacker.
  • Russia warns US against including China at nuclear disarmament talks.
  • China uses microwave weapons to blast Indian troops in disputed border area.

The scholars are “suspected of transferring world-leading research in advanced military technology such as aircraft, missile designs and cyberweapons”, The Times reports.

In doing so, they would have violated “strict export laws intended to prevent intellectual property in highly sensitive subjects being handed to hostile states”, the paper continues. Many of the academics are thought to have “unwittingly” breached the laws by striking commercial deals with Chinese companies.

If found guilty, they could each face a maximum of ten years in prison. A source told The Times that “we could be seeing dozens of academics in courts before long”.

“If even 10% lead to successful prosecutions, we’d be looking at around 20 academics going to jail for helping the Chinese build super-weapons,” the source said.

News of the investigation comes just over a week after The Times reported that thousands of Chinese academics and researchers may be blocked from entering Britain amid concerns about the theft of intellectual property.

The Foreign Office is said to be introducing security vetting for academics and researchers working on national security issues, in response to fears that Chinese spies may acquire technology and data that could benefit Beijing.

The Telegraph revealed last week that three Chinese spies posing as journalists have been expelled from Britain in the past year. The trio, who arrived in the country on journalism visas, were “understood to be intelligence officers for Beijing’s Ministry of State Security”, according to the paper.

My comment:  there is enough blame to go round for the rapidly advancing Chinese hegemony.  You can blame 19th century colonialism and the British and Japanese interference in China, the short- sighted idea that by moving massive amounts of manufacturing to China you are benefitting the American consumer ( yes, for a short time) and so on.  Suffice to say that we in the West have helped to create the current threat from China and President Xi, and the unquenchable and ruthless thirst he has for power.  If you offer a tiger your hand in friendship check the integrity of your arm carefully after the event!

I know someone in the UK who opened a Chinese factory near one making similar products for hi-tech end products.  Every idea he had  was stolen, raw materials disappeared and the neighbor discovered that  the neighbor was siphoning off even the electricity via hidden cables.  And still we trust these people!