The decline in the US birthrate, no. 1

Women are having fewer children than at any time on record. What are the implications?

The U.S.’s total fertility rate, or the number of babies each woman is expected to have during her lifetime, reached a record low of 1.705 births per woman (that’s 1 point 705!)in 2019, the latest year for which data is available. That year the number of babies born in the U.S. was 3.74 million — a 35-year low. The dramatic drop in births mirrors a worldwide trend. Britain, Canada, France, and Australia all had fertility rates below 1.9 in 2018 — below the “replacement rate” of 2.1 needed to sustain their populations. Some experts are calling this phenomenon “a demographic time bomb.”

In coming years, lower fertility rates could have profound economic consequences, with employers lacking sufficient workers to grow the economy. And with fewer young workers paying into Social Security and Medicare, these safety-net programs will be in trouble. In the early 1980s, the U.S. had about five workers providing the taxes to support each retired beneficiary. By 2019, the Social Security Administration says, that ratio had declined to 2.8 workers per retiree, and by 2035, it may drop to 2.2 workers per beneficiary.
Tomorrow: What is being done about the trend

Universities won’t grade spelling

University tutors are being told not to mark down work for spelling mistakes because insisting on correct English could be seen as “homogenous north European, white, male, elite”. The Times says several institutions are adopting “inclusive assessments” and Hull University says it will “challenge the status quo” by dropping the requirement for a high level of written and spoken English.

My comment: If you are ignorant of your own language then you are just plain ignorant. I have never heard of such a stupid, if not actually harmful, idea.
What are they thinking? And why are they picking on men, or being white? Are young women still being asked to spell correctly and conjugate properly?

Coming to live in America I had to adjust my spelling and vocabulary to the the American way. Why shouldn’t immigrants to Britain not learn English English, spelling and grammar. For one thing, it avoids misunderstandings. (Is it helpful to converse incomprehensibly?) Is this not potentially classist and racist? It certainly is a new shot fired the so-called “woke” ears.

Suggestion: grow up!

Boss pays ex-worker in pennies

A man has accused his former employer of being “childish” after he received his final payment of $915 in pennies. Andreas Flaten discovered the 90,000 coins at the bottom of his driveway, along with a final payslip and a parting message from the car workshop where he worked. The coins were covered in a greasy substance and Flaten is gradually cleaning them so he can bank them.  (The Week 26/3/21)

My comment: For pathetic pettiness this takes some beating. How would you react? Relief to have left the company? Well, yes, but the fact that this childish act has reached down to this obscure blog (and is probably all over Facebook et al) these are payback enough. Mr Flaten is too much of a gentleman to quote name of the company and its boss. I personally might be tempted.

A perversion of justice

Twenty years of jail time! This is what one Black man endured for stealing two (yes, 2) shirts!

My comment: Epicurus is known, among other things, for advocating moderation. He would be speechless with disbelief if told of such a sentence in his own day.

In the US the legal system is broken and is a disgrace. Can you imagine a White man being jailed for that amount of time for such petty theft?
Probably not.

Live forever?

A Russian academic has said that humans will one day be able to live forever and bring the dead back to life. “Death seems to be a permanent event, but there is no actual proof of its irreversibility,” said “transhumanist” Alexey Turchin. He added that there are four different paths to indefinite life so that we can “choose our own adventure”. One such path is to replace your organs with bioengineered ones, he claimed. (The Week Feb 26, 2021)

My comment: Help! Don’t go there! The idea is pointless if you are to continue living while all the people dear to you have long ago passed away. And keeping all of them alive indefinitely is a logistical and engineering challenge too huge to contemplate.

No, no. We have a finite life. Let’s make the best of what we’ve got.

Meanwhile, any takers for the concept of continued, bioengineered life? Just interested!

UFOs

John Ratcliffe, Donald Trump’s former intelligence director, recently said: “There are a lot more sightings of UFOs than have been made public.” He continued that in some of the cases “we don’t have good explanations” about what the UFOs might have been, adding: “I actually wanted to get this information out and declassify it before I left office.”. (The Week,26 Mar 2021).

My comment: Mr. Radcliffe and his brilliant scientific friends, admired around the world, also forgot to present the finding that the moon is composed solely of cream cheese. You can tell by the color. Once the full moon has changed into a crescent you can be assured that a lot of it has been eaten by aliens.

The disgusting situation with gun deaths

More than 12,000 Americans have been killed by guns this year alone.

As a long-ago foreigner I have never understood how so many people interpret the Constitution so strangely. Arming citizens (it is clear to me anyway) was in the context of membership of citizen militias, defending against foreign interference. Yes, the wording is careless, and the founders should have clarified that section, but they were smart people and I doubt they truly advocated that every Tom, Dick and Harry, every teenager and mentally deranged person should freely carry around guns, taking out their hate and frustration on the innocent, and doing more harm to fellow citizens than to any invader.

As the survivor of a gunshot from three yards away from a careless soldier (which almost literally parted my hair; guns give me nightmares ) I can only think that all this gun crime arises from a lack of imagination in the politicians who have refused to address it. Nowhere in the world should private gun ownership, especially automatic gun ownership be a right. Epicurus advocated moderation – lock up the guns and use them on firing ranges or for hunting, if you insist.

You might be being snooped upon

You may have a roommate you have never met. And even worse, they are nosy. They track what you watch on TV, they track when you leave the lights on in the living room, and they even track whenever you use a key fob to enter the house. This is the reality of living in a “smart home”: the house is always watching, always tracking, and sometimes it offers that data up to the highest bidder – or even to police.

This problem stems from the US government buying data from private companies, a practice still quite shrouded in secrecy, but relatively simple in a country like the US that has weak privacy laws: approach a third-party firm that sells databases of information on citizens, pay them for it and then use the data however deemed fit. The Washington Post recently reported – citing documents uncovered by researchers at the Georgetown school of law – that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been using this very playbook to buy up “hundreds of millions of phone, water, electricity and other utility records while pursuing immigration violations”.

“Modern surveillance” might evoke images of drones overhead, smartphones constantly pinging cell towers, and facial recognition deployed at political protests. All of these are indeed unchecked forms of 21st-century monitoring, often in uniquely concerning ways. Facial recognition, for instance, can be run continuously, from a distance, with minimal human involvement in the search and surveillance process. But the reporting on Ice’s use of utility records is a powerful reminder that it’s not just flashy gadgets that increasingly watch our every move; there’s also a large and ever-growing economy of data brokerage, in which companies and government agencies, law enforcement included, can buy up apparently fairly innocuous data on millions of Americans.

When it comes to police purchases of private data, privacy protection is completely absent. This is one of the oddities of trying to update 18th-century rights to address 21st-century threats. At the time of the country’s founding, the framers wrote about protecting things like our homes, our papers and other physical objects. Forward to today and these categories fail to capture most of our intimate data, including the ins and outs of our daily routine captured by, say, a nosy electronic roommate or a data broker.

Courts have been slow to update these legal categories to include computers and other electronic records. But while we now have the same protections for our laptops as our paper records, the matter gets much less clear in the cloud. The documents and data we access remotely every day can end up in a gray zone outside the clear protections afforded in our homes and offices.
When it comes to police purchases of private data, the protections are completely absent. Our financial, phone and countless other records held about us by third parties are generally open to police even without a warrant. This so-called “third-party doctrine” has come under more scrutiny in recent years, and there is some hope the courts will catch up with the changes in technology. Until they do, however, nearly all the data held about us by private companies remains completely exposed. Utility records might end up in the hands of law enforcement via a private company, or smart-home devices like thermostats and fridges could very well be sending off your data to be sold away.

While the recent Washington Post story focused on data brokerage and utility records, the smart-home phenomenon makes this problem of data sale and unchecked surveillance even worse. These gadgets are sold as flashy, affordable and convenient. But despite all that has been written about the speculative benefits of the so-called Internet of Things, these technologies are often insecure and may provide few to no details to consumers on how they’re protecting our data. Ring, Amazon’s home security system, has documented surveillance ties with law enforcement; that is but one example. The more smart devices are marketed in the absence of strong federal privacy protections, the more likely it’s not just about hackers half a world away controlling your home’s temperature – it’ll also be about arrests and deportations with the help of smart-home data.

All of which means American citizens and lawmakers must remember that protecting modern privacy is not just a question of facial recognition bans and legal restrictions on smartphone data collection. It’s also a matter of regulating the appliances and smart devices that watch people in their homes – and reforming the giant industry that profits off buying and selling those systems’ data. (Albert Fox Cahn and Justin Sherman)

Dog owners are wearing body cams

Dog walkers in a England have taken to wearing body cameras while taking their pets out for exercise amid growing fears over thefts. There has been a rise in dog snatching as demand for different breeds of dog skyrocketed during lockdown.

Amanda Knight, who runs a website for dog owners, told The Telegraph that she has been receiving emails from worried owners “two or three times a week”. The average price for puppies more than doubled between March and September 2020, according to the Pets4Homes website, while Dogs Lost, a missing pets website, reported a 170% rise in stolen dogs.

My comment:  without statistics I can only guess that the demand for puppies is led by young children, confined to the house, who think a puppy would be a welcome and cuddly distraction.

Well, yes, but who is going to walk the doggie? Children can nag all day, but the truth is that, after the initial excitement, it’s Dad who has to get up extra-early, walk the dog and maybe feed it before starting work.  Then all this phas to be repeated after a hard day’s work.  Mother sensibly keeps very quiet.

This isn’t social science – it comes from personal experience and from the heart!, (P.S: I loved our dogs, and they did make me exercise. But to the kids the dog was a nine day wonder, part of the moveable furniture).

Side-effects of the virus

The coronavirus pandemic has fuelled an “unprecedented exodus” of migrant workers that has caused the UK population to plummet and may result in “profound” damage to London’s economy, according to a new study.

The Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence says that analysis of estimated labour figures suggests more than half a million non-UK-born people left in the year from September 2019, contributing to a total 1.3 million drop in the population. 

The study findings – which contradict official data – indicate that the population of London alone has fallen by 700,000, equivalent to around 8%. If this decline continues, “the medium to long-term implications for London will be profound”, the study authors warn.

My comment: Not to mention the cost and availability of offices and homes, as increasingly more people migrate to the Continent.

Humanitarian aid

Around the world, one in every 33 people will need humanitarian aid, an increase of 40% from last year, according to the UN. More than half of countries who need international support to cope with coronavirus are already dealing with other crises. But despite this extreme need, aid budgets have been declining. In 2020, the UN reached 48% of its funding appeals, compared with 63% in 2019. Could coronavirus cause an overhaul in the aid sector? (Guardian 2/ 5/2021)

My comment:   By not helping the poorer countries we are contributing to potential instability and chaos in the future.  We not only have a moral duty to help the poor, homeless and ill-fed, but it is in our own interest to do so It is natural for Western countries, with easier access to vaccines, to vaccinate their own people first – but it does creates a moral dilemma.  I can’t see the United States ever vaccinating all its citizens, but the UK is handling the vaccinating very fast and well, thanks to the National Health Service (socialized medicine – shudder!!).  Britain at least should soon, therefore, send vaccines to the poor countries – free.  Aside from the goodwill created, it is the decent thing to do.

Obesity partly blamed for Covid deaths

Britain’s high Covid-19 death rate is partly the result of obesity,  according to a report described by the World Health Organization as a “wake-up call”.

The World Obesity Federation’s report found that thousands of deaths in Britain could have been avoided if “negligent” governments had acted on the nation’s weight. In Britain 64% of adults are overweight(!)- including 28% who are obese – the fourth-highest in the world. (World Health Organisation).

My comment:  It‘s mostly about the size of food intake, amd it’s unhealthy nature.  Too much fast food, sugary snacks? Exercise would help, but it is the amount and nature of the food that matters most.

Basics of Epicureanism. ( Periodic re- stating of the principles)

Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based on the teachings of Epicurus, founded around 307 B.C. It teaches that the greatest good is to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquillity, freedom from fear (“ataraxia”) and absence from bodily pain (“aponia”). This combination of states is held to constitute happiness in its highest form, and so Epicureanism can be considered a form of Hedonism, although it differs in its conception of happiness as the absence of pain, and in its advocacy of a simple life.

Epicurus directed that this state of tranquillity could be obtained through knowledge of the workings of the world and the limiting of desires. Thus, pleasure was to be obtained by knowledge, friendship and living a virtuous and temperate life. He lauded the enjoyment of “simple pleasures”, by which he meant abstaining from bodily desires, such as sex and appetites, verging on Asceticism. He counselled that “a cheerful poverty is an honourable state”.

He argued for moderation in all things, so that when eating, for example, one should not eat too richly, for it could lead to dissatisfaction later, such as indigestion or the grim realization that one could not afford such delicacies in the future. Likewise, sex could lead to increased lust and dissatisfaction with the sexual partner, and Epicurus himself remained celibate. Even learning, culture and civilization were discouraged, as they could result in disturbing one’s peace of mind, except insofar as knowledge could help rid oneself of religious fears and superstitions, such as the fear of the gods and of death.

Generally speaking, Epicureans shunned politics as having no part in the quest for ataraxia and aponia, and likewise a potential source of unsatisfiable desires and frustration, which was to be avoided.

Like Democritus and Leucippus before him, Epicurus was an Atomist, believing that all matter, souls and gods are all comprised of atoms, and even thoughts are merely atoms swerving randomly.

Epicurus was one of the first to develop a notion of justice as a kind of social contract, an agreement “neither to harm nor be harmed”. He argued that laws and punishments in society are important so that individuals can be free to pursue happiness, and a just law is one that contributes to promoting human happiness. In some respects, this was an early contribution to the much later development of Liberalism and of Utilitarianism.

Visits from outer space

“The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us”. (Bill Watterson)

My reaction:  Why would any intelligent being from outer space want to visit this riven planet? I write this after seeing the news about the white supremacists and other violent crazies, armed to the teeth (thanks to Facebook etc), threatening the employees of elected Federal and State governments, indeed, all of us.