Thursday 14 April, 2022

The Empty Chair

Spotted on a beautiful beach in Kerry.

Quote of the Day

”Education is what survives when what has been learnt is forgotten.”

  • B.F. Skinner

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Mozart | Dove sono | The Marriage of Figaro | Dorothea Röschmann


Long Read of the Day

What It Costs to Live

Sobering reality check by Arianne Shahvisi.

Our bodies can only maintain homeostasis within reasonable bounds, however. Acute challenges lead to disease and death; chronic pressures wear us down. There is a Silicon Valley trend for toying with those limits. Intermittent fasting and icy showers are supposed to induce ‘positive stress’, allowing tech bros to spend more hours processing code. For everyone else, there’s just old-fashioned negative stress, both psychological and biological. Poverty is a major cause. Persistent food insecurity in children leads to a sustained stress response that pushes the body to extreme homeostatic responses, including prolonged and abnormally high levels of cortisol and continuous inflammation. The result is more frequent and prolonged childhood illness. That’s in addition to the direct effects of hunger and undernutrition: stunting, fatigue, poor working memory. These effects continue into adolescence, and are associated with a higher risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. Food insecurity in adults increases the risk of hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Long-term exposure to low temperatures strains the body’s equilibrium. More people die in the winter months because of respiratory virus epidemics, increased air pollution and cold weather, but studies correcting for these factors show that one in five excess winter deaths in the UK is attributable to low temperatures at home.

While the energy required to keep a body running remains unchanged, the price of doing so is higher than ever. Even before the instability caused by Putin’s war, gas markets were failing to meet post-lockdown energy demands. Reserves depleted during the cold winter of 2020-21 haven’t been replaced. The UK only imports a fraction of its gas from Russia (5 per cent, compared with 41 per cent for the rest of Europe), but that makes little difference when prices hike on the global market. Natural gas now costs twenty times what it did at the lowest point of the pandemic, and a third more than it did in January. The UK government has responded by lifting the energy price cap by 54 per cent, protecting companies from taking the hit despite the fact that the Big Six – British Gas, EDF, E.ON, npower, Scottish Power and SSE – have made £7 billion in profit over the last five years. With the new cap in place, household fuel bills will rise by £700 over the course of the year, but it won’t stop there. Another increase has already been announced for six months’ time.

There was a brief interlude — at the beginning of the pandemic in the Spring of 2020 — when the UK government appeared to break with the neoliberal habit of several lifetimes to put the well-being of its subjects ahead of the prosperity of corporations. Turns out it was just a blip.

On getting up and going to work

Last Saturday, April 9, Heather Cox Richardson had a memorable post  on her blog:

On April 9, 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant got out of bed with a migraine.

The pain had hit the day before as he rode through the Virginia countryside, where the United States Army had been harrying the Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee, for days.

Grant knew it was only a question of time before Lee had to surrender. After four years of war, the people in the South were starving, and Lee’s army was melting away as men went home to salvage whatever they could of their farm and family. Just that morning, a Confederate colonel had thrown himself on Grant’s mercy after realizing that he was the only man in his entire regiment who had not already abandoned the cause. But while Grant had twice asked Lee to surrender, Lee continued to insist his men could fight on.

So Grant had gone to bed in a Virginia farmhouse on April 8, dirty, tired, and miserable with a migraine…

Read on. It’s worth it.

My commonplace booklet

A library of neglected books that deserve to be read

Lovely. I’ve already put two on my list. Link

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