from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: ‘Democracy in Chains’

cover of the latest Economist

November 3. My husband tells me he doesn’t want to hear about Trump any more. Neither do. I wish he was still just one of the pantheon of narcissistic TV personalities that frequent the front pages of our weekly celebrity gossip magazine, Woman’s Day … old copies that you might pick up in the dentist’s waiting room … the junk pages you flipped over to move on to featured recipes.

For that is where Donald Trump belongs, where he started … in over-the-top gossip magazines.

I hope that after January 20, 2021 Trump can disappear into the background of the world and we will never have to hear from him. Apparently in Australia, about 25% of the population said they had confidence in President Trump trying to do the right thing for world affairs (whereas 87% supported Barack Obama during his presidency). This is very low for our country as usually we support our closest ally.

Within the USA, the trend of the population supporting the standing president has been declining since 2013 when it’s stood at 66% – being favourable support for President Barack Obama. This declining perception of the standing USA president is repeated across the Western World. I wonder to what extent American voters comprehend this.

From Australia, there’s nothing we can do about the unfolding events in the USA. We have two children and four grandchildren living there. This heightens my anxiety. And it is not just Trump and his bombastic ignorance and lies, it is the damage done to the body politic by him and his enablers: the loss of trust in the democratic system; the extent of the gerrymandering going on; the stark racial divide; the erosion of the separation of powers and the weakening of the media.

So, I am thinking about the beautiful passage in Ecclesiastes 3:1-3:22…about times in our human life. No doubt we are going to be doing some of this in a few days’ time.

(I like the old King James’ bible version. It is worth re-visiting.)

https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Ecclesiastes-Chapter-3/

‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;’

They forgot about … ‘A time to be anxious’!

I have been slowly reading People, Power and Profits by Joseph E. Stiglitz (2019). Slowly, because there is much to absorb. This is what I read today. (Page 160 in the Penguin edition, Chapter 8 on Restoring Democracy.)

‘It is becoming clearer that the objective of the Republican Party is a permanent rule of the minority over the majority. This is an imperative for them because the policies for which they had advocated, from regressive taxation (taxing the rich at lower rates than the rest), to cutting back on Social Security and Medicare, and cutting back on government more generally, are anathema to the majority of voters. Republicans have to make sure that the majority doesn’t get control. And if the majority does get control, they have to make sure that it can’t put in place the policies that it would like, and which would advance the interests of the majority. As Nancy Maclean, professor of history at Duke University put it, they have to put “democracy in chains“.

What more can one say about what is at stake in the USA?

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: How the old are reacting to lockdown

May 28.  Many of us are daily resisting the pressures to place us in a box called ‘the elderly’.  With the hard medical realities this is not easy.  There is no question that as you pass into your sixties, then into successive decades, the risk of dying from Covid-19 shows a sharp linear increase.  With matters of emotion and behaviour, on the other hand, there are grounds for resisting such age-determination.  Nonetheless the social scientists now conducting detailed research into how people are coping with the crisis have a tendency to group their findings into age brackets. 

Following yesterday’s examination of solitude and loneliness revealed in the Nuffield / UCL Covid 19 Social Study, here are the findings more broadly about the interaction between age and experience (most of the data shows little change over the lockdown period).  Whilst the figures are statistical facts (subject to the issues of category definition and sample quality), the explanations of cause and consequence are matters of judgement. So, feel free to interpret these findings.  The two categories used are 60 and over, and 18-29 year-olds.

The elderly are more likely than the young to:

  • Comply with Government guidelines
  • Show confidence in Government
  • Have feeling of life satisfaction
  • Have a sense of control of finances, family relationships, future plans
  • Be concerned about meeting up with family
  • Be concerned about going to cultural venues

The elderly are less likely than the young to:

  • Experience depression and anxiety
  • Employment stress
  • Financial stress
  • Have thoughts of death or self-harm
  • To have been physically or psychologically abused
  • Experience loneliness
  • Be concerned about meeting up with age-group friends
  • Be concerned about going out for a coffee, drink or meals
  • Be concerned about having time alone

Some of the differences are smaller than others.  There is virtually no variation by age in taking exercise or experiencing face to face contact.

Taken in the round, the striking feature is the lower incidence in the key categories of depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness amongst the older population, despite their much greater exposure to serious illness and death in the pandemic, and their greater likelihood of being locked down.

Addenda.  Since writing this, the Times has today published results of a reworking by a team from Exeter, Manchester and Brunel Universities of a BBC survey of 2018 which questioned 46 thousand people from 237 countries about their experience of loneliness.  As with the UCL evidence, the new research demonstrates that loneliness falls rather than increases with age

Sources

The Times.  28 May 2020

from Brenda in Hove, UK: A walk in the park

Hove Park, UK

“Thinking about the things we used to do! 🎶🎶 – like a walk in the park …”

Most days I go for a 20 minute walk (government guideline time!). We are fortunate to live abutting a park so we are very familiar with the seasons and many of the people who walk there. Many are walking their dogs and often one stops for a chat. There is a small cafe selling breakfasts and lunches and tea and coffee.- and, among others, lots of mothers with small children meet there. There is also a gym as well as people with personal trainers doing their thing. There are tennis courts and table tennis facilities. Altogether, a friendly, active, humming kind of place – that was! 

It is not like that any more. It strikes one as anything but relaxed. People walk at a two metre distance and they do so in a purposeful way. Cyclists go past you, children on scooters, runners – all going about their daily activity as if their life depends on it. There is little in the way of eye contact, no tarrying, no chatting, no bird watching, no photography (despite the breathtaking beauty of the cherry blossoms at this time of the year).  The cafe is, of course, closed – as is the gym. The young mothers have disappeared. No tennis. No table tennis. A police car cruises around the boundary from time to time. I don’t know why they bother. A more orderly bunch of people would be difficult to find. 

Yesterday, a woman called across the path to me “it’s very cold today.” She had a slightly desperate air about her. “It is,” I said. “Just when we thought the winter was over.” “I don’t have heating in my flat”, she said. We had a short conversation about keeping warm and not mistaking a cold for corona virus – and I awkwardly exhorted her to keep warm and safe – and moved on. I thought of all the lonely people whose daily routine included a coffee or meal at the cafe and a walk (and chance encounter) – and how a walk for some is an important contributor to their mental health. For those who suffer from depression this corona virus has visited a double crisis upon them. Many live alone and even their short venture out provides no contact. If you add in the fear and anxiety that many people must be feeling, not just about the virus itself but about their jobs and mortgages and future, we have a serious issue which must be causing enormous suffering. 

A Guardian columnist (#AndrewSolomon) writes that “from now on, when someone who hasn’t experienced clinical depression and anxiety asks me what they feel like, I won’t have to resort to florid comparisons. I’ll say: “Remember when the Covid-19 pandemic hit town?”  And they will understand.”