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To: Joachim K who wrote (7163)7/10/2021 6:49:09 AM
From: Tom Clarke
   of 7385
 
The Enduring Appeal of the Stoics
Posted on 21st June 2021 by Antigone in Philosophy, The Classical Tradition
John Sellars

The Meditations of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121–80) is consistently one of the best-selling philosophy books, ancient or modern. Countless readers continue to find inspiration from his notebook jottings. At the same time, this is not a book that is often taken seriously by modern philosophers. This is even the case with modern specialists in ancient philosophy. After all, how can Marcus’ notebook jottings compare with the depth and sophistication of work like Aristotle’s Metaphysics?

The error in that kind of negative assessment is that it implicitly assumes that Marcus was trying to do the same thing as Aristotle, and then failing miserably. But he wasn’t. Marcus’ aim was quite different. So, what was Marcus doing? His book Meditations is a collection of notes and reflections written to himself. It is comprised of comments on events in his own life, quotations from texts he was reading, and – most importantly of all – constant reminders of how he ought to act and what he ought to think about things happening to him.

On meeting a rude and angry person, Marcus tells himself not to respond in kind but instead to remember that they are a fellow human being who is evidently going through a difficult time (Med. 2.1). The appropriate response, then, is sympathy rather than indignation. Marcus repeats ideas like these to himself again and again. The goal is to digest them so that they become second nature. As he puts it himself, his aim is to dye his soul a new colour, and to do this thoroughly one has to dip the cloth in the dye multiples times, so to speak (Med. 5.16).[1]


Bust of Marcus Aurelius, AD 170s (Musée des Antiques, Toulouse, France).
What are the core ideas that Marcus repeats most often? As we’ve just seen, one of the most common is that other people – including anti-social ones – are fellow human beings whom we should always work with rather than against. Closely related to this is the idea that we are all parts of a single community and, as parts, we benefit whenever the community does. Consequently, we should prioritize working for the benefit of the community over our narrow self-interest, knowing that by doing so we shall benefit both ourselves and others.

Alongside these broadly ethical ideas, Marcus also reminds himself about Nature and his place within it. Nature is ultimately a process of continual change and everything within it is merely a transient gathering-together of matter. Marcus also reminds himself often that his life is just a brief moment in the history of the universe and his body little more than a speck of sand within the wider cosmos.

These constant reminders of the brevity and transience of human life lead Marcus also to reflect on his future reputation. As a figure in the public eye, who was likely to be remembered by future historians, he reminds himself not to be overly concerned by what others will think of him and instead to focus on acting the best he can in the present moment.

The constant repetition of these key themes throughout the Meditations has sometimes been judged as a stylistic weakness. But Marcus was never trying to write fine literary prose; his aim was something far more ambitious, namely transforming himself into a better human being.


Title-page of the first printed edition of the Meditations, in which a clunky Latin translation precedes Marcus’ original and inimitable Greek (G. Xylander, Zurich, 1559): the full book can be browsed here.
Marcus was a Stoic. His goal was to live his life according to the principles of Stoicism, but it was never his aim to lay out in detail what those Stoic principles were. After all, he was writing to himself, and he already knew them. Instead, the notes we get are often brief nods and hints – enough to remind himself of the ideas he wanted to keep in mind.

In order to understand the Meditations fully, then, we need to know quite a bit about earlier Stoic philosophy. Stoicism was already centuries old by the time Marcus was writing. The school was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium – whose statue opens this article – at some time around 300 BC, and it flourished there over the next two centuries. The texts of the early Stoics active in Athens are more or less all lost and the earliest accounts we have of Stoic philosophy were written by the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero in the first century BC.

In the following century another Roman, Seneca the Younger, embraced Stoicism and outlined its core ideas in a series of letters and essays. Just a few decades later, a slave in Rome called Epictetus managed to gain his freedom and went on to set up a school of philosophy in Greece. Epictetus would become an important influence on Marcus.


Epictetus and his crutch: the frontispiece (engraved by Michael Burghers) to the Christ Church edition of his Enchiridion, or “Essential handbook” (Oxford, 1715).
The core Stoic doctrine that shaped Marcus’s outlook on life was the claim that the only thing that truly matters if one wants to live a good life is a virtuous character. At one point Marcus says:

If you can find anything in human life better than justice, truthfulness, moderation, and courage… turn to it with all your heart and enjoy the supreme good that you have found. (Med. 3.6)

By contrast, everything else – money, power, fame, posthumous reputation – are mere ‘indifferents’ for the Stoics. These things might be preferable to their opposites, but they don’t directly contribute to living a good life. The standard Stoic view is that some of these ‘indifferent’ things, such as health and wealth, have a real positive value, while their opposites, sickness and poverty, have a real negative value. By nature, we pursue health and wealth because these things are vital for our physical survival. They enable us to live, even if it is only a virtuous character that enables us to live well. Marcus was no doubt well aware of this, but in the Meditations he often puts this subtlety to one side, insisting on virtue alone as the only thing that matters. In doing so, he was following what we might call the hard-line view of Epictetus, whose works had inspired Marcus at an early age.


Marcus Aurelius distributing bread to the people, Joseph-Marie Vien, 1765 (Musée des beaux-arts, Marseille, France).
Marcus also took from Epictetus the idea that we ought to focus our attention on what we can control and not waste time agonizing over what we cannot. One thing that both of them insist is that we have no control over what others think about us:

You have been told that someone speaks badly about you. This is what you have been told; you have not been told that you are harmed. (Med. 8.49)

This introduces another theme, also taken from Epictetus, namely that when we get upset it is not due to things but to our judgements about those things. The value judgements that we make produce the emotions that we experience – we desire things that we judge to be good and fear things that we judge to be bad. So, by paying attention to our judgements we can alter the sorts of emotions we experience:

If you suffer distress because of some external cause, it is not the thing itself that troubles you but your judgement about it, and it is within your power to cancel that judgement at any moment. (Med. 8.47)


Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, c. AD 175 (Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy).
Marcus was also influenced by the early Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c. 540–480 BC), who was a regular point of reference for the Stoics. Heraclitus was famous for claiming that everything is in a continual process of change, unstable from one moment to the next. Marcus reflects on this often, and he quotes from Heraclitus a number of times, in the process preserving fragments that would otherwise be lost.

This Heraclitean idea of perpetual change is primarily a statement about the natural world, and so part of physical theory, but Marcus reflects on what we might call its existential consequences. Death, he often says, is merely a natural process of change. The insults and, indeed, praise of other people is of no consequence when set against the backdrop of ever-changing Nature. As Marcus puts it,

Of man’s life, his time is a point, his substance flowing, his perception faint, the constitution of his body decaying, his soul a spinning wheel, his fortune hard to predict, and his fame doubtful; that is to say, all the things of the body are a river, the things of the soul dream and delusion, life is a war and a journey in a foreign land, and afterwards oblivion. (Med. 2.17)


The Last Words of Marcus Aurelius, Eugène Delacroix, 1844 (Musée des beaux-arts, Lyon, France).
It is comments like this that continue to hit home with readers of the Meditations today. You don’t need to know anything about Stoic physics and its debts to Heraclitus to be able to appreciate the force of what Marcus is saying. Countless people continue to draw benefit from this ancient Stoic text – enough to keep it near the top of the best-seller lists today.

antigonejournal.com

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To: Tom Clarke who wrote (7165)7/10/2021 9:21:41 AM
From: Joachim K
2 Recommendations   of 7385
 
The Stoics vs Ayn Rand



A reader recently sent me a link to an article on Stoicism published by the Ayn Rand Institute… I know, it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it’s true. The article in question is actually the transcript of a lecture made available through the ARI’s campus branch, and it is the quintessential mischaracterization of Stoicism. As such, it is well worth examining in some detail.

[Full disclosure: I have a very low opinion of Ayn Rand and her Objectivist “philosophy,” as can be seen here, here, here, and here. So take the following with a grain of salt. I am not an unbiased observer in this case!]

The author of this inane piece on Stoicism is one Leonard Peikoff, described on the ARI’s web site as “Ayn Rand’s foremost student and today’s leading expert on Objectivism.” Peikoff begins by telling his students “I’ll mention the names [of the major Stoic philosophers], but I won’t bother you with the dates or the spellings because very few people have ever heard of them” and immediately proceeds to make a first major mistake, presenting later (Roman) Stoic philosophy as “more Platonist, more this world vs. another world, the soul vs. the body, and more emphasizing immortality.” He gets that from what appears to be a very superficial reading of Epictetus and a smattering of Marcus — the only two Stoic authors he cites, very few times (no Seneca, at all, not to mention the non-Stoic commentaries by Cicero and Diogenes Laertius).

The biggest whopper, arguably, comes in section 2 of the lecture, entitled “Achieving apathy.” Peikoff there makes the most elementary mistake, equating the Greek apatheia with the English apathy, and adding for good measure the wholly gratuitous “clarification” that the Stoics meant to achieve “salvation” through their philosophy (he does this because he wants to establish a strong link to Christianity, and eventually to Kant, one of the Objectivists’ nemeses).

After a dig at the Cynics (“they were, in effect, the first hippies in the West”), he proceeds with yet another incredible statement, to the effect the Stoics were “of course similar to Epicurus in their overall thrust of their viewpoint,” a notion that anyone even superficially acquainted with Hellenistic philosophy will reject as ludicrous.

Here is a taste of just how incredibly wrong Peikoff gets the basics of Stoicism: “We must stop valuing friends; we must stop valuing even life, and some of them went so far as to recommend suicide on the grounds that nothing, including life, was a value.” He obviously simply does not understand the concept of “indifferents.” The Stoics valued friends and life very much, and certainly did not counsel easy suicide, but they thought that friends and even life itself ought to be given up if this is required to act morally, with virtue. Stoic suicide was a noble and extreme act, which Epictetus advised only when there was no alternative and one had lost any ability to contribute to society, for instance because of terminal illness.

Again, Peikoff: “What we must do, they said, is achieve utter insensibility … non-emotion. Emotions for them are a disease, an aberration, any emotion, emotion as such.” No, no, no. This is the stereotype of Stoicism that, although common, gets pretty much everything wrong about the philosophy. Stoics cultivated positive emotions (including love and a sense of justice), while aimed at rejecting — not giving “assent” to, in their terminology — negative, destructive emotions.

Part 3 of the lecture is a long yet superficial discussion of Stoic metaphysics. To be fair, the ancient Stoics themselves didn’t help here, with frequent talk of God and Zeus, especially in the later period. But as plenty of authors have pointed out, the Stoics identified God with Nature, the soul was material, and everything happens because of universal cause and effect. While the ancient Stoics certainly did hold to a teleological view of the universe, this was nothing like the Judeo-Christian-Muslim personal God with a plan.

Peikoff instead brings up the argument from design for the existence of God, which is pretty much irrelevant in this context, and then refers to the Objectivist idea that cosmic chaos is metaphysically impossible because, you know, natural law is “simply” a corollary of the logical principle of identity. As he puts it: “A is A is quite sufficient.” This, it should be clear to anyone with elementary training in logic or metaphysics, is nonsense on stilts (and would certainly come as a big surprise to theoretical physicists!).

Peikoff does at some point say that for the Stoics God is “within the universe” (it would be more accurate to say that God is the universe), but then he incredibly labels this “essentially the standard religious viewpoint.” I guess that must be why Spinoza, who held to a concept of God very similar to the Stoic one, got into so much trouble with religious authorities. Oh, no, wait…

The next bit deals with the Stoic idea of determinism. The Stoics were what by modern standards we would call compatibilists about free will, a position that definitely does not sit well with Objectivism. Again, Peikoff gets some of the fundamentals wrong. For instance he says that “the Stoics agreed with Epicurus that universal cause and effect means rigid determinism.” Uhm, no they didn’t. Indeed, that was one of the major differences between the two philosophies. While the Stoics were determinists, the Epicureans’ picture of the cosmos was one of chaos — which is why the Christian fathers were more sympathetic to Stoicism and did everything in their power to smear Epicureanism (which led to people still today thinking of Epicureans as simplistic hedonists who only value sex, drugs and rock ‘n ‘roll).

Peikoff then does a bit criticizing Stoic epistemology, and in particular their idea that the Sage (and only the Sage, who, remember is a fictional ideal, never a real person) can achieve certain knowledge about some matters that he is able to distinguish “clearly and distinctly.” The Stoics were justly and effectively criticized by the Skeptic Platonists, and did modify some of their thinking in response to such criticism. But Peikoff needs this part because he wants to link Stoicism with Descartes, who was famous for a similar notion of clear and distinct things about which one can be certain (his example, of course, was “cogito ergo sum”). I don’t have a problem with acknowledging Stoic influences on later philosophers, not just Descartes, but the above mentioned Kant as well. But since Objectivists have a bad opinion of the latter two, they also have a problem with Stoicism.

Perhaps the major issue that Peikoff has with the Stoics concerns their view of man (meaning humanity) and his place in the cosmos. For the Stoics we are parts of a universal machine, and we play a non-negotiable part in the general workings of the cosmos/Nature/God. Whether this part is the result of Providence or atoms — as Marcus says a number of times in the Meditations — doesn’t matter. It is what it is. But this is something that, again, Objectivism cannot possibly accept, since it requires a radical view of human freedom (hence the Objectivist’s scorn for determinism hinted at above).

Stoics did emphasize “duty,” another idea that is anathema to Objectivists, so much so that Peikoff labels the Stoic position “the antithesis of the Objectivist approach to morality … Stoics are one of the main sources of what Kant later took over and blew up into astronomic proportions.”

What so objectionable about the idea of duty toward practicing virtue and being helpful to fellow human beings? Well, remember that Objectivism is a philosophy based on self-enlightened egoism, according to which one does not have duties toward others, and where indeed the very concept of duty is inherently pernicious. Hence Peikoff’s invectives against both the Christians and Kant. But he allows some mitigating factor: “The Stoics, however, are not nearly as consistent or as corrupt as Kant. No Greek, however bad he became, ever dreamed of approaching the man-destroying evil later adopted and proclaimed by Kant and his followers.” Thank Zeus for that!

Section 7 of the lecture returns to “apathy” and the Stoic idea of acceptance, which is again badly mangled and misconstrued. Here is Peikoff’s summary of the Stoic take: “Do not burn with passion for the things you haven’t got. Do not feel anger, or rebellion, or protest, against the state of affairs you’re in, or the kind of world you’re in, or the social circumstances you’re in. Take the course of events as it comes; yield unprotestingly to whatever occurs.”

Again, no. The Stoics were constantly faced with this sort of retort, so much so that they had a name for it: the lazy argument. One can see where this caricature originates, of course. The famous Stoic metaphor of the dog leashed to a cart, who has the option of either struggling hopelessly and causing himself pain or go along with the ride and enjoy it, lends itself to the sort of superficial interpretation that Peikoff peddles. But I expected better from Rand’s “foremost student.” If one reads the Discourses, or the Meditations, or a number of essays by Seneca, instead of quote mining, one ought to understand that the Stoics were very much into changing things: those we know of were, after all, teachers, politicians, generals and emperors — hardly the sort of passive fellow who “takes the course of events as it comes; yield unprotestingly to whatever occurs.” On the contrary, the Stoic virtue of justice and the associated Discipline of Action are all about changing things for the better. At any rate, you know someone’s got it seriously wrong when one can write things like this: “the Stoic withdrawal from life is much greater than Epicurus’s.”

The big sin of the Stoics, from an Objectivist perspective, is of course their altruism, founded on the just mentioned Discipline of Action and their concept of cosmopolitanism. Incredibly, Peikoff manages to turn Stoic altruism into a perverse form of egoism: “Since they’re Stoics, they remain emotionally aloof, cold, uninvolved, apathetic; what then is their real interest in helping others? Well, the critics answer: to give the Stoic a chance to exercise his moral muscle; in effect, to do what’s duty and thus gain the selfish sense that he has been virtuous; so their real goal is selfish after all.” This is one of the most egregious examples of misrepresentation and rationalization I’ve encountered in a long time. Congratulations, Leonard!

Section 9 criticizes the Stoics for what Peikoff calls “the primacy of motive,” that is the idea that what is important is the motivations that move the moral agent, not the actual achievements of his actions. Again, the objection seems to stem from the influence that the Stoics have had on Christianity and the much hated Kant. But this objection can be raised against any form of virtue ethics, not just Stoicism, and at any rate misses the mark because certain outcomes rather than others were indeed preferred by the Stoics. They just acknowledged that their preferences aren’t binding on the universe as a whole.

The last section of the lecture finally manages to give the Stoics some credit, though with a very large caveat. They were the first Western philosophers to grasp the fundamental idea of the equality of all men. (Not exactly, since Stoic cosmopolitanism is derived from the Cynics, and even Plato articulated a significant sense of equality when he gave equal duties to men and women in his Republic. But who cares about historical accuracy when one has to score ideological points.)

What’s the caveat? That the ground for Stoic cosmopolitanism, according to Peikoff, was “supernatural.” Except, of course, that it wasn’t. First off, the Stoics simply did not hold to a concept of the supernatural: God is nature, the soul is made of matter, and cause and effect are universal. There are no miracles to be had in the Stoic view of the world. Second, the Stoics got the idea of equality the same way they got all their fundamental ideas, by “following nature,” meaning specifically by understanding human nature. For them, humans are social animals capable of rationality. From which it follows that we ought to deploy reason to live socially. As Seneca famously put it: “Adhibe rationem difficultatibus” (bring the mind to bear upon your problems).

But Peikoff will have none of that, contrasting instead the Stoics with the Sophists, and somehow managing to get the latter to come up on top. Since I don’t think very highly of sophistry, I guess I can rest my case here.

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To: Joachim K who wrote (7166)7/13/2021 9:52:04 PM
From: Tom Clarke
2 Recommendations   of 7385
 
Famous republican’s Irish-language shopfront to be restored

Restoration of signage at 55 Amiens Street to commemorate Tom Clarke and celebrate Irish language

Aine Kenny
Fri, Jul 9, 2021, 16:57


Tom Clarke’s tobacconist shop at number 55, Amiens Street in Dublin city.

An Irish-language shopfront, formerly owned by the famous Irish republican, Tom Clarke, is set to be restored.

Clarke, who played a pivotal role in the 1916 Easter Rising, operated a tobacconist at number 55, Amiens Street in Dublin city from 1908 to 1911.

After the Rising ended, Clarke was brought to Kilmainham Gaol and was later executed by firing squad, along with Pádraig Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh.


Tom Clarke

His former shop, which is currently derelict, will have its early 1900s signage restored, using €50,000 in funding from the Irish-language shopfront stream of the Historic Structures Fund (HSF).

Structural works will also be necessary to safeguard the building, and the gilded signwriting on the shop windows will be reinstated.

“When Tom Clarke had his shop here, it was illegal to have signage in the Irish language,” said Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht Catherine Martin.

Project

“The restoration of this signage under the HSF not only commemorates an important chapter of our history, but is a celebration of our language. I am very much looking forward to seeing this project come to fruition.”

The project will be overseen by Dublin City Council.

The HSF assists owners and custodians of historic and protected structures to safeguard them into the future.

In April, €3 million in funding was granted to 85 other projects under the scheme.

Applications to the fund are closed for this year, but it is hoping to run the shopfront stream again in 2022.

Details will be posted on the department’s website at a later date.

irishtimes.com

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To: Tom Clarke who wrote (7167)7/13/2021 10:01:03 PM
From: Joachim K
1 Recommendation   of 7385
 
So sad to lose a language.


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From: Joachim K7/18/2021 10:40:29 AM
1 Recommendation   of 7385
 
The Koran is banned in Angola and not popular in Slovakia.

I am surprised a book from the 7th century is taken as a divine revelation and not a simple guide of popular maxims that enrich the common good such as “render unto Caesar” or “turn the other cheek”.

The Koran councils’ followers to kill as a lifestyle choice.

Every western history book portrays the Crusades as an offensive war, long before any Crusader ever made it to the Holy Land, Islam had penetrated as far north as France.

Moslims need to rewrite their book or better yet pick a different book, I would suggest Les Misérables a story with good morals and values.

Of course, Muslims would be incensed by my suggestion because they believe their book is divine revelation.

Muslims do not realize this revelation was written in a script that no longer exists with countless edits and revisions getting more bloodthirsty with every rewrite.

en.wikipedia.org

en.wikipedia.org

The most important reason to ban the book is it does not believe in separation of church and state and therefore incompatible with western values.

Islam has a lot in common with a fledgling new religion called "global warming" that is trying to combine a belief system with government legislation financed by citizen slaves.

I suppose if I had to pick between the two faiths I would follow Mohammed, the promises are good and the loot better.

Mohammed only requires I accept a magical being called Allah which is a lot easier to accept than faith based science.


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To: Tom Clarke who wrote (7167)7/20/2021 11:11:18 AM
From: Joachim K
1 Recommendation   of 7385
 
The most disturbing liturgy ever’: Irish burglar gets highly charged send-off

A screwdriver and a torch, tools of a nocturnal trade, carried to altar at funeral of Dean Maguire



Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent
@rorycarroll72

Tue 20 Jul 2021 15.19 BST

Father Donal Roche called it the most disturbing funeral he has ever attended, a homage to a life of crime played like a scene from The Sopranos.

Dean Maguire, 29, an Irish burglar with more than 25 convictions, had died in fiery motorway crash and mourners decided to give a memorable farewell.

Some blocked off roads leading to St Mary’s Priory Catholic church in Tallaght, west Dublin, while throngs piled into the church, flouting Ireland’s Covid-19 rules.

A screwdriver and a torch, tools of a nocturnal trade, were carried to the altar.

A poster paid tribute in rhyme. “RIP Dean. You know the score, get on the floor, don’t be funny, give me the money.”

Mourners who made eulogies said Maguire would not be forgotten. “Sorry for the language, Father – rest in peace, you fucking legend,” said one woman.

The atmosphere was highly charged, said Roche, who tried in vain to control the numbers entering the church while a colleague officiated at the mass.

“It was the most disturbing liturgy I have ever been at. There was a sense of restlessness, and the priest officiating was up against it,” he told RTÉ. “I didn’t feel in that much danger … but I did wonder, am I going to get a belt here?”

Since details of the mass last Friday seeped into the media there has been a public outcry at the glorification of criminals during funerals.

Diarmuid Martin, a former archbishop of Dublin, previously vowed that churches would not host such displays. Roche said he had no warning about the tributes to Maguire. When he phoned the police he was told their presence would inflame the situation and that officers would come only if there was a criminal act.

Gardaí are investigating videos that appear to show the hearse and some accompanying cars speeding and jumping traffic lights.

Maguire, who was wanted by British police, died on 7 July along with Graham Taylor and Carl Freeman when the BMW they were travelling in crashed into a truck on the N7, leaving the truck driver injured.

They were driving the wrong way up the motorway after fleeing from police. The trio were reportedly part of the same burglary gang, with more than 200 convictions between them.

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To: Joachim K who wrote (7170)7/20/2021 2:12:55 PM
From: Tom Clarke
1 Recommendation   of 7385
 
Another insight into contemporary Ireland. Sinn Fein leader speaks at an Eid festival in Dublin, having picketed a Catholic church a few weeks ago. This event has been allowed go ahead, while one of Ireland's most traditional Catholic pilgrimages to the shrine of Knock has been cancelled for Covid reasons.

catholicarena.com

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To: Joachim K who wrote (7168)7/22/2021 6:09:06 AM
From: Tom Clarke
1 Recommendation   of 7385
 
How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads
by Daniel Cassidy

In a series of lively essays, this pioneering book proves that US slang has its strongest wellsprings in nineteenth-century Irish America. "Jazz" and "poker," "sucker" and "scam" all derive from Irish. While demonstrating this, Daniel Cassidy simultaneously traces the hidden history of how Ireland fashioned America, not just linguistically, but through the Irish gambling underworld, urban street gangs, and the powerful political machines that grew out of them. Cassidy uncovers a secret national heritage, long discounted by our WASP-dominated culture.

amazon.com

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To: Joachim K who wrote (7170)7/29/2021 8:14:00 AM
From: Tom Clarke
1 Recommendation   of 7385
 
Masked thieves use stolen digger to rip ATM out of Derry shop


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To: Tom Clarke who wrote (7173)7/30/2021 1:01:28 AM
From: Joachim K
1 Recommendation   of 7385
 
Persuasion vs. Coercion: Vaccine Debate in Europe Heats Up

France is taking the lead in making life unpleasant for the unvaccinated, even requiring some people to get shots. Protesters see a soft dictatorship dawning.



A cinema manager, observed by a police officer, checking a health pass at a movie theater in Amneville, in eastern France, on Thursday.Credit...Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


By Roger Cohen

Published July 23, 2021Updated July 26, 2021

PARIS — As Europe and the United States scramble to find an appropriate balance between curbing the Delta variant of the coronavirus and curbing personal freedom, President Emmanuel Macron has led the way down a narrow path combining limited compulsion to get vaccinated with widespread coercion.

His approach of ordering health workers to get vaccinated by Sept. 15, and telling the rest of the French population they will be denied access to most indoor public venues if unvaccinated or without a negative test by Aug. 1, has prompted other countries including Italy to follow suit, even as it has stirred pockets of deep resistance.

“You are creating a society of generalized control for months, maybe years,” Éric Coquerel, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party, said during a tumultuous 48-hour parliamentary debate on Mr. Macron’s measures that ended early Friday with a relatively narrow victory for the president.

Barreling through 1,200 proposed amendments, defying accusations of authoritarianism and chaos from the hard right and left, the lower house voted by 117 to 86 to back President Macron’s attempt to strong-arm the French to get vaccinated by making their lives miserable if they do not.



A mobile coronavirus vaccination center in Aregno, on the French island of Corsica, on Thursday.Credit...Pascal Pochard-Casabianca/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Europe’s problem is similar to that of the United States: vaccination levels that, at around or just under 60 percent, are inadequate for herd immunity; surging Delta variant cases; and growing divisions over how far getting an injection can be mandated.

But where the United States has generally not gone beyond hospitals and major health systems requiring employees to get Covid-19 vaccines, major European economies including France and Italy are moving closer to making vaccines mandatory for everyone.

Mr. Macron’s measures, announced July 12 as the only means to avoid yet another French lockdown, have spurred both protests and an extraordinary surge in vaccinations, with 3.7 million booked in the first week after the president spoke, and a record of nearly 900,000 vaccinations in a single day on July 19. In this sense, his bold move has been a success.

With the high summer vacation season underway, the French responded massively to the specter of their leisure options getting nixed.

Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister, followed the French example. He did not pull punches in announcing similar measures this week. “The appeal to not getting vaccinated is an appeal to die,” he said. Resistance to vaccination could also kill others, he noted.

But the extent of the European lurch toward mandatory measures has also prompted unease and questioning over loss of freedom.

Claire Hédon, France’s government-appointed human rights ombudsman, known as the defender of rights, warned this week that the parliament was acting with unjustifiable haste “given the extent of the blow to fundamental rights and liberties that is foreseen.”



A protester held a sign reading, “No to compulsory vaccination, No to the health pass,” during a march in Paris on Thursday.Credit...Joel Saget/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Among the most disturbing measures, she said, was the granting to “public and private enterprise of a kind of police power.”

She did not address the question of whether French freedoms include the freedom to put other people at risk.

The so-called “health law” would oblige the French to get a health pass — known in Italy as a “green pass” — showing they have been vaccinated against Covid-19, or recently tested negative, if they want to go to restaurants and cafes.

These establishments, many of which have protested, would then have the obligation to enforce the rule or be fined. They will not, however, have the power to demand the picture I.D.’s of prospective diners in order to match them with the health pass. That is a right still limited to the police, the government said.

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The French draft law will now go to the Senate, with a view to final adoption within a week and enforcement from the beginning of next month.

The provision making vaccination mandatory for health workers prompted particular fury in the National Assembly. “You have gone completely crazy,” said Julien Aubert, a lawmaker from the center-right Republicans party.

The idea of dismissing or not paying a worker for choosing not to be vaccinated is a far cry from normal French labor practice, which tends to make firing very difficult. Any attempt would certainly face court challenges.

Olivier Véran, the health minister, who was pictured in Le Monde with his head slumped on a desk during the marathon debate, replied that, “The spirit of this text is certainly not to fire people or force them to quit, it is to encourage vaccination.”



French Health Minister Olivier Véran, in shirt sleeves and tie, hosting a discussion with workers from the medical sector on Tuesday, at the Health Ministry in Paris.Credit...Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In France, 22,000 coronavirus cases were recorded in one 24-hour period this week, the highest rate in more than two months. But in Britain, with twice as many new infections in recent days, the approach has been radically different.

Boris Johnson’s conservative government declared “Freedom Day” this week, removing many Covid-19 restrictions. The prime minister is betting that with 68.4 percent of the population vaccinated at least once, Britain is ready to take its chances with a virus that appears to be here to stay.

The United States has Florida, where no business or government entity can deny service to the non-vaccinated, and San Francisco, where all city workers will be required to be vaccinated, at opposite poles of the mandatory vaccine debate. Europe has London and Paris.

Understand the State of Vaccine Mandates in the U.S.

College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated for Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get the Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force. In N.Y.C., workers in city-run hospitals and health clinics will be required to get vaccinated or else get tested on a weekly basis.Federal employees. President Biden will formally announce on Thursday that all civilian federal employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or be forced to submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel. State workers in New York will face similar restrictions.Can your employer require a vaccine? Companies can require workers entering the workplace to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to recent U.S. government guidance.

Since President Macron revealed his strategy two weeks ago, some vaccination centers have been ransacked. Protests have unfurled across France with the same kind of anti-elite, anti-big-business themes that characterized the Yellow Vest movement that began in 2018.

As in the United States, some French people see manipulation and lies in the vaccination campaign — and indeed in the very way the coronavirus is portrayed as a mortal threat — where most see good sense and social responsibility.

“There is continuity between the Yellow Vests and the anti-health-pass movement,” said Sophie Tissier, a member of both and former freelance technician for a TV network. “They contest the way an anti-democratic political system functions in France.”

She continued: “If you are in the political opposition here, you are accused of being a conspiracy theorist. I am absolutely not that. I am just asking questions. We are witnessing a dictatorial drift.”

On both sides of the debate, positions are hardening and the rhetoric growing wilder. In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the governing coalition’s nationalist League party, suggested that requiring vaccination would mean depriving “at least half the population of their right to life.”

He did not elaborate. Several opinion polls have shown that 70 percent of Italians favor the sort of restrictions France first imposed, and 40 million Italians, or two-thirds of the population, have already downloaded the green pass.



People lined up earlier this month to be vaccinated at the vaccination hub of Santo Spirito hospital in Rome.Credit...Giuseppe Lami/EPA, via Shutterstock

“I propose collecting money to pay Netflix subscriptions to anti-vaxxers for when they will be under house arrest, closed in their homes like mice,” Roberto Burioni, a leading Italian virologist, wrote on Twitter.

In France, further protests are planned for the weekend, and it seems possible the summer will not see the usual respite from political agitation. The leaders of the far right and far left — Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon — have already made clear they see political opportunity in the vaccine debate.

Hugues Debotte, an unemployed chef who was a Yellow Vest protester, said Mr. Macron had to be thanked for a decision that “mobilized hundreds of thousands of people.”

“The question is not the vaccination,” he said in an interview. “It is obliging us to do something I don’t want to do. I prefer to say ‘No’ and keep my freedom.”

Mr. Debotte is busy organizing resistance through various online networks. “We are in a soft dictatorship, and the oligarchs take us for idiots,” he said. “There is no more pandemic today. We know that. We are not stupid.”

Governments and health experts disagree, and it is clear that Mr. Macron will not relent. Mr. Véran, the health minister, said: “We have two choices. Succeed with the pass quickly, very quickly, or expose ourselves to the risk of another national lockdown.”

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