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Still Smoking

I’m surprised and disgusted now when I see people smoking.  Don’t they know that smoking causes lung cancer and a whole host of other diseases?  Two tradesmen came to my house last week to replace a couple of windows.  When they parked in my driveway, they got out of the truck and had a smoke in my front yard.  It was only after the smoke that they knocked on my front door.  Part way through the work, they went outside and had another smoke break.  At least, they didn’t smoke inside a customer’s house.  I was still surprised and disgusted to see that, though.  Here were two people who didn’t value their own lives.

When I’m driving, I often see people in other cars who are smoking.  They shake ashes off their cigarettes out the window.  They blow smoke out the window.  Don’t they wonder why cars don’t have ash trays anymore?  This morning at my parent’s senior’s home, one of the residents stopped his scooter outside the entrance and proceeded to smoke a cigarette.  Didn’t they know how dangerous smoking was?

Smoking causes many ailments, but only in the distant future, and it only increases the chances of acquiring that condition.  It’s not a certainty that you will die of that ailment.  The big one, of course, is lung cancer.  Many people have died before their time because of lung cancer caused by smoking.  Shouldn’t that be enough to scare people into avoiding smoking?  There are other ailments too.  I know a fellow who used to go to many ballroom dances.  He told everyone that he didn’t need a chair.  He said that he was up dancing all of the time.  It’s true.  He was.  The last time I saw him, though, he needed a chair.  He could only do half a dance before he had to sit down.  He told everyone that he had COPD in his lungs.  He said that he should have quit smoking earlier, but it was too late now.  I expect he will be dragging around an oxygen cylinder next time I see him.  Smoking also affects your circulation system and your heart.  It does damage everywhere.  How could anyone smoke now?

Steven Pinker, in his book How the Mind Works, calls it “discounting the future”.  When I started smoking, I did not even consider how I would be living 40 or 50 years in the future.  I wanted the benefits of smoking right then.  Fortunately, I quit smoking after a year or two.  It’s something I can’t imagine doing now.  It’s something that surprises and disgusts me when I see other people smoking.

Unfortunately, many people are just like I was a long time ago.  Cigarette packages have shocking pictures and scary slogans now.  People know that smoking is bad for your health.  Smokers are the outcasts of society.  Still, they rationalize those things away.  The lure of smoking wins people over, at least some people.  There’s not much more can be done.  We can’t force people to make the right choices.  The wrong choices may be right for them at the time.  Ultimately, people have to choose for themselves, even if they do seem to be making the wrong choices.

 

Populism Isn’t Dead

Populism isn’t dead.  It’s in the air still.  It’s in the news again.  I just read a very interesting article about populism and about what the other political parties should do about it.  The article states that other parties should not retreat in response to populist politics.  Instead, they should treat them as a fair competitor in the political arena.  Democracies can survive in this new political landscape, just as they have adapted and survived when other changes came along.

In election campaigns, there are some hints that should set alarm bells ringing for most people.  What do you think of a politician who makes promises to poor people, but who is actually a wealthy person?  What about one who claims to understand the working classes, but is a successful business owner?  Don’t people know who their enemies are?

Of course, people often vote for their superiors, for candidates who are better than they are.  It’s like the hens voting for the fox who is guarding the henhouse.  Somehow they can’t believe that someone just like them could be suitable to hold office.  Does that make sense?

In the US, poor people voted against a measure to increase taxes on the rich.  Did they all expect to be rich one day?  That’s impossible, of course, just like everybody can’t win the lottery.  It’s amazing what some people believe.  Sometimes it doesn’t make sense, either.

Fortunately, the majority of people can make sensible choices.  They can be fooled, but they can’t be fooled for long.

 

Too Much of a Good Thing

I just read an article about warning symbols on food products.  According to this article, the government is considering adding new symbols to food products that are high in sugar, fat, or salt.  This would be a departure from their usual requirements.  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency currently only considers acute conditions caused by contaminants, poisons, toxins, or noxious organisms present in our foods.  They issue recalls for these products.  Most recently, they’ve recalled food products for possible E. coli contamination.  They’ve never issued recalls or warnings for foods high in sugar, fat, or salt, even though these foods may contribute to chronic conditions like obesity or heart disease.  These components are nutrients generally.  They enhance the flavour and appeal of foods.  They are only a problem when you eat too much of them.

The government does require a nutrient list on all food products.  This list does show how much sugar, fat, or salt the foods contain.  It does take a small calculation to determine how much you are eating, of course.  In specific terms, the proposal is to add warning symbols to product labels, so that people will be more aware of how much of these components they are eating.

There certainly is popular support for these labels.  We must exercise caution, though.  I recall eating lunch in the student cafeteria before I retired.  Every year the Food Services department would announce a new healthy food selection for that year.  The problem was that not all of the students wanted that type of food.  A group of them did want to eat healthy food, of course.  Another group wanted restaurant-style food, like hamburgers and french fries.  Yet another group wanted other people to eat only healthy food.  One policy doesn’t work for all people.

Why pick on a few products that are high in sugar, fat, or salt?  It’s really your entire diet that matters.  This question seems familiar.  Didn’t US President Trump pick on a few countries that had high exports to the US?  Didn’t economists say that Trump didn’t understand international trade, and that only the total exports to the US mattered?  Trump was right in this instance.  Reducing imports from those countries would improve the US trade imbalance.  Likewise, reducing the amount of those food products that people eat would improve their health.

The important principle is that people need choices when it comes to food.  Most people already know what they want when they go shopping at the grocery store.  Most people already know what foods are healthy and good for them.  The new symbols might help people choose, but they won’t make a big difference.  In fact, some food companies may want to reduce the amount of sugar in their products as a way to avoid the new warning symbols, but keep the sweetness the same by substituting other ingredients that are perceived as natural.  Some people believe that natural food is always healthy.

Even the meaning of what is healthy has changed with time.  It’s hard to imagine now, but smoking was once seen as a healthy activity.  Sugar used to be healthy.  Now it’s not.  Saturated fat used to be the cause of heart disease.  Now it’s okay when eaten along with other types of fat.  It’s easy to see how people can be wrong about what is healthy unless they keep up with all these changes.

Having a choice is very important.  Even competition, normally a good thing for consumers, can reduce choice.  Food companies and restaurants can provide exactly the same foods at exactly the same prices.  Consumers can only buy what’s available to them.  In the worst case, they have no choice at all but to buy or not buy.  With real competition, the worst case should never happen.  Yes, the new symbols will help people choose, if there is a choice for them.

 

Watching a Caterpillar

I didn’t watch it all the time.  I only watched it from time to time, while I was reading.  They were forest tent caterpillars.  I saw them climbing up the wall of my neighbor’s garage, out the window.  They seemed to move randomly over the wall, but in an upwards direction.  Often they would stop climbing and fall off the wall.  There weren’t very many of them.

A forest tent caterpillar is a long worm with many feet.  It’s dark in colour, with a stripe along each side, and spots along the back.  I watched one climbing up one side of the window itself.  It seemed to wander for a while, as if not knowing which way to go.  Then, it stopped.  When I saw it next, it was making repetitive movements of its front half.  Was it stuck?  No, it was making a tent.  It was building it of silk, from the inside.  When it finished the tent, it started building a cocoon, also from the inside.  I could still see the worm inside the cocoon, because of the light streaming in the window.  It changed shape, becoming a shorter creature with pointed ends.  Most of the time it was stationary inside the cocoon, but occasionally it would twitch and squirm violently.

That was enough watching.  I went all around the outside of my house with a broom, brushing away the tents and cocoons.  Most of them were under the eve at the top of the walls.  I brushed away the one on my window too.  I’d seen enough.  Fortunately, there weren’t many of them.  The trees still had all of their leaves.  I didn’t see any tents up in the trees.  At a park, a few years ago, I saw trees and shrubs that were entirely stripped of leaves, and left covered with webs.  It was like a horror movie.  There’s nothing like that this year.

 

Oil Change Adventure

Early last month, the oil change light came on in my car.  It told me that the engine oil had reached 15% of its life.  My car needed an oil and filter replacement, and a tire rotation.  It was a routine service, nothing urgent.  When this had happened before, I called the dealer’s service department, and they set up an appointment for the service.

They had been urging me to do it myself through a web application.  I decided to try this instead.  It was easy to find the  correct web page.  It showed a calendar with a series of time slots.  It told me that the next available appointment was a 8:00 am on 22 May.  That was a good day, even though it was several weeks away, but way too early for me.  Some of the time slots were full, but I found one that was not, and was at a convenient time for me.  I chose 9:30 am on that same day.  Almost immediately after I’d set up the appointment, I got an e-mail message that confirmed my service appointment.  I was quite pleased with what I’d done on their web site.

Soon after that, however, I got a phone message from the service department.  It started out by thanking me for booking an appointment with them.  Then it told me that I’d booked an appointment for the Victoria day holiday, and that they were closed that day.  The message invited me to call them to reschedule my service appointment.  It was pretty stupid for the web site to allow me to book an appointment on a day when they were closed.  After all, they were closed on Sundays too and the web site didn’t offer me an appointment on Sunday.

I didn’t phone them, but used the web site again.  I cancelled my appointment for 22 May, and booked one for the same time on the next day.  Again, I got a confirmation almost immediately.  This time, I didn’t get a phone call from the service department.  When I arrived on that day, they were expecting me.  The service went ahead nicely.  I was quite pleased with the work they did.  Still, I thought it was pretty stupid for the web site to let me book an appointment on a day when they were closed.  I wonder how many other people they had to call with the bad news.

 

Low Self-esteem is the Cause

A few years ago, I remember speaking to a fellow who lived in Toronto.  He came here on weekdays, but flew back home on weekends.  He told us about the school where his children went.  At that school, the kids were not permitted to play sports at recess because they might damage their self-esteem.  Instead, they sat around all recess playing computer games on their mobile phones.  He was disgusted with the school.  I was astounded that any educational institution would do that.  It seemed ludicrous to me.

Now I know why, thanks to a recent article on the self-esteem scam.  It was the result of a massive publicity campaign that led people to believe that all of the ills of society were due to low self-esteem.  The idea that students would do skipping with imaginary skipping ropes was just as ridiculous as the story I heard from the fellow from Toronto.  Even worse was the attempt to provide scientific evidence for the claimed benefits of increased self-esteem.  This is anothr example of somebody looking for scientific proof for something they already believed.  When the scientific study showed that there were no benefits, the result was another publicity campaign designed to suppress the report.  No wonder people continued to believe in self-esteem, regardless of the scientific results.  No wonder schools continued to build self-esteem.  It was all a con job.

 

The Weight Loss Diet

Recently, I read three articles on diet.  All of them were different.  In fact, they didn’t have much in common except that they dealt with diet, both in the sense of what people normally eat, and in the sense of something that people choose to go on.  Maybe that’s enough in common.

The underlying principle is really quite simple.  Eating more than your body requires is the cause of obesity.  The excess calories are converted into fat.  You can consume a few calories through exercise, but it’s generally impossible for you to use up all the excess that way.  It gets much more complicated when you begin to investigate the reasons why people eat too much.  There are many possible causes, some of them psychological rather than physical.

Of course, eating is a pleasure.  It can be a great pleasure.  It might even be your only pleasure.  A remarkable study confirms what we’ve known for some time:  eating less extends your life.  Most people know that they will be healthier if they lose their excess weight.  In fact, the reason that most people go on a diet is because they want to lose weight.  The problem is that they want both the pleasure and good health.  They want something that doesn’t exist: a magical fat-burning pill or fat-burning food.  Unfortunately, there’s no solution that easy.

It gets worse.  Some reporting about diets is clearly biased.  Even if the article is not just advertizing for a specific diet, you can spot the biases if you look carefully.  Does it say that certain foods are poison, full of chemicals, garbage, or empty calories?  Those words reveal the bias.  A nice example is an article I recently read on the paleo diet.  Grocery stores don’t sell poison; they sell foods that people want to eat.  People are not stupid, either.  Most of them know what they like, and know what’s good for them.  Biased articles usually give you bad advice.  Look for balanced and unbiased articles if you want good advice.

Also watch out for marketing terms that have no specific meaning, but that appear in large print on product labels.  Natural is the favorite just now.  There’s also green and no preservatives.  To some extent, organic is a marketing term too.  Have you heard of label washing?  Food companies are removing names that frighten consumers from ingredient lists and replacing them with names that sound more natural, even though they mean exactly the same thing.

What about processed foods?  Are they always bad?  I just read an article about the processed food revolution that described the benefits of food preparation in factories.  Of course, there is indeed a hidden cost too.  It’s mainly a result of people eating too much because eating has become so easy.  Once again, it’s our fault.  We need to restrain ourselves.  We are in control of ourselves, aren’t we?