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Dealing With Extremists

It’s those extremists again!  What can we do about them?  Well, you can vote for one thing.  We don’t have an election now.  It’s only every four or five years.  What can we do right now?  You can demonstrate against them.  You can even fight them.  You can urge the government to make them illegal.  What’s the best thing to do?  What’s the right thing to do?

Making membership in certain groups illegal is actually the wrong thing to do.  There are lots of examples why this is so.  The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was suppressed for years, by many different governments.  Members were put in jail.  Some leaders were executed.  These actions only made them more militant and more extreme.  The Communist Party in the US was made illegal, resulting in widespread accusations.  People were condemned, based only on these accusations.  One journalist was accused of attending a meeting with a known communist.  It was only later that he discovered that the meeting was the UN general assembly, and the known communist was Nikita Krushev.  Consider also the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany.  Laws were made that identified them by race, for increasingly harsh punishment.  Many were driven out of the country.  Many were exterminated.  The lesson is clear:  laws must apply to everybody in a society.

We already have criminal laws that apply to everyone.  They are sufficient.  We should not advocate laws that make certain groups illegal, even if most people don’t like what these groups are saying or doing.  Making these laws seems easy.  We only have to prove membership in an illegal group to obtain a conviction.  It’s easy, but it’s also dangerous.  It could be done for any group.  A goverment could use such a law to suppress the opposition, for example.  We need groups that are critical of the government.  We need opposition.  Such a law leads public opinion by presenting people with an enemy.  Just imagine what happens after that.  It’s divisive.  It’s polarizing.  Members become more militant.  We don’t need any of those things.

Fortunately, we have a representative democracy in this country.  The representatives speak for people in their areas, and make decisions on their behalf.  We also have free speech.  The opposition must be heard.  Even extremist groups must be heard.  It’s only when people express hatred of other groups that the law can be used against them.  People have civil rights in this country.  Any attempt to deprive them of those rights becomes a serious issue.  Again, these laws apply to everybody.  That’s how it should be.

 

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My Menu Strategy

People have gotten the wrong idea about what I like in restaurants.  It’s usually lunch that I eat in restaurants, although I only do this a few times a week.  I eat all of my breakfasts at home, early in the morning.  Lunch is my main meal of the day.  Most of the time, I eat supper at home.  It’s only occasionally that I eat supper at a restaurant.  In any case, supper is a small meal for me.

I do have a strategy for choosing an item from a restaurant menu.  It’s mostly negative.  I avoid deep-fried food, especially fried potatoes and chicken wings.  I do eat fried potatoes, because I like them, but I limit them to once a week whenever I can.

I also avoid bacon, especially side bacon, and I avoid cheese.  Both of them contain too much fat for my liking.  Of course, restaurants put bacon and cheese on almost everything these days, to improve the flavour.  There’s not much left on the menu.

I also avoid overly sweet dishes.  These are usually desserts and are easy to avoid.  Sometimes they are french toast or waffles buried in powered sugar and whipped cream.  I avoid them too.

Finally, I look for a portion size that’s small enough that I can eat in one sitting.  I want to eat it all, but I don’t want to stuff myself or to take some home.  This part of my strategy is difficult because restaurants don’t specify the portion size on the menu.  Some do have sections for senior’s meals or lighter dishes.  Otherwise, I can only judge by the price, even though it’s not a good indication of portion size.

If at that point, there’s nothing left on the menu that I can eat, I compromise on one or two points, and scan the menu again.  What’s left?  It’s usually soups, salads, and a few sandwiches.  I don’t consider soup or salad to be a complete meal.  Sandwiches usually come with fried potatoes, something I avoid, but they usually offer a small soup or side salad as a substitute.  Sometimes they have a burger without bacon and cheese.  That’s often my only choice.  That’s where people get the impression that I like burgers, where it’s really the result of a processs of elimination.  I don’t generally chose what I like.  Instead, I avoid most of the dishes, choosing one that’s the least objectionable and that still appeals to me.

 

Perspective is Everything

The historical perspective shows us that whatever atrocity was committed by some group, it has been done before by another group.  Consider what’s being done now by muslim extremists.  It’s been done before by Christian extremists.  You can read about this in the book Constantine’s Sword, written by James Carroll.  There are many other examples of this principle.

The real motivation for these atrocities is to acquire wealth or land, typically without the people who originally owned it.  Settlers behaved this way to aboriginals in many countries.  It’s really sanctioned robbery.  The book The Fourth Crusade, by Jonathan Phillips, is a good example of this motivation.

People often cite examples of moral behavior from the way that certain creatures behave in nature.  By taking a wider perspective, it becomes clear that there is no morality in nature.  More accurately, there is every form of behavior, both moral and immoral, in nature.  We can choose one as an example, but there is always a counter-example.  Nature is really neutral in terms of morality.  Creatures in nature have adopted many different strategies for living.  Some are admirable to us.  Others are repugnant.  All of them are reasonable, though, and have enabled the creature to survive within nature.

I try to take a wider perspective in reading news as well.  It’s curious that the mainstream American media seem to be opposed to the US government by people within the US, but seem to be promoting the US government by people outside of the US.  I read news from Canada, from Britain, and from Australia to get a wider viewpoint.  I also read news in English from other countries, from time to time.

What’s normal to us also changes with time.  A secular state seems normal to us, but 100 to 200 years ago, all countries had a state religion.  There was no such thing as religion as a private affair.  There were no athiests, either.  The very word was an epithet, to be hurled against people who had a different belief than you did.

My mother told me that her mother used to belong to the Orange Lodge, an anti-catholic organization.  At the time, my mother thought that this affiliation was quite normal.  Now she’s aghast at the idea.

As I said, maintaining perspective is critically important.  It’s usually time perspective, but it can be in many other dimensions as well.  It’s the wide viewpoint that’s important.  Put down your telescope from time to time so you can see the world as it really is.

 

My Next Car Will Not Be Electric

Electric cars seem to be in the news every day.  Some car companies are focusing on them now.  Of course, they are anticipating the market.  Several countries recently announced that they will be banning gasoline or diesel cars sometime in the future.  The trend seems to be towards more electric cars and towards more public charging stations.

Should I switch now?  I’ll be ready for a new car in three to five years.  What’s it going to be, gas or electric?  Most of my driving is short trips around the city.  That’s ideal for an electric car.  I do also make the occasional highway trip.  I’d have to rely on public charging stations for that.  Still, an electric car seems attractive for my next car.

I will need my own charging station for my usual driving.  Installing it in my garage would be most convenient.  That way, I could charge the car’s batteries overnight while it was parked in the garage.  The home charging stations take 50 amps of current at 240 volts, much more than my car’s block heater takes now.  Yikes!  I’d have to put a sub-panel in my garage, with a new underground cable to the house.  I might even have to upgrade the electrical service to my house.  It’s only 100 amps now.  That’s the usual service now, unless the house has an electric furnace.  Then, it’s 200 amps.  This is getting complicated.

One of the advantages of a home charging station is that you can get a lower electrical rate during off-hours.  I’ve never heard of that in this province.  My electrical meter only records KWH, without regard for time of day.  It would certainly have to be replaced.  I suspect that the power company in this area could not even accomodate large numbers of electric cars with home charging stations.  They’ll have to make changes too.  Then, there’s the matter of taxes.  They’ll have to be shifted from gasoline to electricity.  Rates will go up, no doubt.

I get the impression that will be easy to buy an electric car, but difficult to run one.  I don’t want two cars; I only want one, one for all of my driving.  It’s going to be gasoline this time around.  Maybe next time it will be electric.

 

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.