I recently read an article on the CTV news site that described what we could do to prevent colds. It was called: “What works, and what doesn’t, to prevent colds”. I was quite impressed with this article because all of its recommendations were based on carefully controlled scientific studies. It also told us when there was no scientific evidence for some practices or outcomes.
The article described three things that don’t work to prevent colds: Vitamin C, Echinacea, and garlic. These are all foods or medicines, things that you eat, and things that people generally believe are effective. The fact that they don’t work is quite startling to me, although it’s certainly good to know.
It also described three things that did work: more sleep, the right amount of exercise, and hand washing. These are all practices, things that we have to do, things that take time. Some are inconvenient. I’m already doing these things, at least to some extent.
I also read the comments at the end of the article. Some people recommended the very things that the article reported as not working to prevent colds. These people can’t be stupid. Perhaps they didn’t read the article, or only read the headline and looked at the pictures. Perhaps they were only expressing the public belief in those substances, in spite of what the article said. Perhaps they believed in magic. It’s easy to believe in magic where foods, medicines, and disease are concerned.
Other people’s comments, though, clearly indicated that they had read the article and understood it. They had praise for it. They agreed that sleep, exercise, and hand washing were effective methods to prevent colds. Indeed, those seem to be the only things we have right now.
I first saw the house I’m living in now during a showing by my real estate agent. I noticed a water filter in the basement, connected to a cold water pipe, and to a faucet upstairs in the kitchen. Since it was attached to the house, I expected it to be there when I bought the house. How wrong I was!
I was surprised to find it missing when I took possession. I could see where it used to be. I wasn’t concerned enough to enquire, though. It might have been interesting to try the filter, but I prefer to drink tap water anyway.
As I explored my new house, I found a number of things that belonged to the previous owner. He hadn’t left a forwarding address or phone number, but I collected them all together, and asked my real estate agent to notify him. A few days later, he show up to take those things. He also asked for a snow shovel that he had forgotten. The garage was full of things that he’d left behind. I told him to take anything that he wanted. We had a friendly visit.
As he was backing his car down the driveway to leave, he stopped and drove forward again. He rolled down the window and said “I’m sorry that I removed the water filter”. He added “If you ever want it, you can have it for one hundred dollars”. I was amazed to hear that. I suppressed a smile, and said simply “No thanks, I don’t need it”. I never heard from him again.
Shortly after I moved into my new house, I discovered a hole cut into the plaster wall behind the refrigerator. I could fill it with a piece of plaster board, of course, but I didn’t want to extend the hole all the way over to the next stud. I decided instead to put a backing board behind the plaster and attach the plaster board to that. To do that properly, I needed plaster washers. Where could I get them locally? A woodworking tool company showed up in a search on the web.
I’d heard about this place, but had never been there. A fellow at work often talked about it. Sometimes he even showed us their latest catalogue. He was a amazing woodworker. I wasn’t that good. The catalog certainly appealed to me. I liked the anecdotes and technical description of each of their products.
I wanted those plaster washers so that I could get on with repairing that hole in the wall. The very next Saturday morning, I went down to the store. It was full of middle-aged men with beards, just like me. I felt right at home there. The store was a bit chaotic and unfamiliar to me, but I soon realized that you were supposed to fill out an order form and take it to the counter. They had long tables covered with catalogues, pencils, and pads of order forms. I sat down on a stool and started reading catalogues. I found my plaster washers. They were only a few dollars for six, just about what I needed. Now that I was there, I wanted to add a few more items to my order form. I read and reread all of the catalogues, in vain. There was nothing else I wanted. Reluctantly, I took my order form to the counter. All the clerks were men. Even with one small item on my order form, they were happy to see me. One of them brought me a package of plaster washers from the back, and ushered me over to the cash register.
The man there noticed that I didn’t have a customer number. He asked me if I would like one. “Sure”, I said. He was very friendly. He took down all the information from me, got me a customer number, and then asked if I would like a catalogue. “Sure”, I said. He brought me not one but three catalogues and some flyers and put them in a big bag along with my little package of plaster washers. I said to him: “I know what I’ll be doing for the rest of the day”.
Yes, indeed. When I got home, the first thing I did was to read all the catalogues and flyers. The hole in the wall could wait. I kept on reading them for the next week, whenever I had some time. The hole in the wall could wait. I finally did repair it, though. I put fibre tape over the joints. I covered the whole area with drywall compound and sanded it down. With a coat of primer, you couldn’t even tell that the hole was there. Even better, I got all those catalogues and flyers. Maybe I’ll buy something else after all.
One of the most popular quotations from Winston Churchill is: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried”. That makes democracy one of the best political systems, although it is not perfect. What makes it one of the best?
The key to democracy is public participation. That means votes for everyone, at the local, regional, and national levels. Just look at the political systems that don’t permit public participation. There are a multitude of these: monarchary, military government, a one party system, or a dictatorship. A country may have restricted voting, where only a few people are allowed to vote. There’s also manipulation of the elections, so that a predetermined party always wins. All of these negative examples prevent or restrict public participation.
Of course, it’s possible for a government to gauge public attitudes without holding elections that might go against the government. Polling is one method. Referendums is another. Social media comment is yet another. Some of these may be biased, but others may be sufficiently accurate for an enlightened government to incorporate into its policies. How do we know that they’ve done this properly? Do we trust them? Sometimes only a real election can answer those questions.
Without democracy, what are the alternatives? Public demonstrations might cause the government to change direction or even to step down. Demonstrators are usually activists. Sometimes they are radicals. Sometimes they have powerful reasons to oppose the government. Often they are only united because of a common enemy, the current government. They may not represent the attitudes of all the people in the country. Only free elections can determine that.
With a repressive government, only a revolution and popular uprising can overthrow the government, usually with violent action. This is a dangerous way to do it, one that has to be a last resort. After all, many groups may oppose the government, including groups that may turn out to be even worse, once they take power. Democracy provides for a peaceful change of government. Peace is something that most people want, even if it requires disruption of stability every so often.
So, you are on a new diet. You’re feeling really good. You’re feeling energized as never before. You are so happy, you’re telling everybody. It must be good for you. It must be good for everybody.
Slow down a bit. “Feeling good” may be completely without meaning. Read this article: What ‘Feels Good’ Isn’t Necessarily Good for You. Saying that you feel better with a particular food, diet, or medication is not proof that it’s effective. If you really want to feel good, there are lots of things that will do that. Take alcohol or illegal drugs, for example. You will certainly feel good, but they won’t be good for your health. If you want more energy, eat sugar and caffeine. They won’t be good for you either. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat less calories. There is no other choice. Exercise alone won’t do it. To eliminate 1000 extra calories, you’d have to exercise all day. Nobody’s going to do that. You have to eat less. Sometimes it’s only the change in diet that makes you feel good. In any case, it’s never proof that the diet is healthy and good for you.
Every food product that you buy has been inspected by a government agency. In Canada, it’s the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. They certify that all food products in the grocery store are safe to consume, at least for acute disorders. All these foods, natural or not, are free from poisons, toxins, or harmful organisms. They generally don’t provide the same guarantee for chronic disorders. Because of the inspection, any foods that you choose will be healthy. Of course, producers also make sure that their foods are healthy. Consequently, good health is not a proof that a diet works. All diets will be healthy because the foods that make it up are all healthy.
Everything that we eat, fruit, vegetables, cereals, milk, and meat, have been domesticated. Nothing is wild anymore. Domestication means selective breeding, done by selection and cross-breeding. In general, people have used this technique to make the products more attractive to consumers. Apricots, for example, were domesticated 1000 years ago in China. The wild stock is still there, but domestic apricots are so much better that nobody would eat the wild ones. Fruit is typically selected for sweetness, meaning high sugar content. Some apples now contain as much sugar as a cola beverage. Vegetables are selected for high quality of the edible portion. Cereals are selected for high quality and high yield. Animals are selected for maximum meat and milk production. Even though one popular diet is based upon what our ancestors ate, there’s no reliable evidence for their diet. People in pre-agricultural societies didn’t tell us about that. Even if they did, we can’t reproduce their diet with today’s domesticated foods.
Fortunately, our bodies are very adaptable. We can live and be healthy on practically any diet, provided that we get enough of it, and not too much of it. Sure, you can be feeling good on your new diet. Somebody else can be feeling good on a different diet. This is all good, but not a proof of anything.
From the time I moved into this house, I intended to replace the flooring in the kitchen and bathroom. I wanted to put the same material in both, although I wanted to do the kitchen first, and the bathroom later, after I had done some other upgrades there. I picked out a light-coloured vinyl flooring with a pattern that looked like ceramic tile. It was nicely embossed, with depressed areas between the squares that resembled the grout between ceramic tiles. I ordered enough to do both the kitchen and the bathroom.
Two guys came out to work on the kitchen. The first thing they did was to examine the old vinyl flooring. I heard them say several times: “edge glued”’. Before I knew it, they had that layer pulled up, exposing vinyl tile below. Then I heard them say “peel and stick” several times. Then they started pulling up the vinyl tiles. I heard “battleship” many times as they did it. This was the old linoleum, the bottom layer, the one they were looking for. They stopped at that point.
The next day, I had a visit from their supervisor. He explained that these guys had many years installing flooring. They knew best, but weren’t supposed to remove the top two layers. It put the cost over the estimate. He asked if I was willing to pay a bit more. That would buy them a case of beer each, he explained. Sure, I was willing to do that. I liked the idea that they removed those two extra layers of vinyl anyway.
After that, it was straightforward. They put down composition board, with plenty of staples, levelling compound, and then the new vinyl flooring. I was quite pleased with the new kitchen floor. It looked wonderful, and the light colour lit up the room quite nicely.
It was a few years before I was ready to do the bathroom. It had green indoor-outdoor carpet over the old linoleum. I found it easy to remove the old carpet. I was glad to see it go. I contacted the same company again. This time they sent one fellow to do the bathroom floor all by himself.
He was a nice guy, but the most negative person I’ve ever seen. He took one look at the bathroom and started to complain. “I’m going to lose money on this job”, he said, and “Why do I always get jobs like this?”. Then he looked over the floor a little more closely, and said: “I can’t do this. There’s no straight sides”. Almost immediately, he said: “I know. I’ll put a line down the middle and work from there”. With that, he put down the composition board and levelling compound.
The next day, he laid the vinyl flooring. He told me that he would have to join two pieces of vinyl behind the toilet. That was fine with me. Nobody would see the seam there. He explained that he had to turn the small piece the other way, and that the squares would not line up. It was still okay with me. Nobody would notice back there. When he laid the small piece on top of the main one, he said: “Look at that. They’re lining up perfectly”. I was fine with that too.
In fact, I was quite pleased with the entire flooring in the bathroom. I told him how pleased I was. I don’t suppose my praise would have any effect on his attitude, though. I was happy. He went away happy too.
When I lived with my parents, I went to their dentist. After each appointment, I just walked out. They sent the bill to my parents. I never had to pay it. I thought that worked out very nicely.
However, when I got a job in a larger city, I also had to find my own dentist. I neglected my teeth for some time. After all, they were not a problem for me. Eventually, though, I need to find a dentist. I asked around at work for a recommendation. I found one that seemed fine to me. Little did I know what was in store for me.
This dentist had an office in a large downtown building. My first surprise was that he was all by himself. He had no receptionist and no assistant. One room was the waiting room. I still recall gazing out the window and seeing ponds of water on roofs below. No doubt I read old magazines too.
The other room contained the dental chair and all the other dental equipment. The first thing the dentist told me was that he didn’t use anesthetic. I knew that this should be possible with the new high-speed drills, but my old dentist never did that. Maybe it was something new. I was willing to try it. Most people would run right out the door at that point, but I was willing to try it. I soon found out that he drilled very carefully, monitoring my reactions intently as he did it. He stopped drilling the instant that I felt any pain. It was actually okay. I liked the idea of walking out of there without a frozen jaw and lip.
I also soon found out that he made only 15 minute appointments. The problem with this was that I had to go downtown frequently, but only had a small amount of dental work done. I suppose I had too many cavities for the treatment he provided. He only had time for one filling at each appointment. These were all temporary fillings. There were so many that one had always fallen out by the time of the next appointment. He never got to permanent fillings. I could see that this procedure was never going to end.
After each appointment, I walked out of the office, just as I had done before. He never said a word to me. I was expecting a bill in the mail, but it never came. Finally, I noticed that other patients were paying him right after each appointment. At that point, I offered to pay him and asked him how much I owed him. He said he’d figure it out, but he never did. I kept asking him. Finally he gave me a figure.
I paid it right there and started looking for a new dentist. He was a very nice fellow and likely also a good dentist. However, he was not the kind of kind of dentist I needed. My next one was what I needed. I stayed with him ever since.