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Labour Then and Now

I just read a book about Joe Hill. Who is Joe Hill, you’re probably wondering? He was a labour leader, in the USA, and a song writer. One of his songs includes the famous phrase “pie in the sky”. He was executed by a firing squad in 1915.

I was struck by the different labour situation in the early 1900s. At that time, hordes of unemployed men roamed the country, looking for work. Most jobs required manual labour. Employers had the advantage in this situation. The result was terrible working conditions and low wages.

In stark contrast, the labour situation now is completely different. We have record low unemployment. Both men and women work. Automation is almost everywhere. Most employees are well educated. Now, workers have the advantage. The result is better working conditions and higher wages.

Politics in Canada

When I went to school, I learned from my teacher that this country had two national political parties, Liberal and Conservative. They were seen as alternatives, so that when the party in power became too corrupt or had too many scandals, people voted them out of office, allowing the other party to become the government.

Since then, the political landscape has changed. We now have three parties, each with their unique ideology. Each party develops policies and measures to take, in accord with their ideology. They are no longer alternatives. Instead, we must vote according to their ideology.

We now have the situation of three major national political parties. The Conservatives are conservative or libertarian. The Liberals believe in a mixed economy. The NDP are the socialist party. It’s more like parts of Europe than like the US.

Of course, some people are loyal to the party; they will continue to vote for it regardless of what it has done. Some people still believe in alternatives; they just have more of them now.

Have the political parties really changed? Maybe it’s I who have changed? We’ll see.

Why I Cancelled Netflix

I know that I’m part of a minority. I certainly do not represent the typical Netflix viewer. First of all, I don’t watch TV. Most people do watch TV. Secondly, I hate commercials. Most people tolerate them. Some people even choose to watch commercials. Thirdly, I prefer dramas to comedies. Most people watch only comedies, and enjoy them. Perhaps I represent a minority of Netflix viewers.

Initially, Netflix appealed to me because it did not have commercials, and because it gave me the ability to choose what I wanted to watch. I didn’t have to be tied to a specific time to watch what I wanted. I know that whenever the word Netflix is mentioned, the word binge is not far away. I’ve never done that. I started out watching certain movies, mostly as a way to catch up on dramatic movies that I’d missed. After I’d watched all the movies that appealed to me, I moved on to TV series that I liked. Breaking Bad is an example. For the 1/2 hour episodes, which were reduced to 20 minutes without commercials, I’d watch two at a time.

Eventually, I’d watched everything I wanted. There was nothing left to watch. I found that I was no longer watching Netflix, so I cancelled it. I certainly did not want to watch Netflix the way most people watch TV: life is too short for that.

Doctrine of Discovery

No doubt you have heard about the Pope’s visit to Canada. As part of this event, there were calls to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery. Relevant to this document, I saw this article on the CBC web site.

Note that this article discusses something called a papal bull. A simpler term would be an announcement or a policy statement. Likewise, it uses the term rescind. The word withdrawal or retraction would be more normal. Recall that the church never uses the technique of rescindment. Instead, it uses the principle of supercession, which means replacement. In fact, many of the papal bulls have been replaced.

A good compromise between what people want and what the church provides, would be for the church to publish a list of policy announcements that have been replaced, either in whole or in part. They could accompany it with a list of policy announcements that are still in effect.

The Fundamental Problem

The government of Canada recently announced a ban on single-use plastic products. The ban covered grocery bags, straws, foam take-out containers, cutlery, and can rings. All of these products have been the subject of negative publicity. All of them have non-plastic alternatives.

The fundamental problem is the attempt to recycle low-value products. After all, they were intended to be disposable, and designed for lowest cost. Indeed, one shopping bag is not a problem, but millions of bags are a problem. A ban is a reasonable solution.

These products are not accepted by most city recycling programs, although the policy varies somewhat from city to city.

The products are difficult to recycle, for a variety of reasons. They typically contain only a small amount of plastic. The material may be multi-layer. The product may be contaminated with food, meaning that it must be cleaned as part of the recycling process.

Good Things Happen in Threes

An old saying is: good things happen in threes. Or is it: bad things happen in threes? The exact expression doesn’t matter. A better statement is: random events happen in clusters. The result might be a one-dimensional random distribution, like you get by flipping a coin. Notice the runs of one side. The result might also be a two-dimensional random distribution, like you get by throwing darts at a sheet of paper. Notice the groups of holes. Patterns are normal in random distributions.

So, what does random mean? It’s a mathematical concept, meaning that past events do not affect the next event. In essence, the results are unpredictable. It’s not a natural phenomenon. The cause of each random event is unknown.

There’s the curious example of luminous insects on a cave ceiling: they glow like stars in the sky. Visitors call them random. In fact, the distribution is not random and is highly predictable. The insects space themselves out so as to be as far as possible from their insect neighbors. There are no patterns visible in this sky.

Of course, people do not like unpredictable events. Your mind seeks a cause for everything, even when there is no cause. People even invent a cause, just to have one.

Dickens’ World

I’ve been rereading my collection of Charles Dickens’ novels. They describe the England of about 200 years ago. The world is completely different, but people are mostly the same.

Electricity had not been discovered yet. People lit their houses with candles. In old houses, the ceilings were black from all of the candle smoke. They did have gas lamps, but it wasn’t natural gas that they burned. It was manufactured gas, made from coal. Needless to say, there was no telegraph or telephone. Mail moved at the speed of horses.

Houses did not have central heating: it hadn’t been invented yet, at least on a wide scale. Instead, there was a fireplace in every room, including the bedrooms. Most of the fireplaces, and also the kitchen stove, burned coal. There was no insulation in the walls.

Petroleum also had not been discovered yet. There were no cars or trucks. Horses were everywhere. Wealthy people rode in carriages or on horseback. Poor people walked or looked for a ride on a wagon or carriage. Houses belonging to wealthy families had a stable for the horses, and a groom to look after them.

Medicine was in a primitive state 200 years ago. Doctors did the best they could without antibiotics and without anesthetic. In fact, doctors did not know the cause of disease and did not understand infection. In the face of urgent need, doctors did set broken bones, and did perform surgery, including amputations. Medicines were mostly tonics or stimulants.

Houses had no running water. They got water from a pump in the back yard. If the water needed to be heated, they used the kitchen stove for that. Likewise, houses had no sewers or drains. They did have a cess pit in the basement where the servants emptied the chamber pots. Of course, only wealthy people had servants.

Could you live in that world?

Unmarked Graves Are Not Evidence

The news lately has been full of accounts of unmarked graves found near former residential schools, as if they were evidence of abuse that occurred there. The graves were located with ground-penetrating radar. Most people may not understand what this radar reveals. It’s only areas of soil disturbance. Such an area is likely a grave, particularly if many of them are grouped into a grid pattern. This would be an abandoned cemetery of unmarked graves. It’s certainly not a mass grave in any sense of the word. In fact, there might be only one new grave per year.

Indeed, the graves could have had markers. They could have been lost or removed later. The cemetery could have been shared, for example, by the school, the church, the hospital, the town, or the Indian band. The operator of the cemetery had to keep a record, just to know where to dig next. The record may not contain names or dates. It may have been lost when the cemetery was abandoned.

Children died in normal times, particularly before the many discoveries of modern medicine were made, and in poor living circumstances. Many more of them died in years of epidemics. We have forgotten about epidemics of the past. Smallpox, cholera, influenza, and tuberculosis tore through many communities.

We do have some reliable evidence. Certainly, eye-witness testimony is a good example. Family history is another. Residential schools were in operation for more than 100 years. No doubt there was some sexual abuse. There was also many intentional deprivations. Children were deprived of their language, their culture, and their religion. Evidence of that is not to be found in unmarked graves.

Globalization is a Sham

I’m using the USA as an example because it was a leader in globalization. The term itself is quite easy to state and to understand. It simply means production and consumption in separate locations. It’s a low cost solution, one that requires low cost transportation. This is often provided by bulk carriers or large container ships. The low cost also requires low or absent tariffs.

The real motive for globalization is export without import. In fact, that’s what every country wants. It also provides for convenient disposal of surplus production. Unfortunately, export without import is impossible; You would have all sellers with no buyers. The next thing is import of raw materials, with export of finished products. That’s exactly what the colonizers did. That didn’t work either.

The result was that finished products were manufactured in other countries. Did you notice that all toasters and microwave ovens came from China? That situation was detrimental to the US. Next came supply chain disruptions. Something had to change.

We just saw some of the constraints on international trade. To engage in it safely, countries have to balance costs and risks. Some solutions may increase costs. Some tariffs may need to increase to protect local production. Competition is a critical ingredient because it provides multiple sources of supply, and because it may reduce costs. National security may require local production, but too much local production may bring isolation from the rest of the world. That’s why a compromise and a balance is required.

Now we have a new strategy, with a new name for globalization and with new policies. Will they give us what we really want?

Five Dystopic Novels

I did a great deal of reading during the COVID-19 lockdown. I did some reading before that too, although not as much. Only a few of them were dystopic novels. In fact, I was surprised that I had read so many. I usually read a variety of fiction and non-fiction books. These are the five dystopic novels:

The novel 1984 was written by George Orwell. In this one, the future is the manipulation of people by government, using the technique of thought control.

In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the future of mankind is genetic engineering, accomplished by artificial child development.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood describes a world of forced surrogacy, combined with an authoritarian government.

In Jennifer Government by Max Barry, the future concerns the rise of private companies, with a corresponding decline of governments. In this novel, the government must be self-supporting, without taxation powers.

Finally, there was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The future is living life in computer games, the only entertainment available to people.

Fortunately, none of the futures described in these novels has actually happened. Still, they show how people can adapt to the situation they are in. They also show how easily people can be manipulated, although it’s never all of them. In general, they show how fragile our society can be.