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Foreign Interference

You’ve heard the news. Foreign interference in Canadian elections is the top story. The news identifies China as the perpetrator. The news is mostly based on a report, one that said that interference from China was present but had not risen to the level that made it actionable. What’s going on?

Like most news stories, it’s lacking in context. What other countries have interfered in Canadian elections? I would expect the US to be one of them, perhaps even the top one. Of course, with countries like the US we have to consider interference from organizations and individuals, not just governments. We also have to consider specific election contests, ones that have led to allegations of interference. We may even need a broader investigation of interference in Canadian elections than the one carried out so far.

After all, China is an economic enemy of the US, but not of Canada. We are a separate country, and are separate from the US to some extent. Perhaps we are only getting recycled American news. It’s interesting that politicians have seized on the story and are demanding an enquiry into election interference. It’s China again, of course.

More Distortion

The news these days is full of mass shootings, natural disasters, and earthquakes in other countries. Most people don’t realize that the news is a distortion of reality.

Generally, we see about one mass killing a week on the news. Even this is a distortion. In reality, there are about two mass killings per day in the US, counting only incidents with five or more victims. Even such mass killings are not a severe risk, considering the population of the US. In fact, most people in the US who die of gunshot wounds are not victims of mass killings, but often in individual killings, where one person shoots another person.

We get a completely wrong impression from the news. This impression happens because news media must select which news stories to cover. Above all, news must be entertaining, because this is what attracts viewers, and this is what, in turn, attracts advertizers. News stories must be compelling, because that’s what viewers want to see.

The risk of being shot at concerts, shopping centres, or schools is actually quite low, but not zero. The higher risk of being killed in disputes with strangers is the risk that should concern you.

No Lower Limit for Anything

Have you heard the news? There are new and lower limits for drinking alcoholic drinks. There’s no lower limit for drinking alcohol. We’ve heard this before. Now, there’s an increased risk for drinking even small amounts of alcohol. In fact, there’s no lower limit for anything. Chocolate cake is the usual example. Eating chocolate cake may lead to obesity, after all.

In fact, everything we do has an associated risk. The risk mentioned is the risk of disease, or the risk of early death. It may be known and specific, such as lung cancer caused by smoking. On the other hand, the risk may be unknown or general. It’s impossible to give an example in this case. The best we can do is “unhealthy behavior”.

Keep in mind that its impossible to reduce the risk to zero. You might think that you could stay at home, to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19 to zero, but your house might burn down with you inside. There’s always a risk.

Instead, you must decide what risk is acceptable to you. This mean comparing risks, but also evaluating the benefits of unhealthy behavior. You might get a great deal of pleasure from eating chocolate cake, for example. Deciding what level of risk is acceptable is quite a complicated process, and one that is easy to do incorrectly. Still, it’s necessary to live a happy life.

Where is Global Warming

You’ve all heard somebody say “Where is global warming when we need it?”, during cold weather. This sort of statement indicates that the person does not understand the difference between weather and climate, although probably they are only mocking global warming.

Of course, we will never notice global warming. With it, the climate may only warm by 2C over 100 years. Weather variations of temperature always exceed climate variations because climate is just smoothed weather. The daily weather variation often exceeds 10C. The yearly weather variation usually exceeds 40C, at least in a place like Manitoba.

Weather is the only meteorologic event experienced by humans. It consists of storms and spells, like wet spells or dry spells. Where I live, there are also hot spells or cold spells. Weather is what we remember.

Climate is just the long-term average of weather. It could be calculated over a period of 100 years, for example. The long term is used to eliminate daily and yearly variations of temperature. Humans never experience climate because they do not live long enough. Climate is a measure used by scientists for geological time. In this instance, the period could be even longer, like thousands of years.

Crisis In Health Care

If you read any news recently, you would know that the provinces are begging for money from the federal government, for health care. You would also know that hospitals are in crisis. Hospitals are overloaded with patients and do not have enough staff to handle the demand. Emergency rooms are full, with long waits to receive treatment. Every medical procedure had a long waiting list. Hospitals are bad places to be these days.

In this country, health care is a provincial responsibility. Still, all provinces have reduced their health care spending. Instead, all of them are asking for money from the federal government. Are we looking at a health care crisis that is partially contrived?

My own province of Manitoba has reduced taxes. Cutting taxes is conservative ideology but it is also popular with voters. Of course, with reduced tax revenue, the government must also reduce services. That’s also conservative ideology. Still, it’s important to improve health care. Still, somebody has to pay for it. The federal government may have to raise taxes to do so. Curiously enough, increasing taxes is one of the things that gets criticized by the provinces.

No Political Parties

We just had a municipal election. For that election, we had to select a mayor, a city councilor, and school trustees. No political affiliation was permitted; All candidates had to run as independents. That style of election may seem peculiar, but that was the way it was.

The consequences of that rule were interesting and illuminating. All candidates had to state their policies and their focus, in terms that were easily understood by voters. The candidates were not restricted by the ideology of their political party.

Voters undoubtedly found it more difficult to select a candidate. Any attempt to determine the candidate’s ideology from what they stated led only to doubts. Instead, the voters had to rely on the candidate’s experience and their likely loyalty. Voters may have omitted some contests, because the names of the candidates meant nothing to them. I recall seeing those names in exactly that way, in an earlier election. A little research solved that problem.

On balance, this is a good system. It does place more responsibility on the voters, but this is also a good thing.

Distorting Reality

Have you noticed a news article with one statistic, one that favours the theme of the story? With only one statistic, it’s not possible to judge the importance of the story.

My favourite example is one that appears at this time of year. It’s about the number of birds killed by collisions with buildings. The story comes complete with heart-wrenching pictures of dead birds, and a count of dead birds picked up from the sidewalk below buildings. Conspicuously absent is any comparison with birds killed by other causes. How many birds are there in the world, anyway? Are 1%, 10%, or 100% of birds killed by collisions. I have no idea. You have no idea.

Of course, some people react to the article in spite of the missing information. What should I do? Should I do my own research? That’s necessary, but may be difficult. Should I disregard the story? That’s easier. That’s what I’ll do.

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.