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Death Tax

US president Trump called it a death tax.  He wants to reduce the estate tax for wealthy people.  He claims that the death tax kills the American dream.  Is this really true?

My brother also calls estate tax the death tax.  He sees it as the tax collector’s last kick at the can.  Why do we have an estate tax?

Reducing it seems reasonable.  Nobody likes to pay taxes.  We are allowed to avoid estate tax by any legal means.  Hiding your wealth is not a legal means.  Still, why do we have estate tax at all?

Fairness is one of the policies that people want from government.  Fairness means that your success in life depends only on your skill, your knowledge, and your initiative.  Nobody gets a head start in life.  That’s the american dream.  Anything else is not fair.  People want life to be fair to them.

Estate tax promotes fairness.  It prevents people from getting a head start in life simply because their ancestors accumulated wealth.  It also discourages formation of family dynasties.  People who believe in extreme fairness would like the estate tax rate set at 100%, meaning that the government takes everything when you die.  People who believe in extreme freedom, on the other hand, would like the tax rate set at zero, meaning that all of your wealth can be willed to your descentants.  Neither of these extremes are possible in practice.  Governments want to provide both fairness and freedom, which they can do in moderate amounts.  This principle means that estate taxes will be somewhere between 0% and 100%, so that we must give part of our wealth to the government when we die.  It’s not just a scheme to finance the role of government; it has a higher purpose than that.




Most, if not all, osteopororis drugs have nasty side effects.  Adding calcium  to your diet is also not effective, although it was once thought to be.  There’s only one choice left: exercise.

Osteoporosis means that the calcium content of your bones is too low.  This is usually shown by a bone scan.  It’s calcium that gives strength to your bones.  Low calcium means that your bones are too weak.  They break too easily.

Doctors used to advice you to increase the amount of calcium in your diet, usually in the form of dairy products.  They reasoned that your bones would take up more calcium if you had more in your diet.  This idea has proven to be wrong.  Only exercise will strengthen your bones by having them absorb more calcium.  Of course, you do need to maintain adequate calcium in your diet at the same time.

You see, bones have a built-in regulation mechanism.  They only incorporate calcium into their structure when it’s needed to strengthen your bones to meet the needs of your daily life.  Your bones will even release calcium when they don’t need it.  The bones of astronauts living in zero gravity become depleted of calcium.  The same thing happens if your lead a sedentary life style.  This loss of calcium is not normally a problem because the bones maintain a large safety factor, keeping adequate strength to prevent breakage.  Likewise, increased stress on the bones will cause them to incorporate more calcium.

First of all, f0llow your doctor’s advice.  Your doctor will schedule bone scans and prescribe treatment.  It’s usually diet and exercise.  Do the exercise.  Any exercise that puts stress on your bones will work.  Walking or running is good.  It is critical that you do the exercise in an upright position.  Curiously the same exercise lying down has no effect on the calcium content of bones.


We Came From an Ape

At lunch recently, a woman asked: do you believe we came from apes?  Of course, this is a well-known phrase, designed to provoke outrage.  Two of us responded.  We both said almost the same thing, that the answer was yes, but that it happened millions of years ago.

When I thought about this question later, I realized that it was not literally true.  In fact, the question reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution.

There are many misunderstandings about evolution.  Present-day gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans are not our ancestors.  They evolved just like we did.  More that five million years ago, apes and humans had a common ancestor.  At that time, the line of descent split into two lines.  Both apes and humans  evolved since that time, in different directions.  Our common ancestor was part way between an ancient ape and an ancient human.  It wasn’t an ape as we know them today.

There’s also no chain.  The great chain of being has been cited many times.  This is another misunderstanding of evolution.  Branches in a bush is a better metaphor than a chain or a ladder.  At times, many similar species lived side-by-side.  Some species became extinct.  Some species lived.  Some lines of descent split into two lines, just like branches in a bush.

There’s also no direction to evolution.  This is another misunderstanding.  Evolution follows the law of chance.  Creatures with large brains, like us, are not the pinacle of evolution.  Survival is all that’s required.  There are many strategies for survival.  Large brains is only one strategy.  Every living creature that we see today has found a strategy for survival.  Some, like us, have been successful.  Others have failed, sometimes a result of our success and our proliferation.  That’s life.


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.


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.