The Problem with Power in Politics

There is a catch-22 in politics that is difficult for even the most transparent and beloved leaders to shake. As the American Presidential election hits the homestretch, it’s all too easy to forget that just about one year ago, Canada had its very own set of relatively historic elections.

In 2015, left-leaning voters from the New Democrat and Liberal parties sought to remove the Conservative party from power, after a few too many undesirable decisions and a call for change. Among the grand ideals presented by the Liberal Party last year was the call for electoral reform, changes to the system that chooses our government.

The ‘first-past-the-post’ system Canada currently uses doesn’t leave government representative of the true nature of voter distribution, and Liberals rightly called for an overhaul of the election process to make things more fair. Voters were generally moved by this motion, and the Liberal party ended up taking a majority of the seats in the house of Parliament. Having a majority will generally make it much easier to pass legislation to change the electoral laws, and this was a major piece of the Liberal platform.

The Liberals said that they would be introducing legislation seeking to change the electoral process within 18 months of getting into office, one of over 200 promises they have vowed to keep. Now, in many cases, for a number of reasons, it’s nearly impossible to keep ALL the promises you make once a government is actually in power. For instance, the Liberals have been forced to walk back plans to balance our nation’s budget, in large part because Conservatives who were on the way out weren’t particularly honest about the state of the budget for the last few years.

However, electoral reform was a tent-pole feature of the Liberal platform, and walking it back now once you’re in power is a very damaging thing to do. Nobody WANTS to change the system that made them successful, but in this case it is absolutely necessary. I agree with a lot of the policy changes the Liberal government has made over the last year, but this is a big mis-step.

The Liberals took a majority (184/338 = 54 percent) of the seats in Parliament in the last election, but they only received 39.5 percent of the vote across Canada. This isn’t the least representative election that has even taken place, but it’s not exactly something to brag about. The NDP lost a lot of ground from the previous election because many NDP voters were more disenfranchised with the Conservatives than they were motivated by the Liberals, but didn’t want to split the vote and lose, as they did in 2011.

The NDP and Liberals are relatively close in ideology in a number of important ways, but the NDP have policy plans with lots of support too. However, with a system that often relies on strategic voting with more than two parties, the lesser of two similar parties are often stifled politically, to the detriment of the whole system.

Now, I’m not claiming to know what the best electoral process for Canada and Canadians would be. I’m not suggesting the government listen to me and I’m not prescribing any system for Canada. But changing your mind about following through on the promise that ‘2015 be the last federal election held under the first-past-the-post voting system‘ is a terrible idea.

I like a lot of what the Liberals have done for Canada in the last year, and a big part of that is that the government has been relatively transparent about their goals and necessary changes to those goals. But walking back this important piece of policy simply because it might mean that you lose political power when it comes to re-election is simply not a good excuse.

Canada was thirsty for change in 2015 and you rode that wave straight into office, and for the most part, we love how you’ve shown the world so much of what makes Canada great. Just because we’re now a year into the cycle and the reform talk has died down doesn’t mean we aren’t still thirsty for this change.

First-past-the-post is a broken system that doesn’t work that well with multiple parties. Give us ranked ballots, some form of proportional representation, mandatory voting, or take your (hopefully pluripartisan) ‘Parliamentary committee’ and come up with something totally different to ensure Canadians of all colours feel their voices and ideals are heard. All we’re asking is that you find something better than this clearly broken, unrepresentative system. Keep doing that, and fulfilling your other promises like you have been, and we will undoubtedly keep voting for you.

There is no “one weird trick” to weight loss

On July 1st, 2015, I weighed in at 248.5 lbs. Today, I average just under 195 lbs, and I feel better than I have in my entire life.

This isn’t a diet guide to compel you to buy something, hell, I’m not actually trying to sell or promote any product. What I do have for you is a set of principles, and things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about trying to lose weight.

When I set out to lose weight, I was over 250 pounds. I owned a WiFi-connected scale, I was already fairly active, and I had a deep-seated love of food. I was hoping that if I could stick to a diet, and exercise regularly, I might be able to get down to 210-220 lbs. I knew that would be a challenge, and that gaining the weight back would loom over my head.

I had been recording my weight with a scale that sent my measurements to a spreadsheet online since February of 2014, but those numbers alone didn’t help much for about 18 months. Then, in the summer of 2015, I started doing a few things that have fundamentally changed my life and made me WAY healthier.

First, I read this piece about how keeping a moving average of the last 10 days of weigh-ins could prove really helpful (and I made my own super-powered version of the spreadsheet; ask me about it!). Next, I started riding my bicycle to work. Third, and finally, I started taking Soylent to work and having that as my lunch.

By mid-September, after 2 months, I’d lost about 10 pounds, and found my appetite was starting to shrink. By the middle of October, 3 months in, I’d lost another 10 pounds, and was already more than halfway to my goal. This happened for a number of reasons, but the most important ones can be summarized like this:

  1. I was drinking more water (hunger can be a symptom of thirst).
  2. I was being very conscious to only eat when hungry (hunger is often a symptom of boredom).
  3. I chose my foods carefully, because many foods I ate simply weren’t worth it (like bread, and ice cream).
  4. I didn’t let 1-2 bad days get me totally down (because my spreadsheet was reinforcing my progress).

Over the course of the last 13 months, I have been keeping meticulous records of what I weigh every day (vacations aside). I know that I’m not going to lose weight every single day, but I’m always surprised when I look at the stats of how the weight came off.

In the 407 days I’ve been tracking my weight, I lost weight on 242 of those days, which means I gained weight on 165 days. On the days I lost weight, I’ve lost a total of 241 pounds, and I gained back a total of 184 pounds on the other days. If you told me that the road to losing almost 60 pounds would include gaining over 180 pounds in a little over a year, I’d say you were crazy.

Such is the nature of weight loss. You won’t lose weight every day. When I started this little ‘experiment’, I was eating burgers and fries, and loving every minute of it, but I didn’t realize that I felt like garbage most of the time. Now, I feel vital and healthy almost all the time, and I’m much more likely to enjoy a delicious soup and salad at a restaurant.

My final piece of advice that I think is entirely common sense, but is hard to actually fully embrace, is that eating and food are rigged against you. Restaurants offer massive portions, and peer pressure and social situations can make it easy to eat way more than you want to do, or realize you are. Getting a salad isn’t “manly”, but I actually don’t enjoy more than a few french fries anymore, and I don’t miss them.

Making good choices feels weird, and sometimes, the ‘good’ choice is actually to just get something you’re really craving at a restaurant. That’s OK. Like I said, I gained 183 pounds in 165 days over the past year. That is a lot of indulgence.

It’s hard to ‘cheat’ at losing weight, because you have to actually eat healthier and form good habits if you want to make it a sustainable lifestyle. There’s no set of instructions anyone can write you to get you to a health or weight goal, and now, I don’t have one. I’m doing what feels good.

Moderation, and making changes you can enact permanently, are the best way to meet your health goals.

What the hell can millennials do to fix the world?

With each passing day, week, month, and year, young people in North America and the world grow up. As we do so, more of the ills of society come into sharp relief. Typically full of optimism, I find it very hard to continue ignorantly living my life day-to-day, sheltered from the worst of what’s going on around me, but exposed to a flood of horror stories from around the globe.

We’re told from a young age that parents, adults, authority figures, they know what they’re doing. But it’s becoming increasingly clear we’re all just winging it, and many in older generations are handling society very poorly.

Donald Trump is going to be leading the Republican party in US elections this fall, even though his racist, xenophobic, isolationist rhetoric is laughably outdated.

Older Brits have overwhelmingly voted to leave the European Union, stranding many hundreds of thousands of younger people from experiencing an open Europe that has been so beneficial to previous generations.

A combination of racism and ignorance (deeply rooted in the United States) have led to a pattern of racial discrimination and police brutality that is increasingly visible as smartphone cameras roll to witness these atrocities.

Gun violence in general in the United States is also increasingly visible, and a huge faction of the US population would rather die defending their right to bear arms than consider a more peaceful or safe alternative.

Though world literacy, public health, education continue to grow, millions of people around the globe live in poverty, unable to earn enough to live comfortably with even a fraction of what is considered too little in North America.

A global discussion surrounding human rights, gender equality, religious freedom, and much more, is constantly met with fear and concern by folks who see anybody who doesn’t look or act like them as less deserving of the “humanity” label.

The list of major systemic problems in the world today is too long to name, and there’s seemingly no end in sight. For every Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples can legally wed in the United States, there is a football team with a racial slur for its name that refuses to change in the face of intense criticism.

We as a global nation have the power to heal these problems. I yearn for the day we can all live in unity, a World Union, so to speak. But I fear that for that to happen, we are going to either have to wait at least another generation, or suffer through another global conflict on the scale of World War II.

There is clearly, among other things, a generational divide between young people and some members of the generations before them. There are simple solutions to many of the world’s problems, that, while difficult to actually carry out, aren’t all that complicated logistically.

I want to be a member of the group that set out to change the world for the better, and succeeded. We live on a planet that is more than capable of supporting our population. Resources can be used renewably and shared by all, as they have for millions of years before “humanity” was even a glimmer in the eye of a prehistoric newt.

Money, the driver and motivation for most individual pursuits in contemporary society, is a human construct that we all take for granted. Political and geographical borders, are human creations. We enforce them, they are not natural law. Food scarcity, the idea that you don’t deserve to eat if you can’t pay for food, these ideas are predicated on the fact that some are more deserving of basic human rights than others.

I am overwhelmed by all of these thoughts on an almost constant basis. I know that coming up with working solutions for the very worst of societal problems isn’t a simple or straightforward thing. But I also know that it can be done. Setting the world on a different path may not be politically popular, especially to those for whom things aren’t currently difficult, but it is exceptionally important.

The world is presently in the hands of older generations, people whose ideas come from last century, and whose views of the world are shaped by cynicism and self-importance. Someday, my generation, the millennials, will surely become just as cynical and smug, but we can change the world for the better in the meantime.

Obviously, the first thing young people need to do is vote in democratic processes. Bernie Sanders has done an exceptional job in courting younger generations with the idea that their voices do matter, even though that message hasn’t been enough to win him a chance in the 2016 election, it has resonated with young people everywhere.

What can I do as a young person to be sure my thoughts, feelings, and ideas are considered, understood, and absorbed? Justin Trudeau truly feels like a breath of fresh air in Canadian politics. His message of acceptance, change, and evidence-based policy, among others, has been a huge source of reassurance that maybe things will turn out well.

As the generation finishing school and starting careers, what can we do to protect Muslim families from discrimination and violence against them after fundamentalist group pervert their religion for personal and political gains?

How can we bring an end to profiling and violence against black people and other minorities, and how can we convince supposedly well-meaning police forces to stop resorting to deadly force in situations that objectively do not demand it?

How can we show our love for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, size, or any other physical or biological trait? Even more importantly, how can we compel others to have compassion for all life even if it doesn’t fit into neat little compartments like “Male” or “Female”?

What do we do when a 200+ year old document like the Bill of Rights gets perverted and misinterpreted by political groups to convince Americans they have to right to carry assault weapons around? Especially considering the massive number of accidental shootings that take place every day, and statistics showing the increased death risk associated with gun ownership.

When can we stop tearing each other down, and when can we start building each other up, and how can young people help? I’m tired of waking up to news of another mass shooting, or a black man shot during a traffic stop, or a Presidential candidate getting hours of airtime for saying something shitty.

Please, help me understand how I can influence the people in my city and country and world positively, to help those blind to their biases to see the errors of their ways.

Though I am a straight, white, and male, my friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and family are not necessarily all of those things. I see and hear how the tragedies that play out every day affect them to their very cores, and even though I haven’t faced even a fraction of the hardships they have had to endure, my own guilt, compassion, and empathy run deep. I want better for those around me who have been victims of history.

I’m also very lucky to have been born in Canada, so many of the problems I describe above are not nearly as bad as they are elsewhere in the world, but it doesn’t mean this country doesn’t have its own sources of deep shame historically. The fact that Canada in 2016 has advanced as far as it has is proof to me that we can do better. We cannot give up.

I can’t continue to enjoy such a gilded life as my fellow humans endure such extreme hardships. People around the world are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandparents, just like we are. We can do better, and I want to help.

What can I do?