Human Rights

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What are human rights? Who confers them? Are they fixed and absolute, or do they change with changing circumstances over time?

I believe we have the right to survive as best we can, in competition with other species and with members of our own, on a playing field that is as level as we can make it. That’s about it. Anything else is up for negotiation.

Man-made laws can confer rights on a community, a nation or the whole of humanity. Those laws can be amended or replaced, responding to the tidal flows of history and ideas. Therefore the rights bestowed by them are fragile. It is imperative that we, the pawns on the human chessboard, stay vigilant for erosion of our rights; and energetic in adding to the list.

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Racism

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If you want to damage a political opponent, call him or her a racist. But when I use the word it may mean something quite different from what you understand by it. I like to be precise, so let’s look at the Concise Oxford Dictionary’s definition:

Racism:

  1. the belief that there are characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to each race.
  2. discrimination against or antagonism towards other races.

So we have two quite different definitions, both with a respected stamp of approval. Am I a racist if I say that many Jews are clever, musical and entrepreneurial? Am I a racist if I point out that black Africans commonly excel at physically demanding sports? Am I a racist if I mention that the Vikings had a hugely disproportionate influence on European history?

Under the COD’s first definition I suppose I am. But under the second definition, unless I go further and believe that the innate qualities that I have observed should be the basis for either promoting or subjugating one race in relation to another, I am not.

Please notice that I used the word ‘believe’ in that last paragraph. Racism is a state of mind, an attitude, a belief. Hitler would have been a racist even if he had never breathed a word of what he thought about Jews, Africans or Gypsies, or taken action against any of them. Conversely, a political leader might have no racist beliefs but find it expedient to adopt racially discriminatory policies.

What about you? Are you a racist?

Terrorism

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People use words loosely sometimes and ‘terrorism’ has been used more loosely than most. Terrorism is a tactic, widely used by combatants of all stripes. It is the deliberate commission of atrocities for the purpose of immobilising one’s enemy, or making him less effective, through fear. It has also been called ‘shock and awe’ which sounds much better.

IS (or ISIS, ISIL, DAESH*) has certainly employed terrorism to cow the populations of the land it has invaded, and to discourage armed opposition from Iraq and Turkey. But the beheadings that have become an IS trademark are not acts of terrorism. They are designed not to cow but to outrage and provoke the people and governments of the countries whose citizens they are targeting. They want us to put those much talked-of boots on the ground.

Why? They are confident that they can beat us, either because they have Allah’s backing or because they believe (with some reason) that we will grow tired of the game before they do, yielding a victory that will confirm their dominance and force global acceptance of their caliphate.

The most superstitious among their followers may also seek martyrdom and the rewards they have been promised. What better martyrdom than at the hands of a well-armed western infidel?

What do you think? Should the term ‘terrorism’ be applied to the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip, or to the retaliatory attacks of the Israeli Government? Perhaps these too are designed to provoke rather than to intimidate. And what about Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, the Lord’s Resistance Army… are they trying to induce compliance through fear? Or are they just psychopaths who enjoy what they do?

There is much more to say about this subject. Please let me know your views.

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* For an explanation of the acronym DAESH I recommend http://pietervanostaeyen.wordpress.com.

Successful Dieting

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When it comes to dieting – or anything else for that matter – there’s no one size that fits all. But let me share what I have learned in the course of helping Mrs StroppyGit to lose a few kilos.

Over the years Mrs SG tried various dieting systems, all of which cost money and were entirely ineffective. Then I heard about the 5+2 diet, which simply involves consuming a maximum of 500kcal* on each of 2 days per week and eating normally on the other 5. I agreed with Mrs SG that she would eat only what I served to her.

Then I set up an Excel model and entered the calorific value and the percentage of protein and sugar in each kind of food that we routinely eat. These data are freely available from many websites. I used a US site called http://nutritiondata.self.com. I also checked the nutritional data on all the packets and tins in our kitchen.

With that preparation, I only had to weigh each ingredient that went into the food I served to Mrs SG and enter the weight into the model. That gave me a daily calorie count and also the number of grams of protein and sugar. Of course, there are lots of other components of food that matter and which a real dietitian would measure and adjust. But I just followed a few simple rules:

  1. Consume 1,100-1,300kcal/day normally, but no more than 500kcal on 2 days per week (the ‘fasting days’).
  2. 1,300kcal/day is less than the normal maintenance level for an adult, and it may be exceeded on special days when we entertain guests or go out to eat.
  3. Consume 30-50 grams of protein every day, including the fasting days.
  4. Every day consume less sugar than protein.
  5. Eat small amounts of a wide variety of things.
  6. Don’t buy anything without reading the nutritional data and comparing with other products.
  7. Always eat unprocessed food in preference to processed.
  8. Prepare meals in your own kitchen as much as possible. You don’t know what’s in a restaurant or take-away meal.

Let me expand a little on No.5. There’s an old song that goes “A little of what you fancy does you good.” My mother often quoted that song, applying the sentiment to food. A narrow diet is necessarily a poor one.

And I will expand on No.6 too. The corporations that manufacture and distribute our food are not our friends. They are amoral organisations designed to generate income for their shareholders, directors and senior managers. Credulous customers who become obese, unhealthy or malnourished are collateral damage. For example, when fat was the big enemy many products appeared on supermarket shelves labeled ‘Low fat’. The labels were truthful, but they failed to mention that the products contained lots of sugar and therefore calories.

I’ll give you an example to illustrate that last point. Mrs SG and I like different yoghurts. Hers is labelled ‘Low fat’ and contains 1,120kcal/kg. Mine bears no such label and contains 620kcal/kg.

Oh, and I should add that after 5 months of following this regime Mrs SG has lost 10kg and her BMI is within the healthy range. She looks and feels good and has suffered no bad side-effects.

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* kcal = kilocalorie(s), 1 kcal being the heat required to raise the temperature of 1kg of pure water from 20 degrees to 21 degrees Celsius. It is commonly called a calorie in the dietary context, which is confusing. The kilojoule (kJ) is another measure of the same thing. 1kcal = 4.2kJ.

Age of Entitlement

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This is my first post at StroppyGit.  The name says it all.  I’m a stroppy git, mainly because I’m getting old.  Bits of me don’t work as well as they used to.  Things don’t taste as good as they used to.  Nobody speaks the Queen’s English as they ought to – except the Queen of course.

But more than anything else, I’m stroppy because of all those old gits I see everywhere.  Not me, the other ones.  I’m stroppy because, in the words of our Treasurer (I’m Australian and our Finance Minister is called the Treasurer), there’s a pervasive Culture of Entitlement and old folk are at the heart of it.

Of course we’ve all worked hard to earn our decriputude.  And we’ve paid our taxes.  Most of them anyway.  But now we’re living too long, retiring too early, and expecting the middle-aged and the young to support us in the manner to which we have become accustomed, largely through running up debt that the middle-aged and the young – and indeed the yet unborn – will have to pay the interest on forever.

I’ll have more to say about this, but what do you think?