Give it up, already…

What do you call a person that protests Canadian or American political policies? Anti-Canadian? Anti-American? Anti-Caucasian?

No, because protesting a policy is simply protesting a policy, whatever the form it might take. Whether it is burning a flag, writing a political cartoon, or my mode of choice – whining on the internet.

Can we finally therefore, once and for all stop calling protests against Israeli policy anti-Semitism?



Why on earth is the Canadian government providing subsidies to oil companies? Jack Layton yesterday demanded that these, which he estimates to be about $1.5 billion, be removed from the budget. Surely, if there is one industry that can get pulled from the government teat it is oil and gas! Harper, for his part, said that they weren’t planning any more subsidies for oil companies. I should think not.

Let’s put that money either back in my pocket, into a useful program like childcare or health, or into the debt so we can get rid of those interest payments. I’ prefer the programs, but anything is better than pissing it away into the pockets of the oil industry in times of record profits.

Anything, just make it useful, please!


Beds are not the answer

A sad story from the West Coast has emerged over the past few days, which is somewhat emblematic of a problem facing health care facilities across Canada. An 88-year-old man died on a stretcher in the hallway of an emergency department for lack of attention and treatment. A traumatic experience for the family, disappointing for the doctors and nurses who work at the facility, and ultimately embarassing for the Government of British Columbia.

As expected, the call has come for more beds, not only from members of the public, but from the doctors themselves. However, as I have discussed here, the actual number of beds is not the problem. The fact that people who have no need to be occupying the beds are in them – which, unless they intend to double up, prevents patients from being placed in the appropriate ward and receiving the appropriate treatment.

There likely are a suitable number of beds, it’s just impossible to use them effectively while running the hospital the way they are. The secret is to discharge people 24 hours a day, as they have done in the UK. This effectively rectifies the ‘bed-blocking’ problem.

I have put this theory forward before. However, upon further reflection, I realize that it will likely never happen because of…and I know I’ll make some enemies here…health care workers and their unions. The concessions that would have to be made to have people to clean and re-make the beds, and adequately treat new patients as people were discharged overnight would not be something I would want to negotiate.

Another problem is created in the way hospitals are staffed – why is the shift 8 to 4 for everyone? Hasn’t it occurred to anyone that having your entire nursing staff (for example) get up and leave, and an entirely new complement of staff arrive may result in some patients getting lost in the rush to head out the door? This is not to say that nurses don’t work hard, they do. But having this complete turnover during a busy time is madness.

Back in the day, when this stuff was actually my business, there was talk of employing industrial engineers to look at the problem. They would study the patterns of highest ER volume, and help hospitals plan staffing levels accordingly. The ability to respond with adequate levels of care would be enhanced by having an increased number of staff during peak periods. Do you expect the unions to approve of this? I certainly don’t – it would require more people to be present at the least desirable hours.

Until we break the hold of the ‘assembly-line’ union culture in health care, we will never make any headway. The secret is not to add more capacity, it’s to work more efficiently within your means. The present system of inflexible shiftwork is failing the patients, and it’s time that front line workers stood up and showed they actually do care about the people they serve. And that’s the word, serve. It’s their job. They are not doing us a favour by treating us as an inconvenience. If you’ve lost your empathy because you feel the system keeps you from doing your job, help the system to work, don’t take it out on people who are frightened and in pain.

And maybe, just maybe, another 88-year-old man won’t die untreated on a cot in the hallway. That’s just about the loneliest death I can think of.


Flags a’ flappin’

In a recent post on what has been termed the “flag flap” I said that I really wasn’t sure how I stood. Well, I’m not sure if I actually lied then, if my thoughts evolved through the week, or if I just hadn’t thought things through, but in reading other posts and participating as a commentator on a couple of conversations (here and here) I think that it has become obvious that I have in fact chosen a side.

First, I would like to state up front that the debate, at least that which I’ve seen, has for the most part maintained the civil tone that it deserves. There are a few notable exceptions but I will not point them out – they deserve to get no further attention and I’m not going to provide them with hits. Don’t get me wrong – I love animated discussion and I understand that it can get a little heated sometimes, but in some cases the tone of even the original posts were bathed in invective and ad hominem attacks. Armchair chickenhawk cowards with axes to grind.

I think that in originally considering the subject, I underestimated the importance of the ceremony of lowering the flag; the honour that it represents and the respect that it invokes. It is an act of love and respect for the families of the fallen and a token of appreciation for those that still serve. In short it is the very least we can do. As Rick Mercer points out in his blog, if we are going to have to lower the flag when a party apparatchik like Michael Fortier dies, then why on earth not for someone that actually deserves it?

Prime Minister Harper, lower the damned flags and publicly admit that you made a mistake. There are those out there that might mistake you for human if you did.

As for the media at the airport in Trenton – give it a rest. That absolutely is a time for the families to begin the real grieving; Harper has this one right. That’s right, you read it right – I said “Harper has it right”. Me! This is not a move to hide the dead. If the media suddenly becomes barred from showing the services in Kandahar, then I’ll get worried, but not now. This is for the families.

That he has made these two decisions so close together cannot be coincidence, but I’m not sure of the motivation behind them yet. Is he simply being an absolute control freak as it appears in some of his other actions? Perhaps. Or does he actually want to hide the real cost of the war from Canadians? Also possible, but only time will tell.

I would like to say here that if we had the chance to vote on our participation in Afghanistan we would be more likely to openly accept the deaths as part of the cost, because we would bear some of the responsibility for being involved. As it is now, we are dragged into a war by them and our brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters get to pay the price. It’s too easy an argument to make, and one that I’m sure he’s paying attention to.

And one that I’m sure he would do anything to avoid.


Is Iran asking for it, and if so, why?

It really is beginning to look like Iran wants to push the West (and East) as far as it can. It seems to have gotten pretty much what it has wanted til now – time to develop its own enrichment capability; the question now is what else does it want? As some authors have suggested, there is a chance that the Iranian government actually wants an attack from outside in order to rally its people. Announcements like this one today, that Iran is willing and interested in exporting nuclear technology can only be understood in this light.

Because this is exactly the kind of provocation that could unite Europe and the US in a military effort. If any evidence were to appear that Iran had actually approached a non-nuclear nation with overtures on these lines, an attack would surely occur. It might just even be enough for Russia and China to look the other way for a while, if not participate directly.

That the Iranian government would be willing to push like this implies either absolute confidence or desperation. In some ways, they appear to have the west by the cajones. First, they sit on a huge chunk of much-needed oil and natural gas reserves and are in position to make the Gulf of Hormuz impassable. Secondly, the American economy very possibly could not withstand the shock of an Iranian oil bourse based in euros, as they’ve hinted at. (I’ve summarized the discussion about the oil bourse here to the best of my meager ability). Some writers have inferred that the US might actually attack should Iran do this; nukes or no nukes. And finally, geopolitically, they are important to China and Russia both for trade and as a foothold of influence in the Middle East.

However, despite their rich oil reserves, the Iranian economy is not doing well and economic indicators for the immediate future are not good. Also, the Iranian electorate is more progressive than many in the Mid East and have in the past voted in reformist governments. (In some ways, if Bushco actually wanted to “spread democracy” in the region, Iran might have been a more fertile location than Iraq.) Should they suspect that an attack from the west was induced by their government, they might be savvy enough to bring it down – it is after all possibly fear of its own people that drives the Iranian government to such desparate measures.

And the overarching question is how do Russia and China react to a proposed attack on Iran? If they throw their hand in with the US and Europe, then they aknowledge in some manner a shared domain over Iran, which might not be in their own best interest.


AMS Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology

A leading hurricane researcher, Greg Holland, has told the 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology (speakers list here) that the 2005 hurricane season is directly linked to global warming. Unfortunately, the abstract to the talk makes no reference to this conclusion and there is no extended abstract, as it sadly common at scientific conferences.

I’m looking forward to further reports from this conference, particularly commentary on William Gray’s talk. He has argued that global warming is not the result of anthropogenic sources, rather it results naturally from deep-water cirulation issues that are not adequately modelled in the global circulation models. I am not a climatologist and I’m interested to read about what others in the field think about his work. I have read the abstract (pdf) to his talk and his logic seems to my untutored mind valid, though he offers only a hand-waving model to replace the circulation models he doesn’t like.

[Whether or not this is related I leave for you to decide. I’m just saying… ]


Shame on you, Dalhousie University!

Flash popped me a note this morning to tell me that a friend of mine is being presented with an honourary degree at Dalhousie University at the convocations next month – thanks! However, I was distressed to see that in the same slate of honours, Derek Brown, one of the main backers behind privatizing Nova Scotia Power is also being so honoured.

Someone smarter than me is going to have to tell me how privatizing a utility and creating a monopoly, is in any way good for the province. Good for the shareholders, sure, but me? Yes, I understand that power rates would have gone up anyway because of the cost of energy, but now we the rate-payers, are forced to support a profit! And in the meantime, we have had layoffs of staff and maintenance personnel that have resulted in increasing and longer disruptions due to severe weather and insufficient maintenance.

I might be convinced that privatizing government utilities is a good idea – but never, never, never into one single company that can then distort and control the market as it sees fit. It’s not like I can opt to get my electricity from NB Power.

Dalhousie University, my alma matre, shame on you!

[Update: There are some others in the list that are entirely worthy, I’m just using this as an opportunity to bitch about privatization;)]