Hudak’s 100,000 job cuts is a terrible political move

Who is Hudak’s team of advisors? They should all be fired because anyone who lets a politician publicly state that they want to cut 100,000 jobs deserves to lose theirs.  I don’t even want to comment on whether or not it’s actually a good idea for Ontario (I’d argue it’s not), but let’s examine how dumb a political move it is.

For context, Hudak has suggested that he will create 1,000,000 jobs and part of this plan involves cutting 100,000.   Let’s ignore the fact that in Ontario there are only 560,000 people unemployed, so I’m not sure what or who the other 300,000 to 400,000 jobs are for.  Let’s just talk strategy.

There are 650,000 public sector works in Ontario.  That means that while 560,000 people might be motivated to vote for Tim Hudak, there are 650,000 motivated not to.  Sure only about 1/6 will lose their jobs, but who’d take their chance?  And Right there, we’re at a net loss of 90,000, and some multiplier more, if we also assume that close friends and relatives will have similar motivations.

Further, people have a tendency to prefer avoiding losses than they are to acquiring gains, which is exacerbated by the awareness that cuts are easy, creating jobs are hard.  This leaves the motivation, one-sided.    While many may be eager to have a more fiscally responsible government,, public service jobs serve the public (it’s right in the name).   People typically don’t want to give up their firefighters, police, teachers, nurses, etc.   Remember that loss-aversion problem!

Wynne has also done a good job exploiting that, citing cuts have consequences in response to Walkerton.  Although, one might argue that it’s a little disingenuous, as much of the fault lies with 2 managers, the Walkerton report explicitly lays out that lax regulatory oversight as a function of cuts was also a huge factor attributable in large part to the hasty budget cutbacks of the early Harris administration.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! 

But maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe people are really motivated to save that 2% and are persuaded by the fact that it will somehow help balance the books.  Rob Ford got elected on stopping that gravy train!

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Thank You For Occupying

Thank You For Occupying

It’s been almost four months since the first Occupy Wall Street protests began and while to the involved/supporters the message has been loud and clear, to some there seems to be confusion over what exactly it is about.   It may be your first inkling to blame the protesters themselves for not making their complaints explicit, but in some ways that might be the point as Matt Taibbi  argues  “People don’t know exactly what they want…but they know one thing: [They] want something different…It’s about dropping out, if only for a moment, and trying something new, the same way that the civil rights movement of the 1960s strived to create a “beloved community” free of racial segregation”

However, labeling the movement as a hodgepodge of random complaints isn’t fair either.   There are serious complaints being made  and thought-out solutions being offered.  The purpose of this  ‘article’ will try to outline some of those complaints and solutions, but before I do that, let me state one valid criticism of the protests.

The protests began in the U.S.A. with good reason.   The problems being protested there are, if not solely applicable to the States, then at least a far greater concern then in many other countries in solidarity.     As a Canadian, many of the problems faced down south are not applicable to us currently because of stronger regulations, especially between our corporate and legislative worlds.   However, laws can change quickly, or worse, gradually – to the point that we don’t notice the changes as they are happening. It is important for citizens around the world to understand the issues being raised by OWS so that they can learn from it and hopefully prevent it.  This post is meant as thank you to the occupiers for bringing to light and redirecting the national and international discourse, that many of us felt, but never acted on!  Here are some of the main issues I’ve become more aware of because of these protests.

 Money in Politics

94% of elections in the states go the politician who raises the most money, and being a politician in the states (and elsewhere) is good living, so there is huge incentive to stay there.  While, the average senator or congressman makes a sizable but relatively appropriate income of 174,000, the ‘kickbacks’ of the corrupt system can be quite lucrative, for example being appointed a “strategist”  for 1.8 million dollars, or going from a member of the security and exchange committee to work for Goldman-Sachs.   The problems of this corruption is that on the other side, businesses are getting an excellent return on their investment, often getting regulations withdrawn, tax breaks, or government contracts.  The issue that occupiers have with money in politics is not that they are against capitalism, but that they are for it!  The system is rigged, with politicians regulating which businesses succeed and which flounder; and the ones that succeed are the ones that are already big enough to pay.    This affects the environment (e.g. oil subsidies), social problems (e.g increased imprisonment; many prisons are privatized in the states), banking regulations (or lack there of), tax income, and arguably foreign diplomacy (e.g. weapons contractors perpetuating wars).  As the occupiers have made clear, this has made the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, a problem known as income inequality.

Income Inequality

In an amazing Ted Talk Richard Wilkinson explains how economic inequality harms society.  I strongly suggest you watch that talk.  Coles Notes: Through excellent data, Dr. Wilkinson demonstrates that health, life expectancy, literacy, homicide, mental illness and crime are all negatively  correlated with economic inequality, in which the U.S. is the worst. Economic prosperity (e.g. GDP/GNP) has no affect.  One of the best lines of the talk (Spoiler*) is he shows that social mobility – the ability for an individual in one class to move up is also predicted by social inequality, leaving Dr. Wilkinson to conclude “if you want the American dream, you should move to Denmark.”  The harsh truth then, is that while capitalism may provide an excellent tool for competition and creativity, too few rules and the game becomes rigged.  I heard an interesting analogy, where markets were compared to football.  Too many rules and the game is bogged down, boring, low scoring, uninventive, too few rules and the game would be chaos, and some might get killed, (indeed that used to be the case).

Democracy? Don’t Blame me, I voted for Kodos!

Back when the Simpsons really pushed the envelope, they took an excellent jab at American politics.   In one Halloween special, two aliens (Kodos and Kang) take over the body of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole (the two nominees at the time).  Homer figures this out and when he finally exposes Kodos and Kang, they comment: “It’s true, we are aliens, but what are you going to do about it? It’s a two party system. You’ll have to vote for one of us!”. Another person stands up and says: “I believe I’ll vote for a third party candidate!”, at which point Kodos mockingly replies “Go ahead, throw your vote away!” , and then Ross Perot (the then third candidate) is shown ripping his own “Perot 96” hat.

The point of that lovely anecdote is that money in politics goes to both parties. There isn’t one corrupt and one non-corrupt party.  Obama, who ran on change, has continued the war in Afghanistan, stayed in Iraq until they kicked him out, kept the Bush tax cuts, and failed to set regulations on the bank.  In fact, in may cases it’s gotten worse (the recent NDAA for example), although in some cases it’s gotten better (DADT revoked, etc.).   Of course, it is not a one man show, but the change that so many voted for, has been lackluster, at best.

Solutions

Getting rid of what I feel to be the biggest cause of the problems in the U.S. is easy: Eliminate money in politics.  Most countries use tax money to pay for their elections and whereas Canada allows for financial endorsements, they are relatively modest.  Money in politics has become an even greater problem, since the Supreme court’s decision or corporate personhood in the citizens united case.   Getting rid of the huge inequality will be a little harder.

Those of us around the world, can witness, record, and analyze how the U.S. went down this path; but for us in Canada, some of those first steps have been taken.  It is much easier to stop yourself from falling, then climbing all the way back up.  I hope we can learn the lessons that the occupy movement has taught us, and not make the same mistakes too.

Bike Lanes or Bust?

Is it Bike Lanes or Bust? How We Can Make Bicycling Safer

Today I picked up a copy of the Metro on my way to school.  Page 4 had three articles looking at the dangers of bicycling and what we could do about it; with most advocating bike lanes and others advocating car-bicycle training.   I’ve always found that the discussion regarding bicycling safety like a bunch of people screaming about what to do with a bomb that has a clear, big, red ‘OFF’ button on it.  Some are suggesting everyone run and others suggest we throw it into the water, but noone wants to touch the button.   The Off button here is the sidewalk.  The analogy may have some holes, but given that the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) reported 26,000 bicycle related emergency visits in 2009 alone, the dangers associated with a bomb and bicycling may not be too far off.

Before you read on, please note that my opinions shifted throughout the course of this article.  As I did some research not all the facts lined up with what I had initially thought and therefore they changed.  However, because of this, this article is not a succint piece of writing.  Some of the thoughts go off in difficult to follow tangents.  I hope to come back to this article and re-write it when my opinions have  settled once again.  Nevertheless, there are some interesting points and some cool facts so I hope you still enjoy your read.

While I could not find exactly when and why the prohibition of cycling on a sidewalk came into place, it appears to be at least as old as 1990 and at least STILL in place because of the idea that sidewalk bicycling is more dangerous than being on the road.  Why it first was enacted is probably the same reason, but I am unable to find any information regarding that.   I was actually under the impression it was in order to keep pedestrians safe, not bikers; so perhaps there is another reason.

So is sidewalk biking more dangerous than biking on the road? If you look at the statistics, they back this claim up  (1) (See bottom for references) but once again, I can’t help but feel this is a simplified look at the statistics.  (They are U.S. statistics, but likely transfer to Canada; Feel free to explore them)

A few things to note.  The most ‘dangerous’ activities happen because either the driver or the cyclist is not obeying proper traffic rules or the person is a child (between the ages of 0-14).  The second is a confound when looking at statistics.  If approximately half of all cycling accident happen to people that are excluded from normally bicycling on the road then it is not surprising that more accident happen on the sidewalk.  The traffic rules issue will be discussed later.

A study looking at T0r0nto and Ottawa (2) found more injuries and accidents on the sidewalk than on the road as well. A few things to note.  The first is that ‘more accident’ doesn’t mean more by number, but more in the rate per 100,000 kms biked. (total injuries strongly suggest the opposite – (3) Another thing to note is that some cyclers are both side-walk and road cyclers.   Without proper controls, how can one argue that it really is more dangerous; most likely (in my opinion, because it is what I do) cyclers take to the sidewalk is the most busy areas.   This prevents road accidents and increases sidewalk accidents.  Also, it is shown that sidewalk users travel shorter distances, given the same amount of time (another confound).  Lastly,  sidewalk users get into more road accidents than non-sidewalk users even when controlling for how long they spend on the road, presumably due to a lack of confidence or ability.   Another study found that sidewalk riding was safer, except for when it met a road (4)

So what do these statistics show?  Biking on the sidewalk is statistically more dangerous, Yes.  It’s easy to take a simple statistic and enforce a law on it; it’s much harder to try and understand the statistic.  Correlation doesn’t equate to causation.  So, (armed with my preexisting, but now weaker belief that sidewalk cycling is safer than road cycling) here are some of my speculatory reasons for what causes these statistics!

1) Inexperience – bikers who use the sidewalk do so because they are not confident enough on the road.  They are not confident enough, presumably for good reason, they aren’t great bikers.  As worse bikers, they are more likely to run into people, cars, or other obstacles.  If these bikers were on the road; you’d see a lot more injuries

2) You aren’t a motorist, you aren’t a pedestrian, so what are you?  – One issue is that since biking on the sidewalk is illegal, bikers aren’t sure exactly sure what to do, and drivers aren’t looking out for them.   If you’re speeding down a sidewalk and a car pulls out, they may look in the close vicinity for walkers but if you’re 100 metres away on a bike, it’s likely they’ll be pulling out just as you’re crossing their path.  Similarly,  while pedestrians can cross at a stop sign, they are usually going slow enough for a car to get to a stop sign and pull away before the pedestrian has time to get there (or if not, the pedestrians walk around).  Bikers using the sidewalk often see themselves as a pedestrian and attempt to race on through, motorists see you as a vehicle and expect you to stop. What happens is an inevitable collision due to this mis-communication.

3) Bells and Whistles – or horns and helmets.  Although it’s ‘required’ for bikes to have a bell or horn, very few do.   This makes biking with pedestrians quite challenging.  In Europe and Asia, the bell is essential, and pedestrians who fail to hear it are usually scolded.    Also, perhaps a post, or at least a point in itself, those who choose not to wear a helmet, may feel more inclined to get away from cars by using the sidewalk.

4) Pedestrians OWN the sidewalk. – On the road, while not all drivers are happy about bikers on the road, they know it’s the law.   They may have to go slower or wait til they can go around, but you are where you’re ‘suppose’ to be, Likewise, you know how the drivers are feeling and do things to accommodate them as well, there’s a little give and take.  The sidewalk is a little different.  Pedestrians feel bikers aren’t suppose to be there, but the bikers might think it’s totally acceptable.  A pedestrian may expect a biker to go onto the street or grass to pass them, a biker may expect a simple side step from the pedestrian.  Once again this miscommunication of norms causes accidents.

5) Bikers use the sidewalk at the most dangerous times.   It’s rush hour, you are downtown.  Cars are swerving in and out and you’re scared out of your mind.  What would you do? I’d hit the sidewalk.  Sure it’s filled with people, but that’s better than cars right?

So, where does that leave us?  Ideally separate blocked off bike lanes are ideal, but while they get built every now and then, they are generally hard to come by.  With that option all but gone, why not give part of the sidewalk to bicyclists?  It’s not perfect and a few things would need to change and I have a few suggestions.  First off, let’s not take away the road for those that can and want to use it. Secondly, motorists now know that cyclers can be on the sidewalk so activities like backing out of a driveway would now have to take into account that cyclists may be coming down the street, and in turn cyclists should learn that it’s not so easy for drivers to see, a little give and take here.  Thirdly, let’s enforce some cycling rules, new ones for both roadcyclers and sidewalk cyclers.  For example, even though, bikers are on the sidewalk, they have to stop at intersections (not even just stop signs).   This allows cars to pull out in front of the sidewalk and make the right hand turns as necessary.    Pedestrians have to learn that cyclists now share the sidewalk with them; ideally many sidewalks would be divided in two, like good walking/cycling paths; this will allow for easy flow of traffic.  While cyclists should stay to one side of the walkway, and pedestrians the other; often people want to walk in groups.   In these scenarios, pedestrians should be listening for a bell and be prepared to sidestep when required.   Furthermoe, extremely busy sidewalks are off limits.   If you are planning on biking dowtown where the streets are packed with people shopping, buying food, and/or waiting for a bus and you can barely maneuvre without toppling over it, its time for the biker to get off the bike and walk it or find a sidestreet to go down.   Lastly, you’re either a sidewalk biker or a road biker.  No switching in and out unless you have no choice and when you you have to switch, making the ‘jump’ at a proper crosswalk or intersection, not swerving over 2 lanes.

Biking is an amazing activity.  It can get you to where you are going, almost as fast as a car (over short distances at least), while allowing you to get some exercise at the same time.  It’s light on the joints, saves you money, good for the environment and can be used to explore some scenic parts of your town; but many don’t because of the apparent risks involved. If we aren’t going to implement bike lanes, then I think it’s at least time to start looking at the causes behind these statistics, and work to make biking easier and safer for all!

(1) http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/pedbike/96104/

(2) http://www.enhancements.org/download/trb/1636-011.PDF

(3) http://people.aapt.net.au/~theyan/cycling/Accident%20Analysis%20Prevention%203.pdf

(4) http://www.swov.nl/rapport/R-2005-05.pdf

CBS Discrimination?

Does Canadian Blood Services Discriminate or Just Not Want to Explore the Statistics?

 

This has been an issue that has been on my mind since I first heard it.  For those of you who don’t know the Canadian Blood Services (CBS) currently does not allow any male to donate blood, organs, or bone marrow who has had sex with another man (MSM) even once since 1977 (nor do the American,  U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Hong Kong equivalent bodies).   The reasoning they give is that MSM is a high risk for HIV activity.  Those  who have engaged in MSM account for 2-4% of the population, they make up about 40% of HIV cases in the past 25 years  (http://www.avert.org/canada-hiv.htm) and while the Canadian HIV rate is somewhere around .2%, the MSM rate is somewhere between 10-20%. A U.S. estimates put the prevalence at 44 to 86 times that of non-MSM and the Canadian statistics are very similar.  http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/msm/index.htm

However, the CBS doesn’t just ban against MSM; they are very safe in other regards; banning anyone who has ever used an illegal needle, or if you’ve had sex with someone you don’t know in the past 6 months, or paid for a prostitute in 12 months. (see here for a list of exclusionary factors and here for a list of questions that are asked).

One common argument against the deferral of anyone giving blood is that all blood is tested.  While this is true, there are still false negatives (i.e. saying the blood is safe, when really it is not) and so it makes sense to exclude the highest risk people.

You may be asking yourself now that it seems like I am defending the CBS and other groups.   I do understand where their decision is coming from (although why it is only 6 months or 1 year for other high risk activity has never been clear, and I will come back to that), my problem is that they fail to really dive into the statistics.  Allow me to give you a few examples.

Approximately 23,400 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year.  That is, there is approxiamately a  0.08% or 1/1200 that YOU will develop breast cancer THIS YEAR.  Not too high, but enough to get concerned.  However, we know this isn’t accurate  If you are a male, you probably aren’t concerned at all. While men do get breast cancer, the chances are much lower, .00125% or about 190 men are diagnosed each year.  As a woman, you are probably a little more concerned,  as your chances are about twice that.  You could sleep a little easier, if you are under the age of 50, as your chances are cut in half.  and under the age of 40 you chances are cut by another 80%.   That being said, the chances for woman over the age of 60 is about 1/29 or 3.45%.    Amazing how the statistics change depending on the people you look at and how useless they are when everyone is grouped in together.  Imagine how much more in depth we could get if we looked at other factors like family history and genetic markers?

The statistics have never been done in such detail with MSM and they need to be because I would wager that those individuals have a much lower prevalence than those who have had a lot of condom free casual sex, especially anal, questions that aren’t asked or only asked up to 6 months or 1 year.

Thus it seems the outright ban of all MSM behaviour is caused by both a lack of actual statistical information and a lack of motivation to ask a few additional questions and dive into those statistics.

Nevertheless, the 1977 ban is pretty extreme.  Except for intravenous drug use, no other high risk activity results in a lifetime ban.    Even the Red Cross has explicitly stated  “that the current lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men is medically and scientifically unwarranted” and recommending that the deferral criteria “be modified and made comparable with criteria for other groups at increased risk for sexual transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections.”

So why the lifetime ban?  No organization has commented on what makes this group special.  Perhaps they are afraid of giving people gay blood or perhaps its just the way it has always been done? Nevertheless, the CBS and other organizations need to do their due diligence and get at the real risk factors.  Doing so may require a few ‘uncomfortable’ questions for nurses and donors, (i.e. did your MSM involve anal sex) but will also result in more blood donations and a less discriminating policy.  Until then, many safe and eager donors are feeling shunned by this government organization and you will still have a 1/1200 chance of getting breast cancer this year.