Saturday, February 08, 2014

Do We Deserve To Call Ourselves True Olympians?

Today, I have had to suffer hearing of another tirade, and sadly, only the latest of many emanating from a certain small-minded civic leader, here in Canada.  I have seen many comments, in response, even from those who fervently believe in universal human rights, insisting that public statements condemning Russia are out of place.  Many seem to believe that now is not the time to address Russia's human rights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  A far too common misconception exists that purports demonstrations condemning discrimination distract and undermine "the real purpose of the games." Many seem to think that now is the time to focus solely on cheering our athletes on to victory, patriotically waving our flag, and joining together in expressions of national pride.

If you were to ask the International Olympic Committee if the true purposes of the Olympic Games were patriotism, nationalism, and simple competition for the title 'Worlds Best',  they would answer, "You have it dead wrong!"  Here are the Fundamental Principals of the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Games, as stated in the Olympic Charter:

1. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

3. The Olympic Movement is the concerted, organised, universal and permanent action, carried out under the supreme authority of the IOC, of all individuals and entities who are inspired by the values of Olympism. It covers the five continents. It reaches its peak with the bringing together of the world’s athletes at the great sports festival, the Olympic Games. Its symbol is five interlaced rings.

4. The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

5. Recognising that sport occurs within the framework of society, sports organisations within the Olympic Movement shall have the rights and obligations of autonomy, which include freely establishing and controlling the rules of sport, determining the structure and governance of their organisations, enjoying the right of elections free from any outside influence and the responsibility for ensuring that principles of good governance be applied.

6. Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.

7. Belonging to the Olympic Movement requires compliance with the Olympic Charter and recognition by the IOC.

-- Here is the Full text of the of the Olympic Charter.  I have quoted the version dated 2013/09/09.

Sport is clearly only a secondary purpose of the Olympics--a means to an end. In fact, the Olympics seeks, primarily, to be a forum for the betterment of humanity. Out of the seven Fundamental Principals, only one deals strictly with sports! Sport simply happens to be the vehicle the Olympics uses to focus the world on the Olympic primary objective--bridging divides which separate the various people of the world. Article 2 of the fundamental principals says exactly that. The Olympics strives to open boarders and spread understanding so all who participate, from the athletes, all the way to those of us watching on T.V., may, from greater understanding of each other, see beyond nations and feel included as equals.

Neither patriotism nor national pride are anything close to the Olympic Fundamental Principals. Patriotism and national pride, in fact, contradict Olympic values. The Olympics demands we focus beyond our own nations, not on the petty notion of how many medals we win or if we take the hockey gold or how much better we are than that other country.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are both universal human rights. Article 4 of the Olympic Fundamental Principles states quite clearly that, in sport, everyone has a right to participate without discrimination. Unfortunately, many athletes attending these games are facing human rights discrimination. How can any of them focus on being their best with that knowledge in mind?

Consider an athlete winning a medal.  His or her spouse jubilantly runs from the stands for a perfectly natural affectionate embrace.  They are both immediately arrested as a result.  

The moment these athletes entered Russia, they became second class people.  They have to fear reprisal for expressing themselves in natural and universal human fashion.  Article four of the fundamental principles demands a spirit of fair play.  There cannot be fairness if certain athletes are burdened by the worry of repercussion for failing to suppress aspects of themselves which are ingrained and natural to all humans.

Finally, article seven says that to be part of the Olympic movement, the charter must be complied with. Russia certainly isn't in compliance because of it's failure to ensure human rights and a spirit of fair play.

We must ensure the rainbow flag flies, anywhere and everywhere it can. Russia must be shamed for hosting an event meant to foster understanding between ALL people while ignoring that very ideal.  As Canadians, we are an enlightened people committed to upholding universal human rights--just as the primary principles of the Olympics require.  We have an obligation speak out, in no uncertain terms, and demand an end to human rights discrimination.   If we wish to comply with the Olympic Charter, if we wish to call ourselves true Olympians, we must never let hateful and intolerant people paint black the beauty of a rainbow.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

NDM-1 the "Nightmare Scenario": The Ignored Pandemic Threat

This might well be the biggest public health concern since H.I.V, perhaps even dwarfing it.

We have all heard of superbug outbreaks in hospitals. Until a few years ago, antibiotic resistant infections were mostly confined to healthcare facilities such as hospitals. These outbreaks have, sadly, killed many hundreds of people, in Canada, however, they have been contained within these very tiny hospital patient population groups.

NDM-1 is changing all that. NDM-1 isn't a bacteria or a virus, it is a non-living enzyme containing genes. Bacteria with the NDM-1 gene produce NDM-1 enzymes containing genetic material that can spread this antibiotic resistance gene to non-resistant bacteria, bacteria which are easily treated with antibiotics, thereby passing on the ability.

More well know resistant bacteria spread vertically. Patient zero will infect a few others who, in turn, infect yet others. Outbreaks are handled by isolating and treating infected people so person to person transmission is halted.

NDM-1 bacteria can spread horizontally, too. They produce copies of the resistance gene in the NDM-1 enzyme, in a form which passes the gene and its ability to other treatable, non-resistant bacteria. Even more frightening, this enzyme has been shown to pass the gene between different strains of bacteria. 

So what does this mean? Bacteria, having this resistance gene, have been found in otherwise normal gut bacteria in people showing no symptoms. Since these are normal good gut bacteria, they continue on as part of normal GI function as they aide healthy digestion. The only difference with these gut superbugs is they now produce the NDM-1 enzyme. Any location in which there may be fecal matter contamination could also be contaminated with the enzyme which passes on the resistance ability.


Also, it is possible that treatable non-resistant bacteria present in an active infection, which is open to further contamination, could be supercharged simply by coming into contact with the NDM-1 enzyme. Contact with living bacteria isn't required.

P.B.S. Frontline has a good episode about the NDM-1 threat. The two really important points this documentary makes are these: Drug companies seem to have dropped all research on new antibiotic medications--the most effective antibiotic was developed in the 40s and is highly toxic. The Centres for Disease Control, in the U.S., have used the phrase, "nightmare scenario", in describing the public health risk, yet there is no American federal government policy to prepare for it or even coordinate disparate resources and research.

So, what does this mean for Canada? Are we prepared? Are policy makers even thinking about the issue? 


If policy makers have created a plan to address the public health threat NDM-1 poses, they certainly aren't telling anyone publicly. I searched all websites, using Google, for articles containing NDM-1, from the last three years or so, and there were only three results. Two of them contained overviews and addressed infection control in the greatly limited scope of health care facility infection control. The third provides information on a few basic research initiatives sponsored by government.

While basic research is extremely important and the federal government deserves credit for funding research, which has been orphaned by the pharmaceutical industry, to look for new drug treatments, any new medication is likely five to ten years away, at a minimum.

There seems to be no effort to plan for any outbreak in the environment at large. If one should occur, it will likely dwarf outbreaks such as H1N1 and S.A.R.S. This is because there are many different pathways of infection due to the range of bacterial strains which can be augmented by the NDM-1 enzyme. The following are just a few: e.coli (food poisoning with risk of kidney failure), k.pneumoniae (pneumonia), and acinetobacter (the second most common normal and healthy skin microbe, can cause post surgical infections and perhaps infections in open wounds such as serious cuts.)

Since there are so many different illnesses which can be caused by so many different bacteria, it is conceivable that a general outbreak in a community at large could swamp many different departments, within a given hospital, simultaneously.

This issue desperately needs multifaceted attention from both the federal and provincial government now.

For more information on the NDM-1 threat, Wikipedia has a great article:

Friday, December 06, 2013

Free At Last! On the Passing of Nelson Mandella

A friend on Facebook inspired me to write the following:

Your Holiness;

Normally, I would struggle to use such a salutation, however, having read of 
your outreach to those of us not choosing to follow the Catholic Church, I use 
it with a glad heart.  I am not unfamiliar with the Holy Bible.  The teaching 
of Christ, as told in the Gospels, is, for the most part, a universal human 
truth and I thank you for acknowledging those of us who see it as such.  
Goodness transcends all faiths and beliefs.  It is for this reason I feel 
compelled to write this email.

The loss to humanity, of Nelson Mandela, is incalculably great.  This world 
needs more of his kind-- and kindness, not less.  I beg you use the influence 
which your position accords to promote such a worthy example of human grace.

This humble man, in my opinion, was a miracle.  He fought to keep his humanity 
through many years of persecution as a prisoner under the regime of Apartheid.  

He became, throughout the world, the rallying point for those of us rightly 
intolerant of the intolerant.  His example seems, to me, to follow in the 
footsteps of Christ, as Christ is portrayed in the Gospels.

Yet, for all the publicity he was given, he remained humble, compassionate, 
and graceful.  He was given rule of the country which had formerly persecuted 
him.  In response, he chose not to persecute his persecutors.  Instead he 
embraced them.  His Truth and Reconciliation Committee sought only one thing:  
to heal a nation.  Christ was a healer.  This is what I believe to be 
Mandela's first miracle.

Christ admonishes us to turn the other cheek.  Even after his years of 
suffering at the hands of his persecutors, Nelson Mandela lived as Christ did.  
Mandela's suffering is well known.  Though he didn't die a martyr, there is no 
doubt in my mind he lived as one.  Death comes quickly and ends easily.  
Living is much harder, especially the many years he spent suffering for 
others.  His grace in the face of it is his second miracle.

I fully realize Nelson Mandela isn't Catholic.  Likewise, the Good Samaritan 
wasn't a Jew.  Doesn't Nelson Mandela deserve a similar mention for his 
unfailing compassion and grace?  For the sake of ALL humanity, I implore you!

As I mention in my opening, I am not a Catholic.  I am agnostic.  I could 
never pretend to think I know the mind of God.  Perhaps, he reigns supreme 
over our universe.  Yet nature tells us we cannot see beyond this very 
universe, therefore, I cannot know the mind of God.

I do know grace and compassion when I see it, however.  Nelson Mandela 
personified both.  To me, the man was a saint.  I hope the Catholic Church can 
look beyond itself, as you, Your Holiness, has recently done.  I beseech you, 
please declare Nelson Mandela a saint!

Man in the Middle

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Unite the Left: Recalculating the 41st Parliament of Canada

(Picture retrieved from The Disaffected Lib. Copyright unknown.)

If you are a Liberal or New Democrat, you will probably cry. If you are a Conservative or Bloc Quebecois, this is your worst nightmare. This is the result of our last general election:

          party           | seats 
 Green Party              |     1
 Bloc Québécois           |     4
 Liberal                  |    34
 NDP-New Democratic Party |   103
 Conservative             |   166

Now here are the hypothetical results if the NDP and Liberal Party had combined as Unite the Left in response to Unite the Right:

    party     | seats 
 Green Party  |     1
 Conservative |   122
 Liberal/NDP  |   185

My results are based on raw poll data from Elections Canada. I have made the assumption that all votes would stay with their respective parties. I realize this is unlikely, however, this is purely a what-if exercise intended to get parties thinking. The status quo promises one thing: Unite the Right will continue to be a major factor in Canadian politics. Unless the left deals with party pride, the left can count on getting nothing. If they can overcome this divisiveness, everyone has the chance of having at least some of their favoured agendas put into action.

If you are curious how I produced these results, keep reading for more detailed results and methodologies.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Poem: From Under Gilded Stars

From under gilded stars, on silent hinge,
The bars, unseen, begin their secret close.
And those with warning? Silenced by the fringe,
With promise of black gold to soothe all woes.

From under gilded stars the maim'd lose ears,
The voice of reason silenced for its cost,
As 'Terror!' brands on cheeks spread baseless fears.
No habeas corpus? Our freedom lost!

So cherish views which challenge status quo,
For meteors and comets always show,
There is no guessing which path they might fly.
Ideas, only, solve the true night sky.

This is a continuation of this train of thought.

The Star Chamber was an English court, originally created to hear cases of those too powerful to receive justice from the regular English courts. It was so named, possibly, because the ceiling was a painted sky with gold stars. Over time it was perverted into a weapon of the king for silencing dissent. The proceedings were secret and punishment was arbitrary. Common forms of punishment were the cutting off of ears and the branding of cheeks of those deemed to be adversaries. The court was finally disbanded by the Habeas Corpus Act of 1640.

The abuses of the Star Chamber drove the motivation to enshrine a number of the basic rights found in the Canadian and U.S. constitutions. Many of those suffering this persecution fled to, and helped build, North America.

We are currently experiencing great prosperity due to our oil resources. I certainly agree with proper exploitation of this resource. What I do have a great deal of concern for is the systematic vilification of those who voice environmental or other concerns. The oil isn't going anywhere. The price of oil is trending upward. All evidence suggests this will continue as the resource dwindles, worldwide.  The only loss to assume from minor delays to production is a short term loss. The cost of environmental damage and failure to prepare for resource exhaustion is enormous. Worse, those who would pay those costs are our children and grandchildren.  We owe it to them to do it right.  We need as many ideas to circulate as we can possibly get so that we have the best chance of doing it right.

What scares me most, though, is the systematic effort to deny free speech, equal treatment under the law and the right to an evidence based and public hearing.  Environmental activists are being likened to terrorists, in some circles. Decisions are being made, behind closed doors, which revoke benefit previously given to contrary political voices. Finally, this is being done in a method which is secret and provides no body of evidence.

I'm not saying the intent of this degradation is evil. I do think, however, that it is a misguided attempt to improve benefit to Canadians. Unfortunately, it may end in those with truly evil intentions having precedent and framework to seriously damage our freedom and democracy. We have to be vigilant and always ensure we know why we have these rights and where these supremely important ideas came from.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Tragedy: Denial of Basic Rights Given Our History.

Given the apparent willingness of the Conservative Party of Canada to deny our hard fought and priceless democratic rights, such as: gagging public scientists who dissent, discrimination against charities and artists on the basis of dissenting environmental stance, and the belief that we can ignore the ancient rights of habeas corpus and due process in criminal law, is an tragedy, unfolding.

In that spirit, here is an iambic pentameter triplet in the style of one of the great tragic writers: Shakespeare.

If you deny the rights of one today,
To history look, for later, it does say,
Of you, demand the many, greater pay.

What will our descendents think upon looking back at our folly?

If you doubt our freedoms, such as free speech, equal treatment under the law, and freedom of conscience are under threat, read about , here.

Update: I wrote another piece related to this one here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How Did We Get Government By Bad Apple and What Can We Do?

Humans, by nature, are optimistic. When we face a range of choices in any situation, we try and choose the best, hoping it gives us a positive outcome. The simpler the choices we have available, the less chance we have to choose a smart one.  Politics, especially when it comes to how we choose our government, relies on providing all of us with the simplest choice available. "My party is right, will fix everything and contains only saints, your party is wrong, destroys everything,  and contains only crooks."

Are we just lazy? Being human and optimistic, I really don't believe so. We certainly devalue the shares of lazy companies pretty quickly. Most of us wouldn't think of telling our children not to work hard in school.  Even when it comes to our own health, I don't think anyone seriously considers being a couch potato is the sensible approach.

So, if we want smart outcomes, why have we only given ourselves simple choices? I believe it is because we have become lazy. The Westminster system of government has been a work in progress for centuries.  Take the Magna Carta as an example. Most of it is no longer considered just or necessary. The whole idea of Common Law, too, relies on incremental change. Its very nature partially sprang from the idea that situations change and responses need updating. So why haven't we changed parliament to get the smartest, most democratic, results?  I believe we have chosen the simplicity of tradition, allowed politicians to practice what they know, allowed political strategists and hacks to determine agendas based on the simplicity of how government is chosen,  and, most importantly, become drunk on the ease of politics providing us with blanket statements on good and evil. In the end, we are left with a government based mostly on the fact that a previous government appeared to be more evil then the one that replaces it. We throw the baby out with the bathwater!

In the Westminster system, as it now exists in Canada, the legislative and executive arms of government are combined under single ministers who may influence votes in the House of Commons and Senate through a party whip. To me, this seems to be a glaring conflict of interest. Since when is creating good policy had anything to do with good day to day operation of government departments? Business understands this. There is widespread belief that separating a board of directors and upper management is ethically and financially necessary.

In business, the buck tends to stop with the individual making a poor decision. Employees are hired and fired based on merit. If a VP in upper management has poorly performing areas of responsibility, that VP rather than all of upper management will likely get the axe. Only when there appears to be signs of upper management joining to make unethical, highly and continually unprofitable, or illegal decisions, will a board act to remove management, en masse. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we don't do with our government. We give out decision making power, en masse, to new people, based on the stink of corruption which tends to be caused by a relatively few bad apples. The number of Liberals implicated by the Gomery Commission was a relatively small number in a relatively small geographic area. It is likely that even if shown to be an organized effort, those responsible in the 'robocall' affair will be a small group of bad apples, too. Unfortunately, we may, yet again, use this as evidence that the whole government is guilty.

The short term election cycle we currently have adds another major flaw. The short election cycle tends to make it better for politicians to make decisions based on short term answers. I don't think any Canadian, in his or her right mind, would say that short-sighted decisions lead to good outcomes.

So who benefits from the constant throwing of babies out with bath water? I believe it is nothing more than job security for pundits, lobbyists, political strategists and hacks, and pollsters. It is these, so called professionals, who tell politicians whether what we think is good or bad in order to press our buttons. In this way their employers can win an election based on emotion and not evidence of smart and rational results or lack thereof. We get our simple choice. It is for this reason that politics has degenerated into an exercise of fear mongering and the stoking of anger.

So what can we do to ensure we have the ability to select a government based on evidence an rational thinking?

Perhaps removing ministers from the legislative decision making process can let us determine when a problem exists in policy and not administration and vice versa. We would have to do so in a way which goes far beyond the American approach since that approach is still a little too emotional for my liking. Perhaps we should elect government ministers under an elected Governor General as chief executive. Neither ministers nor the Governor General would have any legislative authority, except in, perhaps, demanding change of legislation from Parliament. For instance, if an act of Parliament is determined by this separate Cabinet to need change, Cabinet may submit an amendment for debate and implementation.

So can we base our government on the skills and intelligence of those we elect and, at the same time, remove those, who make a living by preying on our emotions, from the decision making process? We could elect our MPs and my proposed elected Cabinet in a staggered fashion. We end the general election entirely. We can then stop choosing those who represent us based on party affiliation and simplistic political ideology. Instead, we will get meritorious debate and decision. We don't have to look far to see the result of this type of democracy.  Many municipal governments in Canada work quite well without partisan political politics.  They certainly get things done. I'm in no way saying we should outlaw political parties. We just need to remove some of the political spin they tend to generate.

To reduce the tendency for short-sighted ideas, perhaps we could do two things. To reduce pressure on those we elect, we could substantially increase term limits. Obviously, doing this alone would probably not be a good method to dissuade corruption so we would also need a robust method of recall. You're hired because we trust you.  You're fired because you're a crook. We will give you a look every now and than, though, so we can give opportunity to fresh ideas and new blood.

Dealing with the parasites living on the host that is politics, in this country, would inevitably take care of itself as a result. Strategists would have to study real issues of importance to Canadians. Lobbyists would have a much harder time advancing ideas since the number of those who effectively exercise power would grow immensely. So here is a conservative idea: smaller government.  To the pundits and hacks, I'm sorry to say, you would be made redundant--goodbye and good riddance.  We could become a far more efficient and competitive country if they all had to get useful and productive jobs, instead!

The citizens of Canada are not lazy and simple-minded.  It is high time to create a structure for government which assumes we are hard working and smart.

I would like to thank and credit the following for adding their ideas:

 for reminding me to mention lobbyists. How could I have forgotten those parasites?