Disclaimer: The opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect my actual opinions.

May 31, 2004

Prime Minister mounts local MP

By Ross Thomas

KITCHENER, ONTARIO - Prime Minister Paul Martin used the medium of mime today to clarify his position on the gay marriage issue by mounting Kitchener-Waterloo MP Andrew Telegdi at a press conference.

Martin, who has until now refused to comment on the subject of same-sex marriages, said afterwards that he chose to express himself through mime in an effort to separate himself from the other candidates in the election.

"Every election it's the same thing: the candidates talk and talk, and the Canadian public is tired of it," he said. "I felt trapped by convention, almost like I were in an invisible box."

The Prime Minister then proceeded to demonstrate his frustration by holding his hands out and moving them as if feeling the interior surfaces of unseen walls enclosing him.

"I think it was very brave of him to break out of the mold this way," said Telegdi, who had looked alarmed during the mounting but quickly regained his composure. "I hope we can look forward to more non-verbal communications from the Prime Minister on a whole range of issues."

But NDP leader Jack Layton said Martin acted inappropriately at the press conference.

"I think it was shameful," he said. "Of course he should be able to rub himself against members of his party, that's protected under the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms], but miming an important policy statement in this way was discriminatory towards those with visual impairments."

Martin later responded to Layton's comments by looking very sad and using the tip of his finger to indicate the path of a single tear trickling down his cheek.

May 28, 2004

Medication may have played a part

I have a spare few minutes so I thought I'd post, for posterity, my favourite-ever news report. It's from a January edition of The Times (I stupidly forgot to note the date), headlined "Koblenz driver in sequence of car park calamities," and was written by Allan Hall:

A driver in Germany was explaining to police, insurers, doctors and her husband yesterday how a simple reversing manoeuvre had ended in damages of 73,000 pounds [US$134,000] and a heap of scrap metal.

The 45-year-old housewife from Kirchen an der Sieg, near Koblenz, apparently committed a series of blunders that reduced her car and several others to write-offs within seconds.

Yesterday police in Koblenz were still trying to establish exactly what happened in the low-rise car park on a day being dubbed "Black Friday" by a local radio station.

First to go in a demolition derby that began at 9:20am was a brand new Nissan Almera, into which the driver reversed at high speed as she backed her Audi Quattro out of its parking space. A Mitsubishi parked next to the Nissan was also severely damaged.

In an attempt to disentangle herself from twisted metal and screeching car alarms, the driver jammed the car into first gear.

Unfortuntely she was unable to brake in time. The Quattro plunged through a metal protective barrier and fell 60ft, somersaulting in mid-air, landing on the roof of a Renault estate [station wagon] before pitching off on to a Citroen and coming to rest on its own roof with all four wheels spinning and the driver unconscious.

Christian Kuhlmann, a spokesman for the police, said: "It's all bit puzzling, really. It all happened so fast. It was over within less than a minute. There was quite a lot of damage, as you can imagine."

The woman was treated in hospital, but her injuries were not life-threatening.

Police gave the driver a blood test and there is suspicion that medication may have played a part in her spectacular sequence of accidents.

The motorist, who has held a driving licence for 20 years, has, according to police, been unable "adequately to explain" the mishaps.


Stop the presses: smoking is bad for you.

So says a new study, which links tobacco consumption to a slew of diseases previously thought unrelated, including various cancers, cataracts, pneumonia and bronchitis.

Wait -- did they say smoking causes cancer? And you can get respiratory conditions from inhaling toxins? This is a paradigm shift in how we should view smoking -- which until yesterday was seen as a harmless diversion -- and represents tax dollars well-spent.

Cheryl Healton, president of the anti-smoking American Legacy Foundation, said officials have failed to act on recommendations made by a government-appointed scientific panel last year. Among its proposals was raising the federal tax on cigarettes from 39 cents per pack to $2.39.

Thanks for your input, Cheryl, but there are a number of problems with that proposal. First, tobacco tax is amonst the most regressive of all taxes, meaning low-income families (who make up the majority of smokers) end up paying almost five times more than everyone else. Second, it actually reduces tax revenue, because people quit and thus stop paying the tax. Third, and most importantly, to suggest taxing smoking "for the good of the smoker" without taxing other dangerous activities like riding a motorbike or skydiving is hypocritical. As this NCPA analysis puts it, "Part of what living in a free society means is having the right to take risks without asking others' permission and without paying others a fee for the privilege of exercising that right."

May 27, 2004

Spammer gets jail time

Howard Carmack, a spammer who used 343 email accounts to send over 850 million emails (mostly to me, I wouldn't be surprised) has been sentenced to seven years in prison for his crimes.

Now he says "I obviously regret this whole involvement," whatever that's supposed to mean, but also claims the case against him was overblown, and that there were "no victims".

No victims? If the average piece of spam weighs in at 2kb, and if it takes the average user 5 seconds to identify and delete one spam email, that's over 1.5 terabytes of bandwidth and over 8,000 years wasted dealing with his junk. The cost to businesses must be enormous. No victims my ass.

So fuck you, Howard Carmack. It would be wrong of me to encourage your fellow inmates to give you some unsolicited deliveries of their own, so I won't. And normally I'd balk at such a long sentence for a non-violent crime, but you're being made into an example, you asked for it, and if the government doesn't show spammers it's serious about prosecuting then the problem will only get worse. Sucks to be you, eh?

Corporate coalition

Canada: willing at last!

Specifically, the army is looking for 300m more bullets annually, potentially rising to 500m a year.


General Dynamics, the US defence contractor which submitted its proposed solution on Tuesday, said it had pulled together several small bullet suppliers - including Winchester, a unit of Olin Corporation; Israel Military Industries; and Canada's SNC Technologies - to meet the army's gap.

- Financial Times, emphasis mine

Well, it's about time Canada showed proper support for The War On Terror, And Also Saddam Hussein. And how much more supportive could we be than by supplying the bullets?? Nice to see the private sector stepping up to the plate while the politicians all waffle about "moral principles".

May 26, 2004

Me and Newt, up a tree

Disturbing as it may be, it seems I do in fact agree with the loveable, cuddly Newt, the man who once proposed a mandatory death penalty for drug smugglers (and wasn't even joking), the bastion of the conservative right, and the owner of the second-most preposterous name in US politics (first prize goes to Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-GA). At least, I agree with him on one thing: healthcare needs to be reformed, and it needs to be reformed right now.

'Course, Newt's talking about US healthcare, which is an entirely different beast from the Canadian version, but there are issues shared by the two (shared by all "public" health systems, really): it's too expensive, it's too slow, and it's woefully out of date.

You know things are bad when you've got to wait a month to have a suspicious lump biopsied, or months for a hip replacement. It's just not good enough, and it needs to be fixed. Fixing it, if we're realistic, means throwing money at it. But throw money in the right direction, at the right things, treat the problem, don't just stick on a financial band-aid.

Where could money wisely be spent? First, on modernising patient records (and this is where Newt and I agree, as weird as it might feel to type that). In the US and Canada patient records are still in "paper form". You remember paper? It's what we used to use to write stuff on, until Al Gore invented the computer. There are millions of pages of patient information sitting in filing cabinets, in big stacks, propping up wobbly desks, and all other manner of places. If you move house, and change your family doctor (assuming you can find one taking new patients), that doctor has to write (on paper) to your old doctor and request they ship your records over, otherwise the doctor hasn't a clue what medical issues and treatments you've received in the past, and has to rely on your mediocre memory. When your new doctor thinks you need treatment he writes (on paper, and often completely illegibly) a prescription, and you take it to a pharmacist to be filled. The doctor also makes a note of this treatment in your paper records, which he then, once you're safely out of the room, puts back under his desk leg so his coffee doesn't spill.

This is madness, utter madness. There are so many drawbacks to this approach that I hesitate to even begin listing them for fear I shall never finish, but let's cover a few, as they occur to me:

  • Paper is comparatively expensive
  • People need to be paid to organise it all
  • Someone has to pay for shipping your (possibly voluminous) records from one doctor to another
  • Repeat tests are often issued because it's quicker and easier than reading through pages and pages of scribbled notes to find out if you've already had it done
  • What's perfectly legible to one doctor might be indecipherable to another
  • If you go to a walk-in clinic that doctor can't access any of your records, and nor can the staff in the emergency room, without calling your doctor on the telephone
  • Pharmacies dispensing incorrect drugs or doses because of illegible prescriptions is a real and serious problem
  • Interactions between drugs prescribed to the same patient by different doctors (or, in some cases, even the same doctor) cause many deaths and much sickness every year, because there's no easy way to summarise what drugs a patient is currently using

As I said, that's just a brief run-down. There are more disadvantages, but most of them fall into two categories: ease of access, and searchability. If your records aren't accessible to whatever medical professional is trying to treat you, be it a new family doctor or an ER nurse or a paramedic, then your records are completely useless. And if you're not conscious you can't very well tell them you're allergic to penicillin and you'd rather not have any, thanks. If you're wearing a medic alert bracelet, that's because our system sucks. As far as searchability goes, who wants to read through dozens of pages of handwritten notes (and doctors are infamous for having appalling handwriting) in order to figure out what drugs you're currently taking, or when you most recently had a tetanus shot? Not you, and certainly not your doctor, who has a waiting room full of sick people to make healthy.

So what's the solution? I'm sure you've guessed already, you clever thing. Instead of on clunky old envrionmentally unfriendly paper, patient records should be stored... on computer. It's a revolutionary concept, I know, that one should use an automated system to store millions upon millions of records so that they might be accessed by anyone with permission to do so and searched almost instantly for any required information. Why, you'd think there might already be some sort of specialised application to do just that, perhaps a kind of base where one can place one's data.

Sure, there are concerns. Security, for example. These days it's possible, even very easy, to encrypt data with such advanced techniques that it would take {insert name of secretive government agency here} years to crack, let alone anyone else. What's more with modern cryptographic authentication it's possible to restrict access to records in a very secure and fine-grained way. Given enough thought and careful planning, your data would be secure from crackers, lawyers, and other criminals. Another concern is data safety, but is a roomful of flammable paper records really any more safe than if the data were in computer form, properly backed up?

The advantages are manifold. Your records could be retrieved more or less instantly, over a wireless network, by the paramedic who's trying to work out why you're foaming at the mouth and making alarming gurgling noises. The ER nurse, the doctor at the clinic, the pharmacist, can all access the information they need without having to get someone out of bed. Do you need a chest x-ray, or did you have one recently? If you did it's right there, along with a graphic of the x-ray, which could help a doctor make an instant diagnosis. Your doctor thinks you need antidepressants, and starts to fill out an online (legible) prescription, but -- uh oh -- you're already on something else that has known interactions (not even necessarily known to the doctor) with what he was just about to prescribe. That might save your life. If the prescription checks out, it's accessible instantly to the pharmacist without you having to hand over a slip of paper. What's more the pharmacist can actually read it without squinting.

This needs to happen. Not only could it save time and lives but it would also be a lot cheaper than the way we do it right now. It's estimated that up to 15% of medical tests are unnecessary because they've already been done recently. Thousands of people die every year from drug interactions and medical errors, which means a lot of investigations and lawsuits. The financial benefits are clear, and Newt bangs on about them so that I don't have to, bless him.

To sum up, then:

(I intended to rant about a two-tier healthcare system, too, but this has already turned into a novel so I'll leave that for another day...)

May 23, 2004

Phwoar! Tits!

Yet another reason for Americans to vote for John Kerry this November. (Yes, that's his daughter Alexandria at the Cannes Film Festival.)

Though this guy thinks the dress is only transparent under the glare of paparazzi flashes. He makes a compelling argument when he says "there's no friggin' way she knew the dress would be transparent and picked that underwear". I bet she won't be wearing black for daddy's swearing-in ceremony.

Rush away

I missed this when it originally transpired, but it seems that Rush Limbaugh believes the soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal were just "blowing off steam" and "having a good time". You can read about it in this CBS story. Here's a quote from his May 3 show:

"I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You heard of need to blow some steam off? This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time."

Good point, Rush. We can't all resort to illegally obtained prescription meds with which to relax. Give these guys a break, it was just harmless fun. But wait! It wasn't just guys! He goes on:

"have you people noticed who the torturers are? Women! The babes! The babes are meting out the torture."

Well done, Mr Limbaugh. I daily sing hosannahs because you are allowed to stay on the radio and spew your hate-filled bile, while criminal masterminds Howard Stern and Bubba the Love Sponge are yanked from the air for fear of offending upstanding citizens like yourself.

Starburst treachery

We (me, my wife and youngest) just returned from seeing Shrek 2. We got there about 15 minutes before the 3:45 show only to be informed it was sold out, so we bought tickets for the 4:45 show and immediately went and stood in line. Here's the line:

Not the best picture I ever took, but I had to turn the flash off and if I'd started rigging up lighting equipment people would've begun to suspect something was going on. Anyhoo, there we stood for twenty minutes before going inside, where as usual I had to take out a second mortgage to buy popcorn and drinks (don't even get me started on this). Here's a picture of Anna, my youngest, waiting to go into the theatre:

I enjoyed the movie thoroughly -- it's probably funnier than the original -- and so did Anna, until I was forced to confess that I'd absent-mindedly eaten all her Starbursts. Here's a picture of Anna after discovering my candy treachery:

As you can see, she's not quite as happy as before. I am a bad, bad father.

May 21, 2004

Queer Eye for the Iraqi Guy

The Washington Post has obtained new prisoner abuse photos from inside Abu Ghraib prison. My favourite cutline reads: "A baton-wielding US soldier appears to be ordering a naked detainee covered in a brown substance to walk a straight line with his ankles handcuffed." What's the betting that "brown substance" isn't finest Lindt chocolate?

The biggest surprise in this whole sordid affair, though, is that no-one saw it coming. Pop quiz: Which group of people would make the best prison guards?

  1. Prison guards
  2. The cast of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
  3. Soldiers trained to be merciless killers

If you answered "Soldiers trained to be merciless killers," you're correct! Pour yourself a beer. Soldiers trained to be merciless killers are the ideal candidates to act as prison guards in a prison bursting at the seams with their sworn enemy. Prison guards have to be strict yet compassionate, keep the bad guys in line while at all times showing the utmost concern for their well-being. Developing these instincts is of course where the US Army concentrates most of its efforts during Becoming a Merciless Killer 101.

If you answered "Prison guards," I'm afraid your reasoning is significantly out of sync with that of the US military. They know as well as I do that merciless killers are, at heart, philosophers, that they're able to grasp the subtle nuances of global relationships, that they're a shining beacon of humanity. Expecting experienced prison guards to be more effective than soldiers at guarding prisoners simply highlights your lack of imagination. Do not pour yourself a beer. Unless you don't like beer, in which case you can pour youself two.

If you answered "The cast of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," stop being a smart-ass. You know damn well there'd be just as many pictures of naked Iraqi men coming to the surface. Chances are, though, that the brown substance really would be finest Lindt chocolate.

Smoke this

Yet more anti-smoking litigation, requiring tobacco companies to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to support products and services dedicated to reducing the tobacco companies' profits, drives the everyone's-a-victim mentality even deeper into the American psyche. To quote the CNN article above:

Scott, a home health aide, said she started in 1954, when she was six and was given free samples from stores, and was only able to quit when she was diagnosed with lung cancer four years ago. "It's fantastic. It's fabulous. I'm so excited," she said. "I know that 6-year-olds will never be given cigarettes again, and people won't have to smoke until they can get lung cancer.

Um... They don't give cigarettes to six-year-olds any more, dear, and haven't for many years. That said, I clearly remember as a child being given free asbestos samples in hardware stores and encouraged to play with the stuff, rub it into my eyes, etc., but aside from the permanent blindness and the awful trouble I have breathing, nothing came of it. I hold nothing against them, because they didn't realise it was harmful.

But what's all this about her being "only able to quit" when she got lung cancer? Utter nonsense. She's been able to quit since the day she started. What she means is she didn't WANT to quit, or she didn't have the will-power. That's not Philip Morris's fault any more than it's the fault of McDonald's that some people can't stop eating Big Macs, or Seagram's fault that some people can't stop imbibing alcohol.

I think we should start requiring the fast food chains to pay for "stop eating so much junk, you fat bastard" advertising campaigns, and breweries to fund Alcoholics Anonymous, and casinos to pay for counselling to those addicted to gambling, and car companies pay for the damage caused by joyriding youths, who are clearly addicted to driving fast. Everyone should find someone to sue about whatever problems they have, be it a lack of will-power or having one leg longer than the other.

What's more, I think all African-Americans should file a class action lawsuit against all white Americans, then the white Americans can sue the British government for making life so intolerable that they were forced to go to the New World in the first place, then the British government could sue the Germans, French, Scandinavians and Italians for contributing to their gene pool a desire to over-tax its citizens, then the Germans, French, Scandinavians and Italians could file a suit against black people, because without their pesky "we're-not-happy-living-in-trees-any-more" idea way back when, none of this would have happened. Eventually, when the dust had settled, we'd all be living in a Communist utopia where everyone has the same amount of money, no-one is jealous of anyone else, and nobody sells products that people choose to buy despite the health risks because they find the product to be pleasurable.

Or we could just summarily execute all lawyers. I'm straying towards the latter option.

May 19, 2004

Fault on McGuilty

So the new Ontario budget is out. Here're some highlights:

  • Dalton McGuinty lied about freezing taxes
  • Dalton McGuinty lied about calling a referendum before raising taxes, or implementing new ones
  • Dalton McGuinty lied about not running a deficit
  • Dalton McGuinty's Taxpayer Protection Pledge was a big fat lie
  • Dalton McGuinty's government is rewriting the Balanced Budget and Taxpayer Protection Act in order to weaken the protection it provides

Here's the text of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which Dalton McGuinty signed Sept 11, 2003:

"I, Dalton McGuinty, leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, promise, if my party is elected as the next government, that I will not raise taxes or implement new taxes without the explicit consent of Ontario voters, and not run deficits. I promise to abide by the Taxpayer Protection and Balanced Budget Act."

In this budget the Liberals will:

  • Raise taxes on cigarettes
  • Raise taxes on alcohol
  • Delay the phase-out of the capital tax
  • Introduce a health premium costing the taxpayer at least $300 per year
  • Remove coverage of eye exams, physiotherapy and chiropractic services
  • Raise the cost of drivers' licences

And as for the Act, and the referendum, compare:

"The Ontario Liberals have a plan to reform government and renew trust in our democratic institutions. We will engage citizens in the political process and represent them fully, fairly and openly at Queen's Park. We will work in the interests of all Ontarians." - Ontario Liberal Party web site


"As a result, the government plans to change the Taxpayer Protection Act - which requires a referendum on any tax increases - to allow the measures in this budget, [Finance Minister Greg Sorbara] said. A referendum would cost $40 million, Sorbara said, and that money would be better spent on health care or education." - National Post

Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

Now I have nothing against Liberals -- if I were allowed to vote it would probably be for them -- but this kind of duplicity makes me seethe. There are two kinds of people who would promise never, ever to raise taxes, and yet to deliver a balanced budget: drooling morons and those who'll happily lie to get elected. Dalton McGuinty clearly isn't a drooling moron, therefore he must be a liar. Anyone who knows anything about economics -- anything at all -- knows that it's sometimes necessary to raise taxes in order to have a balanced budget. If you don't believe that balanced budgets are necessary, and a lot of economists don't, then go ahead, promise not to raise taxes. But if you do believe that running a deficit is a bad thing, an evil thing, a weeping cancerous bubole of a thing, then please don't promise not to raise taxes, because that will make you a liar (or a drooling moron).

Not only did the Liberals, and Dalton McGuinty in particular, lie through their teeth to get elected (what else is new?), but they're now displaying a rampant disregard for the democratic process by dismissing the should-taxes-be-increased referendum guaranteed by law in the Taxpayer Protection and Balanced Budget Act as an expensive inconvenience. Of course it is. Democracy is expensive and inconvenient. It's inconvenient for the public to go vote, it's inconvenient for politicians to have to kiss so many babies and eat so much rubber chicken, but that's kinda the point. It would be a lot more convenient, and a lot less expensive, if a party could simply declare themselves the natural rulers of the universe and do away with all that costly "public consultation" nonsense upon which Western democracies are founded, but that would eventually lead to armed masses storming parliament. Armed masses can cause a great deal of damage, which is expensive and inconvenient to fix.

They wonder and they scratch their heads, these politicians, these doers of great works, and they ask themselves why the voter turnout rate in Canada is in a tumbling freefall. Do Canadians just not care any more, especially young Canadians?

The answer is simple. No, they don't care. They don't care because the two major parties are practically indistinguishable, and they all lie through their teeth, looking right into the camera with their piggy little eyes, so that they'll have their chance to perch their fat asses on the Commons bench. At which point they're safe for another four years and can do whatever they like, regardless of what they said they would do, even rewrite democratic laws supposed to put a check on their behaviour. Four years later we've forgotten about the lies, because we're too busy eating and showering and hating Rush Limbaugh to memorise all the empty promises that spill from our "leaders'" mouths. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. We don't want to be fooled any more, and we know you're gonna try. That is why we don't vote. We take Monty Brewster's advice: none of the above.

So what's the point, then, in all these pledges politicians make during the election run-up? What's the point in a pledge if it can be totally discarded in a matter of months? It makes a mockery of the democratic process. We see Dalton McGuinty sitting pen in hand, scribbling his ludicrous moniker on his "Taxpayer Pledge", and we hope hope hope he really means it. He doesn't. It's time for that to change.

I propose that political parties be required by law to set out a formal agenda well prior to the election, detailing precisely what they plan to do when in office. If this plan is not implemented (barring exceptional circumstances such as a terrorist attack or a natural disaster) then the party should be fined and the money transferred to the education budget.

It's a sorry state of affairs, but it appears this is the only way to ensure these two-faced assholes will actually go through with their promises. Until something like this is brought into effect parties will continue to lie to us to secure our votes, and we'll protest by not voting, by losing interest in the political process. They only have themselves to blame.

Me? I'm arming myself.