My objection to the Kyoto Protocol

Note this is a political, and not a scientific objection. It’s pretty simple.  First off, let’s acknowledge ‘the Earth’ isn’t going to feel any long-term side-effects from a net temperature increase (of whatever amount). The Earth will go on around the sun, for another few billion years. The only impact will be on human populations (and contemporary flora and fauna, of course).

My instrument of measurement is, what is the best way to improve the standard of living for people on the planet? Kyoto proponents will say, ’30 years from now the Seychelles will be under water, New York will be significantly reduced in size, and the cost of accommodating this will be astronomical”. My point of view would be, first off, there isn’t a global bank to which all of humanity will owe money. The global economy is a system. If someone in the Seychelles has to move, they may lose out — but someone else will benefit. This is the beauty of the GDP measure — any economic activity is beneficial, even if it’s in the form of a company paying a fine for polluting the air.

No, if we really want to improve global human development — lifespans, quality of life, access to education, women’s rights, etc. — we would be better off taking the billions of dollars in greenhouse gas reduction costs and put it towards social justice issues.  There are First Nations in Canada who live in absolutely abysmal living conditions. This issue on its own is enough to make me embarassed to be a Canadian. Our government cancelled an accord that would have at least taken some small steps towards remedying this. So I hope you can understand my frustration when wealthy middle-class Canadians get so upset over a projected rise in global sea levels.

Secondly, am I mistaken, or is the current environment not that great? Have we fixed things so perfectly in the here and now that we can worry about 50 years on? Toronto had 48 smog days last year, when people with breathing difficulty are advised to stay indoors. Canada’s national parks are woefully understaffed and underfunded. We have toothless endangered species legislation. There is a proposal to log vast new areas in Ontario’s northwest.

I say, let’s fix these things first. But I guess these issues aren’t sexy enough for Al Gore to document.

Published in: on June 6, 2007 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The future of science and religion

The New York Times has an interesting article today examining the nature of science. Some scientists, such as Richard Dawkins and Neil Tyson, seem to suggest that science should be advocated for and evangelized just like any other religion. I think this is a mistake. Science is useful because it relies on an assumption of an explainable world, discoverable through considered and rational analysis. Why compete with faith and belief? The truth will win out in the end, as history shows.

I do think faith has a challenge ahead of it. While evolution may be one cause for a decline in the importance of religion, in my lifetime I believe we will see an even more challenging event. This will be the discovery of the physiological mechanisms underlying consciousness. It might take the form of quantum neural processes, some form of language as consciousness, and probably something I don’t understand right now. But to be able to say that the reason why we act and think the way we do is not because of some ethereal spirit, but rather a mundane series of physical events, will profoundly impact faith and religion.

The last word is Dr. Tyson’s: “Science is a philosophy of discovery; intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance.”

Published in: on March 6, 2007 at 11:43 pm  Comments (3)  

Poll tax and Chinese immigrants

I’m not sure I completely understand the issue, but I believe in the 19th and early 20th century, immigrants to Canada from China were required to pay a fee to immigrate. This went from $50 to $500. I’m not clear how much that was proportionate to today. This was apparently the equivalent of 2 houses in Montreal, or, what, more than $500k in today’s money? Suffice to say it was probably beyond the means of most immigrants from China, unless you were wealthy. This tax wasn’t applied to others, just Chinese (not Japanese, for example).

The argument is that this was discrimination based on ethnicity. Clearly, there was massive panic at the thought of Chinese immigrants in B.C. At the same time, free land was given to white settlers, e.g. Germans, Hungarians, what have you.

However, it was also economic discrimination, which I gather is ok with people. So if this fee had been asked of every immigrant, it would have been ok? That’s essentially what happens today, right? People wishing to move here have a better chance if they have been well-educated (usually requiring financial well-being) or can demonstrate financial means. I know the fee is not nearly as high, proportionately, but it’s still pretty insurmountable for the majority of the world’s peoples.

I agree the head tax was discrimination. The wealthier Chinese were unaffected by it.

So, do we apologize as a country for past mistakes? This I find harder to understand. Surely every nation, at some point, has committed crimes against others. Certainly the Chinese are no paragons of national virtue. So do we insist on apologies for all this as well? Where should it stop? Should the British apologize for their Opium dealing? They basically hooked a third of China on opium. And that’s only one of many British crimes.
Why should we pay compensation? Surely the ones who most require compensation are those Chinese who couldn’t afford the tax at the time, and remained behind. The immigrants who made it here survived and thrived, one might say. They hardly need compensation — apology, yes.

I’d rather see the amount of money the government is talking about go into refugee services, so that current immigrants — possibly the sons and daughters of those people who couldn’t make it here — are better treated. Maybe more money for a task force on people smuggling, which is essentially the head tax collected by organized crime.

Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 8:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

What if there was high-speed wireless everywhere?

Or at least, everywhere I am. For example, in the home, in the office, in the car, in the cafe. Frankly 3 out of those 4 are already taken care of. The next step is to hook wireless into satellite, so I can get it in my car. Once that’s there, why would I need to use a PDA? I’m better off with a laptop, or just relying on the occasional terminal. What do I want to do on the road anyway? Send email. Check email. Check essential data (hotel #, flight times).

I get a laugh out of the notion of Blackberry model of email. Push email? This is hardly a revolution. It’s essentially Outlook on your phone. What’s so important about it? I could write a web app for a phone that would check my Gmail account every 5 minutes for emails and then alert me, automatically go to the site. And I wouldn’t have to pay for “data services” from the cell company.

I do agree that the form factor and usability of the phone seems pretty high. If you can get all those technophobes on Bay St. hooked, you must be doing something right.

Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

The coming challenge

I want to argue that increasingly, discrimination is most pervasive at the economic striae. The big critique as far as bias went was that people were discriminated against based on a: colour b: ethnicity c: sexual orientation d: disability, e:sexuality, among other things.

While these are still all too persistent, I think the coming challenge for discrimination law will be discrimination that is due to differences in economic means. If we look at one bastion of elite Canadians, Massey College, for example, there are numerous WASP faces, mostly Canadian born, but with more representation from around the world, and from visible minorities. Unfortunately, the disabled are poorly represented at Massey, perhaps due to the inaccessible design of the College (a travesty that ruins, for me, its architectural merits in other areas).

However, suppose we were to do a demographic analysis on the Junior Fellows. I think the big correlation would be seen not between skin colour, or place of birth, but rather by parental status and income. I’d wager that most of the Masseyites are those whose parents supported them lovingly and with plenty of income, trips to Disneyland, cruises, etc.

This hurts the College because we are losing voices from other perspectives. And the sad part is often those voices don’t even make it as far as the University. The thing about economic discrimination is that it is silent, and hard to distinguish — products of a society that values economic status above (nearly) all else.

And we’re not really talking about British-style classism here. In Canada, I certainly don’t get the overwhelming sense that there is “new money” and “old money”. No, the split is between those who have a moderate income (often only 60,000$ or more) and those who have less. At some certain threshold, people cannot easily escape the bind of providing food and shelter for their family. Some don’t wish to, but others, who may want to, just can’t stop their current work and seek new opportunities. How can you start a business with no initial capital?

How can Massey, the University of Toronto, and society as a whole do better to make these voices (the single parent, poor neighborhood) better heard? Should we care?

Actually, I’m also quite concerned about sexism. I think it is very closely linked to economic discrimination. Many women in poorer countries find it impossible to survive without a man. Frankly, most countries treat women disgracefully. If we replaced the treatment of women in Pakistan, for example, with treatment of blacks, people would be outraged. Sexual slavery? Acid attacks? Forced marriages? And it’s impossible for these women to escape, because the odds are against them financially. Even in Canada, women biologically are hindered from earning as much as men. Sure, college enrollment is 60% female, but in 20 years, how many of those women will be in positions of authority versus their male counterparts? I’d say the numbers will return to the traditional superiority for men.

Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 8:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nurse practitioners vs. general practitioners

One of the key problems in medicare today is the lack of primary care. Many illnesses are not treated early enough; many people are not seen frequently enough to maintain a good standard of care. Needless to say this is also much cheaper to treate early. The main problem is that there is a lack of primary care physicians – family doctors. Why? Well, for an extra year or two of schooling, a specialist can make 50-100% more money a year. The benefits of family care — long-term tracking, good hours, interaction with patients — don’t compensate for this. The OMA would have us believe the solution is to increase the salaries of family physicians. That might work, but it might not.

I think the solution is to turn the model on its head. The primary care problem is one of care. The provider should be someone who provides health ‘care’ for a person over a long period of time. But doctors are trained to cure, to fix problems, usually short-term. So who provides care? Nurses, of course. I propose we make nurses the chief providers of primary care.

Is the skillset of a primary care provider significantly more advanced than a registered nurse? I don’t believe so. My own experience is that the chief requirements in a primary care provider is the ability to understand when they are out of their depth, and good diagnostic ability. The first, so that they can refer to a specialist; the second, so they can prescribe further treatment – scans, drugs, tests, etc. The rest is relatively trivial, medically speaking: wound dressing, annual checkups, follow-ups. Why should this set of skills be the same as those given to someone who is going to deliver trauma care, or perform cardiac surgery? We are wasting education dollars on general practitioners.

My proposal is to train in two streams. Medical schools would continue the four year program. At the end of that, a student is qualified to become a primary care provider, once a one year internship has been followed (perhaps a short series of rotations). Other students can continue on as before in specialty training. The other stream is the nursing school. A nurse receives a BScN and RN designation as currently happens. Then, following one year of practice, he/she is eligible to train for a further two years as a nurse practitioner. After that, and the same one year internship, he/she is ready to become a primary care provider.

Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 8:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tagging is useful (?)

Read that in two ways, as declaration or interrogation. Plenty of people claim tagging is useful, it seems a reasonable thing to say, but… where’s the empirical evidence for this? Pet peeve: people who argue dialectically (without saying that’s what they are doing). People like Clay Shirky, who as far as I can tell has no research to back up his multi-faceted statements. By research I mean following a scientific, empirical approach (where empirical means ‘grounded in real-world data’). The obvious problem with this approach — and you can see how hard it is from how *few* scientific articles in computer science follow it — is that it requires one to put oneself on the line. When you argue empirically, you open up to attack: it now becomes clear what your validity claims are (such claims are nonexistent in dialectical argument). Once clear, they can be criticized: ‘your subjects aren’t representative’, ‘that construct isn’t appropriate’ etc.

Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 4:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Creativity and human decency

These are my two criteria for assessing, crudely, someone’s worth in society.

Creativity denotes the extent to which the person engages in newer things. For example, John Coltrane takes a tool (with which he is skilled) and context (the Western musical tradition, jazz clubs) to create new, previously unheard sounds. He factors high on the creativity scale (note, however, that he isn’t doing anything totally new). Someone who uses Coltrane’s methods for creating music, say, the structure of Blue Train, is much lower on this scale (and may also be less skilled, but that is neither here nor there). Someone like Britney Spears, with songs arranged and written by others is only adding her vocal interpretation to the song, and not all that creative. However, she (or her publicist/manager) did create a newer interpretation of the pop nymphette to sell many records.

By this measure, few people rank that highly. The salaryman or investment banker isn’t creating anything, just using his/her skill to do a job. Entrepreneurs, meanwhile, do rate highly, creating a new business model through hard work and intelligence.

Of course, measuring people solely by how creative they are is unfair. What about the salaryman who works hard to give his children a better upbringing? Surely this is worth something. Human decency is how good a parent you are, how concerned you are about others. Do you kick dogs? You measure poorly. Do you take a boring job just so you can have a nice home for your family? You don’t get that high up the creative scale, but you do on the human decency scale.

Perhaps this notion of creativity and decency are a product of my left-leaning upbringing. Certainly conservatives value decency, but perhaps hard work more. Certainly society doesn’t place a high value on creativity when it doesn’t create value for others. This is why you can be a brilliant artist who is nice to others, and still starve.

Creativity also is a product of the area it is applied. Sculpture, for example, seems to have virtually limitless opportunities for creativity, being unconstrained by form, materials, or aesthetic. Poetry, on the other hand, is less forgiving — you must use words, usually recognizable by some portion of humanity, and the spaces between them matter.

Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 4:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Toronto is a black hole

I’ve been searching for a metaphor for Toronto and the ROC (Rest O Canada) for a while now. It seems like every Canadian ends up here at some point in his or her life. Furthermore, people in Toronto have an extremely myopic view of the other parts of the country.

For example, the Massey journalism fellows this year are almost all born and raised and work in Toronto. Now, I’m assuming that there are applications from across the country for the fellowships, which may not be true. But shouldn’t we look to have fellows from outside Toronto/Ottawa (which seem to be pretty much the same place)?

Here’s my theory: Toronto is a black hole. Like a black hole, it has an irresistible gravitational pull on people looking to advance their careers and yet remain in Canada’s excellent public health system: lawyers, business types, academics, media, entertainment. It’s all to be found here. Once inside the hole, everything on the outside is either invisible or in stasis. Nothing changes outside the black hole. And entering the hole is an infinite process that takes forever, and squeezes the life out of you.

Part of my reasoning is the ridiculous categorization of Canada west of Lake of the Woods — ”Western Canada”. Even back in the 1850s this was false. There was the Northwest Territory, which encompassed everything west of southern Ontario and the coastal colonies in B.C. — New Westminster and Victoria. But people in Toronto know only “the West”. I propose to call coastal B.C., which is fundamentally different than the interior of the province and the Prairies, Pacific Canada. These type of nomenclature differences play a big part in traversing the black hole singularity boundary.

Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 4:10 pm  Leave a Comment