Wednesday, December 03, 2008

My Letter to the Governor General

I just sent the following e-mail to the Governor General. It's not too late to have your voice heard. Write to to express your opinion.


I am writing to encourage you to allow Parliament to express its non-confidence in the government and, if it does so, to ask the Liberal-NDP coalition to form a new government.

As I am sure you know, the concept of Responsible Government forms the basis of our democracy. Yesterday in Question Period, the Prime Minister faced repeated demands to allow Parliament to express its lack of confidence in the government with a vote. I was shocked to hear our Prime Minister dismiss these demands as an attempt to "hide behind parliamentary niceties."

Such profound disrespect for this defining principle of our democracy is appalling.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the Prime Minister plans to seek prorogation of Parliament for no reason but to avoid facing a confidence vote. But without the confidence of Parliament, the Prime Minister lacks the authority for this action. The use of such tactics to hide from a confidence vote would set a profoundly troubling precedent, severely damaging our parliamentary democracy. I urge you to deny such a request.

You have been entrusted with the great responsibility of upholding Canada's parliamentary tradition, and I am confident you will act appropriately.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Vote Wisely

Some more thoughts on the day before we go to the polls...

Stephen Harper's probable perjury is just the latest reason to want him out of office. From a surplus-killing $12-billion GST cut to a climate change plan that will allow emissions to rise, from arts cuts and film and TV censorship measures to the Canadian DMCA, from the MPs' handbook on obstructing parliament to In & Out, this has been the most disastrous Canadian government in recent memory. And the most secretive, least transparent government ever. Oh, and who can forget about broken promises on income trusts and fixed election dates?

Just four-weeks ago, Leader Harper made this prediction: "My own belief is if we were going to have some kind of crash or recession, we probably would have had it by now, a year into the crisis." Since then, the TSX has dropped by 26%, and Scotiabank and TD have said that the country is headed for a deep recession. Isn't it great to have a PM with a Master's in Economics?

Some two thirds of Canadian voters do not want to see the Conservatives reelected tomorrow, but we're poised to hand Harper another minority government, nonetheless. Here are the latest poll results from Nanos and seat predictions from democraticSPACE and Election Prediction Project, all of whom most accurately predicted the vote in 2006.

Hopefully, they'll prove sobering for anyone who bought Layton's line about running for PM. He doesn't have a shot. Either he's deluding himself or he's merely trying to delude you. If you're a staunch New Democratic Party supporter, I would think you're facing a really difficult decision tomorrow: will you vote for the NDP or against Stephen Harper? Unless you live in one of a handful of ridings, you really can't do both.

The same is true for Green Party supporters, but the situation is even more dire. There are but two ridings in which Green candidates might possibly be elected: Central Nova and Vancouver Centre.

If you oppose Stephen Harper, I really hope you've given some serious consideration to how you'll vote. I hope you've read all the parties' platforms and thought about the course this country will chart over the coming years. If you care about the environment, I hope you've reflected on how, for the first time ever, a major party has put an environmental issue at the heart of its campaign, and what it will mean for the future if that move is seen as a big part of the reason for its defeat. I hope you've at least used the tools available to see which candidates in your riding can defeat a Conservative.

Please vote, and please vote wisely.

Our Perjuring PM?

On Friday evening, it was revealed that Harper's expert witness found that the Cadman tape was not altered. A couple days later, that story seems to have dropped off the radar, but it's really significant.

In 2005, Conservative-turned-independent MP Chuck Cadman voted with the Liberal government, passing the budget by a single vote and preventing the government from falling. At the time, Cadman was battling malignant melanoma. After his death, his widow, Dona Cadman, revealed that her husband had been approached by two Conservative Party officials with an offer of a million-dollar life insurance policy in exchange for his vote against the Liberal budget. Under section 119 of the Criminal Code of Canada, it is illegal to bribe an MP.

At the beginning of this year, a tape-recorded interview by Vancouver journalist Tom Zytaruk came to light, in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged that he had approved of making an offer to Cadman.

Zytaruk asked, "The insurance policy for a million dollars, do you know anything about that?"

Harper responded, "I don't know the details. I know that there were discussions. This is not for publication?" He went on to explain that the offer to Cadman was "only to replace financial considerations he might lose due to an election," and he failed to address specifically the allegation of a million-dollar insurance bribe.

Last March, Prime Minister Stephen Harper sued St├ęphane Dion and the Liberal party for defamation over allegations made linking Harper to the affair. So as to avoid demonstrating malice, the Liberals were forced to remove allegations from their Web site.

This August, Harper testified. During cross-examination, he was asked about Zytaruk's question regarding the insurance policy and responded, "That is not the question as he put it. He has done some editing there.

"What I do know is that this answer is not the answer to this question, I think there's been some editing in this question, so I don't think it goes from this question to this answer."

Harper tried to delay the proceedings until after the election, but on Friday lawyers for the Liberal party filed an analysis of the recording by Harper's own audio expert. His findings?

The key portion of the recorded interview contains no splices, edits or alterations.

The best information available to the public now suggests that Prime Minister Stephen Harper made verifiably false statements on a material matter while under oath in a court of law.

Mr. Harper has already made history with his defamation suit, which seems to have been engineered to silence any discussion of the matter until after the election. He is the first sitting prime minister ever to have filed such a suit. If Canadians return him to office tomorrow, he may also become the first sitting prime minister ever to be charged with perjury.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lego Memories from Gizmodo

This week, gadget blog Gizmodo took a trip to Lego in Billund, Denmark. The most amazing post to come out of it was about a trip through the vault containing almost every Lego set ever manufactured. They included a video of their journey, from which I took the following two screen captures.

The first Lego set I ever owned:

The last Lego set I ever owned:

From the 4,720 set in the vault, they pulled out 10 boxes and showed them to the camera like this. It's hard to believe that my two most memorable Lego sets were included. The rush of memories is just incredible. Thinking about those simpler days is the perfect antidote for all the complexities in life right now.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My View on Organ Donation

On Monday, the story about Health Canada's new regulations for organ donation broke. CBC reported on the rules, which came into effect in December and prevent several high risk groups from donating. Included among these groups are injection drug users, people with tattoos, and any men who had sex with other men in the previous five years.

After reading the article, I went to CBC's Your View section to read some comments. As expected, there was a range of opinions, from outrage to blatant homophobia. What I found particularly troubling was the way people were misreporting, misinterpreting, misstating, and downright making up various numbers to try to back up their arguments. So, I set down to find some actual numbers and do some very rough calculations to try to interpret them. When I went to post my analysis, I discovered that they have a 2000-character limit. So, I broke it into two pieces and was able to post the first half. But, for whatever reason, the second half never appeared. I checked their Submissions Policy and found no restriction on multiple, related posts, so I tried submitting it again from another IP address, just in case they automatically screen out multiple submissions as a guard against spam. No dice, so I guess someone actually reviewed it and decided not to post it. Anyhow, the discussion is now closed, so I figured I'd just post it here...

First off, in response to the ridiculous non-statistics that have been bandied about, I'd like to offer some actual figures and back-of-envelope calculations.

2005 HIV Infection Numbers (from Health Canada):

58,000 HIV-infected people in Canada
29,600 are MSM (men who have sex with men)
2,250 are MSM-IDU (injecting drug users)

You'll notice that about 50% of HIV infected people in Canada are men who have had sex with men. Some people have inverted this claim and said that 50% of MSM are HIV-infected, which of course, is not at all the same thing. As we'll see in a moment, the real number is a tiny fraction of that.

Canada's population in 2005 was approximately 29,271,200. That's interpolated from the 2001 and 2006 census numbers (from Wikipedia: Canada).

I'll work on the assumption that 2.5% of the population are MSM. Of course, various studies have offered wildly differing figures, but I think it's reasonable to assume that 5% of men have had sex with men as a "consensus figure" for my rough estimations (from Wikipedia: Demographics of Sexual Orientation). Of course, I've halved that since I'm looking for the percentage of the population as a whole.

Using these figures, let's estimate HIV infections rates among...

MSM: 29600 / (0.025*29271200) = 0.040
MSM+ISU: (29600+2250) / (0.025*29271200) = 0.044
Non-MSM: (58000-29600 - 2250) / (0.975*29271200) = 0.00092

So, by my rough estimate, 4% of MSM are infected with HIV, compared to just under 0.1% of the rest of the population.

As a gay man, I find that pretty alarming. A man who has sex with men is more than 40 times more likely to be HIV+ than anyone else. The immediate reaction might be to take the steps that Health Canada has taken. But of course, a couple of statistics don't tell the whole story.

What you really have to look at is how small a risk those numbers actually represent. All donated tissues are tested, and those tests are considered to be highly effective, with false-negative rates of just 0.003% for HIV testing (from Wikipedia: Accuracy of HIV Testing). So, multiplying that out, we can estimate the chances that a donated organ that tests negative for HIV will actually carry the disease...

MSM: 0.04*0.003 = 0.00012
Non-MSM: 0.00092*0.003 = 0.00000276

Yes, that's right. A negative-testing organ from an MSM is "only" 99.988% safe, while a negative-testing organ from someone else is 99.999724% safe.

Now, given the choice, who wouldn't want the safer organ? But, of course, that's not the choice we face in reality. There is a chronic shortage of donated organs available and people are dying on the waiting lists. That's why those people in need of organs are willing to take that extra risk, as they expressed in their responses on the CBC's forum.

So, the appropriate question to ask is this: does the benefit of additional organ donations outweigh the increased risk of infection? My figures, while just estimates, suggest that it does, and by far. If we also apply the 2.5% MSM estimate to the pool of organ donors, then we can calculate the overall risk when they are included in the system:

Total: 0.025*0.00012 + 0.975*0.00000276 = 0.00000569

Removing this "high risk" 2.5% of the donor pool improves the safety of the system by a mere 0.000293%. The numbers strongly suggest that we're best served by maximizing the size of the donor pool and relying on existing, highly effective testing to identify unsafe organs. Even if these estimates are out by orders of magnitudes, how can the new regulation possibly be justified? Of course, if it had been debated in the open, we would be able to see and evaluate Health Canada's reasoning. But, I'd suggest, the way it was adopted in secret and announced a month later doesn't reflect well on that reasoning.

Gay and bisexual men may feel unduly targeted by this regulation, but we're not its real victims. Those people in need of organ transplants are.