Friday, 30 November 2007

Burnaby Hospital has worst death rate in B.C.

Burnaby Hospital executive director Arden Krystal said the numbers were a surprise.

"It doesn't feel consistent with what our experience of patient care is at this hospital, and frankly, not consistent with what the majority of our patients would say our patient care is," Krystal said.

Well, she would say that, wouldn't she? I am afraid I must disagree. And I can only offer one personal experience, but which was so bad, its trauma lives with me to this day.

I had a bike accident in Burnaby and was taken by ambulance to Burnaby Hospital. In the ER I was ignored for hours and no-one informed my wife where I was. I am diabetic, but I was put on 'nil by mouth' for over twelve hours - modern practise has shown this is not necessary to avoid choking under a general anaesthetic but this had not yet trickled down to Burnaby. I had an operation on my wrist. The orthopedic surgeon and the radiologist noticed that the broken bone they were examining was "mush"(the orthopod's word) but neither suggested to me or my GP that we check out my bone density. I had to work that one out for myself.

After I recovered from surgery, I found that I was unable to urinate. This is a common side effect of general anasthesia. I asked a male nurse for assistance. I was catherised, but he then encouraged all the staff on the floor to come and watch me fill the container - mostly female nursing and ancilliary staff. I was so relieved that it did not occur to me to complain at the time. I realise now I should have protested the lack of privacy.

I was also presented, not having eaten anything for 48hours, with what was said to be a "toasted cheese sandwich". It had been kept in a warm cart for most of the day and was simply inedible. I did not eat any of the food delivered to my bed side by the hospital, but like most of the people on my ward relied on the provisions supplied by visitors.

Now none of this is life threatening, but it does indicate a general lack of concern for patient care - which is what hospitals are supposed to be about.

I no longer ride my bike - mostly because I have an unreasonable fear - not of accidents but that I might once again find myself in a hospital like Burnaby. It probably did not help that in my 58 years that was the first (and so far last) time I spent a night in a hospital as a patient. For all I know this experience might well be common. It would certainly help explain some of the data that Arden Krystal thinks is surprising.

Mountie killed mill worker in self-defence, report concludes

So once again the RCMP investigate one of their own and conclude that one of their members cannot ever be held responsible for anything. A man has an open beer on the street - not a huge crime by any measure - and mucks about when the cop stops him, giving a false name. The next thing we know for certain is that he is in a jail cell with a bullet in the back of his head.
Koester, 28, says Bush sucker-punched him while being booked in an interview room. Koester, who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 180 pounds, said the six-foot, 187-pound labourer was on top of his back choking the life out of him when he managed to free his gun.

In a physical feat even RCMP investigators conceded was worthy of a contortionist, the constable got the gun up to the back of Bush's head and shot him. Koester refused to reenact what happened for investigators and the coroner's inquest.

But the inquiry concludes that he was reasonably in fear of his life and acted in self defense.

If this was an isolated incident it might pass, but it is part of an increasingly frequent pattern of poorly trained and ill disciplined mounties far exceeding the reasonable use of force, and people ending up dead as a result.

It is obvious that Canada needs an independent police complaints authority that has powers to investigate and to compel testimony. It must not be staffed by police personnel or ex police personnel. We also need to think very carefully about whether we need a national police force at all. The mounties no longer deserve our trust or support, and must be disbanded.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Documenting a not-so-beautiful B.C.

Two films at the Whistler film festival record the life of "aboriginal people on reserves and the crushing poverty, high-unemployment rates and too-few options that often go with that life."

I wonder if these films will get beyond the festival circuit and wider release. I hope so. These stories need to be told.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The power of advertising

I never really understood how the internet could be both free and full of ads at the same time. Mind you I have been around the net for a long time now. I mean since Mosaic - did you have Mosaic? Windows 3.1?

Anyway back then the net was all about geeks and academics. And commerce was actually verboten, spam was still an unpleasant canned lunch meat. From what I can tell, this blog does not seem to get a lot of attention. The other one is on Wordpress where ads are not allowed unless you are a VIP like CNN. But Blogger is owned by Google, who make lots of money from ads, and they don't mind sharing. So they make it really easy to put Adsense in the frame.

I hummed and hawed about the acceptability of this for a bit, but since Google ads seem to be not only ominipresent on the net but also easy to ignore (except for the links you get to spam recipes on gmail (has anyone ever eaten Savory Spam Crescents and lived? I once had to eat Spam Fritters for school Dinner - I was about 6 - I threw up in choir practice first period after lunch - I have never eaten spam anything ever since)).

Anway they have been there for about a week, and, so far, no one has complained. And today, when checking my bank account I noticed a credit for 34c.

I don't think this is going to change my blogging style.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Politics 'stifling $100 laptop'

Dr Igwe Aja-Nwachuku said: "What is the sense of introducing One Laptop per Child when they don't have seats to sit down and learn; when they don't have uniforms to go to school in, where they don't have facilities?"
Absolutely, I could not agree more, after all my children had to go to school every day for their entire school careers and not for one day did they have a school uniform to wear. I do not know how they managed to do so well academically and socially under such trying conditions.

Undercover restorers fix Paris landmark's clock

I have to thank Eric Friesen of Radio 2 for bringing this story to my attention which I missed in yesterday's Guardian.

A team of guerrilla restorers have repaired the clock at the Paris Pantheon. It had been out of order since the sixties. They stayed in the building one night and found they could easily circumvent the security system. They installed a workshop under the dome and repaired the clock. It took a year. Then they had to decide whether or not to tell the authorities. After all, somebody was going to have to wind it regularly to keep it going.

The authorities were not amused, and the restorers were prosecuted but on Friday they were acquitted in a rare display of judicial common sense.

I have always liked the idea of random acts of kindness, and anonymous guerrilla activity to improve the place - like the secret gardeners who cultivate neglected public land. I cannot think of a better way of showing our "masters" what we think of them.

Deleted Scenes

The title given this piece on the site where I stumbled upon it (linked from my title) "Michael Moore cut this scene from Sicko because no one would believe it". But I am going to amend that. Michael Moore cut this scene because no American could believe it. It is also not really about their Health Care system - which is mentioned briefly - it is actually most interesting when it deals with their very successful penal system. And, just like the notion that socialised medicine could be good for you, the idea that a penal system should not be punitive but reformative is a direct challenge to the fundamental American belief system.

He also notes that Norway has a lot of oil (it shares the North Sea with Britain) but still is a world leader in sustainable energy. And the state owns the oil, not private companies.

And just for balance the clip opens with the mad righties frothing over Moore's temerity of questioning their "wisdom" - the view that they have so successfully imposed on Americans that people think they are paying for something better when in fact they are being ripped off for soemthing much, much worse than most of the rest of the world. Of course that does not mean the Norway, or Canada or the UK is perfect or their systems could not be improved. Just that they are streets ahead of a country where corporate welfare comes first.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

"They did this in Germany"

Naomi Wolf talks about "The End of America". There is a seven step process to convert a functioning democracy into a closed society. Ms Wolf draws parallels between what happened in Italy in the twenties, Germany and Russia in the thirties and more recently in Burma, Chile and, yes, the US of A.

Tyrants follow a recipe. It is entirely predictable - and the most dangerous time for freedom is just before an election.

We already have the hyped threats (terrorism) the loss of personal freedoms (the no fly list) the detentions without trial, the use of torture, the spread of surveillance, the accusations of treason against those who criticise the administration, the assault on the rule of law. Dictators still have elections - they love them - they just corrupt them - using the techniques that Jeb Bush used in Florida.

And Canada, under the heel of a minority right wing conviction style government, is going the same way. We hand people over - eagerly - for rendition - and now for possible execution too. Our cops just love their tasers and pepper spray. Lots of people fear losing their jobs if they criticise the government - and with good reason.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Pay as you wish restuarants

I would like to see a restaurant run on these lines here.

There are times when I have been close to the edge when my needs exceeded my income - or I did not have any income at all. Other times when I was at least temporarily quite well off. To be able to eat out and have it not matter what it cost would have been a great pleasure at either time. Somebody in front of me at a supermarket line up was worried that she might not have enough cash to pay for all her purchases, so the checkout clerk told her to watch the screen and tell her to stop when she had reached the available amount. I looked at what she wanted to buy, and resolved that if she did not have enough I would pay for what was there since they were all essentials that she clearly needed. It did not come to that, and it might have embarrassed her. But this idea in a restaurant seems to me to neatly resolve the issue.

Last night we had a great free night of food and entertainment. My kids came around to help me eat the free frozen pizzas I had been given last week at a supermarket as part of a promotion. And I had been to the library and found a movie I had not seen but wanted to - "Bennie and Joon" (highly recommended if you have not seen it either). So we were able to have one of what had once been a regular event - a family movie supper night. The fact that is it was free was incidental - but seemed to be a nice feature of "buy nothing day"

Thursday, 22 November 2007

B.C. will need more jail space for pot growers

B.C. will have to find space in its already crowded jails for about 700 more marijuana growers each year if new mandatory sentences announced by the Conservative government this week are enacted, an analysis of sentencing figures suggests.

"You basically need a new prison to facilitate that," said Darryl Plecas, a criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley who has studied marijuana sentencing. "You're going to have hundreds, if not thousands, of people going to jail who aren't going now."

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson unveiled legislation that would create mandatory minimum sentences for a number of drug offences, including growing marijuana.

Under the law, someone convicted of growing between one and 200 plants would receive at least six months in jail.
Just to make things clear, someone who has a pot plant - one pot plant - is not a dealer, not any kind of threat to society. One pot plant is not enough to supply more than the grower him(or her)self.

A mandatory sentence of six months for one plant - that is supposed to make us all safer?

The war on drugs in the United States has not worked. It is not going to work here either. Grow-ops are a problem, because of the activities of various gangs who want to control the distribution of illegal substances. So we get home invasions and turf wars. This has nothing to do with someone who has some weed for their own use. And as recently observed, the new gang task force is simply dealing with the low level operatives, not the organizers.

I will declare myself here. I have never used any illegal drug - which includes marijuana and its derivatives. I think that caffeine, chocolate and alcohol adequately meet my needs - plus some prescription meds. But my reading and research supports the notion that marijuana use is not nearly as harmful as tobacco - a legal substance I ceased using some years ago because of its proven ill health effects. Because I live in BC I am well aware of widespread use of pot - the smell is everywhere. I have also read accounts of its medicinal use and, like the previous Government of Canada, am convinced that this use is legitimate. If it really helped glaucoma, I might even be tempted, if I could use it without breaking the law. As I do not break the law. Even when I think the law is asinine. I also think we need to be able to do something more effective about impaired driving - and that includes "recreational substances" as well as alcohol.

Of all the things we need in BC - of all the potential uses of public funds - building more prisons would be my lowest priority. Prison does not deter crime, nor does it rehabilitate offenders. It does provide an environment where the power of gangs can be made much more effective. Where criminal knowledge can be spread. Where criminal responses to threats and coercion can be learned and perfected. It also is very effective at creating a social grouping that is incapable of supporting itself independently in society - hence the need for half way houses and rehab programs. Because a criminal record is not going to help anyone get a good job.

My first priority would be housing - lots of it - for people on low and limited incomes. Well integrated housing to avoid the problems of the "sink estates". The sort of housing that was built on the south shore of False Creek near Granville Island. Housing co-ops and associations of all kinds. Lots of NGOs and voluntary groups involved. No for profit "screw the poor" operations that operate so successfully here - tipping out long term tenants on the pretense of refurbishment just so they can increase rents by more than the permitted annual maximum. Or the grotesque SROs which fail every inspection on safety and health grounds but continue to operate for profit as there is no alternative.

I would look at adult education. Not just skills training for jobs but education for life - which should be free and open for everyone. And include remedial reading and literacy, civil rights and law, communications and information technology.

I would also look at schools. Not to deal with "problem kids" who are acting out and dosed up on ritalin - but the kids who nobody notices, and manage to slip through the system without picking up anything useful on the way. As a former tutor to "adult illiterates" I know that there are far too many people who leave school without the basic skills they need to survive. Because it is these people who get involved in crime - because there is almost no other way for them. They become prey for the truly anti-social, who regard other human beings as their tools - or victims.

And mental health programs, to identify and treat the illnesses that our society has a hard time acknowledging - and does not treat the disease but simply punishes the ill.

We know that all these programs work to make a better society. We also know that prisons do no such thing. The education, mental health and raw intelligence scores of the prison population are well below that of society in general. The inhabitants of prisons are disproportionately distributed - in Canada there is an unusually high prison population of First Nations and metis, as well as those with drug addictions and mental health problems. This is not coincidence, but it directly linked to the employment, housing and educational issues in those communities. It is long past time to find a way to effectively tackle these issues. Building more prisons is just a way to prolong them.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Campaign urges parents to 'dump soda'

A big international campaign has been launched to get people off soda pop. The Dump Soda campaign ( is spearheaded by consumer groups on five continents in response to rising childhood obesity.
beverages that are nothing more than liquid candy

And so called Diet Sodas are even worse - most contain aspartame often identified by its brand name "NutraSweet". That stuff is poison. There is no other word for it.

Monday, 19 November 2007

US prison system 'costly failure'

No surprises here: like most good sociology, this study demonstrates what most thinking people had worked out for themselves.

The fall in crime rate is because of the decline in the number of young men as a percentage of society. Simple demographics. Risk takers with little stake in society and too much testosterone get into trouble - or the armed forces.

The "war on drugs" is not mentioned in this article but is also responsible for large numbers of incarcerations for petty offences. Legalising marijuana - just like ending the prohibition on beverage alcohol - would cut the number of 'offenders' at the stroke of a pen.

But prisons are popular. With legislators - because they think that "getting tough on crime" is a vote winner. With rural communities - who need the employment that new prisons bring. With corporations who have muscled into the corrections business and are making out, well, like bandits. With good people, who are increasingly worried by a media that insists on "if it bleeds, it leads", who do not believe that the crime rate is falling and feel threatened especially when they see young men in hoodies hanging around with nothing to do. Young black and latino men especially.

What is also not mentioned is the way the US appeals system works - or rather does not work. Many of those incarcerated have not committed the crimes they were accused of. But because a jury could be persuaded - or because they decided to "cop a plea" to get a lighter sentence - they are behind bars. Once convicted the burden of proof shifts: the convict is assumed to be guilty and must prove he did not do what he stands convicted of. That is a very hard test indeed - and there are men on death row, exonerated by DNA evidence who are still awaiting release. Apparently in the minds of US attorneys there is no such thing as an "unsafe conviction".

Stay away from aspartame

This video runs for about 90 minutes, but it is well worth watching for that time. If you use artificial sweeteners, or diet anything, you need to be aware that the FDA was sideswiped into approving a food additive that is known to cause cancer, and a wide range of other very unpleasant conditions. The man who engineered this process of acceptance despite the evidence was none other than Donald Rumsfeld.

Briefly, the science is unequivocal. Aspartame releases methanol into your system. This is a poison that your body cannot deal with or eliminate: it therefore builds up and inevitably causes health problems. Some people have a higher sensitivity to methanol than others but the more you consume the more damage it does.

Aspartame should never have been released onto the market. The process was distorted deliberately in the interest of making lots and lots of money. Corporate well being is more important than personal well being.

Health Items

Two pieces today in the "Breaking news" section of the Vancouver Sun's web page. So there is no link from the title but both are embedded below

Vitamin D may curb type 2 diabetes risk
- which is good news since I already take that to cope with osteoporosis. Of course what it doesn't say is that it has any therapeutic effect if you have already developed type 2 diabetes, and so far I cannot report any.

There has been a spate of articles on the health benefits of chocolate but one more won't hurt especially as this one takes care to point out that the stuff that has to be sold as "candy" because it has very little cocoa content is NOT good for you because of all the fat and sugar they add. Stay away from anything made by Hershey - who stupidly use sour milk and ruin the taste as well. Milk chocolate is a bad idea too. Look for dark chocolate with the percentage of cocoa declared - 75% is very good. 99% is less palatable, but works extremely well when grated on to the top of the foam on a cappuccino.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Am I to blame for his private war?

The photographer who took this iconic "Marlboro Marine" picture in Iraq, now brings us up to date on what happened to this young man when he got home.

Stunning, moving writing.

His is the third generation that this has happened to. Before this it was Vietnam, and before that Korea. In this story anyway. They did not recognise PTSD before that but my former father-in-law came home from the invasion of Normandy with it - and my grandfather (a marine at the Dardanelles) committed suicide after years of untreated problems.

How long before we put a stop to sending young men into harm's way for the sake of the greed of a few old men?

see also this item on suicides by US vets

Saturday, 17 November 2007

'Billboard poster saved my life'

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) campaign Doubt Kills, was launched 12 months ago, after research revealed that that 42% of people prefer to "wait and see" before calling the emergency services.
Don't wait. Call 911. (999 only works in the UK)

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Another border security story

I am sorry if this seems like an obsession but this story is too good to pass up.

Firefighters on both sides of the US/Canada border have been helping each other for years. But border security decided to hold up a fire truck - with bells and lights on - from going from Quebec to New York to help fight a fire.

It is wonderful how these officials think. Obviously firemen going about their job must be some kind threat. They are equipped with axes after all.


This is not an isolated incident: this story from today's Province tells how they stopped an emergency ambulance with a patient in need of urgent care - this time at the Windsor-Detroit crossing. Is there some rule that says border guards must have absolutely no common sense at all?

Airport Screeners Missed Bomb Parts

Did it ever cross your mind while you were standing in one of those long winding line ups and putting up with people rummaging through your luggage and wiping the inside with damp pads, that it is all a bit pointless? The GAO has produced a report which shows how ineffective airport screening is.

I have not read the report itself, just the AP story on it, but I cannot say I am surprised. Airport security here is largely handled by private contractors. The people they employ are not able to get better jobs than the mind numbingly dull routine of staring at a screen and trying to spot a pair of nail clippers. They are poorly paid, poorly trained and hard to motivate.

The bombers meanwhile have moved elsewhere. Transit is now one target of choice. There are no screeners, and it is a lot easier to get a back pack of explosives on to a tube train than hijack a plane or set light to your shoelaces. Of course the subsequent video is less dramatic - but the atmosphere of terror is pretty much the same.
The TSA agreed with the investigators' recommendation to introduce "more aggressive, visible and unpredictable security measures," as well as the recommendation to deploy new detection technologies.

I am not sure I like the sound of "aggressive" - these people are uncivil enough already.

Monday, 12 November 2007

'Welfare to Work' Didn't Work

No real surprises here. Also no real surprise that this gets covered by The Tyee and not by the mainstream media. Who will probably continue to publish the government's half truths and deceptions. Because they appeal to that "common sense" that "knows" welfare claimants are all simply lazy scroungers, and does not recognize barriers to employment until someone they know actaully hits one. A bit like racism - 'they' all conform to a stereotype except those known personally to the speaker.
Claude Richmond, the minister responsible for welfare in B.C., wrote a letter to the editor of the Times-Colonist stating, "Federal/provincial taxation data shows 81.5 per cent of expected-to-work clients who left income assistance did so for employment."

While the minister's letter assures us that 81.5 per cent of expected-to-work clients who left income assistance did so for employment, this is actually a small reduction from the past when 83 per cent declared employment income.

And so on. Lots of promises - not one of them kept, and absolutely no attempt to own up to failure. Just bury the bad news and hope nobody notices.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Canada's bogus welcome to talented immigrants

We're misleading too many skilled newcomers by luring them here and then denying them work in their field

Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, November 10, 2007

Canada aggressively pursues highly skilled people and persuades them to come here. Then they find that they are not allowed to work in their field, and have to take low paying jobs. In the case of doctors, the South Africans are furious that our greed for their English speaking doctors leaves many South Africans with no health care at all.

I will declare my interest. I am an immigrant. I still have a very strong English accent. Well, since I was nearly 40 when I got here that is not surprising. And I did get work here in my field. Except that it never seemed to last very long, and wherever I worked it was always a case of last in, first out. And I do not think that my current underemployment is due to my origins.

But I know far too many highly qualified individuals who have not been able to make it here - including an Egyptian oro-maxilliary surgeon who I met while working on the census, and an engineer from the former Yugoslavia who works for a taxi company.

It is one thing for us to go to poorer countries and take their brightest and best so that we get the benefit of their very expensive training. It is quite something else again when they end up working at 7-11.

Students learn about Holocaust first-hand from a survivor, 81

for years, survivors kept to themselves what had happened, he said.

"It was just too painful even to talk about it with our families. But all that changed in the '60s and '70s when the Holocaust deniers came on the scene. At best, they said the numbers were exaggerated; at worst they said the whole thing was a hoax," he said.

"Incidentally, I have nothing against the German people. The people who perpetrated this crime are dead or were killed. We can't hold the people of Germany responsible for what their fathers and grandfathers did. . . . We have to move along."

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Group RESP plans may not have your child's best interests at heart

I don't think there is any "may" about it. I am convinced that these plans are a rip-off based on vulnerability and lack of knowledge. And I could not believe, once I found out how bad these plans were, that no-one was regulating how they were sold, since they make mendacious claims. The advantage is created by the tax system. Given that government thinks we should be saving for our children's tertiary education, I was amazed that they take no interest at all in what was being foisted on their citizens.

We bought RESPs for both our children as a result of information collected at the hospital. We also got the Welcome Wagon treatment - free formula samples (even though breast is best) disposable diapers (I still think these are easier on babes and parents than washables and the energy/CO2 equivalent as far as I can see) and baby photos.

The RESPs came from USC. What I found out a couple of years later was that the plans had no actual value at all in their early years, since all of the contributions I had been making had been paid to the salesman as commission! In fact the only way to get anything like the value I was putting in was to stay in. Compared to the performance of my mutual fund based RRSP, the performance of the RESPs was dismal. In fact little better than a savings account.

What we could not have predicted is the way that provincial governments have shifted tuition funding onto students (or their parents), which in a knowledge based economy is pretty bloody cynical. Most students now end up in heavy debt - which of course helps to create a docile workforce, strongly motivated to keep their jobs in order to pay off their debts. And then we are surprised that family formation suffers: no-one can now afford to get married, buy a house and have kids straight out of university like my generation did.

If someone gives you a pamphlet from University Scholarships - or one of their competitors - throw it away. Talk to an independent financial advisor, and set up your own savings plan. Don't give your kids education funds to some smooth talking salesman - your kids need that money more than he does.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

That tax cut

the amount that all Canadians can earn without paying federal income tax to $9,600 from the current threshold of $8,929, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2007

I hope someone will respond to this post, since I cannot for the life of me make sense of this. Why does the federal government think it should take taxes from people below the poverty level?

If you were lucky enough to have a full time job paying minimum wage that would be 1950 hours (52 times 37.5) at $8.00 or $15,600 a year before things like EI and CPP and so on. But apparently the Canadian government thinks you should give up 15% of the amount over the tax threshold - or around $1,000 a year. I have been trying to determine what we think is the poverty level - and all I can find are arguments about LICO and a family of four. It seems to me that an individual at this level would be living in poverty - even if they did not live in a city where the vacancy rate is so small it can't be measured meaningfully and rent would take up most of this take home pay packet.

I am not going to get into an argument about what the LICO should be or if there is a better indicator. I just want to know why we think that poor people should pay taxes and rich people should not.

Since GST is levied on nearly everything, it is a regressive tax. That is to say, it impacts more on those with low incomes, who can least afford it. On the other hand a drop in GST clearly benefits those who are about to buy "big ticket" items, like plasma tvs, than those who spend most of their limited incomes on essentials. And as long as they belong to families, they won't be paying GST on food. (If you live alone and have no liking for stale baked goods, you will pay GST on your single muffin, but a family of four - who will buy six or more at a time, won't)

So Mr Flaherty's tax cuts will benefit corporations - who pay very little in tax anyway - and the wealthy. But single people on low incomes will not get much benefit at all.

Not only that but EI and CPP are taxes as well - there is no way they can be avoided by those on low income - and they all reduce the amount available for food, shelter and other basic necessities. Is it any wonder that the UN is in town looking at our shameful performance?

UPDATED I was just idly Stumbling when this link popped up and confirmed my worst fears