Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Layton on Natives

I saw Jack Layton talking about his promises to implement the Kelowna Accord with First Nation Peoples this morning on Newsworld.

The most important part is pretty well summed up by this quote from the NDP website:

“These platform commitments are different than many election platform planks,” Layton said. “They are not promises about what New Democrats will do for you. They are what New Democrats will do with you.”

No grand plan, no big centralized reforms. Layton emphasized that the First Nations have a lot of problems, but they are already coming up with their own solutions. Government's role is just to help out in whatever way the First Nations want, even implementing different plans in different areas. I'd add that staying the hell out of their hair if that's what they want would also be a good committment to make.

This is probably the best idea a non-Native leader has suggested in a while. Too many people on both left and right have grand, social-engineering proposals they want to implement on status Indians across the board. Privatize reserve land, no, regulate its use better, change the way band councils can spend money, cut them off altogether. And nothing has really worked.

Trying to protect First Nations people from themselves is a paternalistic, insulting and ridiculous strategy doomed to fail. My father once told me a story about a Native farmhand he knew in Saskatchewan in the early '60s. Every year this guy went to the Calgary Stampede, like a lot of other people. And he'd come back and everyone would say "Hey, what did you see at the Stampede?"

And he'd say, "Oh, not much, I spent pretty near the whole day in the bar."

And everyone would laugh. They knew he was kidding. Because back then, Indians weren't allowed to drink in bars in Canada.

Give them back more land, more control over their natural resources, and let them do what they want with it.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Good News in Health Care

I'm tempted to just make this lead from the entire post:

Patients who normally would have waited an average of 47 weeks for an orthopedic consultation were treated in under five weeks.

But it doesn't tell you the how of the this story from Alberta, and the how makes all the difference. For years we have been pounded (especially by Albertans) with the message that efficiency can only be reached through competition between free-enterprise health providers. Public health care is a doomed, bureaucratic mess and will never be redeemed.

Well, kiss my ass, capitalism. It turns out that focussed efforts by people who understood the problem worked, and incredibly fast.

The Edmonton Journal reports that several factors were key to the improvements. The number of surgeries performed in each operating room was raised to three or four, instead of just one or two.

As well, surgeons worked with a team of nurses and physical therapists to move patients through the system quickly and get high-priority cases done first.

Alberta's Health Department contributed $20 million, mainly for additional staff and operating rooms. The speedier surgeries did not result in other health services being delayed or cancelled.

When the project was announced last year the health system was disconnected, with "silos" of services – like diagnostics and orthopedic surgery – being designed around that particular service, rather than around the patient.


The average wait times seen within the pilot project are even lower than the new national standards announced by provincial and federal health ministers last week.

By creating a flow-through process based on what the patients needed, the care got faster. I know a lot of people who have waited around for various surgeries, ranging from cancer to joint problems, and it's always a story of lurching from your GP to a specialist, to a variety of waiting lists. With this program, everything needed for a specific problem is hived off, and you just jump from diagnosis to imaging to surgery on a quick little timetable. That diagnosis-imaging-treatment series can easily be applied to many other procedures too, no doubt.

Good news all around, no matter what kind of health care you want.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thoroughly Disturbing

Reading Pharyngula, I discovered this link to a posting about a truly immoral crossbreeding experiment. Apparently, a Soviet biologist artificially inseminated several chimps with human sperm in an attempt to create hybrids. Supposedly, this would prove that men and apes shared a common ancestor, and thus deal a blow to religion, a.k.a. the opiate of the masses.

Of course, if Christians had been breeding horses and mules together, I'm not sure why a human-ape hybrid would cause more doubt. And during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed that women who gave birth to deformed and mentally challenged infants had slept with animals. There are several famous "calf-people" and "sheep people" from the history of England, who usually came to tragic ends at the hands of their ignorant peers. It seems like the question of whether a humanzee would be significant to anyone's religion would rely more on the particular theological interpretation given to the hybrid.

Fortunately, none of the inseminations produced a child, and attempts to find a human female volunteer willing to carry a humanzee child to term also came to naught. The entire experiment has the stench of Leninism, the notion that individual humans (or humanzees) are just interchangeable parts who may be sacrificed for the greater good of International Socialism. Considering that it would only be a few years later that the entire Soviet Union would be forced to reject genetics in favour of the worthless Lamarkianism of Lysenko, it's only surprising that the entire episode hasn't been erased from history.

The reason why Arthur Jermyn’s charred fragments were not collected and buried lies in what was found afterward, principally the thing in the box. The stuffed goddess was a nauseous sight, withered and eaten away, but it was clearly a mummified white ape of some unknown species, less hairy than any recorded variety, and infinitely nearer mankind—quite shockingly so. Detailed description would be rather unpleasant, but two salient particulars must be told, for they fit in revoltingly with certain notes of Sir Wade Jermyn’s African expeditions and with the Congolese legends of the white god and the ape-princess. The two particulars in question are these: the arms on the golden locket about the creature’s neck were the Jermyn arms, and the jocose suggestion of M. Verhaeren about certain resemblance as connected with the shrivelled face applied with vivid, ghastly, and unnatural horror to none other than the sensitive Arthur Jermyn, great-great-great-grandson of Sir Wade Jermyn and an unknown wife. Members of the Royal Anthropological Institute burned the thing and threw the locket into a well, and some of them do not admit that Arthur Jermyn ever existed.

H.P. Lovecraft

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Battle of the Tax Plans!

In the opening stretch of the federal election campaign, it looks like tax cuts, or the lack thereof, are being set up as one of the big issues.

In the blue corner, we have Stephen "No Charisma thanks, I'm an Economist" Harper, weighing in at about 99 MPs, maybe less a few right now. He's offering to cut the GST from 7 to 5 per cent across the board. This would, of course, be good for the poor. At least a little bit. Consumption taxes hurt people with less money far more than they hurt upper income earners. When I was making less than $30,000 a year, I still had to fill up the gas tank of my car, paying that seven per cent on every litre. The guy next to me at the pumps, filling his $100,000 pick up with dual rear wheels and a hemi, had to pay the same, of course. But it hurts less when it comes out of a $150,000 annual salary.

In the red corner we have Paul "Foreign Registered Companies" Martin, offering cuts in income tax, particularly in the form of a hike in the basic exemption rate. Most of the Liberal tax cuts over the past six or seven years have been targetted at (for lack of a better term) the middle-middle classes and the upper middle classes. This one is aimed at the lower middle classes - also known as the people who haven't seen much good come from the Liberal government as it cut the hell out of housing and social programs over the past decade.

In the orange corner (oh, how they longed to get Red as their colour!) we have Jack "I Have a Nifty Moustache" Layton and his plan, which is: no tax cuts. This is probably the hardest to sell, but he's proposing to dump that money back into health care and the above-mentioned slashed social and housing programs.

So which one is actually the best plan for Canada, keeping in mind that I'd really rather see the entire economy overhauled for the benefit of the poor.

Harper's plan seems pretty good at first, because the GST is a regressive tax. But poor Canadians who file income tax, the working poor, already get GST rebate cheques four times a year. So there's already some built in tax relief for the lowest levels of society there, leaving out the homeless. The Liberals are yelling about how their plan is better because you get the money back whether you spend money or not, which isnt' exactly the point. Anyone who works has to spend money on basic goods, many of which are taxed under the GST.

The Liberal plan is slightly better. Of course, they've added in a package of corporate tax cuts as well, which the NDP forced them to drop during the last session and switch to spending the money on social programs.

If I were an economist, I could probably work out which plan would leave the "average Canadian" with more money in his/her pocket at the end of the year. But I favour the Liberal over the Conservative plan slightly because it isn't designed to directly encourage spending. There's a psychological element at work here. If things are ever so slightly cheaper (and two per cent isn't much of a savings) you hardly notice, and live your life much as before. If you get a nice hefty rebate on your taxes next year, and you pay less in the next year, you can consider what to do with the lump of money you suddenly have. Save or spend, whichever you like. And Canadians really need to save more money. Hopefully some would choose that.

However, I ultimately go with Jack Layton's plan, in the short term. Barely. Tax relief for the poorest working Canadians is something the NDP should seriously consider for the future. But for now, there's a hell of a lot that needs to be done on the social front. My home town, of barely more than 115,000 people, has seen the number of homeless jump from about 17 to 54 in the last three years. And that's just the official numbers. That's directly linked to cuts in social services, housing and welfare. For years, the provincial and federal governments have skewed the economy to benefit the biggest mass of voters, the middle aged home owners of the middle and upper-middle classes. They've done very well. The economy is roaring along. Unemployment is very low.

Imagine what they could do for the poorest, if they tried?