Thursday, September 16, 2021

Reducing polling stations "due to COVID" makes no sense

We voted the other day, not at our usual polling station, but at another one further away. It was pretty busy, considering this was advance polling and not the actually election day, but not too bad. Apparently, there are fewer polling stations this election, "due to COVID-19".

Wait, hold on. Elections Canada has cut down on the number of polling stations "to meet physical distancing requirements"? That makes no sense. We now have more people crammed into fewer stations, longer lines, and therefore LESS physical distancing. Surely, if anything, we need MORE polling stations.

Now, apparently, some regular polling stations like schools and private businesses declined to lend their premises for voting purposes during a pandemic, which is understandable. But that is not the major reason for the reduced number of polling stations. It's all about physical distancing.

We also had to throw away the little pencils we used to vote with (or we could take them home), another largely pointless COVID protocol. It has been many months since the idea of the virus spreading from touching things has been demoted to nonsense status. Nevertheless, millions of little pencils are being junked regardless.

It's not a big deal, in the scheme of things. You can see that they are trying to make it as safe as possible under the circumstances. It's just that so many things are described as "due to COVID-19" or " because of the pandemic" nowadays that we have almost stopped questioning them. It has become the excuse du jour (d'an?) for pretty much every non-standard or cost-cutting policy instituted anywhere, and there is little anyone can do about it, because public health and safety trumps everything.

A comparison of federal parties' climate change plans

Respected climate economist Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University has put the climate change policies of the three main federal parties under the microscope in the run-up to next week's election, and his conclusions make interesting reading.

All three parties have ambitious carbon reduction targets: the NDP is pursuing a target of 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, the Liberals 40%, and the Conservatives 30%. But, as Professor Jaccard notes, these mean nothing if there are not policies in place to achieve them, and these are what he has been analyzing.

The Liberal plan (a carbon tax rising to $170 a tonne by 2030, with protections for exporting industries) gets a score of 8/10, and Prof. Jaccard believes the measures are sufficient to achieve the target, and will result in a bearable 2.5% drag on GDP over the next 9 years.

The Conservative plan (based on a much lower carbon tax, using a carbon savings account) garners a 5/10 score, and has a decent chance of meeting its goal, with a modest hit of 2% to GDP.

The NDP's plan, on the other hand, the most ambitious at first glance, get a terrible 2/10 score, lacks critical details, and is considered unlikely to meet its goals without a carbon tax rate at least double that of the Liberals, with a huge 6.5% hit to GDP over the next decade.

Professor Jaccard, therefore, recommends that people for whom climate change is a top issue like at the plan in detail rather than just trusting to the stated goals.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Yes, lightning really does strike upwards

Just recently, a friend was trying to convince a skeptical me that, when lightning strikes, it strikes from the ground UPWARDS, not, as most people usually think, from the heavens down the the ground.

Well, we had a humdinger of a thunderstorm last night, and one of the video shots in particular, may have finally convinced me. The video in question is the one about halfway down that page, by Aleksander Onishchuk, and the point is that it is slowed down. The slow motion lightning strike clearly shows the lightning proceeding from the CN Tower upwards.

Actually, it's not quite as simple as that (of course it's not!) This NASA page explains that cloud-to-ground lightning first traces several paths of negative charge downwards in a series of "spurts", searching for the path of least resistance, although this is largely invisible to us here on the ground, because each one is not that bright. Then, because opposites attract, the generally positively-charged ground sends out a "streamer" up along the best path it found. When these two paths meet, a "return stroke" shoots upwards into the sky, and it is this return stroke, much brighter than the initial spurts, that we actually see. Here is another slowed down video to show the process.

So, yes, technically an upwards flash, but, as the whole thing happens within a few thousandths of a second, it really looks like a stationary flash of light, happening all at once. And, because the whole thing is initially generated up in the clouds, we tend to think of it as a downwards strike from the cloud to the ground

Imcidentally, the other video on that page that is well worth watching is the one by Dilshad Berman, if only for the young lady's unadulterated joy at seeing not one but five (five!) lightning bolts hit (or emit from) the CN Tower.

Once again, spurious antisemitism allegations have destroyed a politcal career

Less  than a week before the Canadian federal election, the NDP candidate for Toronto-St. Paul's, Sidney Coles, has "resigned" (i.e. she was pushed) after incriminating social media posts from some months ago were "discovered".

The tweet in question (now long deleted, so someone was saving up the screenshots for the opportune moment - looking at you Simon Wiesenthal Centre) suggest that Israel was maybe responsible for some missing COVID-19 vaccine doses in the United States. The NDP, of course, jumped on that like a pile of bricks, as would any of the other parties, deeming it racism and antisemitism of the highest order.

Now, maybe you think the tweet was puerile (agreed), maybe you think it was the worst kind of conspiracy theory or just poor humour (agreed and agreed). But am I the only person to think that this is not actually antisemitism? As far as I am aware, nowhere was there a mention of "Judaism" as a religion, or "Jewishness" as a race (a dubious contention at best: there is no separate Jewish race, and Jews being of the same Semitic race and background as the Arabs of the region), just "Israel", which is a country or state, just like Canada. 

Surely, we are allowed to criticize other countries, even in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Aren't we? Organizations like the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, B'nai Brith, and the Israeli state itself (and particularly its current Israeli Prime Minister) regularly make use of the damning antisemitism allegation whenever the state of Israel is criticized in any way at all, usually in order to close down the conversation and deflect all blame from the state.

Coles herself performed a complete mea culpa and deleted her Twitter account before "resigning". Coles (as well as Dan Osborne, an NDP candidate in a Nova Scotia riding, whose separate social media faux pas was less forgivable) - have "agreed to educate themselves further about antisemitism". But dare I suggest that maybe it is the party itself - and probably the other parties too, who are all falling over themselves to be more politically correct than thou, particularly if it is something that might comceivably be construed (or misconstrued) as racism - that needs to educate itself.

California recall vote just another example of America's wacky political system

So, a bunch of Republicans in California decided they dislike Governor Gavin Newsom so much that they called a vote just a year before the regularly scheduled vote would have occurred anyway.

Wait, what? They can do that? Welcome to the weird and wacky world of American state politics. Democratic Governor Newsom was voted in during the 2018 gubernatorial elections with 62% of the vote in this overwhelmingly blue (Democratic) state. But the state's rules dictate that, if just 12% of the electorate get together to demand a recall, a whole new election can be held, and (if the vote says so) a new candidate of their choosing can be installed as Governor.

You would think that that way madness lies, and every time a party loses an election they could trigger a new one (and probably lose all over again). But this has apparently not been done since Arnold Schwartzenegger (remember him?) was installed by this method back in 2003.

Anyway, the most recent attempt has failed miserably, with Newsom polling about 64% in his favour, and California is spared the scary prospect of being "governed" by Trumpian talk-radio host Larry Elder. Was this just political theatre, then? Just a game to be played because the rules say it can be?

Either way, the good people of California, Republicans and Democrats alike, are on the hook for the $276 million costs of this ill-advised foray into policy wonkiness, and there will be another (regular) vote anyway in just over a year's time. It has led to some calls to reform the rules around electoral recalls, so that's something. Don't hold your breath, though. This is America, after all.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Djokovic failed again, but you don't need to feel sorry for him

Well, after all the hype and all the anticipation, Novak Djokovic failed to win a Grand Slam (all four majors in one year), and failed to become the GOAT by winning a 21st tennis major to push Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal our of the limelight once and for all. This comes just a month after failing to win a so-called Golden Slam, when when he did not win the gold medal (or indeed ANY medal) at the Summer Olympics.

And he failed in spectacular fashion, losing in straight sets to an ascendent Daniil Medvedev, destroying his racquet in disgust (earning himself a code violation in the process), and narrowly avoiding taking out a ball-boy in a separate angry outburst. The guy does have anger management issues.

So, it seems that not only is Djokovic human, he's actually a thoroughly unpleasant human (certainly compared to Federer, or even Nadal). He's an outspoken anti-vaxxer for one thing. And the US Open crowd was just starting to like (or at least support) him after years of giving him a hard time. It's going to be a long climb back after this.

Not that I care much about him one way or the other. The reason I even write about this is that my wife happened to mention that she felt sorry for him. Sorry? For Djokovic? Isn't that kind of like feeling sorry for a billionaire because he didn't earn another superfluous billion?

Wilson-Raybould's attempts to sabotage Trudeau are personal not political

Jody Wilson-Raybould is still banging on about how unfairly she has been treated by Justin Trudeau, a year and a half after the so-called SNC-Lavalin "scandal".

The whole thing has been off the front-burner for a couple of years now and, even back then, polls indicated that it wasn't a big deal for Canadians (although you may not have got that impression from the Canadian press). It was very much a he-said she-said affair and, even if you considered it an ethics faux-pas on the Prime Minister's partit was not a big one. It turned out not to have been a particularly big issue in the 2019 election, and it probably won't be in this one either, despite Ms. Wilson-Raybould's best efforts. People who feel strongly about it will probably not vote for Trudeau's party even if their local candidate is the best option and even if the party has the best overall platform. That is their right.

But publishing a "tell-all" book - just Wilson-Raybould's version of events, mind you, not a definitive or objective account - a couple of weeks before a federal election just smacks of vindictiveness and small-mindedness. It is not a good look for her. 

Ms. Wilson-Raybould is not standing again in the 2021 election, as she is apparently disillusioned with top level politics. And this is also her right. But she just can't resist sticking her oar in, and doing whatever she can to sabotage Trudeau's chances of re-election. This is not politics, it is personal. And it is every bit as nasty and dirty as she claims federal politics to be.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

How is the UK doing with that whole "we can live COVID" thing?

We're hoping to visit the UK this Christmas, having not seen our parents for nearly two years, but I really don't feel very confident about the prospect.

I see the happy (usually drunk) faces of Brits inside and outside of ridiculously crowded pubs and at sports events on TV and in website articles, and it just makes me shudder a little. Revellers say things like, "It's done, COVID is over, for sure", and "It's like the common cold now". It all seems pitifully naive to me.

My family reports an almost complete absence of masking in supermarkets and in cinemas, which makes them shudder too. One American niece, currently living in England, says, "it feels kind of nice", but most other Brits I speak to are far from convinced.

Britain, like several other countries, has thrown itself wholeheartedly into the idea that we are never going to actually beat COVID, so we may as well just accept that and get on with our lives. As the common phrase goes, on the lips of Boris Johnson downwards, "we must learn to live with COVID".

So, how is that going? Well, depending on who you listen to, not that well. Daily cases are over 40,000 any rising - this, in a country with roughly double the population of Canada, which has about 3,500 daily cases (and possibly plateauing) - and deaths are well over 100 a day and rising (about 20 a day in Canada). 

It's never good to let a disease run rampant, if only because more cases means more likelihood of new (and worse, more resistant) variants arising. But it's the 100 deaths a day that worries more. Is the UK really OK with that?

The main justification in Britain - which is pretty well vaccinated, about on a par with Canada, if slightly lower - is that hospitalizations are manageable, at around 7,000 or about 7% of capacity. But many health experts there are warning that the winter will be hard, as people retreat indoors more, and many are predicting that the healthcare system will come under severe pressure again. There has also been widespread criticism of the decision not to vaccinate children 12-15 years olds. In much the same way, health officials in the US are also warning that things are from under control.

I guess we'll still try to go back at Christmas, unless things deteriorate catastrophically. But I can't pretend that I'm happy with it.

UPDATE

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced how he is going to manage the COVID-19 pandemic during the coming winter months

And the plan is ... no lockdowns, no vaccine passports, no mask mandates, and complete reliance on an OK vaccination rollout that has been shown to be some help but totally insufficient in averting a fourth wave of the virus. And this is supposed to make me feel good?

Sunday, September 05, 2021

What is the religious objection to COVID vaccines?

As we try to ramp up COVID vaccination efforts and mop up those holdouts who are reducing our herd immunity, and as vaccine passports become the norm, it is increasingly likely that we are going  to come up against the issue of religious and medical exemptions.

There are some bona fide medical reasons why some people should not get vaccinated, but these are rare. For example, Ontario's Ministry of Health recently explained that there are really only two good medical reasons why someone should not get a COVID vaccination: an allergic reaction to an element of the vaccine (which should be confirmed by a qualified allergist or immunologist), or if an individual suffered mycocarditis or pericarditis after the first dose of a vaccine (a very rare occurrence).

But what about a religious exemption? This is a much woollier, greyer area, and there is already some evidence that the religious exemption is being abused as people opposed to the vaccines for various reasons try to find ways round it, particularly in some of the more Gilead-orientated areas of the United States. Organizations like Liberty Counsel are ramping up their court case efforts, and threatening various states and companies with legal action over their vaccine mandates. There are detailed video guides on several alt-right websites on how to apply for a religious exemption to vaccination, and many evangelical pastors will provide exemption documents to pretty much anyone who asks.

To qualify, an individual needs to show "sincerely held beliefs" against getting vaccinated, a vague requirement not explained in law anywhere. There are two main religious reasons why people might claim a religious exemption. Firstly, they may object to the use of aborted fetal cell lines in their production (although as I have explained in a previous post, the cell lines used are cloned lines from two original aborted fetuses dating back to 1973 and 1985, and opposition on these grounds would also apply to any number of other vaccines developed over the last 30 or 40 years). 

The second argument makes use of a specific Bible verse claiming that the human body is "God's temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19, if you are really interested), and that defiling it by deliberately pricking a small hole in it is therefore a sin. This might seem ridiculous to most people, but there are a few fundamentalist religious types who probably sincerely believe this (and many more who might claim to because it is convenient). 

Anyway, thousands of people will probably claim a religious exemption as an excuse not to get a COVID shot, including many who have never objected to vaccination before, so politicized has this become. And all this despite the fact that Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have all advised their followers to get vaccinated, and Pope Francis has specifically called it "morally.acceptable" and even '"an act of love". But then, morality it ls not really what this is about, is it?