My Segway is not a mongrel

Terrance Wojtkiw was ticketed as he rode his “e-bike” on a road in Saanich, B.C. It would have been a legal e-bike if it was limited to a speed of 32 km/hr and could be peddled but he was going 48 km/hr and the pedals had been altered so as to be unusable.

image: David Charbonneau

Wojtkiw was ticketed because, since it wasn’t an e-bike, police reasoned that it must be an unregistered motorcycle. The court ruled that it’s neither. The judge ruled that Terrance Wojtkiw’s “thing” was not an e-bike, not a motorcycle. The judge called it “a mixed breed or mongrel” and the case was dismissed.

It turns out that ICBC doesn’t even recognize such a thing. Wojtkiw couldn’t have registered and licensed it if he wanted to.

Lacking words to describe these “things,” I’ll call them Electrically-Assisted Transportation Devices (EATDs). Many such devices have no legislation to define them and/or regulate their use. They cover a rainbow of EATDs: e-scooters, electric unicycles, hoverboards, electric bikes, electric wheelchairs, scooters as mobility aids, and Segways.

In Canada, the feds hand over the registration of motor vehicles to the provinces. I first rode an X2 Segway in Hawaii. Upon my return, I bought one in Kamloops.  U.S. federal legislation ambiguously defines Segways as a personal transportation device which may, or may not, be like an electric wheelchair. The U.S. Federal Transit Administration says:

“The Segway is a two-wheeled, gyroscopically stabilized, battery-powered personal transportation device.  The Segway is not designed primarily for use by individuals with disabilities, nor is it used primarily by such individuals.  However, some individuals with disabilities may use a Segway as a personal mobility aid, in lieu of more traditional devices like a wheelchair or scooter.”

In other words, if a person has mobility issues the Segway is a “personal mobility aid.” If not, it is “personal transportation device.” What my Segway is classified as is in the eye of the beholder but as for me, I don’t have mobility issues.

Ah hah, you might say: “if it barks like a mongrel then it must be a mongrel.” But I don’t think my Segway is a mongrel. The pedigree of Wojtkiw’s electric Tag500 is even more uncertain –neither fish nor fowl.

The B.C. government hopes to bring some clarity to EATDs. In their news release they say:

“People who choose new types of transport, like e-scooters, electric unicycles or Segways, to get around will benefit from proposed amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act, introduced on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. These changes clarify how emerging devices are to be used and will ensure the safety of everyone who uses roads and sidewalks (Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Oct. 7, 2019).”

If I want to go anywhere in Westsyde on my Segway, I have to travel on the sidewalk. To ride on Westsyde road would be hazardous to my health. Fortunately, the sidewalk is a shared pathway although whoever designated it as such probably never imagined the menagerie of EATDs that might travel it.

Even with provincial legislation, the regulation of EATDs will depend on the existence of shared pathways, bikeways, the volume of road traffic, and the number of pedestrians on sidewalks. Look for the mess to fall on the lap of Kamloops City Council anytime soon.

Not your father’s minority government

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government is not like his father’s. When Pierre Trudeau won minority government in 1972, he didn’t have the support of opposition parties. The government only lasted 1 year, 221 days. His minority government introduced the unpopular Petro-Canada Crown Corporation that reminded Albertans of the despised National Energy Program. Petro-Canada’s reddish-coloured headquarters in Calgary were tagged “red square.”

P.M. Lester Pearson. Image by Nobel Foundation, Associated Press

Given the bluster from the United Conservative Party of Alberta, you wouldn’t think that the Liberals have any support from the Conservatives until you consider that they both want the Trans Mountain pipeline built.

Consider the following, suggests my Calgary friend:

“I think the conservatives and liberals are not that far apart on the pipeline issue. If the liberals make good on our 4.5 Billion dollar investment in the TMP they will get no support from the NDP or the BLOC but the conservatives would be foolish not to support it.”

Wouldn’t that be something to behold? If the NDP or the Bloc Québécois opposed a pro-pipeline bill, how could the Conservatives not support it without appearing hypocritical? And the NDP and Bloc could then wash their hands of the project that offends environmentalists.

Justin Trudeau has consistently said that he is going to build the Trans Mountain pipeline. He repeated that goal after the October 21, 2109, election.

While reactions to the federal election have focused on a divided country, I see Justin Trudeau’s Liberals offering something for everyone.

The Liberals and the Bloc Québécois can work together on social policy and the environment. The Bloc Québécois has made it clear that they intend to support this Liberal minority government. BQ Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said that the Liberals should do “what it takes” to make Parliament work. He added there’s a law stating that government mandates are supposed to last four years. I’m not sure that’s true for minority governments but Blanchet’s support is clear.

Who knows, if successful, Trudeau’s minority government could be re-elected as was a minority government in 1965, one before Pierre Trudeau’s.

The NDP and the Liberals have the common goal of implementing Pharmacare. Both parties campaigned on bringing the much-needed plan into reality.

Canada is an anomaly among nations. We are the only industrialized country with a universal public health care system but no Pharmacare. Every study of Canada’s health care has identified the lack of Pharmacare as a major gap in our system. Medicare without drug coverage doesn’t even make sense. What good is a health care system that prescribes drugs but doesn’t cover them?

Justin Trudeau’s minority government should look to the accomplishments of minority governments before his father’s. Lester Pearson’s Liberals implemented universal health care with the cooperation of the NDP. And his minority government was so successful that it was re-elected as a minority government with back-to-back Liberal minority governments following elections in 1963 and 1965.

How fitting is it that this minority government complete the Medicare program started by minority governments, a goal not attempted by his father.

How to influence people though social media and win elections

No one in Silicon Valley believed Christopher Wylie when told them of how social media was manipulating people. The tech big shots didn’t take the pink-haired, nose-ringed, 26 year-old seriously. They should have.

image: CBC

The meeting was in August, 2015, a year before U.S. presidential election. No one even remotely thought that Donald Trump could win. Wylie, born in Victoria, warned the tech giants that their platforms were being used by some shady players. He told CBC Radio’s The Current:

“You know, to tell them about how their platforms were being abused by companies like Cambridge Analytica and also that I felt slightly uneasy about. . .  I saw very unusual interactions with people very close to the Russian government. And, the reaction that I got was just sort of shoulder shrugs, like, well, Donald Trump is a sketchy business man. So like it’s unsurprising that he has a sketchy campaign but Hillary Clinton’s going to win. And he’s not going to win. So there’s nothing really to worry about. And I got told that enough times that I thought, OK, well, maybe I’m overreacting and, OK, they have a point. It’s kind of crazy to think that Donald Trump would be elected (October 9, 2019).”

Wylie was familiar with disinformation campaigns because he helped develop them while working at Cambridge Analytica. It was there that his company illegally took the personal data of 87 million people from their Facebook profiles and used that data to develop new forms of psychographic micro-targeting.

Psychographic micro-targeting was developed at Cambridge Analytica when Wylie worked there from 2013 to 2014. Wylie explained to the CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault how it worked. First, they had test subjects fill out psychological surveys and then they compared results with their stolen Facebook data. Then they could connect the survey results and Facebook profiles. Once that association was made, Facebook users could be manipulated; their emotional vulnerabilities revealed and exploited; their reaction to different kinds of information predicted.

While working for Cambridge Analytica, Wylie worked on disinformation campaigns for Steve Bannon, a relative unknown at the time, who later became a chief advisor for Donald Trump’s campaign.

When Wylie left Cambridge Analytica in 2014 to start his own company it was clear to him how psychographic micro-targeting was manipulating people but no one seemed to be listening.

When asked by the host of The Current what was going through Wylie’s mind when the impossible happened and Trump won, Wylie replied:

‘I can’t say it on air. Oh F. That and it was personally, it was devastating to watch that happen and then to see my old boss Steve Bannon walking into the White House with Donald Trump where he gets appointed to the National Security Council. To see people that I had seen in the office now holding the levers of power knowing that these people, at least in my view, are extremists and his vision for what he wanted to do with America was really concerning. And it was only after the inauguration of Donald Trump when I think it really started to hit home to people, like, this is real.”

Wylie had a short-term contract with the federal Liberals in November 2015 in which he revealed the power of psychographic micro-targeting. They, too, didn’t seem to take Wylie seriously and his contract wasn’t renewed.

It’s about time that Christopher Wylie was taken seriously.

Baby boomers’ long term care goes bust

The long term care of boomers is an unfunded liability. Unlike the Canadian Pension Plan and Old Age Security, the long term care of boomers is not funded at all. Our health care is not prepared to receive their numbers.

image: genx67.com

Other countries with similar long-term care pressures, such as Germany and Japan, have established various forms of public long-term care insurance. Not in Canada.

As it now stands, long-term care falls on the shoulders of family members who provide for 75 per cent of home-care for older Canadians, unpaid. Canadians typically don’t see the gaps in the current publicly-funded care programs until they or a family member falls through them.

Research from the National Institute on Ageing at Ryerson University shows that if Canada continues on its current track, the cost of publicly funded long-term care for seniors – including nursing homes and home care – is expected to more than triple in 30 years, rising from $22-billion to $71-billion, in today’s dollars. Authors of the research, Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald and Michael Wolfson, warn:

“There is no special fund or program to cover the costs of long-term care in Canada. And it is not covered under the Canada Health Act in the same way as physician and hospital care (Globe and Mail, October 8, 2019).”

Canadians are dreaming if they think that our health care system can deal with the onslaught of boomers that will be falling into long term care. Hospitals are now struggling to place seniors in long-term care facilities and the wave of boomers hasn’t even hit yet.

Private long-term care insurance is available but expensive because of the low number of people buying it. It hasn’t worked here in Canada and is unlikely to work in the future.

Private long-term residences are having trouble staffing. In Kamloops, Berwick on the Park’s supportive living unit will close next year leaving 20 residents without round-the-clock care, despite the fact that residents pay $5,000/month for the service. The director of Berwick wrote to residents:

“There are significant challenges to retain healthcare staff in the current labor environment. An extraordinary amount of energy has been directed at recruitment and onboarding staff to meet the obligations to successfully operate our licensed care unit. The forward looking labor forecast indicates that these challenges will continue for the foreseeable future (Kamloops This Week, October 10, 2010)”

Even if private long-term care were available, many boomers couldn’t afford it. Debt among seniors is increasing according to Stats Canada. In 2016, the proportion of senior families with consumer and mortgage debt doubled since 1999.

Boomers have led privileged lives. They grew up during a period of increasing affluence due in part to widespread post-war government subsidies in housing and education. Baby boomers were more active and more physically fit than any preceding generation and were the first to grow up genuinely expecting the world to improve with time. While they have accumulated wealth, many boomers have lived beyond their means.

Boomers’ optimism for a better world is going to be severely tested as they age.

Canada needs to establish a new long-term social insurance program.  Given that health care is controlled by provinces, a patchwork system will be the likelihood as boomers totter into old age.

The current rickety long-term care system is not prepared for the wave of boomers.

 

 

Meat is bad for you. Wait, it’s OK

Contrary to decades of work, researchers from Dalhousie and McMaster Universities recently found that red meat, including bacon, is not harmful. It wasn’t a new study but rather a “study of studies,” a meta-analysis of existing studies.

image: Foreman Grill Recipes

It was a perfectly flawed study. Perfect because it offered a veneer of the scientific method; flawed because of what it didn’t include.

It didn’t include studies that found the opposite of their conclusion. Those well-researched studies found a link between meat consumption and coronary heart disease, heart attack, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular death and all-cause mortality. That’s quite an exclusion.

As well, the researcher’s conclusions were contrary to those of the World Health Organization, the Canadian Cancer Society, the American Institute for Cancer Research, and the American Heart Association. Their findings also diverged from Canada’s new Food Guide which suggests eating less animal protein.

Why did the researchers not include studies that concluded the opposite of their report? They weren’t funded by the cattle or pork industry. The reason that they didn’t include the studies was technical. The self-selected 14 member panel decided that these findings were not of sufficient quality.

What they did include is suspect. For example, they included one trial that dominated their analysis; a trial involved almost 49,000 women. But that trial was designed to examine dietary fat intake, not meat intake says nutritionist Leslie Beck (Globe and Mail, October 2, 2019).  It seems to me that a study purporting to investigate the relationship between meat consumption and health shouldn’t include fat consumption.

And the researcher’s findings were flawed in another way. They did not distinguish between the consumption of red meat and processed meat, despite evidence that processed meat such as bacon is more harmful.

It’s not surprising that their study should come to the conclusion that it did. Obviously, what’s included will determine the outcome.

The researchers at Dalhousie and McMaster Universities were exhaustive in a peculiar way. They were exhaustive in the number of findings: they conducted not just one review but five.

Three of the reviews analyzed more than 100 observational studies involving more than six million participants. These types of studies link associations between consumption and health by following people for decades to see if participants who became ill or died.

Another of the five reviews analyzed randomized controlled trials, studies that show cause and effect of eating more or less red meat.

The researchers were thorough enough to appear scientific but blind in excluding accepted knowledge. They couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

The authors acknowledged their lack of confidence in their data. They conceded that their recommendation was weak but judging by the headlines they received, you wouldn’t know it.

Finally, studies on groups of people don’t necessarily predict outcomes for individuals. Leslie Beck says:

“A large body of evidence suggests that a high intake of red and processed meat increases the risk of ill health. I acknowledge that the risk on an individual level may be small, and that it’s your overall diet that matters most when it comes to health, not one food.”

Artists struggle to make a living wage in internet era

Gone are the days when the path to success was fairly direct. Graham Henderson, president of Music Canada recalls the way it used to be:

“In 1999, if you’ve got a record deal, and were lots of record deals large and small, you had a legitimate shot at a career. You’d sell 50,000 records, get a gold record. And then you’ve got a lot of touring. And then there’s radio play. It all added up to an opportunity (Globe and Mail, September 22, 2019).”

Country musician Mike Plume recalls his 15-year deal at a Nashville record label and the regular touring opportunities. Back then he was able to earn a decent living. Royalties from the use of his music on TV shows such as Dawson’s Creek further supplemented his income. “It was a nifty little chunk of change that came in. It made life a little easier for a couple of months,” Plume said.

After his deal expired in 2015, Plume returned to his hometown of Edmonton. He earned a bit from voice-over and narration work. The contrast between before and after the internet became obvious.

The new reality is one of rags or riches. “It almost feels like there’s no such thing as a middle-class musician,” says Plume. “You’re either making $25,000 a year or you’re making north of a hundred grand.”

Breaking into recognition is difficult and once you get a break, wages are still in the poverty range.

Internet streaming and creative theft is making entry into the creative middle class harder than ever. A 2018 survey of music industry professionals in British Columbia showed that 24 per cent of respondents are considering leaving the industry primarily due to concerns about wages.

Music Canada, a non-profit trade organization advocating for the rights of creative professionals, found that the biggest offenders were from free streaming services such as YouTube.

It’s difficult but can be done. Talented Kamloops singer Madison Olds is navigating the complex path to success. This year she made top 10 in CBC Searchlight and launched her debut album. She has a more than a million cumulative streams on Spotify.

Madison Olds , mage: Indie Week

Artists need to be both talented and media savvy, Madison’s mom Ronda told me:

“Artists are assessed so many ways today because of the accessibility to artists and music today.  Artists need to be creating and stockpiling new music for which they have to pay for production, distribution, promotion, radio push.  One song, if going to radio, by the time all is said and done, can cost upwards of 18k. The greater the number of followers/fans, the greater the perceived ability to market music and merchandise and for the potential to make money. It is a difficult industry to navigate and to gain traction when there is so much accessible music now. The days of slipping a CD under a radio programmer’s door are gone as that poor programmer may be filtering through 400+ submissions a week.

Ronda has advice for music fans:

“The best things that supporters can do is any of the following: engage with their favourite artists on social media, stream their music actively or passively, buy music/merchandise, share their content, tell them you are hearing their music and that it resonates for you.”

The rise and fall of Michael Jackson

I’m a fan of pop music that spans decades: Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Michael Jackson.

image: Amazon

I cringe at admitting the latter -Michael Jackson, the accused child-abuser. How can I possibly like his music when his actions were so abhorrent? Or does art transcend the artist?

It’s been ten years since the death the “King of Pop” and unlike other artist of his stature, there’s been no celebration. One grim commemoration of his life is the release of a documentary Leaving Neverland in which two men in their thirties, once boys in Jackson’s thrall, describe their childhood years in which they were abused by Jackson.

There were more than the two. In 1993, he was accused of sexually abusing the child of a family friend and the case was settled out of court. In 2005, he was tried and acquitted of further child sexual abuse allegations and several other charges.

Margo Jefferson, author of On Michael Jackson, says:

“Supporters insisted that the financial settlements were his only way to avoid exploitation by families eager for money and willing to put up with notoriety. Doubters and opponents pointed out that surely more investigation was needed: after all, there had been previous accusations, multiple rumors, and Jackson’s unabashed admission that he shared his bed with boys.”

Jackson’s frank admission that he shared his bed with boys is a testament to how much he was out of touch with the real world. It’s like he was two people, one that connected to millions through his art and another that repulsed millions through his actions. He lived on both a global stage and in a vacuum.

Maybe he was an amorphous figure such that his limits were boundless -a continuum of the outrageous and the creative.  Jefferson writes:

“When I wrote my book, I was grieving for Michael Jackson the artist. The uncanny little boy; the charismatic, slightly mournful young man; the shape-shifting child-man-woman-cyborg-extraterrestrial. The cultural polygot who studied –mastered, gloried in- so many styles and traditions, one to whom no form of popular music and dance was alien”

The stain on his reputation marred his illustrious career. Jackson is one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest entertainers. Jackson’s contributions to music, dance, and fashion, made him a global figure in popular culture for over four decades.

I still remember the launch of the video, Thriller, more of a short film than a video with an unheard-of budget. In it, Jackson references numerous horror films and performs a dance routine with a horde of the undead. The Library of Congress described it as “the most famous music video of all time”, and it has been named the greatest video of all time by various publications and readers’ polls. In 2009, it became the first music video inducted into the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant.

But the inertia of his fame ground to a halt in 2009 as he was preparing for a series of comeback concerts. Jackson died from an overdose of sedatives administered by his personal physician.

To say I’m ambivalent about Jackson is an understatement.