U.S challenges Canada’s Northwest Passage

President Trump plans to send ships into our Northwest Passage without Canada’s permission. Why he would want to provoke Canada -America’s closest ally and trading partner- is a mystery. If he succeeds, not only will he strain relations with Canada further but invite unintended consequences: If the Northwest Passage is international water as he claims, the same waterway is open to his perceived enemies as well.

image: Foreign Policy News

Despite our differing opinions regarding the Northwest Passage, the U.S. and Canada came to an amicable solution in the past. The Americans maintain that the Northwest Passage is an international strait and while Canada argues it is internal waters. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney agreed to disagree: the U.S. would ask Canada’s permission to send ships through the Northwest Passage and Canada would automatically agree. In this simple agreement between friends, neither concedes their position.

That friendship has been strained lately on a number of fronts by an egotistic U.S. president. He is preparing for a “freedom of navigation operation” through the Northwest Passage without asking us.

Belligerence is a defining characteristic of Trump. Professor Robert Huebert of the University of Calgary has a blunt assessment:

“However, due to Mr. Trump’s pathological need to win, the Americans are set to disregard this [1988] solution and win the dispute (Globe and Mail, May 20, 2019).”

What Trump fails to realize is that if the U.S. gets its way and declares the Northwest Passage to be international waters, it also invites Russia and China into the Arctic. What’s good for one is good for all.

“Given that Russia is actively militarizing and China may soon be taking similar action, the United States’ move to attack Canada, its most important ally, while meeting this threat makes no sense. If the Americans are really concerned about the rise of Russian military strength in the Arctic, they need Canada to help meet the threat,” says Professor Huebert.

President Trump seems unaware of how much the U.S. relies on cooperation with Canada in the defense of North America. Bilateral defense agreements go back to 1940. Established in 1958, NORAD provides warning of threats by air or sea. Traditionally, the Deputy Commander of NORAD has been a senior Canadian Armed Forces officer. In 2008, a joint agreement provided for the military from one nation to aid the other during an emergency such as a natural disaster.

If the U.S. wants to counter the Russian threat to the Arctic, they will need Canada’s cooperation.

Meanwhile, it’s in Canada’s best interests to cooperate with China in the Arctic; even when cooperation is not mutual. Despite China’s single-minded determination to punish Canada for arresting a Huawei executive in Vancouver, Canada is siding with China over the U.S. in China’s goal to expand its influence in the Arctic.

Former parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, Andrew Leslie, said in China:

“Let’s focus on the positive that comes through international co-operation, and not so much on the sabre-rattling.”

At least China isn’t planning an invasion of Canada.

If Trump sends ships to our Northwest Passage and they fail to navigate the ice-clogged and uncharted waters, it will support Canada’s position that these waters are unique and are not a functioning international strait.

 

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What I didn’t know about menstruation

Considering that I wouldn’t be here without menstruation, I know so little about it. Not surprising, I guess, with the taboos and mystery that cloud menstrual blood.

image: Sandehakari – WordPress.com

Human females are among a few mammals that display menstrual blood -others are chimpanzees, bats and some shrews. Most mammals reabsorb their endometrial linings at the end of the cycle.

Not only is menstrual blood rare in mammals but so is “hidden estrus,” or concealed ovulation. That’s the narrow window in which women are fertile. Most female mammals make it clear when they are fertile. Science writer Virginia Sole-Smith explains:

“The vast majority of mammals signal fertility through estrus, the period when females are ovulating and display their sexual receptivity via genital swelling, behavioural changes or pronounced alterations in body odour. The female human body, however, conceals this critical window. Instead our most visible sign of potential fertility is menstrual blood, which, ironically, appears after the fertile period has closed (Scientific American, May, 2019).”

It’s puzzling why humans would have evolved to hide the most fertile time of a woman’s menstrual cycle. You would think that it would be to our advantage to advertise when fertility is greatest. But no, men are left clueless as to when a woman is most fertile.

One theory of why concealed ovulation might be an evolutionary advantage is that men are kept guessing. In their befuddlement, they keep trying to hit the window. This encourages pair-bonding. The success of raising children is increased when there are two parents. What the man gets out of it is greater confidence that the kid is his since he’s been hanging around for so long.

The taboos around menstrual blood have existed from the dawn of history to recent times. In 1920 a paediatrician working in Vienna published a collection of anecdotal observations: When he asked a menstruating woman to handle flowers, they wilted within minutes. When he compared the bread dough made by several women, the loaf made by the one having her period rose 22 percent less. The paediatrician concluded that menstrual blood contained a kind of poison.

And no wonder monthly periods have been called “the curse.” Estimates indicate that up to 80 percent of women experience cramps, bloating, fatigue, anger or other symptoms just before the onset of menstruation. Whose grand plan is that?

One controversial theory of premenstrual symptoms (PMS) has been put forward by Michael Gillings, a professor of molecular evolution at Macquarie University in Australia. He got some things right.

First, to the applause of some feminists, he questioned whether premenstrual symptoms (PMS) should be even classified as a disorder. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) had been added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013.

“Up to 80 percent of women report these symptoms; that makes PMS normal, not a psychological disorder,” Gillings said. “So we have to ask, ‘Was there, at some point in history, an advantage to having these symptoms?’”

Then Professor Gillings, to the chagrin of some feminists, suggested there was an evolutionary selective advantage to PMS because it caused tension between pair-bonds and therefore might help women dissolve relationships with infertile men.

Gillings was subsequently characterized as insensitive to the suffering of women. “I was burned in effigy on five continents,” he said.

 

Sometimes it’s not easy being a pro-vaxxer

Despite the fact that vaccines have saved uncountable lives and virtually wiped out smallpox, polio, tetanus and rabies, vaccine risks exist. When those risks result in death, people lose trust in all vaccines.

image: Skeptical Raptor

Look at what happened in the Philippines. In 2015 they purchased three million doses of a new dengue vaccine.

Dengue is not as deadly as it might seem. Three-quarters of people infected by the mosquito-borne virus don’t notice anything. The remainder fall into three groups – symptoms similar to the common cold; or a fever accompanied by headache, pain behind the eyes, aching joints and bones that sometimes leads to internal bleeding; or the most deadly, dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome where plasma seeps out of capillaries, liquid pools around organs, massive internal bleeding ensues. The brain, kidneys and liver begin to fail (Scientific American, April, 2018).

In the Philippines with a population of 105,000, dengue kills an average of 750 people a year. Any death is one too many but that number doesn’t even put dengue-deaths in the top ten list of killers. Of infectious diseases, many more die from pneumonia and tuberculosis.

The dengue vaccine wasn’t cheap. Made by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, Dengvaxia cost more than the entire national vaccination program for 2015, which covered pneumonia, tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps and rubella. And it would reach less than one percent of the population.

Some wondered if the vaccine Dengvaxia had been oversold to the Philippine government in a panic mode.

Here’s where the nightmare for pro-vaxxers comes in.

Internist Antonio Dans and paediatrician Leonila Dans at the University of the Philippines Manila College of Medicine discovered some startling results: young children who were vaccinated were more like likely to suffer from dengue that those who weren’t vaccinated.

They found this out by studying publications by the makers of the vaccine, Sanofi Pasteur. While it worked for older children, for younger ones, the vaccine made things worse.

The two Dans warned the Philippine secretary of health in 2016 of their findings but in the meantime, the World Health Organization said that there was no problem.

“It was either believe us or believe the WHO,” said Antonio Dans. “If I were them, I’d believe the WHO. I mean, who were we? We were just teachers in a small medical school.”

The Philippine secretary of health responded with her own warning: doctors who engaged in “misinformation” on the vaccine would be responsible for every death from dengue that could have been prevented.

Then Eva Harris, a dengue expert at the University of California, Berkeley, found strong evidence in 2017 to support the Dans:

Harris’s evidence made the world take notice. Now Sanofi Pasteur and the WHO don’t recommend Dengvaxia for young children who have not been previously infected.

The reasons why Dengvaxia makes matters worse for children who have not been infected and better for those who have is puzzling. There are a few theories but it’s debatable.

The confusion has led to lack of confidence in vaccinations. In 2015, 93 per cent of Filipinos strongly agreed that vaccines are important.  In 2018, less than a third thought so.

Now, Filipinos suspicious of vaccines aren’t getting kids vaccinated and several outbreaks of measles have occurred.

Vaccines save lives but in a rush to save lives at any cost, the rollout of Dengvaxia was too soon and the cost was a loss of confidence of all vaccines.

Alberta’s faulty pipeline gambit

The Alberta government says that if only B.C. would allow a second pipeline to be built, our gasoline prices would go down.

If only it were true.

The new pipeline will not supply more gasoline to B.C. and it will not reduce our gasoline prices. The reason is hardly a surprise -the new pipeline will carry crude oil, not gasoline.  A report uncovered by reporter Justine Hunter confirms that.

The report was commissioned by Trans Mountain with the hope that it would demonstrate the need for a new pipeline. To no one’s surprise, that’s what they found.  The consulting firm Muse, Stancil & Co. says:

“The startup of [the Trans Mountain expansion] project will act to increase the price of crude oil at Edmonton because roughly 79,500 [cubic metres a day] of crude oil is diverted from the existing North American markets to Northeast Asia (Globe and Mail, May 6, 2019).”

In other words, what B.C. needs is not what the pipeline will deliver. It will send crude oil to overseas markets. It will not send crude oil to be refined into gasoline in B.C.

Even if the second pipeline delivered crude to be refined into gasoline, that wouldn’t happen because our refineries are running full-tilt. They couldn’t produce any more gas even if they wanted to.

For sure, B.C. would be hurt if Alberta were to cut off the existing pipeline. Alberta supplies 80 percent of fuel burned in B.C.

Dan McTeague, senior petroleum analyst for gasbuddy.com, says the only way gas prices could go down if the existing pipeline carried more fuel:

“The new pipeline would be entirely devoted to heavy oil, but the existing pipeline would be expanded by 50,000 barrels per day.”

More supply would reduce prices in a marketplace that was properly functioning.  However, there is some doubt about the marketplace according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. They claim that price-gouging is driving up prices. Their report reveals that of the 55 cent per litre increase since 2016, only 6.3 cents is a result of increased taxes while profit margins have increased by 18 cents.

Another group confirms that finding. Navius Research reports that since 2008, refinery margins in Metro Vancouver increased to 35 per cent while the increase was less than 18 per cent in the rest of the country. They say that margins “have decoupled from supply costs, resulting in prices that cannot be attributed to competitive market forces or scarcity of supply.”

While there is no hard evidence of price-fixing by the four companies that supply the Lower Mainland, Premier Horgan has asked the B.C. Utilities Commission to investigate the record-breaking gas prices. It will be interesting to hear what they find.

The BC Liberals see political hay to be made. They have erected huge billboards with a picture of Premier Horgan and the words, “Blame John Horgan.” BC Liberal leader Wilkinson says that Horgan has failed to cap gas taxes.

I have to smile at Wilkinson’s claim, not just because taxes aren’t the problem but because it was the BC Liberals who introduced the carbon tax in the first place.

 

 

Persuade, don’t malign anti-vaxxers

 

If we really want to convince parents to vaccinate their children, name-calling and vilification is not the way to go.

image: Wired

Yet, that seems to be a common tactic. You don’t have to go far on social media to find out. Here’s an example from Twitter:

Craig Levine @AstronomerXI “Let’s call #antivaxxers what they are: pro-disease, pro-death, pro child-suffering, ignorant, arrogant, stupid, fanatical, brain-washed, pathetic, selfish.”

Having lived through polio epidemics as kid, I don’t have to be convinced of the benefits of vaccination. Polio vaccines not only saved lives, it removed my fear of going to movies and school, and of going out to play.

The danger is real. A measles outbreak in the U.S. is at a 25-yar high. Three-quarters of those who caught the extremely contagious disease are children or teenagers.

Canada has large pockets of unvaccinated children. In Ontario, they have things in common:

“Those students tended to have things in common. For instance, unvaccinated children with non-medical exemptions were more likely to go to private or religious school, or be home-schooled, live in a rural area or a community with a small- to medium-sized population and be located in the southwest and central west regions (Globe and Mail, April 30, 2019).”

The Vancouver area is also experiencing a measles outbreak this year. And in neighbouring Washington a state of emergency was declared due to a measles outbreak -although no cases have been linked to B.C.

As is typical of character assignation, reluctant parents have been unfairly grouped together. But they are not monolithic say professors Julie Bettinger and Devon Greyson of UBC and the University of Massachusetts, respectively:

“While dismissing non-vaccinating parents as anti-science, uneducated, conspiracy theorists might be tempting, we find these stereotypes represent only a small minority of this population (Globe and Mail, April 22, 2019).”

Professors Bettinger and Greyson found that these stereotypes represented a minority of non-vaccinating parents. They surveyed, interviewed, and observed more than 2,000 parents to understand what causes vaccine hesitancy and how to address it.

First, despite the characterization of non-vaccinating parents as “pro-death” and “pro child-suffering,” they have the best interests of their children at heart. Additionally, they care about other children who can’t be vaccinated and who are at risk.

Yes, they may fear the safety of vaccines as a result of what they have heard from people they trust. Some lack of knowledge of the extensive testing and safety monitoring that ensures our safe vaccine supply. Sometimes their reluctance is born from a lack of trust and a perceived betrayal by the health care system -they don’t believe anything medical researchers tell them.

Some indigenous people don’t trust the colonial system that decimated their communities by purposely introducing disease.

They may live in remote areas and face barriers of getting to clinics. Access can be a problem for urban dwellers, too, for those who can’t get time off work to take in their children.

Some fear talking to health-care providers about their concerns because they’ll be labelled as “one of those parents.”

The remedy to vaccination-resistance is not easy. Trustworthy relationships must be developed. Mobile clinics with extended hours will help. Name-calling and the failure to address the genuine concerns of parents will only deepen the divide.

 

 

Recycling is broken

It seemed like a good idea at the time -throw away stuff guilt-free because others can use it. Now it looks more like wishful thinking.

image: Laura Lezza/Getty Images

Manufacturers encouraged the scheme because they wouldn’t have to deal with the mess caused by excess packaging. We, the conscientious consumers would be left to handle the flood of plastic, glass, tins and cardboard.

We rose to the challenge, earnestly sorting our trash. If each of us would just recycle, we could lick this problem. In doing so, we let manufacturers off the hook. It’s a familiar shift of responsibility to consumers. If each of us drive smaller cars and turn off the lights we can reduce global warming.

The failure of the recycling program is becoming painfully evident. Canada is faced with lecturing from thuggish Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, who is threatening war on Canada if we don’t take back tonnes of Canadian trash that have been rotting in a port near Manila.

It’s a national embarrassment. More than 100 shipping containers were sent from Canada to Manila six years ago. They were labelled plastics but they turned out to be garden-variety, stinking Canadian garbage including soiled adult diapers. Canada is in violation of international treaties that prohibit exportation of mislabelled containers.

More and more majority world countries are turning their noses up at our trash. China doesn’t want it either. In 2017, China announced that didn’t want any “foreign garbage.” Without China as a dumping ground, stuff is piling up around the world with nowhere to go except monstrous ocean gyres, landfills, and incinerators.

China correctly notes that there is no “globally recognized standard for scrap materials and recyclable materials.” It turns out that what’s one person’s trash is another person’s trash.

But we do a better job in British Columbia, right? The director of Recycle B.C., Alan Langdon, thinks so. He says that China’s prohibition will have little impact on B.C.’s operations. “We’ve actually been processing all our plastics here in B.C. for the last three-and-a-half years, therefore no real impact,” said Langdon, “The paper and cardboard that we are sending over, we right now have the cleanest material in North America, so we’re still able to meet standards and have it accepted by China.”

It sounds encouraging until you realize that for ten years Vancouver sent as much as 500,000 tonnes of garbage a year to Cache Creek. For the last two years, Vancouver sent 150,000 tonnes of municipal garbage to landfills in Washington and Oregon. In addition, 260,000 tonnes of garbage were burned annually.

We can’t claim to be trash virtuous in Kamloops. We risked being kicked out of the Recycle BC program last year because of the contaminates we put into our recycling containers. Last year, city inspectors found banned items in our bins at twice the provincial rate. Banned products included glass, soft plastics and food. The provincial rate is 10.8 per cent.

There is a way of reducing the amount of materials ending up in our trash. It’s called “polluter pays.” It works like this: tax manufacturers who insist on making unnecessary packaging, and use the money to help deal with the mess.

 

Traditional masculinity hinders productivity

The qualities that men need in the workplace have changed. A study of 16 professional Canadian men found that traditional male behaviour no longer serves them well.

image: Pinterest

Traditional male values such as infallibility, individualism, posturing, dominance and working long hours may have served men well in industrial settings but they are counterproductive in knowledge-based businesses. Automation has eliminated a lot of industrial jobs and the participation by women in the workplace has changed the culture of work.

Behaviour that was once a virtue is now a liability.

Even behaviour-changes in industrial settings can improve productivity. One study done on an oil drilling platform where macho values prevailed showed that these values could be “undone” once status was linked to learning, admitting mistakes, and collectivism over individualism:

“As a result, the company’s accident rate dropped by 84 percent, and productivity, efficiency, and reliability of production all came to surpass industry benchmarks.

Studies have repeatedly shown that working more hours leads to poorer outcomes in everything from communication and judgment calls to increased insurance costs and employee turnover (The design of everyday men -A new lens for gender equality progress by Deloitte Doblin).”

The men in the study worked for large businesses of more than 5,000 employees. They represented a range of family and marital statuses, sexual orientations, and ethnic backgrounds.

Four attitudes stood out.

  • “It’s on me.” Men place enormous pressure on themselves to handle responsibilities on their own. Corporate cultures that prioritize individualism over collectivism risk burning out their people and devaluing collaboration, where responsibilities and trust should be more equally shared.

 

  • “I’m terrified.” Men are afraid of failure, which leads them to overcompensate with hypercompetitive behaviour to mask their insecurity. The most ambitious people may also be the most insecure which puts their long-term performance at risk; they also set an unrealistic expectations for the dedication required to be successful in the organization.

 

  • “I can’t turn to anyone.” Personal relationships and vulnerable interactions help to alleviate pressure and fear, but men have difficulty building these connections.

 

  • “Show me it’s okay.” Men look to leaders and peers in their organizations to understand what behaviours are acceptable. Policies and programs for change are not enough; senior leaders need to role-model and reward the behaviours they want to see in order to establish new norms for people to follow.

 

Without a change in corporate culture, old values persist. One of the men studied, Lyron, says, “I will never ask for help. I will stay up as long as it takes for me to figure out how to do something before I ask somebody senior how to get it done.”

Anand says he talks about superficial things with co-workers like what they did on the weekend but never about deeply personal things: “The fact that we have had a miscarriage, I wouldn’t even have occasion to talk about. Nobody at work knew, except for my boss because I had to ask for time off.”

Businesses have been slow to integrate changes in male behaviour. Men can become stronger and more productive by shaking off the mantles of the past but it’s going to take a change in corporate values starting at the top.