‘No Jab, No Pay,’ not here

Australia has a blunt way of getting parents to vaccinate their children called ““No Jab, No Pay.”

image: Forbes Phoenix

As the name suggests, parents don’t receive welfare payments, tax benefits, and child-care rebates if they don’t vaccinate their children. It can amount to $15,000 annually.

Not only do parents lose payments but unvaccinated children can be barred from daycare and schools during disease outbreaks. Daycares that allow unvaccinated children can be fined up to $30,000.

The exceptions to vaccinations are those children who have some medical condition such compromised immune systems or cancer. These children have a genuine reason not to be vaccinated; and these are the children who can benefit most from everyone else being vaccinated.

Australia has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. But rates only improved slightly since the ‘No Jab, No Pay’ policy was implemented, from 90 per cent to 93 per cent. The improvement was not entirely because of the threat. A key to their success is a national registry. Health reporter Andre Picard says:

“We should not forget either that, in addition to financial penalties, Australia greatly improved its monitoring of vaccination. Having a register that shows what vaccinations children have – or haven’t – received has contributed greatly to bolstering rates (Globe and Mail, July 9, 2018).”

While it seems effective, it’s not appropriate for Canada. We are similar to Australia in that we are both former British colonies but Australia’s culture is different than Canada’s. Perhaps it’s because they were a former penal colony that the big stick approach is more accepted.

Canada has a hodgepodge of provincial systems with no consistent registry. We need to do better. We now have an immunization rate estimated (because we don’t know) to be 85 per cent. Herd immunity requires rates of 90 to 95 per cent.

There are many excuses for not vaccinating children. One is selfishness. If sufficient numbers of other children are vaccinated, herd immunity protects my child.

These parents don’t remember, or never knew, what it was like when vaccinations didn’t protect against diseases like polio. I do. I remember growing up in Edmonton during the “polio season” when epidemics of the crippling disease raged in the summer and fall. Provincial public health departments tried to quarantine the sick, closed schools, and restricted children from travelling or going to movie theatres. My uncle survived polio but walked with difficulty with the use of a cane and died prematurely because of polio complications.

Another reason is the irrational fear that vaccinations cause disease. While these hard-core anti-vaccination parents receive a lot of press, they only number about two per cent. The other 13 per cent fall into the categories of complacency, those who doubt the necessity of vaccinations, and those who just don’t’ find it convenient to get the vaccinations done.

Convenience is a big factor. Parents don’t get around to vaccinating because it takes time and effort. One-on-one attention is sometimes all it takes, such as an email or phone call reminder.

Canadians need to be encouraged, not bullied into improving or vaccination rate. We need a national registry. Improved rates will provide immunity, not only for their own children but for those vulnerable children who are unable to receive them.

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When am I dead?

When I’m dead I won’t be writing these columns. But other than that, indication of my demise might not be certain. The problem is that our definitions of death vary according to legal, cultural, religious and philosophical perspectives.

  image: slideserve.com

There was some dispute about whether Taquisha McKitty of Brampton was dead. Doctors said she was but her parents disagreed. She went into cardiac arrest following a drug overdose and was declared neurologically dead. A death certificate was issued.

McKitty’s father said: “My daughter is not dead -she shows that every day.” He maintains that his daughter shows signs of life: squeezing the hands of loved ones and even shedding tears.

Whether she was living was finally decided through a court decision. A judge ruled that McKitty was, in fact, dead.

Keeping someone alive with life support is not an issue. Canadians are kept alive with pacemakers, kidney dialysis, mechanical hearts and lungs while awaiting transplants. The issue is whether we should maintain one’s bodily functions when they are dead.

McKitty’s family might disagree with my last sentence. If they believe that bodily functions define life, then the squeezing of hands indicates that Taquisha was alive.

Others could argue that breath itself is life. If so, breathing is an indication of life. Genesis 2:7 says: “The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Still others believe that the soul, the essence of life, resides in the heart. The ancient Egyptians thought that the heart was vital. During mummification, they discarded the brain by removing it through the nose but kept the heart. They likely believed that as long as the heart is pumping, a person is alive.

In Western culture, the brain defines life because it’s the seat of the mind. Some philosophers suggest that it’s the mind that defines life. They argue that since the mind resides in the brain, and because the brain is a (biological) machine, the mind could reside in any machine. If complex computer could be built, the mind could continue to live in a solid state environment without a body.

The Japanese would disagree. They see the body and mind as a single unit so that the mind is not independent of the brain. To be alive is to experience bodily sensations and desires as well as cerebral thoughts.

The judge in McKitty’s case ruled that the brain is central in determining death. If the brain is dead, so is the mind. This opinion coincides with doctors’ assessments. Dr. Sonny Dhanani, a pediatric critical care physician in Ottawa, concludes:

“When brain death occurs, there is no blood and oxygen going to it. The brain ceases all function. There are no functions left to be lost. This means there is the irreversible loss of any ability to have thoughts or feelings or memories (Globe and Mail, July 6, 2018).”

I won’t know when I’m dead and given the definitions of life, maybe no one else will be sure any time soon.

Canada’s contribution to NATO

During President Trump’s Alternate Truth tour of Europe, he scolded NATO countries:

“Many countries are not paying what they should. And, frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back, where they’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them.”

    President Donald Trump walks away after being greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens

In the real world, NATO countries don’t owe the United States a cent. Members contribute to the organization for mutual protection. Trump is confusing what he thinks is a debt with the goal of increased spending to two per cent of GDP by 2024.

The United States spends almost four per cent of its GDP on NATO as a matter of choice. Former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder says:

“No one owes us any money. Nor is the U.S. spending more because allies are spending less … our defense spending is a national decision and is determined by our national security and defense needs.”

Regardless, the amount of money spent on defense is not the whole picture. Professor Elinor Sloan, political scientist at Carleton University says:

“A big reason countries don’t adhere to [the two per cent of GDP] is because it is a flawed metric. It doesn’t capture the military capability a country can deploy in support of NATO operations, measure absolute military spending or account for the percentage of a defence budget spent on major equipment as opposed to, say, pensions and housing (Globe and Mail, July 10, 2018).”

The two per cent figure doesn’t take into account non-monetary factors such as Canada’s willingness to take on leadership roles, contribute to dangerous missions, and accept casualties and the loss of life. You can’t buy leadership and commitment.

The military is an integral part of the U.S. economy. They have more than 1.3 million troops on active duty, 450,000 stationed overseas. The military-industrial complex fuels the American economy and asserts global hegemony.  It’s a way of distributing wealth nationally through military contracts, something like Canada’s equalization payments to provinces. It’s also a social security scheme to provide work to youth who have few options. Author Danny Sjursen, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, says:

“The military is also a welfare state; it is the most socialist institution we have. It provides a certain degree of economic stability (Harper’s magazine, June, 2018).”

Canada has its own interests but they don’t include a welfare state based on the military. Nor are they exclusive to NATO.

Not long ago, we only had two coastlines to protect. As Canada’s Arctic flank becomes exposed because of global warming, we need ships, fighters, and submarines to establish a presence in the North. The Arctic is melting. As shipping traffic increases, foreign bombers and fighters will test our sovereignty.

NATO is important to Canada, not just for the military component but for the political connections to Europe. As the U.S. becomes more unstable under the Trump administration, we look to Europe as an ally and trading partner.

As we watch in disbelief as Trump scolds his NATO partners while cozying up to Russia, Canada will be strengthened as we chart our own course.

Illegal dams –another BC Liberal legacy

The NDP government has inherited a number of issues from the BC Liberals; some anticipated and some a complete surprise.

One expected problem was B.C.’s medical services premium. B.C. was the only province to collect the unfair tax in which the rich and poor paid the same flat rate. Now the MSP will be collected from businesses with a payroll over $500,000.

For employers who previously paid their employee’s MSP, there will be no difference. For employers who didn’t pay, like the City of Kamloops, it means an extra cost. Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian is crying foul. The B.C. government gets credit for eliminating the MSP and the city will get blamed for adding about three-quarters of a per cent to taxes. Maybe so, but low-income Kamloopsians will see the MSP tax eliminated. Why not see it as a benefit for citizens?

More of a surprise was the money-laundering that went on under the noses of the BC Liberals. Dirty money was being washed to obscure its rotten roots through gambling at B.C. Lotteries. The practice had been known as early as 2015 when investigations “had been looking for a ‘minnow’ and found ‘a whale,’” according to the RCMP.

Then there is the looming problem of illegal dams in B.C. that went unregulated under the BC Liberals. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has uncovered at least 92 unauthorized dams. CCPA researcher Ben Parfitt has been digging into the problem for over a year. He first found out about the illegal dams last year through a Freedom of Information request. Initially, 51 dams were identified. Of those, one-third were found to have structural problems that posed serious risks to human health and safety and the environment.

The dams were built to supply water for fracking natural gas, part of former Premier Christy Clark’s grand plans for exporting liquefied natural gas.

Swamp Donkey Dam by Vicky Husband

After the election of the NDP government, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRO) reported the additional dams. The report labelled some of the unauthorized dams as potential “time bombs” and said a top priority must be “to find the high consequence dams and make sure they are properly constructed and operated and maintained in an appropriate manner before any of them fail.”

An example of a potentially catastrophic failure was the collapse of Testalinden dam near Oliver in 2010. A portion of the dam’s wall gave way, releasing 20,000 cubic metres of water. Fortunately, no one was killed but the resulting mudslide wiped out five houses and blocked a portion of Highway 97 for five days.

The BC Liberals failed to tell residents about the poor condition of the Testalinden dam. Elizabeth Denham, former Information and Privacy Commissioner, wrote a report in which she found that the province knew the dam was at the end of its lifespan, yet failed to alert the public.

The NDP government, perhaps because it already has enough on its plate, has been relatively silent about the dams.

“Instead,” says Parfitt, “the province has taken the softer approach of coaxing companies to ‘come into compliance’ after-the-fact. Time will tell whether or not that approach safeguards the public interest and proves a sufficient deterrent.”

Homophobia contributes to loneliness

Men haven’t always avoided open displays of affection for each other. Rachel Giese author of Boys: What It Means To Become A Man says:

“Our squeamishness about male friendship is a historical anomaly: connections between men have been idealized throughout Western history and understood as foundational to society, culture, and art. The veneration of men’s friendships can be charted as far back as ancient Greece (Walrus magazine, May 2018).”

  image: Mental Floss

Before the mid-1800s, society was structured around organizations of men –guilds, religious orders, service clubs, sports teams and the military. Displays of affection and confessions of love between men were common and unremarkable. In his essay “On Friendship,” French philosopher Michel de Montaigne describes his relationship with deceased friend as one with “souls mingling and blending with each other so completely that they efface the seam that joined them.”

Such gushes of emotion would be suspect in today’s society. Even the innocuous term “bromance” carries a certain discomfort. “It celebrates same-sex fondness,” says Giese, “but does it with a smirk—as if two men caring for another needs to be explained or justified.”

Culture changed at the start of the twentieth century as women became more integrated into public life. Schools, places of work, and politics were no longer the exclusive domain of men. Marriage shifted from an arrangement between families to one based on romance and love. The nuclear family replaced the male-dominated associations as the centre of culture and society.

Victorian values made homosexuality a perversion and a threat to social order: platonic friendships became suspect. These values resist change. Men are defined as the opposite of women, the head and provider of the family -and heterosexual. In this context, homosexuals are seen to be the opposite of a “real man.”

Homophobia has a toxic effect on boys. Professor Niobe Way has studied the emotional landscape as boys mature. The common notion is that boys are less communicative, invulnerable and less capable of intimacy, than girls. However, Professor Way found genuine affection among boys. One fifteen-year old told her of his feelings for another boy: “[My best friend and I] love each other…. I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really, understand each other and really have a trust, respect and love for each other. It just happens, it’s human nature.”

As adolescent straight boys approach manhood, the fear of being perceived as a homosexual grows. They leave behind friends as they explore the uncertain terrain of romantic relationships of women. They are vulnerable as they no longer have a foot in either world.

Professor Way believes that young men are suffering from a “crisis if connection” as a result of being told that real men can’t be close to each other. Men can end up lonely at a cost to their health. Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks of loneliness, isolation and weak social connections:

“[They] are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking fifteen cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity. Loneliness is also associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety.”

New Zealand’s experience with electoral reform

I sat down with Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008, to talk about her country’s experience with electoral reform. She was in Kamloops on June 21 at a reception held at a local pub where about 70 people had gathered.

   image: Wikipedia

“You have five minutes for the interview,” the organizer of the event told us. We made our way to a quiet table.

Two referenda were held in New Zealand, she told me. The first in 1992 was non-binding. It asked whether voters wanted to retain the present first-past-the-post (FPTP) system or if they wanted a change. And if they wanted a change, which of four systems of proportional representation did they prefer?

The results were overwhelming with 85 per cent in favour of a change. Of the four systems, Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), was a clear favourite.

A second referendum was held a year later. This time the referendum was binding and the results closer with 54 per cent choosing MMP over FPTP.

I wondered how proportional representation had changed the culture of political parties. MMP leads to minority governments, Ms. Clark told me, which means that parties need to get along, not only after election but before. “Be sure to make friends”, she said, “you never know when you’ll need them later.”

After 20 minutes, I had asked all my prepared questions and we just chatted. “I thought the interview was only going to be five minutes,” the organizer scolded when he found us. Ms. Clark returned to the group where photos were taken and she gave a speech.

Afterward, I thought about the similarly of our upcoming mail-in referendum this fall to the one in New Zealand.

Two questions make sense to me: Do you want a change? If so, want kind do you want?  However, a B.C. lobby group called Fair Referendum disagrees. In a robocall call, they said that there should be just one question. I had to chuckle. The Fair Referendum proposal illustrates what’s wrong with our voting system. They want a single question with four choices, three of which are a type proportional representation and one being the existing FPTP. Those in favour of change will have their vote split three ways and those who don’t want change will have one choice. The ballot is rigged so that even if, say 60 per cent want change, 40 per cent will make sure it doesn’t happen. It seems obvious that’s what Fair Referendum hopes for.

The referendum, to be held from October 22 to November 30 by mail-in ballot, is shaping up along party lines. The Greens and NDP favour proportional representation and the BC Liberals oppose it.

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone says the referendum would be biased in favour of the NDP and that’s probably true –but only because the BC Liberals choose not to cooperate with other parties.

The Greens and NDP have made an extraordinary effort to be nice to each other because, as Ms. Clark suggests, it’s the only way that future governments under proportional representation will work. It’s a shift in party culture that the BC Liberals have yet to realize.

 

B.C. firm extracts fuel from air

It may sound like alchemy but Carbon Engineering Ltd based in Squamish captures carbon from the atmosphere and turns it back into automotive fuel.

Carbon Engineering,
Squamish, BC. Image: Google maps

It’s not just wishful thinking. Investors with deep pockets are putting money into the project, such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

Co-owner of Carbon Engineering David Keith describes the technology as “direct air capture” (DAC). They’ve been running a pilot plant since 2015 and hope to build a commercial-scale operation soon. The plant has been producing a variety of fuels, such as diesel, gasoline, and Jet-A since 2017.

Carbon capture technology is not new but the price barrier has been too high to make it feasible. Previous processes have cost US$600 a tonne. Professor Keith says they have broken the price barrier:

“At Carbon Engineering, we now have the data and engineering to prove that DAC can achieve costs below US$100 (Globe and Mail, June 8, 2018).”

Former processes haven’t worked, as Saskatchewan found out. At higher cost and lower reliability, they extract CO2 and store it into the ground. Former Premier of Brad Wall had high hopes that his province could avoid a federal carbon tax by carbon capture. However, these plants are only operational 45 per cent of the time. The old technology has been tried globally and abandoned; China cancelled theirs.

Professor Keith researched his DAC technology at the University of Calgary. The process is relatively simple in theory. First CO2 is extracted from the air. Then hydrogen is created from water through electrolysis using any energy source, preferably renewable. Solar cells, for example, could create hydrogen by breaking water into its component parts. In the final stage, hydrogen and CO2 are combined to produce hydrocarbon fuels.

The novelty of Professor Keith’s technology is that it solves three problems: rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, drilling for fossil fuels, and the storage of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

Of course, if you are going to extract CO2 from the air only to convert it back into fuels that will put the CO2 back in the air, that hardly seems like a solution. But at least it is not producing any more CO2. And mining the air for fuels is certainly better than fracking shale deposits.

Using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar to produce automotive fuel seems counterintuitive at first. The problem with renewable energy sources that they produce energy when it’s not needed and none when is -it has to be stored somehow.  The surplus electricity could be stored in batteries for use later. Or it could be used in conjunction with other renewable sources such as hydroelectricity.

Storing renewable energy as fuel is a good idea because the engines to burn the hydrocarbons already exist. There is no need to build new vehicles with electric motors.

The fuel produced is expected to cost 25 per cent more than traditional gasoline but it would fetch premium prices.

“It’s not a magic bullet, it’s not too cheap to meter,” says Professor Keith, “but it’s something that really we think could be built out, and could be built out at relatively low technical risk. So we hope it is really a turning point.”