Canada Ebola Panic Blues

The Hon. Chris Alexander, immigration minister, who you shouldn’t vote for.

Although I am in general not a fan of the current government, I am still very surprised and highly disappointed in the Government of Canada’s ridiculous decision to stop issuing any visas to residents of, and travellers to, the countries affected by the ebola outbreak. Ebola is a dangerous, scary virus that is very likely to kill you should you contract it, so I can understand why you wouldn’t want it in your country. But ebola can’t be spread except by contact with bodily fluids of people who show symptoms. And the amount of people coming to Canada from these countries is small enough that they can be checked. In case you’re in doubt: the decision made by the government doesn’t apply to Canadians who go, nor to people who do have visas already but haven’t used them yet. So the actual harm reduction achieved by this ban is zero. Worse than that, it’s below zero because a blanket ban is irresponsible: the reason it is strongly discouraged is not just economic – it poses a health risk because it can lead authorities to cover up outbreaks, and travellers to avoid official channels. So our government is doing something that increases problems associated with the ebola outbreak, going against the advice of scientists and public health professionals, and as a bonus, breaking its obligations under the International Health Regulations treaty. As Nick Cohen writes in the guardian, ignoring the advice of scientists for political grandstanding reasons is a problem that has huge negative effects far beyond ebola. There is no doubt that this is what’s happening. As the National Post points out, officials in the current Canadian government can’t even claim to be standing by a misguided principle, as they were involved in vigorously protesting and overturning the travel advisory to Toronto during the SARS outbreak (a disease where a travel advisory actually makes somewhat more sense because of the possibility of airborne spread, but still not really, since once again non-symptomatic carriers are not contagious). Vancouver East MP Libby Davies is quoted as saying:

“The World Health Organization and the World Bank have both spoken out sharply against international travel bans, so the experts we’re relying on to fight Ebola are saying this is not the right approach. The Conservative government seems more interested in public relations than in acting on recommendations from public health experts.”

That seems spot on to me. The Canadian system of government is set up so that the party in power can govern, and the opposition has very little power but lots of opportunity for bullshit political posturing by shadow ministers. There are advantages and disadvantages to this system, but how do we react when the dumb PR-based posturing is instead undertaken by the government, and replaces actual governance? I think that, even if you are generally a conservative person, stuff like this is indication that the current government doesn’t deserve your money, doesn’t deserve your support and doesn’t deserve your vote.




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Another try at translating some Marina Tsvetaeva, this time from the Insomnia cycle. #10, my favourite, seems pretty untranslateable. I have bad (yes, even more bad) translations of most of the other ones.

I like kissing
Hands, and I like
Giving names
And also throwing open
- Wide open – into darkest night.

Holding my head
To listen, as some heavy tread
As wind alights on
A sleepy, sleepless wood

O, night!
Somewhere the springs leap
I’m drowsing
Almost asleep
Out in the deep
Someone’s drowning

After a sleepless night the body grows feeble
Not under your – or anybody’s – control
In the slow sinews, a feeling of whining needles
And like an angel, you smile upon one and all

After a sleepless night the hands grow frailer
And deeply uncared-about are both friend and foe
Every happenstance sound is an entire rainbow
And you catch the aroma of Florence despite the snow

Lips grow tenderly lighter and round the sunken
Eyes, the shadows grow gold – it’s the night that lights
This brightest of faces – and as the night darkens
Only one thing grows darker in us – the eyes.

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Songbook of Weeks: Bike to work week

Since Bicycle Day isn’t actually about bicycles in any way, we might as well celebrate bike to work week (which is happening in Vancouver this week).

Queen – Bicycle Race
St. Vincent – Bicycle
Pink Floyd – Bike
mum – Slow Bicycle
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Bicycle
Be your own pet – Bicycle, Bicycle
Vampire Weekend – Obvious Bicycle
Herman van Veen – Fiets

Anything you wanna add?

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I wanna be non-doored

As recently mentioned, getting doored by a car sucks a lot, and my theory is that fear of dooring probably makes people bike in a less safe manner overall. But there is an easy cure for dooring: get drivers to open doors with the far hand (that is the right hand in right-side driving countries). That way, as a driver you sort of can’t help but look outside as you’re opening the door, and as a result, you’re gonna avoid dooring people.

But how do you compel drivers to do that? We want right-handed opening to be completely automatic, like shoulder-checking during right turns or putting on a signal to switch lanes. Making dooring punishable by a $100 fine is not an effective method, because most of the time you open doors the wrong way you don’t actually hit anybody and it doesn’t become automatic to check for cyclists.

Here is what I think should be done: make it illegal to open doors with the wrong hand when you’re parallel parked. For one thing, if you do it on your driving test, that should be a big demerit. For another, if a cop catches you doing it, it should be a fine.

Yes, I feel uncomfortable proposing making something else illegal. One worry is that this will create another law that everyone is breaking all the time, which is a recipe for sporadic targeted enforcement and basically petty tyranny by the police. But I think this is somewhat less ripe for abuse than other laws because drivers open their doors for such a small portion of the time that they’re behind the wheel. If you want to catch somebody, they’re much more likely to be breaking the law in some way that’s already punishable than by opening the door wrong. That gives me hope that this is something that can be enforced in a mostly legitimate and not overbearing manner.

So I say it’s worth a shot. Introduce a fine for left-handed door opening. Let’s do this, New Mexico. The other way to promote correct door opening technique is to be somewhat obnoxious to your friends and family when they open their car doors wrong. Let’s do that as well.

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Worthwhile Canadian Politics Maps

Here are some really great maps showing responses to poll questions before the 2011 federal elections in every Canadian riding:

This explains pretty much everything about how politics in Canada works. Here are some things I think are interesting:

1. Québec is different. It’s totally out of step with the rest of Canada  on most questions. And in unorthodox fashion. It is way more left-wing economically while trusting government significantly less. And it’s also way more left-wing culturally while also being way more xenophobic. In a sense, when we ask why the Parti Québecois has the weird, oftentimes unpleasant agenda that they do, maybe the answer is that they’re tailoring themseleves to the political requirements of what Québeckers want

2. Another part where Québec is out of step with Canada is that it wants closer cooperation with the US. Which at first seems strange since the views of Alberta, say, are much closer to what we think of as US politics. But the difference is that Québec doesn’t define itself against the US – because it defines itself against Canada. BC is the most anti-American province by far, which might have to do with the fact that it’s probably the place where crossing the border means the least. It might also have to do with the lumber industry.

3. They went and imported a piece of Alberta into the Fraser Valley. The Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon district is apparently totally out of step with the rest of BC, but totally in step with Alberta on the environment, economics, the military, even marijuana and abortion. Why, Chilliwack, why?

4. Newfoundland hates the environment. When my friends Anya and Maria were biking through Newfoundland, they found a lot of people who work in Fort MacMurray and spend freewheelingly in their home province. This picture is consistent with Newfoundland ridings having a rosier picture of the oil sands than their neighbours. And also the oil industry at home and the decimation of the cod fishery has made Newfies less ready to support environment than anywhere outside of Alberta. At the same time, Newfoundland has been a poor province for long enough that in many other respects – like wanting stronger pensions – it is very much unlike Alberta.

5. Alberta is kinda OK with Québec separating. This is my favourite part of the survey. Alberta and Québec couldn’t be more different in terms of opinion (except wanting less immigration) but that is also exactly why they agree that they shouldn’t be in the same country. We finally don’t have to take orders from those oil baron buffoons, say Québecers. Good riddance, maybe we won’t have to support those lazy frogs, say the Albertans.

6. Unlike the US, the views of people on the environment and on social and economic issues are not strongly coupled. I already mentioned Newfoundland. Another case is BC, where some of the most pro-environment ridings are also the ones that are most economically conservative. This is a good sign that culture war politics hasn’t yet totally triumphed in Canada, and a push for a conservative environmentalism is something that can be done.

7. Similarly, the views of people on immigration and on social and economic issues are not strongly coupled. Or, at least, that coupling is reverse in Québec compared to the rest of Canada.

8. Saskatoon, Regina and Nova Scotia like immigrants. Unlike the other niche trends, I don’t know the reason behind this one. Can someone illuminate? Are there lots of new immigrants there? Or, conversely, not enough?

9. Yukon is the best. I kinda figured as much. But New Brunswick’s weird mix of social conservatism, wanting higher taxes and strong deficit concerns, was, on the other hand, a complete surprise.

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Summer quotes from vzglyad

Back in summer, I wanted to write a post quoting translations from Russian media outlets to give an example of the totally different reality with respect to Ukraine that Russians have access to. Now, thankfully, talk of impending World War in Russian outlets has quieted down somewhat and that’s all to the good.

So maybe the correct thing to do is to let bygones be bygones. But, because reading it had caused me so much frustration, I still want to mention the Konstantin Rykov-founded, out of some kind of weird revenge more than anything. No other website I know combines having a serious, measured tone with opinions that are often completely demented. Here are three quotes from editorials written in one week this summer at Vzglyad:

“it can’t be doubted that one of the main American goals [in the Ukraine crisis] is regime change in Russia”

“Expert discussions of the Boeing crash will now consist of arguing over how many demons can fit on the head of a pin. Everything [i.e. that plane was downed by Ukrainians] is clear to everyone already, what remains is to invent a way to save the current US administration while avoiding worldwide war”

“Along with the kindling the Ukrainian flashpoint for a chaotic global war, the USA continues to support armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq, to destabilize the situation in the Near and Middle East, to prepare an incursion of talibs and Islamic fighters into Central Asia, to plan colour revolutions in Russia and other nations of the Eurasian integration, and to organize coups d’etat in Latin American countries that have come out from under its control”

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For the bicycle-curious

And now, some good news: David Roberts, superstar environmental journalist has apparently recently returned from a year-long hiatus at grist, which is great, because he is a very good journalist (note, this was a lot more recent when I started writing this post). In connection to this, I was browsing the grist website and came upon something unrelated: a video by Daniel Penner about starting to bike for the bicycle curious. Here it is.


The good parts: this video is nicely hipster-charming, features Mayor McGinn, Top Pot Doughnuts and shots of the city of Seattle, and is informative. Another good part: the goal. I think getting people to try biking is a good cause for many reasons, but, as someone who bikes, the main thing that the cause has going for it is that I think it is the most important step that can be taken for bicycle safety. So, as someone who wholeheartedly endorses the underlying message, I wanna go through the video point by point and talk about what I think grist got right, what it got wrong, etc.

1. Plan a route. This is indispensable advice for biking in Seattle, and in many other places. But it shouldn’t be. While planning a route is never a bad idea, it’s also something most people don’t bother with if they have a rough idea of the city and are going by car, for example. Going by bike should be the same, but as a beginning cyclist in North America it isn’t, because there are some streets you don’t want to bike on. The ultimate solution to that is to make those streets more bikeable. But your average North American city is not going to turn overnight into a place where every single street has a segregated bike lane. The easy solution is good signage. If you are biking on a street where it’s not comfortable, (a) there should be a street nearby going to the same place where it is comfortable and (b) signs should let you know that there is this option. I continue to think that the lowest hanging fruit in bicycle infrastructure budgets is signage (and more biker-controlled intersections) and if a city was serious about making biking easy for the uninitiated, more maps, distance markers, clearer and more frequent signs would be the indispensable first step.

2. Bike check: check tires / check brakes. Excellent advice. Of course, it also helps to know what to do when your checks fail. Know your nearest bike shop!

3. Suit up: dress for the weather / protect the head / no spandex required. I like the “no spandex required” message. The point is, to get somewhere on a bike, you don’t need to be a “biker”. People who are really into biking as a hobby or profession may have super-cool messenger bags or clip-in shoes or those weird bike cap things or whatever. But the smaller that population is as a proportion of the people biking, the healthier the biking scene in a city, roughly. Biking shouldn’t need accessories because it should be easy and convenient to do at any time, rather than some special hassle. Which is why I don’t like mandatory helmet laws, for example.

4. Find your zen. This is dumb. You don’t need to pep talk yourself into riding a bike. Just do it.

(not a number) she uses a single speed bike. In Seattle. In a part of Seattle that isn’t Georgetown even. That seems… how shall I say it? Unwise?

5. Use a bike lane where possible. Duh.

6. Avoid door zones. This is a huge psychological issue more than anything. I’ve been doored, and it’s scary riding thinking that it can happen at any point. As a result, I go out of my way to avoid door zones, and so make other types of collisions more likely. Since by far the majority and the most serious types of collisions are with moving cars, my guess is that this is objectively a bad idea. But the fear of getting blindsided by a door is just so high that I still do it, and so do most other people. Fortunately, there is an easy fix from the drivers perspective: open the door with the further hand! It works! This one is on you, drivers. Hopefully more on this soon in a separate post.

7. Claim the lane. I’m not sure about this one. As a biker, you should not have to give up your safety just for a car’s slightly greater convenience. So claim the lane if you need it for visibility, for example. But if you don’t need it, there’s no reason to take up a lane that I can see. I don’t think antagonizing drivers is good either as a strategy or as a goal in itself.

8. Expect the unexpected. Don’t do that, silly! That would make the unexpected expected, which would make it something that this bullet point no longer asks you to expect! What a conundrum! OK, I know the point is: be alert to what’s on the road. And that’s damn important. And also totally common sense. Nothing bike-specific here.

9. Making turns. Good to know that the two-step manoeuvre is called the Copenhagen left turn. Getting into traffic to turn left on a big street is definitely something that makes me feel unsafe at times, so letting people know that the Copenhagen turn is an option and making it sound cool is a good idea. All the same, making left turns is not nearly as frightening as the video makes it out to be.

10. Respect pedestrians. A-men. For me, the number one rule a new biker needs to learn that isn’t blindingly obvious. I mean, respect cars, too. But respect pedestrians because you’re in a position of power over them and so respecting their right of way and movements is just basic not being a dick. Although, as you can tell, I think the less preparation necessary for biking the better, this is really something that needs to be learned right at the start, because there really isn’t anything that will cause you to learn.

11. Occasionally people will throw stuff at you. What kind of terrible dystopian world does this video live in? I’ve never had anyone throw stuff at me while I was on a bicycle in Seattle, so if this is happening to you, something is probably going terribly wrong. And also you should report it. I thought maybe I just had an atypical experience, so I asked several people who bike more than me, and none of the people I asked had ever had stuff thrown at them while/for biking (including T., who used to work as a bike messenger. Although last week a pedestrian told V. they hoped that V. got run over by a car, so it’s definitely not because there aren’t assholes out there on the street). But putting this point in is totally discouraging to a potential cyclist. I don’t know, maybe some people enjoy this kind of stuff, but if I was considering biking and watched this video, I think my reaction would be “Oh gee, I’d love to, but not so much if people will OCCASIONALLY PELT ME WITH GARBAGE!!” Are you trying to encourage potential cyclists or scare them off?

12. But mostly you’ll feel good about yourself. True.

Overall this is just repeating what I have long said on this blog: for bike policies to be effective, they have to work for people who are not seasoned bikers and aren’t planning to go through a ton of prep. But because those are not the people who are going to care at all about bike issues or bike advocacy, currently pro-bike policy, to the extent that it exists at all, is skewed towards the subset of people who are way into biking already. But you don’t have to be a messenger or act like a messenger or bike like a messenger (please don’t bike like a messenger) to go biking. Thus, I think the grist video is good in that it attempts to disintimidate people somewhat, but is not radical enough in how disintimidating it should be.

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