All in Current Affairs

Watching the news channels from America

and shows like The Daily Show it has become apparent to me that I no longer care at all about America's health care question. I realize that it's an important issue facing Americans but the fact is that you can only watch people acting like complete tools so long before you start to get frustrated and annoyed. I understand that some Americans want universal health care, and I understand that others don't. However the complete inability to keep the debate focused on reality is starting to drive me mad. And the fact that the Republicans keep demonizing Canadian, British and other health care systems without even really understanding what they're talking about is also frustrating. This is from an editorial in Investor’s Business Daily arguing against health care reform in the US:

The U.K.’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) basically figures out who deserves treatment by using a cost-utility analysis based on the “quality adjusted life year.” One year in perfect health gets you one point. Deductions are taken for blindness, for being in a wheelchair and so on. The more points you have, the more your life is considered worth saving, and the likelier you are to get care.

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

To which John Gruber of Daring Fireball pointed out that Stephen Hawking was born and raised in the United Kingdom [df]. Just because his vocal computer doesn't have an English accent and he doesn't end each sentence with "pip pip, jolly good!" I suppose he's an honorary American.

I can only speak from my own experience

but I have never had anything to complain about with my apparently horrible health care.  I have of course heard the horror stories from America about a trip to the emergency room, some x-rays and pain killers costing $8,000 but since I've never experienced that I can't really comment.  I think in any system, no matter who pays for it, there's going to be a few horror stories if only because anytime you're talking about millions of patients and thousands to hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses and employees a few bad things are bound to happen.  So then let's talk about my medical history, and we had best get started now otherwise we'll be here well past dinner. 

2777790190_24e5ffa587I was born with tricuspid artresia, a heart defect that essentially means that there is a hole between the two halves of my heart.  The half with the oxygenated blood was not properly separated from the half with blood without oxygen.  In graph terms the blue blood and the red blood was mixing to form a kind of purple-ish blood that left me constantly short of breath.  It's rare and it took a bit to diagnose but eventually it ended up being decided that I needed surgery. 

I had surgeries when I was three months old, three years old, six years old and again when I was seven.  The latter two were open heart surgeries, and one I ended up spending about six months in the hospital recovering from after getting an infection.  I spent most of those six months in the intensive care unit, and that had to have been expensive.   My parents were young, well certainly younger than they are now, and had they had to pay for my care they most likely would not have been able to expand their business and become as well off as they are now.

The government covered the cost of my surgeries, and they were able to keep running their business without laying people off or having to sell off their convince stores or gas stations.  Instead of being financially destroyed by having to fund my operations they were able to keep working and they've well paid off the cost of my surgery by the extra taxes that they've paid for being in a higher tax bracket.  In turn having survived I've now had a number of years of paying GST and at least fourteen of paying income tax.

Let's talk about more current medical events

to be fair it's hard to talk about what my parents might have had to pay back in the 1980s.  I do think that it's important to understand that at no point during my long and expensive stay at the University of Alberta hospital did any government official show up and say that if I cost them much more they were going to have to put me down.  There were no "Death Panels" and there was no conversation about how much my life was costing the tax payers of Alberta.  And trust me if there was a province that would have put Death Panels into place to help cut costs it would have been Alberta.  I mean it's not socialist like Quebec.

But let's move more recently during my university years.  A few months having a pace maker put in, something suggested during one of my yearly check-ups with my cardiologist for the previously discussed heart condition, I started having intense abdominal pains.  A few nights they became so bad that I ended up going to the emergency room.  Pain killers, a few hours in the ER, x-rays and other tests cost nothing.  Eventually they discovered that I had gallstones [wp] and a few days later had surgery to remove them.  The surgery, the series of tests, the hospital stay the ER usage all cost me nothing.  Nobody from the government showed up to determine if I should be treated, nobody was in charge of what happened to me other than myself and the medical professionals working at Kelowna General Hospital.

Then there is my suspected sleep apnoea

for which I recently saw a specialist and then spent a night at Richmond Hospital being examined in a fairly sophisticated sleep study room.  It's true that before I jumped right to the sleep study room I had to visit my regular doctor to get him to send me to the specialist who then prescribed the sleep study but I doubt that it's different under a private insurance company. 

Speaking of private insurance companies

I have an awful hard time getting them to cover me.  Since I was born with a heart condition I have a pre-existing condition and nobody will cover me.  I have been lucky to have jobs where my employer provides insurance and so I get covered under that.  If I had to find my own private health insurance I'd be out of luck, and given the way that the companies behave in America if I did live in the United States I would most likely be out of luck even with the best employer provided coverage. 

Yes even in Canada there is still private health insurance.  While all insurance plans differ they tend to cover what the government does not such as extended health care (prescription drugs, medical supplies, hearing aids, vision care, semi-private or private room in hospital, complementary health services such as chiropractic and registered massage therapy), dental plans and the like.  My braces would have been covered by my private health care, since straight teeth are not a life or death issue.

If you're going to knock Canadian Health Care

you're not going to convince me.  If you're an American and bump into a Canadian on holidays ask them about what they think of American health care.  Better yet ask them what they would do if they had to go to the doctor's in America.  Short of severe injury most Canadians would probably report that they would rather wait until they got home, unless they've bought quite a good travel insurance package.  We all suspect that even coughing in the direction of an American doctor will cost us around eight hundred dollars, so we tend to tell each other things like, "Oh well just suck it up until you get back home."

And yes as someone in a middle tax bracket maybe in the long term I will have paid more into the health care system via my taxes than I will ever get out of it (though given my medical history that's unlikely).  However the fact that I know that if I ever need medical attention nobody is going to check to see if I have proper insurance or a large enough bank account before administering care is a relief.  When I was in university and had to deal with gallstones if I had been presented with a bill for the hospital care I had received I would have had no way to pay it.  My parents would have had no way to pay what could have been hundreds of thousands of dollars for my pre-existing heart condition and the surgery that has allowed me to continue to live.

So while the American right turns fear tactics on again, after finding that screaming "terrorist" no longer wins Presidential elections, and starts talking about Death Panels and the creeping specter of communism, I'll have you keep your hands off of my Canadian Health Care.  If you want to call it a demon, then by gosh it's the most helpful demon I've known.


Last night Lydia and I were having an argument about the importance of voting in Saturday's Vancouver Civic Election.  My view was that after going through a Federal Election, a provincial bi-election and the Obama Election Miracle of '08 I'm pretty damn electioned out and frankly I don't really give a shit about civic politics anyway.

Lydia pressed me saying, probably correctly, that it's important and that I should care to which point I made the point that my general feeling is that most people who run for Mayor are idiots.  Now granted my view is probably skewed after growing up in Kelowna where mayoral candidates tended to either be failed business people, punk anarchists looking to make a political point but not win, or complete freaks.  By freaks I don't mean the sort of politically motivated hippie/freaks like Hunter S. Thompson when he ran for Sherrif of Aspen Colorado, I mean just complete nutbars.

But maybe I'm not giving Vancouver a chance.  I respect Don Iveson who was elected to Edmonton's city council [di], so I guess I can't really argue that the only people who run for civic office are complete douche monsters.  Maybe I should give the Vancouver mayoral candidates a chance.

Then they went and had a talent show, and basically proved my point.

From The Georgia Straight [tgs]:

Scott Yee, for example, was basically booed off stage for his collection of increasingly sexist and homophobic “jokes”; Menard Caissy, dressed in an oversized ski jacket, listened to an MP3 player through headphones and began yowling, sometimes crouched in a semi-fetal position, to what he said was a track by The Stains, all the while punctuating the racket with disconcerting hacking coughs; and the decidedly odd Gölök Buday joined Yee in the naughty corner for a racist and misogynist one-liner that offended everyone in the room.

Leon Kaplan's stand-up bit was fairly amusing, as he explained that he would split the right-wing vote with his plan to take tasers away from the cops—and give them to the Downtown Ambassadors. And Bill Ritchie performed a rather effective three-minute play that encapsulated the lives of five Vancouverites, from the wealthy businessman to the Hastings Street addict. 

The Nude Garden Party’s Patrick Britten did not, thankfully, appear sans clothing; in pyjamas and a bathrobe he sang "Don’t Fence Me In", then delivered Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy. Independent Marc Emery opted not to perform anything, instead delivering a rant about the economic crisis facing the city; and independent park board candidate Jamie Lee Hamilton delivered a bawdy set of one-liners: “I’ve counted 15 lesbians and 15 politicians here tonight—that makes 30 people here who don’t do dick.”

Vision Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson appeared alongside councillor Heather Deal and council candidate Geoff Meggs for some Tom Lehrer fun, and responded to a question about his top three skills by listing watering plants, flipping pancakes, and playing tuba.

Well there's one argument I win.

By the time I was done work on Tuesday the American Presidential Election had already been called, and Obama had won. Nathan came over, and Lydia roasted some chestnuts and we watched the coverage of the victory.

Though as a Canadian I didn't get a vote, and really did not have a horse in the race, as it where, but I was certainly pulling for Obama.

OMG! Evil!

apparently D.L. Hughley [wp] has a late-night news chat show on CNN. If I think of who holds down the late-night CNN slot, I would never have thought that it was him. This is the sort of thing that an election year does, it drives me to channel surf to watch a standup comedian that I've got no great love for, chatting with the Reverend Al Sharpton before flipping back to a very dry episode of the CBC's The Passionate Eye on the ins and outs of campaign financing for the Presidential election.

The narrator of the documentary seems like he's trying to sound like George Takei. It's earnest and dry, clearly on the side of Barack Obama. If it's meant to be propaganda it's not particularly engaging, if it's not... well it's still not particularly engaging.

The U.S. Presidential Election is drawing nearer every day. After the Conservatives won the Federal election here in Canada I Tweeted that I think every Canadian will take another term of Stephen Harper as long as in the karma tradeoff Obama won. Certainly if the election was held up here Barack would win by a landslide.

It's not being held here of course, and we're not able to vote. So we remain the cheerleaders in the football game of politics, unable to get on the field but quite happy to cheer on who we want to win. I'm sure that Americans who know about how closely we follow the election probably find it kind of annoying, the same way it was kind of annoying when John F. Kennedy tried to get rid of John Diefenbaker.

Even though the polls say that Obama is leading, it's hard to believe he's going to win. The way that some people in the states just irrationally hate him, it's hard to see it being an easy victory. I might not love Harper, but I'm certainly not angry about him. He's just sort of... there. Like wallpaper.

Tuesday we'll see what happens. Dark clouds or something else. I'm bringing an umbrella.


It is completely and entirely appropriate for you to tell me that I'm going to hell for this post.  Or rather for the picture to the left here.  However I've closed the comments so you can't do that can you.

It's just been awhile since I've played with my old friend the Church Sign Generator [csg] and so I figured that I'd have a little fun playing around with it while I try to drift off to sleep.

Meanwhile if you've been wanting to read some serious blogging from me then check out Metroblogging Vancouver.  In amongst some terrific new authors I blog about square watermelons [mbv], give an on the spot live blog of the downtown power outage from my cell phone [mbv] and go to a petting zoo at Maplewood Farms in North Vancouver [mbv].

All of that and more is waiting for you at Metroblogging Vancouver.  It's free, and maybe that's the sort of charity that will repay any existing deities for my blasphemies. 

I'm still closing the comments though.

  Senator Barack Obama 
  Originally uploaded by goodmosconi.

I am not American, I don't live in America and I don't vote in their elections.  However like the rest of the world whoever is living in the White House affects my life a great deal.  Canada has troops in Afghanistan because of George W. Bush, and we pay a lot more at the gas pumps because of George W. Bush. 

A change is needed, and last night Barack Obama became the Democratic nominee for President and the man that I'm hoping wins.  Jeff Weston, a high school friend whose living in Seattle for work, had been hoping that Hilary won and seems to really dislike Obama.  I'll admit to not knowing enough about their substantive policy differences, other than Clinton was for the invasion of Iraq, and Obama was not, but I'm glad that Barack one.

Crazy pastor aside, I'm sure we'll be finding out that he's a complicated and flawed man as the real race for the Presidency begins now, but he offers far more than anyone has in a long time.  Change might seem like the buzz word of the moment, as does hope but I think those both fit. 

Anyway he does have the very nice feature of not being George W. Bush.  And now with Clinton out of the race, we think, he's the most non-George W. Bush like person in the race, and so I'm hoping he's going to win.

A lot of people use the internet to kill time at work.  Not I of course, I'm always hard at work selling phones to the people who need the cellular.  But I do know of other people, such as my girlfriend Lydia, who require some reading to help pass the time while at work.  So in honour of those of you who are looking to knock a little bit off their work day here are three things worth reading about on the web today.

1) Scott Adams overcomes Spasmodic Dysphonia [db]:

Best known as the creator of the character Dilbert Scott Adams is a fairly funny humourist and seemingly a nice guy.  I was surprised to hear that he had a rare speech problem called Spasmodic Dyphonia that affects a part of the brain and prevents him from speaking properly.

Essentially a part of the brain that controls speech just shuts down in some people, usually after you strain your voice during a bout with allergies (in my case) or some other sort of normal laryngitis. It happens to people in my age bracket.

I asked my doctor – a specialist for this condition – how many people have ever gotten better. Answer: zero. While there’s no cure, painful Botox injections through the front of the neck and into the vocal cords can stop the spasms for a few months. That weakens the muscles that otherwise spasm, but your voice is breathy and weak.

The odd thing was that the disorder allowed him to do some kind of speaking, such as public speaking in front of large crowds, and not others such as regular talking.  Told that there was no cure he set about trying to figure out a way to overcome his affliction and eventually did this October [db] by trying to rhyme.  Since then his speech seems to have almost returned to normal.

The day before yesterday, while helping on a homework assignment, I noticed I could speak perfectly in rhyme. Rhyme was a context I hadn’t considered. A poem isn’t singing and it isn’t regular talking. But for some reason the context is just different enough from normal speech that my brain handled it fine.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack jumped over the candlestick.

I repeated it dozens of times, partly because I could. It was effortless, even though it was similar to regular speech. I enjoyed repeating it, hearing the sound of my own voice working almost flawlessly. I longed for that sound, and the memory of normal speech. Perhaps the rhyme took me back to my own childhood too. Or maybe it’s just plain catchy. I enjoyed repeating it more than I should have. Then something happened.

My brain remapped.

My speech returned.

Not 100%, but close, like a car starting up on a cold winter night. And so I talked that night. A lot. And all the next day. A few times I felt my voice slipping away, so I repeated the nursery rhyme and tuned it back in. By the following night my voice was almost completely normal.

It's a story worth checking out on his blog, as are the many, many comments [db]. 

2) US Mid-term election coverage from across the pond [guk]:

The Guardian's Simon Jenkins has a really interesting article up about the recent mid-term elections in the United States.  Seeing the election of Democrates to power in both houses of government he sees the results as the "It is a good day for level-headed Americans."  Still despite the results he saw the recent election as the most divisive in memory.

I have watched many American elections, but still find myself shocked by candidates accusing each other in public and on television of corruption, homosexuality, lying, surrendering to terror, killing babies, favouring torture, associating with hoodlums and consorting with prostitutes. My favourites this time were "Brad Miller pays for sex but not for body armour for our troops" and, most savage of all, "Michael Steele loves George Bush". Achieving office in Britain is a stroll in the country. In America the participant must carry the one true ring to the land of Mordor. The game goes only to the strong.

3) Wizard Magazine's review of the latest episode of Lost [wu]:

If you're not deep into the horribly confounding world of Lost then this might be the one recomendation that you might want to skip.  However Wizard has been doing a day after review of the show for this season, and it's helpful to keep track of what everything means.  Or might mean since nothing is clear.  If you haven't seen the episode yet you don't want to read it, but if you have it's a good crib sheet.

Sean: “I thought the writers laid it on a little thick during the ceremony. The priest says that one of the first things that struck him about ‘Monica’ was her honesty. How the hell would that work, anyway? Did he ask her if his robe made him look fat and she said, ‘Well, to be honest, yeah’? Not to mention the ‘what you see is what you get’ line. Dun-dun-DUNNNN!

Justin: “The only thing more obvious were those ‘please murder him’ looks Juliet kept shooting Jack during the operation sequence.”

The selections I took from the articles don't spoil them.  If you're wanting to kill sometime, then head over and check these three suggestions out.

  Vancouver Art Gallery 
  Originally uploaded by Jeffery Simpson.

I blogged about the protest outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery over on Metroblogging Vancouver [mbv] earlier.  The protest was by a group of people claiming that the September 11th attacks five years ago were faked and nothing but a media hoax used to give George W. Bush a free hand to invade Iraq.

I'm anti-Bush and have always been against the invasion of Iraq, but this sort of bullshit blows me away.  It's as sick as denying the Holocaust occured and as factual as claiming that unicorns live in an enchanted forest on the edge of town and grant wishes to all who seek them out.

I mean wow.

Anyway I didn't argue with the dinkwallets with signs, just came home to blog about it, but I'm still really blown away by it.  I knew there was people out there who believed this crap, but I didn't think they would ever actually do so in public.  I can't wait for a pro-child molester protest out front of the VAG.

Below is a video from the Penn and Teller series Bullshit debunking this nonsense.

Upturned car
Originally uploaded by phibsboro.

Dublin is rioting, and you can get information and updates Metroblogging Vancouver's sister site Metroblogging Dublin [mbd]. This is the view from the street, from the people there and not reporting from remote press rooms reading press releases.

There are reports of cars and buildings along Nassau Street being set alight, shops and cars being looted, and there are also reports of Pearse Street Garda station currently being attacked and set on fire. There also appears to be a concerted effort to attack journalists and photographers trying to cover the riots, with many photographers and tv camera crews having their cameras smashed, and RTE's Chief News correspondant, Charlie Bird has been seen running down O Connell Street with blood coming from his head.

The rioting was sparked by the yearly Love Ulster Parade, where Protestants march around the largely Catholic Dublin to proclaim how much better Protestants are than Catholics.

Now why did nobody think that might go wrong?

Edit: Currently (11:38 am PST) there is nothing on the riots on the CBC or CNN's websites but the BBC does have some information on it [bbc]. So this is sort of a scoop for ya'all.