Not To Be Trusted With Knives











{November 15, 2008}   It’s election day, again

Today is the day that municipal governments hold their elections in BC.

Across BC general elections are held every three years for mayors, councillors, regional district electoral area directors, school board trustees and Islands Trust trustees (municipalelections.com)

In Vancouver, we have to vote for a mayor, 10 city councillors, 7 park commissioners and 9 school board trustees.  That’s 27 people I need to vote for! Plus there are other questions about “whether to allow the City to borrow money for major construction projects (for example, re-build certain community centres, or extensive re-construction of water or sewer lines)” (City of Vancouver).

To be honest, it’s election day and I’ve only just now read1 through the candidate profiles.  The sheer number of candidates to consider has seemed overwhelming to even think about up until now – and I know that just reading the 150 words or less candidate bios isn’t really sufficient to make a truly informed vote but, given that the election is today, I think it’s the best I’m going to be able to do.  It helps that I’m a bit familiar with the major parties, but of course this means that the independent candidates are getting the short end of the stick.

For my non-Vancouver readers, the major parties in Vancouver politics are:

I mean, given that “partisan” means “of, pertaining to, or characteristic of partisans; partial to a specific party, person, etc.” (dictionary.com), doesn’t this mean that the Non-Partisan Association are the “Party that is not partial to itself”?

For school trustees, Airdrie just twittered a recommendation that people check out who their local teachers associations are endorsing and, as it turns out, both the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association and the Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association support the Vision and COPE candidates, which was in keeping what I was planning to do after pursuing those short candidate bios, so that makes me feel a bit better about my lackadaisical approach to this.

Darren also posted about his “near-complete apathy” towards local politics and now, in the spirit of the theme of phoning-it-in-edness of this posting, I’m going to totally steal his question: “Who are you voting for, wherever you live (assuming, you know, that you live in BC)?

1OK, skimmed.

Image credit: Photo by Theresa Thompson on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.

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Wikipedia is quick.  I took this screenshot just as Obama was starting his victory speech:

Also, I like that Obama promised his daughters a puppy when they move to the White House!



{November 4, 2008}   Babe for Obama

Sorry. Couldn’t resist that title after the title of my earlier post.

As you can see, I wore my democratic blue shirt today, in honour of Barack!

Just over half an hour left ’til the first polls close in the eastern United States and the results start pouring in.  To my American readers: thanks to all of you who voted for Barack Obama!!

In addition to the results of this historic presidential election, the results of a number of items on the ballots, including Propositions 8, 2 and 102 in California, Florida and Arizona, respectively, which, if passed, would ban gay marriage in those states, and Amendment 48 in Colorado, which would “define all fertilized eggs as full human beings with constitutional rights” (Source) are of interest to me.

Am hoping to get out to an Obama victory celebration tonight, but work is crazy busy, so we’ll see how productive I am in the next few hours!  Otherwise, I’ll be working this evening with one eye on the Internets!



Hey, did you know that there’s a Canadian federal election on Tuesday?  I might have forgotten to mention it here on NTBTWK.  For those of you who love my special brand of political coverage, I hope you enjoy today’s posting . For those of you who don’t care about Canadian politics or Canada or, like, democracy and such, I shall return to other hard hitting issues, like how hot Rick DiPetro, goalie for the NY Islanders is, after Tuesday.  Mostly.

A while ago, Rebecca posted a summary of the candidates in her riding of Vancouver Centre. And I thought, “Hey, that’s a great idea! I’m totally doing for that my riding too!”  Then I got sick/busy/[insert excuse here]. Anyway.  I’m doing it now. So there.

Vancouver Quadra

  • encompasses the University of British Columbia, the Musqueam Indian Reserve No. 2 and Vancouver’s West Side.  West Siiiiide, represent!
  • population (according to the 2006 Census) of this riding is 119,627
  • created in 1947
  • has been represented by 7 different MPs over the years – 5 Liberals and 2 Tories
  • was represented by the Right Honourable John Turner, who was the Vancouver Quadra MP from 1984-1993 and was the Prime Minister for about 2 seconds
  • incumbenent is Liberal Joyce Murrary, who won a by-election earlier this year after former MP, Liberal Stephen Owen resigned.  Murrary beat Conservative Party* rival, Deborah Meredith by a mere 151 votes in that by-election.

The candidates, in alphabetical order by last name, are:

Barens, Norris – Libertarian Party

  • doesn’t have a website
  • there’s a link on the Libertarian Party‘s website to an email address for Barens, but no info about the candidate
  • I have yet to see a single lawn sign for Barens
  • I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Barens is not a contender

Caplan, David – New Democratic Party

  • shares his name with an Ontario provincial Liberal cabinet minister, making him a pain in the ass to Google
  • has been in the Armed Forces, a lawyer, a financial analyst, a freelance writer, a homemaker
  • has degrees in science, law, business administration and Chartered Financial Analyst
  • now wants to be a politician – I’m not sure if he’s really diverse, or doesn’t know what he wants to do1
  • there is little info available on Caplan, but in fairness he only took over after civil-liberties lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who had been the NDP candidate in this riding, stepped down on September 19 because he video smoking marijuana
  • his website, such as it is

Grice, Dan – Green Party

  • is a “new media and technology consultant” and appears to have a company that I have never heard of.  I mean, I like to think I know a fair number of the tech peeps in Vancouver, but I’ve never heard of “VanAlive Communications” – has anyone else?
  • He did his B.A. in Classical Archaeology and the History of Rome, Greece, and the Near East at UBC
  • He answers the question “Why are you running?” with “I want to help modernize our political structure and help move Canada to a low carbon economy. I come from a generation that values ingenuity and I feel that we need politicians to be more responsive and more concerned with fixing the problems of today rather than worried about their public perception.”
  • his website

Meredith, Deborah – Conservative* Party

  • evil
  • teaches at the evil UBC Sauder School of Business
  • likes to stick “tackling crime” stickers on her evil lawn signs

Murray, Joyce – Liberal Party

  • has been the MP for Vancouver Quadra since the by-election earlier this year
  • formerly an MLA with the (admittedly, evil) BC Liberals before she was defeated in the 2005 election
  • introduced a private members bill proposing to exempt bikes, bike accessories & repairs from the GST
  • did her MBA at Simon Fraser University
  • her website

As there was a by-election earlier this year where Murray beat Meredith by a mere 151 votes, many people suggest that this will be a tight race (and VoteforEnvironment suggests strategically voting for Murrary to keep out the Conservative*). The Election Prediction Project, which has a pretty good track record for predicting election winners, says that this riding is going to the Liberal.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they are right!

1I’ve been accused of this myself. At my interview, my eventual Masters supervisor, upon hearing I was doing a minor in Drama with my major in Honours Biochemistry called me “conflicted.” I told him I prefer to think of myself as well-rounded.



{October 9, 2008}   Science and the Election

Note: This blog posting is going to be a long one. I’ve been writing it for days. But it’s so worth the read, if you are interested in science, education, the Canadian election, or hearing my ongoing rants about the Conservative* party.

Today Yesterday The other day, I read this story on the CBC: Researchers wonder: What’s the plan for R&D?. Some of the key things that jumped out to me:

  • “On Sept. 17, federal Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion did pledge a 60 per cent increase of funding for university-based research — to $500 million a year — and proposed a $100-million fund to enable scientists, researchers and graduate students to take on projects that extend beyond the barriers of their disciplines.  But the topic was soon buried under the larger issue of government spending, with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper that same day calling the spending proposals of Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton “mind-boggling” in size.”
  • The Conservatives have not issued their party platform, but neither they nor the other party leaders has devoted a speech to science-related issues outside the environment.”
  • Scientists “expressed dismay at political parties that want to build a knowledge economy but seem unwilling to contribute to it.
  • “Funding was the top concern: few scientists can complain about current funding levels, but some worry about the future of the funding while others worry those funds are becoming too narrowly focused on industrial spinoffs or favoured established programs at the expense of new initiatives.|

Few scientists can complain about current funding levels?” What? The Canadian Institutes of Health Research – the federal funding agency for research related to health and the agency with which I’m most familiar – has very depressing rates of funding: exact numbers depend on the particular grant competition, but it’s fair to say that you can expect ~ 25% success rate1,2 when you submit a grant application (i.e., 3 of every 4 grant applications submitted won’t get funded). And that’s not because the grant applications aren’t high quality.  They have a category called “Fundable, But Not Funded,” which basically it means that the proposed research is of high enough quality that it should be funded, but there’s no money for it.  According to a recent CIHR Operating Grant Program Analysis2, the success rate of “fundable but not funded” grant application is only ~30% – that means that 2 out of 3 high quality research applications submitted to the operating grant competition are not funded.

As I’ve mentioned before, the National Science Adviser to the Prime Minister was first shunted to the Industry Ministry (which shows how the Harper government views science – in their view, science is only important if you can make money from it) and then canned completely.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, the Harper government is willing to completely ignore scientific evidence and oppose Vancouver’s supervised injection facility, claiming that there isn’t enough science to back it up (I suppose all the scientific evidence that they choose to ignore doesn’t count?).

Shortly after reading that article, my friend and scientist extraordinaire, Mel Kardel, sent me and some other colleagues a summary of each of the main political parties’3 stances on science and on students, which she created by going through each of their platforms and searching for “science” and “student”4. Would you believe that the Conservative* party platform does not include the word “student” even one time? Oh yeah, the Conservative* party *finally* released their platform. One week before the election. The election that THEY called. And after some people have already voted in advance polls. Anyway. The only mentions of “education” in their 44-page document were vague references to “provid[ing] practical help to Canadian families to assist them with higher costs of living, and protect them from unfair retail practices so that families can focus on the things in life that matter most, like buying their first home and saving for their children’s education.” Which basically sounds like “as for actually paying for education – you’re on your own!” Oh wait, on page 9 it says that they’ll let charities and NPOs create RESPs for kids. Isn’t this like saying “hey poor people, want your kids to go to college? You better ask a charity, because the Conservative* government isn’t going to help!” And then there’s the vague: “Improving Aboriginal education is crucial to giving young members of the Aboriginal community the opportunity to succeed.” No mention on *how* they are going to improve Aboriginal education. Awesome.

As for science, the only mention of science in their platform is the claim that they “made major new investments in leading-edge science over the past three budgets, which will increase support for science and technology by $850 million by 2009-10,” (with no indication that most of this was directed very specific, industry-focuses areas rather than the basic sciences), a claim that they will “make additional investments in internationally recognized science and technology projects in Canada,” (with no suggestion of how much that investment will be, or in what areas).  And there’s a promise to “build a world-class High Arctic Research Station that will be on the cutting edge of Arctic issues, including environmental science and resource development.”  And that’s it for education and science in the Conservative* party’s platform.  For real.

In contrast, the Liberals, NDP and Green Party all talk extensively about science and education in their platforms. I can provide you with the full details if you like, but in view of the fact that this blog posting has gotten quite long (!), I’ll just hit you with some highlights here:

Liberals:

  • increase in the indirect costs of university based research to $500 per year
  • increased funding for both CIHR and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to $1.275 billion/year (from $960 million) and for the Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) to $450 million a year (from $320 million), plus $100 for interdisciplinary research
  • an Education grant of $1000/yr for postsecondary students, plus a $250 tax credit for students who also work
  • increased grants and bursaries for students in need
  • an extension of the post-graduation interest-free period before you have to start paying off your student loan from 6 months to 2 years, plus lower interest rates on student loans (man, could I ever use that!)

NDP:

  • $1000 grant to students who qualify for student loans
  • more funding to universities and keeping tuition fees affordable (although I’d argue with the word “keeping” here, as tuition fees are *not* currently affordable)
  • reforming student loan system, including interest relief for students completing an internship after graduation
  • increased funding for research and for grad students (to keep the best and brightest here in Canada)

Green Party:

  • “Post-secondary education should not be a debt sentence”  Hee hee. Debt sentence.
  • forgiving 50% of your student loans when you graduate (holy crap! that would have amounted to a $35,000 grant for me!)
  • increased funding to universities
  • working with provinces to lower tuition fees
  • “Fund universities to create more tenure track teaching positions, regardless of perceived commercial value of the area of pedagogy.”

Now, I realize that the proof is in the pudding and we’ll only know if anyone will follow through with these promises once they get into power. But I also think it’s pretty clear that the Conservatives* have no intention whatsoever of doing anything for students or for scientists.  At least the other parties have promises for which we can hold them accountable.  Time to replace Harper!

1How to Prepare a CIHR Application, University of Western Ontario
2Operating Grant Program Analysis
3Not including the Bloc, ‘cuz we can’t vote for them here in BC.
4My friends rock.



… goes to Jack Layton for saying to Stephen Harper: “Where’s the platform, under the sweater1?”

Is anyone else dismayed by the fact that Harper has not issued his party platform?

How, exactly, can you run an election campaign without letting the public know what your plan is?  Even more mind-boggling than that is: polls show the platform-less Harper is in the lead!

1The “sweater” comments refers to the fact that Harper is wearing sweaters in his campaign ads to “soften his image.” You know, his image as a compassionate-less robot would would ignore someone who just fainted.



As the election1 approaches, I’m starting to get a little frightened. Polls are suggesting we may end up with a Conservative* majority.

George Strombo invited all the party leaders to be interviewed on his show, The Hour.  Not surprisingly, Stephen Harper has REFUSED to go on the show.  Harper appears to be frightened by the thought of people hearing what he or his party members say unless it’s under very tightly controlled circumstances. He avoids talking to the media (other than handpicked reporters who will ask the questions Harper tells them to) and the public as much as possible.  Strombo is an excellent interviewer – he cuts through the bullshit and asks some really direct questions – and I’m sure Harper would be way too terrified to be asked real questions.

If you are at all interested in the federal election, be sure to check out the interviews with each of the leaders EXCEPT scaredy cat Harper (and possibly not Gilles Duceppe):

And you definitely have to check out this clip of Strombo inviting Harper to come on to The Hour:

A few random interesting things I learned from these interviews:

  • Jack Layton’s great granduncle was a Father of Confederation and his dad was Conservative minister under Brian Mulroney.
  • Elizabeth May was an adviser to Brian Mulroney’s government!2
  • Elizabeth May is working on a degree in Theology.
  • I’ve heard this before from a number of sources, and Elizabeth May and Stéphane Dion both allude to it in their interviews – Stephen Harper is a micro-managing control freak.  In response to Conservatives’* accusation that the Liberals plan to raise the GST, Dion said: “Mr. Harper wants to control everything, to the point that he would like to write the Liberal platform.” Dion states that the Liberals won’t raise the GST, nor will they go into deficit.  Their plan is to lower income tax and replace the difference with a tax on pollution.

Also worth watching is this video showing Stephen Harper giving a speech that was plagiarized from Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and comparing it to Howard giving the speech:

Astonishing.

Another interesting site worth checking out is Vote for the Environment.  As shown there, if people were willing to vote strategically, we could avoid a Harper government at all (let alone a Harper majority):

If those of us who care about the environment don’t work together across party lines, the pro-environment vote will be split as it was in the last election and Harper will be re-elected.

We are the majority. But our electoral system hasn’t kept up with Canada’s changing political landscape.” (Vote for the Environment)

The site will show you “which candidate in your riding supports action against global warning AND has the best chance of winning”3

Rebecca recently posted a summary of the candidates in her riding, Vancouver Centre, and has inspired me to do the same.  So look forward to a summary of the Vancouver Quadra candidates here, probably on Monday.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the Canadian federal election?  Are you going to be voting strategically?

1The Canadian federal one. The US presidential one, Vancouver municipal one and then, not too far after those, the BC provincial one, are all also approaching, of course, but first up is the Canadian feds.
2What’s with all the lefties having ties to Mulroney?
3There’s a video on the site explaining “how it works” and this quotation is taken from that video. To watch the video, go to their site and click on “Vote smart so the majority wins – FIND OUT HOW HERE.”

The * is there in recognition of the fact that Stephen Harper’s “Conservative” party is not the real “Conservative” party… it’s the Reform-Party-cum-Canadian-Alliance-in-Tory-clothing.



et cetera