Thursday, April 30, 2009

Noam Chomsky on the 9/11 attacks

This is from an interview with David Barsamian. Definitely worth a listen.

Part 1:

Part 2:

The comments are instructive too.

Why the media can't cope with swine flu

Ben Goldacre has written an interesting article on the subject:
First it was the emails, and the tweets. This is all nonsense about the aporkalypse, surely? Just like with Sars, and bird flu, and MMR, is this all hype? The answer is no, but more interesting is this: for so many people, their very first assumption on the story is that the media are lying. It is the story of the boy who cried wolf.

We are poorly equipped to think around issues involving risk, and infectious diseases epidemiology is a tricky business: the error margins on the models are wide, and it's extremely hard to make clear predictions.

Here's an example. In Glasgow in the 1980s, less than 5% of injecting drug users were HIV positive. In Edinburgh at the same time, it was almost 50%, even though these two places are only an hour apart by train. Lots of people have got theories about why there should have been such a huge difference in the numbers of people infected, and there's no doubt that it's fun to try and come up with a plausible post hoc rationale. But you certainly wouldn't have predicted it.Maybe some bloke with HIV got off the train at Edinburgh station instead of Glasgow on a whim, some fateful day in the early 1980s.

Maybe there was a different culture among heroin users, or services.

Nobody really knows.

We face the same problem with swine flu. All people have done is raise the possibility of things really kicking off, and they are right to do so, but we don't have brilliantly accurate information. Someone has said that up to 40% of the world could be infected. Is that scaremongering? Well it's high, and I'm sure it's a bit of a guess, but maybe up to 40% could be. Annoying, isn't it, not to know.


By Tuesday, pundit-seekers from the media were suddenly contacting me, a massive nobody, to say that swine flu is all nonsense and hype, like some kind of blind, automated naysaying device. "Will you come and talk about the media overhyping swine flu?" asked Case Notes on Radio 4. No. "We need someone to say it's all been overhyped," said BBC Wales.

I assumed they were adhering, robotically, to the "balance" template, but no: he kept at it, even when I protested and explained. "Yeah, but you know, it could be like Sars and bird flu, they didn't materialise, they were hype." Simon Jenkins suggested the same thing. It's not true, I said. They were risks, risks that didn't materialise, but they were still risks. That's what a risk is. I've never been hit by a car, but it's not idiotic to think about it. Simon Jenkins won't be right if nobody dies, he'll be lucky, like the rest of us. Do people think this flappily in casinos? The terrible truth is yes.

From the Guardian. What it amounts to is, the media wants nice clear-cut yes/no answers, and at this stage in the pandemic, anyone who gives you such an answer is lying, or at best being overly simplistic. For my money, I'm thinking this is going to end up on the low end of the risk spectrum, but there are too many unknowns to say for sure.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

WHO raises pandemic threat level... again

M-O-O-N, that spells Phase 5:
The World Health Organization on Wednesday raised its global pandemic alert level to five — its second highest level — meaning a pandemic is imminent and countries must finalize preparations to deal with the outbreak of swine flu.

"Based on assessments of all available information and following several expert consultations, I have decided to raise the current level of influenza pandemic alert from Phase 4 to Phase 5," WHO director general Margaret Chan said during a briefing from the organization's headquarters in Geneva.

Phase 5 is called when there is human-to-human spread of a virus in at least two countries in one region, according to WHO's pandemic response guidelines.

Chan said the new alert level is a signal for governments around the world to take action with "increased urgency and at an accelerated pace."

Meanwhile, the idea that two different strains are involved has been raised again:
A leading West Australian virologist says it is possible the Mexican outbreak of swine flu could be a different strain to the virus detected in the United States.

More than 150 people in Mexico have died from the virus while there have been no fatalities in the US.

Dr David Smith from Pathwest says there could be a number of reasons for this, but it is an unusual situation.

"We are seeing two very different descriptions of disease with apparently more severe disease occurring in Mexico," he said.

"And then the cases as have occurred outside of Mexico have been quite mild infections people have recovered from. It is unusual to see that much difference in the patterns of disease by what appear to be very similar viruses.

"If we don't know exactly what the strain is and how it compares genetically to the one that's coming from the US," he said.

"It's something we need to know if that is the case or not, but that may not necessarily be the case, the apparent differences may be explained by other reasons."

Dr Smith says it is likely both countries have the same strain but researchers will need to wait for the results of genetic testing to be sure.
From the ABC. Let's hope it's not two different strains, and that the other explanations given in the Slate article cited in my previous post are the reason. Because if it is two strains, it would be only a matter of time before the more virulent one hops Mexico's borders. On the other hand, it's also possible that infection with the mild strain will confer immunity to the virulent one.

Meanwhile, though, they're backtracking on the number of reported deaths; they're now saying only seven deaths in Mexico and one in the US can be definitely linked to this outbreak. So maybe this isn't as big a deal as previously thought. No doubt we'll know soon enough.

More flu news

The first death outside of Mexico has been reported:

The first death in the United States from swine flu was reported on Wednesday, as the number of confirmed and suspected human cases worldwide continues to rise following an outbreak in Mexico.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said on Wednesday that swine flu caused the death of a 23-month-old child in Texas. It is believed to be the first death outside Mexico.

Dr. Richard Besser, the CDC's acting director, confirmed the death during an interview with CNN on Wednesday. No further details about the child or the circumstances of the death were provided.

From here. This is not in keeping, though, with the pattern of mortality in Mexico, where (worryingly) a disproportionate number of deaths, as noted previously, have been young adults. Slate has an article examining possible reasons for the differences between Mexico and the rest of the world in the way the flu is impacting them. They propose four:
1) Perhaps population-level genetic differences render the U.S. population more resistant to this strain's effects than the Mexican population.
The author considers this unlikely for the following reason:
This isn't like the smallpox situation of 500 years ago, when American Indians were decimated by a virus they'd never encountered while Europeans carried it easily because centuries of exposure had selected them for resistance. This strain of swine flu virus is apparently new to everyone—a combination of bird flu, seasonal human flu, and (predominantly) two kinds of swine flu, all in a form our bodies have never seen. There seems no reason any human population should resist its effects substantially better or worse than any other.
To this one could add the fact that many Americans have Mexican ancestry. There doesn't seem to be any data on the ethnicity of cases from the rest of the world, but I would expect that at least some of the infected had visited family in Mexico.
2) We're really looking at two different viruses, but WHO and the CDC haven't picked up on it.
So far, tests have failed to find any difference in the viruses from the fatal cases in Mexico and the less severe cases elsewhere. It's possible that some subtle difference exists that the tests haven't detected, but it seems less likely owing to the heavy scrutiny the virus is being placed under.
3) Some secondary health issue present in Mexico but not elsewhere—another bug common in the population or in hospitals—is combining with the swine flu to make it more deadly there.
Quite plausible. Either another infection (perhaps bacterial) could be complicating matters, or the severe air pollution in many parts of the country may make people more susceptible to lung damage, or both. The air pollution hypothesis could be effectively tested if an infected person turned up in another highly polluted place (like Beijing), but so far Asia seems to have avoided infection, and let's hope it stays that way.
4) Some difference in the way we're tracking and counting cases—a "surveillance difference"—is making the Mexico situation seem worse than it is and the U.S. situation seem better than it really is.
In other words, there have been a lot of mild cases in Mexico as well, but they've flown under the radar. This is extremely plausible, because if the actual mortality rate is very low you wouldn't likely see many deaths (if any) among the relatively small number infected in the rest of the world. And, as the article points out, this outbreak emerged during Mexico's regular flu season, so a lot of mild to moderate cases would not have seemed unusual before the discovery of this strain.

So we don't really know. I guess all we can do is stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

WHO boosts pandemic alert level to 4

The stakes are getting higher:
The World Health Organization raised its global pandemic alert to Level 4 from Level 3 on Monday, meaning the global health body feels the virus causing the swine flu outbreak can easily transmit between people.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director general, confirmed the change during a briefing from Geneva following an emergency meeting of the organization.

Countries should focus their efforts on mitigating the effects of the virus — which the WHO has confirmed has spread to Mexico, Canada, the United States and Spain — because containment is impossible, he said.

However, Fukuda added: "A pandemic is not considered inevitable at this time."

Fukuda said the WHO doesn't recommend closing borders or restricting travel but is encouraging people who are ill to delay travel.

"The deliberations of the emergency committee and the decisions of the director general really reflect a lot of very careful and sober discussion and a number of important considerations," said Fukuda.

Despite the WHO's comments, the European Union and the U.S. have advised against non-essential travel to Mexico because of the outbreak of the virus believed to have killed dozens in Mexico. Canada was expected to issue a similar advisory.

From here. Actually, my view is that the travel advisories don't go far enough; if I were in charge I'd be advising against all non-essential travel period, including domestic travel. The travel industry would shit, of course, but if you want to seriously tackle the issue, you need to take the bull by the horns.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Flu update...

Well, it seems that that British flight attendant does not have swine flu. On the other hand, there are some suspected cases in New Zealand, and a possible one in Israel. (On a side note, can you imagine the conclusions folks might have jumped to, and the consequences, if Israel -- or Iran or Pakistan, for that matter -- had been the site of the initial outbreak?) The news from this country is contradictory; this CBC story reports possible cases in Nova Scotia, but the most recent flu story in the Chronicle-Herald says otherwise. In any case, the CBC story quotes one specialist as saying fears are overblown:

A Toronto infection control specialist said it's important to keep the outbreak in perspective.

"This sounds like a pandemic — while it's not trivial — that is less severe. And less severe is something that we spent a lot of time planning for and a lot of time working on," Dr. Allison McGeer, director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital told CBC News.

Reassuring... maybe. Also interesting, and perhaps reassuring, is this:

A big question is: Just how deadly is the virus in Mexico?

The seasonal flu tends to kill just a fraction of 1 percent of those infected.

In Mexico, about 70 deaths out of roughly 1,000 cases represents a fatality rate of about 7 percent. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19, which killed an estimated 50 million worldwide, had a fatality rate of about 2.5 percent.

The Mexican rate sounds terrifying. But it’s possible that far more than 1,000 people have been infected with the virus and that many had few if any symptoms, said Dr. Michael Osterholm, a prominent pandemic expert at the University of Minnesota. U.S. health officials echoed him.

“In Mexico, they were looking for severe diseases and they found some. They may not have been looking as widely for the milder cases,” said Schuchat of the CDC.

That actually makes a lot of sense. I know I freak out easily; maybe it's all the books I've read (The Stand, The Last Canadian, Earth Abides, etc).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Some good news for a change

Looks like researchers in Spain may have found the solution to colony collapse disorder:
For the first time, scientists have isolated the parasite Nosema ceranae (Microsporidia) from professional apiaries suffering from honey bee colony depopulation syndrome. They then went on to treat the infection with complete success.

In a study published in the new journal from the Society for Applied Microbiology: Environmental Microbiology Reports, scientists from Spain analysed two apiaries and found evidence of honey bee colony depopulation syndrome (also known as colony collapse disorder in the USA). They found no evidence of any other cause of the disease (such as the Varroa destructor, IAPV or pesticides), other than infection with Nosema ceranae. The researchers then treated the infected surviving under-populated colonies with the antibiotic drug, flumagillin and demonstrated complete recovery of all infected colonies.
From ScienceDaily. Of course, there's still a lesson here; beehives tend to be a lot more stressed nowadays than in the past, owing to them being shipped all over hell's half hectare to pollinate crops, and this may make them more susceptible to infection, both from Nosema and other pathogens. As well, the travel itself may carry diseases around a lot more, so that an outbreak can spread to a lot more hives than in the past. After all, that happens in a lot of other animals, like, er... humans.


Test Results May Mark Spread Of Swine Flu To New York

Health officials here are expected to announce as early as today whether it was swine flu that sickened dozens of students at a private school in Queens.

If so, it would heighten concerns nationwide about the spread of a disease that has killed 68 people and strickened about 1,000 in Mexico.

From here. The mortality rate so far has not been huge, so it's probably no Captain Trips, but I'd be interested to know how many of those infected have actually recovered (as opposed to "haven't died yet"). Noteworthy too is this fact:
The majority of the people killed in Mexico's fatal flu outbreak were adults between 25 and 45 years old, a Mexican health official said on Friday.
This has been observed with other nasty outbreaks, including the infamous pandemic of 1918 which killed more people than World War I. Somewhat paradoxical, but this situation sometimes arises through a mechanism called a cytokine storm:
It is believed that cytokine storms were responsible for many of the deaths during the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed a disproportionate number of young adults.[1] In this case, a healthy immune system may have been a liability rather than an asset.
Not a good thing.

Update: looks like it may be worse than initially thought:
I work as a resident doctor in one of the biggest hospitals in Mexico City and sadly, the situation is far from "under control". As a doctor, I realise that the media does not report the truth. Authorities distributed vaccines among all the medical personnel with no results, because two of my partners who worked in this hospital (interns) were killed by this new virus in less than six days even though they were vaccinated as all of us were. The official number of deaths is 20, nevertheless, the true number of victims are more than 200. I understand that we must avoid to panic, but telling the truth it might be better now to prevent and avoid more deaths.
From the BBC. Now to be fair, this is just an anonymous post by a visitor to the site, but further down the page we see this:
Dr Duncan Wood, Mexico City

Yesterday in my office it was a bit surreal walking in to see all in blue masks with deep cleansing of computer equipment and surfaces going on. Let's hope it is contained and does not escalate. The local news is reporting 200 fatalities and reports of flu spreading from areas outside of Mexico City. Given the volume of daily commuter traffic on cramped busses and trains, this may not have to be too virulent to be disastrous in human terms. I wonder what controls there will be on flights in and out.
Not so anonymous this time, and more or less consistent with the above comment. This is highly ungood.

Additional update: Looks like those BBC comments were the result of scaremongers (possibly the same person); the claim that "the local news" is reporting 200 fatalities seems to be belied (so far at least) by this:
As Mexico struggled against the odds Saturday to contain a strange new flu that has killed as many as 68 and perhaps sickened more than 1,000, it was becoming clearer that the government hasn't moved quickly enough to head off what the World Health Organization said has the potential to become a global epidemic.
68 is a lot better than 200. Still, we're far from out of the woods. The disease has showed up in Kansas, and now the UK:

A member of cabin crew was taken to hospital with "flu-like symptoms" today after falling ill on a British Airways flight from Mexico City to Heathrow.

The World Health Organisation has warned countries to be on alert for any unusual flu outbreaks after a swine flu virus was implicated in possibly dozens of human deaths in Mexico.

The BA employee, who has not been named, has been taken to Northwick Park hospital in Harrow, a hospital spokesman said.

He added: "He has flu-like symptoms and is responding well to treatment. The patient was admitted directly to a side room and the hospital is scrupulously following infection control procedures to ensure there is no risk to any other individual in the hospital."

The man was taken from flight BA242 which landed at 2pm today, a BA spokesman said.

If I were in charge, I'd have quarantined that whole damn plane, but that's just me.

Who could have seen the present troubles coming?

When a big disruption to the status quo occurs, it's usually quite unexpected. Such events are sometimes called "black swan" events. The current economic meltdown is sometimes described in this way. However, it would be wrong to describe it as such, because some people were not surprised at all. And I don't just mean super-specialized academics, but bloggers like Atrios, who predicted serious trouble five years ago:
Here's the deal. Interest rates go up. Your housing price falls. Your mortgage payment goes up substantially. You can no longer afford to make your mortgage payment. And, since the market value of your house is now less than the value of your outstanding loan, you can't just sell and trade down. Default. Foreclosure. Cardboard box.
I actually remember seeing that post back in 2004; ironically enough I was working for a call centre at the time that was calling the US and pushing these dubious mortgages. And surely Atrios isn't the only one to have thought of this, and I was most definitely not the only one to read his post. So why did almost nobody listen?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Irshad Manji sees the light

She no longer thinks the Afghan war is worth fighting:

There was a time when I believed. With every fibre of my feminist Muslim being, I believed in Nato’s Afghanistan mission. No longer.

Days ago, the Taliban assassinated another Afghan women’s rights activist. It happened shortly after the world learned of yet one more anti-female statute that Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, signed into law. Critics accused him of caving to warlords ahead of the coming elections. Only when Western voices amplified the protests of liberal Afghans did Karzai put the law “under review.” Human rights advocates called it a triumph.

The victory, such as it is, will be short-lived. I’m increasingly convinced that Afghanistan’s problem lies deeper than a defiant Taliban or a gutless central government. It’s a problem so profound that for the first time I have to ask: should coalition troops just get out?

Make no mistake, I’m a fighter. Challenged about the West’s presence in Afghanistan by numerous audiences, I’ve been crystal-clear about why military intervention deserves support.

To my fellow leftists, I’ve argued that Afghans themselves say they need Nato troops. Shall I pretend that the locals suffer from “false consciousness”? That they don’t know their lives the way I do? Doesn’t such haughtiness replicate the imperialist approach in which a distant elite lords it over the people on the ground?

To pacifists, I’ve said that you can be anti-war and pro-intervention at the same time. Consider Swanee Hunt, a noted American feminist and champion of non-violence. Recently, she wrote about serving as America’s ambassador in Vienna during the Bosnian war and “hearing horrifying reports from embassy personnel who were interviewing the refugees pouring into Austria. The responsibility was awesome. I couldn’t sleep at night. I wondered if I should resign my position to protest the fact [that] my country was not intervening.” President Bill Clinton finally deployed Nato troops to stop the genocide. Meanwhile, ambassador Hunt points out, “200,000 people died needlessly.”

To those who don’t want their country’s uniformed women and men dying, I’ve said that soldiers themselves know the hazards of their chosen occupation. For the public to go limp when some of our own come home in coffins is to tell the Taliban that we stand for nothing. Translation: We’ll fall for anything.

But now I must ask: exactly what are the soldiers falling for?

From here. When one of the most ardent pet hawks of the "coalition of the willing" turns dovish, it's hard to avoid the writing on the wall. The war is lost; it was lost as soon as we started fighting. Time to bite the bullet, cut our losses and get the hell out of there. It's a tough thing to accept, that (as of writing) 118 Canadians, not to mention the countless Afghans, many of whom were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, have died for nothing, but it will be even worse if more have to die simply because we're too stubborn to accept the hard truth.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

And speaking of car crashes...

... or rather, car manufacturer crashes:
NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Credit markets weathered an uneasy Wednesday punctuated by word that beleaguered General Motors Corp. (GM) won't make a scheduled $1 billion interest payment.
From the Wall Street Journal, via Sapiens in this iTulip thread. More details here.

So what does this mean? Bankruptcy seems almost certain now; and they've announced that they're closing their US plants for 9 weeks this summer. Meanwhile, Ford seems to be doing a lot better:

April 22 (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co. rose 13 percent in New York trading after Goldman, Sachs & Co. advised buying the shares, citing likely bankruptcy filings for General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC.

Ford will gain U.S. market share from GM and Chrysler, and the stock may climb 58 percent to $6 within 6 months, Patrick Archambault, a New York-based analyst, wrote in a research report. Goldman previously had a “neutral” rating on the second-largest U.S. automaker.

“The stage is set for a sea change in the structure of the U.S. auto industry,” Archambault wrote. “We do not foresee bankruptcy at Ford, which we believe has sufficient liquidity to make it through to 2010 without additional funding.”

As for Chrysler, the question is probably better not asked. Ford may well end up being the last US automaker standing. If nothing else, there might be some huge bargains on houses in Windsor, St. Catharines, and Oshawa pretty soon...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ballard died yesterday in his last car crash

Well, actually he died two days ago from cancer, but somehow the above headline seems appropriate. Interesting character, he was. His early works (The Wind from Nowhere, The Drowned World, etc) were reminiscent of John Wyndham, but somewhere along the line he took a turn for the weird. Not that that's a bad thing, of course. Try reading Crash (or watching Cronenberg's film version, for that matter); you'll never look at a car the same way again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

When the going gets tough, the Yanks buy more guns

They're scared, and going for their favourite security blanket:
What do an elderly Oklahoma homeowner, a Virginia Citizen Militia member, and a Texas airline pilot all have in common these days?

They're all part of America's massive gun-and-ammunition buying spree – a national arming-up effort that began before last year's election of President Obama and continues unabated. Across the United States, it has led to shortages of assault-style weapons, rising prices, and a broadening of gun culture to increasingly include older Americans, women and – gasp – liberals.

The causes are varied – from fears over crime, both rational and irrational, to the concern that Second Amendment rights will be curtailed by a Democrat-controlled Washington. With the stock market deeply uncertain, some buyers simply think guns are a good investment. The run on guns suggests a shift in public attitudes about gun rights, and it presents a snapshot of a country that has historically turned to powder and balls in times of turmoil.

"There's the sort of stereotype that gun owners were middle-aged Republican white men who were fairly easy to isolate ... in order to regulate them out," says Brent Mattis, a shooting instructor in Florida. "Now that more women are owning guns, more liberals are owning guns, and just average everyday people who want to keep themselves and their family safe. It's turning into an incredibly strong political phenomenon."

This is most evident on store shelves. Select types of ammunition – ranging from the .308 caliber typical in self-defense guns to the .223 caliber usually associated with assault-style weapons – are nearly impossible to get in many parts of the country. Prices are up by more than half over last year. Assault-style weapons are back-ordered for months. Springfield, Mass., gunmaker Smith & Wesson is one of the few brights lights on Wall Street, its stock price up by 70 percent on the year. A few weeks ago, the gunmaker took orders of over $9 million in one day.

From the Christian Science Monitor, via audrey_girl in this iTulip thread.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tom Brodbeck's dark secret

I really dislike Tom Brodbeck. This should come as no surprise, given the paper that he writes for. So naturally I was really pleased to see PolicyFrog dig this up:

Inspired by Tom Brodbeck’s latest screed against public arts funding in today’s Sun, I poked around the City’s records for examples of other questionable grants.

It turns out city hall is so flush with cash it can hand out thousands of dollars for carnivals, festivals, socials and parties, yet can’t restore our donkey-path roads to something we can drive on without tearing up the ball joints in our cars.

A few examples:

  • The Bourkevale Community Centre collected $200 in taxpayers’ dollars to fund their “Pay Down the Tractor” Social. Public money for private drinking and dancing…outrageous!
  • The Bourkevale Community Centre got $400 in taxpayer dough for its “Hoe Down Soccer Wind-Up.”
  • The Bourkevale Community Centre also cashed in a cool $650 in grants for a Halloween Party, another fundraising social, and an annual festival.

Why am I picking on the Bourkevale Community Centre. Maybe because its Vice President is…wait for it…Tom Brodbeck!

Kind of looks like the pot calls the oregano green, doesn't it? Incidentally, I agree with PolicyFrog here as well:

Truth be told, I don’t care much about these piffling grants. While I think parents could probably pay for their own mix at fundraising socials, I recognize these grants (which are given to every community centre, school, block party or bake sale in town) facilitate positive community events.

Just as I think that public funding of the arts is actually a good thing, as it creates a more vibrant, dynamic city. That doesn’t mean I like every piece of art that’s produced through this funding, and I do wish the Arts Councils would spend more on public art and less on visual art and small performance pieces. However, I also don’t want politicians or newspaper columnists making decisions about what’s good art and what’s not.

I wonder how Brodbeck would reply to this? Probably something like "But... but... community centres are for sports! They help make a man out of a boy, not like that sissy girly arts stuff". And I suppose, if that's what he truly believes, then he isn't really being hypocritical -- merely an idiot.

Evidently Berlusconi believes in the power of positive thinking

He's advising those left homeless in the earthquake to think of it as a big adventure:
Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is reported to have said the 17,000 people made homeless by Monday's earthquake should think of themselves as being on a "camping weekend".

The website of the German television news channel N-TV said he had made the quip while being interviewed by one of its reporters on a visit to one of the emergency camps set up to take those who lost their homes in the disaster. But a video clip from the interview featured on the site did not contain the remark, which is bound to prompt intense controversy.

Berlusconi said they "lacked nothing. They have medicaments. They have hot food. They have shelter for the night," according to the video soundtrack.

His remarks, which seem to have been intended to reassure the public, scarcely correspond to the experiences of the homeless. Between Monday and Tuesday they had to endure a night of driving rain and hail in which the temperature fell to 4C (39F).
From the Guardian. Charming.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Steady as she goes" pays off

Manitoba's NDP government is again well on top of the latest poll:

From a dead heat to no contest.

The provincial New Democratic Party regained a 10-point lead in voter support in recent weeks after running neck-in-neck with the Conservatives in December, a new poll conducted for the Free Press concluded.

The omnibus survey from Probe Research found support at 46 per cent for Premier Gary Doer's NDP, compared to 36 per cent for the Tories under Hugh McFadyen. Jon Gerrard's Liberals landed 13 per cent support.

"It's really more like what we have been seeing for all this time," said Probe Research president Scott MacKay. After the blip in December, support for each party now is roughly the same as it was a year ago, he said.

In December, the Conservatives looked to be on the upswing, coming within two percentage points of the NDP and surging in popularity outside Winnipeg.

Pollsters suspected NDP popularity took a hit in rural Manitoba over the party's ban on further hog-barn construction.

But the Tories appeared to have lost December's gains in the latest numbers, with the NDP on the upswing after recent byelection victories in The Pas and Elmwood.

The premier's popularity doesn't seem to be flagging: Doer had the approval of two thirds of voters.

From the Winnipeg Free Press. I'm still pleasantly surprised when this happens; sure, the province is in good shape, but so was Saskatchewan under Lorne Calvert, and that didn't seem to help the NDP electorally. The fact that the opposition parties lack effective leadership probably has something to do with the results here.

Still, it's good to see that social democracy remains a going concern in this country.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Why "tough on crime" policies are popular

A recent Harris-Decima poll has found that Canadians don't have a clue about crime:
Most Canadians believe crime is increasing, despite statistics to the contrary, a new poll suggests.

According to the Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey, 57% of respondents nationwide said crime is on the rise.

Only 10% said the crime rate has decreased over the last couple of years, as is actually the case. Thirty per cent said they believe it has remained relatively stable.

The perception that crime is increasing was particularly strong among women — 65% versus 49% of men.

And it was most marked in Alberta and British Columbia, where 73% and 69% respectively said the crime rate is worsening.

But actual crime statistics suggest those fears are unfounded.

Statistics Canada reports that the national crime rate dipped to its lowest level in 30 years in 2007, the most recent year for which data are available.
From the London Free Press. Blame the 24-hour news cycle, plus numerous reruns of Law and Order and CSI. Of course, the authorities love this, because it's easier to sell the public on increasing the numbers of police. This in turn creates more opportunities for stuff like this.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Amid all this crap, some good news

The US and Russia are shrinking their nuclear arsenal:
The United States and Russia, striving to ease strained relations, announced jointly today that they'll try to put a new nuclear arms reduction deal in place before the existing treaty expires in December.

In advance of their first sit down, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a joint statement saying the “era when our countries viewed each other as enemies is long over.” They pledged to work together to limit the world's two largest nuclear arsenals, and the White House also announced that Mr. Obama was accepting Mr. Medvedev's invitation to visit Moscow this summer.

As for nuclear arms control, the two said in a joint statement that “we are instructing our negotiators to start talks immediately on this new treaty and to report on results achieved in working out the new agreement by July.”

Their newly-professed commitment to reinvigorate arms-control initiatives that have lain dormant for years caused a stir at the London site of a G20 summit that seemed otherwise transfixed on a deepening worldwide recession.

From the Globe and Mail.