Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The G20 Summit in Toronto: The Aftermath; The Afterthoughts

The summit ended a couple of days ago but the aftermath will continue for some time. The newspapers are filled with follow up stories about everything that happened over the weekend, from the Black Bloc to innocent people being arrested. It is interesting to see how the focus of the reporting moves from the big picture to the individual human interest pieces.

On Sunday night, the police surrounded a group of people at the corners of Spadina and Queen and refused to let them leave. I say "people" and not "protesters" as it seems that many individuals, hangers-on, passer-bys and even news reporters all ended up in this net of riot cops. During three or four subsequent hours in the pouring rain, the cops systematically arrested individuals in the crowd until finally, so it's been reported, let the remainder go. Did the police over-react?

Reality vs. perception. I watched the crowd on TV and my take was an unorganized group of half-hearted protesters. I had also watched the crowds on Saturday both on TV and in person and believe me, what I saw on Sunday night looked not at all threatening. The police are now saying that they had information about ne'er do wells in this Sunday night crowd but the public perception seems to be that this was not the case.

What is the truth? What was the reality and what was / is the perception? Canada spent over a billion dollars on these summits with the tightest security Canada has ever had and yet, did we collectively hit the mark? Last night on the CBC, the head of the summit security centre in Barrie said that in the end, we had a couple of burned police cars and some smashed windows; all in all, not very much. That may be true; that may be a truth or a perception but now, in the cold light of day, questions are being asked about where were the police on Saturday when the Black Bloc swept through the downtown with impunity and was Sunday merely an over-reaction on the part of the police for getting caught with their pants down a day earlier. I have imagined Stephen Harper on Saturday sitting down with the leaders of the G20 and getting reports about what was going on outside and being embarrassed then sending the message down the line to not let this happen again. Quite frankly, I was certainly embarrassed. This is Canada?

Some Afterthoughts

On Saturday, I watched on TV various members of this Black Bloc group vandalizing property, property which is in my own neighbourhood. The Starbucks at the corner of John and Queen streets? I sometimes stop by for a coffee. The Bank of Nova Scotia at McCaul and Queen? I walk by there all the time. What the heck? No, at the time I said WTF. This is my neighbourhood; this is my backyard; how dare they?

Out on the streets Saturday, I watched as individual protesters yelled at individual policemen. What? I'm concerned about capitalism, global warming, inequality in the world and I'm in the face of an individual cop responsible for protecting the summit while screaming that this is "my street"? No, this is "my" street. I live here. And how is yelling at one poor cop supposed to change the mind, influence the opinion of Stephen Harper or Barack Obama who are blocks away out of sight and out of earshot?

Several times I watched as people in the crowd hurled objects at the police. I found this behaviour outrageous. At one point, I saw something white arc across the crowd and knock a mounted policeman off his horse. Of course, the police reacted and pushed back the crowd; in some cases a little roughly but what the heck? I watched people not just yell at the police but poke at them with sticks, taunting them, attempting to provoke them into doing something. I have to ask these individuals "Are you out of your freakin' mind?" There's a guy standing in front of you who outweighs you by probably 25 kilos. He has a helmet, a shield, body armour and a club. Behind him are more of the same and you're poking him with a stick and yelling at him about your beefs about the world? Newsflash! I don't care who's right or who's wrong. I don't care about the subsequent media coverage and what may or may not end up in court. At that moment, at that precise moment, you are going to get your ass royally kicked.

My beef is with the government, with the system, not with the individual policeman standing in front of me. Rights? What the hey? This is Canada; this isn't some 3rd world dictatorship. There is a time and a place; there is a system; there is a process. Sooner or later, the individual behind the police uniform, the human being behind the riot cop is going to react by being scared or just having taken enough B.S.

I watch a young man and a young woman yelling anti-capitalist slogans at the front of the crowd. They are both look around 18 or 20; they are dressed scruffily with body piercings and tattoos. I ask myself if they have jobs; are they in some way part of the "system"? Aren't we all part of the system?

I walk by a relatively normal looking citizen, a woman, except she is wearing a black T-shirt which reads "F*** Canada". I beg your pardon?

Let me be right up front in case you missed what I've said before. I'm 57 and you're 20. You want to change the world. I want to stop the world from falling apart. 2 perspectives; 2 different ages. I repeat: if it was all that easy, it would be fixed by now.

I'm not saying the big boys don't make mistakes. I'm not saying I'm completely pleased with the world. I'm not saying I don't have my own list of grievances. But, breaking the windows at Starbucks does not in any way help the cause. Standing in front of a riot cop and yelling at him like he is personally responsible for the ills of the world is not just ineffective, it is not fair. Throwing objects at the police is hateful, provocative, anti-social and just downright stupid.

Let me be clear. I did not vote for Stephen Harper. I am not at all pleased with the performance of our government and the governments of the G8 and the G20. Nevertheless, I do respect the magnitude of the problems; it is not easy getting everybody to pull together in the same direction at the same time.

Burning police cars. Roving Black Bloc gangs. People throwing stuff at the police. Local businesses vandalized. People yelling at police, taunting them, poking them with sticks. I'm sorry; did I just walk out my front door onto the set of the next Mad Max movie? Is this anarchy central?

Several times I heard protesters chanting. Some group leader yells, "Whose streets?" and the crowd replies "Our streets". Sorry folks, this is my street. Now go home.

2010-06-29

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The OMG-20 Summit at Toronto: pictures & video

Saturday, June 20, 2010

5pm: Queen Street West near Spadina
Apparently the crowd grew, the police officers felt threaten and abandoned their cars. The crowd then vandalized the cars, smashing out most of the windows and hitting and jumping on the cars. After a while, some people in the crowd lit paper on fire and threw it into the first car eventually causing it to catch on fire.


The police did move in and take control of the area including bringing in firetrucks to put out the car. However, they left both cars there and later on around 8pm, the crowd then set the other car on fire.

Video of the burning police car


video



3pm: Starbucks: Queen Street West and John Street
My wife and I were watching the television station CP24 who have studios right at the corner. A cameraman was out on the street and captured images of Black Bloc people smashing windows and such. Here is the Starbucks at the corner of John and Queen.


3pm: The Bank of Nova Scotia: Queen Street West and McCaul
As we watched CP24, we saw masked men use boards, rocks and in one case a hammer to smash not only the windows, but the screens of the ATMs.


3pm: Starbucks: Queen Street and Bay
Let's target multi-national companies?



7pm: Riot police: Queen Street West and Soho Street
This is happening right beside my own condo building.


3pm: Clearing Queen Street
Video shot from my 8th floor balcony. The intersection of John Street and Queen Street became a flashpoint when protesters tried to turn south from Queen onto John. Some groups had broadcast their intention of trying to tear down the 1st perimeter fence and the police had no intention of letting them near it. As a consequence, a lot happened right in front of my balcony.

References

My Complete Photos and Videos of the OMG-20
http://picasaweb.google.com/108992040576344816933/G20SummitToronto20100626#

Day 1: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'll show you!
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-ill-show-you.html

Day 2: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'm shocked. Here?
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-im-shocked-here.html

Day 3: The G20 Summit in Toronto: Thank God It's Over!
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-its-over.html

Aftermath and Afterthoughts
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-aftermath.html

2010-06-28

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

The G20 Summit in Toronto: Thank God It's Over!


June 27, 2010

Today, my wife and I watched the news. The total number of people arrested has grown to almost 700. Early this morning, the police went to the University of Toronto and picked up around 70 people who were staying there temporarily in the dorms. Apparently their detective work had lead them to people in possession of materials such as bricks, sharpened sticks and other such paraphernalia which could be used for vandalism as opposed to peaceful protest. Also, the police had found behind the bushes surrounding the dorm numerous articles of clothing matching the outfits of the Black Bloc.

This afternoon, my wife and I went out for a long walk. The streets seem pretty much back to normal. We noted that clean up had been done or was underway for businesses which had sustained damage. We saw a couple of groups of protesters however everything seemed very peaceful. The G20 apparently ends later this afternoon and all of us can get back to normal.

In the final tally, what did the protest accomplish? Do the participants feel a sense of civic pride having exercised their democratic freedom? How do the people who are still locked up feel? I noted that one TV station interviewed a representative of some legal group who was offering counselling and referrals for those who had been detained by the police.

I remain myself quite miffed at watching police cars burning, police cars that I helped pay for with my tax dollars. I am ticked at watching my own neighbourhood set upon by masked men randomly smashing windows. I am cross at those I saw yelling at the police as if the police are somehow the enemy.

Do we need to protest our government? Yes. Do we need to tell our leaders we are displeased with the job they are doing? Yes. Do we need to bring to the attention of the world the various issues which get lost in the shuffle of daily business? Yes.

Nevertheless, it is painfully evident from this past weekend that not all who come to protest do so legitimately to protest (Black Bloc) or know how to protest (yelling at an individual cop or even throwing stuff at the cops). What was accomplished? To all those who were arrested and possibly may at this moment remain under lock and key, was your sacrifice worth it?

The G20 leaders are heading to their respective planes to fly home. They were not bothered by the protesters; they never even saw the protesters. Somehow the time and energy of the entire protest would have been better spent doing something else: writing to government officials, speaking directly with elected representatives at home, contacting media. I for one have the image of a burning police car not one block from my own home. Protest? Anarchy. Legitimate complaint? Crazed anger directed at the police. Desire to strike at unfair practices of big business? Smash the windows of Starbucks and my local bank. Down with capitalism? It is that very capitalism which provided your food, gave you transportation, sheltered you in Toronto and granted you the freedom to protest.

You all have great intentions. Many of those intentions I agree with. Hats off; congratulations. But I think you all need to rethink how to turn your ideas into reality. And please, when you drop back for a visit? I would be most appreciative if you wouldn't trash my neighbourhood.

References

My Complete Photos and Videos of the OMG-20
http://picasaweb.google.com/108992040576344816933/G20SummitToronto20100626#

Day 1: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'll show you!
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-ill-show-you.html

Day 2: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'm shocked. Here?
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-im-shocked-here.html

Day 3: The G20 Summit in Toronto: Thank God It's Over!
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-its-over.html

Aftermath and Afterthoughts
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-aftermath.html

2010-06-27

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'm shocked. Here?


June 26, 2010

Canada is known as a peaceful country. Canadians are well known as being polite. As a consequence, whatever I tell you is in no way to going to compare with the seriousness or the gravity of other events around the world.

Nevertheless, I have to shake my head. I live in downtown Toronto in a condo apartment not far from the security perimeter set up to protect the G20 summit which is taking place here. A group of protesters was set to make a walk through the middle of town passing almost in front of my building. As my wife and I watched the proceedings on TV, we watched the protesters pass along Queen Street from our balcony. A TV cameraman captured live video of masked protesters smashing windows of various stores not 1 block from our building. From our balcony, we watched riot police attempt to quell the crowd.

Several hours later, we ventured out for a walk only to see smoke down the street. Moving closer we discover 2 police cars vandalized; one of them is on fire. We walk around part of the downtown area viewing other stores with broken windows. Later we would see other images captured by roving TV crews of masked men using stones, pieces of wood and in one case a hammer to randomly break any glass they were walking by.

This is Toronto? This is Canada? These are Canadians?

David Miller, the mayor of Toronto was shown at a news conference talking of how Toronto is home to major businesses, several consulates, etc. There is almost not a day where there isn't a protest happening somewhere in the city but these protests are always peaceful. Smashed windows? Burning police cars? People being arrested? This is unheard of. What the heck is going on?

The expression of the day for all of us seems to be "black bloc". All news reports were showing a crowd within the crowd, a group of men dressed for the most part completely in black but all wearing some sort of mask, usually a ski mask or a bandanna of sorts.

With roots dating back to the 80's in Germany, the "black bloc" is not a group per se but a method of protest. By dressing in a similar fashion, by masking their identities, the individuals attempt to give themselves anonymity and make it difficult for the police to focus on individuals.

While the main thrust of the so called movement is anti-capitalist, the anonymity unfortunately has given rise to vandalism. Society is the oppressor and smashing anything associated with society is somehow a blow against the capitalistic oppressor.

As my wife and I watched one burning police car live while we were in the street then later other burning police cars on TV, I couldn't help think that my tax dollars paid for those cars. As I watched these black bloc people smash the windows of the Starbucks outlet just around the corner from where I live, I was thinking they were breaking the windows of where I occasionally stop to get a coffee.

Was this the work of a noble cause fighting "against the man", fighting the capitalist machine which oppresses the little guy? Nope. This was a bunch of hooligans, a bunch of wild, aimless youths with a lot of pent-up energy who, thanks to anonymity, were able to "get away with it". As I watched on TV a cameraman capturing the images of a bandanna clad young man using a hammer to wail away at the screen of an ATM at an outlet of the Bank of Nova Scotia, I was outraged at this personal attack on my neighbourhood, in my own backyard. How would that guy like it if I smashed the windows of his house?

At one point, there was a line of riot police just outside our window. My wife and I stood partly on our balcony watching the confrontation live while watching our TV to see what the cameraman in the street was filming live right at the front of the line. I can hear a young lady and a young man yelling at a single policeman about needing to be heard, about social injustice and such. Is this the time and place?

Somebody in the crowd throws an object. I watch this "thing" arc out of the crowd and fall beside a policeman. Scary, and of course the police as a whole react by moving forward and pushing the crowd back. What the heck did that accomplish? Each one of the uniformed police is an individual like you or me probably apprehensive if not scared of being confronted by a crowd which seems unorganized and on the verge of descending into anarchy.

Is this the time and the place to "storm the Bastille"? Canada is one of the best countries in the world. Don't get me wrong; things are not perfect. Nevertheless, there is a time and a place for everything and there is a method of making your voice heard. Want to change the world? Run for election. Don't like how the system is being run? Change the rules but legitimately. Be part of the solution; don't be part of the problem. Smashing a storefront window will not affect the outcome of the G20. Yelling at a single cop dressed in riot gear is not the time or the place to make a point.

References

My Complete Photos and Videos of the OMG-20
http://picasaweb.google.com/108992040576344816933/G20SummitToronto20100626#

Day 1: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'll show you!
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-ill-show-you.html

Day 2: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'm shocked. Here?
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-im-shocked-here.html

Day 3: The G20 Summit in Toronto: Thank God It's Over!
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-its-over.html

Aftermath and Afterthoughts
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-aftermath.html

2010-06-26

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Abortion: If we make it illegal, the problem will go away

I watched a news item on television last night which stated that every year 25,000 women die from unsafe abortions in Africa and 1.7 million are injured. Due to the restrictive laws governing abortions in almost all African countries, virtually all of the 5.6 million abortions performed annually in Africa are unsafe. Apparently only about 100,000 of them are performed by trained professionals in a safe environment. The news item went on the cover various religious groups in these African countries who are lobbying to keep abortions illegal and one minister who was interviewed proudly said that he has having a big impact in maintaining laws which make abortions illegal.

This news item is all that much more important considering it was shown on the backdrop of the G20 summit occurring in Toronto. Apparently the G8 which met just before the G20 has made a commitment of $5 billion for maternal-and-child health. However, Canada's leader, Stephen Harper is clearly not supporting any funding or support for abortions within this aid. Stephen Harper as a representative of the conservative movement within Canada follows not just a political path but a personal vision that by outlawing abortion, he can make the entire issue of abortion go away.

In the United States, Barack Obama recently succeeded in enacting a much needed reform in the health care system of his nation. Unfortunately, to do so, he was obliged to make certain sacrifices, certain trade-offs one of which saw him banning the use of federal funds to pay for abortions.

From the above items, I can surmise that there is a strong pro-life movement which has a far reaching effect on politicians and their politic decisions. However, despite their best efforts, the efforts of these pro-lifers, has the problem of abortion been improved never mind been solved?

The statistics vary from source to source but the one conclusion is that every year there are a lot of abortions happening; approximately 42 million abortions worldwide. According to the Guttmacher Institute, "an American non-profit organization which works to advance sexual and reproductive health", unintended pregnancies account for almost half of all pregnancies and 4 out of 10 unintended pregnancies end in abortion. (I just found some statistics which suggest there are approximately 130 million births worldwide annually and 57 million deaths. Do the stats presented by various sources match up?)

In March 2009, the Pope visited Africa and during his trip he reaffirmed the church's ban on the use of condoms. Never mind talking about pregnancy, the numbers related to AIDS were staggering. At that moment, 22 million people were infected with HIV in Africa; there were 11.4 orphans because of AIDS; 1.5 million had died of AIDS in Africa in 2007 and 25 million had died in the past 20 years. But I digress.

Let me recap by returning to the pro-life argument. Abortion is murder. We're all against murder, right? We should all be against abortion.

I look at the above numbers and I have to ask by paraphrasing Dr. Phil of American television, "So, how's that working out for ya?"

I am confronted by a gap, no a chasm between the supposed ideal of having no abortions in the world and what's actually going on. The Canadian leader Stephan Harper does not want to support abortions. There were over 70,000 abortions in Canada in the past year. Barack Obama was forced by various groups to stop federal funding on abortions. In the United States there were over 1.7 million abortions in the past year. Every year there are over 42 million abortions worldwide. How to explain this dichotomy?

In an ideal world, no one would have sex outside of marriage; we would all abstain. Is that happening? I would say the answer is an emphatic no and this leads me to ask the question. If abstinence isn't working; if banning condoms isn't working; if making abortion illegal isn't working; are we collectively dealing with the problem in a manner which would be deemed in any way effective?

Albert Einstein supposedly said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

The numbers above would indicate that current policies have failed to stop abortion. At what point do we collectively assess the situation and arrive new policies, new methods with dealing with this issue?

If I set aside for the moment the idea that abortion is murder, I have to recognize that abortion is an invasive procedure. Anything invasive like surgery is something we would all like to avoid. This isn't good for the body; in fact, depending on the level of health care, it may be dangerous if not fatal. Nevertheless, women are electing to do this. Despite the danger, despite the risk of fatality, women are electing to do this. Why? We make abortion illegal; women do it illegally. We try to take away condoms; women continue to get pregnant. We ask for abstinence; people still have sex.

Wait! I just said that "people" still have sex. Oh yes, women get pregnant from having sex with men. Hey, here's a radical idea; why don't we give all men a vasectomy? I can just hear you saying, "Now don't be ridiculous." Has anybody noticed that the people making abortion illegal are for the most part men, male politicians? Has anybody noticed that the Pope who bans condoms is a man? Has anybody noticed that the pro-lifers advocating abstinence seem to be lead by men? It takes two to tango. If we can't stop abortions from happening; why not attempt to stop women from getting pregnant? This, of course, takes into account just how women get pregnant and that's from men. Yep, that's right. All these women wanting to get abortions became pregnant because a man had sex with them. How come I never see anything about the guy in question?

I am against abortion. It is a surgical procedure; it is invasive; depending on the quality of the medical care, it could be dangerous; it could be fatal; it should be stopped completely.

But, getting from where we collectively were to the point where abortion no longer existed, where abortion was no longer even necessary never mind wanted, involved more than just laws making abortion illegal. Society needed to support and promote sex education. Ignorance was very much a big part of the cause of the entire problem. Society had to support and to promote the use of condoms. Society had to admit that no matter what we do, we cannot stop people from having sex. Sex is natural; it is primordial; it is part of our make-up of human beings.

But most importantly, to get to this point which admittedly is an idealistic, Utopian like point in the development of our society, we have to admit that abortion will have to be an option. As I stated at the beginning of this essay, every year 25,000 women die from botched abortions in Africa. Do we cavalierly stand by observing this situation while saying it is the fault of the person, no, the woman who decided to have the abortion? If I think of those who claim to be against the supposed murdering of a fetus, it is interesting to note how they seem quite unconcerned about these 25,000 women dying.

I am against abortion. I would like to see the day where there were no abortions at all. But, as long as men keep having sex with women, I don't see that happening.

I am for the woman making her own choice. It is her body; I believe she should be allowed to control it. But, I would want to support her in every way possible by avoiding the critical, life-altering decision of having an abortion. I would want to promote sex education; I would want to see condoms readily available; I would like to see contraceptives for everyone. Let's just quite plainly not let the problem get so big that abortion is even on the table as a necessary solution.

So, for those how read this but are against sex education, against the use of condoms, against contraceptives and all for abstinence, I can only say it ain't workin'. The numbers show it; admit it. Let's get over the "how" and work together to get rid of abortion. If a woman doesn't have an abortion because the man used a condom; I'm for it. If a woman didn't have an abortion because she used a contraceptive; I'm for it. If a woman didn't have an abortion because she and the man had sex education; I'm for it. For everyone who is against the killing of the baby, don't forget that a botched abortion which kills the woman results in 2 deaths.

An analogy: If we make firetrucks illegal, can we assume that all fires will automatically stop?

In other words, making abortions illegal does not stop abortions. It merely makes the woman in question so desperate, she would risk her own life. So the law makers in wanting to save the life of the child end up killing the mother. There has to be a better way. If all pregnancies were "wanted" pregnancies, there would be no abortions.

In a nutshell, I am pro-choice and anti-abortion. I am for the woman having the choice but would sincerely hope that we all arrive someday at a point where there is no need for a woman to even have to choose an abortion.


References
The Internet is full of statistics, facts and opinions. It is hard to sort out what's what: what's the truth; what's somebody's opinion.

Abortion Facts: the United States
1. Unintended pregnancies account for almost half of all pregnancies.
2. Four out of ten unintended pregnancies end in abortion.
3. Out of the total number of pregnancies, 24% end in abortion.
4. For women ages 15-44, two out of every hundred have an abortion. Of these, 48% have had one or more abortions previously.
5. For women choosing abortion, 52% are under 25. Teenagers account for 19%, and women 20-24 account for 33%.
6. Black women are almost four times as likely to have an abortion as white women. For Latino women, the number is 2.5 times.
7. Women who have never been married account for 2/3rds of all abortions.
8. The majority of women who choose abortions have already given birth. Mothers who have had one or more children comprise over 60% of all abortions.
9. Women who have never used any birth control method account for 8% of abortions.
10. For women having abortions, 43% are Protestant and 27% identify as Catholic.


The Guttmacher Institute
About
Four decades after its creation, the Guttmacher Institute continues to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights through an interrelated program of research, policy analysis and public education designed to generate new ideas, encourage enlightened public debate and promote sound policy and program development. The Institute’s overarching goal is to ensure the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health for all people worldwide.


The Institute produces a wide range of resources on topics pertaining to sexual and reproductive health, including Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health and the Guttmacher Policy Review. In 2009, Guttmacher was designated an official Collaborating Center for Reproductive Health by the World Health Organization and its regional office, the Pan American Health Organization.

Wikipedia: The Guttmacher Institute
The Guttmacher Institute is a non-profit organization which works to advance reproductive health including abortion rights. The institute operates in the United States and globally "through an interrelated program of social science research, policy analysis and public education." According to their mission statement, this program aims to "generate new ideas, encourage enlightened public debate, promote sound policy and program development and, ultimately, inform individual decision making."

Women's Guide to the University of Chicago
Pregnancy and Post-Pregnancy Options
For many reasons, including a relative lack of access to family planning services and sex education, the United States has one of the highest abortion rates among developed countries. Each year, nearly three out of one hundred women have abortions. Forty-three percent of these women have had at least one previous abortion and 49% have had a previous birth. Since abortion was legalized in 1973, it has saved the lives and health of countless women. In 1965, illegal abortion accounted for nearly 17% of deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth. By 1985, the risk of dying from a legal abortion had decreased to 0.4 deaths per 100,000 legal abortions. Abortion is 11 times safer than carrying a pregnancy to term, and nearly twice as safe as a penicillin injection.

2010-06-25

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Friday, 25 June 2010

The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'll show you!


June 25, 2010

As the G20 summit starts in Toronto, Canada, the city's central core goes into lock down mode. Canada has shelled out over a billion dollars for the two summits, the G8 in Huntsville and the G20 in Toronto with supposedly the tightest security ever.

Unbeknownst to the general public, new legislation was passed with little fanfare that gives the police the right to demand to see identification of any person who is within 5 metres of the security fence which cordons off the high security area in which the summit is being held. Right off the bat, in today's paper, is the picture of a young man, Dave Vasey, arrested because he refused to I.D. himself to the police. I am sure that over the next few days, further details will explain both sides of this incident but I can't help wondering as "Fortress Toronto" braces for the influx of protesters, who are all these people, what do they hope to achieve and what will they actually achieve?

Canada is a democracy. According to various reports, Canada as one of the developed nations of the world ranks quite high as a good place to live. Nevertheless, it isn't perfect. I'm quite sure there is a lot to criticize, a lot to protest. However, do we or do we not have a process? One may put forward protest as a legitimate part of the process but how to explain protest when it degenerates into a riot?

A few days ago, I got off the subway in downtown Toronto and discovered a group beside a monument in the middle of the boulevard of University Avenue. A young woman with a bullhorn was talking with the crowd about protesting and saying to have a good time and let "them" know that "we are f**king furious". Somehow the inclusion of the F word seemed to kick it up a notch. I noted that the entire group was surrounded by police.

The very next morning, I couldn't take the subway because a suspicious briefcase had been found in a subway station. Obviously terrorism was very much on everybody's mind and part of the system was shut down while the police determined if this was innocuous or not. It turned out that the briefcase was harmless and had merely been forgotten by the owner; no more, no less. However, such an incident does heighten the level of tension over possible threats.

Thursday, June 24 at 1:41pm, Toronto felt a 5.5 magnitude earthquake centered north of Ottawa. It was quite unsettling to be sitting at one's desk while hanging lights waved in the air, glasses of water showed rippling and the floor felt as if a huge truck was driving by. Ha! I was in a 16 story office tower! How about that for adding to a general level of apprehension?

If it was that easy...

I have always been amused and I continue to be amused by those who in protesting, pretend to know what the right answer is. As a project manager, I know full well the power and problems of public relations. What is the actual problem; what is the perceived problem? My clientele get upset at a project not going quite right when in fact, outside forces have come into play. Nevertheless, it is still my fault; I still end up feeling their wrath and of course, everybody can certainly do it better than me. My point is this: if it was that easy, it would be fixed by now.

Barack Obama came into power on a wave of good feelings, hope for the future and optimism that everything was going to turn out alright. Right now the economy is in the toilet and the American people are very much upset at what is perceived as a huge expenditure to get the country out of its financial mess. Oil is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico at an unprecedented rate; an incident which is now being called the greatest ecological disaster in U.S. history. While Obama did succeed to get health care passed, the final result is very much watered down and will it in the end, give the U.S. people the much needed overhaul it so desperately needs?

If it was that easy, it would be fixed by now.


I have rights

It's the G20 summit. Canada has spent over a billion dollars to put it and the G8 together including the tightest security ever seen in Canada. Terrorism is very much on everyone's minds.

Dave Vasey is asked by a policeman to show some I.D. He refuses. Dave Vasey is arrested.

Dave Vasey in his picture looks to be under 30. I am 57. I understand the need for security. I understand the threat of terrorism. I understand the strong possibility of protests turning violent. If the police ask me for my identification, I am going to produce it forthwith and without hesitation. Dave Vasey now has to appear in court on July 28; I know I would receive a courteous "Thank you very much sir" and I would be on my way. Besides, I am not going down to the security fence; I am certainly not going to stand within the 5 metre limit of the fence and I am not going to by any stretch of the imagination decide to test my democratic freedom in front of somebody charged to ensure the safety of these important dignitaries from gawd only knows what threats. Canada is a truly great place to live but standing in front of a policeman dressed in riot gear armed to the teeth is not the time or the place to change the world; it is just downright foolish.

Do I have rights? Do we have rights? Does Dave have rights? The answer is a resounding yes. But for heaven's sake, pick the right time and the right place.

I want to change world

I have to chuckle. I'm 20 years old and I want to change the world. I'm 57 years old and I want to prevent the world from falling apart. If it was that easy, it would be fixed by now.

Apparently on Saturday, an anti-poverty group called Sense of Security, SOS will attempt to tear down part of the outer perimeter fence; apparently there are 2 fences, the outer and inner. This supposed statement of protest against this "symbol of militarization" will, in fact, do what? Julian Ichim, one of the organizers seems to have taken protest on as a full-time job, not the sort of person I would be following into the fray as redeemer of our society. After all, this is Canada. It may not be perfect but it is one of the best in the world.

I do not disagree with the points being brought up by the protests. Do we have a global economic problem? Yes, we do. Do we have inequality in the world? Yes, we do. Are we all working together for the greater good of the human race? Well, I'm sure we could do better.

However, I return to the idea that all this is just a tad more difficult than everybody standing out of the Oval Office can imagine. If it was that easy, it would be fixed by now.

References

Google: "Dave Vasey" Toronto G20 Summit
http://www.google.com/#hl=en&tbs=nws%3A1&q=%22dave+vasey%22+toronto+G20+summit&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&fp=aa8f1b144aac4a69

Toronto Star: Dave Vasey
http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/torontog20summit/article/828372--man-arrested-and-left-in-wire-cage-under-new-g20-law
Suite 101: Dave Vasey
http://news.suite101.com/article.cfm/ontario-gives-police-sweeping-powers-during-g20-summit-in-toronto-a254199


Google: "Julian Ichim" Toronto G20 Summit
http://www.google.com/#hl=en&tbs=nws:1&&sa=X&ei=0BkmTIvPKoP98Abir-TMDw&ved=0CB4QBSgA&q=%22julian+ichim%22+toronto+G20+summit&spell=1&fp=aa8f1b144aac4a69

A critique: Julian Ichim
http://dcuk.xanga.com/676364280/julian-ichim-marxist-leninist-party-of-canada/

My Complete Photos and Videos of the OMG-20
http://picasaweb.google.com/108992040576344816933/G20SummitToronto20100626#

Day 1: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'll show you!
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-ill-show-you.html

Day 2: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'm shocked. Here?
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-im-shocked-here.html

Day 3: The G20 Summit in Toronto: Thank God It's Over!
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-its-over.html

Aftermath and Afterthoughts
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-aftermath.html

2010-06-25

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Immortality

To live forever. Can we do it? Do we want to do it?

In medieval Britain, life expectancy was 30; in the early 20th century it was 45 and now in 2010, the world average is around 67 years. Of course there are currently big regional differences. The United States shows 77 to 80 while in Canada it is over 80. Macau, a special administrative region of China apparently has the world's longest life expectancy of 84.4 years. In contrast to that, there are a few countries in Africa listed as being under 40.

Such statistics show that life expectancy is definitely going up. There are several obvious factors to explain this: better nutrition, better medical care and better public health. Nevertheless, there has to be physical limits to what all this can achieve.

In 1961, Leonard Hayflick, an American scientist, discovered that human cells divide a finite number of times, usually between 40 to 60 times then stop. After that, the cell just ages and dies. This discovery refuted the contention by Alexis Carrel, a Nobel Prize winning French surgeon, made at the beginning of the 20th century that cells were immortal and would divide forever. The "Hayflick limit" is now known as the maximum length of time a cell will live or successfully divide before division stops and the cell dies.

It has been discovered that this limit corresponds to the length of telomere at the end of a strand of DNA. The end of a DNA strand, the telomere cannot be fully copied during cell division. As a consequence, part of the telomeres is lost with each cell division until the point is reached where the telomere is gone and the cell stops dividing. At this point, the cell eventually dies. Cancer cells, on the other hand, seem to possess an enzyme which can restore the telomere length and these cells are not governed by the Hayflick limit. They continue to divide indefinitely.

For the moment, it seems, we humans cannot physically live forever because our cells cannot divide forever. Eventually, the imperfect cell division we all have slowly fails; we age and we die. This is right now for all of us an inescapable fact of life.

Even if we could live forever, would we be able to do it? Psychologically, it strikes me that we seem to be built for only a certain period of time. I suppose this is very much tied to our physical limitations, the current length of our longevity. We lead, for lack of a better word, a productive life then we retire. We stop being, well, productive. Yes, I understand the exceptions but I'm referring to productive in the sense of a job, family and such.

Of course, I am sure that our "desire to live" is very much tied to our physical well being. As we get older, we begin to suffer from various health problems; the wheels start falling off the wagon, so to speak. We just get tired. In that sense, we just eventually give up the ghost; we run out of gas. I actually heard an elderly man, who was suffering from a physical decline, say that he was tired and he was ready to go. Yes, he had run out of gas.

Psychologically, are we built to live longer? I have actually heard people, elderly people point out that all of their friends are gone. They have outlived everybody else and there is nobody of their peer group left. It's curious that they have not made new friends; they haven't developed a new peer group. Or is a peer group more a function of at what age did one make those friends? A friend made at the age of 20 is a friend while a friend made at the age of 70 is not quite the same thing?

Living longer is tied to health. Wanting to live longer may also be tied to health. The old saying is "health is everything" for without it, living may just not be worthwhile. I am certain that people from even just 100 years ago would be envious of our life expectancy. I wonder how envious we would be of the people living 100 years from now.

2010-06-25

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Teleportation: Is it here now?


We've all heard the word. It apparently doesn't exist. Or does it?

Princeton University's Internet service called WordNet, defines the word teleportation as "a hypothetical mode of instantaneous transportation; matter is dematerialized at one place and recreated at another". While the word was first coined in 1931 by the American writer Charles Fort in an attempt to explain the disappearances and appearances of anomalies within his studies of odd phenomena related to the occult, supernatural and paranormal, it has become a mainstay of modern popular cultural through the science fiction of Star Trek. Who has not seen Captain Kirk or Captain Picard dematerialize on the transporter pad only to reappear elsewhere, ofttimes at quite some distance away?

Of course, today, at this moment, teleportation is merely a concept; our current technologies in no way permit us to do this. Nevertheless, this has not stopped people from wondering about it. Considering how physically moving from one place to another is a big part of everyday life, - heck, just look at rush hour traffic - it is not surprising how the idea of teleportation seems so appealing.

When Picard dematerializes here then rematerializes there, is he the same person? Supposedly - I almost wrote "technically" but at this point, anything we say is theoretical - the molecules of Picard are broken down and turned into energy. During the process, the make-up of those molecules are scanned by the machine and recorded. Then the rematerialization step involves rebuilding all the individual molecules which make up Picard so that in the end, "a" Picard physically exists, every molecule being the same.

However, I have thought long and hard about this and have concluded that metaphysically we may have an important question. The molecules which make up the new Picard are not the same as the original Picard. Is this the same person? Yes, all of the molecules have been scanned and their make-up, their blueprint have been recorded. Yes, using this blueprint, every single molecule has been reconstituted, rebuilt, replicated to be an exact duplicate. But there's the rub. The molecules of the duplicate are not the same as the original; is the duplicate the same as the original or is the duplicate nothing more than that, a duplicate? Is this the same Picard?

Like any computer system, a teleportation device would supposedly contain this blueprint of Picard. What would stop anybody from materializing multiple Picards? Each one would be a duplicate; each one would be a perfect imitation. - This idea, by the way, has been dealt with in Star Trek and other works of science fiction.

What's interesting in all this is that somehow, the essence of Picard, the man, the thing may exist apart from the physical representation of Picard. If the Picard which materializes is exactly the same; what is the difference? He acts the same way as before. He thinks the same way as before. This is Picard. Yes, the molecules are not the same but does this detail matter?

I'm not the same man I was yesterday

Today's medical science has pointed out that our bodies are constantly regenerating themselves. Our bodies replace old cells with new cells so that technically, at some point I am not the same person who existed a year ago, or 2 years ago. At some point, I would be a completely different person.

Unfortunately, my research on the Internet can't conclusively peg how long it takes to supposedly replace all of the cells in our bodies. I find many references to 7 years but I can't say this is backed up by scientific evidence. As a consequence, I will at least go with the idea that this is happening.

At the age of 57, I can say that I am not the same person I was at the age of 10. Physically, the cells which made up my body are not the same cells that make up my body now. However, anyone would say that I am still me; I haven't become somebody else, I am the same person.

If this is the case, then just what has happened? If William is still William, does that mean that there is a "William", a concept, an idea, an entity which exists independently of the cells which make up his body? Physically, the cells represent the tangible but the cells containing the memories, the experiences and the knowledge of William present William the person or the personality.

Is this the proof, the tangible proof that a combination of memories, experiences and knowledge is the sum total of William? If we could recreate this combination of memories, experience and knowledge in any body, we would in fact be recreating or replicating William?

My Report

As part of my job, I wrote a report at home. I wanted a printed copy but decided to do so at the office. I emailed myself a copy of the report, a Word document then once in the office, I opened the document and printed it. I went to the printer and picked up my hardcopy and while thumbing through the pages, a thought occurred to me.

My report existed independently of the paper it was printed on. Now I am certain you're going to say that this idea is just silly but if you will bear with me, I would like to return to teleportation and cell replacement.

My report is a thing, an entity which exists separately from the physical world. It can be transported electronically (teleported?); it can be copied (replicated) and it can be recreated as a physical thing. Now let's push this concept to its logical conclusion.

My Being

We can't do this with today's technology. Nevertheless, do I see a parallel between my report and me? A computer and a printer can take digital information and create a printed copy of my report. You can now hold the report, page through it, read it even smell the toner on the fresh paper. The digital information I have is complete enough to allow me or anybody else for that matter to recreate the report. What if I had all the digital information necessary to recreate my memories, my experiences and my knowledge? If some magic technology could create brain cells with an exact imprint of this digital information, would it not stand to reason that a brain made up of said cells would think and act like me?

If it is true that our cells are replaced in our body on a regular basis, we can conclude that I am not the same person at 57 that I was at the age of 10. If teleportation someday works, the molecules which come out at the end with the materialized person are not the same molecules which were dematerialized at the beginning. If I can write a report at home then print it at the office, I can still say it's the same report.

Conclusion

My report exists without paper. There is a thing which is separate from the paper, the physical representation of my report.

There is, in theory, a me, a personality which exists separate from the physical body. The me in question is the total of my memories, experiences and knowledge.

But... Now here is my but. I hesitate to use the word spirit to describe this me. I don't say my report has a spirit per se; I talk of the digital information necessary to recreate my report. Likewise, I can talk of the digital information which would be necessary to recreate the various cells of my body containing all of those memories, experiences and knowledge which make up my personality. I click on the print button in my computer and my report is printed on a printer. In theory, I click on a button and a computer sends my digital data to some replicator and a "me" is created: all of the cells, all of the personality. In that sense, I don't see a spirit; I just see digital information which is static and inactive.

Obviously, in this scenario, if I can hit the DEL key and delete the Word document stored on the hard drive of my computer, I could hit DEL and wipe out the digital data which makes up William. No more report; no more William.

Aside: I can scan my report and using OCR technology (Optical Character Recognition), I can recreate the digital information which equates to the report on the printed page. Teleportation involves the scanning of a physical person or thing and storing such information so the person or thing can be rematerialized.

Will I see teleportation in my lifetime? I doubt it. Nevertheless, it does raise some intriguing issues and "intriguing" can be fun to think about.


2010-06-24

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Father's Day and Mother's Day: My Parents

Monday, June 14, 2010. It is the day after father's day, a day when the family pays tribute to Dad. My father died in 2004; my mother died in 1996. In other words, there wasn't anybody I phoned on Father's Day or on Mother's Day. There wasn't anybody I could phone.

It's interesting to note that over the years, no matter what has happened, whether it had been something good or something bad, there was always something special about sharing it with Mom and Dad. Now don't get me wrong, I'm married, I share with my wife but there was something special, familial or primordial about speaking with my own parents. There was a certain connection that came from having grown up with them, from having been raised by them.

Oddly enough, I've realized that our kids want to, will always probably want to speak with us. They probably have the same feelings towards my wife and me. The torch has been passed on and we now have the same role to play in their lives that my parents played in mine.

I'm not sure but this seems like a good moment to play Elton John's Circle of Life from Disney's The Lion King. And so it goes on.

2010-06-14

Monday, 21 June 2010

Poor Me

Who hasn't at some point uttered the words, "Poor me"? We all have our problems. We have all suffered defeats, losses, burdens of life. At any given time, lamenting one's own fate seems justified. However, let's remember an old proverb: "I was furious at having no shoes, so I met a man who had no feet."

This past weekend while surfing the Internet, I ran across the story of a young woman, a story so horrifying that it made me think I have no right to ever articulate the words "poor me" under any circumstances.

Jacqueline Saburido, born in 1978 in Venezuela, went to the United States in 1999 to study English. On September 19, 1999, she went to a birthday party and after two or three hours, she and her four friends decided to go home. During the drive, their vehicle was hit by an SUV driven by a man, Reginald Stephey, 17 years old, who was drunk. Two passengers were killed immediately; the other two were only slightly injured. Jacqueline was trapped in the car, one foot stuck underneath his seat. The car caught fire and Jacqueline suffered burns over 60% of her body. The consequence of this tragic accident, Jacqueline lost all the fingers of both hands, hair, ears, nose, lips, eyelid of the left eye and most of her sight. Since the accident she has had more than 50 surgeries and supposedly, others will follow.

I saw a picture of this woman, this girl of 19 years before the accident: pretty, full of joie de vivre, someone who seemed to have a promising future. Then I saw a picture of this woman after the accident. Should I be ashamed? My first reaction to this picture was revulsion and nausea. This young woman was disfigured to the point where I had trouble recognizing her as a human being. It was terrible, saddening. The question came to my mind as to whether it would have been better to see her die in the accident. I could not imagine how she could continue to live in these circumstances. The radical change in her life, her fate sealed forever in the wake of the accident. This story defies description. I thought she would find life overwhelming.

The First World War was brutal and I had opportunities to see pictures of mutilated soldiers: half a face missing, a jaw missing, the loss of the nose, eyes, and the most horrific injuries I had ever seen. I think this was the beginning of modern surgery. It was scary; to look at these mutilations reminded me how war is devastating. If we were all forced to look at these photos or to meet people face to face, would we be willing to remove the sword from the scabbard?

This is the first thing that came to mind when I saw pictures of Jacqueline. A person is injured so badly, so devastatingly, how can we imagine, conceive that this person will one day have a normal life again in every sense of the term?

The aftermath of this accident was that the driver Reginald was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was released in 2008. Jacqueline went to the U.S. where she continues at this time to use her story and her photos to promote a campaign against drunk driving. She learned English. She has been a guest on Oprah Winfrey. She maintains her own website.

Regarding the driver, Jacqueline had the opportunity to meet him just after the trial in 2001 that sentenced him to seven years in prison. Jacqueline said that Reginald had completely destroyed her life, however, she forgave him. Even when Reginald got out of prison in 2008, Jacqueline repeated that she did not hate him.

If this story can teach us a lesson, what exactly is this lesson?

We talk from time to time of a second chance in the context of where a particular person deserves it or not. - Oh, I missed my job, can I try again? Can I get a second chance? - We must remind ourselves that sometimes there is no second chance. We have only one life. If we lose it, there is no possibility to get another.

Jacqueline is still alive. However, the second chance she has is not the same as we have when we miss work. It was an experience that has totally changed her life, the only life she has. For me, I cannot think of a single experience of my life that resembles the experience of this woman. I must express my gratitude for never having experienced such a thing. In fact, faced with such a history, I should never dare express aloud "poor me".


References

Wikipedia Jacqueline Saburido
Jacqueline "Jacqui" Saburido (born December 20, 1978) is a Venezuelan burn survivor who advocates against drunk driving.

official web site: Jacqueline Saburido (English and Spanish)

2010-06-21

I met a man who had no feet

Over the weekend, I read a blog written by a woman who explained that genetics had finally caught up with her. Her mother had diabetes and now, before the age of 40, she herself had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Despite such a pronouncement, this woman tried to sound upbeat by saying that a change in diet and an exercise regime seemed to working to reduce the impact of this disease.

At the age of 57, I realize, at least on an intellectual level, that from this point onwards, the possibility of running into health problems is probably going up exponentially. I like to think I eat right, I do exercise regularly and I seem to get a clean bill of health on an annual basis. However, I have to admit that statistically, something is bound to happen sooner or later. Yes, there are many things I can do to avoid problems and to remain in good health but there is also a factor of just good old fashioned luck. Do I have good genes or bad ones?

I know a man who at the age of 51 lost the functioning of both kidneys at once. While his medical history had already pointed to such a thing eventually happening, it was nevertheless quite a shock to receive the news that he no longer had any kidneys. After trying to stick with dialysis during almost 3 years, he finally realized that a transplant wasn't just a nice thing, it was a necessity. Apparently the best dialysis can ever do right now at this stage in the development of medical science is merely 10% as good as a real kidney.

Fortunately his wife proved to be a match and he did have a transplant, a successful one I might add. However, the 3 years of dialysis had taken their toll. Due to the inefficiency of the process of dialysis, certain toxins had built up in his body which has resulted in some neuropathy. On top of it all, a kidney transplant is not something which lasts forever. While a kidney will last for the life of the person, a transplanted one usually lasts between 10 to 15 years. Depending on how long this person lives, he will more than likely have to have another transplant.

My wife had a friend who died from a brain tumor, cancer, at the age of 49. No prior signs, no family history. Just right out of the blue, she gets cancer and within 6 months is dead.

Right now, I do not diabetes; I have 2 functioning kidneys and I'm alive. Sometimes I hurt; sometimes I'm sad; sometimes I'm upset. Every once in a while, I need to look around me; I need to look down. I have a lot to be thankful for.

"I thought I was abused because I had no shoes until a met a man who had no feet."
-- J.M. Braude,
Speaker's Encyclopedia of Stories, Quotations and Anecdotes, p. 338, no. 2320 (1955).

2010-06-21

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Regulations

Who likes regulations? Who likes to be told what to do? Nobody it seems but then again, what are the consequences of no rules?

Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico
In the news on Thursday, June 17, 2010, I see that BP, British Petroleum has been obliged by the U.S. government to set aside twenty billion dollars for the Gulf oil spill. While this amount of money is deemed by analysts as a "drop in the bucket" in relation to what BP earns overall, there is for me quite an amusing side to the entire story.

As it goes, BP, amongst other oil companies, lobbied the U.S. government to stop regulation which would have required certain safety measures. These companies felt such measures were onerous to their operations or as restated by reporters, onerous to their bottom lines. From what I understand, BP was not obliged to shell out $500,000 for a safety valve. Such a valve would have apparently prevented the oil from leaking as it has been doing. Apparently, with the platform sinking and pipe being disconnected from the rig itself, this safety valve would have kicked in and sealed off the pipe at the seabed.

I am stunned by such an implication and I also have to laugh at it all. BP has now been obliged to set aside $20 billion. Who knows how much more they may have to spend on clean up and financial restitution? All of this is for what reason? It is because they lobbied to not be obliged to spend $500,000 for a safety valve. This is monstrous: monstrously short-sighted, monstrously funny and a monster of a catastrophe.

Subprime Mortgage Crisis
In the United States, financial institutions were able to set up lending practices that emphasized profit over prudence. Loans were being granted to people who would have been otherwise deemed incapable of repaying said loan. Terms were given that now seem to have only fuelled the precariousness of the loan. While many factors come into play to fully explain the complexity of the entire crisis, the rather simple reason is that a whole lot of people failed to pay back their loans, whether it be a mortgage on a house or some other form of debt. The entire system, in the quest for profit, failed to take into account the possibility of debtors being unable to repay their debt. Like a pyramid scheme, the entire house of cards fell over. Greater and greater risks were being taken in search for greater and greater profits.

No Regulations?
One of the principal ideas of a democratic free market economy is that government imposes little or no regulation. It is felt that the market itself will "self-regulate", it will find its own balance. However, like a pendulum which swings back and forth many times before coming to rest in the middle, how much adjustment will a market make, how much self-regulation is necessary before one finds that middle ground?

In the two stories above, the Gulf Oil Spill and the Subprime Crisis, a lack of regulation allowed the participants to do... well, pretty much what they wanted. By focusing on profit over prudence, people were "allowed" to proceed with a course of action that under-estimated the risk and over-estimated the reward. While a certain amount of risk would be inherent in anything we do, we must admit that certain levels of risk must be considered imprudent if not just plain stupid. After all, as the old saying goes, "Never bet more than you can afford to lose."

Don't Tell Me What To Do
An American was telling me that he didn't want regulations; he wanted less government. He very much wanted to be free. I told this person that we can all agree that a speed limit of 60 mph or 100 km is a reasonable restriction on our driving. Such a rule can save lives. The American nodded his head and agreed with me. I then added that such a rule does not restrict where we can go; it only tells us how fast we can go. The American became thoughtful.

I continued by explaining that the government imposes a speed limit because going faster is more dangerous and statistics prove that with speed, more people lose their lives. Nevertheless, the government is not trying to tell us where we can drive. It is not telling us where we can go. It is only trying to tell us the safest way of getting to where we have decided to go. The rule about the speed limit is for safety because the government actually wants us to get to where we are going. It imposes these rules for our own collective good.

The American admitted that I made a good point; he had never looked at regulations that way saying that this made sense.

Regulations
Every time I get in an elevator, I can look up and there is a little plaque in which I can read a certificate issued by the government showing "inspected by so and so on such and such a date". That somehow gives me a sense of security in that I don't have to worry about the elevator plummeting into the basement and leaving me flat as a pancake on the floor after a 10 story drop.

Anyone who flies an airplane is personally acquainted with a pre-flight checklist. This list covers dozens of items which the pilot must verify before he takes off. These rules are in place not to be a burden, but to ensure the pilot is actually successful in flying his plane.

When I was a boy, my father showed me the proper way of using a table saw. Explaining how a rotating saw blade can sometimes grab a piece of wood, he showed how in a twinkling of an eye a finger can be easily drawn into the whirling blade and be amputated. Proper procedure dictated guiding a piece of wood not with one's hand, but with another piece of wood. If the piece which is being cut ever got pinched by the saw blade, instead of one's hand being pulled into the blade, the piece of wood being used to guide the wood being cut would be drawn in.

Rules are there to help us, to protect us. There are not there to take away freedom; unless, of course, we want the freedom to maim or kill ourselves. Rules have been put in place by others who have gone before us who have observed phenomenon, analysed the results, figured out the why and determined what's necessary to avoid the bad.

If BP had been forced through regulation to purchase and install the safety valve, we wouldn't have the Gulf Oil Spill. If financial institutions were forced through regulation to only loan money to people who could realistically be able to repay it, we would not have had the subprime mortgage crisis. I am not advocating for more government but I do think some well thought out rules would not hurt. When I get on an elevator, when I turn onto the highway, I do not necessarily feel apprehensive. I think the rules in place are helping me and statistically doing their best to ensure that I get safely to the dinner table that evening.

2010-06-19

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Electricity

I am now sitting in the dark. Well, sort of in the dark as I do have the glow of the screen of my laptop to guide my way. A few minutes ago, the power went out. After a couple of moments of reflection as to whether this was a quickie blackout or something lengthier, I carefully made my way down the hall to have a peek off of my 8th floor balcony to see how extensive the outage was. A preliminary assessment would see this cut in services covering about a four or five block square. I looked at the people walking around in the dark which was more of the dark one has in a city where even black is bathed in the ambient glow of the surrounding urban areas. I can hear some sirens getting closer.

As I sit here typing in the glow of my screen, I am thinking of how dependent we all are on this wonderful commodity called electricity, the source of light to keep the boogie man at bay. We may read and discuss newspaper articles on coal fired plants and the associated air pollution, the dangers of nuclear energy, the loss of land due to hydro-electric installations, the unsightliness of windmill farms, but in the end, what ends up at our door step is electricity, the glue which binds us together, keeps the dogs of anarchy at bay and provides that light of hope in the longest of nights.

A few interesting facts:

North America as well as some northern parts of South America (parts of Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, etc.) plus some of Japan have systems of 100 volts with 60 hertz. The rest of the world is pretty much 220 Vs with 50 Hz.

There are apparently 13 different types of plugs in use throughout the world. Other areas of the world preferred for some unexplained reason to create their own style of plug rather than adopt the U.S. standard. This U.S. standard is in use throughout North America, parts of Central America and in a few countries in the northern part of South America plus Japan.

Canada is the world's largest producer of hydro-electricity.

Nuclear power accounted for 6.3% of the world's total primary energy supply.

The US consumes 25% of the world's energy.

**********

I got tired and went to bed. 15 minutes later, before I had fallen asleep, I heard the telltale click of various appliances coming back on with the return of the electricity. Somebody somewhere had done their job and restored power. Society, as a group working together, made life better for all of us: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

2010-06-19

Friday, 18 June 2010

Egypt


In February 2010, my wife and I spent 2 weeks in Egypt, a vacation I can qualify as fabulous. From the beginning to the end of our stay, we had excellent experiences and I can advise everyone to do likewise. However, must add that how we put this vacation together as very important.

For some time now, we have been aware of various tours organized by some universities as well as tour companies who offered trips to Egypt. However, my wife in doing some research ran across a tour company in Egypt itself called "Beauty of Egypt". Intrigued by the idea of working with local people, she started to organize our trip via the Internet. Some comparison shopping with Canadian tour companies led us to conclude that by working locally with an Egyptian company, we could put together our trip for about half the cost.

Egypt is probably the country the most different from our native country of Canada. We have spent time in the United States, England and France, but we can say that each of these countries, due to a standard of living fairly high, is similar to Canada. On the other hand, Egypt is a Third World country. According to the International Monetary Fund, specifically their statistics for 2009, Canada has a per capita income of $38,920 US while Egypt has a per capita income of $6,147 US. I find this comparison startling and I find it difficult to imagine how to interpret the difference between these incomes in terms of daily life. An Egyptian earns less than one sixth of the income of a Canadian. Unbelievable.

Consequently, what we saw in Egypt was very different from what we see in Canada. In general, we saw a certain level of poverty which is rarer in Canada. Yes, there is poverty in Canada, but in Egypt, it is not an exception, it is the rule.

If I take into account this stand of living and arranging our tour using a local company, I can state that the cost of the entire trip was quite economical. Here's a list of everything we had:
  • private guide
  • private car and driver
  • 5 star hotels including breakfasts
  • 3 domestic flights
  • a cruise on the Nile for 2 days including all meals
  • the entrance fees for all temples, the Citadel of Saladin, the Mohammed Ali Mosque and the museum of Cairo
We paid this Egyptian company three thousand Canadian dollars. If I add 2 round trip flights from Canada to Egypt, meals, gifts, etc., my wife and I spend in total six thousand dollars Canadian. However, I should add that we did not buy our tickets as such; we used points accumulated through our credit card so we only spend around four thousand dollars cash. What a deal!

We visited:
  • Cairo: the city, the Pyramids of Giza, Memphis
  • Aswan: the city, the dam, Philae
  • Abu Simbel
  • Luxor: the temple of Luxor, Kanark, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens
  • Sharm El Sheikh
We must add to this list the time spend in the company of our guides and our drivers. They were all friendly and helpful and at Cairo, we even had the time to have 2 meals with them.

One aspect of our trip that we studied before our departure was baksheesh, the system of tipping or bribes in use in the Middle East. My wife found several articles written by people who had spend some time in Egypt which we both read carefully. Consequently, throughout our vacation, we did what was necessary at various exchange bureaus to ensure we had small change to give as baksheesh. For us in North America, the idea of always giving a couple of coins seems a little strange however, one must come back to the standard of living in Egypt. Without tips, maybe without bribes, it is difficult to imagine how somebody can live there. Besides, instead of seeing people beg, this little supplemental money offers a little dignity to people, a sign of respect. As for me, knowing the standard of living on Egypt, I never complained about baksheesh.

I always had to keep in mind the exchange rate: 1 Egyptian pound is worth 20 Canadian cents or one Canadian dollar is worth 5 Egyptian pounds. I was getting periodically a roll of Egyptian one pound coins which I would pass out as tips for everything and sometimes for almost nothing. If I went to the washroom, there would be an attendant who was handing out a bit of toilet paper. I would give him or her a pound. If I was visiting a temple or a museum and I asked for some information, one expected that I would give a pound or two as a tip. However, an Egyptian pound is only worth 20 Canadian cents. 20 cents? This is nothing! Heck! I told my wife that I lose more money in our washing machine when I forget to empty my pants pockets!

I am not going to recount all of the trip; however I would like to describe our first impression which emphasizes how Egypt is so different from Canada.

When we arrived in Cairo, a representative of the tour company met us at the airport to take us to our hotel. This car trip of 10 kilometres or so gave us a chance to see certain parts of the city. We went by kilometre after kilometre of areas filled with apartment buildings which were not finished and seemed sort of dilapidated. Usually the top floor showed exposed concrete and supporting steel bars as if the builder had stopped construction right before finishing the top floor. Our driver explained that in Cairo, there was apparently a municipal bylaw where you only had to pay taxes if the building was finished. Obviously, builders were taking advantage of this loophole to avoid paying taxes. However, this introduction to Egypt gave us a true impression of the Third World. We were quite taken aback.

I must repeat that one has to go. Egypt is where modern civilization started. Compare the history of North America with the history of Egypt. In Canada, we talk of history in terms of hundreds of years; in Egypt, you talk about history in terms of thousands of years. Plus, what the Egyptians succeeded in doing and what they left us as a legacy is incredible! The Great Pyramid of Giza, built in 2,500 B.C. was the tallest construction until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, a record which lasted more than four thousand years!

Oh, one more point. We went in February. This is the coolest time of the entire year to go. Keep in mind that Egypt is so much closer to the equator than Canada and temperatures there can be quite extraordinary. Consequently, do not even think about going there in July or August! It can apparently hit 50 degrees Celsius! February was quite pleasant over all; warm but not... ah, hellish. :-)

2010-06-18