Blog of Mass Distraction

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. This years theme is "Stop AIDS. Keep the promise." World leaders have pledged (in the 2001 UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS) to reduce the number of young people with HIV by 25% by 2010 and in the most affected countries by 2005. Another significant promise was 3 by 5: to get ARVs to 3 million people by the end of 2005. Neither of these promises will be met but, for 3 by 5 at least according to Stephen Lewis, it does not matter. The amount of progress made in getting ARVs to people has been a huge improvement in and of itself. While it won't be three million, many people have started receiving the medicines to sustain them when they would otherwise be dead.
Canada's own infection has gone up by 20% in the past year. We're still very low thank goodness, only a couple of thousand1 infections per year, but there is an upward trend; and the percentage of non-homosexual male infections is increasing. In North America HIV/AIDS has generally been considered an affliction of gay men, but this is changing.
In Sub-Saharan Africa (and increasinly so in places like the West Indies and India) HIV/AIDS has become a predator of women and consequently children as well. Every minute one child is infected with HIV and another dies from AIDS related illness.
There are nearly 40 million people world wide living with HIV/AIDS. This includes over 5 million in India, about 0.9% of the adult population. This unfortunate percentage is set to rise sharply in India since it's at a jumping point where the number of infections in areas are high enough that it can move beyond very high risk populations (mobile workers, military and sex workers) to the mainstream population.

I've also been trying to get some red ribbons. Apparently they have them at St.Mike's, but I won't be able to drive into the city until later in the week. And apparently the red ribbon is also the symbol for MADD and some global anti-violence movement... who knew?

Support World AIDS Day

1. I made a mistake, I said HIV infections each year are a couple of hundred, but meant they're actually a couple of thousand. There are about 50,000 people in Canada with HIV/AIDS.
Public Health Agency of Canada HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bois Klein

André Boisclair has been elected new leader of the Parti Québécois. His main opponent in the race was Pauline Marois; but Boisclair soundly defeated all others, Marois included, with a strong mandate. He's the youngest leader the party has ever had. He also went to Harvard, is openly gay, and is seen as slightly to the right of the main party. None of these tidbits however are of great interest to anyone. What is of great interest are his views sovereignty and his admission to using cocaine while a minister in the 90's.
While the other leadership candidates and the Parti Québécois members have not spoken much of his use of cocaine, there are many that are critical of his views on Canada and sovereignty. During Boisclair's first press conference he stated that Quebec's pursuit of sovereignty is not an attack on Canada. He stated that Quebec must be sovereign to better pursue its place in the world and its goals. Other party members have been harsh on Boisclair because of his softness towards Canada and think he won't pursue sovereignty aggressively enough.
Members of other parties have not however been as forgiving to Mr.Boisclair as his party members have been about his drug problem. Members of the other paries tore into Boisclair about his cocaine use and have said he's not fit to lead. That said, Liberal popularity (both federal and Quebec provincial) is extremely low of late, so the new leader may yet get a chance to prove his mettle. Though to be honest, I hope he doesn't. I'd hate to see La Belle Province leave us.

Speaking of opposition parties, Ralph Klein has been weighing in on the upcoming federal election. Stephen Harper introduced a confidence motion in Parliament this week which will be voted on next week and instigate an election. Klein stated on record that he didn't want the Liberals to win again however he felt this to be inevitable. Klein stated that he thinks the Liberals will win another minority government, and particularly mentioned that this would be because of Stephen Harper. Klein said Canadians are scared of Harper and think he's too right wing (which I certainly believe). Federal Conservative deputy leader Peter Mackay, when asked to comment about what to do about Klein, Mackay replied "duct tape".
Of course Klein's and the Conservative party's officials quickly attempted damage recovery saying Klein and the federal Conservatives have a great relationship and that Klein is a great conservative leader in Canada. They also tried to play down the animosity between Klein and Harper. It's a well known rumour that Klein does not like Harper, but you won't hear that from any of their officials.

BTW, when I ran it on this post the blogger spell checker really screwed up some of the words. It didn't seem to like Boisclair, and it turned Québécois into Québécois.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Election Jitters

The Martin government is set to fall next week. The opposition parties voted on and passed a proposal from NDP leader Jack Layton to call an election in January. Because it wasn't a proper confidence motion however the Martin Liberals have just chosen to ignore it. Having tried to offer a compromise, which the Liberals would have none of, Stephen Harper is going to introduce a confidence motion next week to bring down the government.
The entire controversy over the impending election really only has to do with when it will be called. Martin said he would call it after the Gomery report has been fully released (part two is due out around February next year). But because the opposition parties, namely the NDP, don't have confidence in the government they want to see the election sooner rather than later. They don't however want to have an election called over the holidays. None of them want to be responsible for calling an election that ruins the holiday season. So the Liberals are opposing the motion in hopes of blaming the election on the opposition. And the opposition is complaining about the arrogant Liberals that won't compromise and call an election due to the lack of confidence in the House.
Truth be told all the bickering is about the difference of a few weeks. But the opposition, like the Bloq but especially Harper and the Conservative party, want to strike while the iron is hot and call an election while the Liberals are still hurting.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Vincent Massey would be proud

I listened to some of this year's Massey Lectures. Stephen Lewis was the lecturer and he gave 5 speeches across Canada ending in Toronto. I attended the last lecture and listened to a few on CBC Radio. They were great: informative, insightful, saddening and hopeful. He spoke of the many problems in the developing world, focusing on issues such as women, children, education and AIDS sufferers. His discussion centered around the Millenium Development Goals and suffering in Africa.

There were a couple of things he mentioned in a very positive light that I have some hesitance about. The first was a book by noted economist Jeffrey Sachs titled The End of Poverty. I've heard nothing but praise for the book, even from the eminent Mr. Lewis. My worry centers more around Dr.Sachs and his economic background. While economics is a fundamental part of development, the policies of mainstream economics have generally done more harm than good. This is something that's been said not only by people like Mr.Lewis, but it was stated in the recent development report commissioned by Tony Blair in the UK. The preeminent book The Globalization of Poverty by Michel Chossudovsky decribes this most clearly with many case studies and examples. Dr.Sachs has previously suggested economic shock therapy (trade liberalization and release of currency controls). But I try to give people a fair shake so I've picked up a copy of his book and I'll reserve judgement until I've read it.

The other thing Mr.Lewis mentioned of which I have my doubts is the Gates Foundation. Don't get me wrong it's done some great things, including being one of the few large organizations that helps provide ARVs instead of just concentrating on prevention. This is what Mr.Lewis was praising it for as well, not only stemming the tide, but saving the lives of people who would otherwise be dead. Surely saving lives is a worthy cause, but if there's the opportunity to save 20 rather than 10 shouldn't it be taken? The Gates Foundation provides ARVs through companies like GSK which specifically seek to promote the protection of patented drugs and intellectual property. Rather than using generics at a fraction of the cost the Gates Foundation supports IP laws because they suit the needs of Microsoft. Great for MS, not quite as great for people dying of AIDS. But hey, at least it's doing something; which is a whole lot better than nothing...

All that said, the lecture I attended was fantastic. Mr.Lewis is one of the most passionate and honest people I've seen or heard. He's dedicated his life to helping the poor, destitute and impoverished. The world could use more people like Stephen Lewis.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Temblors, Hurricanes and Flames

The death toll from the South Asian earthquake, last I checked, was expected to be around 80,000. There's still great difficulty in reaching the victims and survivors because of the remote locations and limited number of helicopters. There is a campaign to collect tents and other supplies to help shelter the survivors because another wave of victims is expected as soon as winter sets in (and it's fast approaching now).

Guatemala too is experiencing tragedy. Hurricane Stan has left many homeless and destroyed crops and farmland. Landslides continue to wreak havoc and hundreds of thousands of people are in need of food and shelter.

In Southern Africa serious drought has left millions in need of food aid. The crisis in conjunction with the AIDS epidemic is putting millions at risk. Malawi is harshly affected by this with some 5 million in danger of starvation while queue for hours and even days for food.

Several neighbourhoods in Paris have been scenes of violence for many nights now. Youth from predominantly North African immigrant families having been protesting poor treatment, unemployment and inequality with large nightly gatherings that have turned into violent clashes with police. President Jacques Chirac has declared a state of emergency in those areas and ordered a curfew. Many people have been arrested and several cars were set ablaze during the skirmishes.

I was speaking with a friend today about the escalating Microsoft Google rivalry. Microsoft has just launched its newest development platform and database with the usual claims about superior performance and reliability, etc, etc. I've also seen some of the features for the new Vista operating system which is due out next year. Some of the features garnering the most excitement are things that have been available in other systems and software for years. The biggest improvements to IE7 for example are tabbed browsing and RSS feeds. Another thing was conflict resolution for multiple checkout in version control for Visual Studio team system. Vista has an option to tab through open windows with a little thumbnail of what's actually in the window showing (including showing movies being played, etc.) All of these features were available years ago in stuff like Mozilla, CVS and Enlightenment... little late in the game, but thanks for playing.
Anyway, this is all part of Microsoft's reactive strategy to catch up and combat anything and everything it sees as a potential threat. Topmost among those threats is Google, a company which has shown real innovation. What I was saying to my friend is that what makes a lot of things successful is not being all things to all people, but doing a select few things and doing them very well. Google didn't become a verb by being a music player, web browser, code editor and search engine. It's just a really good search engine. I likw my iPod not because I can make phone calls from it, but because I can hold a ton of songs on it and it's dead easy to use.
Anyway, that's my little rant, good for ol' MS for catching up on things.
I haven't posted in a long time... been far too busy for most of October.