The Harper government vs. the public servants | Toronto Star

An article on my forthcoming book, Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism.

The Harper government vs. the public servants | Toronto Star.


Year 1, Week 13: Back in Geneva


Back in Geneva and have been here long enough that it also feels like home. Fall colours a bit more advanced, some more snow on the Salève and Mont Blanc, and the same enjoyable walks. And a break in my mother-in-law’s treatment, so a more relaxed time than the previous month.

One side benefit of the 2012 election was staying up until the speeches, being super tired the next day, and able to collapse and sleep on the plane. A natural sleeping pill.

As for the election, like most people living outside the US, was happy to see Obama re-elected and some of the extreme Senate candidates lose. Also reassuring that despite Citizens United, the outside ‘dark money’ groups did not prevail. I also enjoyed the irony that the ‘numbers guy’ was defeated by a much more sophisticated, data-based campaign (here). Hopefully, both sides will be able to work better together now that the results are clear (Jonathan Haidt’s After the Election, Fear Is Our Only Chance at Unity on the need to understand the perspective of the other, and compromise as a result, makes the case).

I also managed to complete and submit my pension application and related forms. As always – why must it be so? – far too many forms, far too much repetition of ‘tombstone’ information, and this from my government employer who has known me for over 30 years. On the other hand, I am very appreciative of the good pension plan and related benefits, so griping over forms is small stuff.

More interestingly, going through the forms and benefits brought up the issue of time and risk. Some issues, like paying my pension deficiency (incurred during long-term disability), is essentially a bet on the long-term; others, like the supplementary death benefit, is more a short-term benefit. In the end, I hedged my bets and protected my short and long-term benefits, but it did provoke some bemused reflection on time and my expectations, and the usual mixed feelings regarding my odds and mortality. But stretched my normal approach of only planning 3-6 months ahead.

I started reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (my son lent me his copy). A delightful read, engaging in all aspects, and wonderful how Mitchell shifts his style to suit the period and story. Some favourite sections so far: the Sexsmith letters, so beautifully written, and the extremely funny tale of Timothy Cavendish (laugh-out loud in parts).

Reading the book, appreciate just how good the film adaptation was, capturing the essential, eliminating the non-essential, moving between periods yet maintaining the flow, and above all, keeping the feel and spirit of the book.

We saw the latest Astérix film, Astérix and Obelix: God Save Britannia. Not as good as the previous films (my favourite is Mission Cléopatre) but some of the French stereotyping of the English was particularly funny, as well as some story threads that were not pursued (e.g., César being under investigation by Senate auditors for his expense accounts). The usual solid French cast (who’s who in French cinema) and overall, an entertaining way to spend a few hours.

As today’s post falls on Remembrance Day, a moment to reflect on the ongoing contribution of our fellow citizens in uniform, including their families, and the sacrifices their service entails.

Barack Obama’s ‘secret society’ of researchers may give him the edge | World | News | National Post

For those interested in the psychology of voting, a popularized version of some of the research and micro-targeting that gave Obama’s campaign the edge in GOTV efforts. Incredible sophistication in polling, data, and understanding behaviour. And as the election results showed, it worked, and likely more cost-effective than some of the mass media advertising.

Another illustration of how the evidence-based approach is more insightful and effective (e.g., Nate Silver, Sasha Issenberg) compared to the punditry (e.g., George Will, Michael Barone, Peggy Noonan). Of course, punditry makes better TV!

Barack Obama’s ‘secret society’ of researchers may give him the edge | World | News | National Post.

And another piece by Time on their big data approach:

Inside the Secret World of the Data Crunchers that Helped Obama Win

After the Election, Fear Is Our Only Chance at Unity –

Good post-election piece by Jonathan Haidt, author of  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, on how our world views, religion and political ideologies both bind us together with those whose views we share, and blind us to opposing viewpoints. This tendency is amplified by the multi-channel universe in which we live in, particularly social media. Interesting read:

When we focus only on the one asteroid that most frightens us, we feel anger at the partisans on the other side. We curse their blindness without recognizing our own. But if we can look up into the sky and see a whole fleet of asteroids heading for us, we lose our tunnel vision and experience a healthy form of panic. We’re in big trouble, and anyone who does that hyperpartisan stuff now should be ashamed — or kicked out of office. The day after Election Day is the day for all of us, and our siblings and cousins, to come together and start building an asteroid deflection system.

The only nuance to his argument, is the increasing tendency to disregard or discount scientific and other evidence that helps inform opinion (see Allan Gregg’s 1984 in 2012 – The Assault on Reason). Policy options to address growing income inequality should acknowledge that it exists, similarly with climate change, crime, and health indicators.

After the Election, Fear Is Our Only Chance at Unity –

Effective Healthcare Can Reduce Toll From Major Diseases Like Stroke, Heart Disease And Cancer

A reminder that the main determinants of health are socio-economic ones; healthcare, while alleviating these somewhat, is not by itself sufficient. Quote:

“This study reminds us all of persisting health inequalities, and challenges for the future of healthcare. Health inequalities are mainly predicted by variations in the characteristics of local populations; healthcare can only partly combat this effect, but it is important that it does so through interventions that include measuring blood pressure, and offering a service that enables people who want to see the same doctor.

“Healthcare system reforms should therefore aim to deliver cost-effective evidence-based interventions to whole populations, and foster sustained patient-doctor partnerships.”

Effective Healthcare Can Reduce Toll From Major Diseases Like Stroke, Heart Disease And Cancer.

U.S. Cuts Estimate of Sugar Intake of Typical American –

From 100 to 76.7 pounds per year, in the latest estimates. Unfortunately, no international comparisons or domestic historical comparisons, or assessments whether the lower number is still a cause for concern (I suspect it is) or not. While I tend to believe that reasonable methodology was followed, the quote below makes a valid point:

“There’s such an implication of precision and accuracy in that decimal point — boy, we’ve got this nailed now,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But when you take a good look, it’s built on a foundation of sand.”

This will of course play out in the current political debates over soft drink bans and the like – hence the need for more information about what 80 lbs. means in terms of obesity (which continues to increase).

U.S. Cuts Estimate of Sugar Intake of Typical American –

Textbooks round the world: It ain’t necessarily so | The Economist

For history buffs, an interesting survey of world textbooks, and how they reflect and influence the societies they serve. Some good examples cited from a wide range of countries. One of the better books I have read is The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan, which most countries grapple with as they balance historical balance with the reinforcement of national narratives. Sample quote from The Economist article:

As indeed will the power of teachers—whose prejudices may often be just as ingrained as those found in textbooks, and rather harder to pin down. Henning Hues, a researcher at the Georg Eckert Institute, has studied South African textbooks and teaching. In one class he observed, a book issued since the rise to power of the African National Congress featured a picture of Nelson Mandela with, alongside it, a question about why the country’s first black president was a hero. The teacher, a white Afrikaans-speaker a few years away from retirement, ignored the task set and described Mr Mandela as an armed guerrilla and assassin.

Textbooks round the world: It ain’t necessarily so | The Economist.