Favourite photos

I’ve been blogging more and actually getting out and taking more photos too. At the same time I’ve been doing a lot of uploading to Flickr in an effort to do some online back up of my photos. I figure I might only be about half-done in that task.

That means at least another 6,000 or so photos to go! I thought I’d post a couple of my favourites here today. The top photo is a sunset over the Fraser River in Quesnel, B.C. The second photo is the Rocky Mountaineer tourist train taken half-way between Williams Lake and Quesnel.

Canadian healthcare – catching up

I’ve had a question about the Canadian healthcare system for a while now, which has been prompted by the endless, vitriolic debate south of the border about private versus public healthcare.

Critics of the Canadian healthcare system point to waiting lists as one of the big failures of our system. Of course this is a problem and it’s something that needs to be dealt with. The scale of the issue is another question.

While our system isn’t perfect, I certainly wouldn’t trade it for the US healthcare system where your coverage could be yanked if you’re just not profitable enough, if you even had health care coverage. The life expectancy of Canadians is higher than Americans too, so we can’t be doing too bad.

What I’ve wondered is how much would it cost to resolve the waiting lists in one year? If we were to spend the money necessary to take care of everyone on the waiting list who can reasonably be attended to, how much would that cost?

Of course that would not include people waiting for transplants. Obviously they can’t get real help until donors become available.

I know that urgent cases will always be moved to the front of the line, but when you’re in that line, your case is the number one priority, in your eyes! And who’s to doubt that? If you need knee or back surgery and can’t work because of it, it’s critical to get that treatment so you can be productive again.

My wife was seriously hurt at work and had an MRI very quickly. She’s been getting treatment and physiotherapy, so our system can work well for particular silos of patients, namely WCB claimants, although WCB claimants have many more issues when it comes to injuries that prevent them from working.

And what would the cost be compared to the costs of having these people languish on waiting lists? Would there be more tax revenue for government to offset that additional cost? If someone were to have to wait for two years on disability to get back surgery, if they were to get the back surgery sooner and get back to work quickly, surely that would be more beneficial to government coffers.

Also, by getting these surgeries done quickly, there would be less damage to undo. The longer someone has to wait, often more damage is done, making the problem worse and, in the end, more expensive.

So, has anyone in government has really looked at the opportunity cost of having all these people who can’t work languishing on waiting lists? When I look at how our governments operate today, I tend to doubt that it’s happened. Maybe someone needs to figure that out.

It would certainly be better in the long run if our healthcare system could keep up with current cases rather than having to deal with surgeries that should have been performed up to two years prior. Maybe that makes too much sense?

Pondering photography

Lately I’ve been getting back to writing more often and getting out and taking photos, both things I love to do.

Admittedly, it’s partially due to my participation in Empire Avenue, a kind of social media stock investing community/game. The more active you are, the higher your stock value will get.

There’s nothing wrong with having a little motivation. Sometimes we forget about things that are important to us and in recent years I’ve gotten away from writing and photography, at least on a personal basis. I still write professionally, but it’s not always the same. You certainly don’t have quite the same freedom.

I’ve been documenting some major family events recently, such as my uncle’s memorial service in Spokane, my daughter’s graduation in Williams Lake and my son’s grade 9 farewell from a Catholic junior high.

I’ve been putting as many photos as I can up on Flickr. As I say in my profile, my Flickr account isn’t so much a gallery of what I’d consider my best work, but more online storage of photos I have taken. I weed out the truly bad ones.

I know I’ve got lots of good photos in there, but I really don’t take the time to tinker with them in Photoshop as I see many people doing. My Flickr account certainly doesn’t function as a resume of my best work in hopes someone will randomly wander by and offer me a job as a professional photographer. I’m a little ways off from that.

I think my Flickr account is more of a documentary of my life and those around me, for better or worse. I also have been trying to get other family members to connect to my account if they’d like to download any of the full size photos so they can print them themselves. That’s been more of a chore, which is a shame because I think that Flickr functions pretty well as a hub for family and friends to share photos.

Colour accuracy

One of the issues I’ve always had with digital cameras is colour accuracy. It can be so tough to accurately capture the colours you’re seeing. I shot a set yesterday that I wasn’t too happy with, looking at the camera. I was pleasantly surprised when I loaded them onto my computer.

The colours of the flowers in my photos are very close to what I was seeing. That makes me really happy! If you look at my photostream in Flickr, you’ll see a lot of flowers. I’m a bit obsessed by them, but I prefer wildflowers and it’s better when they’re in their natural setting. I do have a few DVDs worth that I still have to upload too.

Sunsets and sunrises are another of my favourite photography subjects. It can be tough to get the colours just right there too. I don’t like to have to Photoshop them to get the colour correct. I prefer it to come out of the camera looking as it should.

I’ve been using my digital camera for four years now and I would say I’m reasonably accomplished, but I still have a lot to learn. I just bought a flash a few weeks back and that’s a whole other area I’ve got to learn.

I would like to try doing portraits with studio lighting eventually. I don’t want to be a pro, but I want to give it a try.

New camera equipment

As for equipment, one of my favourite kinds of photography is macro photography, so some type of macro lens is in my future. I would like a good quality wide-angle zoom, like a Canon 28-70mm f/2.8, but a Canon 24-105mm f/4 is another one I’m considering.

I have a 70-200mm f/4 already, and the 28-70 would be nice to cover the range. I thought a 24-105 might be nice for the overlap.

Eventually I’d like to get a full frame sensor body like a Canon 5D MkII. Then I’d be able to do some video also. Once I’ve done that, I’ll invest in a good wide angle lens.

I don’t plan on doing any of these things any time soon. Still undecided and I’ll invest in more lenses before I buy a new body.

Any suggestions on what lenses might be better or other lenses I hadn’t considered?

Mother Earth News article: The truth about vegetarianism

I’ve been a subscriber of Mother Earth News for a while now and a reader of the magazine since I was a kid. I’ve always appreciated the thoughtful and interesting articles in it and this month’s issue has an interesting story called “The Truth About Vegetarianism.”

The story is based on the 2009 book The Vegetarian Myth. I’d just like to say that I don’t have anything against vegetarians or vegans. I understand why they do what they do.

I haven’t read the book yet, only the article, but it seems that the author is really interested in delving into the nature of the modern factory farming agricultural system. Lierre Kieth, a former vegan, suggests that the vegetarian path is not going to accomplish the goals that most vegetarians seem to have. These reasons include tend to revolve around health, protecting animals, helping feed the hungry and not participating in factory farming.

All those are honourable goals, but is being a vegetarian really going to accomplish them? Avoiding meat for health reasons, particularly if that meat is coming from the factory farm process, is quite sensible. I’m not going to go into those reasons, but I certainly understand them. I would prefer to consume naturally raised animals instead of genetically modified, steroid and anti-biotic injected, confined and often diseased animals.

I would also prefer to eat fruits, vegetables and other food products that aren’t genetically modified, coated in pesticides and herbicides or contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. Coli. Is that too much to ask? Apparently to factory farmers, it is.

Keith covers a broad range of topics in her five-page summary published in Mother Earth News, dealing with food security and factory farming. I tend to agree, from the reading and research I’ve done in the past, that these are far more serious issues that being a vegetarian is not really going to adequately address.

It is not easy to break the factory farming cycle, but we’re beginning to see rumblings among citizens that indicate people are becoming fed up with the crap we’re being fed, both from agribusinesses and politicians. I certainly don’t blame the small farmer who’s being driven to the edge of bankruptcy by what is a fundamentally corrupted food system.

The popularity and awareness of farmers markets has really increased in recent years. I’m not sure if gardening has as well, but I hope it has. We really do need to examine the relationship between what we eat and where it comes from to our personal health and the health of our land.

If you’re interested in your health, your family’s health and the health of agriculture, this article would be a good start. I’m definitely going to be picking up the book.

Canadian and U.S. healthcare – a debate

I can never resist a good debate, especially when politics is involved. Recently I had the opportunity to debate Canadian versus American healthcare on Facebook. It was short-lived. I guess the person whose Facebook page it was decided they didn’t want the debate there! EAVB_YHQVSKDEAR

No problem. I’ll continue the debate here. I don’t have the original comment about Canadian healthcare, which I don’t remember being particularly negative, or my comment, but I do have the comment I’ll be responding to. Thank you, Facebook, for emailing responses to me.

Here’s the comment (verbatim):

And i’m sorry Alain….you have absolutely no idea what your talking about. Those so called greedy corporations that your mocking…just so happen to be the reason that the U.S. has become the super power that it is. It’s called “free market”. And no thanks to these liberal jack offs in our govt they are ruining what we have spent 200+ years building and defending.

You really wanna get in a debate with me over socialized heath care? Let me tell you a little something about your perfect system.

Do you have any idea how many other countries come to the united states for health care??? You don’t see Americans flocking to Europe or Mexico for heath care do you? Hmmmm i wonder why. Also…do you have any idea where most of the drugs and health treatments come from in the world??? They sure as hell don’t come from Japan. Germany. France. etc. They come from HERE. So educate yourself before you mock my country sir. Here’s just a tidbit on how messed up socialized health care is.

1.In socialized medical systems, the doctors work directly for the state. In Canada (and many other countries with universal care), doctors can run their own private practices, just like they do in the US. The only difference is that every doctor deals with one insurer, instead of 150. And that insurer is the provincial government, which is accountable to the legislature and the voters if the quality of coverage is allowed to slide. which means they control every aspect of your health because your on a federal file….

2.Doctors are hurt financially by single-payer health care. Because they don’t make crap compared to those “evil” american greedy doctors who’s only goal is to take your money. Funny thing is… unlike your “lotto” system when your govt runs outta money to fund your health care. They take whoever no matter who is sicker or not. Ours have the best interest in keeping you alive because if your dead….they don’t get paid!!!

3.You have to wait forever to get a family doctor. where i can choose from any list of private health care providers.

4.Wait times in Canada are horrendous… and on…and on…and on…and on….

So, Trevor, while I don’t have my original comment to refer to, what I do know is that I never claimed the healthcare system in Canada is perfect, but I prefer it to the US system. I readily admit that it’s not perfect.

I also was not mocking the US system, but criticizing it. The US healthcare system is definitely worthy of criticism. How is it that what is arguably the wealthiest country on earth cannot have healthcare for all of its citizens? How many are left out? 10 million? 30 million? Estimates vary, and I’m talking about US citizens, not illegal immigrants.

Even for those who do have healthcare, if you’ve got a health condition under one insurer, you may not have that condition covered if you were to move jobs or try to get a different healthcare provider because it’s a “pre-existing condition” with the new insurer. It effectively turns patients into slaves of those healthcare providers and potentially your employer.

If your health condition was sufficiently serious, you’d be crazy to change jobs, at the risk of your health care coverage ceasing in relation to that condition. How is this considered ethical or just? Is this the kind of society we want? I don’t.

From an economic perspective, it certainly limits labour mobility. That’s not a bad thing from a company perspective, I guess, but not an employee perspective. I can’t imagine an unhealthy employee is going to be particularly productive either.

Also, health care coverage in the US, from what I understand, can also be limited, as you’re saying apparently happens in Canada. I understand that in the US, health care companies routinely decide which procedures will be covered and which won’t. If there’s not a likely positive outcome or it’s not included in your policy, etc, it’s not covered. I’ve also heard of many cases where people had their coverage dropped completely.

That’s a superior system alright. Your coverage gets dropped when you actually need it most.

People say that in Canada bureaucrats decide on treatment, which actually isn’t true. Your doctor decides on the appropriate treatment, and yes, you may need to wait in line. Waiting lists in Canada are a problem that our governments are working on. How successful are they? Jury’s out on that right now. If cases are serious enough, they can be moved up quickly though.

Contrast this with the US where, in my opinion, it’s actually worse. Your case may not be decided by a government bureaucrat, but a corporate one! Brain tumours can’t be a profitable thing, so I can see why companies would routinely deny people coverage for serious medical procedures. After all, if you deny many of the most serious procedures, the shareholders will be happier. Sorry, but I don’t want my case decided on when there’s a profit motive involved. If insurance companies could get away with it, they’d be happy to collect your premiums and never pay anything out

I’m not aware of any countries seeking care in the US, but I know some citizens of other countries do seek care in the US. The US is blessed to have a large number of skilled, experienced and well-trained physicians. There’s no doubt about that. Treatment can happen quickly, provided you have the money. Sometimes governments or private insurers will help to pay the cost.

Sorry Trevor, but Americans are also seeking treatment abroad. It’s called medical tourism. And what is the most common reason for this? Price. Many Americans can’t afford the treatment at home, so they get it elsewhere. That’s a superior system at work. Many Americans also like to buy prescription drugs in Canada. Why? It’s cheaper.

I acknowledge that many leading edge treatments and drugs are developed in the US, but the US is hardly the only place where health treatments and drugs come from. This typifies the ‘ugly American’ attitude that the US is the centre of the universe and ‘how come they don’t do it like we do in the good old U S of A?’ kind of thinking.

I don’t really see the need to start listing off medical discoveries and drugs discovered outside the U S of A. I don’t need to mock the US, but I will criticize it. Don’t take it personally. I criticize the Canadian government too.

Socialism – so what?

The US is 31st at 78.1 years. Even Bosnia is higher.

The funniest thing about the whole healthcare debate in the US is the hysteria over socialism. If our socialized healthcare in Canada is so bad, how is it that Canada is fourth in the world in terms of life expectancy? The US is 31st. Not too hot for what’s supposed to be the best medical system in the world. Looking over the top 10 countries for life expectancy, how many have a socialized healthcare system? Those citizens don’t seem to mind.

I don’t understand the fixation so many Americans have with anything resembling socialism. I guess they look past the socialism at work in their own communities like firehalls, police stations, roads, libraries and other evil, socialist institutions.

How’d you like the firehall to come to your house when it’s burning and leave when they notice you’re not covered by their firehall? Not that it ever happened in America. Or a cop that doesn’t investigate your car being stolen because you don’t pay into their police fund? How about a toll on every single road you travel?

Another way to look at socialism is that it’s a pooling of resources for the common good of a group of people. Countries are kind of like that. It’s community. People unite around a common belief. Nothing wrong with that.

So, who cares if some doctors in socialized medical systems work for the state? Really, who does, other than some Americans? In Canada, our doctors run their own practices and they don’t seem to mind it. We do have some private clinics here and there is some debate about how much private care to allow and how that might work.

In fact, on a per capita basis, Canada spends just over half what the US does on healthcare. Another source of information on per capita spending on healthcare (PDF).

That’s some system in the US that doesn’t cover everyone. Where does all that money go? Seems rather inefficient to have 150 health care insurers with all the overhead to administer each company. It certainly simplifies things from the doctor’s perspective too.

For the record, I don’t believe US doctors are greedy, nor do I believe Canadian doctors are. In fact, I’m sure there are many US doctors pissed off at the whole system there because the decisions on treatment are often decided by the insurers and not them. Your health records are available to private corporations and mine are held by my doctor. The billing information and some treatment info is held by government. So what?

Government accountability, especially on an issue so important to everyone, is a good thing. I’m glad my governments are accountable in that way. Accountability in the US system is elusive at best and non-existent at worst. Health care companies, from what I’ve heard, are the biggest lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

Oh, look at that. Health is in second, just edged out by real estate, finance and insurance. $3.8 billion for lobbying? I think lobbying is synonymous with bribery.

If Canadian doctors have a problem with how much they’re paid here, and they’re paid well, I guess they could go to the US. We still have doctors here. I guess they don’t mind. Physicians and health workers in Canada, as in the US, are consistently among the top earners.

And Trevor, I’m not sure where you get the idea that somehow US physicians have a higher purpose and dedication to keeping you alive because they want to get paid. So Canadian doctors don’t care whether their patients live or die? What an asinine statement. I think that’s also an insult to professional physicians in the US who are doing the best they can for their patients, no matter what.

I think you illustrated the key difference between the US healthcare system and the “evil” socialized healthcare systems around the world: “They take whoever no matter who is sicker or not.” You’re right. Insurers in the US have no interest in you if you’re sick. It’s double jeopardy if you’re sick and don’t have the money to pay. You’re as good as dead in the US then.

At least in socialized healthcare systems you have the opportunity for coverage and treatment. I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is why if you ask most Canadians or citizens of countries with a socialized medical system, they’d never want the US system in their country.

As for getting a family doctor, I’ve never had an issue in finding a family physician here in Canada. I know it’s been tough for some. The same baby boom bubble there is happening here and many doctors are retiring. Our governments in Canada have also made mistakes in the past by restricting the numbers of physicians and nurses being educated. I guess they forgot about statistics.

Free market?

Tell us how you really feel.

Perhaps you haven’t been to Canada. You should come and visit some time. You might find that we also have a free market economy, and a still healthy one at that. How’s that free market working for you lately? Nothing like a little deregulation of the financial, real estate and insurance markets, combined with those “greedy corporations” to unravel your entire economy .

Fortunately, Canada’s economy has remained relatively healthy, all things considered, through the near collapse of the world’s economy. See, a little banking regulation is necessary, despite the attempts by Canadian banks and some Canadian politicians to go the virtually complete deregulation route in the US. Had we done that, we’d be as screwed as the US. I’m not particularly fond of the big banks here, but they’re among the strongest in the world now

I believe in a balanced approach when it comes to regulating business. Regulation and enforcement is needed to protect citizens, employees and consumers, but also to allow business to operate. It’s a sensible, Canadian approach and it’s generally worked pretty well for us here.

What’s happening in the US right now is sad. So many US citizens are still caught up in the “us versus them” style of politics between Democrats and Republicans, but they fail to see that both parties are the same. They’re beholden to special interests and lobbyists and are consistently screwing American citizens.

We can blame much of what is happening right now on the Republicans though. It was under George W. Bush’s reign that the US went from a $250 billion annual surplus from Bill Clinton in 2000 to $1 trillion deficit in 2008. US debt in that time went from about $5 trillion to $10 trillion. So much for the idea that Republicans are brilliant money managers.

I am certainly sympathetic to the plight Obama found himself in: an almost ruined economy and two unfinished wars, one of which was completely unjustified (Iraq – there were no weapons of mass destruction).

Americans have every right to be angry right now, but that anger should mostly be directed at the Republicans for what they did (or didn’t do) during their 8 years in power. That doesn’t absolve the Democrats of their duplicity either.

The problem in the US is far from being the “liberal jack offs” as you say. Your country is being ruined by rampant greed and outright theft of public money. Bush started the ball rolling on paying out companies like Goldman Sachs, Citibank and others with public money. Now the US taxpayer is on the hook for their criminal behaviour. You can’t blame it all on Obama.

If Americans are going to pull out of this nosedive successfully, it relies on Americans seeing their current politicians for who they really are. America used to command a lot of respect around the world, but that is not the case these days. So many Americans still hold outdated views about how the world sees them. Things will only change there when Americans open their eyes to what is really happening and how they’re being screwed by their own government, financially and in many of its corrupt actions around the world. Good luck.

Thoughts on the Alberta Party & Alberta politics

Alberta-Party-logoPolitics in Alberta, it seems, is a blood sport especially when one feels their turf is threatened.

With the reigning Conservatives on the ropes in terms of their approval ratings, the Wildrose Alliance has seen support rise for its party. It seems like a natural thing, since they both occupy similar real estate in the political spectrum.

The Conservatives are especially defensive after the defection of two MLAs to the Wildrose Alliance. This defensiveness apparently has spread to the Wildrose Alliance now that the Alberta Party has merged with the Renew Alberta movement

The Wildrose Alliance has the attack dogs out on the Alberta Party questioning a number of things such as the party apparently suspending its constitution as a result of the merger, appointment of board members, etc.

I had to laugh at Jane Morgan’s claim:

“Sorry to disappoint the WAP detractors; but the WAP has absolutely ZERO to do with this. It’s just lil’ol me typing away on an otherwise boring weekend; trying to get to the bottom of some very bizarre switch-a-roos.”

Using someone else to do your political dirty work, paid or unpaid, is a political tactic as old as the hills and helps politicians maintain plausible deniability. I get the impression Ms. Morgan is now a former party official, though I do not know what role she played in the WAP.

I understand what they’re doing. They’re hoping to frame the debate about the Alberta Party as one that is acting illegitimately, in violation of its constitution and without the support of its members.

The Alberta Party could potentially siphon off support from every party as Alberta voters don’t seem to be satisfied with any party at this point. No surprise that the WAP sees the AP as a threat. WAP would like to be the protest party of choice for Albertans. Having two out there muddies the already very murky political waters.

My view of the Alberta Party

Anyone who knows me, knows I have some strong views on politics and I’m suspicious of political parties in general.

I am interested in what is happening with the Alberta Party and may yet participate in their “Big Listen.” Will I vote for them? I can’t say at this point. It really depends on a number of factors.

I think it’s fair to raise questions about the party’s constitution and how that was handled. Political parties do need to ensure they operate according to the rules they’ve laid out for themselves and to ensure they’re in compliance with any government legislation.

Alberta-Party-Big-ListenI would also like to see what policies develop out of the “Big Listen” process and subsequently at any policy convention. I’m not worried, as some anonymous poster is, that the “Big Listen” is similar language used by Hillary Clinton; oh, and also that poster was concerned about “starting conversations.”

So, Democratic party leadership candidates have a monopoly on listening and starting conversations? Does using similar language mean that you have the same policies? Please. Pull your head out of your ass and start listening. Hell, start a conversation while you’re at it.

A key issue for me is the autonomy of party MLAs and party discipline. I believe in free votes on everything.

Political parties should not impose their will on duly elected MLAs. An MLA should always be free to vote according to their conscience and the will of their local electorate. I don’t believe in small- or large-scale authoritarianism. This is one of my main problems with virtually every political party.

I don’t tend to be a labeler and bristle at attempts to label me. I like ideas from across the political spectrum and, really, I am a centrist if you’d like to use the term. Frankly labeling is an overused American political tactic to short-circuit critical thinking. Many Canadian political parties are importing this tactic. Why? I guess their critical thinking skills have been short-circuited. Judging by the political situation in the US and how well everything is going there, do we really need ANY political tactics or policies imported from there?

Open finances

Another concern of mine is that the Alberta Party’s finances be completely open and transparent. That goes for political campaigns as well as leadership campaigns. I have some serious concerns about WAP leader Danielle Smith hiding her leadership campaign supporters and donations from public scrutiny. What does she have to hide?

Furthermore, how can the WAP leader have a party policy of an “open and comprehensive Freedom of Information Act” as well as wanting to “institute strict conflict of interest guidelines facilitated through the Provincial Ethics Commissioner’s office” yet not have her leadership campaign fully open to public scrutiny?

It seems more politics as usual. Money talks and I wonder what money is talking to Danielle Smith? I can bet I know. It’s the same money that talks to everyone in politics in Alberta. That concerns me.

The energy lobby in Alberta is obviously tremendously powerful. We need governments that are transparent, open and not unduly influenced by any lobby. We need a government that implements policies that are in the best interests of Albertans as a whole and do not cater to any lobby.

The citizens of Alberta elect governments, not businesses. That’s not to say that business is not important. It’s not a dichotomy. A balanced approach is appropriate. I’ve been a Chamber of Commerce director and I am fully aware of the needs of small business. I also know that governments tend to focus more on the needs of large business, typically at the expense of small business.

I also believe in a balanced regulatory approach between government and business. The economic meltdown we’re still in is proof that there has to be regulation of business. Business operating without regulation is, quite simply, stupid. Government’s role is to look out for the public interest. Laws and enforcement of those laws is how we keep things fair for everyone.

The supposed architect of the boom and bust, Alan Greenspan, a noted Ayn Rand sycophant, admitted he was wrong about essentially letting business regulate itself. How is it that some could claim one group, government, can’t sufficiently look after the public interest, yet put blind faith in business to do the same? It’s either stupidity, willful ignorance or outright duplicity.

Looking to Alberta’s future

Unfortunately, Alberta governments really haven’t looked that far into the future, looking more towards the next election and staying in power. We need governments that are looking generations ahead. We haven’t had it here. In fact, most governments operate much like large corporations, by the quarter, it seems. Maybe it would pay for Alberta governments to think of Alberta citizens as shareholders? We do have all the voting rights and should be the ones collecting the dividends.

This short-term thinking has to stop. We are facing serious issues on this planet, and while the Alberta government, whatever its political stripe, isn’t going to solve them, it can play a role in not making those problems worse and also look after the interests of Albertans.

These are just some of the things I will be looking at in the Alberta Party. I’ll give them a fair shot, like I have with every other political party. For now I am willing to engage in the listening and conversation, and so should every Albertan because the discussion transcends just one political party.