The Rants of Issachar

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Michael Ignatieff - Playing politics with abortions

I voted for the Conservatives in the last election. I thought St├ęphane Dion and his platform were just a bad idea. But I like the idea of a revived Liberal party. I want to be faced with a choice between two excellent parties with good candidates.

But Michael Ignatieff continues to disappoint. (Don't get me started on the fact that the Liberal candidate in my riding is now the famous but utterly unqualified Ross Rebagliati.)

The catalyst for Ignatieff's idiocy was Stephen Harper's plan to focus G8 efforts on improving maternal and infant health throughout the world. This is as non-controversial as topics come, but the man who would be Prime Minister decided that it was the opportunity to bring up abortion and play politics with it.

To begin with, Mr. Ignatieff is categorically wrong when he declares that Canada has had a pro-choice consensus for years. We don't. We have a consensus that we disagree and that our disagreement crosses political lines. We know that turning it into a national war will achieve nothing for anybody. We cannot agree. This is the polar opposite of a consensus.

Discussions about abortion in Canada largely take place outside of the political arena and are focussed on changing minds than on changing laws and this is a good thing. Many Liberals are pro-life and many Conservatives are pro-choice. Most of the public falls somewhere in between. We think that laws against early abortions would be extremely difficult to justify, but we also think that actually performing abortions late in pregnancy is also very hard to justify. This isn't a "pro-choice" or a "pro-life" stance.

Into this delicate topic and without any cause to do so, Mr. Ignatieff choose to "lay down a marker".


I can only think of two possibilities. The first is that he's an extreme supporter of abortion, holds a view of it far outside the Canadian mainstream and he has an agenda that he wants to push but hasn't told us about it yet. The other and more likely possibility is that he's trying to drag up the old "Harper has a hidden agenda" plank of the Liberal platform. Although this possibility is better than the first, it's still terribly worrisome. Mr. Ignatieff seems prepared to pull the pin on the abortion grenade all by himself in search of a few extra political points.

Honestly, I keep trying to find reasons to like Mr. Ignatieff. I want the Liberals to play the long game and give me a reason to vote for them rather than merely against another party. Michael Ignatieff has got to stop pulling stupid stunts like this one.

:: posted by Issachar, 12:48 PM | Permalink | 1 comments | Links to this post

Public health care and Danny Williams

It seems that Danny Williams, the Premier of Newfoundland went to the US for cardiac surgery. The Premier's office says that the procedure was not available in Newfoundland, but that's about all they're saying. They're pointedly not saying that the procedure wasn't available in Canada. This glaring ommission makes it rather obvious that the procedure was in fact available in Canada, but for his own reasons Mr. Williams chose to go to the United States rather than another province under Medicare.

I should begin by saying that I don't begrudge Mr. Williams' decision to forgo the Canadian option. Canadian health care is excellent, but if you've got the money for ultra-premium care it's possible to buy better or faster care in the US. That's the difference between the US and Canadian systems. The difference isn't in quality, it's the focus. Canada delivers excellent and universal coverage whereas the US delivers excellence and choice. Mr. Williams is apparently quite wealthy and if he chooses to spend his money on private health care that's up to him. I might well do the same, and I think that everyone should be allowed to choose to spend their own money on their care if they wish to. Some might choose it for convenience, some because while it might not be strictly necessary in their case, faster care would give them a peace of mind is worth more to them than a luxury car. The reasons aren't relevant.

The problem is that we can't do this. Not in Canada. In Canada it's illegal to provide any private health care for something the public system covers. So it's illegal to buy or sell "premium" health insurance and I think that's indefensible. Universal public health care is necessary due to our moral obligation to care for our fellow man, but it's no secret that if you've got millions of dollars to spend, superior care does exist. The catch is that we can't spend millions of dollars on every citizen. (Nor can an insurance company for that matter.) But making private care illegal does nothing to improve universal health care. It only denies premium health care to those who could afford it, and it does so on the indefensible premise that unless everyone can have something, everyone must be denied it.

So back to Mr. Williams. While his choices are his own, he's a provincial premier and an outspoken defender of Canada's single payer system. That's the same single-payer system that denies Canadians the legal right to buy extra insurance or care if they feel it's necessary. Mr. Williams' surgery clearly demonstrates this ban doesn't stop more fortunate Canadians from buying premium care. It only drives up the cost and unnecessarily denies it to some who could otherwise afford it.

This presents Mr. Williams with an opportunity. When he's recovered from his surgery he can tell Canadians that while he could have received excellent care in Canada, he's fortunate enough to be able to afford the private option and he choose it for his own reasons. So he's going to continue to support universal publicly funded health care as it changes to stay viable, but he will end the disgraceful ban on a parallel private system in his province and use his considerable influence to encourage other Premiers to do the same.

Excellent universal health care coverage is a moral obligation on any modern country. (As an aside, I think it's disgraceful that a country as great as the United States lacks it.) Unfortunately, Canadians fear that a parallel private health care would mean the end of universal coverage. Such a fear is small minded. The dual systems of modern democracies all over the world show this isn't true. We must stop letting the flaws in American health care stop us from improving our own.

:: posted by Issachar, 12:01 AM | Permalink | 0 comments | Links to this post

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Kindle vs. iPad - You still can't buy the book.

The Globe and Mail's Report on Business reported today that shares of have dropped in part due to fears that the iPad represents a threat to the sales of the Kindle and ebooks.

I could write about the iPad being a lousy book reader because unlike the Kindle's screen, the iPad's performs abysmally in sunlight. I could write about the iPad having fundamental flaws like the lack of a webcam or the inability to display common web pages. I could write about the fact that Apple won't let people install any software except the stuff they approve of and are thus trying to turn computers into phones when what we really want is computers in our pockets.

But I'd rather write about the false perception that Amazon actually sells books on the Kindle and that Apple wants to sell books on the iPad. They don't sell books. They don't even sell electronic books. They sell you a license to read text displayed on a specific device and that's not the same thing.

Consider the fact that you can't buy a used e-book. It's not that it's technologically impossible. It has been deliberately made technically difficult to transfer an e-book to another person, but it's completely possible. But it's also illegal because you don't own the book. You never bought the book.

You might ask what difference the license makes if you can read the book anyway. After all, isn't that the point? The difference is that the assumptions you have about what you're allowed to do with your "ebook license" are wrong. You're thinking of books and this is licensing. You are only allowed to do things specifically allowed in the license.

Here's a brief list of the things you're legally forbidden to do. You can't sell the book when you're done. You can't give the book to someone else when you're done. You can't donate the book to the library when you're done. You can't loan the book to your friend for a month or two. (No, this isn't an unavoidable technological problem. It's a legal restriction not a technical one.) But here's the real kicker for most people; you can't transfer your so-called "books" to your new reader and use it instead. Amazon or Apple might let you transfer the license to a new version of their reader, but that's entirely up to them. Do you think they'll be inclined to let you transfer it to a competitors reader?

You never bought the book.

None of these are necessary drawbacks to an electronic device. They're deliberate decisions on the part of vendors to try to build a particular business model which has no benefits for you. I enjoy physical books, but I could easily find myself enjoying electronic books as well if anyone ever decides to sell such a thing.

:: posted by Issachar, 11:04 PM | Permalink | 0 comments | Links to this post