Category Archives: Politics and Policy

Musings provoked by political and election posturing, and thoughts on public policy debates.

The Vitamin D Solution

Moving tentatively through the dark and unfamiliar hallway, I don’t quite stumble into the walls.  Reaching the entrance to the kitchen without incident, I hit all the light switches.  The low-energy lightbulbs in the over-height ceiling take a few minutes to come up to their full specified luminescence, so it’s all hands on deck.

With one hand I grope for the electric kettle: In this American rental, it’s a small miracle that speaks of a Canadian landlord.  With the other I turn on the tap with just one thought: Tea.  Everything else can wait: Caffeine takes priority.

My morning mental fog is still swirling, but the room’s morning murk is lifting, and I notice the plastic bottle on the ledge above the sink.  Without thinking, I rap it sharply on the counter to de-glom the pills, flip the cap open, and pop my prescribed daily dosage of the sunshine vitamin.

Vitamin D pills can languish for years in my cupboard, passing their best-before date through inattention.  But when they’re out in full sight I take them pretty reliably.  Even in the morning.

As I move through my breakfast preparations, I think about how easy it is to do the right thing when it’s right in front of me.  Putting my vitamins on the ledge above the sink, laying out my exercise clothes the night before, highlighting my chores or projects on the calendar: These are all simple but effective self-management tactics.

It’s easy to organize my house to support the things I want to do better.  Can we organize our communities to support the things we want to do better?  What would it look like for societal goals to be out in full sight—things like better foster care, clean water for remote communities, and decent jobs for everyone who wants to work—with immediate and practical actions right at hand?


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Filed under New Perspectives, Politics and Policy

What Do You Want?

Establish and maintain the aim.
– First principle of war as told to me
by retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces

Selection and maintenance of the aim.
– Master principle of war as defined by
Canadian Armed Forces doctrine and by the British Army

Objective – Direct every military operation toward
a clearly defined, decisive and attainable objective.
First listed principle of war, per the United States Armed Forces

It’s one idea, I can see that.  Maybe it’s the editor cum project manager in me that makes me prefer the first version.  Clear.  Direct.  Action oriented.

Establish and maintain the aim.
Continue reading

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Filed under Politics and Policy

Sucky Timing, Sound Advice

I watch in horror as my errant curling rock careens through the house.  Before I threw my shot we’d been lying two; now, our opponents are lying three.  Yikes.  Did I really do that?


I look up to see my father on his feet, gesturing at me through the glass to meet him at the door onto the ice.  I jog down to see what he wants to tell me.  Maybe he has some way I can recall my last shot.

Nope.  Continue reading

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Filed under Politics and Policy, Sports and Exercise

The Great State

“Home of the first city in the USA to institute an 8-hour work day for non-unionized carpenters in 1890 . . .

Home of the first woman under 45 to be elected to a school board . . .

Home of the regional log-rolling champions in 1976 . . .

And home—three years running!—of the winner of the award for Best Teacher in the Midwest . . .

the Great State of Snicklefritz casts both its votes for the next President of these United States, our Presumptive Nominee.”

Forget the speeches—both insipid and inspired—by family members, preachers, businesswomen, victims of crime, police and military veterans, politicians, and veteran politicians.  Forget the cheering and the intermittent booing.  Forget those conspicuous by their absence, and those who maybe should have been absent.  Forget the self-serving partisan commentary.  After catching bits of both the Republican and Democratic conventions on TV over the last two weeks, I find it’s the roll call of the States which stands out in my mind.  Continue reading

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Filed under Politics and Policy

The Twelve

On average, twelve babies and little kids die every minute somewhere in the world. Twelve. Every minute.

“Yikes!” you might be thinking. “Does anyone know about this?”

Well, yes, a few folks. In 2000, the UN adopted several Millennium Development Goals: The fourth goal aimed to reduce the 1990 mortality rate among under-five children by two thirds, by 2015.

But here it is 2015 – as you may have noticed – and we’re not going to meet that goal. Why not? Is it because we don’t understand the problem?

Nope. Let’s go through it, point by point, in plain language.

Where do they die?

“Not here, or not so much” is the simple answer. For children born in 2002, the under-5 death rate per 1,000 varied dramatically depending on where they were born:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa? 174
  • South Asia? 97
  • Canada? 8 (for on-reserve Aboriginals)
  • Industrialized countries in general? 7
  • Canada? 5.5 (for everyone except on-reserve Aboriginals)

How do they die?

As the World Health Organization notes matter-of-factly, “More than half of these early child deaths are due to conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, affordable interventions.”

Chart of causes of death before age 5.

Simple, affordable interventions! All right then!

What are we waiting for?

Well, we’re not waiting, exactly. Globally, from 1990 to 2013, we reduced the deaths per 1,000 from 90 to 46. That’s the good news.

Chart showing drop from 90/1000 to 46/1000 deaths, 1990 to 2013.
But, in some places, mortality rates have actually been rising since 1990: sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq, and countries in the former Soviet Union, for example.  None of these places are beacons of democracy.

So, We Just Need to Enhance Freedom, Right?

Well, yes and no.  Overall, “more freedom” correlates with “lower death rates,” but the relationship isn’t as neat as I might wish, that’s for sure.  As shown in this chart, which sorts countries by their Freedom Index, some countries under-perform and some outperform – and by a lot.  In this regard, India really bothers me – How can such a free country be doing so badly? –  but, on the other hand, I’d love to know what Sri Lanka and Malaysia are doing right, defying what look to be the odds against them.

Chart showing death rates for children under 5, sorted by freedom index of country.

What’s next?

Ah, this is the question, isn’t it?  Let’s recap:

  • On average, twelve babies and little kids die every minute. Twelve.
  • We know where they are.
  • We know how to save at least half of them, simply and affordably (simply AND affordably, dagnab it).
  • The reasons that countries vary on this measure look to be complex.

Like many things in life, if it were simple it would already have been done.  And while it might not be clear exactly where to start, I think I’ll start by paying attention more than once a year.


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Filed under Politics and Policy