Sep 242020
 

Reading about Trump’s refusal to commit to the peaceful transfer of power, I suddenly felt the urge to read up on the history of our Canadian provinces during the US Civil War.

As it turns out, Canadian provinces did well economically. And some of Canada’s enduring institutions, seemingly undemocratic yet serving as effective guarantees of political stability and safeguards against excessive partisanship, such as the appointed Senate, were born in the wake of the lessons of that conflict.

Even so, I worry about the future. US elections this November will be unlike any other in living memory, I fear.

 Posted by at 2:06 am
Sep 102020
 

We live in a blessed country. That doesn’t mean that it is a flawless country, not by any means. And we also have occasional cases of political corruption, such as when a leading politician uses his position for partisan advantage.

But…

Here is this news item from The Globe and Mail‘s evening e-mail newsletter that caught my attention:

Morneau breached election laws by using ministerial role to promote Liberal candidates, watchdog says

Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté has found former finance minister Bill Morneau violated federal election laws ahead of the 2019 election by using his government role to promote Liberal candidates.

The decision points to two examples in which Morneau visited Ontario ridings in his capacity as Minister of Finance, but used each visit to promote the local Liberal candidate.

The report determined that the “known quantifiable costs” associated with these events have a commercial value of $1,661. That amount has since been paid back to the government.

So here we have, ladies and gentlemen, a national political scandal, Canada style: it cost Canadian taxpayers the princely sum of $1,661, which has since been paid back to the government.

No, there is no need to remind me that there other, (much) bigger scandals afoot, WE charity and other things, but I still find it encouraging that an ethics lapse amounting to $1,661 is sufficient to rise to the level of national scandal in this country. It reflects a certain degree of innocence that, I hope, will remain a characteristic of Canada for many years to come.

 Posted by at 5:41 pm
Jul 112020
 

Today’s editorial cartoon in the Toronto Star perfectly captures how many Canadians, myself included, feel about the Canada-US border:

What can I say. Things are not looking good in Trumpia. In fact, things are looking so bad that after months of denial, even the narcissist-in-chief decided to wear a bleeping mask today while visiting a hospital.

I have been trying to remember why the American attitudes towards COVID-19 felt vaguely but strangely familiar. It just hit me. It was the 1970s oil crisis, and the general attitude by leaders in the former Soviet Bloc. This was a crisis of the decadent capitalist West, they told us. The pandemic of fuel shortages, mile long lines at gas stations, high energy prices would not reach us, they told us. Well… they were wrong. Just like those Americans who refuse to wear masks, who refuse to take precautions, who refuse to accept the need to shut down nonessential businesses, because, you know, it’s just like a bad case of the flu…

 Posted by at 11:49 pm
Jul 082020
 

I grew up in a country with closed borders. I despise closed borders. I find the right to travel, unimpeded, almost as fundamental as the right to breathe.

Yet… For the time being, I support fully the closure of the US-Canada border. As a matter of fact, I wish it was kept even more tightly closed.

Here is why.

What Americans are doing to themselves is unfathomable. That they have an narcissist idiot, an incompetent imbecile running the White House is one thing. But all the other idiots, from state governors to individual citizens, who ignore the threat, cheer as their nation abandons the World Health Organization, even condemn their immunocompromised children to death?

When you live next to a lunatic asylum, you do want to keep your front door under lock and key.

 Posted by at 1:48 am
Jun 252020
 

Here are the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases per day, here in the province of Ontario:

In the whole of Canada:

In the great United States:

And in the entire world:

The plots tell the story. I don’t think that there is anything that I can add.

 Posted by at 10:26 pm
Apr 132020
 

I haven’t blogged in two weeks. In my excuse, I was rather busy. The good kind of busy, that is, busy with paying work, busy with scientific research, not busy with illness or anything on that front.

Anyhow, even though I haven’t blogged, I’ve been keeping track of the numbers. And for the past few days, a ray of hope began to emerge.

To make a long story short, there are significant signs that mitigation measures are working. Here, this chart shows the doubling rate of COVID-19 infections worldwide:

Infection rates doubled every 5-6 days back in late March; now, the doubling rate is over 15 days and rapidly rising.

Perhaps the world data are manipulated. But then, here is the doubling rate for Canada. The data are much more noisy (the population is much smaller, so this is to be expected) but the similar trend is unmistakable:

But there is another sign that things just might be working. I’ve been following US data in more detail, and lately, the simple SIR model’s predictions began to match the data rather well. If the model is to be believed, we may not be out of the woods quite yet, but we may be surprisingly close:

What a difference a few weeks make: Back in late March, the same model predicted catastrophic numbers. Now, it seems to tell us that we are mere weeks away from life gradually beginning to return to normal.

I dare not believe it just yet, but it is a ray of hope.

 Posted by at 5:14 pm
Mar 292020
 

While I applaud the fact that there are very few partisan voices in Canada, and that governments at all levels constructively cooperate with each other, I cannot help but wonder if the measures taken are sufficient to fight this demon of a virus, COVID-19.

Take these two notifications that I received on my phone from the Radio Canada app yesterday:

  • 11:23 AM: À compter de lundi midi, les Canadiens ayant des symptômes de la COVID-19 ne pourront plus prendre des vols intérieurs ou le train
  • 11:38 AM: Justin Trudeau affirme qu’Ottawa n’envisage pas de fermer les frontières interprovinciales

My question is… why exactly do we still have non-essential travel within Canada? And why exactly are the interprovincial borders still open?

This virus will not be beaten with half-measures. If we are not able to bring down the infection rate, soon an extremely large number of people will become simultaneously sick, completely overwhelming the intensive care capacity of our health care system. Which means that a great many people who could survive with adequate medical care will die.

SIR model prediction based on US data as of March 28, 2020.

See this simple simulation of the US situation that I put together, using the simplest epidemiological model. If its predictions come true, at one point in late April more than 20% of America’s population will be sick. If 5-10% of these patients require intensive care, that is up to 6 million people or more, only a small fraction of which will receive the care that they will need to stay alive. The rest will die. The same thing can happen here in Canada if we don’t take the necessary measures.

 Posted by at 12:45 pm
Mar 172020
 

A Trumpist friend of mine (yes, I have Trump-supporting friends; I refuse to let politicians, left or right, to make me distrust my neighbor just because our political opinions differ) made a disparaging comment about Justin Trudeau, calling him xenophobic on account of Canada shutting its borders to foreigners.

No, my friend, that is not xenophobic. If you want to know why I call the American president a xenophobic asshole (again, forgive my language, dear readers, but I am done being nice to that boneheaded moron), here is a perfect example:

Yes, this is a tweet by a xenophobic schmuck.

 Posted by at 9:29 am
Mar 142020
 

Businesses appear to be somewhat freaked out by the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is that many of these businesses choose to act responsibly, in the public interest, as opposed to trying to turn a global health crisis into short-term profiteering.

Several newspapers and magazines made their COVID-19 coverage accessible even for non-subscribers. In Canada, CBC Newsworld is now carried for free by several cable providers. One of the largest GIS software firms, ESRI, is making tools available for free online.

Even smaller firms follow suit. There is StarNet, makers of X-Win32 and FastX, popular software packages that can be used to access UNIX/Linux servers remotely from Windows workstations. They, too, are now offering free 6-month FastX licenses to anyone, to help facilitate work-from-home arrangements. I have liked this company ever since I first became familiar with their products back in the 1990s; now I like them even more (hence my decision to use their product logo to illustrate this post.)These steps, taken by businesses large and small, give me hope, even as I watch that compulsive liar of an infantile US president who cannot even get his story straight and his opposition who think that the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Trump’s presidency is more important than the number of people the pandemic kills; or as I watch Canadian opposition politicians (looking at your Twitter feed, Andrew Scheer!) who use even COVID-19 as a cheap excuse for Trudeau-bashing. Can you please put this partisan shit aside, follow the lead of the aforementioned businesses, and start acting like, you know, grown-ups?

 Posted by at 11:24 pm
Jan 012020
 

A year ago today, I was looking forward to 2019 with skepticism. I expressed concern about a number of things. Not everything unfolded according to my expectations, and that’s good news. What can I say, I hope 2020 will continue the trend of defying pessimistic predictions.

  • The political crisis in the United States continues to simmer with Trump’s impeachment, but it remains less dramatic than I feared;
  • NATO and the EU remain intact for now, though unresolved issues remain;
  • An orderly Brexit is now possible with Johnson’s election victory; I still think the Brits are shooting themselves in the foot with this idiocy, but an orderly Brexit may be the best possible outcome at this point;
  • Sliding towards authoritarianism in places like Hungary and Poland remains a grave concern, but there is also pushback;
  • Russia continues to muck up things in untoward ways, but there was no significant (e.g., military) escalation;
  • China is ramping up its campaign against the Uyghurs with an ever widening system of concentration camps but there was no significant escalation with respect to their neighbors;
  • Japan, sadly, resumed whaling, but so far I believe the impact is minimal;
  • Brazil continues to wreak havoc in the rain forest, but there is pushback here as well;
  • Lastly, Canada did have elections, but populism was crushed (for now at least) with the defeat of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party.

And now here we are, entering the roaring twenties! A decade that will bring things like Prohibition and organized crime in the United States, institutionalized antisemitism in Hungary, the rise of fascism in Italy, the Great Depression… no, wait, that was a century ago. Here’s to hoping that humanity got a little wiser in the past 100 years.

Speaking of that century, my wife’s Mom and mine can now both tell us that they lived in every decade of a century, having been born in the 30’s and now living in the 20’s.

 Posted by at 12:33 pm
Nov 032019
 

OK, these days I tend to have mostly liberal political views. Trump gives me the creeps. Though not with great enthusiasm, but I rooted for Trudeau over Scheer. More broadly, I prefer a welcoming, open, tolerant society over one that is isolationist and xenophobic. I prefer a comprehensive social safety net even at the expense of higher taxes. And as a middle-aged white man, I am not the least bit worried that I am being marginalized by women or visible minorities; quite the contrary, my concern is that both women and minorities still often face prejudice and stereotypes, and have to fight uphill battles.

But every once in a while, I run into things that just make me want to root for Trump. As in, “in your face, you clowns”.

Like, when, a license plate that clearly alludes to a Star Trek meme is suddenly banned because some social justice warrior finds it offensive.

A perfectly ordinary English word is now banished from Manitoba license plates because it happened to remind someone of the sad history of aboriginal Canadians.

Yes, it seems that resistance is indeed futile. When SJWs arrive, you will be assimilated. And you will not even be allowed to say so, because the word itself gets banned and you’re only allowed to use words from the list approved by Ministry of Tolerance or whatever.

Darn it, let me present my own, slightly modified version of this license plate, appropriate for this occasion I believe:

Just to make it clear, it is not my intent to make light of the suffering that Canada’s aboriginal population experienced for many generations. The cultural genocide, sexual abuse, forced assimilation, broken up families, broken lives, economic deprivation, not to mention all the things that are still going on, from chronic unemployment and inadequate medical care to the lack of clean drinking water (in a supposedly first world country!)… These are all real tragedies, tangible problems and it is Canada’s shame that they remain largely unsolved in 2019.

But none of these problems will be addressed by this cottage industry of phony outrage over ridiculous things like a dictionary word on a bleeping license plate or the words of a 1940s popular song. If anything, letting people supply their own context and find offense in everything achieves the exact opposite. It cheapens genuine, real concerns and subjects them to ridicule, ultimately harming the very people that these fearless warriors of political correctness are pretending to defend. In reality, of course, that’s not what they are doing. Rather, they are Trump’s counterparts on the opposite end of the political palette: narcissistic poseurs, infantile hypocrites playing the self-aggrandizing role of valiant defenders of the faithful.

 Posted by at 2:15 pm
Jun 182019
 

So on the one hand… here I am, praising Canada for being true to its values, only to learn yesterday that Quebec’s provincial legislature approved a ban on “religious symbols”. Not once in my life did I worry when I was being served by a person wearing a kippa, a cross, a turban or a headscarf that nature that they might discriminate against me. Should I have been? Perhaps naively, I always felt privileged to live in a society in which persons wearing kippas, crosses, turbans or headscarves were welcome, even into positions of authority. But now I am worried that a person whose religion demands wearing a kippa, a cross, a turban or a headscarf will not be allowed to serve me anymore. And that’s even before I look at the more hypocritical aspects of the bill.

But then, I learn that south of the border, social justice warriors scored another “victory”: at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, they managed to get the name of silent era film star Lillian Gish stripped from the university’s Gish Film Theater because a student union protested on account of her role in the rather racist 1915 silent classic Birth of a Nation.

I fundamentally disagree with the idea of judging the past by the standards of the present. I dare hope that our societies are becoming better over time, and thus our standards are higher, but it is grossly unfair to the memory of those from generations ago when they are judged by standards that did not even exist at the time. But putting all that aside… isn’t it obvious that such acts of cultural intolerance (committed, ironically, in the name of tolerance) are just oil on the fire? That those who are behind the rise of xenophobia, nationalism, racism and intolerance will see such acts as proof that their grievances of valid, that it is truly they (and by “they”, I mean mostly middle-aged or older white men) who are being prosecuted here?

Are these truly the only choices out there? Xenophobic nationalism and Islamophobia vs. social justice militants? Where have all the sane people gone? Please come back wherever you are and help put an end to this madness.

 Posted by at 5:44 pm
Jun 132019
 

The news this morning is that former PM Jean Chrétien suggested that Canada should stop the extradition proceedings against Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, as a means to win back the freedom of the two Canadian hostages in China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. (Yes, I called them hostages.)

The case against Huawei runs a lot deeper, however, than the financial fraud Ms. Meng is alleged by US authorities to have committed.

There is also the question of espionage, including the possibility that Huawei’s 5G equipment cannot be trusted because of firmware or hardware level backdoors.

I repeatedly encountered the suggestion that this issue can be trivially remedied by using end-to-end encryption. Unfortunately, end-to-end encryption, even if properly implemented (ignoring for the moment our own Western governments’ recurrent pleas to have built-in backdoors in any such encryption algorithms), solves only part of the problem.

It still allows Huawei to steal metadata, such as where calls are routed or the amount and nature of data traffic between specific endpoints. Worse yet, no encryption prevents Huawei from potentially sabotaging the network when called upon to do so by the Chinese government.

For this reason, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that the US ban against Huawei is justified and appropriate. It must, of course, be accompanied by a suitable increase in spending on researching 5G communications technologies, because otherwise, we risk shooting ourselves in the foot by banning the use of equipment that is technologically superior to the available alternatives. This is a new situation for the West: The last time the West faced a great power adversary that matched Western scientific and technological capabilities was in the 1930s, with Nazi Germany.

As for Ms. Meng, I think the suggestion to suspend the extradition process is wholly inappropriate. It would signal to the world that Canada is willing to suspend the rule of law for the sake of hostages. However strongly I feel about Messrs. Kovrig and Spavor, however strongly I desire to see them released, this is not a price Canada should be willing to pay.

 Posted by at 5:56 pm
Jan 232019
 

When I was growing up, everybody expected the world to eventually go up in flames.

I mean, this was during the heyday of the Cold War. Had you asked any adult in the mid-1960s, anywhere in North America or Europe, if the world would survive without nuclear Armageddon to the year 2000, most would have said, not a chance. Even Star Trek predicted a global conflict sometime in the mid-1990s.

Yet here we are, in 2019, and the world is still in one piece. (Yes, despite the efforts of certain, ahem, notable persons. But allow me not to go there at this time.)

And we no longer seem to be concerned with civil defense. But back in the 1950s, 1960s, that was not the case. In the “duck and cover” era, civil defense was very important.

And thus it came to be that Canada’s Emergency Measures Organization even commissioned illustrations that show well-known Ottawa landmarks turned into ruin by war.

The images of the Chateau Laurier, Parliament’s Peace Tower, and the War Memorial appear uncannily realistic. Almost photographic in quality, they could serve as storyboard images for a post-apocalyptic computer game.

Much as I like computer games like that, such as the Fallout or Metro series, I hope we never get to see in reality what these images depict.

 Posted by at 8:01 pm
Dec 142018
 

The news came a few days ago: Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig has been arrested in China, in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

Michael WHAT, I asked? Kovrig? As in, K-O-V-R-I-G?

You see, Kovrig is not at all a common surname. And it so happens that my stepfather’s last name is Kovrig.

Not just that but… we know another Kovrig (no relation, none that we know anyway). My parents came to know this Kovrig as a result of a chance encounter, but ultimately, they helped him purchase an apartment in the same building where they live. So this Kovrig lives two floors above my Mom and my stepfather, in Budapest.

And Michael Kovrig, former Canadian diplomat, is his nephew.

A few years ago, I was about to be offered an opportunity to take part in a Chinese research effort. My participation would have involved access to data that Chinese authorities might have viewed as military secrets. I backed out for this very reason. The last thing I needed in my life was the possibility, however remote, that I would end up in Chinese custody, accused of espionage. Later, I was wondering if I simply made a fool of myself; Was there any real danger that I might get into trouble, or was I simply pretentious?

Kovrig’s arrest is a wake-up call. This time, lightning struck uncomfortably close. Much as I regret not taking part in that very interesting and promising piece of research (and it would have been an honor to be invited) I am glad I backed out.

I hope Kovrig is released soon. I hope his arrest helps others realize that beneath the spectacular economic growth and the undeniable successes, China is still fundamentally a communist police state, whose methods of choice are bullying and violence.

 Posted by at 5:07 pm
Nov 112018
 

One hundred years ago today, at 11 AM Paris time (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month), the War to End All Wars itself ended.

We know what happened in the century that followed. Communism. Fascism. Totalitarianism. Another World War. The Holocaust. Invasion and civil war in China. Nuclear bombs dropped in anger. The Cold War. Korea. Colonial and post-colonial wars like Vietnam.

Yet there is hope that we are becoming wiser. The world as a whole has been largely peaceful for 73 years. No more world wars, no more wars between major powers. Nuclear weapons, so far, proved to be peacemakers instead of annihilating civilization. More people live in peace, have their basic rights respected, have access to a basic education, safe drinking water, basic health care and sufficient nutrition than ever before.

But… When I was in my 20s, politicians in power were all leaders who have seen war. Leaders who were less interested in winning wars than in avoiding them. Put the likes of Kennedy or Khrushchev, Nixon or Brezhnev, even Stalin in a room, and while they might have disagreed on just about everything, they would have agreed on this one.

Not anymore. Our fearless leaders today have not experienced war. Therefore, they may no longer consider avoiding major war a supreme imperative. And when I listen to the rhetoric of Trump, Putin, even French President Macron when he speaks in favor of a joint European army, I realize that for these leaders, war is no longer something they fear, but rather, something they are confident they can win.

Which is why it is especially important to celebrate November 11, 1918, for what it really is: The end of a nightmare. A nightmare in which even the victors weren’t truly victorious, as they all lost a lot and gained very little. A nightmare that ended decades of peace and prosperity and plunged the world into decades of darkness. For the peace that followed was an uneasy one: instead of a safer world, communism was born and the seeds of fascism were sown in 1917-18.

 Posted by at 11:36 am
Oct 022018
 

I just watched a news conference held by the University of Waterloo, on account of Donna Strickland being awarded the Nobel prize in physics.

This is terrific news for Canada, for the U. of Waterloo, and last but most certainly not least, for women in physics.

Heartfelt congratulations!

 Posted by at 7:49 pm
Aug 252018
 

Imagine a health care system that is created and managed without the help of doctors. Imagine getting radiation treatment without the help of medical physicists.

Imagine an education system that is created and managed without educators.

Imagine a system of highways and railways created and managed without transportation engineers.

Imagine an electrical infrastructure that is created and managed without electrical engineers. Nuclear power plants without physicists. An economy that is managed without professional economists. A communications infrastructure created and managed without radio engineers, software and network engineers.

This is Doug Ford’s vision for the province of Ontario, presented by none other than Doug Ford himself through his Twitter feed, as he proudly proclaims that his government, his party, won’t listen to academics: the very people that we pay so that they learn and offer their professional knowledge for the benefit of the public.

Guess this is what happens when ideology and blatant populism trump facts. (Pun unintended, but disturbingly appropriate.)

 Posted by at 3:35 pm
Jun 202018
 

And in case anyone wonders why these “evildoers” from South America are ignoring American law and cross the border illegally…

They do so because they are prevented from legally presenting themselves at a port of entry by US border agents.

Today, I e-mailed our Member of Parliament, Mona Fortier, asking her to urge our government and our Prime Minister to suspend the “safe third country” agreement with the United States. A country that behaves in this manner is not a safe third country by any stretch of definition.

Dear Ms. Fortier,

As one of your loyal constituents, I’d like to urge you to press our Government and our Prime Minister to consider suspending the Safe Third Party agreement with Trump’s America. What is happening in the United States is unconscionable (and in a case of life imitating art, eerily resembling story elements from The Handmaid’s Tale) and now, especially with that country’s withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, I believe this step would not only be justified but outright necessary, in order to protect our Canadian values, which, I know, you, your party, and our Government strongly believe in.

Sincerely,

Viktor T. Toth

 Posted by at 4:47 pm