Thursday, July 8, 2010

Letter to my MP RE: G20

The first draft of my letter I'm writing to my MP. If anyone sees any problems please email me/comment. I'm going to send it tomorrow after I re-read it and edit it with a fresh set of eyes. Obviously this is fully open and anyone can use this in whole or in part.


I am writing to express my utmost concern over the actions of my government on both the federal and provincial level as well as the policing action that occurred during the G20 summit in Toronto. As you are no doubt aware it was the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. Over 1000 people were arrested and less than 25 percent of them were charged with any crime other than “breach of the peace”. This demands an inquiry by a neutral and respected third-party that does not hold conflicts of interest in the situation. The Conservative federal government, the provincial Liberals as well as the various police forces involved do not meet that requirement. The recent announcement of a public review is a nice first step but still grossly inadequate.

I will start by saying this is not a partisan letter and I do not want a partisan response. Both major parties had a role in this disaster. Premier McGuinty and his government secretly met and updated a regulation, The Public Works Protection Act, which restricted movement and curtailed numerous charter rights inside of the security fence. I find this unusual and puzzling as I was under the impression that there was already legislation in place allowing the government to restrict movement around an area when foreign dignitaries were present.

What I find extremely troubling was the manner it was used. The police chief of Toronto Mr. Bill Blair knew that it only applied to the inside of the fence yet allowed the public to believe it was 5 metres outside of the fence. He purposely deceived the public and is on record admitting it at a news conference in the name of public safety.

What I find absolutely appalling is that the act was never actually needed. The police were given free-reign to search anyone in a multi-block radius away from the security fence at random. This is a gross violation of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that I do not take lightly. Even if you believe that these powers were necessary it is the government’s role to pass legislation so that you are held accountable to your constituents. The police have absolutely no right to systemically violate our Constitution in the name of public safety. Unfortunately that was not the worst of the violations we incurred on our civil liberties.

After the brief period of property damage that occurred on Saturday, something that I obviously condemn, it appears a more important Charter right was suspended. Hundreds of peaceful protesters and bystanders were deprived of their freedom without any justified reason. Violence elsewhere in a city does not give the police unchecked power to detain those in that city. I will not get into the numerous cases but surrounding a protest and arresting everyone in order to possibly find several vandals is abhorrent. It is suppressing dissent in one of its purest forms.

Protesting became de facto illegal on Saturday evening and Sunday. If you were in a peaceful protest you were sometimes given a choice to disperse or to be arrested. Sometimes you weren’t given that choice, you were simply arrested. This wasn’t an isolated incident. It was a systemic decision by assumedly police leadership as it would be illegal for the government to give specific orders. This is another flagrant violation of our Charter Rights. The federal government can declare wartime powers to detain without charges as well as search and seize property. The police cannot for a very good reason. They are not elected officials and therefore not accountable to the public at large. Most of their investigations are done by the people involved with issuing these orders on the G20 weekend. This brings me to why a fully independent public inquiry is needed.

Bill Blair, the Toronto Chief of Police, has been caught lying and deceiving the public on numerous occasions. This is not a statement of opinion. It is fact. The weapons that his forces showcased included very few actual weapons. Some of the most dangerous items that he had were: flaming arrows, a crossbow, a chainsaw, medieval armour, and unknown liquids. The armour and arrows were a costume by a fantasy role player that was taken from him by the police well outside of the G20 area and the crossbow and chainsaw were utterly unrelated as well. The police chief and his staff were incompetent, illiterate or deceitful. None of which make him suitable to be a part of an inquiry other than as a witness to be cross-examined. He also admitted, as I mentioned earlier, to purposefully misleading the public for the sake of public safety in regards to the Public Works and Protection Act.

This is a small snippet of easily available information. There is much more out there to strengthen my argument but as it stands I think the conclusion is clear. We cannot have an investigation of police conduct undertaken by this man and expect the results to be credible. How can you possibly expect the public to trust him to be impartial after this?

The response I see repeatedly from various levels of government is that there are avenues available to those who feel they were mistreated by police. I find this problematic in a few ways. The systems in place are not for gross violations of civil liberties. Quashing dissent by eliminating peaceful protests isn’t something that one person can argue very well. No one person has to be beaten or arrested for the police to successfully do this. Marching through a park and clearing people out accomplishes that goal quite well. In this case people were arbitrarily arrested and in some occasions allegedly beaten or abused. This is a traumatic event and also could instil somewhat irrational (yet warranted to some degree) fear of the police and government. If you were recently arbitrarily arrested without cause and put in third-world detention facilities do you actually think that they are going to still have the same level of trust in the system? Do you not think that it is understandable that some people will be scared to come forward?

If you take issue with any factual statement I have made I encourage you to either call me or respond in writing and I will be happy to provide evidence of my claims. I also encourage you to view videos posted on the internet. I am not saying that there isn’t an explanation for some of the police violence that is so apparent. We don’t have all the answers but we, the public deserve a full and impartial inquiry to determine if there were any justifications to all of the travesties we witnessed. Violence undertaken by criminals does not make us all criminals. If we are forced to give up civil liberties for security on the whim of an unelected police force they exist only on paper.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Security for Freedom is not the Answer - Statement to Mr. Blair

Mr. Blair, police chief of Toronto, you wilfully deceived the public and you were caught by the media red-handed. This is not a statement of opinion. It is fact. My opinion is that you should resign and surrender yourself to an independent inquiry. That will not happen unless you are forced to by political and public pressure.

Dalton McGuinty and The Ministry of Community Safety by not speaking out and informing us about the misconstruction of the regulation that was actually passed were abetting this behaviour. They allowed a police officer to create laws in an ad hoc manner in the name of public safety.

It doesn’t matter if no one was charged under these fake laws. The illegal searches and demands for ID the police undertook during the G20, sometimes kilometres away from the zone that only existed in Mr. Blair’s twisted narcissistic mind acted as an intimidation tactic that stifled free expression.

You admitted that you intentionally suppressed civil liberties unlawfully and systemically while countering with a smile and response saying, "No, but I was trying to keep the criminals out". In the same press conference he then claimed that the police should be allowed to investigate themselves. That is an outrage and no citizen of this country should find this behaviour acceptable.

During a press conference Mr. Blair displayed the cache of ‘weapons’(Globe’s report here). I fully admit I was laughing when I saw them but that laughter was tempered rather quickly when I realized the level of deceit the police chief was willing to go to in order to save face from the disaster you presided over. The most menacing weapons, the chainsaw and crossbow were utterly unrelated to the G20.

You specifically mentioned arrows tipped with socks that could be used in a medieval style flaming arrow tactic and chain mail. Actually no, you were again lying or at absolute best not subjecting this display to the most basic scrutiny because the outcome was more relevant than the truth. The arrows and chainmail were taken from a fantasy role player on his way to live action role playing. He cut the tips off and covered them with a pool-noodle and a sock. This wasn’t some grunt that put something in the wrong place. You explained what the arrows were supposedly used for.

You and your officers are either grossly incompetent, illiterate in that they couldn’t read the label on the evidence bag or overtly deceitful. Take your pick but I think you know my opinion. The fact the press caught this is nice but also raises the question; did you really not think that the press wouldn’t notice? I knew the crossbow was seized earlier and was unrelated. It made the news. Did you think that the very reporters who covered it would have forgotten in three days? The press should appear more formidable to politicians and police than that.

What happens if your internal investigation finds some real dirt? Perhaps the allegations of police sexually assaulting women are true. Maybe you or a lieutenant gave the order in writing to search everyone in the city regardless of reasonable cause, contrary to our laws. If that information is released there is a chance it could be a “public safety issue”. Maybe riots will start over it; the chance certainly is above zero. By the logic you have presented so far, basically “The ends justify the means” it would be very reasonable to assume you would try your damndest to have the information suppressed.

It goes without saying I denounce those who came to the city and committed violence. That is why we have police to stop criminals and protect the public. We also have something else called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that exists to protect the public from internal threats. Threats from people like you. People who believe civil liberties are a great thing as long as it doesn’t interfere with security. We don’t have these beacons of freedom in our Constitution to allow someone to complain politely on the state’s terms. We have them so political expression cannot be stifled and a government can be deposed by education and peacefully at the ballot box when they no longer represent us, the people.

The fact that I am focusing on this issue, not the vandals in Toronto is purely a matter of incentives. You have every incentive to charge more people with crimes and the incentive to cover up the crimes committed by your officers. I have no doubt you will try your absolute hardest to bring justice down on the criminals. It is in your interest as well as mine.

Any time civil liberties are suppressed temporarily, and there may be times in the future where they need to be, it needs to be done at the federal government with full accountability. We have the War Measures Act. They will be forced to explain themselves to the people and we can decide whether they get to keep their jobs. It cannot, it must not, take place by an unelected official such as a police chief who has shown himself to be a chronic liar.

UPDATE: As a commenter mentioned Mr. Blair claimed that protesters disrupted repatriation ceremonies. Put up or shut up. This video showed silent protesters and police officers showing the respect our soldiers deserved. If there is evidence of the protesters disrespecting our war dead coming home I will be beyond angry. I believe it should be legal but legal doesn't mean morally right. It would be despicable.

On the other hand if Mr. Blair lied AGAIN, which appears to be the case, and used our fallen soldiers as an objects to his political games this man's convictions and beliefs should be categorized with the lowest rung of our society.

UPDATE II: There is allegations that protesters in black did move towards the repatriation ceremony. I am unsure at this point. My point still stands. I am basing this on available evidence and if any person reading this has more evidence I will gladly post it.

Friday, June 25, 2010


As most people around the world know the G8 and G20 summits are taking place this weekend in Ontario. There has been well over a billion dollars spent on security for this event. I'm not going to comment on that other than that I am quite confused how it can cost many tens of times more than security for other summits. I know it will be expensive and when you start talking in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars numbers don't mean very much.

Anyways that is a separate issue, what I am venting about the implementation of the Public Works Protection Act as well as parts of the act itself. The entire text can be found here but the relevant parts are as follows:

Powers of guard or peace officer

3.A guard or peace officer,

(a) may require any person entering or attempting to enter any public work or any approach thereto to furnish his or her name and address, to identify himself or herself and to state the purpose for which he or she desires to enter the public work, in writing or otherwise;

(b) may search, without warrant, any person entering or attempting to enter a public work or a vehicle in the charge or under the control of any such person or which has recently been or is suspected of having been in the charge or under the control of any such person or in which any such person is a passenger; and

(c) may refuse permission to any person to enter a public work and use such force as is necessary to prevent any such person from so entering. R.S.O. 1990, c. P.55, s. 3

And the definition of public works is:

“public work” includes,

(a) any railway, canal, highway, bridge, power works including all property used for the generation, transformation, transmission, distribution or supply of hydraulic or electrical power, gas works, water works, public utility or other work, owned, operated or carried on by the Government of Ontario or by any board or commission thereof, or by any municipal corporation, public utility commission or by private enterprises,

(b) any provincial and any municipal public building, and

(c) any other building, place or work designated a public work by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. (“ouvrage public”) R.S.O. 1990, c. P.55, s. 1.

Some of this is rather non-controversial. I think most people would agree that a man with his face covered and a backpack on shouldn't be given free access to a municipal building or power station. The last sentence I quoted however I find rather shocking. It basically means that the Ontario government can declare any place in the province as being under this act and thereby waiving your rights to unreasonable search and seizure, your right to not have to identify yourself while walking on public property and curtailing your freedom of movement.

So now within 5 metres of the G20 fencing that is now dominating Toronto this act now applies where it did not before. In early June the Ontario government designated the 5m zone without making a public announcement. It is due to appear in writing July 3rd, after the summit, but available online now. This is ridiculous on a few counts. Secretly changing a law in how the public deals with police is counter-productive from every angle. A man was arrested after he refused to identify himself, the police apparently did tell him a new law was in force but frankly until police can get in serious trouble for lying there is very good reason to be skeptical of such claims. It should have been announced at least a month before so that lawyers will relay these changes to protesters and the public at large who ask and there should be signs on every fence declaring that your rights will be reduced if you are within the zone. Not doing this will create anger and fuel contempt against the police making their jobs harder.

Curtailing rights guaranteed to us by our Charter shouldn't be an issue taken lightly. The police chief said, correctly I may add, that this wasn't new legislation it was using the old Public Works Act. I'm not a lawyer and I won't comment on the legality of the entire act but frankly that is besides the point. What the province did was arbitrarily post a limit where our constitutional rights weaken. Of course we need to have limits on certain freedoms. But doing this in secret I consider to be abhorrent. How far could they have gone? Could they have said 10 or 20 metres? Entire streets? Neighbourhoods? This should have been a public matter and elected officials should have had to have their names behind it.

More arguments could be made for and against the morality and legality of what the legislature did but I think we should all say, with one voice, that we don't want our Charter Right's violated in secret in the name of a security threat. It is an old argument but very valid, if we blindly give up freedoms at the first sign of trouble we really don't have them.

I'm not here saying "police state Gestapo Nazi's are coming to arrest you if you disagree with Harper". If that were the case it would be a more clear-cut fight. Instead we have a more subtle creep of civil liberties being traded for 'security'. As a society we need authorities to be able to execute search warrants, arrest people with evidence, not smoking gun proof, but these infringements of personal freedom are done in the open with oversight. If we give police these sort of powers you have to expect they will use them to their fullest extent. As citizens we cannot count on discretion, especially when parts of the act allow the word of the police to be treated as fact under oath. Look at the newspaper, the RCMP officers (or at least some of them) are right now being accused of lying during the investigation of Robert Dziekanski's death. Police are people, they are generally good but they make mistakes and are now under psychological pressures and constant stress.

Bottom line, I find parts of this act very questionable but what really offends me is that this act is able to reduce our civil liberties and arrest people for expressing them, totally unaware of that change. I would like to blame it partly on incompetence in government but I don't think the evidence points that way. It points to a mob-mentality in police leadership who have been given a blank cheque in resources, both financial and in their conduct.

This doesn't come close North Korea or the former USSR but it is still so very wrong.

UPDATE: Here is a letter sent by the CCLA to Hon. Rick Bartolucci

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quantum Mechanics Primer

Quantum mechanics is one of the most peculiar, counter-intuitive and interesting physical theories that has ever been developed by science. The world of the very small has only been accessible for approximately one hundred years. This relatively short period has spawned a wealth of knowledge highlighting the elegance and subtlety of the natural world. I am going to go over the history and the very basics of quantum physics before I try to tackle some people who misunderstand (or are simply con artists) and misrepresent the science to suit their purposes.

History and Background

The transition from classical to quantum mechanics began at the turn of the 20th century. Like all paradigm shifts in science new discoveries and thinking led to inconsistencies with current models. In this case it was black body radiation. This radiation is emitted by all objects with a the frequency is directly dependant on the object's temperature. It is the phenomenon that causes stove tops to glow red as the radiation distribution transitions from the invisible infrared regime to visible light.

Stolen from:

The theories at the time didn't match up with observations as the temperature reached the ultraviolet regime. If light was treated classically an infinite amount of energy was predicted to be released as the formulae showed an increase in energy proportional to the square of the frequency. The solution of this problem was to re-examine some of the premises the incorrect theory was based on.

Einstein and Planck developed the idea that instead of being continuous as before light was divided into packets called quanta. Each of these "pieces" of light required a certain amount of energy to be created which increased with the colour. Since it would take a lot of energy to create lets say X-rays they wouldn't be significant until temperatures reached very high values.

This discovery led to the first major revolution in the physical sciences since Newton. Many other well known scientists jumped into the fray and completely transformed our view of the physical world.

Photons were now seen as a particle. However the theory also had to reconcile with previous observations that showed, without ambiguity, that light also had wavelike properties. The answer turned out to be that indeed photons and, as was later discovered all matter, has properties of waves as well as particles. It is hard to picture this simply because our brains evolved to do different things than study QM. It would be rather anthropocentric for us to think that nature has to behave in ways that we can comprehend intuitively. Instead math provides us the gateway to learn, make predictions, test and ultimately utilize the world of the very small.

All matter therefore is "fuzzy". Instead of saying a particle is at a certain location we can only give a range of probabilities of its location. Another interesting emergent property is that particles can tunnel through barriers forbidden by classical physics. A decent analogy of this would be to imagine a ball rolling in a frictionless half-pipe getting near but never past the lip. Classical physics says that this ball will roll forever but quantum mechanics says there is a non-zero chance that the ball will tunnel through the half-pipe. It is important to not take this analogy to literally as macroscopic objects don't do this. The probability of this happening on an actual half-pipe is effectively zero. Many electrical process however have to take into account this tunneling current especially now that transistors on some silicon chips are around 45nm in size. The fact of the matter is that at the macroscopic scales we live in these effects are no longer apparent as the large number of particles are "smoothed out" and the wavelike property doesn't exist for all practical purposes.

Quantum Mysticism

Unfortunately due to the relative complexity of the math behind even basic quantum mechanics (2nd order PDE's) it typically isn't taught until the second or third year of an undergraduate physics program. This leaves the vast majority of the population in dark when claims are being made about the subject. It is a perfect storm, hard-to-understand theories and people ready to take advantage of that; most people don't believe that you can fall through your chair, you can co-exist in two places at once or that your thoughts can directly affect reality until the word quantum is brought into the sentence.

The popular docu-drama "What the Bleep do we Know?" is probably the most notable example on film. It blends real science, analogies and pure bullshit. When you start digging deeper the movie begins to unravel. The main individuals behind the movie are all from Ramtha's School of Enlightenment. A sort of new-age school/cult founded by J.Z. Knight. This person claims to channel the spirit of a Lemurian named Ramtha who led an army of 2.5 million to battle the Atlanteans 35 000 years ago. Yeah...

Of course their background doesn't necessarily make their claims false. Instead their backgrounds and fundamental beliefs are wholly inconsistent with reality as we understand it, dead people don't talk to living people and the estimated human population was around half of the size of the army he supposedly led. This should lead you to more skepticism of their claims. Maybe they have discovered the secret to life, the universe and everything but until they actually drop down some real evidence their claims are just crackpot assertions.

Now looking at the actual thesis of the movie, namely that because of the laws of quantum mechanics you can control the world around you with your thoughts. The basic law they are butchering is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. It states that in nature some quantities cannot be known with arbitrary precision at the same time as certain other quantities. It extends to more than this but lets look at the most common case, momentum and position. The more you know about one quantity the less you can know about the other. This isn't a limitation on technology it is a fundamental law of nature the more precise in one measurement, the less precise the other is.

A basic explanation of this can be thought of by incorporating the act of measuring. When we look at a ruler we only get information because light is transmitting it. Now imagine the ruler was much much smaller. If each particle was a marking on the rule the light may actually have enough energy to push the particle and change its state. The act of measuring the system, the transmitted photon of light has caused the system to change. But remember a person doesn't have to be present, all that has to happen is particle interaction.

The movie takes this and tries to elevate this concept to consciousness. They take "observer" and link it to a human being. This is a huge leap and ultimately a non-sequitor. Quantum mechanics says nothing about human consciousness influencing measurements. They made it up. Their argument disintegrates when the primary premise of the movie, that we can change reality with our thoughts is shown to be based on, instead of established science, pure conjecture.

I haven't gone through most of the movie, if you are interested there are plenty of skeptical take downs of it. I only want to get people thinking about how others will take advantage of complex scientific topics such as QM and consciousness. They are both fascinating topics on their own, you don't need to make shit up. The fact that we don't fully comprehend the two doesn't mean we won't understand them in the future or that quantum mechanics won't play a roll. If there is a significant link between quantum mechanics and the brain I am quite confident it will be much more subtle and elegant than this magical thinking.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thesis Procrastination - VASIMR Rockets

Since I am in my final year of an engineering physics program I am required to do a thesis based on an applied physics topic. It is a challenging project but so far I am learning a lot and find it quite interesting. In order to avoid actually doing the work I figured I would share some of the more interesting parts with the Internet.

Over the summer I was wasting my time one evening endlessly clicking the Stumble! button in my browser and I came across a NASA press release on a new type of rocket technology being developed which sparked my interest. It was called the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). Instead of using the combustion of either a solid or liquid fuel this upcoming technology uses electricity to generate a plasma and send it out the rear of the engine at tremendous speeds.

Plasma is the fourth state of matter and the most common form of visible matter in the universe. Whenever a gas gets hot enough the electrons, that were happily orbiting the nucleus get enough energy that they are no longer bound to the atom. The gas then becomes ionized with free electrons (negative charge) coexisting with positive ions. This gives the substance some interesting properties. Since it consists of charged particles a magnetic field can act on it and contain it. This is important because the temperatures required to create a plasma are too hot to be contained by any known material.

So the basic design of the engine works like this. A gas is sent into a chamber. A helicon source then turns the gas into a plasma. Superconducting magnets then contain this plasma and bring it into the second stage. Another process called Ion Cyclotron Resonance Heating then takes over and turns this incoming "cold" plasma (ie. low energy) into a hotter plasma. Both the helicon source and the ICRH are powered by electricity and are forms of RF heating. In the final stage the hot plasma moving down the engine rotating in a shape similar to a helix. The magnetic field is then decreased in a "magnetic nozzle" and this spinning motion is converted to linear motion and fired out the rear of the engine at high speed. The advantage of this high exit velocity is that less propellant mass (the ionized gas) can be used to achieve greater changes in momentum and therefore velocity.

Chemical rockets in space are effectively using the same technology the Chinese developed in the 9th century. You combine a explosive material with an oxygen source and ignite it. It works but it is wasteful because the exhaust gases leaving have an upper limit on their velocity. The chemical energy stored in the fuel just can't push the exhaust infinitely fast. In automotive terms the fuel economy of chemical rockets is low. They throw out a lot of mass and fairly low speeds. Plasma rockets shoot out less material but at much higher speeds, increasing their fuel economy. (In technical terms a chemical rocket has a low specific impulse while the plasma rocket has one of the highest compared to other methods of space travel.)

Basic layout of the VASIMR - Photo: NASA

Imagine sitting on an office chair in the middle of the room. You are carrying a box of BB's, a box of shotgun shells and a shotgun. If you were to grab a handful of BB's and throw them you would start moving slightly in the other direction. Here the BB's are the exhaust gases of the rocket and your muscles that throw the BB's represents the stored chemical energy of the fuel. Now load the shotgun and fire it towards the wall. You will feel a big kick and your chair will start rolling backwards. The contents of the shell might only have the equivalent mass of 30 BB's, far less than handful you just threw yet the chair moved much faster. Clearly the shell had more momentum in the forward direction, therefore it changed your momentum in the backwards direction by a larger amount. In this analogy the chemical energy contained in the shotgun shell is represented by the VASIMR system.

In a chemical rocket the propellant and the energy source are combined into the rocket fuel, while in plasma rockets the energy source and propellant are two different entities. A gas such as hydrogen or argon acts as the propellant and the energy is supplied by either a nuclear reactor or solar panels.

So that is the basic physics behind the idea of a plasma rocket but as I said before this was an applied physics thesis. The applications of this promising technology include faster interplanetary missions (39 day trips to Mars have been estimated!) and efficient orbital boosting of the ISS. Both are very cool and I hope we will see these ideas come to fruition.

I had a somewhat different idea and was interested to see if the technology could be applied to deflect incoming asteroids and comets. They are a real threat and for the first time in the history of our planet there is a species that can actually do something about it. Very little actual work has been done on what to do if an impact is suspected. It is a low probability yet high consequence event. Current proposed methods include lasers, gravity tugs, kinetic impactors and a volley of nuclear weapons. The techniques then require you to change the orbit very slightly. Because distances are so vast in space a small change in speed (~1cm/s) should alter the orbit enough so that a collision is avoided. I hope that the VASIMR thruster will be able to change the velocity of the incoming asteroids in a shorter period than competing ideas. Just like every other method however it is crucial to discover these potentially dangerous rocks early, years in advance.

My basic goal of this thesis is to design a system that can land on an incoming asteroid, deploy a nuclear power station and a plasma thruster system and then fire the engine for months at a time slowly changing the asteroid's orbit. It has been interesting so far, and I am curious how feasible it turns out to be. Any questions or genius ideas to help? Let me know.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

H1N1 Vaccines

H1N1 has begun its anticipated resurgence, sweeping through communities and spreading rapidly. There has been an incredible amount of misinformation being spread about the vaccine. Most of it is well intentioned, but horrendously uninformed. Unfortunately viruses are apathetic to good intentions but bad science; they cause illness and death anyways. I am going to be focusing on misunderstandings of the science. If you believe that H1N1 is a ploy by the government to institute massive depopulation no amount of evidence will change your mind. It is well beyond the scope of a blog post, it would require a textbook on critical thinking and maybe a bucket of ice water. Ironically sometimes the same individuals who claim it is a plan for massive depopulation also claim that H1N1 is relatively mild and you don't need the vaccine...
So that being said I will try to reach out for people who are skeptical about the vaccine and guide them in the right direction to find the legitimate sources that assess both effectiveness and the safety of the H1N1 flu vaccine.

I am also going to be greatly simplifying just about everything because I am not an expert and it would take a textbook to explain everything in great detail. I encourage you to use this as a starting point I may make errors (if I do please email me I will correct them).

There is only one reason I am writing this, it isn't to prove myself to anyone nor do I don't get a cheque from big pharma (although if you are from big pharma reading this call me I have lots and lots of student loans to repay). I am writing this because a preventable disease that can cause severe illness or death in healthy young individuals is spreading rapidly. Many people are uninformed about the facts due to an overload of misinformation, found primarily on the Internet. In short I want my friends, family and ultimately all of humanity to be as healthy as possible.

I am not a doctor, I am not here to give you health advice other than the recommendation to listen to medical science. First lets quickly go over how vaccines works, again this isn't my area of expertise and I am heavily quoting physicians and scientists. I will give my references at the end.

Vaccines are one of the miracles of modern science. Smallpox is estimated to have killed hundreds of millions of people in the 20th century alone. The population of the US and Canada in the approximately 75 years. More than the holocaust, both world wars, the Rwandan genocide, Pol Pot, Stalin, and Mao COMBINED. Guess how it was eradicated, not by eating healthy (which is a good thing too), not by homeopathy or herbal treatments but by vaccines. In two decades it was effectively eradicated, the last case occurred in 1978.

Vaccines work by injecting a small amount of something that resembles a microorganism into the bloodstream. It allows the immune system to recognize it as foreign and destroy it. The immune system has also evolved to keep a memory of previous microorganisms it has destroyed so that if they appear again they can be destroyed much more quickly and not cause infection. The flu vaccine contains dead flu viruses, which your body recognizes as foreign, eliminates them and remembers what the virus looks like. Because these viruses are dead they cannot cause the flu... ever. Very rarely people react poorly to vaccines and the flu vaccine is by no means 100 percent effective due to the variety of strains but the risks are dwarfed by the benefits. Getting the flu directly from the vaccine is analogous to someone dumping a corpse in your living room, your house getting robbed the next day and blaming it on the corpse. The problem is that all influenza strains are not the same and creating the vaccine in large quantities takes a long time ~6 months. So researchers have to make an educated guess on what flu strain will be prevalent in the flu season next year which brings us to H1N1 (Swine flu).

Influenza has the ability to exchange parts of its genetic code (RNA in this case) with other strains of influenza. That is precisely what happened. Sections of swine flu, avian flu and human flu combined creating something that most peoples immune system haven't seen before. That is the major concern and why so much attention has been focused on this pandemic. Most people have at least limited immunity to seasonal flu because their body has seen parts of the virus before. Influenza is constantly mutating, like any reproducing organism and a more deadly form of H1N1 could appear tomorrow.

Luckily our immune system is quite incredible and most people who get H1N1 suffer from basically a normal flu. The mortality rate looks so far to be approximately what you would expect from the yearly seasonal flu. So why worry about it? Because it causes serious illness young healthy people in far greater numbers than you would expect from the normal seasonal flu. Here is another important point: H1N1 appears to have almost a "split personality", either you are sick for a few days and get better or you have a very serious illness that requires hospitalization often in the ICU. This is where a lot of misinformation lies. I've heard it repeated ad nauseum that "its just like a normal flu why the big deal" and that is true in around 99 percent of the cases. In the remaining 1 percent, indiscriminate of age or prior health they develop a deadly illness. In the event of a pandemic where millions of people are getting sick 1 percent is a huge number.

So in order to combat this spread governments and pharmaceutical companies quickly threw together some sort of a vaccine that may protect you in an experimental new treatment that is untested and potentially worse than the virus right? Well no. It takes around nine months to make the flu vaccine, 3 months to figure out what strains to put in and 6 months to produce and deliver it. They are using the exact same tried and true methods of flu vaccinations except they were able to skip the first 3 months because they knew exactly what strain of influenza to use. They then started to produce the vaccine just like any other seasonal vaccine. So yes it was "rushed" it needed to be but it wasn't rushed on things like safety. If you are interested checkout this podcast from an infectious disease doctor. He covers it much better than I ever could.

Vaccines like any medical intervention have risks. Luckily the risk of getting serious complications from the vaccine is around 1 in a million, lottery odds. Your risk of getting serious complications from the flu is much higher. It is all about relative risk. It is also important to look at the common logical fallacy "post hoc, ergo proper hoc" (After therefore because of). If millions of people are getting vaccinated then it makes sense that some people, shortly after their vaccine will have a myriad of health problems purely by chance. Some will have heart attacks, some will have a stroke, some will develop "flu like symptoms" etc. completely unrelated to the vaccine, they would have developed it anyways. This is why careful studies are required to determine if a medical intervention is actually causing serious harm (which it can, thats why drugs get pulled off the market sometimes) or if it is just coincidental over a large population.

Bottom line. The vaccine is safe. H1N1 either produces a mild illness or a deadly one. If you have H1N1 right now you are probably going to be OK the chances of death are quite low. Statistically speaking however it can do a great deal of preventable damage. It appears to target young healthy people with serious illness much more often than the seasonal flu. By not getting the vaccine you are giving the virus the opportunity to spread and infect others.

Get the vaccine.

References: (Not exactly scholarly research but a good starting point and the references are good at the bottom)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chemotherapy has Pro's and Con's aka Shut the Fuck Up Mike Adams

I was checking one of my favorite sites I love to hate on, It is a haven for all sorts of medical quackery. Under the guise of offering natural alternatives to health care (without evidence of them actually working) he rambles about government conspiracy, big pharma and the evils of western medicine. His website reads like a typical shitty newspaper. Flashy headlines, an emphasis on pop culture, short grossly oversimplified conclusions and a lack of scholarship to back up his claims. I am going to use a term that I heard from Dr. Mark Crislip, who does the podcast Quackcast and delve into some evidence based ridicule.

Celebrities appear to be his favorite target. As many of you know Patrick Swayze recently passed away from pancreatic cancer. This disease is one of the nastiest forms of cancer with a low 5 year survival rate and an average life expectancy of around 6 months after diagnosis. After he passed away wrote an article titled "Patrick Swayze dead at 57 after chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer". What a piece of garbage. Not to mention an insult to a man who put up a heroic 20 month battle with a devastating illness.
Sorry the chemotherapy didn't kill him, it is one of the most stunning examples of confusing causation with correlation I have ever seen.

People who get diagnosed with terminal cancer have a few things in common. They normally get some form of treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Secondly most of them die eventually from the disease. If you want to pick one of the forms of treatment as an evil villain chemotherapy is going to be your target. By any accounts it is horrible. In short the mechanism for chemotherapy to work is that it kills rapidly dividing cells in your body, both good and bad. This is why hair loss is a common side effect. Because cancer cells are rapidly dividing the cocktail of drugs target these cells, hopefully destroying much of the cancer. Chemotherapy's effectiveness depends based on the disease it is treating, cancer isn't one disease, it is a grouping of hundreds. In some diseases such as Hodgkin's lymphoma the cure rate approaches 95 percent. In other diseases such as later stage pancreatic cancer it can only be used to moderately extend life.

In order for a drug to be used legally in medicine it needs to pass two major tests. First it has to be effective, double blind clinical trials need to show to works better than placebo treatment. Secondly it has to be safe or more correctly that the benefits need to outweigh the risks. If you get the common cold and someone hands you a pill saying this will cure your cold instantly but you have a 1 in 50 chance of dying any person in the right mind would refuse it. If you replace common cold with lethal cancer most people would take the pill. These are extreme, oversimplified examples but they illustrate my point. Chemotherapy has been shown to be effective in fighting cancer and curing it in some cases. It has also been shown to have brutal side effects and even the chance of serious immune disorders. However simply put the benefits outweigh the risks. Doctors can save more lives, extending the lifespan of cancer patients so they can spend more time with loved ones by using chemotherapy drugs.

There is extensive research on this topic but delusional cranks like Mike Adams aren't bothered to read and understand them. They instead recommend "natural ways" to fight cancer. Well OK lets skeptically look at these natural ways. I personally don't care if it is natural or made in a lab, I just care that it works and the risk/benefit outcome is favourable. I am going to quote him again.

Having put his faith in conventional chemotherapy, he largely dismissed ideas that nutrition, superfoods or "alternative medicine" might save him, instead betting his life on the chemotherapy approach which seeks to poison the body into a state of remission instead of nourishing it into a state of health.

Four words in and Mike fucks up. Faith implies believing in something without evidence. Such as believing in God, believing in reincarnation or the vast majority of alternative medicine. Mr. Swayze relied on doctors explaining to him the best avenue of life extending treatment. It was based on clinical trials and decades of research not faith. There is uncertainty as the science hasn't advanced far enough to have a full cure but people are tirelessly working at it.

He then begins to list things: nutrition (check, good nutrition is important to help prevent cancer and eating well while having cancer is probably a good thing too although it will not cure you), superfoods (meaningless), and "alternative medicine" (so broad and ill defined it is also meaningless). I won't go into these each in depth but let me summarize. I am not against "natural cures" I am however against bogus cures that don't work. If you want to claim something is a treatment for cancer do actual research. Don't make shit up. People DIE because they do not take the drugs that could have saved their lives. It is assholes like Mike Adams that spread ignorance and cause people to die needlessly.