Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mo' or less.

Once again, I am "doing Movember". For the uninitiated (of whom I'm sure that there has to be close to zero, but hey, who knows what kind of rock you might be living under), Movember is a yearly campaign to raise money and awareness of men's health - primarily in the battle against testicular and prostate cancer. Also known as cancer of the man-parts.

As the owner and guardian of some of these man-parts, supporting a cause like this is a no-brainer. Even though there is one little catch.

I hate moustaches.

"Do I detect something in your voice that says I am in disfavor with you?"

I don't mean I hate them on you (although I do hate them on you, and I don't even know who you are). The entire premise of grooming one's facial hair... well, it goes against my grain. I mean, if I'm going to legitimately go through the effort to shave my face, I want to get it all off. Anyone who has a baby-face like me will tell you, shaving sucks. It doesn't matter how many damn blades and moisturizing strips Gillette tries to shoehorn into a cartridge, and it doesn't matter what kind of chemists they hire to create a shaving gels and creams and lotions. It doesn't matter if I've got the temperature of the water at a perfect 36.8°C, the bathroom mirror is positioned for the optimum Qi, and I have spent an hour meditating before I take up my razor. I will bleed and I will burn.

I despise facial hair thoroughly, but not as much as I loathe shaving. This is why most people see me with a scruffy beard at all times. I like to clip it with the shortest setting on my beard trimmer about once a week. This way I can avoid shaving, but still am not required to tolerate a proper, itchy, ugly beard. The idea that someone would intentionally leave a moustache or a goatee (or as I like to call it, the "face-mullet") behind after shaving cuts against my core. I would gladly donate to a charity that puts massive research dollars into eliminating facial hair.

Pretty much how I feel after shaving. Every. Single. Time.

I am not aware of any such charity, so it is not without a sense of irony that I put my effort into raising money by growing a moustache instead. I originally did it as a bit of a joke. When one of my close friends was diagnosed with testicular cancer, it became a bit more personal for me. I am aware that testicular cancer, like breast cancer, does get a disproportionate amount of attention and funding when you consider that our society would be much more effective at saving lives and eliminating suffering if we went after more general ailments, for example heart disease. I know that, like we did with the ALS ice bucket challenge, we often tend to give our attention and dollars to causes that com eup with clever fundraising ideas rather than the ones with the greatest real impact, like helping prevent strokes. Personally, I need to be better at prioritizing my missions: I know this. But I also know I can always give more, because the need is great - and Movember's cause does represent an important need.

So here I am, villainous moustache and all. My face will suffer razor-burn. My wife won't kiss me for a month. I look like a seventies porn star - I've even got the hair to go with it this year. But, by Thor, I am doing my part.

If you want to help, you can donate here: DrWhizBang's MoSpace

Monday, November 10, 2014

Justin Trudeau, you have an opportunity

I have not been particularly active in politics up to this point in my lifetime. I have always treated it like a spectator sport. Gina regularly shakes her head at me as I tune into American election coverage like someone would watch a football game, following blogs (like Andrew Tannenbaum's excellent and other news sources, yet never lifting a finger when when it is time to make changes in my own locality. I may blather on about this candidate or that party, but I generally don't do much about it other than trudging off the the booth to mark my X for the Good Guy (TM).

This is not to diminish the importance of voting - it is certainly critically important. Someone who can't be bothered to vote has no right to complain about the result. It may seem that we only have a choice between two brands of vanilla, or worse that we are simply choosing the lesser of two evils. But if we must be faced with evil, then choosing the lesser one is still, to quote the Vice President of the United States, a Big F*cking Deal.

But things change. With my kids grown, I can see myself becoming more active in helping my larger family (i.e. my community). It will come as no surprise to people that I am a small-l liberal, and I am thinking about how I can assist the big-L Liberal party in the upcoming federal election. I have already spoken to Wayne Long, the local Liberal candidate (and a friend) to let him know that I will be on his side and willing to work for him as next year's election approaches. Even cautious polling figures at this time suggest a Liberal government will take over in 2015, although it is clearly too early to make any predictions about the outcome. I can feel a growing dissatisfaction with Stephen Harper's Conservative government over issues like treatment of veterans, impeding the work of scientists, patronage within the Senate, or favoritism towards his home province of Alberta over, well, pretty well every other region in the country.

So I believe that Justin Trudeau, as leader of the Liberal Party, has a huge opportunity ahead of him. He very well could be the next Prime Minister of Canada. What I think is more interesting is what he will choose to do with that responsibility. Trudeau's claim to fame is being the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a man who many would say is our most charismatic Prime Minister. During the tenure of Trudeau père, the country was gripped by "Trudeaumania", with strong reactions from both supporters and detractors. Pierre Trudeau patriated the Constitution, and created the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Make no mistake; anyone following after Pierre Elliott Trudeau has exceptionally large shoes to fill.

Justin Trudeau may be the man who can. He is young and handsome, and speaks with a reasonable tone and thoughtfully. In fact, the only criticism that his conservative enemies have tagged him with at this point, other than pointing at a lack of experience that any person his age would have, is that he is too charming. If only I could be so harshly criticized! All this being said, his charisma may help him get the job, and possibly buy him patience, but what is really more important is his policy. And this is where I see a fantastic opportunity.

"Can he?" - Probably, as long as he can take his shirt off to do it.

For those following American politics, you must be aware that they are in a dark time for liberals. Their Republican (i.e. conservative) Party has captured a majority in both the House of Congress and their Senate. This leaves the Democrat President Barack Obama with few allies in Washington to help him pass legislation that makes up his own agenda. Furthermore, some key committees are now strange predicaments. The ranking member on the Senate Science and Space subcommittee is now Ted Cruz, and climate change denier and noted religious wingnut. The EPA, the US agency responsible for protection of the environment, is controlled by a subcommittee that is now chaired by Senator James Imhofe, who is quoted as saying that global warming is a UN conspiracy to take over the US. No, I'm not making this up.

That's quite the trophy case you've got there, Jim. Do you have one that says "Voted least likely to read a book?"

Climate change, space exploration, and scientific research in general, are areas where the US has been a world leader. However, it seems clear that an anti-intellectual wave of resistance has made its way across American politics in the last few years, leading to a "War on Science". This is really all part of greater cultural war going on in America, partially driven by floundering religious organizations, and partially in response to a swell of nationalism following the events of 9/11. This movement is so strong that even our own Prime Minister, Stephen Harper - always keen to keep in step with the Americans - has started his own war on science, muzzling scientists, cancelling decades-long and irreplaceable research projects, eliminating research grants, making the NRC cater to business interests, and abolishing the long-form census. And I could go on.

In Canada, any successor to Harper who starts to undo the damage he has affected on our scientific community in the last few years will be a hero regardless of affiliation, in my view. But I think that would be to stop short of what we genuinely need. If the Americans are bound to beat science down to the politics of idocracy as Stephen Harper has been doing, I think the world is ripe for someone else to grab that torch from them. We are known for having built the arm for the Americans' space vehicle. Why can't Canada build the next shuttle ourselves, and let the Americans' ride shotgun instead? How about not burying our heads in the sand over climate change as the Americans are doing; we can lead the charge in solutions to the worldwide energy problems? I would like to see the American and international scientists coming to Canada to get their work done, and have Canada reap the benefits of their brainpower.

Behold, the mighty Canadarm! Tremble in our majesty, oh ye nations of the Earth!

The thing about facilitating science is that it is not a liberal or conservative issue. In the US, historically the biggest funding for NASA has come from Republican administrations. This is because being a leader in technology and scientific knowledge is good for business. It is only in recent years that conservatives have become loathe to fund scientific exploration, and mostly because of ideological confusion over constituent scientific areas. Advances in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) will result in more jobs. Personally, I do not promote science from either a liberal or conservative perspective, but rather from a human perspective - I am amazed at what we have learned about the universe, and I want to give my descendants even more knowledge so that they can dominate their world. Of utmost importance is the fact that this will not work if we make the planet uninhabitable in the mean time. However, it is a happy bonus to our own generation that this will result in a stronger economy.

In the end, this issue is the single-most import to me. It helps that I agree with the majority of Liberal policies. But when I look to Justin Trudeau, if I expect to see him make himself a leader who is remembered  in Canada, this is how I could imagine him doing that. His father's own motto was "Reason before passion". I want to see cool rationality advancing our nation, in contrast to the emotional quagmire that has bound our neighbours to the south. We need to free the innovation of Canadians to find solutions to the world's great problems, and let the faltering US follow us into this new world. As (the American) Bill Nye says we must, let's "change the world!" There is an opportunity, Mr. Trudeau; let's not squander it!