What Bubbles Up: They want to be temporary Canadians

Life intrusions kept me from talking about this, which has been a story for over a month.

Canada closed its border to the US out of necessity.  Just yesterday, Ottawa announced that the border will remain closed until at least January 21st, after Biden is inaugurated.  With an average of more than 200,000 new cases and 3,000 dead per day in the last week, it’s unlikely the border will open until at least March.

In the US northeast, states like Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and others are dependent on Canadian business and trade.  Many towns have suffered higher unemployment rates and business closures than most of the US.  But considering the success of the Atlantic Provinces’ bubble in keeping COVID-19 under control, the Atlantic economy is still functioning, and Canada’s emergency benefits plan, it’s unlikely the border policy will change.

Three isolated areas of the US desperately want to be part of Canada’s bubble: the Northwest Angle in Minnesota, Point Roberts in Washington, and the village of Hyder, Alaska.  And for good reason.  All three are physically isolated from the US, so huddling with Canada would make sense.

I previously mentioned Point Roberts, and won’t mention details again except to note that their economy is now suffering far worse than most of the US.  It’s down 80% because they can’t drive through Canada, Canadians aren’t coming in, and both boat and air travel to the mainland are expensive.  The US hasn’t made an offer to isolate Point Roberts (i.e. banning all travel from the mainland to PR), which would likely be a requirement of joining Canada’s bubble.  The Northwest Angle exclave, based on news items I can find, is not shutting off travel to Minnesota.  (Considering the COVID-19 disaster in Minnesota, joining Canada may not be possible now.)  That leaves Manitoba and Canada no choice but to ban all road traffic.  Not only that, but non-essential travel on Lake of the Woods (e.g. fishing) is banned.  Travel to Minnesota is limited to travel for food and supplies.  In both cases, the problem is the US’s unwillingness to cease travel to and from the lower 48.

On the other hand, the situation in Hyder, Alaska is very different.  Hyder is an isolated village of less than 100 people with no roads connecting to the rest of the state.  The next closest town of Ketchikan is over 100km away by air.   To the east of Hyder is the town of Stewart, British Columbia (population 400), only 5km away.  Hyder is so small it has no local or state police; the RCMP and Stewart’s volunteer fire department attend to emergencies on the US side of the border.

After the school in Hyder closed, their children began attending Bear Valley School in Stewart.  But the border closure from COVID-19 means their children haven’t attended school this year, not to mention haven’t seen their friends.  There are no stores in Hyder, so people drive to Stewart for supplies and the doctor.  This individual provides some amusing travelogue about the area in a 2016 video.

The government of British Columbia claims to be willing and sympathetic to include Hyder, but it sounds more it’s using the national border as a reason to do nothing.  Ottawa and Washington, D.C. need to provide a solution.  Banning travel into Hyder from the rest of Alaska can’t be that difficult.  Airplanes are easier to track than cars.  The two communities need a solution.  Neither has had a documented case of COVID-19.

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Pregnant Pause: It’s not much of an improvement

Abortion in Taiwan was legalized in 1985.  However, the coditions for attaining one were and still are highly restrictive.  From Women On Waves:

A woman does not have an automatic right to an abortion in Taiwan and can only get one under the following circumstances:

1.) medical reasons – danger to the mother or fetus including deformities and defects – this includes psychological trauma to the mother

2.) rape or incest (which must, apparently, be “proven”)

3.) “seduction” – meant to cover statutory rape but can technically be used as a reason by a woman of any age

4.) mental/psychological issues of the parent(s) that could be passed on to the child  A Taiwanese woman must obtain the consent of her husband, unless the husband is missing, unconscious or mentally ill.

An unmarried woman under the age of 20 must obtain the permission of her parents, and a woman who is mentally handicapped needs the permission of a guardian.

This may be about to change, but only one aspect of it: “spousal consent”.  Women will no longer be required to obtain agreement from the sperm donor, preventing them from using pregnancy as a means of controlling women.  There is no mandatory child support requirement, so if a deadbeat abandons a woman after giving birth, she has to legally fight for child support.  In regards to “seduction”, extramarital affairs were still a crime in Taiwan until 2020.

Abortion bill would remove need for ‘husband’s consent’

The Health Promotion Administration (HPA) is drafting an amendment to remove the requirement for married women to obtain permission from their partner before having an abortion, which it hopes to present by March, it said on Wednesday.

Under Article 9 of the Genetic Health Act (優生保健法), induced abortion by a married woman “shall be subject to her husband’s consent unless her husband is missing, unconscious or deranged.”

A petition calling for the removal of the provision was on Wednesday last week launched on the National Development Council’s Public Policy Network Participation Platform, where it had already received more than 7,400 signatures as of yesterday.

Five thousand signatures are needed for petitions to be considered.  The marriage equality petition of 2018 garnered 330,000 signatures(I’ll admit that I didn’t sign it, but I didn’t know about it either or I would have.)  Like the change that granted marriage equality but only to Taiwanese couples or a Taiwanese with a foreigner from a country with marriate equality, this proposed change of law is flawed.  There should be abortion on demand with no conditions.

I suspect the Taiwan government is changing it this way because young people drove the Orange Revolution of 2014.  But the government also wants to restrict abortion to increase the population.  In 2020, the birth rate is 8.0 per thousand and death rate is 7.9 per thousandTaiwan has the lowest fertility rate in the world and third lowest birth rate, which means an ageing population and shortage of labour.

Limiting abortion is one way to reduce that.  Offering tax breaks and financial incentives would also help, but the country doesn’t offer that.  Women see themselves better off being single financially and career-wise, so they’re choosing not to have kids.



Shaking All Over: Two big quakes in one day

Two earthquakes hit Taiwan today.  The first was a 5.3 quake at 13:30 local time, about 60km from Hualien.  Building construction here has to meet a high standard, so it’s unlikely anyone was hurt.

The second came at 21:20 this evening, a 6.7 quake off the coast of Yilan, a city of 90,000. I checked google maps, and the epicentre was 61km from my home as the crow flies.  Although the fault lines here are convergent (two plates colliding), earthquakes over 7.0 are exceedingly rare.  The last major one I felt was a 6.4 on Hallowe’en 2013, when I was at work.

My biggest annoyance with this quake was my co-workers.  My desk at work is next to a large window pane, about five square metres in size.  As soon as I felt the quake start and knew it was significant, I got up and tried to move away.  Three co-workers were standing and gawking at everything moving, blocking my exit from the desk.  I didn’t yell “MOVE!” to hear the sound of my own voice.

There are no reports of damage in Taipei as of yet, despite an intensity rating of 4 (on a scale of 5).  I’ve been waiting for news from the east coast to write this (collapsed buildings, injuries, deaths), but none has come through.  That’s not necessarily a good thing, especially if communications were cut off.  Tonight’s earthquake happened at 21:20, so emergency workers will have to work all night in the dark.

In February 2018, a 6.4 earthquake hit Hualien on the east coast.  The Marshal Hotel “pancaked”, the bottom floor collapsing and killing two hotel employees.  It was actually fortunate that it happened in the middle of the night (despite making rescue efforts harder).  In the day, hundreds of people would have been in the lobby.

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A song, to lighten the mood after a scare: “Shakin’ All Over” was a hit for Johnny Kidd & The Pirates in 1960, their most well known song.

If You Build It, They Will Come: Bicycles are winning

COVID-19 has created an opportunity to change US “car culture”, to bring it under control.  The question is, will it be permanent?

COVID-19 brought “regular” transportation to a standstill or at least reduced it, with more telecommuting, unemployment and other issues.  Fewer cars on the road means more space became available, and bicycles have provided a flexible, efficient and cheap solution to transportation. You can’t “socially distance” on a metro train or bus, but bicycles can travel the same speed several metres apart.

COVID-19 creates new momentum for cycling and walking. We can’t let it go to waste!

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped our cities in many ways. While the number of motor vehicles on the road has plummeted during lockdown, an increasing number of people have turned to walking and biking, moving speedily and safely through once congested streets. The shift has brought some visible changes: local air pollution has dropped by up to 60% globally, and cities that used to be covered with a thick blanket of smog are experiencing their first blue skies in a long time.

But what will happen now that cities are gradually getting out of lockdown? At the moment, many urban residents feel that public transport puts them at a higher risk of being infected, and perceive private vehicles to be safer. As a result, car use has recovered much faster than mass transit so far—morning traffic in major Chinese cities is now even higher than 2019 averages. That means higher levels of air pollution, more congestion, and a lower quality of life.

But there is an alternative to rampant motorization. If the current public health crisis makes individual modes inherently more appealing to users, why not use this as an opportunity to promote cycling and walking, which would produce greater social benefits, reduce pollution, and improve urban livability?

But encouraging people to ride more requires usable roads.  In cities like New York where riding lanes were disjointed, there wasn’t much of an increase.  But in cities like Portland and Minneapolis, networks of usable “safe” (slow) roads brought out riders in huge numbers.

If you build it, they will come.  From October 2020:

Some cities shut down streets for pedestrians and other uses during the pandemic. A study looks at whether people are using them.

In the nearly eight months since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, cities across the county have closed roads, extended bike lanes and turned parking spaces into dining spots as a way to give Americans more space to move around safely during the health crisis.

Now, with the pandemic stretching on and many cities considering extending those closures through the winter, new research offers some indication of how the spaces are being used.

The study, by the traffic analytics firm Inrix, looked at five cities: Washington, New York, Minneapolis, Seattle and Oakland, Calif. It found that in general, traffic volumes on the restricted streets — whether pedestrian, bike or car — remained well below pre-pandemic levels, a finding that is not surprising considering that overall traffic is down as well. As traffic volumes began to increase amid states reopening, so did activity levels on the restricted streets, Inrix found.

However, traffic varied based on the designated use of the roadways. In dense cities such as New York and Washington, for example, activity on the “slow streets” or “safe streets” was underwhelming, with usage lagging behind overall city travel.

Cities that created larger and well-connected networks of slow streets, geared toward recreation, such as in Minneapolis, saw higher numbers of people using the facilities, Inrix found.

Protected bike lanes built for commuting in New York didn’t attract as many commuters because fewer people were commuting, while there are indications of activity picking up in the open-street restaurants and even more on the recreation-focused streets, said Bob Pishue, an Inrix transportation analyst.

[. . .]

The “Open Streets” movement has been embraced by cities around the world in recent years. The programs have various names — open streets, slow streets, safe streets and more — and vary from city to city, but they all have the same goal: restricting vehicle traffic to reduce pollution and promote healthier lifestyles.

The pandemic accelerated the trend, attributed to the need to provide people a place for physical activity while social distancing. Some cities implemented policies to encourage walking, biking and scooter use in neighborhoods and city centers. Some turned busy parkways where commuter traffic had largely disappeared into safe havens for pedestrians and bicyclists.

For people who are unemployed, it’s a cheap means of transportation.  And for those wanting fitness while gyms were forced to close, bicycles provided that option.  Much like when an earthquake hits, bicycles have become and can be used as a cure-all for transportation, and that’s happening now, with COVID-19.  With any luck, the environmental and social impacts will have long term effect.

Social impact?  Yes.  Moving slower and being able to hear and see faces and voices (instead of being in a car) mean human contact.  I doubt there is anywhere near the level of aggression and road raging amongs cyclists that there is amongst drivers.  Talking builds communities, the isolation of vehicles separates them.

Safer roads, social distancing, fitness and transportation, environmental impact – what’s not to like?  Riding season may be over in colder climes, but the effect may last into 2021 because the pandemic likely won’t be over until at least 2022.

Nothing To Say: Brandy Vaughn died of undisclosed causes

Found via Things Anti-Vaxxers Say on facebook.

For those not familiar with the name, Brandy Vaughn was an anti-vaxxer fanatic who founded “learn the risk” and peddled Andrew Fakewield’s fictions.  The story hasn’t hit the corporate media yet, but anti-vaxxer fanatics are all over this, some already claiming “she was murdered to silence her!”  No, she was irrelevant to “big pharma”.  They probably won’t even notice.  There is only rumour thus far about cause of death and where she died, so I won’t include them.

Final note: I mention this not to mock or laugh at her death.  This is a heads up on what’s to come, since this will undoubtedly make the news just as the first COVID-19 vaccines roll out.  I’m sure all the anti-vaxxers and trumpkins will latch onto this.

Halos Worn: Good news and bad news from the world of motorsports

Two separate events from the past weekend show a stark contrast in attitudes toward safety and technology in motorsports.  Both incidents had a positive and a negative in what happened.

There are links to videos in this post.  The drivers in all three incidents shown survived, including the driver of the car above.  There are no links to videos of fatalities.

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