Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Keeping track of government & civic events in Calgary

 After a too-long absence due to a mix of holidays, sickness, life stresses and burn-out, I’ve started loading up the Calgary Democracy calendar with relevant events again, especially meetings of our municipal government.

Stay up-to-date automatically

Near the top of the calendar page, there are a couple links you can use to add the calendar to your calendar application (on your computer, smartphone, or other networked device). If you subscribe to the calendar, you’ll automatically get updates without having to go back and check the website.

For example, I use this on my smartphone, which means I just need to go to my phone’s calendar to see when the next City Council meeting is.

The City’s challenging information

The City currently posts information about upcoming “Boards, Commissions and Committees” through a fairly minimalist calendar page. They don’t provide any way to take a feed of that data so it can be auto-loaded into your calendar, or shared on other websites.

Consequently, I’m currently manually copying and pasting (and cleaning up and reformatting) the listings from that website to create calendar entries in the Calgary Democracy calendar.

The agendas and minutes for those meetings are kept on a completely separate website (actually, 2 separate websites — one for archives of pre-October 31, 2010 meetings, and one for meetings since then). Their calendar site doesn’t yet link to the agenda & minutes site, and the latter only links to the former indirectly.

Agendas are often posted only a few days before a meeting, so it’s challenging for me to update the Calgary Democracy calendar with them.

Unfortunately, the full package of information being made available for the Councillors at the meetings is not yet being made available to the public (that I can find). So, we’re still missing a lot of crucial information about what is being discussed on our behalf.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why ending fluoridation of our water is a good thing

Thankfully, Calgary City Council is looking at finally ending the fluoridation of our water supply.

Why is water fluoridation inappropriate?

The state has the (controversial) right to restrict access to certain consumed items (e.g., narcotics, prescription drugs, food additives, alcohol for minors, unpasteurized milk, etc.). It should not, however, have the right to impose the consumption of anything on anyone (with the possible exception of where an individual would otherwise be “a danger to society” such as forcing anti-psychotic drugs on extremely violent mentally ill individuals).

Putting fluoride in our water is a deliberate act of forcing involuntary consumption of that fluoride onto people. Some of the proponents of fluoridation will say “you don’t have to drink the water, then”. That’s true, if a person is wealthy. That is entirely wrong for the large percentage of low-income households in Calgary, as well as the growing homeless population. Do we really want a society where the rich are the only people who get to say no to what the government wants to put in their bodies?

To use an extreme example to illustrate my point: There are people who’s health and well-being would significantly benefit from receiving antidepressants they aren’t currently getting. Should we therefore put antidepressants in the water supply to ensure they get those drugs? Of course not. So, why are there people who think it’s a good idea to put fluoride in the water to benefit the fraction of the population who might benefit from it who aren’t otherwise able to get that fluoride?

Surely, in this “modern age” we can come up with far more targeted and efficient ways of providing fluoride access to those who might benefit from it but can’t otherwise secure it of their own means?

Should we just let this “little” issue slide?

On Twitter, Ron McMahon said “Fluoridation is a dead issue Calgarians have REPEATEDLY voted to keep this.” Well, before the imposition of fluoridation, following a plebiscite a couple decades ago, the pro-fluoride lobby lost many plebiscites where Calgarians repeatedly voted to block it.

So, by the logic McMahon suggests, we should have never brought in fluoridation in the first place. That logic might be taken to imply that we should never change our minds as a society — a notion with which I respectfully disagree in the strongest possible terms.

Zac Ryan, again on Twitter, suggested that ending fluoridation isn’t worth it because “there are bigger issues to tackle.” By that measure, we should just ignore anything that isn’t a big issue. Potholes? We’ve got bigger issues. Off-leash dog parks? We’ve got bigger issues. Home break-ins? We’ve got bigger issues.

It is the job and duty of our City Council and City Administration to sweat those “smaller issues” along with the “bigger issues.” It’s not either-or.

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