Tag Archives: ‘That’s

Trudeau turns to the bully pulpit as the pandemic surges — because that’s what he has left

On the darkest day since the frightening spring, Justin Trudeau returned to the stoop of Rideau Cottage and attempted to enlist the rhetorical powers of his office against the crashing second wave of COVID-19.

For the first two minutes, the prime minister ignored the prepared text and spoke plainly and directly into the camera.

“So …” he began. “I don’t want to be here this morning. You don’t want me to be here this morning. But here we are again.”

Probably no crisis has ever been defeated by the power of the bully pulpit alone. Trudeau’s own televised address eight weeks ago obviously did not change the trajectory of this pandemic.

But the public platform of national leadership is one thing a prime minister can bring to bear against a health emergency — and without necessarily subverting the practical and political realities of constitutional jurisdiction in a federation.

WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the second wave

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned to the steps of Rideau Cottage where he made an impassioned plea to Canadians to slow the spread of the COVID virus. 2:25

It remains to be seen how much further Trudeau might be compelled to go, either in words or actions.

As the rate of infection has increased across successive provinces this fall, there have been calls for the federal government to do something. Again, for instance, Trudeau has been asked by reporters whether he might invoke the Emergencies Act.

However frustrated some experts and critics might be with how certain provincial or municipal leaders have handled this fall’s second wave, it’s not obvious that anything would be improved if local decisions were suddenly being made out of Ottawa. In fact, it’s easier to imagine how federal imposition could make things worse, practically or politically.

The limits of federal authority

No government can claim to have handled its response to this pandemic perfectly and conflict between different levels of government is unlikely to make responding to the pandemic any easier. A premier who is reluctant to impose new restrictions might become only more recalcitrant after being chastised publicly by the prime minister.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford already has publicly warned the prime minister against trying to assume provincial authority. And it’s fair to assume that politicians and citizens in places like Alberta and Saskatchewan would be even less inclined to welcome anything that looked like Justin Trudeau telling them what to do.

There has been a scramble for tidy answers in and around the House of Commons lately. After being briefed on Thursday about the latest modelling, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole — whose position presumably is complicated by the fact that several of the provinces struggling the most to contain COVID-19 are led by conservative governments — released a statement that revived his party’s claim that federal regulators should have moved faster to approve new rapid tests, and that the current spread of COVID-19 can be somehow blamed on a lack of such testing.


Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has been pointing fingers at the federal response while largely leaving provincial governments alone. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

O’Toole also criticized the Trudeau government for not yet explaining how a vaccine will be distributed (though the arrival of a vaccine is likely still months away) and called on the federal government to provide more timely information about regional outbreaks (though municipal and provincial governments have the most direct control over such data).

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, called on the federal government to take over management of a chain of long-term care centres that is owned by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, a federal Crown corporation.

As one epidemiologist suggested earlier this week, jurisdictional realities do not prevent a prime minister from seizing the bully pulpit that comes with his office.

The release of the new national data this morning set the stage for Trudeau’s appearance at Rideau Cottage. Every slide of the presentation was bleak, culminating in a chart that showed how much worse things could get. The heading on one page read: “Longer-range forecast indicates that a stronger response is needed now to slow the spread of COVID-19.” Another page showed “rapid growth” occurring in each of the six provinces outside the Atlantic Bubble.

Providing cover for the premiers

Two hours later, Trudeau stepped forward to attempt to commiserate, cajole, warn and motivate.

Even if the prime minister can’t tell other levels of government to take action, he can help clear space for his provincial counterparts to act. With scary new projections hanging over everything, Trudeau empathized with premiers and mayors who were making the “very tough choices” to re-impose restrictions on public activity and he made the case for those decisions. “The best way to protect the economy is to get the virus under control,” Trudeau said.

WATCH: Trudeau pleads with Canadians to protect front-line workers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned to the steps of Rideau Cottage, where he made an impassioned plea to Canadians to slow the spread of the COVID virus. 2:37

Showing as much emotion as he ever has when addressing the public, Trudeau singled out the efforts of front line workers. “They have been heroes. they have been going above and beyond anything they might have thought they were signing up for,” he said. “We need to help them. We need to give them a break. We need to stop this spike in cases.”

He beseeched Canadians to download the COVID Alert App and he tried to make the pandemic personal. “Every person that we lose to this virus is someone just like you who had a family and friends who love them, who had plans for tomorrow and things they still wanted to do,” he said.

Ottawa’s best tool is still money

He was asked whether he was calling for a national lockdown. “No I’m not,” he said. “I am using my voice and my position as prime minister to talk to all Canadians to tell them that we’re in a serious situation … And while I say that, I also am reminding people of the federal government’s promise to people that we would have your backs.”

If there is a lever Trudeau can pull to make it easier for provinces and municipalities to implement the restrictions necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19, it might be in those direct supports to individuals and businesses that the federal government has rolled out, in various forms, over the last nine months.

Speaking to reporters after Trudeau, Singh expressed a general concern that current support programs aren’t sufficient. The federal government has provided $ 214 billion in such aid, but its resources have not been exhausted and if there is something more that the Trudeau government can do to help people hunker down in the weeks and months ahead, that might be where the discussion needs to go next — at least at the federal level.

Near the end of his prepared remarks, Trudeau indicated that he would be back in front of Rideau Cottage on Monday — signalling a possible return to the daily appearances that he kept up through much of the early spring.

“In the coming days, I’ll be working from home as much as possible and I’ll be addressing you again from these steps next week,” he said. “Now is the time for each of us to once again rise to the occasion and do our part.”

In the ninth month of this pandemic, the extent of a prime minister’s role in responding to the crisis — and Trudeau’s ability to rise to the occasion — are being tested again.

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Pittsburgh Blue Jays? That’s 1 option for Toronto’s baseball team

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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The Blue Jays are looking for a home

There seems to be some confusion out there about what happened with the Jays over the last few days and what it means. So here it is:

On Saturday, the Canadian government officially rejected the Blue Jays’ request to play their home games for the upcoming shortened season at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. This came a couple of days after a loosely worded TSN report saying the team had received “government approval” to host games at its home stadium. That report gave some people the impression that it was a done deal. But in fact, the Jays only had approval from the Ontario government, which was never in doubt. It was the federal government that still needed to give the green light — and ultimately decided not to.

Another source of confusion is why Canada won’t let the Jays play at home when it’s allowing the NHL to hold its playoffs in Edmonton and Toronto. The difference is that the NHL is setting up so-called “bubble” environments where players and staff are isolated from the general public and don’t move around. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, is having its teams play out of their home stadiums. That means the Jays and visiting teams from various American cities would have been coming in and out of Toronto over the next couple of months. That was the deal-breaker for the federal government.

So where do the Jays go now? Two places immediately came to mind: Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo, N.Y. Both cities would allow the Jays to set up shop there, and both have their advantages, but both have drawbacks too. Dunedin is where the team’s spring-training headquarters are located, so the facility is familiar and has more big-league-calibre amenities than your typical minor-league park. But Florida is a notorious COVID-19 hotspot at the moment.

Buffalo has a low infection rate, is less than two hours down the highway from Toronto, and is home to the Jays’ triple-A affiliate. But its stadium is bush-league. The field itself is mostly fine, but major leaguers would not find the back-of-the-house stuff (clubhouses, indoor batting cages, etc.) up to their standards. Both Buffalo’s and Dunedin’s stadiums would also need lighting upgrades in order to host major-league night games. And there’s not much time to get that done.

So now the Jays are considering a stadium-sharing arrangement with another major-league team. Or teams. Judging by comments made to reporters over the weekend, this is what the players seem to want. Ideally, the Jays would play somewhere with a low infection rate that’s located in the eastern United States (all their games this season are against AL East or NL East teams).

It’s also important that the Jays’ schedule matches up well with anyone they’re sharing a stadium with. They can’t both be playing at home at the same time. For all these reasons, the Jays are reportedly eyeing Pittsburgh’s PNC Park (one of the best-looking ballparks in the game). But they’d still need to line up another stadium or two for the dates where their home games overlap with the Pirates’. Another option is hopping around between several parks, using whatever is available when the main tenant is on the road.

Whatever the Jays decide, they need to do it soon. Their first (and last) two exhibition games are Tuesday and Wednesday at Fenway Park. They open the regular season Friday night with the first of three games at Tampa Bay, followed by a pair at Washington, then the “home” opener on July 29. The clock’s ticking. Read more about the Blue Jays’ options here.

WATCH | Blue Jays’ Toronto plan denied by federal government:

CBC News’ David Cochrane discusses the reasons why the federal government rejected the Toronto Blue Jays’ request to play regular season baseball games in Toronto. 7:04

The NFL is not special

While the pandemic battered nearly every sports league in the world — cancelled games, months-long hiatuses, millions in lost revenue — the richest one remained largely untouched. Save for having to scale down its annual draft spectacle and nix off-season minicamps, the NFL has barely sacrificed anything.

This was due almost entirely to lucky timing — the Super Bowl happened about a month before the pandemic really hit North America hard, and the 2020 season doesn’t open until early September. But, given the NFL’s vast resources and the fortune at stake in making sure the games kick off as scheduled, it seemed reasonable to assume the people in charge would parlay their stroke of good fortune into developing and executing the best possible plan for playing sports in the time of COVID-19.

Instead, it looks like they squandered much of their head start. Training camps are set to open in about a week, and the league and the players are still battling over return-to-play health protocols and economic issues — just like the NHL, NBA and MLB before them. Meanwhile, the NFL still hasn’t ordered teams to play in empty stadiums — the only sensible-looking option for months now. Many teams are still clinging to the hope of partial-capacity crowds, which seems overly optimistic at best.

Odds are the NFL season will kick off as scheduled on Sept. 10. Too many people in the U.S. want it too badly to expect otherwise. But it’s clear now that this league is not the well-oiled machine many assumed (or hoped) it was. Read more about the players’ concerns and how they voiced them with a Twitter blitz here.

Quickly…

Patrice Bergeron is up for the Selke Trophy for the ninth consecutive time. The Bruins star has won the award, for the best defensive forward in the NHL, four times during that span — most recently in 2017. The other two finalists this year are St. Louis’ Ryan O’Reilly, who won the Selke last year, and Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier, who has never won it. The shortlist for the Norris Trophy for top defenceman was also revealed today: Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, Washington’s John Carlson and Nashville’s Roman Josi. This is Carlson’s first nomination, and he appears to be the front-runner after leading all defencemen with 75 points in 69 games. Read more about the Norris and Selke finalists here.

Mackenzie Hughes is on a roll. The Canadian golfer finished tied for third a few weeks ago, and yesterday he tied for sixth at the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial Tournament — one of the better events on the PGA Tour. That performance, which included a 67-foot putt that Hughes drained for a birdie, earned him a spot in this year’s U.S. Open. It also lifted Hughes to a career-best 75th in the world rankings. Spain’s Jon Rahm is the new No. 1 after winning the Memorial by three strokes. Read more about Hughes and watch him sink that long putt here.

Max Domi rejoined the Canadiens. The 25-year-old forward, who has Type 1 diabetes, was given an extra week to decide whether to participate in the NHL’s restart. Domi joined Montreal’s training camp today, indicating he’s decided to play. Domi had 17 goals and 44 points in 71 regular-season games for the Habs, who open a best-of-five playoff series vs. Pittsburgh on Aug. 1. Read more about Domi’s return here.

And in case you missed it…

The National Women’s Soccer League tournament got wild. The North Carolina Courage came into the Challenge Cup as favourites to win their third consecutive NWSL title, and they breezed through the preliminary stage with a perfect 4-0-0 record. The tournament’s only unbeaten team wasn’t expected to have much trouble with Friday’s quarter-final matchup against last-place Portland Thorns FC — the only winless team. But Morgan Weaver scored in the 68th minute to lift Portland to a stunning 1-0 upset that eliminated the defending champs. And that was just one of the quarter-final surprises: No. 7 seed Sky Blue FC and the 6th-seeded Chicago Red Stars joined No. 8 Portland in the semifinals. The only favourite to advance was the 4th-seeded Houston Dash, which beat 5th-seeded Utah. Adding to the drama, the Houston, Chicago and Sky Blue wins all came via penalty shootout. The semifinal matchups (Portland vs. Houston, Sky Blue vs. Chicago) are both Wednesday, and the final is Sunday.

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Could a vaccine wipe out COVID-19 or will protection be short-term? That’s the ‘million dollar question’

In 1910, a young girl was taken to a hospital in Hamilton, Ont. with a suspected case of rabies.

It wasn’t until after her death that clinicians discovered what was actually wrong: She’d somehow contracted polio, marking the grim start of Canada’s first outbreak of the contagious viral illness, which wound up paralyzing — or killing — tens of thousands of Canadians.

In 1953 alone, the year the disease peaked, 9,000 children across the country were infected, and 500 died.

But after polio vaccines were rolled out widely that same decade, the virus quickly started to disappear. In 1994, four decades later, Canada was declared polio-free.

Could a vaccine for the new coronavirus lead to a similar outcome?

That’s the best-case scenario — but it’s far from certain. 

Even amid unprecedented collaboration, with researchers around the world scrambling to develop at least one safe, successful option, there’s still lots to learn about SARS‑CoV‑2, a virus that’s been spreading among humans for only a few months. 

Would a vaccine for the new coronavirus wind up offering long-lasting immunity, potentially wiping out COVID-19 across Canada? Or will the virus prove to be a shape-shifter, mutating quickly enough that people need annual vaccines like those for seasonal strains of influenza?

“We don’t yet know the answers to those questions,” says Dr. Mary Carol Jennings, a public health physician and vaccine scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The answers will help us imagine what it would look like.”

Those conclusions will also shed light on whether COVID-19 could one day fade out from public consciousness — or remain a threat for decades to come.

Dozens of vaccines in development

RIght now, dozens of potential SARS‑CoV‑2 vaccines are being developed in countries across the globe, including here in Canada, with some as far along as human trials as companies race to release options years ahead of typical timelines.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Matthew Miller, an associate professor at McMaster University’s department of biochemistry and biomedical sciences, says most of the contenders closest to the finish line focus on the same area of the virus: The spike protein.

Those exterior spikes are what put the “corona” — or crown formation — in the virus’s name. They’re also what it uses to latch on to human cells, ultimately breaking through their outer membranes to hijack their machinery in order to replicate.

Each cone-shaped spike protein is multi-layered, notes Halifax-based pediatric infectious disease physician Joanne Langley, a vaccine researcher at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology who’s helping lead clinical trials for potential SARS‑CoV‑2 vaccines through the Canadian Immunization Research Network.

“If you were looking at, say, a rose and you were a bee, and you could go in between the petals — it has all those shapes and structures. It’s not just one flat thing,” she explains.


SARS‑CoV‑2 spike protein


A medical illustration of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Many vaccine researchers are focusing on the virus’s spike protein, the cone-shaped structures shown here in green. (Maria Voigt/RCSB PDB)

To create long-lasting protection, researchers need to pinpoint a piece of that structure that’s likely to remain stable over time, then isolate and de-activate it, which could require an old-school method like using a chemically-killed virus, or genetically modifying viral information so it can’t infect humans.

Once someone is given the vaccine containing that key viral code, their body can memorize how to fight back against the threat whenever it returns, like an army learning intel about the best way to fend off a particular invader. 

Take the measles vaccine, for example. Like all viruses, it does mutate over time. “The vaccine we have is 70 years old,” Jennings notes, but it’s still effective since it “targets a stable part of the virus.”

On the flip side, if a vaccine targets part of the spike protein that winds up evolving rapidly, then the immune system — that internal army — is stuck with outdated information, leaving it vulnerable to the changing threat.

COVID-19 could be ‘long-term battle’

So how will researchers figure out how long a successful vaccine will keep people immune to COVID-19, and what form it will take?

That’s the “million dollar question,” Jennings says.

Knowing for sure how long immunity will last requires following vaccine test subjects over time. Say researchers are hoping for a full year of protection. That means, at a basic level, you have to test the vaccine, wait a year, and test subjects again to see if they’re still able to fight off the antigen.

Given the pressing need for a successful vaccine, amid a global death toll of a quarter-million and counting, Langley says there’s no room for that kind of delay.

Instead, research teams need to make predictions based on how robust the immune response is after 28 days — a much shorter window that still allows enough time for someone’s body to recognize the virus, and start producing antibodies to fight it.


A PhD student works on vaccine development at a coronavirus vaccine laboratory in Saskatchewan. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

Thankfully, this coronavirus seems to remain fairly constant, Langley notes. “It’s not like influenza that’s shifting and drifting over time, and having radical changes,” she says. “But we don’t know for sure.”

Annual flu vaccines often wind up being out of date, with researchers trying to predict which strains will emerge as the most powerful months down the line.

It’s also challenging to manage widespread yearly vaccination programs, says the University of Toronto’s Dr. Natasha Crowcroft, a specialist in infectious diseases and immunization.

She agrees the early research shows a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine likely won’t require that kind of seasonal uptake to protect people, though it could be similar to other long-lasting vaccines — including those for tetanus, measles, mumps, and rubella — which require more than one dose.

“My expert opinion is that it will be something intermediate,” echoes Miller, adding it probably won’t require annual revaccination, but more likely booster shots at certain intervals.

Given the early research into how this virus operates, wiping out COVID-19 is “plausible,” Crowcroft says. With a fairly low reproductive rate, the new coronavirus wouldn’t require every single person to be immunized in order to produce widespread protection, she explains.

At the same time, that scenario relies on the vaccine’s long-term success level on an individual basis — an outcome we likely won’t know for years until options are fully tested, mass-produced, and provided to the public.

With so much uncertainty, Miller warns the new coronavirus — or other similar, undiscovered strains — could wind up causing seasonal infections in Canada long after this pandemic, unlike polio which largely faded into the country’s history books.

“This is much more likely to be a long-term battle for us,” he says. “It’s unlikely that we’re going to be able to eradicate this thing.”

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An 11-year-old qualified for the Olympics — and that’s not even a record

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An 11-year-old qualified for the Olympics

Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza earned a spot by winning the women’s singles event at the regional qualifying tournament for West Asia. She beat a 42-year-old in the final. Assuming her country approves her participation, Zaza will likely be the youngest athlete at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Her date of birth is listed as Jan. 1, 2009. That makes her younger than British skateboarder Sky Brown, who will turn 12 just before the start of the Olympics and still needs to qualify.

Zaza won’t be the youngest Olympian ever, though. In fact, athletes younger than her have won medals. The youngest known Olympic medallist is a Greek gymnast named Dimitrios Loundras, who was 10 when he won a bronze in the team parallel bars event at the 1896 Games. An 11-year-old Italian named Luigina Giavotti won silver in the women’s team gymnastics event at the 1928 Games. That Italian team also had two 12-year-olds.

Then there’s the legend of the unknown rowing boy. Before the pairs final at the 1900 Olympics in Paris, the Dutch team decided to ditch its regular coxswain (the person who steers the boat) for a much lighter local kid. They won the gold medal, and the cox is considered part of the team. The problem, for record-keeping purposes, is that no one knows who the boy is or how old he was. Estimates have ranged from as young as seven to as old as 12, based on this grainy photograph:


Canada’s youngest-ever Olympian is swimmer Barbara Hounsell. She was 13 years, 102 days old at the start of the 1964 Tokyo Games. The youngest Canadian medallist is swimmer Robin Corsiglia. She was 13 years, 341 days when she helped the women’s 4x100m medley relay team win bronze at the 1976 Games in Montreal. Read more about Canada’s youngest and oldest Olympians in this story from the Canadian Olympic Committee.

If you’re wondering, there’s no universal age minimum for the Olympics. It’s up to each sport’s world governing body to decide. In gymnastics and snowboarding, for example, athletes now have to turn at least 16 in the calendar year in which the Olympics are held. Table tennis doesn’t have a minimum age.

The Canadian men’s soccer team’s chances of qualifying for the Olympics got a lot worse

Young stars Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David won’t play in Canada’s Olympic qualifying tournament, which runs March 20-April 1 in Mexico, because their club teams need them. The 19-year-old Davies turned heads with a great performance in Bayern Munich’s 3-0 Champions League win over Chelsea on Tuesday. He set up the third goal with this dazzling display of speed and skill (skip to the 4:07 mark):

David, 20, scored a hat trick for his Belgian league team last weekend and has 23 goals this season for them.

That’s all great news for Canadian soccer. But, unfortunately, the Olympic qualifying tournament doesn’t fall neatly into FIFA’s international window (March 23-31), so clubs don’t have to release their players for the whole thing. Also, the Canadian team has friendlies scheduled for March 27 and 31 vs. Trinidad and Tobago that it wants Davies and David to play in. Those are important because they count in the world rankings and Canada is trying to catch El Salvador for sixth place in their region. That’s key because the top six after the June qualifying window get to play in the so-called “Hex,” which is the final round of World Cup qualifying for the region. The Hex isn’t the only way to get into the 2022 World Cup, but it’s the easiest and the best. So Canada will do everything it can to get in.

Also, Canada was a long shot to qualify for the Olympics anyway. It’s only the third-highest ranked team in its group, and the other group includes the much higher ranked Mexico and the United States. So even if Canada advances to the semis, it would likely have to beat one of those teams to reach the Olympics for the first time since 1984. Read more about Davies, David and the Canadian national team’s outlook here.


Alphonso Davies has been told, basically, that he’s too good for Olympic qualifying. (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

There’s a big diving event in Montreal

The FINA Diving World Series is the premier set of events in the sport. Only the best divers in the world are invited, plus a few wild cards from the country that’s hosting each meet. Usually there are four or five stops in the World Series, but this year it’s been cut to three because the Beijing meet was cancelled due to the coronavirus emergency. Also, the powerful Chinese team won’t compete at this week’s opening event in Montreal.

That means an easier path to the podium for Canadians like 10-metre platform divers Meaghan Benfeito and Caeli McKay, and 3m specialists Jennifer Abel and Mélissa Citrini-Beaulieu. The latter two are the only Canadians who have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics so far (as partners in the 3m synchro event). No one else can clinch a spot in Montreal, but they can earn rankings points that will help them do so. Read more about the Canadians to watch here.

CBC Sports is streaming every competition in Montreal live, starting Friday at noon ET and continuing through Sunday. You can watch here and get the exact times in the full streaming and broadcast schedule. The CBC TV network will also be showing some of the meet Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.

Quickly…

Another Canadian teenager is making noise on the women’s tennis tour. While we wait (and wait) for Bianca Andreescu to come back from her knee injury, Leylah Annie Fernandez has been doing some pretty impressive stuff for a 17-year-old in her first full pro season. While playing for Canada in the Fed Cup earlier this month, she upset the world’s No. 5-ranked player at the time, Belinda Bencic, despite being barely in the top 200 herself. Now Fernandez has reached her first quarter-finals on the WTA tour after crushing 71st-ranked Nao Hibino last night at the Mexican Open. Her next match is tonight (probably sometime after 11 p.m. ET) vs. 18-year-old Russian Anastasia Potapova, who’s ranked 97th in the world.

The Canucks have lost their top goalie for a bit. Jacob Markstrom underwent a “minor lower body procedure” and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, GM Jim Benning said last night. Markstrom got hurt in Vancouver’s win over Boston on Saturday. Thatcher Demko will probably be the go-to guy now. He beat Montreal 4-3 in overtime on Tuesday. The Canucks also have Louis Domingue, who they picked up at the trade deadline on Monday. The Canucks have fallen four points behind Vegas for first place in the Pacific Division, but they’ve played three fewer games than the Golden Knights. Vancouver and Edmonton are both two points ahead of Calgary for the other two playoff spots in the Pacific.

Canada’s women’s sitting volleyball team is in great shape at its Paralympic qualifier in Halifax. The squad is 2-0 after dominating Slovenia in straight sets and beating Germany 3-1 yesterday. Canada plays today at 5 p.m. ET vs. Ukraine, then finishes the round robin tomorrow at noon ET vs. Finland. This is a five-team tournament, and only the winner gets to go to Tokyo this summer. The top four teams after the round robin advance to the semifinals on Friday evening, and the winners of the semis play for the Paralympic spot Saturday at 2 p.m. ET. CBC Sports is streaming every match in the tournament live here.

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NHL scoring is up again and that’s leading to other fun things

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The NHL season is off to a pretty wild start

Almost exactly 25 per cent of the 1,271 scheduled games are in the books. A lot can still change over the next few months, but we’re deep enough into the season to buy into a few trends and other interesting stuff. Here are some of the big takeaways:

Scoring continues to rise

It’s up for the fourth straight year. If we toss out the “goal” teams are credited with when they win a shootout, we’re seeing an average of 6.07 goals per game this season. Scoring hasn’t been this high since the wacky 2005-06 season, which shouldn’t even count. In an effort to win back fans after a year-long lockout, the NHL goosed scoring by ordering refs to call everything. That led to an incredible 5.85 power plays per team per game on average — easily the highest rate in history according to hockey-reference.com’s numbers. As a result, the average team scored 1.03 power-play goals per game in 2005-06 — the only time over 1.00 in NHL history outside of the run-and-gun ’80s and early ’90s.

This season, the scoring chances are much more organic. The average team is getting 3.25 power-play opportunities per game — the highest rate in six years, but nowhere near that post-lockout fever-dream season — and scoring 0.63 power-play goals.

It’s always hard to pinpoint a reason for more scoring, but we can assume the suite of minor rule changes introduced by the NHL over the summer are having at least some impact. In certain scenarios, for example, the offensive-zone team now gets to choose which side of the ice the faceoff happens. This makes it easier for that team to generate an immediate scoring chance.

Anecdotally, skaters seem to be getting more and more skilled every year as we move away from an era when goalies and defensive systems dominated. Today’s more offensive-minded players understand the best ways to beat a goalie, and many have perfected the skills (like, say, a good one-timer) to convert that knowledge into goals. Tighter limits on the size of goalie equipment, which went into place a few years ago, have also helped. Also, have you noticed there’s just a lot less hitting these days? Less-physical play generally translates to more scoring — in any sport.

Leon Draisaitl is on pace to join an extremely exclusive club

“On pace” can be misleading at this point in the season because there’s still plenty of time to regress from a hot start. But let’s just play this out: with 43 points in only 22 games, the NHL’s leading scorer is on track to finish with 160 points. The only two players in NHL history to reach that total are Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, who did it a combined 13 (!) times.

Connor McDavid has a shot at a historic season too

Draisaitl’s teammate on the Edmonton Oilers has 40 points through 22 games. That’s a 149-point pace, which would match Jaromir Jagr’s best season. The 150-point club, by the way, has only five members: Gretzky, Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Phil Esposito and Bernie Nichols. Those last three guys only did it once each.

Seems like everybody is having a good year, actually

The NHL says 72 per cent of all skaters have scored a goal — the highest percentage in 26 years. Four guys have already had a four-goal game, which happened four times all of last season. Eleven players are on pace for 100 points, which would be the most in a season since 1995-96. That includes Washington’s John Carlson, who’s on pace for 120 and has a shot to become the first defenceman since Brian Leetch in 1991-92 to reach the century mark. Meanwhile, Colorado’s Cale Makar is on pace to shatter Larry Murphy’s 39-year-old record for points by a rookie defenceman.

The long arm of regression is probably coming for some of these guys. But still, it’s shaping up to be a fun season.


Caps defenceman John Carlson is on pace for an incredible 120 points. (Hans Deryk/Canadian Press)

Quickly…

Canada pulled off another upset to advance to the next round of the Davis Cup finals. Yesterday, Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov both won their singles matches to help Canada surprise Italy. Today, they did the exact same thing against the U.S., giving Canada its first win in 16 tries against the Americans in Davis Cup history. With that, Canada won the group and advanced to the knockout stage. If it wins its quarter-final matchup (Belgium or Australia will be the opponent), Canada will match its best-ever showing at the Davis Cup. Read more about today’s big win here, and read about how the revamped tournament works here.

Don Cherry has a podcast. It’s called “The Don Cherry’s Grapevine Podcast” and the first episode came out today. It’s basically a 25-minute version of Coach’s Corner, with Cherry’s son Tim playing the Ron MacLean role. Anyone hoping for Don’s extended thoughts on his sudden departure from television might be disappointed. All he really said was that he “offered to explain” his now-infamous “you people” comment to his bosses at Sportsnet. “…Not an apology but I was going to smooth it over. And they made conditions that made it impossible to do it.” As for MacLean — who went on TV Saturday night and said he chose “principle over friendship” in condemning his former partner’s comments — Cherry said he’s “still a friend, I’m a little disappointed but I won’t go any farther than that.” Read more about Cherry’s new gig here.

There will be no more Midgets, Bantams, Peewees, Atoms or Novices in minor hockey. Those traditional age-group names are being changed to, respectively, Under-18, Under-15, Under-13, Under-11 and Under-9 starting next season across the country, Hockey Canada announced. Those numbers reflect the age limits of the players in each division. Hockey Canada says this will make things easier to understand for people just starting out in the sport, and will help make the game “more inclusive.” It’s been pointed out that “midget,” for example, is now considered a derogatory term when referring to little people. Read more about the name changes here.

And do you remember…

The Malice at the Palace? The infamous brawl between NBA players and fans at the Palace of Auburn Hills just outside Detroit happened 15 years ago today. The trouble started when Pistons big man Ben Wallace shoved Indiana’s Ron Artest in response to a hard foul with less than a minute left in the game. Other players joined the fray as it spilled toward the scorer’s table at mid-court, where the eccentric Artest did the unusual move of laying down on the table. That’s when all hell broke loose. A fan up in the seats hit Artest with a beverage, and the man who would later change his name to Metta World Peace charged up into the stands to punch the first guy he could find. Artest’s teammate Stephen Jackson ran up there and slugged another fan who had gotten involved in the Artest fight. That’s when it became a full-scale melee between players (mostly Pacers) and fans.

After the dust settled on one of the worst brawls in sports history, Artest was suspended for the rest of the regular season (a whopping 73 games) plus the playoffs. Jackson got 30 games, Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal 15, and a half-dozen more players from both teams received bans ranging from six games to one. If you want all the details (and then some) about the brawI, check out this oral history from 2012.

That’s it. You’re up to speed. Want more writing like this sent straight to your inbox? Subscribe to The Buzzer below.

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Why you shouldn’t salt a leech that’s sucking your blood

The sight of a swollen, slimy leech clamped to your skin sucking away at your blood may evoke a wave of panic and disgust. But resist the temptation to pour salt on it, as folk wisdom recommends, because that could cause the leech to vomit into the wound, posing unnecessary health risks, suggest biologists behind a new exhibit on bloodsucking animals.

Sebastian Kvist, curator of invertebrates, and Doug Currie, senior curator of entomology at the Royal Ontario Museum, are the creators of Bloodsuckers, which opens at the Toronto museum Saturday. The interactive exhibit, which runs until March 22, 2020, includes includes better advice for how to remove leeches and ticks. 

It also features live specimens and explores the biology of bloodsucking animals, their use in medicine, and their appearances in stories through the ages.

But why wait for the exhibit? 

Kvist and Currie shared with CBC News some things you need to know about bloodsucking animals, from leeches to ticks to vampiric moths and bloodthirsty fish known for swimming up people’s genitals.

Why shouldn’t you salt a leech?

Kvist says that when leeches get stressed while feeding, they can vomit some of the blood back into the open wound.

“It’ll bring with it a bit of bacteria, normally, and so you can get a minor infection from it,” he says.

“A really good way of stressing a leech is pouring salt or  lemon on it or burning it with a cigarette butt, so we tell people not to do that anymore.”


Leeches feed on a blood sausage made from cow’s blood in a pig intestine. (Royal Ontario Museum)

Instead, he recommends using a fingernail or a credit card to break the seal between the leech’s mouth and your skin quickly, “so it doesn’t have time to regurgitate blood.”

Another option is to wait until the leech is done feeding so it will fall off on its own. That takes about 30 or 45 minutes. Kvist cautions, however, that because leeches’ saliva contain powerful blood thinners that can cause you to bleed slowly for longer than usual — up to 36 hours.

Why do bloodsuckers often go for the groin?

Because leeches are slow eaters, they are pretty careful about finding a nice spot to feed where they won’t be disturbed, Kvist says. 

“It tries to nestle in maybe between toes or any kind of crevice on your body — groins or armpits and stuff like that are what they normally like.”


The sea lamprey, an invasive species in the Great Lakes, is one of the bloodsucking fish on display at the Royal Ontario Museum. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

The ROM exhibit also features live specimens of another bloodsucker with a reputation for going for the groin. The candiru, which is also known as the toothpick fish or vampire fish of the Amazon River feeds on blood from fish gills, which it locates by homing in on ammonia that the gills expel, Kvist says.

Ammonia is also a component of human urine, which may be why doctors have reported the fish being found lodged inside human urethras.

Which bloodsucking animals pose the greatest health risks?

Leeches are not known to transmit any diseases to humans. Nor are black flies.

One key feature of bloodsucking animals that can transmit diseases is that they have multiple blood meals over their lives, says Currie.


American dog ticks sit on a yellow sponge. They’re among the live animals that are on display at the new ‘Bloodsuckers’ exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. (Tina Weltz/ROM)

That includes ticks, which can carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tick paralysis. 

“The good news is it takes 24 to 48 hours [of sucking on your blood] before they have the capacity to transmit a disease,” Currie says. If you remove them before that, you’re probably fine.

That’s because they’re extremely slow feeders. It takes them weeks or days to complete a blood meal of up to 600 times their body mass. 

“It’s really spectacular. They can be quite disgusting looking,” Currie says.

The other requirement for disease transmission is that the microbes that cause the disease must be able to survive local conditions.

Mosquitoes can carry West Nile and Eastern equine encephalitis in Canada, but are theoretically capable of carrying a wider range of diseases, such as Dengue fever. It’s just that the microbes that cause those diseases can’t survive our current climate, Currie says.

“The concern is as the climate warms, and [the] disease agent works its way north, there is the potential for some of our local mosquitoes to transmit it.” 

What are some bloodsucking animals we might know?

Many people are familiar with bloodsucking insects, vampire bats and even sea lampreys, but here are some bloodsuckers you may not have heard of:

  • In southeast Asia, there are vampire moths that suck blood from a range of animals, including humans. While only the females are bloodsuckers among many biting flies, in moths, it’s the males that are out for blood. Currie says it’s thought that the males take the salt from the blood and present it to the females as a “nuptial gift” — kind of like the moth version of flowers or chocolate.
  • The Atlantic Ocean is home to a vampiric snail that sucks blood from the gills of fish, Kvist says. Since it’s not very speedy, it applies both a local anesthetic and some kind of sedative while it’s feeding.
  • There are also some species of blood-feeding birds. They include vampiric ground finches in the Galapagos that peck at other birds and drink their blood, and oxpeckers in sub-Saharan Africa that eat blood-filled ticks, lice and mites, but also slurp from wounds in the skin of animals like rhinos and wildebeests.

Red-billed oxpeckers, shown removing clumps of hair from a bushbuck, are a species of bird in sub-Saharan Africa that feed on blood. (Jim Richards/ROM)

Why do scientists think bloodsuckers should be viewed in a more positive light?

Many bloodfeeders are key components of the food web.

With black flies, while the adult females may feed on larger animals like us, the larvae are an abundant food for other aquatic animals, Currie says: “And so without them we certainly wouldn’t have the fish that we’d like to go fishing for feeds waterfowl and plays a really important role in our northern ecosystems.”


Leeches feed on a blood sausage made of a pig intestine filled with cow’s blood. (Wanda Dobrowlanski/ROM)

Obviously, leeches have been important in medicine – they’re still used to relieve blood congestion after surgery to reattach fingers and toes, and their powerful blood thinners were key to making the first human kidney dialysis possible in 1921, Kvist says.

In general, he says the adaptations of blood sucking animals are biologically extraordinary.

“I think that the animals being able to take your blood — your very life force — without you knowing it or without you noticing it is quite spectacular.”

Currie hopes the exhibit will give people the information they need to live “in harmony” with bloodsuckers.

“I don’t think we’re going to get anyone to love bloodsuckers any more than they already do, but I think what we do want to enlighten the public about is they are interesting in their own right,” he says.

“They are important components of ecosystems in which they live, and really they have inspired us in a lot of ways through art and culture.”

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‘I was shocked’: Complaints mount after Amazon sends food that’s expired or past its best-before date

Salad dressing more than four months past its best-before date. Infant formula that had expired months before it arrived. These are just some of the customer complaints posted on Amazon’s Canadian website about grocery orders that arrived past their prime.

CBC News examined customer reviews for various grocery items posted on Amazon.ca in 2018-19, and discovered numerous complaints about old food. Several customers reported that they had received expired infant formula and dozens more complained that the online retailer had sent food — including mayonnaise, baby food and coconut milk — that was past its best-before date.

Almost all the items were shipped directly from Amazon’s warehouses. The company said the problems have been addressed and were the result of isolated technical issues but did not elaborate.

Lana Lukyanava of Richmond Hill, Ont., said she was upset when her order of baby food from Amazon.ca arrived on July 22 — with a best-before date from several days earlier. 

“I was shocked. It’s baby food. How can they do that?” Lukyanava said in an interview with CBC News. “Don’t they have enough funds to implement quality control?”


A review by an Amazon.ca customer shows protein bars that appear to have a best-before date from close to a year before the order arrived. (Amazon.ca)

Andreea Catana of Calgary said she didn’t notice the cookies she bought on Amazon.ca last year were past their best-before date — until she ate one, and it tasted stale. 

“That is quite concerning that Amazon would not have somebody check the shelf life of their products before they send them out,” she said. 

Customers can’t check best-before dates before they buy food online. Food safety experts say Amazon needs to do better. 

The Seattle-based online retail giant began selling and shipping groceries to Canadians in 2013. 


Keith Warriner, a microbiologist at the University of Guelph, said selling expired infant formula is concerning because it means the product may have lost some of its nutrients. (CBC)

“They’ve got a corporate responsibility to ensure that people get a good product,” said Keith Warriner, a microbiologist at the University of Guelph.

He said selling expired infant formula is concerning because it means the product may have lost some of its nutrients.

“You basically could be giving your baby food that’s deficient,” he said.

Unlike infant formula, which has an expiration date, most foods come with only a best-before date, which guarantees food quality and freshness. While stale food typically doesn’t pose a health threat, food safety expert Rick Holley said it’s still bad business to ship it to customers. 

“Your expectation is that it’s good quality,” said Holley, a University of Manitoba professor emeritus. “If I want to buy [lesser]-quality food, I’ll go to that section of the grocery store, and I’ll be able to buy it at a discount.”

‘Top priority’ to provide ‘high-quality’ items, Amazon says

Amazon said that it’s committed to selling customers quality food. 

“Our top priority is ensuring customers receive safe, high-quality products when they order from our store,” the company said in an emailed statement.

“We have proactive processes in place to ensure customers receive products with sufficient shelf life and use a combination of artificial intelligence and manual systems to monitor for product quality and safety concerns.”

Amazon also said that its customer service teams can immediately stop selling an item if they become aware of quality concerns. 


A review on Amazon.ca shows a package of cookies that the customer said was past its best-before date when it arrived. (Amazon.ca)

If customers do happen to receive aged food, Amazon said, they can get a refund.

However, CBC News pointed out that the company’s Canadian website states that grocery items are non-returnable, giving some customers the impression that they can’t get their money back under any circumstances. 

Shortly after CBC News’s inquiry, Amazon added a line to its returns policy page that grocery items can be “refunded or replaced.”

Lukyanava didn’t try to return her baby food because it was inexpensive. Instead, she posted a review about her experience but said she never got a response. 

“I was hoping that it would cause some reaction, but there was nothing,” she said. “I felt really disappointed.”

CBC News asked Amazon about Lukyanava’s case. A few days later, the company emailed her to apologize for her experience and inform her she’s getting a refund for her $ 6 purchase. 

Other retailers get complaints

Amazon.ca isn’t the first retailer to face complaints about selling old food. In 2015, CBC’s Marketplace interviewed employees at a number of grocery stores who claimed that their stores used tricks to make food appear fresh and changed best-before dates to extend their shelf life.

Amazon’s U.S. site has also faced accusations that some of the third-party merchants on its site are selling old food. 

U.S. data analytics firm 3PM Solutions recently analyzed Amazon.com’s 100 bestselling food products for CNBC. The firm found that at least 40 per cent of third-party sellers had more than five customer complaints about goods that had expired or were past their best-before date. 

“Seeing that 40 per cent of these sellers had multiple mentions of selling expired product was disappointing,” 3PM CEO Rob Dunkel said in an interview with CBC News. “It’s really the consumer who’s really getting hurt here.” 

Amazon told CBC News that it screens all its selling partners and that they must abide by product quality guidelines. The company said it takes appropriate action when dealers don’t play by the rules.

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Jamie Foxx Shuts Down Sela Vave Dating Rumors Following Split From Katie Holmes: ‘That’s Absolutely Not True’

Jamie Foxx Shuts Down Sela Vave Dating Rumors Following Split From Katie Holmes: ‘That’s Absolutely Not True’ | Entertainment Tonight

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Why investors can’t wait to buy into Uber, a company that’s never made money — and maybe never will

It’s one of the fastest growing technology companies in the world. 

Customers took more than five billion rides on the service last year, spending almost $ 50 billion US in the process.  

And each and every time someone ordered up one of the company’s services — the company lost about 58 cents.

Sound like a good investment? With most companies, the intuitive answer to the question above would likely be no. But Uber isn’t like most companies.

Founded in Silicon Valley a decade ago after its two co-founders reportedly couldn’t find a taxi on a cold night in Paris, Uber pioneered the concept of ride-sharing, with drivers operating as independent contractors, by coming up with a smartphone app that allows users to request a ride, and easily pay for it via a linked-up credit card.

It has since grown to include food and package delivery services, waged an all-out war with the taxi industry while becoming an eponym for the sharing economy as a whole, prompting a slew of imitators to pitch themselves along the way as “the Uber of” whatever industry they are attempting to shake up.

It’s quite an impressive feat for a company that has burned through $ 20 billion worth of venture capital money since its founding in 2009 — and, by its own admission — may never turn a profit.

“We have incurred significant losses since inception,” the company acknowledges in paperwork it filed with regulators in April, on the road to going public in Friday’s IPO. “We expect our operating expenses to increase significantly in the foreseeable future, and we may not achieve profitability.”

Trifling details like actually making money don’t seem to be a hindrance to investors, who have been eagerly awaiting the company’s IPO, which gives the public its first opportunity to buy into the hyped-up company.

At the end of business Thursday, Uber set the IPO at $ 45 a share, on the lower end of its targeted range of $ 44 to $ 50 per share.

The company will raise $ 8.1 billion in the IPO, giving Uber a valuation of $ 82.4 billion. But despite those eye-popping numbers, not everyone is convinced the company will get five stars with investors over the long term.

Look at what’s happened with Uber’s main rival, Lyft, which went public in March in an IPO that raised billions and valued the company at $ 72 a share.

The shares roared out of the gate to almost $ 90, but quickly reversed course. Today they’re under $ 60 a share as investors have started to realize there’s a sea of red ink below the sky-high expectations of ride-sharing companies.

Uber driver Aaron Levin holds his two-year-old son William at a protest against the company in California. Just about every where the company launches, it faces regulatory and legal opposition. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Mike Ward, an analyst with Seaport Global, is the lone analyst with a sell rating on Lyft, and a lot of the reasons for his cynicism about Lyft can be said of Uber, too.

Namely, they burn through far more cash than they bring in. In Lyft’s case, the company booked $ 8 billion worth of rides last year, and kept about a quarter of that money for itself — the rest went to drivers.

Within that $ 2 billion, Lyft has to pay myriad expenses, including marketing, insurance, regulatory and legal costs in new markets that are usually resistant to their entry, and other expenses. Add it all up, and Lyft lost $ 911 million last year — or $ 1.47 for each and every one of their more than 616 million rides last year.

So why buy? For investors, the case in favour of these companies basically boils down to two ideas: They will make money as more people ditch car ownership and opt for ride sharing instead, and self-driving cars will turn them into autonomous cash machines.

Both of these arguments are far from certain. Ward, for one, doesn’t buy the first argument at all.

“In our view, in order for the company to justify its current market valuation, investors need to take a big leap of faith that millennials and later generations will forego ownership of a car and opt instead for reliance on a ride-sharing service.”

And he doesn’t see that happening. He cites U.S. census data showing that while the number of young people with a driver’s licence declined for a few years after the financial crisis, today about three quarters of millennials have a driver’s licence — not exactly backing up that theory that they have no need of driving themselves.

“The bull case for the ride-sharing industry is that the younger generations will substitute ride-sharing for vehicle ownership,” he said. “We disagree with this thesis, and recent licensed driver and home ownership data, in our opinion, supports our thesis.”

Despite heady predictions that millennials will soon kill the car, Ward “believes people will continue to own their own vehicles as primary transportation and instead rely on the ride-sharing services as a convenient supplement.” 

Uber’s prospectus pegs the theoretical market for its ride-sharing service at $ 5.7 trillion annually, but Ward thinks it’s far smaller — about $ 70 billion in the U.S., by his calculations.

Uber shook up the global taxi industry when it launched, and the company’s name has become an icon for the so-called gig economy. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

To the second point, a fully autonomous fleet of driverless cars would obviously allow the company to keep a lot more of its revenue, but even that is no sure thing. When an autonomously controlled Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona last year, the company hit the brakes on the whole self-driving experiment and has only recently started it up again, on an even more limited basis.

No widespread use of self-driving cars?

Both companies spend a small fortune on insurance, and self-driving technology would help them a lot there, too, but Ward says realistically that is still a long ways off. “At some point, the option for a fully autonomous vehicle could provide a solution, but in our view, widescale, fully autonomous vehicles are unlikely to be available for a decade or more.”

To be fair, Uber is far from the only technology company that has tried to cash in before making any actual money. Twitter, Snapchat, Spotify and many others all came to market before they’d earned a penny — and the stock charts of all three since their IPOs should be reason enough to give would-be Uber investors some pause.

Because things didn’t used to be this way. Finance professor Jay Ritter at the University of Florida crunched numbers dating back almost 40 years, covering more than 3,000 large technology companies that have gone public since 1980.

For most of those early years, about 90 per cent of tech companies were profitable before they tried to go public. That ratio plunged to barely one in seven during the tech bubble of 2000 as worse and worse companies rushed to market to cash in while they could.

The ratio recovered somewhat during the mid-2000s to about 70 per cent profitability. But today? It’s back to barely one out of every six tech companies that bothers to turn a profit before going public.

That’s a problem, according to Jawad Mian, the founder of macroeconomic research firm Stray Reflections.

In addition to Uber and Lyft, technology companies such as Airbnb, Pinterest, Slack and many more are believed to be rushing to market in the coming months, with stratospheric valuations based on impossibly high growth prospects.

The fervour is so intense that it reminds Mian of another era — one that didn’t end well for investors.

A hundred years ago, American railroad companies raised millions of dollars from stock market investors happy to buy in based on breathless projections about the infinite size of a nebulous untapped market. 

“This ended badly, of course, as shares collapsed once valuations reached bubble territory and investors realized that railroads were not as lucrative as they were led to believe,” Mian says.

We have long argued the biggest risk to the bull market is an Uber IPO– Jawad Mian, macroeconomics research firm Stray Reflections 

“And railroads have more parallels to today’s ride-sharing companies than we might like,” he deadpans.

While the industry may evolve into a viable one at some point, the hyped-up valuations of companies like Lyft and Uber makes him worry. “We have long argued the biggest risk to the bull market is an Uber IPO,” he says. 


“As these companies go public, investors will want to see a clearer route to long-term profitability even at the expense of growth [but] the dilemma is that there are not many levers to pull to make that happen,” he says.

Uber, he notes, has internally been referring to its IPO plans under the ominous codename of “Project Liberty” — a nod to the thousands of employees and early investors who have waited years to sell their stakes for a profit.

“If history repeats, perhaps it was so named to liberate fools from their dollars,” he said.

“It won’t be long before we find out.”

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‘Is red meat good or bad?’ Researchers say that’s the wrong question

Swapping out red meat for plant-based sources of protein reduced heart disease risks in a review of research.

For the meta-analysis on meat consumption, researchers analyzed data from 36 randomized controlled trials comparing diets with red meat with diets that replaced red meat with a variety of foods.

The studies, involving 1,800 participants, looked at diets that included poultry and fish, diets that included just fish or just chicken, diets with or without dairy, diets with more carbohydrates (like bread and cereal) and diets with plant proteins (legumes, soy, or nuts).

The focus of the paper, published in the journal Circulation, was on factors associated with heart disease: blood concentrations of cholesterol, triglycerides, lipoproteins, and blood pressure.

The study’s lead author, Marta Guasch-Ferré, a research scientist at Harvard’s nutrition department, and her team crunched the numbers by comparing high-meat diets to a combination of other diets. Overall, across all diets, they found no major differences in the factors associated with heart disease. 

Then the researchers took a deeper dive to check the diets individually.

“We find that when red meat was substituted by high-quality plant protein sources including legumes, soy or nuts, that led to more favourable changes in blood lipids and lipoproteins compared to red meat,” Guasch-Ferré said in an interview.

Legumes include beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas.

Burgers versus fries

The researchers say this explains inconsistencies found in previous studies on the effects of red meat on cardiovascular risk.

Previous research didn’t take into account the composition of the comparison diet, as substituting low-quality carbohydrates did not have a positive effect on heart health, they said.

“Asking ‘Is red meat good or bad?’ is useless,” Meir Stampfer, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition and senior author of the study, said in a release from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It has to be ‘compared to what?’ If you replace burgers with cookies or fries, you don’t get healthier. But if you replace red meat with healthy plant protein sources, like nuts and beans, you get a health benefit.”

The Harvard authors recommended that consumers follow healthy vegetarian and Mediterranean-style diets, both for their health benefits and to promote environmental sustainability.

The findings emphasize that proteins are an important aspect of a diet to reduce cardiovascular risk, said Laura Rosella, an associate professor in epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

What’s substituted for red meat in the diet matters, nutrition researchers say. (Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press)

“Canada’s new Food Guide encourages a range of protein sources, including beans, peas and soy products. The Food Guide also emphasizes a range of healthy choices across your diet,” Rosella said in an email.

Unlike prescription drug studies that compare a medication to a placebo, researchers who study diet have to be aware that people will always replace one food with something else.

“The impact of the diet change can vary a lot depending on what is being replaced by what is taken away,” said Rosella, an expert in population health research. “This is an important message for consumers, because often results from studies like this can be interpreted too simplistically to — ‘don’t eat this’ or ‘eat that’ — when in fact consumers should be thinking about their overall diet and how to make that as healthy as possible across the board, including what they drink.”

Randomized trials themselves can vary in quality and duration. And many more factors influence disease than what can be captured in a trial.

The meta-analysis was about cardiovascular risk factors only, not other health outcomes such as cancer or mortality.

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