Poisonous picks

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Did you ever wonder about poisonous mushrooms? No, not about whether a mushroom was poisonous, but just exactly how you go about determining a mushroom is poisonous? Because there really is only one answer — someone, somewhere, at some time, ate a mushroom of a particular species. And died.

Check any mushroom book, and you will find many choices marked as deadly. In a small way, you can do the math.

To put it bluntly, you realize that in the world of poisonous mushrooms, you wouldn’t want to be one of the test subjects.

This week, researchers from the London Health Centre in London, Ont., published the results of another kind of experimental study. They found, by sampling huge blocks of data, that sleep-deprived surgeons, on the whole, don’t make significantly more mistakes than their well-rested colleagues.

The London research looked at the past records of doctors called in to do emergency surgery one night and then went on to do regular gall bladder surgery the following day. The ratio of unfortunate outcomes wasn’t much different; just the same, if you had your druthers, you probably would want your surgeon to have had plenty of sleep before you go under the knife.

Once again, there wouldn’t be much joy in being part of the test group.

We’ve also seen another kind of experiment unfold right under our noses this week (and actually for the last several weeks). We’ve seen what happens when a prime minister picks political cronies to stock the Canadian Senate.

Tuesday, the Senate took the almost unique step of suspending three senators from the Upper Chamber for the next two years (although they are allowed to keep some benefits). The three, Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, are different in many ways: they come from different backgrounds, different parts of the country and have different records.

They share three main things — they apparently are unable to restrict their claims for expenses to expenses they’ve actually incurred, they’re all Conservatives, and they were all handpicked by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It doesn’t mean Harper is the only prime minister to selection rotten choices for the Senate, but it does show that he’s remarkably good at bad choices, and his average for picking suspendible senators is probably the highest ever.

And that’s poisonous.

It’s poisonous to the taxpayer and to the reputation of the Senate.

If your sister died eating mushrooms your brother picked, you might not be as keen on your brother’s choice of fungi any longer.

And, prime minister, we’re not too keen on your choices, either. Perhaps it’s time, if the Senate is going to hang on in all its bloated glory, to find a new way to select senators that is separate from the pick-your-political-friends-and-hope-they’re-not-poisonous method.

A panel could pick the candidates based on their records and skills, instead of their ability to toady up to the party in power, and we could actually get value for our money.

What a concept.

Organizations: London Health Centre, Upper Chamber

Geographic location: London, Ont., London

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