Saturday, May 31, 2008

And You Think You Have It Bad?

Interesting piece in today's Chronicle Herald on the price of gasoline, worldwide. I hear lots of American friends complain about the price of gas - $4 a gallon doesn't sound pretty. But when you convert that to litres, it works out to around $1.05 a litre. Gas here today is $1.36 a litre ... that's roughly $5.44 a gallon for my American friends.

But that, as they say, is nothing. Check out these prices.

In France, petrol runs about C$2.60 a litre ... that's $10.90 a gallon. In Turkey, it's even worse - over C$2.89. You might want to sit down now ... that's a whipping $11.56 a gallon. Filling up the tank of a mid-size car there can reach nearly $200.

But hey, it's all just a matter of supply and demand, right?

Then figure this. Russia is the world’s second-leading producer of oil, what do you think they pay? About 92 cents a litre ... or $3.68 a gallon. Which, to add insult to injury, although that's roughly the same as in the United States, workers in the US earn about six times as much money at those in Russia.

So why is it that even large oil producers (like Canada) take the hit?
Much of the Russian cost comes from taxes, which run between 60 and 70 per cent. Limited refining capacity and the costs of transporting gasoline across the country’s vast expanse also push up prices.
Okay, that might help explain it a bit. I know, for example, that here in Nova Scotia, combined federal and provincial taxes make up roughly 1/3 of the hit.

Not that those prices (taxes or not) are having that supposedly desirous effect of making people drive less. Nope, the world is driving more than ever. There are 887 million vehicles in the world, up from 553 million just 15 years ago, and it is estimated that the figure will be one billion four years from now. Impressive, no?

Want to hear something that will really make your blood boil? Wait, you best sit down first. No, trust me. Really. Ready?

They say Venezuela is a "veritable wonderland for gas guzzlers". No wonder, when gas is only 12 cents a gallon. Yep, that would be approximately 3 cents a litre!

Yeah, I know. Suddenly I don't feel much like bothering with supper tonight either. The stomach's a little queasy. Apparently, sales of SUVs are doing quite well there. Uh huh.

Don't look at me. I don't have the answers, other than to tell you that "it could be worse". But I do have to wonder if besides intermittent e-mails finding their way to your inbox recommending boycotts of certain companies, we will start to hear more like this.
Increasingly, people around the world are reaching the boiling point — and it’s not just drivers.

Fishermen in Spain and Portugal began countrywide strikes Friday, keeping their trawlers and commercial boats docked at ports.

In Madrid, demonstrators handed out 20 tonnes of fish in a bid to win support from
the public.

In Spain, the European Union’s most important producer of fish, the fishing confederation estimates fuel prices have gone up 320 per cent in the past five years — so high that many fishermen can no longer afford to take their boats out.

French fishermen and farmers, who need fuel for trawlers and tractors, say their livelihoods are threatened by soaring prices. They have blocked oil terminals around France and shipping traffic on the English Channel to demand government help.

British and Bulgarian truckers are staging fuel protests, too.

Indonesians are staging their own protests against shrinking gasoline subsidies in a country where nearly half the population of 235 million lives on less than $2 a day.
And I think you might just want to forget any idea that ethanol made from sugar cane might be the answer to the world's woes. Although four of every five new cars sold in Brazil are flex-fuel models that run on pure ethanol, gas or any combination of the two and ethanol in Sao Paulo is running about half the price of gas ... the "price of gas" there is $5.67 per gallon.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Circle of Life

We will have lived in this house for 15 years this summer, having moved here when the Blue Jay was a mere 4 months old. And somehow, we have spent most of those 15 years in the same doctors' offices.

There are four doctors in this practice. Have been for the past 15 years. Although some of the names have changed, the number has remained constant. Four doctors each with their own individual office. And strangely enough, the doctor we see now is in the exact same individual office as the very first doctor we started seeing when we first moved here. Although that particular doctor is long gone. Moved to the US, I believe. Make of that what you will.

I never realized until today how many memories you can have tied up in one doctor's office. When the Blue Jay was younger, she would end up in the hospital four times per year for roughly two weeks at a time with clusters of seizures. Yep, exactly four times per year. We actually got it down to quite a system courtesy of her neurologist at the regional children's hospital. Wait for two or three seizures to cluster before taking her to the Emergency Room at the local hospital. Go up with a big packed for both of us, with pyjamas and such and a few books to read (knowing she would always have to be admitted), but leave it in the car until she was. Wouldn't want to look too pushy presumptuous.

One time when the Blue Jay was around 3 or 4, I took her up to Emerg, as per the usual course, with her seizures. The Emerg doctor didn't have a clue about this kid. And refused to listen. I told him that she needed to be admitted. That she would take 40-80 seizures over the course of a week. I told him what drug she needed. He had never heard of it. I insisted that this was the only one that would touch her seizures, that this was all what her neurologist told us to do. He remained skeptical. And it wasn't until the seizures really started to cluster that he tried to go find the med. Knowing what was coming and having forgotten the ever-present bag, I told the nurses I had to run home for a minute but would be right back. Fortunately we are only about a five minute drive from the hospital. I went home, grabbed some stuff and a coffee through the drive through (knowing it would be a long day and night) and went back to the hospital.

The doctor came over and told me to take the Blue Jay home. He had given her the med and she was knocked out cold, which is what it did to her, being a central nervous system depressant. I tried to tell him (again) that she had to be admitted, but he refused. He was not going to admit no kid with epilepsy just because she was having seizures. We argued for a bit but being young(er) and naive(r) then, I finally gave up. I knew the med would only work temporarily and then she would need more. I knew we were also told it wasn't safe to give it to her at home because she needed to be monitored when taking it. I knew this brilliant professional had just given a young child a drug he admittedly knew nothing about and was now determined to send her home. His work here was done. I knew all this. But I wasn't going to get anywhere with this turkey.

So I picked up my stuff and the kid (total and complete dead weight), struggled with her to the car and drove down to our family doctor's office. Carried the Blue Jay in, still unconscious, and explained to the nurse what had happened. Turns out our family doctor was actually at the hospital, assisting with an operation. So they made a bed for the Blue Jay with blankets and a pillow on the floor of our doctor's office while they tried to get ahold of her. Eventually they did. And I was told to take the Blue Jay back up to the hospital.

Gee, why hadn't I thought of that? We should go back to the hospital. Where the pediatrician (who knew the Blue Jay well but who the friendly neighbourhood Emerg doc had refused to call) would meet us. So off we went. Back up to the hospital. Back in through Emerg. Past the pediarician and the jerk Emerg doc who were standing together chatting and laughing. Where I finally got the kid admitted.

Today I was at the doctor's office with Mom. In one of those strange unplanned twists of fate, Mom's current doctor shares a practice with my doctor. Who uses the very same office as that first doctor. So we were sitting in the waiting room today. Waiting, of course. And I looked around the room, at the newborn baby, at the little kids playing with the blocks in the corner ... and over to my mother sitting beside me. Looking very old right at that moment. And very frail. And thought about how strange it was. How far we had come, in a sense. Only to have come back, full circle.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Still Stunned

I first read about this story last night at Pipecleaner Dreams.

In all honesty, I was shocked. I knew better than to try to blog about it right then. It was late and I really needed to get some sleep. But as I sit here this morning, I can honestly say that I am still stunned. Just as stunned when I first read it last night.

The kindergarten teacher of a 5 year old student held a vote to see whether or not the other students wanted him in the class. The boy lost. By a margin of 14 -2. The vote was conducted (in front the little boy) only after each classmate was allowed to say what they didn't like about the 5-year-old.

Now, I'm sorry but I wouldn't find this acceptable behaviour by any teacher. About any young student. But here's the clincher - 5 year old Alex Barton was in the process of being diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

For those who don't know, Asperger's is an autism spectrum disorder. Although not what most people typically think of when they here the word "autistic" (these kids have no general delay in language or cognitive development, meaning they tend to be very verbal and can appear typical in many respects), there are huge social, communication and behavioural issues involved for kids like Alex.
In Asperger's Disorder, affected individuals are characterized by social isolation and eccentric behavior in childhood. There are impairments in two-sided social interaction and non-verbal communication. Though grammatical, their speech may sound peculiar due to abnormalities of inflection and a repetitive pattern. Clumsiness may be prominent both in their articulation and gross motor behavior. They usually have a circumscribed area of interest which usually leaves no space for more age appropriate, common interests. Some examples are cars, trains, French Literature, door knobs, hinges, cappucino, meteorology, astronomy or history.
A child like Alex would tend to stand out like a "sore thumb" in any group of children. Appearing awkward, they don't "act right", they're "strange" and often engage in one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic while being oblivious to the listener's feelings or reactions, such as signs of boredom. Picture that in a school situation.

Given the obvious lack of support the teacher showed for Alex and the lack of compassion and empathy she evidenced, are you surprised that they voted him out of the classroom?

Where to begin?

First of all, to me, this is the very antithesis of what a teacher should be. There's a Chicken Soup for the Soul story that circulates around the internet occasionally about a teacher who had every student in the class write on a slip of paper one thing they liked about every other student. She then collected them, organized them and read out to the whole class the nice things that was said about each student. I can't remember now exactly how, but in some form she then gave each student the comments the others had written about them.

To me, that's an example of teaching at it's best. We can all find some quality about other people we don't appreciate and let's face it, when it comes to some people, we can easily list off numerous things we don't like. But for the vast majority of those we interact with, if we try hard enough, we can usually find at least one positive thing about them. Not only were the students in that class taught to look for the good in others but I would think that would have been a huge positive moment for each child to hear the good things his classmates saw him.

Maybe Alex's teacher read that story too. Perhaps she thought she could creatively bend it to "teach Alex a lesson". Perhaps she has no idea what it really means to be a teacher. A kindergarten teacher, for heaven's sakes.

Add to that, the challenges and social isolation Alex already faced from having been born with Asperger's. This teacher had even sat in on IPP (Individual Program Plan) meetings for this kid. What in the world was wrong with the woman? If his behaviour was such a problem, the obligation was on the team (which includes school personnel and the parents) to create a behaviour plan. Such plans don't generally have a spot to be checked for "humiliation" as a strategy.

Shouldn't a child like Alex offer a teacher a true "teachable moment"? A chance to teach his classmates about differences and accepetance of those differences. I'm not saying that Alex's behaviour should be condoned. It needed to be dealt with. Properly. And appropriately. By a group of trained professionals and those who know Alex the best (his parents) sitting down, conducting a fucntional behavioural analysis and coming up with a plan.

Personally, I've never had much use for 'reality TV'. It seemed like a harmless enough diversion though for those that like it. Or so I thought ... do you think this teacher has watched one too many episodes of Survivor? Sorry, kid you're outta here ...

Did she honestly believe she was doing Alex some kind of a favour? That he would walk out of the room and experience an epiphany of sorts ... "These kids don't like me, hmm, I guess I better smarten up"? And as an aside, did she really think they could vote the kid out of the classroom? Out of the school? The neighbourhood? The country maybe? Or perhaps just the state would do?

Apparently, Alex hasn't been back to school since. And he starts screaming when his mother brings him with her to drop off his sibling at school. Surprised?

As a parent and advocate, I have often envied American parents because their laws surrounding the education of children with special needs are so much stronger than ours here in Nova Scotia. Because they actually have laws. With teeth. But I've also been repeatedly told by US parents that No, they don't have it that easy, that terrible things still happen. Well, obviously they do.

I wonder if our friend has violated any of those laws. Let's see, how about a human rights complaint? It can safely be presumed that the behaviour Alex exhibited which resulted in the teacher acting this way was caused by disability.

Surely this kind of behaviour by a teacher runs afoul of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? I wonder if No Child Left Behind has a subtitle along the lines of No Child Allowed in This Classroom if We Don't Like Them?

I wonder what, if anything, will come of this?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Equal Opportunity Bashing

I must admit that I found it passing strange when I read about John McCain rejecting the political endorsement of an influential Texas evangelist whom he had actively courted after an audio tape surfaced in which the preacher stated that God had sent Adolph Hitler to help the Jews reached the promised land.

Strange because, even though it's most definitely not of the same calibre of connection as that to a preacher who has been your family's minister for 20 years, who has officiated at your marriage and baptized your children .. .still, you would think one might more closely check out those whose political endorsement they actively seek.

And without question Hagee's views - such as referring to the Roman Catholic Church as "the great whore" and linking Hitler to the Catholic Church, suggesting that it helped shape his anti-Semitism - were pretty well-known even before McCain accepted his endorsement.** Oh yeah, and let's not forget the bit about Hurricane Katrine being God's retribution for homosexual sin. Thrown in just for good measure, I suppose.

I have no particular problem with McCain, no axe to grind with him. And just for the record I am neither Catholic nor am I completely "okay" within homosexuality. But I do find it a trifle odd that I have yet to see anyone making much "hay" about McCain's gaffe. Or perhaps they have and I have just been fortunate enough to miss that particular slimy side of the blogosphere and the mainstream media. In which case, all I can say is 'Lucky me!'.

But you know, I think it was the very last line in this story that disturbed me most of all.

McCain has tried to distance himself from Hagee’s views, saying he strongly condemned anti-Catholic rhetoric. Yet he never rejected the endorsement.

"I’m glad to have his endorsement," he said on ABC’s This Week in April. "I condemn remarks that are, in any way, viewed as anti-anything."

"Condenm remarks that are, in any way, viewed as anti-anything"? Really??

Wow, if it weren't for the calibre (or lack thereof) of his competition, that would seriously make me reconsider casting my vote for someone to hold an elected office, in any capacity, let alone as President of the United States. I mean it's not like it's important for our politicians to actually believe in anything, is it?

** Of course, if Hitler was actually sent by God and if the Catholic Church did help shape Hitler's hatred for the Jews, wouldn't that mean "the great whore" is actually God's instrument, too? And, just speaking out of curiosity here, I wonder where Hagee was inculcated with his anti-Seminite views. At the same Catholic Church, perhaps?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

For Whom These Rights Toll

Our neighbours to the south have been struggling mightily for quite a few years now with the issue of what protections, if any, detained members of the Taleban and Al-Qaeda should be afforded, both under international and US law. And in many ways they seem no closer to answers today than they were in 2002.

Don't believe me? Just witness the current crop of hopeful would-be presidential nominees:
[Republican John] McCain does not believe the detainees are entitled to the "full constitutional protections that are afforded to US citizens," he said.

- - - - - -

Obama [Democrat] now says that, as president, he would stop the military commissions and try the remaining Guantanamo Bay detainees in military courts-martial or in federal courts, which have successfully tried some terrorist cases.

- - - - - -

Now Clinton [Democrat] says, if she becomes president, she would ask the Justice Department to evaluate the cases of the detainees and decide whether they should be tried in federal courts or courts-martial.

So what about Canada? Have we done any better of a job in figuring it all out?

Ask Canadian-born Khadr. He was only 15 years old when he was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in a firefight in 2002 and he’s spent over five years in detention at the American naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba. After already having made headlines and been the subject of much political and legal debate, he is expected to go on trial this summer before a special military tribunal, charged with murder, conspiracy and other terror-related offences.

In 2003, Khadr was questioned at Guantanamo by officials from Foreign Affairs and CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service), both of whom shared the results of their interrogations with U.S. authorities. The most recent issue surrounding Khadr has been whether the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which among other things, guarantees full disclosure of Crown evidence to defendants in Canadian criminal cases) could be stretched to cover his situation.

Although the federal government contended that it couldn't, taking the position that the right to receive pre-trial disclosure is a right protected by the Charter only for persons accused of crimes in Canada and is not engaged in a foreign-prosecution, it would appear that the Supreme Court of Canada begs to differ.
In a 9-0 ruling that has broad implications for cases involving Canadians abroad, the court said Mr. Khadr is entitled to any records of the interrogations, as well as any information that Canadian authorities gave to their U.S. counterparts as a direct consequence.

The court reasoned that Mr. Khadr would have been entitled to the material were his trial set to take place in Canada - and he should have no less because he is in foreign hands.

The court firmly hitched its ruling to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that found that detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison have suffered serious violations of legal and human rights.

"The effect of the United States Supreme Court's holdings is that the conditions nder which Mr. Khadr was held and was liable for prosecution were illegal under both U.S. and international law at the time that Canadian officials interviewed Mr. Khadr and gave the information to U.S. authorities," the court said.
Although Khadr's defence counsel were less than enthused by the practical effect of the ruling for their client (it still won't give Khadr the one report he most needs - a military report detailing the 2002 Afghan gun battle during which Khadr is alleged to have thrown a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier, which, although a copy was given to Canada, the Americans claim to have lost their only copy of, making the Canadian copy the only one whose location is known), they were quick to note the "symbolic significance" of the ruling. That, apparently, being a sign that Canada has "washed its hands of complicity in an abusive U.S. military process".

The SCC judges were careful in their portrayal of Guantanamo as illegal, relying on U.S. Supreme Court decisions from 2004 and 2006 that found various aspects of the system to be in violation of the law. It was under this system that CSIS agents interrogated Khadr in Guantanamo in 2003, and the documents pertaining to those interrogations were the subject of yesterday's ruling. And although the American laws dealing with the military commissions system have since been revamped, there are those who consider the process today to be essentially no different than the one that has now been deemed illegal.

Okay. Whatever.

Among the cheerleading crowd are those who feel that the judgment nudges the federal government toward demanding that Khadr either be tried in the domestic U.S. court system or sent back to Canada. My only comment on that being, whether or not one considers it to be the proper thing for us to do, the idea of Canada "demanding" anything from the US concerning Khadr or any other prisoner in in Guantanamo appears rather laughable to me.

And then are those who believe (and this is much more interesting to me, from a legal standpoint) that the ruling has great significance for future cases involving foreign jurisdictions.
Joe Arvay, a lawyer for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, applauded the court for extending the Charter to "the conduct of Canadian officials acting outside of Canada when they participate in the processes of a foreign government that is in violation of international law.

"This is an extremely important and welcome decision, as it had been argued by the federal government that the Charter did not apply outside of Canada's territorial borders in such circumstances," Mr. Arvay said.
Personally, however, I'm not quite sure the decision actually goes that far. From the headnote to the SCC decision:
[Khadr] is entitled to disclosure from the appellants of the records of the interviews, and of information given to U.S. authorities as a direct consequence of conducting the interviews. The principles of international law and comity of nations, which normally require that Canadian officials operating abroad comply with local law and which might otherwise preclude application of the Charter to Canadian officials acting abroad, do not extend to participation in processes that violate Canada’s binding international human rights obligations. The process in place at Guantanamo Bay at the time Canadian officials interviewed K and passed on the fruits of the interviews to U.S. officials has been found by the U.S. Supreme Court, with the benefit of a full factual record, to violate U.S. domestic law and international human rights obligations to which Canada subscribes. The comity concerns that would normally justify deference to foreign law do not apply in this case. Consequently, the Charter applies.

With [Khadr’s] present and future liberty at stake, Canada is bound by the principles of fundamental justice and is under a duty of disclosure pursuant to s. 7 of the Charter. The content of this duty is defined by the nature of Canada’s participation in the process that violated its international human rights obligations.
And from the text of the decision itself:
If the Guantanamo Bay process under which Mr. Khadr was being held was in conformity with Canada’s international obligations, the Charter has no application and Mr. Khadr’s application for disclosure cannot succeed: Hape. However, if Canada was participating in a process that was violative of Canada’s binding obligations under international law, the Charter applies to the extent of that participation.
[Emphasis added]
All of which, to my reading, severely limits the scope of the decision. The Court clearly approved previous law to the effect that Canadian officials are not bound by Charter constraints but rather can accept foreign laws and procedures when operating abroad. The only exception to this is where "clear violations of international law and fundamental human rights" have occurred as Canadian participation in activities of a foreign state or its agents that are contrary to Canada’s international obligations will not be allowed.

And given that the the US Supreme Court had already found that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay had illegally been denied access to habeas corpus and that the procedures under which they were to be prosecuted violated the Geneva Convention, it could be argued that the SCC had an 'easy out'. After all, the Court was able to rely on the fact that those American findings were "based on principles consistent with the Charter and Canada’s international law obligations" and were sufficient to establish violations of these international law obligations, to which Canada subscribes.

So ... far-reaching repercussions, broad implications for cases involving Canadians abroad and important precedent?? Maybe not so much.

Realizing that I may have put many of you to sleep, for anyone suitably legally attuned, the SCC decision, itself, can be found here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Money Matters

In all honestly, I must admit that at first I really wasn't quite sure exactly what to make of this.

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the U.S. Treasury Department is violating the law by failing to design and issue currency that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired people.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a 2006 district court ruling that could force the United States to redesign its money so blind people can distinguish between values.

Suggested solutions include making bills different sizes, including raised markings or using foil printing which is a method of hot stamping that is tactically discernable.

Judge Judith Rogers, in a ruling on a suit by the American Council of the Blind, wrote that the Treasury Department's failure to design and issue paper currency that is readily distinguishable to the visually impaired violates the Rehabilitation Act's
guarantee of "meaningful access."
The ruling notes that although a large majority of other currency systems have accommodating the visually impaired, the US government was unable to explain why it's currency should be any different. Apparently with the euro, for example, each banknote has a predominant color and large numbers to make them easier to see. Also, the larger the denomination of the euro, the larger the banknote.

Which I thought was interesting as quite frankly, it wasn't something I had ever given too much thought to before. And yet, my initial reaction remained muted. Although I would consider myself a big advocate for those with disabilities, wasn't this asking a bit much? After all, what would be the cost involved in redesigning American currency?

And apparently, at least some in the blind community had similar concerns, questioning the cost and usefulness of any proposed measures.

Still, it motivated me to take a closer look at our Canadian currency. Which meant, firstly, that I had to lay my hands on some but that's a whole another story. I thought I vaguely remembered raised dots on some of the newer bills which I had always sort of assumed was some form of Braille. But when I was finally able to dig out some bills, I couldn't find any.

Looked like a case for a little more research.

Lo and behold, if our ever-vigilant government hadn't recently noted that our Canadian bills are gradually losing the little tiny bumps that havebeen placed in the upper right corner of bank notes introduced since 2001 that have helped the blind know what denomination they have in hand. Turns out that the raised dots are not braille, after all, but rather are arranged in patterns that a blind person can feel to quickly identify a denomination, from $5 to $100. Pretty cool.

But although the dots were specially treated to ensure they endured, apparently they've been flattening out with use and have become unreadable. Which would help explain why my quick examination of a few 5s and a few 20s showed no bumps. The 5s were too old and although on closer inspection they could indeed be found on the 20s, I really had to look for them.

Apparently, these newer bills also have other special features to help those with poor vision - larger numbers and contrasting colours - but the truly blind have no other option (outside of the raised bumps) with the exception of a device that reads the bill and indicates its denomination by tone, vibration or even voice. A device which is is provided free of charge by the Bank of Canada under a program that costs more than $250,000 a year.

Here in Canada, the option of producing bills of differing sizes, as some countries do, has been rejected as being too costly. So now the Bank of Canada is working on the problem for the next series of notes, which are also being revamped to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters.

Turning my mind back to the US bills, I recalled the one reason why I really mind American money - it's all the same colour. Now if that's enough to annoy me - for whom a second, closer look will solve the problem - I can only begin to imagine the challenge for the blind and visually impaired. Particularly when you add in no tactile features to help determine the value of each note.

And seeing as how currency tends to be revamped a fair bit anyways in an ongoing attempt to thwart the counterfeiters, perhaps it's not such an unreasonable demand to make after all.

H/T to Pipecleaner Dreams

Sounds About Right

I'm a Porsche 911!

You have a classic style, but you're up-to-date with the latest technology. You're ambitious, competitive, and you love to win. Performance, precision, and prestige - you're one of the elite,and you know it.

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

H/T to Kris, she of the Lamborghini Murcielagos

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

If He Can Do It ...

I vividly remember a dream I had as a child in which I was flying. Flying like a bird. No aircraft, nothing artificial. Just flying over my neighbourhood. Swooping and turning as the mood struck me.

It was the most amazing, overwhelming feeling and it stayed with me when I woke up. And although I can't recreate that feeling now, I can certainly remember how incredible it felt.

Ever since then, I've had this urge to fly like a bird. Hence, my interest in skydiving. Although I realize that won't give me the closest thing to the feeling of flying, it's something I really want to do. And then I plan to move on.

And I figure if a 71 year old can do it, so can I.

I must say, his words do resonate with me:
I started dreaming about flying when I was a kid," the 71-year-old resident of Peterborough, Ont., said Sunday as he prepared his hang-glider for flight. "My first flight was me running off my porch under an umbrella.

"I’ve been flying for more than 40 years. I joined air cadets, got my pilot’s licence as soon as I could afford it, but I didn’t find my true passion until I flew my first hang-glider. Flying one of these gives you a real, true sense of what flying is really all about."

And to think that it's all so close to home.

Yep, first skydiving. Then hang-gliding. I can't help it. I just have this urge to fly, fly, fly.

Friday, May 16, 2008

What's Wrong With Lawyer Jokes?

Answer: Lawyers don't think they're funny and nobody else thinks they're jokes.

I've had my experience with lawyer jokes. I've also had my experience with dumb blond jokes. And I don't mind either one (actually I think some of the lawyer ones are quite funny). Within reason. It's just when they go on and on. And on. And on. Then they can be a bit much.

I was working as a first year associate at a mid-size (by Halifax standards) semi-swanky law firm. Things were going well with the exception of all the personal injury ad phone calls which were directed my way. First year associate, junior man lawyer on deck, I suppose. But even that was okay, some of them in fact were quite humourous and hard to get through with a straight face and a professional voice.

And then Suzanne came along. She joined the firm as a receptionist out front. Nice girl. University student. A bit young. A bit too young maybe. She liked lawyer jokes apparently. And dumb blond jokes, too. She even brought two type-written sheets of dumb blond jokes to work one Friday. The lawyer jokes, though, I think she saved for me. And that was okay. Like I said, some of them are quite funny.

Well, it was okay. Until they went on non-stop. It got old after a while. Especially having to listen both types of jokes. But the girl did like to joke. And talk. And she came to know my husband's voice on the phone. Or at least she thought she did.

One day, Suzanne put a call through to me from an existing client. But before she put him through, she semi-apologized, telling me laughingly that she thought it was my husband at first. Oh, oh, I thought. First words out of the client's mouth was to ask what was wrong with our receptionist? That she seemed a little goofy. I apologized and told him that for some reason she thought he was my husband. He told me what she had said, I can't remember now what it was, but I do remember thinking that the senior partners would consider it a rather inappropriate comment to make to a client.

And I wondered if the day would ever come that she would mistakenly tell a client a dumb blond lawyer joke. Fortunately, she never did. At least not that I know of. I left the firm shortly thereafter.

Perhaps that's what made me wary of lawyer jokes, though. For some reason, it seems like they are only funny if I tell them. Go figure...

H/T to Divorcing Reality

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Boggles The Mind

You might recall the recent story of Cheryfa MacAulay Jamal who was looking to sue Ottawa "for millions" after charges were stayed against her husband who had been jailed for 17 months on allegations of plotting terrorist attacks in Canada.

Along with my thoughts on her litigious musings, I included reference to what I thought was think is a great editorial cartoon by Bruce MacKinnon in the April 18th edition of Halifax's Chronicle Herald. Unfortunately, I couldn't find an actual picture of the cartoon to post at that time, but just so you know what I'm talking about, it looked something like this [courtesy of Ezra Levant]:

And thus I must confess that, perhaps a little naively, I was rather surprised to come across this.
A Muslim leader in Halifax says a recent editorial cartoon in The Chronicle Herald has local Muslims feeling unsafe and unwanted.

Zia Khan, director of the Centre for Islamic Development, has complained to Halifax Regional Police and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission about an April 18 cartoon by Herald staff cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon.
But wait, it gets better.
He [Khan] said dozens of people complained to the human rights commission about the cartoon but the agency is treating them as one complaint.

Mr. Khan said police and the human rights commission are both looking into the complaints and he will consider his options when the investigations are done.

Dan Leger, director of news content for The Chronicle Herald, has said the newspaper would vigorously defend the cartoon and that investigating the editorial content of a newspaper does not fall within the commission’s mandate.

Spokeswoman Theresa Rath of Halifax Regional Police said officers are investigating a complaint under Section 318 of the Criminal Code, which deals with hate propaganda. That section says: "Every one who advocates or promotes genocide is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years."

Ms. Rath said police will gather facts and review them with the Crown to determine whether a charge is warranted.

At the risk of engaging possible incoming 'friendly fire', I will yet again admit that yes, I am a proponent of human rights commissions. However, at the same time, I will not be an apologist for them. With that in mind, I have followed the stories of Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn with interest, curious, frankly, to see how, at the end of the day, it will all play out.

I think it's important to wait and make that judgment at the end of the day, so to speak, in order to give the system a chance. To see whether or not it will perform as advertised. The problem being, I believe, that any human creation (be it an object, a process or anything else the human mind can imagine), no matter how noble, will, at some point, be abused by another human being. No matter what we create, someone out there will try to screw it up.

Frankly, I think that's what's happening at the moment in many instances with Canada's various human rights commissions. Yes, I do think that there is an attempt being made to co-opt these processes by certain groups. Not that every complaint made by every Muslim, for example, to a human rights commission is illegitimate or part of a 'grand conspiracy', but I certainly do question the legitimacy of some of these complaints. Such as the one set out above.

But, in the end, it's not my personal opinion that counts. Every Canadian has the right to lodge such complaints. It then becomes the job of the commission and ultimately, the relevant Board, to decide whether or not discrimination has occurred. And that whole process is subject to a judicial review process, if need be.

So, although personally, I am a little stunned and taken aback by this latest complaint, I am still prepared to step back, bite my tongue and wait for the complaint to make it's way through the process. Because I have to believe that, eventually, saner heads will prevail and strike the necessary balance between providing a process for protecting for Canadians from discrimination and upholding the Charter value of freedom of speech.

And although I find myself in the unusual and somewhat unsettling position of agreeing with a certain amount of what Ezra Lavant has to say on this issue, I must say yet again that I strongly take issue with his characterization of human rights tribunals as "kangaroo courts", with the implication, for example, that the Chronicle Herald will be unable to "cross-examine Mrs. Jamal at length", in a human rights complaint process. Just as a defendant would eventually be afforded the right to cross-examine his accuser in court, a respondent in a human rights case will eventually be afforded the right to cross-examine his accuser.

Yes, Mr. Levant, we call it 'natural justice' and, belive it or not, it still is alive and well in Canada today. Even in a human rights context.

Update: I can only assume, without further comment, that the police investigation will die a slow, quiet death of its own accord. Because that, for me, is beyond words.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Life on a 'Carrier' - Redux

For anyone still musing about the PBS series 'Carrier' (I must admit that the name Chris Altice is still generating more hits on this blog than anything else I have yet written about), a long, but rather interesting "newsfeed" on the docu-reality series can be found here.

Although it tends to get repetive about half-way through, it was interesting to read the snippets of the show interspersed with behind the scenes commentary from the directors, film crew and the Navy, itself.

Monday, May 12, 2008

'Why Did That Chicken Cross The Road?'

Shamelessly 'borrowed' from Kris at Reflections By Kris, here is some political levity to start your week.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Barack Obama: The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a CHANGE! The chicken wanted CHANGE!

John McCain: My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road.

Hillary Clinton: When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure - right from Day One! - that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road.

George W. Bush: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either with us or against us. There is no middle ground here.

John Kerry: Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am not against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.

Al Gore: I invented the chicken!

Bill Clinton: I did NOT cross the road with THAT chicken. What is your definition of chicken?

Dick Cheney: Where's my gun?
True enough, some might consider it a sure sign of having hung out with those durn Americans for too long. And I must admit that it does kind of make me wonder if I could possibly come up with the Canadian equivalent...

Nah, I think those Yanks have the market cornered on this one!

Update: My favourite by far ... George W. Bush "That chicken is either for us or against us!"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sharing Our Lives, Our Memories, Our Selves

Retirement after 30 years of service in the US Navy. It's staring Lex hard in the face. All of his writing is good but in some places, it just seems to really shine. This would be one of them. Well worth the read.

But it was this particular comment that really caught my attention.

In a week, maybe 10 days the whole rig will go in a closet back home. Every once in a while it’ll catch my eye when I’m looking for something else. I wonder now what I’ll think about in those moments. What I’ll remember. Some day, hopefully very far in the future, it will fall to one of the kids to clean out the closet. Not knowing what any of it meant to me, because I’ve never found a way to talk about it that didn’t seem like boasting.
As any regular readers would know, we are going through a bit of a difficult time right now in our family. Although, come to think of it, I guess I haven't fully spelled that out recently. Following Mom's last hospitalization, we got some bad news. The kind of news you really don't want to ever hear. So, she's home now, and we deal with it day to day. Good days and bad days. With the goal of keeping her at home as long as possible.

Which takes me to part of the reason why Lex's comments above struck me so. I've known for a while now, in my heart, that I wouldn't have Mom much longer. This last diagnosis only gives a name to it.

But couple that with her intermittent dementia (intermittent in degree of severity but always there now to some extent) and I've found that more and more often lately some thought, some question will come to my mind about my family and I will think that I should ask Mom about that. Only to immediately realize that there likely isn't much point. Chances are that she will just say that she doesn't know or doesn't remember. And I know that, in the likely not too distant future, she won't be here at all to ask.

So it occurred to me that I hope that at some point soon Lex does at least attempt to let his kids know exactly 'what it any of it meant' to him. No matter how much he thinks it might sound like boasting or in some other way be inappropriate. Because even though at their ages, it would likely seem incomprehensible to them even if ever it crossed their minds (which chances are it won't), someday their Dad will be gone. And if he hasn't really made an effort to try and share the importance, the value and emotion, that he carries deep within him about his military service before then, a part of that very important history will be lost to them. And that would really be sad. A loss. Both for him and for them.

It didn't really seem appropriate to post this over in the comments at Lex's. So I think I will just leave it here on the off chance he drops by and it happens to catch his eye. And to remind the rest of us that no matter how disconnected or incomprehensible it may seem to us now, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of our lives, someday we, too, will be gone just like our parents before us. And our children will be left with that same emptiness, longing and sense of loss.

When that time comes, what do you think they might they wonder about? What sort of things might they wish you had shared? What questions might linger for them? And, if you had the chance, what would you wish you had shared with them?

A morbid way of thinking of perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Perhaps it's just a realization of the circle of life and the chance to do some things differently than we might otherwise would have. A chance to give a gift that at some time in the future our kids (and even our grandkids) might, hopefully, thank us for.

It's at least worth thinking about. That's all.

Home At Last

After spending two years in a Mexican prison on charges of fraud, Brenda Martin returned to Canada earlier this month. True, her return then was to spend just over a week at Canadian prison near Kingston, Ontario.

But now, in what I imagine must feel much like being 'home for Christmas', Ms. Martin is truly home. Home with her mother. For Mother's Day. And apparently planning a very special dinner for a very special day.

Welcome home, Ms. Martin. And Happy Mother's Day.

Happy Mothers Day

Happy Mothers Day.

May you spend the day with thsoe you love and cherish.

H/T to Barb

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Oil And Water

Just don't mix.

This has been in my thoughts a lot for the past few days. My brother and his family were down to visit for the past week. They went home today.

I love my sister-in-law. I love my nieces.

But oil and water? Just. Don't. Mix.

Oh well, at least I know we're not the only ones.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Just Business As Usual?

Remember in early April when France offered to step up and send additional troops to Afghanistan? That's right, 700 troops to the eastern part of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, not where the real fighting was in the south.

But the good news there was that that would allow the Americans to move 1,000 of their troops to the south where Canada was fighting. There was also that not so little matter of the 3,200 Marines that were to be redeployed from Iraq (where apparently they were getting a little bored) to Afghanistan. So good news that.

Well, more good news today.

The Pentagon is drawing up plans to send 7,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan to combat a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaida, at a time when NATOcountries appear unwilling to contribute further forces.

The increase is being considered after President George W. Bush returned from a NATO summit in Romania last month disappointed by few pledges of extra troops by his European allies.

The plans, which have yet to be formalized or sent to the White House, would increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 40,000, the largest American presence since the war began more than six years ago.

So now some speak of the increasing proportion of U.S. troops, from about half to about two-thirds of the foreign troops in Afghanistan, resulting in ""the re-Americanization"" of the war. Not that there's anything wrong with that. After all, there are those, even in the US, who refer to Afghanistan as "the forgotten war". Which reminds me of a comment I noted before where a friend queried "Wasn't the US out of Afghanistan?" So more focus and more troops would have to be a good thing, no?

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said: "We haven’t heard anything concrete. As for the number of forces, certainly it would
be nice to have some more forces here.

"If you compare here with Iraq, there’s a clear disparity. While ISAF does a good job at offensive engagements, we have some difficulty in maintaining ground. That’s why we’re focusing on training up the Afghan security forces."

Of course, there always has to be some bad news.
Few of the additional troops are expected to materialize any time soon, the officials added.
Uh huh. Business as usual, it would seem.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Pull Up A Chair ... Or Maybe Not

What of it? Is it good strategy to 'break bread', so to speak, with the enemy?

First we heard that Canadian troops in Afghanistan were reaching out to low and mid-level insurgents, encouraging them through local villagers to sit down with Afghan authorities and perhaps even NATO forces. And that this was something that was strongly supported by the head of the Kandahar provincial council. But that was Thursday.

Today word is that any members of the military who have been engaged in such meetings are "out of line". Even though Lt.-Col. Gordon Corbould, the new battle group commander, and Sgt. Tim Seeley, a civilian-military co-operation officer for Canada’s Provincial Reconstruction Team, were quoted as saying that channels were being opened to moderate Taliban and other officials in Kandahar appeared to back up the military’s strategy, calling it "creative thinking", they were apparently sternly corrected by Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
The idea that Canadian soldiers would be stepping up with Afghans to encourage militants in the war-ravaged province to lay down their weapons and talk has won high praise in Kandahar City.

Powerbrokers such as Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, say it’s just the kind of push that’s need to stem the tide of violence. Tribal leaders in the hotly contested Panjwaii district, where much Canadian blood has been shed, are also happy with the thought.

But MacKay said reconciliation isn’t something that Canadians can make happen for the Afghans. It’s an "initiative that must be led by them" and that Ottawa is content to support Karzai’s peace overtures, but "at a distance."
Oh yeah, one more thing. Out of the NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, Canada and the United States are alone in their refusal to speak to militants. Um, officially that is, I suppose. Since there appears to be 'policy' (as in "The Department of National Defence 'doesn’t make policy', only the government does that") and ... reality, maybe?

Now personally, I'm not sure whether this 'talking with the Taliban' is a good idea or not. But the whole discussion does take me back a few years to when the federal New Democrats suggested that peace talks be initiated with the Taliban. Actually, as I recall, it was a little stronger than a "suggestion". More like Jack Layton was demanding peace talks. Which prompted the Conservatives to hang Layton with the handle of 'Taliban Jack' at the time. And which prompted me to consider him quite the idiot.

So I'm thinking this whole kerfuffle should have Layton smiling at least. In a couple of different ways.

Mulling this over today, another thought occurred to me. Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Rick Hillier, seems unusually quiet at the moment, don't you think?

Troops sweep through the village of
Khenjakak, where Canadians are attempting
to broker a meeting with Afghan forces and local
Taliban. (Graeme Smith/ The Globe and Mail)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Last[ing] Impressions ... Sacrifice

I wanna go home, home, home.
I wanna go home.
Can you blame them?

I must admit, after having said I was going to be glad it was over, that I had a very big grin on my face through most of the final episodes. They were really quite good, perhaps almost even the best of the lot. The comment was made at Lex's that perhaps the depth that was missing through most of the series was the emotions and that finally came through in last night's episodes. Perhaps that was it, I'm not sure. But I did really enjoy it.

I sure felt sorry for that ATC officer whose husband decided that the kids couldn't come on the Tiger Cruise. And although I was very glad that it all worked out for her, I can only imagine how much more that muddied some already messy waters for her when she finally got home. I do wish we could have seen a little more of her and children on the Tiger Cruise, though. At any rate, it definitely highlighted that whole issue of custody battles for parents serving in the military. For which, it seems, there are no easy answers.

I also liked how they followed some of the crew members after they had returned home. Even though some of it felt rather voyeuristic. Quite frankly, I can't imagine why the young ordnanceman, Chris Altice, allowed them to film his reunion (of sorts) with his girlfriend. You had to feel bad for the guy. And I certainly did. Say what you will, he was trying.

But I have to say, although I'm sure the six month deployment didn't help the relationship any, anyone looking at it a bit more objectively than he was at that moment had to see that that relationship was likely destined to fail eventually even if he had stayed home. So young. And pregnant after knowing each other for only six months. Although I know it's been done successfully before, that has to be the exception rather than the rule. And perhaps I am being rather unfair to the girl, given that we were never made privy to what was going on her in her mind and in her life during the deployment, but from what we were shown, she did seem pretty immature. I see that according to the website, Altice left the Navy the following year. I wonder if he sees it any differently now.

All in all, I can honestly say that Carrier gave me a new found appreciation and respect for what those who serve give up and how hard that life has to be. When you only read about it, even reading the writings of someone as gifted as Lex is, you only get a partial picture. You read the words, you nod your head in agreement that that must be hard and you move on to something else. But actually watching it (and I do appreciate that this was only 10 hours of a 6 month deployment) pounds the point home, makes you really "get it", I think as much as you can without actually living it (or being directly affected by it) yourself.

I don't know what, specifically, the Navy hoped to accomplish in agreeing to this documentary/reality TV series. Were they seeking to boost enrollment? Or maybe just give Americans a better idea of what they actually do? More appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who join the service?

I suppose it might have some effect on recruiting, that some who would watch it would be moved or otherwise motivated by what they say. Although I tend to think that that number, whatever it might be, would be at least balanced out if not overtaken by those who would get a real sense of the sacrifice involved and decide "That's not for me".

Where I do think it should be really successful is in giving people a much deeper appreciation of the sacrifices that those who serve make. More than a few of the crew members stated that they were doing this "for their families" so the point should come across that there are people willing to live this life to protect other Americans who remain at home. Whether or not a person actually believes that to be true (that the war in Iraq is serving to protect Americans at home), the viewer should get the point that many of those who are living this life and making these sacrifices honestly believe that what they are doing is helping to protect their fellow Americans.

Apparently there are those who see Carrier as just a giant piece of propaganda in favour of the war in Iraq. Which can only lead me to conclude that some can only see what they want to see, what they expect to see, what they need to see. Because, say what you will, it definitely delivered 'warts and all', just as advertised.

To me, and I would like to think that I can look at it a little more objectively than some on either side, overall it looked slightly more biased towards an anti-war message. Not that I found it completely one-sided by any means, but either it effectively showed the reality that many of those in the military are there just because it's a job (now there's a crazy way to make a living if you don't really believe in what you're doing, me thinks) or there was a bias, however, subtle against the actions of the US.

A bias, if that indeed was the case, perhaps not so subtlety displayed here:
“Yet, I don’t see September 11th as an isolated event. The trajectory of history since then — the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the erosion of our civil liberties, the destruction of human rights, Abu Ghraib and the sanctioning of torture to ostensibly ‘win’ the ‘war on terror’ has been one long bitter tragedy filled with death.”
Pamela Yates, Producer In The Field

Well, at least the series did no harm to the Captain's career. I see he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral last year. Which reminds me, go to the website and take the opportunity to 'Meet the Ccrew' and see what they're up to today.

I see we managed to snag Major Brian Foster, one of the Marine F/A-18 pilots up here in Canada. He's currently serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Personnel Exchange Program and is the operations officer for the 409th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Alberta.

Keep on flying, sir.

Update: Chris Altice. Popular fellow apparently. Personally, I think it was just the sympathy factor. Gurls like that, don't you know... Anyway, he seems to have started a video blog. If you're interested. Me, not so much.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fourth Impression - Friends. Faith. And Flying.

Friends. No matter where we may be physically, where are we without them?

Faith. In self. In shipmates. In friends. In the Navy. In your elected political representatives (or not). In God (or the Deity of your choice).

Flying. I was wondering when we were finally going to see those Landing Signals Officers (LSOs). With the float coats. Pitching deck. Landing at night. And they really do stand around and cheer and boo as they watch their colleagues attempt to land. Just like he said!

For me, the really neat part of watching Carrier now, after having hung out at Lex's for close to two years, is putting the visuals with the written words. I've read my share of sea stories. Now I am watching small pieces of them acted out as they actually happened.

I got quite a few chuckles out of last night's episodes, too. Those red leisure suits were hilarious.

Loved the 'wine tasting' . Do you curve your pinky finger for that? Actually that scene reminded me of a friend from college (and beyond). Looked like a scheme she would have (in fact, still might) come with to get a cheap drunk on.

And some of what I chuckled at ... um, well, I'm not sure I was actually suppose to be laughing at it. But it was funny. In a weird, politically incorrect sort of way.

But surprisingly, I'm rather glad that the last episodes are on tonight. It was an interesting show and I'm glad I watched it. But I am starting to tire of it now. Not quite sure exactly why. Too much negativity? Too much angst? Not enough flying action? Too many late nights (for me)? I'm really not sure. At any rate, it's one more night, one more set of final impressions. Then I expect I will be back to getting my naval aviation fix from Neptunus Lex.

Anyone got any good sea stories?

Update: Have been mulling over this comment Lex made.
It’s very easy for a young person to say that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, but it takes a bit more for the average 19-year old sailor - who was 14 years old when all of this started and only 12 on September 11th, 2001 ...
Which I hadn't quite thought of that way. That those 19 year olds on the Flight Deck were only 12 years old on 9/11. Twelve year old kids. Which both makes me feel very old and gives me a whole new sense of respect for what they are doing now. I suppose I can put with a bit of their griping. When you put it that way.

[What] To Be Or Not To Be

What is your Perfect Major? (PLEASE RATE ME!!

You are an aspiring journalist, and you should major in journalism! Like me, you are passionate about writing and expressing yourself, and you want the world to understand your beliefs through writing.





























Who, me?

Um, maybe. Partially. I will agree with the journalism part in the sense that I do love to write. Obviously. I've always enjoyed putting words together to see if I can make something sound 'just right'. Which, I find, is much easier to do with the written as opposed to the spoken word.

But Engineering as my second match? Seriously? You gotta be nuts. I think some computer must have blown a fuse somewhere. Both Engineering and Math should be way, way down at the bottom.

Oh well, maybe some day I will decide what to be when if I grow up.

H/T to Kris