Monday, April 27, 2009

She They Should Know Better

Like it wasn't bad enough when Janet Napolitano, the U.S. homeland security secretary, came out with those same tired comments that some of the 9/11 perpetrators crossed the border from Canada to the US.

But then to complete the picture, John McCain defends her take because it was, like, true. After all, everybody knows that, right?

I well remember when that story first surfaced. Because the way the tale was told would have had the scum traveling from the Halifax airport to the Yarmouth ferry. Meaning they would have traveled my highway. Which, quite frankly, was a scary, sickening and despicable thought. It provoked both anger and fear in equal measures.

But guess what people. That myth was supposedly busted years ago. Back in 2001. In fact, back in September of 2001, if I recall correctly.

But then again, I suppose we shouldn't be that surprised that some of the most prominent American politicians can't seem to get it right. After all, we all remember this story, right?

So what else is new?
The fact that none of the hijackers crossed the border from Canada to the U.S. was repeated frequently by Prime Minister Jean Chretien and members of his cabinet. But the damage of those first incorrect news stories lingered. In the weeks following September 11, many stories in the U.S. media continued to depict Canada as a terrorist haven. An article in the Christian Science Monitor said that "Canadian and U.S. terrorism experts alike say the giant, genial nation---known for its crimson-clad Mounties and great comedians---has also become an entry point and staging ground for Osama bin Laden's terrorist ‘sleeper cells,' as well as for other terrorist groups."

A story in The Seattle Times declared: "While thousands of U.S. soldiers are being shipped halfway across the globe to fight terrorism, little manpower has been focused on a problem much closer to home: Canada. Experts on both sides of the 4,000-mile border say the nation to the north is a haven for terrorists, and that the U.S.-Canada line is little more barrier than ink on a map."

Hillary Clinton who was then a U.S. Senator from New York said that the U.S. should
lobby Canada to tighten border security: "We need to look to our friends in the north to crack down on some of these false documents and illegals getting in."

Perhaps the most damaging of all the U.S. sources in reinforcing the image of Canada as a safe haven for terrorists was the highly popular television show, The West Wing. After September 11, the writers and cast of the show quickly put together a new season opener in which a middle eastern terrorist crossed the border from Canada to the U.S. The writers showed themselves to be geographically challenged when they had their suspect crossing the border from Ontario to Vermont.
No need to let a little thing like the facts get in the way.

So here's the thing. Frankly, although I think some of this guy's comments where he goes on (and on) are a bit much. rather harsh, in fact, I believe he does have a point. No matter how deeply it might be buried in hyperbole.

How many of you have run smack into American Exceptionalism? If you haven't yet, God bless you, but chances are pretty good that at some point you will.

No, not all Americans are like that. I've met, both in person and online, those that are not. Or at least can control it in conversation. Seriously, there are many Americans I admire and respect. And in return, yes, Canadian diplomats [using the term loosely] and politicians have also made incredibly stupid public remarks about the US at times. So tit for tat there, I suppose.

But there is a real reason that we, as Canadians, should care. Beyond our wounded national pride, that is.
She [Ed. Janet Napolitano] later said she had misunderstood a question asked during the interview and was well aware there had been no Canadian 9-11 connection, but added that the Canada-U.S. border had, in the past, posed a security risk to Americans.

The next day, Napolitano appeared at a border conference and suggested Canada was more lax in its immigration policies than the U.S., alleging Canadian authorities allow people into the country that would not pass muster south of the border.

Napolitano has also ruffled diplomatic feathers with her insistence that the Canadian border must not be treated any differently than the U.S.-Mexican boundary, where a drug war rages and countless illegal immigrants flood into America every year.
Dig a little further and you will find this, once again speaking of Ms. Napolitano.
At various points during her exchange with Mr. Macdonald, she spoke about how "the pattern at the Canadian border has been informality," and how important it was to get the word out that "the borders are going to be enabled with greater technology, but it’s not going to be going back and forth as if there’s no border anymore."

Ms. Napolitano has never crossed the Canada-U.S. border and it shows. Her clich├ęs, if they were ever true, are 10 years out of date. Anyone who has crossed into the U.S. recently realizes you can’t breeze through with a friendly wave at the toll booth.

On June 1, the border will be further thickened by new measures requiring both Canadians and Americans to be armed with a passport or a souped-up ID card if they are entering or re-entering the U.S. by land or sea. It appears Canada is more ready for this brave new world than its neighbour, given that half of our citizens already have a passport, compared to one-quarter of Americans. There are concerns, not only that the more onerous requirements will snarl cross-border trade, but that they will further damage tourism here because a trip up north won’t be worth the hassle for Americans without proper documents.

As time goes by, these problems will probably iron themselves out. But there seems to be little hope that the mindset that sees Canada as the soft underbelly of the United States will improve any time soon.

It is this mentality in Congress that has produced an American policy, which Ms. Napolitano is now duty-bound to enforce, that the U.S.’s northern and southern borders should be treated the same.

To make matters worse, Ms. Napolitano is adding bad politics to bad policy by presenting a hardened Canadian border as a peace offering to Mexico, which is irate about the U.S. clampdown on its end. One border is calm and the other is in the throes of a drug war and massive illegal immigration, but let’s not allow facts to get in the way of appeasement and politically correct "parity." It’s like pretending Canada is as serious a threat as Russia and planning accordingly.
The equivalent of $1.5 billion a day in goods is involved in our bilateral trade relationship with the US. The largest bilateral trade relationship in the world. And about 300,000 people cross our shared border every day.

But remember this, although Canada is the US's largest single trade partner, the relationship is even more important for us, with the US being our dominant trading partner. You can read more about that here, if you so desire.

My point is this.

The myth about the Canadian border may never die. And our grandchildren may well still be refuting it decades from now. But if so, it is imperative that they do. Because (like it or not) the economic relationship (to say nothing of the rest of it) is to important to shattered by fallacies.

It looks like it's up to us to stay on toes on this one, people.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

'A Journey of 1000 Miles'

I attended a Learning Disability Conference today.

The speaker, Rick Lavoie, has quite an impressive and extensive resume in the field of special education.

His topicwas The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 Secrets to Turning On the Tuned-Out Child. I suppose I was in good company considering that he has delivered his message to over 500,000 parents and professionals throughout North America. You can read a little more about that (and him) here, if you're so inclined.

But I will say that he was a very good speaker. And, it was in that regard, that I wanted to share something with you.

As an aside though, despite being neither a Republican (thank goodness) nor a Democrat (thank goodness again), I must say that I have, on occasion, been impressed by Sara Palin, particularly when it comes to issues around disability. For example, you might recall this post and video which, if you haven't yet seen the video yet, I would highly recommend it.

But Lavoie told a story today of how he was asked to write a newspaper piece during this past US Presidential election with his thoughts on Governor Palin's promise to be a champion for "special needs families" because she "knows what they are going through".

He shared with us his response, which he now has posted on his website, and which I found truly amazing. And I must admit, did occasionally bring tears to me eyes.

As an advocate for families of handicapped children for over three decades, I have taken a special interest in the role that Trig Palin is playing in the Presidential campaign. Trig, now six months old, is nominee Sarah Palin’s son. He has Down Syndrome. Governor Palin often tells her audience that she will be a champion for “special needs families” because “she knows what you’re are going through.

With great respect and empathy, I must say, “Sorry, Governor, but you don’t.” You will…someday. But not now. Not yet.

Trig is – and always will be – a blessing in your family’s life. But, Governor, your journey has just begun. You will understand…someday. But between that day and today, there will be a lot of other “somedays.”

Someday…you and your family will spend stressful hours in a hospital waiting room while Trig undergoes corrective surgery. The doctors will call it “routine” … but that characterization will seem foreign and insensitive to you.

Someday…a relative or “close friend” will suggest that Trig not be brought to a holiday function because “it may be too much for him to handle.” Your relationship with that person will never be exactly the same again.

Someday…some stranger in a store will stare at him and ask an insensitive and Intrusive question. Startled, you will give a bland response. But for several days after the incident, you will generate great and clever retorts that you “should have said." (By the way, you won’t be able to recall these “clever retorts” the next time this occurs).
Go read all of it.

And watch what for some of us comprises our world, our reaities unfold before your very eyes.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Move Over Diamonds

So yeah, I do have some serious stuff I want to blog about.

But when I worked in the city all day today and I am going to a conference all day tomorrow and it's been a long week ... well, some days we all need a chuckle, right?

Now everyone knows that diamonds are a girl's best friend. And I'm sure there's some truth to that.

But after dropping a comment this morning over at Take Five about whether health care was actually a "luxury", when I saw this video tonight I thought it was perfect.


Boyfriend With Health Benefits - Watch more Funny Videos

Anybody remember that old song "Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be"?

USA. Canada. Wherever.
After all, if you can't laugh at yourself, you might as well laugh at somebody else...

H/T to Pipecleaner Dreams for the video link

Sunday, April 19, 2009

On The Potluck of Life

Potluck for supper tonight, it was.

The girls and I attended the annual Volunteer Appreciation Supper for the Alexander Society for Special Needs. My friend, Kathleen, started the society ten years ago ... ten years, hard to believe.

The Alexander Society provides arts-based educational programs to children and teens with special needs, as well as providing resources for people working with special needs populations, organizing workshops and special guest speakers, producing materials such as videos and workbooks, and promoting the inclusion of people with special needs into their communities.

But it's best known for the two after-school Creative Arts Programs (one for children aged 5 - 11 and one for teens) where each child is paired up one-on-one with a volunteer adult, which is why volunteers are so integral to it all. Each program runs once a week for eight to ten weeks and combines storytelling and creative drama, music, creative movement and dance, and visual arts and crafts.

For each multi-week session, one story is chosen and developed using visuals such as a story board, simple costumes and “sets” or felt board cut-outs. On the first day, the essence of the entire story is told and the first “episode” is detailed, at which time the students are enrolled in dramatizing that episode. The story and drama are permeated with songs and story themes are further developed in movement, music and art.

Each week the previous week's story is retold, a new episode is added, dramatized and then deepened with movement, music and art activities. On the final day, the whole story is retold, highlighting favourite songs and actions. By this time, some of the students will be able to help tell the story.

One of the many things that makes Creative Arts so special is the way the story is told. Kathleen has always found amazing storytellers, who tell the story in their own words, as opposed to reading it. Storytellers with incredible voices that, along with their eye contact, engage and transport the the students, drawing them into the story when their attention wanders. The drama is developed by enrolling the students and their assistants and directing them through the actions. Each week, different people take on different roles.

Movement and dance are used to help the children develop balance, laterality, dominance for right or left handedness, fine and gross motor skills, concentration, motor planning, memory, and much more. Music helps develop auditory awareness, concentration, fine motor skills, language development, sequencing and memory. Art, which can include drawing, painting with water colour, acrylics, and finger paint, clay work, weaving and handiwork related to the story, helps with writing skills and the children's ability to express themselves.

And the children (or should I say, for the teen group, the young adults) absolutely love it. Both my daughters were involved in the playgroup when it first started ten years ago. After a few years, the Kit Kat dropped out, in large part because of how she struggled with group activities at the time. But looking back now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see how it really was a fun, compelling, learning experience for her at one time. I can also see how she has developed and moved beyond it.

But it has been an absolute God-send for the Blue Jay, as it has for so many other local children with special needs. In the beginning, before we had volunteers for each child, the parents would attend and each of us would work with someone else's child. It was an amazing experience to watch. To see the progress made by each of those children.

To see the Blue Jay, who had never delved into dramatic play, sway around the room like a true princess when the beautiful, patchwork purple gown was placed on her shoulders. To see a child in a wheelchair who seemed to respond very little to anyone else make that effort to strike the chime when the music leader sang that it was turn to play the music. To hear from a parent that a child who had never made shown any response like this in the past would now reach out his hand to take another child's hand at circle time, just as we always did at playgroup.

And the Blue Jay still looks forward to going every week, still proudly brings home and displays any artwork she has done. But what I noticed this evening, what prompted this post, was what I saw when the teens and their helpers went through some of the songs and told us some of the story they were currently doing.

I watched the Blue Jay's face literally light up when she sang. I saw some of the biggest, happiest smiles on her face that I have ever seen. And I watched another teen literally jump and down and giggle with delight as she attempted to share what was coming next.

And once again (as has happened every so often over the years), I sat back and found myself filled with a profound sense of gratitude. If it is challenging to raise a teenager (and who amongst us would posit it is not?), it is exponentially more challenging to raise a challenged teen. One who has the same hormonal and mood swings, the same drive for independence as the typical teen but only half the language skills and half the social skills and impulse control, just for a start. Add in other aspects of any particular disability, like obsessiveness or literally getting "stuck" on a topic/issue/ thought and it's fun, fun, fun ... NOT.

Seeing the Blue Jay so completely and unabashedly happy or perhaps more importantly, so happy just being herself, is a rare gift. And it reminded me once again (which I confess, I sometimes forget) how crucial such programs are for these kids. We spend a lot of time, money and effort trying to teach the Blue Jay how to be more like everyone else, how to fit in, how to develop the skills she will need to succeed survive in the world. Which is why seeing her so accepted and so happy just being herself strikes home so deeply.

It may well take a village to raise a child. But it most definitely takes very special people with the gift of creating very special programs to allow our children to not just grow, but thrive and flourish. And I will always be eternally grateful to those people.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Stunned

I've often found that following the Google links which have led the occasional passer-by to these, my humble digs, has led to interesting results. That I could discover some interesting, totally unknown stories or blogs.

But what I discovered today has left me totally stunned.

I have long been aware that it is necessary for people with epilepsy to be closely supervised in the water. For example, people with epilepsy can easily drown in the bath water should they take a seizure. And thus, when the time came that the Blue Jay could finally show some independence in her personal care, we taught her to shower and have kept away from baths.

The Blue Jay loves the water. Always has. Never an ounce of fear. So every time she happily ran off to summer camps, I warned the staff that she required one-on-one on the water due to the possibility of a seizure. 'Not a problem', I was always told. Although thinking back on it, something tells me that once she was little older (perhaps 9 or 10) that supposed 'one-on-one' became something closer to the camp leaders just keeping a little closer eye on her than the other kids.

When we were away, camping or at a hotel, the Blue Jay was not allowed to just go down to the pool alone. Initially, either my husband or I would be there, if not swimming, at least sitting beside the pool watching her. As they got older, I have often delegated the job of keeping an eye on the Blue Jay in the water to her younger sister.

And she has become a darn good swimmer, competing yearly (and practicing weekly) in the Special Olympics.

And so, I have done a good job. I thought.

Until today. When I read this.

A 14 year old boy who had had epilepsy from the time he was 7 drowned in a lake on a school outing.
He had always previously been accompanied by his parents when he went swimming. On this occasion he went on an unplanned swim in a lake with 10 or 11 other children and about 15 teachers. He was observed playing happily with the other children, throwing water about. He then disappeared from sight. The teachers did not suspect that he had drowned until the party was about to leave. Divers were called and they found him in about 1.5 m of water. There was a small cut above one eye but no other sign of trauma. His arms were crossed over his chest, as had previously been observed by his parents when he had a tonic seizure. The coroner's verdict was death by drowning secondary to epilepsy.

His parents contacted the British Epilepsy Association and were informed that swimming is good for people with epilepsy and should be encouraged but should be supervised. They asked the question: “What does this mean?”

His parents said, “The supervision should be one-to-one. He should have had someone in water with him. There was no chance for anyone to save him. I think we were blissfully ignorant. I know now he could have had a seizure in the water and I would have been totally unprepared for it. I'm not sure even now that I'd know what to do to resuscitate him. The whole business of epilepsy should be explained properly. You almost need someone to go through it with you.” His parents also commented that children with obvious physical disability tend to be better supervised than those who are able, like their son was.
And so, now I sit here, stunned. With more questions than answers.

The case study explains how during a particular type of seizure, known as a tonic seizure, the muscles of the chest wall contract and much of the air from the lungs may be expelled.
If such a seizure occurs while a person is swimming, the average body density may become higher than the density of the water, causing rapid submersion. When the muscles of the chest wall relax, the person will still be submerged, with the result that water, not air, will enter the respiratory tract and the person will not rise to the surface.
And how a person supervising someone who takes tonic seizures must be aware that the person may sink quickly and may be difficult to rescue because they will then be heavier than water. That the person supervising should be capable of taking the necessary action should a seizure occur, implying that they should be physically strong enough to rescue the swimmer, competent in the water, and properly instructed.

So. Obviously what we have been doing is not good enough. We have been very, very lucky. There, but for the grace of God, indeed.

And yet.

And yet the Blue Jay is a good swimmer. A very good swimmer. A competitive swimmer. And an adolescent who struggles demands her independence. Independence which is, by necessity, much more limited than that of other teenagers her age. The very thought of attempting to take away any of that hard-won and well-earned self-sufficiency is mind-boggling.

But what good is independence if you're not alive to enjoy it, you ask?

Good question. Very good question.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Value

For those who think I may have gotten a little too conservative in my old age (and you know who you are), it's time to put down the government-bashing hammer and all the talk of tea parties for a moment or two and take a look at this.
A new study just published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, titled Canada's Quiet Bargain: The Benefits of Public Spending [PDF link],has sought to quantify just how much value Canadian citizens get from the taxes they pay.

Overturning received wisdom, the study concludes that the public services Canadians receive would be far more expensive if they had to pay out of pocket.

A family earning the median family income in Canada receives a public benefit that would amount to $41,000 if they had to pay for it - an amount equal to 63 percent of their total income and far higher than the total cost of the taxes the family pays.

Apparently even income earners in the $80-90,000 range receive a public benefit equal to half their income, again higher than the taxes they pay. And if we had to pay out of pocket for education, health care, infrastructure, etc., we would receive less value and have less disposable income than we enjoy today.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Just see the comments here.

I particularly enjoyed this one, from Capitlalist.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is a very left wing organization, so what do you expect? Of course taxes are a good bargain if you are some low income loser who uses a lot of services and pays zero in taxes. But if you are middle class (or higher income) and pay tax out your ass to fund everybody else how is that a bargain? Usually people who agree with these studies are people with low incomes and have a disdain for money.
So I was thinking, it's always good to know be reminded that I am a low income loser. And have a disdain for money. Because, otherwise, I just might forget.

And before someone tries arguing that these figures are skewed because Americans have higher incomes than Canadians, I offer this.

US Census results for 2006 show the median household income as $46,326. And the great Wikepedia gods tell us that in 2007, the median annual household income In the United States was $50,233.00. While the median Canadian household income in 2006 was $53, 634. Or $66,000 in a 2.6 person household according to the 2009 study.

Well you know what they say about statistics ... one of my favourites being that they can be made to prove anything - even the truth.

Still, I'm just saying. I thought it was interesting.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Beginning of the End?

* Updated Below*

I fear that we are in danger of losing our mission. I really think that at this point Canada could be in danger of completely losing popular support for its mission in Afghanistan.

It's not like the polls were looking stellar before this.

Last month, an Angus Reid poll found that almost half of Canadians would end our role in Afghanistan before 2011 (the scheduled pull-out date) if the choice were up to them. In the online survey, 48 per cent of respondents wanted the bulk of the troops currently deployed in Afghanistan to be withdrawn before 2011, 35 per cent would continue until the end of the mission in 2011, and only seven per cent believe Canadian soldiers should remain in Afghanistan after 2011.

And now?

Now, even I, in the die-hard 7% group apparently (which, by the way, I don't quite buy, I think the actual number of Canadians who would support Canada staying in Afghanistan after 2011 would be somewhat higher than that) have begun to question what, exactly, we think we are doing there.

The way I see it, we went to Afghanistan for both selfish and humanitarian reasons. To prevent the country from becoming another hot-bed for terrorists who threaten not just our way of life, but our very lives. And, equally as important, to help the Afghan people rebuild and gain control of their country. To help put them in a position to live a better life. To help improve the life of women who have lived for years in conditions that Canadian women can barely fathom.

Not to perpetuate a society where it would be illegal for women to refuse to have sex with their husbands. Not to perpetuate a society which requires women to get approval from a male relative in order to leave the house.

You've got to be kidding.

Yes, I understand there are "cultural and religious differences" between life in Canada and life in Afghanistan. I equally understand that "cultural and religious differences" can easily be used as a cover for other intents and purposes. Intents and purposes which Canada simply cannot, in good conscience, be part of.

Yes, it's complex. We said we would give them democracy. And shouldn't democracy include the right to make their own decisions, form their own laws? Maybe so, but it doesn't mean that we have to be a part of it.

If that is the choice their 'democratically elected' government makes, then we need to seriously consider our continued presence in Afghanistan and take a serious look at what options are open to us. I don't see how staying and supporting such a government can result in anything less than tainting our soldiers, our government, ourselves. Making us equally guilty.

Apparently, my fellow Canadians agree.
A survey by The Canadian Press/Harris-Decima suggests 40 per cent of Canadians support the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan. But should the family law code be enacted, the poll suggests opposition to the mission would rise to roughly 75 per cent.
I am well aware that international outrage has forced the Afghan government to promise a review of the proposed law. A review that is expected to take two to three months, likely postponing the law's enactment until after the presidential election in August. And then?

Then, if such a law is still "on the table", so to speak, Canada must take a stand. I may not be entirely sure what the *right* thing to do is but I do know that we cannot simply keep doing what we are doing. Not in those circumstances.

Update: It's nice to see that it's not just us *foreigners* protesting the passage of this law. And that Afghan women are actually willing to speak truth to power.

Although I must say that taking the position that the legislation, which has already been approved by both houses of Parliament and signed by the President, is not yet law because it has yet to be published in the government’s official register is a bit of stretch, don't you think?

H/T to Neptunus Lex for the update

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Kandahar

I've never been a big fan of Matt Minglewood. But after hearing this song, for the first time today, I could just change my mind.

Matt wrote this after spending six days with the Canadian troops in Kandahar.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Passchendale

Ever hear of it?
The place. The battle. The movie.

I saw Passchendale at the theatre last summer. I'm not much *into* war movies. In fact, I tend not to like them at all. It's all that blood, guts and gore stuff. Too loud. Too many people getting blown away.

But I wanted to see Passchendale. First because it was a Canadian movie. Loosely based on the true story of one Canadian soldier during World War I. Canadian war movies, let alone those based on a true story, are pretty rare. As in rare to none.

So it was that I was rather intrigued.

Part war story. Part love story.

Inspired by director, Paul Gross's, relationship with his grandfather, we are introduced to Sergeant Michael Dunne, a decorated veteran of the 10th Battalion, CEF. Sent home from Europe as a neurasthenia patient, he meets nurse Sarah Mann in Calgary, Alberta, where he enlisted.

Mann is cashiered banned from military service because her father had left Canada to rejoin the German Army in 1915, where he was killed at Vimy Ridge. Her younger brother, is ineligible for military service due to asthma and desperate to win the respect of his girlfriend's father in a time when military service was expected of all young males.

A series of events places him in the trenches in France, with Michael Dunne returning to France to watch over him, and Sarah returning to duty. The three arrive in Europe in time for the Third Battle of Ypres, and the fighting near Passchendaele.

Last night, the movie swept the Genie Awards, winning six awards including the Golden Reel as most popular film of the year.

But more impressive than that, at least for me, were Gross' reported comments on the movie.
“We have a very funny perception of ourselves, which is: ‘We’re peacekeepers.’ Well we are, and we’re extraordinarily good at it, we to some extent invented it, we teach the world how to do it. But, we’re also warriors. And we were the most feared fighting corps in the British order of battle.”
Gross dedicated the movie to all the brave men and women of the Canadian military, past and present, for all they do to keep us safe. Nice.

And yet there remains the sad commentary which inspired the thoughts of my brother, expressed as we were walking out of the theatre, that this was the first movie he had ever seen that made him feel proud of the Canadian military.

Because, at least until now, no on had bothered to make one.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

'You Can Call Them Your Friends or An Inspiration'

As much as the word "retard" does personally bother me (and believe me, it does), I must admit that I do rather think that this campain to "Ban The R Word" is a bit misguided.

But that being said, it's rather hard impossible to argue with the sentiments expressed in this video.



H/T to Pipecleaner Dreams