Saturday, October 23, 2010

New England Adventure

Massachusetts has been the wheel within New England, and Boston the wheel within Massachusetts. Boston therefore is often called the "hub of the world," since it has been the source and fountain of the ideas that have reared and made America.

Author: Rev. F.B. Zinckle
Well, that may or may not be accurate. Personally, I'm thinking not.

But be that as it may, tomorrow is the day I jet off to Boston for a week.  One week.  Seven entire days.  No husband.  No kids.  No offence meant.  But boy, does that sound good!

For some unknown (at least to me) reason, I have wanted to visit Boston ever since I moved to the East Coast some 25 years ago. * Wait, I can't be that old.*  Not quite sure why, just thought it would be cool.  And that if a person was to be heading that way, they might as well check out Salem too.

So that is the plan.  A hotel slightly out of Boston - much cheaper that way.  Rent a car for a day to take a trip to Salem.  Sight see. Swim in the hotel pool. Drink lots of  some wine. Sleep. Relax.

Now what have I forgotten?

Wait, I know!  Only the most important thing. 

My good friend, Doorkeeper, is heading east from the wilds of Pennsylvania to meet me in Boston.  Girls' week out!  So that is cool. Veddy veddy cool.

And, as long as we're speaking of cool, the plan is also to meet up with Kris (of the infamous Kris of New England) and her hubby for a day of sight seeing.  Having known Kris *only* through Lex for the past ... six years ... I always look forward to actually meeting internet friends.  Where the virtual collides with the ... non-virtual. 

Yeah, I know.  I do need some sleep. But plenty of time for that on the plane.

Speaking of which (what which exactly were we speaking of again?) Doorkeeper, herself, was once upon a time an internet friend who I was honoured to meet some ... six years .... ago (wait, do I see a pattern here?) in California.  Yep, definitely a pattern.

Okay, I will leave now.  Before I subject you to any more of my twisted ramblings. 

Wish me Bon voyage, will ya?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Water Water Everywhere?

Once upon a time.

Once upon a time, I use to be heavily involved in international development issues, particularly as they related to children.  Yup, that's my catch, children.  Always has been, likely always will be.

But in my pre-disability days, before I knew what an IPP was, long before I had ever heard of a Program Planning Team (let alone knew that I was to be a member of many) ... I was involved with a group called Results Canada.

Results (they are active in many countries around the world including Australia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom and the United States) is a volunteer political action group dedicated to "creating the political will to end global poverty and needless suffering, and to demonstrating that individuals make a difference when they exercise their political influence".  It was pure political advocacy work - coordinating a media strategy; letters, letters and more letters to newspapers and politicians; community outreach and fundraising to keep the mostly volunteer organization going.

It was good work, work where you felt you might just be making a difference in the world.  I once had a politician ask me why I, personally, was involved in this work.  I walked him to my office and silently pointed to the picture on my desk of my then 3-month-old child. Enough said.  He got it.

Can one person really make a difference? Yes, I believe they can.  And how many times is that difference magnified when that one person works in unison with others of a like mind?

But life took over - a challenged child with a significant health issue sucked up much of my time and emotional and mental energy.  And as she grew (particularly as she got closer to school age), I realized that a person can only do so much.  And it seemed that there was much I could and should be doing to help others right here in my own Province.  I still supported (and continue to support) what Results is trying to accomplish but my political activity shifted much closer to home as I focused on assisting challenged children and their families navigate our province's educational and community services, to ensure that they had access to the services they are entitled to.

But then I received an email last week - an email "reminding" me that this year's Blog Action theme is water - access to clean water in developing countries, the over-consumption of water in developed countries, water and the environment and "water solutions".  One item in particular in that list struck a chord in me - and you might just guess why based on my previous involvement with Results.

One of the many issues we dealt with at Results was access to clean water - can there be any more basic a need?  Monthly actions and ongoing campaigns were picked based on strategic opportunity, political climate, context, and impact and issues were usually ones where there was a proven, cost-effective solution and for which there are not many champions.  Issues like child and maternal health, sanitation and hygiene, primary education and microfinance - that last of which is an amazing subject, by the way, well deserving of its own post. Perhaps for another day.

Did You Know?
Did you know that unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war?  Water, or rather lack thereof, causes 42,000 deaths each week.

That more people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet? Today, 2.5 billion people lack access to toilets. This means that sewage spills into rivers and streams, contaminating drinking water and causing disease.

That every day, women and children in Africa walk a combined total of 109 million hours to get water? They do this while carrying cisterns weighing around 40 pounds when filled in order to gather water that, in many cases, is still polluted.

That it takes 6.3 gallons of water to produce just one hamburger? That 6.3 gallons covers everything from watering the wheat for the bun and providing water for the cow to cooking the patty and baking the bun.

That the average North American uses 159 gallons of water every day – more than 15 times the average person in the developing world? From showering and washing our hands to watering our lawns and washing our cars, we use a lot of water. To put things into perspective, the average five-minute shower will use about 10 gallons of water. No wonder the Navy doesn't allow Hollywood showers!

While these facts may be grim, there is hope for real solutions as more and more people around the world are waking up to the clean water crisis. Earlier this year, the UN declared access to clean water a human right and groups like charity: water and continue to work tirelessly to bring water access to the developing world.

No, I am not advocating that we all dress in ashes and sackcloth and repent for our sin of living in an industrialized country.  I know I'm not going to anyway!

What I am suggesting is awareness - it's been a long time since I, myself, have turned my mind to these issues on anything approaching a regular basis and when I looked today at the statistics on how many children die every day from lack of primary health care and clean water or for the want of simple and cost-effective interventions such as breastfeeding, prevention of mother-to child transmission of HIV, immunization, micro-nutrients, and oral rehydration therapy to treat diarrhea .... it makes me very very sad.  It reminds me of just how lucky my family and I are.  And it turns my mind back to the obligation we, who have so much, have to those who have so little.

Margaret Mead is famous for the words, "Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  

Whether we work in concert with those of like mind (be it paid or volunteer), teach and remind our children that there is a much, much bigger world than that they can see from their back yard or direct our attention on occasion to those charities with a proven track record of dealing successfully with some of the most basic of human needs around the world, I believe know we all have a part to play.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Let's All Go to Teterboro

For my brother. 

And all those other sucker corporate commercial pilots out there.  

Stuck in Teterboro.

And because it's a lot of fun to sing along.


H/T to Lex

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Let The Band Play On

I see that Nova Scotia's automobile insurers are crying in their champagne beer again, this time over the Dexter's government minor changes to the "minor injury" cap.  Oh dear, what can the matter be?  Cue the world's smallest violins.

Of course, they're not just crying about it, they're eminently more practical than that -  the line up out the door of the Utility and Review Board no doubt snakes down the block.  Because even though they still have no idea of how, exactly, the changes will actually affect their bottom lines, they know it can't be good.
The Dominion of Canada General Insurance Co. said the changes will reverse the trend of declining bodily injury premiums.

Dominion vice-president Steve Whitelaw said the new definition is narrower and will cause fewer claimants to be within the minor injury definition, resulting in higher frequency.

"Combined with the trebling of the minor injury cap amount and its future indexing, there will certainly be an increase in associated costs," he said a written submission.
So then, let's recap, shall we?

In November, 2003, the provincial government passed legislation imposing a $2,500 cap on general damage awards for "minor injuries".  Which, there were only a couple of problems with that.

One being that the statutory definition of  a "minor injury" was so ridiculously restrictive that it eliminated, not only what you and I would consider a "minor injury", but the vast majority of injury claims, including people who suffered fractures, some forms of disfiguring injuries, and long term chronic pain. "Minor injury", right?

The second issue was that, really, limiting compensation for all whiplash injuries, as just one example, to $2,500 was ridiculous.  No, believe it or not, I am not in the camp of the many who would advocate removing such a cap altogether.  Although there was no danger of it happening any time within the next century in Nova Scotia, it's no stretch to say that awards for pain and suffering for whiplash injuries have gotten out of hand in many jurisdictions.  So, sure, let's have a cap.  But let's make sure the term "minor injuries' is defined to actually mean minor injuries.  And let's set the cap at a more reasonable level ... like maybe $10.000, for example. 

Now the thing to realize here is that I am not advocating that every individual with a whiplash-type injury or a sore neck for a week or two should be awarded $10,000.  The word "cap" means exactly that. A cap. As in this is the maximum amount you can be awarded for this type of injury.  But if your injury is assessed as being worth less than that, as being worth $2,000 or $5,000, then that's what you will receive.  It's just that you will receive no more than the capped amount for this type of injury.

And yet the 2003 legislation. as written, was the least of our problems.  Something much more egregious was happening.  And there was no way to fault the government for this one - it was purely the work of the insurance companies.

Let's say I was involved in a motor vehicle accident in October, 2003  and suffered a moderate whiplash. And let's say my insurance company and I went to court to have the judge determine how much I was entitled to for pain and suffering.  And let's also say that that judge awarded me $15,000 for that injury.

Now, let's say I had that very same motor vehicle accident, suffering that exact same injury in December, 2003.  The reasonably intelligent person might presume that if I went to court I would have been awarded $2,500, the amount of the cap, right?  Well, apparently, your friendly neighbourhood insurer isn't at all related to a reasonably intelligent person because insurers were offering individuals in such circumstances much, much less than $2,500. 

Even though their injury would have been assessed at $15,000 prior to the cap (which the insurers well knew), all some insurers were telling people that the $2,500, the maximum available under the cap, was really only reserved for those who had the worst possible types of "minor injuries", remembering, of course, that the definition of a "minor injury" included individuals with fractures and long term chronic pain.  So, you, you poor sucker, having suffered an injury that was worth $15,000 the day prior to the cap being legislated, you were now only entitled to ... oh, let's say .... $1,000.

Now remember, no court had ever ruled on such a case, had ever declared that this was how the cap was to be interpreted.  This was something the insurance companies came up with entirely on their own.  And no, nobody could take it to court to find out because with compensation capped at $2,500 for minor injuries, no lawyer was willing to take the matter on, certainly not on a contingency basis, at any rate.

So, how do you think all that was playing out for Nova Scotia's insurers? 

Can you say hog heaven? 

Of course, that government mandated 20% decrease in insurance rates didn't bother them too much - after all, it was only mandated for the first year after the cap was imposed.  After that it was Bob's your Uncle ... excuse me, let's make that Bob's your very well off handsomely paid Uncle.

And then, lo and behold, tragedy of all tragedies ... the NDP government dares, dares to restrict the  definition of a minor injury to sprains, strains and certain kinds of whiplash. That's right, they dared to bring the definition more in line with what the insurance industry had  asked for when they were lobbying for the original minor injury cap. How dare they?!

And, you're not going to believe this, but that same government had unmitigated gull to raise the cap on such injuries to a much more reasonable level! I mean, no wonder those poor insurers are crying in their champagne beer.

So, yeah, in case you can't tell, I'm not feeling a whole lot sympathy empathy nothing for Nova Scotia's insurance industry at the moment.  Because, really, when you think about it, they're still getting a pretty good deal.  And it's well past time for Nova Scotia consumers to be getting a better deal, too.