Friday, May 2, 2014

Another election...oh, goody....(that’s case you’re not sure)...

We got official word today that there will be a spring election in Ontario.  A damp, cold, foggy day.

That’s called pathetic fallacy...where nature agrees with the general state of the narrative.

Typically, I like a spectator sport.  I have half a degree in political science...and a real degree in English which lets me pay my bills (and taxes...hold that thought). 

This, however, is silly.  And let me start by saying to all three major leaders – Ms. Wynne, Mr. Hudak, and Ms. Horvath – shame on all three of you.  And again, shame.  You can – and should have done better.  And you could have...but you just didn’t want to and the rest of us get to pay your piper. An election is not an inexpensive adventure, but that we will all pay for...again.

Here’s what I don’t want to hear about over the next few weeks...although I most certainly will here your respective sound bytes and spins:

  • gas plants (remember the 407 – same nonsense, different political stripes),
  • make-believe-jobs (you’re all for it...except you cut civil servants, which by the way are the only employees – short of your endless personal assistants – you actually have the power and ability to employ,
  • what your respective competitors are doing wrong.

Could the three of you, please, pretend you have manners...and vision...and a half a lick of sense?

Would you be kind enough to tell me some useful things?  

As you all seem to be lost for the sense of the useful (and woefully, unable to answer a straight question that is not spun like so much cotton candy) here is what I’d like to know...for starters:

What are you prepared to do for farmers?   
You know, the folks who supply food?  For us... 
The folks who farm chickens and hogs, potatoes and eggs, who are losing their shirts with every hydro, gas, and feed increase.  
Begin your answer this way, 
“My [state your name or party] will help farmers in these ways...”

Editor’s note:  I am not a farmer...but I sure do like those folks....and I spend as much time as I can buying from them at farmers' markets.  Not showing up and giving speeches near them, but paying them cash money for what they produce....

So, about those drugs that aren’t on your Avastin.

We CAN afford these things.  We CHOOSE not to do so.   
It’s not cheap – I get that – but neither are other things we choose to pay Viagra (and its endless companion formulas)...and fertility treatments. I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t pay for those options...but we pay for a lot of things (LIKE NEEDLESS, EXPENSIVE ELECTIONS AND ADVERTISEMENTS) we might want to reconsider.   
Give me an paying ten bucks more on my taxes...voluntarily...or give me a charitable enterprise to sponsor.

About jobs...real, not notional ones.  
 Like nurses...and steel workers...and manufacturing staff and systems people.  Make it possible for small employers...mid-sized enterprises...and big honkin’ firms to keep jobs here.  Make them WANT to do that.  My cable company has its call centre in my community.  Give them some sort of break.  Encourage that.

How about pharmaceutical firms?  My vet meds come from a compounding pharmacy who can’t always supply the prescriptions because the imported components are lousy.  Here’s your hash tag, all: #MAKEITHERE.  It’s not only pharma that applies to. 

About taxes...I paid mine, this week....
...without reservation or complaint.  My charitable donations to Food Banks, community organizations, hospices, and back to school knapsacks for needy kids knocked me down to a few hundred bucks, which I paid.  Happily.  Because I have access to ultrasounds, CAT scans, colleges, universities, roads and other things.  I should pay for those.  So should you.  Instead of another useless campaign.

I’m sure you are all nice people but I am not voting for any of you.   
I PAY for you...your benefits...your retirement plans.  The ones many of my neighbours don’t have...the kind I’m lucky to have because I have employers who are willing to offer these (and I kick in too).

Quit giving me marquis candidates who I wouldn’t know if I fell over them.  Give me someone who actually has lived and worked in my community...who pays ME.  (And I don’t mind that.)

The bunch of you have just cost us all millions of dollars (likely more) because you are all behaving like schoolyard bullies.  Grow up and make it work.

I am not voting for any of your candidates this time because none of you can be trusted or respected.  And in case you think it’s lost on those of us who pay the freight, you are all the same.  And shame on you.  You can be can do better...and we deserve better.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Not cool CBC Marketplace...and I hope many people bite back before abandoning rabies vaccines...

If you didn't see CBC's Marketplace, please don't give their ratings a boost by checking the online segment.  

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a great vet and a great clinic. I haven't always been that fortunate (memories of Manitoba and the government doc - also an MBA - who wrongly suggested a diagnosis of pemphigus) so I appreciate questions around trust and costs.  I'm also generally a big CBC fan (this morning's Sunday Edition is terrific and thoughtful and I have it on now).

The season premier suggesting most vets are misleading people in an effort to overcharge (the way the reporter pitched it on Metro Morning just before 6 am Friday) was misleading at best, deliberately inflammatory without doubt, and potentially dangerous - as much for people as for dogs.  Maybe more for people when you boil it down.

The lead item (repeated at the top of the hour for most of Friday morning and posted on CBC News as well as the program site) said most vets recommend rabies vaccines when they shouldn't - 6 of 10, in fact.  The undercover dog and handler 'told' the vet the dog was up-to-date on shots, but vaccines were recommended in any case.  Told is the key word there.  No record...just an unproven report.  By way of comparison, consider what most people 'tell' their physicians about how many vegetables they eat or how much exercise they get.

Ultimately, the program suggested all dogs only need rabies shots every three years.  It went on to quote an expert who said vaccines can last 10 years.  Neither suggestion is quite as definitive as suggested, but you'll only find that out if you ask or do the research.  Most people won't and that's my worry. 

My clinic does use a three-year cycle, but before that kicks in, a pup needs puppy shots and its first adult shot.  I'm not certain what the protocol is for an adult dog whose original record can't be confirmed so I won't pretend to be an expert.  Cats, by the way, can't tolerate the three-year shot as it increases their risk of tumours significantly - something that didn't merit the erstwhile reporter's attention, nor the supposed expert who studies vaccines.

As I posted to Metro Morning when I vaulted out of bed after hearing this, you've just given people permission not to vaccinate.  Now what can possibly go wrong with that?  A reporter told you you can, so it must be so....and the reporter didn't feel the need to add caveats or detail...and of course a reporter would know more than a trusted professional who she's savaging for ratings.

In 2008, a litter of rabid puppies was sold at a Toronto flea market. Getting to all the people who were exposed was a challenge and vaccinating all of them was no small feat. Rabid bats and skunks turn up every year in Ontario - and likely in other jurisdictions too.  That means pets can be exposed, sometimes without their owners even knowing.  A colleague of  mine found a dead bat in her home one morning and couldn't be sure when her pet had been vaccinated.  It made for anxious days although the titre test determined the cat was fine (yes, vets will do that for you if you ask, but they don't recommend this approach because it's expensive. Imagine.)

The representative of the veterinary association said vaccine schedules might be adjusted at a doctor's discretion.  Without knowing what tape the reporter left on the floor, I can't fairly determine whether his remarks were accurately reflected. The reporter used it as a suggestion that the association was giving its members free reign to abandon its own treatment protocols. I suspect that was not the true intent.  

There is an element of discretion and with a trained professional whom I trust, I'm prepared to have that discussion and evaluate the options. My pets typically come through rescue.  Often, that means when they arrive the agency taking custody of them doesn't have access to history or vaccination records.  Guess what?  They get a shot. For their protection.  For mine.  For everyone we come in contact with. It's a public health issue.

When vets begin their training, they have to have a rabies shot.  They have their titres retested periodically to see when they need boosters.  Different people retain their immunity for different lengths.  While some vets can complete their studies without needing another inoculation, titre tests show others need a subsequent shot.

So if I visit a leash-free park (which I often do) and one the dogs has an owner who heard this program and has abandoned regular vaccines, what happens if that dog makes contact with me along with other dogs who aren't properly vaccinated or their people who likely aren't vaccinated? If that dog - like the ones at the flea market - is ill, it creates a widespread issue that could have been easily avoided with a regular vaccine.  It's my problem courtesy of a reporter chasing a great lead.  My dogs, by the way, will be fine.  They're vaccinated.

If you think that suggestion is a stretch - and it's a reasonable question - consider this:  every year after college students are away for spring break, outbreaks of measles, mumps, and chicken pox blossom which is how doctors discover vaccines have worn off.  Consider the very flawed study suggesting vaccines gave rise to autism.  The study's author has admitted it was never valid.  Other studies have refuted the findings (with statistically valid numbers - which, by the way - 10 is not).  Regrettably, the retractions and corrections never have the caché or traction of the original.

The segment also suggested heartworm tests weren't needed as Toronto's incidence of the condition were very low.  Again, not quite the whole truth:  Ontario has hot spots of infection in a number of locations, so if the dog ever leaves the city, it's at risk.  Rates are rising even in Toronto as many dogs have come in from states where the condition occurs and can be carriers.  It's not unlike West Nile in the way it transmits.

As it happens, I'm off to the vet with my pal KC next week.  It's time for his annual physical and some shots.  (They're staggered so as not to overload his system).  I don't know if his rabies booster is on the agenda, but it's in his record:  the one my doctor keeps for us that tracks his long-term care, health, and progress.  Yes, I pay for his care and I'm happy to as its an investment in his long-term health and quality of life.  

My trips to the vet aren't like my trips to the grocery store or gas station:  they are not strictly a consumer exchange; they involve consultation with a trained professional who knows a lot more than I do.  And she knows a lot more about the health care needs of my pet than any reporter ever will.  When my pets have a need, I get detailed discussion, options, and choices. 

I trust my doctor and no slanted coverage is going to change that now or ever. My happy, healthy, regularly-vaccinated pets agree.  They aren't CBC fans as a rule...although the dogs do like Don Cherry.  I am a CBC fan mostly and one bad segment does not paint a complete picture of a usually commendable network.

I'm going to give them the courtesy they didn't see fit to give the vets.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

I have a big mouth....
Which is to say I'm talkative...and opinionated...and I come by it honestly.
And I have the great good fortune to live in a country where I have that luxury.
It is never lost on me that it is a luxury earned because of the choices my ancestors made and defended.

On the side of my Grandmother Hastings (Ruf), a brave man who opposed the trends of the world he knew in Germany left for another land.  He wasn't always apappreciated - nor welcome (Catholic and German in a turn-of-the-century community where orange lilies marked Mason neighbours was two strikes), but he made a good life in a new place.  Not easy...

My Grandpa Hastings lost a brother - Joe - in the second world war.  I knew my Grandpa (and adored him) and I met two of his siblings. Somehow I know about his Joe.

My Grandma Hastings' Joe was a figure in my childhood.  Uncle Joe was a nice man...and I remember going to his house in the north end of Hamilton...but more, I remember the calls my parents got when Uncle Joe wasn't well.

Uncle Joe was a World War II vet.  What he saw and lived there haunted him.  His brother John, his brother-in-law Maurice (my Grandpa Hastings), and my Dad often went to him when the stress of those terrible memories got him. He came back from that war and worked for the railway in Hamilton...but the war was never far away...and it was with him when he finally walked into the bay to escape it.

It couldn't have been an easy story to carry....

On my father's side, there are a selection of brave souls who served for the Irish army and the British army.  Their efforts are equally valiant.

And that's why - although I am a left-leaning, tree-hugging, peac-nick, I love soldiers.
I hate conflicts, but I love the courageous souls who are willing to defend my right to shoot off my mouth...and I respect their valour (Canadian spelling intended) and their commitment.
It is not lost on me that my right to an right to vote...and my right to have rights have been earned by those willing to defend those rights. And it is also not lost on me that I have an obligation to laud and defend their efforts - on Remembrance Day - and every day.

I am privileged to count among my friends a selection of kind, brave souls who have served for the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada.

My lovely friend Nick Brownhill serves now as a member of the Canadian Navy (yes, we have one...and it's damn fine...)...and I was one of his references going in.  He's a credit to  his parents...and to our country...and his commitment inspires me...     

So if you have the great luxury of expressing any opinion today, hug a veteran.
Not everyone is blessed with that opportunity...and everyone who is owes a great debt to complete strangers...dear friends...and much missed loved ones who made that possible.

Myself included.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

When humans' humanity shows....

Every so often, good surprises surprise you.  That is not a typo.
On a hot, busy Saturday...on a busy road...a man in a motorized wheelchair tipped over.  For a minute, he seemed to hang in the air, but then, he landed with a thud and tumbled out of his transport.
That was when a remarkable thing happened.  
Brake lights.  
People pulling over, from two or three directions. People blocking traffic to keep the man safe.  People jumping out of cars and running to the man.
By my count, there were six or seven folks who came running.  A red Kia.  A dark VW Tuerig (apologies for the spelling).  Two women and the rest men.
Everyone was gentle and pleasant - working to steady the fellow. Checking to make sure he wasn't hurt. Checking to make sure his ride still worked.  Offering a ride if he wanted one.  Getting him across the street.
And then as quickly as they were there, they all got into their cars and went.  
No bother...just quickly and quietly doing a good thing when there were other options.
Whatever they all set out to do for the day, they all did something more important.
They didn't just help one individual.
They restored the faith of a great many others.
Not bad for a hot Saturday.
I could do with more of those....

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11...nine years after its notorious designation...the good, the bad and the ugly

What I remember most about that dreadful day is the heartbroken voice of my dear friend Pam on the phone. Had I seen it...did I know...? I was at my desk...and at that point, radio over the internet was a new notion. I had a radio...tuned to CBC.  Candidly, it would have made a small difference as so many of the media outlets had transmission equipment on the towers.

The other thing I remember is the clear, strong voice of the Vice-President who ran our group benefits business.  One of our clients was in one of the towers. A corporate analyst was positting that we might avoid paying claims since this horror was - technically - an act of war. Upon hearing this ludicrous suggestion, our VP leaned into the speaker phone and said clearly, 'I am sorry...I was at my cottage over the weekend. Did I miss the announcement that we had declared war on Manhattan? We'll be paying our claims.'  In the weeks that followed, we amended terms and conditions to cover the paramedics and police officers and firefighters who went to help - much the same way we adjusted wording during SARS to cover quarantine. It made me exceedingly proud of my company and my colleagues and has kept me in their service.

In the days that followed, I remember the silence on the 401. On a normal day, you see the planes once you reach Guelph, Milton, and Missisauga.  They're over your head when they approach from the look up at them approaching from the east.  My night classes started when the planes were still on the ground and the eerie sensation it gave me to drive to class and see no drive home and see no trail of lights hovering in the sky...frightened me. On Thursday when the first planes were back, I pulled over to the shoulder and wept. So did many other people.

I also remember - with immense gratitude - my friends at CBC and The Hamilton Spectator. CBC told the story of the planes all over the country, Gander, Newfoundland particularly. The Spec made it personal telling the story from John C. Munro airport in Hamilton. Surprise guests.  Made welcome and protected so a tragedy wouldn't magnify. Gander was once Canada's welcome point. When planes needed to stop for fuel, the stopped at Gander (as they did in Shannon when they were going east). The horror resurrected Gander - and I do not offer that word lightly in any way.

There is a wonderful saying - those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. It bears repeating today.

The misguided men - and forgive me, but again, I choose that word with specific intent - who committed this atrocity were no more representative of Muslims than Ian Paisley and the foppish pastor from Florida are of Christians. Rather, they are the sad reminder that those who behave with malice and evil in their hearts - and that is most certainly how they behave - do a lasting and destructive disservice to the gentle, thoughtful multitudes who practice the true directives of their chosen denominations. The attention bad actors are rewarded with encourages continuing bad behaviour.

Before I tell you about my friends who are Muslim - whom I am blessed with and whom I am fortunate to know - let me tell you about Catholics. Irish Catholics...Canadian Catholics...and what it's like to be an object of suspicion and derision. If you're a Quebecer or an Acadian or a Metis, feel free to offer your curiously parallel experience.

My father was an Irish Catholic from the south of Ireland. His neighbours in the first house he owned in Canada were - kid you not - a Northern Irish Catholic and a Southern Irish Protestant. He adored them. And his lesson to his children - always and unremittingly - was that intolerance and hate had no place in his house. While he would tell you about just provocation for uprisingings and protests and rebellions - and he did - the notional 'they' whether government or religion or group - was not something to be equated with the nice people next door. Ever. It was an unbelievably valuable lesson and at the time it was offered, I had no idea how many ways it would play out.

My mother, on the other hand, is a Canadian. Even so, being Catholic in a small, largely Protestant community set her apart. When I commented on some lovely tiger lilies - the big, orange ones - she once told me that was what people planted when she was a child to quietly let others know they were Protestant - and perhaps Masons as well.  The notion of marking territory in that way is foreign to me. I don't typically think of Canada as being a country where distinctions are so clearly marked. I am wrong for thinking that way.

A dear friend of mine tells the story of her grandfather's discussion with the school board he served on - within the past 60 or 70 years - when there was objection to adding a Catholic to the board. He believed that moving in that direction was fair and just. It didn't make him many friends at the time.

So that is the experience I share with many of my students. They are, largely, phenomenally educated professionals who have come to Canada hoping for new lives and better opportunities. Many are Muslims (so I luck into that lovely noodle pudding during Eid sometimes!).
Often, they are disappointed. I try not to be one of their disappointments.

I know - to a smaller degree - about being observed with fear and uncertainty. But the stories I heard from both my parents remind me this is a tradition in so many places.

I gave one of my students an article about the fear so many people had about John Kennedy. A writer for Esquire  was combing Texas archives as he researched a book on Lyndon Johnson. What he found astonished him - and not in a good way. Comments about Kennedy as a covert operative seeking to disrupt civilized society. Sound impossible? Change the denomination...and know this continues to be shameful.

For Al Smith who ran for President in 1928 after serving successfully as Governor of New York, the backlash about a Catholic running for President must have been a shock. The story most often repeated - that was whispered about Smith - was that he intended to dig a tunnel to the Vatican and that he'd take his orders from there.

The fuss about a Mosque in Manhattan reminds me a great deal of the fuss about some Carmelite Nuns who once dwelled cloistered at Auschwitz, praying contemplatively for all the sorrows that had gone before.  They were pitched - and let's agree, they were victims of shallow political currents and appeasements on all sides. Not much changes.

My friends who are Muslims - and I have many, as I do friends who are Jewish and Christian, cheerfully agnostic, and uncertain - are gracious, delightful, kind people who bless my life. They are my colleagues, my students, my friends and acquaintances. They are people. Nice people.

For those who like to muse what would Jesus do?- in conversation, and on bumper stickers - the answer is simple: Love your neighbour as yourself. There are no footnotes and there is no opt out clause.

The Rolling Stones had it very right in Sympathy for the Devil. There are so many instances of evil let loose - and encouraged.  Edmund Burke made the point equally well: All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

What so many people did faced with a horror beyond understanding was the right thing. At Gander and Hamilton and other airports, ordinary people made strangers welcome. They fed them and consoled them and took them home and cared for them. Again, thanks to my friends at CBC, we hear some of those stories regularly - about strangers who became the dearest of friends through the saddest of circumstances.

So while I look at this day as a sad one in so many ways, I look at it as an encouraging one as well: a small cadre of men committed a terrible, vicious act...and in response, a selection of ordinary people the world over responded with kindness and care. Evil didn't triumph, nor will it if we continue to beat it down with civility, humanity and decency.