Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Parliamentary Democracy to be Suspended for More Than Two Months

As reported online in today’s Globe and Mail, our sinister Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, plans to suspend Parliament until March. Although he will have to ask permission of the Governor-General, Michele Jean, this is considered a formality, and, indeed, a forgone conclusion given her collusion with the government just over a year ago when she agreed to a Parliamentary ‘time- out’ to prevent the government from falling and being replaced by a coalition consisting of the Liberals, the Bloc, and the NDP.

What is the Harper government fleeing from this time? The answer lies in the parliamentary committee examining alleged government knowledge that our military was contravening the Geneva Convention in handing over Afghan detainees to Afghan authorities who commonly practice torture on its prisoners. Recent testimony by Richard Colvin clearly suggests a cover-up about this knowledge, and the fact that the government has refused the committee’s request for unredacted documents is the most obvious catalyst for this contemptible move by a craven Prime Minister. Harper is doubtlessly counting on the public’s short attention span to be his biggest ally in this shameful attack on freedom of information in particular and democracy in general.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Animal Shows, Human Nature, and Chris Hedges

I recently had the pleasure of watching a Nova special on PBS entitled The Last Great Ape, which profiled the bonobo ape, an endangered species found exclusively in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Aside from its intelligence, the most remarkable aspect of the bonobo is that its matriarchal culture operates on co-operation, not the confrontation and violence that defines its chimpanzee cousin’s way of life. The program tells us that the two species diverged about two million years ago. Given the fact that we all evolved from a common primate ancestor, the program reminds us that human society has elements of both species in its makeup, both the capacity for terrible aggression and life-affirming co-operative behaviour.

So why is this so important to appreciate? I just read a thought-provoking book by Chris Hedges called I Don’t Believe in Atheists, the thesis of which is that both religious fundamentalists and the new atheists (people such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens,) are equally dangerous in that both cling to ideologies that ignore some basic truths about human nature. While the fundamentalists prescribe a very narrow set of beliefs as the way to salvation, condemning all others to the fiery pit of hell, scientist- atheists such as Hitchens and Harris argue for the perfectibility of humanity through scientific progress, going so far as to advocate the extermination of Muslims because of the extremist element responsible for terrorism. What makes both polarities so dangerous is the intolerance of all opposing beliefs, the arrogant belief in the absolute truth of their own positions, and the failure to recognize that humans, by their divided animal nature, can never achieve perfection, either through the acceptance of religious or scientific doctrine.

I found both the program and the book refreshing. As implied in the Nova documentary, and made explicit in Hedges’ book, until we confront and completely acknowledge the immutability of the animal side of our natures, real progress (but never perfectibility) in the human condition is not achievable, and we will be forever susceptible to those demagogues, both religious and secular, who try to convince us that salvation is to be found in a set of beliefs, a set of actions, or a ‘final solution.’

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ah, The Sweet Smell of Integrity

It’s hard, when looking at local, provincial, national and international political behaviour, not to be deeply cynical about human nature. The failure of the Copenhagen Summit is but the latest example of our short-sightedness as a species. But occasionally, something happens that confirms the human capacity for principled and honourable choices. Two such examples are to be found in yesterday’s Globe and Mail.

Entitled “The day the music died,” the article tells of two defections from the opening and closing 2010 Winter Olympics to be held in British Columbia. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Bramwell Tovey, has decided not to be part of the opening ceremonies because it was asked this week to prerecord its music that would then be mimed by other performers during the spectacle. Seeing this as a gross public deception, Mr. Tovey compared it to Ben Johnson’s victory in 1988, winning gold but later stripped of the medal when he tested positive for steroids that enhanced his performance.

The second defection is by Terry Dove, a performer who auditioned to march and dance in the closing ceremonies. An enthusiast of the Olympics, his ardour has been diminished by the recent treatment of those who oppose them for a variety of reasons. One such person, Marla Renn, faced a long delay and intrusive questioning at the Canada-U.S border, simply because she is known as an anti-Olympics activist.

Both Tovey and Dovey have made very difficult choices here, ones that I think we would find hard to make were we in similar situations. God bless them for their integrity, something the modern Olympics lost many years ago. They are real heroes in my eyes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Typical Institutional Behaviour

As I travel further into retirement and have more time to devote to newspaper reading, it occurs to me that I have now lived long enough to see through the majority of attempts by the media and by government to manipulate the public. The latest case in point which I would like to address should be obvious even to the most casual thinker; I refer to the ongoing testimony of Richard Colvin, who was Canada’s second-highest diplomat stationed in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, to a House of Commons committee.

According to Colvin, a whistle-blower in the noblest sense of the word, he tried to alert the Canadian government repeatedly to the fact that Afghans turned over by the Canadian military to Afghan authorities were regularly tortured, despite the fact that most of them had no ties to terrorism, being simple villagers, taxi-drivers, etc., innocent victims who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Indeed, it reached such a point that he was told by his ‘bosses’ in Ottawa to no longer put in writing his allegations.

The Conservative Government’s stance for several years has been that it had no knowledge of such activity, despite the urgent reports sent by Colvin to senior civil servants in the Prime Minister’s Office, General Hillier, who was the Commander of the troops at the time, and various politicians. In trying to handle the damage being done by Colvin’s testimony, the Conservative Government members on the committee are engaging in a classic ‘shoot the messenger’ strategy, trying to impugn him by saying that since he never personally witnessed torture, such evidence he is presenting would not stand up in a court of law. As well, Conservative (former NDPer) Cheryl Gallant is lamenting that his talk of abuse of prisoners is undermining public support for the Afghan mission, a mission that I think very few Canadians now support given the terrible toll of young lives lost to support a corrupt regime, in essence sacrificing their lives for absolutely nothing.

Nonetheless, her statement, and the attitude of the Conservatives on the committee serve only to try to divert thinking Canadians from forcing them to address the real issues here. If it is true that, as claimed, former Defense Minister Gordon O’Connor, and current Defense Minister Peter Mackay knew nothing about these allegations of abuse, what does that say about their competence as ministers? Indeed, can’t the case be cogently argued that Mackay has a moral duty to resign since, if he is telling the truth and did not receive any reports, he is incompetent to head the Ministry of Defense?

Of course, such an act of integrity will never happen, politicians knowing that if they attack the messenger vigorously enough, and let enough time elapse, the public will forget.

With principles so sorely lacking in public life, is it any wonder that only a minority of Canadians vote in federal, provincial, and municipal elections?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Revenue Canada and the Culture of Corporate Concealment

I have written blog postings in the past on organizational behaviour and the tendency to conceal unpalatable facts that may affect the public's view of the organization. My years in teaching yielded many examples of such conduct. There is a story in today’s Globe and Mail of malfeasance concealed within Revenue Canada, uncovered only after a freedom of information request by a researcher.

Apparently, in 2008, two employees created fictitious tax returns, one netting $300,000, the other $100,000. I can almost hear the conversation that must have ensued after discovery of the crimes, which, by the way, also entailed the invasion of privacy of many taxpayers as the miscreants plumbed their tax records to facilitate their crimes. Undoubtedly the argument for concealment was made on the basis of these crimes being 'aberrations,’ and that letting the public know about them would serve only to undermine confidence in an institution that ‘operates so well.’

Despite the fact that these crimes have been uncovered, Revenue Canada refuses to answer any questions regarding what happened to the errant employees, other than to say they no longer work for Revenue Canada. They would not reveal whether they were charged (unlikely, since there would then be a public record) or whether the criminals made restitution. Our government agency justified its refusal to provide details, saying to do so would “violate privacy laws.” I wonder if the spokesperson realizes the irony of such a risible declaration.

If you would like to read the full story, I am reproducing it below:

Steven Chase

Ottawa — From Thursday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Thursday, Sep. 17, 2009 08:21AM EDT

Two Canada Revenue Agency bureaucrats siphoned hundreds of thousands of dollars from Ottawa's coffers by filing fraudulent tax returns and diverting refunds and related benefit payments to their personal bank accounts.

The tax collection agency, which uncovered the fraud in 2008, kept news of it from going public for more than a year, until the facts were released through a request under access-to-information law.

In one case, a veteran male Revenue employee routed $300,000 generated from illegitimate returns into his bank accounts. In an apparently unrelated matter, a female staffer racked up $100,000 using similar means of tricking the government into issuing refunds and payments to accounts she controlled.

The two facilitated this by snooping through taxpayer records – using invasive database searches that, among other things, grant access to Canadians' social insurance numbers.

It was heavy use of some searches that caught the eye of investigators.

On Wednesday, the Canada Revenue Agency refused to name the fraudsters or reveal whether they were fired or charged and convicted, saying that to identify them would violate privacy law. It also could not say if the money was recovered after the fraud was discovered last year.

Revenue spokeswoman Caitlin Workman would reveal only that the two individuals have left the tax collection business. “They no longer work here,” she said.

She dismissed the notion the two cases represent a problem with the corporate culture of Canada Revenue Agency, which is trusted to handle the confidential files of millions of taxpayers.

“We have close to 45,000 employees here, and they deal with millions of tax and benefit files on a daily basis. And here we are talking about two individuals,” Ms. Workman said. “Yes, we take it very seriously, but it should also be put in perspective.”

The male employee took more than $300,000 by routing bogus refunds and related Canada Child Tax Benefit and GST credit payments to personal accounts, just-released Canada Revenue Agency memos say.

The staffer was an expert on these benefits and “could have created fictitious accounts without any assistance,” the internal investigation found.

“For the last eight years, at least, he had filed tax returns and claimed [benefits and credits] for individuals he did not know,” the probe said.

The male staffer used dozens of taxpayer accounts for his fraud.

“Based on the information gained [from the investigation] and the list of social insurance numbers found at his workstation, it is reasonable to believe that [he] may have had a role to play in the issuance of illegitimate refunds on more than 50 accounts,” investigators found.

The female Canada Revenue Agency worker, who had eight years on the job, prepared and filed hundreds of illegitimate returns, ensuring the tax refunds and goods and services tax credits were routed to her own bank accounts.

The records from this investigation were obtained through access-to-information requests by researcher Ken Rubin.

Other Revenue employees became suspicious in the $300,000 fraud case when they tried to verify some of the claims and could not reach the taxpayers.

“After reviewing the motor vehicle records and conducting credit bureau checks ... [a staffer] was unable to determine the whereabouts of the taxpayers involved and could not establish whether or not they actually existed,” the probe reported.

Ms. Workman said internal fraud of this magnitude is very infrequent, but couldn't provide a historical record.

“I don't have any numbers for you but they are very rare.”

Both fraudsters made thousands of unauthorized searches into taxpayers' files, investigators found. The male staffer's transgressions included gaining access to his own files, and those of his spouse and his stepchildren.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why Aren't the Newspapers Covering This Story?

A report released yesterday, entitled Cellphone and Brain Tumors - 15 Reasons for Concern, concludes that there is a significant risk of brain tumors arising from cellphone use. Compiled by doctors and scientists, its conclusions are derived from scientific findings from a variety of studies that have been conducted, including one funded by the telecommunications industry which, to no one's surprise, found no elevated risk. As this report points out, the telecom-funded study has design flaws that skewed the results to show no danger.

It is sad to note that thus far, despite the fact that the report has been sent to governments and the media, no newspapers have reported the findings. One can't help but wonder whether the fact that cellphone companies advertise heavily in newspapers could be a factor in this failure to report.

I am providing a link to the pdf file for anyone interested in reading the report, which should spur all of us to be much more careful in our use of these mobile devices.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shona Holmes on the Michael Coren Show

The other day a friend of mine alerted me to the fact that Shona Holmes was going to be making an appearance on the Michael Coren Show, and despite the fact that I tried to view it with an open mind, I can honestly say that it had very little impact on my overall impressions of the woman and her mission.

Ms. Holmes insists that her life was indeed threatened by her condition, explaining that an abridged version of her “complex medical issues” appeared on the Mayo Clinic website because of some kind of restriction on what could be written there. She offered some convoluted explanation of what she continues to assert was a brain tumour encapsulated within a cyst. While I am at least now willing to grant the possibility of her having had a more serious condition than was indicated on the Clinic website, I feel no more kindly disposed to her ‘mission’ than I did from the outset for a number of reasons.

First, she deplored the fact that a polarization occurs whenever Canadian and American healthcare systems are compared. Insisting that the American ad she made has succeeded in generating debate, she is being either disingenuous or obtuse in refusing to recognize that her ad increases that polarization, speaking, as it does, in absolutes, (e.g., “Government healthcare is not the answer, and it certainly isn’t free”) abetted by the voiceover advising viewers of the great suffering that ensues in Canada where people must wait an unconscionable length of time “for vital surgeries.” When asked by the host whether she felt that the ad was unfair to our system, she insisted that it wasn’t, and would do it again “in a heartbeat.”

In response to Coren’s question about the possibility that she was one of those few people who might have ‘fallen through the cracks” and that our system works pretty well, she declaimed that untold thousands were experiencing similar treatment, and that her efforts in suing the government and trying to force in private insurance are not for herself, but for her neighbours, grandchildren, and fellow citizens. I was disappointed that Mr. Coren did not ask her for statistical evidence to support her claims. Without that support, I cannot escape the notion that her efforts spring more from self-interest than any kind of altruism.

As well, while agreeing with the host that the American system needs reform, she went on to suggest that the majority of Americans are happy with their health insurance, again without statistical support, and questioned the actual number of Americans without insurance, dismissing the majority as illegal immigrants and young people who choose not to have any because they don’t think they need it. Hmm, I wonder if the exorbitant costs of acquiring insurance could be a factor in their decision?

Ms. Holmes also seems to lack insight into why the Canadian people are so furious with her, expressing her disappointment in the discovery that one can’t hold an opposing opinion without being reviled, threatened, etc. What she fails to understand is that people are so upset by her utter arrogance in assuming the role of spokesperson for a healthcare system that all polls suggest enjoys the unqualified support of over 87% of Canadians.

Until Ms. Holmes can begin to see herself as others see her, I suspect she can look forward to continued expressions of ill-will from her fellow Canadians.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More on U.S. Healthcare

The Hamilton Spectator had a well-considered article in yesterday's edition written by a Canadian resident who has lived in the United States and experienced their healthcare system. His comparison between our system and the American one makes for some fascinating reading:

Beware the right in health-care fight

Is movement to privatize Ontario's system behind Holmes' battle?

August 19, 2009
John Kneeland

(Aug 19, 2009)

In 1996, through my employer in Sarasota, Fla., I had medical insurance from Blue Cross Blue Shield. Doctors on my short list seemed capable, but I saw them only for basic medical procedures.

Wondering what personal health insurance would cost me now in Florida, I applied online for a quote from Blue Cross Blue Shield. For a man my age (58), the monthly premium was $418.

Copayments for office visits were $20 to $40, with 20 per cent co-insurance (my share of treatment costs for major medical procedures), and a $500 deductible. Perusing the list of exclusions, I noticed a 24-month wait for treatment involving pre-existing conditions.

I called the company and told the insurance specialist I had received laser treatment in Canada for a minor prostate cancer. "Oh," he said, "You'll be declined. There's a 10-year block on any form of cancer." This is a predicament Americans are well acquainted with; more than half of the bankruptcies in the U.S. are due to medical expenses.

In Ontario in the past year, I have received -- besides cancer treatment -- MRIs, blood tests, dermatological treatments and my biennial checkup. I paid for one PSA test. Wait times were insignificant.

In fact, wait times, which were actually worsened in the past by Conservative-inspired tax cuts, have improved in recent years in both Ontario and Quebec. In a 2008 Health Canada study, patients' self-reported median wait times for MRIs and CAT scans were two weeks. Median wait time for a specialist or surgery was a little over four weeks. Most patients waited a maximum of three months.

Currently in the news is Shona Holmes' lawsuit against the Ontario government, which states, "Wait times in the government monopoly health care system are unreasonable and unacceptable by ... medical standards of practice." The suit claims this is a violation of Charter rights.

Holmes had a benign cyst called a Rathke Cleft cyst, which is not life-threatening but can cause blindness in rare cases. On May 27, 2009, Holmes was interviewed by Fox News. She claimed she was suffering from a brain tumour, but could get no medical help in Canada. "I'm just one story," she said. "There's so many out there like me." Holmes told the interviewer that her American friends had advised getting another doctor, then claimed, "that is something we are just not allowed to do here in Canada."

After going on her own to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and having the cyst removed at a cost of $97,000, Holmes asked for reimbursement from Ontario. The government refused on grounds she did not follow proper procedures.

Holmes' story of distress is compelling; what's questionable is her decision to tell only one side of the story on national television. And her lawsuit, which was prepared by Avril Allen of Boghosian and Associates, goes beyond personal grievances.
Allen sits on an advisory committee to the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), which is funding the lawsuit. CCF describes itself as "a registered charity, independent and nonpartisan ... a voice for freedom in Canada's courtrooms and law schools." Executive director John Carpay, a former Reform Party candidate, has announced the group is funding a constitutional challenge to Alberta's medicare system.

Other CCF advisers have included Ezra Levant, an ultraconservative activist and publisher of the Western Standard ( One of CCF's donors is the Donner Canadian Foundation, which an article in the Western Standard called "the lifeblood of conservative research in this country." Another donor is Atlas Economic Research, whose former president, John Blundell, said his mission was to "litter the world with free-market think- tanks."

When the Supreme Court of Canada decided Quebec could not place an outright ban on a parallel private system of health care, the court majority stated a ban on private insurance "might be constitutional in circumstances where health care services are reasonable as to both quality and timeliness." Accordingly, the Holmes suit is based on a claim that Ontario's services are not timely.

On its website, CCF describes Ontario's "unconstitutional legislative monopoly on health care." In other words, its goal is to bring privatization into the Canadian system.

According to the Romanow report of 2002, privatization, with its unnecessary administrative costs, is both inefficient and a drain on system resources. Dr. Arnold S. Relman, a Harvard professor of medicine and emeritus editor-in-chief of New England Journal of Medicine, states, "The facts are that no one has ever shown, in fair, accurate comparisons, that for-profit makes for greater efficiency or better quality, and certainly have never shown that it services the public interest any better."

Because CCF has charitable status, contributions to it are tax-deductible, which means taxpayers at large are subsidizing its attempts to undermine our single-tier health-care system. That is truly a health care travesty.
Burlington resident John Kneeland was born in the U.S. to Canadian parents. He has lived about half his life in each country.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shame on the Brampton Separate School Board and St. Edmund Campion Secondary School

I just read in the Toronto Star that as a result of one parent complaining about language, the principal of St Edmund Campion Secondary School, Kevin McGuire, is removing To Kill a Mockingbird from its Grade 10 curriculum.

Having taught the novel many times, I can certainly attest to the fact that the ‘n’ word is used several times. Does that mean it is not fit to be in our schools? Of course not, given that the word, indeed the entire novel, is a lesson in the evil of racism and the ignorance that promotes it.

To me, the decision by the principal is yet another of a long list of examples of how schools are now in the hands of politicians who care more about career advancement than they do about the students whose instructional welfare they are charged with.

No word yet on what book will serve as the novel’s replacement.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More on Right-Wing Scare Tactics

John Ibbitson had an interesting piece in today's Globe on the tactics being used by foes of healthcare reform to inspire terror in the ignorant:

Opponents of health-care reform stoking fears

Citizens argue healthcare reform proposals on August 8, 2009 in Brighton, Colorado.

Shock jock Rush Limbaugh compares the White House's health office logo to a swastika and President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler

John Ibbitson

Last updated on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009 02:41AM EDT

Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats are neo-Nazis who want to create “death panels” that will euthanize older citizens.

Or so some very prominent opponents of health care reform would have Americans believe. In what may mark a new low in political discourse, conservatives leaders, including some Republicans, are urging voters to pack town halls to show their displeasure with the Democrats' plan to reform America's broken health care-system. Others are spamming the Internet with distortions and outright lies.

In the process, they may have successfully wrested control of the debate over health care away from the Democrats, turning a narrative about expanding coverage while controlling costs into one about a socialistic undermining of core American values.

The Web is at the centre of the campaign to block the Democrats' proposed legislation. Just as President Barack Obama used the tools of social networking, such as Facebook and YouTube, to generate excitement and organizational support for his campaign, so too conservative organizations such as FreedomWorks and Conservatives for Patients' Rights are effectively generating anger and organization to oppose health-care reform.

At town halls across the country crowds are booing and shouting down Democratic congressmen trying to explain the legislation. As a result, many Democrats are putting off public forums, meeting voters instead in smaller groups.

The Democratic leadership has condemned the tactics.

“These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views—but of the facts themselves,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in an op-ed Monday in USA Today. “Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.”

House Minority John Boehner said the Republicans have nothing to apologize for.

“To label Americans who are expressing vocal opposition to the Democrats' plan ‘un-American' is outrageous and reprehensible,” he said in a message to supporters.

But the leadership of the Republican Party seems to believe that any statement, no matter how outrageous, is justified in the cause of killing health-care reform.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin posted a message on her Facebook page Friday warning that seniors would be compelled to “stand in front of Obama's ‘death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care.”

She called this “downright evil” and it would be, except it is also complete fiction. Under the new plan, Medicare would pay for consultations between doctors and patients on end-of-life protocols—living wills, do-not-resuscitate orders, and the like. Any such consultation is purely voluntary.

That hasn't kept shock jock Rush Limbaugh from comparing the White House's health office logo to a swastika and Mr. Obama to Adolf Hitler.

Now what are the similarities between the Democratic Party of today and the Nazi party in Germany?” he asked his listeners last week. “Well, the Nazis were against big business … they were insanely, irrationally against pollution. They were for two years' mandatory voluntary service to Germany. They had a whole bunch of make-work projects to keep people working.” It was, apparently, like that all last week.

President Obama predicted Monday “that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge, and we're going to get this passed.” He faces a town hall of his own in Portsmouth, N.H. Tuesday.

In the meantime, the White House has created a website dedicated to dispelling false claims about the health-care proposals. The Obama campaign employed a similar tactic to rebut false claims about the candidate—he's a Muslim, he consorts with terrorists, that sort of thing—during the election campaign.

For whatever reason, Ms. Palin has toned down her language. Her website Monday urged “civil discourse,” adding: “Let's not give the proponents of nationalized health care any reason to criticize us.”

But the situation is clearly confusing voters, and polarizing debate along lines of race, region and income.

A USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday reported that two-thirds of African Americans and six in 10 Latinos believe the biggest priority for reform should be expanding coverage, while six in 10 whites said reform should focus on controlling costs.

Westerners prefer expanded coverage; Southerners prefer controlling costs, while fewer than half of all seniors want to see any reform this year at all.

The Democrats may yet be able to pull everything together when Congress resumes in the fall. But generating fear-based schisms is an effective technique in undermining efforts at reform.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Canadian Living in the U.S. Offers Her View of American Healthcare

Our local paper printed an article written by a Canadian currently living in Nevada, offering some of the facts about a system where people's care is decided by the level of their insurance coverage and the company's cost calculations. While the American right-wing is trying to terrorize the public with fantasies about government bureaucrats deciding who will live or die, the fact is that health insurance companies are making those decisions on a daily basis.

Insurance firms run U.S. health care

Co-payments, spotty coverage, sky-high premiums if you're already ill

August 10, 2009
Jane Carnahan Khaldy

(Aug 10, 2009)
I am a Canadian citizen who has lived in the United States since 1989. The U.S. has been very good to me, but don't get me started on health care.

The changes to the current system proposed by the Barack Obama administration are being criticized as being too much like the Canadian system due to the fact that government would control our health-care system. Currently in the United States, it is insurance companies that have this power, and that is my issue. Here is a snapshot of my experiences with American health care.

My husband died of lung cancer in September 2006. In July 2006, his insurance coverage with COBRA (a government-mandated continuation of health-care coverage at group rates in the event one loses employment) ended. Due to the government regulation on "qualifying events" (events that change your eligibility for health insurance coverage), I was able to obtain coverage with my work insurance. However, my husband's oncologist was not covered under my plan, and during the last 30 days of his life, he had to endure a 40-minute commute to begin all over again with a new doctor. We could have avoided all this if we obtained a divorce, which also would have been a "qualifying event." We chose not to do that.

In July 2007, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Here are just a few salient events in my health-care saga:

The chemotherapy lowered my white blood-cell count to dangerous levels and thus, I needed a shot called Neupogen. One day, I was in danger of being admitted to the hospital due to the low white blood-cell count. As the oncology nurse prepared the needle for an injection of Neupogen, the office manager rushed in, stopped the procedure, and told me it would cost me $4,500 if administered in the office and that the shot had to be shipped to me and self-administered.

When my surgeon determined that I needed a mastectomy, he ordered a routine breast MRI prior to the operation. However, my insurance company denied the procedure four times before finally agreeing. The cost of the MRI was simply too high for them to confirm.

On my final day of chemotherapy -- January 25, 2008 -- as I waited in the exam room, a staff member came in and advised that my chemotherapy was no longer covered by my insurance and if I wanted it that day, the cost would be approximately $5,000. Finally, after several hours, the doctor was compassionate and granted it. To this day, I do not know who paid for it.

In 2008, I spent approximately $10,000 in out-of-pocket monies for health-care co-payments and noncovered treatments.

My story is only one of many. My friend Patty, 56, will lose her insurance in December as her COBRA will have ended and she is not employed.

An individual policy will cost her $1,200 a month because she has a "pre-existing condition" -- breast cancer. She is too young for the medicare system that provides covered health care for those over 65.

I just took out an individual policy for my 15-year-old daughter, and the cost is $93 a month, which is cost-effective enough. However, in order for her to receive the insurance, I was advised not to mention she had recently had a sore throat, as that would raise the premium.

The policy also carries a $1,500 deductible and, of course, office visits, lab tests etc. have co-payments which start at $25 per visit and go up from there.

During the previous bout of sore throat six months ago, her then-doctor wanted to perform a rapid strep-throat test to determine the appropriate treatment, but my insurance company would not cover this five-second test.

So the doctor was forced to prescribe antibiotics as a precaution, which the insurance company would pay for. They wouldn't pay for the test to correctly diagnose the problem but would pay for drugs that might not be needed.

In summary, I feel that government intervention in U.S. health care would vastly improve the situation and create an America where no one who needs health care will be denied, including those with pre-existing conditions.

Jane Carnahan Khaldy, a graduate of McMaster University, was born and raised in Dundas and is currently a resident of Henderson, Nev.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

American Healthcare 'Debate'

I just read an interesting article in the N.Y. Times about the so-called debate that is going on in the United States over reform to their healthcare system. Unfortunately, it seems that the word 'debate' is a misnomer as many Americans allow themselves to be whipped up into a frenzy by the right wing to disrupt town hall meetings being hosted by Democrats. I have always found it ironic that in many situations, the very people who would most benefit from a progressive measure are, with the right amount of manipulation, the ones who are most strident in their opposition.

Although I don't expect them to follow Robert's Rules of Order, it is a shame that they don't understand that shouting, name-calling, and physical confrontation do not constitute an informed exchange of views. But then again, when has the extreme right-wing ever relied on reason over demagoguery?

Click here for the article.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

More Shona, More of the Time

Sorry folks. Everytime I read a story about this benighted soul, I can't resist posting as long as the comments are not defamatory. The C.B.C website had an interesting article that suggests Waterdown's indefatigable foe of public health care may be being less than completely accurate in reciting her tale of woe. I have put in bold certain parts for emphasis.

Anti-medicare ad an exaggeration: experts
Last Updated: Friday, July 31, 2009 | 8:20 AM ET Comments414Recommend142
CBC News

A U.S. ad featuring an Ontario woman who spoke out against the Canadian health-care system may be exaggerating the severity of her condition, say medical experts.
Canadian experts say that had Shona Holmes's case been deemed an emergency, she would have received care in Canada within days.Canadian experts say that had Shona Holmes's case been deemed an emergency, she would have received care in Canada within days. (CBC)

Shona Holmes has appeared in U.S. ads saying she had to go to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona to be treated for a rare type of cyst at the base of her brain — a Rathke's cleft cyst. She mortgaged her home and paid $100,000 to be treated there because getting care in Canada involved a six-month wait, she said. She is currently suing OHIP to recoup those costs.

Holmes, from Waterdown, Ont., said she would have died had she relied on the Canadian health-care system and waited to see a specialist.

But the director of the brain tumour research centre at the Montreal Neurological Institute says he thinks that claim is "an exaggeration."

Dr. Rolando Del Maestro says the lesion Holmes was diagnosed with is benign, and usually slow-growing. It typically does not require urgent attention, he said.

"If it's a real emergency in the sense that the patient's visual function is getting substantially worse, the patients would be brought in immediately and would be operated on the next day," he said.

In 2005, Holmes, complaining of headaches and vision loss, went to see a Canadian doctor and was put on a six-month waiting list to see specialist.

After trying unsuccessfully to expedite the process, she was diagnosed and treated at the Mayo Clinic. Holmes said U.S. doctors considered the cyst a tumour, and that it would cause death if not removed immediately.

But neurosurgeon Michael Schwartz of Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital says he's never seen or heard of a death from a Rathke's cyst. He told CBC News symptoms can be alleviated if the cyst is drained or part of it removed to take pressure off the optic nerve. "Then the person's vision almost always improves.

"If somebody called me about a patient that was losing her vision or had a structural abnormality of the brain I would see them within days."

Opposition to Obama

The contentious advertisement is being run by a conservative lobby group, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, opposed to U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to involve the government playing a role in reforming U.S. health care.

It warns that Washington wants to bring in Canadian-style health care that would cause "deadly" delays for people waiting for important medical procedures.

Holmes denies taking any money from Americans for Prosperity for her message. Her publicist, paid for by the lobby group, says she's now declining interviews.

But Holmes told CBC News in an earlier interview she believes Canadians are not speaking up about the problems in the health-care system. She said that every time she thinks about stopping her criticism of the system, she gets "another really sad phone call or desperate phone call of somebody who is tragically trying to get treatment in Canada and can't."

Americans for Prosperity says it has spent nearly $1.8 million US running the ad in Washington, D.C., and 11 states with key senators who are either writing health-care bills or wavering on the issue.

It is one of a handful of commercials that are expected to grow in number and criticism this summer as detailed health bills emerge from the U.S. Congress and dozens of interest groups, companies and labour unions tussle to influence legislators.

Through June 27, $31 million has been spent for roughly 47,000 TV ads on health care this year, says Evan Tracey, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a firm that tracks issue advertising.

So far, Tracey said about $15 million has been spent on ads favouring the Democrats' push to revamp the health-care system and $4 million to oppose it. Another $12 million has gone to ads generally favouring better health care, nearly all of it from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, representing drug makers, which hopes its market will expand if more people have insurance.

Tracey estimated that $250 million will ultimately be spent on the campaign this year.
With files from The Associated Press

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Shona Saga Continues

Poor Shona Holmes. The Waterdown woman who has become the spokesperson for the American right wing's efforts to stop the introduction of any semblance of humanity into their profit-driven health care system that excludes upwards of 50 million people and forces countless others into bankruptcy due to underinsurance can't quite understand the furious response of her fellow Canadians to her perfidy. I'll let you read all of the details from yesterday's Globe and Mail story, which I am reproducing below:

Medicare naysayer famous in U.S. but blasted as traitor back home


With a report from The Canadian Press Last updated on Friday, Jul. 31, 2009 03:06AM EDT

South of the border, she's become the poster girl for privatized health care and a familiar face on television. But here in Canada, Shona Holmes of Waterdown, Ont., has become vilified as a traitor who sold out her country to endorse a broken health-care system.

"There's been death threats on me ... it's just been awful, absolutely awful," Ms. Holmes said in an interview yesterday, breaking down several times in tears. "It's just absolutely asinine that somebody could speak out about their beliefs and be lynched."

She was recently catapulted into the spotlight after appearing in a U.S. commercial urging Americans to reject government-run health care. In the ad, sponsored by conservative group Americans for Prosperity Foundation, Ms. Holmes spoke of suffering from a brain tumour and soberly declared, "If I'd relied on my government for health care, I'd be dead."

The commercial was lapped up by conservative lobbyists and Ms. Holmes has since appeared on CNN and Fox News; she also recently appeared in Washington to give testimony before Congress.

But north of the 49th parallel, there has been a torrent of vitriol in the media and blogosphere, accusing Ms. Holmes of lying about her health and turning her back on the Canadian health-care system.

On Facebook, a group called "Lets deport Shona Holmes" is littered with messages decrying her as "a liar and a traitor" who should "move to the U.S. if you like it so much."

The outpouring of anger has shocked the 45-year-old family mediator, leaving her afraid for her safety. She's increased security at her home and even given the family dog to her daughter, because of threats that her lawn will be poisoned.

"My life has been turned upside down over this," she said. "I'm terribly hurt. ... But quite honestly I'm quite offended that people are so cold and callous to sick people."

Among the accusations levied against Ms. Holmes are that she exaggerated the severity of her brain tumour and it was actually a Rathke's cleft cyst, which is said to be benign. Ms. Holmes counters that doctors did diagnose her with a Rathke's cleft cyst, but it is still considered a tumour, which her American doctors told her would certainly cause death if not removed immediately.

She said the cyst was pushing on her pituitary gland and causing endocrine issues; she also feared permanent vision loss. Ms. Holmes was first diagnosed with a small tumour in 1998, but doctors said it was not a cause for concern and should be monitored closely.

Then in 2005, she began suffering symptoms that included headaches and vision loss and went to see her family doctor. She was put on a waiting list of six and four months to see an endocrinologist and neurologist, respectively.

Desperate, Ms. Holmes decided to go the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., which was willing to see her within two days. Today, she maintains she did everything she could to find adequate treatment in Canada, e-mailing and phoning every doctor she could.

The Mayo Clinic diagnosed her and advised her to have surgery in Canada immediately. But when she returned home, she was still unable to find immediate treatment and went back to the Mayo Clinic, which removed her tumour and restored her vision.

Ms. Holmes's cross-border hospital trips cost her more than $97,000 (U.S.) and she has since sued OHIP for reimbursement, an appeal that is still in the works. She also filed a 2007 lawsuit with another plaintiff, Lindsay McCreith of Newmarket, Ont., alleging the Ontario government's monopoly on health care is unconstitutional. On July 14, the Attorney-General responded to the lawsuit by filing a defence claim, denying that either Ms. Holmes or Mr. McCreith were prevented from accessing timely treatment. Yesterday, Ontario Health Minister David Caplan also defended the province's health care, calling it a system "every Ontarian can be proud of."

Ms. Holmes disputed that, however, and said it's a misconception that Canada has a perfect health-care system. She said it was this perception that motivated her to participate in the commercial.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Obscene Bonuses

A good friend of mine sent me the following. If you read the part I have put in bold, you might draw the same conclusion that I did, that all of these people must have attended the same school of spin to justify their wastage of the taxpayers' money. How many times have school boards justified their outrageous remuneration policies of senior management with the same rhetoric?

Does it ever end??????

Company News Alert
3rd UPDATE: NY AG: Some Banks Gave $1 Million Bonuses To Hundreds (djones)
(Adds analysis and companies declining to comment.)

By Kerry Grace Benn and Jessica Papini


NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- Several large, troubled banks that got U.S. government assistance paid hundreds of employees bonuses of at least $1 million last year, according to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) topped the list of banks that gave large bonuses, with 1,626 people receiving $1 million or more, including more than 200 people getting at least a $3 million payment. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), which employs less than a seventh of the number of people that JPMorgan does, paid 953 people bonuses of $1 million or more, including 212 of them who received $3 million or more.

Cuomo released the data in a report that criticized banks for continuing to pay hefty bonuses, intended to reward good performance, when the banks were reporting large losses or profit declines during the financial crisis. As such, the report could fan public indignation over bonuses paid on Wall Street.

The report provides a rare, numbers-based glimpse into the secretive world of bonuses being paid by major banks. Shortly after its release Thursday, employees of major Wall Street companies were comparing notes about which companies paid the greatest number of large bonuses.

Wall Street companies often allocate as much as half of the revenue of certain units to pay bonuses to top-performing employees. Some of the banks that took money from the U.S. Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program have wanted to pay it back as soon as possible, largely because of restrictions put on compensation that came with the funds. Some of the banks faced an exodus of key employees who left to work for other companies not subject to pay restrictions, and not in the same spotlight of public anger over pay.

Banks argue that they need to pay large bonuses to retain top professionals. It's top talent that is keeping these firms going, said Jeanne Branthover, head of the global financial services practice at Boyden Global Executive Search. " Human capital is now more important than ever," she said.

Some banks, such as Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and Citigroup Inc. (C), haven't yet repaid their TARP investments.

Cuomo said his office has been investigating compensation at many of the banks, including the original nine that took TARP funds, over the past nine months. The study refers to 2008 bonuses - those that would have been given before any of the banks repaid their government bailout money.

"At many banks...compensation and benefits steadily increased during the bull- market years between 2003 and 2006," Cuomo's office said. "However, when the subprime crisis emerged in 2007, followed by the current recession, compensation and benefits stayed at bull-market levels even though bank performance plummeted."

The reports said two of the first nine TARP recipients - Citigroup and Merrill Lynch - suffered huge losses of more than $27 billion apiece last year. Citigroup got $45 billion from TARP, while Merrill received $10 billion, but they paid out more than $5.3 billion and $3.6 billion in bonuses, respectively.

At Citi, 738 got bonuses of $1 million or more, including 124 people who received bonuses of $3 million or more. At Merrill, which was bought by Bank of America, 696 got $1 million or more, including 101 employees who received $3 million or more in bonuses.

Bank of America paid 172 employees bonuses of $1 million or more, including 28 who received $3 million or more.

Other banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley (MS) and JPMorgan, paid out more in bonuses than their profit for the year, Cuomo's office said. Goldman Sachs, for example, earned $2.3 billion, paid out $4.8 billion in bonuses and received $10 billion in TARP funding.

Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan declined to comment on the report. Citigroup didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The smallest number of big bonuses on the report's list of nine banks was paid by State Street Corp., which paid 44 employees a bonus of $1 million or more.

Bonuses have become a source of contention. At American International Group Inc. (AIG) executives in one division were set to get bonuses totaling $165 million, despite the firm's federal bailout and massive losses. Chief Executive Edward Liddy and other executives received death threats over the issue, and in a March congressional hearing Liddy said he was concerned about the safety of AIG employees. Some employees decided to return the bonuses.

Cuomo's office said that in some ways large bonuses became an expectation at banks and a source of competition among them. At some banks, including Merrill Lynch, Cuomo said, the company "severed the tie between paying based on performance and set its bonus pool based on what it expected its competitors would do."

A person close to Cuomo said the attorney general "decided not to release the names of individual bonus recipients after weighing the public's right to know with the personal privacy interest of the individuals involved."

-By Kerry Grace Benn and Jessica Papini, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2353;

(END) Dow Jones Newswires
07-30-09 1629ET
Copyright (c) 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Andre Picard's Defense of Canadian Health Care

The Globe and Mail's medical reporter, Andre Picard, offers a cogent defense of our healthcare system in today's Globe and Mail. As well, he notes some interesting discrepancies in Shona Holme's 'story.' I have reproduced the article below:

André Picard

Montreal — From Thursday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Thursday, Jul. 30, 2009 07:23AM EDT

Shona Holmes has become a central figure in the bitter debate about U.S. health-care reform.

The Waterdown, Ont., woman is featured in a TV ad telling her tale of horror – how she had a life-threatening brain tumour but would have had to wait months for treatment. So Ms. Holmes remortgaged her home and flew to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona for treatment, paying $97,000 cash for her care.

“Now, Washington wants to bring Canadian-style health care to the U.S.,” the narrator says gravely in the ad, paid for by Patients United Now, an offshoot of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a conservative group that promotes less government and lower taxes.

Ms. Holmes has also recounted her nightmare story in countless media interviews, warning that “free” Canadian health care comes at a heavy price – lack of access – and lamenting her inability to buy private insurance to get quicker care.

“My agenda, if I have one, is to tell them [Americans], be careful what you wish for,” Ms. Holmes told The Washington Times.

Discussions surrounding the provision of health care always elicit strong emotions and outbursts of rhetoric, and Ms. Holmes's case is no exception.

She is, of course, entitled to bash medicare and promote the idea of private health-care insurance both at home and abroad. That is the beauty of free speech. (And, to be fair, Ms. Holmes has always praised the quality of care in Canada; her issue is access and timeliness.)

But a few important details are missing from the “commercial” version of this socialized-medicine-kills tale.

Ms. Holmes did not have a deadly brain tumour, she had a benign Rathkes cleft cyst. Yes, she had vision loss, but it was temporary and reversible. This is not to suggest what she went through was not awful and frightening, but it was not life-threatening.

Initially, Ms. Holmes said she had a six-month wait to see a specialist. Later, she amended that to three months. Canadian hospitals and physicians won't say how long the wait was nor comment on the gravity of her condition because of privacy rules.

For the sake of argument, let's acknowledge that the wait to see specialists like neurologists can be long. It's a problem that needs to be fixed, and the situation is already better now than it was in 2005, when Ms. Holmes had her health problems.

The reality is that, in Canada, we “ration” care. Under our state-financed insurance program, we try to provide universal care efficiently and cost-effectively. We make choices. Getting the balance perfectly right is difficult.

The United States, by contrast, has over-capacity. That is one of the principal reasons that, per capita, care costs about 50 per cent more there than in Canada.

Money buys you access, and lack of money denies you care. In Canada, we have a not-always-happy medium: Universal access with sometimes frustrating waits.

So what happens when a patient feels they are waiting too long for care? Ms. Holmes had a “gut feeling” that her life was in danger and made a radical choice to pay out-of-pocket for immediate care in the United States rather than wait for “free” (read: tax-financed) care in Canada.

Now, she wants to be reimbursed by the Ontario Health Insurance Program. She is also a party to a lawsuit against the Ontario government arguing that a “government-run monopolistic” health system that prohibits the sale of private insurance for medically necessary care is unconstitutional. (The case, very similar to the Chaoulli case in Quebec, is backed by the Canadian Constitution Foundation. It is still before the courts.)

There are complex legal issues here and competing rights that the court will need to balance. But what insurance program, private or public, would ever allow clients to determine their own treatment and reimburse them without question?

In the discussion flowing from Ms. Holmes's ad, it has been noted often that some 45 million Americans do not have health insurance. For them, the right to buy private insurance is moot because they cannot afford it and the Canadian-style system looks pretty appealing. But that is largely beside the point here.

Ms. Holmes is insured – albeit by a state-financed plan. The question is: Can insurers (and providers) delay and deny care, and can they limit and deny coverage?

Of course they can, and they do so all the time. In the United States, health insurance is expensive and it is often tied to employment. Even those with good insurance see their claims denied because of “pre-existing medical conditions,” insurers' attempts to hold down “medical losses” (the industry term for paying for care), and caps on total payouts.

Ironically, for all her lauding of private insurance, someone like Ms. Holmes would find it virtually impossible to buy insurance, given her medical history.

The infamous ad claims that Canadians have long waits and are denied all manner of care because the “government says patients aren't worth it.”

On the contrary, medicare – universal state-financed health insurance – means everyone is worthy of care and entitled to care.

If nothing else, Ms. Holmes' foray into the U.S. health-care debate should remind us of how medicare, despite some shortcomings, is worth it.

Americans can only dream of having such a system to bemoan.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ontario's Response to Shona Holmes

The government of Ontario has responded to Shona Holmes' outrageous lawsuit which essentially tries to end the universal healthcare enjoyed by all residents. Read the story below, published online today by the Globe and Mail:

Ontario fires back against woman in ad

The Ontario government has filed a defence against a claim made by a Hamilton woman who's at the centre of the U.S. debate over health care.

Shona Holmes is featured in a TV campaign in which she claims she had to mortgage her home and travel to a U.S. clinic for brain surgery in 2005, due to a six-month wait for care in Canada. The ad, which began airing about two weeks ago in all 50 states, warns Americans to reject Canadian-style health care because it failed her.

In the ad, Ms. Holmes states that if she relied on her government, she'd be dead.
The filing — Ontario's first response to a lawsuit launched two years ago by Ms. Holmes — was filed by the attorney general two weeks ago.

The lawsuit says Ontario's monopoly over health services is unconstitutional and that long waiting lists cause patients to “endure significant financial, emotional and physical hardship to access such services in the United States.”

Ontario's defence, filed July 14, denies that Ms. Holmes and a co-plaintiff, Lindsay McCreith of Newmarket, Ont., have been prevented from accessing timely treatment. An official in Attorney General Chris Bentley's office said there will be no comment on the case since it is before the courts. Ms. Holmes said Tuesday she also does not want to discuss the lawsuit to keep it from being “played out in the media.”

The ad, entitled “Shona's Story,” is sponsored by a conservative lobby group and has gained traction in the U.S. media and through Ms. Holmes' testimony before Congress.
Canadian physician Robert Ouellet said he is tired of hearing Canada's health care system being cast as the boogeyman in the vitriolic U.S. political debate over health care reform. Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama's reform drive have accused him of trying to adopt the Canadian system of public health care funding, which they say endangers patients with lengthy waits for medical care.

While Mr. Ouellet, president of the Canadian Medical Association, admits the country's system has its flaws, including excessive wait times for some medical services, he denies the accusation that it puts lives at risk. “To say that the system is a complete failure is not fair. When people go to the hospital they get good quality medical care. ... People are not dying on the street,” said Mr. Ouellet, who practices medicine in Quebec.

The Canadian health care system is “seen as something that separates us from the United States,” said Mike Luff, a spokesman for the National Union of Public and General Employees.

The U.S. attacks on the system are also “ironic“ because “Obama's plan doesn't come close to what the system is in Canada,” Mr. Luff said.
White House-backed bills now making their way through the U.S. House and Senate would overhaul rules for private health insurers, and offer them competition in the form of a government-run health program.

Mr. Ouellet says each country has something to learn from the other about health care, and should also take lessons from European countries that provide universal care while reducing both costs and wait times.

Dr. Brian Day, a past CMA president who has advocated for a bigger private-sector role in Canada, is also dismayed that Americans and Canadians focus on one another and ignore the rest of the world when discussing health care reform. “Clearly the Canadian system has problems, but the United States has more problems. ... Neither country is giving value for money.”

The Canadian government has stayed quiet on the U.S. debate, but it may have no choice but to speak out if the Canadian public grows more upset at what it sees as unfair U.S. attacks on a source of national pride, said Mario Canseco, of the polling firm Angus Reid Strategies. “Sooner or later someone from the federal government is going to have to stand up and say leave us out of this,” Mr. Canseco said.

Canadian politicians may be leery of involvement in the U.S. debate because they recognize if the Americans reform their system it could force Canada to address its own health care problems, Mr. Ouellet said.

“It's good to have someone like President Obama who wants to fix things.”
With files from Allan Dowd of Reuters, writing out of Vancouver

Monday, July 27, 2009

Universities Have Forgotten Their Purpose

One of the main reasons I do not contribute any money to either of my alma maters is the fact that it has become obvious over the years that universities have forgotten the reason they exist. While it may come as a surprise to the ‘visionaries’ who have been busily building their empires over the decades, the base mission of the university is, or should be, teaching excellence, not the forging of partnerships with businesses, not the building of grander and grander buildings, not the endless fundraising efforts, and certainly not the proliferation of already bloated academic bureaucracies (i.e., $500,000 a year presidents, multiple vice-presidents, deans, etc., etc.)

Now that these institutions are facing greater than usual financial pressures, what is their solution? Not to pare down non-essentials (see the above bloated academic bureaucracies), but, of course, to cut teaching staff and increase class sizes. Organizational behaviour is so predictable, not to mention so destructive to the well-being of the organization. I saw the same misguided and short-sighted antics during my 30 years as a high school teacher, when boards would spend outrageous sums on non-classroom personnel (“You have to pay top dollar to attract top people,” they would tell us) while begrudging us the smallest of increases.

I am reproducing below an article from today’s Globe and Mail that details the latest folly of these academic ‘leaders.’

Staff cuts to boost class size on campus

Services hurt as universities strapped for cash

Elizabeth Church
From Monday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Monday, Jul. 27, 2009 03:52AM EDT

A wave of staff reductions at cash-strapped universities will mean larger classes and fewer services for students at campuses this September.

The budget squeeze – the result of falling investment income and rising costs, especially for pensions – has left many universities scrambling to find millions of dollars in savings for the coming school year. With salaries accounting for the lion's share of budgets, job losses are the inevitable result, school leaders say. That's led to a range of actions to reduce head counts on campus, including layoffs, buyout offers, the cancellation of teaching contracts and hiring freezes.

“You've got to know these discussions are going on at every university in this country,” said Harvey Weingarten, president of the University of Calgary, who recently warned that as many as 200 jobs would be lost on campus this fall. Dr. Weingarten said efforts would be made to limit those cuts to areas that have the least effect on students, but he said with so much of the budget spent on salaries and benefits, staff reductions are the only way to meet the province's requirement for a balanced budget.

While many schools say it is too soon to put a firm number on job losses, others are in talks with unions or have already taken action.

At the University of Guelph, as many as 100 teaching contracts and 30 posts for teaching assistants are in question. The exact cuts will depend on course demand and student numbers, a university spokesman said. Earlier this year 145 staff at the university accepted an early retirement package.

The University of Western Ontario was one of the first campuses to implement reductions, offering a buyout package and a phased retirement option this spring, followed by the layoff of 55 staff.

“I think it's fair to say the system is under distress,” said Jim Butler, vice-president of finance and administration at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. Laurier is using one-time provincial funding to help bridge this year's $8.8-million funding shortfall, but also is cutting casual workers and posts through attrition to make ends meet. The measures will mean the elimination of some smaller classes. “If there is a class of six people in it, we will not be running it,” Mr. Butler predicted.

There will also be fewer campus jobs for returning students. Cuts have already been made at the Special Constable Services, a 24-hour on-campus security hub that last year employed 32 students to work as dispatchers.

The centre responds to student emergencies, whether it's a stolen bike or a bar brawl at the campus pub. During the school year, student dispatchers work six-hour shifts in teams of two, answering phone calls, dispatching officers during emergencies, and keeping an eye on the 236 CCTV cameras on campus.

This fall, the centre will hire 16 students, with only one working per shift.
Second-year business student Jodi Martin was a student dispatcher last year and used her earnings to help pay for tuition. She was hoping to keep the position throughout the summer but was discouraged when her manager informed her of the staffing reductions.

“I was really unimpressed by the fact that they were cutting that,” she said, adding that the centre was actually redesigned last year to accommodate two students per shift. “Especially since they had drilled it into us how important it was that there was two people there for regulations and for being able to do the job properly.”

Other schools are floating proposals for unpaid leave. Lakehead University in Thunder Bay is attempting to require staff and faculty to take days off in December and the idea of unpaid “Queen's Days” was suggested by the administration at Queen's University recently, but was rejected by faculty.

“Clearly all this will inevitably have a significant impact on how we deliver programs,” said Patrick Deane, vice-principal academic at Queen's. Mr. Deane said many, but not all, contract faculty will not have their appointments renewed, and proposals for early retirement packages are being discussed.

While universities say the cuts are necessary, faculty groups are attempting to gauge the severity of the situation, with some questioning the need for drastic action and warning about the effect it will have on quality.

“It's a muddied picture,” said Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. “We are trying to separate out legitimate claims of financial hardship from less legitimate claims, but it is not easy.”

Mr. Turk said it is too soon to see trends in the reductions. While some schools are cutting contract faculty, others are using them as a less costly replacement for departing tenured professors. “It's an evolving story,” he said.

As the story develops, faculty members such as Mark Jones, an English professor at Queen's University, are troubled by the departure of talented scholars who have been told they will not be needed next year.

“It's very upsetting,” he said. “There are tremendous losses here.”
Over the past two decades, Prof. Jones said, he has watched seminar classes double or even triple in size and introductory courses swell from 50 to 200 students. He fears what further cuts will do to course offerings and the ability of the department to offer a full program.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shona Holmes - Part 4

Despite the reluctance of private media to publicly challenge Shona Holmes' veracity about her condition and prognosis, the Hamilton Spectator today ran a story about a woman with the same last name who is receiving a flurry of phone calls very critical of Shona Holmes' lending herself to the American right wing for propaganda purposes. The paper finally reveals (undoubtedly after much soul-searching) that Holmes had a cyst, not a tumour, removed at the Mayo Clinic. I have taken the liberty of reproducing the story below:

Couple getting abusive calls meant for Canadian health critic

July 23, 2009
Carmela Fragomeni
(Jul 23, 2009)

I am NOT Shona Holmes.

Waterdown resident Palmira Holmes wants angry callers to know she is not the same Holmes from Waterdown whose problems with Canadian health care have made her the U.S. poster girl for forces opposed to President Barack Obama's health-care plan.
Palmira Holmes has been inundated with phone calls from people trying to express their fury over Shona Holmes' decision to become the face of an aggressive American TV ad that slams Canadian-style health care.

Airing in 50 states as Shona's Story, the ad has Holmes explaining: "I survived a brain tumour, but if I had relied on my government for health care, I'd be dead."
Palmira Holmes says "it was like being bombarded" in the last few days as critics called constantly, thinking they'd reached Shona Holmes. Palmira's number is listed as S. Holmes for husband Stephen.

Callers have shouted, called her a liar and tried to shame her, but they are venting to the wrong person.

"We are not related. I don't even know her," said Palmira. "I wasn't even aware this was going on until people started calling me."

It isn't a surprise the other Holmes family is getting calls. Shona Holmes has ignited an issue of clear emotional importance.

Canadian media websites that have carried items on the ad have registered more than 1,000 critical online comments since Monday. A key area of discussion for critics is whether the facts about Holmes' case are accurately portrayed.

"It's unclear to me exactly what her condition was, and why she was put on the waiting list," said Kenneth Sherman, national chair of Democrats Abroad, an organization of American expats who live here but still vote in the U.S.
"No matter what her situation was, it's the worst example of the Canadian system, not the norm."

Holmes came to public attention in 2007 when she and another Ontario resident launched a lawsuit against the Ontario government, alleging undue wait times.
Her statement of claim, filed in the Ontario Superior Court, says Holmes began to get headaches, disturbed vision and other symptoms in March 2005, but was told she had to wait more than seven weeks for an MRI, over four months for a neurology consultation and over six months for a consultation with another specialist.

The MRI in May 2005 "showed an 8-9 mm tumour" and subsequent tests "confirmed a significant loss of vision in both eyes," the statement of claim says.

Concerned by the projected wait for treatment, Holmes had the symptoms evaluated at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, which identified a Rathke's cleft cyst, a fluid-filled sac that grows near the pituitary gland at the base of the brain.

The statement of claim says the Mayo Clinic urged Holmes "to have the cyst surgically removed immediately to avoid the risk of permanent blindness and death."
That operation took place in Arizona in August 2005. Her lawsuit against Ontario is on hold until a hearing this fall to try to recoup the $100,000 cost from OHIP.

Shona Holmes has said she feels so strongly about faults in the Canadian system that she had to act when contacted by the Americans For Prosperity Foundation, which opposes government involvement in health care. The group is among many lobbyists working to derail Obama's plan.

Sherman says Democrats Abroad -- which supports Obama -- is so incensed by misrepresentations of the Canadian system that it will run a counter campaign.
"Most of us members, like myself, have had insurance coverage in both systems, so we know the pitfalls as well as the benefits of both," Sherman said. "Americans here in Canada feel we have a unique tale to tell. We're going to share that with letters and phone calls to our congressmen and back to hometown newspapers ..."

Meanwhile, Palmira Holmes has had to warn her eight-year-old son not to answer the phone. Palmira said the family can't even change their number because they run their business from home.

"I just can't shut it off."

She has called Hamilton police to find out what she could do and is waiting to hear back.

"I'm just stressed and terrified."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shona Holmes - Part 3

Finally, someone asked the questions that need to be asked of Shona Holmes. But guess what? Those who are practicing real journalism are working for our public broadcaster, the CBC, much reviled by the right wing as a terrible drain on the taxpayer, and not needed because we are so 'well-served' by private broadcasters. Of course, were that true, those hard questions about her story would have been asked, wouldn't they?

To hear the interview, click here and download the podcast of tonight's edition of "As It Happens."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shona Holmes - Part 2

Just a brief note here. Someone from the local media read my blog and requested an interview about Shona Holmes. Despite the fact that the interview was at least 10 minutes long, it was condensed on the news to about 10 seconds; none of my comments about this woman's misrepresentations were used, only a few brief comments about my late brother-in-law's treatment.

I suspect the reporter who interviewed me had the best of intentions, but that the ruthless editing was done by the 'powers that be' who take the safest, most cautious and conservative route in their news coverage which, if they ever really thought about it, is the opposite of what their role is expected to be in preserving a healthy democracy.

I just found another website that takes a very critical look at Ms Holmes. Check it out if you get the chance, and try to get the word out to people about her untruths.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shona Holmes – Brain Tumour or Cyst Survivor?

I was very disappointed by the media's superficial coverage of Shona Homes, the Waterdown woman who has aided the American right wing by filming a commercial in which she describes herself as a ‘brain tumour survivor” whose life was saved because she used the U.S. private system to attend to her health problems. In allowing herself to be used by those U.S. vested interests who oppose any hint of public health care (even though it is the only Western industrialized country that leaves its citizens to the capricious mercy of the private insurers, and seems unbothered by the fact that 50 million Americans have no coverage), there is one major problem: her story as reported isn’t quite true.

A quick visit to the Mayo Clinic website reveals her actual condition, Rathke's cleft cyst, described as a “rare, fluid-filled sac [that] grows near the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and eventually can cause hormone and vision problems.” Nowhere is it described as potentially fatal, a clear contradiction of Ms Holmes’ claim in the commercial that within six months she would have been dead if left to the vagaries of the Canadian health system.

I feel especially upset by the propagandizing nature of her commercial due to the fact that last year my brother-in-law died of brain cancer. The truth is that from the moment he was diagnosed (days after he had his initial seizure) to the time he died, he received exemplary and timely care from a team of dedicated specialists employed by our allegedly flawed system in Ontario. Unfortunately, the nature of his brain cancer, multiforme glioblastoma, the same suffered by Ted Kennedy, meant a fatal outcome was inevitable.

In my view, despite her anxiety and suffering, Ms Holmes should be ashamed of herself for undermining Barrack Obama’s efforts to bring some humanity to a system that is badly in need of it, and calling into disrepute a Canadian system that we would all be much worse off without.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tim Hudak – The New Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader

Tim Hudak, 41 and a former Ontario cabinet minister, was recently elected the new leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. Endorsed by former Premier Mike Harris, in my mind the most evil and divisive political leader in Canada’s history, Hudak seems intent on regaining power for the party by resurrecting the same tactics that so divided so many Ontarians during Harris’s rule. Spouting catch phrases such as ‘middle class values,’ and suggesting that he would cut up public sector contracts because they are too rich, Hudak, who has never held a job outside of politics, seems to assume that there is still an appetite amongst the electorate for the politics of disenfranchisement and division, politics that play to the worst of human nature.

In the leadup to the convention, the general wisdom was that centrists such as Christine Elliot could never lead the party back to power, being too closely allied in many ways with the policies of the existing Liberal government under Dalton McGuinty. And therein lies the problem with politicians today - if the only reason to choose Hudak is to increase the chance of returning to power, doesn’t that bespeak a moral vacuum? I would argue, of course, that this bald grasping for power for power’s sake is endemic in our system today, not limited to the Conservative Party by any means.

Margaret Wente, with who I rarely agree, has an interesting column in today’s Globe and Mail that examines the politics and strategy of Mr. Hudak. I have taken the liberty of reprinting it below:

Only a political junkie could care about the fate of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party - a bunch of old white guys so lost in the woods they make Stephen Harper's crowd look enlightened.

To bring you up to date, they just had a leadership race. Not one of the candidates addressed the economic tsunami that will define the province for years to come. Instead, the front-runner chose to fan the culture wars by lustily attacking Ontario's Human Rights Commission. The small-town base applauded. Anyone else might ask: Who cares about the culture wars when the economic heartland of Canada is being disembowelled?

The election of Tim Hudak as leader of the Official Opposition is a rare piece of good news for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. Mr. Hudak has styled himself as the reincarnation of Mike Harris, a name that evokes fear and loathing among most of the province's voters. People remember Mr. Harris as a dose of Castor oil - necessary, but deeply unpleasant. It is not an experience they'd care to repeat.

Nonetheless, Mr. Hudak thinks that old-time medicine might go down well again. He stands for "hard-working Ontarians" and "middle-class families," while the McGuinty Liberals stand for "massive tax grab."

By narrowing their base, the Conservatives took exactly the wrong message from their previous leader's failure to make an impact. John Tory was a Red Tory with bad timing. He opposed a moderate premier in good times. Mr. McGuinty projects an image as a dull but honest guy, and his government has generally avoided major screw-ups. The economy was booming, and voters saw no reason to rock the boat. Mr. Tory's political failure was widely blamed on his nice-guyness, along with his unpopular support for private-school funding. But it was prosperity that did him in.

Mr. Tory has little love for his successor, who campaigned for his job the entire time he had it. Mr. Hudak, 41, is nothing if not ambitious. He's been a career politician since he was first elected at 27 - not necessarily a plus, in my view. At least Mr. Harris spent some time as a golf pro.

In public, Mr. Hudak is a bit robotic - bright, glib and highly scripted by his band of Harrisites. His wife, Deb Hutton, was chief of staff in the Harris government. He is not unpersonable, but he's not personable, either. He has a habit of baring his teeth in an alarmingly phony smile, as if he's about to devour Little Red Riding Hood. Whether he's capable of substance is not known.

I'm not a fan of Mr. McGuinty's wishy-washy nanny-statish liberalism. But he is geekily enthusiastic about ideas, even though a lot of them are half-baked. He thinks seriously about forging a prosperous postindustrial model for Ontario. He surely knows that, before the next election in 2011, the province will be grappling with an unemployment rate of at least 10 per cent and even more horrendous deficits than it has now. He'll have to raise taxes and cut spending. So will anyone else who winds up in the job.

The reason to bother with Mr. Hudak is that he may well be premier one day - if not next time, then the time after that. All governments get long in the tooth, and this one is well into its second term. It is also sailing into a perfect storm not of its own making. If people get mad enough, they'll vote for Donald Duck.

That alone may be enough to get Mr. Hudak elected. But if he's halfway smart, he'll realize that the 5,600 diehards who elected him as leader are the party's past. They are the province's past, too. Ontario's future won't be forged in the aging, fading, small white towns like the one he grew up in. It will be forged in the vibrant knowledge belt of Southern Ontario, and in multiethnic, creative, culturally liberal Toronto. My advice to Mr. Hudak is to work the next Pride parade. It might broaden his horizons. It might even loosen him up.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Neuroplasticity and the Arrowsmith Program

There is an interesting article in today's Globe and Mail on a course offered by the Toronto Catholic School Board that is in danger of being eliminated. Called the Arrowsmith program, it is based on the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to change its structure and function:

Unconventional program for students with learning disabilities may be on the chopping block


From Monday's Globe and Mail, Monday, Jun. 22, 2009 03:33AM EDT

Through two hours of tears, frustration and repetition, Brendan Westermann would memorize his Grade 4 spelling list each week.

But when he woke up the next morning, the letters would be jumbled and later, in class, he'd fail his spelling test again.

"Usually I'd get half the words wrong," he said, wrinkling a bronzed nose speckled with freckles.

Brendan and his mother, Cora Westermann, sometimes ended up in tears following marathon cramming sessions. After Brendan went to bed, Ms. Westermann would surf the Internet searching for programs for children with learning disabilities.

Brendan was diagnosed as gifted-dyslexic, and it wasn't until two years later, in November, 2008, that Ms. Westermann and her husband, Paul Westermann, found a way to make the tears stop.

They started driving Brendan from their home in Uxbridge, Ont., to Toronto, where an alternative course called the Arrowsmith program is offered through the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Brendan, 12, began attending Grade 6 at Holy Spirit Catholic School, and performing daily exercises aimed at improving his working memory.

Before long, the crying stopped.

Brendan began finishing his homework in less time, reading books on his own for fun, and enjoying school.

"The program allowed him to bypass his problems and access his intelligence," Mr. Westermann said.

But when Brendan completes his first year at Holy Spirit's Arrowsmith program this week, it could be his last.

In order to balance next year's budget and bring the school board out of the red, the TCDSB is looking to cut a handful of programs, including Arrowsmith.

Overspending led to a takeover of the board last year by a government-appointed supervisor, and the fate of the program has slipped through the fingers of the board's trustees.

A provincial supervisory team will decide the fate of the program at a meeting Wednesday.

With a $1.5-million boost to the special-education budget expected next year, some trustees and parents are concerned that the future of the program may be decided more by ideology than by dollars.

About 65 students participated in the program this year at a cost of just over $201,265.

"It's a miniscule amount of the overall money we spend on special education," said John Del Grande, a TCDSB trustee.

"This program has become more of an ideological battle as a opposed to a money or a student value issue."

The Arrowsmith program represents a radical departure from traditional approaches, which generally involve compensatory methods such as letting a child with poor handwriting use a laptop, or a child with poor reading comprehension take a test orally.

The program is anchored in a concept called neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain's ability to change its structure and function.

Through daily activities aimed at exercising weak neural pathways - such as tracing shapes while wearing an eye patch or recalling symbols - Arrowsmith teachers believe students' brains can be trained to overcome 19 specific learning dysfunctions.

"I know of no program anywhere in the world right now that works as well," said Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist and faculty member at the University of Toronto, and author of The Brain That Changes Itself, a bestselling book about neuroplasticity.
"There's no reason it can't be administered in public schools. They always have special education in public schools and the teachers only have to undergo a few weeks of training."

Frank Piddisi, superintendent of Special Services, said a $17-million special education deficit for the 2008-2009 academic year is one reason it can't be administered at the TCDSB.

Another reason, he said, is the fact that $175,715 of the $200,000 price tag goes toward licensing the seven schools that offer the Arrowsmith program.

"Without the licensing fee the cost would be incidental almost," he said.
The program was developed about 30 years ago by Barbara Arrowsmith Young.

Independent schools in Ontario, Saskatchewan and the United States offer the program but most of them carry a daunting price tag.

The private Toronto Arrowsmith school costs about $20,000 a year, a prohibitive amount for Debbie Clark, a single mother with two daughters.

Ms. Clark's eldest daughter, Victoria, is in her third year of the program at the TCDSB. Her mother describes the improvements in the 12-year-old's reading comprehension skills as "a miracle."

But without $20,000 a year to put her youngest, Amanda, in the private school, she fears her daughter may never get the opportunity her older sister has had if the TCDSB program closes.

"I really feel that if Amanda doesn't go through Arrowsmith, with her anger and her anxiety [in the classroom], I'm very scared for her future," Ms. Clark said. "I think the program should be available to everyone. These are our kids, they are our future, it does fix their brains and we can't put a price tag on them."

"The bottom line is that the board has to balance the budget," said Emmy Milne, a spokeswoman for the TCDSB. She added that the Arrowsmith program isn't being targeted, and other important programs may get the axe.

The Westermanns are prepared to take out a loan and commute to an Arrowsmith school in Peterborough in order to continue Brendan's education.

"I think it means that it gives him equal opportunity compared to other kids in the classroom and that's all I want for him, equal opportunities, not special accommodations," Ms. Westermann said.

"If Brendan wants to be an astronaut or a bricklayer I just want him to be able to lay bricks or fly jet planes just like anybody else would," Mr. Westermann said.

Brain-training drills
Arrowsmith students within the Toronto Catholic District School Board dedicate about half the school day to the academic curriculum, and the other half to brain-training exercises. The program is built upon the concept that students can overcome their learning dysfunctions by exercising the weakest parts of their brains.

Students improve their ability to relate symbols by reading multi-hand clocks that appear on a computer screen. Each of the clock's hands mark fractions of a second, seconds, minutes, hours up through centuries and so on. Students are challenged to read up to hands on more clocks with increasing accuracy over shrinking periods of time.

Students are asked to wear an eye patch and trace foreign letters and symbols. The patch is worn over the left eye, which communicates directly with the right hemisphere of the brain. This helps the exercise target the brain's left hemisphere for fine-motor skill and symbol recognition.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jaco Beach – The Bad

As I mentioned in an earlier post, our visit to Jaco, while educational and bringing a certain balance to our view of Costa Rica, was not nearly as enjoyable as our January visit in Guanacaste Province. This final installment on the country will attempt to detail why.

I would have to say that the oppressive daily heat and humidity ranks as the number one reason that this visit was not an unmitigated pleasure. Unlike some, I am not content to lay around a pool for any length of time; my preference is for exploring my environment, preferably on foot. Because the weather became so hot and humid so quickly each day, our peregrinations were largely confined to the early mornings. Even when I did leave the town to visit Quepos and Manuel Antonio, the same problem presented itself.

Jaco Beach itself, in my view, is a tawdry tourist town, rather dirty, with a fair bit of garbage strewn about, and uneven, broken sidewalks, offering little opportunity to experience some of the more important aspects of Costa Rican culture. Businesses seemed to consist mainly of restaurants, bars, and surf shops. I suppose this might be considered heaven for some younger travelers.

Both on the highway and in town, I came to discover that Costa Ricans are incredibly bad drivers. For example, on the trip through the mountains en route to Jaco from the airport, I was appalled at the number of cars and trucks that would pass on blind curves. The fact that we didn’t see any accidents mystifies me. In town, there seemed to be no respect for stop signs. Pedestrians have to be extremely careful, lest they become an endangered species. On a related note, the large number of vehicles on the main drag made for a very noisy and smelly atmosphere.

Perhaps because it is an area that caters to the young tourist, drugs are sold pretty openly. One evening two young Costa Ricans asked me if I wanted cocaine, and one afternoon on the beach, only about 300 feet from the beach police station, someone rather insistently tried to sell me weed. The fact that the sales pitch was made in such close proximity to the station really called into question for me either the competence or the integrity of the local constabulary.

Probably the most unsettling aspect of our visit to Jaco occurred one afternoon when my wife went shopping at a nearby mall. Upon her return, she discovered that her change purse containing about $60 and her credit card was missing. Revisiting the store where she made her purchases and generally retracing her steps were all to no avail, and she ultimately concluded that it had been grabbed when she had to squeeze by a group of young men, one of whom distracted her. This was our first brush with Costa Rican theft, something that I have since learned is quite common. The people at the hotel were great in facilitating the cancellation of my wife’s credit card (perhaps the theft was a blessing in disguise? – just kidding!) and we were henceforth much more careful when we were out.

Finally, I didn’t like the fact that prostitution, although legal in Costa Rica, is practiced so openly. While that may sound like a moral judgment, it isn’t; as I mentioned before, I see prostitution as a waste of human potential, and potentially quite dangerous. One can argue all they want about the economic imperatives that probably drive many of these young women to pursue such a career, but I still see it as a kind of surrender of hope for a better future.

In closing, I would have to say that the country has had quite an impact on me. If things go according to plan, we hope to spend a month there next winter renting a place somewhere in the Central Valley to experience the daily rhythms of Costa Rican life. I continue to work on my Spanish, hoping that on our next visit I will be able to better communicate with people.

I would be very happy to hear from you if you have any comments on these posts.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jaco Beach, Costa Rica – The Good - Part 2

Another aspect of Jaco that we enjoyed was the beach. Every morning, very early, we would take long walks along the shore, virtually going from one end to the other, and taking frequent dips in the Pacific. This was usually the highlight of the day, given the fact that by 10 a.m. the heat and humidity had reached such a level as to make further walking about a real challenge. While it had been my original intention to rent a car for a few days in order to explore other parts of the country, after being ferried from the airport to Jaco, about a 2 hour trip through the mountains, I thought better of it, given the driving habits of Costa Ricans that I had observed during the trip. (More about that when I start my posts on things I disliked about the trip!)

Nonetheless, despite the severe limitations imposed by the weather, we were able to explore some of the areas surrounding the town. Having read Pauline Frommer’s reference to a mountain known locally as Miro Mountain, not to be found on any map, we set out early one day to find it. Having done so, we proceeded partway up, where there were two ‘miradors’ or lookouts, offering some spectacular view, both of the beach and the surrounding mountains:

Two days later I returned alone, my wife having limited stamina due to some health problems. During the ascent up the mountain, I encountered some tree frogs and a couple of snakes, but yet again, no birds! Getting to the top, which comes out at a road that I followed, I came upon another lookout, this one with a banner proclaiming it to be Mirador Liddy, whether named after the old Watergate reprobate, I have know idea. The mirador afforded excellent views of Jaco to the north and Hermosa Beach to the south, but the effort to reach that point was exhausting, again owing to the heat and humidity.

Since we had taken some tours during our January visit, I was reluctant to pay what I felt are excessive charges for such excursions on this trip. For example, a trip to Manuel Antonio Park would cost about $100. However, I was very interested in visiting the park, considered to be one of the gems of Costa Rica, so I decided to take a regular bus to Quepos, and then go on to Manuel Antonio from there, the total return trip, including admission to the park and lunch in Quepos costing the equivalent of about $17.50 U.S. It was a very interesting experience that again allowed me some direct experience of Tico bus culture. For example, I learned that women with some children and elderly men and women are treated with great respect, young people readily giving up their seats near the front of the bus for them. Another aspect of the culture was the curious practice of whistling when passengers wanted the bus to let them off, as opposed to using the signaling devices on the ceiling of the bus. As well, more than once I saw the bus driver stop and offer a free lift to young ladies with young children, something I have never witnessed in North America.

Manuel Antonio Park was interesting, but, with the exception of the beaches, not spectacular, in my view. Here are a few photos I took while there: