Thursday, April 30, 2009

WHO says brace for pandemic. Ontario had no ICU beds available.

We are on the verge of a possible catastrophe. The WHO warns the world to brace for the swine flu pandemic. Millions could die.

And Ontario has zero availability in their Intensive Care Units?

Can this be right?

Last week, a family attempted to have a woman flown home from Cancun after she suffered a debilitating asthma attack. Her return was blocked by Health Canada at first, (apparently fearing spread of the Swine flue,) and when they relented, she was not allowed to return because of a lack of availability in intensive care.

Read the Globe and Mail article here.

Had she been returned quickly, would she have lived?

Only a doctor familiar with her case could provide probabilities on that question. But you can't deny that Cancun has their own hospitalization issues to worry about, and that might have compromised her quality of care while down there.

As saddened as I am about the tragedy for this family, the real issue is there are no ICU beds available in Ontario. On the verge of a pandemic, that's a scary proposition.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stop it, just stop it.

Think back to the most frustrating moment of your life, a time when something very unfair happened to you.

Perhaps it was a business deal that went sour and someone walked off with a bunch of your money.

Perhaps it was not getting paid for a job.

Maybe it was seeing an incompetent co-worker getting a raise while you put up with harassment. Maybe you got fired for his mistake.

You might have been accused of something you were innocent of. It could have been a wrongful court judgement.

Maybe a professor marked your unfairly, or somehow your test score was impossibly low when you were sure you’d aced it.

You were by far the best qualified for the job, but it went to someone else.

It sucks, but a few days or weeks pass and you move on with your life, the bitter memories fade into insignificance.
Take your most frustrating moment, add torture, imprisonment, having your family ripped apart, and have the moment drag on for over five years, and you might get a sense of what Abousfian Abdelrazik has been going through.
It wasn’t bad enough that they accused him of being a terrorist without any legitimate proof.

It wasn’t enough that the Sudanese government tortured him, imprisoned him, and then said they were mistaken and that he was in fact innocent.

It wasn’t enough that the RCMP cleared him of ANY criminal activity.

It wasn’t enough that CSIS cleared him of any criminal activity.

The Canadian government refuses to let Abousfian Abdelrazik return home to Canada for no good reason!

If you were to ask him which torture was worse, the Sudanese interrogators or Canadian bureaucracy, I think I know what his answer would be?

That is what the Canadian government is doing, torturing him psychologically.

It’s the torture of never being able to meet the criteria to see your family, to return home, to go back to your life and normality.

It’s the torture of not being able to see your child grow from a little girl into a young woman.

It’s the torture of having your wife divorce you, perhaps because she thinks you’re a criminal.

It’s the torture of having her die and not being able to hold her hand one last time.

The Canadian government is the torturer.

Stop it, just stop it. Let him come home.

Buying a used car in Eastern Ontario?

If you thought coming here would lead you to a car auction website, I'm sorry but it won't. I'm likely having the same troubles as you are.

A Google search reveals a frustrating series of interconnected links that never get you any closer to finding where a car auction actually takes place. It's the worst of the worst of search frustration. I did manage to find an auction somewhere, but it was restricted to dealers only.

If you're looking for a car auction, a better option is to scour the local newspapers, or even their online counterparts.

When dealers attend car auctions, reputable dealers will only bid on cars with no major accident histories and will have a mechanic check to make sure that the vehicles are sound. Often, these are lease returns.

Used car dealers are notorious for being shady characters. The worst of the worst prey on unsuspecting customers. They'll pay peanuts for a damaged car at an auction, (a car that a reputable used car dealer won't touch), and find a car report agency that shows the car as having an accident-free history. If you think you are getting a "great deal," then there's a chance the car was damaged.

BNN just ran a story about the company Car Fax, the car history reporting agency. Their histories are often incomplete. If you are on the verge of buying a car, either take it to a mechanic right away, or, if you don't know of a reliable mechanic near the dealer, make sure they have a two week return policy so you can get it checked out properly. Make sure you tell the dealer you are doing that, and that you expect to have your money back if the car doesn't pass inspection. Some dealers will try and force an exchange for another vehicle, but be vigilant and work a money-back-guarantee into the fine print.

When I went to look at a used Toyota Corolla at a dealership, they were asking $12,500 on the sticker price. I'd found a similar used vehicle for under ten, and wanted to try and bargain the dealers down. It didn't work, but the most demoralizing part was, as I walked out, somehow the final price had increased to over $14,000, with dealer fees and other hidden costs worked on. Some bargaining skills eh?

I walked away with no desire to return to that dealership.

Some dealers will bargain, others won't. Research beforehand whether you can wheel and deal, or whether the price is the price. My rule is to try and negotiate the final price to between 3% and 10% below the actual sticker price. Make it clear right away that you don't want to hear about "extra" costs. You don't care about them, you are sitting down and negotiating the final price and the dealer can put his list of extra costs away.

Walk away if you have to. If they know the deal is good for them, they'll bring you back.

If you are buying privately, the same 'mechanic' caveats apply. The two websites I use for used vehicles are kijiji.ca and autotrader.ca.

Kijiji has far superior search capability and is easier to navigate.

Autotrader includes dealer cars and may have a bigger inventory, while it's big downfall is that you can't do a search of your own city. Instead, you're looking at an entire region and, if you live in Kingston like me, you might have to drive for three hours to find your car.

Both are prone to hijacking, dealers in other cities putting cars up in the wrong category. I report them as spam on Kijiji, and get frustrated when reading them on autotrader.

Talk to friends and others about reputable dealers and their experiences. Google the dealers name and look for good and bad stories about them, although be wary, if a dealer sells enough cars, one is bound to be a lemon and get a bad review. But if they're trying to pass off damaged goods as having immaculate histories, that's another story and are the kind of dealership you definitely want to stay away from.

If you want to know about a brand's reliability history and general problems a vehicle is known to have, a good place to look is consumerreports.com. For a few dollars, you can get a one month membership.


Happy hunting.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The UN Summit on Racism

I'm currently reading a book called The State of Africa.

I'm in the middle of the second chapter on Rwanda. If things truly unfolded in Rwanda the way this book says they did, then it's shocking how the UN was a counterproductive entity in that conflict.

The UN had the not-so-brilliant idea of holding a second UN summit on racism. As though it might somehow be resolved by bringing racist people together and promoting dialogue.

Few were surprised when the president of Iran's anti-Israel speech caused an uproar. Leaders walked out of the summit. He ruined the little party of people trying to do the right thing, but never quite getting it right.

Every time I hear the words anti-Semitic, I have to read the words for myself. I wonder whether it's a knee-jerk reaction to the slightest criticism of Israel, or genuine lies and hatred spreading anti-Semetic rhetoric. As often as not, it's an overreaction to justified criticism.

So when I heard that diplomats walked out of a UN conference on racism during a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I sought to read it for myself. Here are some key quotes from his address, followed by my thoughts:

The victorious powers [of the world wars] call themselves the conquerors of the world, while ignoring or down-treading the rights of other nations by the imposition of oppressive laws and international arrangements.


So far, controversial, but not untrue.

Following World War Two, they resorted to making an entire nation homeless on the pretext of Jewish suffering. They sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine. In compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive, racist regime in Palestine.


If you changed 'totally racist' to 'racist,' and 'most cruel' to 'cruel,' then this wouldn't be too far of a spin off the truth. Still controversial though. And yes, at this point, if not anti-semetic, then definitely anti-Israeli.

It is all the more regrettable that a number of Western governments and the United States have committed themselves to defending those racist perpetrators of genocide, whilst the awakened consciences and free-minded people of the world condemn aggression, brutality and the bombardment of civilians of Gaza.


Again, a terrible choice of words. "Genocide," should be, "War crimes." Rwanda was a genocide. Hitler vs the Jews was a genocide. A few hundred dead Palestinians a year is not a genocide. You could argue 'war crimes' and be okay. When you grossly exaggerate or outright lie, your entire speech becomes an irrelevant rant.


[Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were] a clear example of egocentrism, racism, discrimination or infringement upon the dignity and independence of nations.


Afghanistan was attacked because they supported a terrorist organization who attacked a powerful foreign country. Their leaders were asking to get ousted. That said, the words racism and discrimination can relate to issues within the conflicts, while egocentrism is more in line with the poor execution and lingering challenges in both. A valid argument would be how oppressive regimes were replaced by corrupt and incompetent ones, and how security has deteriorated. Again, poor words. While criticism is fine, to simplify a complicated issue into one of racism, as though it explains every mistake committed, is a poor way to get a message across.

Today, the human community is facing a kind of racism which has tarnished the image of humanity. In the beginning of the third millennium, the word Zionism personifies racism, that falsely resorts to religion and abuses religious sentiments to hide hatred.


All racism tarnishes the image of humanity. Israel, Israel, Israel. I reread this passage numerous times and it doesn't really make a lot of sense.
I struggle to find accurate estimates of numbers of Palestinians killed, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to five years in Darfur. Where is the Arab indignation? Muslims are dying after all.

Efforts must be made to put an end to the abuse by Zionists and their supporters of political and international means... Governments must be encouraged and supported in the fight aimed at eradicating this barbaric racism and moving towards reforming the current international mechanisms.


If Ahmadinejad's speech wasn't so overbearing up to this point, then this part might have some merit.


You are all aware of the conspiracy of some powers and Zionist circles against the goals and objectives of this conference... It should be recognised that boycotting such a session is a true indication of supporting the blatant example of racism.


Or they could be boycotting based on the fact that people like Ahmadinejad are there. You just proved it was a waste of time.

In conclusion, Ahmadinejad's comments, as translated and posted by the BBC, were definitely anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist, which by definition are one and the same. Saying that being anti-Zionist is the same as anti-Semetic is different argument. By definition, anti-semitic is discriminating against Jews. While being anti-Israeli can carry such undertones, I think a distinction should be made between the two.

Spreading mistruths and blatant exaggeration of circumstances is racist, and for that the international reaction to this nut is warranted.

But I would hesitate to use the definition anti-Semetic. I consider it no more anti-Semitic than spreading lies about American transgressions is anti-Christian.

So, is a UN summit on racism a good thing?

Definition: racism or racialism
Noun
1. hostile or oppressive behaviour towards people because they belong to a different race
2. the belief that some races are innately superior to others because of hereditary characteristics

I find it interesting that an international organization controlled by the will of five Nations, each of which vetoes taking action against 'racist' acts based on their own self interest, is hosting a racism summit.

To conclude, Ahmadinejad had a chance to make real arguments about an increasing mistrust of Muslims throughout the world (which in his particular case is not entirely unwarranted.) He could have shown examples, (Abdelrazik, Guantanimo), of the West putting aside its morals and values when it comes to Muslims who often turn out to be innocent.
He could have eliminated the controversy over Israel's existence from his rant and tied in Muslim frustration into a real concern over the international lack of condemnation when Israel crosses the line between defending itself and committing atrocities.

He could have used the platform to be a model voice for Muslim outrage. Instead, he was an embarrassment not only to his country and his religion, but to the United Nations.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Toddler Toys, advice from a Dad

So you're at the toy section, wandering amid all the colours, pressing different buttons to hear silly sounds, looking at different features, sizes, prices.

There are good toys, and there are bad toys. And there are bad toys which seem like good toys at the time, but really really aren't.

Bad toys, IMO, are ones that need a lot of time cleaning up. The pools of plastic balls, the lego sets, the blocks. While one of these is alright, try not to overdo it. In fact, don't buy them at all. There's a good chance some uncle or aunt or cousin who doesn't have children will see these toys and think, "Hey, let's get little nephew these."

In my opinion, the worst toddler toy out there is - Puzzle books. A toddler, once he figures out how to take the puzzle pieces out of the book, does just that. Page after page. And you get one huge mess of puzzle pieces that parents have trouble sorting through, let alone a two year old. Not that parents do sort through them. Once they're out, they're out. If you do take the half hour needed to sort through the puzzle pieces and put them back in (like anyone actually would), then they are all over the place again the next time the kid gets the book.

Before I mention the best toy, I want to say this. I went to Toys'R'Us, and they didn't have them. Walmart didn't have them either, or Zellers, or all the usual suspects you would think have a big toy selection.

I'm talking about a toy that a parent and a child can enjoy together. Something interactive, where a parent gets as much joy out of it as the child. A toy that a baby enjoys, a toddler, and right up to a teenager enjoys. Something you can grow into a collection. Some adults even make a living with variations of these toys.

What is it you ask?

The puppet.

In Kingston, ON, I buy them at a local specialty toy and education store called Play and Learn. It's on the corner of Princess and Gardners across from the shopping centre.

Think about it this way.

Dolls and stuffed animals are boring!

Kids play with them for a minute, go grrr, or make sounds, etc, then lose interest. But puppets! You can make them into real characters. There are pirate puppets, policemen, firemen, dinosaurs, crocodiles, pigs, you name it, they have it. There are puppet theatres, (which you can make your own out of cardboard and some cloth, or with wood if you want a bigger project.) And unlike all the countless useless toys lined up on the shelf and in the toy box, a parent can actually play together with the kids and have fun with a puppet.


Other toys I recommend.

Fridge sound and magnet toys - Keeps them occupied while you cook and clean.

Jack in the box - The classic pop gets them every time. They'll play for hours and not get tired. Best of all, it doesn't cost as much as the branded and highly advertised dolls etc.

Kite - Great for windy days. At less than $2 at the dollar store, you can't go wrong, even if it flies away after the first use. Some extra advice, attach a dog leash to the handle so if the child lets go, you have a backup. Oh, and stay away from trees.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Why I feel so strongly about Abdelrazik's injustice.

Watching this whole ordeal unfold brings back a lot of painful memories, some related, and others not so much.

They remind me of some of the most unpleasant memories of my life. I assume most people, if they dig deep enough, can recall an unfair decision they were powerless to change.

Just thinking about it gets your blood boiling.


If one thing is apparant from Mr. Abdelrazik's plight and the George Galloway affair, it's that too much power rests in the hands of certain people. In these cases, certain incompetent people. Hopefully these tragedies will help get this situation changed.

As for my bad experiences with immigration. I'm still bitter. I'm still mad as hell. And there's still sweet nothing I can do about it.

Except this. Make as much noise as possible when I see it happen to someone else. Do my bit to help draw more attention to it, get it fixed, and then move on with my life.

People might think if I am so angry about Abdelrazik, then I must also sympathize with Khadr in Guantanimo. In truth, I really don't. He made a mistake and the only question is, how much longer is he going to have to pay for it.

My answer, I honestly don't care.

At worst, Mr Abdelrazik has, to my knowledge, made no such mistake. At best, if he has and our government can prove it, then he deserves to face his accusers and have his day in court.

Their is a hot debate going on right now about whether a Muslim woman can wear her veil while testifying at a rape case in Toronto. The court ruled that she had to remove the veil when testifying because the accused rapist has the right to face his accuser.

I imagine Mr Abdelrazik dreams of such a right. One of many rights denied by the Canadian government for over five years now.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

What Can You Do to Help Abousfian Abdelrazik?

My wife and I have run into frustrating and humiliating visa problems at the Canadian Embassy before. I've also had trouble, while overseas, getting a Canadian Passport replaced. You can read about my personal passport problems in Cairo here.

You can read about my wife's visa troubles here, and here, and here

Not to mention other related stories if you were to scour through my blog.

While my wife and I have jumped through a few hoops and felt indignation, Mr Abdelrazik has gone through absolute hell.

So what can you do to support Mr. Abdelrazik?

Firstly, contacting the Canadian Embassy in Sudan is useless, unless you want to try and talk to Mr. Abdelrazik directly and blog about his answers.

Secondly, spread the word. Join facebook groups such as this one. Invite friends to join the facebook group. Create more facebook groups, other groups, and just get the word out there that a Canadian citizen is having his rights violated by our own government.

Another facebook group is here.

Third: Complain to your local member of Parliament. You can find your local member of parliament and their contact info via this website.

Financially supporting Mr. Abdelrazik is a slippery slope. The danger being, you could be deemed to be funding a suspected terrorist and have some vindictive element in the Canadian government put you on their naughty list. While I will blog and shout and cry indignation, I've not yet committed myself to taking actions beyond using the mighty pen, err, keyboard. Whether or not you do is up to you.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Hrmm...

I got this message in my email.

Hi ,



I came across your blog at Blogger.com. It is very well written and interesting. I like how you have explored the topic. If you are interested, I would like to extend an invitation to join http://www.allvoices.com/journalism. It’s a citizen journalist site. We discuss, debate and write about everything under the sun here.The site has a lot of people who are passionate about writing and use this as a tool to make a difference.



Allvoices also has an incentive programme for writers who can earn up to $10,000 cash. You can visit http://www.allvoices.com/journalism for more details and do register if you are interested.



Thanks,

Tara


As someone wary of vanity publishers etc, it would be nice to know which blog you thought highly of, otherwise this just seems like a random email sent to bloggers you happened to come across. While $10,000 interests me, I'm wondering if my chances aren't better if I go the the local Tim Hortons and roll up the rim. At least I know they'll pay out if I win.

I'm going back editing my book now.

Death by bureaucracy. Stuck at the Sudanese Canadian Embassy

In case you believed my post the other day, please read the first letter of each line.

Now for my blog...

And I thought Sudan was an annoyingly bureaucratic country. Here's an excerpt from my chapter after a week in the country.

"In government offices, sweaty lethargic men in cheap-cut suits shuffled papers behind their desks. The only decorations in the offices were glass-framed pictures of their bald, heavy-set president Omar al-Bashir. His thin moustache highlighted the grimace on his face. He had a hooked beak of a nose and ferret-like eyes.

His stern expression seemed to convey a sense of urgency, and since I always saw him when dealing with paperwork, for me, he illustrated the urgency of Sudanese bureaucracy. A permit to travel, a permit to stay in
Khartoum, a permit for the car, photographs, photocopies… "

Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Sudanese-Canadian citizen, has been in Sudan since 2003. He's unable to return home to Montreal where he has his children because his name's been put on a US security threat blacklist.

He travelled to Sudan in 2003 to visit his ailing mother. He was subsequently arrested, tortured, released, interrogated by US and Canadian security agencies, and after all that, has sought refuge in the Canadian embassy for the past 11 months. He's afraid to go out onto the streets of Khartoum because he fears arrest and further torture, imprisonment, or even death.

One thing confuses me though Mr Harper. He's on a no fly list, but flew out of Canada. How does that work exactly?

If he is guilty of something, pursue a criminal investigation and CHARGE him. Don't just tread all over his rights.

The RCMP and CSIS both exonerated him of any criminal activity. The Harper government hasn't.

It's a disgrace on par with the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II and it shows a scary anti-Muslim sentiment on part of Canada's top leadership.

That might bode well with some voters. But let's seriously think of the repurcussions of this. It brews resentment and stokes the fires of people who might actually be violent extremists living inside Canada. Is that a good thing?

If we are violating the rights of someone who has not had due process, it jeopardises the legitimacy of the Canadian justice system. It casts a shadow upon all terrorist investigations because of the cruel, unfair, and seemingly arbitrary decisions made at the top level.

Bring him back, investigate him, charge him, do what you want when he gets back to Canada. Just don't leave him in indeterminate limbo, not to mention promising one thing and doing another.

It's disgusting.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I've Been Arrested

After getting up this morning, I was in the shower and washing off
Parts of my body. Suddenly, there was a loud knock at the door.
Raging police officers burst into the house.
Instead of getting becoming a cop, I was getting arrested.
LET GO OF ME," I shouted.

For goodness sake, I'd done nothing wrong.
Over six hours later, my parents bailed me out.
One of the charges was related to drug trafficking while I was in
Liberia. Only problem is, I've never been to Liberia.
Seriously, I don't know what to do. Anyone have advice?