Category: Health

Post-Christmas book suggestion

This is a must-have for anyone living along the Strait of Canso superport, and for 14 residents of Goldboro, soon to be the site of an LNG terminal. Denizens of HRM may also want to bone up in anticipation of warships soon to be flying off the assembly line at the Irving Shipyard.


Be sure to read the reviews, especially the third one down.

H/T: Sue, via Jane Kansas

Are we a country where the only worthy vets are old vets? – corrected

[See correction appended below.]

I am amazed that Liberals and New Democrats have not been more effective at highlighting the hypocrisy of the Harper government’s claw back of services and benefits to veterans—especially vets who suffered cruelly in Stephen Harper’s Canada’s* Afghanistan adventure.

Demonstrations on Remembrance Day weekend protested the closure of Veteran’s Affairs offices across the country. Recent news stories have highlighted the government’s haste to drum injured vets out of service before they qualify for extended benefits.

The contrast proved too much for a Halifax friend who watched the Halifax Mooseheads organization celebrate “DND Night” Friday. He writes:

Two dignified octogenarians in wheelchairs joined an honour guard at centre ice for the ceremonies.

To them: Thank you for your courage and service. You did a fine job of representing current and former members of the armed services on Friday.

To Moosheads Inc: Where were the wheelchair-bound vets in their twenties and thirties who are demanding the same benefits enjoyed by the gentlemen on the red carpet?

I was glad to see a good number of hockey fans sitting on their hands during the club’s opportunistic ceremony. My father, a hater of hypocrisy and a decorated veteran of the Second World War, agrees with them. He’s a resident of Veterans’ Memorial Building, where receives care of inexpressible value to him and his family. The cost to him is less than renting a decent apartment in Halifax. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs picks up the rest.

But young veterans, in wheelchairs or otherwise, are absent from Veterans’ Memorial Building. The unit where my father lives will be closed once his cohort has passed away.

I explained this to my father at breakfast yesterday, Remembrance Day. He was baffled and angered by the treatment younger vets are receiving.

Obviously, the Second World War produced vastly more vets than our recent conflicts, yet Canadians were able to provide them with benefits for the rest of their lives. It’s hard to understand why we cannot provide the same to the relatively small number of people who need our help today.

So, to the Moosehead organization and thousands of glowing hearts who participated in Friday night’s spectacle: tell your government to put your tax money where your mouth is.

* [Correction] I’m grateful to Contrarian reader Ritchie Simpson for pointing out that it was Jean Chretien, not Stephen Harper, who first committed Canadian troops to Afghanistan. According to Wikipedia, Canada sent a small contingent of troops secretly in October 2001, followed by larger numbers in January and February 2002. Canada took on a larger role in 2006, when our forces were redeployed to Kandahar province. Harper became prime minister with his first minority government on February 6, 2006.

Six things the NDP did right — part one

In two posts earlier this month (here and here), I described six mistakes by which the NDP government brought itself to the brink of defeat. Darrell Dexter’s government also did several big things right, in some cases defying popular sentiment to put the province on a sensible course. Here’s the start of my “good things” list:

1.  A balanced budget

I know, I know, they didn’t balance it by much, and if you listen to the two guys hankering for Dexter’s job, they didn’t balance it at all. The opposition leaders base their skepticism on the fact that certain charges have been paid forward, lessening the impact in the current fiscal year.

Against this predictable naysaying comes the verdict of three independent bond rating agencies, scarcely hotbeds of N-Dip ardor:

  • On July 5, the Dominion Bond Rating Service gave the province its highest rating ever,  A (high) on long term borrowing, with a stable outlook. The agency praised the government’s “sustained fiscal discipline and prudent fiscal management demonstrated throughout the period of recovery.”
  • On July 22, Moody’s reaffirmed its Aa2 (stable) rating, noting the plan to balance the budget, and praising the province’s success in managing expenses. It predicted that major projects on the horizon would have a positive impact on Nova Scotia’s economy.
  • On July 31, Standard and Poor’s reaffirmed its A+(stable) rating for the province, and predicted strengthening economic growth in 2014.

Dominion Bond NS

That a return to prudent, balanced budgeting was achieved by a government that took office during the worst recession since the Great Depression adds to the accomplishment.

In fiscal terms, you can place Nova Scotia governments of the last 35 years into two columns: Buchanan, MacLellan, and MacDonald were reckless spenders who tried to buy voters with their own money; Savage, Hamm, and Dexter were prudent managers who risked voter wrath by turning off the goodie-tap.

2. Collaborative Emergency Care Centres

CECsThe most unprincipled aspect of the 2009 campaign that brought the NDP to power was the party’s cynical promise to keep rural emergency rooms open.

Dexter knew it was a promise he couldn’t keep. Small towns just cannot attract enough doctors to staff back shifts at little-used emergency rooms.

He knew trying to keep the promise would be bad public policy. The Corpus Sanchez report [PDF] had shown that paying scarce rural doctors to twiddle their thumbs from midnight to 8 am, on the off chance someone might come in with a medical emergency that couldn’t wait, was an irresponsible waste of resources. Seeking a breakthrough in rural Nova Scotia, Dexter made the promise anyway.

In a remarkable bit of political alchemy, Health Minister Maureen MacDonald turned her party’s tawdry pandering into a useful policy initiative, the Collaborative Emergency Care Centres. These centres don’t keep emergency rooms open in the traditional sense, but they provides teams of advanced paramedics and emergency care nurses who can triage and treat they few serious cases that do show up when physicians are not immediately available in small town hospitals.*

Where CECs have been tried, public acceptance and health outcomes have been good. Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil has campaigned against them, an election strategy as wrongheaded and unprincipled as the NDP’s 2009 promise to keep emergency rooms open. If, as seems likely, he becomes premier in October, McNeil would be foolhardy to kill them. I predict he will execute some legerdemain, change the name, and keep the concept.

3.  Trimming the education budget

Talk about sacred cows! What could be more sacred than spending on little Johnny’s and precious Jill’s elementary and secondary schooling? To get a good job, get a good education, right?

Wrong. To get a cushy job, fight your way through Nova Scotia’s backward, demeaning, corrupt, subservience-rewarding, ambition-punishing hiring system—and get a job for life in the school system.

In the first decade of the 21st century, Nova Scotia’s elementary and secondary school enrolment fell by 30,000, or 18 per cent. Over the next decade, it is forecast to fall by another 17,000. All the while, school board budgets soar ever skyward.

In the second year of its mandate, the Dexter government challenged school boards to identify savings that would begin to reflect the precipitous decline in the number of students they educate. The late Jane Purves, herself a former education minister, praised the New Democrats for “promoting the truth that the system has cost way more over the last 10 years, but there are far fewer students.”

As Purves predicted, boards responded with transparent versions of the Kill the Friendly Giant strategy that so often worked for the CBC. They threatened to axe the very programs that are most popular with parents. The face-off likely cost the government votes, but it was the right policy, and a gutsy one.

Next: Muskrat Falls (and energy policy generally), Highway planning, and wilderness land protection. I welcome comments on these election posts, and will publish a sample of the best I receive. Email:]

* Disclosure: I have many friends who work in the Department of Health and Wellness, and a relative who works at Better Care Sooner, the office responsible for administering the CECs.


We are who we are and we love who we are

Last month, University of Massachusetts scientists working with laboratory cell cultures said they had succeeded in suppressing the extra chromosome associated with Down syndrome, a technique they predicted could lead to treatments targeted at the symptoms of the condition.

Halifax resident Renee Forrestall, whose 22-year-old daughter Marie Webb has Down Syndrome, condemned the research as akin to cultural genocide.

We’ve got a genetically similar community, visible minority who are being targeted and terminated globally. People think, “Well, this is the way it is and these people just shouldn’t be.”

A friend who knows I have identical twin grandchildren with Down Syndrome sought my reaction to Forrestall’s complaint. I replied:

I am not quite in the camp of those who reject any attempt to treat Down Syndrome, but I certainly understand why people with Down Syndrome and their parents (and grandparents) bristle at the assumption they need to be “fixed.”

J&J1I can only view this through my feelings about Josh and Jacob. They get excellent medical care. They have had tubes in their ears to deal with chronic infections. Josh has had heart surgery. These conditions and others result at least in part from their chromosomal distinctiveness. No one thought twice about whether they should be treated. Of course they should.

But what about the constellation of qualities that include, but are not limited to, their intellectual disabilities? These qualities are a huge part of who they are. Without them, they would be totally different. There will never be a magic bullet that increases their IQs but leaves their humour, affectionateness, willfulness, stubbornness, loyalty, laziness, warmth, and joyfulness untouched.

When I see Josh and Jacob struggle to read the simplest words, or to make their garbled speech understood, sure, I wish life were easier for them. But I don’t long for them to be different, or more like other children. I adore them as they are.

And by the way, there is already a genocide of children with Down in the form of selective abortions. We would not countenance this for sex selection or red hair or gayness, but we take it for granted with Down Syndrome.

Today, Mike Finnerty, summer host of CBC Radio’s The Current, carried out a series of interviews on this subject—with one of the Massachusetts researchers, with Renee Forrestall, and with Christie Hoos, a parent of a Down syndrome child whose views differ from Forrestall’s. By themselves, these interviews would have made a thought-provoking segment. What really set the piece apart was Finnerty’s final interview with Halifax actor and freelance photographer Will Brewer, who has Down syndrome, a conversation conducted without a trace of condescension on Finnerty’s part.

You can listen to the program here (after a CBC promo):

Here is a transcript of Will Brewer’s comments:

Mike Finnerty: Will Brewer was born with Down syndrome. He’s a photographer and an actor. Will, thanks for coming in and welcome.

Will Brewer: Thank you.

MF: What do you make of this scientific breakthrough we’ve been talking about?

WB: I was surprised. It would be hard for me to think about that because I am who I am, and I love who I am.


Actor Will Brewer on the set of the Wendy Lill play, Corker

MF: Can you tell us about what sets you apart in your on mind. What do you think it is about you and the fact that you are someone with down syndrome that makes you different to others, special from others?

WB: Well, I am so special because my mom says that I am magic. But I would say that everyone with Down Sydnrome is magic because I see it in their eyes when I take their photo. I can tell that they are happy of who they are and how they came out, and who have loving parents who are just superb at what they do.

MF: Is there anything about your life that you would change if you could?

WB: No. I just. I am happy where I am because now I have found a place where I can create art and have friends and have great relationships with people who I care about, and people who have — beautiful; magical children with Down Syndrome.

MF: If you were to think about your life — you know, your 24 hours a day, seven days a week — what percentage of your life would you say is happy or joyous and what percentage is unhappy?

WB: Sometimes I do have issues. Sometimes I just feel like crying sometimes, for no particular reason, because I think that’s part of who I am, because I do have sensitive thoughts as well, but in everyday life, I enjoy it.

MF: Specifically, do you have issues — health iussues and other kinds of things that are, you know, not good in your life that you would, if you could, using these new therapies that might come down the road, that you would fix?

WillBrewer2WB: Well, 28 years ago, when I was born, I couldn’t breathe — or like, I couldn’t cry when I was born. So a couple months later, I had heart surgery. And I do have a thyroid condition as well.

MF: What do you think about the idea that sometime in the future you could, through medical intervention, correct or suppress that extra chromosome and that would mean that they’re weren’t people who had down syndrome? What would you think of that?

WB: I would think it would be very interesting to actually see that because, I do have friends who are not Down syndrome as well, and I don’t kow if they would want to change themselves. But I would never change. That’s who I am.

MF: What would you like people out there who are listening to know about your life as someone with down syndrome?

WB: Well, first of all, if they want to have a picture taken, they should come to me (laughs)

MF: Because you are a photographer?

WB: Of course.

MF: Are you a good photographer?

WB: Oh I really am.

MF: And what else would you like people to know?

WB: That we are who we are and we love who we are. We want a place in this earth, in this generation, in this life of everyday, and we are proud of who we are.

MF: Will, thanks for talking to us.

WB: Thank you.

Almost four years ago, Contrarian reported that researchers at Stanford University had used a drug therapy to improve the learning skills of mice with a form of Down syndrome. Like Renee Forrestall, Jenn Power, community leader at L’Arche Cape Breton and mother of my twin grandsons with Down, found the research distressing. She said people with Down’s don’t need a cure; they need “a society that values what they have to offer.”

The fascinating discussion that followed produced many thoughtful contributions on all sides of the issue. (There are too many posts to link individually, but if you click here and scroll back to the earliest posts you will find them all.) The Contrarian discussions eventually spread to the New York Times parenting blog Motherlode, where hundreds of people weighed in.

Power has also blogged thoughtfully about today’s interviews by Mike Finnerty on the Current, as has Christie Hoos, the mother of a Down child who is more open to the idea of treatment.


Lier’s manifesto

Writing in the New Republic, Ben Crair has ripped off a screed against the current fashion for standing desks — that is, desks you work at while standing or, for extremists, walking on a treadmill. To prepare Screw Your Standing Desk! A sitter’s manifesto, Crair asked writers about their sitting/standing/treadmilling work habits. Most replied they had more important things to consider, but Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Absurdistan, and Super Sad True Love Story, offered this response, dear to Contrarian’s heart:

I do not sit. I lie. I am in bed now, writing to you. All my writing is done in bed. As a result I suffer from tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, poor posture, and hamburger helper syndrome. I’m not well. But I’m not getting out of bed either.

I destroy chairs. One quasi-executive model from staples is ready for the dumpster. The pieces of two other wooden veterans clutter a spare bedroom, waiting for me to hammer them back together with a rubber mallet and Elmer’s glue. The legs of the current victim, a press-back kitchen jobby, splay ominously.

Despite what you may think, the world is improving

In some ways, at least. Our old friend Hans Rosling (previous Contrarian appearances hereherehere, and here) brings us up to date, and highlights the amazing recent prograss in (parts of) Ethiopia:

Rosling’s Gapminder data visualization software now has some tools you can download to your own computer.

A department that makes life harder for people with disabilities

Huffington Post’s Canadian edition yesterday published an investigative report by a team of student journalists from the University of King’s College detailing the housing crisis facing Nova Scotians with intelectual disabilities.

There is not enough room in the system for all of the people who need a place to live. They languish on waiting lists that are hundreds of names long. Their families, in turn, must support them with scant financial, caregiving or community programming resources. Eventually the families get too old or sick to do it, making the situation for their relatives in rehab even worse.

With so little room, placements are driven by crises. These crises, in turn, lead to inappropriate placements that only exacerbate individuals’ disabilities and sometimes cause mental health issues.

It is a bureaucratic system driven by policies, not people’s needs. And in the instances where policy would help to improve lives – in properly licensing, regulating, staffing and overseeing housing options – the system falls short.

Successive provincial governments have known all about this crisis and have repeatedly promised to fix it. The current NDP government is no exception.

After years of inaction, the Department of Community Services (DCS) recently produced a report — more accurately a discussion paper — about options for dealing with the crisis. The new document repeats sweeping promises of change, but DCS continues to ignore the findings of a 2001 report it commissioned that could have served as a basis for action 12 years ago.

“The Kendrick report is now over 10 years old and basically the fundamentals of the Kendrick report are no different now than … 10 years ago,” Dr. Brian Hennen, a past president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, told the student journalists.

Jenn Power, Atlantic Regional Co-ordinator for l’Arche Cape Breton [and—disclosure—my daughter-in-law] summed up the crisis on her Possibilities blog.

[T]he primary struggles of the individuals profiled in the piece are not their disabilities per se, nor the way those disabilities might affect their mobility, learning skills, or emotional health.  Instead, the suffering they endure arises from the way the provincial “support” system treats them as a result of their disabilities.  They are reduced to their diagnoses, their difficult behaviours, their classification level.  They languish on endless waiting lists with no idea of the future, then are hurried into last-minute crisis placements at warehousing facilities.  They are forced to fit into an existing (outdated) system; the system is not expected to change to fit the needs of individuals.

This is not news to any of us who have friends or family members with intellectual disabilities, or who have been involved in this field for any length of time.  Our people are overlooked, patronized, ignored, devalued, and abused.  Their voices are not heard.  But boy, do they have something to say.

At Nova Scotia’s l’Arche communities, and many other DCS-funded homes, bureaucratic rules often deepen the impact of disabilities, rather than lighten them. Here’s one of several examples Power cites:

Lindsay and Tanya, both of whom graduated from high school and hold down full time jobs, would say that they deserve the right to stay home alone and watch TV or read a book or relax on the couch for a couple of hours every now and then.  But because they live in a provincially funded group home, they are denied this dignity of risk and are forced to join whenever their housemates leave the house.

Of the ways Darrell Dexter’s government failed to achieve its supporters’ aspirations, none is more disheartening than its failure to bring order, purpose, and humanity to the Department of Community Services. Will the next government do any better?

Please whatever your name is – feedback, updated

Jon Stone writes:

Thanks for sharing that wonderful video. It is inspiring to see what creative minds can do when faced with a challenge.

There have been some astonishinglynegativecomments posted on various web sites with respect to the recent generosity of the Fountain family in creating the endowment for Dalhousie’s performing arts program. The gist of much of the derogatory discussion was that there is no value in training people in performance skills.

Well, here is one excellent example of the value of performers to society. I won’t be surprised if this goes viral and breaks all records for fundraising for the Janeway.

[Update] Greg Lukeman points out a New Zealand children’s hospital fundraising video posted  August 27, 2012, that may have provided inspiration for the creators of “Please Whatever Your Name Is” (posted May 15,. 2013).

Please, whatever your name is…

Newfoundland has always had way better tourism ads than Nova Scotia (or pretty much anywhere else on the planet for that matter). Now it turns out they have way better children’s hospital ads, too. (Stay with this at least until the music starts, about five minutes in. Hilarious.)

[Video link]. H/T Calvert’s own Jenn Power.

Trouble with the fine print?

Take this one-minute eye test. Right now. On your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Designed by Toronto ad agency Agency DraftFCB Toronto. Via Digg.

« Older Posts