Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy 2010, everybody. May the good guys win.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bad idea of the week

The response to the very real threat posed by the prospect of terrorists strapping hard-to-detect PETN to their bodies and then blowing themselves up mid-air has served up some mind-boggling inanity since Christmas Day, starting with the proviso that passengers flying into the US must remain seated, are not allowed access to carry-on bags, and may not have personal objects on their laps - for the final hour of the flight. Because that, you see, is when the Christmas Day bomber chose to try to ignite his explosive device. So it stands to reason that that is when all future bombers will do the same. But we've foiled them! They'll be forbidden from putting a blanket on their laps during that last hour! How will they ever respond to such a cunning foil?

But one of the single dumbest Monday-morning-quarterbacking comments since the incident I heard last night on CNN's "The Situation Room". They were discussing the rightly disturbing trail of clues and information that was given US security agencies about this individual, and how breakdowns in communication meant that he was never flagged for special security at the airport even when he bought a one-way ticket to the US. With cash. And no checked luggage.

That's all bad enough, but Frances Fragos Townsend, CNN "National Security Contributor", was all worked into a lather by the fact that, according to the reporter, "British authorities did refuse [him] a visa and put him on a watch list. A Britain source tells CNN it was because he lied on a student visa application, claiming he went to a bogus college. That information, however, was never passed on to U.S. authorities, he says, because it wasn't linked to terrorism." Ms. Townsend's incredulous reaction:

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I think we have to ask why wouldn't our allies have shared this information, even if it was not terrorism related. If this individual lied on their visa application in their visa application process, why wouldn't they have shared that with us? Because frankly if an individual is known to have lied to another immigration authority around the world, I would want to know that.
Really? You want every one of the US's ally countries to share with you information about every single person who lies on a visa application by claiming they went to a school they didn't, or a school that didn't exist? Really? Or, I suppose, who lies about anything else on their visa application? Even if it isn't remotely terrorism-related?

Does this person have the vaguest notion of the gigantic tsunami of extra, useless, inactionable information this practice would bring crashing down on US anti-terrorism task force heads? A group who can't even manage to properly share the information they're collecting on real terrorists now, particularly with their potential targets, like airports? Thousands of reports from around the world annually. Because anybody in the immigration biz can tell you that people lie on these forms, accidentally or intentionally, and get caught, a lot.

We run around like chickens with our heads cut off every time something like this happens, spouting utterly inane opinions on what should've been done and should be done and should not be done, without taking ten seconds to weigh the implications of the actual adoption of our pontifications. It's enough that the talking heads sound important and like they're smarter than the people making the actual decisions.

There aren't any easy answers. But for the love of God, can people think before they engage their mouths?



Sunday, December 27, 2009

Help Portrait

I just saw a piece on CBC News about Help Portrait, an international movement by photographers to give back to their communities by donating a day in December to take professional-quality portraits of people and families who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford professional pictures.

Makeup artists and hairdressers are recruited for the cause. Some of these shoots have taken place at community centers, emergency shelters, recovery programs, soup kitchens, and so on. A community event in Toronto focused on family portraits of single parents with their children.

What they're really giving people is self-esteem. An opportunity to see how beautiful they are when photographed by people who believe they're beautiful.

What's really nice is seeing people continually finding creative ways to give to their communities. Every little bit, every little thing, helps.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Boxing Day

Unlike most other jurisdictions in Canada, in New Brunswick Boxing Day is still a real holiday, with almost nothing open. Our orgy of shopping starts tomorrow - ironically, a Sunday, when New Brunswickers couldn't shop at all until a decade ago or so.

We haven't done a blessed thing all day except read our new books, play with our new toys, watch the endlessly-amusing interaction between our two cats and houseguest Ozzie (formerly Algy), eat turkey sandwiches, and watch a Mad Men marathon on Bravo. I haven't even changed out of my pyjamas all day.

Ahh. We should keep days like this. They're precious.



Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

ronnie, Husband, Mojo & Veronica


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A wee reminder - NORAD tracks Santa!

I've blogged about this before. Just a wee reminder that NORAD will be tracking Santa's flight tomorrow night. (In a bunch of languages!)




Saturday, December 19, 2009

A series of (un)fortunate events - Day 5

Day 5 was sunny and bright - we couldn't have ordered better weather - and I was finally ready to turn in the crutches. I was out of Tylenol, and while I was semi-mobile, I was still in a lot of pain and the ankle was still ridiculously swollen, so after breakfast we went to the shop to buy some.

Nope, no Tylenol - not at the shop. "The clinic might have some," the cashier said, in a tone that didn't offer much hope.

We had to return the crutches to the clinic anyway, so off we went. Almost all of these resorts have 24-hour clinics with Cuban-trained doctors and nurses. We met the doctor - a young woman - and I explained that I had sprained my ankle earlier in the week, and did she have "Tylenol?" Blank stare. "Asprin?" I asked hopefully. "For pain? Paracetamol?" (Paracetamol is the common British term for acetaminophin, and I knew she had British patients at the resort.)

"Ahh, paracetamol," the doctor said knowingly. Then: "NO! No paracetamol. Anti-inflammatory." I knew what I wanted, but apparently the doctor knew what I needed. And I wasn't getting paracetamol.

She gave me a packet of 8 pills - I've lost the packet now, but it was some Spanish version of "Anti-inflammatory". "You take one every 12 hours. Comprende?"

"One every 12 hours," I repeated. Really? Because I was taking 2 Tylenol every 4-6 hours for the pain, and that didn't sound promising to me. "The... pain?" I asked weakly.

"Sí, the pain, it will take care of the pain," she said confidently.

Well, I didn't have much choice, and she seemed pretty certain of herself. "How much?" I asked.

"$8.45," she said.

Well, that seemed reasonable, and she dutifully counted out the change from a 10 peso note.

So I took my first anti-inflammatory/alleged painkiller and we headed off to the beach.

And after about an hour, wow. My ankle felt so much better that I was suggesting we walk down the beach there to take a Hobie cat sail.

The Hobie cats had been racing up and down the shore all week looking beautiful and fast and sleek.
Husband took these photos - his digital camera is waterproof.

I had to take off my CI processor, since I was going to get good and wet (even if I didn't fall in, the chance of which precluded my wearing the processor anyway), so Husband explained to the pilot of the cat that I was deaf and wouldn't be able to hear him. He replied that he had a niece who is deaf. She'd been born with severe heart and lung problems and needed several surgeries to save her life. And they think the massive doses of antibiotics she was given to protect her from infection during that time destroyed her hearing.

Which is one of the best theories for why I lost my hearing. Small world.

Maybe there's a future for Cuba in which she has access to a CI implant too.

These Hobie cats, with the aid of a stiff breeze, go really fast and are just so much fun.
That's the pilot in this pic. He was excellent at communicating with me - telling me when I needed to move here or there to redistribute weight, for example. I was laughing out loud at the sheer fun of it, and so were he and Husband.

You are really conscious of how tall the sails are relative to the hull, and how much force the wind applies to them.

After the ride the pilot was most concerned that I'd enjoyed myself and had a good time. I did! These kinds of experiences are the easist and best to do while deaf. Sound plays so little role, and your other senses are so fully engaged and stimulated.

My ankle? HA. I didn't even know I had ankles for the duration of the ride.

On day 6, Husband was going to go on a jungle excursion. He had planned this one back in Canada too - I hadn't planning on going - and I insisted that he book that one, too, after the stupid ankle sprain. I was mobile now. The anti-inflammatory was doing wonders - and the pain medication was working just as the nice Cuban doctor promised it would. I planned to spend day 6 on the beach. In fact - I was about ready to start my Cuba vacation :)



Thursday, December 17, 2009


Derek comments below on my post, "Finally, someone understands", that this seems a good time to post this link to the ESPN Magazine sports blog.

Derek is not at all OUT OF SINK with this blog.



Friday, December 11, 2009

A series of (un)fortunate events - Day 4

Day 4 dawned early, with us getting Husband ready to go on the day-long trip to Remedios and Santa Clara. Then he made sure I got some breakfast (you're not getting much nutrition at a buffet restaurant if both hands are full of crutches); and then I very happily sent him off to catch the bus to Santa Clara.

As for me, this was my view for most of the day. With a ripping book about a particularly salacious period of Cuba's history at hand, I managed to catch some sun - and the very curious stares of my fellow tourists. (It being early in the season, there were probably only about 100 or so other people at this sprawling resort, and of course all anyone does at any of these resorts is gossip, so I was gossip topic #1 or #2 at this point. "Oh - what has she done? She wasn't on crutches the first night... hmmm...")

Of course, I wasn't the only topic of gossip on the trip. Oh, no. Of just as much curiosity was the fellow we nicknamed "English", a Brit living in Canada who had arrived at the airport in Toronto with his wife only to discover that... her passport had expired. Yes, you read right, she was planning a trip to a foreign country and never thought to check her passport. Even better, when they discovered this disasterous state of affairs, he went anyway.

(There was much speculation about the hysterical conversation that must've led up to this decision. And whether the wife insisted on him going [not unlike me insisting that Husband go to Santa Clara. Only, like an order of magnitude bigger]. And most importantly - whether she was back in Toronto regretting doing so, quietly getting angrier and angrier that he actually went. Informal poll of coworkers and friends has since turned up not one person who thinks that going, rather than losing the cost of both vacations, was the right decision. I wonder how Mr. and Mrs. English are doing these days.)

Anyway, by now I was getting mobile. By Day 4 I could limp around off the crutches for a few minutes at a time, so I was able to eat lunch (with the assistance of the incredibly kind and solicitous wait staff in the restaurant) and even do a little shopping in the souvenir shop. Which is when I discovered this:

One of the running jokes in Cuba is that the national drink, "Cuba libre", is in English "a rum and Coke", except that the Coke is never Coke, it's the local cola - Kokola. Because you can't buy Coca-Cola in Cuba, because the embargo means that American businesses can't do business in Cuba, and Coca-Cola is the ultimate American business.

Except that this time, there it was: Coca-Cola. In Cuba. "Heche en Mexico" - there's the go-around. Nevertheless, it felt like hell had frozen over. We've always joked that we would stop going to Cuba when a McDonald's opened in Havana. This is the harbinger.

Husband came back from Remedios and Santa Clara with lots of pictures (perhaps I'll post some later when we get our photos sorted) and stories (and a necklace and bracelet for me). (One amusing note: Upon seeing a large group of old Yanq Tanks - American cars from the 40s and 50s, ubiquitous in Cuba - the tour guide said, "Ah. American yalopies".)

I don't know about Mrs. English, but I didn't regret insisting my Husband go on his trip. I only missed him for a day and got to hear all about Ché Guevera's mausoleum, where the controversial guerilla's handless body reposes and which is treated as reverentially as a cathedral. (No bags, no purses, no cameras, no talking, no souvenir shop.)

Tomorrow was Day 5, and I was finally off my damnable crutches for periods of time. Maybe I'd even get in some beach :).



Finally, someone understands.

Everywhere The Deaf Are Befuddled


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Thursday, December 10, 2009

A series of (un)fortunate events - Day 3

So Day 3 dawned with my ankle swollen up like a Christmas ham, and Husband simply beside himself talking about going to Santa Clara for X-rays, and was it broken? and would our insurance cover it? and such and such. I was trying to reassure him that it was just a sprain, I'd had many sprains over the course of my life and this felt just exactly like every other sprain I'd ever had, including having the thought - as I turned the ankle over - "Oh hell I've sprained it".

So I sent him off to the clinic to inquire about crutches. I obviously wasn't getting very far by hopping on one foot, which is how I was getting from the bed to the loo. I had extra-strength Tylenol, which was keeping the pain down to a groaning ache.

He came back with crutches ($5CUC a day, Señor). Then I sent him off to the beach (because dammit, one of us was having a full vacation experience) while I rested in the room until lunchtime. He accompanied me while I limped up to the restaurant (god - I had forgotten how incredibly uncomfortable crutches are - on your underarms, your hands, everywhere!). He carried my plate and helped me get some food into my sorry self.

Then we had to have the conversation about the trip to Santa Clara. He didn't want to go unless we could both go - which we obviously couldn't. I was adamant that he had to go. "You have to go for both of us!" I insisted. This was a special destination for us, with all of the research we'd done about the history of the Revolution. I just couldn't stand to think that neither of us would go because of one stupid misstep by me. "We'll come back," I said. "We'll go together later. But tomorrow you have to go for both of us."

He argued. He bargained (maybe I could go but stay on the bus? Impractical). And finally he agreed.

"Bring me back something," I said. :)

So Day 3 saw us booking the trip to Santa Clara for Husband, and me getting used to hobbling around on lousy, miserable crutches, which I was enormously grateful for. The pool was within hobbling distance, so that would do for Day 4.



A series of (un)fortunate events

There are no direct flights from Atlantic Canada to Cuba until March, so for our early winter trips we fly through Toronto or Montreal, where a fat population base has them shipping metal tubes full of tourists to the Caribbean all year round.

That's how we ended up on a plane transporting one of the Olympic Torches leapfrogging across the country from New Brunswick to Ontario. Even better, the flight attendant, an extraordinarily good-natured woman , announced the presence of the torch on the flight. Even better (she's extraordinarily good-natured, it would seem), she volunteered to take photos of any passengers who wanted to be photographed holding it. Unbearably corny, and on the first day of our vacation, there was no way we were not getting some of that action.

That was the beginning of Day 1, which saw us trekking for 12 hours from Fredericton to Toronto, from Toronto to Santa Clara, and from Santa Clara along roads including over 50 km of causeway on the 90-minute drive from the mainland of Cuba to the cayos (keys), the last of which in the chain connected by the causeways was Cayo Santa Maria. (That's our destination, Cayo Santa Maria, marked with an "A" on the map. Santa Clara is about in the middle of the main island.)

Day 2 was for exploring the beaches and the resort grounds and learning about the excursions and travel options available to us. We both planned to go on a tour of Santa Clara, a city of great significance in the story of the Cuban Revolution, and the site of the final resting place (and we do mean FINALLY final resting place) of the much-abused and disputed remains of Ché Guevara.

And then, on the walk back to the room that evening, I met this unexpected change in elevation (I was walking towards the camera):

And went down like a sack of potatoes.

And sprained my ankle.


And my whole vacation as planned... just flew away in those seconds.

Coming up: My brush with the Cuban health-care system, how to salsa on crutches, and hell freezes over in Cuba.



Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Invisibl lifegard

More to come. Meanwhile, after coming home to the first snowstorm of the season, we're having 15-25 more cms tonight!


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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Cayo Santa Maria

More later. Sleep now!



Email is under construction. Thank you for understanding.

engrish funny today construction

I've been away for a week, and during that time my web host once again decided that my email was over quota and started bouncing emails back. (Thanks to Sherwood for alerting me.) The problem is that my email is nowhere near over quota, but this happens about once a year and I have to submit a ticket to fix it. I hate my web host but for a number of reasons (most relating to the large r.a.c.s pet gallery), moving to a new host is inconvenient.

If you need to reach me while the usual gang of idiots is fixing the problem, an alternate address is @