Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Art of High Speed Photography

Lex Augusteijn is a Dutch photographer specializing in high-speed photography, capturing the moment a bullet hits objects such as light bulbs, water-filled balloons and even drops of water.

 Via Odd Stuff Magazine

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Good people do exist!

I read this amazing and unbelievable good news story today about a NYC ad exec who loaned a homeless guy her credit card when he asked her for change and she felt badly for not having any. This happened in the toughest city in the world. Does it happen here? Would you do the same or do you have an amazing similar story?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

X-rays of flowers

Flowers are some of my favourite things. Look inside them courtesy of Hugh Turvey's amazing work. Turning X-rays into Art.

An orchid
 See more pics at Odd Stuff Magazine.

Quote of the Day

As I aimlessly surfed the Web this evening, I found a quote so poignant and truthful I'm resisting putting off blogging it as is usually my habit. Too often, I find great things to write about and pledge to blog them at some later, more convenient time. Alas, more often than not, that time never arrives, life goes on, days pass and so does my ambition to record my thoughts.

I found this truism on a post called, 10 Rules of Tech Etiquette on Geoffrey Webb's blog.
"In your rush to record life, don't forget to live it."
The warning appears in Webb's ninth rule of tech etiquette: Put your camera away. As an aspiring photographer and iPhone owner, this rule attracted my attention. As Webb indicates, living in this age of constant publishing, sharing and exchanging of digital information can take our focus off of what's important. Technology has presented humankind with a paradox. The advent of social media is being marketed aggressively. 'Friend' has become a verb as well as a noun. An entire generation is pushing the limits of interaction, and at times, boundaries. In our rush to record life's great moments in 140-character tweets, witty status updates and candid pics of our friends, are we so focused on recording and sharing every aspect of our lives that those real, personal interactions lose the very depth and richness we strive to capture?

I love technology. Recently, I've taken an avid interest in both photography and social media, so much so that I have to remind myself to unplug sometimes to read a book. Actually call someone. See a movie. Have dinner with family.

Sometimes, whether you're at work or with friends, you have to turn off the gadgets just to enjoy the 'fullness' of whatever is happening in that moment, simply because even the fastest shutter speed or highest HD camera can't capture it as well as the oldest recording device at our disposal: memory. Webb's words are ones to live by, and reminded me of the feeling of giving up trying to capture Canada Day's amazing fireworks with my Canon Rebel to revel in the awesomeness of being there.


Via famousdead.com
 After more surfing, I happened upon a few stories about tomorrow being the 65th anniversary of the United States bombing of Hiroshima in the last days of the Second World War. The bombing immediately killed 140,000, but as this story in the Guardian indicates, Tsutomu Yamaguchi is the first and only known survivor of two attacks (the Americans would drop another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing 70,000).

His son has died of cancer and he had to fight to have his special status recognized, but Yamaguchi looks as if this inspires him to keep telling his and others' stories:

"Yamaguchi was quoted yesterday by the Mainichi newspaper. "My double radiation exposure is now an official government record. It can tell the younger generation the horrifying history of the atomic bombings even after I die," he said."
Inspiring and incredible story. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How to Clean Your Owl

A brief, visual how-to for DIY owl owners. Apparently owls don't like the 'high-pressure' setting of the garden hose any more than cats, squirrels or annoying relatives do. Huh.

pleated-jeans via Telegraph Pictures of the Day


National Geographic's International Photography Contest 2009

Viewers' Choice Nature Honorable Mention
A newly born silver-leaf langur gets some early discipline and love from his doting parents. This baby monkey was just about 12 hours old, born at the Columbus, Ohio, Zoo in August of 2009.


History of AIDS

AIDS: History of a Plague

Found this photo story on AIDS on Life's website. Very informative, powerful and thought provoking stuff, telling the history of the public's perception of the disease, all the way back to the 19th century when it made the jump from primates to humans.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Newspaper paperweights

Found this slideshow on The New York Times' site today. Makes me wish I was alive in the '50s, what a cool time for pop art and newspapers! Back then, according to this piece, some publishers felt threatened by radio, and the industry adapted and 'radio magazines' were created. Imagine if that generation had known what was to happen to future generations of publishers?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Decline of Print Journalism devastates hoarders

I was just alerted to yet another disturbing side effect of the decline of our beloved print news industry.
As I aimlessly clicked through The Onion's site I came across this video exposing the plight of old hoarders  wondering what they'll stack in every corner of their dingy homes. The irony that I, a stalwart print journalist, happened across this piece of rare investigative gold while indulging in this new media craze shouldn't be lost.

How Will The End Of Print Journalism Affect Old Loons Who Hoard Newspapers?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

As time goes by

As time goes by, originally uploaded by Von Zwibel.
Love sunsets. the title of this 1, by Von Zwibel on Flickr, is perfect for the shot - the depth of field and composition really take you into the photo...time captured as it passes! Incredible.

Jane Austen, and the next big thing

Next Big Thing in English: Knowing they know that you know
By Patricia Cohen
March 31, 2010
The New York Times Website: www.nytimes.com

I found this really cool albeit mind-blowing article on The New York Times' site. It talks about 'the science of English', why we get wrapped up in fiction novels and why we can only keep track of three "mental states" at a time i.e. -"He said she believed he liked...."
One theory in the article is that evolution influenced humans' love of fiction and the free indirect style of writing (as is exhibited in 19th-century Jane Austen books) evolved because it satisfied an intense interest in other people's secret thoughts and motivations."

An interesting quote:
The road between the two cultures - science and literature - can go both ways. "Fiction provides a new perspective on what happens in evolution," said William Flesch, a professor of English at Brandeis University.
To Mr. Flesch fictional accounts help explain how altruism evolved despite our selfish genes. Fictional heroes are what he calls "altruistic punishers," people who right wrongs even if they personally have nothing to gain. "to give us an incentive to monitor and ensure co-operation, nature endows us with a pleasing sense of outrage" at cheaters, and delight when they are punished, Mr. Flesch argues. We enjoy fiction because it is teeming with altruistic punishers: Odysseus, Don Quixote, Hamlet, Hercule Poirot. "It's not that evolution give us insight into fiction," Mr. Flesch said, "but that fiction gives us insight into evolution."

Basically, IMO this explains everything from hearsay high school and work place gossip disseminated from some third or subsequent party to our fascination with soap operas and romance novels to pop culture (i.e. movies of Twilight's ilk, and the motivations of today's media and their consumers...)
Just as our "intense interest in other people's secret thoughts and motivations" fuelled the plot lines of 19th century fiction novels, it has spawned and continues to be the foundation of entire industries.

Why have the sagas of Tiger Woods, Sandra Bullock and others kept us clicking and reading? Though we know intellectually that those people are real, their unfathomable wealth, drama, physical distance from us and our lack of access to them renders them fictional characters, villains and heroes to vilify and adore. The same thinking applies to those sixth-degree of separation tidbits we hear in our lives - the people involved are just loosely related to us enough to capture our attention and emotions, yet not have their trials and problems become our deep and direct concern.
Gossip, whether regarding someone in our world or Hollywood's is often irresistible to us for many reasons, namely for its seductive sense of drama. Tales filled with nobility and cruelty, love and hate, truth and lies eject splashes of colour into our otherwise grey lives.
Why have reality T.V., pro wrestling, tawdry tales of celebrities' affairs and the advent of major TV networks' crime-drama empires endured over decades - think Law & Order, CSI and others - to retain what has become an often fickle viewership? Because in a confusing world, the formats and plot lines are predictable, familiar and dependable. Like a Rubik's cube, the make-up of the puzzle remains the same and yet there are thousands of variations of the hero/villain dynamic.

Insightful article, and thought-provoking without falling into the trap of scolding and arrogance. I love this stuff that makes people stop and think, and strives to answer the 'Whys' of life, instead of just racing to satisfy our insatiable appetite for this cotton candy, empty calorie knowledge without question.

We should be questioning the people who don't challenge our demands, not those who do.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Of bated breath and common sense

As I write this I'm coming off a hockey-induced high resulting from our boys' narrow 3-2 win over Slovakia tonight. This is what Canada is made of and what hockey and Olympic competition are truly about.

I think it's safe to say most every Canadian held their breath for the entire third period after the Slovaks came back from a 3-0 deficit to score 2 goals and come within striking distance of tying the game. Watching Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo anxiously check the clock and count down the last three minutes, I felt I was right there with him, facing those shots our defense left him open to. For the most part of the match, our boys made Canada proud, save for the last 10 minutes of the game.
It was really a match that got Canadians back on the track of actually thinking about and debating the sport we were involved in, not this fluffy, trivial stuff about the women's hockey team lighting up a celebratory cigar and downing some champagne after their gold medal win. The only thing they did wrong was underestimate the vulture-like, profit-driven mindset of a few hack photographers left in the arena after the game. Or the fact that some team's pitiful souls settled for silver or bronze.

The people who are pitiful IMHO are not those who competed and snagged a medal of any colour or even competed on Canada's world stage (something 99.9 per cent of the rest of us will never come close to doing).
As a reporter I am shamed to see what an obsession with ratings and an ever-enduring negative outlook can do to our profession. Endless headlines regarding athletes 'losing gold' or 'settling' for silver or bronze abound. But what is not in great supply is common sense, such as is displayed by Michael Den Tandt's column, 'TV takes gold in negativity at the Olympics' in the St. Catharines Standard.
Den Tandt writes:

"There's a simple explanation for the torrent of foolish and negative questions that have greeted athlete after Canadian athlete who failed, for one reason or another, to own the podium. Ready? Here it is. There is no news at the Olympics. Don't misunderstand me. Of course it's huge. Of course there's massive and overwhelming viewer interest, worldwide and especially here at home...But...there's a first, second and third place finisher...Hard news is about the unexpected. In a sporting event, often the only potential surprise is the contrast between expectation and reality. Hence the endless puerile quizzing of perceived stars who failed to win a medal, or failed to win a gold medal. Are you sad? Are you mad? How do you feel? Add to that the dizzying number of events, saturation coverage and the sheer number of reporters in Vancouver competing for angles. It's almost inevitable that many come off as armchair Chicken Littles."

Den Tandt is being generous in his assessment. He said this means those reporters were "poorly prepared to cover an event that inherently holds much more human interest than hard news." Human interest doesn't get any street credit these days. It's all about drawing a line in the sand and portraying non-gold medalists as somewhat failures. While I won't say gold isn't the best, it isn't 'the only.' How many of these reporters would have taken on decades in training to compete for a precious few seconds, or minutes? It's easy to speculate with your feet planted firmly on the ground whilst the Olympic-caliber athlete you rip apart jumps a ramp and flips head over heels on skis. Den Tandt goes on to remind readers,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

With glowing hearts? Hell, yes

The slogan of the 2010 Olympic Games is being tested.
Six days into the Olympics, a myriad of media reports have chronicled every moment of Canada's turn on the world's stage. 
Reports of the many misadventures in Vancouver are starting to cast a pall over Canada's turn as host country - or are they? There is still much debate about that, contrary to what international media would have us all believe. There is much fodder to pick from, what with bad fortune surfacing starting with the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run Friday and continuing  that evening at the Opening Ceremony, when a giant column failed to rise from the stage due to what officials deemed a mechanical malfunction. Since then, a lack of snow - or in some cases too much - has caused a number of events to be moved, a malfunctioning ice resurfacing machine caused delaysprotesters have had their 15 minutes and on Tuesday 20,000 standing room tickets were cancelled for all events at Cypress Mountain as a result of rain that has made the area unsafe. Canada has been criticized for lording its home field advantage over other countries. Wednesday brought reports of broken down buses, the ongoing saga and compromise over the fence blocking photographers attempting to capture the cauldron, 19 people being injured at a concert when a barricade collapsed and a security scare when a B.C. man infatuated with vice-president Joe Biden used a homemade pass to get by screeners at the opening ceremonies.

Even Alex Bilodeau had become a target for the tireless media Wednesday, when I saw Mark Hebscher of CHCH news spark a debate over whether our golden boy, Bilodeau (gold medal winner of the men's moguls skiing) should have removed his toque during the awards ceremony. Are you kidding me? The guy wins us our first ever gold medal on home soil at 22 years old - an accomplishment the rest of us will likely never achieve - and this is what he gets for it. I think he's earned the privilege to WEAR A HAT! Leave the kid alone, and enjoy the moment.
There has also been debate over the ubiquitous red mittens sold by HBC. The mittens are made in China, not Canada, and many are boycotting purchasing them for that reason. I am likely missing many other happenings but in the interest of brevity, I'll cut it off there.

As for the mittens, I too avoided buying them, rationalizing that China gets enough of my and millions of other Canadians' money. Then I received a pair as a gift for Valentines Day, and must admit I've taken a liking to them. Though I feel a twinge of guilt over wearing them and somewhat like a poser for talking about how much I love my country while donning yet another product manufactured offshore, they're warm. And I agree with the sentiment of one writer replying in a forum on the St. Catharines Standard's website - "Just because the product isn't made in Canada doesn't mean the act of purchasing that product isn't patriotic..."
Now maybe I'm just rationalizing to excuse my own guilt here and I'm still on the fence on this one as I write. I know HBC has cashed in big time on a surge in Canadian pride and this trend that will die the minute the Olympics is over. Are we really so materialistic and self-centred that we feel the need to buy a pair of mittens to tell others how patriotic we are? Quite the philosophical dilemma, it's a trivial concern on its own but a valid one when you really think about how psychology and culture influence what we buy.

As for the rest of the melee, in my opinion the factors contributing to Kumaritashvili's death should have been investigated and debated more thoroughly than they were. This incident was clearly swept under the rug too fast and questions remain. I am no engineer, but I wonder why steel columns had to be located in the place they were. Padding would probably not have saved his life as he was flying at a speed of just under 90 km/h. The blame seemed to placed on the luger's inexperience, but if that was the cause of this accident, why was the men's luge event moved to the women's starting place? There is double-speak going on.
VANOC's ability to organize and their lack of competence at times mystifies me.

Most of this other stuff is incidental and makes for juicy headlines for the two weeks the Olympics will run. The events of the past six days will provide much fodder for the cheesy retrospectives, round-ups and analyses you know will fill the week after the Olympics end. Nothing more, nothing less. In an anomaly, CTV has published a list of what's gone wrong, and how to fix it.
In the sea of gloom and doom, I have found some refreshing outlooks, including St. Catharines Standard editor Kalvin Reid's Point of View, published on today on the paper's website:
"It's too bad we can't enjoy the spectacle without being so self-critical. The media carries much of the responsibility. The expectations were placed high heading into these Games, especially after Canadians brought 24 medals home from Turin in 2006. Television commercials repeatedly asked which of the 206 Canadian athletes in Vancouver would be the first to win a gold medal on Canadian soil. Profiles of athletes, sponsored by the television broadcasting consortium carrying the Games, implored us all to "believe." Is it our fault that we did? So what if Manuel Osborne-Paradis finished 17th in the men's downhill, and Jeremy Wotherspoon once again failed to win gold in the men's 500-metre long track speed-skating event. Other great stories have emerged, not the least of which is Alexandre Bilodeau winning the men's moguls - and his is a great story to tell. Canada had high hopes heading into these Games. From our federal taxes comes $11 million every year to support the sports of the Winter Olympics. We are invested in our nation's sporting success. But here's the thing: After the first weekend of these Games, it has been a success. We have been a gracious host, and our athletes have performed admirably. And it only promises to get better. We should be proud."

I also liked the thoughts of the Edmonton Journal's Dan Barnes:
"...there are warts on every Olympic Games. It's too big a show to come off smoothly. But every time you think the whining of some British media will drown out O Canada, the city roars even louder...For all those cranky Brits who need a smile, might I suggest doubles luge as a constant source of entertainment. Two men. One sled. Millimetres of fabric. Speed. Curves. Ick."

The Olympics aren't even half over and Canada has much to be proud of. Namely, 22-year-old men's moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau's gold medal win at Cypress Mountain. He snatches the medal from reigning Olympic champion Dale Begg-Smith, the rather smug Australian who left Canada for the program down under and refused Canadian media interviews once he arrived in Vancouver and who was cast as a "villain" Bilodeau had to defeat. Bilodeau's story, and his achievement, will go down in history in the minds of the millions of Canadians grateful to him for ending the country's drought of gold medals on home soil. More than 7 million Canadians tuned into watch Bilodeau's run and 23 million Canadians watched at least part of the Opening Ceremonies. Monday's medal ceremony, predicted to be ho-hum, was anything but for people who had bought tickets. Canada also has a golden girl in Maelle Ricker, who won the snowboard cross final Tuesday.
Canada's men's hockey team is hoping for gold and was off to a good start Tuesday, shutting out Norway 8-0.
 Our women's team crushed Sweden 13-1.

At the end of the day, I'm more inclined to adhere to the advice written on one of my favourite Facebook Pieces of Flair than sit around bemoaning the country's self-perceived failure as an Olympics host, as a result of some speculation by talking heads. 
"Put on your big girl panties, and deal with it!"
Go Canada.

Dental students + kids in need = Shiny Smiles for All

Today I visited my alma mater Niagara College to follow around the good people in the dental hygiene program and write about their partnership with the Welland Neighbourhood Project. The initiative is called Smiles for All and brings selected students from local elementary schools to hygiene students, so children from low income families can access the dental care that is critical to their health and dental hygiene students can gain much-needed experience. Sounds easy enough on the surface, but in conversation with a program faculty member, I found the work that goes on behind the scenes to follow privacy legislation (which helps protect people on low income, but also hinders the process of getting them care and places barriers that must be overcome by the people wanting to provide that care) is fascinating stuff, at least to this scribe. I soon came to realize this was about much more than dental students cleaning kids' teeth.

This was a story about overcoming challenges, from the transportation issue currently plaguing the entire Niagara region to the realities low income families deal with every day. For some of those kids, today was the first time, or the first time in a long time, they have seen a dentist. This is a sad concept for someone who has spent her 25 years taking regular dental visits for granted. The program co-ordinator was telling me about some of the diseases some of these youngsters already have and how oral health is critical to general health. A conversation with another staff member of the program resonated with me as well - she questioned the fact that families are still dealing with access to care issues in the Golden Horseshoe, in Niagara, in Canada, in 2010. Good on Niagara College and the Welland Neighbourhood Project for helping this section of invisible minorities who can very easily fall through the system's cracks but deserve just as much access to care as anyone else.

The article follows and can also be read at the Welland Tribune's website


Clean smiles were the order of the day at Niagara College Wednesday.
As part of the Shiny Smiles for All clinic put on by Niagara College and the Welland Neighbourhood Project, 25 students in the college’s Dental Hygiene program hosted about 13 elementary school students from five different schools (St. Mary, Mathews, Princess  Elizabeth, Plymouth and Empire) at the Welland campus’ Dr. James Sim Dental Clinic Wednesday for the first of two preventative clinics.
Wednesday’s clinic included needs assessments, radiographs, cleaning, fluoride treatments, sealants and oral hygiene education and instruction.
The students involved in the Shiny Smiles for All program are chosen by the schools’ principals based on need and the fact they are from low income families.
Though “oral hygiene is key to general health,” many of those families face barriers to receiving care, such as lack of transportation, said Ursula Pelissero, a faculty member of the college’s Dental Hygiene program.

“Transportation is a huge issue,” said Pelissero. Many parents are unable to acquire transportation and time off work to get their families to regularly scheduled appointments. Privacy legislation is another obstacle to overcome. By law, the college was not able to legally access the children they were trying to serve. Staff must work with Niagara Region’s Public Health department, which visits local schools to assess students’ condition. If they require further care, a letter is sent home with students asking parents for their consent to allow their child to participate in the Shiny Smiles for All clinic and the child’s medical information. Parents mail the form to Public Health, which lets the school know how many students will be attending. Though Pelissero said she understands why the law is there and is needed, it’s also a challenge.
The college and the Welland Neighbourhood Project were able to find a solution to the problem of access to care when Pelissero was asked to sit on the Project’s board as a community partner and suggested partnering to bring care to members of the community who often have trouble accessing service.

The United Way of South Niagara and the Rotary Club of Welland pay for the products used by the college’s students.
A range of community partners work together under the umbrella of the Welland Neighbourhood Project to fill four needs of the community including family literacy, dental care, nutrition and after school programs and activities, said Carolyn Fast, project co-ordinator of the organization.
The elementary school students aren’t the only ones who learn a valuable lesson by having a positive experience in a dental office, said Pelissero. At the same time they are developing good habits to last a lifetime, students of the Dental Hygiene program develop a sense of giving back to the community.
Pelissero said the ability to access care is critical for people of every income bracket, since the mouth is “the only area open to the outside. Bacteria, illnesses and everything can (enter) through the mouth. Everything is connected. We’re not separate puzzle pieces. We fit together.”
The same is true for the people involved in efforts to better their community, she said.
Thirty-five-year-old Leigh Mason, a second-year student of the Dental Hygiene program, agreed.
She has learned through much hands-on experience in the college’s program that “patient care is number one.”
Meeting and helping people “from all walks of life” was a positive experience for her.
Twenty-one-year-old Christina Diprose, also a second-year student, said, “These clinics are a lot of fun” because child patients are generally not as serious as their adult counterparts. She added she was eager to impart knowledge her patient could put into practice at home.
“There are so many families and so many children who really need dental care. Yeah, we’re only helping a few kids, but it’s a good start. It serves the public in such a great way.”
Captions: (top photo): Jessica Armstrong, a second-year student of Niagara College's dental hygiene program, cleans the teeth of one of the elementary school students visiting the clinic Wednesday as part of Shiny Smiles for All. 
(middle photo): Second-year student Leigh Mason cleans the teeth of one of the elementary school students visiting the Shiny Smiles for All clinic.
(last photo): Second-year student Christina Deprose takes a look into the mouth of an elementary school student visiting the Shiny Smiles for all clinic.

Monday, February 8, 2010

DoneFors in Dunnville

Vocalist and guitarist Janine Stoll of The DoneFors performs a song from the band’s album How to Have Sex with Canadians Saturday night at Dunnville’s Flyers Café. ⓒ Allison Smith 2010

As a freelance features/entertainment reporter for the Dunnville Chronicle, I get to cover some pretty weird, alternative Canadian bands who play Flyers Cafe, a popular downtown spot that's packed every Saturday night with people who are not at the arena and looking for a night out.
The DoneFors came to play Saturday night. I didn't know what to think of them at first - they aren't like anything I've heard before and judging by the reaction from their audience, unlike many of the groups out there today. They have created a genre called Canadiana VanGuard, essentially a mix of pop, folk and indie. You have to hear them to understand, but many of their songs make one want to see an obscure indie movie you could only pretend to follow. Or attend a Spring deck party with people in a Gap commercial. Or host a dinner party. I was iffy at the start of their set on what to think, or whether I liked them. But stick around and let this band grow on you, and you'll be rewarded.

The DoneFors vocalist and guitarist Paul MacDougall performs alongside band mates Saturday night at Dunnville’s Flyers Café. ⓒ Allison Smith 2010

It’s rare to find a band not chasing the next big hit.
But meet The DoneFors, the Toronto-based group who played Dunnville’s Flyers Café Saturday night, and you’ll find that for them, creating their own genre is a necessity, not a gimmick.
The band is comprised of 30-year-old Janine Stoll, 31-year-old Paul MacDougall (both on vocals and guitar), 30-year-old bassist and vocalist Liam Smith and 32-year-old drummer Brian Lahaie.

Listen to a couple of songs from these Canadian musicians and you’ll know why they had to create a name for the genre of music they play. Canadiana VanGuard is, states the band’s biography, an embodiment of contemporary pop and progressive folk sound – “a musical expression that spans genres, stretches boundaries, and stays rooted in an instrument’s organic sound.”
The emotions behind The DoneFors’ songs are as varied as the members themselves. Stoll said that though her fellow band members bring a variety of backgrounds to the group, “we all gelled” from the first day The DoneFors was formed. Everyone has a part to play.
“If any one of us were to leave and a new member were to join, we would be a completely different-sounding band.”
Smith agreed, adding the band aims to set itself apart from mainstream music. “As a rhythm section, we’re concerned with making sure our songs are different and don’t sound the same (as other groups’),” he said.
Lahaie wouldn’t have it any other way. “I think it’s natural to be different,” he said. “It’s never been a pursuit (for us) to be different.”

The DoneFors have made their peace with the fact that will likely not result in one of their songs becoming a major hit. But Stoll, MacDougall, Smith and Lahaie believe their success is already written in the stars – the band has the same astrological synastry as 1970s rock band Led Zeppelin.
A far cry from the over-produced, Disney-channel pop sensations and angry rocksters populating the airwaves, The DoneFors create music to dream to – light and airy melodies (In a Cornfield) and pieces that make one envision attending a Spring garden party when in reality they’re confined to a darkened café in the dead of rural Winter (Lemons from Argentina).
Your average bar band, this group is not. Saturday’s performance brought many a story-telling ballad and peppy, indie-flavoured songs. Stoll’s Septembre en France is a jazz-infused piece fit for a lovers’ dance, while The Last Thing You Do should soothe many a heart mourning unrequited love.
The group played its first show as an ensemble in Fall of 2006 and played the Junction Arts Festival in Toronto the same year. Their first full-length album How to Have Sex with Canadians was released in early 2009. A second is in the works. Visit the band’s website at www.thedonefors.com

Find this article at The Chronicle

Friday, January 29, 2010

Haiti's story

Volunteers at Dunnville’s Calvary Pentecostal Church pack medical supplies in preparation for a week-long mission to Dominican Republic. See their story in part 2 of Dunnville's efforts in Haiti. ⓒ Allison Smith 2010

Last week, I had the incredibly honourable, interesting and daunting task of telling the story of people who were involved in some aspect of helping Haitian citizens after the earthquake that destroyed their country January 12. I and another reporter at the Dunnville Chronicle took on writing five stories within one. The experience had a big enough impact on me that I decided I most definitely wanted to post my contribution to my blog. 
I, like many others, have been quite removed from the travesty that is happening a world away from us. Seeing the odd commercial on TV appealing to people here to adopt children for $1 a day in the poorest countries of the world simply in no way prepares you to hear the stories of people directly involved in the efforts to help those people who are so much in need right now, and who will be for decades to come. I got to talk to a volunteer paramedic who walked through crowds and crowds of people screaming in pain. She said there was no rhyme or reason to who was helped because there were just so many of them. The ones who are healthy are fending off looters, desperate themselves, from taking what little the earthquake has left untouched. She spoke of people following her asking if she had forgotten about them, using a scalpel and razor blade to perform amputations and helping another doctor pull muscles and bones fractured by collapsing buildings back into place. 
When I asked her how she stayed sane as a fellow human being in that situation, she replied she stayed calm out of necessity. "It's your job, so you do it. You pull yourself together and off you go."
I was shocked at how matter-of-factly this 21-year-old talked about her experience. There are lesser people including myself who simply would not have had the fortitude to keep it together. I told her people like her are picking up after the mess our developed countries have made, before the earthquake happened and the efforts to send relief in cash and people started to flow. Millions of people across the world have donated to the effort. But like many problems, the poverty in developed countries is complex and many-sided. I don't pretend to understand it or know all the solutions. But we developed countries have to realize the disparity between us and the people in Haiti can't be ignored anymore. Our resolve has to endure beyond the charity telethons, media coverage and initial hype. It disturbs me that in 2010 there are still countless numbers of our fellow human beings who are considered "non people," with no rights to the justice, education and healthcare/other services essential to us and every civilized society. Our mindset as a society and global culture must dramatically shift not just about this one disaster in this one country but about the many that happen around the world every day. 
The words of Dr. Reza Kazemi ring in my mind.

Dr. Kazemi said long-term change needs to happen in third world countries and that the “tragedy” is that though there is much attention given to the nation now, “we just don’t learn. Our heart bleeds, we open our hearts, we give what we can, the news reports these poor people are having their legs and arms amputated…our approach is based on our bleeding hearts for the moment, not long term.” Citizens of developed countries must make better choices in the long term, he said, looking at their “effect on the environment and the effect on people. People give with one hand, buy a t-shirt made by a Haitian sweatshop, and they take away that help with the other hand. They contribute to the poverty in Haiti.”

What one hand giveth, the other taketh away. Imagine how early in life these people find that out and how jaded and hopeless they become waiting to live, or die, at the behest of forces they cannot control. Before talking to the many people I've spoken to about their experiences, I thought I knew what it felt like to feel hopeless at times. Their relaying of what they went through and the things they saw made me at least get an outsider's view of what 'hopeless' really is.
 Since the initial earthquake January 12, Haiti has also been through an aftershock, setting back further the rebuild of a country that already has so much devastation and hopelessness burdening its shoulders. Canada and the United Nations are calling on developed nations to forgive the country's $1 billion foreign debt. 
UN trade body calls for write-off of Haiti's debt
Flaherty wants creditors to forgive Haiti's debt

This quote is from a UK paper called the Telegraph. See the full article here.

Jean-Max Bellerive told an emergency meeting of ministers in Montreal, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that the "colossal" effort would take "at least five to 10 years."   
He said: "The people of Haiti will need more and more and more in order to complete the reconstruction. What we're looking for is a long-term commitment. Haiti needs the massive support of its partners in the international community in the medium and long term." Responding to criticism that the Haitian government had been almost invisible during relief efforts he said it was working in "precarious conditions". 
"We are fully conscious that the prime responsibility for our future lies in the hands of the Haitian government and the Haitian people." 
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "It was not an exaggeration to say that at least 10 years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti. 
Officials from a dozen countries, the United Nations, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund attended the talks to discuss the aid effort and make initial rebuilding plans. 
They looked at whether to relocate the capital Port-au-Prince away from its present site. Around 235,000 survivors have already fled the blighted city. 
The Montreal talks were expected to lay the groundwork for a full-fledged donors conference in the coming weeks at which pledges of money for reconstruction will be made.  
Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and groups including Oxfam and The World Council of Churches called on ministers to immediately cancel its full $890 million (£550 million) international debt. 
They also asked for delivery on the IMF's previous pledge to turn a $100 million (£62 million) interest-free loan to into a grant.

This is the sensible thing to do, and would be the first of many steps in rebuilding what many say is a country that must be built better than it was before the earthquake hit if it has any hope at all.

Dunnville's efforts in Haiti, Part 1

(Find this article online at the Dunnville Chronicle)


The earthquake that rocked Haiti January 12 is being felt a world away, in the hearts and minds of Dunnville residents rising to the challenge of providing relief to the bereaved, severely injured and displaced.
While a local paramedic arrives home from the ravaged region this week, a team of 20 from Calvary Pentecostal Church prepares to arrive in Haiti. Haiti Water for Life plans to deliver much-needed medical supplies, while local businesses do their part at home.
Deanna Oosterhoff is part of a GlobalMedic relief team from Ontario bringing aid and supplies to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, as thousands of Haitians fled the area after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit the region January 12. GlobalMedic also brought 30 water purification units to the area.
GlobalMedic co-ordinates volunteer disaster response teams made up of paramedics, firefighters and police officers. The 21-year-old, who works at Dunnville’s Marish Greenhouses, first met a recruiter for the organization while attending Niagara College. Eventually, she took training and grew excited to be part of a mission.
The GlobalMedic team were the first responders to arrive. Jane said last week Deanna was to arrive home over the weekend, and doctors from across the world would take over in Haiti where GlobalMedic left off.
“They go in very quickly and get there before all the other (agencies),” said Deanna’s mother Jane, a resident of Wainfleet who said she’s “proud” of the Niagara College graduate.
Oosterhoff returned to Canada about 2 a.m. Monday January 25. She said she was glad to have made a difference in the disaster area.
“People have to fend for themselves…there is no real justice system,” Deanna said, adding 300 criminals housed in a prison there had escaped and gone back to Cite Soleil. Looting is a common problem and Haitians are using vigilante justice to protect themselves, she said. Deanna spent time travelling throughout the ravaged area with a doctor, and worked in a hospital where hundreds of people were camped outside waiting for healthcare for the first several days.
 “There were people everywhere. We’d be walking along and people would be following us, saying, ‘Come see’ and ‘Did you forget about me?’ There was no rhyme or reason to who you go to (to give care). Hundreds of people needed amputations. There were enough doctors but not enough equipment and turnaround time was so long because the equipment we were using had to be sterilized. We were doing amputations with nothing but a scalpel and a razor blade, no anesthetic, no freezing, no nothing.”
Deanna got a disturbing introduction her first day as she walked out of her tent to see the dead bodies of two people who had been shot. More dead bodies littered the streets and rubble, and many survivors presented nasty injuries and resulting infections such as gangrene as a result of buildings collapsing. Though 200 people a day needed medical treatment, there were only resources available to treat 10, she said. Deanna told stories of pulling muscles back into place, standing at patient’s feet while the doctor stood at their head.
Asked how she kept calm she said she was told upon entering the Dominican that that “was the last day of normal. We were there to help…you can’t really feel their pain because then we would also be in pain. We had to be calm for them. As long as we’re positive, they can still be positive. If we get negative, they lose all hope. It’s your job, so you do it…you pull yourself together and off you go.”
Not that Deanna didn’t feel emotional seeing people in pain. “You pray for strength,” she said, admitting the situation was nothing short of “chaos.”
Chaos was a good word to describe the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of Haitian Canadians attempting to come back to Canada were stuck outside and not being let in, some for as long as seven days.
Jane has learned an important lesson first-hand from her daughter’s experience. While Deanna will come home feeling she has made a difference, the relief efforts in Haiti and the long journey to come for the residents there is “all about getting people to help themselves.”

Dunnville's efforts in Haiti, Part 2

Rev. Jonathan Strutt (middle) poses with two volunteers and items being packaged for Calvary Pentecostal Church’s week-long mission trip to Dominican Republic to help Haitians. 
ⓒ Allison Smith 2010

Faith also guides the team of 20 volunteers from Dunnville’s Calvary Pentecostal Church, who are partnering with the Canadian charity Servant’s Heart Ministries, leave January 30 to spend a week in the Dominican Republic helping the three to five million Haitians there.
“They are considered non-people,” explained Rev. Jonathan Strutt.. “They have no rights to education, no rights to healthcare, government or social services.”
The team has been taking missions to help Haitians in the Dominican Republic for years and had planned to before the earthquake. This time, they are adding the delivery of dental, medical and hygiene supplies and children’s clothing (donated by community members and organizations) for Haitians and equipment for workers going into Haiti to their mandate. Items workers will receive include air mattresses (purchased with cash raised by congregation members) and tents. A cash donation will also be delivered. “We’re privileged to be able to help,” said Rev. Strutt, who called the team “dedicated and selfless.”
Joan McQuillen, the church’s secretary, said she was excited to leave. “When I heard (the news of the earthquake), I immediately thought about the impact it was going to have on our mission, and the impact on the Haitian people. This is God’s timing,” she said, adding the mission would now have a greater impact. It’s exciting. I can’t wait. What 20 of us can accomplish in one week is going to be incredible.”
The mission will be about many things, and the challenge is to look at the “big picture,” she said.

Dunnville's efforts in Haiti, Part 3

Before that happens, Haitians must have enough water to sustain them. That’s where Ancaster Rotarian Roy Sheldrick comes in. He has worked in Haiti for more than 15 years as leader of Haiti Water for Life, building wells to provide Haitians with clean drinking water, which is especially crucial to survival after disaster. While destruction and chaos abound, “water can keep you going,” said Sheldrick, adding not one of the 189 wells he had helped build previous to the earthquake was destroyed. “I’m so pleased,” he said. “That’s wonderful.”
But there is much work to be done to help the Haitian people, whose situation is “heartwrenching” to Sheldrick, who worked with many Haitians in Artibonite Valley, about 70 miles from the earthquake zone. The Albert Schweitzer hospital has become a point of refuge for Haitians, but is low on medical supplies. Sheldrick said doctors performing surgeries had run out of morphine and that proceeds would go to purchasing supplies and helping earthquake victims at the hospital. Though no one he knew died in the earthquake, 10 students sponsored by the Rotary Club survived. Two were missing, but were found and are expected to survive.
“I have no idea how they’re going to rebuild the lives of over one million people or what they’re going to do to replace (infrastructure).”
As for his contacts in Haiti, “they’re working 24 hours a day.”
The Canadian government is matching donations made between January 12 and February 12. Any donations handed to the Ancaster Rotary Club or other organizations dedicated to assisting disaster relief in Haiti will be eligible. Donors can give online through www.CanadaHelps.org or writing a cheque to the Rotary Club of Ancaster, 3-35 Stone Church Road, Ancaster, L9K 1S5. Contact Sheldrick at 905-648-4339.

Dunnville's efforts in Haiti, Part 4

Local businesses are getting in on the effort by donating equipment and encouraging their customers to donate cash.
Dunnville Rotarian Dr. Reza Kazemi said Grandview Lodge, Haldimand War Memorial Hospital and Dunnville and District Credit Union are taking donations to Doctors Without Borders, the Canadian Red Cross and the Albert Schweitzer hospital. They are offering fair trade products, including coffee and hot chocolate, free, to raise awareness about the importance of making the choice to support fair trade companies. Dr. Kazemi said long-term change needs to happen in third world countries and that the “tragedy” is that though there is much attention given to the nation now, “we just don’t learn. Our heart bleeds, we open our hearts, we give what we can, the news reports these poor people are having their legs and arms amputated…our approach is based on our bleeding hearts for the moment, not long term.” Citizens of developed countries must make better choices in the long term, he said, looking at their “effect on the environment and the effect on people. People give with one hand, buy a t-shirt made by a Haitian sweatshop, and they take away that help with the other hand. They contribute to the poverty in Haiti.”
Dunnville’s Canadian Tire store is joining its chain across Canada in donating outdoor living supplies, including hundreds of four-person tents, sleeping bags, flashlights and batteries and has agreed to supply outdoor living equipment and merchandise at cost through ONEXONE, a non-profit foundation whose mission is to preserve a basic quality of life for children locally and globally. 
John Macdonald, the owner of Cayuga’s Pizzazz Pizza and Wings, donated 25 per cent of Monday’s (January 25) sales to relief efforts, while Darnell Case, owner of Dunnville’s Squires Pizza, collected donations at his store the same day in the spirit of friendly competition to raise the most money to hand over to the Salvation Army, said Kathy Milligan, acting manager of Dunnville’s Salvation Army. Milligan said the organization has become a trusted drop-off point for people wanting to donate. The funds “go directly to people who need help,” she said, adding she has seen much local support from individuals and businesses for the cause. As for the fundraising effort of the two restaurants, Milligan said, “it’s nice to see Cayuga and Dunnville connect.”
The Salvation Army is still seeking donations of money, she said. “Every penny helps.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Olympic Spirit Arrives in Thorold

Watch in full screen

Come the beginning of December, excitement was brewing as the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay made its way across the country and finally, into Niagara December 20 and 21. I was lucky enough to not only watch the event first-hand in Thorold and be part of a great day, but also get some great shots.
Thorold being such a small town, it can sometimes fall through the cracks of local media here that have seen drastic cutbacks on staff and resources recently. But that doesn't mean it isn't worthy of as much recognition as larger cities, such as St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, receive. Thorold rarely gets its due despite the many volunteer committees (and in this case the organizing committee of the city's torch relay) who work hard here planning events year in and year out. It was a great place to be that Sunday. For many of us, including myself, it was a first opportunity to watch Olympic history up close. You can do grade school projects about the Olympics and watch them on TV a half-world away, but you really only experience the true meaning of Canadian pride after seeing the torch come to your town, in our case Canada's most patriotic city. Watching the bearers light the torch among a sea of Canadian flags is not something I'll soon forget. Much thanks go to the relay's organizing committee and tourism co-ordinator Terry Dow for accepting my offer to volunteer. Also thanks to the good people at the City of Thorold who showed my video at a council meeting tonight.
At the end of the video is a dedication to our current and past Olympic athletes and to the citizens of Thorold. Canada needs your support in 2010!
What does Canadian/Olympic pride mean to you? Is it watching the torch relay, buying the mittens and jerseys or just gathering 'round the TV to cheer on our athletes?
Find a couple of my pics on these links of the Niagara Economic Development website:
Thorold Economic Development - Quality of Life
Thorold Economic Development - Data Centre
Note: Comments are moderated, meaning they will be reviewed by me first before being posted, only to avoid spamming. But take a minute to tell me what you think and I will post!

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