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

Find this article at The Chronicle

Total Pageviews