Saturday, September 23, 2006

Cops for Cancer
Sept. 22, 2006

In homes scattered around the Island, 21 amateur cyclists will be spending tonight preparing for what just may be the most significant athletic event of their lives. They will ride more miles, cry more tears and raise more money over the next two weeks than any of them would have thought possible mere months ago.
My own Tour de Rock ride for the Canadian Cancer Society is five years past now, and I doubt that I’ll ever grow so nostalgic as to forget how much hard work it was to get ready for that ride. But the power of the 1,000-kilometre journey has also stayed with me, as it no doubt has for every team of riders since the debut of the Cops for Cancer fundraiser nine years ago.
This year’s riders leave Victoria tomorrow for the van ride to Port Hardy, where the long and hilly ride south will begin first thing Sunday morning. For two intense weeks, they’ll ride several hours a day with no mind to the weather, and climb any number of daunting hills.
They’ll have their heads shaved and in turn shave the heads of others, and preside over dozens of raffles, draws, contests and car washes staged in their honour. They’ll ride past throngs of supporters in communities up and down the Island, and race tricycles and grocery carts across shopping-mall parking lots. They’ll pay sombre visits to cancer wards, looking for hope in the sad stories of worried families.
And along the way, they’ll raise more than a million dollars for children with cancer.
Team members are primarily police and emergency personnel. “Media riders” such as myself have been included in most of the annual rides, but it’s the police who are deservedly the stars of the event.
They’re given rock-star welcomes by the Island youngsters who cram into school gymnasiums to meet the team during the ride, and feted by countless community groups that have spent months raising money for the cause. I saw for myself the impact that it had on police to feel so beloved by their communities.
Police and media aren’t necessarily the best of friends, so one of the spinoff benefits of my ride of 2001 was getting to know the people behind the uniforms. As a group, police turned out to be a lot of fun, and they really get the team thing. I knew there were some mixed feelings initially among the group about having me along, but I never felt any less than a full member of the team.
The two-week ride from Port Hardy is the showy part of the Tour de Rock, but the real work is done in the months leading up to the trip.
Canadian Cancer Society reps essentially work year-round on the logistics of the ride, including developing the vital community connections that spawn the many fundraisers that are the backbone of the Tour de Rock campaign. Community groups get going on those fundraisers from almost the moment that the previous year’s Tour de Rock wraps up, with the goal of accumulating enough for an impressive cheque when the riders pass through town the following year.
The riders spend months getting ready as well. By May, tour riders are putting in at least 200 kilometres a week, a pace that continues right through the summer. Tour de Rock riders not only have to be fit enough to complete the ride, but to finish each day’s leg with enough energy to take part in the community events that are an essential component of the fundraiser.
I guess it’s for that reason that every memory I have of the summer of 2001 is related to training for Tour de Rock. Every aspect of my life - diet, head space, fitness level, sleep patterns - was determined by the need to prepare.
I started every shower with three minutes of ice cold water on my aching legs, in hopes that I could shock them back to life in time for the next training ride. I packed Power Gels with me wherever I went, having come to revere the weird little packets of goo for their ability to bring me back from the dead. I talked incessantly about hills, drafting and flat tires, and considered just about anybody’s advice on how to improve my performance.
And then one day, it was time for the tour. We were athletes by then, but the sporting prowess we’d spent all those hours developing quickly took a back seat to the real purpose of the ride once we were underway. Cops ride because cancer kills, and God bless them for it.
The ride’s a one-shot deal for those who take part in it, and I’m not so sure I’d want to do it again anyway. But my heart’s out there with the riders this weekend. I wish them the time of their lives.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Philippe Rushton and the "glass ceiling"
Sept. 14, 2006

If it wasn’t Philippe Rushton’s study, I probably could have worked up more of a head of steam over the latest “finding” that it’s lower IQs holding women back from those big corporate jobs.
But Rushton is just that wacky University of Western Ontario professor who’s always coming up with some one-off, offensive explanation for why things are the way they are. Getting riled up by one of his theories is barely worth the effort.
He’s something of a dream academic for people looking to justify discrimination. The psychology prof is known for his past work ranking Asian and European intelligence above that of the black races. His most recent study on the differences between men and women concluded that it’s “very likely” that the reason women aren’t advancing as rapidly in their careers is because they’re less intelligent than men.
Being called intellectually inferior by a guy like Rushton is practically a badge of honour. It means you and your kind are enough of a force to alarm people like him into developing crazy theories for why you ought to be oppressed. If Philippe Rushton is saying mean things about you, that’s most likely a sign that you’re doing something right.
“We have to find the truth about the normal distribution in society,” said Rushton about his study. “It’s not right to simply say, ‘It must be discrimination and don’t dare say anything else.’ One should really look at the facts.”
Absolutely. But in this case, the facts are that the way the world is being run is not so good.
Could it have something to do with men making all the big decisions with little input from women? I’d be just another Rushton if I postulated that. But you have to at least consider the possibility that the virtual absence of women in positions of power contributes to the problems plaguing the world these days. The world needs us, but we’re nowhere in sight.
I don’t mean to put men down. Collectively, their tremendous energy is what drives us forward into whatever frontiers may await. Men seem particularly good at being innovative and daring, and pushing the limits - all desirable skills in a complex society.
But female energy is equally important. I sense in the female nature a need to take the longer view. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the longer view is exactly what’s missing in the decisions being made around the big tables of the world. Women aren’t there, and a vital point of view is going unheard .
Just over a decade ago, people believed that such problems could be corrected by forcing women into positions of power, through a combination of affirmative action and aggressive recruiting campaigns. Former prime minister Jean Chretien even appointed women candidates just to get the numbers up, and corporations scoured their ranks for eligible females to elevate into big jobs.
It didn’t work. And as Rushton rightly notes, that isn’t solely because of discrimination. But neither is it about brain power (a fact underlined quite nicely by any number of really terrible decisions made by male corporate and political leaders over the years).
My sense is that it comes down to women being unable to find their fit in a system built exclusively by men. Such an issue will take care of itself when the number of women holding big jobs reaches a point of critical mass, but we’ve yet to get even close to that.
And so women taking on those big jobs continue to be expected to either “take it like a man” or step aside - which they’ve done in droves despite some really sincere attempts to propel them through the glass ceiling.
On the one hand, Rushton et al might shrug off such examples as confirmation that women simply don’t have the right stuff for the job. All the more proof why men should continue to rule the world.
On the other, we are in crisis on any number of fronts around the globe, including our own country. We’ve made a number of really wrong decisions that are going to cause our children and grandchildren a great deal of grief in the coming years, whether that be in the form of fallout from a war in the Middle East or just the slow decay of our social fabric. If this is how men run the world, then women simply have to get more involved.
How will it happen? Ultimately, governments and businesses will have to see that it’s in their own interests to tap into the female skill set. They have to want us in our own right. Affirmative action can launch the process, but it will take a deep and widely held belief in the need for more female energy to sustain the effort. I hope I live long enough to see that.
In the meantime, cheers to Philippe Rushton. As always, his comments make the need for change just that much more obvious.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Dying on your own terms
Sept. 8, 2006

Neither John nor Lorna McCadden are alive to tell us their version of events from that particularly awful day last week at Penticton Regional Hospital. The two of them alone know the truth of what happened.
Judge the shootings by the facts of that day, and it’s a murder-suicide. John shot his wife in the head while visiting her at the hospital on Aug. 30, then killed himself. There’s no way to know whether Lorna wanted to be killed. Initial news stories focused on the level of hospital security and recalled other murders in B.C. hospitals.
But step back from the moment, and the facts tell a different story. In that version, John was a tired old man growing sicker all the time, and his beloved Lorna was about to be dispatched permanently to a nursing home. In his mind, at that moment, dying just seemed like the cleanest way to wrap things up.
That two old, failing lovers might choose to die together rather than see their lives slip beyond their control doesn’t seem like any kind of stretch for me. Still, there’s great tragedy in the deaths of John and Lorna just the same, if only because we live in a country where people feel driven to such drastic actions.
August had been a month of tremendous change for the McCaddens. John, 77, had been hospitalized after suffering a series of small strokes. Lorna, 80, was brought into hospital through emergency. The couple had been able to visit each other while in hospital together, but then John was discharged, and Lorna given the bad news that she would never be going home.
John talked about having to move now that Lorna was going into care, the couple’s landlord told the Penticton Herald last week. John knew he was soon going to need care himself; since the strokes, he’d noticed his memory failing.
What would you do in his shoes? I guess we’re supposed to treasure life over everything else, and be glad for extreme medical interventions, care homes and assisted living to tide us through our final years. But what if you prefer to die on your own terms?
It’s too political of a subject for us to contemplate as a nation. We’re no closer to having a law that lets us choose to die than we were when Sue Rodriguez was killed in the glare of public scrutiny 12 years ago trying to get us talking about assisted suicide.
We’ve quietly come a considerable distance on some fronts, to the point that dying people in tremendous pain seem sometimes to be ushered from the world slightly quicker with the help of prescription drugs. I saw my own father eased out in his final hours in what appeared to be just such a way, a most merciful development.
But for those who don’t have pain, there’s no easy ending. If your diagnosis is a one-way trip to long-term care, that’s where your story is likely going to end.
Personally, I hope to be dead before it ever comes to that - ideally, grown old and wise and then simply found dead in bed one morning after a full and pleasant life. If that’s not possible, I’d still like to think I could work out something less traumatic than having my husband kill me in hospital, but I could see myself resorting to such a measure were things to come to that.
What to do about euthanasia is obviously too big a question for Canadians. Even in the Rodriguez years, we barely scratched the surface of public policy. It’s just so hard to know what to do about people wanting to kill themselves, not the least of which is determining whether they really want to.
But surely old, sick people are in a different category. If we aren’t yet ready to come to grips with euthanasia as a whole, surely we can still find dignified ways for aging people to choose death when they can no longer maintain their tenuous hold on a diminishing life.
“The only thing we really don’t know is the motive,” a Penticton RCMP officer said of the McCaddens’ death, as if the couple’s pending loss of independence, good health and a future together wasn’t explanation enough. Two people dying in such a public, ugly way is a terrible thing, but that’s not to say there’s much of a mystery as to why John did it.
Good arguments can be mounted from either direction: That the McCaddens needed a better care system that supported them as a couple until their natural deaths, or equally, one that would have let them die with dignity. The reality is that we don’t provide either option. Desperate old men are left to gun down the loves of their lives in brutal spectacle.
“It’s just a real shame,” said Lawrence Isaac, the McCaddens’ landlord. It really is.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tofino runs out of water
Sept. 1, 2006

Any number of painful lessons can be learned from Tofino’s current water crisis. Accidents happen, but this was no accident. Everyone in town should have seen this coming.
The extreme nature of the crisis is undeniable. Tofino’s economy is almost fully dependent on tourism. Shutting down the town’s accommodation and restaurant services mere days before one of the biggest tourist weekends of the summer is a truly drastic, desperate thing to do.
But while the summer has indeed been hot and dry for much of the Island, Tofino’s crisis was in the works long before now. This is the third summer in a row that Tofino has fretted about its dwinding water supply. That nothing has changed serves as yet another sobering reminder of what happens when communities fail to act.
Tofino acted in its own way, mind you. Two years ago, its citizens voted against improvements that would have brought more water into the town. Reports in the Tofino media from that time speculated that the failure might have been due to voters perceiving a “yes” vote as support for more development.
Had the vote been favourable, the upgrades would have been completed by this summer. That irony must be resonating unpleasantly these days with what has to be an outraged group of tourism operators.
This week came news of a University of Victoria study that concluded B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve is being nibbled away by regional development - the result of a policy shift that put ALR decisions into local hands without considering the province-wide impact.
Then came reports that Tofino had run out of water.
They’re really the same story: More people equals more pressure on resources. Whether it’s farmland or water at risk of disappearing, the cause is ultimately people.
Tofino’s story is, again, a little different, as the town is located in a rainforest known for getting as much as three metres of rain a year. More reservoir capacity alone will solve a lot of what ails Tofino.
That could indeed end up fuelling even more development. But if voting down the 2004 water-improvement referendum was intended as a vote against more development, what got overlooked was that the preceding years of growth had already begun to tap out the Tofino water supply in the summer months.
Tofino’s last water upgrade was 15 years ago. If you’ve been to the town even a handful of times in that period, you’ll know that much has changed in those years.
The town’s year-round population is a modest 1,700, but as many as 22,000 people take up temporary residence during July and August. That’s a whole lot of water flushed and showered away and a significant amount of hotel laundry washed. While Tofino can’t really afford the drain of all that activity on its limited water supply, much of the town pins its hopes on just such an influx of visitors.
In 2004, Tofino council lamented about a hot, dry summer while the town teetered on the brink of a water shortage serious enough that major across-the-board cuts in water use were contemplated. In 2005, council again lamented about a hot, dry summer and added two stages to its previously four-stage water-crisis plan.
This week, while once again lamenting a hot, dry summer, Tofino council invoked Stage Five. All lodging and food-service businesses were ordered shut down by the Labour Day weekend. In the event of a Stage-Six crisis, no water use by anybody will be permitted to ensure a supply for fire-fighting.
Another creek has been dragged into service for some Tofino residents, but they’ve been advised to boil the water from it. The heavily cedar-tinted creek water also has a reputation for staining clothes in the wash, which people first learned about when the water almost ran out in 2004.
Such inconveniences are nothing compared to the losses facing the Tofino tourism industry this week, which is reeling from the edict to close up shop. With just three days notice of the closure before the Labour Day crowds were to arrive, businesses will be on the hook for any number of costs related to cancelled trips, sub-par vacations and various other disappointments. (God help any hotel that had booked a wedding for the weekend.)
In the short term, Tofino merely has to come up with a way to catch more rain in the fall and winter months to solve its problem. Had that been done several years ago when concerns were first identified, there would be no issue now.
But with a million-dollar disaster now pressing down on the Tofino tourism industry, the lesson that will linger most bitterly is of the high price of doing nothing.