Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How Could I Not Post This?

Philip, on Marriage Equality and what the U.S.A. stands for...

Don't you just want to jump through the screen, shake his hand and thank him?

Click HERE for an Monsters and Critics article on Philip.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Holiday Cheer!

Something amusing I found on the Wiki regarding Santa Claus and the mail he receives via the Canadian Postal Service. Anyone else think it's awesome?

Santa Claus

In 1974, staff at Canada Post's Montreal office were noticing a considerable amount of letters addressed to Santa Claus coming into the postal system, and those letters were being treated as undeliverable. Since those employees did not want the writers, mostly young children, to be disappointed at the lack of response, they started answering the letters themselves. The amount of mail sent to Santa Claus increased every Christmas, up to the point that Canada Post decided to start an official Santa Claus letter-response program in 1983. Approximately one million letters come in to Santa Claus each Christmas, including from outside of Canada, and all of them are answered, in the same languages in which they are written. Canada Post introduced a special address for mail to Santa Claus, complete with its own postal code:


In French, Santa's name translates as "Father Christmas", addressed as:


H0H 0H0 was chosen for this special seasonal use as it reads as "Ho ho ho".

As the H0- prefix would normally signify a rural area in Montreal, this portion of the postal code allocation is otherwise relatively empty. H0M, assigned to the Akwesane
Indian reserve, is the only other H0- postal code in active use.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Posting YouTube videos isn't normally my thing. The piece below was particularly entertaining and thought provoking.

Labour Day in Muskoka

Howdy all, it's been a while. Perhaps I've had nothing to say. Perhaps I've been distracted. Labour day came and went. Eric and I spent the long weekend in the Muskoka region of Ontario. Our friend Jeff hosted us and several others at his family's home on the Muskoka River near Bracebridge. 'Twas very relaxing-much like Redwood country north of San Francisco or the Sierras near Tahoe.
If the river looks crisp and refreshing to swim in-it was. Most of our time was spent on the dock and in the river...or sitting around the fire pit enjoying good conversation and the heat and light from the blaze.
Muskoka River, Bracebridge

Friday, August 7, 2009

Toronto Islands-Post City Worker Strike

Gratuitous Ferry-Leaving-Dock Shot
Now that the strike is over we can again hop onto the Island ferries and visit what one could describe as Toronto's Golden Gate or Central Park...the Toronto Islands. They are beautiful and, seemingly, no matter how large the hoards of people get that visit them, the islands are serene and relaxing. And we haven't been able to visit them for, I believe about forty days, because of the city worker union strike. Summer isn't all that long here in Ontario and I am certain many of us are glad to again have the ability to enjoy one of the city's most wonderful places while the warm seasonal temperatures remain. I know I am. Our plan, like many of the other folk-an afternoon picnic and pleasant several kilometer walk with friends. We all look a bit surly in the photos. Not quite sure how I managed to digitally capture such consistently negative facial expressions, but I was assured by one of the gang-the lad directly below-that we all did, indeed, have a good time.

One might imagine that I suggested to all they look as unhappy as possible for the photos. Not the case...
...we're about to eat. We should be smiling, right?

I've been told it's all about the bird. It's there-click on the pic.
Ah, the many ubiquitous angles from which one can photograph the city of Toronto.
My promise to myself; take no pictures of Toronto next time. Here I was standing on the shore near the ferry dock on Ward's Island. I turned around and, in contrast to the city, there lie one of the very cozy, very "New England-esque," "Cottage Communities" of the T.O. islands.
I had never a couple of us took a stroll.

Some "cottages" were shacks while others were grand homes. A bit too nestled together for my taste considering the hundreds of tourists walking amongst them on the concrete paths used for streets. Except for public services, no cars allowed on the islands. In my opinion, the least tranquil place on the islands.

A bike-wheelchair kind-of-thing.
A view from one of the cottages. And, below, a different kind of view of two of my buddies. They had a good time and are smiling-I assure you.
One last note. I know that Blogger is "free," but photo uploading is the worst. Considering they use Picassa Web Albums or whateveritiscalled, shouldn't it be a bit more user friendly? I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

U.S. Health Care Reform

O.K. So there is quite the talk south of the Canadian border regarding Health Care Reform. Leaning toward Socialism like I do, I fully support the idealistic dream that would start with the creation of universal ~comprehensive~ health care with a single payer system. Many false apologies to those of you who believe that there is a place for the many private health insurers in the U.S. I do not. As long as there is a profit motive cost reduction will not occur. No citizen of the U.S. should be without health care. None. Not the poor, or the unemployed, or the families of the unemployed. No one.

On the other side of the pond, England's NHS covers all residents and visitors also receive several (free) services. Why do I mention England? Simply because the U.S. GDP in 2008 was over 14 Trillion. The GDP of England? Not even two and a half Trillion (give or take a buck or pound). With a population of roughly 61 million, the NHS covers all its residents and provides several health care services to visitors (tourists) for free. Not so the U.S. system. No free coverage for visitors and upwards of 45 million of its own residents without coverage. Of the remainder, how many are underinsured?

Now let's look across our northern border. Canada's population? Approximately 34 million. Canada's GDP? 1.5 trillion. The Provincial Health care plans that make up the Canadian system cover all citizens, permanent residents and temporary foreign workers (certain conditions apply).

Let's compare the U.S. and Canada for a moment. 303 and 34 million people respectively with nominal GDPs at over 14 Trillion and approximately 1.5 Trillion (U.S bucks). And yet, all Canadians are covered AND health statistics and outcomes for Canadians as a population are better than those of the U.S. ...Oh, yeah, Canadians are paying per capita roughly half of what the U.S. is paying; $3173. vs. $6096. Eric and I can attest to the U.S. figure (your milage may vary). As part of a spread sheet comparison of health plans offered by his previous employer, we determined our yearly monetary health care spending. Premiums, deductibles, co-pays, costs for lab tests and prescriptions (did I leave anything out?) amounted to roughly the U.S. average. All rather baseline stuff. Nothing exceptional. I have had employer provided health care like most in the U.S. I have also been an independent contractor and had to provide and purchase my own individual health care policy. I have been lucky to be covered under my partner's employer provided health care plan. In the states I had to concern myself with pre-existing condition exclusions, health care coverage gaps, and each time I changed insurance providers I had to learn the new rules; what was covered, excluded, the limits, etc. I even had the indignity of having to pay taxes on my health care benefits as if they were income. For that, thank you to the U.S. Federal Government.

Much of what is told the U.S. population about the Canadian system is myth. The debunking of such misinformation can be found in articles on my "links" resources page under health care. As with much of life, they are all a little bit true. And the deeper one investigates the more, dare I say it, understandable these myths become and the less frightening they are.

I write this post in response to a current T.V. ad that is being aired in the U.S. One where a Canadian woman speaks rather poorly of her home country's health care system. She is pissing a lot of people off up here. For you see, Canadian medical tourism to the U.S. is one of those myths. Does it happen? Sure - which makes it a little bit true. But it is rare-which is one of the reasons she, the one in the T.V. ad, has no other Canadian company in her criticism. Out of 34 million people she is the exception, not the rule-and that is being generous. She was covered under the Canadian system and would have received treatment. No one - no doctor or bureaucrat denied her treatment because that never would have happened. The system here doesn't allow it. She *chose* not to wait and to pay out-of-pocket for treatment. There are quite a few folks up here asking for more details regarding her situation. People do, indeed, wait for treatment up here but only if the situation is not critical. Medical concerns requiring immediate attention are moved to the front of the queue. She may be one that fell through the cracks of an imperfect system. If that is the case I don't begrudge her opinion. If that is the case, should she be the example given of the Canadian health care system? I think not. The jury is still out.

Watching the health care circus south of the border makes my head spin for several reasons. Firstly, that in the U.S. the population still sees the current health care system as superior despite the fact that the numbers and outcomes do not support that conclusion. That society and businesses will greatly benefit if a universal single payer system is adopted in the U.S. but that it will not happen because of one lone exception that is being paid to shout out on U.S. television. That health care bankruptcies will continue to occur, that people will continue to worry over health care and have to compare and forecast the cost and benefits of company health care plans hoping to make the correct decision. How many more insurance forms and questionnaires will have to be sweated over and completed...?

Good questions all because, you see, I had to fill out no forms or compare plans living here in Canada. I have the same coverage as the CEO next door to me and the homeless person on the street corner. I have a private doctor and I pay less for my drug prescription (same name brand drug) than I would in the states without a drug plan (yes there are, and I have a, supplemental health plan(s) that include drugs). During the time I've lived here I have received more than adequate health care from both primary and a urgent care doctors and so have several of my Canadian and U.S. expat friends-among them situations including health maintenance, emergency care, cancer, and several on-going physical and mental treatments. I have confidence in the system here and I like that all I need do is hand my "Health" card over to be treated. I am not asked to fill out a form, I am not asked to update my insurance, I am not asked about payment. There are no deductibles or co-pays. No doctor will ever deny me treatment-and the provincial gov't assumes that if we decide I need a procedure it will be paid for. I could go on...

Canadians like to bitch about it, but as mentioned in one of the articles on my "links" page, they wouldn't give it up for anything. And the rules here are the same for everyone. Health care details are the same for everyone-doctors, patients, institutions and governments. This makes it really easy to bitch about specific health care treatment and delivery problems with pin-point accuracy. Those concerns affect us all so everyone has an interest. And that interest becomes loudly apparent. For Canadians, the issue isn't health care coverage but how to maximize its delivery and control costs. How many different insurance companies, plans, rules are there to navigate and manage in the U.S.? And one can play the U.S. health care game by the rules and still be denied a pay out for a treatment. Health care insurers in the U.S. clearly have an incentive to find ways to limit how much they pay for treatment. Not so much in regard to protect their subscribers, but to maximize shareholder returns on investment.

Point is, Universal Single payer health care is not all that scary folks. The benefits definitely outweigh the risks. Once U.S. moxie is part of the Universal Single Payer Health Care formula, what is there to fear?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Zoo Review - Toronto!

Sunday was our day to explore the Toronto Zoo. I am not the biggest fan of caging animals but an afternoon out in the sun touring a zoo's grounds and exhibits is rather pleasant. The T.O. zoo is huge and the grounds are very forest-like. We didn't stop to think that the Zoo on Sunday would be overwhelmingly crowded. It was.
Our time on the service road traveling north to the parking lot was over an hour. Accessing the parking lot by traveling Southbound from the North would be our unanimous suggestion. The Northbound traffic from the South, the way we came, was jammed while in the opposite direction it was almost non-existent.
Our buddy, John.
A candid shot of Eric.
Walking under the waterfall.
...which makes an obvious back drop and photo opp.

Sleepy kitty.

Feeding the Hippo.
Sleepy kitty #2.

It was a nice relaxing afternoon followed later by pizza delivery and board game playing at John's place. ...I won. :-)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Candian Health Care System

Here is a re-posting of an informative opinion piece written by a Canadian living in the U.S.A. who is familiar with both countries health care systems. Thanks to L-girl for recently posting this interesting and educational article on her blog, "We Move to Canada." I thought it an excellent addition to the three articles by Sara Robinson that I have listed on my "Websites/Links" post-the link to which you can find on the right side bar under, "Immigration." One can find them on that page under, " Canadian Health Care."

While the article is written without depth, it is no simpler than the black and white fear based lies that are constantly reported to the U.S. population. It does, however, contain an honest picture of the health care system north of the border. Taken as a whole, the information in all four health care articles listed on my resource page ring true based on my current experience with the Canadian system.

One aspect which I have not yet seen compared is the relaxed ease of use the Canadian population, at least here in Toronto, experience when accessing medical treatment. Patients do not concern themselves with payment and front-line medical workers are overwhelmingly pleasant and friendly. Follow-up calls are not rushed or frustrating and the staff on the other end of the phone are genuinely helpful. These are the interactions my partner and I have had.

Neither system is perfect, but the "facts" regarding Canadian health care being reported to the U.S. population are, for the most part and at best, stilted and misleading. While the Obama administration is attempting to overhaul and improve the U.S. system, (it) they are doing so without solid conviction, allowing the spread of fear that is based on a significant amount of nonsense.

Debunking Canadian Health Care Myths

Monday, June 15, 2009

Toronto Islands

Eric, our friend Dan and I took one of the harbour ferries to the Toronto Islands on Sunday. We weren't expecting to be so impressed with the experience. The park and the islands were incredibly green and clean. As always, click on a pic for a larger more detailed viewing.
There are several different beaches-all a bit different from one another. While there seemed to be an overwhelming number of people spending their day on the islands-just like us, the overall atmosphere was pleasant and serene. The park was very clean with one exception-the beach. We stopped and sat for a long moment on Hanlan's Point Beach-which is officially clothing optional.
Gibralter Beach.
Unfortunately, the sand at Hanlan's Beach was the dirtiest part of the park. I am not a fan of smoking, and, unfortunately there were cigarette butts and the like in the sand. Disgraceful. Butts should be viewed as littering as anything else. And fines handed out. The beach was still quite lovely, despite the nasty smokers and their discarded garbage. No pictures of Hanlan's because almost all around me were nude. Above is Gibralter Beach.
Near Centennial Pier
Central Plaza (not sure what it's really called)
Central Plaza again.
Near ferry terminal on Centre Island.
Walking bridge from Centre to Olympic Island.
Views of T.O. from Olympic Island.
We left the Islands incredibly impressed with Toronto. The Islands are an amazing resource. A treasure of a destination-an easy place to spend the day. There seemed to be a nook or cranny, a comfortable spot for everyone-serene and pleasant. Historically and recently there has been talk of building a bridge or tunnel from mainland T.O. to the Islands. Big mistake. I hope they never do it. Keep them just out of reach. Make the park just that more special by having to take a "ride" to get there. I look forward to returning in the near future.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Victoria Day Weekend Hike

Canadian immersion 101. Victoria Day. What's that? A day to celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday and a three day weekend in Canada to unofficially mark the beginning of Summer. Eric and I decided to explore Tommy Thompson Park, a.k.a. the Leslie Street Spit, located in the city of Toronto.
The Leslie Street Spit.
It's an iconic Canadian moment, smack dab in the biggest city in Canada. Eric and I are fairly used to seeing the lowest portion of trees protected from beavers with a wrapping of metal mesh. This was, I believe my first beaver lodge. I admit to not expecting to see one within city limits. Silly me, eh? 
There is the tiniest, pathetic utilitarian type light house at the end of the peninsula. I am sure it does the job. But it is clearly unloved. A sad sight for someone who lived in New England like myself, and has witnessed firsthand the adoration and worship of the lighthouses in that region.
The Spit is on the right in this picture. Eric and I hiked to the lighthouse and back. We haven't yet been to the Toronto Islands which can be seen on the lower left in this image.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

U.S. Expat Registration

Registering with the local U.S. consulate is a task every expatriate should do. I have been thinking and forgetting to do so for months now. It came to mind last night and I made a point to pull up the U.S. State Dept. website and complete their information request on behalf of myself and my partner, Eric. Visit the website if you haven't. There are several legitimate reasons to shout out to your government where beyond the U.S. border you are traveling or residing and for what duration.

All of this had me thinking about the protections granted the citizens of Rome when traveling. Apparently one needed only to announce that they were a Roman citizen when traveling to guarantee their own safety. No one dare cause a citizen of the Empire (Republic?) harm least a legion of Roman soldiers arrive to raze the hamlet or teach proper respect to the offending kingdom. Or so the story goes.

While not expecting an army sent to defend me or inflict punitive damages on those who dare to offend, the consulate is indeed there to help with unexpected and possibly serious concerns. They have even listed on the website the most commonly presented expat life challenges recognized as their usual day at the office.

So if you are an expat and haven't yet introduced yourself to your local consulate, consider doing so. Once you have completed the original series of information requests, there will be a box at the bottom which reads "add a foreign address" or something like that. If you are living outside the U.S. this would be the place to state where and for how long. One person can do this for all fellow travelers and/or relatives residing with them. Detailed passport information will be required.

Relationship status information is done by way of pull-down boxes.  They need to be updated as four states now allow same-gender marriage. While the U.S. federal government may not, as yet, recognize such marriages, I invite anyone concerned, straight or gay, to use the "comment" sections provided to question the state department's lack of comprehensive relationship categories.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Saturday at Niagara Falls

 A wonderful Saturday at Niagara Falls, Ontario with our friends, Tom and Emilio. Like a dolt, I, having had thought of our camera the entire morning before our drive south to the falls, completely forgot to bring it. Thanks to Tom and Emilio for allowing me to publish the photos they shot with us. I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on the experience, be it vicarious or not. 
We all had a great time. It was the first time to the falls for Eric and myself. Shocking, I know. I have to say I had built it up in my head. I was expecting so much more. The falls were impressive. So much water...
...but the atmosphere was very, very cheesy. Cheez Mosai, actually - as my friend, Roger would say. I felt like I was in Las Vegas again. And I thought there would be more to it than an afternoon. Alas, there was not. 
So glad we went. We had a wonderful afternoon with our friends, Emilio and Tom.
We all shared an incredibly expensive lunch, a great walk and view of the falls from several vantage points...
...a great cup of gelato at a local shop, and, of course, many laughs.
Obviously a good afternoon, eh?
It is difficult to believe that there is quite a bit more water they could allow to fall. So much of it is diverted away from the falls to create electricity at the hydro plant.
Imagine if it was ALL allowed to rush over the falls as in times past?