Telling the story of my life in my home - Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Connecting to the World

The email was clearly not in English.

In fact I wasn’t entirely sure what the language was, and I would have entirely ignored it had I not caught three words that meant something to me: Zhen Shan Ren. I copied the entire email, pasted it into an online translator, and connected with a blog reader from across the world.

It is always a remarkable feeling when something you have written reaches an audience you didn’t even know existed. It is even more remarkable when that audience reaches out to you and tells you what your written words have meant to them. In the past couple of weeks this has happened to me repeatedly as the blog post I wrote about the recent Art of Zhen Shan Ren International Exhibition at the MacDonald Island Community Art Gallery spread around the globe.
It all began when the post was shared on a Facebook page devoted to the exhibition. The administrator of that page contacted me to let me know she had posted it there, and I was delighted to see that it was being well received. I was even more delighted, though, when emails began to pour in from several points across Europe, all connecting over an incredibly profound art exhibition that had tremendous impact on me. But the readers didn’t just drop by to read that post. Some of them stayed to read about a little community in northern Canada, far removed from their worlds and a world apart – and then they contacted me with questions.

Some of them wanted to know about job opportunities here. Some wanted to know about life in northern Canada. One asked if I had ever seen a polar bear (the answer is no, they are found much further north). Almost all of my new correspondents expressed interest in our community and in life here. Most had never been to Canada – and most had never heard of Fort McMurray.
You never, ever know what will happen when you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. A little post, heartfelt and written after you have experienced something deep and meaningful, can connect to a far wider audience than you expect. Even more than that, though, it can mean that you have introduced someone from far away to your community – not through a magazine article written by a visiting journalist, not through a documentary filmed by a visiting film crew, but through a community resident who lives here, works here, plays here and has found her heart here.

In the past two weeks I have welcomed several “virtual visitors” to Fort McMurray. The found me – and us – through this blog, and I am once again humbled by the opportunity to share my story of life here every day with you and with them. On occasion I have wondered if this blog had meaning – and on days like today I suppose I feel it does.
On days like today I open my email and find yet another email in a language that is not English, and I translate it quickly to discover a new correspondent – and a chance to continue my small effort to connect Fort McMurray with the world.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Is This Legal? Graffiti, Guerrilla Art and a Simple Question

Sometime the best discoveries aren't the ones I have made at all. They are the ones that filter their way to me through friends and acquaintances, often culminating in an email or conversation that starts with: "Did you see this?". This happened to me recently when a friend sent along a photo that proved very thought-provoking, sending me off on a tangent as I considered the nature of graffiti, vandalism and art.

Yes, I used the words "graffiti", "vandalism" and "art" in the same sentence as on occasion you see something that stops and make you think about the complexities words like this bring. The "something" I saw was this:

Photo Credit to Carolyn Murray

For the record that is plastic wrap stretched between two trees and then spraypainted. No buildings, trees or property were harmed during this creation, which seems to have prompted the creator to ask this:

Photo Credit to Carolyn Murray

Is this legal? I suppose technically this would could be considered littering and punishable on those grounds. Vandalism does not seem to apply as no permanent property or structure was involved, but if one wanted to be precise and adhere strictly to the law then I suppose this is "illegal" as the creator has "littered". But then I began to think about another creative pursuit, one that I have several friends involved in and that looks like this:

Yarn bombing and crochet graffiti are a huge hit in many urban centres, brightening up the landscape with the work of fibre artists who adhere their intricate creations onto trees, lampposts, bike racks, railings and more. Legal or illegal? Technically littering but also a work of "guerrilla art" designed to evoke smiles and bring cheer to dull landscapes.

And then I thought of this:

It is called "guerrilla gardening", and it is the work of those who use spaces such as this as the canvas for their works of living (and often edible) art. Legal? Technically the space belongs to someone else, I suppose, and one could claim vandalism.

The reality is that we have a graffiti problem in this community. The problem, however, is not the type of creation but the place where it is being created. Graffiti on the side of a building, defacing it and affecting the tone of the neighbourhood around it, is clearly vandalism and cannot be tolerated. But graffiti on plastic wrap stretched between two trees, yarn knitted onto a bike rack or flowers planted under a grate? I think these are examples of creativity and - yes - art, that we should encourage and applaud.

To the creator of the local plastic wrap graffiti I want to say thank you for the creative idea, for sharing your work and for asking the question: "Is this legal?". 

I don't know the answer, but I know this: I think it is a terrific way to build a bridge in this community between those who create graffiti and those who want to keep it off their property. I think perhaps what we might want to do is invest in a whole lot of plastic wrap and invite the creators of graffiti to enjoy their new canvas while we enjoy the results of their creative expression. One simple question can sometimes provide the simple solution to a complex question, and we should never be closed to the possibility of exploring those solutions, even if they seem far, far too simple indeed.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Two Canadian Muggles in Diagon Alley

You walk through a brick entryway, close enough to the King's Cross railway station to suspect you are in the right place, but there is no obvious signage. If you haven't looked at the map you might wonder what is behind the brick, because although the map shows it for the aimless and mapless wanderer it is something you simply stumble upon.

You pass through the brick entryway, a diagonal slant one way and then another...and then there it is. A whirl of people and shops and a feast for the eyes as everywhere you look, every detail, is perfect.

You are a muggle who has found the elusive Diagon Alley of Harry Potter fame.

One of the things about which I am asked most about during our recent holiday is our visit to Universal in Orlando and Diagon Alley, the new Harry Potter-themed "neighbourhood" in the park. While Hogsmeade had been present at Universal's Islands of Adventure for some time, Diagon Alley opened up just recently at Universal Studios Orlando, and since the opening it has proven to be a smash success - and I am not surprised.

The story floating around Orlando as told to me by a cab driver is that Warner Brothers, owners of the Harry Potter movie series and rights, were originally in talks with Disney to build a Potter-themed park. Disney after all has substantial property available, but talks broke down - the driver speculated it was because Disney has a  certain way of doing things, and one not all other corporations can agree with. Warner Brothers then began talks with Universal, and the successful culmination of these talks has resulted in a theme park that is, well, to coin a phrase, a bit magical.

One of the hallmarks of a Harry Potter fan is their attention to details. The Intrepid Junior Blogger can recite minute details from the books, things that baffle me as while I read the series long before she dived into them I don't think I memorized the details in quite the same manner. But her "fandom" includes knowing those details, having a strong sense of every single one, and it seems the designers of Diagon Alley do too.

From the architecture of the buildings to the costumes of the staff members every detail makes you believe you are in Diagon Alley. You can stop for a butterbeer (and you should, as they are delicious), you can have lunch at The Leaky Cauldron, and you can shop at Ollivander's to find your wand. You can visit Gringrotts Wizarding Bank and you can even wander through Knockturn Alley (where you will find Borgin and Burkes, the darker side of the wizarding world). In just a few short moments you can truly feel immersed in the world of Harry Potter and his friends.

Now, while it is magical for children as someone who has learned a bit about marketing in recent years I saw it through those eyes, too. It is a magnificent example of how to part adults from their money, as witnessed by the thousands of people cramming into the shops to buy Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, Golden Snitches, brooms, wands, wizard robes, stuffed animal "familiars", quill pens, notebooks, key chains, hats, sweaters, scarves, gloves...if you can think of it then it has been produced and is being marketed (I say as I drink my morning coffee from my new cauldron-shaped coffee mug, purchased at Scribbulus, the stationery shop in Diagon Alley). I have not yet added up the receipts for all the items we purchased over the two days we spent at Universal, most of it in Diagon Alley. I suspect we came home with one of everything Slytherin, the house to which the Intrepid Junior Blogger insists she would be sorted (she suggests I am Hufflepuff, which I think is meant to be a slight insult but I think there could be far worse things than being considered loyal). That Diagon Alley is a genius of marketing should not be doubted for a second, and I would suggest muggles and their money will quickly be parted when fans of all ages enter the shops and the squealing begins.

But this should not detract from the magic, either. I suppose it truly presented itself to me not through the buildings or retail offerings but the staff employed in the shops who are immersed in Harry Potter lore. When we went to Ollivander's Wand Shop I did not initially plan to get a wand, right until I met the lovely older lady in the shop.

"What do you love to do?", she asked me. "I'm a writer," I replied, and she pulled out a slim burgundy coloured box containing a slender wand. "Reed," she said. For those good with words, steadfast in their beliefs but fair. Dragon heartstring core - a wand for you, I think," she said, and dropped it into my hands without another word, no admonishment to buy.

(According to the Hogsmeade branch of Ollivanders Wand Shop, reed wands were best suited to those who were bold and were eloquent speakers, and proved to be very protective friends. Coupled with a core of dragon heartstring, the owner's loyalty would be greatly admired by their friends. - from the Harry Potter wiki)

I took the wand out and felt it, ran my fingertips along its length, and finally put my right hand around its grip, finding it resting almost perfectly there - and then I bought it, along with the wand that had chosen the IJB.

We spent two days at Universal Studios, and while we visited other rides and other areas of the parks, including travelling between them on the Hogwart's Express which ferries guests between the two parks (another marketing genius as it encourages the additional purchase of the park-hopper option as the only way to ride the Express is to have the pass) it was Diagon Alley that captured us in every way. The most time we spent was in Diagon Alley, where we immersed ourselves in the wizarding world, two Canadian muggles far from home  -  except for anyone who has read Harry Potter or watched the movies it felt like home somehow, too.

There is one strange thing about Diagon Alley, though. We entered as muggles but I think somehow we left as witches. Perhaps that is the real magic of Diagon Alley and the entire Harry Potter world - because every single muggle knows in their heart that they are a wizard. Sometimes you just need to spend some time in a wand shop to know for certain.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bringing the Stolen Sisters Into the Light

I recall the conversation very well. I was researching a story on missing and murdered Aboriginal women for a local paper, and when I reached out to one of my sources they said two words I never anticipated.

Human trafficking.
I recall pausing as my mind processed it. Surely they were kidding, I thought. Human trafficking was something you saw in movies and television shows, not something that actually happened and certainly not in Canada. As gently as they could, however, my source disabused me of this belief by explaining that human trafficking is real and present and suspected to be responsible for at least some of the disappearances of Aboriginal women over the last few decades in our country.

I felt sick.
I felt sick once again when I read the story of a young Aboriginal woman found in a river in Winnipeg. The young woman was only 15, the same age my Intrepid Junior Blogger is about to turn this year, and my stomach churned at the thought of this fragile young life ended far too soon and in this horrific manner, discarded like trash.

There is something very, very wrong going on in our country. When I lived in northern Ontario I had a close friend who grew up on one of the reserves in the far north, accessible only by air or ice road. She told me of women who went missing from her reserve, never to be seen again. When the disappearances were reported to authorities, she said, they were told that perhaps these women had simply left abusive spouses or parents and chosen to not return. The concerned friends and families were served platitudes and false reassurances, and little was done to address their fears. There were no search parties, no investigations, no police reports. There was silence.
Many of those who disappeared never returned, their fates unknown, leaving behind family and friends who grieved a loss with the accompanying pain of just not knowing where they had gone or why. When my friend shared these stories she would ask if I thought such a thing would happen if a white woman in our town went missing, and we both knew the answer to that question, as we had seen the intense level of searches that took place when white women went missing across this country and continent. I didn’t know how to comfort her, because there was no comfort to be found.

Just recently our Prime Minister once again denied the need for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in our country. This denial indicates a total lack of concern and understanding of what these disappearances and deaths are doing in the communities across our country. Mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters – all gone without a trace, ripping apart the fragile fabric of families and destroying lives.
The time has come for a full national public inquiry into this issue, because the suffering has gone beyond the point of being tolerable. This is not an Aboriginal issue or a women’s issue – this is a human issue that touches all of us in Canada. My own lack of knowledge about the topic saddens me, just as I was saddened to learn of the existence and prevalence of human trafficking. I suspect so many Canadians are in the dark about what is happening right in our own country, and this public inquiry would not only expose the darkness to the light but if given enough power and authority could take the initial steps towards addressing the causes of these disappearances.

Here is what I know, though. Denying an inquiry is equivalent to denying the problem exists, pretending that there are not hundreds of Aboriginal women who are missing. Denying it pretends that lives are not being lost while thousands of other lives are not being destroyed. Denying it is, quite simply, not showing the leadership we need in this nation, and I am profoundly disappointed in a Prime Minister who believes denial is the right path to addressing any issue.
In this region we now have a new MP representing us in Ottawa. I would suggest this should become one of his primary issues, particularly given our strong Aboriginal communities in this region and the way this issue has touched the lives of those who reside there. This issue is not some distant topic of discussion – it is real and tangible and it is plaguing Canada, including northern Alberta.

 It is time for David Yurdiga to issue a statement expressing support for the missing and murdered women of this country as well as his constituents and request that his government order a public inquiry to serve the people of this nation. To do anything else – to deny, to ignore, to look away – is to deny, ignore and look away from the tears of thousands and thousands of Canadians, and frankly our stolen sisters in this country deserve far, far better than to remain in the darkness. It is time to bring them, and the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in this nation, into the light.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How Does McMurray React to Celebrity Visitors?

Sometimes the best place to be to observe your hometown is thousands of miles away. Being in another place can just provide a new perspective, and this past week I was far, far away as I watched the reaction as yet another in a long and growing string of celebrities came to town.

The news that Leonard DiCaprio was in Fort McMurray seemed to set the town on fire, with the main reactions running along certain themes. Social media reaction was particularly intense, with Twitter all a-twitter about the arrival of this hero of the big screen and speculation as to his reason for visiting. The main themes of reaction I identified were:

OMG, Leonardo DiCaprio is here!

Somehow in my head this written sentiment was always accompanied by small squeals of delight (and occasionally the distinct sound of heavy breathing). These were clearly the Leo fans, the ones who sent him tweets asking him to come to their ballgame/visit their house for dinner/hold their hand/attend their wedding/date their sister/etc, etc, etc. It made me wonder if this ever works and if these celebs just show  up the occasional bar mitzvah just for the amusement value. These reactions were similar to the "OMG, I cannot believe Leo is in town when I am out of town", which is one I understand as I will never forget the look I received from the Intrepid Junior Blogger when I casually mentioned DiCaprio was in Fort McMurray. It seems all the "out of town while he is visiting" folks hoped that if only they were in town they would get a chance to hold Leo's hand (although from early reports of his visits it seems spontaneous hand-holding was at a minimum).

Go the hell back to Hollywood, you hypocrite.

Ouch. While I get the feelings behind this particular reaction I think it is very poor strategy on our part to tell visitors of any kind to leave. That kind of hospitality isn't likely to leave a good impression on anyone, and if that is going to be how we greet visitors to our home I despair our lack of good manners. There was also a good deal of assumption behind this one, because while DiCaprio has shown some evidence that he may not provide a glowing report on the oil sands nothing indicated that he would be unfair or unjust, either.

Simply because one uses fossil fuels does not mean one cannot express concerns about the environment. Hell, I live here and I express these concerns as well, and about ensuring our industry strives for excellence in environmental practices and sustainability. One would hope that DiCaprio acknowledges the heavy reliance of the world, including the industry in which he achieved his fame, on oil and talks about lessening that reliance as opposed to rhetoric about shutting down the evil oil sands.

Legitimate concerns, legitimately expressed, should be welcomed in the dialogue as we share this planet - and I like to think we will also welcome visitors as regardless of their feelings on our industry every visitor is an opportunity for our community to shine.

Why care what DiCaprio thinks? Who gives a damn?

Well, here's the thing: there are people who do care what he thinks, like his millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. They are reading and listening to what he says, and even if he is not an expert in the oil sands they may be giving some weight to his opinions. The internet has been the great leveller, meaning that all opinions regardless of genesis are often given equal weight, meaning that the opinion of a scientific expert may well be viewed with the same degree of legitimacy as that of an actor. Is this fair? Probably not, but as your momma may have said the world ain't fair, either. That's why industry must continue to improve in telling their story of innovation and excellence, because if they don't tell it they will be drowned out by those telling a different story - or just making one up.

People like DiCaprio, James Cameron, Robert Redford and Neil Young have what we call "reach". They have access to a far wider audience than most of us, and therefore the narrative they tell may well be the one that becomes associated with us in the minds of their followers. If you have never heard of Fort McMurray before and then one day at a farmer's rally someone like Young stands up and uses two words in a sentence - Fort McMurray and Hiroshima - the image you come away with of this place is less than stellar. And why does it matter what some person thousands of miles away thinks of us?

Because we are not an island unto ourselves. We are still trying to attract new residents to help us build this community, and if what you are hearing is that Fort McMurray is like Hiroshima then you may not answer that job ad looking for new physicians for Fort McMurray. Whether we like it or not what people think about our community has the potential to impact us, as does what these individuals with reach say about us. If we can help them, through our magnificent hospitality, friendliness and transparency, say: "I still have serious concerns about the oil sands industry, but man, the people of that region are terrific and I respect their community" then we will have accomplished a great deal (which is why reaction two has the potential to damage us, too).

I am so sick of Leonardo DiCaprio.

This reaction amused me. These visits are fleeting and the excitement they engender disappears quickly, but the impact can last a very long time, which is why we need to do our damnedest to make a good impression on these visitors before they leave - and I don't just mean celebrity visitors, either. I have invited total strangers to join me for coffee on learning they are from out of town, because every single one is a chance to change and direct the narrative about our community, if not our industry.

Welcome to Fort McMurray.

I was truly and genuinely pleased to see this reaction expressed so clearly and often. There were several variants - welcome and be kind to us please, welcome and spend some time getting to know us, welcome and please come hold my hand - but each one embodied the sort of grace and dignity one would hope from a region that has nothing to hide, nothing of which to be ashamed, and such tremendous spirit and energy to share. It shows an openness, a willingness to treat each new visitor as an individual, a respect for them and their desire to visit us to learn more. Yes, we might still get burned, but every chance you don't take is a chance you have lost. I have now done dozens of interviews about Fort McMurray, and on some I have been burned when the end product vilified us - but I will never regret doing a single one or outright reject doing another, because each one is a chance, even if just the slimmest chance, to write our own narrative of life here, and I believe in taking every chance life gives you. I know in the back of our heads we are often hearing The Who's classic "Won't Get Fooled Again", but we manage to closet our cynicism and instead put our best foot forward as we welcome yet another visitor to our region. I think that alone says a great, great deal about the incredible nature of this community and the people who call it home.

It was intriguing to watch the entire thing go down from afar, although the IJB felt far less positive about it. When I informed her Leo had left town - while we were still in Florida - she looked at me and growled, "Nice timing for a holiday, Mom" and scowled.

Sigh. I guess she thought she was gonna hold his hand while he toured the oil sands, too.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Welcome to Fort McMurray, Leo

Greetings Mr. DiCaprio,

Last night my social media feed exploded with the news that yet another celebrity was visiting our region - in this case, you. There was a great deal of excitement - after all, you are a well regarded actor, respected for your work. And then there's that whole "hottie" thing, which made my own Intrepid Junior Blogger, who normally ignores all things Hollywood, demand we cut short our Florida vacation to rush home on the mere chance she may get to glimpse your face (as much as I love my kid, though,we will return as scheduled). But I know you aren't in the Wood Buffalo region to film a movie or meet fans - you are there to learn about the oil sands.

Did you notice how I welcomed you to "Fort McMurray"? That's because I am welcoming you to our home, a community much like any other in North America. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo might encompass the oil sands projects, but Fort McMurray is the bustling little city at the heart of the region. Now, some recent visitors have had some trouble differentiating between industry and community, going so far as to compare Fort McMurray to Hiroshima and then when challenged claiming that everyone knows that when you say Fort McMurray you mean the oil sands.

Not everyone knows that, Mr. DiCaprio. In fact within the urban limits you will not find one oil sands site or project. While the community is heavily involved in the industry, as all resource based communities are, it is not synonymous with the industry, a key point to remember. Fort McMurray is home to thousands of people, including families and individuals of every demographic. Our culturally diverse and vibrant community is something of which we are justifiably proud. We have built a resilient, energetic and strong community in Canada's north, and while you may have concerns about our industry you would do well to acknowledge and recognize that.

About those concerns regarding industry? Well, you aren't alone. Many of the people in this community share the belief that we need to ensure our industry is as environmentally friendly as possible, pursuing every innovation to improve what we do while we continue to meet the world demand for our product - because until an alternative is found the demand will not end. We have a responsibility to do it right, but simply "shutting off the tap" won't solve anything, and it won't just impact the people of my community but the people of communities across North America who rely on our industry for associated employment - and for the oil we produce.

I hope you get the opportunity to meet some of the local people. I don't just mean the ones from industry, either. Speak to people in our hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and businesses. What you are likely to find is that we are no different from any other place. Our home is not perfect, but we love it regardless and have chosen this place to live, work and play. Some may stay only for the jobs, but others - like me - have stayed because we have been so overwhelmed by a community of such generosity, with a can-do spirit and energy unparalleled in our experience.

I'm not expecting you will come away with a glowing report on how wonderful the industry is. I hope you will be balanced and fair and avoid the use of hyperbole and exaggeration and rhetoric. What I truly hope, though, is that while you see the industry you also see the community, a place where your visit has created both excitement and trepidation as we fear being maligned as has happened far too often in the past when "celebrities" have visited. 

I welcome your visit and your opinion of our industry, and I will give your opinion the consideration and respect it deserves as we all have the right to hold and express one - but I hope you will give Fort McMurray - my home and my community - the consideration and respect it deserves as well when you speak of us after you leave. As a visitor to my home I don't think that's too much to expect, and I have  faith that you will extend that consideration and respect to us, because frankly you don't seem like the kind to be a rude guest who slams his hosts as soon as he has closed their front door behind him.

Welcome to Fort McMurray, Mr. DiCaprio. Enjoy your stay, fill yourself with the knowledge you seek and if you happen to see a petite, beautiful kid with salmon-coloured hair and a t-shirt with some sassy slogan about science that would be my kid (a kid who shares your concerns about the environment, our world and the oil sands industry). Maybe you could give her a wave - because she adores you and she loves her home, too. Please don't disappoint her - or us, your hosts in the community of Fort McMurray. Enjoy your stay.

Warmest regards,

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ice, Fundraising, Disease and Cynicism

If you've been on any form of social media in the last week you've seen it. My feeds have been filled with the videos, overflowing with them in fact, much like, well, a bucket of ice water. The ubiquitous ice challenge to raise funds and awareness for ALS has not only filled social media with videos but with controversy as people debate the angles: Does this really help with awareness of ALS? Is it right to put people on the spot to donate to a charity when they may prefer to give to a different cause? Is this kind of viral fundraising a form of "slacktivism"? Are people just jumping on the bandwagon and forgetting the cause at its heart? Or is this a form of clever and inspired fundraising, designed to take advantage of social media, peer pressure and our herd mentality, using them for good?

Here's where I stand: I don't think there is one "right" answer, but I think the cynicism is a bit overblown given the very success of the phenomenon.

I think the ice challenge has done a great deal to raise at least some degree of awareness of ALS. It is a disease with which I am familiar not through personal experience as thankfully it has spared my family and friends but through my fascination with disease and disease processes (little known fact about me: when I was younger I toyed with the idea of a career in virology, the study of those tricky little viruses that plague us, literally). ALS is one of the terrifying ones, a disease that destroys individuals, families and lives, but one that is far too often in the shadows as it is not exceptionally common. The ice challenge has ensured that even those who have never given it much thought have heard the acronym, and there is some degree of success in that alone, I think.

There have been those who suggest it is wrong to put people on the spot for a cause such as this, as perhaps the cause closest to their heart is another disease or issue, and I suppose I see some validity in that line of thought, although donating to one cause does not preclude donating to another.

And then there is the charge of slacktivism and bandwagon jumping. I suppose both are true to some degree, but what true harm - I mean real, genuine harm - comes from a fundraiser of this nature? Slacktivism in this case seems preferable to nothing-ivism, and I've seen people jump on worse bandwagons and with far more detrimental effect. Perhaps there are those who will dump a bucket of ice on their head, not donate a cent and never give it another thought. Or perhaps it will inspire a few people - just a few - to look up ALS on Wikipedia and learn more. I would suggest if it encourages even a few to educate themselves or donate then it has had a beneficial effect, and perhaps our cynicism, while understandable, should be toned down a bit.

Is it clever and inspired fundraising? I would say yes, and it has effectively utilized social media to achieve a goal. Will it be a distant memory in a few weeks? I would also say yes, but the benefits will linger both in terms of the money raised and the simple fact that every person in North America has probably seen three letters - ALS - far more often in the last week than they likely have in their entire lives. I must admit I was initially skeptical about the entire thing until I realized how much those letters were filling my social media feeds and what that meant in terms of public relations for ALS-related organizations. It is, as they say, the kind of publicity money can't buy.

The final question? Will I be dumping a bucket of ice on my head?

No, but I did send a donation in support of ALS, something I had not done before as while I was familiar with the disease even I hadn't thought about donating as my usual donations go to diseases that have touched my life. So, in a sense, I am living proof that the ice challenge works, because it worked for me, reminding me that at times it's good to give to a new worthy cause and reminding me of a disease that I've known about for years but only thought about rarely.

The ice challenge for ALS: no right answer, and maybe not perfect - but I don't think anyone can argue the effectiveness of a viral fundraising campaign that has, to date, raised an estimated 41 million dollars for research, a remarkable achievement by any benchmark, even those thought of by cynics like me.