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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Canadian Dental Professionals Making The World A Better Place for a Few Hundred Orphans in Colombia!

What did Kindness in Action look like?  Thanks to my good friends at Kindness in Action for sending me some photos!  Kindness in Action is an awesome group of Canadians!  They are a service society made up of incredible people from the Dental professions who are motivated by a belief in the dignity of all people and their right to basic human needs.  They are a non-partisan and entirely volunteer group whose primary focus is dental health.  OK - so the last couple of sentences are pretty much right off their website.

But here's what I think.  My own unedited opinion.  I think they represent the best in all of us, no matter what country we come from!  They're the kind of people who enjoy life and enjoy making somebody else's life a little bit better when and where they can.  It's really amazing to know such fine people! 

How did I come to know them?  Yeah, you guessed it, my dentist & hygienist are part of the group.  They ran into some visa hassles at the last minute, and being the shy, introverted kind of guy I am... I sent an email to the President of Colombia asking for help!  My friends will tell you I'm not exactly shy in that regard. 

Other people got in the game - there was a Senator in Colombia, the Canadian Ambassador in Colombia, the Colombian Consul in Ottawa... everybody pitched in.  And yes, believe it or not, the President's personal secretary answered my email and offered to assist too.  We had it happening from every which way - and it all worked out.  And guess who it worked out for - a few hundred orphans in Colombia.  Excellent!

For my part, I just wanted to do what I could to help.  It was very little of course, I can't provide dental care, that's for sure.  But I do know enough to believe that sometimes, when you write the leader of a country, they will actually answer.  Perhaps not personally, how could they... they've got millions and millions of constituents.  But when people know you are trying to do something for the right reasons, in this case, to help provide dental care to a cool group of Colombian orphans, you know what... people will step up to the plate and help out. 

Somewhere in the President's office, somebody read that e-mail and sent it on to the President's personal secretary who, I'm guessing, mentioned it to the President himself and within a couple of days, we had help from the top!  Everything seemed to start clicking along and it all came together.  And make no mistake about it, I wasn't a key player in any of this.  It's always a group of people who come together to do something fun, something to help our fellow humans.  This is as real as it gets!  I was just a little tiny cog with the audacity of hope and a belief in the good heart of the Colombian people, no matter what their position or station, I love them.  And I want you to know how cool they really are, that's why I'm writing this post.  I also want you to know how cool your fellow Canadians are... the Kindness in Action dental professionals represent the best in all of us.

And here's the best part... anybody can do what I did.  When you're trying to do something to make the World a better place, people can sense that.  They can tell when the feelings are genuine.  Yes, even politicians can be cool!  So this just goes to show that when we take off our partisan colors and act as humans interested in helping our fellow humans - good things do happen.

So I thought I'd post a few photos thanks to these awesome Canadians who were kind enough to share them with me.  For my part, I'm just repeating the wonderful stories, like the little boy who was terrified and cried because he didn't want to get a shot (in the mouth no less).  Now let's face it, none of us like that experience either!  But the little boy made his way through the treatment.  Seeing that it was not so bad, he went around the clinic for the rest of the day holding the hands of the other orphans and reassuring them that it was going to be OK and that it really wouldn't hurt (at least not much).

In a World full of bad news... as they say in the press "if it bleeds it leads" - I thought it would be cool to share a good story.  One that should make us all feel proud to be Canadians... and guess what, even more, one that should make us all proud of our fellow humans who are ambassadors of goodwill.

Thank you Kindness in Action - for all you do.  And thanks to everybody who played a part in making this all a reality.  So many dedicated volunteers, so much work, and guess what, even a little help from a few people who would otherwise have been dealing with the fuss and muss of politics and bureaucracy.  Well guess what, everybody got to feel good about this!

And a special heartfelt thanks to all my friends and family in Colombia for being who you are... the kindest, happiest, and most wonderful people you could ever want to meet anywhere in the World.  And of course, I pay my deepest respect to the personal secretary to President Santos and, yes, to President Santos himself.  I believe he is a good and decent man who is trying to do what is right.  Every politician takes a kicking (don't I know it and I'm only a municipal politician in a small town in Alberta).  But no matter how big or how small we are (and I'm about as small as they get) we are really just as human as anybody else.  We love, we laugh, we hurt, we cry... we are you and you are us.  We are all in this together.

God Bless Kindness in Action!  
God Bless Canada!  
Viva Colombia!  

President Juan Manuel Santos

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The First Few Months

Where Have We Been In The First Few Months?
The Inter-municipal Development Plan (IDP) has attained final approval from the Capital Region Board (CRB).  This was not a simple task for a variety of reasons.  The CRB asked Devon for numerous revisions along the way.  The CRB, as an organization, has embarked on a pathway towards organizational maturity.  Probably one of the key revisions that moved the CRB to issue their approval was for Devon to clearly communicate to stakeholders that Devon can't simply recreate our footprint west of 60.

Recent sour gas well issues have created significantly larger setbacks from well sites.  Wetlands regulations have created issues as well.  These items and others came under the review of the CRB.  Regional politicians had expressed doubts about our ability to secure approval for our IDP.  Perseverance combined with a "can do" and a "shift on the fly" attitude have facilitated our ability to shift and change in order to accomplish our end goal.  That was the most integral part of our secret sauce. 

We all know some prominent people who struggle with the idea of seeing Devon grow.  They would say that Devon should remain the same size, that we should preserve our municipality just as it is today.  The vast majority of residents in Devon, however, are interested in sustainable and quality growth.  They realize Devon cannot afford to stagnate.

When citizens deliver a mandate to form a governing body, they expect their mandate to produce results.  Let's stop for a moment and consider what has happened in a few short months since the election.  This is a short list and by no means is it comprehensive nor in any specific order, it's just a list of a few items the residents of Devon wanted us to deal with.  I thought I'd craft a little table, kind of like a report card.  

Spring 2011 Mini-Muni Report Card

Secure CRB Approval For IDP - Allows Devon To Grow
Final Approval May 2011
Twin Highway 19 - Provincial 3 year plan
Approved by Alberta Transportation
Move Devon To 21st Century Technology & Social Media
Website / Facebook / Twitter
Enhance Communications with Business Community
Joint Council / Chamber of Commerce Meetings
Enhanced Economic Development & Tourism Board
Hold Taxes Down - Manage Devon More Like A Business
Tax rate increase among lowest in region, business attitude grows by the day
Improve Safety and Traffic Controls in Areas Where Our Kids Are At Risk
Digital Speed Signs & Enhanced Patrols
Speed Zone Evaluations In Progress
Honor our Veterans with Veterans Way
Nearly Done
Legion, DND, and RCMP Approvals are Secured
Waiting on Banners, Signs, and a Ceremony
Resolve Parking Issues Downtown & Pave the Back Parking Lot
Nearly Done
Paving and Lighting will Occur Summer 2011
Continue to green up Devon & Be Environmentally Sensitive
Organics Collection, Methane Capture, and Landfill Airspace Growth Initiatives In Planning Stages
Revitalize the Downtown Core
Numerous Options Being Explored
Discussions With Key Stakeholders In Progress
Create Solid Long Term Plan To Generate Jobs & Grow Local Economy
Work on These Items Were Being Done in Parallel with IDP Approval

Items unaccomplished for years are now being added to the "done" list.  We are constantly evolving the work priorities of our municipal administration.  Teamwork and rapid advancement of numerous items previously unaccomplished are the result from leveraging a historical body of work with new and different synergies.

We should also remember numerous initiatives now bearing fruit are, in part, the result of years of work.  The Economic Development & Tourism Board and the Parks and Recreation Board have collaborated with key stakeholders in the community to create changes for the last few years.  From boards like these came the initiative for rebuilding our website, engaging in social media, enhancing communications with residents, and quantifying the economic impact of special events and collecting actionable data sets.

These are the sorts of activities that often go unnoticed, but they are, in fact, the underlying foundation for accelerating changes that have resulted in exciting initiatives like Bike Town.  Changes that have enabled the underpinnings for solid infrastructure and tremendous event success.  Through multiple board collaboration, municipal collaboration, and volunteer work, we have created a welcoming environment for special events that has resulted in Devon's elevation to regional and national stature.  If we move forward with a bicycle skills park, why would we not want to build it with competitive events in mind?  Anything worth doing is worth doing right.  It seems logical that we should focus on such matters in a manner that will generate benefits for all residents.  Some will use it and some will not, but if it generates revenue and business, all shall benefit.

The success of this or any organization rests on the ability of people to work effectively as a team.  It is also critical to have vision; to listen to the residents; and to take responsibility for the critical components of strategic initiatives.  

Where Can We Go From Here?

Let us then consider how we might position ourselves to take advantage of macroeconomic conditions that surround us.  Devon is, quite obviously, situated in a strategic location to capitalize on the impending growth of the Asia Pacific Gateway.  The Prince Rupert Port Authority is positioned to be a major corridor or "gateway" between North America and Asia.  The railway throughput has substantial room for growth and intercontinental trade cargo can be repackaged for distribution throughout North America right here in our region.  The Port Alberta concept is built upon the fact that this key transoceanic shipping and rail combination represents the closest link between Shanghai and Chicago. 

The success of Port Alberta will correlate to the success of the Asia Pacific Gateway.  Port Alberta meshes priorities outlined by the Government of Alberta regarding economic trading patterns.  It is prudent to create additional trading partners in order to reduce our vulnerability to the recessionary pressures of any one market, in our case, the United States.  As such, the Government of Alberta intends to focus on expanding trade with Asia in order to leverage Port Alberta, Prince Rupert, and the Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia New West Trade Partnership Agreement.

The importance of the Asia trade corridor for Devon and the capital region is obvious.  Canada’s trade with the Asia Pacific region has remained stable over the last few years.  In 2010 the total trade growth with the region was slightly higher than the United States, checking in at at 10.9%. It must be kept in mind, however, that a small percentage change in magnitude with the United States is much larger in dollar terms than double-digit percentage changes in many other markets.  This is something to keep in mind as we look to new markets. 

The fastest growing region for Canadian trade is Latin America.  In 2010, a growth of 26% was more than double our growth rate with Asia.  Because of the significant portion of energy related investment with Latin America, this becomes a particularly interesting investment opportunity for our region.  As we diversify, the Asia Pacific Gateway will grow, and Devon will be in a unique position to capture substantial benefits.  But we can do even better, by expanding our ties with Latin America, we can skate to where the puck is going to be...

On a provincial and federal level, knowing labor prices and inflationary pressures will continue to grow in Asia, the advantage of outsourcing cheap Asian labor will compress and, when combined with rising energy prices, eventually shift the labor market.  As cheap labor advantages diminish and the cost of moving goods across large distances increases, it is likely that the intra-hemispheric trade will accelerate.  This is in line with what we see in recent economic data sets.  Accelerated growth rates within the hemisphere will benefit the capital region because a large portion of this growth segment will be related to the energy industry.

Latin America, as a region, is expected to grow by 4.1 per cent annually over the next five years, nearly twice the rate of G7 and EU economies, according to the IMF.  Scotia bank's chief executive officer Rick Waugh recently said "Canadian interest in Latin America is building, but not what it should be, and that Canadians do have to be pushed on this issue."

The big names like Bombardier, McCain Foods Ltd., and SNC-Lavalin have extensive Latin American operations, but so too does National Oilwell Varco.  While Devon has a great relationship on an east west axis with Japan and Germany, the above realities suggest it is time to explore how Devon can benefit from developing enhanced relationships on a north south axis.

We are off to a good start with the far north.  The north south axis has tremendous potential for Alberta, with estimates of the Mackenzie Delta-Beaufort Sea region having as much as 16 trillion m3 of natural gas in hydrate form.  Understanding the potential of this resource was the reason I suggested we explore the possibility of exploring a cultural exchange with Inuvik during the Olympic Torch Relay.

The cultural relationships developed were fantastic as our people went north and their people came south.  Our relationships have been established well in advance of others in the region and this will be a tremendous advantage in the future as the north south axis grows in importance for our region and Port Alberta.

Our friendships with Latin America need to be advanced beyond informal relationships that exist with groups such as Kindness in Action.  Continued exploration of our relationship with Latin America means we should consider participating with organizations like the Canadian Council for the Americas.

Devon also has a CANMET facility; a World class research center that once primarily engaged in research surrounding coal.  Their mission is currently focused on the oil sands and dealing with issues such as tailings ponds.  Keeping the Devon CANMET facility on the leading edge of research is critical not just for our region, it is critical for our nation.

Given our geographical placement in one of the highest solar radiation areas in Canada, it is logical that an extension of photovoltaic and concentrated mirror solar energy, along with geothermal and wind energy would be viable candidates to explore.  Given the research capacity of the University of Alberta and the need for Alberta and Canada to invest in innovation, it is my belief that genuine progress can be made to create additional research capacity in Devon. 

This kind of strategy translates to high paying jobs, new housing demand, increased business growth, and a diversification of our tax base in order to shift the burden away from residential taxpayers.  The creation of a more realistic mixture in our tax base creates a more equitable distribution of burden.  This is absolutely critical so that Devon can continue to grow and prosper without taxing our residents into a position where they have little option but to move elsewhere.

If we pursue a strategy of high end job development through research innovation, and we pursue solid blue collar and trade jobs through integration with the Asia Pacific Gateway... the mixture of these strategies will provide a thoughtful integration and vibrant cultural mix that will make Devon an even better place to live. 

I believe these factors combined with our magnificent location at the top of the River Valley Park and our incredible infrastructure for healthy living gives Devon more potential than any other municipality in the capital region.  The amazing potential of our residents combined with continued focus on the details along with solid strategic planning will result in moving Devon forward in so many ways. 

We can become one of the top 10 places to invest in Alberta and, in fact, all of Canada.

* None of this reflects the official viewpoint of the Town of Devon or the Town Council.  The above article is nothing more than an expression of my own thoughts.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Kindness in Action in Colombia

When Kindness in Action invited me to their Annual General Meeting I was thrilled to meet and come to know a great bunch of wonderful Albertans.  Kindness in Action Service Society of Alberta is a group of concerned individuals, motivated by a belief in the dignity of all people and their right to basic human needs.  They are non-partisan and entirely volunteer based group whose primary focus is oral health.

"Researchers are discovering that out-of-control inflammation [gum disease] may prove to be the engine that drives an ever-growing list of greatly feared, chronic illnesses from clogged arteries and heart attacks to arthritis and cancer" -- and even low birth weight babies!  The health-related quality of life approach has provided greater opportunity for investigation of the interrelations among oral health, health, and related outcomes (Helen C. Gift PhD, 1995).  In addition to physical well being, some researchers have linked oral health to psychological (Salovey, Rothman, Detweiler, & Steward, 2000) well being.

Through their work in a variety of nations including Cambodia, Nicaragua, Uganda, Bolivia, and recently in Colombia, these dedicated individuals have created bridges of goodwill between Canada and all of these countries.  On each weekly project, Kindness in Action can help approximately 500 people, performing examinations, extractions, restorations, cleanings and fabricating dentures. The guiding principle for their treatment programs is the relief of pain for the greatest number of people. This is balanced with prevention, dispensing toothbrushes and individual and school hygiene instruction.

Comprehensive community based prevention programs are being developed and implemented. These include the training of local people as dental health promoters. In addition, they have been able to support many small education, agricultural and health initiatives including new initiatives to assist communities to develop a 100 mile radius food security environment (Smith A., 2005).  While the intention is to create more sustainable living environments, especially in locations where there is limited population and great abundance of various food resources, another important aspect of food regional food security is related to climate change.  While the countries where Kindness in Action focuses their efforts are likely not contributing substantial amounts of CO2 to the environment, other nations, such as the US, Canada, or the UK contribute substantial amounts of CO2 to the environment through the food cycle.

In the case of the UK, it is estimated that food transport is equal to about 3.4% of the UK’s annual CO2 emissions (including both exports and imports) and about 3.6% of its final energy consumption (Smith A., 2005).  In the United States, transport of raw and processed food products (excluding exports) accounts for about 1.4% of total energy consumption (Heller, 2000) (Heller, 2003).  In short, what Kindness in Action is undertaking is proactive leadership that both enhances food security and sustainability while having the added benefit of minimizing negative impact of CO2, and reducing fuel consumption while engaging in proactive beneficial services that join together various nongovernmental resources that can help sustain and benefit areas of developing nations.  Seems to me, they’re on to something!

Sometimes one wonders why this kind of work is not more prolific.  As for myself, I would likely not have even heard about this wonderful organization had my dentist not mentioned to my wife that they were having visa difficulties for Colombia that might result in their having to just stay a day in Bogota and then fly to a different country where special visas were not required.  In fairness, Colombia was enduring tremendous flood damage due to La Niña, and there was an overload of visa requests from nongovernmental agencies attempting to access the country in order to provide assistance.  The flooding was characterized as the worst natural disaster in the history of Colombia (Kimball, 2011).  

In the case of Kindness in Action, they had arranged to have orphans bussed in from outlying regions so they could be treated in Bogota.  Because of the overwhelming number of visa requests from around the World, theirs had been delayed somewhat and the holiday season was upon us.  They had already bought their plane tickets and had packed their dental equipment; they were just waiting for a green light on their visas.
Knowing it would be difficult to accelerate visa issues and given the proximity to the Kindness in Action departure date, there would need to be assistance in order to expedite the visas for these great volunteers.   

Numerous people stepped up to help including the ongoing and heroic efforts of the First Secretary in charge of Consular Affairs in Ottawa, Ms. Mónica Beltrán Espitia.  The personal secretary to President Santos of the Republic of Colombia provided timely assistance.  The effort to assist these hundreds of Colombian orphans also came to the attention of Senator Juan Fernando Cristo Bustos and the Canadian Ambassador, Ms. Geneviève des Rivères also provided assistance to the Kindness in Action volunteers.

The reason I wanted to write about this amazing group is simple.  I have never met such a fine group of dedicated professional who are acting based on the rare concept of altruism.  In short, they are taking their time and investing their own money and efforts to try and make the World a better place.  These are the very kind of Canadians who make us all so proud.  In doing their service, they also bring a kinder and better image to the World as people think about Canadians with fondness in their hearts.  This is the kind of benefit that brings the World together and makes it a better place for everybody.  I think the great Dental Professionals from Kindness in Action represent the very best of everything that makes me and so many of us proud to be Canadians.


Helen C. Gift PhD, K. A. (1995). Oral Health, Health, and Health-Related Quality of Life. Medical Care , 33 (11), 57-77.
Heller, M. K. (2003). Assesing the sustainability of the U.S. food system: a life cycle perspective. Agricultural Systems (76), 1007-1041.
Heller, M. K. (2000). Life cycle-based sustainability indicators for assesment of the US food system. University of Michigan, Center for Sustainable Systems, Ann Arbor.
Kimball, J. (2011, January 01). Weather on MSNBC.com. Retrieved May 16, 2011, from MSNBC.com: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41254237/ns/weather/t/colombia-counts-heavy-cost-rains-floods/
Salovey, P., Rothman, A. J., Detweiler, J. B., & Steward, W. T. (2000). Emotional states and physical health. American Psychologist , 55 (1), 101-121.
Smith A., W. P. (2005). The validity of food miles as an indicator of sustainable development: Final Report. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, AEA Technology Environment, Didcot.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama bin Laden visits Davy Jones Locker

The special operations group that liquidated Osama bin Laden have performed their assigned duties with professionalism and expertise.  Are there questions?  Certainly there will be numerous questions; some of those questions shall never be answered.

But the big questions I have heard in the last few days revolve around the Government of Pakistan and could they have possibly been aware of Osama bin Laden's presence in their country.  Let us consider a few items of information that may help facilitate the pathway of inductive reasoning.

Pakistan, as we all know, is a nuclear power with a military that measures in excess of a million, probably close to 1.5 million when counting an active force, reserves, and paramilitary forces.  Pakistan is also a nuclear power, it maintains a military designed to withstand an attack from India, the country they see as their primary threat.  This, of course, makes sense when one considers the wars they have already fought and the state of high tension that constantly remains between the two countries.

The bulletin of Atomic Scientists estimated that Pakistan has between 70 and 90 nuclear warheads and this seems in balance with public estimates of Indian nuclear warheads in the range of 60-100.  These warheads are both low and high yield designs, in other words, some are designed to be delivered on short or intermediate range rockets while others are designed for aircraft delivery.  What isn't stated very often is that Indian nuclear facilities exempt from IAEA safeguards have the capacity to produce approximately 280 nuclear weapons annually.  One must presume Pakistan is interested in maintaining similar capacity.  To that extent, Pakistan has acquired nuclear research facility designs from China and have developed multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV) designs. 

Numerous agencies concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons have repeatedly provided unclassified information from various government sources relative to Pakistan's substantial nuclear abilities and their complex relationships with numerous governments to arrange for all the components required to attain first strike nuclear capability and supplement that with a second retaliatory strike capacity.

By now you should be gathering the picture of a country that has invested heavily in military infrastructure, nuclear weaponry, advanced weapons technologies, and a capacity to conduct, if required, a conventional or nuclear war with another country.  Presumably India would be at the top of their list.  Needless to say, Pakistan has a substantial air defense capability in order to protect all of their infrastructure. 

In short, there is simply no way multiple helicopters (or even one for that matter) could fly into Pakistan, within striking distance of the capital and then proceed to land a few blocks from the Kakul Military Officers School.  This would be roughly the equivalent of flying across Quebec and Ontario to land down the street from the Royal Military College in Kingston without being detected, execute a raid, and quietly leave without Ottawa knowing.  Not even the most illogical person could possibly fathom how such a raid could take place without the knowledge and consent of top military officials of Pakistan.

Many people have expressed concerns that the war on terror has been complicated by the apparance that Pakistan has been willing to allow Taliban and other insurgent groups to slip in and out of Afghanistan, seeking refuge in Pakistan after conducting military raids.  Even Hillary Clinton, when speaking about Pakistan, expressed her frustration one year ago stating, "I believe that somewhere in this government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is".

Coincidentally, just last month, Central Intelligence Agency Chief Leon Panetta and Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) recently met at the CIA headquarters, just outside of Washington in the lovely quasi rural setting of Langley, Virginia.  At some point during the tour, there was even the opportunity to have a chat with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen aboard an aircraft carrier.

Here's where the inductive reasoning comes in.... has the war on terror taken a new shift?  Have officials in the government of Pakistan come under pressure to cooperate in the enterprise of crushing al Queda and other militant groups instead of harboring them and providing them with safe haven?

How on Earth can a logical person, given of nothing more than just a smattering of facts, believe any possible explanation for how bin Laden lived in a massive compound down the street from the very heart of Pakistan Military Officers College in a city with three Army brigades and within a two hour drive of Islamabad for months on end without the knowledge of senior military intelligence and government officials. 

In fact, the area is considered to be a secure zone.  People are not allowed to move and live in such proximity to the Pakistan Military Officers University without first undergoing security checks.  It would be a stretch to suggest that Osama bin Laden did not have the blessing of top government officials in Pakistan. 

Of this one thing I am certain, we will never know what leverage was used to arrange the liquidation of Osama bin Laden.  Obviously, it was not money alone, there has been plenty of that bestowed upon Pakistan.  I wonder if there was a deal made to protect somebody from their own errors.  Could Osama bin Laden have been traded in a high stakes poker game in the intelligence community.  If that is the case, there would probably be only about a dozen people in the chain who would ever know the details.  And I can assure you, not one of them will ever tell the story.  Like many other great stories that would make for great spy novels... this will vanish like Osama bin Laden did... all the way down to Davy Jones Locker. 

Freedom to Vote

When a political campaign ends and victory is secured, there is a moment to pause.  A moment to realize that what has been accomplished was invigorating, uplifting, and for a few short weeks, it created excitement in our life. 

But it also gives me pause to realize how many brave men and women have paid for our right to vote with their blood, sweat, tears, and in many cases, with their lives.  If you voted in the election, then I’d like to congratulate you for exercising your democratic right to vote.  

If you did not vote yesterday and you are unhappy with the way things turned out, I’d like to encourage you to become involved.  Anybody can make a difference, all of us can make change, and the future is ours to shape.  

The greatest gift we give our children is freedom, but we should never lose sight that freedom stands just one generation away from extinction.  Freedom is sacred and precious; it must be fought for and defended.  It is a pathway we must never fear; let us bravely take the path of freedom and even though that path may be difficult, it is most assuredly the best path for all of us.