Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Implacable Enemies

For all the world knew isn't that what they were? Northern Ireland, in typical British understatement, during The Troubles. Certainly it was troubling that urban terrorist irregulars in Northern Ireland would seek out victims to terrorize to send a message to the Home Office that Northern Ireland belongs to the IRA. Decades of internal strife, of fear, of threats some of which were carried out successfully, devoid of reasonable reality.

When I was much, much younger and mused about the situation in Northern Ireland, and discussed it with friends, we couldn't imagine the depth of hatred, the venom the IRA visited upon the Protestants living among them. We couldn't imagine why they detested the British and their place under British rule. But then, we didn't know enough about the British Isles and its history.

We did know, and abhorred the fact that Ireland was no friend to Great Britain when she was fighting for her life against German bombardment during the Second World War. That the green isle aided and did its best to assist German bomber-fighters in locating their target when all of England went dark, by leaving their own lights on, enabling location of bombing targets.

Go back a little further in history and there is Ireland, starving under the potato blight, when the major harvests failed, and Britain cared not at all to lift a lazy finger to help in the provision of food for the desperate Irish. The mass migration out of the country was a glad thing for England which couldn't rid itself fast enough of the Irish. There's a little history for us.

So why, what adequately explains how, after all, Ireland divided itself; half loyal to the British Crown, the other loathing it and determined to separate itself entirely. The Protestant half versus the Roman Catholic remainder? The two utterly irreconcilable, determined to do as much damage one to the other as possible. But no, this was not a religious war.

When I was in hospital some 40 years ago for a minor surgery a Protestant minister doing his pastoral duties came around and offered a little bit of company and compassion to a poor soul in hospital. I thanked him, said I was Jewish, and he explained his mission was non-denominational. I wasn't religious, I argued, saw no good come of it. He was taken aback, but took this in his stride and argued for all the good that religion has done for mankind.

I reminded him of the dreadful strife in Northern Ireland. But, he protested, aghast, that has nothing to do with religion! as I stared at him uncomprehendingly, wondering how someone who considers himself intelligent could make such an incredible assertion - and believe it.

Times change. Wonderfully. Unbelievably, in fact. I read now that Northern Ireland's first public housing development to accommodate both Protestants and Catholics in forty years was officially opened. The Troubles may indeed be a hardship long passed. Residents have signed a "neighbourhood charter" banning the erection of partisan flags used extensively across Northern Ireland in the past for to demarcate the two "tribes".

The segregation long practised by the warring factions not only resulted in the tragedy of lost lives and broken families, but a dreadful financial burden was brought to bear to maintain separate housing, duplicating facilities such as recreation centres and schools. Now, finally, there is an acknowledgement that not much separates them at all, and they are reconciled to living together in peace and harmony.

The project is the first one completed under the principles of the "Shared Future" document of April 2005, which outlined the British government's vision for a peaceful, inclusive and fair society.

Where there is determination and dedication to strive for peace there is hope. If it can happen in Northern Ireland, why not elsewhere around the world?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gone, the Garden

Oh, it's still there, the form, the texture, the architecture. There is colour too, of a sort. But the blaze of glory that was the summer garden, the warmth and beauty of the serene surrounding of the house where we live is gone for this year of 2006. Throughout the sere late fall and white winter there will be other scenes to take our breath away, but these are nature's special surprises, we have no hand in their creation.

We've put our garden to bed. Cut back the perennials, raked up the leaves from our trees. Out came the annuals. In with the spring bulbs which we will handily forget over winter and greet with surprise come the spring of 2007. If I hadn't made neat garden notes to remind me of the steps and processes and aspirational longings for the spring I would not at all recall what I'd planted.

We emptied the garden pots of their soil and they have been safely stored away for the winter. Including those hosting hostas which will grow again in the coming growing season. Oh yes, I've planted tulip bulbs in some of the heavy urns that we cover for winter protection and they too will surprise us in the spring with their colourful offerings we'll have forgotten to anticipate until their tender green spears begin to tentatively seek the sun.

The birdbath/fountain has been disassembled, and sits now in a corner of the garage, to be restored to its former place in the spring. Demeter sits in a corner of the garden still, mourning her daughter; she will continue to act the sentinel over the winter garden and each time we look out the dining room windows we will see her patiently on guard.

The roses have been cut back and mounded, and so have I done also with the tree peonies. We have yet to place winter blankets on the rhododendrons, the tree peonies, the magnolia, azalea, holly, the yews. Nor have we yet placed netting around the ornamental cedars to ensure that snow and ice won't deform them by their winter-heavy weight. The rose cones await their placement.

To look at the garden now is to mourn the fleet passage of time.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Indoor Days

Just one of those things; that time of year when the rain is heavy and constant, the air chill, the trees have lost their protective canopies of leaves and there is no choice but to stay indoors. The rain has been unrelenting this past month or so. And the mean temperatures quite mean; very much cooler than the norm for this time of year. But Nature has never been known to extend herself to pleasure us; we get what we get, she just isn't in the habit of consulting. It's been cold enough for the rain to turn to snow and icy pellets. In the ravine, the creeks are roiling with water tumbling down over fallen branches, assembled detritus. The trails are water-sodden, slick and deep in muck. The protection formerly afforded by the thick canopy of leaves is no longer there. No let-up at all in the rain meant no jaunt-of-the-day.

So we turned to other things. For one, visiting a friend in the hospital who has had to undergo surgery to repair vast harm done to musculature. Who would believe that an operation on a sorely wonky shoulder because of inordinate strain would result in a week of hospital stay and unbelievable levels of pain. Pain so dire that the shoulder requires constant freezing to innure the nerve system, and even that is insufficient so that the patient must also self-administer increments of pain relief? What to bring along? Reading material comes first to mind. And you sit there, and you talk, and talk, and observe a grown man attempting to assuage the insult to his body, with no success.

And then there are other things to do, other places to go to. Say, for example, the much-advertised advent of the annual antique show and sale? We're interested in antiques so why not go along and peruse the offerings? Never know what we might see. In any event, it's entertaining beyond compare to mosey about the various stalls, to greet familiar faces, to assess the quality and beauty of all manner of objects that fall into the categories we so much admire.

And that's just what we did. Bought our tickets for admission, hoisted our two little dogs into their over-the-shoulder bags and sauntered down aisle after aisle of offerings. For every booth that sold furniture, porcelains, paintings, objets d'art, clocks, books, there would be at least one set up to sell jewellery. Those we avoided, and even then were able to only concentrate briefly on each vendor's goodies; there was just too much to see. And too many people to stop and talk with for too long. But it's part of the process, part of the fun, part of the satisfaction, the enjoyment of the event.

Our little dogs are so well behaved; they just snuggle into their bags and go to sleep. From time to time they're noticed and much of a fuss is made over them. They're agreeable with the attention and offer their considered opinions when invariably questioned by admirers what they think of the event, and were they having fun... Then they settle back down, ruminate to themselves about the peculiarities of human beings, and go back to sleep.

We see a small marble piece representing two Spartan youth wrestling, and we're really taken by it. It's really well done, and we think it's a copy of an early Greek sculpture, but aren't certain; nor is the vendor. We'd think about it. We see countless paintings, oil and watercolour, some by artists we're familiar with, others not. We see a small brass-case, crystal-sided 19th century carriage clock, and the price is right, and it's in working conditon, and we've always wanted one.

We drive back home through pounding, wind-tossed rain. Visibility on the highway is dreadful. The engineering of the road so poor that the water simply continues to puddle on it, and then is thrown up constantly by the vehicles passing by. It's a nasty day, to be sure, and no let-up in view. Makes one think why don't we value more than we seem to all those other days of mild temperatures, plenty of sun, gentle breezes...?

Once home Button and Riley wander about the front of the house for a few minutes, but they have no wish to stay out in the pounding rain, and in we all go. To settle down in the comfort of our living room, to read the newspapers, and to scan the weather report. Oops, all-night rain. Tomorrow, more rain. Possibility of light snow. Winds about 60kmh, gusting to 90kmh.

Time of year.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Small Miracles

Life is full of them; small miracles. They can be quite ordinary occurrences which happen countless times throughout the world in a matter of seconds, but when they happen in a singular manner, when a small network of individuals are involved then what would be otherwise mundane in a world which produces and reproduces its inhabitants incessantly, the pedestrian becomes divine. A miracle. Secular or religious, there is the spark of the divine in the essence of an emerging lifeform.

So, within families the birth of a child becomes a small miracle, or looking at it another way, an event of great personal significance. Never mind that this signal event is happening elsewhere to others, both within our small geographic sphere and well beyond. It becomes our miracle, the addition of a life to our immediate family, the imperative of securing life to protect one's own DNA in perpetuity accomplished.

And of course from these large, personal miracles evolve smaller miracles; common enough to outsiders, to those not personally involved, as the natural evolution of birth, of growth, of awareness, of personhood-in-the-making. From the first time the baby focuses on the face hanging above its crib, to the first time the baby gurgles and laughs, and reaches for the object dangling above.
From the first attempt to seat itself, to its impulse to crawl, then raise itself on its sturdy legs, and to walk.

Proudly loving parents and grandparents harbour secret ambitions for these babies turned infants turned children turned quasi-adults. Their job it is to encourage curiosity, to teach language and basic physical coordination, and communication and to invest the child with confidence born from emotional support and a loving environment.

So it was with us, when we raised our children, and so it has been, and ongoing, with our first and likely only grandchild. A child who so resembles her mother in every conceivable way that it was as though what we had once lived through has been determined to repeat itself, flawlessly. The difference being that when her mother was growing up, she had two siblings, so the attention was diluted three ways, whereas our attention this time around was focussed solely on one child.

Much was repeated, and despite repetition, it seemed new and different and each step in the evolution of becoming and learning seemed a new miracle, and so it most surely was. Throughout the growing years we had ample opportunity to assert values and discipline upon the growing child since we had become the day-care providers for this our grandchild.

And books, and reading, from the time of dim comprehension onward were an integral portion of communication. The responses at first were wan but comforting, then as comprehension grew this mode of communication became a shared pleasure which grew with time to become a fulfillingly worthwhile exercise in pleasure-giving.

Until the age of six, the constant reading of books to the eagerly-listening and sometimes-reading-sharing child was an integral portion of our daily shared activities. When her own reading abilities began to take the ascendency, she offered to do the reading, often laboriously, and when that happened we agreed to share the reading, page by page.

Soon I was denied the pleasure of reading to her, other than on rare occasions, but she felt more than capable of reading the books so long familiar to us both, growing in complexity of language and conveyance of message as she grew. Then came a time of rebellion when it was inconvenient for me to read to her and her to read to me, as there were so many other activities more compelling.

At the age of ten she became her own person in a very significant way, more than able to determine what should be done at any given time. And in any event, at that time we became geographically separated and our role as care-givers was over. We continued to purchase and gift books to our grandchild and she would read them or not, as she pleased.

Her interest had waned, and books no longer became a necessity of entertainment and learning in her life. Each time we spoke I would bring up the matter of reading; had she read anything lately, what was it about, had she enjoyed it. The responses were lacklustre and disappointing. I was insistent, she was patient in her response to my urging.

Now, finally! I had told her again and again that she need never be bored when she had books. Books and their stories would transport her to other worlds, countries she could learn about, the lives of people unlike those she was familiar with. She could lose herself in fantastic tales of animals living lives loosely associated with those we ourselves lead. She could become so consumed with curiosity about stories she would be reluctant to put the book down.

She listened, and was noncomittal. But gradually, bit by bit, she became intrigued through books with a bit of reality, a bit of fantasy, and there were some books, like "Charlotte's Web" and "The Secret Garden" that she would read, and read again. Finally, the interest and the impetus was there, and she began telling me about books she was reading, and becoming so immersed in, that she had to be prodded to eat her meals.

Her future as a reader is now assured. Another small miracle in the progress of the miracle of life.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Politics of Procreation

Odd, is it not, that the higher the educational level and the more relative wealth the fewer children are produced. In a biological-evolutionary sense it's perhaps explicable: just as biology persuades a plant under stress to heroically produce flowers and from those, seeds, so it will have progeny and its evolutionary DNA will not become extinct.

But we are also rational beings, unlike plants, and it always amazes me that those among us who have attained a high degree of education, those who have amassed wealth, produce few offspring, while the vast majority of people, those in the underclass of society with respect to education levels and socio-economic standing, continue to produce children one after another.

The state, in most developed countries, makes every effort to aid and assist the poor and uneducated in the raising of their children. The standards with respect to economic assistance are, of course, low in comparison with the disposable income available to wealthy people in raising their children, but the poor manage, somehow, to get by. And in the process they raise children who know want, who often cannot see the utility of education, but strive instead to find jobs at an early age; or, conversely, settle into a life of welfare themselves, completing the cycle, generation after generation.

In the meanwhile, those who can afford to see that their children have every advantage that an advanced society can offer to its young, do so. Their children acquire good educations, aspire to become respected professionals, begin their own meagre families, and sometimes determine to have no children at all, rather than interfere with their chosen career paths. The end result there is that the educated, intelligent, well-remunerated population are not replacing their own numbers.

We raise an inordinate number of children to take the place of their non-achieving parents, while the sparsely-numbered children of society's educated administrators continue to decline in number.

A woman in her 70s can have produced, for example, seven children of her own throughout her child-bearing womanhood, and transfer to her children the same values and limitations which life has offered to her. Those children who adapt readily to that limiting way of life will have their own children at a relatively young biological age, just as their mother did. That 70-year-old-plus woman with seven children will have a conservative 36 grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren, and counting.

A more educated woman, determined to live a more moderate, modern life may have had two children, and of that two one may have decided not to have any children of her own, adopting her mother's lifestyle and values, while the second child may end up with two children of his own, with a wife who shares his background.

We are not necessarily willed by nature and by circumstances to continue in the manner in which we began life, but odds are that we will. Nature has, it seems, a truly wicked sense of humour.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

He's Incorrigible

He loves to go out shopping. Not with me, not when it's time to do the once-weekly grocery shopping. Mostly because he hates the supermarket I shop at, a bare-bones, basic type of store to which I bring along our own large plastic bins to haul the groceries back home in. It's a miserably cramped little supermarket, no frills to be seen anywhere. But the prices are an attraction and the basics which are on offer suit me fine quality-wise; I've no interest in pre-prepared and processed foods.

No, he does his own shopping. Once in a while he'll go into one of the larger, pricier, fancier supermarkets and bring home "special" things I can't get at the no-frills store, and be enormously pleased with himself. I'm pleased with him too, as long as he doesn't get carried away as sometimes happens when he brings home items I've already got plenty of, and how the hell are we going to use it all?

This morning, post-shower, his eyeglasses fell apart. The wire-type frame that suits him so well evidently succumbed to irreversible metal fatigue. He quickly ascertained that there was no procedure available to him whereby he could resuscitate the frame, so he put on an old pair for breakfast, then quickly made his way to a local optometrist to see if they could match his glass lenses with a frame similar to the croaked one.

From which emporium he later telephoned to inform me that he'd be just a little longer; the search was successful and he was awaiting the completion of the physical transaction from old frame to new. I was out in the front garden, cutting back a few of the roses, gathering up cuttings, emptying the garden pots of their soil into the garden proper when he arrived back home.

Time for a ravine walk, and off we went, Button and Riley in tow, snow flurries fluttering about, turning to light icicles of frozen rain, then abruptly halting to permit the sun to sneak through for two minutes, before the winds blew the clouds back into place directly over us and introduced more rain. Lots of squirrels rustling about in the forest interior. And there, high up in a pine at the top of one of the ascents, two black-eyed, fat-faced raccoons, hugging one another and peering down at us.

When we got home, he reached into the car to pull out a large heavy bag. He'd gone shopping again, while awaiting the eyeglass transition from kaput to complete. A large format picture book for our daughter's partner, languishing in a recovery bed in hospital after shoulder surgery. A large format picture book for him of English country estates. And a large format picture book for me, of English country gardens and the history of gardening in England. Bliss.

I should have known he's incapable of coming back empty-handed from any destination hard by shopping opportunities.

Byward Market

Not that we hadn't plenty to do around the house. Yesterday was a chilly day, somewhat windy, heavily overcast and certain not to reach the forecast high of 6 degrees. And there was the thought: why not take a drive and go to Byward Market? It's a treat, one of many we reserve for certain days, and those days are usually when we want to stock on up special cheeses, a load of good hefty Jewish breads, and magazines the better to while away evening hours before the fireplace of a mid-fall day.

It's a pleasant drive to arrive there from where we're located; first along the picturesque parkway, past the Governor-General's grounds, 24 Sussex Drive, and the National Gallery, the Peacekeeping monument, and - what's that? Something going on; men in naval uniforms hoisting brass instruments gathering around the monument, so what's up? We find a good parking spot, not too far from where we plan to ramble along, and begin to pass one of the uniformed officers who explains (of course!) there's a ceremony honouring the presence of the Swedish King and Queen.

We hoist Button and Riley in their carry bags over our shoulders and trundle down to the market area. Too cold now for most of the outdoor vendors and their produce. Plenty of pumpkins, though, and root vegetables in evidence. Not too many people out and about, in comparison to the shoulder-to-shoulder crush generally out in the market. But it's still picturesque, still a treat for the eyes, still a good and wholesome place to be wandering about.

All the little shops in the market, selling everything from footwear to magazines, hand-made jewellery to fruits and vegetables, German-style sausages from a storefront sausage "factory" to the oriental rice we favour from a Chinese shop specializing in everything oriental. Hand-made soaps to designer garments are there to attract window shoppers and actual shoppers. Not to mention the vast variety of restaurants and pubs, many of them preparing and serving ethnic foods: Indian, Lebanese, French, Pakistani, Italian; take your pick.

First stop for us is the magazine shop and we exit finally with a copy of the bi-monthly art magazine we've been looking for. Then to one of the many cheese shops where we consult and agree and exit with our choices for the day. And then we can bob along the street entertained by the movement, the colour, the aliveness of it all. As we leave the market area to approach our car a fragment of the U.S. Embassy looms in the near distance looking like an unfortunately-placed nuclear plant.

We drive a relatively short distance to Rideau Street, past the giant liquor outlet, the converted Synagogue, the large Loblaws store which quaintly permits its elderly lady customers to bring their small dogs in to the store, placing them on blankets on the child seats of the shopping buggies. There it is - the Rideau Bakery, a long-time installation on the street and the target we're headed for. I sit in the car and watch the multitudes pass, young and old, brown, yellow, white, garbed in unusual clothing, not so unusual at all now.

Next to the bakery there is a shop which sells Indian videos, snacks, grains and rice, and halal lamb, chicken, beef and fish. Next to it is a large East African restaurant, and close by this trio are other Indian, African, Pakistani and Lebanese restaurants into which passerby continually enter and exit. This is truly a community of communities. And there he is! exiting the bakery, staggering under the weight and bulk of all those breads we're set to pop into our home freezer and gradually use up until it's time for another visit to the market area.

This is a treat, this is our city, this is the nation's capital.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Great Leaping Lapins!

As though she hasn't enough work to do. She's the mother of a little girl, has a full-time job, a house to tend to, and seven dogs of her own, along with one she is fostering, and a cat as well. She's a lover of animals, feels they deserve her love and respect and care. So she also has rabbits, six, or is it seven - maybe eight?
  • all beloved, all nurtured
  • all laboriously, patiently, paired
  • all carefully, daily tended
  • all nutritiously fed
  • all veterinarianed when required
  • all housed, in pairs, in their own brightly playful condominiums
There are most certainly enough of these little creatures and they represent a variety of types, personalities and characters. Some have floppy ears, others upstanding. Some are spotted, others not. Some have ruffled collars, some require that their mottled fur be brushed frequently, others need their fur to be carefully cut around the stomach, paws. Some are playful, others not so much.

Some of these pairs are careful to leave their droppings where they belong; others subscribe to a more hygiene-careless code and leave those little balls of excrement everywhere; food areas not excluded. Some of these little beasts enjoy interaction with their care-giver; others are more inclined to stand-offishness. They are all accustomed to the presence of the dogs, tiny, small, medium and large. And the cat who evinces no interest in them whatever.

Their enclosures are sufficiently large to guarantee them space to move about happily, and they are further challenged by three stages of vertical floors each of which they access handily through their built-in escalator-propensity to hop. So, why, given all of this, does one ungracious little mophead decide to leap the perimeter of his enclosure to access his neighbour's and engage in a territorial dispute?

Which leads to the obvious: war, aggression, is a byproduct of the male species' territorial imperative - whether there is a legitimate reason of circumstance or not.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Which Is It? December? October?

For grief's sake! It's still October! A tad past the mid of the month. Where's the October weather? This is November weather. What's the hurry? All right, we've surpassed November; we're now into December. I can recall Decembers past when we saw nary a fluff of snow. This is the second, or is it the third day we've had snow flurries. Don't get me wrong, I don't actually mind snow at all. I find it a cheerful sight, it's beautiful, wonderful. In December, January, February - well by March I'm well and truly sick of it, but that's another story altogether. Who needs snow in October?

Mostly because it's too early, it won't stay on the ground, and it's a signal that things are cold and getting colder. Not supposed to be snow in October, I kid you not. A month later, around November 11, on that most solemn of days when we're remembering those who fought in the world wars on our behalf, for freedom and security, then we do occasionally see snow flurries, while a children's choir is singing heartbreakingly at the National Cenotaph. That's forgiveable; nature is crying frigid tears of regret at man's inhumanity to man.

Now it's just nature letting us know who is really in charge. As though we don't already know. But listen, I know it's just a temporary aberration. We haven't even had a bout of Indian Summer yet. And surely we will? It's the season, after all. Besides which, with the too-sad advent of global warming isn't there the slightest chance that we could be gifted with a temporary lapse in the weather hearkening back to late summer if only for a few days?

I need those days, for the moment. I've not yet completed my fall clean-up. Got to cut back the roses, and mound them preparatory to topping them with rose cones. I must empty the garden pots of their soil so they can be stored safely indoors to protect them from winter's ravages. I've got to wrap protective blankets around vulnerable trees and shrubs, and that all takes time. Granted, I've already got the bulk of all that other stuff behind, having filled myriad recyclable bags with garden waste, cut-backs of perennials, yankings of annuals.

I've taken all those ornaments out of the gardens, stored them away for safekeeping, for another season to come when they can be restored to their pride of place in the gardens, winkling back the sun's rays. I've hauled up the tomato cages, the garden stakes aplenty. Even cut back and mounded all the roses and the tree peonies in the back gardens. Hey, I managed to plant the tulips, the narcissus, the scilla, the oriental lilies, and they're right now lapping up all that moisture establishing a hefty, healthy root system before the ground freezes up. They'll surprise us come spring, for I'll have long forgotten that planting exercise by then.

My partner-in-gardening still plans to empty the full composter and sprinkle all that black gold over the garden beds. And he's also got to install all of the garden furniture he's already taken apart into the garden shed and garage - once I remove all the winter blankets, the rose cones, etc., etc.

So give us a break, Nature - bring back some warmer, drier weather. Say two or three days' worth?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Celebrity Fatigue or Failure?

Just asking. Which is it, after all? People tend to invest much in celebrities, raising them in their estimation above the common fray, inbuing them with sensitive emotions and sensibilities, nobleness of purpose and character. Unless they're simply superficially inclined and are easily spellbound by the glamour, notoriety, and physical beauty and talent of celebrities and don't much care if they have the same personality flaws as the rest of society - which they most certainly do, with rare exceptions.

Take Paul McCartney for example; Sir Paul that is. As an entertainer recognized by a number of generations of fans as being the ultimate performer, basking in the historical glow of his luminous portion of a fabled team, and risking no diminishment in his esteemed place in entertainment's Hall of Fame by making it on his own talents. So he's also a wife-beater. Under the influence, of course. Oops! he abuses drugs too? Is anyone surprised?

Take Stephen Hawking, another storied celebrity albeit in an altogether other sphere of achievement and entitlement. A celebrated mind of great genius, author of a cerebrally-difficult, theory-elevated book that no one quite seems to understand but no one doubts its authentic genius of perception. Hey, that's fairly scandalous behaviour for a man whose physical limitations are such that he requires 24-hour-a-day nursing. Seems he's working on affair #3.

And then there's Bono, the favoured celebrity of politicians and heads of state because association with his Book of Good Works appears to illuminate the status of the particular head of state he's haranguing at the moment. Figure that one out. Bono, whose charitable thrust is to become the saviour of the emerging economies around the world, the starving masses, through his star-sprinkled efforts to persuade governments to up their ante on the charitable portions they assign to their national economies. Bono and U2 have removed their enterprise from Ireland in favour of a substantially lower tax levy elsewhere. Effectively withholding tax dollars from the very country whose charitable bounty he exhorts be increased for aid abroad. Hmmm...

But then, boys and girls, famous personalities, celebrities over whom everyone wants to swoon, are not like you or I. They have no shame. Public disfavour? Doesn't last. There's no real interest in pursuing the alter-image of a shining personality to reveal a cramped little soul looking for even more fame and adulation, and in the process shamelessly manipulating their adoring public and governments alike at will.

Ah, but there's Madonna, she who excels at shock and awe and - how her bold and ruthless entertainment psyche elevates her well above the norm even among celebrities. Audicity rules, it pays off big time. One becomes a law unto oneself. Starting with her appropriation of a name heavily invested in a different kind of awe, she manoeuvered herself flawlessly into a position of entertainment eminence and unrivalled celebrity.

But look here, even her fans are in doubt about her most recent exploit. Yes, she has given generously of a small-change portion of her enormous fortune to establish orphanages in Malawi, and that's certainly a good thing. People with colossal fortunes earned through public enthusiasm of mass entertainment can certainly afford a little pay-back where it's most needed. Ah, but selecting an infant from Malawi which exercises strict control over out-of-country adoptions just isn't on, it seems.

Well, why not? The child's mother is dead, it's father is grateful for the opportunity for his son to be raised in a manner he's clearly unable to provide. The government of Malawi in recognition of the assistance to needy Malawian children Madonna's largesse has provided is willing to overlook its own laws. Oh yes, no one should be above the law, and there is an element of hypocrisy here, but isn't that the way of the world?

This item is not really one we need be so exercised over.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Heroic Dog, Careless Owner

It's odd, how much we take things for granted. It's odd how different people are when it comes to appreciating companion animals, for example. We've discussed this often. How casual people often are about the animals who share their homes and their lives. We can't quite understand why it is that people so often treat their loyal pets as expendible appendages to be "put down" rather than explore other means to prolong their lives. And then we see those same people with the next generation of pet. Hard not to feel judgemental. Hard to really like these people and appreciate their different value system.

It's odd too how people tend to do certain things which can be inimical to their health and well-being in a really casual way bordering on ignorance. We often see reports of house fires that have tragic ends. Sometimes the causes are explicable and other times they are not. Quite often we read warnings from a local fire department with statistics indicating that the use of decorative candles, particularly when they're left unattended, have been implicated in sometimes-deadly house fires.

I suppose many people have a romantic streak that appreciates the burning of candles. Certainly there are enough of the decorative types sold. As for us, we ensure we have a good supply of plain old wax candles should we need them in case of a temporary loss of electrical power. But just think about how easy it is to be careless around candles; they may throw a lovely soft light enhancing one's surroundings, but they can also be knocked over by a careless movement, a child's unthinking action or they can burn down to the bottom through neglect and cause a fire.

A story out of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin took my notice today. A disabled Wisconsin woman's cat knocked over a candle that the woman had sitting on a table in her living room. The woman had lost a leg in a car accident three years previously so she wasn't exactly mobile, particularly when resting with her artificial leg removed. This 49-year-old woman was watching television when the cat ran over the back of the sofa she was sitting on:
"And he jumped onto a table that had a candle on it and tipped it over and lighted the artificial plants on fire", she said.
Her 13-year-old dog brought her artificial leg over to her, and then went back for her mobile telephone which the woman used to dial 911.
"She got me outside and then she heard the cat upstairs and she went up there to get the cat and she wouldn't come back to me", Ms. Hanson said at a news conference in hospital, where she was being treated for third-degree burns.
Both pets, unfortunately, died.
Ms. Hanson said she fell off the couch and was unable to retrieve her artificial leg from the table, "so my dog got my leg for me and went and got the phone and brought the phone to me so I could call 911."
How's that for a romantic evening?

In this unfortunate instance it would seem that the fittest did not survive. Pity, since the dog's intelligence appeared to make up for the lack of same of its mistress.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

She's the Boss!

Yesterday's rainfall set a record for the date: roughly 27 mmls. That's a lot of wet stuff. Nice to have it at this time of year, but we've got so much to do yet in the garden to ready it for the onset of winter, we'd appreciate a few more dry days. We got that dry day today, despite the heavy overcast. It looked and it felt as though the skies would burst the rain-heavy clouds upon us, but it didn't. In fact, it was milder today than the day before, by far.

Still, jacket weather for us - but Button was enormously relieved not to have to wear a sweater. Not so Riley; he's always glad to be clad. The cooler weather is no delight for him; he shivers unhappily soon as September rounds the calendar. If the weather is sufficiently cool that we need a jacket then we know that the littlest of our dogs needs one too, lest he be made to suffer needlessly.

So she was feeling pretty cocky and pretty good about everything in general, most of all that she was free! to romp about without the imposition of a coat. Her greater size and furry self maintained her body heat nicely, all the more so burning energy through her ravine romp. All that rain of the day before made for an extremely wet, muddy trail system and we did some fairly fancy foot-work to avoid immersing ourselves in the slick stuff.

Button sometimes sidesteps the muck, sometimes heedlessly and happily slithers through it. Riley looks for guidance in his own trail negotiation to us. We've still got plenty of colour, although it's dissipating quickly; each day we see less leaf cover on the increasingly-naked-limbed trees and as a result on some of the trails we can now see through to the backs of houses, dispelling our illusion of back-woods hikes.

We reach a certain junction beside a bench halfway through our regular circuit and Button stops and it's obvious she has something on her mind. She is offering us the opportunity to extend our walk beyond the usual. If we take up her offer we've got to slither down a long hill to access another trail which will lead upwards to another segment of the community behind which the trail system continues.

This isn't the best of days for a more prolonged outing, but she insists and we defer to her wishes. We can almost imagine a satisfied smirk of accomplishment on her black-haired face with its huge button eyes. No problem for the two dogs with their low profile on four legs to negotiate that downhill slide where the piles of foliage, thoroughly drenched, craftily attempt to plunge us into the abyss.

But we gain the upper trail, side-stepping standing pools of muck here and there, and traverse a portion of the trail system that we don't too often get to these days. Much has changed over there. Years ago the very young forest was home to a large number of rabbits and a few red foxes set up in dens. They've long departed with the incursion of new housing units and the accompanying population shift. Still, it's a pleasant diversion and we do the added loop.

When we arrive back close to the point where we had departed from the norm, our usual circuit beckons and we continue. Button, though, appears to have become besotted with her justly-acknowledged trail-blazing abilities and stops again at another division of the trails. This one leads down to a small bridge located across one of the smaller creek run-offs. Again, we allow her to lead and she does that, jauntily. Actually, we think she's pretty smart, and it makes us chuckle to watch her so confidently leading us.

Back up to another ridge, and once again we're on less trodden pathways. This time she doesn't stop to ask if we'd like to diverge from the usual. She allows us to maintain the main trail and she goes off on her own to a side trail paralleling the one we're on for a short distance. When we're re-united, Riley rushes to greet her, and she approaches us, stumpy tail wagging, waiting for praise and a bit of petting. We don't disappoint her and make much of her adventures.

She's so smart, we gloat to one another. She's just the way she was when she was a puppy; a good companion, adventurous, all-knowing. Then our attention is grabbed by her too-familiar yet peculiar stance. She's about to demonstrate yet another talent. We shout out and are relieved we nipped her in the bud - about to roll in some disgustingly aged and mellow dump.

That's our old puppy, all right.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Day Like None Other

We've been retired for a decade. We sleep in when we feel like it - and we feel like, often. It's a luxury we enjoy. And then we retire later at night, making a full and satisfying day of each and every day we're given to enjoy. So we're not particularly enamoured of the need to rise earlier, much earlier than is our wont of late. Actually, half-past six of a week day morning is a misery to face the day. All the more so when that day dawns overcast, chill and windy. All the more so when that is the day you're scheduled to undergo yet another bodily-invasive procedure to ensure that the deadly disease that once threatened your life has not returned.

Now that is sobering. It does focus the mind. There's the point where it becomes first a slight distraction as the days advance and the calender draws nearer to the appointed time, then a true unease settles in, and finally, dread accompanies you to the assignation. A measured dread to be sure. You know you feel well, you are certain there are no untoward indications that all is not well. You just have to display that fabled stiff upper lip. You are, after all, closely approaching 70 years of age. Rather mature. It's unseemly to be so nervous.

So when the nurse checks your blood pressure she questions whether you're feeling a little nervous. And that explains to her satisfaction why the reading is a little on the high side. There are other patients waiting. Patiently they wait. They have little other option. No one wants to be there, why would they? They're there because either there is a real and present threat to their health and well being or they're being checked to ensure there is none.

Misery doesn't necessarily enjoy company. Some people indulge in idle chatter, others sit quietly, close their eyes, will the time to pass - and wait.

It was odd driving through the early dawn light, slowly making our way through the press of early-morning rush-hour traffic. We haven't experienced that kind of thing for years. It's nothing we've missed. We knew that without today's experience. But that too is life. Good thing we left a little earlier than we thought necessary. As it was, despite the press of traffic we made it in good time.

At that time of the morning the parking lot was only one-third occupied. Surely some of those SUVs belong to hospital staff personnel; doctors, nurses, orderlies. More to come as the minutes wear on, and in fact within an hour of our arrival the parking lot would be completely full. Sorry: try for a parking spot near the road. Or wait a few minutes until some patient exits and drives a) off slowly, thoughtfully; b) slips into the driver's seat and zips out as fast as he can.

For us, it was a combination of both. We were in a hurry to leave, but we were in no great hurry. First came the hugs, the self-congratulations, the viewing of the world around us, despite the heavily overcast skies, through a rosy lens.

Odd, that: we so very much appreciated everything about the day. All the colours we saw were so vibrant! We felt so good. Life is good.

Power, its Enabling Abuses

Men, equipped by nature to perform the act of procreation under any circumstance as an assurance of species survival pose a threat to the women around them when they cannot or will not suppress this carnal urge, the imperative to spread their seed. Clever nature made sexual congress a supremely pleasurable act for males in particular to ensure that they not only could but would be prepared at all times to pleasure themselves by serving her plan.

This primitive act of procreation has been civilized by humankind's ability to understand that there was a need for control, that men could not go about heedlessly forcing themselves upon women because of their singular need for sexual congress as a self-absorbed act of pleasure, without an attendant, civilizing realization that reason should dictate they have a willing partner.

Sadly, we still and likely will always have men whose preoccupation with their ego and their ungoverned needs choose not to restrict or restrain themselves. Undisciplined sociopathic men endowed with an overabundance of testosterone and a lack of compassion, an overwhelming sense of self-indulgence and a lack of human perspective have presented as an acute problem to women and society throughout the course of civilization.

Responsible society enacts protective laws and exacts fitting penalties, the least of which is general public anger and distaste accompanied by a recognition of the needfulness to protect women and vulnerable children from these sociopaths who themselves express little empathy for their victims.

We have men targetting the most helpless members of society: young girls and boys whose natural instincts are to trust adults. From the isolated instances when young children are abducted, assaulted and sometimes left for dead, to those other events when a crazed and angry adult will storm a school to deal abuse and death on innocent children, society reels in horror.

There are the abusive husbands and fathers who cannot deal with the fact that their wives or girlfriends will find the courage to wrench themselves away from a relationship that brought horror and pain into their lives. From helpless victims they transform themselves into responsible adults who refuse to be further victimized, and to take their children away from the harmful relationship.

In all such instances there is a power element involved which enables the bully, the egotist, the sexual predator to prey on his target. Whether it's the perceived power of the husband in a relationship, that of an adult over children, that of a teacher, a politician, doctors, priests - all have positions of authority and trust which they betray.

Their ranks are legion, bringing shame to their gender, to those other men in the vast majority whose imaginations could not begin to conceive of satisfying their sexual urges at the cost of forcing their unwanted attentions on innocents. Let alone living with the knowledge that their actions have ruined their victims' lives.

Despite the acknowledgement of these events as a dreadful societal problem, despite the best of intentions in drafting new and expanding laws to deal with this age-old problem, society has done too little to help the victims, too little to enact laws adequate to ensure that those guilty of these crimes are not let loose again on the public to re-enact those same crimes when the urge strikes.

Until we are able to better protect victims of sexual abuse we'll just continue to wring our hands about the ongoing carnage. And the victims will continue to live in fear and loathing; often not of their tormentors, but of themselves, living out their blemished lives in agony.

Surely we can do better.

A Time to Grieve, a Time to Heal

It was much easier speaking with her this time. She called in response to a letter I'd sent to her last week. I'm able to express myself far easier through the written word than the spoken word. Not always, but under some special circumstances. In this case the circumstance was the death of her husband of some forty-five years of living and loving, tolerating and cherishing. That kind of shock is trauma beyond belief. If you haven't suffered it yourself - just imagined how your life would be diminished beyond endurance - then it's difficult to convey to the bereaved how you ache for them.

And so it was. Our conversation was stilted, awkward. She was abrupt, scolding, aggrieved. I could understand. I was glad she had the comfort, such as it was after such a fatal body-blow, of having her son and his wife and their two young children living in their own separate house, but on her property, close to the farmhouse she and her husband have lived in for decades and where they raised their two children, just outside Truro.

She is the estimable mother of our daughter-in-law. We've never met in person but have, over the years, written to one another, spoken often on the telephone; extended greetings and invitations to visit with one another, yet never have. She told me about her determination to get on with life, yet how difficult it has been. She thinks of him daily; mornings are bad, evenings are worse.

She forced herself to go on a three-week trip back to Germany, her birthplace in Ulm, to visit with family and friends, knowing she would return to an empty house sad with memories. But she went, and she is glad she did that, even though every time she experienced something novel when away her first thought always was that she had to share it with him, as soon as possible. Not possible.

We talked on and on. She mentioned a bad fall she had experienced a week earlier. She had her two grandchildren with her, visiting the Cenotaph in Halifax. The children were scrambling about and she was standing close by them, when the little girl called out to her to beware of the wasp approaching. At which she took a startled step backward, forgetting she was not standing on a perfectly flat surface, and she fell on her back. The back of her head cracked on the pavement.

The doctor assured her that she had suffered only soft-tissue damage; a large bruised area, a very sore skull for a while. The discomfort would pass. And it was, it was; mere discomfort. Not to be compare to irreparable life-diminishing loss. She felt, she said, ever so much better. About everything. I could hear that in her voice. She sounded half-happy, optimistic. The trip was an antidote of sorts, it helped her to restore herself.

She'd hired someone to paint the house, she said. A handyman referred to her by the local paint and wallpaper store where she had bought the paint. Turned out he was an older fellow interested in older houses and appreciated hers. She was impressed. Impressed and happy with the job he did on the house which most certainly needed the work done and had, for a long time.

We talked about the death of Lister Sinclair. She had met him personally, she said, decades ago, at a craft fair. She is a weaver, an enthusiastic craftswoman, lover of the arts in all its forms. He had approached her, enquired about her name and where she was from. He said her parents must either have been obsessed with Nordic legends or they were German. Both, as it happened. And, Elfriede said, she had always hated her name. What to say?

Lister Sinclair, she went on, asked where in Germany? Ulm, she said. Ulm, he repeated thoughtfully. Ulm has an ancient lineage, he said, dredging his memory. It is celebrated for having the tallest church spire in Europe, is it not? The birthplace of Albert Einstein, with a famous bust of the genius sticking out his tongue at the world? And isn't that where Herbert von Karajan began his conducting career?

Ah, she sighed. What a man. What a memory. He introduced her to a well-known weaver from Quebec, a master-weaver. It had been a memorable occasion. Which took us to a discussion of the paucity of geniuses this world has produced. Did I realize that Goerthe was a polymath as well as a sublime writer, a philospher?

Little wonder with a mother whose interest in history, music, the plastic arts, we have a daughter-in-law with a fiercely intelligent mind.

Monday, October 16, 2006

It Happens

Lovely day, today. It took until mid-afternoon before we could really enjoy it. For me it was house-cleaning day. For him it was the day to disassemble the garden furniture and ready it for storage. To clear away all the tomato cages I use for various purposes in the garden. To finally cut down that vine that in all the years we've cossetted it has never graced us with a flower, although we originally planted it six years ago knowing that its large red trumpet-shaped flowers would attract hummingbirds.

Instead it grew rampantly green, reaching up the brick wall toward the eavestrough and beyond, to the garage roof. I discovered too late that this vine thrives and flowers in nutrient-poor soil; in the rich soil environment we strive so mightily to provide for our plants it felt encouraged to grow green and vast, and to send out pups to plant elsewhere in the garden.

But finally we made it into the ravine for our daily walk. And what a difference one day makes. Certainly we had a killing overnight frost, and certainly it was windy, and still was when we ventured out, but we were still surprised at the bare branches that greeted our eyes. And the depth to which our gaze could now penetrate through the trees, the underbrush to the scene beyond we prefer to be screened. But the beech trees have kept their leaves, turned overnight from a deep yellow to a mellow bronze.

And then there was Scooter, his low-slung barrel body and stumpy legs whizzing him over the trail toward Button and Riley; old friends. Not far behind was Suzanne whom we hadn't seen in a while. Looking very pretty and refreshed, and happy to be out in the woods. She'd been on another trip, and stopped to tell us about it, pointing out to us the memento she brought back - on her face. A new scar that stretched across the top of the bridge of her nose, edging toward her left eye.

She'd gone for a ten-day tour with a group of her walking friends, to Corsica. A walking tour. Through the dry, hot climate where palm trees flourished, and which was certainly exotic enough for anyone as a walking location. And then there was its Napoleonic history as well, and its welcoming citizens of France. Perfect for Suzanne.

First two days was a kind of orientation session, looking about, acquainting themselves with this different place, different climate, different geography, different flora and fauna. Then four days of hiking, walking, looking about, enjoying the pleasure of one another's company. Starting out at half-past eight in the morning, winding things up at half-past four in the afternoon. Lodged at tourist inns, small towns.

The food, she said, was unremarkable, and she attributed that to the fact that the guide consistently brought them along to restaurants and cafes set up specifically to service tourists. When she had been all alone for those two days in the hospital town to which she had been evacuated, she found her own restaurants, and there the food was truly excellent.

Hospital? Well, on day six, fourth day of their walking tour, they had stopped that evening at an inn. There was a resident dog, a small black animal with floppy, spaniel-like ears that seemed friendly enough. Indeed, as Suzanne is a dog fancier she made friends with the dog. Then, after dinner, out on her own briefly she encountered the dog again and bent toward it to greet it. The dog leapt at her, fastened its teeth on her nose and hung on.

There was a husband-wife/doctor-nurse pair along for the tour, and they administered first-aid. Because of their isolation at the inn, with no real roadway system, a helicopter was flown in for an emergency evacuation, and she was taken to a nearby town with a fair-sized hospital. Where she was treated. Initially the doctors feared she would suffer some vision loss; it also appeared that the tear ducts would be involved.

But no, the bite, although deep and broad, required stitches, pain killer and rest. Two days later she re-joined her group for the final two days of walking, before leaving to return home.
She blames herself for intruding on the dog's space. For my money, no dog should ever attack in that manner.

She had a good time, despite the experience. And, as I mentioned, she looked good, really relaxed and good. The scar will fade.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

An Estimable Persona

Impressive. Quite. As a matter of fact, far as my eye can see, a truly refreshing change from those who preceded her. As I recollect, these women manifested much lesser traits; they were aloof, imperious, some given to backroom/bedroom manipulation, and some were so completely self-involved as to make a laughing-stock of their place in the firmament of leading ladies. This young woman appears to be quite different, with her head firmly grounded, her values intact, her public persona much to be admired.

She's no slouch in any area she is commanded to perform in by dint of her husband's political position. Nor in those areas she is commended for performance as a very involved mother of two young children. Yet she obviously has a mind of her own, and interests far removed from those involving her duties as wife of the Prime Minister of Canada - and mother of their children.

She has an affinity for motorcycles and from what has appeared in public print enjoys driving them, much as a free spirit would. And, credit to her husband whose personality is that of a driven man - he appears to respect her own drives and her native intelligence. She is, by all reports, not given to airs about herself and her place for the time being, as Canada's "first wife".

More power to her, and a whole lot of self-congratulations to us. For the price of one, we appear to have received two intelligent, hard-working and dedicated people the better to lead the land; he by political administration; she by example.

Laureen Harper has engaged herself in the defence of the defenceless, taking it upon herself, despite the press of her many obligations, to offer her support to the Ottawa Humane Society. She brings into her home rescued stray cats which require fostering. In this way she demonstrates for her children the compassion we all should feel and demonstrate toward companion animals in distress. I very much doubt that 24 Sussex Drive has ever before been designated a "foster home" for society's abandoned pets.

She is a patron of the arts, as befits an individual with her standing. Not only has she lent her considerable name to high-profile funding events such as the recent National Arts Centre fundraising dinner, but she also goes out of her way to be helpful in more mundane ways. She offered to assist in the actual setting up and decorating of the venue, held at the National Gallery's great hall. After which she elegantly took her place during the ball/dinner in greeting guests and donors on behalf of the NAC.

Mrs. Harper doesn't stand on ceremony, and makes herself available in support of worthy causes - such as child literacy. Teach the child and you have supported the adult and enriched the community. A national newspaper initiated a nationally-advertised drive to alert parents and educators to the need to encourage literacy and the love of literature in children. Laureen Harper was out on downtown Ottawa streets with other volunteers, garbed in literacy tee-shirts, handing out literature, encouraging participation.

Laureen Harper has volunteered at her children's public school, just as so many other parents do. She creates the graphics for posters advertising various school events, and drives about the city as a volunteer picking up donated books for the school's yearly book sale. Her husband assisted along with her in sorting through the books, alongside other volunteers.

If this woman isn't a poster-female for other busy wives and mothers, then who, conceivably, is?
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