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

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Finally, Released

Good to know that finally, Robert Latimer will be released from prison. He has lived far too long in purgatory. First the hellish anguish of witnessing a beloved child of his own languish in pain, year after year, operation after operation.

Carefully tending to her physical needs. Not knowing what the needs of her mind were, yet aware that there was scant little of a mind there. Yet most surely, in the most primal way, aware.

A child born with cerebral palsy of the most severe variety; no mobility, suffering countless epileptic seizures throughout the course of a day. The consciousness of a newborn, yet capable of emoting, leaving a parent with the hope that there might conceivably be some level of awareness deep within.

Knowing, over the course of a dozen years finally, there was little indeed. Capable, though, of reacting to pain, and of that there was ample. Her father finally determined his child had no life. No prospects. No future. The present only rife with the promise of more operations, more pain, and no advantage.

So he undertook to remove her from life, from pain, from hopelessness. And in so doing relieved also her loving family for whom her pain and constant surgical distractions drained them of emotion, of faith in fairness and justice, with no agency to appeal to for help, temporal or spiritual.

The hostility, spite and resounding anger of those representing the interests of people living with intractable and compounded bodily incapacities was boundless. They screamed for justice for the child whose life was taken by her father.

Assuming she'd had a life. It was an improbably cruel existence. Most people, though, felt the compassion owed to this man, and to his unfortunate child.

Justice of some kind has since taken its course. His family was deprived of his presence for too many years. And Robert Latimer feels his incarceration to have been one of societal revenge, not justice. And he may be entirely correct.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

No Excuses!

So which weighs more heavily, nature or nurture? Put another way, what is more responsible for the way we are, our genetic inheritance or our early exposure to a certain familial lifestyle and the choices we make for ourselves in the environment we inhabit? Certainly all of the above are responsible for what we make of ourselves, but genetic inheritance is not necessarily the major portion responsible for the condition we achieve.

It's - wait for it - lifestyle. We option to live in a certain way, and that is mostly what determines how we develop. We can make intelligent choices and enjoy life to the fullest, being physically active into our elder years, and forestalling the appearance of chronic conditions that fall to those who haven't bothered to make "best practise" choices in lifestyle. Or we can become fully complicit in stumbling precipitously into a faltering old age.

If we've become accustomed to a certain way of living, patterning ourselves after what we've become familiar with and comfortable with, and make no effort to question those choices, we're victims of circumstances. Particularly when those patterns are inimical to good health and enjoyment of life to its fullest. These are circumstances that we allow to occur.

But it's awfully handy to shrug off responsibility and to claim there were no choices given us; genetics predisposed us.

In this instance, to becoming grossly overweight. Because that's what the family looks like; from parents to offspring: burdensomely overweight. Certainly there can be a genetic predisposition to being adipose-afflicted; some people do, as a result of the way their body burns calories, put on more weight than others, eating the same food.

Which means nothing other than if one realizes that is the case, then one becomes more careful about food choices. Their quality and quantity.

Obesity experts agree that genetics play a role in determining body composition, and the BMI tells them a great deal in a familial context. Everyone's metabolism is slightly different, but within a family situation there can be a levelling off of those differences. And studies corroborate the understanding of genetics, yet only to a 35% to 40% extent.

Which means that 65% to 60% of the propensity to over-weight is environmentally induced.
Living in a society that has long since accepted the convenience of fast foods, pre-packaged and processed foods, and as much food as one could wish for.

Social scientists appear to have reached an interesting conclusion comparing the eating habits of North Americans as opposed to Europeans - French people, in this instance. Where an American will eat all the food presented to him/her, while a French woman or man will eat only as much food as satisfies hunger.

That too is environmental; in this instance bespeaking a social/cultural norm. In France, eat until satiety; but in the U.S. just eat. There appears to be no satiety recognition. The U.S. social eating culture is mirrored in Canada.

Our body shapes are fairly well pre-determined by our genetic inheritance, so if we eat to excess we'll put on the poundage in areas where it settled on our parents' ample bodies.

On the other hand, if we learn to value food as a necessity as well as a pleasure, and value our bodies equally, we can learn to distinguish what represents wholesome nutritious food and opt for that, and eat what our bodies require - and then push away from the table.

"Lifestyle would trump bad genetics in the majority of cases", according to Robert Hegele, an endocrinologist at the Robarts Research Institute at the University of Western Ontario.

If your parents and your family at large saw no value in recreational exercise or being physically active, it's likely you won't, either. But it doesn't have to be that way. No more than it has to be that a child, grown to adulthood, must feel the need to emulate the eating patterns of its parents. We make choices, and we live with the results.

Then society picks up the pieces with medical interventions as a result of poor lifestyle choices.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

How Supremely Incautious Can We Get?

Possibly it's true, that there's one sucker born every minute. I'm in no position to doubt that. Particularly given the numbers of people accommodating themselves to being suckered. No one could possibly be ignorant of the fact that fraud artists are happily at work doing their best to cajole people out of their hard-earned money.

Having a ball doing it, too, it would appear. Since there appears to be no lack of individuals - presumably halfway endowed with sufficient brains to get by in life - who eagerly bite the bait. Not that anyone might wish to suggest that people go through life casting suspicious glances at every approaching stranger, eliminating all correspondence of unknown derivation, anticipating that everyone is out to steal from them.

Just exercise some restraint from compulsive reaction, use one's common sense - if they're imbued with any - above all, don't fall for the approach that riches can be had for little-to-no-effort, other than to be complicit in someone else's shady schemes. Greedy buggers.

Hey, there's even a sheepish admission by a columnist in the Lifestyles Section of the newspaper I read, that he wasn't sufficiently diligent in responding to an email from "his bank" and how grateful he was to "his bank" for catching the anomaly, stopping fund transfer, effectively bailing him out of his own moronic sleepwalking.

Sometimes it's encouragement to send money directly for the purpose of qualifying for a much larger amount of money - send it along, chum/p/s, as a goodwill gesture and you'll win the jackpot.

Turns out they're the unhappy Jack sitting on the pot, with no recourse to action in reclaiming their escaped funds. Sometimes it's falling for that old "you won!" come-on, be it a vehicle, a vacation or whatever - again, a goodwill gesture is required and all too many are happy to be compliant.

The really funny thing is that we ascribe to all these losers one dominant fact; they're elderly and not quite fully engaged, a tad shy of full-wittedness. Well, not necessarily, it would appear.

New statistics appear to reveal that about 6 in 10 adults succumb to these silly blandishments to get involved in a neat scheme to rid themselves of their own money. These so-called 'victims' (victims of their own gullibility) report an average of 21 contacts through fraudsters.

Victims claim demands averaging $1,900 from fraud artists; how incautious and trusting can one be to loosen that much cash and send it flying into fraud artists' hands can one possibly be? Losses range the gamut from a few dollars to a whopping $50,000, amounting to an estimated total of $450-million(!) lost on an annual basis. But wait, that's not the most unbelievable part of this.

The victims range across all demographics, from educated to not, wealthy to not, young to elderly. And so much for the hip generation of today, one-third of victims are under age 30, while those over 60 represent a relatively lighter load of idiots, at 13%.

Best of all, those with university degrees and juicy incomes in excess of $100,000 are as readily sweet-talked into compliance as any other groups.

The categories of money-parting fraud are numerous, from sweepstakes fraud to high-pressure sales-pitch vacation frauds; bogus health products and cure frauds, to investment fraud; cheque cashing/money transfer job fraud, to overpayment for sale of merchandise fraud.

They're cunning; you can receive notification in the mail that an unknown relative has died intestate, and lawyers have traced to you as the only living family member. Make a deposit at your bank, under the serial number given in the letter - which, incidentally, is addressed to you, specifically, middle-initial included - and the bulk of the estate will be yours.

Email messages purporting to be from your bank wishing you to confirm certain personal data; just log in to the message line and confirm, thank you very much. Make a modest deposit for a time-share vacation home and everything will be arranged for your dream vacation, ad infinitum.

The big question here is: trusting, or stupid?


Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Super Obese" Us

Oops, we're not just overweight, a little on the heavy side, tubby, fat, or lardish any longer. We're more, far more than that. All right, not all of us. Some of us are just a tad over what we should weigh. For our health and well-being. Let alone our personal sense of satisfaction, our self-esteem.

So we need to drop a few pounds. Not yet, not in the winter, for it's cold out there and that few extra pounds we packed on after Christmas can stay in place for another month or so, until Spring comes around the corner.

And then, zap! We'll drop that extra poundage like you wouldn't believe. Don't need it any more. We can look to be svelte and well-appointed, shedding all that bulky outerwear with the newly-unneeded fat. No prob-lem!

Except, for some of us, it is. And, on the evidence, has been for quite some time. Those of us who find it ever so difficult to exert a little bit of self-discipline over our lifelong engagement with food. Because, let's face it, there's nothing quite like it.

Eating is fun, taste-bud rewarding, and leaves us in a state of satietated contentment. And then, we get glum. The guilt kind of settles in and nestles around our head, delving into our minds and we think: damn! did it again.

It really is hard to stop when you're enjoying yourself so much. And who thinks of the consequences in the happy throes of consuming all the good things that modern culinary arts can offer?

Um, along with the stuff we dredge up from the supermarket shelves; those comestibles that your mother, your grandmother would never recognize. Convenience foods. Super-processed stuff. High fat, high sugar, high salt content.

And it tastes good, some of it, anyway. Some of it doesn't, but it gets eaten anyway, because the fat, the sugar and the salt content convince us it's all right, even if we can't quite recognize what we're eating.

Resulting in not just obese, we're now being informed by worried doctors - themselves no slackers in putting on weight - but super-obese. Body mass indexes in the stratosphere. Really.

A BMI of 30 is considered getting on obese. Obese as is morbidly overweight. Morbidly as in life-threatening. Hard to remember we have the option of making intelligent choices to comport ourselves to ensure what we do to ourselves enhances our lives.

But holy cow! Now we're talking about severe obesity, with BMIs of 40 and more. But wait; there's more. What's becoming increasingly common now in doctors' offices and emergency rooms of hospitals is people in distress, with BMIs in the range of 80 and 90.

How's that possible? "We're seeing an increasing number of super obese patients in Canada and this is true across the entire country." I didn't say that, although I do have a neighbour whom I very much like, who handily fits that category.

That statement came out of the concerned mouth of an obesity researcher, professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, and president of Obesity Canada, Dr. David Lau. I daresay I hope he's not including himself in that super-obese category, as representative of the horror that people can visit upon themselves.

Think of what carrying around all that weight does to your internal organs? Not to mention your joints, your legs, knees, ankles, tendons. We're talking ordinary, normal people somehow getting carried away with enthusiasm for all those edible goodies at our fingertips; people weighing in at 400 - 450 pounds.

"The heavier they get, the less exercise they can do, the bigger they get, the more depressed they get, the more they eat." Is that a vicious cycle, or is it not?

Then they're uncommonly susceptible to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, high blood fat and cholesterol, sleep apnea, fatty liver, hiatus hernia, gallbladder disease and joint pain. C'mon, that doesn't sound like life, it sounds like living hell. Why, let alone how, would anyone do this to themselves?

Some of this propensity to weight gain is the result of genetic inheritance, some a result of lifestyle choices. We inherit genes, we don't choose them, but we do choose to live the way we do. Is this the new normal?

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Breakthrough Vaccines

The government of Canada announced it would provide $300-million as a new pro-active health initiative, to assist the provinces in providing for the free administration of the new drug Gardasil in schools, to teen-age girls. Seems very forward-looking and enterprising, looking after the health of young women, to prevent cervical cancer, a truly deadly, sexually-transmitted disease.

When such initiatives are announced, with a wide coverage such as this represented, the acceptance rate among the target group is generally in the 80% range, according to Dr. Ian Gemmill, medical officer of health for the Kingston, Ontario region. Ontario was the first province to take advantage of the federal government offer, and began administering Gardasil in schools, targeting girls before they would be expected to become sexually active.

Figures just released appear as a questionable value judgement on the part of parents, unwilling to permit their grade 8 daughters to accept the vaccine. Approximately 53% across the board were given the first of the required three injections of Gardasil. The vaccine has been accepted as fully effective in the prevention of four strains of HPV (human papilloma virus).

Two of these strains are the causative of fully 70% of cervical cancer cases, of which 1,300 new cases present each year, resulting in approximately 400 deaths in the province. The drug has been celebrated as a highly effective treatment, although no one appears to know whether there will be side effects surfacing in the future, nor for how long the drug remains effective.

The immunization program has been received in some quarters with a big question mark, with an epidemiologist at McGill University raising an alarm over what is not known about the vaccine. Writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, warning that such a universal program is premature, given that there is always the possibility of unintended results.

We've seen more than ample "unintended deleterious results" to peoples' health when further research into efficacy as opposed to side-effects has resulted in side-effects sometimes more gravely injurious to health than the original condition that drugs were being used to control. At which time new findings are published, government agencies take a second look, and withdraw their seals of approval.

A good case in point was the 1950s - 1960s use of the drug Thalidomide, prescribed to combat nausea in pregnant women. The drug, synthesized by Chemie Grunenthal of Germany, and in use in 46 countries world-wide, turned out not to be the harmless sedative it was presumed to be. Thalidomide turned out to be the horror drug of the century, its use causing dreadful deformities in thousands of babies around the world.

Pharmaceutical companies aggressively encourage the use of their new products. They vouch for the safety of their use, having put their drugs through experimental testing and monitoring the results to ensure efficacy and safety. It's also very true that those same pharmaceutical companies take great care to suppress research results proving inimical to their cause, publishing only those results that enable them to extol the virtues of their products.

All manner of drugs have been removed from use after aggressive marketing has successfully seen them certified by trusting governments, allowing them to be placed them on the market. And when anecdotal evidence eventually thrusts itself into public awareness, causing independent researchers to take a second look, the pharmaceutical companies take on a strenuous self-defence, still claiming the effectiveness of their product.

It doesn't seem all that difficult to get a lot of doctors on board, accepting the use of medications and clamouring for their use. When menopausal women were urged to use hormone replacement therapy, with family physicians, gynaecologists and other specialists attesting to its value as a deterrent against bone loss and strokes, let alone its purported value in expunging all those uncomfortable hormonal-imbalance indicators like hot flashes, women acceded to their professional acumen.

We all know where that led, and how medically questionable the use of HRT protocol is today. For one lone dissenting voice in the field of medicine, the counterbalance of hundreds of expert opinions weighing in on the need for and efficacy of Gardasil resulting in a slight majority of acceptance against the questioning remainder, we have a result that has seen half of the target group inoculated, the remainder not.

Despite the raised voices of approval by infectious disease and paediatric specialists, there are critics who quietly state their apprehension with respect to the haste with which the process for the administration of the vaccine has been approved, a trifle unsettling. Unsettling also is the fact that many of the scientists clamouring for the unquestioning use of Gardasil have received consulting fees from the manufacturers, Merck and Glaxo.

What is important now, given the message of a 50% acceptance rate, is that further research into the vaccine's long-term safety of use, a better understanding of its efficacy longevity, potential side-effects, and more practical education elucidating both, be given to the parents of girls in Ontario.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Societal Weigh-Off

Well, you've got to give them credit. Actually, they don't need anyone's credit; they've managed, through shrewd enterprise and a sterling sense of business acumen to acquire for themselves huge profits through their vision of providing for their immense customer base quality products at base cost.

Said to be the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart is scorned by those to whom it represents the scourge of the small specialty shop, the corner store, the struggling family business, anxious to retain some vestige of the corner-store, small-business familiarity.

Wal-Mart has managed to shoe-horn itself in to prominence on the marketing scene by sheer dint of determination and smart salesmanship and irresistible marketing techniques. They know what their customer-base wants, and they provide it for them.

They excel at distribution, through the integration of their data systems with those of their suppliers. When they identify what sells, that's what they order from the manufacturers who supply their inventory.

They sell what moves, don't stock huge inventories of items that most people have scant interest in acquiring, and through sheer up-to-the-minute stock-and-sale perfection they're able to coast along with product sales boosting the bottom line even before their supplier-inventories come due.

Brilliant. That's exquisite timing. Resulting in little-to-no costs related to warehousing, comparatively speaking. And that's their technique, leading to their ability to provide desired items at cut-rate prices. The ultimate retail establishment, cutting costs to the bone, and passing along savings to their client base.

But there's more to the Wal-Mart cult of shopping experience than even that. It's undeniable that the company's founder sharp-mindedly thought up an exercise in ultimate marketing, with the intention of growing and becoming wealthy in the process, likely beyond his expectation.

In the process, however, the company has enabled far greater numbers of people to purchase goods because they're more affordable. There was a time when only the wealthy could afford items not considered to be strictly for utility; luxury goods.

Then industrialization spelled the end of artisanship making everything from rude implements to elaborate decorative pieces available to ever greater numbers of people as production and delivery and retailing costs were reduced.

Wal-Mart has taken the process even further. And as the corporation expanded, opening ever more of their warehouse-type goods emporiums greater numbers of people became employed.

They're not an urban shopping phenomena, but rather a rural/suburban one, providing employment, full- and part-time to - honestly - 1.9-million people, many of whom would otherwise be unemployed.

The goods they purvey come from all corners of the world, including corners needing a leg-up and those who're creating their own leg-ups, like India and China. But greater numbers of people continue to be employed in the process of manufacturing also, to produce the goods sold at Wal-Mart.

Although their employees will never be able to join the middle-class through the less-than- munificent salary alone, they do have some security with the corporation providing health care coverage for their U.S. sales contingent.

An amazing $415-million in cash and merchandise is dispensed on an annual basis in a corporate good-will gesture to one hundred thousand charities around the world.

The corporation has committed itself to environmental responsibility, and in a related vein, sells more organic produce than most other retailers. It's working to move prices lower on sustainable technologies and building materials, looking to equip its stores to use 20% less energy for the future.

Low-income families, among them their own employees, are given the opportunity to purchase hard goods and comestibles at 15% to 25% lower costs than at most other retailers.

Its aggressive pricing has encouraged other retailers to compete, among them supermarket chains, helping to keep prices more affordable for families, enabling them to live better, and to save for big-ticket items, like homes, like retirement savings. All right, that's a bit of a stretch.

But all things considered, they're not quite the Bogeyman we love to characterize them as being. Especially snotty people like me and thou.

Furthermore, it appears that they haven't been quite as destructive to the presence of small shop owners as has always been imagined. Their presence in an area isn't entirely inimical to the adaptable small-shop owners who now understand that there are niches to fill in a retail market constantly in flux, responding to the variety of consumer expectations.

So they're all right, on balance. Go ahead, shop there. Count me out. Irrational, I know.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Who Might Imagine?

Who might imagine what could happen to a vulnerable young child left to its own devices? Alert parents, that's who. When children are young they should not be left to make choices that can prove to be of harm to their safety, their very survival.

It's why parental oversight is so critical to the safety of children. Children are curious little creatures who don't recognize safety boundaries, whose personal enterprise at entering the world around them makes them susceptible to dangers they cannot foresee.

This is one of the critical functions of parenthood: to evaluate conditions for their children, while stimulating their sense of curiosity and creativity and adventure. Children are not to be left to their own devices for the unexpected can and will occur.

Children are defenceless against adversity they can neither initially recognize nor defend themselves against. They haven't the experience, they haven't the decision-making maturity.

One tragedy befalling children after another. Of unwary parents, willing to take the risk for a moment's attention placed elsewhere than on the safety and security of their children. For a moment is all it takes. And then regret is forever.

The latest, a seven-year-old boy who is said to have loved the water. On vacation with his parents and a younger sibling, in Tofino, from their home in Birmingham, Washington. The little boy was with his father on the beach adjacent the bed-and-breakfast they were staying at.

But this is a wild and untamed area, with exposure to the ocean and nearby jangled bush.

William Pilkenton was in the care of his father David, both walking along the rocky beach. William's father made the decision to leave his son for a short period of time. A reckless decision.

Did the father caution the child to stay where he was, not venture out into the water, nor into the nearby bush? Did he impress on the child the potential dangers? Fruitless manoeuvres in any event, guaranteed to excite a child's curiosity even more.

When the father returned to the beach his son was nowhere to be seen. And has not been seen since. A massive search was launched shortly afterward.

The RCMP noted that the pebbly beach was wet and slippery as a result of recent rains. It couldn't be known whether the child tripped and slid into the water and was carried away, but intensive searches were undertaken in the water.

The owner of the Water's Edge Inn, close to the area where the child disappeared, tried to help search. "I just started looking around my place first. It's pretty dense rain forest and I personally fell in a big hole up to my waist" he said. "It's thick and dense and gnarly and horribly wet."

Another resident of the area, owner of the Cable Cove Inn, and his family were out helping with the search, as were countless members of nearby B.C. Indian bands. "I don't think anyone was working today, everyone was out looking for this kid", said Ram Tumuluri.

Everyone is out, looking for a lost child. It's been several days. Night-time temperatures drop pretty low. It's a large, frighteningly hostile environment for a small child.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Uninformed, Belligerent Dissent

How to understand the combativeness expressed by Ottawa taxi drivers when faced with the city council having passed a by-law requiring all taxi drivers in the city to install a $1,500 camera system in their cars by July 1...? It's long been known that this was on the horizon. It's a measure to ensure safety for the drivers themselves, as well as for their passengers.

To help offset the costs to taxi drivers, the city had agreed to permitting them a year earlier, to collect a modest increase in initial meter fees. Now, one of the arguments being advanced by militant unionized taxi drivers is that the cameras are too expensive, effectively belying the reality of having had a year to save the fare increases to pay for the cameras.

Perhaps the real issue here is that taxi drivers fear that the cameras will be used to track their every moves, give them no privacy, force them to do things they don't want to, in the knowledge that some ogreish Big Brother is looking in at them every moment of their working day.

These fears obviously are a backlash to the many complaints lodged against taxi drivers by some of their clients, citing rudeness and dirty vehicles and worse: instances of sexual groping. Some of these accusations have been proved to be unfounded, others have had the substance of criminal charges laid.

And there was the notorious case of a taxi driver having inadvertently knocked down a young woman with a late-night trio of inebriated companions, dragging her to her death, not realizing what had happened, until a later, tragic revelation. An inquest found the driver innocent of intent.

But on Tuesday of this week the outraged taxi drivers, faced with the need to install those cameras in short order, staged a loud traffic-stopping protest before City Hall. Some of their representatives entered council chambers to hear out the mayor's reasons for this move, then stamped out in loud disgust.

In the most urgently timely occurrence, that very same week, no fewer than three late-night, early-morning violent robberies took place against taxi drivers in the city. Handily, two suspects were caught on a surveillance camera at an area coffee shop. Had cameras been installed on the cabs themselves all of the robbery suspects might have been revealed.

In response to the quick spate of robberies, and in sad memory of past beatings of taxi drivers, woundings and even tragic deaths, the national union representative for the Canadian Auto Workers which represents Ottawa taxi drivers, planned a meeting with Chief White of the Ottawa Police.

The purpose would be to discuss ways in which future safety of taxi drivers might be enhanced through police action. The union representative, Mohamad Alsadi also expressed concern at the increase in verbal and physical assaults, and the need required by drivers for police to become more involved.

Chief White's advice? Put cameras in their vehicles. "I think cameras are a huge deterrent to people committing robberies." No kidding. In response to which Mr. Alsadi commented that cab drivers are not opposed to the installation of the video cameras, but rather to the potential for "spying" on them.

So what will it be, to continue to work within an inherently and potentially dangerous environment with no recourse to identifying an assailant? To prefer this over the installation of cameras, the presence of which will most certainly have the effect of making violent criminals think twice about assaulting drivers?

To say they're conflicted over the matter is an understatement. But it doesn't take a genius to understand they're reacting in a manner inimical to their own safety by rebelling against the imposition of cameras.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Our Little Tykes

It's been about five years since my husband ripped all the carpeting off our main staircase leading from the foyer to the second floor. He'd wanted an all oak staircase. We already had the oak balustrade and turnings, all he had to do was convert the stair treads and backs from pine underlay to oak overlay. Which he set about doing. It took quite a while; he bought the oak a bit at a time and gradually converted the entire staircase.

I'd been uncertain whether he should proceed, but as usual he asks my opinion, and regardless of what it is, if he's sufficiently determined he'll go ahead anyway. I knew that once the carpeting was removed and replaced with wood, the staircase would never again be a playground for our little dogs, where I would toss their balls and toys and they'd run up to retrieve them, bringing them back for more tosses.

Our children weren't too certain it would be a good idea, since their parents were getting on in age, and they thought ahead a bit to us in our dotage, having difficulty negotiating wood steps, slipping and falling. Always a possibility, but never, thus far, a reality. But the wood steps present as a hazard to our little dogs; it is they who occasionally trip up and slip on them.

Mind, it's a stunningly beautiful staircase. My husband is more than pleased with the fruit of his efforts. As am I.

And this morning, a truly dreadful sight; our porky little stub-legged toy poodle Riley, lost his footing as he followed me up the stairs. I had been well ahead of him, already halfway down the upper hallway when I heard an odd sound which I realized later was the air being whacked out of his chest. Followed by odd thumps, at which sound I realized what was happening.

I raced back to the top of the stairs just in time to see him tumbling sideways, length-ways, down one step after another. Hurrying down the steps in a frantic effort to try to catch him before he went any further, I observed in horror, in a kind of slow motion effect, his futile attempts to stop his progress, to right himself.

I reached him finally, when he was on the fourth-to-last step. He had managed to right himself, was standing shakily on his legs, and, turning about to face the opposite direction, began feebly to try going down the stairs. I swept him up and clasped him to me. He was trembling, his heart racing.

Later, out in the ravine, he was hesitant to proceed, walked awkwardly and slowly, then stopped, asking to be picked up. We'd caught another ten cm of snow yesterday, although the trail had by early afternoon been well tamped down. We carried him a short bit, then set him down. The process of slow walking, stopping, asking to be lifted repeated several times.

Finally, he seemed to regain his normal pace and no longer asked to be picked up and we completed the usual circuit.

Earlier my husband had called around various area carpeting shops. Stair runners, he was informed, weren't in stock, they'd be happy to order for us. Price ranged from a low of $30 a foot and on upwards, steeply. Their personnel would have to come over, to measure before ordering.

Installation would be another $400 at base, depending also on how often their carpeting installers would have to come over. We said thank you very much. Went over to Home Depot, found a very suitable, quite attractively patterned runner and bought thirty feet of it. A munificent $5.95 per foot. And under-padding as well. And rods.

It'll be a bit of a stretch to figure out how to do it properly since the staircase semi-winds, and the treads are longer and wider at the bottom end, but my miracle-worker husband will succeed as he always does.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Sense of Self

It’s good to read about an initiative that has proven to be successful, in bringing young people with a common background and shared problems together. The thing is, together they can thrash out the problems that seem to trouble them, and attempt to understand why they’re happening, and learn, with the help that numbers often contribute to a situation, how to overcome the challenges that come their way.

A high school teacher and a handful of her friends, witnessing the obstacles that their black students often encountered in social situations they weren’t always able to control, thought of something they might organize that might prove useful. And so was born Black Youth Conference Day, with the entire school day given over to one hundred and seventy-five students who attend Woodroffe High School engaging in spirited conversations and debates.

The idea was to assist these young people in their search for identity and self-confidence. “We started the conference as a response to comments from the community”, said teacher Adrienne Coddett. “Organizations would call me to a meeting about youth programming and there’d be no youth there.” The fact appeared to be that black teen-agers absented themselves through a wish to “stay invisible because they don’t see a place for themselves.

“I don’t know the answer - if I did I’d be front row at an Oprah Winfrey show. But I can venture a few guesses. It’s not necessarily only feeling unwelcome, sometimes it’s a lack of role models, or invisible barriers, plus a whole lot of very complicated things.” Some of which can be the inner knowledge of just how endemic has been the history of discriminatory black suffering in a largely white society.

The engaged teen-agers attending the conference make a transition from listener, to participant, to activity. This is a conference tailored specifically toward the needs of young people. Young black people. Although it is not meant to be exclusively for black kids; anyone who is interested is invited to attend. It’s an opportunity to ventilate one’s apprehensions, express one’s fears about events, about the future, about one’s place in society.

A place too where hopes for the future can be explored, and commonly-experienced events, both good and bad, can be discussed objectively, put through a fine lens of critical observation, and synthesized for potential responses and outcomes. It’s a place where a whole lot of young people can come together, make useful connections, feel a vital part of an enterprising socially cohesive group, and that’s empowering, comforting.

A game was set up with the students divided into halves, an imaginary blank space between them, and a series of questions thrown out at them. They were coached to “step forward” to single themselves out if they could respond affirmatively to a statement. When the statement, “Step forward if you feel safe at school” elicited no action, this produced a response for reasonable discourse. And the teachers present knew there was a serious issue to be addressed.

On one occasion, the students were invited to step forward if they hated their black heritage. One girl of mixed heritage stepped forward, thus expressing her personal difficulty in representing the world of black, the world of white, and thinking of herself as belonging nowhere. As evidence of the shock the others felt on appraising the girl’s revelations, she stepped back again, to join the majority.

Which prompted the girl beside her to impetuously reach out to hug her in compassion and sisterly understanding. And it seemed, observers claimed, that everyone present there shared her pain and wanted to help her discover her true identity.

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Resouce Allocations: Life or Death

What price life? Can one actually determine at what point a life is worth saving? The young, with future potential. The elderly, not so much; they've had their time.

Some countries, experiencing hard-pressed medical-health resources, have seen fit to quietly institute protocols whereby they will not offer medical or surgical life-saving procedures or interventions to the elderly. As a cost-benefit analysis. With finite health care funds, allocations become judgemental. Age loses, youth wins.

There's a certain logic to this conclusion. But it fails one vital test; that of humanity.

Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka of Ottawa has written a thoughtful piece about this humanitarian conundrum that all advanced societies wishing to represent the best practises on behalf of their constituents, face in today's world, where medical science has added to mankind's longevity. He wrote his piece as a response to one recently published in The Ottawa Citizen written by a professor of ethics.

In that earlier piece, "Deciding when life ends", Arthur Schafer made a careful analysis of modern health care's responsibilities and reached the conclusion that society should officially empower physicians to make the ultimate decision whether or not to withhold medical technology or surgical techniques in the case of those individuals for whom ongoing intervention is considered to have no real benefit.

Rabbi Bulka professed to have been impressed by Dr. Schafer's excellent argument, but not his conclusion. Logic is impressive and undeniable, as a means by which a course of analysis will lead inevitably to an inescapable conclusion, but that conclusion becomes more humanely remote when the discussion relates to a topic as existential as well, one's existence; survival in the face of insurmountable medical problems aggravated by advanced age.

The argument that Rabbi Bulka used to rebut the cold logic of Dr. Schafer is unassailable in its own right, in recognition of everyone's survival imperative. Using a rare analytical skill, nicely leavened by an inherent degree of humanity and an earned and endowed degree in the ideology of reasoned logic, Rabbi Bulka points out the obvious: "Who knows what is a vain attempt to resist death?"

Dr. Schafer argues that "When a patient is so brain damaged that he cannot achieve either self-awareness or awareness of his environment then it is ethical for a doctor to take him/her off life support and provide instead, comfort care". Comfort care being synonymous with a swift death sans medical support.

This is a particular professional arrogance, the belief that the physician knows best, for it has been proven time and again that medical professionals have sometimes reached wrong diagnostic conclusions. The patient for whom a physician holds out no hope for recovery, has, time and again, somehow, miraculously called upon some inner source of strength and survived.

To confer upon the medical profession the legal authority to distinguish when a patient should or should not be permitted end-of-life-treatment, is to instill in that deliberating person, however unintended, an arrogance of entitlement to proclaim who may live and for whom treatment may be withheld, on the basis of a perceived, and occasionally incorrect diagnostic determination.

This would effectively destroy the trust inherent in the patient-healer relationship. The patient and the patient's family would have to accept not a relationship imbued with trust that the medical practitioner will do everything possible to secure the life of a loved one, but rather an unequal and awkward one expressed by fear, helplessness and foreboding on the part of patient and family.

Doctors are not infallible. A good physician must retain a sense of humbleness in the practise of his healing profession, not view himself as a final arbiter of life and death. Physicians are academically-informed, life-experienced practitioners of the healing arts, but they are not immune to erring in diagnosis, treatment and health and/or life outcomes.

To insist on the physician's need to legally determine whether to withhold or to recommend further intervention staving off the urgency of death's call is to effectively destroy a person's right to him/herself determine whether to take advantage of any and all life-saving procedures available in the arsenal of modern medical science.

The sanctity of life and our all-too-human wish to prolong life cannot be argued with. It is our first and foremost-informing valuation of life itself. It's truly unfortunate that a very ill person will take up scant space in a hospital setting; space and a bed and treatment time that others, less ill, would need to take advantage of. We do have options, among them making room available for all situations.

And as people live longer, society will have to re-think priorities and make uncomfortable decisions. We will have to make the decision to expand health services, build more treatment-specific institutions, offer an even larger proportion of taxation dollars in support of prolonging life, not dispatching it, to the grave detriment of society at large and the dogged resistance of grieving families.

Rabbi Bulka points out - from a human perspective, not a religious one - that what is at issue is the complex challenges, as he puts it, of health care. That "few exceptions should not cause us to distort the way we dispense medical care".

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Alert Number Two!!

Is there no end to their meddlings, their iniquitous, mendacious plots to unsettle the world as we know it? Nothing deters them, no warning that they overstep the bounds of accepted social and political decency; no denunciations by the United Nations' human rights bodies are sufficient to halt their determination to "educate" an unwilling public to their perspective.

And governments are complicit. It is all so unfortunate. They take a falsehood and make it a legend of great world lamentation, as though it had actually occurred, stirring deep levels of undeserved compassion from a public whose collective mind has been successfully poisoned by their unending dogma, their pathological obsession over "human rights".

And governments, too long lacerated by their bitter words, accepting of the fiction of the presence of a Holocaust memory, utter consoling words, and enact legislation the better to victimize those honest folk who have the courage to stand up and declare "false!". Even going so far as to expend public funds in the erection of Holocaust memorials.

Truly, it beggars the imagination that this false creed of honouring their god, by honouring the memory of millions who perished in the fervid imaginations of a lunatic fringe of ghetto-dwellers has somehow managed to become so pervasively established that their blatant lies are taken as truths.

Here is yet another indication of their dreadful success on the world stage, where the Canadian Heritage Minister has introduced legislation heralding the creation of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg. Legitimizing the institute with the observation that its introduction marked the 18th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

Obscurantism! We know the truth. This is a thinly veiled triumph for Apartheid Israel, that execrable entity that reflects all that is devious, detrimental and demonic in presence and intent. Patience: the plot reveals its essence, in the very words of a Canadian member of Parliament, himself a staunch defender of human rights.

"This is one of those days I'm proud to be Canadian", claimed Winnipeg (NDP MP) Pat Martin in his praise for his government in passing that legislation. "Izzy Asper must be busting with pride now." Indeed? Looking up from his esteemed place in the netherworld, where he and all Jews reside post-death?

One sees now where this is leading, does one not? The world has been successfully, most skilfully manipulated and primed - by whom other than Jews with their impious agendas....
Consolidating their mock aggrievement over a historical event that never took place; or, if it did, lamentably incompletely.

Poseurs, all; pretending to be concerned over the plight of millions of people in countries worldwide, where sectarian, ideological, political, religious conflicts abound and ethnic, ideological and religious minorities are purportedly victimized in horrendous instances of human rights abuses, verging on genocide.

Their fictions cannot hide their true intent, and the world must remain vigilant.

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Take Notice: More Jewish Intrigues

Obviously the world has become insufficiently alert to the understanding that yet another Jewish conspiracy is reaching toward a successful conclusion. Despite that time and again the world is issued alerts, is informed that one must be aware and beware of undiminished Jewish attempts to take over the world, their intrigues continue.

Yet another iniquitous instance has been unveiled, and where else than in Canada's capital city, Ottawa. The media empire in that country envisioned, initiated, inspired and successfully attained by one whose name alone should have been the ultimate revelation: Israel "Izzy" Asper, has launched another coup in public relations, and intrusive meddling, a true victory for global Jewry.

Canwest News Service, the Asper family's route to empowerment in monopolistically owning all manner of media outlets in the country, launched its Ottawa presence with a glittering social affair. In attendance was none other than the media-averse and news-shy Stephen Harper, Canada's prime minister, along with NDP leader Jack Layton and many other political notables.

All, regrettably, obviously in the pockets of filthy-rich Jews. Unsurprisingly, U.S. Ambassador
David Wilkins was also there with his wife, alongside the Israeli Ambassador Alan Baker, French ambassador Daniel Jouanneau and Australian Ambassador Bill Fisher. Shame, shame. But perhaps not; they are all, the plot reveals, complicit in this disingenuous web of deceit.

Unsurprisingly, there were no members of the Arab diplomatic community, nor others representing Muslim countries. They know, they are aware, they have read that greatly instructive compendium of warnings of Jewish-led conspiracies, so helpfully outlined in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Is there no hope to salvage truth and justice in this world? First they take over all the news produced throughout the world to ensure that their message and their viewpoint and their interpretation of events are seen by a vulnerably manipulated public. Then they succeed in the world of finance, to bring legitimate governments to their knees - see what they've done in America?

And finally, they mount the last and greatest of their criminal acts - to secure the place of Israel as the dominant super-power in the world, by spreading their calumnious slanders against Islam, painting Muslims with the unfairly broad stroke of Islamism, purporting to reveal our global Caliphate plot.

Is there no honour left anywhere?

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Another One Done With

There, it's finished, completed, done with. If a more brutal month weather-wise could be chosen to canvass for charitable donations in a neighbourhood door-to-door canvass, I'd like to hear about it. I suppose all the other charities who rely on volunteers to do the hefty work of canvassing neighbours to elicit charitable donations have taken all the other months, and poor old Ontario March of Dimes found only the month of January left over.

This is the third year I've gone out to do a canvass for that charity. I've had more than ample experience canvassing; an awkward and unhappy mode of volunteerism that goes back some 35 years of my life. And I've canvassed for a wide spectrum of charitable groups, at various times of the year.

The January canvass takes the prize for ensuring the volunteer faces physical obstacles to reaching his/her goal, while having the potential for wreaking real personal damage in the process.

Away back when the Canadian Diabetes Association had their canvass month in March - almost as weather-nasty a month as January - I experienced my fill of sliding on ice and slipping on mushy snow. I was a lot younger then, and having my legs slip out from under me on an icy driveway, hitting the back of my head and seeing stars, didn't do too much damage.

Fact is, even when the weather is clement, and I'd been canvassing in April, I once took an embarrassing header on someone's front stoop.

And lived to see another day. January though, presents its very own special challenges. But one perseveres, as one must - otherwise don't rise to the challenge of volunteering, right? It does me good, in a way, to do this work. It's a kind of social restorative, experiencing the heartfelt goodness in my neighbours, so many of whom won't think twice before responding generously.

I've long learned which houses to avoid, those who feel no compunction in slamming a door. To your departing back, or to your hopeful face. From the families on the street living in small houses and struggling to meet their bills, who manage somehow to render their offering with a sincere smile, to those living in more accommodatingly large homes expressive of their incomes, I come away with a good feeling.

A community should have a soul. The more people who live in a community who are open and generous when called upon to support an organization whose purpose is to aid and assist those among us whose needs are different, and whose handicaps place them at a disadvantage in society, the better off we all are. We become communal and co-operative and responsible.

And then there's the social aspect. I get the opportunity to stand in peoples' foyers and they get the opportunity to gossip, to vent, to share their worries and cares, and occasionally good news. Even people I don't know will want to stand there and discuss matters of common interest. Conversations have a way of carrying on, and on, and on....

In the process I have the opportunity to help a worthwhile organization raise funds permitting them to expand their useful programs. The people from whom I solicit donations are given the opportunity to know they have contributed to a worthwhile enterprise.

And all the neighbourhood cats and dogs get the opportunity to sniff me and get their ears scratched.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Her Missionary Zeal

I believe she has developed a messiah complex. Her compassion toward the plight of abandoned, ill-treated and needy animals has driven her to dedicate a large portion of every day to the alleviation of their plight. It's an impossible, never-ending task. There are simply so many domestic animals brought into homes incapable of meeting their needs; the animals treated as disposables, handed on to others to deal with as they will.

She despairs that people could be so cruel and unthinking, but then I remind her that while she despairs over the plight of animals, there are countless children in every society living miserable lives of deprivation and neglect. It does add a little perspective for her, she does adjust her mode of thinking somewhat, but her predilection to aid animals remains constant. And it's just as well, since she appears to be able to muster the required patience for the task at hand.

Rescuing animals, after all, although energy-intensive, does not require quite the same vigilant, and constant ministration that is required to minister to the complex physical and emotional needs of a child. She has, after all, an living to earn, and the amount of time she is able to devote to her passion is not limitless. Yet the energy, time and funds she commits are breath-taking.

She has herself assembled a personal menagerie of no fewer than nine dogs, one cat, and eight rabbits, most of which are rescue animals. Their upkeep, the attention they require, the veterinarian fees total a mind-boggling amount of money. She has a dependent child, she has a home that requires maintenance on a daily basis. Daily vacuuming at the very least, given the amount of traffic the house sustains.

Yet she sees her activities as no sacrifice; she is utterly committed, working alongside one of the city's animal rescue groups to help foster animals in search of homes of their own. She has fostered a number of dogs, all of which have been welcomed into the fold by her own, until they've been successfully placed. The last one, a large Cocker Spaniel whom one prospective owner after another briefly adopted, then returned, was Buddy.

Buddy's utter lack of discipline (what my daughter calls "respect") was alarming. He reacted swiftly and decisively, snapping, biting, scratching, at the most innocuous-seeming irritations. He could not be trusted around children or other animals; his instinct was to go for the jugular, be it another animal or an adult human.

It took about six months before she was satisfied that he was on his way to becoming a well balanced personality, a dog fit for adoption. It took a year and a half before she was fully convinced that Buddy now reasonably represented a companion animal, ready to take his place in a family as the sole pet, toward whom attention would be given, and trust reciprocated.

Her own daughter, so long accustomed to Buddy's presence, was heartbroken, despite the presence of all their own personal pets. Those very same personal pets who chose to ignore Buddy's presence, never indulging him, never permitting him to join their inner circle, never allowing him play time with them.

The other nine permanent resident dogs ranged in size from a pocket Pomeranian, a slightly larger Chihuahua, to miniature-size dogs, small dogs, large and even larger dogs such as Husky-Shepherd mixes. All those dogs respected each others' space, they all got on well together, but for the occasion face-off. The sole cat moved with ease and comfort among them.

From time to time one or more of the resident rabbits were permitted to move about freely, temporarily freed from their cages, and the cat, and the dogs, simply took it as normal in their little world, barely paying them any heed. One of the dogs, a mid-sized Australian Shepherd, would groom any rabbit that cuddled close to it, much as he was accustomed to doing with the Chihuahua.

Only Buddy was the outsider. Last week Buddy's photograph and character description was posted on the Internet board operated by the local animal rescue group. On Saturday an interested couple made an appointment to come out for a look. Our daughter had them take Buddy out for a walk on her acreage, explaining his personality, his needs to them.

They returned the following day to take possession of Buddy. Buddy could not be persuaded to enter their vehicle, at the conclusion of the visit. The person who gave him comfort, time and patience, now gave him courage, gently urging him into the vehicle of his new owners. She, and the new owners, shed a few tears for Buddy's distress in the face of separation.

Buddy is now ensconced in his new home, with two teen-age girls, both of whom adore dogs, as do their parents. There is one empty space in our daughter's menagerie. Finally, she's able to take out all of her dogs' toys, because Buddy is no longer there to claim them and maul them. Life returns to normal. Well, whatever passes for normal in that household.

For the truth of it is, although she's promised me time and again that she hasn't the energy, patience, time or funds to take in another dog, she did just that, last week. This time, a six-month-old Boxer, a brindle male, whom his second owners felt they could no longer cope with.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Snow, More Snow....

An insistent but light veil of snow superimposed itself on the landscape, from the street on which our house sits, to the forested enclave of the ravine. The wind shifting it, blowing it directly at our faces; tiny wet, cold whips. It's a Saturday and it's on the week-end that we tend, naturally, to see more area residents walking through the ravine, and most often with their companion pets.

Through the years we've come to know, at least by sight and brief greetings, a good many people engaged as we have become accustomed to, perambulating through the ravine: winter, spring, summer and fall. Then there are those who come through seldom, out of a sense of curiosity, or of guilt that they don't frequently enough take their energetic dogs out for walks.

Today was a mixed bag; coming across perfect strangers in this most natural of environments, and a few whom we've seen before. We hadn't gone very far, not even as far as the first bridge, when we encountered the first in a series of dogs and their humans, this day. We strained with some difficulty to pass two men, separately, walking their dogs just at the most narrow portion of the trail.

The first, a pale yellow Labrador, ran excitedly ahead, taking the width of the trail, then running back toward its walker. Each of us teetered carefully toward the opposite edges of the trail, the steeply-mounting, wooded bank on one side, the sheer collapsed bank on the other offering to surprise us with a slithering dump into the creek.

Then came another duo, a great black beast of a Labrador-and-something mix, whose ponderous head and soft brown eyes faced us quizzically, as it careened from us to its walking partner, and we all engaged in yet another little dance of avoidance, managing to pass one another without undue damage.

On we proceeded, over the first of the many bridges our quotidian ramble would take us over. Nothing left on the bridge rails of the unshelled peanuts we'd left the day before, but an empty half-shell. Above, the sky was a pewter ceiling. Wind ruffled fall-stubborn leaves hoisted by branches and a trunk beautifully hoar-frosted.

Before, and surrounding us, the landscape newly embroidered, bright white. There is green, now muted and subtleties of grey. Over all, transforming white, an almost monochromatic arras. Half-way through our circuit we came across yet another dog, this one leashed, small and grey. A young Schnauzer, hesitant to come out from behind his human's sheltering form.

We're informed he's 9 months old, and has been with his current family for two of those months. The balance, his earlier 7 months of existence, was spent in the confinement of a cage. He'd been treated to the traditional type of haircut given his breed, so his haircoat was well shorne, giving him scant protection against the damp cold.

Unaccustomed to the type of freedom he was now experiencing, the little dog was hesitant; curious but fearful on his first exposures to being socialized in the presence of other dogs. Even now, his companion told us, two months into his new life, he is not yet able to countenance climbing stairs with equanimity. He faces new experiences with obvious trepidation.

The sun, faintly seen as an almost-bright disk, seems to be trying, vainly, to burn its way through the shroud of clouds busy sprinkling their moist content over our little portion of the world. Some distance away, down below us, stands a solitary figure, garish in a hooded, dark-red coat. The figure stands still, absorbing the silence, the snow-laden scene.

Enfolding undulations cushioned with snow; on the rising banks above the creek and down below, where ice has formed on the edges of the creek and snow rests in soft pillows upon the ice. On sight of the figure Riley barks. The figure half-turns. We wave to one another, then move on, to the completion of our circuit.

Another encounter; another little dog. This one, we are informed, is a 3-month-old Standard Poodle. The like of which we have never before seen; its coat is different, a white background with large black spots. The small dog's long sharp muzzle is framed by elaborately fluffed ears. It is being walked, proudly, by a family. A mother, and her three adolescent children.

Snow falls, and continues to fall, and will continue to fall throughout the next several days.


Friday, February 08, 2008

Under The Rainbow

How utterly dreadful. Miserably catastrophic. One moment life is normal, the next there is no life. Difficult to contemplate, much less understand. Other than that capricious, compassionless and oh-so-neutral nature goes about her business. Hers to dispose, and we cannot oppose, for we are helpless under the rage of her occasional vicious tantrums.

No fewer than fifty-two lives snuffed out, lost to the mighty forces of nature no human invention is capable of forestalling. From Alabama through Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, to Kentucky, a series of tornadoes cut a wide swath of destruction. Blowing apart peoples' dreams, their happiness, obliterating their futures.

Homes, shopping malls, schools, all destroyed. Hundreds of people severely injured, never knowing what life had in store for them when they went to bed that evening, only to be unceremoniously, frighteningly awakened by the imposition of nature's bad temper. People fought to save themselves as all around them buildings collapsed.

Cars, trees and debris of every nature, large and blunt, small and sharp, flew about in a deadly uncoordinated chaos of immense disorder. At Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, fifty-one students were treated in hospital, some with extensive injuries, as their campus collapsed around and over them. In the state, 140 people were injured.

Fifty people trapped at a retirement centre were removed to the safety of a shelter. A storm-damaged gas pumping station near Nashville caused a huge fire. Three people were killed in a trailer park in Kentucky, another four in another Kentucky county. Heavy rain, winds and hail came down across the Carolinas to southern New Jersey.

But where the tornadoes struck, unseasonably warm temperatures spawned those twisters. Marking the deadliest day of tornadoes since May 1999, when 46 people died in Oklahoma and Kansas. The current event joins place among the 15 most lethal weather events since 1950.

Impossible to underestimate nature. Impossible to come to terms with the depravity of her tendentious will.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Again, we had overnight snow. Followed by icy drizzle. So far this winter season of 2007-08 we have had so much snow that we've broken the previous recorded total snowfall for the winter of 1970-71 in the National Capital region; likely in the Ottawa Valley altogether.

We've experienced the usual thaw-and-freeze in January that traditionally reduces the snow pack that had accumulated, and for that we were grateful, since it became worrying, the amount of snow sitting on rooftops. The National Capital Commission had issued a press release that the Rideau Canal skate rink had been temporarily closed.

Only temporarily, to be re-opened and re-groomed later in the day. A longer closure would most surely have an inimical effect on the many people making their way downtown to take pleasure in the ice sculptures and the snowscaped slides that delight children in the park designed for their winter pleasure, during Winterlude, Ottawa's winter celebration.

When we looked out the side door this morning (shaking out the breakfast tablecloth) there was a track left by a raccoon; unmistakable, its splayed foot rambling along the sidepath leading to the backyard gate. Our neighbourly raccoons do so much love our composters. It was still raining light slanting daggers of ice when we left the house for a morning ravine walk. The road was deep and slushy with the remnants of the snow and rain recently fallen.

Once in the ravine, and dipping down toward the trail junctions, the sight of the trees on either side was breathtaking. Crows flew high above, circling the trees. There was a slight mist rising from the newly-ice-released creek. A mantle of crystalline snow embraced the landscape in its deep muffler of snow. But for the sound of our boots sinking into the snow-replenished trail all was still, softly still.

Trees and shrubs again heavily burdened, beautiful beyond memory's fleeting capacities entrance us with their fragile grace. Laden evergreen boughs glance heavily across the trail, sweetly denying upright access. They swiftly relent, when a gentle prod releases their burden, and they swing docile to our command, upright again.

The plush loft of the snow reduced only marginally by the freezing rain. A dainty chenille pattern can be seen dippling the snow, texture only marginally affected.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Whatever Possesses ....

Whatever might possess a mature, thinking woman to complicate her life beyond balance? I might venture to guess a rescue complex, the overpowering need to help creatures incapable of helping themselves. Given as possessions to humans to treat as they will, mistreat if they will.

This is commonplace enough, that so many people take possession of animals as social companions and then mistreat them. Why should we be surprised, when so many people do the same with children, including their own?

But it goes beyond comprehension to witness a busy professional with a demanding full-time occupation, who must also care for her child as a single mother, gathering about her creatures whom others have denied compassion and a place in their hearts.

She accepts the personal challenge of opening her home to rescue dogs, those that have been abused and neglected, those whom their original owners no longer feel compelled to care for. Well, there are those admirable souls who do that and more for abused and homeless children.

But when is enough deemed to be enough? After each adoption, an admission that no more will follow. Her time is sufficiently scant as it is and the continued need to clean up after, feed, medicate and pay for veterinarian bills takes its heavy toll, as it would on anyone less dedicated to the well-being of helpless animals than she is.

She feels it is her obligation to do what she can for as many as she can accommodate. And it is the sheer quantity of these needy animals that tires me simply thinking about their needs, and the complications their presence represents - let alone providing for them.

Not she. She goes on, taking delight in each one of these creatures, their personalities and singular characteristics, drawing from them pleasure as recompense for her efforts.

That, one supposes, is what possesses her.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Snow, and Other Matters

We stopped by to visit with our neighbour across the street on our way up to the ravine this afternoon. Although she is much too heavy to walk about with ease, she enjoys the out-of-doors and tends, even during the winter months, to sit on her porch for short periods of time, with her three cats. One of which, a Maine Coon variety, echoes the reddish-blond colour of her own hair, and with its fluffy hair, resembling her in girth.

Making our way finally into the ravine, we discovered thankfully that yesterday's light fluffy foot-high new snow had given way to a more robust type of snow, a sticky snow, the type that lends itself to making snowballs and snowmen, and to walking upon without slithering hither and yon. Which meant, along with the mild minus-2 degrees, that our little dogs were able to make a good accounting of themselves on the trail.

I noted, over the first bridge, that the peanuts I'd scattered on the second-to-topmost rail were gone. And wondered if the squirrels had taken advantage of them, as I'd always hoped, recalling what one of our neighbours had told me when I'd canvassed her house yesterday afternoon for Ontario March of Dimes. Someone, she mentioned, had scattered almonds on the bridge, and her dog, Scooter, had eaten them.

I'd forgotten that all that accumulated snow brought new heights to the bridge rails, so that even a relatively small dog like Scooter would have no trouble reaching any handouts I'd left for squirrels, birds or other wildlife. So much for that. As this was a Sunday we came across people snowshoeing through the ravine, a reasonable enough activity, better done yesterday when the snow was yet fresh and the trail not yet tamped down.

An unremarkably pleasant ravine walk this day. Overcast for the most part, but when the sun did manage to break through on a few occasions, it lit up the roundly blanketed arras of new snow softly, beautifully. Crows were flying overhead, busy doing what crows awaiting the arrival of spring do; anxiously awaiting spring's arrival. Groundhogs seeing their shadows or not; according to the two Canadian groundhogs we'll have an early spring.

Once we returned home I began the preparations for a Chili dinner, using pre-soaked broad beans instead of kidney beans, and finely-cut beef instead of ground. Didn't take long before the concoction began to spread its divine aroma around the kitchen, the house. And then it was time for me to begin deep-frying doughnuts. That's what my husband wanted. At first I refused, since it's such a deep-fried pain in the rear end, but then I relented.

It is his birthday, after all, tomorrow. I'd prepared the dough for doughnuts right after breakfast: scalded milk, sugar, salt, yeast, egg, flour, nutmeg. After rolling out the raised dough, cut the doughnut shapes with a cutter I haven't used in many a year. Doughnuts are not, after all, nutritious examples of healthy food. But it ill behooves me to rise up on my healthy-eating principles at this singular time of year.

They came out, each and every one, crisply golden brown with tender interiors. I melted semi-sweet baking chocolate in the microwave, dipped the tops of each of the doughnuts, scattered chopped pecans on some, toasted coconut on others. No big deal, didn't take all that much time after all, and he's pleased. It's his birthday coming up, after all.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Snow!

Looks like this year will turn out to be a record-breaking one for snow received in the Ottawa area, according to Environment Canada. Not that we haven't had our share of other winter related weather events, like freezing rain, snow pellets and hail. But it's the sheer amount of the snow that has outdone itself in winter weather performance this year.

When we went out yesterday for our usual ravine walk, it was into the first hour of an all-day snowfall, and heavy snow squalls. (Later in the day, when we went out to do our weekly grocery shopping, we had quite another perspective of the weather. Major roads, not all that far from our house, barely plowed, were slippery, but traffic was light. On our post-shopping return, we experienced one white-out after another as wind and snow conspired.)

The trails weren't too bad; where the day before they were so icy-crisp, our cleated boots crushed and clacked over the slickered snow. They were like that, because on Monday we had experienced another winter treat; wicked winds and freezing rain, ice pellets and snow, then more of everything, so the abundant snowpack was transformed - at least on its surface - to a slick, shining carapace over which no one dared tread without cleats.

Yesterday we managed well enough, the trails not yet heavy with snow, just beginning to accumulate. And the trees of course presented as a vision in white, limning all the evergreens, plastering over the trunks of the hardwoods. The wind whipping the thickly-falling snow into our faces as we proceeded. Too cold for Button and Riley to be out unbooted, so they were at a disadvantage, since the snow wouldn't stick to the ice, and they slid repeatedly.

Today though, after yesterday's all-day snow falling well into the night, we were left with a foot of loose snow everywhere. And that makes for tough conditions, clambering downhill and climbing uphill. Tediously slow, ambitiously arduous. Although a few walkers had been out before us, tamping the snow down somewhat, somewhat wasn't near enough. Our little dogs, walking behind me, in front of my husband, just barely managed.

Finally, the littler of the two, Riley, had to be picked up and carried, while the other, Button, forged bravely on, her long capable legs up to the job of plodding through deep snow, while Riley, with his stubby little legs ended up doing his best to swim through it, since the snow reached his belly, and proved to be too difficult for him to proceed on his own. The wind was still sharp, still smarted our faces.

It was sufficiently energetic to sway the tops of the conifers, and to make the bare trunks of tall poplars and oaks clack as they hit one another from time to time, swaying to the rhythm of the wind's pressure. But the sun was out, illuminating the landscape, and the scene could not have been more brilliantly beautiful. So that, when we returned finally to the house, I decided I'd gear myself up to go out and begin my volunteer canvassing.

This time for the Ontario March of Dimes. Those driveways that hadn't been shovelled free of their tall padding of snow weren't visited by me, this day. I selected other, cleaned-off drives, and in enough of them the underlying ice lay awaiting the unwary, so progress was slow and deliberate. Nice to see neighbours again, after what is proving to be a long winter where few of them venture out of doors unless they must.

And our neighbours are such nice people, and so welcoming, so eager to indulge in neighbourly conversations, it's difficult to get away. I've got to hear about all the latest news in their families, and truth is, I don't really mind all that much. If nothing else, it offers an opportunity to warm up in their foyers, coming in from the cold. And the reward is always a generous cheque for charity.


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