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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Funding Secession

What country in the world permits and gives credence to, allowing full parliamentary participation to, an avowedly and openly active secessionist party, other than Canada? It is one thing to respect the democratic process, quite another to foster, aid and assist a party whose single purpose is to take the province it represents out of Canadian Confederation.

Is this a legitimate role of the democratic process? To encourage, use taxpayer funding to ensure the health and well being of a single-purpose, single-focus political party whose success in partitioning the Province of Quebec away from Canada would spell the end of a united Canada? Countries go to war with disparate provinces or territories who espouse separation.

We would not, because that is not the way that Canada settles its internal disputes. Nor should we, because that would not express the values and orientation of Canadians. On the other hand, we are continually bombarded with demands from the Province of Quebec to enshrine special status for Quebec, above and beyond what is offered to the country's other provinces and territories.

And still it continues, through its political voice in Parliament, to threaten separation, should all its demands not be forthcoming, all its grievances be adequately satisfied. Well, they never are, they just keep coming. And the threats for separation swing through periods of resurgent determination, or muted defiance and a quiescent hiatus.

No amount of succumbing to Quebec's needs to distinguish itself as self-administering, as autonomous in virtually all spheres of government action has thus far soothed its collective sensibilities of being hard done by, as a province of Canada. Despite that the province has been able to coerce the federal government to grant it authorities generally deemed those of the federal government.

Nothing appeases the sense of grievance continually emanating from that province. Not the financial support given it through federal apportioning, topped up handsomely by equalization payments, nor any other entitlements, including the recognition of its status as a 'sovereign' nation. A nation exemplified by its cultural and traditional differences, its language.

No matter how often the rest of Canada attempts to give Quebec a vote of confidence, assuring it of how valued it is in the rest of Canada, respectful of its cultural differences, allowing as how much Canada is enriched by those valuable differences, Quebec remains disgruntled, dissatisfied, edging toward unappeasable aggrievement.

And here's the real kicker. While all of Canada's political parties sit in Parliament for the express purpose of representing the well being of all of Canada, the entire population of the country, the Parti Quebecois sits in Parliament for the solitary purpose of representing Quebec, having no interest whatever in the well being of all Canadians.

Moreover, while Canada's (now disputed) system of taxpayer-funded support of political parties is meant to top up what those parties are able to collect through voluntary political donations from individuals and groups within the communities they represent, the funding received by the Parti Quebecois through taxpayer payments-per-vote represents more than 80% of their funding.

The party is too lazy to fund-drive, and remains dependent on the taxes paid by the general population of the country, creating the truly absurd situation where other Canadians are blackmailed into supporting Quebec separation. Another truth: Quebecers don't tend to support their major political party sitting in Parliament; they are not given to making charitable donations for any purpose.

All of which points to the utter nonsensicallity of the current system. Time things changed. If the Parti Quebecois continues it sole-focused mandate, it should pay its own way.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Who Knew?

We've been informed, time and again, that our bodies are infested with low levels of toxic chemicals. That no one is exempt from these chemicals lodging in our internal systems, coursing through our bloodstream, affecting us in ways we cannot even begin to imagine; if not right now, at some time in the future as our bodies continue to steadily, incrementally - albeit at 'low levels' accrue these ubiquitous chemicals.

It's the fault of run-off from agricultural fertilizers, from chemical companies dumping their waste into waterways, and simply from the overwhelming amounts of chemicals, both natural and man-made used in the industrial complexes that manufacture the goods we use, the foods we eat, the cleaning products that we thoughtlessly take for granted.

In using them we ourselves are continually infesting the environment with these deleterious and certainly life-altering chemicals.

Some chemical compounds cannot be avoided, they occur naturally in the environment, just a radon gas does, and arsenic and other cancer-causing agents. Little wonder, we think, that disease epidemics occur in areas where manufacturers often spill the dross of their processing into the environment with scant thought to the fact that they're effectively degrading our soil, and ourselves.

Our governments should be infinitely more aware, more responsive to our needs, more vigilant on behalf of all of us. To ensure that adequate environmental laws are in effect, policed and where malfeasance is detected, bring the malefactors to court, fine them, put them out of business if necessary. Those manufacturing chemical spills, the dumping of waste, and the leftovers of military experiments imperil us.

Or so we think. Well, certainly we think correctly. But it also appears that there is more, far more to the story of environmental degradation of our personal spaces, than we're aware of. We're damaging ourselves and our environments through our trustfulness of the ordinary household products we use on a daily basis. The greater proportion of our exposure to harmful chemicals, it would appear, comes from day-to-day living.

From the plastics products we so commonly use around the house; plastics containing food and cleaning products that we pick up at the neighbourhood supermarket and give no additional thought to. Well, we should if they contain bisphenol A, among other cancer-causing agents. The Government of Canada has recently flagged that chemical for its cancer-causing effects, and banned it from use in baby bottles. And more latterly placed a wider ban on it.

Of course nothing is ever quite so simple. There is a thin film of that plastic commonly used to line the interiors of food-containing cans. Industry must now seek safe alternatives and that is easier said than done. Flame retardants used on some clothing items and upholstered furniture, commonly used cosmetics, and household cleaners are all implicated in the proliferation of chemicals, many of them distinctly harmful.

"It's the consumer products" normally used throughout the course of an ordinary day that tend to infuse our bodies with chemicals, according to Kathleen Cooper, a researcher for the Canadian Environmental Law Association. A study in the "Journal of Health and Social Behavior", produced through empirical research on Cape Cod mirrors what occurs in Canada as well as the United States.

"People have this assumption that a product is on a shelf, and someone has made sure that it's safe, nothing toxic in it. And that is a false assumption." While the pollution that affects our great outdoors remains a prime culprit, "...the area that is coming forward as very important is indoor exposure. We spend 80 percent of our time indoors".

A 2003 study on chemical exposure used urine samples from women living on Cape Code, because that area is recognized as having a hither-than-average rate of breast cancer. The study found that the bodies of these women - along with their household dust - contained carcinogenic compounds and chemicals deleteriously affecting human hormonal systems.

Chemical compounds commonly found included plastic ingredients (phthalates) used in varnishes, perfumes, cosmetics and detergents; anthracenes from paving materials and diesel fuels; solvents from paints, varnishes, inks; flame retardants from upholstered furniture; parabens representing an anti-microbial agent in everything from jam to cosmetics - along with a long list of "breakdown products" occurring when the body metabolizes pollutants.

So much for complacency, for trust, for instinctively believing - because we want to, simply because it's too inconvenient not to - that products commonly sold on supermarket and pharmacy shelves are composed of ingredients that pose no threat to our health and longevity. As consumers we must become vigilant, we must notify our lawmakers of our concerns, we must do what we can to protect our families.

But isn't it worrying that there is just so much that we can do, and much depends on the willingness of our governments enacting consumer protection laws that don't bypass manufacturer responsibilities? Unless and until it is demonstrably proven that human health is suffering among a large proportion of the population, legislators won't concern themselves unduly.

It's difficult to come head to head with the wealth and lobbying power of large corporations whose interest is not necessarily public safety. Advertising, public relations are costly and their aim is to invest in consumers an aura of trust, and a desire to use products. The effect of altering product constituents resulting from additional costly research, and costlier replacement of harm-identified ingredients isn't a welcome prospect among manufacturers.

Meanwhile, people can make their own shampoos with one part mild dish detergent, one part vinegar to ten parts water. And much the same recipe is extremely effective for washing down bathrooms on a regular basis, to remove mould. Above all, avoiding lip glosses and other body emoluments that come from China, though domestic ingredients are often little better. Become aware.

What a massive conundrum.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Childhood Memories

There is something peculiar about mother-daughter relationships. They seem, all too often, to be fraught with misunderstandings, with suspicion and jealousy, with grievances. No relationship could be closer, and should be closer than that between a mother and her daughter, and sometimes they are. But all too often, there is a screen of unspoken hostility residing deep within the psyches of mothers and their daughters.

Manifested by a sense of distrust, of unease, of rebellion and control, when the daughter's personality too closely echoes that of her mother. But of course it's far, far more complex than mere observations of familial closeness, genetic sharing of character traits, since the exposure to one another over years of maturation of the relationship forms the basis for either an enduring bond or an enduring psychosis of disavowal.

As no two people are alike, shaped as much by their genetic endowments as by their primary and differentiated exposures to life through a multitude of experiences and various types of nurturing - or a notable lack of the kind of nurturing that infants and children require to enable them to form firm emotional bonds - so too exists multifarious differences in relationships between mother and child.

Not by any means restrained to that of the mother and her daughter, but also the relationships that gradually emerge and consolidate between the mother and her sons. There is something special, though, about the mother-daughter brace that spells either success in bonding, or failure. Some critical emotional support at critical times has been lovingly rendered or icily withheld.

And inevitably the result is long-lasting, with a festering resentment and a plethora of questionable memories that time embellishes and polishes and will present, when the time is right, transformed into bitter revelation. In the case of a grown man who has become an example of a severely socially withdrawn outcast - criminally and sometimes inclined to the vile - blaming the failures of his mother.

Case in point: Josef Fritzl, the notorious Austrian man who kept his daughter as a sex slave in a dungeon under the home he shared with his wife - his daughter's mother - fathering six children in his incestuous brutality. This man, it was also revealed, kept his old, ill mother locked away in an attic, before she finally died. His mother bears the brunt of his blame for his self-proclaimed sex-addiction.

A profound infantilization of personal responsibility.

And then there are the countless instances when daughters of famous - or infamous - mothers have written autobiographical accounts of their pitifully painful childhoods, amply detailing the neglect or abuse or disinterest by their mothers toward them. The pain of their relationship marking them for life with an indelible hatred, and the need to somehow 'get back' at their mothers.

Who really knows the truth behind these unfortunate revelations of neglected and abused childhoods? Did a mother really tell her daughter she was ugly, leaving a lasting impression of unworthiness and abandonment in her daughter's mind? Is that sufficient to stand as an example of child abuse, comparable to the mother who, incapable of coping, or without the ability to empathize with her children's needs, beat them?

Yes, I suppose it would, all things being equal. For it is a mother's obligation to her children to imbue in them a sense of comfort that they are loved and valued and cherished above all; failing to perform that mother's vital role throughout a child's neediest emotional years can have psychologically lethal effects on that emerging adult's self-regard and ability to love others.

Out come the memories, those recalling only the childish disappointments, the slurs real or imagined, the rejections, the firm 'unfair' discipline, the hurt of the confused, rebellious, unhappy child. For these unforgiving daughters of failed mothers, emotional maturity takes a back seat to a repressed longing to be held dear, to be cossetted, to be firmly emotionally supported.

If the relationship is not initially invested with genuine love and guidance, no lapse of time can restore what was never there.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Our Creature Comforts

Our little Button, after the initial onset of whatever it was that ailed her, had another setback. She had been stricken by something muscular, a physical event that had somehow badly strained her back, leaving her almost helpless, unmoving, shuddering, and drained of energy.

We had immediately feared the worst, because she is, after all, fifteen years old, and although she has up until this time been the very best example of a small dog in the best of health, with energy to spare, we know her days with us are numbered.

At the same time, we're also aware that we may be fearing for her longevity prematurely. It isn't entirely unknown that small dogs can live for close to twenty years, so it's quite possible that we have another five years of emotional bonding with her left to us.

The day of her accident that had left her so drained - unable to do much of anything but rest, although she still ate well, and eliminated too, although she did leave us a gift in the dining room - we let her be. We eventually surmised that our habit of covering her with a little blanket at night might have led to an entanglement causing her to twist as she jumped down from her perch on our bedroom loveseat.

The following day, she appeared far more alert. Although still not herself, quite able to move about freely, and even venturing up the stairs on her own. So we thought we might risk a walk with her, in the ravine. And as things turned out, she did very well, so much so that halfway through our walk I had to put her harness on over her little coat, so I could use her leash, because she was hurrying along too strenuously.

On the next day, however, although she had slept through most of the day after breakfast, and we didn't set out for our walk until mid-afternoon, she had frozen, arched her back, and begun trembling violently again, fifteen minutes into our walk. Irving had to carry her, tucked into his jacket for additional warmth, for the following 40 minutes that completed our walk, during which time her trembling ceased and she seemed comfortable in his arms.

On Tuesday she slept soundly in the new padded and rimmed mat we had bought for her, placed before the dining room windows where any errant rays of sun could be expected to warm her. We stealthily dressed little Riley in his coat and made our way out to the ravine, banking on Button's hearing loss not to give us away. Sure enough, when we returned an hour later, she was still asleep, hadn't been aware of our absence.

Later, we bundled them both up for a little trip to the Sally Ann and browsed for infant sleepwear that I could convert into a nightshirt for her, and additional, light tops we could put under her winter coat. Afterward, I did the necessary alterations, and when she went to bed that night she was wearing a white fleecy nightshirt sleeves cut short and comfortable for her.

Like us, in our old age; we seek the comfort of warmth. Where once, not that very long ago, I would go out even on snowy days hatless, now I wear a snug wool hat for warmth, and as for Irving, he layers as many as three wool hats on his balding pate when we're out for a ravine walk.

And Button, who once objected strenuously, almost outraged at the indignity of having to wear a wool sweater in cold weather, has also changed. She seemed at one time to be almost embarrassed at the un-doglike imposition we imposed upon her, and she would attempt to dislodge a coat from her back. She now is most agreeable about being dressed in a body suit that she fully understands has the purpose of keeping her warm.

She is now her old self, fully recovered, full of piss and vinegar. Has been for a number of days. She walks with alacrity, skipping on her hind legs, as Poodles are so often wont to do, looking forward as usual to our daily ravine walks. Biddable about the two layers she now wears for warmth, as we do also with Riley.

So much so that she protests when they're taken off, once we're back in the house. Quite a change in her; another symptom of encroaching age and how, in our dotage, we so much appreciate our creature comforts.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Triumph of Greed

How does a distinct society present itself as distinct? By its respect for its traditional culture, its history, its care for itself and its future? Respect for the past need not demand that the past be repeated, when the currency of the present predicates that a culture make life-sustaining alterations or submit to a slow death by gradual attrition. And that is what appears to be happening in Canada's aboriginal communities.

The struggle to maintain traditions and cultures - as a society's mark of respect for its past and its refusal to accept that a new dawn requires an altered perspective to accommodate the needs of its people to a pressing reality - surely marks its descent into a living museum. One that brings no pleasure or peace of mind to its practitioners, presenting as merely a stubborn resistance to developing its potential.

Any social, political or ideological group must prepare itself for life in the world they currently inhabit. Primal societal methods of living in a world that offered existence as hunter-gatherers no longer offers a way of life to anyone, when they are surrounded by all the technical, political and social advances of a modern age. That comes as no surprise to anyone, least of all the people who refuse to advance themselves.

To take advantage of the very same opportunities to learn and to adapt and to take their existential obligations to themselves and their ethno-cultural groupings seriously enough to celebrate the past while entering a future of self-reliance. Canada's First Nations are no different than any other primary social groups; to advance their well being they, like all others, need to adapt to a new reality.

It's a long, slow process, and one which has been unnecessarily put on 'hold' mode for far too long, resulting in disappointment and a self-imposed livelihood of government handouts and squalid lifestyles. How can it be otherwise for an entire group of people who refuse to account for themselves, to encourage their children to value education and the advancement that comes with it?

The aboriginal community at Akwesasne is a case in point. There, the community has found a good measure of independence, of employment, of self-reliance. The trouble is the direction the community has taken has been interrupted by their unwillingness to face off to and reject the criminal element among them. They've permitted themselves to become reliant on the proceeds of illicit activities.

Claiming that, since they are independent nationals of their very own tribes, celebrating their particularities of history, culture and values, they stand outside the laws and social mores of the larger community that surrounds them. They have been complicit in accepting the proceeds of illegal liquor, tobacco, drug production and distribution, and in accelerating their strides toward self-reliance by the proceeds of gambling.

All those frail human vices and devices that plague society, that entrap, beggar, and ruin health and ethics and moral underpinnings. As though there can be any pride of purpose in smuggling narcotics and tobacco, or any other illicit goods with high street value, all the while thumbing collective noses at outside authorities. The production of illegal cigarettes employs a high percentage of the people, so has their blessing.

Weapons distribution, and illicit alcohol, all have a place in a lawless society that prides itself on its ability to maintain law and order in a community accustomed to looking the other way while allowing its members to become hoodlums. The traditional values of a once-proud society have been subverted in the reality of wealth to be obtained through illegal means.

Canadian aboriginals won the right to be self-ruling, self-schooling, self-policing, achieving the kind of self-determination that they and their leaders convinced themselves they required to maintain their standards of life. But what kinds of standards are they observing; anything to be proud of? Anything that would reflect positively on them as ethical, moral, non-violent and caring people?

Where a community could turn itself to the production of goods and services that have merit, that provide purpose for the users and the producers, the struggle to innovate and invent, the need to become role-models for their young as successful entrepreneurs became corrupted by the rush for easy money, and plenty of it, despite in the process plunging the good reputation of the community into the toilet.

The society itself has become one nursing a plethora of grievances against the larger government and society, while barely holding their own leaders to account for their inactions on behalf of the entire community. The very concept of "native rights" has been transformed from a noble vision to a pejorative label of failure. Now the community lives with violence, and the acceptance of a life of despair.

Their vision for their future and that of their children has become deranged beyond their clear-thinking ability to restore themselves to the kind of honour that made them proud of their heritage, and their potential, before they succumbed to the hopelessness of a culture of miserable attainment of material acquisitions by any means.

This is a community too long slumbering in a narcoleptic state of disinterest in their own well-being, clasping their time-honoured grievances of having been hard done by, and never forgetting it, exacting their own kind of revenge through holding the wider society hostage to their guilt. And in the end, achieving nothing positive for themselves, with it.

It will take a strong collective will to wrest themselves from their current situation, to make an effort to become far more than what they currently represent. But should they, in due time, become sufficiently wearied of their tenuous hold on the past while degrading their present by inaction and submission to a dreary life of tawdry crime, they do have the means to become themselves, to be true to their own futures.

It's long past time for the struggle to self-respect and achievement to begin.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Heart Of The Matter

Medical science is progressing at an astonishing rate. Stem cell research has been rapidly developing to promise future alternatives to transplant needs, other than hoping to encourage people to become organ donors. Scientists are now succeeding in growing organ replacements in laboratories; using primary, undifferentiated stem cells in a process termed tissue engineering, to transform themselves into for-now modest organs.

This medical breakthrough promises to truly transform an issue of organ failure translating into increased mortality rates among people who suffer from heart and kidney disease, among other lapses in our bodily functions. The master cells that stem cells represent are manipulated in a laboratory to entice and encourage them to become any other kind of basic building block for a needed organ.

They are placed on a "scaffold", where they become attached and begin to grow and proliferate, until they've managed to produce a substitute organ. What is also transformative about this new medical technology is that the patient's own stem cells can be used for the process, so that their body's immune system will not reject the transplant.

This means that a lifetime of anti-rejection drug usage will not be a necessary component of the procedure. Where the viability of a transplant from an organ donated by someone else depends on the use of powerful anti-rejection drugs. The effects of long-time use of these drugs can themselves be devastating, potentially leading to cancer or other diseases in the organ recipient.

Five months after an operation to replace her damaged windpipe, a 30-year-old mother of two children, is now able to resume her normal life. A new windpipe made from her own stem cells taken from her hip and nose, have given her a new life. Scientists anticipate that in several decades' time surgeons will be able to replace hearts, bladders and kidneys by a similar process.

That operation had used a section of windpipe from an organ donor as a scaffold, still requiring a organ donor. But scientists in Montreal have developed a three-dimensional biodegradable scaffold constructed of a polymer. Once the scaffold, complete with differentiated organ cells is installed in the body, the scaffold itself degrades in time, leaving the cells and the organ they represent, intact.

This represents a truly life-saving medical innovation, enabling more certain intervention than what currently takes place, where people in end-stage diseases on organ replacement lists, languish and die before an organ-appropriate donor can be found to end their suffering.

The world of scientific-medical intervention is imposingly amazing.

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Supposing someone has driven a vehicle all of their adult years, they would tend to operate a mechanical device like a car, in a kind of mental overdrive. They're so familiar with the process that they needn't bother giving any thought to what they're doing. Merely shove in behind the wheel of a car, and the rest is ritual, long-term memorization, familiarity with the mechanics of driving, and adjusting to the flow of traffic.

And of course, elderly people were once young, with all the muscular ability of the young and the near-to-instant reflexes that stood them in good stead when having to make instant, accident-prevention decisions. There is old and there is elderly. There is elderly in fairly good physical and mental health, and there is the frailty of very old age where the mental processes are nowhere as keen as they once were, and the physical reactions much, much, much slower.

Those truly elderly people who, under the critical gaze of younger, more able drivers, park the vehicle they're driving, and gradually peel themselves painfully out of the driver's seat, then hobble along the parking lot to their destination. Shopping, a doctor's appointment, meeting a friend, picking someone up, whatever. They're crotchety, deformed in bodily shape, incapacitated with age. And they're driving.

So what? Doesn't everyone drive? And isn't life a complete crock without the ability to get about where you want, when you want to? People are so accustomed to having their own personal means of transportation that it's become a no-brainer entitlement. And no brains is exactly what it takes to permit infirm in mind and body, elderly people obviously showing their age, to assume control of a metal monster.

Like statistics? How about that in the Province of Ontario there are ten licensed drivers older than 101... And 8,770 drivers ranging in age from 91 to 100; 408,349 in the 75 to 90 age-bracket. Now that's elderly, and that's a demographic that we well know suffer from a whole range of debilitating illnesses, thanks to the onset and the continuation of old age, since that's a state that proceeds apace.

Comfortable with the thought of all these inevitably age-impaired operators of motor vehicles? Yes, those 80 and over must renew their license every two years. They take the vision test, a written traffic test and finally take part in a group education session. They do not go out on the road with someone tasked with actually testing their practical road-ability behind the wheel.

Fading vision is a problem with advancing years, and so is hearing loss. Reaction time is slower - trusting that most elderly are capable of assessing situations that require an immediate response to avoid unpleasantness at the very least, an accident in the worst-case scenario. Remember reading about those elderly drivers knocking down pedestrians and then simply proceeding, not realizing they're dragging someone along?

These facts do not give great cause for comfort. As though there aren't problems enough with people imbibing alcohol and then proceeding to drive. As though there aren't enough speed demons on the road. As though they aren't more than enough young adults driving to impress one another, and engaging in road racing. As though people aren't always in a hell-bent-for-leather hurry, running amber lights and stop signs.

Surely this will make us feel better; the number of drivers in Ontario suffering from dementia is roughly 30,000, expected to triple to 100,000 by 2028. Why the hell are they permitted to drive? Their family members know very well the frail state of health of their elders, but hesitate to hurt their feeling by suggesting they constitute a danger to themselves and others behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

Besides which, they have so few pleasures in a declining lifestyle, how can they be forbidden their independence? Easily: there are alternatives; kindly relatives driving them to appointments; taxis, ride-sharing, public transportation. What's the matter with this society, to just take it for granted that as long as the elderly drive during the day, avoid peak travel hours, drive slowly, all will be well.

Family members, attending physicians well aware of the state of their elderly patients' health and capabilities, and government agencies need to be more responsible. Human lives depend on it.

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Monday, November 17, 2008


Every society has its budding hoodlums, its social outcasts, its aspiring gang members, its psychotic offenders running amok through communities and leaving havoc in the wake of their rampages. From their earliest years when they indulge in the destruction of public and private property, finding this gleeful enterprise to their liking, to their later years, sowing fear through their violent destructiveness and the volatility of their collective aspirations to violate society's norms.

How much worse can it get when teens eschew school for the greater pleasures of life on the street with their comrades in arms, their street gangs, the camaraderie of illicit and societally-forbidden enterprise. From car theft to home invasions, inter-gang rivalries and street shootings, they weave their web of violations, flouting the laws of the land, and exhibiting no compassion for those whose lives they destroy in their rampaging violence.

Innocent bystanders shot in the event where gang members face off against one another on street corners. Drive-by shootings, leaving some dead, others wounded. And the community from which they derive huddles in fear, revealing no details to law authorities, fearing for their own safety and that of their children should they be seen to be aiding the police. The general silence that settles over low-income housing estates victimizes the entire community.

For nothing will arrest the activities of the thugs who, despite their depredations on their own society - and the wider community - are able to go on about whatever it is they do, without fear of detection. And when good fortune somehow assists an investigation and those responsible for causing death are apprehended, 'social activists' rise in anger, claiming that the youth are not responsible for what a miserable childhood has led them to.

Six youth ranging in age from 15 to 17 were recently picked up and charged with 52 offences, ranging from robbery to assault, in downtown Toronto. Where they used a metal device - a hammer, a meat tenderizer, to beat random victims ranging in age from 18 to 48, resulting in serious facial and head injuries - while robbing their victims. Punching and kicking individuals they surrounded, inflicting wounds with the steel tenderizer.

Just a fun night out on the town. And the police appearing in court were anxiously attempting to block the release of the marauding youths "because of the severity of the violence". And what timing; the farcical release of a study, the "Roots of Youth Violence", commissioned by the Province of Ontario, coming to the conclusion that social dysfunction and criminality in the city's housing projects occur as a result of endemic, systemic social racism.

This, in a country that has institutionalized and encouraged racial tolerance and communality of purpose in society, where laws mitigate against racism, where the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, ensure civility and equality of opportunity. In the United States, Bill Cosby and Barack Obama lashed out at the black community's pathology of absent fathers and disaffected family situations, where the community accepts street youth culture with equanimity.

It is reality, not racism, to observe that social and assisted housing enclaves house single-parent families where the sole parent raising young children abrogates responsibility in teaching ethics and morality, failing to instill the value of education, releasing children into a street environment where the youth rely for emotional support on one another, not parents, and where street crime is endemic and where admiration for drug pushers is fact leading to emulation.

The phenomenon of illegal gun ownership among 'disadvantaged' youth in Toronto has resulted in a horrendous number of homicides. Canadian authorities are currently in the process of having the U.S. co-operate in the extradition of a Chicago-area gun smuggler who succeeded in illegally bringing several hundred handguns into Canada. Of the crime-related guns seized by Toronto police in the last several years, 70% have been supplied illegally from the United States.

Several hundred shooting incidents in Toronto have taken place, resulting in 35 deaths. Some thirty illegal firearms have been traced to the ownership of a Chicago-based arms dealer who illegally smuggled 234 firearms across the U.S. border into Canada. Firearms registered to Ugur Yildiz of Chicago, have been found in Toronto, Barrie, Waterloo, Guelph, Sudbury and Bradford, Ontario.

This man is an obvious supporter of youth entitlement to life in the fast lane of localized enterprising drug trade, of the excitement of living in a community hosting a number of street gangs in frenetically violent opposition to one another; an avuncular champion of murder and mayhem.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Essential Man

Resolute, brave, intelligent, curious, humorous, clever, enterprising, empathetic. Wonderful attributes, all. Have we missed anything? Well, with those characteristics one has close to the perfect man. Capable of almost anything. Of course reality is that most men share some of these characteristics but by no means all of them. And in varying degrees, needless to say.

We've missed independence, modesty, humility to a degree, high integrity, entrepreneurial, adventurous, kind and considerate. That's right, just too much for any single individual to be imbued with all of these wonderful traits. But life is a learning journey, and there's no reason why anyone, male or female, couldn't aspire to become just a little bit of everything.

The witty man who knows just when to display his rapier-sharp sense of humour. To share and to entertain, but never to humiliate others. Is that enough? It should be. Should any man be successful in diligently searching out the way by which he is capable of sharing a little bit of each of those desirable personable traits, he is a gem.

Ah, now I know what I've overlooked; personal appearance. Someone who is neat and tidy, aware of appearances, courteous and deferential when need be. Personal hygiene never overlooked. And values, above all estimable values that equate with the priorities in life, the necessities, the good things that give value to our experience of life.

Ah, this is so idealistic. Reality intervenes. Venality and ego and vanity. Making an impression. What's the most integral thing in most peoples' lives today? To be different, yet not too different; not like the cloddish moron who isn't cool, that's what inspires men to display themselves for public consumption.

But hasn't it always been thus? Like the birds whom nature has given colourful display - to attract female birds, the male peacock with its iridescent array of wonderful plumage - males have always primped and cosseted themselves to some degree. Egyptian men of ancient times carefully plucking away all body hair to present a clear, clean organ of skin.

The men who sought to bedazzle with pompous attire, powdered wigs, high-heeled foot coverings with dainty bows, silk garments and codpieces (to draw attention to their priceless organ), throughout the history of male frippery. Modern males are more muted in their attire, preferring the sobriety of dark clothing, leaving outrageously coloured garments to more fashionable and ostentatious gays.

But they have all succumbed - with the exception of those immune to the blandishments of marketing and mass advertising, those men who feel secure in their gender and whose values are rather less incorruptibly suggestible - to perfuming and pampering themselves with expensive, aromatic toiletry, creating a marketing bonanza that threatens to equal that of women's products.

From skin-care products promising moisturizing anti-aging properties, to all manner of grooming aids. Cosmetic companies are having a ball, directing advertising toward the (mostly) urban and (supposedly) urbane male. "Invigorating" male formulas for dermatological care. Gel formulas, pre-and-post-shave creams and oils, a cornucopia of perfumes and cosmetics.

Yes, cosmetics, among the manly soaps and cleansers and moisturizers. It's the effeminate side of men, succumbing to the allure of believing that all these expensive emoluments will make a difference, increase their attraction, bestow the admiring attention of strangers upon them.

As they waft their various scents behind them, striding along the boulevard, entering elevators, conduct meetings.

Men exactingly selecting potions and creams, creating their own little home spas, conducting their own facial experiences, with cleansers, scrubs for exfoliation, followed by a pleasantly fragrant antioxidant-filled serum.

And think of those sport figures and popular entertainers who have expanded their popular appeal into the realm of male cosmetics, their celebrity appealing further to the gullible who somehow believe that with the use of the creams and cosmetics that bear their favourite celebrities' names they can emulate them.



Saturday, November 15, 2008

What a Fright....

Our little black-haired Button leaped down from her night-time perch - her bed nestled on the loveseat in our bedroom - as she usually does, around seven in the morning. That's the signal for Irving to get up and go downstairs with her, to let her out into the backyard first thing in the morning. He rises several times throughout the night to fulfill a like mission of necessity for himself.

Each time passing her bed on his way to our own, to cover her with one of her blankets that she often tosses off, turning in the night. She once slept at the foot of our bed, on top of the blankets, with her own little pillow and her own blanket tossed over here. This was a habit she abandoned two years ago, distancing herself physically from us at night. The comfort of our near presence in the same room seemed sufficient.

As usual, he followed her to down the hall to the top of the stairs. Where she stopped. Stopped, stiffened, arched her back and then froze. He stood, watching, wondering what was amiss. She finally moved, dropping down to the first step, the next step. Then stopped and froze again, arching her back. Something was obviously very wrong. He stooped to pick her up, cradled her in his arms, to find she was shivering uncontrollably.

Brought her back to our bedroom, sat himself on the loveseat with her in his lap, and covered her with one of her blankets, where she permitted herself to lie, limply, exhausted, still trembling. Button is our independent girl, always on the go, informing us in no uncertain terms what she expects of us and firmly reminding us of our duties toward her. She is vibrantly intelligent, and inexhaustibly active.

She is not as she was now, limp, exhausted, trembling and content to lie there, comforted in the lap of her great good friend, helpless to do anything for herself. The thought that ran amok through both of our minds was that we were, suddenly, with no prior warning, witnessing her end. Something swiftly cataclysmic was claiming our little poodle, and we shivered with dire apprehension.

An hour he sat there, her on his lap, and we quietly spoke together of our fears.

Memory nudged me faintly, as I dredged up an image of something similar having occurred many years ago. But I couldn't be certain, and he couldn't quite recall, it's been so long, and so many things have occurred in the intervening years. It was entirely possible something akin to this event had happened before.

After another half hour, I rose, dressed and took Riley downstairs, so he could go out to relieve himself.

Irving, following me with Button in his arms, sat on the sofa in the family room. Button raised her head, appraised what was happening, and evinced some interest for the first time in several hours. We sat and watched as the trembling ceased and she finally gave some dim indication that she too would like to go out.

As though the morning wasn't sufficiently miserable, it was darkly overcast, steadily raining.

She wasn't yet ready to negotiate the steps leading from the deck to the back garden, so she was taken down, and weakly she performed. Shortly afterward, because she appeared a bit more lively, although she moved with extreme sensitivity and stiffness, we decided to try her for breakfast, and I moistened her kibble with chicken soup, warmed it in the microwave. And she slowly, steadily ate.

Then slowly lapped up water, long and at her leisure, albeit awkwardly. Later, she was taken out again to the backyard and seemed slightly more sure of herself. While we had our own breakfast, she took herself to the rug in front of the dining room windows. Her usual resting place at that time of day would be the sofa or the loveseat in the family room. She was obviously in no condition to leap onto either.

By noon she had improved sufficiently to make her way up the stairs to the second floor of the house, following us as we trod upstairs. Physical mobility and ease of movement had returned. She hadn't, after all, suffered a stroke. She had, more likely, somehow twisted her spine, hurting her back, when she leaped down off the loveseat first thing in the morning.

A trifle; something she does countless times throughout the course of the day, week after week, every month, year on year. She is well. Thank our good fortune.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Artificial Intelligence

Not exactly the type that technicians and computer scientists dream about. At least that kind of artificial intelligence has logic to it. Nope, it's another kind, one that has people totally disinvesting themselves of their inborn common sense, and has them dreaming themselves into a world other than the very real one they inhabit. Until the real world, so utterly lacking in glamour and potential, fades into a world that can be manipulated.

An on-line presence, through virtual reality. Where a man, bald, middle-aged, not entirely all there, and a woman, displeased with her natural attributes can change the colour of her hair, the shape of her body, her very personality to make her more alluring to the man who has altered his persona to that of a younger, more virile male, and there's the perfect match.

Through their virtual lives, they cling to one another, having finally discovered the presence of a soul-mate. Emotional needs finally met.

Fantasy overtaking reality, there's a huge relief. We don't, after all, have to settle into being the people we were born to be. We can be whomever appeals to us, fulfilling our daydreams of appearing to others as we would wish to appear to ourselves; re-born, utterly other than the dreary individual we perceive ourselves to be, and there we can find our true selves.

There is an Internet game, called Second Life, and isn't it just too wonderful for words, allowing anyone dissatisfied with the banality of their unremarkable lives to make themselves over entirely. To become infused with a sense of mystery, a mastery over their bleakly unprofound destiny.

Through the virtual world we can plan out the trajectory of our lives, not, as in the real world, helplessly drift into a life stream that simply is not us.

Take, for example, a 28-year-old in London, England. Who, like an estimated ten million people worldwide, play this very life-affirming-reality-denying game with themselves and with others of like mind. Living in an infantile world peopled by social misfits in arrested adolescence; their real lives impermanent and unappreciated, their on-line lives virtually dominant.

She met her husband through Second Life. Each having fashioned themselves in such a way as to appeal to the other. Knowing instinctively that they had at last, found someone to whom they could relate without a moment's hesitation. They moved into a house they shared in Cornwall, then married one another. Their marriage repeated virtually in Second Life, a "fairy tale" of a wedding.

Married bliss, quite nothing like it. The husband, David Pollard is tall, has long hair and wears a well tailored grey suit, while the wife, Amy Pollard, a dozen years his junior, is a virtual Hispanic with long black hair. In their pedestrian real-life appearance, he is large and balding, she has red hair, and they somehow find it rather discomfiting that reality does not match virtuality.

Amy Pollard is now in the final stages of the process of divorce proceedings, for she is adamant she simply cannot live with her husband's "unreasonable behaviour". Most women might agree, finding it completely unreasonable that their spouses hive themselves off time and again to have intimate relations with other women. "I caught him cuddling a woman on a sofa in the game."

That's right, in the game, on Second Life. Mr. Pollard carried on a series of extramarital relationships of a very cozy and evidently fulfilling manner with other women in their virtual lives of hedonistic delight. Why he even had sex with an online call girl. The divorce is pending, then Mrs. Pollard will be free to flaunt her newly-divorced character and go fishing again for Mr. Right.

The solicitor who handled this case is rather blase about it, for it doesn't appear to be unusual at all. This divorce case the second she'd handled in the space of a week for similarly mis-matched intellectual adolescents on Second Life.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Altruistic Than Judgemental

That's us Canadians. Good people, all. Cognizant of the dire needs of others living in societies which for one reason or another have been unable to deliver the goods of the earth to their people. Canadians are sociable, kindly and unjudgemental of others. And we do see a need to share with others who have not the good fortune to live as well as we do, in our wealthy society.

And here we always think of ourselves as stodgy, boring, smug. Well, we're that too, most certainly, but obviously there are other things to our credit. There must be; a newly released survey by Environics tells us so. We are overwhelmingly nice people. That's a relief. We don't force our beliefs upon others. And that's as it should be. We feel responsible for the well-being of others.

Wait: I've got to give myself a congratulatory hug, before continuing.

All right, moment of self-praise has passed. So, we're not generally condescending, more likely to be conciliatory and helpful. For it would appear that the majority of Canadians would prefer to give a safe haven to American war deserters, rather than support our government's decision to send them back home.

And a majority is opposed to our government's decision to permit Omar Khadr to languish in a U.S. prison, awaiting trial as an enemy combatant, where he is accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was a stripling of 16. As though teens in combat zones, indoctrinated into militias, are insufficiently aware of the consequences when they kill.

Oops, seems I'm in the minority on that one.

But I'm right in there with the majority where Canadians overwhelmingly support the promotion of human rights, freedom of speech and the press, gender equality and the creation of democratic conditions on foreign soil. Hey, that's 93% of Canadians supporting human rights. How could it be otherwise, in any country?

But when given the choice of selecting the promotion of Canadian values or undertaking the provision of tangible goods such as hospitals, roads and bridges in undeveloped countries, a majority of Canadians came down heavily on supporting the provision of tangible goods.

Makes sense, after all. We have no right to impose our values upon others. Whereas, on the other hand, if we willingly assist others to obtain civic infrastructure through the goodness of our collective hearts, it's just possible it may occur to those blessed by our kindness that our values are worth emulating, no?

Concrete assistance to others trumped a requirement that others conform to our system of values before we would exert ourselves to provide for them. Good on us. And a majority of us feel fairly comfortable about our federal government exerting a positive influence on world affairs.

Go, Canada, go!

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Identifying the Village Moron

Mind control is truly a vexing problem. Where large corporations, universities, and secret police harbour sinister intents to invade the minds of vulnerable human beings and control them, forcing them to behave in ways inimical to their well being. Creating from ordinary, functioning humans mere automatons; worse, living corpses who have no inner resources to combat these malicious forces.

Society cannot simply stand by and permit this to happen. We have a duty to protect our citizens. Large companies and academic research laboratories cannot simply go about playing with peoples' lives. Their brains and their activities are sacrosanct; people are, and must continue to be autonomous, in control at all times of their innermost thoughts, their beliefs, their actions.

Who could disagree? Well, certainly not Justice Fraser Wilson of Nanaimo, British Columbia. He, in his great good wisdom and judicial experience knows how important it is to offer protection to the vulnerable in society. And when an individual by the name of Jerry Rose brought a civil lawsuit against Microsoft, Telus, Wal-Mart, the RCMP and others, because they've been exerting brain-wave control over him, Justice Wilson rose to the challenge of Mr. Rose's defence.

Poor man. Who, after all, willingly submits to satanic rituals and other types of witchcraft foisted upon them through superior forces beyond reckoning? Well, justice will prevail, it always does. And a free country simply will not stand by while one of its own is submitted to the indignity and misery of being controlled by these odious agents of the devil.

The claim submitted by Mr. Rose - for which he seeks $2-billion in damages to assuage his shattered nerves - describes "that he has been subject to invasive brain computer interface technology, research, experiments, field studies and surgery".

Little wonder Justice Wilson was aghast and rose to the poor man's defense. Others named in the suit include the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Dastardly villains, all.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Assembling Resources

Global insecurity is rife with incertitude, a hysteria of blame and mea culpas lacking sincerity, as governments try to cope with the misery they know will descend on their populations as the wealth that their enterprise has enabled their citizens to enjoy is crumbling. Global financial institutions and watchdogs have been too complacent, too inattentive to the observations of the parameters which mark healthy economies.

It is the result, self-acknowledged, of the international financial community placing its blind trust in the most powerful economy in the world, one whose adherence to heedless capitalism without any constraints, has led them to ruin. A temporary situation, but a painful one for millions of people the world over as they see their careful plans for a comfortable future eroding just as their laid-away funds are doing.

From homes and businesses lost to a collapsed mortgage scheme that practised a false pyramidal plan of advancing the worthless and overcapitalized paper through lack of adequate liquidity, to huge financial and insurance and banking and lending institutions finding themselves in the quandary of collapse. And with them the stability of countries' ability to sustain their obligations to those they govern.

China, that hugely emerging world economic powerhouse, so busy with encouraging cheap labour, cheap materials, cheap export and trade, amassing great amounts of liquidity, buying up U.S. debts, was yet incapable of supporting the dire needs of its far flung provinces whose millions of residents have not yet seen assistance in the wake of an earthquake that made them homeless.

It is, however, cognizant of the enforced slow-down of its economy and its ambitions placed on temporary hold, sufficiently to announce a $600-billion infrastructure fund to ensure that public works and employment can continue internally, to protect its workers and shore up its economy. In stark contrast to a similar (since vastly increased) sum agreed to by the U.S. Congress to bail out failing financial institutions.

The World Bank has advanced billions in desperation loans to countries of Europe, Africa and Asia on the brink of collapse, like Iceland, Ghana, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Hungary. And then there is Canada - whose sturdy and conservative banking system, the envy of much of the world - which now considers itself in fairly good shape to face the coming downturn.

Canada most certainly will suffer, since its closest and largest trading partner is in no position to buy its products at the rate it normally does, and prospects for trade elsewhere are not enhanced by the reality that most other countries are in like straits of loss of consumer confidence for the simple reason consumers have far less to spend.

Canada too, like China, is looking to shore up its internal resources to wait out the years-long storm of recession looming large on the horizon. Having set aside tens of billions for infrastructure spending, that will now be advanced. And the absurdity of lack of free trade and work opportunities between the provinces, each jealous of their own jurisdictional autonomy, may finally be relaxed.

In sensible administrations, the largest concern in any country now facing a strident downturn of confidence and liquidity, of manufacture and trade opportunities is to do what it can to put its population to gainful work, striving to curtail unemployment. An empowered work force renders hope for a more stable and profitable future for any country.

A demoralized and hapless population left to fend for itself while its government doles out taxpayer funding to wealthy corporations and financial institutions does not bode well for any country's future.

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The Solemnity of Remembrance

This day, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, European and Commonwealth countries observe a day of remembrance.

Of those fallen in conflicts throughout modern history, primarily in the 20th Century, representing their countries' determination to battle an enemy for the dire protection of their freedom and sovereignty. The ideological scourge of our time that drew the world into protracted and bitter wars, 1914 to 1918, and 1935 to 1945, was fascism; the cold wars that followed along with the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts owed to the scourge of communism.

There is a fine line between gratitude and memory transcending on reverential at the inescapable regret, sadness and longing at the memory of the historical sacrifice of young lives given to combat the threat of a fascistic or communist world order - and the glorification of war. For the simple truth is, there is no glory in war, only piteous misery of an order most people removed from war can never begin to imagine.

Conflict itself represents a deranged state of human affairs. It is a sad admission of deep failure to exert the fairest of our human traits, to overcome the adversity of misunderstanding and miscommunication, to rise above errant hubris and mad egotism in favour of the possibilities inherent in striving toward global justice. We are, in our need to give combat to protect that which our societies hold dear, succumbing to desperation.

Political elites whom a populace permits through indifference to launch a systematic and successful propaganda machine entitling their country to consider themselves needful of a march upon their neighbours to assert an unwilling political, ideological, religious compact upon them through force of arms, deliberately and with malice aforethought, empower their armies to commit mass murder.

In the doing of which, their actions force upon those nations who rise up in defense of themselves, a like position, where the government calls upon its citizens to defend their prized freedoms to celebrate their own traditions, cultures, religion, by sacrificing their young men, by drawing them into the military compact, assuring them that their patriotism will save their families, their communities, their country, from the aggressor.

In the process, allowing them, schooling them, in the practise of warfare, the use of arms, erasing from their consciences the societally-taught and family-nurtured respect for life inherent in the social compact. The state thus orders their young men to indulge themselves in the discipline of army life, to embrace other conscripts, their peers in honourable battle, as family and dear to them. Supporting and valuing one another, fighting a just cause together.

The deliberate and conscious social compact of living in harmony with one's fellow man erased in one fell swoop of national deliberation, through the need to do battle, to conquer the illegal, immoral, unconscionable aspirations of an army campaigning to do harm to their neighbours in the interests of conquest. Who else does a country turn to, to protect its own, than the young, the strong, the mobile?

Those unattached young men and women whose personal responsibilities have not yet matured to include families dependent on their close presence and support? Until, with the decimation of that initial corps of volunteers or conscripts or both, the need becomes sufficiently great to tear other young men and women from the normalcy of fruitful lives in defence of a nation.

When an eventual armistice is called, after years of blood and tears spilled over soil better used to grow and harvest crops for the living; death and destruction delivered to innocent civilian elderly, children and women, huddled in their homes in towns and cities invaded by aggressors and finally delivered from deadly occupation, human exhaustion has reached its final stages.

We shed tears of regret over the loss of so many young and valuable lives. Enact some version of military justice in an effort to heal the wounds of society. And bitterly mourn a society's depletion of strong young men and women. The wounded troop home, never to forget the horrors they have witnessed and experienced. The sounds and smells and impacts will never leave their memories.

And the society that their sacrifices have protected observe a solemn dedication to remember what it has demanded of its youth. We recall the names of the dead, inscribe them for posterity, and toll the bells of memory. There is no mercy in war, but we obtain the mercy of closure in commemoration.

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Monday, November 10, 2008


It's that time of year again, to commemorate those who fought for freedom against oppression, those Allied soldiers who went into battle against the Axis pact of Nazi Germany. It's a reluctant memory, one that the soul would prefer to lay away as an unspeakable tragedy not the least bit reflective of true human nature. An unspeakably horrible one-time aberration that will never be re-visited in our time on Earth.

Of course we rouse ourselves to duty, for it is a stern duty to remember, to understand or try to come to terms with what motivates some people to hate so blindly and without any kind of humane amelioration that they become complicit in butchery against civilian targets, determined to 'win' the battle against enemies their very intransigent need to confront and to kill has garnered them.

The war to end all wars, somehow just did not. And civilized societies once again became embroiled in a war no one other than the aggressors wanted to contemplate. What accounts for such evil, such overweening hubris that drowns all thoughts of humane recognition of others as being equally entitled to life and liberty, to freedom and happiness as those who sought so mightily to destroy it for all but themselves?

A country so civilized, so cultured, so given to artistic expression - lovers of poetry and music; admirers of philosophy and language - that it won the admiration and respect of its neighbours, suddenly transformed itself into a ravening beast of rabidly primitive blood-thirstiness. Determined to prevail, to counter and subdue any that would stand in its path to power.

A totalitarian government led by a charismatic lunatic whom his people adored. Yet one which returned its peoples' loyalty by training its eyesight on internal matters to legislate for an enlightened scientifically-approved medical course of healthful living. A healthy people translates to a strong and virile population, one worthy of ascending to the pinnacle of strength and beauty and political power that would become the reign of the Third Reich.

A thousand-year domination of the world. And on that journey toward domination laying waste to the contesting armies of countries that defended themselves, however inadequately, against the assault of a controlled, mechanized, punctiliously-disciplined army of conquest. Another side of which was dispatched to deliver death en masse to a hated demographic of sub-humans.

Among them the sick in mind and body, the despised homosexuals, the gypsies, political adversaries - and above all, the Jews of the world. All requiring complete annihilation to cleanse the world of their deleteriously-affective presence. And to that purpose hordes of defenceless men, women and children herded into ghettos and punctilious records maintained of the numbers, circumstances, outcomes.

Nothing was to be wasted; goods confiscated; estate properties, artwork, silver, the very gold set into dental appliances; skin, hair, clothing, all recycled in a nod to the frugal environment of a wartime economy. Medical science benefited through the sudden availability of living, functioning humanoids whose suffering through trials of torture could be recorded for medical posterity.

Fabled German record-keeping and economy of time and motion went into overdrive as death squads dealt speedily and effectively with the scum of the earth, thanks to the efficiency of Zyklon B and giant ovens spewing the burnt grey molecules of corpses into the atmosphere. Dead; a like number of Jewish lives extinguished as now populates the State of Israel.

It was not for the liberation of what was left of European Jewry that the Allies fought so valiantly, for most fighting men and boys had little knowledge of what was transpiring in the death camps established throughout Germany and Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic, Belarus and Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia, Netherlands and France, and Austria. The systematic extermination of Jews, the genocide leading to a Judenrein world.

That was merely a side agenda for Nazi Germany. Their grand aspiration of world domination had a far wider sweep and they were determined to succeed, and in so doing would benefit the world greatly by fostering a great state of muscular blond giants, whose women would be biddable hausfraus, cooking, cleaning, raising more muscular blond giants for the Fatherland.

One after another, the houses of Europe fell to the marauding armies of the Third Reich. Great Britain and her Commonwealth partners like Canada stood defiant, alone, to battle the Nazi colossus. Germany, Japan, Italy, Russia; their vassal states of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Finland, Iraq and Thailand and the national collaborationists in France. Until Japan bombed Pearl Harbour and non-interventionist America helped to turn the tide.

What a colossal loss of lives, civilian and military. What an absolute and bloody waste. What have we learned? Is there never to be peace and universal humanity on this Globe?

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ample Funds, Scarce Brains

One supposes it's a matter of values ingrained in a society that views everything material as disposable as soon as newer models come on the market. A society surfeit with opportunities to purchase bigger and better, newer and more glamorous. A society privileged to live with ample funding to enable them to practise profligacy in favour of intelligent selectivity and careful spending habits.

By no means is this reflective of the vast legions of people living at or below the poverty line, but even they - because in a society such as Canada's poverty is a relative observation - will select 'brand names', strive to obtain the latest electronic devices, and live frustrated lives of aspiring to afford whatever wealthier Canadians so effortlessly claim as their entitlement.

Good wages, easy accessibility to luxury goods and lifestyles; public relations that teach people frugality is an unnecessary by-product of the unfortunate past, and ceaseless brainwashing through product and lifestyle advertising have created the atmosphere of desire, to acquire as many items as one desires, needed or not. One has an example to follow, the lifestyles of the celebrated, the rich and famous.

How vain, how self-involved, how pathetically thin is the veneer of our culture and value systems. That a regular feature item of general interest in a financial broadsheet highlights the economic situations of various people, recounting their lifestyles and purported needs against their incomes and liabilities, then experts in money management evaluate their opportunities and render sage advice.

The example of two newlywed 30-year-olds who between them share $164-thousand in annual wages, yet cannot seem to make ends meet sufficiently to save for a down payment on a house. Mind, they did spend their nest-egg of $50,000 for a wedding that they consider "so worth it", depleting their savings. And they do most certainly have monthly expenditures to account for, such as $160 weekly for take-out food, entertainment and drinks.

Oh yes, there's the allocation of $400 monthly for clothing, and then there's the $100 weekly for maid services. Sad, sad; they cannot see their way clear to saving the required down payment for the house they so very much would like to acquire. And, it would appear, their plight is a common one. Just the very fact that weddings themselves have become an industry in this frivolous society given to sumptuous display speaks volumes about common values.

From wedding planners to designer cakes, ballroom dance lessons, and all the necessities to ensure that one's wedding ranks among the season's social events. The rings, the flowers, gowns, photographers, stationer, musicians, party favours, reception and food, open bars, rental of furniture, and of course the de rigeur event limousine where only a Ferrari will do, have their monumental costs.

But think of the social status, the veneer of wealth and sophistication, the admiring and jealous reactions of family and friends; priceless.

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Assisted Browsing

Municipalities have an obligation to serve all of their citizens, those who pay their taxes and those who, through misfortune of one kind or another, struggle to maintain themselves through unconventional means and who require assistance. Assisted housing is meant to offer a reasonable opportunity to the working poor or those on welfare to have decent living accommodations.

Most reasonable taxpayers acknowledge that this, among a plethora of other needed social infrastructures are what they pay their taxes for.

Needless to say there are always problems with people, whether they're in high income brackets and live independently wealthy lives but are a nuisance to their neighbours because of some kind of social incompatibility, or, in the case of a man by the name of Steve Lloyd, taking advantage of assisted housing to develop his habit of rat-packing.

This is a man whose living accommodation, a one-bedroom apartment, has become so packed with items he's picked up there's no room for him or anyone else, under these crammed conditions, to live in the unit. It has become a functioning storage unit, monopolized by this man who seems to feel entitled to its use for that sole purpose. Years of prowling neighbourhoods to pick up discarded items of one kind or another have resulted in this situation.

The housing authorities are attempting to dislodge him from his perch at the top of a highrise, occupying a public-housing unit that is badly needed by thousands of people in need, including families, on a years-long waiting list. This man actually earns his modest living through the sale of objects set out for trash collection which obviously have many more years of use in them.

The apartment, is so stuffed with all manner of objects that it is not even possible to enter it without displacing some of the more immediate objects into the hall outside the door, to gain uncomfortably-packed entry. Access to the bathroom, to the bedroom, impossible. In fact, finding anything in particular in that pack-rat's heaven is well nigh impossible.

The condition of the apartment has become seriously compromised; the fire department has declared it a fire hazard. And two fires have, in fact, broken out in the kitchen of the apartment when it was still habitable, and Mr. Lloyd lived there in his crowded space, and made his meals there. Damage was severe enough to the apartment post-fire, to occasion $40,000 worth of repairs.

None of the other residents appear too exercised about the predicament, perhaps even feeling some neighbourly sympathy for the man. He is, after all, a sociable person, and in fact vice-president of the tenants' association, and the very man whom tenants look to for answers to their questions about the rules and regulations they should follow. And, from time to time, he hauls selected items down to the sidewalk in front of the housing unit.

Items such as computers, vacuum cleaners, birdcages, DVD players, and films; bicycles, popcorn makers, and all manner of furniture. Radios, ice skates, television sets in good working order, complete with remotes. It is, quite simply, amazing what people will discard. And the low-income earners in the unit are only too happy to purchase for a modest price, the clothing he hangs alongside the other goods he has for sale.

He's been in possession of the apartment unit for just about two years. After the two fires set through careless accident, the Ottawa Community Housing authority filed to evict. Hearings were scheduled before the Landlord and Tenant Board, but due to one woe after another the man failed to attend.

What an absurd travesty. Symptomatic of how callous some people become, how cavalierly they use and misuse preferential treatment meant to assist the needy.

There are some times when it seems that legal protocol simply stands in the way of justice.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Indian Summer Re-Visited

It has been granted us by a sporadically indulgent Nature the pleasure of indulging in deep draughts of summer renascent.

We woke this morning to fog once again, but a light fog this time, and the prevailing winds swiftly blew it away, allowing the sun to burn through and do its work. It's the temperature inversions, warm sunny days succumbing to cool, even frosty nights, boomeranging back and forth that bring us these moist, foggy mornings.

In the ravine it is extremely quiet and we treasure these days where we no longer have to wear hats and gloves, wrap scarves around our necks, pull little coats over our two little dogs to face the elements.

There are still little pockets of rotted snow left here and there, despite a week of temperatures soaring to 18 degrees and plenty of sun. The snow is reluctant to melt entirely. Best to ignore its presence.

Everywhere now there is a monochromatic blanket of leaves, faded from their freshly fallen colours of gold, orange, red and bronze, to a uniform sprinkling of pale-to-dark shades of beige. We ruffle their dry essence, as we rove through them, piled high on the trails, their acrid odour pleasantly wafting toward us.

We hug ourselves in delighted disbelief at the clemency of the weather. Thank you, kind Nature, gifting us so pleasurably before the final onslaught of cold wintry weather.

November can be such a dark, damp, windy and altogether unpleasant month. So wearily colourless and cold that we finally long for the snow to appear, to soften the cold angularity and sere presence of late autumn. Scant few leaves still cling to branches; a light breeze rattles them.

At this time of year we've often remarked on how peculiar it is that some poplar trunks take on the aspect of birch trunks, they're that white. At other times those same poplar trunks are painted in pale green, but not now.

The creek is running clear now, it has lost the urgency and roiling motion it had latterly taken on, with the heavy rain and the snow that followed it. Its banks are slowly, steadily collapsing. As occurs with such an unsubstantial combination of
clay and sand.

As we reach the half-way point in our daily perambulation, a pair of doves lift off from the trail, wings whirring. We've become accustomed to seeing them here, just as early in the summer we observed a pair of cardinals whose territory it had been. And just a bit further we're surprised to see a flock of doves rise from the ground into the surrounding trees.

Nuthatches and chickadees abound, their bright chirping painting the landscape with sound. Ash keys hang plentifully, pendulously, and we wonder whether any birds value them as they do the spruce cones that the squirrels so assiduously gather and separate into careful piles of eaten and soon-to-be-eaten, atop the flat surfaces of tree stumps.

Spent asters and goldenrod flower heads have dried completely and they've been transformed into little lethal torpedoes, sticking to Button's and Riley's haircoats. The dark trunks of deciduous trees, naked of leaves, are a counterpoint to the dark green of the conifers among them and the bright, still-fresh green of mosses, ferns.

Beneficent Nature has sent us yet again the temporary sweetness of sun and ambient warmth. The bright sun illuminating her fall tapestry. The staccato hammering of a woodpecker punctures the still air.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Painful Parenting

What a miserable, dreadful tragedy. To lose a child on the cusp of becoming an adult. That twilight zone of hormonal-induced confusion and emotional insecurity. A young boy, fifteen, quiet and not given to making friends. He has a twin sister, perhaps she is the gregarious one. But he hides himself away, seeks solace in an activity that requires no other human presence to satisfy his curiosity, his enquiry.

He's become an Internet gaming aficionado, where on line he is anonymous and is able to conduct himself casually without revealing anything about himself, taking comfort and pleasure in doing there what he will, playing video games that require him to be someone else, not the he whom displeases himself. Trouble is, his constant sequestration troubles his parents.

Although his preoccupation has become the new normal, to his parents it's a troubling indication that their efforts to socialize their son, to introduce him to values that they feel will enhance his life, have failed. Their son's dedication to playing Internet video games is an obvious symptom that something vital is absent from his life, and they don't quite know how to handle the situation.

They've spoken with him about this on a constant basis. They worry incessantly. The end result of which has always been frustration to their child and to them. Nothing is resolved, and he returns to his favourite and only preoccupation. Leaving them irritated and helpless, not knowing where to turn, what to do, to turn things around, interest him in other engaging things.

He has no interest in organized sports. He is a lonely boy and not given to great emotional expressions. They attempt once again to convince him that there is more to life than a computer screen and the action available on the videos that so attract him, that these are only meagre stand-ins for what should really matter in his life, to be involved with other people, doing things together.

The last discussion they embarked upon with him, deteriorated as all the others did, into confrontation, accusation and despair. And anger, an anger so dense and so desperately volatile that he tore out of the house and pedalled off on his bicycle. He'd return, they consoled themselves, once his anger with them subsided. So they waited. And waited.

And their boy simply did not return. His deep resentment of their interference of the one thing in life that offered him pleasure and escape, from his intolerable everyday life was indelible and not to be placated so readily. He would not return. He would make them sorry they made him miserable. That would teach them a lesson.

And he was certainly right there. They've been taught the lesson of their lives. At the cost of his. His life is now forfeit, gone, faded into nothingness, and they can only theorize, hopelessly, helplessly, that he did not really mean to die, he just got carried away by his emotions, blindly striking out, confused and unhappy.

There is no consolation for them.

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Nature Induced

Not to fret, not to worry, nature will always surprise us and ensure we're never bored with her palette nor her offerings. Before October departed we had clear notice that winter was on the way, with a 15-centimeter dump of snow aided and abetted by a bluster of winds that managed to disrupt traffic and bring down power lines.

Just so we wouldn't feel too sedate about this season heralding days of white-outs and the suspense of freezing rain.

This morning brought another surprise; fog so heavy we could barely see the road in front of our house. And it didn't dissipate entirely until noon. When we ventured out into the ravine, although the sun had by then poked through on occasion, mist still trailed about, creating an elusive scene of mystery. All of earth's creatures are somewhat unsettled, but pleasantly.

Insects have come to life, little moths flitting aimlessly about, uncertain what next to expect, and bees have come out of their hives looking in vain for pollen for there is none to be had, the flowers all wilted and brown. Squirrels, so frantic only last week to assemble spruce cones and lay them away for the long hard months ahead are now skittering about without heed to the impending cold.

For suddenly it isn't cold, it's balmy, so warm we are able to go about clad only in long-sleeved shirts, the breeze caressing our faces, the sun now and again warming us as we emerge from bush to clearing. There's the rough, raw caw of a raven somewhere overhead, the determined clacking of a hairy woodpecker, low on a tree in full sight.

Nuthatches and chickadees skip around trees in their flighty manner, and a pair of doves lifts gracefully off, one after another, from the trail into the nearby forest. Later, back home in the garden, we are able to complete winterizing our gardens. We've worked at just that for a full month, gathering cut-backs to be composted, and in fact, today emptying one of our three compost bins.

That rich compost has now been spread generously over our gardens, where it will break down nicely over winter and nourish the plants come spring. Finally, I've cut back all the roses, and it breaks my heart to cut back the two fairy roses, their waiting buds and beautiful full flower heads in full pink bloom, seemingly impervious to the weather.

The saucer magnolia at the front of the house is surfeit with fat fuzzy buds that will open into glorious magenta blooms in the spring. I cut back, snip off old dead branches from beneath the canopy of our large pine, and do the same with old branches in the umbrella of the flowering pea, the mulberry, gathering all the dark, stiff branches to be composted.

It's quite wonderful to be out there, our two little dogs lazily laying about in the sun, catching the last of its life-affirming warmth before we all must wait out the long winter months. Out there, puttering about, putting things to rights in preparation for next spring, is quite simply exhilarating, even euphoric, deeply satisfying.

Nature-induced bliss.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Municipal Budgeting Ineptitude

It's Ottawa's misfortune that it elected, in its voter stupidity, a mayor who has had to learn on the job, and one who, furthermore, has a criminal indictment hanging over him, yet to go to trial.

A mayor who was a successful businessman and wanted a new challenge, deciding to foist himself on the citizens of Ottawa. His vaunted business acumen, along with a strident campaign promise that he would not raise taxes, elevated him in the opinion of a majority of voters over a far more seasoned and adept candidate for the office.

And now we're stuck with the man, who has the unmitigated gall to insist that there is nothing untoward in his sitting in the mayor's chair while being charged with corruption in electoral malfeasance. He's been glad-handing, and winging it ever since, playing municipal councillors and maneuvering a nice balance in his support, while others grin and bear his presence.

How stupid can people be, to elect a man who has had no grounding whatever in municipal, let alone any level of politics beyond the business arena, on the basis that their taxes will not be raised? Rather than accept that costs of services rise steadily, as do all other costs, and property owners must be prepared to countenance some level of rising taxes if we are to be assured of municipal services.

And such services go well beyond garbage collection; they ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place to adequately treat waste water and to provide safely potable drinking water; to fund local policing and fire services; to maintain our public roadways in all seasons; to adequately maintain critical civil infrastructure; to look to the provision of assisted housing; along with a multitude of other services such as public transit, public health facilities and the maintenance of city parks.

These are all assets to the population, they represent a quality of life issue for residents of the city. Residents who also like to think that there is an obligation to support arts, culture and recreation, but not to the extent that they could short-change the more vulnerable in the population, people whose incomes are at such a low level that they barely subsist, and require help from the municipality for child care issues, and public housing.

Yet the city finds itself struggling to maintain its budget to avoid a critical deficit, one that could only grow year by year. The city's financial staff has taken a fine tooth-comb to various municipal-run operations, proffering a number of options to avoid a too-hefty property tax increase, and still provide core services. Staff cut-backs, letting go hundreds of municipal workers.

The imposition of higher recreational user-fees; cutting transit routes; cutting public health and child care services. And cutting back on supportive housing, cultural services, bylaw enforcement, long-term care funding and capping rental supplements. The $35.5 million 'saving' that would result from these service cut-backs would translate into a 5% rise in taxes.

Sounds as though property taxpayers may be receptive out of sheer necessity, to an average $120 annual increase in property taxes, already among the highest in the country. Of course the trade-off is to cut quality-of-life-affirming services to poor families, to the homeless, to children living below the poverty line. And what kind of city would that be?

Who could be proud of living in a municipality that looks after the interests of the middle class while blithely ignoring the presence of the vulnerable among us, those who need a helping hand so they can get by? Far better we be hit with a higher, and still acceptable rise in our taxes, enabling the city to retain all the services they're so prepared to cut.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In God's Name

The Old Testament is rife with stories of human passion, tragedies, conflict, sorrow. It sets down a series of punishments for various types of social transgressions. It's always well to remember that these sacred texts, purporting to be the word of God handed down to the faithful, were transcribed time and again, interpreted and mis-interpreted by scribes preserving and freshening the texts, and perhaps on occasion adding a bit here, a bit there for greater clarity.

It is also well to remember that these texts were originally set down by social scholars, the psychologists of their day, attempting to come to terms with the psychological frailties of humankind, with the violently emotional expressions of men, with the continual outbreaks of tribal conflict. Above all, with the need for a tool by which personages of superior knowledge and presumably, intelligence, would be able to control the baser instincts of those they represented.

For that reason a set of reasonable and humane social tenets were put in place that exhorted believers to honour God by practising respect for one another. To value family, to abstain from greed and violence, to honour the property of others, to improve their behaviour in the eyes of an all-seeing God who would, at some future date, reward them by taking them up into Heaven upon leaving the mortal coil.

Life in the Middle East thousands of years ago was a brutal affair, much as it would have been elsewhere in the world, with the strong prevailing, and taking for themselves whatever they wished, and the weak cowering in fear and apprehension for their lives. In attempting to instill civility and empathy for others in good deeds, biblical aphorisms and teachings warn believers what they must avoid.

Adultery was taken to be a sin, as was thievery, as murder, and above all blasphemy. The sanctity of the temple demanded piety, respect and belief. An eye for an eye, in an era when tribal warfare was the order of the millennium, and any outside the tribe were seen as ripe prospects for any kinds of atrocities visited against them. Their possessions claimed, their lives forfeit.

Public stoning was often seen as a just punishment for adultery. Putting out the eyes of one whose jealous attentions might lead them to covet another's possessions. Amputation of limbs as punishments for theft. If one person caused another to lose a body part through torture or attempted murder, the punishment exacted would often reflect what had been imposed on the victim.

That was then, in times long past. The sacred writings are now read as a series of thought-provoking events, a catalogue of the righteous and those found wanting. No one who practises Judaism or Christianity would ever think of resorting to the kinds of punishment for social transgressions meted out to the unfortunate back then, as appropriate for our present enlightened era.

The most abysmally fundamentalist among them would be deemed a raving lunatic at the very hint of supporting some of the punishment atrocities deemed as normal thousands of years ago. Not so, unfortunately, among rabidly fundamentalist Islamists whose reading of the sacred Koran remains grounded in desert tribalism where vengeance equated with punishment for social transgressions.

Where, in Somalia last week, the governing theocratic council agreed with the judgement under Sharia law that a young woman must undergo a horrendous, primitive form of torture to expiate her from her torture-induced confession of having had illegal sex. Amnesty International differs from the official presiding Sharia judge's explanation that this was a 23-year-old woman who had sworn to her guilt.

According to Amnesty, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was 13 years old. She had been brutally raped by three men. Islamic law holds that four male witnesses must swear in a court of Sharia law as witness to adultery before a woman can be legally killed. But because the judge claimed that the girl had admitted guilt, and asked to be stoned, the atrocity against the child went forward.

She was dragged, fearful and resisting, into a stadium crowded with hundreds of onlookers. She was buried up to her neck, and a sack placed over her head. The crowd was instructed to do their social part in this judicial ritual by throwing rocks at her. On several occasions throughout this legal religious proceeding, the girl was pulled out of the hole to determine whether she yet lived. Then placed back for the stoning to resume.

Some onlookers sought to save the girl, and when they surged forward in disgust and outrage at the proceedings, the assembled guards fired on them, in the process killing a boy. Here is the savagery of a brutalized, but religion-respecting people believing they righteously defend the spirit of their sacred and all-powerful deity.

A blot on humanity.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Aboriginal Education Opportunities

We're informed that the fastest growing demographic in Canada is among our aboriginal peoples, our First Nations. Canada is in need of young people to look to our future needs, and children of aboriginal ancestry are certainly in need of a bright future, one that will take them out of the congenital state of poverty that most status Indians live in on reserves, and into the greater community.

A recently released C.D. Howe Institute paper, by John Richards, a public policy professor at Simon Fraser University, renders some interesting, and desperately unfortunate statistics. They're interesting in that they point out that employment rates for aboriginals and non-aboriginals are identical, at comparable levels of education attained by each group.

Those aboriginal youth with a high school diploma also have an identical employment rate to non-aboriginal Canadians; just above 60%. Young people who have attained a trade or college certificate enjoy a roughly 75% employment success rate, whether of aboriginal or non-aboriginal background.

And comparing non-aboriginal graduates with aboriginals attaining university degrees, it would appear that aboriginals have a greater success rate in finding employment in their field of study. Sounds good, as though Canadian society is finally levelling the field of opportunity for First Nations youth.

The misfortune, the unfortunate side of the equation, however, lies in the large number of aboriginal children who drop out of school without attaining at the very least their high school diplomas. They don't appear to be self-motivated, nor is encouragement high within the community. And the situation appears to be deteriorating.

A reverse trend is taking place among aboriginal youth, with the drop-out rate increasing at the very time when, among non-aboriginals it has become commonplace for 90% to graduate from high school with completion certification. Whereas, among aboriginals the graduation rate appears to be dropping.

That doesn't speak well for a number of vital issues. First Nations youth will never be able to aspire to making the most of educational opportunities leading to secure and well-paid jobs. And, at a time when opportunities for future success loom large on the horizon. That means wasted opportunities for the young people, and wasted opportunities for Canadian society at large.

Federal funding under the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs doesn't appear to be the problem, for Indian bands and reservations. Those federal monetary supports are realized at $11,000 per year for every individual; First Nations, Inuit and Metis. It's an assistance, a help, but it doesn't seem to translate into great hope for the future, and perhaps that attitude helps fuel youthful disinterest.

And perhaps a solution might lie in funding on-reserve schools out of the hands of band councils. But other figures released to the public indicate that the provinces allocate inadequate funding to First Nations, Inuit and Metis schooling; underfunding each school-age child by thousands of dollars as compared to their non-aboriginal peers.

That underfunding per student is translated into fewer teachers, larger class sizes, and fewer supplies, along with inadequate classrooms and related equipment. Short-changing aboriginal children at the most critical times of their lives and in the most important area of education, is not to anyone's benefit. And it is a distinct blot on the conscience of Canada.

A focus should be on encouraging aboriginal children to understand just how critical to their future a sound education is. A culture of attainment, not one of resentful demands and despair must be conveyed to Canada's aboriginal youth. Much depends on it. It is the very least to which they are more than entitled.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008


Life is just full of distractions. There are so many things to be done, so many items needing notice, there doesn't ever seem time enough to attend to them all. And since modern technology has added to those distractions, rather than making it simpler - as we always assumed would be the case - for us to deal with the growing minutiae of our lives in an ever more-complex world, we're becoming more distracted.

There are times when distractions are inevitable and they have to be attended to immediately. When unexpected things happen that take precedence, make us set down whatever it is that we've given our full attention to and turn instead, quickly, to a more immediate need. Such as our attention being drawn to dangerous situations to us or to those in our care, that come first and foremost.

This is a busy world, and we're forever rushing about in that world we inhabit, demanding our constant attention. Nowhere is attention more demanded and necessary than when we're behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, checking for other drivers' unexpected moves, driving defensively, responsibly, and with the discipline required that all our senses are in use.

Yet it's such a commonplace thing to do; drive from home to work, then back again, or going out on numerous daily chores, that it's become second nature. The routine of the commonplace. We feel secure in our abilities to meet all the challenges posed to us on the roads and highways and become bored with the constant need to pay attention. Our minds wander and so do our hands.

Yet all it takes, at a critical time - a time that one doesn't always recognize for what it represents - to be distracted by something; tuning the radio to another station, calling back to the children to settle down, picking up a doughnut and coffee for a hurried breakfast, or answering the cellphone when it rings so demandingly.

Finally, the Province of Ontario has followed the lead of other provinces and states in our neighbour's bailiwick, to recognize in the law the dangers inherent in cellphone use while driving. Darn good thing that is. Unfortunately, not quite good enough to excuse the use of hands-free models and ban the hands-on types. Conducting a conversation while driving is fine, when the person sits next to you.

When someone is arguing with you, committing you to a course of action that's not agreeable, or attempting to discuss complex issues, while you're negotiating traffic and trying to split your attention, something fails. They're not aware, at a physical remove, of what you're facing on the road, and then you're not, either. Full attention to the first task at hand, often takes second place to the urgency of a telephone call.

Let alone text-messaging. Or putting on make-up, or doing some quick note-taking, or looking at a map, or anything remotely similar. Brief inattention to the road ahead and the vehicles moving behind and on either side, can result in a catastrophic surprise. It isn't, in the end, a move to legally ban the use of cellphones while driving that will address this problem of driver inattention.

Since other jurisdictions have discovered that such bans, although popular generally at initiation, don't have the desired result, and people simply quietly resume their use of cellphones while driving, complacent in their driving and attention skills. It's always the other person in the other car who may be driving erratically and without full attention, never oneself.

The real problem lies with our personal sense of entitlement, to do things that we'd condemn other people for doing. People are too confident in their own capabilities, too critical of the lack of ability in others. It's an unfortunate human tendency, another quirk of our human nature.

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