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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Spring? What Spring!

We're on the cusp of June, and things are looking pretty good in the gardens. We've had ample rain, and cannot complain of a lack of sun. Wind, though, has been present in uncomfortable volumes, whipping things around and drying them out and generally leaving the impression that nature is putting us on notice that it is her will and determination that controls the environment, an essential order that we've never disputed, but would like to reasonably argue with her for a little surcease from time to time.

Today we had everything thrown at us. A little sun, to mitigate the cold temperatures that barely nudged above plus-4, rain, hail and high winds. Just so we won't be too complacent about our good fortune that spring has arrived, and the natural world around us has come emphatically alive after yet another long, cold and snowy winter. One wonders what the animals think of all this; knowing quite well how the rigours of anticipating a stable spring is regarded by most people.

The morning chill extended into the afternoon. The sunshine did not. The wind came up aggressively and with it clouds, dark and heavy, to obscure the hitherto clear blue sky. The clouds brought - what else? - rain, lots of it. But it didn't last; an hour later the sun was back out, and off we set for an afternoon jaunt in the ravine, knowing well how slippery the rain-sodden trails would be. It was just barely nudging above the freezing mark, so we wore warm hooded jackets.

Button and Riley wore respectable little woolen jackets too; red for her, blue for him. Which we fully anticipated would be speckled with mud and detritus on our return home. We weren't disappointed, and the water in the sink after dabbling their paws in it on our return was murky-dark and full of detritus as well. But while we were in the ravine, it was enjoyable. We've discovered this spring that jack-in-the-pulpits have spread to other parts of the ravine.

As have done bunchberries also. We're seeing those dogwood blooming where we've never seen them before. The lilies-of-the-valley, of course, are everywhere, as are the violets. And now the shrub dogwood too are blooming, their panicles of flowers white and beautiful. What is also spreading, albeit slowly, is meadow rue. Alas, what spreads like wildfire is horsetail, and that primitive plant doesn't get high grades for beauty.

There are strawberries in bloom everywhere, and a few trilliums defying ageism. The density of bright green everywhere we look is an amazing transformation from what the ravine looked like a mere two weeks earlier. The resulting canopy does offer some shelter from what falls from on high. Through the duration of our time in the woods this day the sun shone then disappeared as one squall after another overtook the bright disk and offered instead several bouts of hail.

Little icy pellets that bounced off the ground, off us and anything else they hit. And they did hit with some force; one trouncing my tender ear so I felt the assault. Bo so what! We were out enjoying ourselves and admiring the many faces and offerings of temperamentally untamed nature.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Days of Contentment

At breakfast this morning, there was a cardinal, flying from tree to tree trying to screw up its courage to challenge the chipmunk and the squirrels and the chickadees to the pile of peanuts set out on the walk in front of our garden shed. We watched as the brilliant scarlet bird flashed its presence from one vantage point to another, finally settling beside the peanuts, vacated by those who had taken their fill.

Later, off we went on our ravine walk, dressed against the chill of the day, complete with old boots remembering well how muddy it had been when we were out perambulating on the ravine trails during a light rain yesterday and slithering on the revealed clay, the ground unable to absorb any additional offerings of rain, puddles appearing everywhere, encouraging the small areas of jewel weed that just thrive in these conditions.

Another red flash, this time the head of a pileated woodpecker as he flew from tree to tree, to finally settle on one he had previously ravished, huge gaping holes left where that primitive head hammered bark to reveal a white interior hosting insects and grubs that so appealed to a woodpecker's appetite. The creek ran thick and dark with mud raised from the floor of its bed, and we were enveloped in a fragrance of spring.

Later, at home, we set about cutting back die-backs in the garden; those portions of the Japanese maple that had begun to thrive in early spring but have since died back. And those climbing rose stems that are too vigorously growing where they are not needed. And the overhanging branches of our neighbours' huge old spruce, nudging one of our apple trees too closely for comfort. We took secateurs to the burning bush, blooming now and run amok with spring enthusiasm, interrupting the free growth of a clematis.

The garden is coming along as it should. Irises blooming, rose buds being set, and clematis buds as well. Everything architecturally thriving and colourfully celebrating new life.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Canada's Aboriginal Women

Aboriginal women have always suffered discrimination, even within their own communities. They live a life of double jeopardy, discriminated against as aboriginals in the wider community, and as women with perceived lesser entitlements than men. Held to have a lower status than white women because of their ancestry. And there are no lawful guarantees of equitable treatment within aboriginal communities for women of aboriginal background.

They are not entitled to the same qualities of life and of entitlements as men. An aboriginal woman who marries a white man loses her right to live on a reserve. She has no protection under the laws of Canada, since she is seen to be subject to the laws as administered under the Indian Act that permit First Nations to govern as they see fit. Rights and entitlements guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms exempt First Nations women.

On-reserve First Nation women, on marital breakdown, are not guaranteed an equitable division of property. They are not even ensured they may be able to retain custody of their children. Their lack of entitlements and rights are the prerogative of First Nations assemblies who don't recognize the issue of matrimonial property rights entitling women. On-reserve women have long complained of the unfairness of their position and agitated for change.

But tradition has it that certificates of possession with respect to titles of homes on reserve are given by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to men. This is the way it has always been, and there has always been resistance from native assemblies, run by men on behalf of men, to changing it. Simply because national First Nations organizations insist that they must conduct legal matters as they see fit in their jurisdictions.

The Assembly of First Nations gives support in theory to changes that would entitle aboriginal women on reserve. But they have not responded to the urgings of their women, and they have no wish for the federal government to intervene on behalf of aboriginal women. Despite which a piece of legislation, Bill C-8 is being discussed that would change things.

Aboriginal groups resist this federal government law to assist in equalizing rights for on-reserve women because they feel this is an infringement on their jurisdictional rights. Which they obviously place higher on the scale of justice than serving the interests of improving the lives of on-reserve women.

Our indigenous people have been hard done by in the greater community that is Canada. They have suffered grievously in the past, and still suffer discrimination. Their own choices all too often work against them. Refusing to join the greater community to avail themselves of better educational and workplace and life-style opportunities, many suffer in inadequate backwaters.

Aboriginal communities, by and large, with a few notable exceptions, have been incapable of building dependable civic institutions to support the needs and aspirations of their people. Enabling First Nations on-reserve women to have the protection of the law in property and custody rights would be a start in equalizing at least the entitlements between the genders.

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The Significance of Photographs

Well, isn't that kind of neat? Downloaded a raft of photographs onto the Flickr site, in various categories. Was contacted by Emma Williams, Managing Editor of Schmap Guides, several weeks back to inform that with my permission they would consider publishing one of my photographs. And today received notification that my photograph was selected for publishing.

It's a photo taken back in the fall of 2008 when we were meandering through Byward Market, relishing the character of the place, admiring the colours, and just incidentally doing a little shopping of our own there, as is our wont. At that time I took lots of photographs, of the market, and of the surrounding area since it is architecturally and historically significant. Also took photos of the sculpture 'Maman' outside the National Gallery.

Nice, very nice that one of my photographs was selected. Truth is, I enjoy all of the photographs, taking them, looking at them, using them as memory-assists for the times we've enjoyed ourselves, and there have been many of those. Photographs of our hiking excursions, along with those of our son who alpine camps in British Columbia. And photographs of wildflowers, and of the flowers, trees and shrubs in our gardens.

Thought I'd copy the web site photo and graphics just to have it too, as a memory-guide.


Ottawa Guide


©2009 Yahoo! Inc.

Showing 2 of 2 placesshow all

Scale: 200m


Photo: Rita Rosenfeld

Byward Market

55 ByWard Market Square

Ottawa, ON K1N 9C3

Tel: +1 613 562 3325 / +1 613 244 4410

Located between Sussex Drive and Dalhousie Street, the Byward Market is a re-created farmer's market that will bring any visitor back to the 19th century. Antiquers can spend hours searching through Afghan Antiques & Jewellery, and Justina McCaffrey Haute Couture is just one of the many high-class fashion outlets. In addition to the excellent shopping, the Market is home to many galleries. Dining is the hardest decision, with dozens of bistros and cafes, including the elegant Courtyard Restaurant, to choose from.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Child Abandonment

The seven-year-old girl who attended school with Nazi symbols sketched on her skin in Winnipeg, and who related to a social worker with Child and Family Services that whites are superior to racial minorities and that blacks don't deserve to live among whites, and that it is perfectly reasonable to kill blacks to ensure they do not live among whites, is a hideous instance of child abandonment. That this vulnerable child has been painstakingly taught to believe in racial superiority is a side issue.

Children are, and always have been, indoctrinated into an ideology, a religion, a state of awareness by their parents. Whether this type of patterning reflects social moral decency or reveals a state of parental sociopathy visited upon their children is another thing. But parents do set out to inflict on their children their own beliefs, for good or for ill. In this instance, a young girl was instructed by her mother to hate minorities - or her mother would withhold her love.

A child removed from the comfort of believing that her mother will always love and support her, for herself as a cherished child, feels exposed and frightened, as the certainty of her state of being is rendered uncertain. The mother, motivated by ingratiating herself to her new husband, the father of her second, younger child, instructs her older child that she must adopt her parent's and her step-parent's grievous pathology of hatred.

There would be no reason for a six-year-old child to counter her mother's instructions, sternly warning her there is no room for compromise; obey or forfeit love and emotional support. "If you have a friend who is not white, I won't be your mom ... I'll say I'm not your mom", the child related to her interlocutor. She and her little brother have been taken into the custody of Child and Family Services who are attempting to achieve guardianship.

Clearly, the well-being of these children has been severely disrupted in a family of white supremacists who insist their freedom of expression extends to blighting their young children's minds and their futures. The parents disavow their child's graphic description to the social worker of how to kill black people. They claim that the child was herself responsible for the neo-Nazi markings painted over her body.

Only the swastika drawn on her daughter was claimed by the mother, as an expression of rejection of the homework assignments given her child. The swastika she drew was inspired by the ancient "sun wheel" symbol, symbolizing, the mother insists, peace. The mother has moved out of the province, and it is the little girl's stepfather, father to the young boy who is claiming his rights to freedom of expression and religion have been in violation of the law.

The little girl's father, who hasn't kept touch for at least three or four years, now regrets his isolation from the child, and claims that the woman who taught the little girl racial hatred is not the woman whom he married and with whom he had a child, and whom, in the end, he entrusted that child to.

Children desperately need to have the elemental comfort and reassurance of being with their parents, held dear and protected, knowing they are valued for themselves.

These children were used by their mother and her second husband as sounding boards for their degenerate moral failings, as living advertisements of the racist misery they sought to impose on their society. Worse, the children were bullied, manipulated and horribly abused, threatened by the loss of their life-support.

They deserve far better than what the circumstance of birth meted out for them.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Canada Has Garnered International Publicity!

Here we are, the eyes of the world upon Canada. Canada the good, the wholesome, the predictable. Moderate, responsible, dependable Canada. A country of fairly smug people who fully understand that as a relatively wealthy democracy, and a 'middle power' we don't much make the international news. We have pride in ourselves as reasonable people, a country bursting with the traditions of our own aboriginal populations, as well as those of great portions of the country from elsewhere on the Globe. We are a pluralist, well-mannered society.

Her Excellency The Right Honourable
Michaëlle Jean
CC, CMM, COM, CD, BA MA Mont, LLD(hc) Alb, LLD(hc) Man, LLD(hc) Osg, DLitt(hc) McGill, DA(hc) Ott, DIR(hc) Perugia, FRCPSC(hon)
Michaëlle Jean

Now all of a sudden, we're an international bad-boy. Michaelle Jean, our current Governor-General, our symbolic Head of State, representing Britain's Queen Elizabeth, as this country's traditional head of state, has comported herself in a manner seen as less than acceptable. In her position as the country's top diplomat, she represents all of Canada, to the Crown of England, and to the world at large. She is also our goodwill ambassador, our tenuous reach-out to others both within and without the country.

She has the temerity, the authority and the audacity of her position to exemplify what Canadians mean to one another and to our global outreach. Born in Haiti, a woman of colour, of personal talents and strong convictions commensurate with those of a free society, Michaelle Jean stands on ceremony when it is required, and balances societal convention with political and social recognition of the meet and the moot when she must.

It is traditional and it is civil for representatives of state to comport themselves in a manner reflective of the position they hold. And Governor General Michaelle Jean does just that, and masterfully. She has been exposed and submitted to some fairly unorthodox and difficult situations, both political and cultural, and she has managed, unerringly, to find her way to evenly and successfully discharging her duty.

In no less so a manner has she done so than when, during a visit to Rankin Inlet in Nunavut, she took part in a traditional Inuit feast. She was there to present in solidarity with Canada's people of the North. Her professionalism as a regal appointee, and her exquisite display of etiquette did justice to her position and to her sensibilities as an intelligent woman.

Using a traditional carving knife, she sat beside a community elder to share the Inuit delicacy of a slaughtered seal heart. The traditional seal hunt as practised by Canada's Inuit and by marginal-existence sealers has been used as a rallying cry for oppositional animal welfare purists for years. Whose largely successful campaign has painted the hunt as cruel and inhumane.

When in actual fact, it is not. And when in fact, the harvesting of seals is no different than the harvesting of any other animals that humans normally accept as part of their daily diet. The European Union's decision to ban seal products and boycott the hunt in their protest against Canada's commercial hunt simply reveals as the height of hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

It was simpler for the EU countries to uniformly - although not all were in agreement - declare themselves in opposition to the hunt in the face of endless lobbying by influential European animal rights activists. There are EU-member-states whose questionable practices in animal husbandry might be questioned, but the ire of animal rights activists has been turned upon the seal hunt.

A traditional way of life is being threatened, one that is ecologically sound and meaningful to its practitioners. First the device of showing photographs of white-coats with their large, soulful-looking eyes of innocence played upon peoples' emotions, strengthening the hand of animal-rights activists, and Canada declared white coats off limits for hunting to defuse the situation. Now only adult harp seals are hunted.

Governor General Michaelle Jean undertook her duty with honour and commitment to those in Canada whose reputation has been unfairly besmirched and whose culture and livelihood has been threatened by hysteria, misinformation and false premises.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Beauty of Each Day

We enjoy so many beautiful, satisfying days. Spring must be the best of all possible times. We are excited about the re-awakening of nature's flora, see about us everywhere solid proof that after the long sleep - not the really, truly long sleep - there is life, revenant. In our daily walks in the ravine, looking about our gardens, everything surprises and delights us. Each day brings a fresh surprise, a reminder, an aesthetic thrill of re-awakening.

Today, ambling through the ravine after breakfast, we saw a huge dragonfly. Only one, but it was notable nonetheless, with an iridescent blue body. They feast on mosquitoes, and are welcome, quite aside from the beauty of their being. There are water striders now in the creek, under the bridges, where they seem always to congregate, rippling the now-still water. The crows are still about, flying high and calling raucously.

And there's the high-pitched whistle of the hawks, that seem to have once again decided to nest in the ravine. There's ample food supply for them there, one supposes, although it doesn't do to mull on that source, for we appreciate the small creatures that scurry about the forest floor, as much as we do the small birds that flitter through the leafing-out trees. It's amazing how speedily the trees have leafed out. A phenomenon we note to one another, annually.

At home, in the gardens later, it was time to do a little trimming, to cut back those branches of the rose bushes and climbing roses that haven't leafed. To tie up a few of the clematises, just give them a little tender aid to cling to the lattice. While the apple and plum blossoms have now blown sheer off the fruit trees, the blossoms of the three ornamental crab trees are still on display, and even those of the caragena.

We had to take time out to do a little watering, to ensure that the annuals we planted won't dry out before their roots have the opportunity to take. The irises and the lilies, the lilac are ready to burst into bloom. The roses are setting their buds, and so are the peonies; they'll make for a spectacular display. Ah, the Japanese quince and the holly are in full flower. The lilies-of-the-valley are opening their bells and their divine fragrance will enchant us soon.

We took a load of clothing, a few ornamental cushions, an electric kettle off to the Sally Ann. And while there took the opportunity to look around. I came home with a novel by Joyce Carol Oates I hadn't previously read, a little gem. Also picked up "The Penguin Dictionary of Epigrams" (I can resist everything except temptation). And a book by William Shawcross, "Deliver Us From Evil - Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict."

The pleasure each day affords us is boundless. But we require nourishment for our minds as well.

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Monday, May 25, 2009


Turned out a much cooler day than yesterday and windy as well. We felt hot yesterday, cool today. It little mattered since we spent much of this day doing chores. I cleaned the house and he cleaned up the garage. A matched pair, we are. It's likely we'll have some frost the coming evening, so it'll be comfortable for sleeping. Not so comfortable, perhaps, for the annuals we've just finished planting in the garden and the garden pots. We'd left the planting for later than usual this year, but even so, you never can tell what late May days will bring in the Ottawa Valley.

When we took our afternoon walk in the ravine - late, because we were so busy earlier - we felt relaxed, though tired, and it was pleasant ambling along, even clambering up the hills, our two little dogs in tow. When Riley began barking we knew there would be someone coming up behind, and likely with a dog. He barks at other dogs, a silly little dog he is, too generously hormoned for a toy poodle. Looking back, we saw it was a young man we'd met on a previous occasion, with his newly-acquired little black miniature poodle. Purebred, not like our black miniature poodle, part Pomeranian .

It's an adorable pup, a little male, shy and friendly, whereas our toy poodle is neither shy nor friendly with other dogs. He will become friendly once he has met a dog once or twice, but initially we have to keep him well away from a strange dog. He's attacked large breeds in the past, and we want no repeat of that. So we hold him and he gets on about his snarling while we keep telling him what a disgrace he is. The little black male made friendly overtures to our female, Button. It does not move rashly forward, but timidly, yet full of curiosity. I bend to pat its little head, and its hair is lofty, soft as a baby's.

And its owner seemed to want to stand about, talking, so we obliged. He spoke of his pride in the little dog, how intelligent it is, how it differentiates between the people in the family, knowing it can do whatever it wants around the young man, but not his mother and sister. They won't have it jumping onto the furniture, it must know its place. I tell him our dogs accustomed themselves to sleeping on our bed, at night, and the young man said his tried the same, but he was worried about inadvertently smothering it at night, so he's accustomed it to sleeping in a 'cradle' beside his bed.

He's a slight young man, barely taller than my husband, with a saturnine-appearing face that belies his friendliness. Sallow skin, thin, high cheekbones, not given to smiling. The kind of face that makes it difficult to guess age; could be 20, could be in his mid-30s. His English slightly accented; I thought Spanish at first, but then amended it to European. But his use of the language casual and easeful, perfectly pronounced and boasting a good vocabulary. On this occasion he told us where he lives, and we know the house, a few streets over from ours, just off another entrance to the ravine.

His family is involved in landscaping. Originally from Russia, he said. Then more explicitly, Moldova. Which may mean his family left Moldova when it was still part of the Soviet Union, which it no longer is. So it's likely he came to Canada as a boy, and learned his impeccable English here, educated in this country. He is inclined to talk, and does, tells us that while they still lived in Moldova, a business acquaintance of his father, after concluding some kind of mutually-beneficial deal, gave him a dog. A black standard poodle. He was, he said, twelve, and excited beyond imagining that he had a dog.

But, he said, he owned that dog for a mere two weeks, before disaster took it from him. We inferred an accident, that the dog had been run over, killed. An older cousin, he said, going off on an errand, wanted to take the dog with her. He refused. He refused, he said, because he wanted to keep his eye on his beloved dog, did not want to let it out of his sight. Also, he said, because - and he struggled for an explanation. I offered the word 'premonition', and his eyes lit up. Yes, he said, that was it, he had a premonition that if he allowed that dog to leave his side he would lose it forever.

We knew immediately that someone dreadful had happened, the dog was inadvertently killed by a motor accident of some kind. No, he said, it was worse than that. Worse? We looked at one another apprehensively. Did we want to hear about something worse, about some poor animal suffering a painful and unavoidable end? It was clear he meant to tell us, and we stood there, listening. The dog, he said, must have been stolen, because when his cousin walked in the street with it, the dog suddenly broke away, broke the leash in fact, and leaped toward people walking on the street. Overjoyed to see its previous owners.

A dog reunited with people it loved and who loved it. How could that possibly be construed as something dreadful, rather than something to celebrate. He was only twelve at the time, he said, happy that he had a dog of his own, and couldn't accept that one moment it was his, the next it was gone. The outcome of that little trip with his dog was one he would never forget. To this day he regretted succumbing to his cousin's pressure to allow her to take the dog with her. We nodded, at his reminiscences, then parted, said our goodbyes as he went on off home with his little dog.

For the remainder of our walk in the woods, my husband kept shaking his head in disbelief. That anyone could be so completely consumed with his own younger self's egotistical ownership of a companion dog that had belonged to someone else, finally rightfully restored to its former owner, still grating on the young man's consciousness as an unfair and personally regrettable event.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mutual Understanding

Poor misunderstood, beleaguered, yet noble Brian Mulroney. He is innocent of any wrongdoing. We have it on the authority of another wronged innocent. Conrad Black, imprisoned felon - a court of U.S. law having found him guilty as charged on several counts of misappropriation of funds - in the greatness of his heart writes to challenge the near universal condemnation of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney as a disgrace to public office.

Two men with a finely honed business acumen, both of whom aspired to powerful positions. For Mr. Mulroney wealth and privilege were temporarily set aside for power and privilege. A successful and well-regarded businessman, he undertook to bring his capabilities and leadership qualities to the public forum of politics. Where he promised the electorate that under his party and his leadership the corrupt antics of the former government and party would be a thing of the past.

But he proved his own adage that "there's no whore like an old whore". Canadians gagged on his oleaginous, blarney-bloated personality and unabashed self-entitlements, yet somehow held their collective noses and voted him into two consecutive majority governments. But try to find someone who would admit they voted for him, another matter entirely. He was so despised that most people weren't at all surprised to find he was suspected of under-the-table negotiations.

The current Oliphant enquiry to try to find the definitive answers respecting his relationship with an equally-smarmy and underhanded arms dealer and the hundreds-of-thousands he received in cash payments has merely reinforced most Canadians' low opinion of the man. As he unabashedly reveals the extent of his crass and self-availing sense of entitlement, complete with the belief that evasion of the truth is a matter of personal survival.

The former Lord Black of Cross Harbour who parlayed his newspaper kingdom into a seat in the House of Lords, determined to take his rightful place in high society was simply another self-entitled delusionist whose grandiose ideas of self included the kind of genteel extortion that he felt entitled to. His aggravated sense of betrayal by the court of public opinion and a U.S. court of law insists that he is innocent of all wrong-doing, echoing Mr. Mulroney's plaints.

Should it be surprising that Mr. Black now writes a column in impassioned defence of the innocence of a good man whose sterling reputation has been unfairly sullied? While avowing that "I am not an expert on this case", he yet insists that Mr. Mulroney is being persecuted. Truth is, he should be prosecuted, but he has somehow, foxily, managed to shield himself from hard, revelatory evidence that would indict him.

We can now expect a triumphant Brian Mulroney, once the Commission is wrapped up, confoundingly still uncertain about events and precedents and the depth of complicity, to write an exonerating defence of Conrad Black to be presented to the U.S. Supreme Court for their consideration in reviewing his sad and sorry case.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

The Dark Plague of Psychotic Delusion

It can happen anywhere. And it does. A parent's deepest, darkest nightmare, a child abducted. There one moment, vibrant, alive, beloved and cherished, an entire lifetime ahead when anything might be possible. Gone, the next; as though a dark cloud descended and removed that warmly precocious, adventure-seeking, emotionally needy child from all that life exposed the child to, up to that dangerous and final moment.

How deeply aware can parents remain of the frailty of existence of their children, anxious to secure their safety yet needing to trust the environment, social and natural, in which they are raised? Who might suspect that lurking in the shadows of a perfectly ordinary day is a menace that no one could quite foresee, one that would change life in the most utterly cruel way, the separation of parent and child, an eternity of anguish and pain.

Situations reveal themselves. There are areas of the world where children are taken and held for ransom, eventually restored to their families. There are other places where children are taken from their families and introduced to a squalid and dangerous interlude of conflict or slavery, and occasionally rescue occurs, occasionally not; these forgotten children of an unprotected social order.

Then there are the predators, society's psychopaths who have always preyed on children. The predators have always been there, whether in the local church wearing the vestments of a religious order, or whether wearing the familiar face of a neighbour. And then there are those, social misfits, sociopaths who find no place for themselves in the stream of civility and the social contract of trust and empathy.

There are also those vulnerable children whose parents have somehow failed the elemental trials of parenthood, who themselves succumb to alcohol, promiscuity and drugs, whose children become self-reliant and in their innocence also become targets. The young woman, Terri-Lynne McClintic was likely one of those who raised herself, becoming a target for a partnership in horror with a man whose lack of empathy for others could not be contained.

This young woman, in her association with a psychopath became one herself. She became an enabler, spiriting a young child from the comfort of familiarity to dark horror as a hostage of a hostile, murderously hateful child molester. The utter degradation of these personalities inflicting pain and unimaginable fear in a child simply can not be understood by normal human intelligence.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Some More Equal Than Others

In Canada, we are assured that each and every one of us is equal before the law. And in theory that's a very comforting thought. Despite which, everyone is aware that the balance can be tipped when one has the right contacts, and above all has the money and prestige to hire high-priced lawyers who can twist and turn the law to advantage.

And the same can be said for the tax-paying public, which includes everyone who earns a living. We all are expected to pay our due, but some of us can hire tax experts who can manage to subvert the intent.

And when someone of high authority manages to do all of that; behave as though he is above the law and get away with it, expect that everyone else will pay the tax freight and he's exempted, we've reason to believe we've been shafted.

And somehow, when it comes to his personal entitlements, the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney comes out of the public eye into his private dealings rather less than honourable.

Why are we not surprised? The man's faux-humble facade hiding an amazing belief in himself as superior to the laws that bind the rest of us has always offended the public who though they voted for him so inexplicably also found his greasy hubris pretty disgusting. Now, being questioned by federal lawyers trying to reveal finally the truth behind his covert dealings with a shady arms-dealing businessman-lobbyist he remains as evasive and entitled as ever.

His lack of judgement in associating himself with Karlheinz Schreiber speaks more to his personal greed and affinity for liaising with characters who double-deal in shades of grey than his understanding that there is a certain level of comportment when one is the executive head of a country and there are certain activities that compromise one's integrity, besmirching the political office held in public trust.

His melodramatic flair, wailing at the unfairness of those who were out to get him "trying to ruin me - to throw me in jail", to elicit sympathy as an ill-done-by former statesman who led Canada into a brighter future and was assailed by enemies attempting to smear him through the Airbus scandal earns him few points for candour and honesty. There simply is not an honest bone in the man's body.

He did not divulge vital information during legal proceedings because he wasn't asked "the right question", to extract that information from him, so he felt perfectly justified in withholding it. It would have been awkward for him, made things difficult for him to admit that he had a working relationship with a man so closely involved in the Airbus affair that enriched so many.

His relationship with an arms dealer was 'peripheral'; his acceptance of hundreds of thousands in cash was a personal matter; his unwillingness to declare it as earned income until six years later he was aware that the matter was on the cusp of being revealed since Mr. Schreiber was facing legal issues in Germany does him little credit.

He is untrustworthy and always has been. But foxily able to hold his own.

So he milked the taxpayer for a $2.1-million settlement because the RCMP was unable to link him positively to Airbus payoffs, and was able to evade paying the full cartage on the entire ill-gotten $225 - or $300K; depending on whom you believe, one dissembler or the other; and will have his $2-million legal bill hoisted on the tax-payer as well.

This man of well-earned ill-repute who saw nothing amiss in a former prime minister of the country scurrying off to international destinations to hawk "peace-keeping" armoured vehicles - perfectly legitimate, as far as he's concerned and obviously a ploy, a sham, to divert attention from what actually occurred to have him earn hundreds of thousands in undeclared income.

But because he knows no shame, he feels no shame in presenting himself as an arms-dealing shill. So much for political ethical standards for high political office holders.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

One For The Birds

Half of our driveway is still cramped with the presence of that 20-foot-long, 6-foot-tall dumpster, a bright orange, covered with green tarpaulins, waiting to be hauled away. It is entirely full, not even a matchstick would find a place for itself in all the detritus, building materials, bits of leftover stained glass, broken ceramic tile, replaced doors that have accumulated in two decades of renovations and creative impulses making this house into an expression of our very particular aesthetic.

The company we rented it from, an Eco-company, is in no hurry to pick it up, however. Everything is destined to be re-cycled by them, so they must be very busy indeed. Had we needed it for longer than the fifteen days it was rented for, we'd be paying extra, but dogged determination and exhausting effort filled its capacious interior in the period of time we'd signed on for, and we're hoping we'll be just under the 7 ton-weight of the contract.

Now that the new deck is built, and the old discarded materials hauled off into the dumpster it was time to turn attention to the garden. My husband, not yet exhausted of patience and enthusiasm, filled up all our many garden pots and urns with the soil mixture to enable me to plant the annuals, certain that at this date we'll no longer host overnight frosts. It's lovely to look outside and see them all full of colour and texture.

Yesterday morning I saw a hummingbird at the caragena standard in the front garden, its tiny yellow flowers the target. The day before my husband saw a hummingbird in the backyard, extracting nectar from the weeping pea, its tiny perfect and brilliant body in frantic flight and momentary diversion as it flitted from blossom to blossom. Yesterday too, we went out to begin collecting from a variety of plant nurseries our selections of annuals.

Then spent the remainder of the day planting them, in the gardens and in the ceramic planters, the stone classical urns, transforming our immediate landscape from spring mode to welcoming summer. Nothing like hurrying the season. But the garden is doing that for us, itself. Our three ornamental crabapples, the jade, the Sargenti, are in full bloom, as are the magnolia trees. The French lilac is setting its blooms, and Iris flower heads are already in evidence.

This morning began with a nice rain to further encourage the dahlias, impatiens, begonias, petunias, bacopa, ipomoea, lobelia, ivy, gazania, geraniums, to take healthy root to give us a fully mature display of floral bounty this summer. It was cool and windy, and we dressed to match the weather once the rain stopped, and set off for our daily ravine walk. Where another treat was in store for us, as we saw and heard grackles, crows, robins, cardinals and woodpeckers in full spring chorus.

Later heard the drawn-out sharp whistle of a sharp-shinned hawk and watched as it detached itself from the top of a conifer and flew off elsewhere in the ravine. And on our return loop there was the large blue flash of a Great Blue Heron lifting off from the rain-swollen creek, to sail slowly over the tree tops, transiting toward a Gatineau Hills lake.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Too Much To Expect?

The mind boggles. That health professionals, doctors and nurses do not automatically, rigorously observe the most basic of rules of hygiene when moving from one patient to another in hospital is difficult to digest. They may be hurried and harassed but to ignore the imperative of non-transfer of germs and bacteria from patient to patient goes beyond the simple argument of time-challenges.

Does it make sense to imperil the health and well-being of patients because of hospital staffs' lax habits?

It has been impressed on the public time and again how necessary it is to routinely wash hands, not only during times of epidemic emergencies like SARS or bird or swine flu outbreaks, but at all times, to avoid picking up germs from surfaces often touched by others hosting germs to oneself, let alone to others. That some hospitals have to 'train' their staff to 'remember' the urgency to wash hands before moving on to another patient is incredible.

In places that have washrooms available to the public, in government offices, signage is now placed as reminders to people using the facilities that they should wash their hands before exiting. As though people should not ordinarily through the course of the day simply automatically do that simple thing.

What is amazing is that people will use the bathroom facilities, pose briefly by the mirrors over sinks before leaving to reassure themselves that all is physically in order, bypassing hand washing altogether.

Aren't we all taught in our impressionable young years that upon leaving a washroom one must wash hands? When playing out of doors as young children, aren't we taught to wash hands on entering our house? Before sitting down to a meal aren't we reminded to wash hands?

What singular transformation takes place in the adult mind to wash it clear of the need to continue this important cleansing action? Particularly among health professionals?

Ontario's hospitals have seen repeated infection outbreaks, and little wonder. When questioned a huge percentage of hospital staff admit to not washing their hands on a regular basis.

Ontario hospitals are undertaking a new initiative, to release annual statistics on hand-hygiene compliance. The province has determined that something must be done to manage the infectious outbreaks in their hospitals. They have committed to audits and public reportage on the issue.

Since January alone of this year the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario has seen four gasto-intestinal virus outbreaks, another of norovirus, and an additional three of rotavirus in the hospital's infant and toddler patient unit. The spread of the rotavirus outbreak has been pinpointed as the cause of death of a baby in the unit.

Babies, children and adults all are admitted to hospital for a given reason, revolving around a temporary break-down in their health. The hospital environment is one supposedly existent for the purpose of nursing and restoring inmates back to a state of good health. Instead, hospitalized patients increasingly face the risk of contracting other illnesses.

Simply because the simple expedient of washing away germs that their health-providers pick up in the normal course of their working day, is being ignored, compromising patient health.


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Monday, May 18, 2009

Gatineau Park

We first saw Gatineau Park, the semi-wilderness area just north of Canada's capital city, in the province of Quebec, about forty years ago, when we first moved to the area with our children. We were always outdoors people, inclined to spend our leisure hours picnicking, hiking, loving the embrace of nature, natural greenery. It wasn't long before the park became, as it were, our second home. Every spare moment we would hie ourselves up to the park, to the various areas we soon became well acquainted with, the more solitary, the furthest from human habitation, the more intriguing, the most appreciated.

We had no idea, at that time, what black flies were, but we speedily discovered how vicious those little beasts, usually appearing mid-month the month of May, stretching to the midway point of June. After the black flies came the horseflies and the deer flies, all of them hungrily in search of human flesh. Or so we felt; needless to say the animals that live there, from deer and moose, bear and raccoons, all feel the sting of those miserable blood-and-flesh suckers.

It was the allure of other attractions that kept pulling us to the fabulous natural beauty of the park. We hiked obscure, little-marked trails to our hearts' content. All of us, our two sons and our daughter, became hooked on spending our leisure time there. In early June we picked wild strawberries, late June wild blueberries, a little later it was raspberries, and finally in early fall we would pick huge luscious ground blackberries. All of these berries found themselves on top of our stove, bubbling away in a large pot, ladled into jam jars.

We picked so many berries we were simply unable to eat them all fresh, so we ended up happily indulging in jam-making. We once picked wild rose hips and made rose-hip jelly, something quite different. We acquired a 16-foot canoe, and all of us learned to paddle the thing, enabling us to explore in ways we hadn't experienced previously. Canoeing, we came close to loons and to great blue herons, watched shore birds, saw beavers slap the lake water and dive, dabblers at rest in the placid lakes, witnessed snapping turtles swimming under our canoe, saw bass make their spring nests.

This was all before the introduction to the park of mountain bikes. On our long, convoluted and soon-to-become-familiar hikes that took us to heights where we could look down on lakes difficult to reach, we saw and experienced all that nature could offer its lovers. In the winter, on snow shoes, startling a buck on a height, and watching him nervously paw the snow, before hurtling himself down off a ridge away from these intruders. Seeing the ethereal beauty of conifers completely covered with snow, presenting a magical view of a winter wonderland. In the spring and summer the appearance of wildflowers in their seasons.

We'd haul ourselves up dried-up mountain streambeds, full of large rocks, see newts and frogs, garter snakes and colourful birds. Hummingbirds and orioles, bluejays, chickadees, song sparrows, white throats, Pileated woodpeckers and all manner of other birds, along with raccoons and the occasional skunk presence. Even the occasion to come across a small black bear, as startled by us as we were by him. How we valued that treasure, long, long before it became a popular destination for bicyclists and hikers with the National Capital Commission advertising it as a natural destination for residents of the area. We had the place to ourselves, back then.

Since then, we have seen a deterioration of access points, and an opening up of others to various old treasured trails, as skiers began to increasingly use the park in winter and campers in summer. The fire tower above Luskville Falls left to wrack and ruin, no longer required, a fine interpretive nature centre shut down, for cost-cutting. And worst of all, some parcels of land sold off to private owners and houses and cottages beginning to crop up here and there, public land leaking into private.

The national treasure that Gatineau Park represents not protected as the natural treasure that it represents. It's long past time that this wonderful area of parkland and wilderness receive the status it deserves, the protection that the status of a designated national park would give it.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Reaction: Overkill

Cleared of criminal malfeasance in the death of a young would-be bank robber, fleeing the scene, threatening his pursuers with a gun four police officers can now breathe easy. Regardless that it was a replica, a toy, a harmless piece of stage equipment indistinguishable from the real threat - and thereby bringing the responsibility for his untimely death back upon the young man fleeing apprehension.

What 27-year-old man really believes that his life could be snuffed out so readily? What young, vibrant male might not thrill to the experience of lending himself to a drama he might later entertain friends with? And convince himself that he was lucky to get away with it, and he will never, ever be so rashly stupid again.

The commission of a crime so public, so dangerous appeared, from the description of his father and his friends totally out of character for Paul Michael Jeffrey. His father had every expectation that his son would inherit the family farm; whether to dedicate himself to a future of farming, or whether to dispose of it as his inheritance isn't clear.

Regardless, his son worked at a McDonald's outlet, while nursing his love affair with commercial art representations and complaining the while of his cash shortages.

Perhaps the same work ethic that his father had had instilled in him through generations of Ontarians working on the land simply did not take root in Paul Michael Jeffrey, as it did in Peter Jeffrey. So many family farms collapse under the weight of hard work resulting in scant return for the effort.

Hordes of young men and women growing up on farms have no wish to continue the family tradition and look elsewhere for work fulfillment and lifestyle choices.

An unfortunate choice, whether willing or coerced, as his bereaved father claims, was made by Paul Michael Jeffrey on March 6, when he confronted police pursuing him as a bank-robbery suspect, threatening to shoot. Mere moments before he suddenly became another statistic.

It was one young, doubtless frightened young man facing off against four armed police officers. Perhaps he thought briefly that he had submitted himself to a living nightmare. He might never have imagined he would be fleeing the scene of a crime, police in hot pursuit. His nightmare soon escalated. Undetermined was who it was among the four who fired the fatal shot.

But his father was informed that police fired at least 20 shots that fateful night, one hitting his son in the back of the head, another on his front below the belt line. Back of the head? To disarm a dangerous suspect are not police trained to shoot the extremities? Avoid the chest, the head, those vulnerable areas where death can arrive as speedily as the bullet reaching for the heart, the brain...?

A grieving Mr. Jeffrey describes his son as mild-mannered, not attuned to the usual rural testosterone pursuit of hunting. "He didn't have a mean bone in his body. He wouldn't even kill a fly. He wouldn't hurt anything. He was a very kind boy". He may have been all of that, but he was also incautiously imprudent to join the company, however it came about, of others who meant to commit a criminal offence.

The SIU, in their concluding statements exonerating the four police officers in Paul Michael's death, quoted circumstances to support their findings:
  • Jeffrey was running away from a bank that had just been held up.
  • He threatened to shoot an officer.
  • He charged at the officers and pointed a replica gun at them.
  • The replica could "easily be mistaken for a real handgun".
"When he hit the ground, it just smashed into pieces", said Peter Jeffrey. Yes, and police informed him that 38 $20 bills were found on his son's body. "This has to stop with the police", said the distraught father. "I cannot bring my son back, just please don't do it again. There has to be a right coming from any wrong." Ironically, on the same page the story appears on there is an advertisement, another father-son tale.

The advertisement, one sponsored by "the institute GMHC". The quote at the top reads: MY SON IS MY LIFE, under which is a photograph of a father facing a son, and under that a pithy message: "I know he is gay and I don't always understand, but that doesn't change my love for him." I have no idea what "the institute" is; presumably an organization representing gays and urging acceptance within families and within society.

One father is faced with the fact that his son committed a capital crime, and was horrendously punished for his lapse in judgement. The other, the realization that his son is his son regardless of his choices in gender lifestyle. Not much of a comparison, really, just symbolic of the many different types of situations parents face with their children, sometimes resulting in rifts; emotionally temporary, and emotionally terminally.

One can imagine that loving parents do all they can in the performance of their duties as responsible parents to prepare their children to join society as fully functioning, civilly responsible and independent adults. The imperative of practising sound values and attuning oneself to a young person's choices in life, trying to imbue them with a practical sense of determining how best they can position themselves in life, is difficult.

But it has to be done. Prevention is the greater part of the cure. And it is true, nonetheless, that there are no guarantees in life, neither for success, happiness, nor a long and fruitful life.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

It's A Winner!

A much-acclaimed film, winner of a handful of Academy awards for its humane, kindly, upbeat portrayal of life in one of India's many slums, where people, despite their miserable living conditions, lack of opportunities to better themselves, make their own jobs (recycling, garbage-picking). To eke out a bare subsistence, remain good-natured and hopeful, value life, and in the process, through the medium of the film, Slumdog Millionaire, show the rest of us the inner meaning of life.

That, in any event, is the good-news story about slum-dwellers and their resourceful embrace of life; somewhat in the category of people not really minding that they're poor, and living more satisfying, meaningful lives than those of us who can afford to go to a movie house and watch an entertaining film about their struggles. Reality is often so different than what we would like to believe it is; it is too harrowing for people of good will to acknowledge that in the developed world we live lives of casual waste.

Whaaat exploitation? The children were natural thespians. They had an extraordinary opportunity to experience something about life, opportunities and a style of living they could never envisage up to that time, in their wildest dreams. They had a brief and glorious taste of another kind of existence, one to which they most certainly could become accustomed. But to take them away from what they know best, to remove them from the slums they so adore? It would just be so unfair.

They earned the going rate for inexperienced and untrained actors. Little matter that their innate abilities, sweet sensibilities and generous natures made the film what it was, a runaway success, an Oscar-guaranteed triumph. And oh yes, certain sums were put away for their future educations. Well-looked-after, they were. And after their brief stint of glory, restored to the loving embrace of their poverty-stricken families.

By Barney Henderson
A child star of the film Slumdog Millionaire became homeless on Thursday after authorities here demolished his family's home, which they said was built illegally.
Azharuddin Ismail, 10, who was plucked from the Indian city's slums by Danny Boyle, the director, to play the character Salim in the movie, cried as workers arrived unannounced and pulled down the shanty dwelling built on a council garden.
Afterwards, members of his family huddled around the few belongings they had managed to stuff into plastic bags.
Azharuddin held his prized possession, a ripped promotional poster for the film on which Danny Boyle had written: "Azhar, With love and thanks, Danny Boyle X."
"A policeman woke us all up early this morning, shouting", he said. "He threatened me with a bamboo stick .... I was very scared.
"I wish Danny-uncle would come. I don't know what will happen now. We are sitting here in the blazing sun. A lot of our things have been destroyed."
His mother, Shameen Ismail, said they had been given no warning.
"We are now left with no roof over our head tonight and the monsoon will begin in a few weeks. We have lived here for 15 years", she added.
A spokesman for the city council said the slums were illegal constructions.
The Daily Telegraph
Not to worry. He's only ten years old. He has his whole life ahead of him. These people are resilient. They will rebound, find another place to live. They're accustomed to the adversities of life, not like you and me. This will not result in trauma of any kind for the family, for the boy. He's had some extraordinary opportunities in his young life, some experiences that will help him face life's little set-backs.

It will help to strengthen his character. After all, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Doesn't it? Well, doesn't it? When he gets older some North American publisher will rescue him from back from obscurity, pay him a handsome retainer to write the story of his life. It'll be a best-seller.

In the meantime, here's some recommended light reading:
India - A Million Mutinies Now - V.S. Naipaul
A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry


Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, who played young Salim in "Slumdog Millionaire," is now homeless.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bizarre Publicity-Seeking

It's surely a tragedy when a young couple discovers that the baby they've been awaiting is born with a health issue that entirely compromises quality of life, beyond their imagining. A child born with a brain abnormality is a dreadful thing to contemplate. Jason Wallace and Crystal Vitelli of Bradford experienced the misfortune of becoming parents to a little girl born with an incurable brain malformation, Joubert syndrome, affecting the baby's ability to breathe on her own.

Common features of Joubert syndrome in infants are abnormally rapid breathing, decreased muscle tone, jerky eye movements, potential mental retardation along with an inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements. There may be physical deformities present. There is a danger of developing kidney and liver abnormalities, and seizures may occur as well. Treatment consists of stimulation, physical and speech therapy, and constant monitoring, along with screening for progressive eye, liver and kidney complications.

The prognosis for infants varies, depending on whether the cerebellar vermis is developed partially or is absent in its entirety. Some children display a mild form of the disorder and experience minimal motor disability along with good mental development. Others may exhibit severe motor disability and moderate mental retardation. Not exactly words of comfort to new parents, not quite what new parenthood promises to most people, and nothing most people would want to look forward to living with.

The parents of this baby, initially dependent on a breathing apparatus to sustain her young life prepared themselves for her early death. They attempted to persuade the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to remove their child from breathing support so her heart could be donated to another baby at the hospital for whom a new heart would be crucial to survival. When the hospital and doctors were persuaded this would be a humane course of action, they discovered that the baby was able to breathe on her own once taken off life support.

The viability of a newborn or an infant born severely mentally and/or physically handicapped, malformed or deformed is not a problem in the Netherlands which has a 30-year experience with life-interventions; euthanasia and assisted suicide, where both are legal. What is termed the Groningen protocol allows parents of disabled babies to request euthanasia for them. It is a choice some parents may make, unwilling to suffer the agonies of witnessing a pain-filled and quality-bereft life for their children.

The parents' plan completely awry. This is Canada, not Holland. Their baby was now capable of functioning to a degree where it was assured they would be taking her home, to live her life with her parents. Somehow they attracted the attention of a professional publicist to be their spokesperson. The parents' relations with the hospital and the doctors and the nursing staff rapidly deteriorated as they accused the hospital and staff of mistreating and abusing their child. Further publicity ensued.

Seems it became addictive. They entreated, through their publicist, for a benefactor to step forward to helicopter parents and baby on discharge from hospital in Toronto to their home in Bradford, less than a one-hour drive by car. Hoping some media agency would step forward in the process and they would exchange for exclusive personal stories and photographs. Failing that, they will scout about for the potential of a book deal, and if a book ensues, then why not a film about their travails?

Turn misfortune into a fortune? From tragedy, human venality.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Making A Difference

As a wealthy country, generously endowed with natural resources, and a well educated and hard-working population, Canada has an obligation to assist when and where it can, to make life more palatable in those under-developed parts of the world where people barely subsist. We do see it as our social responsibility. There are many within the country who claim we don't do enough, not having lived up to a promise within the United Nations to reach .7% of the GDP in international aid.

And while there's much to be said for that inability of lack of will to pull ourselves into that generous range of aid-giving, we're not doing all that badly. Josette Sheeran, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program has recently visited Canada for the purpose to trying to lobby for ongoing and additional support. She has professed gratitude to Canada for our support in the past, but intends to try to persuade the current government to increase that support. Citing dire hunger from Haiti to Ethiopia, Afghanistan to Sudan.

The simple fact is that when humanitarian catastrophes or natural catastrophes of dire proportions occur, the collective Canadian conscience is expressed in several ways; through the swift response of our government, and through individual Canadians making their own donations to aid in response to worldwide disasters through the auspices of national and international aid groups. Through CIDA, the government's international aid arm, Canada reaches out to the world to reduce poverty, promote human rights and support sustainable development.

Canada was one of the first to respond to the World Food Program's appeal for support, and remains the fourth-largest donor to the WFP. Canada was the first to establish sustained funding to the WFP school feeding programs, and the first to donate cash instead of surplus food. The country also 'untied' is giving, for greater flexibility in finding appropriate means of assistance to the indigent world wide.

We're doing fine, thank you very much. The needs are overwhelming, unpredictable and life-shattering for so many segments of the world's populations. Through the failures of their own often-corrupted governments, victimizing the people living under dictatorships of one kind or another, and through the happenstance of life in geographic areas of the world struggling to feed their own. Nice to be acknowledged by outside agencies who depend on our collective conscience.

Nice to know that we can help; nicer yet to know that our efforts impact positively. It's psychically therapeutic.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

How Sweet It Is

What more could we possibly ask for?

The perfect spring day. Sunny, slight wind, warmer by far than yesterday with its overcast and stiff wind. Just made for doing the kind of clean-up my husband is engaged in, emptying the third of our composters into one that's almost empty, freeing it up, then leaving us with two to use, the third to be discarded. It was full of turf from previous years' excavations for opening up new gardens, and never did break down into usable compost, proving in a way why turf roofs used on English cottages were so usefully long-lived.

Cleaning up the mess under the old apple tree, freeing up the area so a rudimentarily-useful shed to store the snow-thrower and mechanical de-thatcher in will have room, once he decides to build it. The freshly-cleared-out area under the new deck that he built last month after taking apart the old rotting one will store all of our garden pots overwinter henceforth, once the brick pavers are put in place. Our gardens are thriving; the two magnolias truly beautiful with their blowsy bright blooms. The jade and the Sargenti crabs beginning their bloom.

The bergenia and the tulips, the hyacinths and the snake-head fritalleries also in bloom. Our climbing and bush roses are leafing out nicely. The French lilac has set its buds. The climbing hydrangea is on track, and the tree peonies are coming along nicely, while the other peonies are shooting their red stems and leafs skyward. The weeping mulberries are beginning to leaf out, and the flowering peas are just on the cusp of producing their bright yellow flowers. Clematis are awakening in the gardens, creeping upward.

We took an afternoon walk in the ravine, needed that hour's ramble with our two little dogs to relax and enjoy our freedom, placing peanuts atop tree stumps, into holes in the trees, wherever a peanut can be lodged, and the squirrels and birds can find them. We saw a bluejay and a hawk during our perambulation. Noted that the lilies-of-the-valley are on the cusp of sending up their tiny bells, and the red baneberry is beginning to flower. False Solomon's seal is finally making its presence, the trilliums are in full bloom; mostly red, a handful of white.

Best of all the foamflowers are blooming, and finally the Jack-in-the Pulpits, too. There are wild strawberries in bloom everywhere we look, interspersed with woodland violets, yellow and mauve. The sumacs are sending up their leaf buds, the wild apple trees are leafing out, and the oaks, and the populars and the maples. The hawthorns are slow, but they're beginning to evince a green tracery as well. The tips of the spruce are bright green with new growth; even the wild raspberries and thimbleberries have begun their spring awakening.

At home, we sat out, for the first time yet, on the new deck, enjoying the calm, the bright sun, reading newspapers. Our daughter tells us over the telephone she already has her humming birds back, swooping about her in tandem, in sheer joy, as she works in her gardens, close to the bedrock of the Canadian Shield. When her daughter, our granddaughter, calls after school, she reads to me her latest grade 7 school literary assignment, re-writing Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" poem, replacing some of the arcane words with those of her own.

While she's at it, she feels compelled to haul out one of her old nursery rhyme books, and reads several of Robert Lewis Stevenson's poems, that have been favourites of hers, over the years. At one time I used to read those poems and countless others to her when she was very young; now twelve, she reads them to me. How sweet it is.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cerebral Functioning

We humans are not created equal in all functional respects, physically or mentally. We are endowed in accordance with our genetic inheritance, further through our experiences and exposure to various learning stimulants. And there are always nature's accidents, when a foetus in gestation does not evolve as it normally should, when cells and wiring go awry, and chromosomes do not match genetic imprinting. This is where the unanticipated intrudes, and when parents are informed that their child has inherited a genetic fault or has, in utero through deranged cells, not developed normally.

We do not select or elect to become what we are; we are the product of an exchange of genetic materials, some from the male, some from the female in the production of another human being. When children are born with mental handicaps, their brains, on a varying scale of potentials simply are not capable of functioning at the same level as children without that kind of incapacitation. And while it is true that children with Down syndrome may be able to function at a reasonable level they will be unable to do so at quite the level of a child whose cerebral functioning is considered in the normal range.

The chromosomal disorder that Down syndrome exemplifies is characterized by different levels of potential among different affected individuals, affecting cognitive ability. Physical growth may be impaired, and facial appearance is such that the condition is immediately recognizable. Cognitive impairment has a wide range, from mild to profound. Parents of Down syndrome children no longer consign their children as was once done, to an institution where they live out their natural life-span.

Down syndrome children have entered the normal stream of life, living with their families, attending the same elementary and secondary schools as other children, when they demonstrate ability and capacity. In adulthood many are more than capable of working in occupations that do not demand intelligence fuller than that most people can muster during the course of an ordinary working day. Adults with fewer skills and ability are still able to function at a higher than rudimentary level in the workforce, matching most low-skill workers' capabilities.

But attend an institute of higher learning, in a society that is reluctant to be less than 'fair and open-minded', wanting to be inclusive and balanced toward all its members? This is one area of fulfillment that is not really feasible, to anticipate that a Down syndrome individual, however well functioning, would be capable of grasping concepts, amassing cerebral skills, advancing theories, collecting and weighing data. The sheer knowledge base required to achieve a university degree is simply not consonant with the abilities of the cognitive-impaired.

In whatever sphere of higher learning, it just does not seem sensible for a parent to insist that a Down syndrome child - who has been carefully fostered through the education system with the assistance of an intermediary who takes notes, interprets and explains them so that the pupil is able to assimilate the information - attend university. The academic environment is not for everyone. Certainly not for individuals in the 'normal' intelligence mainstream who demonstrate little cognitive ability, and not, likewise for individuals whose cognition is impaired from birth.

A young adult who requires assistance not related to cerebral functioning; one without eyesight or hearing can take advantage of mechanical assists in a university setting, along with the help of a special assistant. Blindness or hearing impairment does not affect the cognitive functioning of the brain. Nor does something like spina bifida, or any other serious degenerative condition. A brain, however, that is not wired to receive and retain information, to evaluate and to extract data simply is not academic material.

An open and free society, one that is sympathetic to the needs of all its members does go out of its way to accommodate, when practical, all aspirations. The mother of a young man with Down syndrome, Ashif Jaffer, in the process of suing York University for $3 million has her priorities skewed. She insists that the public education system has an obligation to undo what nature failed to endow her son with.

She has convinced herself that society owes every opportunity to her son to achieve a level of education not quite commensurate with his native ability to attain. She has gone further than that; she has imbued that desire in her son, convinced him that it is his due, and that he is fully capable of achieving the goals she has set for him. And she is ferocious in her determination that York University give him the opportunity to pass university-level examinations.

Not as all other university students must, but on her terms, with an assistant present at all times to do the work of note-taking, then explaining the meaning of the notes, their relevance, context, and interpretation. Guiding him to a level of understanding that is mechanical, not intuitive or self-generating. During examinations the presence of that same assistant would be required to guide the student through the procedure of assimilating the questions and creating adequate responses.

This is the result of a woman who has been unable to come to terms with the reality that her child has limitations. She has been incapable of adjusting to that reality, has encouraged her son to follow her dream for him. The bubble of evanescent impracticality she lives in must be pricked by reality. She has to submit to the understanding that he should be valued for who and what he is, not for what she wants him to be.

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

My Mother

Simply having children does not make mothers: John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic

Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children: Thackeray, Vanity Fair

God could not be everywhere and therefore He made mothers: Unknown; a Jewish Proverb

I would leave you a song, my mother ...
Yours the tender hand upon my breast;
Yours the voice sounding ever in my ears: Madeleine Mason-Manheim, To My Mother

Who ran to help me, when I fell,
And would some pretty story tell,
Or Kiss the place to make it well?
My Mother : Ann Taylor, My Mother

I tell you there isn't a thing under the sun that needs to be done at all, but what a man can do better than a woman, unless it's bearing children, and they do that in a poor make-shift way; it had better ha' been left to the men: George Elliot, Adam Bede

I arose a mother in Israel: Old Testament: Judges, v, 7
Her children arise and call her blessed: Old Testament, Proverbs, xxxi, 28

Do you expect, forsooth, that a mother will hand down to her children principles which differ from her own? (Scilicet expectas ut tradat mater honestos Atque alios mores quam quos habet?) : Juvenal, Satires
Every living creature had a mother, a natural source from which newness was brought into the world of the living. Genetics hand on from mother (and father) to child endowments peculiar to their source, yet universal in character, reflecting their place in the animal kingdom, or that of the plants that succour the animals living on this Earth. We are helpless beings at birth, dependent on the tender love of a mother to nurture us to infancy. With good fortune, our mothers will endow us with a memory of her emotional investment in us, as she guided us toward maturity and prepared us to take our place in the society we inhabit.

Having said which, the quality of motherhood is as diverse and unforeseeable as is the diversity of human character, behaviour and personality. There are mothers completely devoted to the welfare of their children, who understand their needs and undertake to give them the direction and support they require at each and every signpost on the journey to becoming independent members of society. Conversely there are more than enough mothers for whom motherhood is a casual matter, leaving their children to fend for themselves, void of the encouragement, stimulation and emotional investment they need to be mentally and physically healthy specimens of society.

We all have our ideas about what it takes to be a good parent. Most people are fairly clear that a child needs unfiltered love, discipline when and as required, and the firmly fixed subconscious assurance that they are loved and valued, their presence esteemed and respected, that within their family they are assured the constancy of devotion and the needed security that will enable them to be curious about the world around them, and to learn by patterning to familial experiences; by an extension exposure into the world outside the family, the opportunities to discover for themselves the place they aspire to for their futures.

My mother was born in Europe, she lived with her family in Russia, in the Pale of Settlement, where Jews were sent to populate the land, and keep them out of the way, as a nuisance population whose presence engendered resentment and ever-surging anti-Semitic responses. She had a brother and two sisters. The brother was killed when their home was bombed by the "whites" before the Russian Revolution, since he was an advocate for the "reds". Her father was seriously injured, one of her sisters had shrapnel in a leg, and my mother in an eye.

The sisters emigrated to Canada, following in the lead of some members of their extended family; uncles and aunts. The oldest sister; a decade older than her siblings had married, and emigrated with her husband, the two younger ones following soon afterward, the passage loaned by earlier emigrant family-members. A photograph I have of the two younger sisters, standing side by side professionally photographed, is that of two physically mature and attractive young women ready to face the world, their visages open and expectantly aware of free will and opportunities awaiting them.

My father was born in Poland, orphaned as a young boy, placed in the village poor house, when he fled from the small town of Mezrich to Warsaw in search of his older brother whom he never found. He lived on the street as a homeless urchin, along with many other children in similar circumstances. A society of philanthropic benefactors swooped many of these young boys off the streets and sent them to North America, as indentured farm workers. They worked on the farms they were assigned to until their transit debt was paid, and they became free agents.

My parents, then in their early 20s, met in Toronto, where both were involved as secular Jews, in labour movements and the socialist-political movement. I was born when my mother was 24 years old. A sister followed four years later, a brother two years afterward, and a second brother with thirteen years between the oldest and the youngest. I helped my mother in practical ways to look after my baby brother. A year later, when I was 14, I met my future husband. Neither of my parents approved of the family my future husband came from; his father had an unsavoury reputation as a bit of a wastrel among Jews, a drinker, hustler, gambler.

My childhood years were not particularly happy ones. I was a lonely child. I was not very emotionally or socially nourished. My mother was never demonstrative, either physically or emotionally. I took to reading and devouring books at an early age; they provided a respite for me from the monotone of my life, delivering me to a world of exciting possibilities. I read sobering books as well, those describing the lives of Jews in Europe, a literature of a people despised and haunted by the past, the present - and a future none could quite envision in its brutal viciousness, ridding the world of a large portion of its Jewish presence.

My mother was involved as a social activist throughout her life. She was a peace-marcher, a strong advocate of socialism, of union activism, of peace and understanding between peoples. She was a principled woman who sought justice and freedoms, who felt that her activities would help to bring about a better world of kindness and compassion, defeating the scourges of racism, poverty and human rights abuse. While she was busy battling the forces of evil, she raised her four children, and maintained a traditional relationship with her husband. The family never did prosper economically, but was able to live fairly well.

My mother's personality was an oppressive one to her husband and toward her children. Maledictions fell easily from her lips. Accusations, recriminations, demands, lectures, were all rained down without end on our heads. There was never any knowing what might set off a verbal conflagration and we all cowered before her mighty anger, before the blustering, blistering heat of her aggrieved and unchallenged assaults on us. It is the memory of treading lightly, of hoping to avert anger and screaming imprecations that most reflected my life with my mother.

There were no ameliorating memories of a mother's hugs and reassurances, encouragement or appreciation. There were expectations and denunciations, loud, shrilly ear-piercing, confusing and demeaning. There are those people who are quite simply incapable of disciplining themselves, of emotional introspection, of realizing how their unbridled ire impacts on those around them. The outlet for their frustrations is to target the emotional sensibilities of others, to breach their emotional defences, and in so doing, somehow alleviate the strain of their own stresses.

As I grew older and my mother commensurately older, it was I who offered a kiss on greeting or parting, and she accepted that. The emotional attachment that children feel for their mother was a slender one between us, although I don't doubt for one moment that in her own strained and stressed way she loved her children. There was simply no communication of any kind, no touch, no spoken word that would assure her children that love was there. The obligation to respect and honour one's mother carries the day.

She died, at age 84, of frontal lobe dementia. Not Alzheimer's disease, but something quite like it. Gradually, as her dementia progressed, her bodily functions became increasingly impaired. I'm sure she had a fairly strong constitution; she had previously suffered two episodes of colon cancer, and before that, when in her 50s, a hysterectomy. The dementia captured her mind, her memory, she became docile and mildly pleasant. Finally, she could not recognize her children, her actions and reactions repetitive mechanical ones. She could no longer control her physical functions, just as once she was unable to control her emotional outbursts.

She was my mother, and for that I give thanks.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou were cold or hot : New Testament, Revelations, iii, 15.

Love me little, love me long,
Is the burden of my song : Unknown, Old Ballad

This have I known always: Love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales;
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at every turn. Edna St.Vincent Millay, Sonnets

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