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

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Distanced From Decency

Not necessarily those who live in remote areas of the world who have chosen to distance themselves from urban or even suburban life. Or those who have lived for generations upon generations in distant geographies far from modern civilization. But those who have succumbed to the mental aridity of blanking their minds out from the social upheavals that surround them, through the instability caused by war, political unrest, religious persecution or the prevalence of violent mob-related activities.

Naples, in Italy, appears to present as one of this socially disaffecting places. Where civic life has been hampered and burdened by the incessant presence of organized crime syndicates and gangsters expressing their freedoms in a cowed society where government and security agents fear to tread, put up with violence. And learn to blank it out of their minds. To step around it, in a need to pursue the normalcy of everyday life. Italy's third-most-populous city, Naples hosts the Camorra crime syndicate.

That process, to remain oblivious to the effects of the violence that erupts everywhere in that society, to tamp down personal fears and revulsion and simply continue on with life, deadens people to the violence they cannot escape. As long as the daily mayhem, the destruction of property, the life-taking does not impact directly on them, they will tolerate the intolerable. And become indifferent, in the process, to the pain inflicted on others.

Which certainly goes a long way to explaining how it is possible that murders can be committed in broad daylight, in the midst of a busy, heavily populated city, on a major thoroughfare, in front of shops where people go about their business, without lifting an eyebrow. Much less calling for an emergency response when witnessing a murder. A recently released video that shows a man being shot, while bystanders don't react, a case in point.

One man exits a bar to smoke a cigarette. Another man enters the bar, where a half-dozen people are present. He then exits the bar and shoots the smoker standing outside at point-blank range. When the victim falls to the ground, his attacker shoots him again, directly in the head. Not one bystander appears to notice. One woman is seen to walk slowly by, rubbing a scratch-and-win lottery card.

People walking by, glance at the dead man, then hurry on, absenting themselves from the scene. Five months of consequent investigation from the police have brought no break-throughs, although the face of the attacker can be seen clearly in the video footage.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

The Child Father To The Man

Or woman, as the case may be. What becomes familiar, commonplace and readily engaged in becomes normal practise engaged in from youth into adulthood.

When sound values are not taught to young people through the experience of witnessing how their role models behave, or in familial situations where parents are seen to have strong moral values, there is no reason to anticipate that young people will of themselves pick up those values.

And when the general society at large is seen to be bereft of values through popular role models, why expect the young not to be ethically challenged themselves?

An biennial study that surveys thousands of individuals in a range of age groups through the Josephson Institute of Ethics based in Los Angeles has released its latest findings. That those who cheat on school exams are likely to continue to be dishonest throughout their lives. One might suppose that if high school exam-cheats turn out to be successful in that they are not discovered, they may have no reason to seek a change in modus operandi.

After all, if it becomes common practise, and it can be seen through 'cheating' having become far more readily accessible through having an anonymous paid scribbler at an Internet site write manuscripts turned in as one's own, that cheating of all kinds at all levels of education has become commonplace, the 'everyone does it' syndrome is healthy and thriving.

Original work is a thing of the past, with even scientists occasionally succumbing to immoral cheating, publishing unauthentic or just plain corrupt findings.

Today's youth, it would appear, are cynical about honesty and truth and originality of production. Cheating becomes habitual, and it is resourcefully undertaken, and seen to be profitable through life experiences. From cheating in a high school exam, to padding an expense claim, cheating on income taxes, and withholding information when it is considered to be inconvenient to divulge it.

The Josephson Institute's reports have marked a steady increase in those admitting to cheating, lying and stealing. What's new about this is that the newly-released study makes a clear connection between teen misbehaviour and later-life dishonest activities. Unlike mature adults with a far lower percentage of cheaters, teens are five times more likely to indulge in lying and cheating to get ahead.

What's sad in all of this is that even though the young may acknowledge that what they're doing is wrong, illegal and compromising of personal integrity, they normalize these activities in their minds by adhering to the notion that if everyone does it, it's permissible. Trust? Veracity? Personal pride? Forget it. What's that old saying, going along to get along?


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fatal Encounter

Nineteen years of age, a beautiful and confident and talented young woman. Her professional career as a folk singer ahead of her. And now, nothing. She came, she shone, she is no more. The vicissitudes of life's arcane occurrences brought her, through her love of the outdoors, into a dangerous situation she was unable to extract herself from.

Her obvious enthusiasm for life, her dogged determination to enter the entertainment world, while remaining firmly grounded in life's opportunities and values mark her as an especial young person. Who might ever imagine a casual love of nature would lead to an encounter with wild animals known for their elusiveness, not for ferocious attacks on adult humans.

Visiting Cape Breton, taking time off from her professional appearance to hike along the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, how might she ever suspect this would be the last decision she would ever happily make in her short life? It has been suggested that these were two starving young coyotes, with little hunting experience.

Their attack on the young woman, who died of the wounds she received, was unusual. How utterly, profoundly sad. Rest in peace, Taylor Mitchell.

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Bird Columnist Extraordinaire

A small notice in our daily newspaper, and the photograph of a well-recognized name. Elizabeth Le Geyt. This woman is 95 years of age, and still engaged in writing a weekly bird-sighting column. Her informative text expanding on various types of birds that regular readers of her column alert her to, of their seasonal presence, represents a delightful variance from news reportage that depresses in its sameness.

She lives now at a retirement home. Having moved there just latterly; no longer than a year or so, after living on her own well past age 90. I'd read that, on deciding to move to the retirement home she'd had to give up her beloved dog. Comforted in the knowledge that the family that adopted her dog would treat it well, and offer it ample love. It helped that it was her daughter's family to whom her dog was given.

And she could visit with them on occasion, and greet her old friend and companion. Elizabeth LeGeyt has written her bird column for over 35 years. She was what some might consider elderly when she began writing of bird sightings. It is more than fitting that she has been selected as one of 20 individuals to receive an Ontario Senior Achievement award for her environmental work.

This woman has indeed made a significant contribution to her community. Long may she yet continue.

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Life In Brief

We've become more appreciative of - everything that surrounds us. When we feel comfortable, we are comforted. When we feel the emergence of a new phase of our elderly lives it is discomfiting.

Tacitly recognizing our mortality, everything that surrounds us shines with a new meaning. The transcendence of being. Of being a part of the living harmony of the sphere we inhabit. Moving about in the natural landscape, everything our eyes light upon looks brighter, more beautiful than we had formerly perceived.

We clutch our living selves in a dimly realized poignancy of the transitory nature of being.

Here one moment - even if that moment is expressed in the years from infancy to adulthood, a lifetime of memories, shared and cherished - and then, suddenly we are aged, though not yet infirm.

When I speak with my sister, four years younger than me, and so not yet aged beyond 70, she sounds cynical, tired, morose, and spent. I chide her, knowing as I do, that I have no right to do so. Life has not been as kind to her as it has been, to me.

She, after all, has not been the recipient of a love as deep and encompassing as that I share with my life-twin. We live for one another, find expression in each other, discover value in life through our shared communion. That is our great comfort, our yearning to be together forever.

Forever does not exist in the lexicon of human vocabulary expressed by the life-cycle of human beings. We are motes of stardust, temporarily transformed into living, breathing, animate and mind-full beings.

This is not the kind of introspection I choose. This is not a comforting line of thought. This sad reality is, however, truth. Accepting it makes it no more palatable.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Expendable Children

What's one child, more or less? One child too many? In some places that would appear to be so.

Places, for example, where a much older generation ghettoes itself, well away from the tumult of children's voices, expressing joy in life. Those who have themselves raised children and who now have grandchildren whom they can see when they wish, having no desire to share their lives in a prolonged fashion with these third-generation children. Preferring the calm and quiet of a neighbourhood consisting only of those experiencing the third and fourth life-stages.

Intolerant? Deliberately absenting themselves from the rich variety of human generations, preferring not to witness the unfolding of infant into youth, then early adulthood, with all the chaos that accompanies the entry into the various stages. They've experienced it once, and once seemed enough of a chore and a divergence from the preferred life. Who needs the impertinence of a child's endless questioning of the miracles of nature, for who has the patience to commit to advancing along that same path again?

Well, perhaps the grandparents of a child whom life would otherwise have abandoned. The child of a single mother who battles the demons of drug abuse, for example? Who made, for themselves, the preferable choice of complicating their lives again, rather than abandoning their grandchild to foster care. There are those who would have responded differently, no doubt, but Judie and Jim Stottler welcomed six-month-old Kimberly Broffman into their lives, their hearts, and their home.

She is now six years of age, a child with a vivacious curiosity, and a happy, questioning face. She has no idea why she has become a bit of a celebrity if one could call it that, given the notoriety of the situation, where the Clearwater, Florida retirement community is doing its utmost to remove her from their midst. She obligingly poses for the cameras when news reporters visit the community to write, once again, updates on the situation.

Her face would melt an iceberg.

But not, apparently, the hearts of those living in the retirement community where the rules are meant to be followed. And the rules of the Lakes Homeowners Association state that no one under the age of 18 may live in the community longer than two months. Assuredly, Kimberly Broffman has been living and flourishing in the community for most of her six years of life.

Serene, comfortable and emotionally balanced by the love of her grandparents. Who, after all, bought their property well before her birth.

And who have, attempting to honour the community agreement they initially signed, have attempted, time and again, to sell their property, and to move elsewhere, where they and their grandchild may live absent harassment. Their two-story, detached home, originally listed at $239,000 was dropped to $129,000, without any takers in their depressed economy where house values have dropped like a bucket into a deep, deep well.

The community authority insists they must move. But they are not, under any circumstances, to lower the price of their home any more, in the hopes that they may lure a prospective purchaser in these parlous times. For to do so would establish a devaluation of the other properties surrounding theirs. The Homeowners Association is determined to petition an area court to have the child removed.

The family, living on a very fixed income, has the kindly, concerned services of a pro bono lawyer, who observes "There's no where else to go except for foster care. My goal is to keep them together, which they still are".

No thanks to their friendly, child-averse neighbours.
Judie and Jimmy Stottler say they are trying to sell their home but vow not to give up their granddaughter Kimberly Broffman to stay in the Lakes.

[Times photo: Bill Serne]

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Conscience? Where?

Canada's Member of Parliament for the Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca riding in British Columbia is a medical doctor, engaged, when he can absent himself during the summer months, in humanitarian work in Africa. This man with a continent's-worth of conscience also founded the Canadian Physicians Overseas Program, whose purpose is to convince Canadian doctors to deploy temporarily to developing countries, sharing their professional expertise.

He has recently written to the Canadian heads of a number of mining companies whose companies - First Quantum Minerals, Ltd., Lundin Mining Corporation, Simberi Mining Corporation, Africo Resources Ltd., and SouthernEra Diamonds Inc. - are established in the Democratic Republic of Congo, asking them to commit to relatively modest donations to support the vital work of the HEAL Africa project.

A Congolese orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Jo Lusi and his wife Lyn, established the HEAL Africa Hospital in Goma in the DRC in 1993, in an area desperately in need of medical care. In addition to providing medical treatment to women suffering the horrific effects of rape and other forms of sexual violence in a miserably war-torn country, HEAL Africa provides psychosocial support to survivors, and provides access to other services throughout their healing process.

The Congo is a disaster scene, with a weak central government and an army incapable of defending its citizens against non-state terror-inflicting Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after the genocidal war against the country's ethnic Tutsis. Atrocities such as gang-rapes of women and young females as a weapon of war have affected a majority of Congolese women, with even the Congolese army itself inflicting itself on civilians, not only the Tutsi militias.

Women and girls are commonly maimed, tortured, disabled - and those are the survivors.

The DRC is a failed state, despite having more than its share of valuable natural resources. Diamonds, gold and rare mineral deposits are being exploited by international mining companies. The government of Congo may benefit, but the people of the DRC emphatically do not. The mineral coltan is present in great abundance, representing an essential element in the production of computers, cell phones and other electronic equipment.

HEAL Africa's modest operating budget to serve some five million people, vulnerable as victims in the atmosphere of war that prevails rurally in their country is in dire need of a cash infusion. It does not anticipate that the government will come through with the needed funding. It appeals to the international community to assist, to provide the $1.4 million annually required to provide maternal, infant and emergency care to the Congo's needy.

Dr. Martin took it upon himself to personally write to each of the corporate heads of Canadian mining companies. Whose industries are thriving in the Democratic Republic of Congo despite the turmoil of war, while all around people are desperately in need of humanitarian aid. No acknowledgement has yet been received by him to his appeal addressed to the five-named Canadian companies noted above.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Being Here, There, Everywhere

We are exceedingly grateful, we two, that we have recovered so nicely from our recent physical afflictions. Leaving us able to get on with our lives. Resume living normally. Able to undertake anything that we wish to do. Feeling normal; our energy levels restored to their previous state. And our desire to complete tasks that we had initiated before both falling ill, reasonably achievable, now. We do take so much for granted, but that's human nature.

We're fortunate, at our age, not to have any really dis-empowering illness, either of us. We are so accustomed to enjoying good health that it takes us somewhat by surprise when reality steps in to remind us that we're getting older - inexorably - with our recuperative capabilities a tad affected. Despite which, we have recuperated very well, both of us. Illness has the capacity, however, of rudely reminding us of our finite years.

It also jolts us awake to the beauty that surrounds us. The profound satisfaction we feel in living our lives. We seem more aware of everything in nature that surrounds us, delighting in all that we see, hear, smell and touch. For everything seems to touch us at a deeper level. As though we needed some kind of reminder of our good fortune, our good health and the deep pleasure we take in the lives we live.

Now, my husband is back to his work completing the large garden shed he began building in late summer. All the difficult work has been done, the shed itself erected, the roof shingles done, the soffit, and now the installation of the siding can re-commence. As for me, I have almost completed putting our gardens away for the winter. They barely resemble, but for the hardscape, the gardens we admire during the summer months.

The ravine too, has been steadily transformed. There, we take pleasure in viewing the landscape in an entirely different way. The bare bones of the tree trunks, and the full colour of the conifers remain intact, but the undergrowth of the forest floor has gradually disappeared, shrinking back into the earth, but for some hardy ferns, and everything is covered in a shifting blanket of colourful deciduous leafage.

So well covered that that we swish through the drying leaves, redolent of tannin, and blazing with yellows, reds, orange and burnt sienna. We see bright orange fungi clustered like something tantalizingly candy-like, on an old birch limb, lying on the ground as we pass through toward the end of our trail walk this most fortunate of days.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

The World Under Threat

It seems that way, on many fronts. Environmentally, with the onset and creeping advance of climate change, and all that this threat can mean to all living things on this Earth, and most particularly to the human creatures that inhabit the globe. And there is the relatively new and fearsome threat to societies around the world posed by the advance of humanity's various group adherences from religion, to political, to social and ideologically dysfunctional views and fundamental antipathies to one another - most latterly evidenced in fanatical Islamism.

We've also fixated globally on the potential of viral agents that might have the potential to wipe out entire populations - or, at the very least, decimate those populations. Which is to say, one in ten people on earth, according to this disease-fixated scenario, might suffer an early death because of a pandemic whose source is puzzling, but exotic and deadly. And medical science, working feverishly to identify symptoms and isolate vectors and disease mechanisms on the human body, may not be able to synthesize the vital data adequately to fashion a working response to save millions of lives. One new disease or viral agent after another surfaces to worry us: is this the one?

We strive to understand the monumental threats posed against us, but the very threats themselves are so complex and dire that fear takes hold and throttles reason. If, as it has been said by those wiser than the common man, that we have nothing to fear but fear itself - fear of the dread unknown. Which our feverish imagination works overtime to present us with the reality that there can be no coping mechanism for a threat so all-encompassing, then we are liable to see global panic ensue. The result of a general atmosphere of helplessness to cope. In response to which, global authorities and regional powers pull together to assume a position of trust and function.

On the basis of what we have experienced thus far is it possible to understand that those in authority are no more capable of producing reasoned and workable solutions than the people who depend on them to bring society in general into an atmosphere of trust in public authorities that will lead us all to a safer place? We've just begun surfacing from a global economic collapse. And it seems clear from the steps taken by the international community of world leaders that they're groping about for solutions to a financial collapse they barely understand, and in the process mounting colossal public debts that their populations will be burdened with before balance and prosperity resumes.

All the world's advanced societies, non-Muslim and Muslim alike, along with impoverished nations incapable of adequately defending themselves against the agonizingly determined advance of armies of fanatical non-state militias for whom life in an afterworld is more dear than life on Earth, seem incapable of stripping away the allure of martyrdom and hatred. Collective and individual state military action on the part of beleaguered nations have thus far only appeared to stimulate an aura of ferocious Islamist-inspired chaos, where the disease of hatred and conquest has infiltrated every country on earth, insidiously appealing to adversely-disaffected youth.

We observe the effects of climate change as weather patterns inexorably appear to be changing, leaving us confused and troubled about receding ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, threatening to raise ocean levels and sink vulnerable land masses in areas of the world where nothing can be done to save densely populated areas. Year-over-year drought situations have caused poor-to-little crops to be realized, to feed a hungry world. In other areas, deluges have also ruined crops by rotting and drowning them, and causing vast floods imperilling human habitat. Desertification is steadily creeping forward. Potable water sources are receding and drying up in areas of the world already suffering lack of water.

And the world Health Organization is doing its utmost to add to the perplexity of where to turn first to defend the world community from the onset of all these threats. Warning that "the whole of humanity is under threat", the head of WHO claimed that H1N1 influenza had reached a pandemic phase. Countries and communities have been reacting, to try to counteract the threat of another round of a viral agent that proved fairly innocuous the first time around. Killing far fewer people in its rounds than what annually results from normal, seasonal flu. On the other hand, its victims, few as they are, have been those normally not under threat by seasonal flu.

So that stories abound about this new health threat to the well-being and longevity of the human population, as 191 countries have been struck by this new strain of flu, leaving five thousand people dead, and dread in the hearts of those who fear for the safety of their loved ones. Perspective tells us that this novel influenza strain for which two widely available drugs have been developed for useful vaccinations, has killed a relative few in six months, since that same number succumbs to seasonal flu, every six days. But fear is fear, and it is even more contagious than that which is feared to threaten our survival.

We appear to be hard-wired to succumbing to the worse-case scenario in every instance of a presumed threat that causes us to lose perspective, and surrender in panic to the irrationality of helpless hopelessness. This too, is part of the human condition.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

But Not Without Pleasure

Not a very good start to the day, getting up late, even if it's a Saturday morning. We've gotten lazy. The weather helps, there. No early morning light to bring our bedroom alive, just a dim overcast, and the knowledge that it's pouring out there. Has been, since the evening before. Went on all night, relentlessly, and continued well on into the morning. It's lazy-making weather, that's what it is. Aside from the fact that both of us are still clambering out of assaults on our health and physical well-being.

My husband is on medication to quell the riot in his gastrointestinal tract, and although my bout with Shingles is well behind me now, the medication protocol long ceased and my gradual return to normalcy well on its way, there manifests, still, extremely uncomfortable reminders. My husband's medication has had certain side-effects, one of which was a relatively brief bout with diarrhoea, the other extreme drowsiness. His lack of energy, for a man who has always had a superabundance of same, is another thing altogether.

We have heard nothing yet from our family doctor with respect to the results of the tests he took a week earlier. But he does feel infinitely better than he had. His ultra sound appointment is still three weeks' distant, and who knows when his appointment with a heart specialist will take place, since there doesn't appear to be any reason to believe there is a problem there. Just that our doctor said that at three-score-years-and-ten that kind of check-up would represent sound medical practise.

After breakfast we decided to venture out into the ravine with our little companions. All of us clad for the weather, since it was still raining, but more of a slight drizzle, by then. One of our neighbours was hauling out upholstered furniture to the end of his driveway; he thought, he said, that this was 'free give-away' week-end. It was not. We suggested, in passing, that he might want to call the Salvation Army, since they'll pick up furniture that can be re-used. By the time we returned from our walk the upholstered chairs had been returned to his garage.

As we descended into the ravine, we still had a modicum of shelter from the rain, because of the leaves still remaining on the trees, offering a frail but still appreciated, canopy. Of course, that was counter-acted by the effect of thoroughly-drenched leafage shedding their excess of moisture at each bit of encouragement by the prevailing, but light winds. Since we weren't planning to do our usual lengthy passage through the ravine in the rain, I left double the peanuts I usually do at the usual places, and we had the pleasure of witnessing squirrels making straightway for them.

Even with the dull overcast, there is a riot of colour in the ravine. Overhead, the maples - mostly bright yellow, with some trees bearing scarlet leaves - are still mostly full of their leaves. As are the beech, with their orange-brown-yellow leaves. Nor have the oak even begun to turn colour yet; their leaves are bright, bright green. The birch trees, white and yellow, have long since lost their leaves, and the poplars are steadily losing theirs. The poplar leaves yellow, with a peculiar slight green stripe down them, maintain their colour for a day on the ground, then swiftly turn grey-black and ugly.

Later, we dressed ourselves differently and drove to the other end of the city, to Carleton University's capacious Fieldhouse, for the semi-annual antique show and sale which this year had been advertised as a fun appeal for fashion-adventurous young women, with vintage jewellery and vintage clothing in the offing. We might have missed the show, in the belief that this wasn't the usual attraction that would bring us out, but rather another, entirely different show. The advertising, it would appear, even confused the vendors who themselves had to make enquiries to ascertain that yes, this was their show.

We bundled Button and Riley into their respective carry-bags, slung them over our shoulders, and trudged from the parking lot, in light rain, into the Fieldhouse, and began to browse about among the various stalls. Looking for those items that would have special appeal to us. Congratulating ourselves for having first toughed the rain and gotten our little dogs out to exercise prior to this exercise. They don't mind being hauled about; they settle down comfortably into their bags and begin to snooze, hardly seeming aware of where we happen to be.

For our part, we enjoyed perusing the wares, though we strode fairly briskly through the aisles until reaching those stalls where paintings were highlighted, and porcelains, and clocks, and other period objets d'art, which tend to attract our curiosity. We admire the furniture, the Canadian pine furniture and the Continental furniture, and above all, the furniture that speaks of age and hand-crafting, superior design and workmanship. But we're not in the market for furniture; we've acquired more than enough over the decades of collecting.

Paintings, though, that's another genre of aesthetic appreciation altogether, for us. In a way our first mutual attraction. When our three children were still infants we blew a monthly child-supplement cheque from the government on acquiring a century-old British interior scene of the courtship of a young woman by an elderly suitor, her family seated around a farmhouse table, the tableau redolent of days gone by and the sadness of material poverty, the difficulties inherent in the-then social contract.

Today, we found a middling-size landscape, a Marmaduke Matthews watercolour of a waterfall in the mountains of British Columbia during the days of railroad building out West. And although he was a coeval of some very pricey artists of the period, his paintings are not priced beyond our ability to pay. There were also two other watercolours; 19th Century British paintings; one off the coast of Italy, the other of Old Cairo, the Kasbah. Each of them an exquisite masterwork of detail beautifully etched for posterity of a time long gone by in the world's rush to modernity.

Then home, to rest and relax, read the newspapers. First, I made a bread dough for the pizza we will together make for our evening meal, indulging ourselves right handsomely to make the most of this overcast, dull, fall day.


Friday, October 23, 2009

A Just Society

Obviously one that punishes social malefactors while protecting the law-abiding citizen. Isn't that what a just society is about? Right.

Of course, there's a certain subvention of what most people feel comfortable with viewing as that norm. When the plight of the socially maladjusted who find their place in the nether regions of the social contract tweak the heartstrings of a socially liberal society sensitive to the possibility that the thieves among us were short-changed in their formative years. Not quite responsible then, for their choices in later life.

The abuser of women not being quite responsible for his actions, because he is only repeating what was familiar to him as a child. The raving racist spewing hatred must be forgiven for he is himself a victim of a dysfunctional upbringing. The school drop-out who decided drugs and gangs and criminal activity trumps a normal life of work and remuneration, because he is a visible minority misunderstood by general society.

And then we get situations that are completely up-ended to what should occur in a just society, cruel parodies of justice where the victims of crimes are forgotten, left on their own to recover as best they may, while the social predators are kid-gloved in a court system that frustrates society and the police whose work it is to apprehend them in their socially malevolent pursuits.

Something like the forgiveness uttered by the victim of a drunk driver whose stunt in driving into her home destroyed her two-decades-old residence, her family's two vehicles, all their possessions, and only miraculously managed by circumstances not to take the family's lives in the maelstrom of destruction. She forgave the 21-year-old DUI; he'd made an error in judgement.

Well, in Toronto's Chinatown, a hardworking owner of a shop called the Lucky Moose Market hasn't been too lucky. He is being prosecuted by the Crown, charged with an indictable offense. He was arrested back in May, charged with assault and kidnapping. Of a shoplifter, a thief who had already lifted and sped away with some of the store's perishable goods, and had returned for a second round.

Whereupon, David Chen and two of his employees chased the offender, caught him, bound his hands and held him securely ensconced in a van until police arrived. This was clearly defence of one's property. In defence of which a citizen's arrest, as it were, was made. The thief set aside until he could be delivered to the hands of the law. Not just any thief, but a hard-core repeat offender.

Someone with three decades of criminal wrong-doing, with a record that sets out Anthony Bennett's field of work in great detail. This man was well known to the owners of the strip of markets and shops in Chinatown, since he's been stealing from them for years. He would shop-lift from one shop, and sell his ill-gotten gains in another location. From durable goods to perishables.

Even after having been released from jail on his most recent charges, he returned to victimizing shopkeepers in Chinatown. He is addicted to crack cocaine, and has a requirement to feed his habit. Consequently, it is incumbent on the merchants in Chinatown to play their part; enabling him to steal what he may, sell what he may, and purchase his drugs of choice.

The Crown even made a deal with Mr. Bennett. In exchange for his agreeing to testify as a Crown witness against his apprehender, Mr. Chen, he was given a lighter sentence for the theft which initiated this entire charade. And Mr. Chen is awaiting the outcome of the Crown's charges against him, a hapless victim of political correctness.

Haven't we misplaced priorities and kind of mislaid our sense of justice in ministering to the misfits of society that plague us, and administering 'justice' to law-abiding citizens?

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Puzzling Pandemic

The H1N1 flu virus and all the information and heeding erupting from its onset, begins to appear mysteriously like a non-event caused by global hysteria, prepped by years of World Health Organization (WHO) cautions to the world at large of a global pandemic certain to hit us when we're least prepared, resulting in dire consequences. The misery that SARS caused until it was apprehended was bad enough, and we heard mutterings of Ebola, and avian flu about to sweep the Globe, but none of these disasters appeared to materialize.

Mind, we're vastly relieved. But, we are warned, we must not let down our guard. Remember the Spanish flu and the lives lost to it? That kind of thing; because, in fact, you never know what Nature with her infinite bag of tricks has in store for us. Everyone is on alert; governments at every level, hospitals, front line health workers; paramedics, hospital emergency departments, primary-care clinics, you name it. This H1N1 virus has been around the world twice now, in some hemispheres, and now it's hitting North America. Again.

Schools and institutes of higher education in some areas in particular have already seen the thinning of the ranks as students are hit with symptoms and as cautioned, remain at home. Some, needless to say, showing up at hospital emergency departments, and a minuscule portion admitted to hospital for emergency care. There have been some deaths, and the thought of deaths resulting from this swine flu has generated great worry in the minds of the public. Little wonder, since the news media are full of whatever can be gleaned about this new menace.

Yet the truth appears to be that this H1N1 virus has thus far killed 144 people who have contracted it on the worldwide basis. Contrast that to a like number of people who die every few hours worldwide, of seasonal flu. This is shaping up to be the most innocuous, yet most-inoculated-against virus we've yet seen surface. According to some sources, the 20th Century's 'mildest' pandemic killed roughly a million people around the world. In the six months of its re-appearance Swine flu has killed about as many people as the seasonal flu does every six days.

The original WHO definition of 'pandemic' was that of a "simultaneous epidemic worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness", emphasis being on the severity of the onset. A revised WHO definition issued in April somehow lost the factor of "severity". Sufficed that it spread worldwide. H1N1 simply isn't turning out to be the lethal instrument of death that we have all been forewarned of. Yet governments around the world have committed millions upon millions of dollars in ensuring that they have ordered sufficient quantities of vaccine to inoculate their vulnerable populations.

Public health officials have been desperately scrambling, attempting to arrange public clinics where first, front line health care workers, then the health-immune-compromised, then pregnant women and young children may have the benefit of the initial shots giving them immunity to this killer virus. Then the elderly in the population may wish to line up, and in fact, the entire population of every country is being enthusiastically and urgently required to do their civic duty and present themselves for inoculations.

Strange, isn't it, that those medical professionals who have been lined up to receive the first shots to ensure that they're still on their feet and professionally capable to pursue their line of work in the face of disaster striking urban communities, are resentful and many appear unwilling to receive those vaccinations. Doubtful of the vaccine's effectiveness, and above all, of the after-effects. Which may, some incautiously venture, in rare occasions, turn out to be far, far worse than end-results of the virus being inoculated against.

Not enough data has been assembled with respect to safety. This is, in fact, in the nature of a huge experiment. And the pharmaceutical giants are celebrating big time at this opportunity that has just seemed to drop into their waiting laps. But of course WHO set the stage with its naming of a pandemic, insisting on mass vaccination plans and all the emergency response measures to be put in place, because of the fearful predictions of the severity of the onset of a catastrophic pandemic.

Causing, in the U.S., to whom all the world looks for initiative, a report issued in August from the President's council of Advisors on Science and Technology, informing of a "plausible scenario" of 30,000 to 90,000 deaths in there, as a result of the virus. Peaking, as it happens, in mid-October. What's this? Verging on November? Not, we should hasten to add, that we would like to see the worst-case scenario occur. Still, the fact is countries world-wide have stocked up on antiviral medication and H1N1 vaccine.

And panic reigns supreme. Surprise: this was just a test. The big event is just around the corner. Sometime or other.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Right Honourable

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien does verily believe he is always right - or at least his oft-expressed opinion is that he is never wrong, and always does the right thing. A man of impeccable ethics, trustworthy and highly intelligent. Indeed. And is he honourable? Queen Elizabeth II for some arcane reason all her own appears to think so. Has she no knowledgeable advisers?

So, there it is, a rare honour for Jean Chretien, much to the satisfaction, no doubt, of his wife Aline, a tigress in defending her 'little guy' from Shawinigan. So much a 'little guy' he is, a man of the people, that he almost throttled a representative of the homeless, wishing to appeal to his better nature. Long may he search to discover that better nature. Mr. Chretien prefers pepper on his steak, he-he.

How remarkable that Britain's rare Order of Merit has been bestowed on Canada's former prime minister, representing only the fourth Canadian to be so honoured. He is in the company of outstanding individuals such as Dr. Wilder Penfield, Winston Churchill. Both long gone from the land of the living, otherwise they might wish to return their honourably-received Order of Merit.

Much as the current Conservative-led Canadian government is being accused of favouring conservative-represented ridings in the dispensation of stimulus funds by livid Liberals, it was Jean Chretien in his heyday who said: "Listen. We are the government. I don't see why we can't try to get credit for what we do. I hope we do so. There is nothing to be ashamed of that."

Small-town cheap was how Judge Gomery described Jean Chretien's golf-ball giveaways on the public dime, and he was right. All the scandals that erupted during the Chretien years, of pork barrelling and nest-feathering, really mark this man's gift to Canada, culminating in the disgrace with which he left office, in a Liberal imbroglio of advertising shenanigans. Anyway remember Adscam?

Now, the elder statesman, with his countless trips to China representing clients, Canadian companies investing there, trumpets this as a singular achievement, through his many solicitations in China for trade deals, opening doors as prime minister for his remunerative retirement past-time. Claiming it was he who opened trade doors for Canada to China.

When, in fact, it was the Right Honourable Joe Clark as foreign minister in a Conservative-led government that had done so, post Tienanmen Square. It was then, at that time, in the wake of various Conservative-government-led trade trips, principally led by then-Finance Minister Michael Wilson, that opened trade doors, and it was also then that Chinese diplomats called Canada China's best friend.

Chretien has pulled the wool over the eyes of the sycophants who have always surrounded him, but he will always be the little man from Shawinigan, a town that he favoured by pulling scarce funding from the National Gallery in Ottawa to open a Shawinigan-only gallery. He has never strayed very far from being a little man, a very Little Man.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Condescending Elitism? Naw!

Isn't that nice. We're considered, by a former British High Commissioner to Canada, none other than the 'second Baron of Moran', John Wilson, to be a "moderate, comfortable, people".

Like a well-worn pair of slippers? Surely it's true. We even think of ourselves as moderate. And without doubt, we are people. Comfortable in our skins too, one could verily venture. Can we let it all end there?

Oh. There's more? Pity.

"Canadians are mildly nationalistic (but perhaps less shrilly so than Australians), very sensitive, especially to any expressed or implied British sneers about Canada as 'boring', and perhaps somewhat lacking in self-confidence", wrote Lord Moran so fulsomely in 1984. Oh well, that's aeons ago, isn't it? But this is still confusing; if we're 'mildly' nationalistic' how can we then be 'less shrilly so' than Australians?

Tch, tch, Lord Moran, is it one, or t'other? Can't get your act together? So busy pick-picking at the national character of those provincials that you cannot even straighten out your thoughts? Lacking in self-confidence? Us? Um, mebbe so. S'wot happens when you're plebeian, nothing like British elitism. We have our faults, sure 'nuff.

(Look what we do to the Queen's English! And this blogger prides herself on her elegant turn of phrase, correct use of language. Sigh. Yet another fanciful notion those Canucks are so fond of turning over in their flawed colonial minds.)

Our late and esteemed - occasionally, in any event, and more so after his departure as prime minister; even more so upon his untimely demise - Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau considered a "well-to-do hippie and draft dodger", by Lord Moran. How very undiplomatic, how ungenerous, how bloody-mindedly British. Oops, forgot; he IS British.

Canada, points out Lord Moran, is bereft of the "ferocious competition of talent" of which the Mother Country is so singularly replete. "Anyone who is even moderately good at what they do - in literature, the theatre, skiing or whatever - tends to become a national figure", according to he - him - the man - Lord Moran. And he should know, lordy, he should know.

We've also sinned (Lord, forgive us) by having "squandered some of their resources", and at the same time being too thick-headed to grasp the utter, aghast horror the outside world experiences in witnessing television imagines of "crude redneck Canadians clubbing to death baby seals on the ice."

Pity we hadn't an Iron Lady to wage war in exotic waters, in far-off islands claimed by that aristocratic one to be their possession, and in the process, slaughtering others - human beings - of the vicinity who felt otherwise. Falklands, Malvinas; what have you. Now there's an image of imperial entitlement - hurrah!

See, Britannia still rules!

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Just Drop Right In

Nothing like dropping in unannounced. Worse, dropping into someone's house whom you don't even know. What a surprise. Like, who're you? But it could be worse.

Say, for example, someone driving a car, losing control of said car, and then somehow managing to steer it directly over your urban lawn, and right into a corner of your house. It's been done before, and although fairly upsetting, repairs to the home have been undertaken, the unheralded visitor charged, perhaps with dangerous driving, perhaps with driving under the influence.

What about if that person drove the car into the house, hitting a gas main? All that gas escaping; you'd want to alert the house-holders. Oh, what if it happened at four in the morning and everyone was sound asleep. Well, they wouldn't be sound asleep for very long after the impact, after all, would they be? But, if they were still unaware of precisely the kind of danger they were in, and did not move with the kind of alacrity that kind of situation demands?

Never fear, where there are teen-age kids living in a home, and one has a friend over for the night, they can be focused on things more important to teens than sleeping; say gaming? So they're awake and fully alert when they hear something really unusual appear to impact on the very building they're inhabiting, as it happens.

They dash over to the point of impact, one dials 911 on the ever-present cellphone, the other rushes over to the vehicle, now afire, assesses the situation, runs back indoors to rouse parents and siblings, urging they speedily vacate the premises.

The fire that ensued, and the attempts by firefighters ensured that no explosion did occur. But the damage to the home this family had lived in for 21 years was beyond extensive; the house could not be saved, nor their belongings. "Nothing like this has ever happened before", commented the lady of the house.

Guess not. Their quiet, tree-lined urban neighbourhood of bungalows and split levels wasn't much given to spectacular crashes obliterating a home and making a family homeless as result.

Damage has been estimated between $600,000 and $700,000, fairly substantial. That includes home and contents, and oh yes, two family vehicles. The woman of the house has a sense of humour, commenting, on hearing the smoke detector in the charred house beeping that it was reassuring that the battery was still fresh and the apparatus in working order.

The car driver was charged with impaired driving, driving with a blood alcohol level of over .08, and dangerous driving. He was injured, but not seriously.

Amazingly, the woman whose home had been destroyed charitably declared she felt no animosity toward the driver. "This was just a boy, a 21-year-old, and what a horrible thing for him - we could all be dead. It's probably the worst moment of his life. I don't feel angry. I feel sorry for him."

Oh. Dear. Me.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cupidity + Stupidity

Could it happen just anywhere, anywhere at all? Are people so freighted with a personal sense of entitlement and greed that a majority would react the same way anywhere? One can't help but wonder.

Wonder, perhaps, what you would do if approached by an absolute stranger who suddenly relates a tale of having won a fortune, and in a spirit of giving, was not even willing, but eager, to extend her good fortune toward you. That would, of course, depend on your pecuniary circumstances, whether or not you might wish to accept.

On the other hand, people out shopping for themselves, at a well-known clothing emporium selling winter coats, must have the wherewithal to make purchases, otherwise why would they be there? They're not charity cases, one would assume. There are other options; to shop at, for example, places where second-hand clothing can be found.

Even people who have money to spare do that, now. There's a certain cachet to do it, of frugality, of a social awareness of the need to recycle items, akin to a growing dedication among the public toward environmental awareness.

It would appear that a store-full of shoppers presented as gullible self-attainers, ready to believe what a perfect stranger avowed, that she was prepared to spend up to $500 per shopper, out of a sense of social generosity in celebration of her $1.5-million lottery win. After all, the limousine that sat idling outside the store was the very vehicle that had transported her to the Burlington Coat Factory store in Columbus, Ohio.

The eager shoppers took her at her word, and began feverishly shopping in the store to gain personal advantage of a kind none had ever before experienced. Many rang up friends and family members on their cellphones, to rush right over and take advantage of this miracle. The store began to fill up with all those who felt they too were entitled to be gifted by the generosity of this radiant woman whose purpose was so obviously to make people feel good about life and the generosity of strangers.

No one, it would appear, thought very deeply about what might be occurring. No one, it would seem, even believing that the woman had the funds to dispose of, attempted to cajole her into using her money otherwise; for charitable purposes, for example. To give the equivalent sum of what she was suggesting to the poor, to food banks, to assisted housing, to help pay for medical treatment for underprivileged children.

Greed coloured peoples' thoughts and stained their perspective. And then, when it eventually became clear that this was a bit of a hoax, that the woman had been fantasizing, she had falsely represented herself, her means and her intentions, reaction set in. People were frantic to have their dream of clothing items paid for by someone else be restored to reality. Who would be so cruel as to raise expectations and then leave people in the dumps of reality?

Perhaps she was addicted to brief moments of public adulation and acclaim, and on this occasion got her fix. When she departed in the limousine, ostensibly to withdraw funds from a bank with which to consolidate her promise to the clamouring, arms-festooned-with- potential-purchases giftees, it gradually began to dawn that nothing more than the excitement they had all shared would be forthcoming.

Nonetheless, the pumped-up shoppers stood there with their purchases at the cash registers, demanding that they be allowed to take home their unpaid-for loot. An estimated 500 shoppers there in the store, and another thousand, awaiting entry so they too could take advantage of this amazing opportunity to avail themselves of some stranger's sudden burst of generosity.

Becoming obstreperous on the process, necessitating that the police be called in to exert control over what was fast descending into riot proportions, the store's contents being ransacked, fixtures overturned, angry shoppers demonstrating their misery and disappointment over having been duped, their blissful expectations blown through the nastiness of reality.

The woman, Linda Brown, was arrested by police when the limousine driver of the stretch Hummer, realizing that he too would not be paid for that day's outing, drove her directly to a local police station. A mental health evaluation of the woman is slated to establish her condition of mental stability, before other charges can be laid.

No charges as yet have been levied against others, such as those shoppers who filched items of clothing and fled with them, although police are inspecting the store's videotapes. As for the other shoppers, perhaps a mental health evaluation could be done en masse to establish their coping abilities, living in the world of as is, not what if.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Media Scourge

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken a lot of flak over his aversion to making himself available at every turn, to the media. He isn't known to take media requests lightly, and doesn't agree with media scrums. He is, in short, more than a little media averse. News reporters, for their part, don't very much appreciate the unavailability of interviews, much less casual questions and answers from a prime minister who shuts himself deliberately away from their prying queries and plaints.

As a result he appears to have done himself no favours. There are scant few media personalities who appear to look kindly upon this prime minister. They haven't pulled any punches, and aren't likely to give him the benefit of the doubt, any time soon. Unlike many other politicians of whom the media appear, in general, to approve, he had no 'honeymoon' period, going directly into the black books of the grumbling Parliament Hill press club. There would be no scoops coming directly from that horse's mouth.

Now here's a contradiction in political availability, south of the Canadian border. Where U.S. President Barack Obama not only has the Canadian press in the palm of his hand, but the U.S. press, for the most part, very much appreciate his weekly addresses to the nation, his almost daily and seemingly effortless commentaries on just about everything, delivered in his impeccably-unflappable (lecturing) manner. On the other hand, on the issue of press freedom, most U.S. presidents have not been shy of television cameras and print media.

But then, all is not as it seems, even when it comes to the world's currently most-charismatic political leader. Who appears, after all, to have as thin a hide as our own prime minister. So, they do share something in common, after all. Neither much appreciates criticism of their actions and the direction in which they ideally claim to be leading their respective countries. But whereas Prime Minister Harper has an undeclared yet openly-obvious bias against all media, understandably, President Barack Obama's is directed solely toward right-leaning media.

His office, in fact, claims the Fox News Network is simply another arm of the Republican Party. It's a popular network, and doubtless it reaches interested viewers across all party lines. "The reality of it is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party." As a result, warned the White House communications director, they could anticipate the White House "to treat them the way we would treat an opponent."

Detractors need not apply for interviews; only those friendly to the aspirations of the Democratic Party and their elected chief may look forward to interviews with the president of the United States. Obviously President Obama and his team have no intention of differentiating between the news, objectively reported, and the scores of talk-show hosts whose personal slant and unwholesome rants runs contrary to his political vision for the country.

This has a tired old ring of familiarity. Still, surprising in a sense that a president who has the acclaim of the world at large, has been honoured with the 2009 Nobel price for peace, revels in rock-star status, is yet so thin-skinned that he will brook no criticism of his personal vanity, his propensity to posturing and high-flown rhetoric; above all the abysmal level of success his various strenuous overtures and determinedly placatory measures both at home and abroad have so far met.

Head in the clouds, feet mired in muck. A truly thoughtful, insightful individual (like the Buddha who sits above the muck on a fresh lotus flower, like the Dalai Llama, the quintessential symbol of world peace, and well-earned peace laureate himself, whom the president so unfortunately had no time to meet in his busy schedule, flitting off instead to Copenhagen to make the case for a Chicago Olympics choice) might evince a modicum of humility and grace.

Thank you for this honour. I would prefer to set it aside for the time being. And would be honoured were it to be re-visited, once and only once my initiatives to succeed in bringing the world a little closer to peace, realize their potential.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

MiGod, The Child!

That's one sure-fire way of garnering attention; one little innocent child facing the kind of danger that no human power on Earth is capable of preventing. What misery of circumstances could conceivably trap a six-year-old boy into flying high in the sky, other than his own mischievous sense of curiosity. How about a conspiracy? Wink-wink, how about we have some fun, son? And you too, son, we'll all play a fast one on the world. That'll focus attention on all the theories and scientific adventuring and theorizing your daddy has been engaged in.

Each hour on the hour as the news readers solemnly assured listeners that they would keep them up to date on the lamentable fate of a little boy whose curiosity had impelled him to leap aboard a weather balloon his father had fashioned, and to let it loose into the atmosphere, listeners tuned in with rapt attention. A six year-old child, my heavens, what a dreadful thing to happen. How could it happen? Simply put, you cannot take your eyes off the mind-boggling shenanigans of a child for a second, before disaster looms.

The fascinated public, its heartstrings athrob with compassion for the parents, for the plight of the child, were regaled, hour-on-hour with the latest news. And that was a wide public, for the escapade of the escaped balloon and its helpless cargo went world-wide, absorbing the attention of millions of people. Let's face it, you just cannot buy that kind of attention. And who might want to? It would, after all, sacrifice the safety of one's beloved child. But then inventors and pseudo-scientists utterly absorbed in their search for extraterrestrial life may be capable of anything.

The balloon had self-deflated, even while authorities were considering what they might do to intervene and save the life of the child. Shooting it down, deploying a helicopter in the hopes that the terrific downdraft would bring it to ground. Once the balloon had hit terra firma, there was no terrified child cowering and ill from fear aboard; nada. Where was the child? Well, someone was convinced they had seen an object; could have been a small human figure; hurtling out of the balloon before touch-down. So an intensive search was launched on the ground.

And then the suspense finally came to a conclusion; a thudding end. Little Falcon Heene hadn't been risking his life to satiate a child's curiosity, after all. He was safely esconced in a box in the attic of the garage of the family home. Hiding from his angry father, it was bruited about, who had chided him for rooting about in a box of electronics equipment. The euphoria of the relieved parents, to be able to hold their youngest child in their protective arms, to squeeze, hug and cherish him. He was a very good boy. Had performed as coached.

One of his older brothers had testified to repeated questioning by local police that he had seen, with his very own eyes, his baby brother scramble into the box of the helium flying saucer his father had lovingly fashioned with his very own designing hands. And then, poof! gone. In an instant. Waddyathinkofthat? Just as exciting as the family's favourite pasttime of storm-chasing! A truly absorbing hobby, so much so that parents Richard and mother Mayumi and siblings Brad, Ryo and Falcon sleep in street clothes so they can tear off at a moment's notice!

Truly, heroically eccentric. People just are so boring in general society; no one has any imagination or sense of wonder at the Universe, at the ferociously marvellous forces of Nature. But not the Heenes; they revel in pursuing their goals, led by their truly genius father and truly committed mother who does the storm-chasing driving and videoing, and watching her children all at the same time. While Daddy goes off on his bike, into the heart of the storm. And becomes notorious for his fearless exploits. Quite the sensational family pursuits.

Although Oprah likely hasn't had them on her show yet, they have appeared on other types of public-interest, personal-revelations, reality shows. The parents, who adore their adventurous children and encourage them in risk-taking alongside themselves, appearing counter to a family of ultra-child-protective parents. All that publicity, the show-and-boast didn't quite make the cut. So what to do to rivet the attention of the larger community - hell, the world!? Now here's the plan, kids, listen up.

It's possible that Brad and Ryo, older than Falcon, would have been more careful in their revelations, even when prompted by their father. But Falcon, only six years old, and however bright he happens to be, attempted to honestly respond to his father's for-effect questioning. Why did he not reveal himself earlier when he became aware that everyone was frantically hunting for him? Why, Daddy, how could I, you told me to stay put. Right, Daddy?

Never mind, wasn't it all a whole lot of fun? Didn't it wake everyone up? Isn't the public in America just thrilled out of their hard-working, newly-unemployed skulls to know that their tax dollars have been wasted in a fruitless pursuit? Charge it. Oops, I mean charge him.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Getting On With It

Quite wonderful it is, to feel as well as I do, now. My second week of Shingles is not quite over, but I am much improved. My husband, looking at me approvingly, congratulates me that I no longer pose a risk to peoples' credulity, having to square their familiarity with my face, with the one most latterly presented. There should, indeed, be a law against presenting such a face in public. Despite which, I soldiered on, as best I could, despite the aching pain, and hid as much of my temporarily-demented facial features as I was able to.

No longer necessary! The itch and the aching hurt are still there, but much diminished. The crashing, stabbing pains and the pounding headaches have departed. One supposes had I not been prescribed medication the process would have been far worse in the sense of lingering on indefinitely before ultimately subsiding. That is, also, if the condition did not deteriorate to such a stage where some actual long-lasting damage was done to me neurologically, including my optic nerves.

On to better things...! The ravine, for example, tempting us with its fall colours. We even enjoyed some sun today, along with the wind and the cool temperatures. Last night's deeper frost loosed many leaves, both in our gardens and in our urban forest. Our mulberry trees suddenly dumped a load of leaves; where yesterday they were pliable and green, well fastened still, to the branches that held them. And in the backyard, those garden pots that still awaited winter-readiness suddenly hosted wet, limp flower stalks, with the formerly-vibrant colours completely drained, dank.

In the ravine, however, the rustle of the brightly-coloured leaves under our feet, and the acrid fragrance of the tannin, wafted around us. A fragrance well-remembered, yet easily forgotten. We saw a cluster of three small downy woodpeckers, busily working their way around three trees, spaced fairly close together, and ventured the opinion that we had come across a little family out for a little casual nourishment.

There were chickadees, and their constant companions, nuthatches chattering away in the trees around us. The squirrels, as usual, awaited our arrival with something less than bated breath. And although we so enjoy seeing them all, only one, our little stumpy-tailed black squirrel that has endeared itself to us, causes us to feel excited at his approach. Nothing tentative about this little fellow. He knows what we're about and is intent on having his share. Confronting us directly, waiting, positioning himself, until the special peanuts - the largest, fattest, those containing three to four nuts, are scattered before him.

If we give him shelled peanuts, he will eat them before us. Once the unshelled ones come his way, he locates them, claims them and is off. On more than one occasion he will have confronted us for his due near the bottom of the first hill in the ravine, and then again, far along the course, when we're away off on an entirely other part of the loop, for seconds. He really does make our day, that bold little fellow.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Coming To A Head

Although when I wake up in the morning I feel pretty awful, and my face feels like nothing I can remember before the onset of Shingles, once breakfast is under way I begin to feel a bit better. Last night I found it difficult to fall asleep because of the pounding, drilling headache on the right side of my head. But when sleep finally tiptoed in and took my head by surprise, I slept soundly. Apart from the itchy-soreness, I am visibly improving, too. I don't look quite as hideously pustular. So that's encouraging, at the very least. I even feel slightly human again.

Despite which, when we ventured out into the ravine for our daily ramble, I did wear a hat to protect my scalp against the cold, and sun glasses as well for the same purpose, although there was no sun. It was just a tad above freezing, unusually cold for this time of year. And the colours are glorious, each day more so than the day before. Button has taken to rushing ahead, really trotting far ahead of us on the second half of our perambulation through the ravine, returning to old habits, just as cold weather has returned. So she has to be leashed at that juncture.

Trust Riley, stolid little fellow, who takes his time, and absolutely nothing we do will entice him to pick up his pace. He has to be able to look back from time to time, to ensure that no one else is around, who he must vet before moving on. Just occasionally, when Button stops and indicates to me that she would appreciate a shelled peanut, thank you very much, Riley will hurry, and begin his little trot to catch up with us, so he too can avail himself of the peanut cache. There are hordes of squirrels about everywhere, searching out edibles to be buried here and there, to satisfy their instinct to prepare for winter.

We watch as black, red or grey squirrels mount the places where we usually leave unshelled peanuts. Somewhat precipitate, since we're only just arriving. They go methodically, throughout the length of the trails, from one area to another where peanuts are usually left by us. When they see us coming by, watch from a distance as we deposit the peanuts, they move with great alacrity to claim what they discover so magically. On occasion, a tiny red squirrel will indignantly and purposefully chase the much-larger black or greys, then return to the cache, where there have been left sufficient for all to take.

On our return home, my husband, who has had to temporarily abandon his completion of the garden shed installation, went out back to resume the work. Like me, he has been under the weather; his ailment quite different than mine, a kind of intestinal flu-like malady that is only just now receding sufficiently to make him feel able to exert himself physically once again. Yesterday he completed installing the soffits and fascia, and today he began installing the siding on the shed. Looks as though that will be efficiently done; at least the two long sides; the other three, shorter ones, will take more effort in measuring and cutting.

As for me, it was past time to begin seriously working on the dismantling of our beloved gardens. Taking up the annuals, and saving the corms of the tuberous begonias. Cutting back the perennials, and just generally getting everything neat and tidy for the coming season of icy slumber. It's amazing how convolutedly wound-up the morning glory vines became, and how tricky it always is to disentangle and cut them away from the fences, tucking all that green mass into compost bags to be hauled away by the municipality. There is just far too much of everything to be tossed into our two composters, since we reserve them mostly for kitchen waste.

When I was done, everything looked a whole lot more subdued. There was still texture, still some colour, but the bright effervescence of the living blooms had disappeared. I did leave two of the smaller garden pots for now, because they're still so utterly beautiful, and I wanted to preserve them for another day; one, a huge pink geranium-ivy, the other a robustly colourful bleeding heart, set off by bright blue lobelia. The bacopa and the million bells were still fresh, but the ipomoea looked the worst for frost, as did the begonias and the impatiens. Gone, all of them, for another year. The petunias had long since seen better days. The dahlias had gone to curled-up sleep.

Not much point taking proud photos of the garden any longer. I've got now to get to work on the back, as well, building on what I've already accomplished in taking it apart for winter. And then the garden pots will have to be emptied of their soil, into the gardens, so the pots can be safely stored for winter. The hydrangeas, ligularia, the peonies and the tree peonies need trimming, along with all of our dozens of plantain lilies. I should really dig up and separate the lilies, but I'll give that a pass, this year. Soon as the garden beds are tidied up, I'll be able to plant next year's spring bulbs.

And the job will be done. Just in time for Hallowe'en. When I place the rose cones over top of all the roses, so that, at night, the white cones eerily resemble, a tidy graveyard. Rather appropriate, in a way.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CPR, Refrigerating Units, Gardens, Autumn

Our 20-year-old refrigerator, a three-door model I really like a lot, appears ready to pack it in. Can't blame it, I suppose. In these days of built-in-obsolescence, a major appliance that manages to eke out its life beyond the usual 15-year allotment, has become a rarity. The only thing I really hated about it is the interior appointments, the ones made of plastic. The metal shelving is fine, and the little bit of glass on the interior, but the plastic; I hate it. The refrigerator was a bare 6 years old when the plastic shelving began to look its age and my man-for-all-seasons had to patch it up.

Of late it's been groaning wretchedly on occasion, giving me pause for thought. I wasn't ready to replace it, not psychologically. Of course no refrigerator should freeze tender lettuce leaves when they're away down in the crisper. And no refrigerator is really expected to sweat it out during the hot summer months, dripping all over the place. All right, its performance was more than a little sclerotic. But it was when it began screeching and wailing like a Banshee that we got really alarmed. I mean, that's an alarming sound. My husband dutifully screwed the covering off the offending fan, and oiled it lightly.

No more screeching, (after having, last bout, awakened him out of a sound 5:00 a.m. sleep) but the rest remains; that this appliance has gone past its best-before date. Besides which, it is hardly energy-efficient. So off we went to look for a replacement. After we first contacted a nearby large appliance repair shop whose receptionist kindly ascertained that replacement parts were still available, and service costs pegged in at $59 an hour. So, totting up everything, we would be investing $200 - $300 to service the refrigerator that might just poop out completely in the next year. Why not go for a new energy-efficient model?

We did. It'll be delivered on Friday. How's that for speedy? And the delivery cost includes hauling off the old appliance and disposing of it environmentally. So that was fine, but I still felt a little discombobulated, because I'd wanted to get out into the garden this day to do a little more clean-up. While the garden, drenched, still looks presentable, we've got a week of overnight freezes to finally kill off all the hardier annuals that survived the week-end. And I thought how nice it would be to be able to get out there and work for a couple of hours, cleaning up our personal landscape before everything turned to mush.

It had rained pretty well all day, but for a short period when we got out in a light drizzle, to amble along in the ravine, marvelling at the continuing transformation in there, and the confetti-inspired landscape. We even watched as the sun struggled to compete with the scudding clouds and finally managed to light up the landscape in discrete portions through the length of our amble in there. The sun, it appeared, had little strength of the warming kind. It was cold, very cold, and we had to dress good and warm for the occasion.

When we returned home from our appliance exchange arrangements, there was a message from our granddaughter. Today, she told me, was the day set aside for CPR instruction for the grade 8 students in her mixed 7-8 class. It had been a good experience, she said, but she found it fairly intense, and alternately boring on occasion. It didn't help, she said, that her teacher had decided to bring the entire class into the school gymnasium where the instruction was being conducted, and the grade 7s - retards all, she said - were noisily rambunctious and as such, extremely distracting.

Never mind, I told her, be grateful that she had the opportunity. That experience alone made it worthwhile, and she'd be surprised how much of what she learned would stick with her. She mused whether the information would be put to use by those being instructed, whether, when faced with a real emergency, people would be capable of responding adequately, recalling everything they'd learned. And I responded that some people would be cool and collected, others would be like how I imagine myself responding, panicked and distraught on seeing someone's urgent physical distress.

She, I assured our grandchild, would be like her grandfather, a take-charge person, one who would recall precisely how to proceed, and do it well.

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