Ruminations

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

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Shame of It

How civilized should a society be seen to be to demonstrate its population's ability and willingness to present as a well-balanced civil aggregation of intelligent, well-adjusted, convivial and caring individuals to qualify? That all its people of both genders respect and have a care for one another as equals deserving of regard and security? Is that remotely attainable?

Within a general society that sees itself as socially advanced, moderate in social and political outlook, well attuned to respecting cultural and traditional differences, accepting of minorities and immigrants, how is it that the fundamental protection of the most vulnerable is so often imperilled? Where the necessities of life are available to everyone, and the kind of poverty that kills the spirit is absent, why do we fail one another in personal relationships?

What can be more fundamental than the dynamic of mutual attraction between a man and a woman? From that springs the potential for love, for accommodation of one another's personality traits and characteristics, leading inevitably to forming a close emotional bond and ultimately the production of a family.

Yet in the greater society which is Canada's an incredible proportion of marriages fail. Perhaps indicative of a society that is attuned to the individual, where the individual sees his or her personal wishes paramount. Unwilling or unable through the loose acceptance of the individual's needs and aspirations prevailing above the interests of a tandem where warm conciliation has its place.

That in and of itself is a failure. All the more so when the give-and-take, the patience, the caring tolerance and love for one another is incapable of surmounting the emotion of self-entitlements. With the failure of marriages comes the failure of children to know the security and emotional attachment of two parents, mother and father. The result, too often, of scarred psyches, children incapable of surmounting the trauma of parental loss.

If that is a failure, far worse is the dysfunctionality of character that leads some men to believe that differences can be solved by force. That through brute force an order can be established that cannot question his authority and his control. Not understanding that authority has been lost when control over emotions leads to the oppressiveness of physical violence.

And then society reads newspaper stories about women having been murdered by their husbands in a rage of emotional distemper. Social service agencies called upon to take in these children abandoned by fate to a parentless upbringing.

Over one hundred thousand Canadian women and children left their homes in the past year to escape from an abusive relationship. What on Earth did women and children do to help themselves before the compassionate advent of shelters for the abused? Well, one might imagine a lifetime of despair, with children growing to functional immaturity through an inability to resolve emotional disputes.

The younger generation patterning itself on the witnessed behaviour of a dysfunctional family. And while women are capable of driving men to distraction through verbal and behavioural acts of aggression, it is, by and large, men who drive women to desperation through verbal and behavioural acts of aggression far beyond anything most women could or would resort to.

The simple matter of gender differences in physical strength making that not only apparent but very real in outcome.

Is there an identifiable type of person who can be recognized for a propensity to physical violence against women? A controlling male, insisting that there is one disciplinarian, one authority in the family, and it is not an equal partnership, but an oppressive one with no room for gentle civility. Abusers come from all walks of life, from the bottom rung and the poorly educated to the professionally-schooled, the political and social elite.

That these abusers represent a very small proportion of men on the whole is a truth, but one that fails to resonate with the victims of men's violence.

Women are often obliquely blamed for the predicament they find themselves in, with the revelation after a period of co-habitation that they've engaged with a mental monster. They can be persuaded that violent outbursts are aberrations to be forgiven, and they can place themselves in a situation of self-perceived shame with a secret not to be divulged to anyone.

That number of one hundred thousand is the revealed number of women and children who flee the persecution of oppression and fear. The unrevealed number is thought by those who follow abuse and addiction to violence, to be much, much higher. What often looks on the exterior to be a well-functioning family has been on close inspection something entirely else.

Unknown, unsuspected, even by the woman's closest relatives and friends until it becomes public. A functional family tragedy that has really been all along, a closely-held, and shameful family secret. A shameful secret that spells failure. No one likes to be brushed with either shame or failure. An admission of victimhood, of poor judgement and improvident choice.

Leading to silence and to submission. But for those women who have reached the end of their tether and gather their children and leave. And then have courts place restraining orders on the men who threaten them. While the men, whose perspective has been utterly deranged by the reality of having been left, stalk them and eventually wreak the final revenge. And society looks on in horror.

There is a solution. One that will never become reality. That only well-balanced men and women truly capable of respecting one another, and harbouring no hidden pathologies of gender distrust may bring children into the world. To love and nurture them, provide them with the security and emotional trust that all human beings deserve and require to grow into responsible adulthood. Ending the generational cycle of misery and dysfunction.

And even that bit of idealism can be picked apart, since who knows how the human heart can be impacted by the dark emotions that settle so close to the surface of all of us, ultimately destructive of a few of us?

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

516,000 Too Many

The City of Ottawa has a long-standing active program to assist people with a drug habit, supplying them with needles in an effort to prevent the re-use of needles in an attempt to halt the incidence of HIV/AIDS and other disease transmission such as Hepatitis C-virus, among the homeless population of the city. This is a tough issue, amounting to enablement in the sense that public health is assisting drug users by default.

When it might seem far more intelligent to construct a program to deflect people away from recreational drug use, toward full rehabilitation, not what might seem like encouragement toward ongoing drug use in an environment obviously more sterile than a city sidewalk. It is a tough call. To their credit the city's Clean Needle Syringe Program, considered a required public health measure, is meant to provide access to harm reduction equipment.

It also provides a forum for health education to promote safety and to help minimize risks associated with substance use, providing referrals to addiction treatment services and social service agencies. In theory. The question is what percentage of clients take advantage of those additional services? It also provides anonymous HIV tests, tests for Hepatitis B and C, gonorrhea, Chlamydia and syphilis.

Contraception-use advice, pregnancy tests, and general counselling are all available for these societally-marginalized people strung out on drugs. And whose homeless mode of living sees them suffering ill health from both addiction and lifestyle. The controversial (among the general public) program references a harm reduction approach to reduce further health risks associated with drug injections. The intention is good, and needed, but something seems to be missing.

First of all, the condition of homelessness itself must be addressed. Until the homeless are convinced that they stand to gain from taking advantage of a permanent, secure address, not an awful lot can be accomplished. Unless thinking that lecturing people utterly disinterested in the content of those lectures, waiting them out to secure their free needles is really accomplishing anything but a miserable holding pattern of tragic existence.

How can health authorities, concerned for the well-being of these afflicted people feel they are accomplishing anything remotely useful, when all those educational programs, and the attempts to provide services that are not sufficiently made use of, hit their mark? When the most basic of indices, a sense of personal responsibility to properly discard the free needles hasn't been instilled in those same users?

Ottawa Public Health, among other concerns has had to make a strenuous effort to retrieve over a half-million carelessly discarded needles thus far in the year, an increased total over last year. The public can call into a hotline to report needles littering the streets, and needle hunters do find that enormous number heedlessly discarded on the streets. "It's an ongoing challenge", is the understatement expressed by Ottawa's chief medical officer of health.

The focus needs to be on total remediation, on fundamental programs that assist the addict to find their way out of their life-consuming addiction. The patchwork program currently in use hasn't resulted in an improvement of the situation. Rather, it appears that the addiction demographic has increased, judging from discards. The free-needle program emphasizes to people the need to return them for safety-disposable reasons. Even that little message is not getting through.

It's time the city got really serious about this. Committing resources to placing the homeless in permanent, reliable and secure housing situations. Where social service agencies can make house calls, encourage the residents to begin to take small steps to personal responsibility beginning with taking that huge step toward commitment to their rehabilitation, shedding drug use and aspiring toward a normal life.

It could not possibly cost more in planning, energy, dedication and funding than the current patchwork of emergency medical treatment, incarcerations and utter social dysfunction currently in practise.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Misfortune of Immaturity

It's well known how unfortunate it is that so many university students end up post-graduation owing a substantial amount of money, to pay back student loans. It's a heavy burden for young people, searching for paid employment, knowing how urgent it is that they acquire a well-paying job, to allow them to pay back debts often amounting to $40,000, and still be responsible for paying all their normal daily costs for shelter, food, clothing.

And yet, many young people do this, and live to tell the story. Going on to forge a future for themselves as professionals working in their field of endeavour. Somehow, over time, managing to pay back that enormous student-loan debt. There's a certain pride in one's determination to pay the piper, having given one's word that such loans would, eventually be cleared.

You can just imagine the sigh of relief, once that last installment has been made and the load of responsibility can finally be shed. The tedious thoughts of how wonderful it would be to no longer owe that money, so that the funds required to cleanse the slate could be directed elsewhere. You can just imagine, too, how an excess of worry over how and whether that loan can and would be repaid weighs heavily on the conscience of graduated students.

Some of whom have taken the road of filing for personal bankruptcy in a last desperate attempt to dig themselves out of the intolerable mess their lives have taken on. The recent instance of a former university student in Nova Scotia well illustrates some personal stories.

In this instance, one student's lack of foresight, and ultimately, his inability to cope with his imprudence in obtaining a total of $50,000 in student loans. This story is a little out of the ordinary and, in the final analysis telling of character. Or, on second thought, lack of character, as the case most certainly determines.

Alfredo Abdo who attended Dalhousie University in Halifax, switching from engineering to commerce, received a number of student loans. The first of which, $20,000, brought him to financial trouble, he claimed, due to 'poor investments'. After which he applied for a second loan in the amount of $30,000. Which the Royal Bank of Canada approved.

Now, citing health problems, stress and dizziness, a Nova Scotia bankruptcy court has granted Alfredo Abdo an absolute discharge from pay-back of the RBC loan. Claiming that " ... TBC took the risk", when approving the $30,000 "...loan to an immature 19-year-old investor". (Presumably, had the bank refused the loan, it stood the risk of being accused of discrimination.)

He is no longer 19, but obviously remains immature, relying on 'stress and dizziness' to rescue him from responsibility. Along with the sympathy of the bankruptcy court, abetting his immaturity.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

The Green Life

We could go back to the barter system, if we really want to return to basics. Using only what we need, ourselves producing what we require, bartering extra with others who produce items useful to us that we cannot ourselves produce. Living in tight little enclaves, where travel is minimal. Growing our own produce, milking a cow, tending orchards and a kitchen garden. Not quite possible, not practicable, but a physician-led study published in the prestigious medical journal Lancet does recommend that we become pedestrians.

That we walk about more, extend our physical selves, and eschew the use of motor vehicles. Take the bicycle, for example, out of the realm of recreation and into that of practical necessity. Use pedalled conveyances instead of mechanical ones that use fossil fuels, and leave petrochemicals out of our everyday lives, thus enhancing our opportunities to live cleaner, breathe easier. Even our food will be healthier, if we eschew the use of fertilizing chemicals.

Municipalities, claims the report, would do better focusing on the planning of a series of pedestrian walkways and give increased attention to the proliferation of bicycle lanes, discouraging the use of motor vehicles by prioritizing road use for pedal-activated conveyances. And doesn't that fly in the face of modernity and economic progress which saw advances in the presence of motorized vehicular use?

For commercial and private use, where food products were increasingly trucked long distances from source of supply to consumer, and where private vehicles led to the living expansiveness of urban areas with the formation of suburbs branching out from city centres. We've been enamoured of our way of living, stocking up pantries with exotic fruits and vegetables out of season, grown huge distances from where we live.

And coincidentally, ourselves travelling long distances from our countrified home settings into the crowded, gentility-abandoned inner sanctums of the city, where we earned a living wage. Imagine a turn-around of all that. The enlarged urban area would have to contract, or, at the very least, turn itself into neighbourhoods, and the kinds of city planning that exorcise commercial away from dwellings would have to be reversed.

Places of employment would, of necessity, have to be close to where the people who work there, live. And shopping would also have to be included. How else make it efficient for people to pedal or perambulate bipedally from home to work, to shopping, to recreation? This kind of upheaval of what we now see as the norm in a concerted attempt to deal with climate change would see a complete reversal of how society has evolved.

Our sedentary society, accustomed to driving everywhere, eating enormous amounts of food - in the process promoting obesity in all levels of the population with an attendant strain on the health industry - faces nature's blow back from carbon dioxide emissions altering the Earth's atmosphere. Where droughts, floods, heat waves, catastrophic storms, an alteration in the geographic distribution of disease-vectoring insects diminish quality of life.

Is all or any of this really likely to happen? Just asking.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Well-Oiled Machine

The nation's capital? Ottawa? Nestled in the Ottawa Valley? With its green ambiance, its theatres, art galleries public and private, its national museums, its Gothic-architectured Parliament buildings, the Rideau Canal of world heritage designation, and the great Ottawa River running alongside it, with its heritage of lumber days building the city out of a forest of giant pines? You've got it, that's the one. The city of orderly and responsible administration of which its citizens are inordinately proud. But.

That does not appear to describe its administration, either at the council level, or that of the municipal bureaucracy. The concept of efficiency and cost-effectiveness appears to have eluded the administrators on the executive level as well as on the practical level. And oversight appears, unfortunately, to be a huge problem in both. Who, exactly, is minding the shop? Well, it appears the city auditor-general is. Alain Lalonde has looked at the record and he is not at all impressed. Neither as a taxpayer nor as a staidly professional auditor.

On-the-job attendance is often taken fairly lightly, it seems. Not as flagrantly as one sees within the federal civil service, where the general atmosphere of entitlement to sick days is rampant, but the same attitude appears to prevail. Written into the union contract to empower workers by guaranteeing paid time off when one is incapable of performing due to ill health, it's construed as time due, to be taken at will, as a perquisite, not insurance against loss. So, there's that.

And what else? Why an inadequate system of judging which 911 medical-emergency calls should be classified as high-risk as life-threatening, the result being that more than a single Paramedic Service crew will be dispatched in response. When, in two-thirds of cases, the judgement should be made, on the basis of data collected, that a single dispatch is sufficient, leaving crews available for dispatch elsewhere for other call-in emergencies, thus meeting the currently-failed critical-response times.

Allocations of resources such as those by municipal security services are seen to be overwrought as well, since without fail, despite an increasingly tight budget for the municipality and a consequent alert to taxpayers that their taxes will be increasing year-by-year, the city's police anticipate a raise commensurate with increased policing needs. Puzzling, in the face of a decreased crime rate. But increased policing resonates in the minds of taxpayers, nonetheless.

So how about double-dipping, then, city employees in various public-works departments. Let's take the traffic operations branch, where the department's manager had another interest, operating a private company that just happened to provide traffic-signal services to neighbouring municipalities. Just to complicate things a little further, that very-busy manager also employed those who worked for him at the city, to work for his private company.

That resulted in an issue of moonlighting where sick time on the city's payroll might enable employees to work at their second job off the city payroll. Other little trifling irregularities like massive overtime tallied up for city workers, who also worked their leisure-time second job. It's not quite a covert operation. Rather, city managers have been well aware of the double-dipping situation, but were unconcerned, and remained unconcerned. Perhaps now a little uncomfortable in the hot-seat of public disclosure.

Then there's the little issue of the $27-million the city allocates in yearly grants, available to be directed toward different areas of need, but never tracked. City grants go out, and presumably to fund activities needful to the social networking of the city, aiding and assisting people in various ways. Is there a tracking system to determine who gets what and precisely what has been achieved? Well, the policy was supposed to be under review, but no one got around to it.

Mayor Larry O'Brien, he of the dedicated pledge to keep taxes at the level they were at when he was elected, appears to have little concern for the tightness of operational funding. Throwing a celebratory bash as a farewell party for middle-management employee who was retiring. Which, with a guest list of 140, rang in at slightly under $20,000. And here we thought that bureaucrats understood that such self-availing events were never to be paid from taxes?

And then there's the glad-handing of ceremonial keys-to-the-city events, once seen as a rare and relished occasion in recognition of some truly signal, outstanding individual. The events have run amok with fully fifteen individuals recognized as sufficiently outstanding in character or deed to be ceremoniously recognized since 2001, with the key to this grossly dysfunctional city. Cost for these 15 occasions? $276,500. Totally at the discretion of tax-busting Mayor O'Brien.

When, for heaven's sake, is the next municipal election...?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Indomitable Human Spirit

The Mumbai massacre of a year ago was a horrible human tragedy. The extent to which psychopathic minds will plot to create an atmosphere of terror by attacking innocent people whose sins in the minds of their attackers constitute their nationality or their religion or their social values merely points out the presence of evil in the world. Evil, of course, is attributed to the dark forces that seek to control human beings; Satan, the Devil. But those creatures who are perceived to control us are really ourselves, our own dark versions of humanity.

And there are no darker blights on humanity at the present time than what the Islamist-inspired salafist-derived martyrdom-seeking jihadists who prey on humanity represent. These are the deformed beings with avenging, disease-ridden minds who destroy the mosques of their co-religionists who just happen to practise an ideologically-unsanctioned version of Islam. And then go on to slaughter those adhering to 'false' Islam, be it Shia, or Sunni. They are also the mind-warped jihadis who target Hindus, Jews and Christians.

Who dedicated two-tenths of their death-delivering intentions to the humble, out-of-the-way location of a Jewish charity house of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Nariman House, a nondescript building in a narrow lane. Pakistan-based terrorists, Lashkar-e-Tayiba targeted it just as carefully as they did the famous Mumbai Taj Mahal hotel, a popular restaurant, and a railway station crowded with passengers, to kill almost 200 people in a high-feature 40-hour standoff redolent with searing hatred.

The rescued child of the murdered rabbi and his murdered, pregnant wife, then two, now celebrates his third birthday in the loving care of his grandparents. And the general manager of the Taj Mahal mournfully recalls his dreadful loss. His wife and two children were burned to death in their sixth-floor suite of the stately, grand hotel. Karambir Singh Kang was unable to move from the ground floor lobby, remaining in contact with his wife by cellphone. Urging her to remain where she was with their boys, 14 and 5 years of age.

They would be safer, he explained to his wife, where they were. Not to panic, he would reach them shortly and lead them to safety. As events transpired, he was unable to fulfill that promise. And from the lobby he turned his attention to performing his best to evacuate the hotel's guests through the panicked atmosphere. The gunmen, attempting to enter as many of the hotel's rooms as they could, simply set fire to those where they were unable to gain entry, and this served their purpose very well.

Mr. Kang called his mother for a few supportive, reassuring words once he realized that it was likely he would never see his wife and children alive again. She advised him to "Go save the others". And he did. Along with his hotel staff, none of whom shirked their professionalism, dedicating themselves to protecting the lives of the people who had entrusted their well-being to the reputation of a trusted hotel, none of them ever dreaming it would be the locus of a terrorist attack.

Of the original hotel staff of 542 at the time of the November 27 attack in 2008, none has left. Taking inspiration from general manager Kang, they all remained to see the hotel renovated, and open for business again. All, that is, but those staff members who were killed in the assault, along with guests unfortunate enough to have come under the line of terrorist fire. As for Mr. Kang, he is philosophical: "Life is in your hands, how you want to cope with it, whether you spiral down or keep going."

He has decided, like so many others who suffered the dreadful trauma of the terror attack, to forge ahead: "what has been done cannot be undone", and he moves on with life.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Perseverance

Body and soul are not two substances but one. They are man becoming aware of himself in two different ways. C.F. von Weizsacker
A Belgian neuroscientist has published his study on how the human brain works, even when it is thought that an individual suffering catastrophic and complete bodily-dysfunction due to an irreversible and utterly damaging shock to the system has completely lost brain function. Dr. Steven Laureys, neurologist leading the coma science group and Department of Neurology at Liege University Hospital used state-of-the-art imaging technology to scan the brain of a man who had been in a coma for 23 years.

Rom Houben was diagnosed, post-accident, as existing in a persistent vegetative state. Medical science could do nothing for him. Initially, after his life-destroying car crash when he was twenty, completely paralyzed, doctors and nurses examined and tested his responses - or lack of them, on a regular basis, attempting to diagnose his condition other than as a write-off of a human life. Using a standard coma scale, judging patient response by eye, verbal and motor responses, he was judged to be 'extinct'.

His parents were not convinced. Although there was no way to ascertain whether his mind was alert and operative, since he was functionally incapable of any kind of response, they believed their son was still there, existing within the shell of the strong and capable body he once had. They never gave up hope. And we've seen that story many times before, with parents committed to their unresponsive children, languishing in a continued comatose state. Mr. Houben is now 46, he is completely physically dependent, but his thinking capacities are as normal as they ever were.

He lived the unspeakable nightmare of knowing he was consigned to the oblivion of never gaining consciousness in the minds of the medical community. Over two decades of hearing people speak, but incapable of responding, of offering even the minutest clue that he was aware. "I became a witness to my own suffering as doctors and nurses tried to speak with me until they gave up all hope", he explained. "I dreamed myself away", he said, describing how he could possibly have kept himself from complete and utter despair over his years of solitude.

Dr. Laureys not only discovered that Mr. Houben had a normally functioning brain, he also taught his patient how he might communicate, using a computerized device to spell out words. Mr. Houben now lives in an assisted environment, a nursing residence, able to read with the help of a device hovering above his head, and he can tap out messages to communicate. "All that time", before the discovery of his conscious awareness, "I just literally dreamed of a better life."

Dr. Laureys' intention in writing of his discovery and the subsequent rescue of Mr. Houben's mind from complete isolation, is to highlight the likely prevalence of such pernicious comas where people are assumed beyond rescue, are given up for good, allowed to live in neurological, bodily vegetative states until natural death occurs, or else life support assistance is removed, hastening death.

"In Germany alone each year some 100,000 people suffer from severe traumatic brain injury" Dr. Laureys pointed out. "Some of them die, others regain health. But an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people a year remain trapped in an intermediate stage; they go on living without ever coming back again."

For some, that need not be their ultimate fate, as the experience with Rom Houben demonstrates.
Is not life a hundred times too short - to be bored in it? Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Now We're Talking Sense

Finally, a nation-wide attempt to deal with the problem of homelessness plaguing Canadian cities. This is a scar on the tissue of the Canadian social contract, a miserable sub-text to the freedoms and entitlements of all Canadians to be decently sheltered, to live reasonably free and protected lives. When the provincial governments in their wisdom decided to shut down facilities that were used to house and treat people with mental illness on the premise that they should be free to live their lives in broader society, they left these vulnerable people to their own devices.

As a result, many homeless people with mental illness are homeless because they are denied social housing, which permanent shelters stipulate that to be considered for such housing those suffering mental illness must be in active treatment, or be on a medication protocol. It is estimated that there may be as many as 300,000 homeless people in Canada, wandering the streets of cities and towns, fending for themselves as best they can. Some are the victims of drug or alcohol abuse, many are suffering from mental illness.

Some represent young people who have been abused, and who have abandoned their families who presumably first abandoned them. Regardless of who they are, what their circumstances, that they live on the streets of our towns and cities is a disgrace and a violation of basic human entitlements. Everyone should be able to live free of fear, of persecution, and, we would think in a society such as ours, assured steady meals and medical treatment.

That there are also families with young children who are homeless represents an unspeakable social failure, a true tragedy.

Finally, a new five-year national research project is set to be initiated in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal, Toronto and Moncton, as a pilot project, taking its cue from a similar project which saw success in New York City. The goal is to take the homeless off the streets and into housing where social workers can call in on them to guide them, and where medical treatment as required, is available to them.

There is a tacit recognition in the name of the project, At Home/Chez Soi ("housing first", that anyone requires the security of a home before they can be persuaded to seek further assistance for themselves. Once they experience the security of a safe dwelling choices can further be made about how they will commit themselves to deal with addiction and mental health circumstances. The federal government has allocated $110-million for the five-year project.

Housing and support services are to receive 85% of that funding. A relatively modest number of mentally ill, homeless people in those five cities have volunteered to take part in the project. Half to be offered remediation services only, the other half to be housed first, then services offered to ascertain the efficacy of stable housing for the socially unhoused. Once given the security of housing, they will be regularly visited by a social worker.

The initiative first seen in New York City saw a 90% success rate. We can aspire to mirror that success. It's an insult to every Canadian that other Canadians exist as homeless migrants, never knowing whether they will be able to endure another winter, whether they will be able to access the medical treatment they require, whether they will go to bed hungry yet again.

This is a moral response to an ethical social dilemma. One that, untreated, costs the Canadian taxpayer far more than the expenses related to the experimental program, when resources like emergency rooms, police and incarceration are used as temporary measures to deal with what has become a permanent blight on society.

Its ongoing assault on our social sensibilities insists on a search for social justice.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Incredibly Rough Seas

What on earth is it with people? Never satisfied with what they've made of their lives. Always looking for something else. A life well lived is no longer sufficient. In advanced years, rather than playing out one's attachment to life, looking to danger to chill the spine. As though at the age of 68 anticipating a nice, relaxed pace of life that may include sailing a boat in waters that don't reach over the horizon and beyond immediate assistance doesn't represent enough of a challenge.

Reaching instead outward, far outward for other, far greater satisfactions. To be challenged by the extremities of weather in the sphere of peerless adventure, where luck more than skill will ultimately decree whether or not the dauntless adventurer will live to tell his story of marvellous escape from the trauma of giant waves inundating his 13-metre sailboat. But then, on the way to Bermuda - isn't that a wonderfully-aspiring destination?

Oh yes, through the Atlantic, at a time of year when storms ragingly pace themselves in a vast landscape of endless dark, roiling sea. Serendipitous to be able to put into port and let the seas rage, then die down again, the storm pass, then set out to passage the dark waters once more. That would be a nice scenario. After all, twenty years of sailing should amount to some experience gained?

Ah, experience. What's that to nature, and to the spectacle of a minuscule object bobbing inside ten-metre-high waves in the middle of the Atlantic? Well, an adventure to be certain. An adventure to end all such adventures. And precisely how many such adventures end, as well. Should Hubert Marcoux, who left Halifax on November 9, reach his destination safe and sound, he can then set about writing another book.

Detailing yet another bracing adventure. Readers are fascinated with descriptions of outwitting nature despite extreme weather conditions, a series of unremitting storms. How good a sailor would one single individual in that vast ocean have to be to surmount the difficulties his craft, both material and acquired would encounter in these circumstances?

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Emotional Volatility

What better words express the confused minds and reactions of young people in their teen years than emotional volatility? Well, perhaps to those could be added emerging assertiveness, psychic instability, confused priorities, parental adversity, profound resentment, immature introspection, and hysteria. That's a mouthful, and experiencing all of those discrete and indiscreet balancing acts of emerging adulthood confused by wistful childhood exacts a toll of patience and indiscretion on parents painfully witnessing and experiencing the backlash of children trying to distance themselves.

A new study on teen emotions by a researcher/author at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, published in the journal Psychological Science points out, among other things, that teen-agers tend to wallow in misery. Although self-pity wasn't mentioned per se, that would certainly add to their misery, a condition that most appear to groom, as a needed psychological advance into adulthood. With the mindset that nobody understands them or cares about them, and life isn't much to celebrate, self-pity and misery embrace.

Hormonal changes are often pointed out as the major clue to the almost universal incidents of tension between the young emerging into adulthood and their parents, or the generation of their parents. Of course societal mores and values also come into play, exacerbating the differences of generational change. The teen years are confusing years for boys and girls, their childhood ebbing behind them, their early adult years beckoning before them. They're relieved to leave the former and anxious to receive the latter.

But there are many perceived obstacles placed in their way, by society, by parents, before they are permitted the kinds of independence and choices and priorities they feel themselves entitled to, adding to their confusion and resentment. All of which conspire to make misery a low-hanging and perpetual cloud dimming their intelligence. The study discovered that teens in a state of negative emotions prefer most often to remain in that state, rather than seek ameliorative alternatives toward a positive state.

There must be a link there also to the newly-evolving types of reading materials now hugely appealing to the younger teen generations. Where once writers of youth fiction would sketch happiness, normalcy, adventure and fulfilment, now the trend is toward tragedy, mystery and the arcane. Pre-teens and teen-agers become absorbed in reading about the personal tragedies visited upon others; it is their introduction to the vicissitudes of life that may or may not present to them.

To add to the general confusion, the study also pointed out the ambivalent situation that exists where teens imbibe in both negative and positive emotions simultaneously. Enough to confuse anyone. A conclusion may have been achieved whereby researchers feel that absorbed cycles of misery are a prerequisite to the formation of a mature personality. In their struggle against adult control over a fierce and emerging independence.

"It might help them, for example, in becoming emotionally more independent from adults, and in learning how to deal with negative feelings", according to the study's lead author. That is, if these negatives become resolved in time and meld into a total learning experience resulting in a well-balanced personality prepared to take on adulthood.

Another matter entirely if emotional needs have not been met, despite the thrusting away of concerned parents, leading to children deliberately going astray, and rejecting social values to the extent that they do real and lasting damage to themselves through the threats that drugs and crime and street life - all of them offering a type of 'independence' from responsibility to self and society - offer.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

This 'N That


A month ago, my husband, reminiscing about the wonderful baked goods he'd eaten as a child living in Toronto, suggested why didn't I bake some blueberry buns? I had fresh blueberries, and decided to make the buns. We really liked them, and when visiting with our daughter and granddaughter the day afterward, brought them along in honour of our granddaughter's famous love of pastries. As things turned out, she wasn't, after all, able to eat them. She'd left them on the kitchen island counter, forgetting about their dogs' propensities. The dogs loved them.

I'd bought blueberries again, always have them on hand, and thought I would go ahead and bake the same buns again this morning, for dessert at dinnertime. So while putting breakfast together, I also prepared the bun filling: fresh berries, sugar, cornstarch and cranberry juice. When that had cooked, I set it aside. After breakfast I made the sweet yeast dough, using milk, butter, egg, yeast and flour. Realized, when I was rolling out the buns preparatory to filling them, that I had too much dough.

So I proceeded to also make cheese croissants. Everyone loves cheese croissants in this family. Haven't made them in ages. I also put on a chicken soup to cook away at the back burner, since it's Friday. And while I was at it, thought I'd just go ahead and make another yeast dough, this time for a pizza, for tomorrow evening; another one of our little rituals.

My husband telephoned from WalMart where he'd gone out to get a tube of doggy toothpaste. Did I want a crate of Moroccan tangerines? No. We still have three-quarters of one left. How about bagels, think he should get some? Not likely, we have a tray of croissants baking in the oven. I hate to disappoint him. Melons? Cheese? I reminded him we were going food shopping later that afternoon. I like to see what I'm getting, don't like sending him off on food-shopping errands.

I know the real reason he's gone out there, to see if the gold bangle they'd advertised was decent. My 73rd birthday is coming up and he wants to get a birthday gift for me. I've pre-warned him, I need nothing, want nothing. And if he buys me another watch, I'll hardly know what to do with it. Nor would I like any more rings, thanks a whole bunch. He looks at me with great consternation; he's got to get me something. Doubtless he will. That bracelet, he confided to me later, wasn't very good at all.

He loves shopping, he really does. He bought some exotic, expensive cheese for himself. And a tray of chicken breasts, which I appreciate, since I can use them this evening for dinner. And, look! he said, surprising me, although not really surprising me, since this is the kind of thing he so often does. He succumbs before sales, before bargains, before opportunities to purchase things that are attractive, aesthetically pleasing, and above all, a good price. A comforter set for a Queen-sized bed. Quite lovely it is, too. What can I say? Thanks.

When he did finally arrive home, we thought we'd try for a ravine walk with our little dogs. (This after the surprise comforter presentation, hauled into our upstairs bathroom while I was tidying up.) It was, by then, only drizzling, after all-night rain, and rain well into the morning hours. Off we set, in a light drizzle, congratulating ourselves on our good fortune that the rain had been considerate enough and cordial to our aspirations, to lift, enabling us to jaunt off for a ravine walk.

Squirrels follow us as though we're the Pied Piper. Which, I imagine, we are, in the ravine. Depositing daily caches of peanuts, shelled and unshelled for the little critturs. Their amusing antics entertain and charm us. Not particularly the ones who manage to swing from the seed-and-suet balls we hang from our deck, nor burrow deeply into the suet cakes we hang also from the deck. But then, hairy woodpeckers and chickadees also get to enjoy those treats on occasion, squirrels permitting.

We're halfway through our usual hour ramble, when the gloom seems to lift and it appears lighter. We rejoice, we'll complete the entire circuit, aren't we fortunate? And then, even while the ambiance is lighter, suddenly the clouds appear to have jangled against one another, loosing a torrent of rain. We're fine, in our hooded rain gear, and Button and Riley aren't getting too terribly wet; the outer layered garment they wear is absorbing most of it, even though their topknots and ears have begun to look fairly bedraggled.

Still, it's great to be out there, even slithering along on the trails beyond mere muck. Even without the rain they've been slimy and muddy; it's the freeze-thaw-cycle we're currently locked into, compliments of the season. No complaints, actually.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

If It Fits...

And on the evidence of the past, it most certainly does. Which is to say, former Liberal governments did indeed demonstrate a lack of observance of values common to all democracies in their casual disregard for the upholding of specifically Canadian values. While they made it their business to ingratiate themselves for political advantage at the voting booth with what they perceived to be voting blocs comprised of ethnic-Canadians, there was one community whose needs were rather under-observed.

Canada's Jewish population, not a terribly large one by any means in contrast to those of the Chinese, Indian, Italian, Irish for example, has been disappointed time and again at the past governments' tepid response on the international scene, and specifically at the United Nations, in defending the rights and entitlements of a member-state constantly under attack through spurious declarations by another bloc; that of majority Middle-East countries.

Mind, pointing to the artless and politically-dubious statement of now-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff during the Israel-Lebanon war - speaking of disproportionality of response, and how like that might be to a war crime, which did nothing to endear him to the Jewish voting bloc that Liberals had always associated as their own - a case in point. Canada should have, under former Liberal governments, walked out of UN sessions accusing Israel of human-rights abuses and genocidal intent.

It is, for the most part, in the venue of the United States that Canada's performance had been most disappointing, in failing to support a sister-democracy constantly under siege by an assemblage of human-rights abusers in a constant display of breathtaking hypocrisy. The fact is - although one doubts it should be used in such a crass manner as electioneering insinuations - that the Conservative-led government has gone out of its way to make administrative amends.

It has been the Conservative-led Government of Canada that has stood staunchly beside Israel as a trusted ally and friend, one which proved itself ready and willing to defy the slanderous accusations emanating from Middle-East and Muslim blocs intent on besmirching Israel's reputation on a regular-as-clockwork basis. Giving heart to Canadian Jews themselves under threat by association in the minds of anti-Semites.

And there lies the truth.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A City of Food Awareness

I've never been to France, but I have been to, and lived in Japan. And while I lived there, I marvelled at the importance to Japanese of food freshness, diversity and quality. Food is important to everyone, anywhere in the world. Its preparation and presentation both an art form and a necessity to human survival. For those who haven't enough food to sustain health and life, basic food in its most elemental form will more than suffice to satisfy needs. For those who live in developed countries of the world with a tradition of culinary and agricultural excellence, a devotion to well-prepared food is an integral part of the culture.

In some countries more than others. France has always enjoyed a reputation as a culinary country, part of their heritage. England, on the other hand, has always been known as a country whose dedication to the culinary arts has been dismal. Most other developed countries fall somewhere in between those extremes. And now, look here, Tokyo has eclipsed Paris in the number of its three-star restaurants, according to the Michelin food guide. Tokyo is the city with the most Michelin-awarded stars in the world.

Little wonder, actually. It was while living in Japan that I experienced the absolutely freshest produce I'd ever had anywhere. Not only fresh but fragrant and delicious. Japanese food vendors are meticulous in their food handling, ultra-aware that they not set out for sale foods that will not meet the high standards of the Japanese consumers. The array of foods available in Tokyo markets are second to none, and their quality is far superior to that available elsewhere. Not just in particular places, but everywhere that food is sold.

Walking anywhere in Japan one becomes aware of food. Food production, production practises, pride in that production, and the choice and selection par excellence. The aromatic fragrances wafting from fine food establishments to modest cafes, to street vendors is head-spinning and appetite-appealing. No where else is food celebrated and appreciated as it is in that country.

Hunger

The United Nations has put the world on notice - yet again - of the dire food-sustainability situation and the unmet needs of millions of people across the world. They speak, for the most part, of those areas of the world known as third-world countries for whom food shortages have always been a problem, although just before the global financial collapse, good news was emanating out of the UN, stating that fewer people - and children - were going without food.

Now, thanks to global economic constraints, food has become more expensive due to its relative scarcity and increased demands on what is available. Understandably, the advanced countries of the world from whom financial support to feed the international underfed is always forthcoming, have been slightly less forthcoming of late. The World Food Program is calling upon "all people, all nations" to respond to the growing crisis of food unavailability. Urging individuals to respond on the Internet with private donations.

As an unfortunate example, of food hunger occurring everywhere, the wealthiest country in the world - bar none - now acknowledges, in reflection of a Department of Agriculture study, that almost 15% of American households were unable to acquire sufficient food. Fifty million Americans experienced hunger. And those statistics reflect 2008; without doubt research statistics for 2009, the first full year of the depression that the United States found itself in, will reflect even greater numbers.

The reasons are various and obvious, from the faltering economy resulting in higher unemployment rates that sees a staggering 10.2% Americans now unemployed - and likely the actual figure is higher than the stated official one - and rising food prices. And it is not just the unemployed, but those who are the working poor, and the under-employed who suffer due to low wages, reflecting workers forced by circumstances beyond their control to accept pay cuts or cuts in hours of work available.

In facing the reality of a reflection of our current society everywhere, single-parent families - particularly those headed by women are right at the bottom of the heap, with a large percentage of under-waged mothers struggling to feed their families. In some instances facing the reality of not merely inadequate food, but no food on hand. And food stamps haven't seemed to help all that much. Food bank usage, on the other hand, is a growing phenomenon.

The situation in Canada is a reflection of that in the United States, where the number of Canadians forced to make use of food banks rose by 18% in 2009. In Ottawa, the nation's capital, which has suffered less than other municipalities due to the strength of government employment, food bank use has increased by 5%. Which still translates, out of a population of roughly 700,000, to 45,000 people using the facilities of a food bank. Children comprised 16,000 of that total.

The executive director of Food Banks Canada, informed a news conference of the growing reliance - through dire necessity - on food banks in every region of the country. Although blame can be placed on the recession, which in fact hit Canada less stridently than it has done elsewhere, she emphasized that hunger and food inadequacy has become a fact of life for many people, even in normal (read: good) economic times.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Law of the Land

A country's laws are to be universally recognized by all its citizens, and the security agencies, local police, provincial police, municipal and provincial governments all have an obligation and a duty to ensure that any who flout the law - in an attitude of impunity no less - be disabused of the quaint notion that they will not be taken into custody. Such is not the case, however, when First Nations militants express their ire, claiming to be exempt through their aboriginal status from Canadian law.

That governments at all levels, including federal, and their policing agencies, decline to prosecute law-breakers claiming to exemption through their status as First Nations, is a travesty. From drug- and tobacco-smuggling operations in border towns between Canada (Ontario/Quebec) and the U.S. where crime runs rampant, and there are apprehensions at all levels of government about confronting the lawless in places like Akwesasne and Kahnawake, crime and illegal operations get a free ride.

That situation harms everyone, impacting on society in general with illegal and cheap cigarettes available to tempt young people, and teaching smugglers that they can get away with whatever they wish, because of their purported independent status. Just as egregious, and infinitely more compelling in its societal-destructive impact is the ongoing blemish to the society compact where First Nations militants - goons of aboriginal extraction - feel perfectly free to prey on innocents living near Caledonia, Ontario.

For years, the area has been beset by the uncertainty of whether or not the government will act to instruct the local police and the Ontario Provincial Police to clear out the illegal squatters who threaten law-abiding Ontarians. Instead, a situation amounting to a perpetual stand-off between the OPP, the Government of Ontario and a collection of thugs masquerading as 'native protesters' have felt perfectly free to hold people hostage in their own homes.

In particular, the family of Dana Chartwell and David Brown, owners of the only home that has been barricaded inside the area that those native protesters consider their very own stamping grounds. No one in provincial government or in the police authority appears to be able to focus intelligently and authoritatively on the matter. To gather their lawful instruments of apprehension and detention to draw the teeth of that particular dragon.

This family has been left to fend for themselves, hapless victims of a cadre of brutish clods - First Nations 'warriors' - claiming to represent the interests of First Nations peoples in respect of a still-unsettled land treaty. It's a mystery to any sane thinker how unabashed thuggery can be seen to represent honest claims of having been ill done by through the inaction of current and past governments incapable of dealing honestly with First Nations land claims.

And how such thuggish groups of 'protesters' can possibly believe that they are advancing a legitimate and longstanding cause by criminally harassing innocent people, by creating an atmosphere of chaotic destruction of civil property and natural surroundings. There is nothing that can excuse the miserable excesses of the protesters aimed at civilian bystanders who want nothing better than to be allowed to live in peace.

There is little that can excuse a government that prefers to sit back and do nothing to solve the obvious problems, while a family is being victimized and their agonized cries for help go unanswered by the very police society entrusts with keeping the peace and ensuring justice prevails. In the process actually enabling the 'protesters' to feel entitled, and exonerated of all civil offences.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Britain's Misguided Child Policies

So many democratic, post-liberal countries have turned their anguished glances on their past. Generations upon generations past. Looking into the not-quite dim background of actions taken by predecessor-governments and finding them sadly wanting from their current, modern perspective of human rights.

The Government of Canada saw it as fit and proper to apologize to its First Nations communities for the decision taken jointly by government and churches to sequester aboriginal children away from their homes and their communities, for the noble purpose of westernizing and integrating them into the values and mores of the general society. Depriving the children of parental support in their growing years, and leaving a legacy of painful memories.

Now, the Government of Britain has solemnly announced its intention to apologize to the families who, beginning a century ago, had their children taken from them under the pretext that a caring government would look after the offspring of the impoverished. Look after them they did, in a peculiarly heartless manner, by shipping thousands upon thousands of children off to what was then deemed, in Great Britain, the hinterlands. Between the years 1869 and 1946, one hundred thousand British children were shipped to Canada.

Additional thousands were sent off to the less-accessible and more costly-to-deliver Australia. To begin new lives. Some of the children were informed that they were orphans, their parents had died. They were all assured, however, as were their parents, that they were headed for infinitely better lives.

For most of these children the better lives they were assured of were very long in coming. Most of those children worked as indentured farm labourers, virtual slaves. Many were not treated as family members of the farm families they were introduced to, but slept with the livestock. That they were emotionally needy children was overlooked for the practical purpose of making utilitarian use of their energies.

The story of these children is a sad one, reflecting a rather sordid phase in British history. There were children sent abroad to the Empire's colonies during the Second World War when parts of Britain were being bombed by the Luftwaffe, to keep them out of harm's way. Those children returned to their parents' loving arms at the conclusion of the war, grateful to the Canadian families who had given them safe haven. But that's another story altogether.

Another story altogether is other children who were swooped up and sent on to Canada. Coming from other parts of Europe, and arriving in Canada for the same purpose: to work on Canadian farms. Not all such children, needless to say, were treated as slaves. Many lived among and worked for decent, caring people who did their best for the children whose lives were temporarily entrusted with them.

My father was one such child. And he truly was an orphan. Both his parents had died in the little town of Mezrich, Poland. They were indigent, and there was no inheritance. The town did the best they could, and the 12-year-old orphan was placed in the Poor House, where his immediate needs - a place to sleep, slops to eat - were taken care of. He fled to Warsaw, where he was convinced his older brother lived. Unable to find his brother, he lived on the streets of the city.

And there were many other children doing the same; runaways, roustabouts, orphaned children with nowhere else to go. In my father's case, a philanthropic society determined to do something about the plight of the street children, and they raised the wherewithal to ship them out to Canada. Where the children were sent, on arrival, to work on farms, until their passage had been paid in full, and they were finally free to depart the farms and construct a life for themselves.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Life Lived

How strangely we see ourselves. It's a characteristic of universal human nature. Not to see ourselves necessarily as we are - or our backgrounds, our experiences, our personal, social interactions, our values and commitments - but as we would prefer ourselves to be seen. We would like onlookers to see us in the most positive of ways, as exemplary human beings. More than that, though, we don't, often, wish to admit to ourselves that there is cause to see ourselves as less than what we would prefer.

As a result, there are those among us who give themselves reason to see themselves as superior in intelligence and achievement. Those upon whom the world smiles kindly. Appropriating the opportunities that might be offered others, and proffering them instead to the charismatic among us, the self-confident, those seen to be high-achievers. Even if, for the most part, their achievements are mostly seen in the breach, in their ability to activate the admiration of others through their persuasive powers of speech.

It's possible that U.S. President Barack Obama is just such a one. His belief in himself appears unshakable, despite set-backs in his agenda for impressing on the world the vision of a new America, through his skilled, knowing and manipulatively skillful hands; a team-player on the international scene. No longer a country whose vision is primarily dedicated to itself, but one that sees beyond the present and encourages others to do likewise.

Unfortunately, many of those 'others', representing countries whose agendas are inimical to those of world peace, see things otherwise.

On a more personal level there is the fondness of memory that Mr. Obama has written of with respect to his father. Barack Obama knew his mother, and his mother's mother, for he lived with them, they brought him to maturity and imbued him with their values and the imperatives by which he now lives. He lived in a white man's world, as a biracial child of America and Africa. He envisioned his father far more than he actually knew him.

And for Barack Obama his father was a noble man with a kindly disposition and honourable aspirations, a decent man to whom he owed much; part of his genetic inheritance and his living heritage. As an adult, conflicted in part, and determining in the final analysis that the world would always view him as a black man. Immersing himself in black culture, but never forgetting nor rejecting his white inheritance, he is post-racial, a religious-humanist.

But his father married four times, resulting in his fathering no fewer than eight children. Barack Obama has an extended family, with seven half-siblings. Why might his father have married four times? Obviously irresistible to women, who may have respected his intelligence and his worldliness. But an abusive man, one who obviously intended to control his world and his women.

In his own memoirs, (written as an autobiographical novel) Barack Obama's younger half brother, Mark Ndesandjo, who also was raised in the United States, in Boston, has far closer memories of that same man, their father. As one who threatened and physically abused, and who was often drunk. "I can remember my father hitting my mother and me. They're memories I don't like to dwell on because it's very painful for me", explained Mr. Ndesandjo, in an interview.

Their father died, while working in his home country of Kenya as a government economist. He died in a car crash, driving drunk, in 1982. Not all that much an honourable man, after all. A well-educated, well-travelled man, but he obviously battled his own not-very-nice inclinations toward menacing women and children, and unsuccessfully battling the dragons of his alcoholism.

A far, far cry from his oldest son's coherently reasonable embrace of a sober lifestyle, his cleaving to one woman alone, his beyond-reproach view of human relations and life's opportunities, his acceptance of duty and justice and human rights. Only the reality of the practise is slightly askew, slightly flawed.

But then, as the optimists claim, there is always room for improvement.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Tribulations on a Minor Key

There, the ordeal over. And ordeal it was. Our imaginations do dreadful things to us. You feel ill, there seems no reason for it, and you decide to tough it out. Weeks later with no relief in sight, you finally decide to see your family doctor. Your family doctor of four decades. Placing you both in roughly a like age category. You've been retired for over a decade, past time for him to retire too and he plans to, come next summer.

Your family doctor scolds you that he so seldom sees you. But there are seldom reasons related to ill health for you to make appointments. When you do, however, it is because you're stumped, don't know what next to do.

He cannot make an instant diagnosis, reasons elude him as they did you. Although he ventures the opinion that a really tough-to-shake intestinal bacterium has been making the rounds, making people miserable. Despite which, as though to make up for lost opportunities, he scribbles a number of prescriptions for you. Prescribing, that is, a number of tests; blood tests, fecal occult tests, scans of one kind and another - and ogawd, a colonoscopy.

But before all of that, to ameliorate your symptoms, a drug protocol. One type of prescribed pill to be taken once a day, the second four times a day. Nicely enough, your symptoms abate. Although of course there are always some kinds of complications, aren't there, and the pharmaceuticals cause drowsiness and frequent urination. Frequent urination as in every hour on the hour, day and night.

What a predicament - exacerbating your already-enlarged prostate.

The day of the colonoscopy appointment draws near. How ominous is this: it's for Friday the 13th, but you're not superstitious, are you? Are You? You've had to fast a few days, no solid foods, only liquids, so apple juice, tea and chicken soup save the day; several days, in fact. Along with several purgative applications. So, along with the frequent urination is added frequent evacuations. Day.and.night.

At the appointed hour of the appointed day, you fill out a medical questionnaire at the endoscopy clinic in a downtown office tower. "No" to all questions; you have no medical conditions, you do not take any medication, although you do take a daily vitamin D capsule. Your wife tells you that your colon will turn out to be the clearest, cleanest the doctor will ever have seen in his career. And, as things turn out, she was absolutely right.

No obstructions, no polyps, no growths of any kind. That slightly low haemoglobin count that had disturbed your GP is explained away by this doctor as common enough for older people; the slightly elevated iron, nothing of concern. The diverticulitis (sans symptoms) he discovers is to be shrugged off as yet another physical symptom of the ageing process. You are 72 years of age, after all.

The literature recommends a good brisk walk to aid in eliminating all that air that was pumped into your system prior to the insertion of the light-bundled camera. That fits very nicely into your agenda, and that rigorous, vigorous, healthful, sunnily beautiful walk is replete with a musical accompaniment.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fond Treasure ... Free Publicity!

Here is the Canadian author Yann Martel, (he of the Life of Pi fame/notoriety, replete with accusations of lifting another author's plot as his own), infused with the ardour of a very specific mission - along with an ineluctable sense of pure reason, applying this to his years-long pursuit of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's literary education.

Through, as we know, Mr. Martel's personal dedication to introducing Mr. Harper to Mr. Martel's unerring selection of great literature. Some people who consider themselves to be well-balanced, moderate and sensible, might consider this extremely well-publicized hounding of the prime minister to be intrusive, presumptuous, unforgivably, errantly, inexcusably arrogant.

On the other hand, there is also a contingent of like-minded individuals, many perhaps representing the creative class of society; artists, writers, actors - and just plain left-liberals who applaud Mr. Martel's concerned pursuit of literary excellence on behalf of Mr. Harper. The concern here, after all, is that Canada's Prime Minister be suffused with an appreciation of the arts, and literature in particular.

That Mr. Harper's attention is often elsewhere, on world affairs mayhap, when not actively engaged in sorting out the country's affairs, is something else again, evidently. Presumably he has little time to spare for the selection of appropriate reading material for himself. It might then follow that he could make requests of his wife to obtain for him reading material she is aware might be of value to him.

That Mr. Harper, whose intelligence level is not to be underestimated, may have his own acute and individual pleasure in reading, and may wish to select for himself - his edification, enlightenment and entertainment - specific types of literature that appeal to him, is without doubt. Yet Mr. Martel has his doubts, feeling certain that in his own great good wisdom and aesthetic redoubt, he is more capable of making selections on Mr. Harper's behalf than is the man himself.

Some may see Mr. Martel's attitude as insufferably aggravating of reason. He is, after all, generally acknowledged to be an outstanding writer of excellent fiction. Alas, his reputation appears to have left him in an actively acute state of hubris. This may be incurable, poor man, representing a case study in fatal self-esteem. But wait, there is more to this man's craft than meets the eye, and perhaps he is also sufficiently crafty to foresee an additional advantage to himself.

Think of the free publicity, after all, when a local newspaper clued in on this project of forwarding a book selection every two weeks to the Prime Minister. Accompanied by a personal letter, on each such occasion, succinctly outlining precisely why these selections would benefit Mr. Harper. The content of which missives were dutifully published in said newspaper, which also accepted letters from the public, pro and con.

In all these exchanges, Mr. Martel's name, reputation and intent were writ large. What a noble preoccupation; to set out to educate the premier executive administrator of the country. But wait, there's more...! What a splendid idea this is, to collect all of the letters reflecting the issue and its public attention reflecting agreement/disagreement, and publishing it.

Yann Martel's new book, What is Stephen Harper Reading? available at a book shop near you, come next week. Watch for it! That is, should anyone care.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To The Rescue!

Canada's width and breadth is enormous, its landscape breathtakingly various and beautiful, from its great mountain chains in the West to its wide, white, bare Arctic arras, its great sweeps of prairies, its industrial heartland replete with huge forested tracts, and its maritime presence. It is, doubtless, the history of intrepid explorers venturing into the vast frozen distances of the Canadian North that has for so long held a spellbinding fascination over peoples' imagination, through the telling and re-telling of exploration and the people who live there.

Canada's Inuit population still live off the land in that great frozen north. An immense, isolated, sparsely-populated region of wide land and coastal areas, dear in the popular Canadian imagination and home to those familiar with those wide, white sweeps. Their hunting prowess, coupled with their comfort in the environment bred in their bones, an integral part of their living heritage, also enables them as proud First Nations Canadians to deploy as Rangers.

Under the Canadian Land Force Command, over four thousand Inuit are deployed as Canadian Rangers, to ensure that there is an ever-present eye on the landscape, patrolled by the people who know it best. That huge northern, coastal isolation challenging for others beside the Inuit to live within. First-hand accounts of a changing environment come from the Inuit, familiar with traditional weather patterns and the impact on the frozen North. Great floating ice floes that polar bears depend upon are increasingly on the melt.

And Jupi Nakoolak, along with his uncle, Jimmy Nakoolak, 17 and 67 respectively, set out with confidence to hunt polar bear a week earlier, a normal enough proceeding. Except that 11 kilometres outside of their community of 750 souls in Coral Harbour on Nunavut's Southampton Island, their snowmobile broke down. And that's when Jupi began his long walk back to town for help. That plan too failed as the icy highway he walked upon broke up into a floe which began to drift into Hudson Bay.

How geographically remote can you get on the North American continent? Well, in the capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit, during this long Arctic night, the Olympic flame recently blazed through town. The Olympic torch relay is somewhat different this year; itself travelling Canada's Far North where traditionally exist Cree and Inuit settlements where the people still hunt caribou and use dogsleds - and make use of the Internet.

The torch has travelled through Old Crow, Yukon, Canadian Forces Station Alert, 800 kilometres from the North Pole. From Iqaluit to Kuujjuag, in northern Quebec with its Inuit population of 2,500, where houses are built on stilts over permafrost, and where satellite television dishes and another dish for the Internet are common fare. Remote they may be, but they're also wired and connected. Cellphones are next, towers recently erected.

And although 170-year-old Jupi Nakoolak, stranded on that inexorably-moving ice floe for three nights, was spotted by a Hercules aircraft rescue team after his uncle Jimmy Nakoolak walked back to town on the pack ice along the island shore, would-be rescuers also lost track of the boy in the vast, icy blackness. Finally managing to parachute two search-and rescue technicians nearby, to be with the hypothermic young frostbitten man, awaiting the arrival of a rescue boat.

Their relief, when the rescue boat arrived must have been enormous; all's well that ends well. Except that wasn't the end, and it wasn't as well as it first appeared, since the rescue boat itself got stuck in the ice, and required rescuing. Coral Harbour locals on all-terrain vehicles searched the coastline, hopping from ice pan to ice pan in the harbour, to finally reach the stranded rescue boat.

The six Coral Harbour men, the two parachuted rescue technicians, and Jupi himself, strained and pulled and freed the vessel from the ice, dragging it to shore. And the rescue proceeded. Jupi and his uncle Jimmy, stout souls, taken to Churchill, Manitoba to be medically treated for hypothermia.

Born in the North, taught to be a hunter, Jupi Nakoolak knew what to do when one of the three polar bears floating into Hudson Bay along with him on that 50 by 50 metre ice floe became too morbidly interested in his presence.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yours, Sincerely

Could anyone doubt the shared sorrow felt at the loss of a human life? It is a feeling courtesy in Britain for personal letters of condolence to be sent to the grieving families of slain military personnel, from the Prime Minister of the day, as well as from the Royal Family, from the Defence Secretary and from the regiment of the fallen soldier. Gordon Brown, Britain's current prime minister, laboriously hand-writes these heartfelt letters of condolence.

The prime minister of any country is by the very nature of his executive position, a very busy individual, with the concerns of the nation uppermost in mind at all times, prepared to act in haste or at leisure, depending on the nature of the matters that come before him. It can be assumed in these parlous times of great economic stress, of the universal panic related to what WHO has termed a pandemic, and the unpopular commitment of the country to a NATO-led war in a far-off country, that there is much on Gordon Brown's mind.

Mr. Brown, it is fairly well known, has the use of one eye only, the other having been impacted in his young years playing rugby, by a detached retina. And there have been media reports that his general health has also of late been deleteriously affected, with some suggesting that his eyesight is beginning to fail entirely. Now a public, critical of an unpopular prime minister has additional fodder for discontent with his performance.

The mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan has been offended and dismayed and horribly annoyed that her Prime Minister - writing to her personally of his own dismay at her loss - sent her a missive that she insists has insulted the memory of her son. Her son's family name, and by extension hers, was misspelled in the letter, as were a number of other common words. He even failed to dot an 'i', to add insult to grave injury.

Presumably, Mr. Brown's troubling eyesight aided in his dreadful malfeasance. When he was alerted, through Jacqui Jane's aggrieved reporting to the British press about her disgust with the manner in which the letter of condolence was written, Mr. Brown immediately contacted Ms. Janes to offer his sincere apology. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister added that he spends "a great deal of time" with these letters, and would, obviously never wish to cause such a hurt.

"To all other families whom I have written to, I can only apologize if my handwriting is difficult to read," Prime Minister Brown said. "I have at all times acted in good faith seeking to do the right thing." And how could anyone doubt that? Would not most people accept the kindly thought behind the message, and voluntarily overlook spelling lapses? A hand-written letter surely is more personally to be valued than a printed letter expressing sorrow and perfectly spelled?

But Prime Minister Brown's slovenly execution of the hand-written letter was placed under a magnifying glass of caustic, mean-minded carping by an embittered mother seemingly finding difficulty in coming to terms with her loss. The letter received by her from Mr. Brown was meant to convey his deepest sympathy, his appreciation for the sacrifice of her son. His letter concluded by asking if there was any way he could help.

Ms. Jane's response? "One thing he can do is never, ever, send a letter out like that to another dead soldier's family. Type it, or get someone to check it. And get the name right." This British woman is likely aware of the name William Shakespeare, a British playwright of international acclaim and renown, said to be the greatest creative writer of all time, in fact. Mr. Shakespeare's spelling was notoriously peculiar. A reflection of the state of spelling in the 16th Century.

In fact, Mr. Shakespeare spelled his very own name in various ways. His laxness in spelling was no insult to the English language; he embroidered and exalted language, and from his pen came many of the wonderful words and phrases and thoughts that illuminate present-day English.
IN deliuering my sonne from me, I burie a se­
cond husband.
Ros And I in going Madam, weep ore my
fathers death anew; but I must attend his maie­
sties command, to whom I am now in Ward, euermore
in subiection.
Laf You shall find of the King a husband Madame,
you sir a father. He that so generally is at all times good,
must of necessitie hold his vertue to you, whose worthi­
nesse would stirre it vp where it wanted rather then lack
it where there is such abundance.
Mo What hope is there of his Maiesties amendment?
Laf He hath abandon'd his Phisitions Madam, vn­
der whose practises he hath persecuted time with hope,
and finds no other aduantage in the processe, but onely
the loosing of hope by time.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

The Japanese Dilemma

It is a conundrum, is it not. One of the world's largest standing armies, representing the power and the might of the world's still-single most powerful nation, detested in so many parts of the world, yet acknowledged bitterly, resentfully, as the Globe's security agent. Not, presumably, because they seek that position on the international stage necessarily, but as a reflection of their political and powerful social standing on the world stage.

The United States of America, post World War II saw, in the wisdom of its executive administration, the utility as well as the humanitarianism of aiding the defeated, Axis countries to re-build their economies, their shattered infrastructure, giving hope to a demoralized and beaten people. Germany's strength today, along with its utter disinterest in anything remotely militarily aggressive speaks to their lesson. It too long suffered the ignominious necessity of foreign troops on its soil.

Japan's ability to lift itself out of the moral decay of its reputation for war-time atrocities, its turn-about to become a military-uniform-detesting country, expressed in its amended constitution that its military may be used only for defensive, never offensive purposes, owes much to the encouragement, guidance, and financial assistance of the country that defeated it in wartime, and wrought on its soil, Armageddon.

Still, a peaceful, peace-time Japan has its own enemies, those who cannot simply let bygones be bygones, remembering the pain and the anguish of a brutal occupying force in their own countries. Korea and China have much to remember, Japan much to regret. Japan has had great comfort in knowing that American forces, stationed on its territory, remain dedicated to its well-being, with South Korea's technological advance in weaponry.

Yet the Japanese people hugely resent the presence of tens of thousands of American troops on their sovereign land. This is intellectual, social, humanly hysterical and ethical conflict that reflects a mood of the occupied, even if the two countries face one another as equals. So Okinawans have renewed their determination to exert influence on the Diet, on their new prime minister, to invite American troops to leave Okinawa.

This is a hard place to be; hoping to maintain a relationship that brings the defence of Big Brother against geographical bullies like North Korea and China to the fore when required, yet attempting to forestall the satisfying of angry and outraged Japanese nationals who have suffered more than enough humiliation at the presence of a foreign armed force on their territory.

Would that this world were such a place that foreign troops would never seek to enter, much less remain on territory not their own. That, in fact, countries of the world require the presence of their troops anywhere, even on their own soil, to protect themselves from the predatory advance of other countries' ambitions.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Serious? Well, Then...

Everywhere in the world there is a critical shortage of the vaccine against the H1N1 virus. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are working furiously to produce sufficient vaccines to serve the needs of countries around the world. In the general atmosphere of media-induced panic aided by this new influenza strain's peculiar behaviour in the human body - striking dead the hale and the young as well as the immune-impaired and the elderly - epidemiologists are bemused and lend their confusion to the general air of uncertainty.

Laid aside is the logic of common sense that should soothe the nervousness of the public; that this H1N1 flu virus has not yet demonstrated it has the potential to wreak the full dimension of disaster on a worried public. Its trajectory, despite fears, has actually demonstrated it to be fairly innocuous - but for those unfortunates who have succumbed mortally to its sudden, mysterious ability to kill. Most people who have become infected have demonstrated relatively light symptoms, a minority briefly hospitalized.

Still, the worry is there, for governments to respond to the need to inoculate those demographics within their society most potentially at risk. Overlooked, for the most part, is the vulnerability of school-age children, since high priority groups only included children from six months to five years of age. Municipal and provincial health authorities have not quite risen to the task of functionally sound administration of the vaccines that they have received, although that appears to be improving.

But if health authorities are really serious about nipping parental fears as well as those of young people whom this virus, unlike other seasonal flu viruses, appears to target - and occasionally mortally - they should be acting, not reacting. It should be seen as a necessity to have roving clinics set up in schools, for the very precise and time-economizing purpose of vaccinating children and their teachers to halt the transmission of H1N1.

Given the reality that it is through the close physical proximity of the classroom that all such viruses have always been transmitted.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Autumn Visit







Finally a relaxation of the bitter cold, the incessant wind, the damp atmosphere, the sudden rainfalls. This day recalled the early days of fall, presenting us with a brief reprieve from the inexorable push toward winter. A lovely clear sky, with wisps of fragmented, airy clouds. Last night's temperature that had plunged to minus-8-degrees gained mightily by early afternoon, to plus-8. After our ravine walk, plodding through the muck of trails frozen overnight and released to mud by mid-morning, we set out for a family visit.

It's been entirely too long since we've been face-to-face with our granddaughter and her mother. Multiple-daily telephone conversations and emails somehow suffice, but don't quite make the grade. We require the warmth and contentment and reassurance of flesh-to-flesh contact. It's a lengthy road trip, made even more so by road work halting traffic for prolonged periods of time.

But eventually, we made it, rolled into the long driveway of our daughter's 1864 log schoolhouse, transformed over the years into a fair-sized house with its own attached summer cottage, all looking out over a sizeable wetland, beyond which lies her five acres of Canadian shield, with meadows and forest, and all the wildlife that can be seen of a day. Birds of every description, small furry creatures, and larger; deer too, at her apple trees.

Long gone now the songbirds and the hummingbirds, but bluejays, chickadees, and a varied succession of woodpeckers drop faithfully back to deplete her feeders. It's amazing how much a thirteen-year-old can change in the space of a few weeks. Her height, her contours, her attitude, all undergo profound alterations. She's accustomed to having her photographs taken by her grandmother, but of late shy of them.

"I hate photos of me!" she protests, as I counter-protest that I cannot possibly leave without a few photographs of our only grandchild. "All right. If you must, if you so insist", she gracelessly succumbs to my endearments and my coaxing, still refusing to pose. As though I want anything posed, in any event. And I am well satisfied with only a few photographs; they will do, very nicely, to fulfill my need.

We've unloaded all the items we brought along, and she proclaims herself to be willing enough to wear the new down-filled winter jacket, hooded, in bright white, to augment the one her mother has bought for this winter's wear. I prevaricated when she asked whether it had 'feathers' in it, since she always says down-filled jackets look 'fat'. And I assured her that the 'fur' trim was not genuine, but faux fur, so that too was all right.

Inside the front door, in the long, glassed-in foyer with all its warmth from the sun, some of the menagerie who inhabit the house alongside our daughter and granddaughter, are happily flaked out, absorbing the warm rays. The always-cold chihuahua cuddles with the obliging Australian shepherd who mothers it happily, licking its fur, and offering the smaller dog its own considerable body warmth.

When we depart to begin the return journey, it is late afternoon, the sun has been overtaken by a sky-full of conjoined and humped cloud formations, allowing the bright light of the soon-to-set sun to illuminate their whipped-cream formations. Farmed fields of corn, desiccated, not yet harvested, are a warm glowing gold, reflecting the sun. Silos glint silver in the sun. Plowed fields whose orderly rows are accentuated in gold hues, winter-prepared.

We see high overhead, one line after another of geese, heading out, off the cornfields and their day's languid rest on the Ottawa River. Not to be outdone, formless networks of crows lift off their tree-mast perches and flap the darkening sky. A red glow rests on shrubs and trees, naked of their leaves, but proud of this new flame that temporarily lights their presence.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

"Please, Don't Leave Me"

You would resolve to never, ever place yourself in a potentially vulnerable, psyche-altering situation like that again. The fearsome gloom settling over one's consciousness, wakening from a brief unconscious state to discover that the worst possible scenario had unfolded. As the helicopter ride that you'd undertaken countless times before suddenly ended far short of its destination. In flight off the Newfoundland coast, over the ocean en route to the Hibernia oilfields.

Hibernia, the first offshore oil project on the Grand Banks, began pumping crude in November 1997. Hibernia, the first offshore oil project on the Grand Banks, began pumping crude in November 1997.

A Cougar Helicopters Sikorsky S-92, a reliable sky-beating contrivance carrying you and seventeen others, including the flight crew. What could be more yawningly familiar? Yes, there is always the knowledge shared by all who make those trips that disaster could somehow descend on them. And for that reason people in those situations are equipped with disaster suits designed to help them survive that worse-case scenario.

In the catastrophic worst-case scenario that ensued on a routine flight east of Newfoundland on March 12, 2009 of the helicopter carrying workers to the White Rose oilfields at Hibernia, there was but one survivor. When Robert Decker testified before an enquiry into offshore safety, he explained the miracle of his survival: "Also, when I regained consciousness in the submerged helicopter cabin I know that I stayed calm and I didn't panic.

"I was able to concentrate on getting out of the helicopter and to the surface as quickly as possible... It was like a reflex to take a breath and to hold it and to stay calm until I could get to the surface." His previous 50-such trips, as a weather and ice observer for Provincial Aerospace, must have in some sense prepared him for such a possibility. So when he awakened inside the destroyed aircraft cabin, the light from his survival suit guiding him, he undid his seatbelt.

He pulled himself through the shattered window beside his seat, took a long breath as the helicopter kept filling with seawater and continued sinking, then began his long ascent, noting increased brightness as he ascended toward the surface. Floating on the water with his suit beginning to leak, his hands cramped and frozen, body temperature descending, his vision failed through the stress his body was succumbing to.

He was fortunate. So weak that he was unable to scramble into a rescue basket when a search helicopter hovered over him, he said to his rescuer who was lowered to assist him, "Please, don't leave me." This is misadventure writ large. And this is also pure, blind luck. Representing ample reason why one individual who suffered the anguish of such an experience vowed never to repeat it.

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