Ruminations

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

Monday, December 28, 2009

Canada's Immigrant Populations

Actually, is there anything wrong with any society wishing to cling to what it regards as its social culture, imperatives, safeguards and traditions? Why is it not accepted that there is everything right with that desire? And how has it come to pass that such a society - one with a well developed, collective sense of right and wrong, social and gender equality, and lawful security - should feel any sense of hesitation about wishing to retain that social equilibrium?

How does it make sense that a country that has generously welcomed migrants from around the world, to beneficently share with them the benefits of living in a structured, enlightened and secure developed country of the world should feel it must surrender its values and customs to those of other cultures? Particularly when those other cultures have sometimes spectacularly failed the living human needs and securities the migrants have fled from?

Canada has become a sponge of magnificent proportions. Taking unto itself immigrants from every corner of the world, from war-torn countries, poverty-stricken countries, countries whose rulers oppress and degrade their people. While it is also claimed that Canada is a country born of immigration, and that the country benefits hugely from the talents and aspirations of newcomers, absorption should be synonymous with acceptance of prevailing social mores.

Canada, in opening its doors so magnanimously to migrants should anticipate that those settling within our shores should adapt themselves to the prevailing social customs and values, leaving behind those which do not mesh with our own. All cultures and social customs are not necessarily equal and there are traditions that run afoul of our laws, and should never be permitted to endure within Canada.

A pluralist country comprised of various ethnic, social and heritage backgrounds can be a positive thing, broadening peoples' minds and experiences and teaching us greater tolerance of others. A multicultural society where immigrants are encouraged to resist assimilation, and to remain cloistered with others of like heritage and culture is not a positive element in joining society's values in the best interests of the country as a whole.

Emigrating from one country to another becomes a transformative experience. In leaving one's country of origin, one accepts that many things will be different, and for most people that is the allure of entering a new country; a new society, a new reality. They have left behind deprivations, lack of opportunities, danger and misery. For that opportunity - to become a citizen of a developed economy a more stable political system, a secure environment - they should be prepared to shed customs inimical to integration.

It should be made clear to prospective immigrants that they have obligations which must be discharged as new citizens to Canada. Canada takes in far greater numbers of migrants than any other developed country. We should not be penalized for this generous and open acceptance of people from around the world. Rescue from a life of poverty, brutishness and war should come with a price, that of gratitude and respect that would lead migrants to agree to adopt Canadian values and customs.

This is not racist, it is supremely practical. And it is the very least that Canada should expect from those who wish to take advantage of all the opportunities available to them in this country of vast resources and potentials.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bizarre




Yesterday's freezing rain was relentless, a never-ending onslaught, pinging on the windows, clinging to the glass, forming peculiar shapes and swirls. No opportunity to get out for our daily ravine walk. Neither we nor our little dogs would much appreciate being assaulted by freezing rain, ice pellets and struggling to make our way along the miseried trails. Besides which, the opportunity to be hit by flying branches and cracked tree boughs wasn't an appealing thought.

Instead I took a few photographs of the ice-covered trees in our backyard and along our front walkway. And we took turns wheedling Button and Riley out into the backyard, in the teeming, freezing, miserable rain, from time to time. They were hugely unenthusiastic. And we were quite beastly to insist that out they go for their regular bodily functions and deposits.

It should have been an ideal day for writing. To hie myself upstairs to my study-computer room and create something worthwhile in the writing department. I'd earlier spoken with our granddaughter, encouraging her own writing efforts. On this day, however, what I'd said to her was not quite encouraging; her installment wasn't nearly the quality of her previous days' creative writing and she felt slightly dejected. But admitted that she felt the same way about what she'd written. Her heart just wasn't in it yesterday, isn't that a coincidence?

And how's this for a coincidence, or however it might be characterized: the night before I'd had a dream, a warning, a premonition. However it is described, I recalled it when I awoke, and then shrugged it off. A month earlier when I'd been composing one of my blogs the cursor suddenly went berserk, and just kept running off. I'd had to exit, wanted to shut down the computer, because I was getting all manner of odd signals, from clunking, warning or chastising sounds, to balking, on instructions. In fact, the computer defied my attempts to shut down legally, and I was forced to do an illegal shut-down.

This had happened to me on several other occasions, some months apart, but latterly more frequently, and I found it alarming, to say the least. The thought occurred that it was the mouse malfunctioning, and so I changed to a new mouse. For a full month things went along splendidly, and then I had that dream. And later that very evening, bloody damn if it didn't happen again. Obviously, not the mouse. I tried to download the latest version of Microsoft's anti-malware, but although I went through the process and received confirmation of successful download, the icon was nowhere to be seen on my desktop.

I tried to backdate the computer settings to previous settings, earlier in the month (I had a week earlier deleted old settings, so only December's were available), and in going through the process I discovered when it was completed that it was unable to complete the task. Lately my virus protection hasn't been capturing any viruses or threats, where formerly at least several were captured, isolated and removed on a regular, daily basis. I've obviously got something awry with the computer.

Damn!

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Greetings, All!

A quiet day, this Christmas Day of 2009. We had our usual ravine walk with our two little dogs, and because it was so relatively mild - anything under -6 degrees C. requires that they wear boots to protect their tiny tender paws from the effects of long exposure to snow and ice - it was nice for them to be able to ramble along in the woods, on the trails, bootless. Not that it does much to enliven things for the smaller of the two, he just takes his time toddling along.

The two bird feeders that people had latterly hung along one section of the trail nearest where we enter the ravine had obviously been filled, earlier in the morning. As we walked under them, we treaded countless bits of seed casings, but saw no birds this day, as opposed to yesterday, when it was just as mild and the sun shone, and chickadees and nuthatches flew constantly from boughs to bird feeders.

There were a few others walking in the ravine today, which came as a bit of a surprise. We hardly expected to see others out walking on this day. Our encounters were pleasant enough, but precluded the usual "Merry Christmas" that most people automatically extend; these two couples did not utter that seasonal greeting of goodwill, and so as Jews ourselves, we felt it was hardly needful for us to appropriate the occasion.

Our ravine-walk "Merry Christmas" confined itself to a generous sprinkling of peanuts for all the woodland squirrels, red, black and grey, whose presence has been relatively rare these extremely cold days. But today, there were groups of the little guys gathered on the largest of the grand pines just at the bottom of the descent where the trial initially dips into the ravine.

Among them our very favourite Stumpy. For Stumpy, the little black squirrel without a graceful plume of a tail, we set aside the largest, longest, thickest of the peanuts. Although since it's become so cold and the snow has packed into the ravine he no longer approaches us as boldly as heretofore, he does wait for us while up on a tree trunk, to pay our daily dues.

When the big, fat peanut has been placed close to the tree, and we've stepped sufficiently back with Button and Riley, Stumpy ventures down to retrieve the offering, and takes himself off with it. Occasionally he will return for another, once he's eaten the first one. But his behaviour is quite a bit different, and we're glad to observe that.

For one thing, it's obvious his former insouciance before the snow came down might now pose as a deterrent to long life. Our dogs' presence may not pose a hazard to his longevity, but others very well might, and he needs to be more cautious now. Lightning speed over snow-fluffed ground is no longer assured. And, given the presence of a great barred owl, he and the other small denizens need to be alert and ready to flee.

Yesterday we came across others whom we know, walking in the ravine, and at that time their heartfelt "Merry Christmas" greetings to us were returned just as heartily. We've become accustomed to readily responding, echoing that greeting. Today, neither walking along our street to reach the trailhead, nor on the trail itself, did we see any whom we know.

It's another world, today, far from the world that we grew up in as little kids when we were more likely to hear accusations of "Christ killer!" from kids at school, or "dirty Jew!" than the kindly "Merry Christmas" now so generously sprinkled through social discourse at this bright holiday season. Progress aplenty has been made.

The earlier, reciprocal "Happy Hannukah!", speaks volumes.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Imagine the Adventure

Most of us, ordinary people, wonder what propels and compels and impels some small section of a population to become adventurers. Those for whom the greatest pleasure seems to be to imagine themselves struggling against the most difficult of physical circumstances, and prevailing. From those who seek to cross vast oceans unaccompanied, climb the world's most inaccessible mountain peaks (accessible to those endowed with physical prowess and mind-boggling determination), and those who set out to reach the Arctic, the South Pole.

Incredibly strenuous activities that most of us would far prefer to read about, rather than ourselves to engage in. It takes the most dauntless of spirits to embark on such expeditions fraught with potential danger, and exacting every bit of energy and courage from those who set out to relish the triumph of accomplishment in these endeavours. We admire such people at the very same time that we wonder what exactly it is that motivates them.

The quest for adventure, the curiosity of what certain landscapes look like, the imagination of placing yourself there, in the very landscape that looks so inaccessible, obviously appeals to certain individuals. And for some of these individuals it becomes the motif of their lives' ambitions, to surmount all physical difficulties and to prevail in their attempts despite very real dangers, the evidence of which they also occasionally see for themselves.

In the mid-19th Century intrepid, educated and experienced world travellers, both men and women, travelled to the far corners of the world, where "civilized" people rarely ventured, to staunch their curiosity and satisfy their indomitable spirit of adventure. Many of those people wrote books recounting their adventures, their impressions, their fascination with their journey and their immense satisfaction at having set out and completed their destinations.

Occasionally, one reads such an accounting, published one hundred and fifty years earlier, by such explorer-adventurers and one such account was that of an overland journey from parts of the United States, on into the territory of Canada, well before the provinces were gathered into confederation. Where people set out from Britain with the intention of seeing for themselves the grandeur of the prairies, the mountains, the lakes and the forests of Western Canada.

In the process experiencing incredible hardships of an extent quite impossible to imagine today with modern communications and modes of transport, and highways and communities settled in areas that were not all that long ago, the province of the few. The original people of the country, the Sioux, the Assiniboine, the Shushwap, meeting up with the voyageurs, the white men and the Metis who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company.

Imagine the primeval forests where veritable giant trees thrived, fell over with their venerability, or from the effects of violent storms, so thickly covering the forest floor that access through the forest would be impossible. Veteran adventurers, skilled in the use of axes might attempt to cut and thrash their way through the forest, only to come across the dreaded Devil's club, whose sharp thorns would tear their clothing and their skin to shreds.

The Fraser and the Thompson river canyons affording hopeful avenues of progress for staunchly determined adventurers to travel from Edmonton, with its handful of hunters, not yet even a village, to Fort Kamloops, a journey of hundreds of miles on foot, with tough little Indian horses employed to carry supplies for a half-dozen people, hoping to supplement their pemmican and flour with game and fish on the way.

One has the idea that game would be plentiful, but there were winters when the aboriginal populations, skilled at life in their familiar territory, found insufficient game to maintain life and they faced starvation as surely as did the less capable adventurers moving laboriously through the landscape. Their horses starving for lack of decent pasturage, becoming skin and bones, but valuable, as were the dogs that accompanied them, as comprising an emergency food source.

Imagine the desperate condition of attempting to travel through such thick forest growth that pack horses would constantly stumble and fall, and refuse to continue and attempt to hide themselves within the forest; in the summer set upon by blow flies and utterly miserable from starvation and accidental injuries, yet they would carry on, even after tumbles down mountain sides and fording rivers with swift currents threatening to carry them and the travellers' provisions off.

Imagine the travellers, desperately seeking game, setting out from a winter's temporary location to follow game, only to be able to snare a marten, a skunk, a few partridge. Cooking up the predator-animals, finding their cooked stench detestable, but forcing themselves to partake of it to preserve their lives. Imagine that they have no provisions left and must contemplate butchering the horses that have served them so well.

Imagine, in dire straits, wondering whether they will somehow survive their travails, coming across the sitting corpse of another who had been in the same circumstances, before him the remnants of a fire, and the skeleton of his pack-animal before him, his desperation availing him nothing, in the final analysis. Imagine the misery, the determination, and the hope that compelled them to continue.

You needn't merely imagine: Read The North-West Passage By Land - Being a Narrative of an Expedition From the Atlantic to the Pacific (Viscount Milton and Walter Butler Cheadle, Prospero Canadian Collection)

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Damned, Anyway

It's tough being the president of the United States. Rarely loved, occasionally appreciated, sometimes trusted and often blamed. But then, those are the consequences of daring to present as the human being most capable of solving the problems of the country and by extension some of the problems plaguing the world at large. Barack Obama has extended himself ferociously, attempting to represent all solutions to all situations.

That he has failed so often simply speaks to the constraints of his humanity. Because he is fundamentally decent and responsible and honest he somehow feels, quite erroneously and unfortunately, that he must first extend the opportunity to others to be decent, responsible and honest, before he resorts to accepting the truth; that they are not interested in and will not ever reflect those basic tenets of humanity.

This, perhaps, is his most steep learning curve, during his first year of his first tenure as President of the United States. He has high expectations for others, just as he presents himself as the featuring classic image of the peerless idealist. And there's the rub. Idealism is comforting, but it has its decided limits. It's when the birds stop singing, and the road stops just at a yawning crevasse that idealism must surrender to practical need.

Mr. Obama would do well to put away his swashbuckling lecturer's cape. His verbose and airily opaque assurances that all will be well if we but collectively pray strenuously enough is stale and tediously tiresome. These are not, let us hope, his real strengths. Those have yet to be revealed. But the constancy of his calm demeanor and his indefatigable search for balance and justice may yet reveal the core of a champion.

Only time will tell. It is sad that those Americans whose hope for their future with the ascension of the first black president of their country has been disappointed. In the meagre space of one governing year, when a global financial crisis, a global nuclear crisis on a number of fronts, regional fighting, global climate change, the necessity to effect a universal medical insurance plan for his country assail his attention do we yet anticipate miracles?

Did I overlook the courting of Islamic countries, dancing a one-step forward, two-steps back, with China, Russia, North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East as absorbing some additional weight of his time and efforts? And the Nobel Peace Prize, remember that? So, all you African-American just-plain-folks, kindly keep in mind that you have a huge aristocratic demographic - and what have they accomplished on behalf of their brethren?

Give the man some space. He has mentioned in passing that "People need to understand that one out of every five African-Americans do not have health care. Nobody stands to gain more from this health-care bill passing." Of course, if the African-American population had an employment rate that roughly equated with that of other Americans it would help, immeasurably.

There is a good degree of racism, and always will be. But who is to blame for the cultural-social backwardness, the teen pregnancies, the young men engaged profitably in the drug trade through street gangs, with the prevailing wisdom that only losers need a steady job? A 15.4% unemployment rate is staggering, even more so 34.5% among 16 to 24-year-old blacks. Find value in attending school to its conclusion.

Look within as well as without for answers to this cultural-social dilemma. If Barack Obama, a bi-racial child of America could break the bonds of racism, so can others, many others, if they too apply themselves to measuring value against meaningless existence. There is such a thing as free choice and all are imbued with it, though not all experience the opportunities which make free choice possible.

The man's making an effort. Let us sincerely hope that his efforts, prodigious though they seem, yet unavailing, will eventually resonate where and when it matters. Rhetoric aside.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas

Perhaps not so merry if you're a Christian in a Muslim world. Not much respect from fundamentalist Islamists who believe non-Muslims are trash, hardly human.

When parts of the Middle East were quasi-secular politically, at least more tolerant, Christians lived fairly amicably among their ethnic brethren, in Lebanon, for example and in the Palestinian Territories. With the emergence of a hard-core interpretation of the Koran and fundamentalist ideals and the rise of jihad, their tenure has become tenuous, to say the least.

In biblical-fabled Bethlehem the Christian population, once predominant at 80%, has been diminished to 25%. Arab Christians are loathe to place all the blame on Arab Muslims, and they point also to the Israeli presence: "After the intifada - and three or four years of curfews - there was the Lebanon war, the economic crisis and all the time we have the [security] wall. Last year things picked up, but this year it is bad again."

In Gaza, Christian shops are firebombed, their owners threatened. Businesses owned by Coptic Christians in Egypt were burned in riots in the south of the country, leaving people in a traumatized state of fear. In Iraq it isn't just Shia and Sunni Muslims and al-Qaeda in Iraq wreaking atrocities against one another; the Christians of Iraq are a fast-diminishing minority, forced to flee the country.

"We were driven out. They bombed our churches. They killed us deliberately so we would leave. It was organized", raged one Iraqi Christian after Pope Benedict remarked during his Middle East tour, "The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East." Uneasy under Saddam Hussein, they still numbered at least a million-strong.

"The Pope talks about Muslims and mosques while in Germany, and we [experience revenge] explosions two or three days later. We are the biggest losers of this war, and yet we are the original inhabitants." Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have moved from their traditional communities to the northern areas. In Amman, Jordan Chaldean Christians from Iraq seek temporary safety, joining Christian communities there.

In Jerusalem's Old City, the scourge of fundamentalist intolerance regardless of the religion, sees spitting attacks by Orthodox Jewish youth upon cross-wearing Christians. In Egypt Muslims attacked a Christian neighbourhood, rioting against a new church, forcing its closure. But then, Christians are also under attack in parts of India, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere in the world.

Intolerance is wide-spread, directed against people of all minority faiths living in majority theocratic countries resenting the presence of religious minorities. This represents yet another massive failure of the human condition.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Ostentatious for God

Human beings are pathetically gullible, easily led, prepared to suspend reality in favour of faith that what a charismatic figure proposes represents truth.

What is truly impressive about peoples' willingness to succumb to such beliefs is the truly irrational manner in which faith healers, charismatic religious figures, and televangelists behave; absurdly, bumptiously, greedily. Are these qualities so attractive to huge groups of people because they reflect their own inner psyches, or because they wish to embrace the absurd in defiance of reality?

Paul may have found his purpose on the road to Damascus through his epiphany, but Oral Roberts, the acknowledged father of evangelical televangelists found his in a manner far more typical of his space in time and history as an American in love with motor vehicles. When, as a poor young Pentecostal preacher he bought a green Buick and that was his epiphany, as it "became a symbol to me of what a man could do if he would believe in God."

Belief in God as a prelude to vast, attainable riches. Ask of Him and ye shall receive in great abundance all that ye require and more; be thee of good faith and all shall avail thee. Want a mansion, a classic automobile, jewels, investments; you need but dream it long and hard and bug the hell out of God until he relents just to rid himself of your constant whining. Oral Roberts even invested in God's healing touch.

And he became venerated as a flashy exhibitionist whose right hand was blessed by God. Why, this man, so close to God's heart, could outdistance God's son in the healing profession. Jesus had a man left for dead rise back to life, and Oral Roberts did the same with a stone-dead baby. The fire in his right hand could cure what ailed you. With the proviso that you believed, that you trusted, that your faith was sufficiently strong.

Ah, the ecstasy to be realized in the dismissal of all things profane, and the embrace of the divine. A Divine Spirit who, while in perfect control of the cosmos and of the bee, the starling and the whale, could yet be persuaded to kindly allow believers the objects of their desires. And if those objects belonged to the profane world of dollars and sense, so be it; faith doesn't come cheaply, and such an investment of the mind and the soul requires interest.

Reverend Roberts challenged Satan when he was confronted, foiling his intent to carry him off to that dread underground from whence he would never emerge. God, he knew, was not yet finished with him, God required that he continue to raise millions upon millions of dollars from his devout followers; Oral Roberts's, not God's. His prosperity gospel was a resounding success!

Opening the way for all manner of other luminaries in the field of religious money-grubbing, some of whom were exemplary at extracting funds from their believing flocks, outdoing one another in the level of their mawkish demand for cash to grow their thriving churchly compounds, demonstrating to business leaders how readily people took to being taken. Their little indiscretions, when revealed, stalled them only temporarily.

For they also excelled in humbly supporting themselves through the avails of their ministries. It was simply natural that religious devotees and celebrities of their calibre should be honoured for their selfless dedication to God and His ministries. They deserved to live in adequately-staffed mansions, own fleets of expensive cars, travel on luxurious vacations, for these were men of God whom all turned to for advice.

Including presidents and prime ministers, and nobility and wealthy entrepreneurs carefully patterning their public personas on the successes these ministers of God realized.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Divine Delusion

There are many world religions; some, like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, have huge followings. Others are much smaller, each with their devoted followers believing in the sacred writings and living precepts of their founders. Some of these religions encourage their followers to be tolerant; Sikhs and Muslims both insist that this is one of the founding tenets of their religion, but when politics intervene, the profanity of violence ensues.

And in various countries of the world where majority religions reign supreme, a political, social and religious intolerance raises its intolerant head; occasionally spurred by the state, and more commonly arising from within the ranks of the faithful of the majority religion, who spurn the very thought of equality between religions. Taking umbrage at the very existence within their society of those who practise another religion.

Within these countries Jews, Parsees, Baha'i, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Animists and Muslims are seen as the faithless, their presence an offence to the supreme being that is their god. Inter-religious strife between religious factions has its place also in the annals of man's inhumanity to alternate views of an Almighty God.

As a Jew, representing a people with a shared tradition, history and religion, it is profoundly regrettable that Judaism, despite its thousands of years of suffering, of martyrdom to the ideals of its heritage and the claims of its faith, there are people whose strictured fundamentalism paints them with the same tarnished brush as fanatics of other religions.

Christianity went through a prolonged period where its missionizing zeal corrupted its ideals, and the carnage it brought to the world through its subjugating of people to save their souls or send them to early deaths besmirched it as a representation of godly endeavours on earth. Islam goes through cycles of quiescent self-absorption and violent jihad, intent on spreading its message, insisting on the surrender of apostates and infidels.

Judaism is not an evangelical religion. It has always been suspicious of those wishing to convert to Judaism, but it has also, while not encouraging conversion, aided those who wished to dedicate themselves to such conversions. It is disappointing that in Israel, the orthodox congregations and their powerful rabbis have sought to exclude those who have converted to Judaism, from citizenship.

Understandable, in a sense, because of the number of people emigrating in the past decades as refuseniks from Russia, many with scant knowledge of Jewishness and little emotional kinship to it and whose children have become raging, ravaging anti-Semites within the country. But this serious and unfortunate pathology among a few should not tarnish all who seek to convert and to immigrate to Israel, seeking citizenship.

In point of fact, the extreme orthodox of most religions look with suspicion upon those who are more moderate in the expression of the faith - and with utter contempt upon those who, though claiming membership in the traditions and ethnicity of their tribal affiliation, eschew the religion, and take pride in their secularity. Those who choose not to practise, but to live as part of the tribe.

The State of Israel recognizes as Jewish any born of a Jewish mother. Were the orthodox to have their way, this defining entitlement would be removed, and only those who assiduously practise orthodox Judaism would be recognized as Jews, and hence entitled to citizenship. The State of Israel is secular in its politics, yet tinged and inextricably bound by religion, since Jews are by nature disputatious and the influence of the orthodox is huge.

If God really does exist, and if the qualities attributed to Him are to be believed would that divine entity be satisfied with the manner in which the humans who profess to believe in such an existence of one who controls all, sees all, knows all, smile benignly on the machinations of those who insist they do His will?

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Ex-Clerk to City:

Well, likely Pierre Page is right in feeling a trifle abused. Who wouldn't, having worked assiduously for the furtherment of the City of Ottawa, his hard work recognized and appreciated, and then being feted as he was, with a going-off party that cost the taxpayer almost $20-grand, and getting the key to the city to boot.

Well, was he given the boot? Did he ask for that party, insist that he would accept nothing less to commemorate his penchant for hard work with scant recompense? (Oh, he did earn a salary? Well put it this way, plenty of people earn big bucks working for the municipality and they don't quite earn it; Mr. Page appears to have earned his.)

So he's pissed off because he was slurred, more of less by the auditor general's report that made public that reception (oops, not a party, no-no - bash, anyway) launched on his behalf. Mind, the auditor-general found no real fault with this costly send-off, but betcha most taxpayers do. We don't forward property taxes to fund employee send-offs...got that?

Most places put up a fund, ask colleagues to donate so a memorable event can be held in recognition of a former colleague's place within their working hierarchy. The public definitely does not pay for such frivolities, even if they are meant to honour an honest and hard-working employee. He earns a salary thereby.

As for that magnanimous hand-over of the key to the city to such a distinguished employee, it wasn't he who asked for it, now, was it? This was yet another cockamamie idea of our estimable mayor, Larry O'Brien whose thought-processes and fumbling in all affairs revolving around municipal matters have been found rather wanting.

Doesn't the buck, all $19,629 of it, stop at the mayor's office? Isn't he the authorizing authority? Isn't he the good fella who assured taxpayers that with him in office the city would be run efficiently, expertly and well within current tax rates? And isn't he the guy whose questionable finagling in buying off a mayoral contender had him facing a criminal investigation? (Lest we forget.)

He's the guy who keeps burdening the taxpayers with one loss after another, from peeved-off contractors ready to proceed with a signed deal for new-age public transit, to bringing Ottawa public transit to its knees through a strike that brought chaos to the city. My feeble mind can't keep up with the messes this guy has led us into, inclusive of the green box, extraneous for all of us sedulously-aware backyard composters of kitchen waste.

Well, clearly, it's a good thing that we've got astute and knowledgeable civil servants like auditor general Alain Lalonde, to point the admonitory finger of blame at the municipality for wasting tax dollars. Oops, Alain Lalonde - isn't that name familiar? Right! He's the guy monitoring spending and accountability at city hall, and who bamboozled city administration into topping off his pension by what, a whopping ten grand?

Can we blame him? After all, it's tough to get along these days on a miserable salary of $208,00, and everyone's got to look out for numero uno, to prepare for those golden retirement years, and what colour's your umbrella? Sorry, didn't mean to shout, just kind of frustrating, y'know?

Pssst! In his defence, Mr. Lalonde frostily informed those who queried the probity of such a self-entitled move by one charged with overseeing the city's sensible use of taxes, that he scrupulously followed all the city's rules and procedures.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Protocol Debacle

What an unsavoury turn of events. This is truly outrageous, a travesty, not.to.be.countenanced, s h o c k i n g, HORRIBLE! In the nation's capital, no less. How can we live this down? We will become an international laughing stock. Condemnation will stalk the land. And most certainly, La Belle Province will be in one helluva huff. And we're just worn out with all those huffing and puffing pure laine Quebecois.

Ottawa has no official bilingualism policy per se, it is not written into a municipal by-law that oral and written statements and events must be bilingual in nature to reflect the nature of official bilingualism, itself a polite reflection of the two 'founding' nations. The city has a courtesy-policy of holding itself to a standard whereby most communications will most often be bilingual. Tippy-toes over eggshells.

What a slip up! however, when the Olympic torch ceremony that took place at City Hall was conducted in !sheesh! English only. Now, it can be argued that there would be few people living within this city who are not comfortable with English. It is the language of the majority, although to be perfectly fair there exists a substantial number of first-language-French Ottawans.

Who still speak and understand English. Yes, of course, it is seen as impolite not to have transcribed the proceedings into French for the pleasure and edification of a goodly proportion of the cheering crowd. But really, must we get our undies into another knot over yet another presumed slur? Oversight, then. Seems the city manager has been dusting the floors of City Hall, creeping about on his knees, begging forgiveness from all and sundry.

Those sundries and all, in any event who have taken huge umbrage. Well, oops, and damitall, if they didn't do it again! Despite avowing this would never, ever again occur :
"It should have been a proud moment for us all. Unfortunately, the success of the event has been undermined by the omission of French from the official ceremony", grovelled Kent Kirkpatrick.

"I want to assure council that we are aware that it should not have happened and that an apology is not enough. We are taking immediate action to ensure that all future events hosted by the city respect our bilingualism policy." Obsequious to a fault, so who could fail to forgive and forget? "...taking immediate action to ensure that all future events ..." This.is.final. We have erred, never to repeat that error.

Wot? Mr. Kirkpatrick's memorandum of explanation and future recognition sent 'round to the councillors appeared in English only? Gotta be kidding...? Oh, it was speedily followed by a second one, with a French translation. PLUS t.w.o apologies from Mr. Kirkpatrick's aide. Will heads roll?

Egad, we hope not!

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Canada's First Nations

Generous-spirited and -minded - to their fault, alas.
We shook hands with our visitors, and inviting them into the lodge, passed round the calumet, according to the rules of Indian politeness. For a long time they sat round with legs crossed, smoking in perfect silence. At last, after some preliminary conversation, the chief, a fine-looking fellow, dressed in a spangled shirt, a cap covered with many-coloured ribbons, and an elaborately-worked medicine-bag, rose and made an oration in the Cree language. He delivered himself with much dignity, his gestures were graceful and easy, and his speech fluent. He said:
"I and my brothers have been much troubled by the reports we have heard from the Company's men, who tell us that numbers of white men will shortly visit this country; and that we must beware of them. Tell me why you come here. In your own land you are, I know, great chiefs. You have abundance of blankets, tea and salt, tobacco and rum. You have splendid guns, and powder and shot as much as you can desire. But there is one thing that you lack - you have no buffalo, and you come here to seek them. I am a great chief also. but the Great Spirit has not dealt with us alike. You he has endowed with various riches, while to me he has given the buffalo alone. Why should you visit this country to destroy the only good thing I possess, simply for your own pleasure? Since, however, I feel sure that you are great, generous, and good, I give you my permission to go where you will, and hunt as much as you desire, and when you enter my lodge you shall be welcome."
With this conclusion he sat down and resumed the pipe, awaiting our answer. He had put the case so truly and forcibly, that we really felt almost ashamed of ourselves, and should have found some difficulty in replying, had he not ended his speech so graciously. As it was, we merely thanked him for his courtesy, and made him and his companions what we considered a very handsome present of knives, ammunition, tea, salt, and tobacco. They did not seem satisfied, and wanted a gun, blankets, and above all, rum. These we refused, and at length they took their departure, apparently in good humour, although they intimated that they doubted whether we were such very great people after all, since we had no rum.
Excerpted from: The North-West Passage by Land; being a narrative of an expedition from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Viscount Milton and Walter Butler Cheadle. c.1865

Vancouver 1020 Winter Olympics:
The Olympic flame received a blessing Tuesday as it passed through the Mohawk community of Tyendinaga on its way from Kingston to Peterborough and, eventually Vancouver. As Quinte Mohawk Schools student Raven Tabobandung carried the torch to the front of the community centre and waited to pass it on to schoolmate Camelia Maracle. Elder and Second World War veteran Elwood Brant acknowledged the Creator. "The Haudenosaunee people have a long proud history of bringing people together in unity, a key message of the Olympic Games."

Chief Don Maracle was on hand for the ceremony, which included traditional dance, and explained how the symbolism of the Olympic flame was not unlike the role of fire in native culture.
"Fire is one of the elements of creation", he said. "It's necessary in our ancient past for our survival - it gave us heat and warmth, but it's also a light that perpetuates hope and peace and unity.
"In the ceremony today, we ask that the Creator's blessing be on all those participating in the Olympics, that it would kindle the spirit of unity and peace in the world and help unify the nations of the world."

The Ottawa Citizen, Wednesday, December 15, 2009.

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Pioneering New Lows

Just about as despicable as you can get, posting that doctored photograph replacing Lee Harvey Oswald's head with that of Prime Minister Harper, in that infamous photograph when Jack Ruby shot the man accused of assassinating President John Kennedy. The kind of nasty high-jinks that might be associated with neanderthal-nitwits, adolescents lacking intelligence. Instead, it's the malicious work of those whose job it is to update the official web site of the Liberal Party of Canada. Beyond credulity.

Yet there it is in the newspaper, the photograph that has since been removed, once it was discovered by a visitor to the web site who happened to think this was not at all amusing, and represented, in fact, the mindset - collective we assume - of a group of juvenile-arrested half-wits. See, it's not hard to descend to the level of those whose emotional intellectual maturity lapsed on the way to assuming full social and physical maturity. So, if my words offend anyone, please pardon.

Sounds something like the LPC spokesman Daniel Lauzon: "Though we do screen the pictures before posting them, it appears the Lee Harvey Oswald picture slipped through the cracks - it has since been removed. We apologize to those who took offence to the image." A declaration of innocence of intent. And the lofty-sounding apology. Utterly meaningless in its easeful trip off the tongue to exonerate. Notable for insouciant flippancy, in fact.

Those who took offence to the image? Who in their right minds would not find that image offensive? Any low-down trick to gain a chuckle out of a jaded, values-absent audience? The photograph was doctored and received as an entry in a photo contest meant to poke political jabs at Canada's prime minister. From the very party that rears up on its superior hind legs to protest the down-and-dirty jabs emanating from the Conservative Party.

Gee whiz, the pooping puffin represented a kindly poke at a tragically comic political figure who meant well, but couldn't get his act together. The puffin enlivened the act. Not quite to be compared with yet another miserably unamusing photo doctored to show the prime minister with his hand inserted up the rear end of a cow. One a delightful little concoction of a prod, the other a mean-minded piece of derogation.

Oops, there it is again, another bit of innocence: "It's important to keep in mind that the pictures are created by visitors to our website, and do not always reflect the views of the LPC" cautioned Daniel Lauzon. Visitors, it should be pointed out, that were invited to submit their warped ideas of clever wit. However, anything as remotely offensive as the two in question did not post themselves, now did they?

Let's hear that again, Mr. Ignatieff, you know, that bit about Mr. Harper and his party indulging in the unfortunate practise of lowering the level of political debate?

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cutting-Edge Medical Technology

Seems there's times when more isn't better. Nor are advances in newer health technologies necessarily better for the health and longevity of patients. But high tech medical gadgetry is all the rage, and tests are routinely prescribed for patients whose health conditions may not necessarily require them, while their physicians are happy to send them off for those tests "just in case", sending health care expenses into the stratosphere, at the very time that they're doing real physical harm to the patients.

Computed tomography, CT scans have been celebrated as a huge break-through in X-ray technology. Allowing a much more detailed scan of interior of the human body. Bringing into close scrutiny elements of the body interior for specialized diagnosis. At the same time those CT scans involved a hugely more significant radiation dose than compared with conventional X-rays. Say, accounting for 100 times greater radiation? That cannot be good news. And it isn't.

New data, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, give evidence that people are being unnecessarily over-exposed to high radiation levels from these diagnostic tests. "What we learned is there is a significant amount of radiation with these CT scans, more than what we thought, and there is a significant number of cancers", according to the editor of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"It's estimated that just from the CT scans done in one year, just in 2007, there will be 15,000 excess deaths", Dr. Rita Redberg stated. "We're doing millions of CT scans every year and the numbers are increasing. That is a lot of excess deaths." Sobering, isn't it? In the bid to cure us by new imaging techniques enabling doctors to take a closer look at what ails us - or doesn't, as the case may be - we are being placed in increased danger of mortality.

Some 70 million CT scans were performed in the United States in 2007, a sharp increase over 1980, when a mere 3 million were performed. Experts estimate that those scans performed in 2007 will be the ultimate cause of 29,000 cancers, and of that number one third of those with CT-assisted cancers will die.

Within Canada, CT scans rose from 2.5 million in 2003 to 3.4 million in 2007. With the increase of use of this technology came an increase in acquisition of CT scanners, more than doubling between 1991 and 2007. After all, popular opinion has it that more advanced technologies are more readily available in the United States, and eventually make their way into Canada.

This is an obviously-useful technology. But it should be used with caution. "While certainly some of the scans are incredibly important and life-saving, it is also certain that some of them were not necessary", according to Dr. Redberg, who pointed out that doctors' enthused interest in the tests had led to an explosion in their use, which has led directly to risky outcomes.

A 2008 release by the Canadian Institute for Health Information revealed that 103 CT scans were performed per one thousand people in 2007, in comparison to 207 per one thousand in the United States. In this instance, one could say with a good degree of accuracy that less most definitely is superior.

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Underfunded Hospitals

Just what we needed to hear. A cash-strapped provincial government, labouring under the misapprehension that its laxity in oversight of taxpayer-funded initiatives resulting in the loss of billions of dollars has nothing whatever to do with its current shortages. Where the province's hospitals had been anticipating an increase of roughly 2% at rock bottom in increased funding for their operating budgets, their CFOs have been advised otherwise.

There will be no increase in funding for hospitals. Hospitals that have done their utmost to seek and implement cost-cutting measures in an effort to balance affordability of operational necessities against the obvious need to meet patient needs now face further strictures. The closing of hospital beds has already created a crisis situation, where surgeries have had to be postponed to meet the pressure of inadequate treatment space.

Hospitals in the Ottawa area alone are looking at a potential $51.5-million cut to their operating budgets. Those six hospitals now face the looming prospect of closing down more beds, and releasing staff in reflection of a funding freeze. This situation augers ill in terms of service to the public. Demoralized nursing staff can hardly be expected to give their all to patients while anticipating their imminent dismissal.

Ontario's huge deficit and falling tax revenues present a pitiful picture of mismanagement. Where over a billion dollars was utterly wasted in a criminally misbegotten scheme to implement a useful ehealth service, enriching self-entitled program managers, but leaving the taxpayer high and dry. And where over a billion dollars has been siphoned out of the system through a lack of due diligence in welfare payments, and welfare fraud.

Not that these are the only instances of the current government's inability to rein in costs.
There has been the bad-tasting memory of the expense scandals surrounding the Ontario Lottery Corporation. And Auditor General Jim McCarter has recently pointed out additional reckless spending of public money, particularly on social services when the community and social services ministry failed to check into anonymous complaints.

Ineligibility for welfare hasn't stopped many from successfully claiming support, and overpayments abound, with little effort made on the part of the ministry to restore public trust by taking steps to reclaim those funds. The poor quality of inspections and repairs on the province's thousands of bridges, an unfunded $11.5 liability for claims to Workplace Safety Insurance all speak of government mismanagement.

Well, the province has mismanaged its hospitals into a dire deficit position. There have been so many cuts that deleteriously affect patient health through cut-backs in hospital cleanliness that infections run rampant within the vulnerable, health-impaired patient population, risking lives, causing early deaths among the elderly.

Forcing additional severe cuts on an already overstressed network of provincial hospitals is hardly prudent nor responsible management of taxpaid dollars, and does little to restore confidence in a government that has already disappointed Ontarians through its inadequate responses to the needs of the province.

Women In Need

Those are dispiriting figures, really horrible to even contemplate in a city as wealthy as Ottawa, in a country as socially and politically advanced as Canada: That over five hundred women become homeless every year in this city. And then look for assistance wherever they can, to tide them over until they are able to pick up the pieces of their life again.

Or to maintain them in a bare-bones environment that enables them to have a roof over their heads, food to eat, and medical attention as required.

One residence for homeless women operated by the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, had suffered a tragic fire a month ago, resulting in the death of a 61-year-old resident, and the re-visited homelessness of nineteen other women, living in the Cornerstone women's shelter.

Now the government of Ontario has forwarded $6-million toward the cost of erecting a replacement supportive housing project for these homeless women.

The replacement project will see an increase in size of the residence to 42 units; 20 for low-income seniors, 22 for homeless women, many of whom live with physical or/and mental disabilities. The director of the Cornerstone shelter has admitted an increased need for such housing, particularly in women over 50.

Who knew even that a facility like Cornerstone has been in operation for twenty-five years? Who, in this gentle community of conservative values and social conscience, might even have imagined an ongoing need for such a facility? Providing emergency shelter, and transitional housing in this community for two and a half decades?

This is the underbelly of the city, a prosperous city where the bulk of the population has well-paying jobs and lives well. Despite which we have a network of food banks and a growing population of low-paid service jobs for a demographic whose education level leaves them the sole option of part-time and underwaged jobs.

"Every day", said Sue Garvey, Cornerstone's director, "we receive between 10 and 15 calls from women in need" for whom they are unable to provide assistance. Positively stunning.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Compensation for Malevolent Action?

The damage people do in their arrogant belief in self transcends belief. Former pathologist Dr. Charles Smith, now disgraced and charged with faulty, unprofessional and surely malevolent findings in the deaths of autopsied children should pay a price in excess of the shame brought upon him. Something roughly approximate to the dreadful price paid by innocents whose his autopsy results brought to direct charges through his testimony leading to years of incarceration for murders they did not commit.

How utterly obscene that this man who had no training in pathology, despite which he was able to rise through the ranks of forensic pathology as a respected and trusted member of the profession, felt his observations to be so valid that they rated as proof-positive of the guilt attributed to innocent people. A mother whose child died of natural causes, but the autopsy purported to point a finger of guilt on her. This forensic pathologist simply created evidence that was not in actual fact, there.

A mother convicted of infanticide, suffering the removal of another child from her care and placed for adoption by child welfare agencies, mouldering in a jail as the killer of her infant son. How to compensate for her mental anguish? Until finally justice caught up to Dr. Smith when it was revealed by a search into his professional conduct that he falsified evidence and was the direct cause of many innocents being convicted of unspeakable crimes against children.

Of course the fault does not lie solely with Dr. Smith. The former chief coroner for Ontario, Dr. James Young, and Dr. James Cairns, former deputy chief coroner, both of whom elevated Dr. Smith through the ranks to become the senior child death expert in Ontario through pediatric forensic pathology, are equally responsible for the tragedies their lack of oversight caused. All three men were predisposed to believe that children were wantonly murdered by those closest to them.

It was their gratuitous malicious mindset that was responsible for the false accusations, findings of guilt, and years of incarceration suffered by those brought to 'justice' through their professional misconduct.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Miracle Cure: Hygienic Techniques

"In Focus: A National Look at Sepsis" has come to a truly interesting conclusion resulting from data procured through Hospital Standardized Mortality Ratio, tracking patient mortality in hospitals as a method by which the standard of care can be measured. And hospitals, which most people have always assumed to be the safest haven when people are ill and require medical care, turn out to be, in fact, institutions which threaten the very lives of people whom they are dedicated to safe-guarding.

There is nothing particularly new in all of this, but it would actually appear that matters are deteriorating, even while it is generally accepted that hospitals are not at all presenting as sterile and clean environments. Carelessness likely causes more hospital deaths than any disease for which people have been admitted for amelioration of condition. Surgical and other medical devices not adequately sterilized. Germ-laden surfaces not properly cleaned.

And there we go again; doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals not bothering to wash their hands between one patient and another, one procedure or another, or even while themselves using bathroom facilities. It's a no-brainer; most mothers teach their children to diligently wash their hands before and after meals, and most certainly after using a toilet facility. Despite which, those same children, become adult, lapse into stupidity.

The claim can be made that there are insufficient health professionals to treat a growing population. To make matters worse, a growing population of the elderly, as Canada ages. There are too-few health dollars, too few resources to adequately treat all those who require the kind of care we demand. Operating cut-backs have resulted in fewer custodians to do the required in-depth-cleaning such institutions need.

Doctors and nurses, rushing from one surgery, one appointment, one patient to another, have less time to devote to irritating practises that only cut down on their time to respond. Hospital emergency rooms burgeon with the ill awaiting treatment, and spreading their germs and viruses generously on every surface they touch. Which, needless to say, the doctors and nurses who haven't bothered adequate cleansing, also do their share of.

But this is a priority issue!

Severe infections in the last year resulted in 9,320 deaths in Canadian hospitals (the province of Quebec was excluded from this report issued by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. And there has been ample evidence reported in such deaths in Quebec hospitals to assure that it operates no more conscientiously than hospitals in other provinces.) There were fewer deaths in hospital as a result of strokes and heart attacks.

The report pointed out that 25% of sepsis patients were diagnosed after hospital admission. Further, that those who developed sepsis while in the hospital setting were a whopping 56% likelier to die than those who acquired the infection pre-admission. "We know there's a lot that can be done in terms of prevention in hospitals. We think we can reduce mortality", according to the institute's director of performance measures.

The fingers point at doctors and nurses primarily. Simple handwashing, cleansing of equipment and rooms to prevent the spread of infections leading to deadly sepsis. Along with early recognition of infection and alacrity in treatment them with antibiotics. People with weakened immune systems; in other words the most vulnerable of a hospital's population are prone to advancing from a mild infection to a serious, life-threatening one.

Hospital administrations who take this issue seriously can make a huge difference. There are currently three hospitals in disparate parts of the country which have launched an aggressive plan to identify and treat sepsis on a priority basis, to lower mortality rates among hospital patients. A downward trend in such deaths has resulted. What several hospitals dedicate themselves to, all others must recognize as a necessity.

Lives depend on it.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Snowfall Perambulation




At minus-3 degrees centigrade and falling, we figured we could hazard a walk in the ravine without having to put protective booties on our little dogs. Though we did take the cautionary step of putting their harnesses on over their coats in case we were unable to access the ravine as a result of yesterday's snowfall. While we could manage, it would be too difficult for the two little dogs to struggle through that deep snow if it had been undisturbed.

And if that were to occur, we would take to the street instead, walking where we normally do not, to ensure that we and they received some exercise, since we'd missed the previous day thanks to the snowstorm. Our exercises, throughout the day yesterday in repeatedly clearing the snow from our walkways and driveway could, on the other hand, count for some physical exercise.

Fortunately, we found that others had preceded us; in all likelihood area children who have been taking the ravine trails as short-cuts to their various schools. So the going wasn't utterly impossible, though there were a few instances where we had to pick them up to get across short pieces of previously unused trail. Not so bad for Button with her long legs and energy to spare despite her venerability, but for short-legged Riley, well-neigh impossible.

Almost that bad for us, in fact, plodding along in the snow, uphill and down. Beautiful it was, beyond our year-to-year memory of how transforming the results of a heavy snowstorm can appear down there in the ravine. With trees heavily laden with their burden of snow; the evergreen boughs so weighed down that they swoop close to the ground, necessitating that we make our way around them. If, on the other hand, we choose to shake the snow off those boughs, up they come, raising themselves almost to their normal level.

Yesterday's roistering wind, creating white-outs everywhere was still in evidence, only slightly muted. And since no snow was falling, it was just the effects of the wind to contend with, moaning and groaning through the trees, clacking tops together in a symphony of winter conditions bringing us tidings of far more to come. The sky above was a pale grey, a slight covering through which the orb of a pale yellow sun kept attempting to assert itself. Occasionally successfully, with a brief bright beam of light crossing the area.

No birds to be seen anywhere today, but the occasional squirrel, not yet completely prepared to bed down for their semi-hibernating state to take them through the long, icily-inclement months of winter. It was kind of amazing, in fact, the slow but steady progress of our two little dogs, plodding along through the depths of the snow that completely covered their little legs with knots of snow firming up into balls resistant to removal, once we had returned home, even after dipping them into warm water.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bilingual Mississippi Mills

Official bilingualism remains an inoperative failure, a bitterly divisive faux structure that benefits a few and disincentivizes many more, particularly through the social insensitivity of its application. It may have seemed, in a cursory initial view, like a solution to the incendiary grievances of the French-speaking population that their rights within the larger English-speaking Canada were impaired, but it has turned out to be a white elephant of fire-breathing proportions.

Bilingualism purportedly represents the historical reality of an original foundation of the country, where the French and the British settled on the backs of a much longer-established aboriginal population. If we can be complacent about that, while struggling to manifestly live up to our collective responsibility to those whom we displaced from the land, why cannot we have simply laid to rest the fiction that each language had equal place in the political and social structure of the country?

And if official bilingualism, once it became a reality in law, was not able to figure out that where minority populations exist it should be incumbent upon them to learn to use the majority language the better to prepare themselves for integration at all levels, while still honouring their original language if they so desired, we were set up for failure from the inception, of Canada as a two-language country. If a province like Quebec chooses to be effectively unilingual, that is their choice, as a majority French-language entity.

It is exceedingly bureaucratically cumbersome, too dreadfully expensive, too socially irritating, and above all utterly insane to select language over capability, experience, expertise, professionalism, when filling critical government positions. The policy effectively creates further divisions and a backlash of resentment. The backwardness of the official bilingualism policy is all too evident with public servants forced to manage a language they seldom use in a practical setting.

And the absurdity of a postmistress in a municipality which is strictly English-speaking, where the only French-language requests have come from those who covertly entrap the unilingual speaker by presenting themselves as legitimate customers to build their case for dismissal is pathetic. But then, there are many French speakers who feel entitled to service in the language of their choice, whether or not they incidentally also speak passable English.

This is emblematic of those who feel themselves to have been victimized, a not-too-subtle form of civil revenge, history re-written and a hollow victory achieved. And the bureaucrats who administer the bilingual programs and are assertively determined to observe the very letter of the law have fired Jeanne Barr, postmistress in the town of Pakenham, more than adequately demonstrating how often the law is an ass.

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Our Winter Garden




The wind has been a howling virago all day. We've been the recipient of an ongoing blizzard; winds of 50kmh, heavy snow whirling about everywhere, interspersed with fragile ice pellets. The storm began in the early morning hours, and by noon there was about six to eight inches of snow on the ground. We were warned to anticipate roughly 16 cm throughout the day, and another 5 cm or so overnight. We have already exceeded that and have dug out several times.

(The city in which we live is experiencing traffic gridlock. Not helped one iota by the public transit system which absurdly uses articulated buses, fine for moving about greater numbers of fares, but not so good in such weather. They have an unfortunate tendency to jack-knife and insist that it is their right to do so, further tying up traffic by occasionally blocking both sides of a roadway.)

For people having to travel it's a nightmare. For those who can gaze out their windows onto the scene outside, it's a miracle of nature's transformation of a bleak late fall day into a snow-laden, scintillating scene of unimaginable beauty. We long ago settled our garden into winter mode. The bulbs planted in mid-fall had ample opportunity through incessant rain in October to establish themselves, setting down a good root system.

One of our backyard composters had been emptied and its contents sprinkled liberally on the gardens at the front. We used commercial compost, sheep manure mixed with black soil on the backyard gardens. Else our Button will delve into the compost and feast herself on the decomposed remnants of kitchen waste; some dogs exhibit the most outrageous proclivities. All of the garden pots have been stored under the deck, and covered with tarpaulins so the clay won't crack through exposure to free-and-thaw.

The latest, larger garden shed has been completed, and it now holds, among other tools, the snow thrower which was given a good first run of the season in clearing out the driveway out front and the walkways. I went out early in the day to shovel out all the backyard walkways and the deck just after noon, and moved about six-inch-thick layers so our little dogs could get out to do their thing. It had to be repeated a few hours later, but not by me. Although it was incredibly invigorating to be out there, in the swirling snow; picturesque beyond belief.

I thought: why not take a few photographs, and so I indulged. Snow can be seen layered atop some of our collection of classical garden statuary, the bird baths, the urns, which all remain in place through all seasons. Some (the urns, the birdbaths) are covered with rigid tops and plastic to ensure they too don't suffer from a freeze-and-thaw cycle that could leave them cracked. Our statuary have gone through many years of exposure and remain intact.

Although the astute observer will notice that Faith, Hope and Charity cling closely to one another for warmth in this season inimical to the unprepared unclad, while the infinitely hardier figure of Discobolus refuses to submit to the weather-inclemency and bravely continues his solo, victorious toss.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Stuntmen of the World

Stupid, stupid. But then, Greenpeace and its supporters have never attempted any manoeuvres that weren't based on blatantly confrontational, illegal and colourful stunts. It's what they pride themselves on. Their rationale has always been that their ideological dedication to the environment and the helpless creatures whom human society prey upon requires them to create a theatre of boastful intent and arrogant self-aggrandizing whose righteousness lends them the public courtesy of an honourable regard.

Their stunts have made instant, world-wide news. Events that highlight their bold intent, their skillful scenarios of high-seas confrontation that bedazzles the public, and perplexes governments. There is no authority to which they submit other than their own ultra-enhanced sense of entitlement to challenge what they determine to be decisions inconsistent with their reason for existence; to protect the vulnerable, be it the Earth itself, or the creatures of it.

Commendable, on the fact of it. They do, however, have a tendency to go a bit too far. They celebrate their boldness, surrendering common-sense and the potential harm they may do through their very particular type of civil dissent. In orchestrating yet another success, similar to the one that took place in England, by accessing the very seat of political power through ascending to the roofs of the Centre Block and the West Block on Parliament Hill, they made their point.

In so doing, they embarrassed a government and their security forces. At the same time again demonstrating their disregard for law and order in the greater search for what they feel is universal justice. Which may very well be true, depending on where one sits on the issue at hand, and the issue of global climate change is a huge one, consuming tremendous concern for the international community and people within those communities.

Yet Canada is a peaceful, freedom-assuring country, one that takes its interior and exterior obligations seriously. Its current government does acknowledge the very real threat of climate change, and the human contributions through CO2 emissions which must be restrained, is committed to focusing new technologies to be brought into play to help diminish greenhouse gas threatening the balance of the Earth's atmosphere.

Canadians have no wish to become a closed society, one which is always on tenterhooks, fearful of attacks and responding to such incidents with undue force and determination. Nor do we appreciate that a band of reckless self-availers who celebrate themselves as saviours of the world environment may have through their rash decision-making demonstrated to those who might wish to do real harm to the country how easily it can be done.

In the final analysis, a swift and rather absurd confrontation, and embarrassment through an illegal act of brief occupation, and world news. Does this alter anything in a meaningful way?

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Recycle, Reuse, Reduce

Well, we do our very best to do those things. We've got two composters on the go out in the backyard, and empty all our kitchen waste into them on a regular basis. And then, of course, once a year, we have the pleasure of emptying one of the composters, leaving the other to continue being filled and to cook away into good compost. We're very good about hauling everything out to the composters in every season, but not very good about aerating it, turning it over.

The result? A stinky, wet mass when it comes to sprinkling it over the gardens. But, we do this in the very late fall, so by the time spring comes around, it's all been nicely broken down over winter and seeps and crumbles itself into the soil, enriching it and providing our gardens with the nurturance they require to reward us with healthy plants and huge, beautiful blooms. And of course, in the process we're bypassing the need to have all our kitchen waste hauled off to some municipal dump.

That's the recycle part of our dedication to our very near environment. There's also some reuse in there, as well. I do try to clean out and use all the plastic and glass food containers that I can, keeping a good supply of them around for all kinds of uses, temporary and otherwise. As for reduce, well, that's the hell of it, isn't it? We're natural-born consumers, sad to say. We have two newspapers delivered daily, and that's one heap of a pile of newsprint put out in our black boxes every two weeks.

And I have noticed that it has become very difficult to reduce the amount of recyclables we collect and put out in our blue box. Increasingly, produce is no longer loose, but placed inside boxes of one kind or another, plastic for the most part. Packaging is on the increase, not the other way around, in our increasingly-environmentally-sensitive world. And why is that? Why haven't all three levels of government who are burdened with the need to collect waste and recycle as much as they can, spoken to manufacturers?

I imagine many of those manufacturers are creating additional jobs, and presumably right at the home market. So no one in their right mind wishes to disturb that neat little problem. But it is a problem and it should be addressed. The fact is, even though we're placing plastics, metals, glass and paper in recycling bins, the truth appears to be that it makes us feel good, but it doesn't contribute anything useful to the problem of accumulated wastage.

Metal, which accounts for an infinitesimally small portion of the recyclable waste collected, appears to be the only material that can be sold at a decent price. Glass, plastics and newspaper recycling aren't really big on paying for themselves. They simply don't bring a price that would balance out the energy it takes to collect them; they're money-losers, municipalities pay far more than they get back to bring them into the recycling stream.

Fact is, even the collection of yard waste by municipalities for the very good purpose of creating mulch that can later be redistributed at a cost to home-owners, is a process that is energy-wasting, the process emitting far more CO2 than simply land-filling it. There are those who claim that the benefits of recycling are reversed by the resources utilized in collecting and processing.

We just cannot win for losing, it appears. Suddenly that glow of good citizenship and general societal achievement has lost its burnish.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Bless You, Too

How wrong can someone's judgement turn out to be? Not just 'someone', but a justice in whose determination in judging an individual can result in absolute carnage when his trust in the goodness of humankind proves unwarranted. Well, amend that; there are most certainly instances when people standing before a court of justice deserve an opportunity to demonstrate their sincere regret for abnormal behaviour seen as inimical to society' security.

In the case of Allan Schoenborn of British Columbia, whom RCMP Constable Scott Mcdiarmid was convinced was a dangerous man and did his utmost to convey his unease to justice of the peace Fraser Hodge - trust in a man who claimed to regret his temporary loss of perspective in threatening a schoolchild whom he suspected of being unkind to his own daughter - that error in judgement proved fatal.

"God bless you" was the kindly bestowal of appreciation that Mr. Schoenborn left with the good justice of the peace. It took two days only after his release for this man to murder his three children, ten, 8, and 5 years of age. Evidence that Mr. Schoenborn took the justice seriously when he released him with the words "I want you to remember you got a good break on this and, you know, appreciate that. Don't let anything go wrong."

One imagines justice of the peace Mr. Hodge suffering hugely at just this point. The three young children will never suffer anything again. Mr. Hodge will forever recall Constable Mcdiarmid's frantic overtures to him, attempting to convince him to retain Mr. Schoenborn in jail, until a hearing over his having threatened a child. At which time, presumably, it might have been revealed that the man was dangerously insane.

The officer had informed the justice of the accused's previously, frequent arrests. He pointed out the man's criminal record. That he was immensely worried over the fact that this man's aberrant behaviour was such that he could threaten a nine-year-old child. "I know we are close to the line on this one", Mr. Hodge responded. "But I am going to give Mr. Schoenborn a chance."

A dread decision now, to live with.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Which, Then?

Canada and the United States are currently on the downward slope of H1N1 infection. The world's latest World Health Organization-recognized pandemic has demonstrated itself to be relatively innocuous, as pandemics go. It was the swift rate of transmission, human-to-human, that qualified it for the pandemic status, not quite the rate of viral-infection mortality.

Since the facts appear to demonstrate convincingly that more lives are lost annually to seasonal flu than this H1N1 flu.

It has expressed itself in a peculiar way for some people, attacking previously-healthy young people so brutally that they've lost their lives in astonishingly short order. And while seasonal flu presents as a danger to the elderly and the very young, it appears, from statistics, that this flu has bypassed the elderly to focus on people in the chronological mid-range; between 30 and 56 in the majority.

It appears to have been this virus's ability to settle, in rare instances, in the lungs, that has led to its deadly effect on an unfortunate minority of those mortally stricken. And there remains the fear that this strain may alter itself and become more deadly, and also more resistant to current-usage drugs, although the truth is that no one, including medical specialists, really knows.

Now, an expert in infectious disease dynamics in Toronto is convinced that H1N1 transmission is at such a relatively low ebb that further mass inoculations are unnecessary. That there are currently so many within the population who are effectively immune both through vaccination and through having become previously infected, that the general population is no longer at great risk; the critical level of immunity has been reached.

On the other hand other experts, for example the country's medical officer of health, insist that people must still be vaccinated to ensure that millions of people still at risk of infection are spared. It's a conundrum; the benefit to inoculation diminishes as we proceed into the future, with the diminishment of H1N1 activity.

And the public health record suffers in that most normal public health programs have been put on hold while public health focuses primarily on the delivery of vaccination for H1N1 prevention. And then there's the issue that we don't really want to admit may have influenced our reaction to H1N1; that the drug industry lobby may have influenced the WHO's H1N1 decision.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Vignettes of This Day

Decided to bake date squares for a change, haven't had them in ages. Made an oatmeal-walnut crumble bottom and top, and it was quick work to get it all into the oven. Used the portable oven which has a tendency to bake things too quickly, and forgot to pay attention, so the topping got slightly burnt, but not enough to really notice when dessert-time rolled around. A telephone call from our granddaughter had caught me off guard; yet another PD day.

When we went out for our daily hour-long ravine walk, the sun couldn't make up its mind, kept peeking out from behind clouds dark enough to bring snow, but which didn't. In fact, yesterday's rain had washed away the slight accumulation of snow from previous days' events. And little Stumpy accosted us no fewer than three times on our ramble through the ravine, on each occasion boldly coming closer and closer, to fetch his peanuts from us.

Button and Riley, our two little dogs, have become accustomed to his appearances, no longer bother themselves about his brief presence, and just get on with other things, further emboldening Stumpy. We keep all the really big peanuts, those with three chambers rather than merely two, especially for him. We're curious about whether squirrels recall where they've hidden peanuts.

Looked that up on the Internet yesterday and the message is a double one; sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. What they do engage in evidently is pretending to bury something in a number of places when they feel they're being watched, before finally burying the edible object, to put off potential hijackers. We're most pleased when Stumpy sits there, eating the peanuts we offer him rather than burying them.

When we were out doing the grocery shopping today, a harried, exasperated young man trying to stock the dairy coolers informed someone's grandma that "lady, they all have the same date", when I was trying to find a more distant-dated lactose-reduced 2% milk carton. "No, they are not!" I responded, to his chagrin, inviting him to use his height to obtain one for me. Poor kid. I thanked him effusively.

We'd left Button and Riley at home on their own when we hied ourselves off for shopping. Little Button, usually so aloof, even with us, whimpered piteously on our return and I scooped her up for a big hug. Littler Riley, generally phlegmatic, indulged in a chorus of howling renting the air with his frustration at the outrage, so he too got scooped up.

When I prepared dinner I decided instead of drizzling olive oil over the cauliflower florets I was baking along with the chicken, that I'd use the newly-prepared salad dressing I put together yesterday for which I'd used lemon juice instead of vinegar with the olive oil and seasonings. After dinner my husband remarked on how odd the cauliflower had tasted; off-putting, he said.

I responded by informing him of what I'd done, for a change. He laughed, hugged me, and recommended that I consider that to have been an unsuccessful initiative. Back to the old way. He had gone out briefly before I served dinner, to snip parsley from the herb garden back of the house. Despite the snow we've had, and the current slightly below-freezing temperature, the parsley is still perkily fresh. Great with our chicken soup.

After dinner, Button, who appears to have forgotten how to ask to be let out, scratched at the sliding glass doors, so I went over and let her out. A few minutes later I heard her bark outside (there, she remembered!) to be let back in. As she so often does when she's been out to do her business, she rushed through the door like a spitfire, racing about with such verve you mightn't believe she's 17.

Two minutes later, as he was clearing away the dishes from the dining room table, my husband exclaimed. She had decided to evacuate right there. Her memory has these dips and lows; she has forgotten occasionally how unhygienic and downright unfriendly it is to do such things in the house. And quite evidently she had forgotten, after she was let out, why she wanted to go outside to begin with.

And then was puzzled by my angry shout at her, informing her that I thought her to be a "bad girl!". I was upset, but not he. He's the one who cleans up such messes, and he laughed uproariously. Thinking about it in that way, it is ridiculous, and chastising her serves no real purpose other than to confuse her.

She looks so adorable, after the much-needed haircut I gave her and Riley two days earlier. That adorability will fast fade and she and he will once again resemble tousled mops.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Driving Entitlement

It's such a pedestrian thing; everyone drives, everyone thinks they have a right to drive. And everyone thinks they are extremely capable at doing it, as well. Motorists feel they have a right to drive. It is so utterly fundamental to modern-day life. We have committed ourselves to ferrying ourselves about everywhere - as a matter of practical necessity, as well as simple laziness. We cannot seem to imagine life without a car.

And like all activities one becomes accustomed to performing, driving is something that is human-motor-mechanically done. It's such a familiar thing, who even thinks about what they're doing? They just proceed, automatically. Having adapted oneself over the years to habits inimical to safety. Speeding recklessly, failing to observe road courtesy, let alone traffic signals, necessary to maintain a clockwork precision of motorized choreography.

Pedestrians have learned to have a care. Isn't everyone, at some times, a pedestrian? Shouldn't motorists recall that simple fact? That, if they're driving dangerously, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they are handling a potentially dangerous instrument, one that might maim or kill human beings? Theoretically we all do know that, but in a practical way it's a bloody nuisance, best ignored lest it interfere with our freedoms and entitlements.

Here's a 53-year-old Ottawa man, informed through a CT scan that he had a brain tumour. His family doctor and his family urged him to visit a specialist for further diagnosis. "I certainly didn't feel inclined to see a brain surgeon. I thought there was nothing wrong with my brain", Robert Mainwaring informed the court at a hearing of one count of careless driving.

He lived with his tumour for five years, not knowing what how it might be affecting him. Not, it would appear, noticing anything untoward in his physical state, his awareness. And he killed a 98-year-old woman crossing a downtown street. Because his neurological state was such that his visual field was deleteriously affected. A few months after the accident Mr. Mainwaring was operated on, to remove a portion of the tumour.

The tumour had been, after all, giving him headaches and causing him to be confused, as untreated, it had grown. A neuro-ophthalmologist who had been asked to appear before the court testified that after he had tested the man's visual fields, he'd discovered significant loss of vision on Mr. Mainwaring's left visual field. A condition that would have pertained to the time of the accident.

Does Mr. Mainwaring feel deep-seated regret for having taken the life of a pedestrian? Well, his specialist had informed him he shouldn't be driving, had also notified the ministry of transportation, with the result that Mr. Mainwaring's license had been suspended. There had been two previous driving mishaps before that unfortunate fatality.

During his two-and-a-half hour testimony Mr. Mainwaring, appearing confused at times, informed the court that he has obeyed the no-driving order. However, he said, he aspires to drive again. "I believe I am a careful driver, more careful than most."

He is obviously still brain-impaired.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

H1N1! And Other Stuff

A gorgeous day of full sunshine and reasonable temperature of 6-degrees centigrade. Our leisurely breakfast followed by a visit to our very local Canadian Tire for our ten-year-old Honda to have an oil change, and an emissions-control test preparatory to license renewal. The return home awaiting completion of those tasks was a mere fifteen minute walk. After which we walked in a more convivial way, up the street to the entrance of the ravine.

Where we loosed our two little dogs so they could sniffle and snuffle their way wherever it took their fancy, leaving their own messages for other dogs to interpret in their turn. The clay upon which the ravine is mostly based, along with sand, has succumbed to its late-fall mire, not only the result of rainfall, but of the freeze-and-thaw cycle of low overnight temperatures and a rise in temperature during the day.

Calling for extreme caution when treading downhill and uphill, both. We know the terrain so intimately from our quotidian ventures over the past 20 years that we have little problem negotiating our way without slipping beyond control. We had witnessed, two days earlier, a young woman with two leashed and vastly overweight chows struggling to make her way uphill, teetering and sliding, finally slipping back to the bottom of a hill.

None of that today, since we're the only ones in there. As usual, slipping peanuts into the crotches of trees, in holes in the barks of others, along the rails of the bridges gapping the stream, watching as squirrels raid those deposits in gleeful possession. Yesterday, Stumpy approached us no fewer than four times for his peanuts, today we've not seen him even once. He knows where to find them, clever little fellow.

Later, we take ourselves off to the town centre for the H1N1 vaccination clinic. Earlier in the day, my husband had dropped by to pick up our numbered/coloured wrist bands and copies of the questionnaire to be filled out, and was given instruction that we should return at three for our inoculations. Which we did, arriving to find hordes of other people doing the same. We were ushered into a small theatre, advised to wait until called.

After a few moments of waiting, we were informed that those with purple wristbands and final 3 numbers under 300 should hie themselves off to the third floor. There, a long line had formed, but moved along at a good pace. We soon found ourselves in front of a long line of desks where people manning computers inputted our information and sent us along to another line from which we were eventually dispatched to other desks.

Nurses and health technicians viewed the completed questionnaires we held, pleasantly posed a few questions, then proceeded to deliver our inoculations, directing us afterward to a waiting area where we were advised to await the print-out of our inoculation information, and after fifteen minutes of 'recovery', we were free to leave. The entire process having taken 25 minutes, despite the throngs of people.

On arrival home, I assembled my haircutting equipment and set about giving Button and Riley their long-overdue hair trimming. I filled a plastic bag with black- and with apricot-coloured poodle hair. Button, approaching 17, feels this to be a vast indignity and resists mightily, making the procedure difficult, but in the end rewarding, as we regard a nicely groomed little dog.

Riley simply submits, resigning himself with a huge heave of a sigh, to the inevitable. And he too, comes out of the process looking neat and tidy, and utterly adorable. We've decided to overlook a bath this time. In this weather bathing them always presents with a situation where they require a long rub-down with soft towels to remove as much moisture from their skin as possible. They're sensitive to the cold, and shiver for hours afterward, even though they look and feel dry, and we've put little warm coats on them.

There's satisfaction in having enjoyed a pleasant and fruitful day. Onward and upward!

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Chasing Notoriety

It's pretty amazing the lengths to which people will go to assert their individuality, their specialness, their unique ability to shine in some particular way, even if in reality they are simply individuals whose goals are to indulge themselves to represent as celebrity-material. From parents who conspire to create an apprehension that one of their children is in imminent danger to focus world attention on the spectacle of a child aloft in a weather balloon, from people who present themselves as beautiful, wealthy and coolly sophisticated.

And then there's the latest of these absurd social concoctions, a couple addicted to personal flair of showmanship, convinced they stand out as conspicuously spectacular for the depth of their commitment as socialites, people whose special status merits them the obligation to display the kind of single-minded determination of availing themselves everything. Which includes an appearance at what must certainly be thought of as a tightly security-controlled social event whose attendance is constrained to particular invitees.

As gate-crashers they evidenced a nerveless commitment to showboating themselves in poses with the elite of society and pop culture, the politically powerful, and the moneyed insiders whose influence with the White House guaranteed them a presence at the White House state function honouring the prime minister of India. Their smooth aplomb, along with the eye-catching couture they wore, swifted them past inexplicably lax security into the inner sanctum of a state dinner.

As aspiring fish in a little pond they stick-handled themselves into the big time as instant celebrities, inspiring the news media to a feeding frenzy to capture the images of the newest shooting star in the firmament of celebrity-culture. They've had, it would appear, more than enough rehearsals for the big show, grooming themselves through flash and glitz within Washington's middle-rung social and sporting events.

Managing the trusting and the gullible to assist and provide them with the furnishings required to make that indelible impression, and in the process leaving behind unpaid bills and the chagrin of those who were taken to the cleaners. Now, though, having made a laughing stock of the security professionalism of the U.S. Secret Service - in the process providing invaluable lessons of bold adventurism that those who harbour ill will to their President may wish to emulate - they're reaping the coveted attention they aspired to.

"They are asking for best offers from all the networks", a news executive has offered - looking to gain through high value fees for high-value products such as photographs and videos demonstrating amply how professionally intrepid and self-serving Michaele and Tareq Salahi are, and how great a price they place on their bold and splashy adventurism. Finessing the photos through brazen effrontery, then carefully flaunting them.

For sale to the highest bidders. Creating the buzz to earn the notoriety that will result in all those high-profile interviews, and all at a very preferential price. Coming to a studio near you.

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