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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Agricultural Self-Sufficiency

The Liberal Party of Canada is feverishly wracking its collective brain to storm one idea after another to gather the attention and enraptured respect of the voting public. One idea after another limps into public consciousness through news releases meant to intrigue the general public and to be debated by political pundits. One idea after another comes up badly wanting in intelligence of conception and practicality of pursuit.

A new policy - should the Liberals come to office with Michael Ignatieff ascending to the status of Right Honourable - to initiate funding of $80-million, presumably to start local crops rolling to market. "Healthy food" to be produced through locally-grown crops to be provided for a quarter-million low-income children. Another $50-million to increase food inspections, making certain that imported food products meet our stringent standards.

Government subsidies to farmers are already in existence. This is why Canadians, including low income families in particular, pay inordinately, exorbitantly high prices for dairy products. Making milk for growing young bones an expensive commodity. Lean white meat from poultry becomes exorbitantly priced as compared to elsewhere on the continent because of government 'support' to farmers. Put egg producers in there, too.

Canada's wheat boards ensure good pricing for grain growers; Canada grows some of the world's best hard-wheat grain. We live in a competitive world where countries raise tariffs on imported products that compete with home-grown producers as most countries make an effort to protect their food-producing industries. And that's all to the good, for the most part. If a country cannot adequately feed itself, it has lost its most important purpose.

Most Canadians would prefer to buy produce grown close to where they live. Stands to reason that fruits and vegetables grown in season that are local will be fresher. And sometimes less expensive, too, though not always. Reasonably, most people don't mind paying a little more to ensure that what they eat is fresh and reliably free from food pathogens and pesticide residues. Realistically, however, this is a northern climate, with a short growing season.

And Canada cannot grow crops that do well in southern climes, such as citrus fruits, bananas, pineapples, for example. And those fruits and vegetables that we do grow are strictly seasonal. Except for those grown in greenhouses, and we excel with those, too, but they are environmentally costly. We cannot grow everything that we like to have on the table for a well-balanced diet, in all seasons.

Our domestic egg, poultry and dairy marketing boards do a good enough job at keeping our farmers reasonably happy, and consumers complacent about having to pay more to ensure our agricultural industry is thriving. But we most certainly do not need to increase the extent of subsidies that currently exist, and we do not need to refuse to import food products from emerging economies that need our custom.

In short, we're doing all right, no need to tamper with things for the moment. Those Canadians, and there are many, who are interested in buying local and paying more for organically grown and produced food items have those options to please themselves and to assist local growers in developing their own local markets.

We're doing all right. We value our farmers, our growers, our food producers.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Drunk Driver: Finality of Death: Five-Year Sentence:

What could possibly be more painful than looking in as a silent witness to the agony of a family that has lost a loved one? In this instance, a young woman, hardly more than a girl, whose life was taken in a dreadful accident on the very cusp of her family's rural property. A beautiful young girl whose parents and younger sister could never, ever have imagined being deprived of her presence in their lives.

Anguishing enough to be informed of the death of a young person, in a more impersonal way, by an official dispatched from an accident scene, a police officer whose duty it would be to knock at a family door and inform those inside that a dreadful accident had occurred, and it is is their child, their sister, whose presence has evaporated from the land of the living. But in this particular instance it was not like that at all.

A family living in the Petawawa area became aware of a crash and commotion outside their home, just beyond their driveway, on the road that runs by their home. Rushing outside to see a vehicle smashed, and in flames. Unable to recognize the vehicle as their own. Unable to conceive at first that it is their child in that vehicle, clinging to life, being eaten by flames. Then stricken with reality.

Responding, rushing to the scene, with the full realization dawning that their 17-year-old daughter sat in that inferno, desperately attempting to reach her, free her, rescue her from certain death. Mother being held back by neighbours trying to put out the flames, and the father desperate to give his daughter comfort, agonizingly screaming out his love for her.

Death would not be foiled, and they became witness to their child's departure from life. And the cause? A young woman, a decade older than their daughter, driving intoxicated, over twice the legal limit, driving recklessly, a hazard to all other drivers on the roads she sped through, all of whom managed to evade her, while contacting authorities to warn of her dangerous presence.

The only one who could not evade her was the daughter, the young woman, waiting for traffic to clear so she could safely turn into her driveway.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Compellingly Professional

Well, there is nothing quite like the classist, eccentric, self-righteous, boringly self-absorbed British. Never a dull moment, it would appear. Sometimes their small-minded self-entitlement creates truly scandalous, albeit amusing incidents that make it quite clear how discombobulating life can be for British academics jealous of their professional credentials, and just loving to prick pins into the irritatingly-inflated reputations of their academic peers, to brighten their own.

Don't like the well-researched and documented tomes of another academic writer? Well, do something! Don't just sit around waiting for some staid reviewer to publish a condemnation of a rival's published output, it may never happen. Take the initiative, and write a scathing put-down of your own. And don't tuck it away in a desk drawer. Publish it. Anonymously, if need be. But commit yourself to doing something positive for yourself to settle your ire.

And that's just what British historian and author Orlando Figes committed himself to. With his elevated position as a historian of high repute, who would ever suspect him of having succumbed to such a nasty turn? Well, perhaps the very academics whose work he trashed, that's who. Enterprising in their own right, recognizing his style, and through the simple expedient of an on-line check.

And the sordid little story of one academic's jealous tirade against the published successes of those whom he considered his academic inferiors comes to light. So what do you do about it? Well deny, of course. And hire a lawyer. And outright lie to the lawyer. Convince your wife to admit it was she, not you, who'd written those rotten reviews. All in vain.

The author of the damning online reviews who signed himself "Historian", characterizing works by others as "rubbish", a "dull read", "dense", "pretentious" and other unkind and cutting comments also wrote scintillating reviews of his own book. His own was, for example, "beautifully written ... leaves the reader awed, humbled, yet uplifted ... a gift to us all."

In his dreams, perhaps. Because of his clumsiness and his lack of attention to details, as for example, hiding incriminating evidence as to his identity, he is now suffering nightmares of his chickens coming home to roost. "I am ashamed of my behaviour and don't entirely understand why I acted as I did. Some of the reviews I now see were small minded and ungenerous, but they were not intended to harm."

Small minded and ungenerous? That's putting it mildly. But since they were not intended to harm, well then, that's all right. It can readily be seen that this poor man was not in full possession of his faculties. Was he, then, when he threatened to sue for defamation when one of his victims accused him of being the hidden critic?

Well, the poor man is now on sick leave. Sick? Yes, he's completely ill from the controversy. Not at all what he set out to do, what he had intended. "This crisis has exposed some health problems, though I offer that more as explanation than excuse. I need some time now to reflect on what I have done and the consequences of my actions with medical help."

In this instance is 'explanation' not excuse? Sad sot.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Psychoanalyzing Children

As most parents are fully aware, most children are not blessed with placid temperaments. They are notoriously prone to questioning authority, and to protesting "you're not the boss of me!" They are adept at infuriating their parents - at every age, from infant to adolescence and quite beyond. They can be adamantly single-minded when representing something they wish to do or to acquire, and won't be talked down.

Their attention spans can be irritatingly short, and they manage to 'forget' what they have no intention of remembering.

They can, in short drive even the most patient of parents to distraction. Not all the time, obviously, but, it seems most of the time. Their 'acting out' and temper tantrums can seem puzzlingly inappropriate, reacting in an unforeseen manner to something that seems, to a parent's mind, of slight dimensions.

These little, and growing human individuals can be angelic at one moment (famously, asleep) and raging dynamos the next.

But they are not, definitely not, on the lunatic fringe of normal. Behaviour that perplexes parents in their children is very normal. Human beings reach toward individuality and independence, even as, at the same time, they are gregarious in nature and imitative by design, and seek comfort in being with others; not quite so independent.

But they are most certainly dependent on the sane deliberations of their parents.

Guidance and values handed down from parents to children through a well functioning (this is, of course, relatively speaking) family situation forms the basic character of the child. Underlying, or rather overlaid is the public, social child whose antics may sometimes almost convince a parent of switched hospital bassinets.

Despite which, parents should be aware of a kind of health-professional-pharmaceutical-production conspiracy.

Yes, there are children whose behaviour transcends the norm, and they may indeed require professional assistance, and even prescribed mind-altering chemicals to help cope. (Help the parents cope, more likely) No one said it was easy, parenting. That aside, the psychiatric profession has been busy, very busy, creating additional business opportunities for themselves. In lock-step with the pharmaceutical industry.

Formulating new guidelines for recognition of amazing new mental disorders that no one, ever before, dreamed of. Current-day children are incredibly prone to a wide array of mental dysfunction; we know that because the psychiatric profession tells us so.

They're doing this through a universally sinister plot whose guidelines for mental-dysfunction recognition are neatly laid out in their most recent draft of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Thank heavens, the entire profession isn't involved and there are some notable, honourable professionals who question the very professional morality of labelling children's behaviours as mentally aberrant. Temper tantrums?

"It's a healthy expression of frustration. It's a very serious move to contemplate that as a bona fide mental illness, which is what they're very seriously proposing." (Christopher Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became a Sickness.)

And Dr. Allen Frances, professor emeritus at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina worries about children being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. Leading potentially to over-diagnosis. And labelling ordinary children with extraordinary behaviours as 'ill', effectively excusing their inexcusable lack of self-discipline; a learning process in normative socialization.

"Whenever you create a new category that has a boundary with normality, you're definitely going to have a high prevalence", says Dr. Frances, and presumably he should know, having chaired a task force that created the current edition of the psychiatrists' bible known as the DSM-IV.

Bipolar disorder diagnoses increased hugely after the definition was broadened, to include irritability. Irritability. Really.

In Canada, prescriptions for powerful anti-psychotics for children and teenagers has doubled in recent years, with close to 1.7-million prescriptions for "atypical"; newer anti-psychotics filled for people under the age of 20. These are drugs prescribed for symptoms like "aggression", "low frustration tolerance", and mood and anxiety disorders.

Let's face it, raising kids is tough. But do we really need to drug them to ensure compliance? Children do eventually mature. They become adults. What kind of adults ensue from diagnoses compelled by parents seeking help in raising their unruly children that proclaim them to be mentally unfit?

The prescription should be patience; it usually works.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Expanding a Profession - Beware the Psychiatric Pharmaceutical Complex

If business is slow, do something about it. Create a market. One that might not have existed before. It's called entrepreneurial marketing. And in some markets the potential for expansion is quite simply amazing. Take, for example, the human mind. Take, for example, people, individuals, each and every one spectacularly unique. Like snowflakes, each one formed by ice crystals in various wonderful shapes - no two, we are informed by those who know, alike its neighbour.

Something like people, come to think of it. We are all so different from one another. We've our inherited genetic qualities, and then there are learned behaviours resulting from exposure to various situations and experiences combining with our inherent character to create, all together, a completely individualistic personality. All of us are distinctly ourselves, with the things in life that we value and others that we shrink from.

We are moderate, well-balanced, socialized creatures for the most part, but we can also be people-averse, phobic cranks. And, of course, everything in between. In some areas of the world people who behave truly oddly are simply labelled eccentrics and they are not only tolerated, but often admired as well, for their different responses to life's experiences. The great mass of people, however, prefer to be like everyone else, and thus unnoticed.

But then there are those who are flamboyant, ecstatic about life and its possibilities, energetically seeking opportunities others would far rather bypass. And, of course, the sociopathic element of any society who are emotionally detached and soured by life, unwilling to share with society and often enough given to unethical, sometimes violent responses to societal norms. We have them all. In some dire instances, control is imperative.

And psychiatry is busy labelling everything, placing characteristics and phobias and confusions and antipathies into neat categories. All of which, once studied and filed neatly into separate and distinct types can be labelled mental illnesses which should be treated by those very psychiatrists whose business it is to identify, quantify, qualify and prescribe.

The public is more aware than ever that there is a steadily growing categorization of human attributes and behaviours and pathologies. Some of which never quite existed before, and which are now recognized as needful of close scrutiny and control. A former American wartime general and later president of his country mouthed a cautionary "beware the military-industrial complex". We can neatly paraphrase it as "beware the psychiatric-pharmaceutical complex".

The latest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has been drafted for publication. This is a manual used world-wide by psychiatrists whose interest in treating patients fitting into its neat classifications has enabled the profession to grow in lock-step with the steadily growing identification of newly-recognized mental illnesses plaguing society. This manual now lists 357 human mental disorders.

Everything from diagnoses of attention-deficit disorders; hyperactivity, autism and childhood bipolar disorder (manic depression) in children - for they're never too young to be recognized as being in some way abnormal by their obstreperous and disorderly behaviour that was once seen as normal, if irritating - requiring costly and time-consuming professional treatment along with appropriate medication.

And there are other criteria and classifications newly recognized and coined, like children with persistent "negative mood" and frequent temper tantrums; this new illness is labelled "temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria". Right, and there's "behavioural addictions" where we recognize problem gamblers. Soon to be joined by Internet and sex addictions.

Behaviours that are seen as socially deviant; pornographers, sexual predators, hypersexuality. These are mental conditions, not instances of human beings losing touch with rational and decent decision-making, succumbing to the allure of the societally (and morally) forbidden, edging into the realm of indecency and outright violations of human rights - of others, of course.

It is unfortunate that some of these potent pharmaceuticals now being prescribed for these unfortunate conditions have other, inimical effects on the human system, but that's life. Fix one thing and another thing goes awry. Nature, it would appear, has done a half-assed job in her production of the human spirit and psyche, and our emotions and hormones simply carry us away into morbid insanity.

Begin with new mental-disease classifications that are diagnosed by readily recognizable symptoms listed in the new manual, and suddenly there's an epidemic of people suffering from disorders society never knew existed, and had always attributed to anti-social or undisciplined behaviour. The underlying reason is much more sinister; mental illness, and not merely apprehended psycho-social maturity.

Identify the problem, assure the patient (and often the law enforcement agencies) and begin treatment. Last year alone, the burden on the country's universal health care system was huge, and it is steadily growing. Pharmaceuticals are taking up an increasingly-large share of the health-care budget. Last year in Canada pharmacies dispensed 61.2 million prescriptions.

Canada has a population of 33 million souls. Are we all mad?

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Does (Driving) Age Matter?

An Angelic boyhood becomes a satanic old age. (Angelicus juvenis senibussatanizat in annis.) Erasmus (quoted as a proverb invented by Satan)

Seems sensible to believe that it does. Young drivers tend to suffer from obvious inexperience. They also have something to 'prove' to their buddies, and that generally translates in some element of laxity with respect to rules of the road. Mostly commonly seen in their propensity to speed. They're also fairly certain to the point of rock-hard belief that nothing untoward will happen to them. When it happens, it does to others. Because, for the most part, they're invincible, and beyond the potential for accidents to occur when they're behind the wheel.
Youth beholds happiness gleaming in the prospect. Age looks back on the happiness of youth and, instead of hopes, seeks its enjoyment in the recollection of hope. S.T. Coleridge
Which is why, in today's paper for example, there's a little news story about a 17-year-old girl driving a car with a 19-year-old male passenger, causing an accident by speeding, hitting a vehicle driven by a 29-year-old woman. Injuries were not too serious. In the past week two teens were involved in a kind of 'coasting' incident where someone driving a car will haul along a buddy eager to prove just how invincible they are. One male hero got caught under the front bumper of the car.
The spring, like youth, fresh blossoms doth produce,
But autumn makes them ripe and fit for use:
So Age a mature mellowness doth set
On the green premises of youthful heat. Sir John Denham
And then, two weeks ago, a 93-year-old woman, a very energetic, enthusiastic woman who loved her car and also playing cards - according to her large circle of friends, lost control of her vehicle and collided with a transport truck. The truck, and its driver, are fine. She is stone-dead. Presumably she lived a happy enough life, as a very busy, engaged and well socialized elder. She was reputed to have been in very good health, for her advanced age.

And the latest? An 89-year-old man who drove his car into a liquor store. Who knew the advanced-in-age were so fond of their tipple? This man was shaken up by the incident, when his silver Honda Accord 'jumped' the curb, crossed the sidewalk and crashed through the glass storefront of the liquor store. Oh, then it wasn't the driver, but rather the Honda Accord that was so anxious to get into the liquor store.

Oops, no, it was the driver after all, he'd just happened to drive into the parking lot to pick up some beer. Happened to be pulling into a parking spot when the accelerator presented itself to his foot, instead of the brake. The car skidded for ten metres inside the store, which, fortunately, hadn't been too busy with customers at the time, and stopped in a puddle of spilled wine and liquor. It must have been ecstatic.

This is what the driver said as he was later interviewed: "It was a straight accident", "I guess fate decreed it. I sure didn't do it on purpose." Asked if he plans to continue driving, one supposes he was rather taken aback at the very question: "I don't know why not".

I know why not!
Surely a wiser wish were thus expressed,
at eighty years let me be laid to rest. Solon
A little more tired at close of day,
A little less anxious to have our way;
A little less ready to scold and blame;
A little more care of a brother's name;
And so we are nearing the journey's end,
Where time and eternity meet and blend. Rollin J. Wells

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

What Other Options?

There's a tough one. What to do with the sometimes-irritating, sometimes-dangerous incursion of wildlife into geographies once their very own, now overtaken by tract housing. Most people find it amusing and even wonderful when they see small woodland creatures venturing from the presumed comfort of their natural surroundings, to seek comfort elsewhere. Where food may be easier to come by, at bird feeders and where pet food is placed outside and easily accessed.

But then, when clever raccoons continue to come by at night to raid backyard composters, and when equally clever crows rip apart plastic garbage bags set out for waste collection, people become irritated. They become alarmed, however, at the thought, the sight of, and the realization that increasingly some forest creatures are venturing into urban areas and present a real danger by their presence.

Coyotes have become a real headache right across the country; prevalent in the countryside, but now increasingly so in the suburbs, and even directly in urban areas. It is not just their presence, but far more a problem is their growing ease with the presence of humans. Once fear of humans has left their consciousness, they view life on the edge of human existence as an opportunity to advantage themselves.

People begin to realize just how advantaged coyotes can make themselves. Farmers could inform them how vulnerable their poultry, and sheep can be at the presence of coyotes. And now, urban dwellers tell their own stories of pets suddenly vanishing. Cats never returning home, and small dogs suddenly absent, even from well-fenced backyards where they're let out at night to relieve themselves.

If the story ended there it would be troublesome enough, but it does not. The lack of aversion to human presence is on the rise, and with it a greater display of audacity on the part of coyotes. There are many people who could readily confuse a coyote for a large dog. Except that some of these people have been confronted by snarling coyotes, sufficiently confident to track them to their front doors.

Very young children have been seen by coyotes as potentially superlative meals. And these young children have been attacked. From British Columbia at one end of the country to Nova Scotia at the other end, coyotes slinking through public parks, startling people, presenting as moderate threats to domesticated animals, and more stark threats, to people, have become a growing confrontational problem.

As for that moaning mea culpa on the part of animal lovers that human beings have been steadily displacing the wild animal populations off their traditional land, that is true to a degree. It is not true to the degree that coyotes now choose to share urbanized land with humans, for they do this entirely to advantage themselves, to be around where the pickings may be easier than living in the wild and having to stalk more alert creatures; their usual prey.

There is a distinct problem associated with human and wildlife contact. Obviously so, in the presence of bears, far less so when confronted with a squirrel. Bears do not normally, if they are in good health, seek out the presence of human beings, but they will most certainly seek out their dumps to avail themselves of anything remotely edible. They do not normally stalk human beings to feast on people.

Now we know that coyotes may do just that very thing. Six months ago a 19-year-old woman, a nature-enthusiast, out for a solitary walk on a popular trail in Nova Scotia, was attacked by a group of coyotes and killed by them. Nova Scotia is now introducing a $20 bounty on dead coyotes in an attempt to decrease their presence, in the hopes of decreasing the presence of potential human predators.

This is a sad and perhaps predictable end to a tragic story. Of course it's no help that wildlife biologists and previous such experiments point out that taking this tack produces no useful results.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Institutionalized Art Fraud

P.T. Barnum had it right, didn't he? You really can fool some of the people, most of the time. Put up a united front and assert whatever you will, do it often enough, with seeming conviction and authority and you cow people into submission; at the very least into believing what it is that is being put forward as being authentic without question, even if they themselves cannot see the value in what is being lauded.

As in non-representational art, abstract art so vague, so obscure and utterly lacking in aesthetic value which "experts" continue to express delight in. And which, if and when sufficiently successful in turning peoples' minds - if not toward satisfaction in creative aesthetic, then for those who can afford it, as an "investment" against future sales. People simply are easily led, and will, in the end, believe what they are told to believe.

Particularly when the world's leading art collectors have bought into the fiction that abstract minimalism has value, that it is expressive, and beautiful, representing the artist at his or her best. In this particular instance, it is the art of a Canadian-born abstract painter, Agnes Martin whose "extremely subtle grid of light grey pencil lines set against a soft beige background of acrylic paint - is expected to sell for between $4 million and $6 million in New York at a Sotheby's auction of contemporary art.

A vanishingly faint depiction of a desert painted in 1965 by the late Saskatchewan-born abstract artist Agnes Martin ...

Well then, judge for yourself. Above is a photograph of the eminent artist alongside her outstandingly exquisite painting of a desert, considered by art experts to represent a "masterpiece" of classical painting. One of Sotheby's knowledgeable curators describes it in the auction catalogue, "Like the sands in the desert landscape dissolving into a hazy horizon, the muted palette of the present work expands in front of the viewer".

"The Desert offers rewards to the viewer who is able to quiet their mind and eliminate distraction; it embodies emotion in an abstract, timeless and unchanging realm." This very painting earlier sold at a Christies auction three years earlier for $4.7 million. I cannot but increase in value as it 'matures' in the minds of those who hail it as an outstanding piece of art. The emotion it brings out in this viewer is simple disgust.

Bringing to mind the National Gallery of Canada's fantastic acquisition in 1989 of the acrylic on canvas painting by American Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire. Ordinary Canadians were outraged that the painting, now in the permanent collection of the Gallery in Ottawa, for which taxpayers of the country forked out a formidable $1.8 million. That exquisite painting
consists only of a red stripe on a blue background.

We can but hope that Canada's National Gallery will pass this one by, despite how irresistible it may seem to the gallery's curators, and spend that whopping sum on true art treasures, paintings that gallery-frequenters can truly stand before with admiration. Ms. Martin herself when once asked how viewers should approach her work responded: "You just go there and sit and look".


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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Something Truly Vile: Just Desserts?

Call it come-uppance, long in coming, but finally arrived. Someone who expresses public contempt for another whom he claims to be an ignoramus incapable of cracking open a book to educate, entertain and lose himself in the wonder of creative literature, feeling himself an exemplar of that creative process is in dire need of a pinprick of critical deflation.

Even though the old saying goes that "those who can, write; those who cannot criticize", there are more commonly now critics who also write, and very well, too. From the perspective of their own creative writing ability they sit in literary consideration of others' creations, and occasionally pronounce their unflattering conclusion.

Yann Martel, who boorishly and loudly seeks public notice for himself as a creative intellectual has long sought to bring scorn raining down on the head of Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his presumed lack of interest in matters literary. Presumptively mailing off condescending notes accompanying Mr. Martel's choice of educational reading material to Mr. Harper.

Mr. Martel may be a skilled writer with a sterling imagination, but he is also a right royal jack-ass. His egotistical search for the limelight, continually slagging Prime Minister Harper, is not one hugely appreciated by everyone. He has managed, in fact, to anger many, and those many are now quite delighted that Mr. Martel's latest publication has received the blessing of many stink-laden literary reviews.

His pretentious literary superiority toward a political figure whose intellect may tower above his own has, dare we hope, been taken down a peg or two. But perhaps not. When his literary credentials were questioned with respect to plagiarism in his highly acclaimed "Life of Pi", he metaphorically shrugged. The startling resemblance of his novel to one written by Brazilian Moacyr Scliar, was no coincidence.

His idea of creativity lacks some authenticity, in fact, since he admitted that Mr. Scliar's novel served as the inspiration for his own. Which novel in fact, he claimed, he had not read, but rather a review of the book. And from there expanded his own version of a quite similar story. "I saw a premise that I liked and I told my own story with it." Ah, but the premise is the story.

Latterly, Mr. Martel was inspired by an oft-told story; the Holocaust. And, realizing how often it has been examined like a fascinating prism with countless highlights, told from a wide variety of perspectives ranging from historical documentation to personal experience, felt he could forge an entirely new perspective, witnessing the horrors from the perspective of animal liberation. And writing in an abstruse, quasi-mystical manner.

So it is intriguing and fairly satisfying to see Mr. Martel's complacent boorishness remarked upon in an entirely other way, through comments such as that from a reviewer intent on speaking his mind because "nobody was willing to call a clear turd out for what it was". Another well-wisher suggesting, "May he move on to smaller topics with larger meanings", and "Reviewers will be puzzled and some will damn with faint praise. Unfortunately they will have good grounds for this response".

To which Mr. Martel responds, "You either want something to be positive or negative. You don't want indifference, because that means you haven't stirred them in any way". Well, Mr. Martel, no one can honestly claim you haven't stirred your critics. They suggest that whopping seven-figure advance owes nothing to this book's content and everything to your previous Life of Pi success.

And come to think of it, consider your statement in the context of your odiously unforgivable hounding of Canada's current prime minister. He is indifferent to your pestiferous advances. You have failed to stir him. He may not even notice your very existence. That seems to trouble you.

Judge not lest ye be judged; perforce, art thou judged.

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The world has been in disarray for almost a week, since the volcanic explosion of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland. This, because of the eruption of a middling-sized volcano, sending a middling-sized explosion of ash, rock and glass particulates into the air all around Europe and beyond. Discommoding countless travelers, and sending travel agencies, hotels, airlines into deep dudgeon and faltering bottom lines.

How does this sound; there are at least 1,500 volcanoes - active ones - all over this world. Between ten and twenty are in the process of erupting each and every day. And then, there are also thousands more of these lava-spewing mountains with open lids under the vast areas of the Earth's seas; occasionally giving birth to spanking new little islands. The molten core of Earth is forever bubbling away, heated and agitated.

This globe has experienced, in times primeval, astonishingly-destructive volcanic events of a magnitude unimagined other than by geologists, vulcanologists, and other earth scientists who marvel at the vast and impressive violence, and hope never to experience it, for it will be short-lived; for them. Volcanic eruptions in prehistory are known to have been monumentally destructive.

Tens of thousands of years ago and more, eruptions occurred of a magnitude unimaginable to puny human constructs. Blowing up magma and lava in an impressive fireworks display hugely overtaking the puny efforts of Eyjafjallajokull. Yellowstone's eruption, if it happened in the present era, according to experts, would effectively destroy the entire Continent of North America.

In more modern times; 1783, 1815, 1883, there were major eruptions in Iceland, Indonesia, and the best documented one, Krakatoa which destroyed the island, and was heard and felt over a huge geography, casting the sun from our heavens for a very long time. The 1783 Iceland Laki eruption resulted in a haze of toxic gases that spread across Europe into the Middle East.

Its effects were said to have caused the Haze Famine in Ireland, and Europe experienced an unusually hot summer, while the next winter was far colder than the 250-year norm right across the northern hemisphere, and that blue haze persisted for an additional three cold winters before finally disintegrating into the greater atmosphere.

Canada has 18 active volcanoes, out of its total of roughly one hundred, and they're mostly located along our Pacific coast. It's where our most impressive tectonic plates are, too; double indemnity; earthquakes, volcanoes; take your pick. Prefer neither, live in Quebec or Ontario, oops, earthquake-potential there too, but not volcanoes, whew!

Often enough volcanoes erupt that were not even recognized as volcanoes, but thought to be mountains. Think man-made carbon dioxide is a hazard to our environment? Nature is capable of dwarfing handily anything humankind conspires to. Nature is tricky, unpredictable, unconcerned with the fall-out of her little chemical experiments.

Given all of this, one can only wonder at this obvious case of mis-colonization. Why ever would we generally more thoughtfully careful humans have considered Earth an ideal destination? What on Earth might have inspired us to intrepidly, foolishly, settle on this Planet? We are enticed by the thought of excitement, adventure, uncertainty?

Still waiting to hear from above, tuning our antennae toward extraterrestrials who, we may assume, may have chosen more wisely...?

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Genetic Vigour

It's kind of neat to read that among the younger demographic within Canada, decidedly the more educated and for certain the more socially liberated, multiracial relationships appear to be on the rise. Surely, the more that happens, the more often people will learn to accept one another in a spirit of egalitarianism? We are after all a pluralist society, we have learned to live among one another fairly comfortably, we tend to interact reasonably well by and large, so why not an increasing phenomenon of multi racialism?

There are so many benefits to be derived from this, from a larger understanding and appreciation between people, a more pacific vision of one another, and then too, there's that little matter of genetic vigour in crossing DNA between various ethnic groups. Can't say racial groups, as it's a gross misnomer, since there is but one human race, with discrete surface visible distinctions that characterize our 'differences' born of geographical inheritance more than anything else.

With a little bit of heritage, culture, and tradition thrown in for good measure. It just kind of surprises to see that statistics point to Japanese Canadians as being the most liberated when it comes to seeking multiracial companionship. Since in Japan, the thrust has always been that social perfection is assumed through the population being undistinct from one another, a great, amorphous mass of sameness.

In Japan, although many Koreans have lived there for generations, to achieve normalcy in relations, total assimilation was required. To hide Korean origin became imperative. Japan celebrated its unique mono-culture and its population's shared physical characteristics exemplifying homogeneity, and its insistence that its social contract resulted in everyone acceding to the same rules, observing a mass social compact.

Just goes to show how such a cultural, social strait-jacket is easily shed. Whereas Chinese-Canadians, on the other hand, appear low on the scale of multiracial relationships and that's kind of surprising, but is there a reasonable explanation for the differences? Perhaps there are so many more Canadians of Chinese origin that there is no need to look without the group, and the reverse may be true for Canadians of Japanese origin.

In any event, it speaks of a social, intellectual, cultural open-mindedness that one can only hope the entire population reciprocates, ensuring a life of easeful acceptance for multiracial offspring.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"A Little Disappointed"

Makes for some fascinating reading, the story about a handful of Ottawa taxi drivers scheming to enrich themselves at the trough of opportunity during a prolonged winter bus strike which had the effect of up-turning many peoples' lives, unable to use public transit because the transit workers had withdrawn their services through a well-timed (on their coercive behalf) strike right around Christmas, the longest such strike the city had ever been punished with.

Halfway through the strike the City of Ottawa, having compassion for those unable to meet doctors' appointments and other necessary travel, handed out taxi chits to those of its clients considered to be in need, to be paid for by municipal tax dollars. The city had paid BlueLine Taxi roughly $100,000 in administration fees for this ad hoc system and only latterly was it made public that a dozen and more taxi drivers conspired to enrich themselves illegally.

Two taxi drivers who shared a BlueLine cab between them cashed in $24,469 in chits which reality could not support, hugely inflating their take through false and inaccurate pick-up and drop-off information, improper dates, and lack of customer identification. Counting, no doubt, on an unwieldy or less than-diligent administration to just pass them through and pay up, without comment.

But Awais Mohamed Hassan and Mukhtar A. Eid, along with seventeen other taxi drivers aroused suspicion that they had abused the voucher system handed out to needy residents by the unlikely and excessively large amounts being claimed. Coventry Connection which managed the Taxitab chit system has agreed to repay $60,000 of irregular chits that should not have been processed.

A disciplinary hearing was held by the city's license committee which heard three days of testimony before Mr. Hassan finally admitted on the fourth day that he was guilty of attempting to illegally enrich himself through the submission of "irregular taxi chits for payment". His partner, Mr. Eid, continues to insist on his innocence of any wrong-doing.

Now that Mr. Hassan admitted his conduct was "adverse to the public interest", he is required to pay back $12,000 to the City of Ottawa and his cab-driving license has been suspended for 6 months. Incensed by the entire business whereby taxi drivers acted illegally at a time when the city was embroiled in a massive social-system upset, the licence committee chairman fulminated over the stupidity of it all:

"We admonish any other driver out there. We will get you. We will find out about you, and we will sit in this room for as long as it takes." Which hasn't appeared to impress Mr. Hassan's co-driver excessively, since he still declares innocence of intent to defraud, and was given a week-long license suspension for his troubles; his hearing re-scheduled for a later date.

None of the other drivers suspected of attempting to pass off faulty taxi chits as authentic and untampered-with reflections of service they provided have as yet stepped forward to declare their error in judgement. So additional time will of necessity have to be spent on the matter, and more tax money will be used to investigate further.

The misuse of an attempt by the municipality to ease the burden on the needy during the stressful period of a painfully-prolonged transit lock-out by a handful of taxi drivers who planned to make the most of an illicit opportunity that had presented to them, reflects badly not only on those relatively few drivers, but on the industry as a whole.

Their peers should make their irritation with their comrades' exercise of poor judgement well known to them, even though their union will likely find it in their charter to protect their errant members from additional criticism. This seems to be what trade unions do best.

That would most certainly seem to be the case, when Mr. Hassan, despite the reaction of those on the licence committee, professed disappointment at what he obviously takes as a too-severe discipline for his infraction of decent, civil mores.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Willem Shayskpeer - William Shake-Spear?

The works of the great playwright, William Shakespeare, are considered foremost in the canon of English literature, and they go beyond that, with the international recognition of storytelling genius. Words and phrases that can be found in Shakespeare's plays and poetry long ago entered the pantheon of common English usage, because no one since has ever come close to the lyric brilliance and the understanding of the human mind and character in the same close-scrutinised manner of transitioning life to the written page, to the stage.

He was one of a kind, just as Leonardo da Vinci was, just as Socrates and Plato were, just as Sir William Osler was, just as Johann Sebastien Bach was, and Albert Einstein as well, to name but a handful of the outstanding world figures who have helped make our world what it is today; pacifying our souls, healing our bodies, bringing us pleasure and joy, helping to make us wiser; at the very least more aware and educated, malleable and empathetic. More essentially civilized.

So why cannot we celebrate his genius without imputing it and his oeuvre to someone else? Why do we doubt that this single figure of literary genius was capable of producing the cornucopia of delectable reading material and viewing delight that we inherited from this extraordinary historical figure? Scholars who doubt his authorship of those great literary works ascribe them to other well-known figures of his day, coevals whose literary excellence was well celebrated at the time.

He was held to have been other than an individual who was well schooled, extensively travelled, the friend and colleague of great men who had experienced great adventures. Where then, might his creative vision and its grand scope have come from? James Corton Cowell, delivered an exposition in 1805, which he released as lectures that same year to University of London's Senate House Library, sharing his belief of Shakespeare the false.
There are, of course, many references to "William Shakespeare" the writer, during the 1564-1616 period. But in no instance is he characterized or identified with the locale of Stratford-on-Avon. Not even at the time of William Shakspere's death in April, 1616, was so much as one direct statement published to show that he had anything whatever to do with the creation of the works which had revolutionized the theatrical and literary worlds for all time. In fact, every reference to William of Stratford as a literary genius is posthumous. None of his contemporary relatives and associates at Stratford can be shown to have referred to him as a writer. All of the man's personal fame was thrust upon him after his death.
He was certainly convinced. Having inherited his unoriginal point of view from an earlier skeptic and personal friend, James Wilmot, an Oxford scholar who lived close to Stratford-upon-Avon, whose searches for the authenticity of Shakespeare's writing frustrated him with its empty-handed result. He transmitted his belief in Shakespeare's wrongly being attributed with the wealth of world literature he had penned.

Since 1850 thousands of books and articles have appeared in publication around the world, most of which claim to have obtained 'proof' of one kind or another, or brilliantly theorized that Shakespeare was not the originator of the literature attributed to him. Of course, William Shakespeare could have been imbued with the genius of his writing muse and used whatever was available around him to stimulate his ideas.

Exposure to others who had had unique experiences made available to him through the talk around taverns, drawing rooms, barber shops, travelling mendicants, religious figures, travelling actors and musicians might all have managed to transfer their personal experiences to his mill seeking adequate grist. Which is precisely what modern writers do, inhaling opportunities to expand on stories they have incubated within their minds through casual encounters of ideas.

As for the scorn placed upon him for an illiterate, not even knowing how to accurately spell his own name, why that too was the currency of the time when there was no acknowledged, institutionalized literary convention of 'correct' spelling. The first English dictionary came out in 1604, and it was a pathetic affair, consisting of a mere three thousand words. William Shakespeare wrote before the advent of proper dictionaries, and of a public awareness of spelling as we know it today.

It is hard to believe that even well known public figures like Sigmund Freud, Henry James and Mark Twain were all interested in the subject, they too expressing doubt that the brilliance ascribed to William Shakespeare was well attributed. Mark Twain is quite the one to cast doubt on the writing of another. Claiming to have written books like The Misanthrope, and The Devil's Race Track (and etcetera), when one has knowledge now that these books were really penned by Samuel Clemens...

So let's leave the Bard to rest in peace, with the full glory intact, of having distinguished himself in a way few other mortal pensmiths have, shall we not?

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Judgementally Poor

Well, there go my illusions. I'd felt that U. of O. president Allan Rock had somehow been blindsided by a rather un-astute far-too-assiduous underling who'd presumptuously written to American political speaker Ann Coulter on behalf of the University of Ottawa administration in an insultingly patronizing admonishment that warned her off her usual methodology of demonstrating free speech aptitudes laced with half-humorous put-downs.

All right, wholly humorous, but demonstrating in the process a lack of empathy for the poor sods unwary enough to (belligerently) place themselves in her telescopically-unerring gunsight.

There ya go - from the outset he was fully engaged and, sigh, in command. Having given his assent to the forwarding of that zinger email with its clearly threatening undertones. Free speech yes, but only the kind of free speech that the university is prepared to tolerate. Otherwise, dontchaknow, Canada has laws against the spewing of hate-speech.

Well, Ms. Coulter received quite a lesson in hate-speech, only she was the recipient not the disher-out. And how does that benefit Canada and the students with enquiring minds at that university? No, not the close-minded ones, those who had clearly intended to attend with a view to establishing their own opinion of the topic at hand, after measuring what they heard from the speaker. In any event, it's gone, it's history, it's done with.

And a clearly chastened (we would think) U. of O. president has re-thought the trajectory of events, from his first having been approached by the students' association whose devotion to political correctness could not countenance her speaking engagement, and his refusal to accede to their request to stop her speaking engagement, to his reaction when he looked up her website, and his following use of "intemperate language", in speaking of her to his colleagues.

Obviously leaving them with the impression that he was somewhat less than impressed with her political ideology and its expression, obviously leaving the way clear for his vice-present of university affairs, Francois Houle to address a scathingly condemnatory admonition to her. "It was sent on behalf of the administration with my knowledge, so I share responsibility", acknowledged Allan Rock in an interview conducted by the Citizen earlier this week. "I acknowledge that there were other and better ways of achieving the letter's purpose."

Yes, there certainly were. Inclusive of just letting things go. We don't leap on every controversial speaker invited to ventilate opinion on controversial subjects unless they truly are hate mongers - and even then the advisability of doing so is questionable, since through the ruckus that usually ensues they're given far more visibility given the resulting news reportage and public response, than if they'd gone ahead and unburdened themselves at the scheduled event.

Ms. Coulter did not, after all, advocate deporting all immigrants who might pose a risk to public security; seriously, how many could fit on a flying carpet?

"It could be seen as having a chilling effect and they say there is some selectivity if you send it to some speakers and not others. I accept those criticisms." The university, he explained is engaging in the development of a new policy on free speech based on the university's "collective view" of what constitutes free speech.

Shouldn't the collective view of any university in a free, liberal democracy honour the general principles of free speech as set down in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? And reflect the general view within society and under the law of what constitutes free speech?
If any of society's institutions might be expected to hold to the right of individuals, organizations or groups of people to speak freely, and make themselves available to critical commentary post-speech, it might be thought to be a university setting.

There does need to be a distinction between hateful agitation exemplified by hideous slander with a view to demonizing a target, and those who give their honest and balanced views on matters of public interest, however. It's a tough balancing act, but isn't that what we have hate laws for to begin with, not to be confused with non-legal entities given free reign to freely pronounce upon, inspire fear into and heap whopping fines on people going about their ordinary day-to-day business expressing opinions that may be discriminatory but nowhere near broaching hate speech territory...?

People do have opinions, and we do have a valued public atmosphere receptive to hearing them out. Or not, by simply absenting oneself from the event, while those interested in the speaker and her/his message are free to attend a scheduled speaking event. Events like "Israeli Apartheid Week" skid dangerously close to hate speech through an unbalanced highlighting of personal apprehensions fed by racially-motivated overtones of discord.

Much like the Sikh festival parade honouring Sikh separatist extremists as martyrs for the cause of an independent Khalistan to be carved out of India's Punjab region. Interesting that they're not calling for Pakistan's Punjab region - where in fact, Sikhism's most worshipped heritage sites are located - to give up part of its territory on behalf of Sikhs' wish to have their own state.

Add to that the clear violent threats issued against an Indo-Canadian MP and MPP because of their anti-terror stand, and there's is hate-mongering in bilious full-blown terrorism within Canada. These are matters that should have nothing to do with Canada; the importation into the country of disputes, violent in nature and complex beyond simple explanation. Resulting in stark divisions within Canadian society.

Had Allen Rock not encouraged his provost to his incandescently-irate confrontational style of communication, which itself, made public, encouraged the student association's "anti-free speech" body to rally their troops and threaten violence, none of the newsworthy controversy that raged around the university having the end result internationally of presenting it as extremely feeble-minded, would have occurred.

Act in haste, repent at leisure.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Profit versus Prudence

As though proof were required of the stultifying, stupefying, brain misfiring effects of lumping oneself before a television screen.

Isn't it common knowledge? Of the kind studiously ignored by those disinterested in such messages? In the first place they generally emanate from that segment of any given population for whom television viewing holds no interest. A state of being that often enough results from having witnessed first-hand the drivel and just plain garbage that represents the main fare of television-watchers.

But here we have !Aha! the world's largest manufacturer of televisions, stating right up front that using their product - 3-D television - may result in very serious physical manifestations of ill health. Sleep deprivation or alcohol intake, they warn, may ensure that your 3-D television experience will result in more than bargained for.

Take, for example, epileptic seizures, or strokes. Fairly costly in terms of well-being for the unadulterated pleasure of viewing a new television experience.

Samsung Electronics Corporation is a highly successful company. It wishes to remain so. The Korean-based company is simply being prudent in placing those warnings at the disposal of consumers. Forewarned is forearmed, although people generally tend to shrug off inconvenient barriers placed in the way of pleasure-seeking.

The company, taking a message of blow-back from what has happened to the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Company which attempted to tamp down criticism of its products' malfunctions, intends to undergo no such chastening and costly contretemps itself. And has taken the initiative to protect itself by posting the warning that users should immediately stop viewing 3-D images should they experience altered vision, dizziness, nausea or convulsions.

Eager to obtain a new 55-inch 3-D TV? Go right ahead. The company plans to sell over two million of their products this year of 2010. Pregnant women and the elderly, however, should plan to live their lives happily without this new television marvel. But if they do proceed regardless, they should plan to see their doctors immediately they experience untoward symptoms.

As well, according to the Australian website of Samsung Electronics Co.: "Children and teenagers may be more susceptible to health issues associated with viewing in 3-D and should be closely supervised when viewing these images." Imagine how vulnerable and agonizingly conflicted companies like Sony Corp. and Panasonic Corp., joining Samsung in the manufacture of these television sets must be.

On the one hand, in producing these new televisions - very expensive they are with this new technology - they aim to clean up big time. On the other hand, there is the undesirable prospect of being sued by disgruntled consumers discovering the extremely deleterious effects of using this new viewing technology selling at between $2,500 to $5,500.

But they're hamstrung, aren't they? Given that more and more movies, blockbuster, hugely advertised films with all the bells and whistles, are going to be produced in the future. Think of the box office success that Avatar proved to be.

Think of how miserable you'd feel about it all, putting on those enabling 3-D glasses and coming down with a splitting headache.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Privileged Speaker

How about that, Canada is being invaded again, by yet another American whose reputation as a brilliant speaker goes before her. Sarah Palin to speak in Hamilton, Ontario? Wow, that's some distance from Alaska, en't it? She is touring North America. Speaking volubly about her politics, no doubt, and voluminously about the ruination of the United States under the lamented auspices of the Democratic Party.

The first black president of the United States. Who has accomplished what no other president has (t)heretofore been able to, through the power of his persuasive personality, and a whole lot of arm-twisting. Congratulations, America! Finally dragged yourself away from Third-World status to join the rest of the civilized wealthy democracies of the world whose first duty to their citizenry is to protect them with universal health coverage.

Sure, it's just a start, and it's universality American-style, but that's somethin', truly. And about time. The pain is intense, obviously. And the backlash makes quite the spectacle, with all those sign-toting enraged citizens of the U.S.A. slamming their president as a "socialist", a "Marxist", and a "Nazi". Yes, it is expensive, and painfully so, particularly at this unfortunate juncture in the country's sagging economy - but necessary.

So get over it, eh?

Is it not ironic that a portion of the proceeds from Sarah Palin's speaking event in Hamilton, originally meant to benefit two Hamilton hospitals withdrew themselves as beneficiaries? "There was a bit of a push back from donors due to Gov. Palin's opinion on Canadian health care", according to a spokesman for CARSTAR Automotive Canada, one of the event's sponsors. "We knew those views going in and thought, 'It's always good to hear from the other side', but some people weren't as open-minded."

Right. This is, of course, the same Governor Sarah Palin who, on a previous visit to Canada's western provinces casually mentioned in her cute little offhand way, her familiarity with the Canadian health care system, first-hand. Of the times that she and members of her family had slipped over the border to take advantage of the 'free' health care? Remember that? A sweet little revelation that.

Speaking of revelations, how about the ones about her insistence on first-class air travel or private jets, hotel suites and other little comforts. That she has earned about $12-million - presumably through speaking engagements, as a hot commodity, since leaving office as governor of Alaska. And her insistence that all questions be pre-vetted and audiences screened in advance of her appearance as that aw shucks, spontaneous hockey mom.

A speaking contract, apparently hauled out of California State University's trash bin where Governor Palin is set to give a June speech, stipulates: "For Q&A the questions are to be collected from the audience in advance, pre-screened and a designated representative shall ask questions directly of the speaker." There's that off-the-cuff, simple and direct speaker fer ya.

Oh, yes, and that she be provided with a hotel suite along with two single rooms in a "deluxe" hotel complete with "laptop computer and printer (fully stocked with paper) and high-speed Internet" and "all meals and incidentals". Well, that simply represents what is due, does it not?

Who's to quibble?

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More, To Consider...

Global Warming or Climate Change, whatever it is called - and whoever believes it is more than a theory; even those who do not believe that human activity is concerned - is producing some alarming consequences. If we cede to the theorists who believe that Global Warming has resulted entirely from human-related spewing of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, upsetting the balance of nature's normal atmospheric climate, then it becomes urgent to log onto personal responsibility in altering our normal day-to-day interactions with nature.

On the other hand, even if we remain skeptics and don't subscribe to the human-centric causative of catastrophic environmental changes, we still have an obligation to become more aware, to take cautionary steps in our personal lives to treat nature and her environs with far more sensitivity than we have in the past. And that holds true, even if it is eventually proven that nature has taken her own course, a cyclical one having little to do with deleterious human interventions, and which the fossil record claims of little ice ages followed by warming periods is naturally cyclical.

The new publication by Bill McKibben, eaarth, gives much food for thought, even though its clarification of some issues may still leave room for doubt. Irrespective of what has been causing the great environmental disruptions and marked deviations from what we consider the 'norms' of our atmospheric condition, the reality of his observations appear unassailable. There has been a noted melting of glaciers, and in such areas of the Earth that have traditionally been frozen, like the Arctic regions and the Antarctic.

The planet has been suffering extreme weather conditions, harsher and more dangerous than previously, more frequently. From floods to cyclones with all the related damages and damages to nature and human security following. Hydrological cycles, this author points out, have altered on a hugely unprecedented scale (at least as far as human record-keeping is concerned). Warmer air has the capacity to absorb greater amounts of liquid. Areas that do not receive much rain therefore, are becoming drier, as the warmer air takes up what moisture is there.

Areas of the world that normally receive quite a bit of rainfall, are now experiencing rainfalls in volumes beyond the capacity of the environment to adequately deal with, resulting in severely irreparable erosion damage, and massive flooding on a scale hardly seen before, victimizing urban populations as well as outlying settlements in both the First World and the far more vulnerable and harder-hit developing world.
"...streambeds gouged down to bedrock, culverts obliterated, groves of trees laid to jackstraws..."
According to Bill McKibben,
"Total rainfall across our continent [North America] is up 7% and that huge change is accelerating. worse, more and more of it comes in downpours. Not gentle rain, but damaging gully washers: across the planet, flood damage is increasing by 5% a year. Data show dramatic increases - 20% of more - in the most extreme weather events across the eastern United States, the kind of storms that drop many inches of rain in a single day."
Certainly something to think about, to occupy our mindful hours...

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rules and Regulations, Stupid!

From the sublime pleasure of a day out with her daughter and grandsons, 86-year-old British pensioner Thelma Williams experienced the downside of rules and regulations bordering on the obscene, at Britain's staid and quasi-institutional popular retailer, Marks & Spencer.

What could conceivably go wrong, shopping in the very-conservative, very middle-class department store that prided itself on expressing British values?

Well, as it happens, quite a bit, if you're a vulnerable, elderly woman out to enjoy a leisurely few hours with those most dear to you, and you're suddenly exposed to the rigid, mindless intrusion into privacy that such establishments feel they are entitled to in the protection of their 'rules'.

And, evidently, there are rules that separate the store's restaurant from the food offerings for sale in the rest of the store.

A chocolate chip cookie that Ms. Williams had purchased in the Marks & Spencer store and secured in her handbag got her in a heap of trouble when, after enjoying a meal in the Marks & Spencer restaurant, she thought she would like a little extra, and hauled out the cookie and began nibbling on it.

She had paid for it, it was in her possession as paid property, but it was forbidden, according to the store's rules, to eat what had been acquired in the food section of the store, in the restaurant of the store. A server moved in with great alacrity to inform this elderly woman that she would not be permitted to enjoy her cookie in the cafe.

Ms. Williams, reasonably, sought an intelligent reason for this rule she had inadvertently broken. The store employee claimed the difference resided in taxes paid on items from either the store or the cafe. And, presumably, when Ms. Williams scoffed, a security guard was called in to take charge. He too, insisted that rules are rules.

"I thought it was petty and ridiculous. I realize they have rules to stick to but it was so silly, I felt stupid. They made me feel like I had committed a crime", she related to The Lancashire Telegraph. "The situation was crazy, I would have paid the extra 10p for sitting in the chair to eat it.

"All the customers were looking at me, it was so embarrassing and very distressing." At her request the store's manager was unavailable, but the deputy manager duly presented herself. "Well, she was just out of her depth, didn't really tell me anything. She never told me it was all right though. She was just stammering."

It's tough operating a proudly middle-class and highly respected major department store in Britain; you've got to put up with grumpy, argumentative eccentrics passing themselves off as little old ladies, just begging to be put in their place. But someone's got to do it, put their foot down on disrespectful behaviour.

A spokesperson for Marks & Spencer explained "Marks & Spencer policy is that Marks & Spencer cafe customers must only consume items bought within the cafe area." Or, as the case may be, demonstrating that customer-service foot-in-the-mouth syndrome of risible absurdity sometimes described as being a horse's ass.


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Monday, April 12, 2010

The Imperatives Of Gender Selection

Pretty nasty stuff, that. Take, for example, the quandary that China now finds itself in with its one-child policy and the wish of Chinese to raise male children, in the process finding it expedient to abort female foetuses to achieve their selection goal. Well, young men looking about for female companionship are just plain out of luck. There's a distinct paucity of young women in China to pair with the young men.

Perhaps there's a sinister plan behind all of this. Government intervention in stemming the rising population tide has succeeded beyond its wildest imagination. The result, after all, of the one-child policy and the lack of girl children will translate in fewer marriages and, obviously, fewer offspring.

Population density solved. But then, what to do with all those restive young men bereft of female companionship? It is, after all, the most elemental of human desires, to couple, to pass on DNA. It is an inhuman solution to a very human need, one certain to result, sooner or later, in violent backlash as men revolt against this truncation of their familial aspirations.

And, given the large immigrant population within Canada from those countries of the world like India and China which practise gender selection by aborting the foetuses they don't want, it is becoming a Canadian problem, a moral one at the very least. This is a nasty way to use ultrasound scans and abortion procedures.

And now, two Canadians, a bio-ethicist and a medical doctor are protesting the current situation prevailing here, as professionals and humanitarians.

"I think Canadians have a sort of visceral reaction to the idea that people would terminate a pregnancy based on gender alone", explained Brendan Leier, of Edmonton's Stollery Children's Hospital, co-author of the recommendations contained in a major obstetrics journal that doctors abstain from relaying gender information to prospective mothers until later in the pregnancy.

Some abortion advocates appear to be debating the issue as being "paternalistic", and as such, insulting to women. Actually, no. Since, in all likelihood, it is men coming from societies which insist a boy has more value than a girl, who insist that their wives carry male babies to term. As a cultural norm, this is fairly male-centric, so to term a remedial system denying information to advance an abortion is not quite "paternalistic", but "objectively moral".

Furthermore, it is in keeping with the official policies of professional groups such as the Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Canada, which outright condemns sex selection, as pointed out by the obstetrics and gynecology resident-half of the equation, Dr. Allison Thiele, of the University of Saskatchewan. And as it happens, it would appear that doctors in British Columbia (which boasts both a high immigrant Indian and Chinese population) already use this approach.

So why not - given the current reality of abortions regularly being sought to ensure that male babies are the norm in these societies - make this universal across Canada? This is simply yet another instance of immigrant groups bringing to their adoptive country practises of questionable moral value not recognized as useful in Canada. This is a matter for educating this particular demographic that this is not done in Canada.

So, in a sense, Joyce Arthur, co-ordinator of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada who says that it would be preferable to combat the social mores leading people to reject daughters and seek sons, rather than deny abortions for that purpose. However, in the meantime, since the practise has been so prevalent, it must be addressed in the here and now.

And the suggested protocol by bioethicist Brendan Leier and his colleague Dr. Allison Thiele appears the right way to turn the tide. Research out of the University of Toronto's Centre for Global Health Research concluded that ten million female fetuses had been aborted in India in two decades. This is not a very enviable record of extinguishing the potential of ten million girl babies.

It really isn't the kind of practise that should be accepted in Canada, just as female circumcision isn't, or the oppressive domination of women by their male family members through customs that have been traditional in their countries of origin.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Maladopted Trauma

For heartless denial of a child's needs this has got to be one of the worst instances of rejection. Who even knew that Russia permitted orphaned children to be adopted abroad? Yet it appears that there were 1,600 Russian children adopted by Americans last year. Among Americans looking to adopt children evidently Chinese, then Guatemalan children come in first and second preferentially, followed by Russian children.

Amazingly, Russian authorities are aware that some of these Russian orphans adopted by U.S. citizens and brought to the United States to live were murdered by their new parents. One two-year old child, a little girl from Siberia was beaten to death by a woman who had adopted her several months before she killed the child. Obviously these were anomalies. Obviously most adopted children are loved and cherished.

But just as obviously dispossessed children are in mortal danger when adoptive parents' backgrounds are not sufficiently investigated. Financial means must be present, but is there no investigation into mental stability and overall suitability for adults to take charge of vulnerable young children?

Surely adoption agencies do take all necessary precautions in ensuring the viability of assumptive parents before discharging American-born children to their care. Why not the same due diligence for children brought from abroad?

The case brought forward in the media where a 34-year-old nurse from Shelbyville, Tennessee, Torry Ann Hanson, went through an adoption process through the Vladivostok orphanage in Russia, to bring back to her home a seven-year-old boy, Artem Saveliev, to become her child, is shocking in the extreme.

Consider the mind of a 7-year-old child without a family, living in an institution with other orphans. How confused and alienated such a child must be. Then to be taken from the institution to an entirely new country with another culture, a different language and customs, to be confused and fearful of all these changes. Most children would 'act out'.

And it would appear that little Artem did just that. Hardly surprising when his very identity was removed; his new 'mother' deciding to rename him, as one might a dog taken from the pound. He would no longer be Artem Saveliev, but Justin Hansen. Quite the change for a child; his original vulnerable state compounded by a stranger resolutely altering his very idea of himself.

"To whom it may concern", wrote Ms. Hansen in a note that accompanied the rejected child, returned on an unaccompanied flight back to Moscow from Tennessee. The note set out Ms. Hansen's dissatisfaction with her misfortune: the little boy was exhibiting mental instability, was violent and had "severe psychopathic issues/behaviours".

The child, for his part, informed an interlocutor of the Kremlin's children rights commission that the woman who had gone through adoption procedures to take possession of her new son was "bad", and "did not love him", and pulled his hair. Children are frank and speak the truth, while adults prevaricate and speak what best avails their agendas.

Claiming that the staff at the Vladivostok orphanage had not informed her of the little boy's 'mental instability' in their anxiety to remove him from their care, she explained that she had "given my best to this child [but was] sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.

"As he is a Russian national, I am returning him to your guardianship and would like the adoption disannulled (sic)." The single mother had evidently experienced some unsurprising but unappreciated acting out on the part of the confused little boy. He had been violent and angry, according to Ms. Hansen's mother.

It would have been surprising if he had exhibited none of these reactive tendencies, given his experiences.

When the little boy arrived in Moscow he carried a backpack and in it were candies and cookies and markers. Along with the note tersely explaining why the child was being summarily returned. Often enough people who adopt unwanted, abandoned and often mistreated rescued dogs decide, after a week or two has passed, that they haven't the patience to deal with the dog's issues.

It's hard enough on a dog, a sentient creature, to be rejected time and again. Tougher still on a small child to understand why he has been so cruelly treated by an indifferent fate. Horrible beyond reason that children would be considered disposable objects; expendable, and swiftly forgotten.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Another Potentially Dangerous Widely-Used Chemical

Another chemical to add to the list of those commonly used by manufacturers in producing toiletries, including products that may be ingested, that appear to pose a serious, potential risk to human health. This chemical is used so commonly it can be found in everyday consumer products, from soaps to toys. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration claims its research into the chemical raises "valid concerns" over its continued use, impacting deleteriously on human health.

Health Canada, on the other hand, is conducting its own evaluation of "emerging scientific data" in an effort to reach a decision whether it should take steps to protect consumers in this country. While the American position is to steam ahead with a ban in triclosan for use in personal care products, toys and clothing.

Most liquid anti-bacterial soaps commonly contain triclosan. It acts as an active ingredient to halt the growth of bacteria, and to deodorize. The chemical is an integral ingredient in toothpaste, facewash, deodorants and cosmetics. And has latterly been added as a useful bacteria-killer to countertops, kitchenware, toys and clothing.

It may kill bacteria, but in the end it may turn out to gift unwary consumers with illnesses that could in the end, kill us. The FDA's concern with the use of triclosan is that it has the potential of disrupting the human body's endocrine system. "It is the FDA's opinion that existing data raise valid concerns about the effects of repetitive daily human exposure to these antiseptic ingredients."

As for Health Canada, without revealing whether it is in agreement with the FDA's statement, it claims "recent scientific reports on the effects of triclosan on the body's endocrine system and whether triclosan contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance are being considered as part of current assessment activity."

Good, as far as it goes. But kindly get on with it! A trifle more speedily, please.

For if Health Canada's current rules are that the oral cosmetics can cause health problems which appears to be the case, since they are required to carry the statement, "the product is not to be used by children under the age of 12", then we should surely be aware that such products are not safe for anyone.

Sometimes, time is of the essence. All the more so, since this chemical appears also to be a registered pesticide. What can producers be thinking of, to include a chemical such as this in commonly-used products? That they will because they can?

Isn't it time they were advised by law, that they cannot and must not?

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Equality and Equanimity

Perhaps it is time to re-think official multiculturalism. In fact, well past time to do so. Introduced by a prime minister who thought to celebrate the multi-ethnic immigrant-quality of the country as a good thing - to make people feel at home, wanted and appreciated - in retrospect, and looking at the country today, perhaps not so much of a good thing.

Canadians used to congratulate themselves about how much more welcoming they were and well-balanced than Americans who subscribed to a different methodology; a melting pot. Canada, on the other hand, was a proud kaleidoscope of cultures, traditions, ethnicities. And, unfortunately values.

Canadian values, culture and history were given a back seat to the greater need to celebrate all those other backgrounds that went into the total make-up of the country. And when people emigrated from countries where political and social unrest was responsible for dislocating them, they were encouraged to emulate here what they left there.

Most latterly, we've had the bitterness of Sikh separatism sowing discord and mayhem in the country, leading to our first terrorist attack, taking hundreds of innocent lives. Then we had another foreign separatist guerrilla war infringe on Canadian values with Tamils from Sri Lanka raising funds to furnish arms for the Tamil Tigers.

And now we've got Palestinians and their Muslim supporters infiltrating radical leftists to unite to squeeze Jewish Canadians into a Zionist box of slanderous accusations. Neither India, nor Sri Lanka nor Israel should unduly occupy Canadians' determination to meddle in the complicated affairs of those countries of whose histories we have but a dim understanding.

Not to mention minorities from countries where gang warfare is a way of life with single-parent families and poverty resulting in a pathology of drugs and guns. Canada has no need for all these anti-social misdirections and malfunctions. There is a prevailing culture, a political system, social mores and values that are diametrically opposed to too many that carry over from abroad; from Clitoridectomy to honour killing, tribal clustering and bigotry.

While conformity to social, political, religious and cultural mores are seen to be too demanding of people originating from other cultures and traditions who don't share all the same values as those of indigenous Canadians, it isn't too much to expect that they be gradually adopted, assimilated generationally into the lives of those who come here to find a new life.

Customs that run counter to those that reflect Canadian values have no place in this country. In a pluralist society it is meet and just that all people make the effort to adjust their expectations of one another - but to a degree. A turban harms no one, but a kirpan might. A hijab offends no one, but a burka does, because we cannot see a face to determine who and what is there.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

This Sort of Thing Shouldn't Be Happening

A British law professor? Well, we can't think too highly of that lot then, can we? Age 31? Well, perhaps that in and of itself is exculpatory. A heavy sleeper? Too readily reliant on the sympathetic appeal of others to get him to where he intends to arrive? Lets hear that again? A British law professor? Well, no bloody wonder they're all so screwed up there! Mystery solved.

But he's furious, and won't accept Air Canada's apology and explanation and offer of a bonus to smooth over his hurt feelings. After all, he was wearing a bright red jacket and sitting right up against the window. How could anyone have ignored his illustrious presence?

Perhaps he wasn't snoring sufficiently assertively so that the very busy flight attendant, attending to wheel-chair-bound passengers overlooked his flight plight.

During the flight he meant to stay awake, having imbibed a Coca-Cola to that effect, but succumbed to the infantile feeling of safety being aboard "and there was no further destinations and it was all good"; he fell to sleep.

"We live, as we dream - alone." Joseph Conrad said that, and he knew of what he spoke.

One must, perforce, take responsibility for oneself. When embarking upon a trip one must know where one is directed toward, take note and notice upon arrival and disembark. It is as simple as that.

However, British law professor, Kris Lines is furious that on arrival at Vancouver International Airport from Calgary - migawd, what a looong flight - he was not awakened from his sound sleep. "It's absolute craziness. The last thing I remember was taking off from Calgary."

All well and good, he was soothed into slumber by the overwhelming peace and comfort of it all. Like a spoiled child, you know? But no one, no one had the kind-hearted decency to wake him up and it was only when he was in a hangar where the plane was designated for deposit that a mechanic woke him.

There are the legitimate points that he makes: "If I'd been a vulnerable passenger, a young girl or elderly it could have been a lot worse. The other implication is that if I was a terrorist, then I've got an hour and a half after the plane's landed, all by myself in a secure area on a plane", to consider.

Mind, any terrorist addled enough not to have caused mayhem while aloft, and left to his own devices, on his own, in an hangar would be one plot-confused dolt. Somewhat akin to a sleep-confused dolt.

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