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

Monday, May 31, 2010

On The Positive Side...

Presumed entitlements are felt to be as permanent as the sky above, even when their actual need has diminished. So then, present as though there has been no advancement, and skew statistics so that those entitlements will be forever safe-guarded. Dishonest? Most certainly, but just as people attempt all manner of artifices to shield themselves from paying taxes, they will also engage in illegal activities to ensure their gain is not subject to diminishment.

Statistics Canada, that highly respected government body that assembles facts and figures so very painstakingly, to the extent that its efforts have been praised by other countries looking in and enviously imagining that they too could profit from such a statistics-gathering agency to enable their own governments to construct social amenities on the basis of the data gathered in a reflection of society's aspirations has revealed a bit of an anomaly in its data-gathering.

In officially bilingual Canada, where the 'French fact' exists, jealous of its guarantees of equality of language opportunities as a minority cultural artefact of an earlier era, in a majority-language country held to be threatening to assimilate the language of a segment of the country's original migrant settlers, French-speakers are given the right to demand service in the language of their choice. But only where numbers warrant that service.

And if French speaking Canadians are also proficient in the majority language of English, and an insufficient number of French-only-speaking citizens exist in a given area to warrant the extension of French-language services, they are withdrawn, logically. But a strange thing happened on the way to the latest census when francophones were being urged through a French-language email in mass circulation, to deny English-speaking capabilities.

The result being a truly puzzling census result, with the purported number of bilingual francophones falling, in direct contradiction to clear trends over past census data-collection. Suddenly, the numbers of francophones insisting they speak only French appeared to be on a growth spurt. And officials at StatsCan reached the logical conclusion that this trend reversal was a result of false information being given to statisticians.

The purpose of which was abundantly clear; to ensure that federal program funding with French-language services available in geographic areas that no longer required them, would still be receiving them. As though official bilingualism is not sufficiently costly as it is. Not only in the huge expenses relating to providing translation services in every facet of official life in the country, but in job opportunities lost to unilingual Anglophones.

This is one manipulation a stretch too far. But there is a positive side to all of this in that the level of incorrect information, though notable, is not overwhelming. Indicating that most people do have a public conscience. It is estimated, for example, that the number of Franco-Ontarians who may have deliberately given incorrect information would be roughly 10,000.

Leaving one with the happy impression that the other 490,000 Franco-Ontarians are decently honest.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Stark Failure in Command

That's quite the statement of resourceful engagement and dependable authority that the almost three-thousand-strong Canadian military troops in Afghanistan have to support their presence in a perpetual war zone. A commanding officer whose clumsy handling of an automatic firearm resulted in two discharges in a vulnerable area on a military landing strip, in the presence of his superior officer.

A commanding officer who agreed that the incident warranted a court martial, and when found guilty of less than professional care in his handling of said firearm was fined $3,500 as a course lesson in equality within the military; if it is good enough for Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard to discipline any of the men under his command for sloppy handling of firearms, and fine them appropriately, the same could be said for him, it naturally follows.

In the Canadian military some behaviours are simply not countenanced from the country's professional soldiers. Among them, when in an active theatre of war, sexual engagement is forbidden. Not only among members of the military who are unattached, but also when a husband and wife are serving together, intimacies are suspended; their attention must at all times be to the matter at hand, their dedicated comportment as military personnel.

This is a well understood and followed tradition, to ensure that eyes are on the ball, to ensure that commanding officers do not take advantage of their position with respect to subordinates, to ensure that everyone knows the score, and it pertains to everyone, without exception. And, in all likelihood, just about everyone, without exception, was shocked to learn that their commanding officer was removed from active duty in Kandahar Province.

Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, a married man with a family, one of the military's rising young stars, having attained an elite executive position at age 41, failed signally in his commitment as commanding officer by having an affair with a female soldier under his command. His judgement has been called into question. And if the sound judgement and moral accountability of the commanding officer is not in place, then he should not be in that place.

He is being replaced, by the former commanding officer for Task Force Kandahar, who will be arriving on the base within the week. Given the fact that Canadian troops will be facing a large-scale combined NATO assault within a few weeks, the changeover in command at this critical juncture is no slight matter.

It represents, however, a principled decision that Lt.-Gen. Marc Lessard, was forced to make in his role as commander of all Canadian overseas troops, following information divulged that Brig.-Gen. Menard has been engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer.

Pity, that.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

An Honour Signal and Deserved

The Aga Khan, head of the world-wide Muslim sect called the Ismailis, has visited Canada on many occasions. He has invested large sums of his personal finances in the country in establishing and building Ismaili Muslim structures that celebrate the diversity of human nature, and human rights, and above all demonstrate the aesthetic of Islamic culture through its architecture and its art forms. This is a man deserving of respect because he proffers it to others.

This is a man who espouses and respects and enthuses over social pluralism, a condition of people living together in peace and harmony and common civil regard for one another. He has, in the past, built some outstanding structures. In Ottawa alone, there are several, one of which is an architectural gem, the crystal-like Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, a paean to both modern and traditional Islamic architecture.The Delegation represents the Aga Khan's non-denominational, philanthropic, development agencies.

And with the recent announcement by the man known to his followers as Mawlana Hazar Imam, that a cultural centre, museum and park will be built on a site in Don Mills in suburban Toronto, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in acknowledgement of the good works and humanitarianism of the Aga Khan's charitable foundations, favoured this man with honourary Canadian citizenship.

The Aga Khan famously exhorted his followers in Canada to "Make Canada your home", and they have. Many of whom came to Canada to experience a better life, with more advantageous occupational and educational opportunities for their families, migrating here from countries like Uganda, Tanzania, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

"Canada has been the country which has been most generous, most thoughtful, most helpful in bringing people [in from] these difficult backgrounds, offering them a new opportunity", the Aga Khan once remarked, while in Vancouver. Ismaili-Canadians have returned the compliment most handsomely.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

"Direct Deposits Are Safer"

It is nothing short of amazing that people can feel themselves somehow entitled to take advantage of the vulnerable in their care. People in a position of particular trust, working among the physically and mentally handicapped, those whose frail condition and need is so acute that they are incapable of looking after their own most elemental needs.

Their dependence on the skills and compassion of those entrusted to look to their needs as health professionals is deep and that very depth of need makes them all the more vulnerable to violations of trust. It's a hard world we live in, and there simply are those among us whose sense of personal responsibility toward others is slighter than it should be.

To the extent that they are capable of depersonalizing the needs of others, while treating them perfunctorily as professional aids, and in the process of gaining trust, take it upon themselves to drain the bank accounts of those entrusting their everyday financial resources to trusted aids.

What is amazing is the short-sightedness of people like the Cumberland Lodge administrator who has been charged with defrauding elderly residents of the lodge of hundreds of thousands of dollars over the space of ten years. In fact, involved in this clumsy scheme are two women living in Embrun, a mother and daughter, both employed at the lodge where eighteen separate residents were defrauded by the pair.

Residents of the lodge pay their own utilities, for cable, telephone or any other bills that come up on a regular basis. The pair now accused of theft and fraud took it upon themselves to assist the elderly impaired residents in paying their bills, which also included pharmaceuticals from the in-residence pharmacy. It is the misfortune of the trusting residents that the funds they supplied to pay their invoiced bills were simply absorbed by the administrator and her daughter.

The pair appeared also to have taken it upon themselves to relieve the people under their care of jewellery and cash. What is truly puzzling about all of this apart from the betrayal of trust, is that the two women were incapable of thinking down the road a little bit. When it would be revealed that something had gone wrong. When service providers would finally present unpaid invoices totalling amounts representative of long-unpaid bills.

And since they were the individuals to whom cheques were entrusted to pay those invoices, surely it should have been obvious to them that their chickens would come home to roost...? The facility, which houses 85 residents as a private residential care facility providing personal care, meals, health services and housekeeping to seniors and people with moderate disabilities is now absent an administrator.

And that erstwhile administrator faces charges inclusive of fraud, theft, possession of the proceeds of crime, misappropriation of money held under direction, uttering a forged document, and a slew of other charges, adding up to 25 in all. Representing yet another story in the accounting of human relations given a failing grade.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

No Alarm Bells?

It must be horribly unsettling, to say the least, to receive hatefully abusive messages in an anonymous manner through email at one's place of employment. Messages that those in administrative control claim cannot be traced. So that the sender remains anonymous. While the receiver of those odious messages remains a victim without recourse to justice.

Perhaps it is not all that surprising that such an occurrence takes place in a government department. But it most certainly is horribly disappointing.

To be characterized in an email as a typical 'blood-sucking Jew', with a message to the employer that the employee must be discharged or the email sender "will make her go slowly and painfully! It's your choice!!!" is the stuff of which nightmares are made.

But it happened to a woman occupying a middling-echelon position in the public service, on a secondment from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to Passport Canada, where she would lead an important project.

It seemed clear enough to the victim, the woman who was a convert to Judaism, and practised a devout, Orthodox type of Judaism, that only someone with direct knowledge of a personal kind could have written the emails in question. And that person would have to be someone working within the Passport Canada agency who obviously took exception to her presence and took it upon themselves to anonymously declare their deep anti-Semitic pathology.

Her direct supervisors were unhelpful when she approached for assistance, recommending that she report her concerns to the police. Which seems typical enough for the usual Ottawa bureaucrats disinterested in having their lives complicated and who would far prefer to let things slide than being burdened with yet another problem. But this woman's problems went beyond the troubling emails.

The employee, Valery LaBranche, as an observant Jew, was entitled to time off for Jewish holy days and early Friday leave for the Sabbath, as long as she accumulated time to be set aside for that purpose. This is actually a legal requirement for government under its collective agreement, for an employee's religious obligations for time off, as long as the work hours are 'repaid'. It would appear that Mrs. LaBranche's leaves, while legal, were noted and resented.

To the extent that when a new administrative assistant was brought in, she took it upon herself to question Mrs. LaBranche's right to take her religious holidays, or take early leave from the office on Fridays. The formerly casual arrangement suddenly took on formal dimensions with the insistence of the administrative assistant that application forms be completed before continuing leaves could be countenanced.

Moreover, the assistant took it upon herself as well to inform Mrs. LaBranche that those with whom she worked looked askance at her deliberate isolation from her co-workers; that she was expected to participate in "dress-down Fridays", and to bring herself along to restaurant outings. And when Mrs. LaBranche complained about this subordinate's presumptuous behaviour her supervisor held her, not the administrative assistant to account.

It transpired that the emails attacking Mrs. LaBranche were immune to tracking despite investigations by the RCMP, CSIS and Foreign Affairs itself. The affair was brought before an adjudicator who expressed her opinion that "The grievor (LaBranche) was left with the impression that the agency was more concerned with protecting its reputation than with her well-being."

Mrs. LaBranche is seeking damages for pain and suffering along with other costs, and a clear admission by government that her rights had been violated. The adjudicator's ruling affirmed the belief that Mrs. LaBranche deserved compensation, giving the two sides 3 months to reach an agreement on compensation. Mrs. LaBranche's secondment to the Passport Canada bureau was ended, despite her wish to continue in the post.

"The severance of the grievor's employment after receiving anonymous correspondence was not only another indication that the employer condoned the discrimination, but it was the culminating event of its discriminatory behaviour", according to the adjudicator. And here, we rest under the delusion that this kind of situation does not occur in the Canadian public service.

So much for tolerance, diversity and a pluralist, accepting society.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Homicidal Vengeance

People can be so unaccountably stupid, so unbelievably embroiled in their emotions, so psychically frail, so despairingly uncaring about others that they dishearteningly and without a second thought, take the lives of others in pursuit of giving up their own. We're familiar with terrorist suicide-bombers who dedicate themselves to giving up their lives while taking as many other lives as possible, in pursuit of an ideological or religious agenda.

But a man whose female companion has informed him that she cannot contemplate living with him any longer for any number of reasons - all of which are personal and private, and which the man would be well acquainted with - harbouring such a hideous and unrelenting grudge that he chooses a very particular type of death, demonstrates a formidable lack of conscience.

Committing suicide, taking his own life to take himself out of his misery of self-pity wouldn't do it. It might be painful to the woman he wants to destroy, but not enough. On the other hand, taking the child they shared, and murdering the child while committing himself to purgatory would inflict endless anguish. And wait, there's more: in the process, if he also targeted other innocent lives he would leave that ungrateful woman utterly stricken.

What might her life then be valued for, knowing that her decision to remove him from her life cost her her child, and also cost another mother the life of her two, innocent, completely-unrelated-to-the-situation sons? Such a deep and soul-destructive aura of guilt might be assumed to settle over the psyche of a woman who never could imagine such an outcome.

So 39-year-old Denis Philippon, grieving for the loss of his relationship, of a woman he was to marry and with whom he had a child, decided he would teach her a lesson she would never be able to live with in peace and mental serenity. He would careen his vehicle with himself and his four-year-old child inside, into another one, thus committing suicide.

Obviously, that he would also be placing other, innocent lives in danger was of no concern to this self-centred, ego-driven man set for revenge. In the first dreadful collision the result was the death of two young men, but Denis Philippon and his child survived. Wresting his wife's vehicle from her as she desperately followed his own, he crashed into yet another vehicle.

This time succeeding in removing his child, and himself from the land of the living. This is not the picture of a human being who loved another; his love was for himself only. His actions were those of a psychopath with no empathy for others. His death is no tragedy.

What he engineered in mounting his death was a colossal, needless tragedy.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ottawa Heat Wave

The Ottawa Valley is always consumed with high humidity and an excess of heat. It is only May, coming along to June and already we've managed to break a few weather records. When it is this steamy in the out-of-doors human activity tends to slow down of necessity, although across the region elementary schools have been engaged in their annual spring sports events, encouraging students to try out for various types of high-jumps and runs, to bring lustre to the reputation of individual schools.

For families, the Victoria Day long week-end - in anticipation of nascent summer, and in memory of Queen Victoria, along with celebratory recognition of the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II - this is together-time. All the more so when enervating heat leads people to area beaches, to soak up the sun lying on the sand, and venture into the cool waters of the Ottawa River. On the Victoria Day week-end the municipality and the National Capital Commission tend to 'open' amenities for the public.

This was the big week-end for the re-introduction to Canadians and Ottawans in particular, of the Canadian Museum of Nature - the Victoria Memorial Museum Building, after years of undergoing intensive, in-depth renovations to the sinking massive stone structure. Families attended in their tens of thousands. The parkway through Gatineau Park was officially opened, allowing people to drive to favourite haunts there.

For many other families the public holiday and the weather conspired to entice them to other area amenities, namely the municipality's public beaches. But despite the abnormal heat and the obvious fact that people would head to them, and would wish to take advantage of the cooling waters, there was no attempt by the city to prepare those beaches. By installing the buoys which would alert people to safe areas, nor by having lifeguards on duty.

The beaches - officially 'closed' to minimize responsibility, with a 'swim at your own risk' attitude - were full of people trying to temporarily escape the stifling heat. No less so at the well-advertised Petrie Island site in Orleans. Where a young man of 24, who ventured into the water met his end by misadventure. The beach should have had signs posted warning of deep cavities that could entrap the unwary.

Formerly, in an earlier incarnation as a sand dredging operation, that portion of the beach had been off limits to recreational users. But the sand dredging operation now vacated, left areas of the river bottom vastly uneven, with pits where one might suppose the bottom would be level, not cursed with deep drop-offs. The city is aware of this, but people out for a day of fun and relaxation would not be.

On this extremely hot and humid week-end, no preparations were made for the public.

There were no warning signs posted, there were no buoys in place where there normally are, during the swimming season, and no lifeguards to be alert to respond to potential danger. The young man had appeared at the beach with neighbours, two other adults and two children. Dabbling with the children in the water, the man appeared to disappear under the water. And no one made any effort to ascertain whether he was all right.

When 20 minutes had elapsed they knew of a certainty that the young man most definitely was not all right. His body was found 10 metres from shore where the water is five metres deep.

This tragedy is the result of negligence on the part of the city's recreation department; of an unfortunate lack of due diligence.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The "Complete Aristocrat"

a·ris·to·crat (-rst-krt, rs-)
1. A member of a ruling class or of the nobility.
2. A person having the tastes, manners, or other characteristics of the aristocracy: a natural aristocrat who insists on the best accommodations.
3. A person who advocates government by an aristocracy.
4. One considered the best of its kind: the aristocrat of cars.

Well, let's see now. There are the qualifications, and it is abundantly clear - as the Duchess of York, otherwise known as red-haired Fergie of affecting style - considers herself a "complete aristocrat". She also avowed that she and Prince Andrew, fourth in line to the British Throne, were the "happiest divorced couple in the world". Perhaps not, however, at this very moment.

For Sarah Ferguson also described herself in an interview with News of the World on line, that she, poor thing, had not "a pot to piss in". Therefore, given her sterling connections to the royal house of Windsor - at least in some circles of that royal house - her entree gave her the impetus to barter access for cold, hard cash. Lots of it. She right royally pissed on the royal pot.

But oh dear, how utterly embarrassing. She lobbied in the most un-aristocratic manner to enrich herself because she is in dire financial straits. Most of us would be, if we lived incessantly beyond our means. At age fifty she hasn't learned - so it's highly unlikely she will at any later date - that she was privileged to join a discreet and proud royal house, in exchange for respect.

Respect clearly beyond her capabilities, she simply sullied her connection. Queen Elizabeth, her mother-in-law, once bemoaned a dreadful year, her "annus horribilus" of 1992, with the dissolution of two of her sons' marriages. This latest little contretemps was yet another gift from a common type to the Queen, a special for her birthday, Happy Birthday, dear grandmother of my two girls...!

Stung by an undercover reporter posing as a wealthy businessman she breezily revealed herself for an amazingly mendacious opportunist. For a mere $40,000 in cash with $718,500 to follow, an invitation to the Duke of York who acts as the country's special representative for international trade and investment could be handily arranged.

"Five hundred thousand pounds when you can, to me ... open doors. Then you open up all the channels whatever you need, whatever you want ... We can do so much." Surprise, surprise, Duchess. Your husband will be decidedly aggravated. Your reputation takes yet another bruising, and every bit of it well earned.

Sympathy may be difficult to find, despite the claim by a spokesperson that "She is devastated by the story, and deeply regrets the situation and any embarrassment it has caused". Indeed, it is deeply regrettable; one can visualize the woman banging her head in frustration on her lacy pillow.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Animal Rights

God made all the creatures and gave them
our love and our fear,
To give sign, we and they are his children,
one family here. Robert Browning
Animal rights? Have they got any? They're just animals. Sensate perhaps, but incapable of acting and reacting to stimuli other than a push here a shove there, a loud voice, maybe a whack in the ribs. That gets them moving, right? They are incapable of distinguishing nuances, of understanding human communication and mood. They just ... are. Lumps of flesh vastly inferior to the integuements of humankind. They do our bidding, or we discipline them. They disobey our orders and pay the price of violent reaction.
Nature teaches beasts to know their friends. William Shakespeare.
It's heart-rending to read newspaper accounts, little fragments of stories that appear from time to time about people violating the trust of companion animals. Cats and dogs tortured by idiotic teenagers. Whom psychiatrists tell us will mature to become abusive psychopaths, and that figures: apprenticing; try out the violence on those incapable of defending themselves before graduating to the higher animals, also unable to defend themselves from what has become a skilled predator.
The behaviour of men to the lower animals, and their behaviour to each other, bear a constant relationship. Herbert Spencer.
One reads on occasion - on too many occasions, if truth be told, and it should be - that people who start out with a distinct attraction to animals, with the intention of giving them safe haven, starting out with one or two abandoned animals, then compulsively picking up ever more to the point where they are functionally incapable of serving their needs, are outed. When animal welfare agencies move in and find the animals starving and diseased, their haircoats feces-clad, in an absolutely pitiable state.
A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast. Old Testament.
It does not really take all that much physical effort and mental determination to understand the needs of a companion animal. In fact, a dependent animal taken into a home as a companion is little different in needs than any other animal, humans as well. Paramount are the needs of security, food and water, fresh air and exercise, and emotional understanding. With those provisions the resulting companionship is worth its weight in gold.

Only a complete and utter imbecile would fail to understand.
Behold a beast of nature black;
When one attacks it, it fights back! A Nony Mouse

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Beyond Nonagenarian

Canada's beyond-elderly Victorian-era-born population is declining, unsurprisingly. There appears from time to time in the news, stories of one or another individual who has managed to live well beyond what might be considered to be a normal lifetime spun out to become an astonishingly-long time of someone's life. Like that of John Babcock, Canada's sole remaining First World War veteran, born in Kingston in 1900, and recently deceased in Florida.

Longevity of that degree is fairly amazing. Generally leaving people of several minds.

One supposes that to be a truly impressive accomplishment. Yet not an accomplishment. Rather a gift to some, a curse to others, of the human body's capability of enduring beyond most years that might seem reasonable to some, unreasonable to others. Everything is perspective and individual preferences, one can readily suppose. To live beyond one's normal span of years upon this Earth; to achieve 90, then proceed from there to 99. And suddenly one is a centenarian!

Imagine, living to age 100...! Trouble is, most people who entrust to their imaginations think of themselves as feeble in mind and body, and therefore, what truly is the point? Which is beside the point; the point being that some individuals' life-potential resourced through a genetic code that preferentially enables them to withstand the weight of the years that sit heavily upon others, more lightly upon them, are capable of living to a truly ripe old age.

How ripe? Well, my goodness gracious. Here is a woman, living in Manitoba, Elizabeth Buhler, who on February 8 turned herself into a 111-year-old marvel of human longevity. This is a woman who was born and lived yet during the reign of Queen Victoria; Britain's 19th Century Queen and by extension, Canada's as well. She is not alone in outliving her peers, for there is another 111-year-old woman from Saskatchewan, and good heavens, yet another in Alberta.

To these women, congratulations on a life long lived. Presumably it was also a life well lived. Else what is the point? It must also, at this juncture, be a life of wistful memories - for which among their siblings, their contemporaries, their loved ones who shared their early lives are around and about to share those memories with?

For two women living in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, born in 1920, identical twin girls, the problem is less acute. Congratulations to Etta and Elsie (Yach) born precisely a century ago, on 25 May 2010, and may they continue to enjoy one another's sisterly company.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Thieves Strike Artwork!

How very enterprising. How utterly lacking in personal aesthetics. Of course, so many people are, in point of fact.

Reputations are made on the basis of some academics and art scholars concluding that minimalist or non-representational art represents the finest expression of human originality. Where once the artistic masters of the art world produced work of surpassing beauty and elegance that actually bore a fine resemblance to what we see around us, more latterly practitioners of the art of producing fine art have deduced that anything sells, once a reputation is made.

And that reputation is made on the basis of singularly slight originality and talent. Of course if the viewer cannot recognize the value of the work of art being touted this is simply because they lack the artistic flair, the requisite sense of aesthetic to do so. In short, most people are simply incapable of recognizing fine art because they are art-uneducated dolts. A canvass with several lines is highly acclaimed, another with a dimly and finely-stencilled mass of dots is a marvellous rendition of a desert.

Art truly is in the eye of the beholder; alternately in the mind of those who are informed what art should represent and how it should appear. Some of the most valuable artwork in the world are held in many of the capital museums of the world. Some of the galleries do indeed contain art of outstanding value, commemorating human events and divinely-inspired events alike, and also reflecting natural landscapes and creatures of the world in fabulous mastery of the craft.

Original art can be awe-inspiring in the hands of a master. And it can be dispiritingly awful in the hands of one who has been acclaimed by the art community as a master. The money goes where the reputations are. Now, news that art worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars has been stolen from the Musee d'art Moderne de la ville de Paris. Works by Fernand Leger and Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amadeo Modigliani.

All acclaimed masters, and every one of whom produced absolute crap. But worth millions. Because people will believe what they are told to believe. If Edvard Munch's The Scream was never recovered, would the world have been any the poorer? It was certainly an original work of art. Imagine all this abstract junk located within one museum dedicated to precisely this type of art. With state-of-the-art alarm systems and watchmen on duty to ensure nothing untoward occurs.

Despite which it does. And, tch, tch, one of the alarms was malfunctioning. Who might know this other than someone with inside knowledge? And of the three watchmen on duty none of them ever suspected anything doubtful occurring in the wee hours of the morning...? "These objects are, to our knowledge, not insured", serenely informed the managing director of an art-insurer company.

The art world mourns.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Back To Where You Belong

It is a favourite slogan of xenophobes, of indigent peoples who feel they are being invaded by an unwelcome tide of foreigners through normal migration generally termed emigration by segments of a society wishing to become immigrants elsewhere in the world - "go back to where you came from". People who are nationals of a geographic entity calling itself a nation, a country, who fear the incursion of strangers, who blame them for their own lack of opportunities in employment and sharing the wealth of their country's natural and national resources.

Currently, governments welcome immigrants who often bring their experience and education and professional attributes with them, attempting to escape an intolerant and oppressive society to make a better life for their families. Countries of the world are also obligated to accept a certain number of refugees - displaced persons who for reasons of political instability, internecine or tribal warfare leading to dislocation, or a totalitarian government enforcing their version of religion or ideological fundamentalism - to offer asylum.

People who comfortably belong to a majority group, who see themselves as original investors of a society, part of the heritage, culture and generally-accepted social mores, with a political system that reflects their values, tend to look at intruders with a jaundiced eye. But for those countries' citizens truly advanced in the social acceptance of others, seeing them as a source of societal enrichment. Generally, a period of adjustment and grudging acceptance leads to some modicum of tolerance.

People who emigrate to countries where their outward differences make them instantly recognizable as foreign elements in an otherwise homogeneous society have always been initially met with suspicion and often enough outright hostility. In our modern world, particularly within advanced countries, there has been a sea change in attitudes. Regardless of which there are certain elements of society that are often viewed poorly, seen as caricatures, representatives of
unwanted foreign traits.

Jews, a group of people whose well-documented origin was in the Middle East historically, were dispersed in two massive events when occupiers found them to be irritatingly and single-mindedly devoted to their religion and their traditions. Through conquest by the ancient Assyrians who also destroyed the First Temple in 586 B.C. When Jews returned from their sojourn in Iran, and re-constructed the temple, it was destroyed again in 63 B.C. by the Romans and the Israelites again dispersed.

The current dispersal of Jews from their ancient tribal homeland (which included part of what is today called Israel, and parts of Lebanon and Jordan as well), the diaspora, settled over the millennia that followed within the Middle East, across Europe, into Asia and India and eventually into North America. Everywhere that Jews settled they were considered to be outsiders, interlopers, strangers whom the original population tolerated, or did not.

It was in 1930s Germany where fascism led by an Austrian house painter whose hatred for Jews was so deeply entrenched, that anti-semitism found its apogee in a state-approved, state-initiated, state-planned mass annihilation. Where an earlier Russian screed called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" were taken as proof of Jewish duplicity and greed, and racist propaganda began its dehumanization of an entire people to eventually enable Nazi Germany to embark upon a systematic program of mass extinction.

In Europe at that time to be a Jew was to be a degraded human anomaly, a malign force, a hindrance to social justice and uniformity within society; a despised sub-human presence desperately requiring extirpation. Throughout Eastern Europe in particular Jews were hounded and forbidden by law to be viewed as entitled to security, and ongoing pogroms kept Jewish communities quietly, fearfully, out of sight. In the Middle East Jews were permitted to live as a tolerated group paying a 'tax' for the privilege.

Western Europe was a more improved, yet still difficult place for Jewish acceptance as equals within society. Jews, as a group, suffered from a dreadful public image and official neglect in between pogroms, wherever they lived. In the 15th Century the Spanish Inquisition forced Jews to turn to Catholicism, or expulsion; those who converted to become marranos and found to be secretly practising their faith were put to the torch. The balance were expelled in 1492 as undesirables.

When the Allies liberated concentration camps wherever Nazi Germany prevailed all over Europe, they found the remnants of European Jewry, barely alive, after six million Jews had been systematically slaughtered. Records of their geographic origins carefully maintained; their properties assimilated by the state, their hair and clothing and gold teeth extracted to be used in the wartime economies of the Axis powers. Jews aided the Axis war effort, through forced slave labour, and some even survived that experience.

From the vast acreages of the concentration camps with their gas chambers and their crematoria the armies of the allied powers sought to repatriate Jews from the camps to their 'homelands', their places of European origin. The sick and demoralized Jews in refugee camps, sad remnants of a proud people, were difficult for Allied armies stationed in Europe, to deal with. When Jews returned to their homes throughout Europe there was nothing to return to; their homes had been taken by others or had been destroyed; their families had been fed into the death machine, and they had nothing left.

What they were left with in many places of Europe was hostility by their former neighbours some of whom were reluctant to surrender property not theirs. Nor the children entrusted to them to help them survive. And anti-semitism that simply refused to bow to the sorrow of the Holocaust. So many Jews who had survived the horrors of the death camps met their death on return to their former homes. Right-wing groups would travel through villages to rout out the returned Jews and murder them.

A homeland of their own which had always been a dream, the return to Zion, to the Jewish capital of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, where sat the most holy symbol in Judaism, became an imperative as influential Jews living in North America and England began to formulate accelerated plans that the Zionist movement had always advocated. Jews were actually smuggled, hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors, into British-mandated Palestine.

This happened with the connivance of Palestinians. For at that time, in the 1940s, Jews were 'Palestinians'. There were in the mid-1940s roughly 900,000 Arabs living in the region of Palestine, and approximately 600,000 Jews. When the struggle of the Jewish diaspora to attain a place of their own where Jews could find haven and security denied them anywhere else in the world resulted eventually in the United Nations declaring partition for Palestine, Jews returned to their historical homeland.

Partition was celebrated by Palestinian Jews and rejected by Palestinian Arabs and the Arabs in the greater Middle East. War was imposed on the new State of Israel time and weary time again and each time Israel prevailed, was able to defend herself and establish the state that Jews had longed for so passionately. Sixty-two years later, Israel is still negotiating with a still-outraged Arab community for recognition. Arab Palestinians have time and again rejected the potential for a country of their own.

Concessions were never adequate to their needs and desires. When, in fact the reality was that there was only one concession that would have sufficed, and that would have been the complete surrender of the land that Israel sits upon, to be 'returned' to Arab rule which might allow Jews to live in the greater geography as dependents. Egypt, which signed a peace agreement with Israel 30 years ago has never relented in its antagonism toward the Jewish State. And Jordan is little different.

The Egyptian High Court is currently considering stripping citizenship from Egyptian men married to Israeli women, and this would engulf thousands of Egyptian men and Israeli women, married for decades and raising families together, in an impossible situation. A lawsuit was filed on the grounds that "Egyptian nationality laws warn against marriage to anyone characterized as Zionist"; which, of necessity describes any Israeli. The high court has directed the ministry to 'take the necessary steps to strip these Egyptian men of their nationality'.

Which, presumably, could be restored should they choose to renounce their marriages, leave wife and children.

And, at the very time that U.S.-sponsored 'proximity' peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority proceeds, PA-owned television broadcasts a message calling on Israelis to 'return' to their true places of origin; Europe and Ethiopia, thus enabling Palestinian Authority Arabs to return to the Israeli cities that should now revert to Arab ownership.

The televised message urges Israelis to go to "your original homeland". Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Russia and Ethiopia, all presumably eager to receive their former residents. Whereas, according to the message, those eastern Jews who lived in and were then thrust from Arab countries such as Syria, Egypt and Iraq upon the establishment in 1948 of Israel, would obviously not welcome their return. Nor be prepared to return to them their confiscated properties.

This message by the Palestinian Authority is one that PA children know well. They are instructed in their schools to believe that Jews menace their childhood and threaten their adulthood. They are taught to fear the Jewish presence, and to resent it for the tragedy it brought to Palestinian Arabs who fled their homes at the exhortation of their Arab allies preparing to assault Israel in its formative years. Those same Arab states confident they would speedily conquer a small Jewish, ill-equipped state. Though fate decreed otherwise.

How is there to be peace between Jews and Arabs when most Israelis are sabras now, born in Israel, those whose parents originated in Europe. And they are held, by the PA to be foreigners? Many more had been in the Middle East as subservient groups to the Arabs for millennia, while others had lived in their traditional homeland, including Jerusalem, for hundreds of years.

How is there to be peace between Jews and Arabs when the forthcoming populations, the children grown to adulthood are taught and believe that Jews have no right to be there? Israeli Arab children with full Israeli citizenship are taught that they live in "part of occupied Palestine". Does this equip them to future life as peaceful citizens of side-by-side states?

For that matter, what of the Israeli Arabs who have been duly elected by their Israeli-Arab constituents - all of whom have full entitlements as Israeli citizens - and sit in the Knesset as MKs and who fulminate against the state, and declare that it should be dissolved and become majority Arab?

How can peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority become reality when the PA steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state?

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Growing Up

Seems it's getting more and more difficult for people to mature. To see responsibility beyond their own tepid little needs and wants.

A man and a woman fall in love, get married - or not - and have a child. Or several children. The difficulties inherent in raising children are never overstated. But they are stated. Trouble is, there are some events in life that are so utterly all-absorbing that they cannot be adequately, fulsomely, and accurately described.

Even so, people are incapable of grasping just what a monumental alteration their life will take with the introduction into it of a tiny, wholly-dependent human being.

People adjust. They always have. That over 6 billion human beings exist on this Globe is ample evidence of that. Of course, human beings are simply re-producing because they are meant to.

We have been exquisitely programmed by nature to bring new life into this world. And ever since nature so kindly introduced us into this world we have been enthusiastically engaged in following her dictate. Women have been fashioned in such a way that they give birth to live young; all mammals do, with the considerable assistance of the male of the species.

We live in an age where, in developed countries in any event, health care is superbly dependable. This is something we now all take for granted. Fewer complications during pregnancy, and during childbirth. Where once women normally and automatically took to suckling their young, like all mammals, now it is a concept difficult to grasp and to succeed with.

We also live in an era where people feel themselves to be uniquely entitled to have an extraordinarily high regard for themselves in particular, and for all the hitherto-unattainable - in an earlier era - life enhancements, available to a huge proportion of society. We lavish attention upon ourselves, never hesitate to gift ourselves with any new toys we take a fancy to.

And then, suddenly, there is a tiny being obstreperously, loudly, claiming too much attention, interfering with life as it is meant to be enjoyed, and sowing confusion and no little regret.

New mothers become susceptible to doubting themselves and this new, irrevocable trajectory their lives have taken. Their spontaneity, their independence, their aspirations have suddenly been suborned; who gave this darling little interloper permission to claim precedence over everything that matters?

Suddenly, life sucks. There is no quiet, no peace, no down-time. A life of personal attention to oneself's every concern is suddenly history. Depressing. It's called the 'baby blues'.

Women are increasingly, it would appear, susceptible to this state of post-partum depression. Was it always so? Who knows? Older women who have experienced much, but not that, find it puzzling. But now, suddenly, the virus has spread; it is not only new mothers, but poor old dads too, who are suffering the blues.

New responsibilities, financial stress, sleepless nights, interference in every conceivable corner of one's life has overtaken normalcy. Tch, tch.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Terminating The Contract

Some societal values and mores remain constant. Particularly those of a partnership in life between a man and a woman.

Most women would very much hope that their husband's attention would not go astray in regard for the allure that other women might hold for them. Most men would prefer to believe that their wives remain constant to them. Each has, through their marriage vows, undertaken the traditional assurances that they will be 'true' to one another, 'through sickness and in health'.

Love, or a common purpose, both physical and social, has brought them together. To live their days together in companionship and mutual dedication to one another's well-being. And, if their intention is to raise a family, to do it in tandem, so that the children born of their relationship will know emotional comfort and security within the family their parents have created.

This is, of course, the idealization of the marriage contract and the family compact.

Reality is often otherwise, with something in the neighbourhood of 47% of marriages failing somewhere along the way. Sometimes the failure of a marriage is a result of simple incompatibility, an inability to agree, to find satisfaction with one another's constant company. And often enough, marriage failure results from strictures one of the pair cannot live within, imposed upon them by the other.

And then, of course, infidelity.

People are given to committing acts of sexual dalliance, often against their better judgement. Of course there are those men who are natural Lotharios who find it personally too difficult to surrender to a reality that precludes all other women but one's wife. And the gender counterpart where curiosity, or surrender by a woman to a desire to experience sex with someone other than her husband.

Human lives are various and human nature complex. People make choices they later regret; this forms part of the human tragedy. There are consequences for every action undertaken that grates against the grain of accepted practise. And, generally speaking, lies and artifice will be revealed sooner or later, and that proverbial piper waits in the wings.

The other thing about human nature, however, is that we have a tendency to lay blame elsewhere than with ourselves.

Our decisions to embark on an emotional, physical journey that will take us away from what we value, and when we are faced with the consequences, we refuse to accept responsibility. Some agency other than ourselves is held to be responsible for the consequences of actions that we undertook of free will.

So it is, that a 35-year-old woman, Gabriella Nagy of Toronto, has launched a $600,000 lawsuit against Rogers Wireless Inc.

This will do nothing to repair her shattered life, but it may help her ego, and it would certainly help her bottom line. Her marriage has been destroyed. Her husband, having suspected his wife was having an affair, discovered incriminating evidence through checking her cellphone invoice.

"My life is beyond repair. It was a mistake. I rectified it and learned from it, but I will carry it for the rest of my life", bemoaned Ms. Nagy. Yes, yes, no, no, and yes.

What she did to herself, to her husband, to her children was, in fact of her own volition. Her choice to do as she would. But she has also chosen to brood balefully to reach the conclusion that she was a victim in this sad story that she herself engineered. Her husband's consolidation of their communications billing was a practical household choice.

That the telecommunications company recommended and acceded to the change was routine business.

That this enabled her husband to determine that his wife, the mother of their two children, was being unfaithful to him was unfortunately circumstantial. The opportunity was there, he took advantage of it. In her turn, she would likely have done the same thing.

We are suspicious creatures, we humans, particularly when we feel we have good reason. When Ms. Nagy's husband telephoned a number that seemed doubtful to him, he spoke with the man with whom his wife had just concluded an affair.

"The affair was over. The thing that really hurt me is that it all came out not through my own doing", she claimed. And she is wrong, dead wrong. This was all, all of it, her doing.

Now she laments her broken marriage, her lack of self-esteem, her inability to perform in the workplace. But this was not the responsibility of a telecommunications company, nor did they engage in nefarious machinations to ensure such an event would occur.

It would appear, on the evidence, that Ms. Nagy is in a suspended state of immature denial. This is her life and she is wilfully awarding herself a failing grade.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

National Heroes

There was Steve Fonyo, in the wake of another young man whose bout with cancer left him with an amputated leg, determined to do just as his predecessor Terry Fox did, dedicate himself to a formidable physical effort to empower himself and to stimulate Canadians from coast to coast to coast to fund research into cancer. As a young man, just as occurred with Terry Fox who himself did not live to see his reputation soar into the national consciousness, Steve Fonyo ran to his coastal destination and dipped his prosthetic leg into the ocean, a symbolic gesture of having completed his quest.

And in the process he raised $13-million for cancer research, at the age of 19. He was held in public esteem, and he loved the attention and the praise. But his brief moment of fame simply did not last. Still, as a symbol of the country's recognition of his outstanding achievement, as a cancer survivor who extended his physical resources to bring attention to the need to combat cancer in all its dread forms, he was presented with the Order of Canada. A public beach in Victoria was named after Steve Fonyo. This was a young man proud of his reputation and his contribution to cancer research.

And then, twenty-five years later, there is Steve Fonyo, older, and not particularly wiser, but certainly much sadder. One run-in with the law after another tarnished his once-golden reputation as a national hero, and he was taken down off the pedestal that the Order of Canada raised him to, as it was revoked because of his growing criminal record. A record reflecting petty crime, petty criminal offences, reflecting a young man growing into a confused, resentful older man trying to quell his inner demons.

Passing bad cheques, five drunk-driving convictions, a cocaine habit, a problem with alcohol, and assault. This sad figure of a man trying to pick up the pieces of a life that went badly awry tells a journalist who has written about him that his problems all stemmed from depression, from the trauma he suffered at the death of his father mere months after the conclusion of his historical fund-raising run across Canada. He has weaned himself off drugs and alcohol, his last DUI was 14 years earlier.

He wants another chance at life. He lives a fairly meagre existence, with money in short supply, working as a truck mechanic. He plans to marry his live-in girlfriend, and wants to be married on the very beach named after him. Hoping it will retain its name. He sees himself settling into a quiet home on a quiet street with his two cats, and his new wife, content to stay out of trouble and to just get on with his life. He is decidedly unhappy at the loss of his Order of Canada medal.

And here is another national hero, although one not as universally known outside professional medical circles and the national capital as Mr. Fonyo. The esteem in which this national hero, Doctor and Senator Wilbert Keon is held, is that of a skilled heart surgeon instrumental in pioneering new surgical techniques and in treating heart-attack patients. He was responsible for the development of the acclaimed University of Ottawa Heart Institute, from which institution he retired in 2004.

He and his wife and their three children lived in a leafy suburb outside the city centre, in a 10,000-square-foot home. He has always been well-remunerated for his scientific-medical expertise. And when in 1990 he was asked by then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who needed to stack the Chamber of Sober Second Thought with enough supporters to pass his GST legislation, his first reaction was "I can't afford it". The base salary of a Canadian senator currently is roughly $132,000; and senators with additional positions on committees earn considerably more.

That kind of guaranteed income does not represent an unaffordable position to most Canadians. Mr. Mulroney was quick to assure Dr. Keon that he could continue in his medical career while sitting as a senator: "...there are many many precedents for this so you don't have to worry about that." So, Dr. Keon selflessly decided he would accept that paltry senatorial pay cheque and by the way continue his other career, in medicine. Which enabled him to finance his three children's university expenses outside the country.

Dr. Keon did much good as a senator, helping to create some critically needed national health research institutes. He also, doubtless, as many other Senators in the Upper Chamber famously, but quietly do, engaged in lobbying. When a senator who represents a law firm or another kind of independent business calls in federal bureaucrats to ask favours of them, this is unregistered lobbying. Which is handily overlooked. Dr. Keon, now 75 years of age, has of necessity stepped down from the Senate.

While still a new senator, and while labouring mightily as a renowned heart surgeon, Dr. Keon was arrested by an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute. He avoided any kind of prosecution by agreeing to attend "John school". Where, presumably, he was informed in no uncertain terms that by engaging in such activities as soliciting for sex, he was seen as a problem in society. This was quite an embarrassment for the man, but he had a forgiving family. He soiled himself, some might think irreparably, but they might think wrong.

If one has prestige and power and emotional support and a forgiving public with a short memory, all is forgiven. His Order of Canada was awarded in 1984. He was not asked to return it.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Not A Good Place To Build

There are times when people are not interested in probabilities or statistics or prior events. They have a dream and they look only for opinions that validate whatever it is that they wish to obtain for themselves. We hear, year after year, of flooding in places where there is guaranteed to be overflows from natural draining systems, yet people insist on building their homes on flood plains.

Nature, in her imperious manner does what she will. Human beings seem fixated on a belief that nothing deleterious will occur as a result of challenging nature, when nothing could be further from fact.

Where communities have lived for hundreds of years in geographic areas susceptible to flooding, to hurricanes, to tsunamis, it is well known that these human-nature-cataclysmic events can occur. And they do, with regularity. Made even more certain because it is also human nature to tamper where we should not. Our puny efforts to secure a geology from an unwanted natural event often serves only to accelerate the occurrences.

In places within countries where municipal authorities must issue building permits reflective of the spaces available, taking into account the physical environment, it is generally assumed that such permits will be withheld if, for example, building will encroach on valuable wet-lands. And where landslides might occur as a result of soil type, natural drainage and ground elevation, along with land use and the history of previous landslides, prudent caution is required.

In the Province of Quebec it is generally acknowledged that Leda clay, left as an ancient memento of a huge lake that once covered the land in the primeval era, presents as a distinct problem with stability. It is not just the Province of Quebec, but parts of Ontario as well, specifically the Ottawa Valley, where types of building and areas to be avoided are a deep concern.

Huge, stone heritage buildings erected over a century ago began sinking mere decades after they were built, upon Leda clay. The Victorian-era Natural Sciences Museum in Ottawa a distinct case in point.

With that in mind it cannot be too surprising - while representing a dreadful occurrence that still, when it happens, shocks everyone back into awareness - that a house built a decade-and-a-half ago, in an area considered by the municipality to be of moderate risk for landslides, was misidentified geologically, as it truly represents a high-landslide-risk area.

Resulting in the death-by-asphyxiation of a family, when their house slide into the chasm left by a landslide.

"St. Jude is in one of the more susceptible areas in Quebec, and this could have been identified through careful prior analysis", is the opinion of a geotechnical engineer with experience in identifying geographical areas at high risk for collapse, when Leda clay becomes too sodden and suddenly critically unstable leading to landslides and open, yawning craters of dissolving Leda clay; from a solid mass into a liquefied state.

Head of the geotechnical and geological service of Transport Quebec claims the provincial government has regional maps utilized by municipal government planners to enable them to pass zoning bylaws and proceed with the administrative approval of construction permits. At the time the home built by Richard Prefontaine for his family was approved the area's risk was thought to be moderate.

But, it would appear that sage advice was completely absent in the approval process for this unfortunate family. The home was built on high ground whose sensitive type of clay was well known; nearby a river bend. And, to the alert and questioning eye, fresh cracks in the road might have led one to surmise that there had been recent soil movement.

"That river bend was eating into the bank", said Noel Journeaux, a Pointe Claire-based geotechnical engineer, "It was not a good place to put a house."

A  landslide thrust a St. Jude home last Monday 40 metres down a crater  measuring 400 by 600 metres, killing a family of four.

A landslide thrust a St. Jude home last Monday 40 metres down a crater measuring 400 by 600 metres, killing a family of four.

Photograph by: Phil Carpenter, The Gazette

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thailand's Failure - and Success

Thailand, one of the fourteen new UN-member countries recently elected to the United Nations Human Rights Commission is currently in a state of civil disarray. To put it mildly. The current government is held in extremely low esteem and trust by its electorate. A great many of whom have protested for months on end, insisting that a new election be held.

The country has been incapable of fully functioning as it should, given the disruptive state of the country-wide protests. Thailand's capital city has been under a state of siege by its own citizens. Tens of thousands of 'red shirt' protesters are rallying the country to defy its government, and the government has reacted by calling a state of emergency.

Troops called in to break up the protests killed 25 people and wounded over 800 in violent clashes. Guns and grenades are used by both sides with predictable results. The government finally acceded to demands and gave notice a new election would be held in the fall, and then had second thoughts, cancelling another election.

More riots erupt, and there was a military lock down of the huge rally site in Bangkok. The capital city resembles a war zone, in some areas. Journalists covering the events have been severely wounded and hospitalized. The city's transit system has been placed in abeyance, foreign embassies have been shuttered, and a country so dependent on tourism, had warnings issued by foreign governments against travelling there.

The 'red shirt' protesters have their support drawn from the country's farmers and working class, all of whom agree that the current government is illegitimate. People in Bangkok are fed up with dislocation and disruptions to normal life. They would like life to return to normal.

It somehow seems fitting that Thailand, along with Libya and other human-rights-abusive countries find themselves a comfortable seat on the UN's Human Rights Council.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Thuggish Opportunism

Celebrations turning into violent riots. We read about this kind of thing all the time. These are the fall-outs of sport events that take place say, in Europe, or undeveloped countries of the world. Not in laid-back, law-abiding Canada.

Unless we're speaking of Montreal, and that seems to be another thing altogether. It's not that other cities in Canada don't have their share of thugs. Just something about Montreal. It's become something of an anticipated event that post game, passions will flare and violence will erupt.

It used to be that everyone just shrugged it off to excited fans revelling in wins and losses. Excited, good-hearted fun that sometimes went a little hay-wire. But the thing of it is, it goes a whole lot hay-wire.

When people create distractions to enable themselves to freely begin looting, there is something else involved. We're talking sociopaths devoted to creating chaos for the purpose of enabling themselves to get away with criminal offences.

There may be some legitimate 'fans' who get a little too inebriated and in their high spirits become abusive. Crowds of people can sometimes turn ugly quite quickly, particularly when law enforcement officers are trying to persuade them to tone down the extent of their celebrations.

Upturning vehicles and setting them on fire isn't exactly equated with good citizenship. Nor is brawling, necessarily.

But here's where the local criminal element get involved, taking advantage of opportunities resulting from police distraction in trying to make some order out of chaos and prevent a large-scale riot. People whose intention is to smash store windows and grab whatever they can.

Aside from public drunkenness and high-jinks, there are those who come equipped with backpacks they can stuff with loot.

And even though Montreal police had increased their presence by 50% for 750 officers on duty at post-game festivities when the Habs beat the Penguins 5-2, they were no match in numbers for the cunning of the local thugs determined to have their own party, vandalizing and entitling themselves to new possessions.

There are some cultural events that become traditions that are simply out of this world.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pedal To The Metal

If that had occurred to me I'd be more than a little upset. I'd scream bloody murder. I'd behave like a raving lunatic. I'd contact the news media, my member of parliament, my local municipal councillor, the police commission, the chief of police. Anyone, any body of influence I could think of. And I'd lash them verbally for what I'd gone through. What might have been a complete and utter disaster if others were in the vehicle I was driving and came to real harm.

The fact that I don't drive, myself, has nothing to do with how I feel. The fact that some poor woman, driving along the 417, intent on arriving at her children's school to pick them up and drive them back home, safely, and instead of her normal routine unfolding, she became a victim; that bothers the hell out of me. It should upset anyone, knowing the facts of the case.

It's true that police have to be alert to criminal activity, to be prepared to act. But react in such a way to what, on the face of it, represented a minor highways act infraction? The driver of the offending car could have been followed and at an appropriate time, stopped and questioned. What occurred, instead, as a result of an expired licence plate sticker was that the police officer who noted that went into emergency mode.

The vehicle's licence plate could have been noted. The police officer might have been better advised to follow at a discreet distance. Eventually he would have discovered, after apprehending the driver under far safer circumstances that the 19-year old had broken probation. And then he would have been charged, not with the 13 offences brought against him, but a notable few.

Speeding, on a busy highway, full of motorists, not a very good idea.

And because a hot pursuit was undertaken, a woman by the name of Victoria van der Ham was involved in a serious accident and might have been seriously injured as a result. That she was not was a little miracle in itself, since her van was forced off the highway by the speeding driver chased by the police officer, landed upside down in a water-filled ditch, and Mrs. van der Ham, securely strapped into her seat, spent 40 minutes trapped, upside-down, before being rescued.

The suspect was travelling at 180 km/h about the time he hit the minivan. He drove evasively and dangerously, intent on losing the cruiser with its flashing lights and sirens. Weaving in and out and around other motorists, other vehicles might have been hit, other drivers might have been placed in danger. There could well have been a fatality. Eventually the driver lost control of his vehicle and landed it in the median.

"I'm very lucky that my two children and my husband weren't with me. All four of us could have been hurt badly", Mrs. Van der Ham observed angrily. And she's right. "I was very lucky. They basically said they thought they would come to the ditch to find a dead body", she said describing the reaction of firefighters who rescued her. As it is she is well bruised, as a temporary memento of her dreadful experience.

The other trauma, the memory of what she went through will remain with her for a much more prolonged period.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Massive Sinkholes

It is likely that some people consider life itself and their lives in particular to represent massive sinkholes out of which they are incapable of scrambling, despite their most ardent attempts to rescue themselves. From a life of misery, one that promises them nothing for the future.

They can be living in wealthy countries or those countries which have not yet advanced beyond the 19th Century in terms of civil accommodations. They can be the victims of their own bad choices, or victims of a dictatorially oppressive regime.

But somewhere in those psyches, however broken by bad life experiences due to personal improvidence or impersonal lack of opportunities, there is likely a tiny spark of hope. That, in some ways unimagined, they will not be left to a fate that swallows them into a bleak, black empty hole.

So it is just as well that no one can foresee the future, that human beings are not imbued with a sixth sense or a visionary capability that would reveal the future to them. The future is a mystery to us all.

Here was a family, two parents, two children, living in a small rural community in Quebec, surrounded at a remove by neighbours and extended family. Close to a tiny town named for the patron saint of lost causes: Saint-Jude.

A rural road leading to other dispersed private properties ran across the front of this family's property. Their house was only 15 years old, with a lovely pale green metal roof, a two-story family dwelling. With a finished basement.

It was there, in that basement, where the family had assembled for a relaxed and comfortable evening to share the viewing of television. And it was there, in their home, in the finished recreation room that all four family members, parents and children sitting together on a sofa in front of their television set, that all died.

A family pet, a dog, chained to a tether outside survived; discovered by rescuers hours later, wet, mud-slathered and decidedly confused.

No one could save the parents and the children for they suffocated, suffocated in a mudslide that inundated the house, after their house had been swept off its foundation, and into a huge sinkhole of leda clay that had dissolved as a result of becoming too unstable through a surfeit of rain.

Who might have suspected such a dread occurrence might exist? But it can, and it has on occasion in that part of Canada where once Lake Champlain rested.

That ancient lake, long gone, left behind its bed of leda clay. Much of the Province of Quebec and some of the Province of Ontario, particularly the Ottawa Valley, is based on leda clay; in the Ottawa Valley, a mixture of leda clay and sand, a very unstable geology.

The sinkhole measured half a kilometre long and 30 metres deep. A dreadful natural geological phenomenon that ancient glaciers which receded ten- to 12-thousand years ago, gifted us with. This type of clay has severely limited strength with mechanical properties that are quite amazing.

When this clay becomes saturated it can liquify. In a small community where everyone knows everyone else, and there are extended family connections, this tragedy hits particularly hard.

Friends and family react after being told  Richard Prefontaine had been found dead, Tuesday evening May 11, 2010  in Ste. Jude Quebec.
Rescue workers search a crater measuring  about 1 kilometer by 500 meters that swallowed at least one house in St.  Jude north east of Montreal Tuesday, May 11, 2010.
A car sticks out of a crater measuring  about 1 kilometer by 500 meters that swallowed at least one house in St.  Jude north east of Montreal, Tuesday, May 11, 2010.
A crater measuring about 1 kilometer by 500 meters that swallowed  at least one house in St. Jude north east of Montreal, Tuesday May 11,  2010.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Squandering Taxpayer Dollars

Most certainly we don't want to do that. Yet isn't that what is done frequently, and more than we would like to admit to, after all? It's more than a little refreshing, however, to read that police chiefs in the Province of Ontario feel there are better ways to use those dollars than to pay salaries of officers who have been suspended from active duty. Those, in fact, who have been charged with serious crimes.

On their off-time, of course. No police officer would ever indulge in illegal activities during active duty-time. One can only suppose the boredom of being off duty, just leading normal lives gets to them, and the allure of engaging in illicit, or even, let us say dangerously criminal behaviour just for the hell of the kick involved, becomes too attractive to resist. No, really...

Not for all, needless to say, but for those whose dedication to law and order may not go beyond their pay cheque. Or those suffering from a mental illness, undiagnosed and developed while in the process of interacting with the criminal element within society. Who is to say, really, despite the most careful selection, vetting and auditing procedures that some sociopathic personalities don't end up on any police force?

But here's the president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, speaking on behalf of local forces, decrying the "spending millions" of dollars paying those constables who have been charged with criminal behaviour, while awaiting trial. "We think that's squandering taxpayer dollars", said Daniel Parkinson, president of the Association. Good man, he.

Giving courageous recognition to the fact that among the defenders of law and order there does exist an element of personnel less dedicated to their task of enforcing the law than desired. The solution seems simple enough, and it's one, in principle that other policing services follow; stripping officers of their pay until their names have been cleared.

It's tough to be charged, and to be without a pay cheque, but doesn't that go with the territory? That someone dedicated in his professional vocation to upholding law and security must be seen to be an exemplar that others should follow? If there are serious criminal charges brought, then it makes good sense that such uniformed malefactors not be paid as upstanding members of the police.

Provincial legislation would have to be changed to, as Chief Parkinson of the Cornwall force says, preserve the "integrity and credibility" of policing, since: "Some police officers get themselves into serious criminal activity off the job. It can happen anywhere in the province. It's something we're not proud of and something we want to amend."

For forthright honesty, give that man a medal. Chief Parkinson recalls an instance when two former colleagues committed a home invasion, searching for a large amount of cash, were apprehended, and: "Those officers were on the payroll until they were convicted in court and sentenced to a term in the penitentiary."

Now, if the issue could get by unions whose purpose in life is to staunchly defend all the perquisites and entitlements written into union contracts for their members, regardless of circumstances, and if the police chiefs could convince Ontario's minister of community safety, this could be accomplished. A tough one, though, given the minister's response.

"This is an issue that would certainly have to be addressed in opening up the Police Services Act. That wasn't and isn't our intent at this point in time", was the response of Rick Bartolucci, Ontario's Minister of Community Safety.

But why not?

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Monday, May 10, 2010

A Tree, A Thing Of Beauty

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree. Poem by Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
Oh dear, so she said, that celebrated poet of yore. So too says boastful Nature, but some feel, think and see differently; their aesthetic sense is other than that of nature lovers. And if we're looking for fools, look no further than those whose acclaim for a ten-storey branchless metal tree sculpture created by internationally renowned New York artist Roxy Paine has cost Canadian taxpayers $1-million dollars. That piece of fabulous 'art' is named One Hundred Foot Line.

It resembles, say awe-struck admirers, a tree, an exclamation mark, representing an exquisite work of art, rivalling those of nature. It is described as a fabrication of a tapered metal tree. It will be installed in Ottawa, through a serendipitous collaboration between the National Gallery of Canada and the National Capital Commission, at Nepean Point, where currently stands a more traditional work of art, a bronze statue of Samuel de Champlain.

This new piece of drek - um, sorry - art - a massive steel structure that looks well, like a massive steel structure is our latest hallowed acquisition to prove that Canadians know art when they see it. Actually the structure is somewhat structureless. Actually like a piece of steel. A very tall piece of steel. In no conceivable way resembling a work of art. At least not art as thought of by ordinary art-loving connoisseurs.

But it is to be installed by Labour Day. One must consider the labour, the time, the expense of installing this misbegotten artwork in a massive concrete and metal slab. Roughly $200,000 to get the job done right. This fabulous sculpture will stand75 meters from that of Champlain, which has stood on its solitary point for 95 years.

Poor Samuel, he will be upstaged, after all this time. It is inevitable, for tastes change and those who swoon over this latest piece of artwork are extravagant in their praise: "It will bring excitement to the area", "It's quite magical", "They complement each other." Ah the excitement, the wealth of commemorative and artistic sculptures that enrich the landscape of this city.

Its base will be 1.6 meters wide, and the thing itself will thrust toward the blameless sky at a height of 30.5 meters. One hundred feet of steel. Whose presence might accomplish something practical were it to be used in the construction, say, of a building, comfortably hidden as a part of the infrastructure around which cladding would be placed, to hide its hideous presence. But installed there, it would at least be useful.

We would not be forced to see the bloody thing. And seeing it, wince at the very indecency of shelling out !One Million Dollars! for the grotesquerie masquerading as art. With luck, it will keel over under high winds some day, when no one is around to witness nature's opinion of its presence. If a 100-ft tall desecration of a facsimile of a tree falls at Nepean Point, an area where few venture, will anyone know, or hear, or care?

Or perhaps a lightning strike, attracted to its noble, electricity-grabbing presence will take it into another, more interesting shape than that which it was designed to irritate us with, enhancing its dubious appearance. "Each tree is a new story, a compelling entity told with that language", claims the artist himself, in an excruciatingly pretentious description of his brilliant conception.

This is one of a series that the artist has brilliantly conceived and is overlooking the manufacture and placement of, called the "Dendroid" series. Dendroid: tree-shaped (from the Greek dendron, meaning ‘tree’). Obviously meant for an audience of Androids, Androids: (an automaton that is created from biological materials and resembles a human.) Also called humanoid.

Which only goes to prove when first you practise to deceive, just go ahead and do it, because if you're brazen enough and loud enough and enthusiastic enough you can convince people of whatever truth you're handing out at any given time, including what in particular constitutes art. This artist is clearly a talented visionary. One of a few world-class sculptors the art world goes ga-ga over.

And we, that great amorphous, Philistine mass who are deliciously happy to pay for their divine creations. Through our tax dollars for their elaborately-conceived and felicitously placed fictive fixations.

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Mother Of Parliaments

Egad, who would ever have believed that Great Britain, that staid and regulated, officiously entitled leader of the Commonwealth (good grief, creator of that vast body; a wealth of uncommonly-odd nations linked by a heritage of empire-outreach), would be so shabbily incapable of investing itself with the fundamentals of enabling its great electorate to take part in that most elemental of democratic activities.

What's this? Hundreds, perhaps thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Brits ignominiously, unceremoniously (odd, for a country so given to ceremony) turned away from inadequately-numbered, poorly staffed and insufficiently balloted voting booths. Isn't this the kind of thing that happens in third-world countries aspiring to lift themselves out of authoritarian rule into quasi-democracy?

This is something we've seen, say, in Iraq, in Afghanistan. It's a failing that is known to occur with regularity and deliberately in countries of the world where control is the order of the day not freedom of access. And where other democratic countries send out electoral overseers to ensure compliance with democratic ideals.

But yes, Britain's recent election which saw a peculiar outcome of a minority government in the offing, which still hasn't been established, failed its voting populace.

The voting public that listened avidly to first-time televised political debates. Which left them still debating their choices and lack thereof. And despite the fact that there existed a great number of people who were undecided, they were still determined to cast their vote. For whomever they wished. Determined, but unable. Due to circumstances truly beyond their control.

But not beyond the control of the electoral commission which - although it has had ample and historical traditions in the methodology of mounting an election process and furnishing the means by which people are enabled to make their choices count - dismally failed.

Pity, that.

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Due Recognition

It's a generational thing. Adults always complain about the selfishness and irresponsibility of kids. Most particularly do they claim that the teen-age years exemplify self-regard above all else. And while it is true that in those adult-formative years of hormonal change and awkward social interaction children poised on the cusp of emerging adulthood often make poor choices, this is also the way they learn, through experience.

And many children; teens and young adults, are not reckless, do heed the results of their experiences, while doing as children have done from time immemorial, shunting aside the advice given them continually by their elders. We do not learn, as a species, from others' errors, but from our own. And those who refuse to learn, simply ear-mark themselves for a life-time of no end to new beginnings.

What can you say about a young girl who while still a pre-teen, took it upon herself to take a babysitting course and a Red Cross safety course, and then acted as a responsible babysitter to children aged three and five in the absence of their parents? Well, you could possibly say that the teen-ager demonstrated far more intelligent awareness than did the parents who hired her at such a young age.

As it happened, Aaliyah Braybrook, who lives in Clairmont, Alberta, was babysitting two young boys, for their parents, in 2007. The boys' parents lived in a trailer owned by the boys' father. Beside the trailer in which they lived was another one, also owned by the children's grandfather. While the 12-year-old was babysitting a fire broke out in the home.

Aaliyah acted promptly and with eminently good sense by leading the two little boys and the family pet away from the burning home, and none suffered any injuries. At the time of the fire, later determined to have been set by the five-year-old, the young girl was applauded by firefighters as a hero. Two years later her hero status was revoked.

A $350,000 lawsuit involving the older couple who owned the two trailers was launched, naming their son, the father of the two little boys, and the young girl, now 14. Much publicity has ensued over this 'trifling' matter of naming a 14-year-old in a lawsuit claiming damages for a fire that could have been the death of three children.

The publicity, it would appear, has had an interesting effect on the lawsuit.

It has caused embarrassment to insurance companies which appear to be battling between them the little matter of liability and pay-outs. The insurance company representing the homes' owners thought it had a case for forcing the girl's father's insurance company to foot the bill, claiming the girl to have been 'negligent'.

The ensuring firestorm of airing this absurd scenario and the resulting public opinion has had its effect: The heroine of a house-fire that might have been truly disastrous in its outcome, is no longer named in the lawsuit.

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