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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sad Irony

Reputedly a kind and decent man who rose from obscurity to found an empire and a fortune, and a generous man whose modest upbringing and background stimulated him to become a philanthropist. The picture of an individual whose values the world could use more of. He lived a life of personal enterprise and obvious pride, and of empathy for the well-being of others. Surely, if there were an all-seeing Spirit, this man's graciousness in life would be acknowledged.

Unless that omniscient Spirit of whom much has been speculated and written, but of whom no actual presence can be identified other than in peoples' minds and thoughts at times of great personal stress, has a very peculiar sense of humour. In which the Spirit, perhaps out of a sense of boredom occasionally indulges. A grim kind of humour, to say the least. Visiting upon the most unlikely of creatures misery and misfortune.

Not the evil and the ill-doers among humankind necessarily, but those who aspire to present themselves in the image of the Spirit itself. And so Jimi Heselden, wealthy proprietor of the Segway corporation - not the mobile device's inventor, but one who purchased the invention and its manufactory - has perished by the very inventive two-wheeled device which he took ownership of.

Becoming, in the circumstances of his untimely and regretful death, a symbol of how even the most innocent of devices can somehow contrive to present as potentially dangerous. Mr. Heselden perhaps leaned too far forward on his device, propelling it in haste, without adequately scrutinizing the terrain he was transversing.

The community foundations in his native northern England will remember him as a kindly patron, giving millions to charity to help disadvantaged children and the elderly. His unfortunate death, tumbling off the edge of a cliff into the seas below will also be remembered.

And the mobility device which had been the subject of such clever advertising prior to its unveiling will perhaps undergo some safety modifications and potential customers will be cautioned to be aware of their surroundings before embarking upon heedless pleasure jaunts.

Mr. Heselden, Requiescat in Pace.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Values, Priorities and Royalty

It's tough to be a royal in some parts of the world. In the Saudi kingdom not so much, since the lifestyle can be as extravagant and lavish as one might wish, with the funding coming from an almost-inexhaustible source of fossil fuels chugging the economy along; ditto the neighbours. In Europe, the royals have learned to live more abstemiously since their funding is hardly to be compared. In royal Old England, however, where love for Queen Elizabeth II still flourishes, the style remains grand enough.

Nice old stone piles in London and Edinburgh and the royals list still paid for out of the state treasury. The Queen is vastly wealthy. Her oldest son hasn't done too badly for himself, either with his environmentally-sensitive estates and eco-business plans. The beloved Queen is known not to be too lavish a spender; in fact, she is fondly known as one who is given to carefully mending and tending rather than carelessly replacing what can still be useful. Still, it remains inordinately costly to maintain palaces.

And of late it has been revealed that royal aides have made it known to Parliament that a difficult energy burden has been placed upon the Queen's coffers related to gas and electricity invoices which have increased exponentially - to the extent that they amount now to $1.6 million annually, taking a huge bite out of the $22-million granted by the state for palace upkeep. Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are the pride of the nation and require additional upkeep funding.

Of course the total yearly allowance granted to the British monarch is closer to $50-million for staff and palace upkeep. It's sad to become aware through the news media that Parliament is turning a deaf ear and blind eye to the many appeals by the Royal Family for financial assistance. Life can be so unfair. The Queen, it should be noted, is the proud owner of one of the world's finest and most extensive art collections. The Royal jewels are stupendously varied; rare and costly and lovely. One must, after all, keep up appearances.

She does have a $20-million reserve, but money has a habit of simply draining away, and it would be so very much appreciated if ongoing appeals for consideration of increasing the palace allowances would be agreed upon. Of course, it is unfortunate that increased funding might have to be drained from a special fund whose purpose is intended to assist community energy funding operated by local authorities for housing associations, universities, hospitals, town halls and social housing.

But there is such a thing as priorities, after all, and the Royal estates upkeep have simply become 'untenable'.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Robust Good Health

Looking out the long, narrow window in the small room on the 7th floor of the CCU there is a very nice long view. Panoramic almost; nearby a construction crane among the hospital buildings, further out high-rise buildings of some sort, and in the distance the gentle slopes of the Gatineau Hills can be seen.

And it is surprising, looking out on a small urban forest of birch trees between the Perley and the General Campus, to see that autumn has suddenly arrived. The canopy of that lovely little wood is now bright yellow, with an occasional rosy blush of maples. The CCU (critical care unit) is a very compact and efficient unit located within the General site as an outreach of the Ottawa Heart Institute.

Most of us are still in late-summer mode. Who was really thinking of fall? Parliament was set to resume for its fall sitting; the opposition in full throttle attacking the government over a series of issues, with a vote on a private member’s bill to take place on the gun registry. Ottawa itself in the throes of a fall election campaign. Hurricane Igor was headed toward Newfoundland. Queens Park was bracing itself for increasing hydro rate protests. Health care an ongoing topic throughout the country; discussion about the controversial new MS therapy, organ donations and time-of-death for donors, and the potential for legalization of euthanasia.

On the international scene, the devastating flood in Pakistan reminds us of natural disaster vulnerabilities. Our Prime Minister was speaking at the UN, with Canada aspiring to another temporary term on the Security Council - the EU is struggling with immigration issues, the U.S. pumping up the Israeli-PA peace talks, and Ban ki Moon cordially greeted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the UN.

And here am I, in that tidy little room bristling with all the latest in diagnostic, monitoring tools for people whose hearts have begun to fatigue after years of dedicated service.

It was only days after my admission that I was able to look out of that window onto the park-like quadrangle below, to see the magnificent colours that my nurses described to me. And with the thought of fall having finally arrived, and the cool and wet weather that accompanied it, came thoughts of my need as an avid gardener, to put my garden to sleep for another winter. Would I be able to? What would result from this entirely unexpected collapse in my formerly robust health?

When I presented at the Emergency Department the entire apparatus of a modern, professionally staffed hospital seemed to have become alerted to the presence of one frightened, suddenly-frail woman, in a state of stunned disbelief that her lifetime of good health had suddenly disintegrated for some unknown reason.

A sweetly concerned admissions nurse bundled me directly into a wheelchair, and quietly informed me someone would be taking care of me sooner, much sooner rather than later. I sat huddled in the wheelchair, disbelieving, waiting for my husband to burst through the hospital entrance.

An elderly man, himself quietly awaiting attention, tentatively approached with concern writ large on his face, to ask if there was anything he could do to help me, for I was weeping. No sooner had those words left his lips than I was being wheeled away by an orderly with a nurse by his side.

In a small room I was placed on a bed, and a swift succession of nurses, doctors and technicians took charge. The probing questions, the concern elicited by my responses and those of my husband were moving and at the same time confidence-building. I would be well looked after.

Blood was extracted, X-rays taken, and a technician arrived to prep me with two IV airlocks, one for each wrist. A blood transfusion was started, and a saline solution, along with a drug administered simultaneously. More doctors arrive to begin questioning; cardiologists and gastro-enterologists, and they examine me, listening to my heart, palpating, questioning, talking among themselves.

A pharmacist comes along to discuss allergies, drug interactions, protocols, then departs. Not before telling us he lives in our neck of the woods.

All of these professionals speak softly and with authority, kindly and with confidence, assuring me that whatever it is that has eroded my confidence in my body will be looked after by them with all the skills at their disposal.

I am formally admitted and taken up to the 7th floor, to the critical care unit of the Ottawa Heart Institute within the General. My blood transfusions continue, as do the drug deliveries, and electrodes are placed here and there on my chest and I am tethered to a tall grey monolith out of which protrudes dependencies, and monitoring devices.

There is the low, steady humming of voices and equipment interspersed with discrete beeps and pings of equipment; temperature taken throughout the vigil, and blood work for the ingathering of vital data; ultra sounds and EKGs.

Each of the health professionals who approach me smiles, introduce themselves by name, inform me what branch of the healing profession they represent, and quietly discuss with me and my husband what might have occurred and what their plan of action is to be over the next short interval of my life at the hospital.

In that small and efficient room opposite the nurses’ station in that very small unit of fewer than ten beds for the Heart Institute at the General Campus, I am to remain for the time being. From that narrow window looking out over those fall-turning trees, light streams across the room when the sun is out. The room is fully functional as a temporary bed-rest and a haven for an individual in full need of acute medical care.

Throughout the day, and in the wee hours of the morning blood samples are taken. Each morning an EKG is taken. Twice each day the resident cardiologist and his staff make their rounds and consult with the patients. The nurses in this unit are assigned two patients to each nurse. Nurses work twelve-hour shifts. They care, deeply, both professionally and personally, about the people whose physical well-being and shattered emotional state are temporarily in their care.

The ambulance personnel who took me from the General Campus to the Civic for a scheduled angiogram were gentle and kind and personably involved. In the hospitals the orderlies, the nurses, the pharmacists, the doctors, the young volunteers - even the cleaning staff evince obvious empathy and concern for the needs of the patients.

The wires and tubes tethering me implacably to life, refusing with all the adamant conceit of modern medical technology and experienced medical practise to allow me to slip the silken bonds of life and spirit and love, spoke of huge advances in medical care in a modern, well-functioning and wealthy society.

I was transfused with some strangers’ gift of blood. The saline drip and drug counteracted my internal bleeding. Electrodes positioned on my body, snaking out to the monitors electronically connecting my ongoing condition to the watchful attention of the nurses at the station outside my room ensured no collapse would occur within their vigilant dedication. The ever-pulsating blood-pressure cuff lent itself to monitoring duty.

The most experienced specialists were there to tend my condition, in an effort to ascertain what had impelled my body to descend to its state of collapse and to return me to optimum health.

The ingathering of data enabling all of the people dedicated to my personal survival was finally completed, and an explanation discovered for what had occurred. A follow-up protocol was determined. I am back at home now, safe, sound and healthy.

I am a woman approaching my mid-70s, with no previous health issues. Normal weight, healthy diet, never smoked, do not drink alcohol, and exercise diligently and regularly. A good life-style, in other words, and a fairly good gene package.

Yet with all those advantages the inconceivable occurs. And when it does, we should all be alert to the self-propelled requirement to respond to our own need to be looked after by the health professionals that we have the great privilege to have access too.

There are many who may criticize the value and effectiveness of our universal health care system. I am not among them. I am in awe of the professionalism, dedication, humanity and generosity of our health care professionals. And with good reason. I have experienced the very best.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Family That Eats ... And Eats

Canada, like most other western and wealthy countries of the world, has a decided problem with gustatory greed. Food of every description is so lavishly and inexpensively available, and so ubiquitously so with an amazing proliferation of fast food outlets that everyone has become comfortable with the prevailing social more of eating as much as you want, not as much as you need.

Moreover, quality of fundamental food products is no longer an issue; feeders do not discriminate, but prefer to eat, hugely, anything that tantalizes the taste buds.

What tastes better to the palate than high-fat, high-sugar, well salted food? Not much, to people who have lost the ability to appreciate the simple good taste of nutritional food that has not been adulterated, not gone through any kind of processing to alter it from its natural state to one that bears little resemblance, taste-wise and nutritional-content to the original.

People are busy, their minds engaged elsewhere; certainly not engaged with what most people consider the mundane and complicated tasks of family meals preparation.

People appear, in this fast-paced world where cheap and plentiful quasi-food is so readily available, to have forgotten how to prepare basic foods in pleasing and tasty combinations. Nor do they see the necessity to 'waste' time in food preparation when it is so simple to open the freezer and withdraw meals already prepared.

And of course this mind-set is passed along to their children most of whom have no idea how real food should taste, and that the foods normally consumed have been drained of their goodness and replaced with health-impairing alternates.

Leading Canada's pediatricians to bemoan the fact that too many young Canadians, from infants to teens, are overweight and unhealthy. As unwilling to exercise as are their parents. Making them, like their parents, with too much fat around their viscera, susceptible to illness and disease.

Sedentary, overweight, incapable of providing sound nutritional advice to their children, parents raise children whose faulty lifestyle closely resembles their own, children who will, at an early age, face the problems associated with diabetes onset, heart complications, neural and eyesight damage.

Statistics Canada's figures are that 17% of children in this country are overweight, with 9% in the obese category. Teenage boys classified as overweight or obese have gone from 14% in 1981 to the current figure of 31%, while the figures for teenage girls is an increase from 14% to 25%.

Parents used to want their children to be happy and healthy. Well, one-half of the equation may remain in effect, but who can be certain about that, either?

It's not baby fat necessarily, folks.

It may not want to melt off as once people anticipated young children's excess weight might at one time have done; not when they continue to consume high-fat, -salt, -sugared processed foods with no thought to satiation and exercising to burn off those nutritionally-empty calories.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

All's Sweetness And Light

It is, in effect, nothing more than a family feud. The family is that all-encompassing religion, Christianity, and the argument is between the mother and her restless, complaining daughters bringing disharmony to the family. All members of whom believe in God, but each of them believing they must approach God in a very particular manner. Each of whom declares their belief that theirs is the only approach that God, indeed, approves of.

Catholicism or Protestantism, and all the large and small, credible and incredible divisions within the two. Poaching takes place shamelessly, truth to tell. And conversions from one to the other, where those having converted become more strict than the Pope himself.

Well, that's human nature for you. We all think we're somehow more credible, important, entitled than the others who present as candidates for scorn because they too feel they're more credible, important, and entitled. And someone has got to be right, and it cannot possibly be the other one, the breakaway, the erratic and the ecstatic, the errant and the eccentric.

Now isn't that right?

On the other hand, there comes a time when surely reason should prevail. Even though reason plays no role in a system of beliefs in the Divine, for faith in and of itself is divorced from reason, existing in its own right as a spiritual quest which requires no answers, just assurances. Faith is a thing of the viscera, reason resides within the brain.

It is very nice and civil and charming and about time that the Shepherd of the Holy Roman Catholic Church made overtures to the Anglican Church of England, appearing for the very first time at that wonderful piece of architectural adventure, the venerable, estimable Westminster Abbey. And the Archbishop of Canterbury may now be inspired to visit Vatican City.

Let love and brotherhood bloom.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Those Adventurous Aussies

Some geographic locations seem to breed stereotypical characters, and the Australians seem to be natural adventurers. Young and old, they like to spread out all over the world, discovering, probing, testing their limits. Life, for some breeds of Australian adventurers is one challenge after another. This is a trait they are proud of.

For this particular story of (mis)adventure we go back fifteen years to September of 1995. Two young Australian men were intent on seeing Canada in the raw, in its most magnificent natural setting at Banff National Park at Lake Louise, Alberta. They were well equipped with boldness of purpose and determination, so that when a park ranger warned that a grizzly had been seen in the area, they decided to forge ahead regardless.

They set up their tent at one of the campgrounds and settled in for the night. And then the unthinkable happened. That cursed grizzly did show up, after all, and it was rather agitated to find foreigners encamped on its native soil. Of course, even Albertans would have been viewed as foreign to that soil cherished by the grizzly, defending its natural turf.

But the two Aussies, Andrew Brodie now 36, and Owen Hereford, now 37, were certainly surprised and shocked. And fortunate too that they escaped the attack with their lives. It was a costly experience in pain and broken bones. Mr. Brodie fractured his right elbow and came away with injured muscles in both legs.

Mr. Hereford's left forearm and left leg were injured as well, and both men suffered numerous puncture wounds, bruising and scarring. That was quite the adventure, not really as envisioned, but nature does tend to surprise. And here's the rather surprising element in the story; the two Australians, after a brooding hiatus of fifteen years have taken action.

They are suing the federal government for not having protected them from rampaging wildlife. This is their statement to the court hearing the case. To assuage the trauma of their spectacular introduction to Canadian wildlife-on-the-hoof they are demanding $75,000 each from the Government of Canada.

For, don't you know, the government failed in its duty to ensure that park visitors would be safe from the depredations of wildlife.


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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Power Grabbing

There's the Ontario Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty making itself popular among the voting public again. The wonder of it all is that voters have such absurdly short memories. We become angry over being manipulated and taxed endlessly with little to show for disappearing tax dollars, yet the affable, self-assured and foxy McGuinty just goes on his merry way, confabbing with his confreres to think of new ways to extract even more funds from a provincial population near the exasperation-breaking point.

So why is it that this man, giddy with the power that a majority government has gifted him with, and the additional assurance due to the general ineffectiveness of the opposition parties, certain to be re-elected? Ah, it's because the electorate finds it difficult to place their trust in the alternatives, none of whom have, of late, seen to be in a position to demonstrate their potential effectiveness at governing? Well, actually, isn't it past time to throw the rascals who now govern this province out of power?

Can the alternatives do any worse than McGuinty's government, which in the guise of careful stewardship of the province's resources, has been squeezing us beyond endurance? Of course, should they prove to be even worse than this government we always have the option of spinning the wheel to disencumber ourselves four years down the road. And seek another cosmopolitan power-hungry brute to run amok. Such is the nature of politics, and such is the politics of petty dictators in the guise of democratically-elected politicians.

They know what's best for us and we'd better believe it. We'd better, on the way to believing that, not recall to mind the criminally wasteful initiatives that they in their great wisdom have embarked upon, resulting in costly failures of design, purpose and control of free-spending bureaucrats. Off with their heads and bring in another program head; they'll get it right eventually. Or they won't. Time is weighing heavily on the 'won't' side, alas.
The latest waste of tax funds, $2-billion-worth of smart meters haven't been too intelligent an investment.

The thing of it is, people lead busy, distracting lives, and they tend to shepherd their time as carefully as they can manage to, and that includes conducting energy-consuming (in every sense of that light phrase) tasks at times of day that suit their busy agendas. Most people would prefer not to stay up late into the night to take 'advantage' of evening or night-time hours when energy use is low. We're stuck in a kind of needily-obsessive pattern of convenience. But, observes Premier McGuinty and his advisers, there's a very handy solution to that kind of recalcitrance.

Dramatically decrease the price of off-peak-hours energy usage, and pump up the increase in cost of peak energy use-time. Chuckle, chuckle; the quiet agenda being that it's a win-win for the government in full knowledge that people cannot and will not bleary-eyed and cursing, inconveniently use their energy-hogging appliances deep into the night.

And here we have the erroneous impression that we've been hard done by. Small business owners and home owners, take heed: we haven't seen anything yet, the best is yet to come...

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010


A small news bite in the local newspaper out of Manila, Philippines. Another Filipino has returned home from work abroad. Returned home from the Arab Emirates, in Bahrain. Where many impoverished Filipinos go to seek work as domestics, as hotel workers. In fact, as indentured servants. Expected to do precisely what, as and how they are instructed by their overseers, their employers.

For whom the Filipinos represent a cheap source of labour, as in slave labour. These workers, needless to say, have no rights under the law as it is exercised in Bahrain. They are represented as nameless, faceless, characterless, behind-the-scenes functionaries. Dependent on the money they earn, mostly to send back home to equally-impoverished family members in the Philippines.

There is this about Filipinos; they are reverentially religious, they are hard-working, they are trusting. And their trust is abused continually as they are overworked, and no consideration to their well-being is ever advanced toward them. Their employers take advantage of them as the powerful manipulate those with no protection. Many are physically beaten, and many are sexually abused.

The article? Well, it mentioned that a newborn male baby was discovered in a washroom bin on a Gulf Air flight from Bahrain. "The baby is now under our care", an official of the Department of Social Welfare & Development in Manila declared. "We'll look for his mother. We're giving his mother a chance to come forward."

The baby was discovered by airline cleaners, with his umbilical cord attached, bloody and wrapped in tissue paper. Kindly people in the capital city of the country have offered to adopt the baby, but the government insists it wishes to discover the whereabouts of the baby's biological mother.

To chastise her, to find her guilty of child abandonment, causing injury to a child, disgracing the honour of Filipinos returning from workplace-purgatory humiliated and fearful; to pronounce guilt upon her? Better to simply place the baby with a willing foster family, and leave the poor woman to her very special nightmare memories.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Quebec City Sport Arena?

"Our government has just posted a huge $56-billion deficit and the priority is to get back to a balanced budget through reductions in our own programs, and avoid by all means getting involved in risky financial ventures..." Maxime Bernier
Well put, and expressing sentiments echoed by most Canadians outside the province of Quebec. Politically aware, cost-sensitive and responsible governments do not use tax dollars to lavish assistance toward wealthy sport club owners. These are private enterprises, and federal funding has no business being extended in that area.

The Government of Quebec feels it incumbent upon themselves to fund a new Quebec City arena, and the premier has announced his government is prepared to pay 45% of the construction cost of a projected $400-million arena. That's business as usual for the Quebec government. The province can subsidize whatever enterprises it wishes within its jurisdiction and as long as the backlash is not too politically problematical.

And its worthwhile noting, just in passing, that the generosity of Canadian taxpayers will be funding the arena even without the federal government tossing in yet more. For a province that is forever whining it needs more federal assistance through provincial transfer payments, lavishing taxpayer funding on a sports arena is a peculiar choice.

Quebec already funds projects that are incumbent upon a provincial administration to support, like child care services and dental services and the lowest university student fees in the country, thanks to generous transfer payments, enabling the province to underwrite social programs not matched elsewhere by the 'have' provinces that enrich Quebec.

If the federal government, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has indicated, is really prepared to hand over close to $200-million tax dollars to help Quebec City obtain its sports arena so an NHL team can be returned to the city, it should think a little more deeply into the situation, and consider why and by whom it is being severely reprimanded.

The head of Quebecor, Pierre Peladeau, is responsible for a wealthy empire. It would be his team returning to the league that would benefit, along with all the avid sports fans the arena is capable of supporting. An arena that poses no benefit to other taxpayers. This is a private enterprise, a money-making one, that should not expect any federal assistance, despite that Premier Charest feels otherwise.

Mr. Peladeau has made it clear he is not prepared to expend any of his empire's funding on the arena. Although the name of the game is 'no arena, no team', he claims that he is committed to an immense investment in bringing the team to Quebec City, operating the team expenses, paying the players enormous salaries.

His reasoning is rather specious; he is enormously wealthy at the head of a vast and rich enterprise. He is prepared to pay hockey players more money per season than most people earn in a lifetime of paid employment. Canadian taxpayers should not be invested in this elite scenario.

If Mr. Harper is disinterested in the advice given by the National Citizens Coalition, which he once himself headed, besotted now with the allure of pixie-dusting a new hockey arena into existence, he needs a good head-shake.

Maxime Bernier has appeared to have matured politically and socially, from all indications, from the impetuous younger man he was a few short years ago as an important minister in an earlier Conservative government from which he departed after regrettable indiscretions. Perhaps Mr. Harper should be heeding his words that he could not: "in good conscience" support public funding for a sports arena.

There are communities all over the country which would clamour for equal funding, and why would they not, if taxpayer funding is casually being offered where it should not be?

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010


The very country whose activities succoured terrorism and whose name has become a byword for Terror Central, has been rewarded by the Frankenstein they created turning upon them.

A succession of Pakistani governments regardless of the names of the political parties, have been involved in rigorously recruiting, training, arming and directing terrorists toward Kashmir, India and Afghanistan. Massive amounts of foreign aid grants from the United States have largely gone toward re-equipping the terror groups and the Pakistani National Army and the ISI with the latest in arms technologies.

The plight of Pakistan's millions of indigents ignored in favour of establishing Pakistan against its rival India, as a nuclear-armed state. The country's treasury lavished in its nuclear-tipped rockets, and the defence required to ensure the safety of those nuclear installations. The government of Pakistan has allowed its North West Frontier Province to operate without government intervention, permitting the ISI free reign to interact with tribal chiefs, the Afghan Taliban and sheltered al-Qaeda.

The predictable has occurred, with the country's own Taliban being formed to directly challenge the authority of Pakistan's government, its armed forces and its police. Pakistani Taliban are bold enough and determined enough to strike in the heart of the country; its capital has not been shielded from suicide attacks, nor have government offices, its police stations, and its army recruiting offices. Pakistan successfully bred the militias that would challenge its sovereignty.

And while the Pakistani National Army has been pursuing the rogue-elephant Pakistani Taliban to defeat them, to protect the country's nuclear installations and nuclear arms, and just incidentally the civilians fleeing war in their hundreds of thousands, it has remained disinterested and disinclined to respond to the entreaties of NATO and the United States to disenfranchise the Afghan Taliban, and refuse them haven within the borders of Pakistan. Those chickens have come home to roost.

Nature has intervened to complicate Pakistan's existential problems even more excruciatingly, imposing upon the poor of the country a direct challenge to their survival through the effects of flooding from torrential rains. And the country's national army's attention has been deflected from battling the Taliban to attempting rescue operations. The international community has been loathe to extend humanitarian aid to a country whose actions have imperilled the global community.

In war and in calamitous natural disasters it is the ordinary people, the poor who are challenged for their survival. And even during the holy month of Ramadan, the Taliban militants have not been loathe to mounting new attacks on civilians, destroying lives, and bombing the stations of the military and the police themselves attempting to bring aid to the millions of flood-stricken refugees.

The country is reaping what it has sown.

And its enemies, the Taliban native to Pakistan crow: "The TTP will leave no stone unturned to speed up attacks and defeat the enemies of Islam. the Pakistan government is committing a great sin by siding with the U.S. against the Taliban, who are the true defenders of Islam."

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Scene of Disaster, Not Fiesta

One can hardly conceive of people suspended in a state between mourning and hope for the future lending themselves to celebration, but in a sense that too might be representative of hope for the future, rather than to descend into a state of mournful abeyance of life. So family members who have spent the past month awaiting word of their loved ones trapped 700 metres underground, could perhaps be forgiven, given the state of their mental anguish, to want to express briefly some kind of joy in life.

The 200th anniversary of Chilean independence, near on the horizon, and ordinarily a holiday of great exuberant expression, has been irremediably marred for the thirty-three Chilean miners trapped in their subterranean chamber, and by extension, for their families awaiting their release from their current state of virtual suspended animation. Not all family members, however feel exhilarated by the thought of celebrating while their husbands/brothers/fathers/uncles/cousins are trapped below.

"I thought we agreed not to do such a thing" the wife of the oldest of the 33 trapped miners has reportedly reminded the others. "Let's save the party for when the men are with us", represents her words of elderly wisdom. And the country's mining minister, Laurence Golborne, is in complete concordance with that sensible position, with his reprimand to the would-be cheerleaders, that Camp Hope is "not a fiesta or a holiday camp.

"It's the site of a massive rescue operation and we would do well to remember that." In fact, it would seem rather ghoulish to onlookers of which there are scant numbers permitted other than the media, and even more perplexing to the rescue teams working feverishly to drill no fewer than three options, each of which has the potential of saving the trapped miners. Plan A has begun as has Plan B, as alternates, but then another, Plan C will soon begin drilling.

And it is Plan C, if it succeeds, that might see rescue operations concluded far sooner than the December 31 potential. Each of the planned drilling sites can be successful in reaching and extracting the men, but Plan B is a shorter, more direct route and Plan C shorter even yet, representing a depth of 597 metres, and potentially cutting rescue time by at least a month. And time is certainly of the essence.

The sooner those trapped men are rescued, the better the prospects for their mental health outcomes. There will be ample time to celebrate, once the rescue plans have resulted in the triumph of completion, and each one of the miners has been released from his personal hell in a mind-destroying prison of earth and stone.

In the meantime, to ensure that calm prevails, the medical team overseeing the health of the men have logically concluded that there should be no alcohol provided to the trapped men. Some of whom are already suffering from depression, and for whom alcohol could complicate their condition. The trapped miners themselves thought it might be a relief to celebrate their country's independence day with Chilean red wine and empanadas.

There might be a swift and short-lived release from the demoralizing condition many are beginning to suffer as they continue to come to grips with the reality of their ongoing imprisonment. Their anguish at being trapped for over a month compounded with the realization that they must continue living as they are now, for three times as long. One month's misery extending into three months of ongoing agony, despite the determination to endure the unendurable.

Most of the trapped miners are new to the mine. Older, experienced workers had left the mine. Those who took their place, some of them migrants from Bolivia, were desperate for employment, for a job that would pay up to twice what they had been minimally earning before coming to the San Jose copper and gold mine whose owners had ignored government safety rules and regulations.

The pain of a catastrophic forced incarceration will remain long after rescue has been effected. The trapped miners must mine deep within themselves to discover their interior resources of hope, the will to survive their ordeal. And when they do, despite the lingering trauma, the joy of life re-discovered will sustain them.

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Israel-Condemning Irish

In few other places are there such fervent humanitarians intent on a mission of freeing hapless Palestinians in Gaza from the 'brutal occupation' of Israeli Defence Forces. Ireland's celebrated entertainers will not perform in Israel as a sign of their solidarity with the Palestinians. Irish unionists clamour for blacklisting and boycotting Israeli production goods.

Condemnation of Israel takes the form of blacklisting Israeli academics, sending righteous humanitarians on sea-faring missions to break the blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, and to implement economic, union and trade sanctions against the State of Israel in a demonstration of sanctimonious contempt for the policies of a state desperately attempting to protects itself from violent attacks.

Hamas and Ireland's belligerents make for a good combination. Compatriots in a world of victimhood and grievance, acting complementarily in support of each other. It was, after all, members of the IRA that took it upon themselves to train PLO commandos in the art of guerrilla warfare.

And it was Ireland, during the Second World War, that found more in common with Nazi Germany than it did with Great Britain, their bitter enemy and 'occupier'. It was in parts of Ireland that lights were kept on at night in defiance of the need to present a dark target for German bombers. Lights on in war-'neutral' Dublin helpfully guided the German bombers to their targets in London and Belfast.

In a centuries-old tradition of contempt and hatred for Great Britain the Irish in Northern Ireland have long viewed Britain as their mortal enemy, refusing to be under its thumb. History tells why, when Great Britain was utterly indifferent to the starving Irish during the miserable years of the 'potato famine'. But the South remained loyal to Britain, while the North preferred to be separate. And in its separateness it erupted into a fiery maelstrom of sectarian violence.

Irish Nationalists have finally made peace with Great Britain and with themselves. Yet recently holdouts, disaffected members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, the Real IRA and other militant groups have been found to be plotting to bomb British security forces stationed near Belfast. A 600-pound homemade roadside bomb was discovered not far from Belfast in the past year, so complete peace remains yet elusive long after the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

Time does not necessarily heal all wounds, and relations between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland remain incandescently hot. 12-metre-high stone walls running over 10 kilometres separate Belfast's Catholics from its Protestants. Gates shutting off the Catholic neighbourhoods are nightly closed to prevent further 'troubles'; guaranteed to erupt should those walls ever be pulled down. A mere 20% of the city is integrated.

And this is the country and the people thereof who express unmitigated contempt for the protective wall that Israel was forced to erect to keep Palestinian suicide bombers from constant successfully bloody forays within Israel from the West Bank and Gaza.

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Sunday, September 05, 2010


Image: Artful rearrangement of the solar system

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going. Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist". Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking
Creation. Existence. The Universe.

That is an immense topic. Mind-blowing, in the popular vernacular. Who made us? How was the Universe created? What occurred in some dim, dark recess of an unknowable time that resulted in the creation of everything that exists?

From the vaulting immensity of the black and distant atmosphere we can only imagine, in which galaxies spin and within them endless stars and planets, and where comets and shooting stars flaunt their brief icy star-dusted glories then go on their endless forays into the vast beyond, down to the minutiae of the mundane; our puny existence.

How, when, and above all why? Well, why not. Matter is everywhere, and it coalesces and becomes something. And boundless energy, and gravity, gases and minerals. And then there is the whisper of dark matter, energy suspected to exist but not yet quite discovered to exist. Proof of its existence, like that of a Spiritual Adviser to Mother Nature exists as an educated hypothesis.

And who more capable of hypothesizing than the world's currently-foremost brilliant theorist, physicist Stephen Hawking. Whose boundless mind encompassing the kind of speculative genius seen rarely, few quite understand.

But now we have it on authority, none other than he having come to the definitive conclusion that God is but a frantic figment of fearful humans' feverish imagination. In our need did we create Him.

Cowering before the monumental forces of Nature unleashed in great shifting quakes of the Earth, in powerful winds bringing typhoons and lashing rainstorms drowning our feeble structures and our food sources, hurricanes that shred everything into splinters and take hapless lives.

There must be a kindly Spirit looking over us. To save us from savage, relentless Nature.

But no. Nature is what we have, and it is Nature alone that conspires to make us miserable, for we are as nothing to Her, but a fragment of existence among her immense and complex creations.

The Grand Design
, written with American physicist, Leonard Mlodinow, concludes that a Creator other than Nature is completely redundant to the purpose and the practise and the origins of the Universe. Who are we mere mortals to argue?

But we will, of course; that is, those among us and they are legion, who will not lose grasp of their faith. For that is their nature.

Simply put: faith rewards the faithful. Belief in the Almighty brings solace and hope, and trust in the future.

But our magnificent, immense Solar System is an infinitesimally tiny portion of a vast Universe, more insignificant than a grain of sand on a wide, open beach. And we, within it are ourselves even less significant as part of Nature's creation.

True, Nature did excel in our creation and that of the other living organisms that exist upon the Earth, for we are complex and amazingly adept at manipulating our environment. So much so that from time to time Nature exerts her power to remind us precisely who reigns supreme, and it is not we.

Nor is it, alas, a Supreme Being.

Who might ever have suspected that God would become a footnote to the history of the infinite?

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Heavenly Host

The stunning all-sky image taken by Planck is dominated by the brightness from our own Milky Way galaxy

The stunning all-sky image taken by Planck is dominated by the brightness from our own Milky Way galaxy

Read more:
For some, shock and profound unease that
the brilliant mind in the diseased body of
an extraordinary intellect has presented the
ultimate scientific assessment, based on
advanced physics and planetary discoveries
synthesized with a generous helping of reality;
that Nature does very well for herself, in
harnessing gravity to creation, obviating
as redundant the fanciful clinging to the
belief in a Divine Presence manipulating the
Cosmos to create Being, and you and me.

You may cling ferociously to the blessing
of faith, giving meaning to your life and hope
for your future. As for me, and others who have
never submitted to faith in a higher order of
sublime existence, an omnipotent, omniscient,
controlling Illuminated Presence of ultimate
wisdom, we are not at all perturbed, nor yet
do we preen with the satisfaction of those
whose disbelief in divinity is rationally validated.

Of course, faith is not rational. It is an ingrained
phenomenon of the mind embracing the soul's
need for reassurance. To cling to the belief that
"we are not alone". That a Heavenly Father,
concerned for His flock controls events, and
to Him prayers of devotion and entreaty must
be humbly addressed without question. Nothing, no
assurances to the contrary, will disturb the deeply
placid belief in the Almighty that believers
clasp so deeply and passionately to themselves.

No one being, of human descent, is completely
knowledgeable, neither the Pope, nor science's
foremost theoretical physicist; both are fallible,
each possessed of their own very particular brand
of hubris. One born of faith, the other of the gift
of genius. Each inheriting from predecessors
thought, instinct, reaction. In the presence of God
and the absence of God alike, we exist, capable
and yet fearful of what we do not know.

Nothing will alter that. Although believers and
non-believers alike are capable of enjoying views
through a cleverly arresting series giving us leave
to admire Nature's great gifts to all living creatures,
even when the presentation comes in the guise of a
thankful paean to the worshipful God Almighty.

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Saturday, September 04, 2010

From Despondent to Manic-Action

"The worst scenario would be if one of the men suffered severe psychosis for being trapped so long and attempting to claw their way out of the mine. As long as they are kept busy with defining roles we hope to avoid it." Dr. Jaime Manalich, Chile's health minister
Nothing can be more fatal to any living being than to submit to end-stage entropy. To react or not to react to circumstances that are potentially detrimental to survival. To submit to despair rather than to react with hope is to effectively consign oneself to death. Much was learned about human behaviour by those who studied why it was that some people, pushed to the brink of extinction in Nazi death camps managed to survive, while others did not.

Hope is the ignition to survival, and determination to survive combined with a generous portion of caring for others who are in similar circumstances can make the difference between certain death and clinging to life. With and without advice from survival experts, the thirty-three Chilean miners trapped deep below the surface of the Earth, have found a new lease on the potential they share to survive their solitary ordeal.

Solace from above, knowing that those whom they love and who return their love, are there, awaiting their rescue. Communication between themselves and those on the surface who are equally determined to move mountains of earth and rock to draw them, one by one, from the bowels of the Earth, to the safety of terra firma. And ministering collectively to their individual needs themselves.

Providing the opportunity for each of them to be productive, to assist themselves to endure the unendurable. Each of the thirty-three men have assumed some measure of self-responsibility, and collective action. "They are completely organized", according to Dr. Jaime Manalich, health minister of Chile. "They have a full hierarchy. It is a matter of life and death for them."

Some people are natural leaders, others are content to be followers. Once the hierarchy of leadership has been established, with a minority of the trapped taking it upon themselves to function as leaders, the remaining members accept their proposals and their actions, and themselves fall into their own hierarchy of skills and co-operative offerings.

There is now a recognized spiritual leader among the gathered men. The eldest of whom has established a small chamber where the 33 tiny Bibles and rosary beads provided by the Vatican, blessed by Pope Benedict and lowered into the subterranean chamber, provides religious hope and assurances.

Another miner who has some measure of medical proficiency garnered while on a nursing course, has established himself as the ministering medic, utilizing medicines provided to his trapped group; vaccinations against tetanus, pneumonia and flu. Yet another miner has discovered in himself a facility for writing prose: "Each is finding their own role and their own way to express themselves."

Boredom is perhaps the very most destructive attribute to human discouragement. The potential for nervous collapse is always there, as the most vulnerable among them to mental stress may become a burden upon the others. They will all be engaged and occupied to some degree. They are, in effect, themselves preparing to physically assist in their own rescue, by attempting to move 4,000 tones of the rock that has imprisoned them.

And then there is the miner who has an obvious flair for the stage, discovering the thespian in himself. He took upon himself the role of master of ceremonies, filming the 40-minute video that was released to those waiting with such anguish above, for news of their loved ones. He prodded and encouraged everyone to appear on camera.

Giving new meaning to candid camera performances, on an entirely new mission, that of survival.

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Gruesome, Truly

The headline of the news item stuck in the middle of the daily newspaper, bottom half, read "Woman dies trying to sneak down lover's chimney". Now that's intriguing, is it not? How many people would just skim on to the next item and pass that one by? A woman 'sneaking' down a chimney? Lowering herself trustingly into the interior of a chimney? Hoping to surprise her lover? "Why darling, good of you to drop in. I was just thinking about you, and here you are!"

Possibly that might be what, in her feverish lover's imagination, might conceivably occur. Well, some imagination, that. It must surely reside inside the brain of someone not too well endowed as far as rational determination goes. Someone, surely with a few eggs short of a dozen? Think so? Well human beings are truly peculiar, and the female of the species, exceedingly so at times. Becoming so utterly besotted with a male companion that intelligent thought processes become an anomaly.

This woman was a well-regarded family physician in a small town in California. Voted one of the area's favourite doctors, no less. But Jacquelyn Kotarac, for such was her name, had a problem with her personal life. Her personal relationship with her very special intimate friend was not proceeding as well as she would have liked it to. These weren't kids; he 58, and she 49. Both presumably intelligent as professionals; he is an engineering consultant.

But people fall out with one another and relations turn sour, sometimes unaccountably, often with good reason. One of the pair perceiving the other to be somewhat short of reason might be an acceptable enough compulsion to untie the knot that binds. Dr. Kotarac had been drinking of an evening, when she decided to hie herself off to Jim Moodie's home to have a confabulation. He, seeking to avoid a confrontation, stealthily removed himself from the premises.

She had the place to herself, but she wasn't aware of that. What she was aware of was that no one was responding to her calls to open the door. She availed herself of a shovel and attempted to pry open a back door, but it resisted her appeals, too. So she clambered up and along a ladder which was a permanent fixture on the bungalow and found herself on its roof. And then, then she impulsively decided to slide down the chimney.

The article does not describe this woman's physical characteristics, her girth, that kind of thing. It does mention that the chimney flue was 38 centimetres by 18 centimetres at its most generous point; the entry. After which it began to narrow to 10 centimetres as it descended. And when Dr. Kotarac slid in, feet first, arms stretched over her head, gravity did what gravity does. And she found herself in a very uncomfortable and unprisable position.

Where, no one but herself being within or without the house, she suffered the agonies of suffocation, presumably calling out for help, with no one to come to her aid. When, the following day, she was absent from her workplace, her personal assistant telephoned Mr. Moodie and together they went to his house, finding Dr. Kotarac's car and her purse, but no Dr. Kotarac.
Puzzling, but then such things do happen, one supposes.

Three days after Dr. Kotarac's misfortune, a cleaning woman detected a foul odour, alerted Mr. Moodie, who contacted police. Firemen then took five hours of painstaking work to disassemble the chimney for the purpose of extracting Dr. Kotarac's body. Cause of death: mechanical asphyxia. Of course, cause of death in this instance was alcohol and gross stupidity.

Sad, exceedingly sad.

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

What Pharmaceutical Debate?

Beware the pharmaceutical industrial complex. And its stranglehold on the fond attention of government. That is one hugely powerful lobby. And a too-too clever manipulator of physicians and their hapless patients. Foxily manoeuvring public relations and pricey advertising to convince the public that they are ill, ill, ill, and only especially designed pharmaceutical products are capable of lending them a few more years of life.

But people being people, there is an never-ending search for bargains. Who wants to pay the full prevailing price when they can procure the very same product at a highly reduced price? The U.S. believes in the free enterprise system, untrammelled by government interference, while in Canada the government takes a more price-regulatory role. Which means that on-line pharmacies can offer Canadian prices to price-sensitive Americans.

The on-line pharmacies mop up business, scrambling to fill the need for American consumers of drug products, and the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. screams bloody murder. So along comes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to most convincingly assert that foreign-produced products have not been approved - by their rigid standards, and therefore there is little guarantee of their efficacy.

Now the issue has turned from pharmaceuticals to birth control devices issuing from Canadian manufacturers. Which, like their drug counterparts, cost a whole lot less procured from a Canadian source than an American manufacturer. Take IUDs; the charge is $700 for product and um, installation, in the U.S. But perform the procedure with a Canadian-made IUD and the price plunges to $224.

But, says the American FDA, they're not guaranteed by us to be reliable! Ah, respond those who would prefer the bargain, private corporate interests have brought government in to pound home their preference, limiting the consumer to the purchase of the inordinately costly product on the pretext that the alternative is inferior.

Oddly enough, the Canadian product happens to be manufactured in the same overseas factory as the American product; in other words, same product, different brand name. But, just think: if the foreign-produced-and-sold birth control devices truly were that unreliable, the end product would be a much-needed increase in the American birth rate.

So what's this debate about, anyway?

All the American nativists who decry the incursion of immigrants bringing with them values not commensurate with American ones, and who dilute the culture of the United States intolerably, could be influenced perhaps to procreate more generously, if they were given to understand the reality that the country must increase its population base to compete internationally as a growing workforce, and collect the appropriate taxes connected thereto for the purpose of providing vitally needed social services.

Like health care, like veterans' services, like old age pensions, like employment insurance - ad nauseum.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Pathology of Compulsion

He explains that he has set for himself a rigorous test, one that he hopes he has the mental stamina, let alone the physical energy to complete. Believing passionately (he would have to) in the benefits of exercise for the human body at a time when most people remain sedately sedentary by choice, he has set a Guinness-records task for himself to complete.

Most people don't run marathons, but well-trained athletes often do. People who work out and who tune and tone their bodies enjoy the challenge of running marathons. These people do not represent the vast bulk of any population. People train and prepare themselves to run in marathons not necessarily to win, but to contend, to be one of the many who slog along to the finish line. Once, twice, three times a year?

Belgian endurance athlete, Stefaan Engels is rather extraordinary in demanding more, far more from his body. He made a pact with himself that he could and that he would run a marathon a day. Reasoning that he was strong, and healthy, and determined and what could he lose? "I eat, I run, I sleep. I have a very small social life."

Canada once had one such man, and his name was Terry Fox, and he ran with one normal leg and one prosthetic, and he managed to stubbornly, resolutely, despite enduring pain, to run the equivalent of a full marathon a day for the 143 days it took him on his journey, until the return of his cancer stopped him from completing his mission.

Terry Fox, of course, embarked on his mission to inform Canadians of the horrible effects of cancer, and to raise funds for cancer research, bravely carrying on, determined to complete his daunting task as a public service, and with pride in himself. He not only raised an enormous sum for research, but he inspired people, and continues to do so to this day.

Stefaan Engels, who has run marathons in his Ghent hometown, in Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, has extended himself to run in North America. He plans to do several marathons in Montreal, then hie off to Mexico, and from there to the United States. He plans to complete his personal mission, and hopes that he too will inspire people. To exercise themselves.

So far he has managed to run 207 marathons in as many days. If he proves capable of enduring this unendurable test of endurance and strength and mind over body, he plans to run a full year, to complete 365 marathons, one for each day of the year. He did have an issue once with an inflamed foot, and used a wheelchair to 'run' until he healed.

The first two hours of each day he experiences pain (one might also imagine weariness, although he claims to sleep ten hours each 24-hour period), and the first 30 minutes of his daily run is also painful, and then it subsides. Self-inflicted pain, for the greater gain of accomplishing his self-appointed task.

I dunno!?

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