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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Japan's Recovery

To enter the exclusion zone represented by a 20-km radius around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, one must wear a protective uniform made of a papery fibre called Tyvek, consisting of gloves, mask, boot covers, and suit, all of the same protective, disposable material. Along with that protective clothing, a dosimeter is carried to register exposure to radiation.
White hot: Two fires glow like molten lava amid the devastated houses in Yamada town

White hot: Two fires glow like molten lava amid the devastated houses in Yamada town

Fully 78,000 people were evacuated from eight towns and villages, forced to leave their homes. People have been permitted to temporarily go back from time to time, to look for their abandoned pets, to gather personal papers, jewellery, expensive items that they would like to retrieve and take back with them to their temporary quarters.

And it's just as well that they do. Sometimes they enter their homes to discover that others have been there before them. That someone - who knows who? - has already assumed possession of things that they left behind in their desperately hasty departure, in the wake of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan's northeast on March 11, 2011, and then that disastrous tsunami.

Over 100,000 homeless refugees were taken from schools and gymnasiums to temporary homes, awaiting permission to return to their towns and villages and homes. In some areas there will be no return. Looters have been busy in the absence of the usual inhabitants of those towns and villages. Smashing cash machines, emptying them of their cash.

People eager enough to enrich themselves at others' unfortunate expense that they breached the heavily radioactive fallout despite the warnings, soon after the evacuation leading from the breakdown of the nuclear power plant. Japan is known and celebrated for the overall respect for law in its population.

This is clearly a miserable anomaly in social breakdown.

Clandestine opportunity awaiting the bold opportunists willing to enrich themselves at others' misfortune. And no one will ever know. At night there is an eerie silence, and dense, darkness that envelopes the area. When the sight of crumpled buildings, washed-ashore boats and smashed vehicles cannot be seen.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Extreme Adventure? You Bet!

What imagination, and curiosity, the stuff that explorers are made of. In a sense it is peculiar that so much time, funding and experimental engineering went into the exploration of space, before all the interstices of the Earth itself had been explored. The Mariana Trench is a real dip in the ocean floor, the lowest point on the surface of the Earth's crust.

At the time it was first breached in 1960 with an underwater submersible, no one had any idea that there were living organisms there, so deep, so far from the life-enhancing reach of the sun. The lowest point of the Trench is the Challenger Deep, and this is where the underwater soil was found to contain all manner of unexpected organisms, soft-walled and single-celled primitive life forms.

To get there to begin with it should be understood that the descent is a perilous one, for who can guarantee that once having touched bottom, they will safely ascend back to the top again to tell of the fantastic voyage they had undertaken and what marvels they had seen? It's an immense leap of faith to lower oneself to descend to that depth.

Imagine, a 36,000 ft-deep chasm, in the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench where water pressure is 15,000 pounds per square inch - imagine 8,000 elephants standing atop a Smart Car; somewhat like angels dancing on the head of a pin. The engineering required to build a device capable of withstanding that kind of pressure, maintaining life for those within, is beyond comprehension.

But there are those adventurous enough to respond to what they see as a challenge, to close that 50-year gap between the last descent and the present. When Jacques Piccard and retired U.S. navy captain Don Walsh voyaged below inside their bathyscaphe Trieste in 1960, they encountered another world entirely; foraminifera; single-celled protists that construct cells.

They discovered 432 different types of foraminifera in the dirt of the Challenger Deep, including algae and slime molds. Scientists believed that at such an incredible depth there would be no living organisms. Science now knows that all manner of life forms can be found living in the most extreme of environments, from worms living within icefields, to bacteria in ice-covered Antarctic lakes.

In the next short while, two men are preparing to set off for their unique underwater adventure, along with their separate crews. Each is preparing to descend in their own engineered devices, submarine vessels to carry them to the lowest depth of the world's oceanic geology. One is Sir Richard Branson, the other the film director James Cameron.

May their adventure be a satisfying one, and may they return to tell the tale.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Luring Sexual Predators

The right of police to use Craigslist for "random virtue testing" has been upheld by the British Columbia Court of Appeal. Sounds like a virtuous and much-needed enterprise. Bring the bastards out of hiding into the clear light of commission of felony, then arrest them. That would teach them to try to lure innocent young girls into a life of dissolution and prostitution.

Entrapment, it's called, and it's legal. And why shouldn't it be? After all, if someone is stupid enough and conscienceless enough to prey on underage girls for sex, they deserve to be punished, strenuously, in a way that will make them think twice about exercising the male proclivity to humiliate and oppress and disgustingly prey on innocent young girls.

Any man who is prepared to have sex with an underage girl most certainly deserves the punishment that the law and the courts will expose him to. His deviant sexual behaviour truly is a threat to society. Most particularly to the health, safety and physical and psychological well being of vulnerable young women.

So how does this conversation sound?
"She's only 16?"
"Well yeah. I told you that on the email."
"I thought that was just a number. I didn't know."
"It's cool. She is a great girl and she's totally good to go and she is eager and wants to please."
"Yeah, but is that all right?"
"Well no. I mean it's not the legal age of 19, but whatever."
"There are 16-year-olds walking the streets, Bob. At least this way we are trying to protect them as best we can, which is why you have to meet me first and go over the rules because we are looking out for them and their safety, right?"
That was the conversation that took place between Pai-Chih Chiang, who for the purposes of this encounter, introduced himself as "Bob" to undercover police in Victoria, as he prepared to enter a motel room for sex, in a pre-arranged encounter.

After that conversation, the officer posing as a pimp handed Mr. Chiang the motel room key. And as Mr. Chiang entered the room he came face to face with other officers who arrested him. this was a 2009 "sting" operation that had netted police this confused, obviously not-too-bright man.

Who was subsequently convicted in 2010 of communicating for the purpose of obtaining the sexual services of a person under 18.

The advertisement that appeared in Craigslist read: "Sexy, young tight bodies lookin' for fun ... girls from out of town in downtown Victoria area. Don't miss this, you'll be sorry!"

Obviously, Mr. Chiang did not want to be sorry, being one of two people who responded. Whereupon he was advised he could have his choice, a 16 or a 17-year-old.

Mr. Chiang appealed, claiming the trial judge erred when he refused to stay the charge even though police used "entrapment" techniques. But the Appeal Court disagreed. "Modern Internet facilities afford easier access to young people for individuals minded to exploit their youth and vulnerability", wrote Appeal Court Justice John Hall.

Fair enough. And if the predator is not sufficiently enthusiastic and expresses doubt about the legality of what is on offer, and it seems his conscience is slightly bothered, why then convince him that all is well, and he is entitled to proceed....

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Sublimely Ridiculous

Children are so adorable in the way that they express themselves. Of course, to get at the whole meaning of what it is they are expressing, requires the mind of a child. Failing that, an adult who understands how a child's mind works.

Before suspicions leap into action, it is always wise to speak quietly, one on one with a child to winkle out the meaning of a child's expression. That might have assisted hugely in the case of a four-year-old kindergarten child and her teacher's leap of imagination bringing the child's family to an unfortunate encounter.

This was not a child whose condition in any way might elicit alarm that she had been physically abused, there were no bruises or marks of abuse on her little body, nor was she hesitant to speak when asked to.

Furthermore, there was the very telling fact that her father, 26-year-old Jessie Samsone, faithfully appeared daily at Forest Hills public school in Kitchener, Ontario to pick up his little girl and her sibling to bring them home, a caring, nurturing father.

But little Neaveh had drawn a picture of her daddy while in her kindergarten classroom. And in that picture her daddy was holding a gun. "I'm picking up my kids and then, next thing you know, I'm locked up", said Mr. Sansone, explaining to the local newspaper what he had been exposed to.
"I was in shock. This is completely insane. My daughter drew a gun on a piece of paper at school."
At her concerned teacher's prodding, Neaveh satisfied her teacher's curiosity by informing her that the gun was at home, and her siblings played with the gun. Not her, the gun made her fearful. Which was when her teacher dutifully called child welfare.

And child welfare called police. And police were then present at the school when this father of three young children arrived to pick up two of his oldest.

Mr. Sansone was escorted out the back of the school in handcuffs into a police car and driven to, where else, the local police station. And while Family & Children's Services took charge of the children, including the couple's fifteen-month old child, Mrs. Sansone was also brought to the station. For questioning.

Of course, the questioning of Mrs. Sansone could have been taken care of by telephone, or in the comfort of her own home, her husband alongside her. Just to verify, for example, Mr. Sansone's explanation that the gun in question was a clear plastic toy the children played with, and that he used to 'protect' them from mean ghosts attacking them at night while they slept in their beds.

Only as it happened Mr. Sansone hadn't been questioned quietly out of sight of his children in an office in the school to clarify the situation and clear up frightening suspicions. Instead, he was bundled off to the police station, stripped and searched and informed he would be remaining there overnight while the police did their duty.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Huge Responsibility

She is obviously an exceptional woman of extraordinary will and capable talents. There are many such women around the world, and generally, these are women whose spheres of influence owe much to their exposure to higher education in advanced societies where their families live with some semblance of wealth. That would not apply to women born in backward societies where women are scorned as inferior beings.

Fawzia Koofi is the first female ever elected to parliament in Afghanistan. She has stubbornly stood up to other parliamentarians who were better known as warlords and drug kingpins. Her own brothers are involved with some of these warlords in the proliferating and profitable drug trade in her country. And she has been the recipient of quite a number of death threats, some attempts close enough to be quite concerning.

She is the widowed 36-year-old mother of an 12- and a 11-year-old girl. She is concerned for her children, but she is also concerned for the future of Afghanistan's women and children. Afghanistan is one of the worst countries of the world for women to live in, where women are degraded and oppressed, denied equal status with men, and live in squalid poverty.

Women are held to be of such little value that when she was born, her mother despaired, wanting to bear a son, having already given birth to 7 children, but fearful that her husband who had taken his 7th wife, a 14-year-old girl who had just borne a son, might prefer his latest wife to her. So she left the newborn out in the sun until the following day, hoping it would die.

She lived to become a member of the country's parliament. Defiant against all odds, determined to forge ahead with her plan to represent her countrywomen's needs, and their children's futures through education and opportunities to be opened to them, she persists. There are now, with the absence of the Taliban, 2.7 million girls attending school.

The Afghan parliament has an astounding 27% female members of parliament. But dreadful brutality toward women and girls, forced early marriages, literal bondage, is the fate of many women and girls. Although much has improved for Afghan women in the urban areas, little has changed in the countryside of which there are vast stretches.

"A month ago, I met a girl who had been locked underground by her husband because she refused to go into prostitution. She was just 15, and had never even had a period. Her nails had been pulled out. There was no part of her skin that hadn't been bruised or marked in some way. They fed her only every other day. In Afghanistan, these things still happen", Ms. Koofi explained.

"Life does become heavy for me. There is a huge responsibility on my shoulders. But they [the Taliban] could get me anywhere. And I know that if they want to kill me, then it is only because I am a threat to them. That means I am succeeding." The trouble here, of course, is that it is almost inevitable that as soon as the NATO (ISAF) forces leave, as they will by 2014, the Taliban will return.

"Women have not been involved in the country's destruction. We do not have blood on our hands. We have been agents of peace, and if anyone tries not to include us in the process of peace, then it will not be easy for them."

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Redoubtable Ms. Maggi

Models do it, flaunt their bodies, wearing the latest fashions and occasionally fashions meant to shock by their body-revealing attributes.

Many young women whom nature and genetics have blessed with bodily conformations held to be sumptuously attractive aspire to the profession. Those who succeed reap enormous public acclaim, admiration and certainly not least, wealth. They become celebrities in their own right because of the pay-per-view they are able to demand as a result of their celebrity status.

So, why not a bar owner, a young, attractive, curvaceous woman who is obviously imbued not only with a graceful appearance but an admirable business sense. Italian bar owner, Laura Maggi has been able to turn quite a profit in her business by displaying herself as a public relations hit to advance her business interests.

And, it would appear, the men of Banolo Mella near Lombardy, where Ms. Maggi has her pub,named Le Cafe, appreciate her business sense of eight years' standing. Their wives do not.
"It is outrageous and should not be allowed. This town is quiet and respectable. Now we are known across the whole country because of the little amount of clothing this barmaid is wearing to serve drinks. The women in town are not very happy and we have complained to the council."
The bemused Ms. Maggi is herself not amused, professing to have been left "open mouthed" by the resulting coverage. So, evidently, have been the area men who have flocked to her establishment. They arrive in avid droves, eager to experience the pleasure of witnessing the impressive performance of a scantily-clad young woman pulling a draft of beer and presenting it personally for their double delectation:

Causing controversy: Laura Maggi, 34, who runs a bar called Le Cafe, has dominated newspapers and TV chat shows, after pictures of her dressed in barely anything appeared on the <span class=

Causing controversy: Laura Maggi, 34, who runs a bar called Le Cafe, has dominated newspapers and TV chat shows, after pictures of her dressed in barely anything appeared on the Internet

Sexy barmaid 2
Sexy barmaid

Pulling more than a pint: The women folk of Bagnolo Mella, near Brescia, which is where Manchester City ace Mario Balotelli is from, are up in arms and said that they had banned their partners from going to Le Cafe

Main attraction: On the walls of Le Cafe there are pictures of Laura, dressed in a bikini on holiday while in other snaps she is wrapped in an American Stars and Stripes flag, while others of her semi naked have been turned into a calendar

Main attraction: On the walls of Le Cafe there are pictures of Laura, dressed in a bikini on holiday - while in other snaps she is wrapped in an American Stars and Stripes flag. Yet more pictures of her, semi-naked, have been turned into a calendar

The outrage of local women expressed against this enterprising entrepreneur who knows what sells and takes advantage of her charms to sell it, is understandable. But it is, actually, aimed at the wrong target. If the women are alarmed and affronted with the situation they should take it up with their husbands, not Ms. Maggi. "What am I doing wrong? It's not like I'm nude. Sure, I wear short skirts and bra-tops but nothing worse than that."

She is, in fact, doing nothing very much wrong, given her attributes and the general loosening of society's dress codes. It is merely that the combination of her physical endowments and the more relaxed social mores with respect to women's garb constitute a winning combination for her sales of alcoholic beverages.

Italian men love to leer, to comment and to generally demonstrate their state of sexual arrested adolescence. Witness their tolerance for the escapades - now there's fodder for social outrage - of their former President, Silvio Berlusconi.

If anyone was instrumental in lowering the bar for degrading behaviour, surely it is this man who brazenly and contemptuously descended into the most hedonistic excesses while purporting to serve his country well both domestically and on the international stage.

If these women, critical of Ms. Maggi, that she has been responsible for making her little town known across the country, where were they when they might have been campaigning against the female-insulting, nationally embarrassing behaviour of a man who was elected and re-elected to lead their country - leading it as an international embarrassment?

It is telling that an online poll the results of which were published in the local newspaper revealed that 46% of respondents commented that women should be "asking themselves why their partners prefer Laura to them", defending Ms. Maggi's business enterprise.

Doubtless the respondents were preponderately male - giving the opposite gender ample reason for introspection.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

"I Miss Her"

It is pathetically sad that some women will allow themselves to be degraded and devalued by their intimate association with men who simply use women as objects. These women are searching for the assurance that they have value to a man as a companion and a focus of love, and they delude themselves into thinking that their relationship with such a man is worthwhile, when the man is not.

That kind of desperate clinging to a fantasy when the truth is as close as the last violent episode seems to bind such women to hope that things will change for them, a miracle will occur and the man who viciously oppresses them will suddenly turn into an angel of loving decorum. Inevitably, there is a dire price to pay for their emotional frailty, and it is the women who pay that price with their lives.

Convinced, because they want to believe it is true, they remain faithful to their fixed idea that things will improve, that the man who abuses them physically and psychologically really loves them and will change his attitude when he realizes how much the woman loves him, and they continue to submit to the man, until something goes badly wrong.

In the case of Carol-Ann Brunet, even when everything went horribly wrong, she remained fixated on the belief that things would work out, and her life would be rescued from the nightmare she was living. But the nightmare continued, until it finally ended with her tragic death.

Even while she was suffering dreadful agony because her lover, Dugald Jamieson, fatally stabbed her, and her life was ebbing away, she claimed that everything was all right. And that suited him very well, for he had no intention of calling attention to what had occurred, preferring to allow her to slowly expire in an agony of pain rather than seek medical treatment for her, because that would reveal that he had been in breach of his probation.

He had been arrested and charged with assaulting her on a previous occasion, and was on probation, ordered by the court to have no further contact with Ms. Brunet. The man had a lengthy record of assaulting other women as well.

They lived in Renfrew, and she evidently accepted him back in her life, ready to believe that he was remorseful for having abused her. On May 30, 2010, they had a disagreement and he plunged a knife 15 centimetres in length directly into her abdomen.

His version of the event was that she held the knife, not he, and he was attempting to take it from her when it inadvertently stabbed her. She was no longer alive to give her version of the occurrence, but the authorities parsed the evidence. Part of which was a friend who informed the police that Ms. Brunet had explained she had handed the knife to Jamieson when he threatened to kill her and she had said to him, "Go ahead then".

After he stabbed the 54-year-old woman, a grandmother of four, he ordered her to clean up the mess on the floor. Then, he claimed, they went to the bedroom and had sex. In the morning the bed was full of blood and bile and he told her again, to clean up. All that day the woman lay in the apartment, wrapped in a blanket, with blood and bile seeping from her wound.

Jamieson brought a friend over with bandages, and the friend asked if Brunet would like to go to the hospital, but she responded she was fine. Later in the evening the friend was alarmed at Brunet's condition and told Jamieson he had to call 911. Jamieson responded: "Well I don't need this kinda stuff. I gotta get the f... outta here".

The Judge hearing the case rejected Jamieson's account of an accidental stabbing. "The depth of the wound - the full length of the knife - is inconsistent with an accident", as the knife "passed virtually right through", the woman's abdomen. "What is clear is that Mr. Jamieson's main preoccupation after he stabbed her - quite aside from visiting friends - was that he didn't want to get in trouble."

And the judge handed down a 12-year sentence for killing Carol-Ann Brunet in May 2010. Manslaughter and breach of probation was the final charge, down from the original charge of second-degree murder. He had pleaded guilty to the lesser charges.

The 49-year-old man had an unsavoury reputation in Renfrew. Ms. Brunet's daughters had tried to persuade their mother to stop seeing him. One of Carol-Ann Brunet's daughters said her mother had never gotten over losing her husband in 1992 of a sudden heart attack.

"I miss her", her daughter said.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Animal Welfare Exponent

She is so astoundingly unlike any of her predecessors; unpretentious, casual, refreshing. Her presence in Canada's national capital as the wife of our current prime minister is a refreshing change. She is eminently likeable, personable and as a mother of two young children surprisingly her own person.

Most mothers, and certainly few spouses of heads of government drive motorcycles as she loves to do, and will doubtless resume doing once her husband is no longer in public office at this particular echelon of national responsibility.

She has placed herself in the public eye, but not to expose herself to the kind of adulation that one in particular of her predecessors did; rather to use her public office as a vehicle to further public interest in arts and culture, and animal welfare.

From the glimpses that the public is exposed to of this woman and her concerns she exudes the aura of a well-reasoned and balanced individual imbued with a healthy sense of humour.

Her latest foray into the public eye was to visit a senior Kindergarten class in Ottawa, for the purpose of introducing children there to the safe and correct way to interact with animals they don't know, in a public space.

"I learned that, if I ever see a dog, I don't go close to it" said Andromeda Bromwich. "I stay away from a dog that doesn't have a grown up." A valuable life lesson learned.

This was one event that fit neatly into Laureen Harper's agenda to take part in Kindness Week. She sat among the children in the class, as a husky mix was introduced to the children by a handler. The six-year-old children at Le Phare Elementary School were excited and charmed both by the dog and the elegant lady who sat among them.

"Notice how she is putting out one hand", she said to the children, as one of the students assisted in a demonstration of how to pet the dog. "It's really important to approach an animal with one hand."

This is a woman who herself emanates kindness and concern with her calming presence. Complementary to that of her husband, a more sober, somewhat removed personality in whom Canadian voters have chosen to trust.

Laureen Harper joins the Senior Kindergarten class at Le Phare Elementary School in Gloucester on Wednesday in a ‘Kindness Week’ presentation organized by the Beatrice Watson-Acheson Foundation.
Laureen Harper joins the Senior Kindergarten class at Le Phare Elementary School in Gloucester on Wednesday in a ‘Kindness Week’ presentation organized by the Beatrice Watson-Acheson Foundation. Photograph by: BRUNO SCHLUMBERGER , THE OTTAWA CITIZEN

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Oldest Plant

Botanists have something to celebrate; frozen remains of a 32,000 year-old flower discovered in an ancient animal burrow buried deeply in earth, and covered by the icy tundra was successfully germinated by Russian scientists; felt to represent the oldest ever plant grown from an ancient seed. It is a delicate, lovely plant, with fragile white flowers, a member of the campion family.

<span class=Svetlana Yashina via The New York Times" title="An undated handout photo of a plant that has been generated from the fruit of a little arctic flower. Russian biologists say that they have grown a plant that is 32,000 years old from seeds buried in permafrost."

It truly is a pedigreed, certainly not primitive, plant, exquisite in its presentation. It would represent a treasure in any ardent gardener's flower bed.

A narrow-leafed campion, it was grown in a petri dish from organic material taken from the Siberian Arctic, where it was discovered. Nurtured to grow in its own familiar soil, although the environment is dramatically changed from what it was like when this flower grew in the Arctic.

The project results were published in the latest issue of The Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, produced by a team of scientists led by Svetlana Yashina and David Gilichinsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences research center at Pushchino, close to Moscow.

Co-author David Gilichinsky helped bring this project to a wildly successful conclusion, but did not live long enough to enjoy full acclaim, since he died on Saturday.

Present-day campions look very much like this ancient-but-resurrected flower. Those grown today have wider petals, closer together. I

t is assumed that a rodent, during the Upper Paleolithic period - when our remote-in-time human ancestors were just beginning to communicate by speech on the way to creating a common language for their geographic areas - prepared for the onset of winter by diligently storing away seeds.

The theory, supported by the evidence at hand, is that the burrow, like others nearby, became filled with earth and particles blown by the wind, and ultimately, over time, buried under 125 feet of sediment, then permanently frozen at -7C.

A frigid river in Northeastern Siberia that at one time abounded with woolly rhinoceroses and mammoths, was where the burrow was discovered.

Similar such burrows can e found in the Canadian Yukon, in territory that escaped glaciation during the last ice age. "We've tried to grow the seeds, but they've never worked", explained Grant Zazula, Yukon Paleontologist. Who spoke of the potential of repeating the process for extinct, ancient mammals.

"We find partially-preserved mammoth carcasses in the Siberian tundra that are 30,000 years old. This raises the potential that you could have viable sperm cells and egg cells within some of those mammals." Preferably not.

Experimenting with the possibility of restoring ancient plants to take their place in a garden is one thing; previously-extinct animals roaming about at a time long past their expiration date, not so great.

And should any brilliant scientist ever decide, on his own initiative to play around with cloning homo sapiens, that would represent a true horror story. Let them all rest in history with our admiration for having pioneered humankind's place on this Earth.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fructose's Bad Rap

If I live to exceed one hundred years of age and people approach me to ask my secret to longevity I will be prepared to respond: "Lots of sugar in my tea, daily, enjoyably". So there.

The simple fact being that I have never, ever believed that sugar is a nutritional ill. It is an energy-boost, and tastes damn good, too. There are those who keep insisting that sugar in the diet is certain to pave the way to diabetes onset. And that's complete and utter nonsense. Anything - almost anything - taken in moderation is sensible and will do no harm.

Foodstuffs that are used immoderately, whether or not they are healthy foods, whole foods, unadulterated by additives like fat, sugar and salt in excess, are the culprit. Eating too much of anything will make anyone overweight. Becoming accustomed to disciplined eating, having as much as the body requires and not wolfing food down is a lifestyle choice of benefit.

Overeating, just like overdoing anything is a tried-and-true formula for disaster. People who eat more than they need for optimum energy and body maintenance are setting themselves up for health problems caused by obesity because they strain the body's natural resources. Our viscera suffer when surrounded by too much fat deposits.

And people who gain too much weight are placing too great a strain on their heart and their joints. And this has little to do with sugar consumption in and of itself. Sugar is an added-on item, not necessary, but adding zip when used in moderation, just like salt and pepper or herbs. An excess intake of water can overwhelm the body; excess anything can.

Now comes word from Canadian researchers from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto with the discovery that fructose - normally added to soft drinks and processed foods - had no effect on weight, compared to diets providing similar calories from other carbohydrate sources.

"Fructose may not be to blame for obesity", explained the lead author of the study, Dr. John Sievenpiper, research fellow at St.Michael's and resident physician at McMaster University, Hamilton. "It may just be calories from any food source. Over-consumption is the issue".

Writing in the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, Dr. Sievenpiper and co-authors found fructose had no effect on weight in comparison with diets providing a like number of calories using non-fructose carbohydrates. Adding fructose to a "usual" diet caused a consistent and strong weight increase, but "fructose, per se, is not the issue. It's calories."

Fructose is found naturally in fruit, vegetables and honey; a simple sugar which in combination with glucose forms sucrose, the basis of table sugar. High-fructose corn syrup the most common sweetener in commercial prepared foods has had a bad rap of late. It's used in soft drinks, chocolate bars, crackers, ketchup, sauces and buns. And too much of it is used in those items.

Fructose consumption has increased by over 25% over the past 30 years. And that is mostly because of convenience and junk foods, which are hardly "food" at all, but which attract the palate of consumers who use them all in excess of fundamentally nutritious whole foods, unadulterated by additives.

While the Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded the study, the researchers have received unrestricted grants from the Coca-Cola Company for the funding of other research. Does that exempt them from a magnifying-glass-look at their findings? Possibly. Might Coca-Cola Company just be providing funding out of a ethical sense of social responsibility?

Uh, doubt it.

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Solving Nuclear Problems

Canada may be on the verge of solving Iran's problems. Iran, it should be recalled, insists that it must and it will continue with its enrichment of uranium. This is represented as domestic policy, requiring that it apply itself to the nuclear option simply because of civic necessity. It plans to produce its own radio isotopes for medical diagnostic purposes. How wrong can the international community possibly be?

The West has irremediably and unjustly slurred this noble nation's aspirations. Nuclear for peaceful means because Iran has only thoughts of peace and good fellowship among humankind's offspring. It is not, truth to tell - and Iran tells truth unlike what any other administration has ever done (comparable, actually to the belligerent, self-excusing hyperbole that emanates from North Korea) - that it is not the least little bit interested in owning its own deterrent-only nuclear warheads.

Heaven forfend. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency has it wrong, all wrong, insultingly wrong in stating that it is their informed, scientific opinion that some of Iran's experiments could not possibly have any purpose other than for the development of nuclear weapons. What do they know, after all?

Well, here are Canadian scientists at the ready to solve that little problem. They announced their successful transformation of molybdenum-100, a naturally occurring compound mined in various parts of the world into technetium-99m by exposing it within cyclotrons to beams of energy that stripped off subatomic particles to produce technetium-99m from molybdenum-100.

A pioneer in nuclear medicine, and having the responsibility of supplying much of the international community's needed medical isotopes, the reactors meant to replace the tired old sputtering Chalk River reactors, saw some costly problems with the new MAPLE reactors that were haunted by technical problems.

Get the picture? Canada need no longer fret over the state of its nuclear reactors used to produce medical isotopes at Chalk River, a site that has given us too many technical headaches and proven too excessively costly and undependable. Even the Netherlands, the world's other major producer of medical isotopes, should grasp at the opportunity to produce radioactive medicine without reactors.

The nuclear scientists, led by the TRIUMF nuclear lab at the University of British Columbia, has produced the technetium-99m in Ontario and B.C., the scientists trium[f]antly declaring the process as a "major milestone" solving global problems in the critical shortage of the important medically diagnostic isotopes.

Dr. Francois Benard of the B.C. Cancer Agency informed a news conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: "We have found a practical, simple solution that can use existing infrastructure." The federal government gave Canada's nuclear medicine brain trust $35-million in a challenge to produce the isotope without the use of a reactor or weapons-grade uranium.

And isn't it wonderful that scientists the world over, irrespective of ideology, politics, culture and governments are more than willing to share new scientific discoveries with one another to advance the well-being of humankind? Knocking out the propaganda prop of justifying enriched uranium processes for the production of medical isotopes is a start in the right direction.

Now we just have to convince Iran to think about all the research funding it will save, setting aside its nuclear ambitions.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Impaired Driving Causing Death

Charges become dramatically altered when, under the influence of alcohol, a driver strikes a person, and that person dies. Not necessarily at the scene of the impact, but after undergoing emergency medical treatment while in morbidly critical condition as a result of traumatic injuries, and eventually succumbing to those injuries, to meet an untimely death.

That was most certainly the case for 31-year-old Nathan Anderson while riding his bicycle on the afternoon of February 2 on Carling Avenue in Ottawa. He was wearing a helmet, but that did little to save his life. The driver of a Toyota Matrix was travelling between 60 and 70 kilometres per hour on impact. And certainly not in control of his vehicle.

Mr. Anderson didn't stand a chance. He just happened by the gravest of misfortune to be in the path of a sociopath sitting behind the wheel of what had become an instrument of death.

That was a collision sufficient to throw Mr. Anderson three metres from where he was hit. And there certainly were witnesses to the collision. Those observing the collision also saw 44-year-old Glen Carkner drive away from the scene of the accident. And, as it happened, it was the police who witnessed what had occurred.

The investigator assigned to this case of vehicular homicide stated the obvious: "The charges are going to be increased to meet the facts." After Mr. Carkner, starkly inebriated, had been apprehended by police; he was subsequently released on a $32,000 bond, ordered to abstain from alcohol and drugs, and forbidden from driving.

He is accused of failing or refusing to submit to a drug evaluation test, but that is now the least of his problems. He had been ordered to attend a 30-day addictions counselling program at a Merrickville treatment centre. An 11 p.m.-to-6.a.m. curfew was imposed on this upstanding citizen who had earned a previous assault conviction.

He will now face a charge of criminal negligence causing death. He is additionally charged with impaired driving causing death, two counts each of failing to remain at the scene of a collision, and assaulting a police officer. His wife, along with his 24-year-old son were named as his sureties after he agreed to abide by his release conditions.

The facts are fairly straightforward; employees at an Liquor Control Board of Ontario outlet were alerted to the sight of a man staggering toward the store, walking into objects as he progressed. The LCBO staff refused to sell this obviously inebriated man alcohol, and called police when they observed him entering a car.

As it happened, they also saw this man smash his car into a number of other parked vehicles as he was driving away from the parking lot. After which it was the police, alerted and pursuing the drunken driver who witnessed the collision that led to the death of an innocent cyclist who believed that wearing a helmet might save his life.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Non-Smoking Zealotry

Traditional non-smoking advocates who have worked long and hard to have society recognize the scientific findings that tobacco is dangerous to human health have achieved quite the reversal in social habits, both public and private. Medical science has known for quite a long time the horribly deleterious effects of smoking, but it was a tough battle to convince people that smoking represented a severe health problem.

Even though it was a proven fact that tobacco is a carcinogen, and that lung cancer, cancers of the throat, the larynx, the lips were mostly attributable to a lifetime of smoking, people resisted, unwilling to surrender a habit that had become an important part of their lifestyle. Young people continued to be attracted to smoking, responding to marketing that identified it as sophisticated. They saw film celebrities elegantly smoking in avidly watched movies.

These are people, remember, who see warning letters on packs of cigarettes and blithely bypass them. Colour drawings and photographs of internal organs that have been dreadfully impacted by nicotine draw exclamations of alarm and disgust, but don't seem to faze those who have allowed their lives to be ordered by the next cigarette in their pack-a-day habit.

People had become so addicted to smoking they could neither conceive of giving it up, or physically forcing themselves to stop. Eventually the message sank in, and society had no option but to recognize tobacco for the threat it posed to societal health. And then the campaigns began to outlaw people smoking in workplaces, restaurants, shopping venues, hospitals, supermarkets, and eventually even in one's family vehicle ferrying children about.

Because it was not only smoking itself but the effects of second-hand smoke on passive by-standers being affected by the cancerous effects of smoke that was understood. And now, a movement is afoot, and gaining ground, to outlaw smoking in municipal parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, sports fields, stadiums, bus stops, beaches, zoos, municipal cemeteries, building entrances and restaurant patios.

In other words, outlawing smoking in interiors is now widely accepted, and now outdoor areas too are being targeted. Where once smokers could light up anywhere and everywhere - and they did, with no thought whatever to the discomfort of those around them - they are effectively constrained by law from lighting up almost everywhere.

There are those who lament the loss of such elementary freedoms. Those who suffered for many years of their lives, unable to escape the stink and intrusiveness of second-hand smoke, are not among them. People should be free to do as they wish, as long as they don't harm the well-being of others. And one might think that smoking in the open air dissipates the effects of smoke.

It does, to a certain degree, but that is also dependent on the proximity of the smoker to others who do not smoke. And smokers are rarely known for their social courtesies, not taking wholly kindly to their lawful use of tobacco being tossed into the civil garbage can of unlawful activities. It isn't likely that tobacco itself will be prohibited, since prohibition rarely works well.

And governments would sorely miss their income from tobacco taxes, and the job losses that would accompany the shut-down of tobacco manufacturers. One does suppose that we've become too zealous about restricting this self-destructive habit in public, that we are, in effect, encroaching on people's rights to be free to do as they wish.

We shouldn't be fanatical about this issue; on the other hand it's an issue that impacts society hugely. A dilemma, to be sure, since there should be some place where the restrictions don't apply. We simply have to agree that if people want to harm themselves they should be free to do so, as long as we are not harmed by their activities.

And that, in effect, is what these prohibitions ensure.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Doctor, Heal Thyself

Once the United States and Egypt solve their nasty little spitting spat over purported American interference in Egyptian political affairs, and the situation has returned to standoff status or what could be termed normalcy, the U.S. should seriously think of recalling the actors within the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute and put them to work at home.

Presumably, they'd be welcomed back where they belong, and they might even be able to accomplish a whole lot of good. They could begin by decrying the obsolete and backward state of American voter registration, and insist that the country get serious about rectifying a truly serious democratic deficit to ensure that all legal voters are appropriately registered.

And while they're at it, they could also castigate whoever is responsible for not taking a scouring brush to the entire voter registration system, cleansing it, for example of the huge number of registered voters who no longer have any living interest in casting their vote for any candidate for the foreseeable future, for they've been a long time dead.

It would appear that over 1.8 million dead Americans are listed as active U.S. voters. Roughly 2.75 million others have active registration in more than one state. This, according to the Pew Center on the States, in their latest report released just a few days earlier.

The outdated and obviously inefficient registration system is so pervasively unreliable that one in eight registrations is invalid.

If not totally invalid, then markedly inaccurate, according to research. Is there much difference? The entire U.S. electoral system/s "are plagued with errors and inefficiencies that waste taxpayer dollars, undermine voter confidence, and fuel partisan disputes over the integrity of our elections", claimed the report.

Furthermore, they point out, largely paper-based voter registration "has not kept pace with advancing technology and a mobile society". How about computerizing such a vital indice of foundational democratic values? Like some other, less well-endowed countries have.

Voter ID laws were passed in eight states last year. Which means there's a whole lot more that should be following suit. And many are, but isn't it time that upgrades and increased security on required data for voter registration be expressed across the board?

Isn't there a presidential election looming on the horizon, due for November? Should the U.S. be asking friendly countries to send over vote-and-ballot-box monitors?

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Friday, February 17, 2012

"Miracle" Health Cures

This is truly serious stuff. One can only wonder how gullible people can be, and then come to the realization that they can be very gullible indeed. Sometimes for lack of common sense, and sometimes because they're so desperate, having exhausted all other 'normal' avenues, that they will turn to anything that holds out promise to help them.

And that's where the fraud, the charlatans, those without conscience, the sociopaths and fast-buck artists step into the picture. The Internet has made it just so much easier to gull people. Put up a website, make it look semi-official, attractive and reliable, and you've got them hooked. Still, you've got to scratch your head about it.

You'd imagine as soon as someone sees the word "miracle", they'd be on their guard. But no, here's someone hawking a product he calls a "miracle" supplement guaranteed to cure whatever it is that's ruining your life and your health. And thank heavens, Health Canada has managed to shut the website down.

Calgarian Stan Nowak insists his miracle cure, which he has sold to hundreds of customers "all over the world", throughout a four-year period of operation, has saved countless lives. Perhaps for the undertaker. His MMS, Miracle Mineral Solution - or, as he also refers to it - Miracle Mineral Supplement, has as its major ingredient sodium chlorite.

And it is advertised on his website - since shuttered - as a substance that can cleanse toxins from the human body. It is, in fact, a cleaning agent. Sodium chlorite has use as a germicide by veterinarians. It is an industrial product used to clean hard surfaces, as a disinfectant. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers it an industrial strength bleach.

Now if that won't clean out the alimentary canal, the intestines, the bowels, what will? In the process, of course, make whoever trustingly uses it, extremely unwell. "It's helped all kinds of people with all kinds of diseases, from colds to malaria to diabetes to cancer", this man proudly maintains.

He knows all about cleansing agents, since he works in the chemical water treatment business.

Ingestion of the product, according to Health Canada, has been associated with three adverse reactions in Canada, including one life-threatening reaction. Reactions can include poisoning, kidney failure and harm to red blood cells.

In addition, people can experience abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The surprise in all of this is that the man is not being charged with deliberately endangering the lives of human beings. Surely there's an appropriate criminal penalty for such anti-social actions?

If there isn't, there sure as hell should be.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dangerous Pathogens

A pathogen? Sounds scarily serious. Pathogens are dread diseases, infections that can become deadly.

And that, precisely, is what some medical specialists consider junk food, evidently, to represent. A disease of addiction to substances posing as food but so heavily adulterated by chemicals, with salt, sugar and saturated fats that their common and constant consumption represents a dire health threat.

Most people wouldn't consider viewing junk food quite to that degree of danger. Presumably enough doctors have seen enough patients in enough poor health attributed to a lifetime of consuming junk food that they feel reasonably secure in using that kind of language. And blaming the producers of that junk food of something akin to terrorism.

Mass killing, in any event. A new article just published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, the work of a cardiologist and two public health professors, don't mince their words. "It's really just a nomenclature to attract attention to the fact we have a problem here and something needs to be done about it", explained Dr. Norm Campbell of Calgary.

"It will hopefully ... result in an evolution of our food so it's again a source of health, not a source of disease." Doubt it. You know that old adage ... you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink? Well, it's something like that. All the education and prodding and instruction in the world won't make people change their eating habits, if they don't feel inclined to.

People know that what they're consuming isn't considered to be nutritionally sound. The warnings have been around for long enough. But weigh those interfering do-gooding attempts to make people more aware and concerned about their own responsibility to good health outcomes, against the convenience and 'good' taste of altered foods and the appetite will win out over rationality every time.

Yes, bad food that gives the consumer too much of a bad thing does create ill health, but it does so stealthily, over a period of time, and people barely notice. Meanwhile, the appetite is stimulated by advertising and public relations campaigns, and the proliferation of fast-food eateries everywhere one looks - it is a free enterprise system, after all.

"Why regulate crime? 'Oh, it's a murder, they shouldn't be allowed a second chance.' Well, the food industry kills many thousands more than that murderer ever had a hope of doing", says the report's lead author. It's a situation that frustrates many, usually not the people who cling to bad food menus because they also cling to a sedentary lifestyle and that seems to suit them well.

But the incidence of obesity within the general public, impacting on all age groups, is a worrisome trend, and a costly one to society. One study in the journal Lancet last year estimated that 40% of premature deaths are related to diet. Another published in the American Medical Association last year opined that some obese children should be taken into custody, away from their parents for their own preservation.

Just recently one set of medical practitioners wrote in Nature suggesting that those under 16 years of age not be allowed to purchase soft drinks. It's estimated that salt in food alone contributes to 14,000 deaths and 40,000 hospitalizations yearly in Canada. Junk food contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

The paper published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology recommends that ingredients like saturated and trans fats, sodium and simple sugars be labelled as pathogens when their volume of content exceeds what the human body needs and can safely deal with. The better to ignore them by those bored with all the fuss.

"The actors that encourage consumption of these foods in the population are somewhat insidious and very powerful", noted one doctor.

Give that man an apple.

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Yes, Mr. President

Mimi Alford, the White House intern who has described her affair with JFK.

Alford as a young woman.

Exactly how would a 19-year-old young woman - girl, in actual fact, a teenager - react when she realizes that the most powerful man on the face of the Globe is personally interested in her? It's rather predictable, is it not? A man of great personal charm and charisma, not to speak of authority, displays an interest in a young woman, and acts on that interest because he wishes to, and because he can.

He obviously spares little-to-no-thought about how this will impact her life. Nor does he consider the morality of what he does. He feels, in fact, entitled to behave as he wishes, with whomever he wishes. Her well-being and her feelings have little to do with his decision to act on an impulse. It is only his own physical satisfaction that he is engrossed in.

And since he comes from a family tradition of womanizing, he has no concerns about his wife or his children. The fact that the young woman is of an age that she could be his daughter seems of little concern to him, as well. Her youth and freshness are what appeals to him, her innocence and her apparent lack of guile or sophistication.

And so, Mimi Alford, as a newly-minted intern at the White House of John F. Kennedy in 1962, was guided through a pantomime she was unaware of. She was invited to swim with the White House staff so the president could gauge how she appeared in a swim suit, then she was invited to have a few drinks, and then the president gave her a personal tour of the White House.

And in Jackie Kennedy's powder-blue bedroom, he introduced her to sex. "I have never felt that it was rape. I was willing. Even though I was surprised and it was not something I had planned, I was clueless. I thought I was going on a tour of the residence, and I'd had two daiquiris. Now I can look back and see that I was being orchestrated into that [situation], but I still don't see it as rape."

Mimi Alford has written a memoir, titled Once Upon a Secret. It was not her intention to reveal all, unprovoked. In fact, a researcher into the Kennedy papers came across unclassified documents including an interview with a press aide that named Ms. Alford. "It was a shock at first; it took me back to when I used to feel like I needed to hide", she explained when she was exposed.

"But there was no point in denying it and saying, 'It wasn't me'". So, instead she began to write about what she had experienced, putting down her memories, and her younger daughter, reading them, encouraged her mother to have them published. "In all my memories, except for those few dark ones, he was mostly boyish with me and sometimes shy", she explained.

"It was not like a romantic love affair, or what I would imagine now as romance. It was like a play date." What it was, in actual fact, was the ultimate authority figure exploiting his power over someone who should have been protected from his advances. The man had ample opportunities, which he took, of playing the lover to a wide range of women, from celebrities to his own wife.

His appetite was wider than his view of ethical behaviour. Whatever else he was, he was also a molesting predator of the first order.

JFK Intern_2.JPG In this Feb. 10, 2012 photo, Mimi Alford, author of "Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and its Aftermath," poses for a photograph in New York.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leadership and Accountability

The man is certainly one of a kind. And as a unique personality, one who never hesitated to step out into the community, to make himself accessible and useful on a far wider scale than that of police chief of Canada's capital, Chief Vern White made a huge difference in how the work of the Ottawa Police is performed for the greater good. Some very poor-optics misapplications of police work notwithstanding, his five-year stay has been an excellent one.

The man is personable and without guile, says things that come naturally from someone who has no underhanded agenda. As he appears, and what he says, is what he is. And he has been a refreshing change from what went before him. It's been rumoured that he is not as admired as much in the rank-and-file of his organization as he is in the general public, and that's understandable. Mention that to him and he does that metaphorical shrug acknowledging that you can't please everyone.

(How could you not admire and laugh with someone who admits that earwigs give him the shudders?)

And his five-year tenure wasn't meant to please everyone. It was meant for him to demonstrate to the people of Ottawa that his wide-ranging experience, his personality and his values were to be put to work on behalf of Ottawa. In that, he rarely disappointed. It was disappointing that during his time as police chief some members of the force brought a spotlight of disgrace on law and order by their disorderly and unlawful treatment of those whom they held in custody.

When asked about how such bad behaviour could result on his watch, Chief White simply stated that he couldn't be everywhere at all times. "So, you want me in the cellblock at 3 a.m.?" These things happen. The important thing was, he said, was that the media highlighted those events, and the force responded by enacting new guidelines for acceptable procedures. The strip-search rate has declined and rules for the arrest for the intoxicated have also been altered.

He has been a community builder par excellence. Attending so many meetings and events, and supporting so many civic and community outreach programs that he has been criticized for spending too much time on those purposeful things, too little in his own office. But, says Chief White, when becoming engaged outside the force, it should be done expansively: "You can't do one, or you have to do it all". Fair enough.

"Policing for 30 years, I don't think I've ever been the guy looking inward. Realistically, we exist because of those we serve." If he were to have remained isolated from the community by never stepping outside the bounds of force affairs, he would have represented a remote leader, disinterested in what occurs outside the force. Would it have been an improvement if as chief he only dealt with internal affairs? "Everything is a distraction from everything, that's a reality."

His energy and enthusiasm, dedication and presence certainly has been different in nature to what Ottawa has been accustomed to. In his years of service, he never once fired a gun. He did double time as both a guardian of the public trust in policing, and a searcher-after-knowledge, by academic pursuits to acquire a doctorate over a 20-year period, while pursuing his police career. "I've loved every minute of it", he said in an interview.

It was thought that with his former experience in the RCMP he would be a front-line candidate for a future head of the RCMP. Instead, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper telephoned him directly while he was on holidays in Finland to offer him a senate seat he accepted without equivocation. "I didn't go looking for an appointment to the Senate. Someone came looking for me", is how he explained it.

He'll make an outstanding Senator, actively engaged and responsive to perceived needs. As the old saying goes, Ottawa's loss is Canada's gain.

Police Chief Vern White. Ottawa police Chief Vern White will trade in his police blues for a Senate robe on Feb. 20, 2012. Laura Mueller

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fame And Adulation

We really and truly are our own worst enemies. When people are highly successful, straddling the heights of acclaim and celebrity as performance artists something peculiar happens to so many of them. Where they should feel secure in having achieved recognition of their talents, they appear to become insecure in some manner.

Restless and bored, or dissatisfied and unhappy they turn to drugs or alcohol or wild social behaviour to give them release from the tension and misery they feel.

That self-destructive behaviour leads to another kind of celebrity, one that does their career no good, and which does them personally, as human beings, great harm. Their personal relationships suffer, particularly those of an intimate nature, and they stop respecting themselves, and can no longer perform as they once did, faltering toward failure.

The predictable occurs; they attend rehabilitation, become temporarily restored, attempt come-backs, then fall back into old habits.

Why, one can ask legitimately, should talented people who have managed to arouse great public interest in their performances, and who earn heaps of money enabling them to live lives of sumptuous luxury, be dissatisfied with what they have achieved, to the extent that they self destruct in this way.

If not through suicide as a result of their depths of despair as their self-imposed degradation, then accidentally, through drug overdose.

One famous name after another, discovered dead in the prime of their lives. The latest in a long line of entertainers whose errant life-cycle and popular presence as successful performers, fizzled and collapsed, Whitney Houston.

Her inner demons made her wildly successful career a final travesty. From a family of highly successful entertainers, this Grammy-winning soul and gospel singer became a pop titan. Her albums sold millions of copies. And her stunning beauty and grace won her the admiration and adulation of young women who dreamed of achieving the fame and recognition in the future that she did.

Years of self-abuse became evident in her appearance, but worse, in the quality of her voice and her performance. She herself, single-handedly, brought ruination and despair to herself. Now why would that occur?

It would, of course, give her no comfort whatever to know that her record sales have soared since her death, and tributes to her talent, her personality and her life have poured in from everywhere; her public broken-hearted at her ultimate collapse.

People view a makeshift memorial outside "The New Hope Baptist Church" in Newark, New Jersey. Singer Whitney Houston died on February 11, 2012 at The Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Houston's mother, Grammy-winning gospel singer Cissy Houston, led the music program at the church for many years. (GETTY/GALLO)

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Teen Cardiac Arrest

A young adult, or as more commonly described, a robust teen who exhibits no untoward health symptoms, engaged in vigorous sport activities suddenly dies. No warning of impending disaster. Everything appears normal.

That vigorous activity usually takes place in a public sport arena, where youth players are engrossed in exhibiting their long-practised skills in competitive sports. Like hockey, like football, anything that gets the adrenalin going, and they're playing to their physical capacity.

And then, suddenly, unexpectedly, there is a collapse. And it is a collapse of cataclysmic proportions. Emergency aid is swift to come to the scene, and the sturdy sport figure who has suddenly become a patient, is stabilized. Sent to hospital, treated there, with all the modern techniques of life-saving procedures available to health practitioners, but succumbs to the body's failure to respond to resuscitation attempts.

Parents are bereaved, and they grieve the utterly inexplicable loss of a cherished child. This loss will haunt them to the end of their days. Their siblings will be devastated, their lives forever changed by this event that deprived them of a beloved brother. Their friends will remember, decades later, one of their own who suddenly disappeared from their lives and cast a deep, dark net of gloom over their own anticipation of the future.

How could such a thing happen to an obviously healthy and active young person? According to cardiologists and other allied medical specialists some of these young people may have exhibited symptoms of abnormality but they might have been so slight, and so inconsistent that they were simply shrugged off as meaningless.

And then, there might never have been any symptoms. As well, even when or if full testing was conducted on suspicion of something awry, there might well have been nothing detected that would lead to the conclusion that there was indeed something wrong.

There are inherited abnormalities that may or may not show up as symptomatic and giving warning of future problems. Sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes is unusual and relatively rare, but does occur often enough that people recall their occurrence when reading of yet another sad occurrence shocking the community.

American researchers estimate between 50 and 100 junior high, high school and college athletes in the U.S. die suddenly every year, over half from a hidden cardiovascular problem. That more or less puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

Dr. Michael Gollob, a cardiac arrhythmia specialist at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute has seen over 60 cases of unexplained, sudden cardiac death in young people believed to have been healthy, since 2006. Of that number, a "significant proportion" involved teens.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy where the heart muscle has thickened and enlarged is one common cause. Rarer conditions include Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy, and a condition known as Long QT Syndrome, all genetically inherited cardiac conditions. All of which may be asymptomatic, the only evidence to be seen is after cardiac arrest.

A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, led by Tel Aviv University's Dr. Arie Steinvil published in 2011, investigated whether electrocardiograms taken routinely of all young athletic teens might be effective in arresting sudden death and cardiac arrest. In Israel the ECG is mandatory. Research divulged that the mandatory ECG had no effect on the incidence of sudden deaths among Israeli youths.

"I don't think widespread screening of young athletes should occur because that will lead to many incorrect diagnoses being made. These diagnoses (of an underlying heart condition) can often be challenging to make with certainty. The effect of withholding someone from competitive sports without certainty of a condition may lead to new health issues, such as an impact of psychological or physical well-being", explained Dr. Gollob.

If you ask a parent what would represent the more catastrophic liability, the possible loss of a young family member, or the misery that a young person would feel, being informed he would be better off not engaging in such vigorous sport activities, would there be much of a pause before choosing a live teen over a disappointed one?

The sensible thing to do, would be for the immediate family to undergo cardiac evaluation if there is a family history of sudden, unexplained death of a young family member, according to those dispensing professional advice. And if there is no family history to offer a modicum of warning?

"These things are almost impossible to prevent."

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thank You, Doctor

Now that's no mere inconvenience. It represents a dire threat. Of course it is not all anesthesiologists who are afflicted by a drug dependency. It is estimated that approximately 20% are. Although, as a cautionary note, that number would represent those who have been discovered, those who have admitted their problem and who seek assistance, and not those who are clever enough to keep their problem under wraps.

Their problem, not ours. Society is replete at every level, in every profession, in every age group and gender, with people unfortunate enough to have fallen under the influence of drugs, so their lives have become horribly complicated. But, in this particular instance, as in so many others, our lives too become potentially impacted/complicated by the incidence of drug addiction among health professionals.

It is by no means only anesthesiologists who become addicted to drugs, but also doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, you name it. Their numbers are far lower than among anesthesiologists. They are no different than the mainstream of society in that respect among whom a certain percentage of the population becomes drug-dependent. That dependency, of course, impacts on their professional lives, equally with their personal lives.

But it is, by and large, the impact on their professional lives that concerns greater society. That would be the greater society that depends upon health professionals in a professional health setting. Like a hospital, and more specifically an operating room. That person for whom surgery has been scheduled and is dependent on the full and expert attention of a health professional to see them through to a successful conclusion, for example.

If the anesthesiologist in the operating theatre happens to be high on drugs while he is engaged in very sensitive, vital procedures to ensure a patient undergoing surgery is breathing properly and all vital signs are acceptable, clearly his professionalism is impacted. There have been occasions when such medical professionals have been found dead of an overdose in bathrooms adjoining operating theatres.

Evidently, drug-addicted anesthesiologists are prone to extracting some of the drugs meant for the patient, to use them personally at the earliest opportunity, to maintain themselves in good fettle. Of course, eventually one's condition deteriorates to the point where it becomes evident to others that something is dreadfully wrong. But not always.

And that gives us a good deal to be concerned about. After all, it is the work of that particular health professional to ensure that the patient comes out of surgery alive. Maintaining ventilation, oxygen levels, that blood pressure remains constant throughout surgery. Those little details which are quite significant.

Much depends on it.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Unexpected

Child obesity is cited as a growing problem in Canada as it is in United States. The arguments are that young people and children are not exercising enough, not engaging in activities meant to ensure that they are strong and healthy and burn off calories as human beings are meant to do.

And which they did in earlier societies where everyone walked distances and played games and was interested in sports.

Today we have children involved in computer games, in constantly checking their cellphones, in watching television, and seldom moving themselves beyond their front door to check out what's happening in the neighbourhood.

Young people are enthused about video games and going online to see what's happening on the Internet, not in their physical neighbourhood.

Then, there's always the factor of the modern-day diet, heavily reliant on pre-prepared and heavily processed foods, bearing little-to-no-resemblance to the kind of basic foods that formed the diet of people decades ago, when food preparation was a skill that everyone managed to master.

Now, food preparation consists mostly of going to the freezer and microwaving. And, of course, eating out, or grabbing food at the closest fast-food outlet, with products heavily laced with salt, sugar and fats.

All of which is injurious to the nutritional value we derive from foods, and ultimately to our health. Leading to a vastly overweight population, impinging on the health of children whose obesity will lead in future years to heart and stroke problems as they age.

So, parents who care, ensure that as much as possible, their children become involved with organized sports. And, in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't tale of unanticipated grief, we hear the occasional catastrophe of healthy young teens, vigorously involved in sport activities, well accustomed to exercise, suddenly dying.

As happened with Tyler Kerr, a young athletic teen who played for the Richmond Royals minor midget team. At a game, last week that took place in Carp, the fit young man of 15 years of age, highly regarded by all who knew him suffered cardiac arrest in a midget B hockey game against West Carleton.

Revived with the help of CPR, and a defibrillator, he was taken to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, where he died on Monday morning.

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The Boy's Adventure

The 243-metre cargo ship Horizon Reliance that rescued Brothers Mitchell and Bradley James, and Bradley’s nine-year-old son West.
The 243-metre cargo ship Horizon Reliance that rescued Brothers Mitchell and Bradley James, and Bradley’s nine-year-old son West. Photograph by: Supplied,

"Most of my family - grandparents and cousins - thought I was going to die and didn't want me to go on this trip", the nine-year-old boy said, confiding to reporters interviewing him and his 33-year-old father, and his uncle. All three are recovering from their adventure of an epic sea voyage sailing the winter Pacific from Puerto Valarta, Mexico to Hilo, Hawaii.

The trio of hardy sailor-adventurers were a month at sea when they encountered vessel-battering wind and rain, while adrift in the sea. The squall that rendered their sails useless and overheated their engine proved to be too much of an adversary for them to combat and defeat. Quite the adventure for a grade-three little boy from Calgary.

Quite the decision for a loving, caring, nurturing father wishing to expose his son to worldly adventure, geographic distances and the allure of the great, wide, unpredictable winter seas, despite the pleading of extended family members to leave the boy behind with those concerned for his well-being.

It's one thing for physically mature and ostensibly sensible adults to decide to embark on the adventure of their lives, quite another to haul along a little mascot who, despite the ordeal he had experienced, with the typical ability of a child to bounce back from fear and danger, excitedly viewed being interviewed as becoming "famous".

"As soon as I found out we were gonna be on he news, I said "We're famous!", the boy said, father Brad James and uncle Mitch beside him at a news conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, where they ended up after having been rescued from their life-threatening predicament. "The weather continued to deteriorate throughout the night and we realized ... we were in the world of hurt", said the father.

The distress call was placed by the desperate trio, picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard, who instructed a container ship that was over 200 kilometres distant from them to head for the 120-metre sailboat, Liahona. They were to somehow manage to manoeuvre the two adults and child from the floundering ship in the throes of a storm.

One of the stalwart sailors, Mitch, uncle of the boy, had been injured when he attempted to repair the sailboat's wind-damaged mast. By the time the rescue vessel, the 250-metre Horizon Reliance, reached them, all three were in the roiling waters. Life rings were thrown to them by the Horizon crew members, who steadily drew them toward the ship.

As the sailboat filled with water and began sinking, the three had taken to the sea; the boat sank within minutes. All three wearing life jackets and strobe lights to enable the ship's crew to sight them, it took fully 50 minutes to complete the entire rescue operation. During which time the 9-year-old kept saying "we're going to die", while his father said he had continued comforting him.

Eventually all three were brought aboard ship to the tremendous relief of all concerned, for obvious reasons. The father mentioned during the interview that he had turned to the Horizon captain to ask how often he had come across a like rescue situation. The captain's response was 'I've been on boats like this for 35 years and it's never happened.'

Not such a bright idea, then, was it, for two men to embark on the adventure of a lifetime during which enterprise they encountered what any search for navigating-in-the-winter-seas might have warned them might occur. But these two men opted for the excitement, and in their great wisdom recklessly endangered the life of a child.
The Canadians were rescued by a container ship 450 kilometres northeast of Hilo, Hawaii.The Canadians were rescued by a container ship 450 kilometres northeast of Hilo, Hawaii. (CBC)

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Peculiar Sensibilities

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Patrick Blaizel says the objects that he thinks contain fossilized remains of Nazi death camp victims should be used to raise awareness of the horrors that took place in Treblinka, where nearly 900,000 people, mainly Jews, were executed. Photograph by: Pierre Obendrauf, THE GAZETTE

Displaying fundamentally and amazingly poor judgement, a Montreal-based auctioneer has raised a storm of controversy over his stated intention to place on the auction block for his next auction, several artifacts he recently came in possession of. The individual from whom Patrick Blaizel claims to have purchased the artifacts informed him that they were what remained of human beings after their corpses had gone through the furnaces at Treblinka, a Nazi death camp.

These were, then, purportedly what remained of human beings whom the Nazi Final Solution to achieve an extermination of Europe's Jews managed to achieve when it consigned six million to death. It really does not matter all that much whether these truly were what they were represented to be, or simply objects difficult to identify but defined by unscrupulous people as remnants of death camp victims, retrieved from the ashes of the ovens.

Mr. Blaizel insisted that his intentions were honourable; he set out to put the pieces of oven-glazed bone up for auction, so that someone could own them and in this way honour the memory of the dead. A truly disingenuous explanation for a truly despicable set of circumstances. When the story was published it generated so much criticism and scorn that the auction house curator, Mr. Blaizel, decided not to place them on auction, after all.

He would, instead, donate them to a local Jewish congregation for burial. He had formerly stated that it wasn't his intention to hand them over to a Holocaust Memorial Centre, for example, because, he said, "I think they would end up in a drawer somewhere ... forgotten." The value in the objects, if they are indeed what is claimed they are, is solely as poignant remnants of a time of unspeakable horror.

The place for them obviously is within a Holocaust Remembrance Museum, where they would rest in peace and with all respect due them. Mr. Blaizel's intention was to give them a starting bid of $10. And then see what bidders would be inclined to do from there. Of course their value is inestimable for entirely other reasons than Mr. Blaizel could imagine.

And of course, Mr. Blaizel realized an entirely different value from temporary ownership of the objects, and the publicity he was able to raise by claiming them to be remnants from Treblinka, which he was prepared to make available to the highest bidder. He and his business received a lot of attention, none of it admiring, but as the old saying goes, for those wishing publicity, there is no such thing as 'bad' publicity.

He might have aspired to become famous in some circles, while simultaneously becoming distastefully infamous in others.

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