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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Big Rock Candy Mountain

The very idea of a spill of countless coins waiting to be scooped up in a serendipitous display of riches to boggle a child's mind, could only be improved upon by the accompanying scattering of confections and candy, each outdoing the other in presence, compelling attention and a scramble to acquire them, perhaps in equal measure.

Which, after all, might have more meaning to a child, the candies or the coins? Coins, after all, have their use in the acquisition of candies. But if the candies are already present, what need for the coins?

So perhaps the discerning child would realize that a collection of coins would be useful for other things as well, and a matching amount of coins and confections would make sense for that child. While others might spurn the presence of gleaming coins and seek instead to gather for themselves mouth-watering candies.

But this was, of course, not a candy mountain. It was a highway in northern Ontario, where the road had been blasted through rocky terrain, leaving on either side of the highway, a rising rock-face paralleling the road. A misfortune occurred, when the driver of a Brink's security truck somehow left the median, and crashed into the rock face on the opposite side.

The driver and passenger sustained serious injuries and were rushed to hospital.

And the result of the accident was immediately apparent with the highway completely strewn with the entire cargo of that Brink's armoured truck; uncirculated loonies and toonies, amounting to a cool $3-millions' worth in value. Spilling out of the truck, those round metallic disks were free to scatter where they would, all over the roadway and the surrounding area.

But the drama was not yet complete. A tractor-trailer in a northbound direction and then a minivan crashed into the Brink's truck in their turn. And then, a third tractor-trailer, this one hauling candy, hit the rear of the second-tractor-trailer, spilling its load of confections. No serious injuries occurred among those involved in the succeeding crashes.

"There's $4-million in one- and two-dollar coins on the highway along with a considerable amount of confections and candy", reported an attending constable of the South Porcupine OPP. The highway was thereafter blocked in both directions for hours. With police on the scene to provide security, until the coins were collected.

"This is rather unusual. I'd hazard to guess that this is the first time in the detachment's history that we've had to investigate a collision of this scale and its uniqueness speaks for itself", said police. A giant magnet was brought onto the scene, and immediately put to work. So much for the coins.

An enterprising class of Grade 5s would have done a bang-up job collecting the candies....

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Will Of A Fanatic Islamism

Hamid Karzai is well and truly sick and fed up with complaints about his country's misogynistic attitudes toward Afghan women. This is the kind of cultural interference that he fumes indignantly about. The West has no business instructing the East how it should go about the business of its social compact. Women have their place in Afghan society; it is a traditional heritage that women not be seen. It is, after all, for their own protection.

In Muslim societies it is well understood that men have instinctual urges that cannot be controlled. And that women instinctively attempt in the way they present themselves, to arouse men. Women are the work of the devil, and men are pious supplicants of Allah. Women distract and destroy the peace. Women should be retiring, should be well covered, silent, unobtrusive, not appearing in public.

If left to their own devices, women would mingle with men they do not know in social activities, in education, in bazaars, at offices. The tension between the genders is an avoidable distraction, and women should know their place. It is for this reason that hundreds of Afghan women languish in prisons for moral crimes, crimes against society and Islamic principles. Those women who shamelessly run away from home, desert a marriage bed.

Human Rights Watch has had the unmitigated nerve to issue a report, I Had to Run Away, insisting that the government of Hamid Karzai release these women. "It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage."

Girls are maintained in juvenile detention facilities, and women in prisons, accused or convicted of various offences.
"Some women and girls have been convicted of zina - sex outside of marriage - after being raped or forced into prostitution. Judges often convict solely on the basis of 'confessions' given in the absence of lawyers and 'signed' without having been read to women who cannot read or write. After conviction, women routinely face long prison sentences, in some cases more than 10 years."
Little does the government acknowledge the entire story, however. The women who are content to remain in prison because there they are safe. No one whom they fear will be able to attack them, flog them, throw acid at them, murder them. Female inmates whom Human Rights Watch interviewed before issuing their report filled in some of the blanks.

A 17-year-old imprisoned for running away with a boy whom her parents had forbidden her to marry: "My parents come every week on visiting day. Every time they tell me that very soon they will pay the prison staff to give me to them, and then they will kill me." Another woman sentenced after fleeing her father-in-law who raped her and had her brother murdered.

It is true that in the urban areas of that country the lot of women and girls has improved measurably in the ten years of UN and NATO intervention. Millions of children have been able to attend school finally, including young girls. And women have become accustomed in Kabul to going out in public, mostly completely covered in traditional burkas, but free to go out nonetheless.

But NATO countries are eager to depart; they have sacrificed personnel and treasury for long enough, and in the final analysis the change has been cosmetic. The Taliban is resurgent, the government weak, ineffectual and corrupt. The Afghan government and the U.S. has been negotiating with the Taliban; their return is inevitable; either to consolidate with the government or to retake it completely.

And then the fate and the future of the women of the country is foreordained to become what it was; all the gains in their human rights will dissolve in the reality of the indomitable will of a fanatic Islamism.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bringing Closure

It's really hard to figure what more the Canadian Forces could possibly do to prevent a soldier returning from overseas duty from being depressed to the point where they eventually attempt suicide, and eventually succeed. If someone is that determined, they will succeed. No one can be kept on a 24-hour suicide watch. And someone who had attempted suicide no fewer than five times and who finally succeeded did so because he needed to.

Cpl. Stuart Langridge, who had served in Bosnia and had been involved as a member of a high-risk reconnaissance unit in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan in Kabul, died in 2008, buried on his 28th birthday. His grieving mother and step-father seem to feel that the military is at fault for failing their son. What possibly is inexplicable and damaging to the military is that Cpl. Langridge's suicide note was withheld from his family for over a year.

But what the military, who clearly mourn and heavily regret any loss of their own, surely cannot be accused of, is abandoning one of their own at his time of anguish and need. But solutions do not necessarily come readily to hand. Particularly when someone has succumbed to some perceived inner need and turns to alcohol and drugs and becomes addicted to both, thus complicating an already complex emotional need.

The family claims, and their lawyer reiterates, their belief that Cpl. Langridge was an unfortunate victim of post traumatic stress syndrome. An acute form of PTSD, according to reports in the media. His mother and stepfather have mounted over 30 allegations of wrong-doing on the part of 13 military police officers, impacting on their son's state of distress and eventual successful suicide mission.

The military, for their part, insist they did what they could, using all the professional expertise available to them. They feel, also that it was Cpl. Langridge's addictions to alcohol and drugs that are heavily implicated in his depressive states and suicide attempts, and not, as his family claims, any condition relating to trauma experienced overseas.

Shortly before his death Cpl. Langridge had completed 30 days of psychiatric treatment, leaving hospital to return to CFB Edmonton. Several days later, an argument with his girlfriend saw him living in his truck, and he asked base surgeon Major Richard Hannah to be returned to Alberta Hospital which at the time was not possible because its psychiatric unit was full.

He was instead accommodated with a bed at his unit, Lord Strathcona Horse, and was carefully followed. At the time he hanged himself he had traces of cocaine in his system. Major Richard Hannah insists Cpl. Langridge's problem was drug and alcohol addictions. "Cocaine can cause people to commit suicide."

He also pointed to the fact that no fewer than three separate psychiatric reports conclude with no evidence of PTSD. "I busted my butt to take care of Cpl. Langridge. He was a troubled young man who had many problems. I wanted to know whether we had dropped the ball. If I made a mistake I wanted to know. I didn't want Cpl. Langridge to die. That was the last thing I wanted to happen. If I had made a mistake, I would have put my hands up and admitted it."

It is a horrible dilemma for the parents of a young man to accept that he was in such torment that he chose to end his life rather than continue living. To ease their own grief and anguish, people look for reasons. And they grasp at the potential of being able to find those reasons, and if those reasons come complete with someone's neglect causing death, that too brings closure.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Racial Polarization

Even if one of the actors in the drama that took place in Sanford, Florida was not shot dead, there would still be the confusion left of two perspectives. Somewhere, between the story told by the 28-year-old, robustly-built George Zimmerman, and the evidence and appeals made by the dead 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, lies the truth.

As new evidence is revealed respecting the night-time encounter between the two, one a self-empowered watchman for his neighbourhood, the other a casual transient who happened to leave nearby, outside the gated community, the actual activities surrounding the event become ever less clear.

One adult man was armed with a lethal weapon, the other, semi-adult, slighter of build, was armed only by his fear and indignation. Had Trayvon Martin assaulted the older man as a result of his having been interrogated officiously by him, and working out his offended feelings in that manner, did it warrant that the older man extract his deadly weapon to shoot the boy dead?

In fear for his life, he claims and the law upholds that fear as a legally-protective issue, so he is not considered guilty of a capital, let alone criminal offence. Mr. Zimmerman had been in cellphone communication with a police dispatcher who urged him not to continue following the young man whom he described in a "hoodie", "up to no good".

Mr. Zimmerman's neighbours have praised him for his commitment to neighbourhood security and safety. And they, because of his demonstrated zealousness, appointed him their area neighbourhood watch captain. The local police department was involved, and knew him well. Not only for his role as neighbourhood watchdog, but from previous run-ins with him.

When he was 21 years of age - older than Trayvon Martin by four years - he had assaulted a police officer in an altercation over under-age drinking on behalf of a friend. That same year, 2005, his then-fiancee filed a court injunction against Mr. Zimmerman, accusing him of domestic violence. He countered that with an injunction of his own.

Some years later, he decided to pursue the possibility of becoming a police officer. Because he hadn't been charged with assault, the issuance of a gun permit was never a problem for him. It does appear he had an anger management problem.

We have also learned that Trayvon Martin, shot dead on February 26, had once been found with an empty marijuana bag in his possession. As though this small social transgression should be compared with assault.

President Barack Obama has stated his personal indignation over the matter very publicly. Adding fuel to the fire of public anger over the death of the young man, and the fact that the man who mortally shot him was not facing any criminal charges.

Unsurprisingly, African Americans are livid with rage that such an occurrence could take place with the shooter facing no charges though he caused the death of a young black man who was engaged in nothing more malevolent than stopping at a local convenience store to pick up Skittles and iced tea.

It is not only African Americans who are appalled at this dreadful miscarriage of justice.

But when such a situation brings out the race-card-playing charlatan Al Sharpton who never met a Black Cause he didn't fulminate fulsomely about in his inimitable bellicose manner, alongside a new Black Panther group, American society is being polarized once again.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Her Loyal and Loving Dog

How heart-achingly sad. A once-vibrant, beautiful woman, ultra-talented, reduced to a pale shadow of her robust self. This was Kathleen Petty, the celebrated CBC radio host and political interviewer who made such a huge success of two important CBC shows. Her masterful querying of guests on the Saturday morning The House, demonstrating her background knowledge of everything her guests expounded on, gained her huge respect.
Kathleen Petty and her German shepherd, Greta. The former morning host for CBC Radio  just had a double mastectomy for breast cancer.
Kathleen Petty and her German shepherd, Greta. The former morning host for CBC Radio just had a double mastectomy for breast cancer.Photograph by: Chris Mikula , The Ottawa Citizen

People could be forgiven for wondering - while at the same time admiring her obvious capability and the enduring qualities of her skills as an interviewer - how she could possibly maintain the momentum required to so ably balance her career as a daily morning show, Metro Morning, along with the Saturday political interviews. Immense stamina and dedication, obviously.

And there is a cost to all of that, as detailed in a recent Ottawa Citizen interview with Kathleen Petty. She had been preparing to return to her home city of Calgary, to take up another morning program there, to bring her close to her aging and ailing father, so she could aid in taking care of him. On the way to preparing to leave Ottawa she suddenly discovered, by viewing herself in the shower, that something was drastically wrong.

Medical examinations verified what she suspected. The doctor who did the initial examination found that her abdomen and breasts felt abnormal. Tests that followed confirmed that she had a very serious health issue. Requiring immediate attention; chemotherapy to shrink the size of the tumour in one of her breasts; a hysterectomy to deal with multiple growths on her ovaries; runaway fibroids.

Then finally, a double mastectomy. And a scheduled round of daily radiation to follow. Her oncologists have informed her that they anticipate a positive prognosis. "They don't know and I don't know, but I will do everything they tell me to do to increase my odds. But I am not banking on anything."

She regrets not having noticed anything amiss in her body before the situation had become desperate. "What is done is done and I have to deal with what it is." She had sold her house in preparation for returning to Calgary late last year. At age 50, another radical turn in her life. On the cusp of leaving the city, discovering her medical-health emergency.

She had previously been so tied up with her demanding on-air jobs she worked routinely up to fourteen hours each day. Leaving herself no time for much of anything. Living the life of a recluse, with very little social interaction. She found the only times she was willing to leave the house because of the press of time, was to take her beloved German Shepherd out for her daily walks.

No way to live a life. This is what we do to ourselves, with our enthusiasms and our ambitions and our inability to engage in some useful introspection when time is always tight and we heed deadlines. She has many admirers and many casual acquaintances. And she has herself, and her prospects for future health. And her loyal and loving dog.

Sometimes that has to be enough because it is all that there is. And for some, it is enough, if the promise of prolonged life comes along with it.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Well, So What?

It's hard for a lot of people to take beauty pageants seriously. Lovely young women parading their physical attributes. Quite the spectacle. Appealing to some, but certainly not all of us. On the other hand, anytime we are confronted by youth and beauty it does something to us. We have every reason to admire the kindness of nature that bequeaths such beauty.

And it reminds us of how the ideals of beauty and the aesthetics of presence are important to all of us. Most women can only wish to aspire to having a small portion of what some women are naturally endowed with through inheritance. And, in a sense, it's a harmless enough pastime for many who flaunt what they have, and others who envy what they have not.

Transgendered Miss Universe Canada finalist, Jenna Talackova, of Vancouver.
Transgendered Miss Universe Canada finalist, Jenna Talackova, of Vancouver. Photograph by: Handout , Twitter

Just regard this photograph above. Is this not a physical manifestation of female beauty? The woman is so obviously feminine and comprised of grace and loveliness. Of course physical beauty is as beauty does. It does not necessarily reflect intelligence, common sense, wit and wisdom. Together and singly each of those attributes are worth their weight in gold. And they become enhanced with age.

Physical beauty has a habit of declining with age. At least the youthful portion of it does. However, focusing on the here-and-now, it is clear that the young woman portrayed above clearly illustrates how fortunate some have been with their genetic endowments. Ah, she was born male. But she declares that, from the age of four, she felt herself to be female. At age 14 she began hormone therapy to make that transition.

And who could deny the end result was anything but wildly successful? So what is the problem? She has been disqualified by a beauty pageant to achieve the title of Miss Universe Canada. She is not being permitted to compete. "She did not meet the requirements to compete despite having stated otherwise on her entry form", is the statement issued by a Miss Universe Canada release.

In their rules to meet competition requirements there is no statement respecting cosmetic surgery or gender re-assignment. Contestants must be Canadian citizens between the ages of 18 and 27, single, not pregnant. They complete a comprehensive application form to be entitled to compete.

Jenna Talackova, that stunningly beautiful young woman competed in a transsexual beauty pageant in Thailand. At that time she referred to herself as "a woman, with a history". She is all of that and more.

Excluding her from the pageant was an ill-considered move. And more's the pity.

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