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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Racial Profiling at the Olympics

"South Korean women have more sensitive hands than any other women in the world.  They do things so well with their hands.  When Korean women cook, it's as if their hands are giving the food more flavour or taste.  Doctors talk about chopstick technology.  Our women archers have excellent feeling with their fingers.  They know whether they shot well or not immediately after the arrow leaves their fingers."  Baek Woong-gi, South Korean national team archery coach
Give credit where it's due. And South Korean women have proven themselves to be gold-medal champions.  Since women's archery was introduced at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korean female archers have traipsed lightly all over the competition.   They have now won their seventh consecutive women's team gold medal.

In fact, they have the rare distinction of representing the only country in the world that has competed in the Olympics to come away with the gold.  They have taken possession of 13 of the 14 team and individual archery gold medals contested since 1984.  There is obviously something unique and quite wonderful about this.

Might the ancient world's famed Amazons really have emanated from South Korea, and not from Turkey?  Perhaps not; no one ever wrote of South Korean women living exclusive from men, retaining some men as slaves to aid in reproduction, retaining only female babies on birth, and removing a breast to enable them to draw a bow with more ease.
South Korea's Ki Bo-bae fires an arrow in the women's archery team quarterfinals at the Lords Cricket Ground during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 29, 2012. REUTERS-Suhaib Salem

There must be a reason for such uniquely developed skills, hands and fingers that unerringly match the eye's trajectory for accurate bowmanship.  And it might be held in the fact that unlike other Asian countries, Korean chopsticks are constructed of slender, slippery steel, requiring care and skill to manipulate them successfully.

South Koreans are proud of this distinction their women bring them at the world's elite athletic competition meet.  "I think it is in our blood to be good at shooting arrows.  I don't know, it just feels that to be a Korean is to be a good archer", explained Lee Sung-jin, one of the women's champion team members.

One of her teammates is not quite as sanguine: "It's easier to win an Olympic gold medal than to get on the Korean national archery team, I really feel that", protested Ki Bo-bae, ahead of the Games.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Working Within The System

Sometimes - all too often - the best-laid plans of men transitioning to women do not proceed as anticipated.  Michael Hamelin who has been a man for 49 years and is now a woman thanks to medical science and an unappeasable inner urge that left him questioning his masculinity despite two marriages and fatherhood and a twenty-year career in the military, has now attained his dream.
Michelle Hamelin leaving her job at Kingston Penitentiary on Day 2 of being a woman in July 2012.
 Michelle Hamelin leaving her job at Kingston Penitentiary on Day 2 of being a woman in July 2012.   Photograph by: Lindy Mechefske

He has been transformed.  He is no longer Michael, but rather Michelle Hamelin.  "I came out of the closet and went straight into the basement", she says in disappointment over how things have worked out for her at the present time.  Working for the past two years at Kingston Penitentiary as a supply officer, a post that brings her into direct contact with a small group of inmates, she anticipated no problems with her change in gender status.

She had notified her workplace superiors of the monumental physical changes that were taking place in her body to match the alteration in her psychology, and felt that she had their support.  She had informed a wide circle of people to forewarn them of her altered presence.  And she felt that she would simply turn up at work one day clad as a woman, among inmates and workers who had been familiar with her over the years as a man.

The local Ottawa newspaper, The Ottawa Citizen did a story about this coming out affair in mid-month July.  Stating, among other things, that her plan was to show up for work a week after her story was made public, and she would then appear as a woman, fulfilling her heart's desire.  "They advised me to continue coming to work dressed as Michael until my legal name change because official", Michelle explained.

She felt shattered, disappointed, let down. The directive given her made her miserable, altered her self-confidence as she fought with herself over what her response should be.  In the end she made the decision to comply with the request, and to wait a little longer. 
"I felt sick about continuing the charade of being a male even though I had announced my transition publicly.  It was as though I had to go underground again.  My legal name change is not the thing that defines my gender.  It's just a legal formality.  I felt I couldn't take risks, so that I had no choice but to comply, and continue trying to work within the system."

Her first day back it swiftly became clear that everyone was aware of her transition.  "All eyes were on me.  It is almost like people are afraid of me, not sure what to think."  People who had routinely greeted her in a friendly manner suddenly did not.  One staff member said: "when you expose what you do in your bedroom, you can expect some negative consequences, Mike".

"The important thing for me is to educate people.  This is not about what I do in my bedroom.  That's private. This is about the fact that my known gender did not match my physical gender."  And then prison management acceded, and invited her to begin arriving to work as a woman, without the official legal name change.

"That night as I left the prison, I felt like a dead man walking.  It was the last time Michael Hamelin would exist."  That much at least affects Michael/Michelle.  Who finds it somewhat difficult to understand his/her parents' reaction.  It was difficult for them to come to terms with this complete alteration in their son's persona, from male to female.

On Michael/Michelle's mother's birthday a call was placed by a dutiful son to tell his mother that her new daughter wished her a happy birthday.  And this is when her mother said she would never be able to call what she took to be her son of 49 years, Michelle.  "It's fine mom, I understand", Hamelin responded.  But does this son understand the bewilderment and fear of a mother who witnesses such a profound alteration in the most fundamental attribute of a child?

"Despite everything, she's my mom, and I'm still her child", sighed the new woman residing in the psyche and body of the man whom the mother had given birth to.  And that closing statement is certainly correct.  And Michelle Hamelin who is eager to be accepted as she now is, and wants to have a normal relationship with people should know enough that people need time to make adjustments in their apprehensions.

When Michelle Hamelin herself felt affected by her having left the status and personhood of a male, so too do others knowing her as a man feel awkward and uncomfortable about this transition, and just as she needs time to come to terms with this new reality, so too do they.  Offer patience and respect and it will be returned in kind.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Saving Jewish Lives

"If you're good at a sport, they attach the medals to your shirts and then they shine in some museum.  That which is earned by doing good deeds is attached to the soul and shines elsewhere."  Italy's Gino Bartali, champion cyclist, 1914 - 2000
Italian cycling champion Gino Bartali appeared on the cover of Argentina’s El Gráfico magazine shortly after he won the 1938 Tour de France.
Italian cycling champion Gino Bartali appeared on the cover of Argentina’s El Gráfico magazine shortly after he won the 1938 Tour de France.  Photograph by: El Gráfico magazine, Argentina, Random House
Despite Mussolini's fascist laws during the Second World War, and his accord with Nazi Germany, Italians in general were not fascist by nature, nor were they given to celebrating and pursuing anti-Semitism in comparison with the European populations in countries like Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, France and others.

Two writers, brother and sister Aili and Andres McConnon have written a book documenting and detailing what they were able to unearth about the activities of a celebrated Italian cyclist, a young man who won both the 1938 and the 1948 Tour de France.  Their book, Road to Valour: A True Story of Second World War Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist who Inspired a Nation, has just been published.

Gino Barteli never himself wanted to shine a spotlight on his activities.  His was the spirit of true courageous altruism.  He did what he possibly could manage to in support of Italian Jews escaping the wide net set out to snare them to slavery, death camps and the grave.  He used his sport and his acclaim to good purpose, but told no one of what he did, not even his wife.

He used the excuse of long training sessions, cycling over the countryside in preparation for various competitive events, as a reason for his absences.  And he used the frame of his bicycle to store counterfeit documents of falsified identities to smuggle them to those who would use them to save the lives of countless Jews.

He devised a strategy to use his fame to divert attention from Jews trying to escape their fate by train, arriving at a transfer station just as trains pulled in on Italy's north-south rail lines.  Soldiers recognizing him, asking for autographs distracted them from seeking out the presence of Jews on the train.

He owned a 'spare' apartment close to his own home just outside Florence, where he hid a family of four Jews, parents and two young children.  When he could no longer keep them safe from detection there, he arranged for them to be moved to an underground cellar of a nearby house, where they waited for deliverance from the Nazi nightmare.

And he worked with Rufino Niccacci, a Franciscan monk living in Assisi operating a counterfeit centre where Luigi Brizi printed authentic-looking IDs, and who was inspired to continue when he realized that the famous Gino Bartali was acting as part of their conspiracy to save the lives of Jews destined to death. 

The archbishop of Florence was responsible for co-ordinating the resistance effort.

Gino Bartali was a hero of the times he lived in.  He never wanted to be seen as nor acknowledged as a hero.  "I don't want to appear to be a hero", he once informed his son.  He did what he felt he had to do.  To be able to live with himself.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Life - and - Death

"When people are well they tend to choose death over disability.  But when people get sicker, they adapt to disability and they still find quality in life, and they have trouble then saying, 'No, I'm not prepared to die'."  Dr. Romayne Gallagher, palliative care expert

None of us, actually, is prepared to die.  We trust in what we know so well.  We know life.  We have no idea what lies beyond life.  It is death, of course, the animate become inanimate.  Decay.  The corporeal essence becoming the dust of which it was created. And, of course, the illusion that the soul, the human mind, struggles on without the body encasing it.  Ascending to heaven.  Where the Heavenly Father gathers His flock.

Or, of course, not.  Or, in the case of nothing, nothing.  Bleak, black, vast, nothing.  A chasm of non-existence.  Unfathomable to the human mind.  It is rejected.  It is the realm of which we know nothing at all.  But of which we hazard many a suspicion.  Knowing nothing, we seek to forestall the inevitability of death, striving to forget it is inevitable.

Longevity is desired.  Life without end.  The purpose of life then becomes to endure.  Quality of life which we strive to achieve throughout the years of our lives becomes a quality that loses its own endurance, but not its appeal.  Quality of life most certainly is not demonstrated when the body has succumbed to the years that have worn out its practical existence.

When we are hospitalized through the emergency of no longer being capable of performing normal bodily functions.  When we are connected to an artificial ventilator, unable to swallow, to talk or breathe on our own.  Tube-fed then.  Resuscitated if the heart stops.  Existing in a medicated, sedated state.  The body, frail and insubstantial, manually turned in the hospital bed for relief, and fed for sustenance.

If consciousness prevails then so too does pain and suffering and acute depression.  Anxiety and guilt about our loved family members.  The knowledge that how we are suffering, the extent to which we are being manipulated and forced to endure the unendurable in the name of 'extending life' has become an intolerable torment for our families.

Who, later, when that body has been laid to rest, will recall the horror of those end days, and not the miracle of life enjoyed when everyone was in good health and loving one another, appreciating each other's presence, despite the exigencies of life and relations that sometimes become strained.

Patients suffering from severe health decline whether due to agedness or recurrent bouts of implacable disease or chronic ill health, are suddenly faced with the intolerable thought of what next?  Confused and upset they are in no state to be questioned by the attending medical professionals.  Asked what their preferences are under those circumstances they are incapable of responding.

Willing to leave such decisions in the hands of the medical professionals whom they trust.  And those medical practitioners, embracing the 'do no harm' principle that guides their profession, look to the solutions that have been established through the mediums of advances in medical science and the huge leaps in medical technology - all of them geared to prolonging life.

The code that nature has written into the destiny blueprint of all living things, from gigantic powerful suns revolving in the galaxies of the firmament, to the merest minuscule amoeba, is the will to survive and to continue existing.  Until choice is removed and other forces make the decision that define their ends.  Fighting death, battling the natural evolution of life, the primeval drama of defeating death when the final chapter is part of life.

Heroic means are taken to maintain life.  Cardiopulmonary resuscitation at end-of-life scenarios is not benign, but violent.  It can lead to broken ribs, punctured lungs and a resulting high rate of stroke and serious brain injuries, with slim survival odds.  "The chance of being resuscitated when you're terminally ill with cancer is like one in 100,000.  The chance of making it out of hospital is zero", says Dr. Larry Librach, director of the Joint Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto.

"We're going to have to come to terms with the notion that death is inevitable.  Clearly, for all of us, there is ultimately going to be something that can't be cured", says Dr. Robert Fowler, associate professor in the departments of medicine and critical care medicine at the University of Toronto, critical care doctor at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

These health professionals have experience, and expert knowledge in their profession.  They know that they, just as all the others that they see and they examine and they treat, are vulnerable to the very same unavoidable end-of-life scenarios, and that they will have to deal with them on their own behalf, just as surely as they do for their patients.

And then there are those health professionals whose concerns are the amelioration of pain and suffering, the guidance toward acceptance, and even forestalling the inevitable to eke out a few more months of life.  Like Dr. Romayne Gallagher who still sees value in holding out hope, because nothing is instant and inevitably immediate; there are reversals that obtain time for those willing to hold out a little and continue savouring life.

"From the physician's point of view, if you're advocating a treatment plan and then start talking about death and dying, a lot of physicians have felt in the past that they may actually be depressing the patient, or influencing them, or making them upset needlessly - because it's not a topic that can be discussed when people are unwell without a considerable amount of emotion", explains CMA president Dr. John Haggie.

People are obliged to themselves and to their families to discuss these uncomfortable and emotion-draining topics. With all the uncertainties involved. When they are well.  When they can be rational and not pressed for time, or in pain and feeling desperate for a solution.  To give instructions to be followed under certain circumstances.  Whether to commence, continue or withhold extraordinary life-prolonging treatments.

It takes the wisdom of Solomon to be able to judge oneself and one's tolerance: life or death is not the issue; it is life and death that is.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Testing Faith

"Some people - although I told them not to go in the water, don't touch the water, don't drink the water, don't bring it home, some people, they walk in faith.  Just like we use water for baptism - it's dangerous, you can drown.  Yet it's a symbol of new life."  Father Garry LaBoucane

For over a century, each July the province's Catholic faithful make the pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne in Alberta in the name of spiritual renewal and in search of its healing properties.  The body of water named by Reverend Jean-Baptiste Thibault - the original Catholic priest to initiate a mission on the site in the 1840s - continues to attract the faithful.

The lakeside is considered sacred ground, and now represents the site of the largest annual Catholic gathering in Western Canada.  It is considered by the thousands who make the pilgrimage that the waters of Lac Ste. Anne represent holy, healing powers.  An estimated 45,000 of the faithful arrived at the Edmonton-area lakeside only to be informed by the province's public health officials not to drink the water.

Not to wade in it, or to touch it, much less drink it.  A blue-green algae found to be hovering on the surface of the lake has been identified as toxic, capable of causing symptoms ranging from skin irritation to vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.  It has been held responsible for killing dogs that have imbibed it.

As a result, the point and purpose of the Blessing of the Lake had to be constrained, to the annoyance of Fr. LaBoucane who felt that an alert should have gone out much earlier to inform the pilgrims before thousands of Catholics headed out to the lake. 

"It's a very serious concern, and [Alberta Health Services] did not contact us", said Fr. LaBoucane whose informational source was the news media.

When he was informed about the health advisory promulgated by Alberta Health Services, Fr. LaBoucane used a loudspeaker to advise people to avoid the water, and to remove themselves from the lake; to get out of the water and to remain out of it. 

Not everyone responded.  Traditions die hard.  The annual event saw some alteration, when filtered tap water was used for the blessing.

No illnesses were reported.  And just as happens every other year, there were canes and braces left beyond on the beach by pilgrims who had arrived at the lake to experience its healing properties. 

Faith and belief obviously are capable of producing unbelievable miracles.

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The Good Neighbours Food Bank

"This is terrible.  There are tons of people like me who rely on food banks these days.  If these people were in need, all they needed to do is call and sign up, just like everyone else."
 It's a good and fitting name for a food bank in a small community:  The Good Neighbours Food Bank, in Embrun, Russell County, just outside Ottawa.  Because of the generosity of the community in its mindfulness of the people who live among them as their neighbours, the shelves of this community food bank are usually stocked right up to enable them to offer groceries to those in need.

And it was amply stocked, the shelves, the coolers and the freezers, when someone decided to drive a vehicle toward and into one of its entrance doors.  Gaining access when you have brute strength like a heavy mechanical battering-ram is no problem.  These thugs who emptied the food bank of its available food weren't being polite about their wish to access the food.

Amazingly enough, just a stone's throw from the building that contains the food bank is a local detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police.  Nothing seemed to alert anyone there to the inconvenience of a break-in.  Which was thought to have occurred sometime between 10:00 p.m. Monday and 8:45 a.m. the following morning.

That's when food bank president Lisette Thibault discovered the theft, amounting to about $2,000 in the value of the absconded food, and another $2,000 in damage to the building.  "These people weren't just stealing from the food bank.  They were stealing from the community."  Precisely, but a somewhat redundant statement under the circumstances; a fact of which the thieves were well aware.

And these were thieves with a very particular agenda; they certainly seemed to know what they wanted and left what didn't appeal to them.  A shelf of peanut butter got a thumbs-up, and 60 packages of processed cheese, the bank's stock of tuna and salmon tins, along with packages of bacon and hot dogs, an entire freezer-full.

The thieves, whoever they were, also took the food bank's step ladder, vacuum cleaner, a number of extension cords and a drawer-full of pencils.  The interior of the food bank was left in shambles.  Baby food and cereal boxes had been opened and deliberately trashed, spilled over the floor.  Packages of ground meat were hauled out of a freezer and just left to spoil.

Leaving a very sour taste in the minds of a good community.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Food Scarcity

The changing weather patterns that have been so different than what we have become familiar with in the past since environmental records have been kept will continue their trajectory, making the world a warmer, drier place than we've known.  There will be some areas of the world for which this will not be a negative occurrence, but far many more areas of the world where it will spell catastrophe, with projected rising sea levels, continual drought conditions, and agricultural failure.

Still, according to figures released by the United Nations in 2007, if all the food produced on Earth were taken and equally divided among the entire population of human beings there would be a more than ample diet for everyone on a daily basis; about 2,795 calories.  The sticking point is that those who suffer hunger are usually those for whom distribution of food is a problem, and will likely remain a problem.

Food scarcity has much to do with availability opportunities.  The cost of basic food production and products will increase.  Those living marginal existences will continue to find their existence hampered by a lack of adequate nutrition.  Those living in third-world conditions have seen an improvement in their lives; there are fewer people living in the world today in starvation conditions than has been the case traditionally.

But weather conditions and crop failures resulting from them result in large areas of the world, like the African Sahel, suffering a severe shortage of food, causing people to migrate in desperation, looking for food elsewhere.  In the process creating large displaced persons camps living in misery and privation, with humanitarian organizations working alongside nations' administrations to feed the desperate.

Angry, restive populations facing higher food prices and lacking the wherewithal to pay more for their basic sustenance is what really caused the social phenomenon of the Arab Spring, when people rose up in protest.  The label the outside world gave to the protests was that of a cry for social democracy, but it was really an appeal for more food availability at an affordable cost.

The summer of 2012 sees one of the worst droughts in 50 years ruining corn yields across North America, with prices rising to all-time highs.  Wheat and soy have followed.  And India too is looking at the potential of a catastrophic rice harvest if the anticipated monsoons don't eventuate.  Because of the higher cost of grains, consumers are being warned to expect a rise in the price of dairy products, and of meats.

Despite the dreadful growing conditions in the corn belt of the United States, this year's corn crop in the U.S. will represent the third- or fourth-largest in history.  But the problem is that the world has no strategic grain reserves.  We have consumed what we have grown, relying on the market forces to determine how much carry-over stock remains at the end of the growing year.  Little-to-None.

Which doesn't respond to the need to have grain reserves as a national and international assurance of food security.  Grain stores have dwindled, and food stocks set aside for the proverbial rainy day simply no longer exists.  Most corn merchants sold down inventories when prices were high last year, for example.  The commodities markets are sensitive to sell-off in anticipation of glut or plenty.

Science in agricultural processes and new technologies have made us more proficient than ever in growing food and reaping large harvests when conditions are ideal.  But when conditions are less than ideal, the harvests decline.  Corn in particular has a narrow seasonal window for pollination to take place during which time copious amounts of water are required.  If that water is absent, the corn will not set ears.

This planet is only as resilient with respect to food availability as our weather conditions will allow us to be.  And though human beings control technology and innovation in new growing methodology, we can have no impact whatever on weather conditions.  Other than possibly to exacerbate them by our incessant burning of fossil fuels.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Spooked And Spiking

Gun shop owners are reporting a sharp hike in the sales of weapons and ammunition.  Americans are horrified at the latest atrocity committed by a young mentally unhinged man who is the subject of the latest mass-murder atrocity committed in a public place.  A handful of other young men are now dead because James Holmes decided to adopt a Joker persona straight out of the Batman comic books and to commit to a deadly spray of live bullets at a live audience, killing a dozen children, men and women.

He wounded almost sixty people.  And there has been a spate, since then, of copy-cat incidents, people making threatening statements, people citing his name, in intimidating circumstances, that kind of thing.  And an accelerated rate of weapons and ammunition sales.  Because of the ongoing and refreshed controversy among politicians, talk-show hosts, news reporters and people in general, about the usefulness - or not - of enacting gun restrictions.

People who have a love affair in the United States with the Second Amendment guaranteeing their right as Americans to bear arms, fear that there will be restrictions imposed upon that right.  They rush to beef up their stock of handguns, rifles, ammunition, whatever they fear may become a lot harder to obtain, and more expensive.  This represents both a cultural affliction and a cultural conflict.

Someone has initiated a fund for the Colorado shooting victims.  Early in the fundraising activities almost two million has been raised.  Warner Bros. movie studio has added their contribution of woeful remorse.  The Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, announced that contributions can be made to on behalf of those afflicted.  "The needs will be great and we look forward to seeing the fund grow exponentially." 

This horrible event has brought forward a spate of articles about altruism, about heroism, about people caring about people, even in the most dreadfully trying of circumstances, which is what the massacre at that Colorado theatre represents.  One young woman saving the life of her best friend by applying pressure to a life-threatening wound.  Young men heroically protecting their girlfriends with their bodies and dying in the process.

And it has now been revealed that James Holmes failed his oral test for his doctorate in neuroscience.  Which would not have eliminated him for success, but that immediately afterward he purchased one of his rifles.  He also, it has been reported by Fox news, forwarded by mail a package containing a binder to his psychiatrist, a professor of psychiatry at University of Colorado, containing his fantasies and crude cartoons of someone firing at other stick figures.

The entire story behind the story is slowly being unravelled.  It may tell the story, ultimately, of a mind being unravelled.  Resulting in a mass atrocity that has shocked the United States and the world at large through the commission of a dreadful episode in the annals of people's minds becoming clinically distorted resulting in mass deaths and destruction.

James Holmes appeared somewhat disoriented during his first court appearance
Photo composite by RJ Sangosti-Pool/Getty Images.

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Repeat After Me

Dear neighbourly Americans.  A word of advice:  When travelling to Canada as a visitor however briefly; as a tourist, to look for employment or for any other reasons, do not bring firearms into the country.  Americans coming into Canada across our friendly border, bring with them firearms, often enough restricted ones and often too, fully loaded restricted firearms. 

The Canada Border Services Agency in Coutts, Alberta made a sizeable seizure of a cache of firearms and weapons, found in the pickup truck of a 54-year-old Florida man.  The cache included 75 firearms, including 48 handguns.  Four of the handguns were loaded.  There was in addition one blowgun, one pistol crossbow, and twelve high-capacity magazines.

In all likelihood, though the Border Services Agency doesn't say, these weapons were meant for a quick and lucrative sale in Canada.  A gift from the United States of America.  Forbidden, but valued by thugs of the Canadian variety. 

Most Americans who bring in prohibited weapons simply claim to have no knowledge that they are forbidden entry to Canada.  Many 'forget' that they're carrying such weapons in their vehicles.

Border agencies across the country have taken possession of 317 prohibited, non-restricted and restricted firearms this year so far, an increase over previous years.  Of course there's no way of knowing how many come in undetected.

 "It's not unusual that people cross the border and don't have a current awareness that there's a weapon in their car", claims a lawyer practising criminal law in Vancouver.  "The people I've [represented] are very decent people - no criminal record, leaders of their community, quite often, having been cited by their municipalities, let alone their states, for citizenship."  

Another lawyer, practising in Windsor Ontario, cites "cultural differences" leading to these gun ownership cases travelling into Canada.  "For him to have a gun in his car was no different from a Canadian having a map in his glovebox.  He was coming over to Windsor and he wanted to, believe it or not, get some take-out food.  Sadly, [he was] ignorant of the law which doesn't afford a legal excuse.  That fellow spent three or four weeks in jail."

Then there was another story, of a pack of southern ministers coming through Windsor to attend a convention.  "A lot of them were armed because they always are."  There are three defences, claimed one lawyer: "One is 'I did not know it was there'.  Second is 'I forgot'.  Third, which is not really a defence, is 'I'm sorry'."  

"If you admit to having a gun, usually they'll seize it and make you turn back.  But once a person crosses the border with a gun, they are not licensed and neither is their gun, giving officials grounds to arrest them.  If you're going to deny it's there and they have to put you through inspection to find it, you're going to be charged.  They could come down much harder than they are."
Is it all that hard for Americans to read?  There is signage indicating that Canada does not allow guns over the border.  Repeat after me: "I'm going to Canada, and in Canada I'm not allowed to carry a gun."

Canada has its rules and its regulations.  The United States does, too.  When travellers from Canada cross the border American Border Agents want to know if there are any citrus fruits being carried into the States by Canadians. 

Say no, and they find a tangerine in a packed lunch and they get really, really ugly.  Your tangerine will be confiscated, tossed into the trash, and you will be informed if you don't like it, they could always fine you several hundred dollars instead.

Take your pick: Canada guns; America oranges.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Wrong Way

Wildfires are cropping up all over the Europe, as a result of hot weather conditions and accompanying drought. 

A dreadful story has ensued of five members of a French family vacationing in Spain.  On Sunday night in Portbou, a Spanish town five kilometres from the French border, wildfires had forced the closing of the main highway linking Spain to France.  And traffic was diverted to a smaller road, via the town of Portbou.

The French family of five was returning from their holiday in Spain back to their home in France.  On that small road busy with other travellers who were re-routed from the main highway where the wildfires were raging, someone tossed a cigarette out a car window.  A fire began, swiftly spreading to parched woods along the road.

Officials were unable to shut the thoroughfare, and soon about 150 people abandoned their vehicles as the road was surrounded by wildfires quickly engulfing the area.  They ran from their road and their vehicles down into the rocky terrain toward a beach below.  The family of five, however, took a different route, separating from the rest of the people desperate to escape the fires.

They found themselves at the edge of a cliff, and the fire was closing in on them.  The mother first attempted to make her way down the crumbling cliff face, lost her grip and fell.  She is now in critical condition with a back injury, in hospital.  The four other members of her family had to make a decision how to proceed.

Their options were two: face the fire, or jump into the water below.  One daughter jumped; a witness said "they threw themselves off, others said they fell.  The only thing they could do was go to the water."  The father died instantly as he hit submerged rocks.  The 15-year-old daughter drowned.  A son and another daughter were rescued from the water without life-threatening injuries.

Fires in northeastern Spain have burned 90 square kilometres.  One man suffered a heart attack dousing flames around his home.  Another man died of burns.  Two other French people died as well in northeastern Spain.  Most of the tourists that arrived on the beach in Portbou suffered injuries from broken bones and burns to smoke inhalation.

Their dash down the hillsides saved their lives, but there were no well-used paths to guide them.  "The only way out was to flee and head down toward the sea", said Portbou deputy mayor Elisabet Cortaba.  "It was just bad luck that (the French family of five) went down the wrong way."

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Monday, July 23, 2012

 Just One Minute

There, almost time for the greatest show on Earth to commence.  London is prepared.  Or not.  Security is not assured.  Despite which the show will go on, must go on.  Thoughts should not linger overmuch on the potential of leaving themselves open for some kind of atrocious attack simply because they choose, all those prospective visitors to London for the Summer Olympics 2012, to be present, and not victims of some grisly plot.

London is rife with the presence of the country's military, called in to do their duty in the unfortunate absence of an expensive, but failed security apparatus.  The world's elite athletes are present and accounted for.  They are set to do their utmost on behalf of their country's pride in the athletic abilities of their young, talented athletes, reflecting glory in the achievement of their athletic prowess.

The Olympic Games is a venue for coming together and celebrating the precise and the perfect, the selection of outstanding, world-class athletes for recognition in gold, silver and bronze - and the playing of national anthems, and wrapping oneself in flags.  Nightmare scenarios of terrorists importing their hatred and bile into an atmosphere of general excitement and applause merely represent the caution of fear and suspicion.

Of course the slaughter that occurred during the 1972 Munich Olympics was an unfortunate aberration.
The conflict between countries, religions, ideologies and territorial imperatives that precipitated that dreadful act of infamy is still resonant, to be sure, but the world is prepared, Britain is prepared to counter any such possible plans to repeat such an atrocity.  Never fear.  We hope.

Jewish community in Munich protesting
Jewish community in Munich protesting after the murders of the Israeli athletes, demanding the Games be halted, 1972. Photo by AP

The International Olympic Committee remained adamant.  It could not see its way clear to responding to the appeal of 100,000 signatures requesting an official 'minute of silence' in honour of the eleven Israeli athletes who were murdered by members of Palestinian Black September.  It just wasn't the right thing to do, they declared.  Some heads of state thought otherwise.  Many sports groups did, as well.

All the appeals from various sources for the IOC to remember the event with an official minute of silence was to no avail.  The 40 years that have passed saw the wives of the dead athletes approaching the IOC every four years to have them reconsider their refusal to observe a minute of silence.  It never seemed like too much to ask.  But it might prove embarrassing for example, to the Palestinian athletes present.

It's doubtful that any Arab country ever recommended that a minute of silence be observed in a display of neutral humanity.  In any event, although everyone had given up hope that anything would make a difference in changing their mind, the IOC did in fact, do a turnabout.  There was a minute of silence observed after all, following the comments of Jacques Rogge:
"I would like to start today's ceremony by honouring the memory of 11 Israeli Olympians who shared the ideals and have brought us together in this beautiful Olympic Village.  The 11 victims of the Munich tragedy believed in that vision.  They came to Munich in the spirit of peace and solidarity.  We owe it to them to keep that spirit alive and to remember them."

Well said, and gratefully accepted.  And we hope there will never be another occasion to mourn the death of fine young athletes wherever they emerge from, whichever country they represent.  Even though, as Mr. Rogge added, sport could unite, but not solve the problems of the world.

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 Not Communicating

Held without bail, in solitary confinement.  He made his first court appearance, briefly.  He is not communicating, making no effort to explain himself.  His eyes blank with disinterest or perhaps disbelief.  As someone fascinated with the human mind, the interior landscape of a consciousness that could experience events subliminally without having ever experienced them in reality, perhaps he feels some dimension of experience has erroneously occurred, swallowing him into its great maw.

He is clearly not responsible for what he has been accused of.  His mind aborted its clarity, its reason, its capability for intelligent cogency.  His exploration into that inner sanctum of existence separate and apart from reality appears to have shaken him loose from the here and now.  He entered a comic book world of irrelevant violence where human beings are mowed down in a frenzy of atrocities, but they were, after all, just drawn from someone's imagination.

His imagination followed a similar trajectory and he must have felt, with all his study, his knowledge of the neural pathways of thinking and understanding of the mind, of the hidden passageways to memory and experience and invention and story-telling, he could do better.  That social awkwardness would leave him, he would be acknowledged a master of invention, of creative intervention, of masquerading as a master manipulator of violence.

He had the free will to make a selection.  Between good and evil.  Evil, however, had an excitement that good lacked.  He chose the malignant character that belittled the champion of humanity.  His careful, meticulous preparedness for the launching of his comic character made real would have far more resonance than an appearance on film.  He was there, right there, in full living colour, fully armed, fully prepared, fully alert and prepared to act.

All his rehearsals, down to the very last detail, made for perfection of execution.  It is all meaningless, in any event; people dying, shrieking, bleeding, convulsing, fleeing, terror-stricken.  He had the power and he used it, brilliantly.  This was no mere act.  This was real.  In his head, it was real.  What is puzzling is that he is alone, in a jail cell.  And he is universally despised.

The joke's on them.
James Holmes did not answer the judge when asked a question

It was an experiment, a highly successful experiment.  In altered states of mind.  He proved something.  Not for him to explain the obvious.  They're so smart, they can do their investigation, reach their own conclusions.  Dead: 12.  Injured 59.  That's quite the score.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Food Chain

In Ontario, consumers are enjoying fresh Niagara-grown peaches.  There's nothing quite like them for freshness and wonderful taste.  Like people everywhere in the world when seasonal crops come in they're looked forward to and hugely relished.  There are some commodities that consumers can obviously do without.  Food is not among them.

It was our impression that because Ontario had some unusual early spring weather conditions; a spate of days that were unseasonably hot causing blossoms to suddenly show on the trees earlier than usual, followed hard on a sudden cooling and frosty nights, we would see soft-fruit crops suffer.  Happily,that seems not to have occurred.

But we're halfway through the dog days of summer now, and extreme heat conditions have set in, and with those very hot days in Ontario has come a drier-than-normal summer.  Following hard on the heels of a deficiency of snow through the winter months and consequently not much of a spring melt.  Added to that, subsequent infrequent rainy days.

As concerned as we are about the continuous 30-degree Celsius days following hard on one another and the continuing lack of substantial rainfall, and what that means for area agriculture, the situation is much, much worse throughout a huge swathe of the United States.

Meteorologists have announced an atmospheric high-pressure ridge has mounted over the heart of U.S. corn and soybean producing states, preventing moisture from moving into the crop belt, as would be normal for this time of year - most years, other than 2012.  You have to go back over 60 years of weather-and-crop conditions to find anything remotely like it.

The buildup of unrelenting heat has caused record highs, that simply continue to exacerbate already-wrought conditions due to drought.  Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, among other crop-growing states have been hard-hit.  This is considered to be the most expansive drought in over a half-century.

It is not only frying vulnerable seasonal crops like corn and soybeans, but it is also drying up waterways.  "It will be dry and very hot in the area with temperatures in the 100s (degrees Fahrenheit) in St.Louis Sunday through Thursday, reaching 106F on Wednesday", warned a meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather.

There is little-to-no relief in sight.  Rain, if it does come, is at this point too late to help much of the affected crop areas.  They are beyond resuscitation.  And with a shortage of primary crops, bushels of the affected crops on the market are at a higher wholesale level than they've ever been.  Which not only raises their price at the roadside stall, but at the supermarket.

It will cost far more to produce all the food products that corn goes into, and that's a whole whack of commercial foods that people normally stock their pantries with.  And because of drying waterways with rivers and canals and lakes at lower-than-normal levels, shipping is more expensive.  Because of the changed draught levels, ships are warned to carry less cargo.

Consumers will see the price of dairy products increased because it will cost more to feed cows.  Because it will cost more to feed cattle the price of meat will also increase, and poultry as well, since they also consume grains.  And since the U.S. will have to depend on imports that cost will also impact the consumer.

The U.S. government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued a forecast indicating no relief for the drought for at least the rest of this summer.  Canada's national weather forecaster, Environment Canada also has forecasted for continuing hot, dry weather for the remainder of the summer.

Canadian farmers in Ontario are not happy, but they're in better shape than farmers in the U.S. where 55% of the contiguous U.S. was held to be under moderate to extreme drought, representing the largest land area in the U.S. to be affected by a drought since 1956.

Basic food shortages will be augmented by importation of food from other international sources.  Anticipated sales of crops that usually enrich the U.S. cornbelt for one, simply will not occur this year.  The Canadian West will take up that slack.  Processed foods will soon rise in price considerably on the supermarket shelf.

It's more difficult when basic foods like fresh fruits and vegetables increase, however.  In North America consumers spend very little on nutritious food compared to other areas of the world.  That will change to some degree, but not ruinously, except for the poor who will find their food budget stretched more than they might wish it to be.

It is the under-developed parts of the world, hugely dependent on subsidized basic foods that are imported into their countries that will suffer the greatest harm under this situation of sudden scarcity.  Humanitarian aid agencies will find it more difficult and certainly more costly to obtain the amounts and types of food assistance required, and their food aid budget strained.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Little Graves

There are some societies that pay especial attention to the early deaths of children.  Including babies still in utero, aborted naturally or by mechanical means.  In Japanese temples countless tiny graves can be seen decorated with offerings, memories of when some of those babies were still with their loving parents before death took them for whatever reason.  Stuffed animals, rattles, articles of clothing, flowers in memory of what once was and no longer existed.

Alongside those graves are little images of a baby-protecting Buddha, named Jesu.  That heart-breaking little statuette appeared everywhere on temple grounds representing the love and protection of babies, born and unborn.  It seems that in Canada the Ojibway culture expresses its reverence for unborn life as well with tiny graves. 

And in Northern Ontario, at the Fort Hope aboriginal community it has been noted that the prevalence of those tiny graves is growing.
"It is our belief that right from inception a fetus is a human being, so they do a proper burial.  There seems to be more graves, these little plots.  There is an increase....  That does say something."  Liz Atlookan, healthcare manager, Fort Hope

And it is related, those little graves expanding on the landscape, to an epidemic of prescription painkiller addictions.  Pregnant women become reliant on the use of Oxycodone or other narcotics with similar properties.  Mothers who lose their pregnancies through the effect of narcotic use.  When the illicit supply of those drugs dry up or the pregnant women decids to stop taking drugs concerned for their child's future, sometimes that precipitates death of the fetus through miscarriage.

There are many reasons for women, however, belatedly, hoping to avoid complications for their newborn.  Far better that they not become addicted to drugs to begin with.  Or, having become addicted, making the decision to cease using drugs before they become pregnant, not during pregnancy.  When babies are born to addicted mothers those babies are often born with withdrawal symptoms.  They suffer from vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty feeding and more extreme symptoms.

The Fort Hope and other reserves in the Nishwawbe Aski Nation region close to Thunder Bay recognize a 25% to 75% surge of women with opioid dependency problems.  "It's the impact on two lives. Women who are struggling with addiction also struggle to parent....  

"These are the people we are looking to build our society.  If nothing else, out of self-interest I would have thought there would be more urge to help these women, help these families", says Dr. Claudette Chase who professionally serves these First Nations communities.  It is suspected by experts that narcotic withdrawal stunts the blood supply to the placenta, resulting in fetus fatalities.

Canadians are known to be the world's second-largest consumers of opioid painkillers per capita.  Addictions to drugs and often fatal overdoses have grown in incidence over the past number of years.  There are more deaths caused by drug addiction in the Province of Ontario than deaths accounted for by drowning.

Many aboriginal communities have been particularly impacted.  The Nishnawbe Aski Nation estimates as many as half of its 45,000 residents are addicted to Oxycodone.  Most women were given prescriptions for Percocet or OxyContin after minor accidents or injuries, and from there developed their dependencies. 

May of those women were previously involved with substance abuse, suffering also from domestic violence or mental-health problems.  Methadone replacement treatment to get women off more dangerous narcotics seems to work within the 58 government funded addiction treatment centres in First Nations communities across the country.

And those little graves keep appearing.  How much can any society accomplish without the active and determined participation in good faith of the people who are themselves involved?  What will it take to make those involved become responsible and self-involved?

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Priceless Relics

Well, there is one born every minute. 

Likely a host of those who would venture to pay handsomely for something truly unique; a discard by a celebrity or by some member of royalty.  Something so mundane, so irrelevant, so impossibly slight it is hardly worth a second thought, yet because there is presumed to be some connection, however transitory, with a celebrated figure, it assumes great potential.

And so it was that British auctioneers Hansons, undertook to put on the bidding heap a scrap of toast purportedly left over from Prince Charles' wedding day breakfast.  Over thirty years old, that bit of toasted bread would be dry and brittle and rather unattractive.  But because of its presumed source, it assumes the proportion of desirability. 

Prop it up in a silver salver, under a glass dome, and a printed explanation.  Yours for the less than princely sum of $365.  Which is what it fetched at auction.  "At the time my daughter was a maid at the palace, and one of her duties was to collect Prince Charles' breakfast tray from outside his room", explained Rosemarie Smith whose daughter had worked for the royal family for 30 years.

"I was with her in the corridor and saw that Prince Charles had left some toast on the tray.  I had been thinking about a keepsake from the wedding and saw the toast and thought to myself: 'Why not?'"  And the bit of toasted bread was maintained by this connoisseur on a shelf in a cup for almost thirty years.  Until she decided to test the auction waters.

"I just wandered into the auctioneers out of curiosity and asked them if it was worth anything.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear them agree with me that it could be of quite some value to royal collectors."  Gambling, doubtless, on the gullibility factor. 

No matter, the woman claimed its provenance to be that of Prince Charles' wedding breakfast and her claim was taken on trust. After all, there is such national pride in the royal family and their service to the country. 

Who wouldn't love to have a bit of dry toast in a premier place in their home proudly displaying their loyalty and love of country? 

For a mere $365 and suspension of intelligence?

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The Bethune-Burrows China Legacies

Actually it's quite interesting that a small western, immigrant-infused country like Canada can have had such an impression on a hugely populous eastern country like China; one with its ancient social history, the other having emerged in the relatively modern era.

China is monolithic in ideology and government, controlling in a society comprised of quite a few ethnic groups, languages, religions, sternly guided in an ongoing effort to ensure that all its disparate parts meld in a harmony of subservience to the communist ideal, somewhat diluted over the past several decades with free enterprise.

Like any other living social entity, China's leaders share a human need to endure and to prosper and to preserve themselves and their purpose.  They make glaring errors, confuse the immutables of right and wrong, eventually recognize their mistakes and turn the ship of state back into calmer waters to serve themselves and the population.

The country's human rights record is nothing to be proud of.  The Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse-Tung represents a reprehensible period of unforgivable human carnage.

Whatever else China has accomplished over the years of turmoil and re-grouping, it has managed the Herculean task of bringing millions of its people out of extreme poverty.  Its thinkers and its scientists are as capable as those from any other corner of the world.  Sometimes, though, there is a need for a fresh infusion of direction and sharing proving beneficial to the ongoing human striving for improvement.

The human condition is improved when there are no boundaries between science and humanity.  And two Canadians appear to have bridged a cultural, language gap between a remote and slightly-populated advanced country and a hugely-populated, exotic-heritaged country to the advantage of both.  Canada has quietly celebrated the reputation of medical doctor Norman Bethune's history in the China of the 1930s.

This is a move to give a figure of the early 20th Century whose dedication to the healing arts made great advances in battlefield surgery and medicine, pioneering techniques that would eventually be used all over the world, while more immediately advantaging the Chinese in their struggle against Japanese imperialism.

And then there is the more mundane but infinitely vital matter of agricultural advancement, and crops whose laboratory development has aided farmers the world over to take advantage of improving on nature's bounty.  A retired plant scientist who worked for Agriculture Canada, Vern Burrows, has been recognized by the government in Jilin province, China, for his pioneering work in plant genetics.
‘It’s a great honour,’ Dr. Vern Burrows said of the statue erected of him in the nothern Chinese province of Jilin.
  ‘It’s a great honour,’ Dr. Vern Burrows said of the statue erected of him in the nothern Chinese province of Jilin.

He undertook to lecture at agricultural schools in China decades earlier, in the 1990s, and at the agricultural gene bank in Beijing. He mentored Chinese agronomists and he used his expertise to create hybrids from Chinese oat varieties and those in his laboratory.  Now there are Canadian-Chinese hybrid oats growing in China, prospering in soils heavily laden with salt.

"They've got millions of hectares of that land and nothing will grow on it.  I'd been selecting for salt tolerance without even knowing it", Mr. Burrows enthused when he finally realized he had taken California nursery oats originally watered from the salty Colorado River.  
"It's of great value to them.  These oats are pretty important to them both from the food standpoint and from a feed (for livestock) standpoint, and also maybe in land reclamation, to suck up the salt and may improve the soil."

His lasting personal legacy includes his having succeeded in growing oats to grow irrespective of how long days are; planted in the north or the south of the country, at different times of year.  "It's possibly the most nutritious cereal grain we can grow.  It's even better than what or barley or rye", the 82-year-old Burrows said.

He and his wife are pleased and honoured that China has recognized his contribution to their vital agricultural needs, in his original work that bred a hybrid that grows without the usual hard outer hull, called "naked" oats.  Varieties with a paper-thin coating rather than a thick husk, pleasing as well chickens and pigs both of which are not taken with oats with husks for feed.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012


It is a punishable offence to smuggle Kinder eggs into the United States.  Something that returning Americans, having innocently enough picked up those chocolate eggs containing tiny toys to delight children, discover when they bring them back with them.  A Seattle couple learned their lesson when they spent two hours in a detention centre crossing the Canadian border back to the United States.

Canada sells the chocolate Kinder eggs openly, a truly shocking lapse of judgement.  The reason they represent contraband goods in the United States is because of fears that young children might come to harm by swallowing the tiny toys contained within the hollow eggs.  Canada, however, judged otherwise, feeling that very small children are unable to extract the interior toys on their own; an adult would do that for them.

Still, U.S. Customs and Border Protection takes the law seriously.  They remain illegal in the United States for fear that young children might choke on them.  And that is that.  An impressive fine is attached to Kinder eggs.  The two men, having visited Vancouver, decided to load up on the neat confections, to give them as gifts on their return to Seattle, for friends and family members.

Border guards, searching their car, found the eggs and informed the pair of their illegality.  "Kinder eggs are prohibited just like narcotics are prohibited.  Our officers, if they encounter prohibited stuff, they're subject to seizure", explained Mike Milne of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  The agency claims further to have seized over 60,000 Kinder eggs from travellers' baggage and international mail shipments in 2011 alone.

"I thought [the American border guard] had done his search and hadn't found anything, and he was joking with us.  He wasn't joking", said 35-year-old Christopher Sweeney.  Banned in the United States, a border guard told them the fine that can be levied comes to $2,500.  Per egg.  And they were ordered to go to the detection centre.  But someone failed to confiscate the eggs, and on their return to their vehicle, there they were.

Ferraro brought this chocolate egg product out in 1972 in Italy, and they've been available since 1975 in Canada.  Yet denied access to the huge American market over safety concerns.  For that matter the U.S. has a prohibition on embedding non-food items within confections.  Health Canada has no such concerns of children inhaling or choking on the toys.

"Keeping the border secure is obviously important, but somebody needs to take a common sense look at this rule and probably just get rid of it", commented Mr. Sweeney, comfortable enough with handing out the unconfiscated eggs as gifts to family and friends, as originally intended.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

 A Disobedient Wife

"My daughter always said she wouldn't stop studying, and would one day become important, having to travel to work in a convoy of cars.  But now she is under a tonne of clay."
Women wearing burqa's in Afghanistan's Khost Province.
Afghan women in eastern Afghanistan lead tightly circumscribed lives. Most wear burqas, the body-concealing garment, when out of their homes. 

A young woman in Afghanistan, aspiring to make something of herself, to attend school, to study and to attain an education, and to fulfill a personal dream to make an impression of usefulness in her society, to garner respect for what she could accomplish, to live a life of promise.  But then, this is Afghanistan, and girls and women are not independent, and they cannot choose what kind of life they may live.

That choice is taken from them, when, as is traditional, their family sees fit to oblige the girls to marry someone of their parents' choice.  Someone the girls have never met.  Someone who in all likelihood has no intention of honouring them as a human being, but using them for their breeding potential, as a servant, as someone who will be in thrall to do their bidding without complaint.

For there is no one to complain to.  And it is perfectly permissible - indeed, recommended - that Afghan men beat their wives to remind them constantly who it is who controls decision making, and it is not the women.  The women of Afghanistan must be discreet and modest, and most learn early in life how that is accomplished - through the medium of a dark blue head-to-toe covering in a hot climate where the burqa stifles and makes movement awkward and uncomfortable.

The mother mourning the death of her daughter Tamana calls out: "My daughter!  Why did they kill you so brutally?" while screaming her pained anguish in the cemetery 65 kilometres north of Kabul.  The young woman was killed by a relative in what is commonly refrred to as an "honour killing".  An event that is growing rapidly as violence steadily grows in Afghanistan against vulnerable women.

The murders of 52 girls and women in the past four months has been recorded by Afghanistan's independent human rights commission.  Of those murders 42 were classified as honour killings; double the number that had been committed in all of the year before.  President Hamid Karzai's anxiety to reach a truce and understanding with the Taliban has been cited as the reason.

The situation where women and girls were banned under the Taliban from education, voting, working outside the home, where they were not permitted to be out in public without a male family escort, where music and dance were banned, is threatening to return.  The government of President Karzai appears to be backsliding on its stated commitment to women's rights and equality.

A week ago, Hanifa Safi, head of women's affairs in eastern Laghman province was killed when a bomb planted on her car exploded.  "Unfortunately incidents against women do occur.  The government is doing what it can", stated Siamak Herawi, a government spokesperson.

Tamana was fifteen years old.  She died close to where a 21-year-old woman was publicly executed by the Taliban a month before for alleged adultery before a crowd of approving, cheering Afghan men.   Tamana was forcibly married to her cousin.  She had refused his overtures for months.  She was beaten and killed for being "disobedient".

No one has been arrested for her death.  But the man who her family knows killed their daughter gave his sister as a bride to Tamana's brother as compensation.  This is an Afghan social practice.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Akko Harbor from Second Temple Times Exposed

by Gil Ronen Akko Harbor from Second Temple Times Exposed

A magnificent ancient harbor – considered the largest and most important in the Land of Israel in the Hellenistic period – has been unearthed in Akko (Acre). The harbor dates back 2,300 years, to the time in which the Second Temple stood in all of its magnificence in Jerusalem.

Among the finds at the harbor are large mooring stones (photos 2 and 3 below) that were incorporated in the quay, which were used to secure sailing vessels. This was probably a military harbor.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said in a press release Tuesday that in its excavations at the foot of Akko’s southern seawall, installations were exposed that belong to a harbor that was already operating in the city in the Hellenistic period (third-second centuries BCE) and was the most important port in the Land of Israel at that time.

The finds were discovered during excavations that are part of the seawall conservation project undertaken by the Old Akko Development Company and underwritten by the Israel Lands Administration.

The first evidence indicating the possible existence of this quay was found in 2009: a section of pavement made of large kurkar flagstones dressed in a technique reminiscent of the Phoenician style that is characteristic of installations found in marine environments. This pavement, which was discovered underwater, caused some archaeologists to speculate that it belonged to a quay, while others suggested this was the floor of a large building.

According to Kobi Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Among the finds we’ve discovered now are large mooring stones that were incorporated in the quay and were used to secure sailing vessels that anchored in the harbor about 2,300 years ago. This unique and important find finally provides an unequivocal answer to the question of whether we are dealing with port installations or the floor of a building."

The dig also discovered a large mound of collapsed large dressed stones that apparently belonged to large buildings or installations, which was spread over a distance of dozens of meters. "What emerges from these finds is a clear picture of systematic and deliberate destruction of the port facilities that occurred in antiquity," says Sharvit.

He adds, “Recently a find was uncovered that suggests we are excavating part of the military port of Akko. We are talking about an impressive section of stone pavement about 8 meters long by 5 meters wide that was partially exposed. The floor is delimited on both sides by two impressive stone walls that are also built in the Phoenician manner. It seems that the floor between the walls slopes slightly toward the south, and there was a small amount of stone collapse in its center. Presumably this is a slipway, an installation that was used for lifting boats onto the shore, probably warships in this case”. According to Sharvit, “Only further archaeological excavations will corroborate or invalidate this theory”.

The bottom of the ancient harbor was exposed at the foot of the installations. There, the mooring stones were found, as well as thousands of fragments of pottery vessels, among which are dozens of intact vessels and metallic objects. The preliminary identification of the pottery vessels indicates that many of them come from islands in the Aegean Sea, including Knidos, Rhodes, Kos and others, as well as other port cities located along the Mediterranean coast.

These finds constitute solid archaeological evidence regarding the location of the Hellenistic harbor and perhaps the military port. According to Sharvit, “It should be understood that until these excavations the location of this important harbor was not clear. Remains of it were found at the base of the Tower of Flies and in the region of the new marina in excavations conducted in the early 1980s by the late Dr. Elisha Linder and the late Professor Avner Raban. But now, for the first time, parts of the harbor are being discovered that are adjacent to the ancient shoreline and the Hellenistic city. Unfortunately, parts of the quay continue beneath the Ottoman city wall – parts that we will probably not be able to excavate in the future."

Excavation will continue in those sections of the harbor that extend in the direction of the sea and the modern harbor, in an attempt to learn about the extent of the ancient harbor, and to try and clarify if there is a connection between the destruction in the harbor and the destruction wrought by Ptolemy in 312 BCE, the destruction caused by the Hasmonean uprising in 167 BCE, or by some other event..

Photographs by Kobi Sharvit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority:

Photo 1: A member of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority standing on the ancient quay that was exposed in Akko. In the middle of the picture one can see the floor of the quay, built of large dressed stones. In some of the stones there is a hole for inserting a wooden pole – probably for mooring and/or dragging the boat.

Photos 2 and 3: A mooring stone that was incorporated into the quay. There was a hole in the stone in which the mooring/anchoring rope was inserted

Photo 4: An imported bowl characteristic of the Hellenistic period. The bowl was found in a layer of harbor sludge. This layer contained thousands of intact pottery vessels and potsherds.

As published online at ArutzSheva, 17 July 2012

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"It Is Hard To Sell"

"Italian politics is not a comedy.  But for a very long time we have had politicians who leave by the door and come back through the window."  

The reference, of course, is to Silvio Berlusconi, a mere eight months out of office as prime minister of Italy, and rumours are rife that due to popular demand, the woman-chasing Berlusconi may be persuaded to return to challenge once again for the country's top political job, rescuing it from the technocrat and boringly decent current Prime Minister Monti.

An event that, were it to occur, would go quite far to challenging the statement that 'Italian politics is not a comedy'.

The IMF's latest report on Europe's economy is predictably gloomy.  Growth in the euro zone is expected to continue contracting.  Expectations are that it will barely nudge in the following year and the effects of that will have certain consequences all over the world.  A bankrupt European Union will be in no position to trade.  And its penurious circumstances will impact other countries' frail recoveries.

If Canada is any yardstick to go by, the lack of attention to the plight of European Union countries like the PIGS - Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain - is inexplicable in its lack of understanding of precisely how deeply that impact will inevitably be.  Canada has been courting the EU for a free trade deal opportunity to expand its trade with that massive market.

When the reality is that regardless of how large that market is, its potential is lost when there is only Germany, France and England for the most part, left standing on two solid feet grounded in economies which wouldn't take all that much to shatter; France and England because they're threatened by debt and economic slow-down, Germany because it's expected to foot the bill for the surgical infusion of euros for the failed states.

China has finally begun to share the pain.  Their economy has slowed, not exactly to a trickle but below the 10% annually that they require to keep the yearly emerging youth cohort employed; they're currently at 7.6%, a figure any other country would embrace, but no other country has a population of 1.3-billion. 
"We have excellent products in Italy, but,when there is no money, it is hard to sell.  The only businesses still doing well are the gas stations because Italians love to drive and mobile phone companies because Italians love to talk.  On top of all the bad economic news, we have had earthquakes, too.  That has scared many tourists away."

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Imagine It

You're a robust man in excess of six feet in height, and very manly.  Manly enough to have married, had children.  Manly enough to have joined the military.  In fact, your entire career has been within the military.  It's a family tradition.  Michael Hamelin's father was in the Canadian Forces.  Stationed for awhile in Germany where he met Michael's mother.  And Michael was born in Germany.

He returned to Canada with his parents when he was quite young.  "I know it was Canada because we had a basement.  I must have been about five years old.  I saw my mother's heels in the basement, and I put them on."  He describes being in Grade 4: "I spent the entire year studying the girls.  I was brought to a psychiatrist and saw him only once.  He dismissed me as girl-crazy.

"My parents were mad at me - they wanted me to do my work, but I was studying the girls full-time - not because I was girl-crazy but because I was crazy about being a girl."  And Michael grew up, and enlisted in the infantry and was transferred to CFB Petawawa.  He joined the Royal Canadian regiment.  "I was trained to kill, to jump off towers and out of helicopters."

Michael served with the military in Germany, in Cyprus, in Winnipeg, in Kingston and in North Bay.  And eventually, after three decades in the military he was given a medical discharge.  He was twice married, and also had a long-term relationship with another women.  His two children are now fully grown.  In 2007 Michael was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, and began taking female hormones.

Around this time he met a woman and married her.  He had informed her candidly about his cross-dressing and about taking hormones.  It was her impression that he didn't appear like an attractive woman, so he stopped taking hormones.  They were married for several years before the marriage ended.  And then he resumed taking female hormones, and informed his extended family that he planned on changing gender.

Michael is now Michelle.  And Michelle works at Kingston Penitentiary, at the age of 49, a blossoming woman with dark curly hair in female garb.  "I like the bling", she says.  "I'm enjoying myself for the first time in my life.  I think I look like a man dressed like a woman.  But I'm not a gay man, I'm in transition from male to female.

Her supervisors at the Kingston Pen are understanding and supportive, and so are her co-workers.  Michelle has applied for a legal name change.  She is having her facial hair removed by electrolysis.  She is anticipating a number of surgeries; one for facial feminization, another in the future for full-blown gender reassignment surgery.

"What I want to see is a world where those that come out as transgendered will not be humiliated.  That's my mission and I will keep talking about this topic for as long as it takes.  Gender is in the head, not in the genitals", she tells a reporter, writing a story on Michelle Hamelin.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

 Hiking Remote Utah's Desert

"People from all over the world come to hike this area because it's a challenge.  It's jagged rocks, it's sheer cliffs, it's sliding sandstone, juniper and sagebrush.  That's the kind of terrain.  It's not easy and not something an inexperienced person should ever consider."  Becki Bronson, Garfield County sheriff spokesperson

It sounds, in short, formidable.  As though anyone intending to breach the fastness of the uninviting landscape should be fully confident in skills, and well versed in wilderness survival.  The area, in fact, is used primarily by wilderness schools to teach survival skills.  In recent days the prevailing temperatures had reached and risen beyond 37.8-degrees Centigrade.

And this was the very venue that was chosen by a young man identified as autistic, to launch a personal adventure from.  He decided he would make the long, lonely trek across the remote Escalante Desert of southern Utah from Boulder, Utah, to Page, Arizona.  William Martin LaFever, 28, set out to complete about 145 kilometres, and managed to go as far as 65 kilometres, when he was found beside the Escalante River, completely debilitated.

He had set out with his dog and with supplies and with the determination to embark and succeed on this adventure.  He had spoken with his father around June 6 to explain he had hitchhiked with his dog to Boulder, Utah with the intention to set out on the long hike.  He had found his money trickled away, and, he told his father, some of his gear had been stolen.  His father planned to wire money to Page, Arizona, but his son didn't call back.

He ended up wandering alone, telling those who finally rescued him that his dog had run off.  His food had run out, and he dug up roots and caught river frogs to keep himself alive.  It isn't known precisely how long he was on his own and stranded, but the estimate is roughly three weeks.  He was officially reported missing about a month after having spoken with his father. 

"Considering the lack of foresight that went into his trip, he did some remarkable things to keep himself alive.  He was emaciated and he couldn't walk and he couldn't crawl.  He said he has been in that spot three or four days", Reuters was briefed by Utah Highway Patrol helicopter pilot Shane Oldfield.

A Garfield County deputy had a hunch that resulted from a search-and-rescue training class he had attended where those in attendance were informed that people with autism were often drawn to water.  Ray Gardner proposed a fly-over of the river, as a result.  And that was when the missing man was spotted, and finally rescued from his long ordeal.

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