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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Desperation of Survival

"The Syrians we work with, they talk to us about their neighbours and they tell us how helpful and friendly they are. The attitude seems to be, 'What else can we do but be hospitable?' It's amazing, really."
East Amman, Jordan, Care International's Syria centre director Matt Sugrue

"The Jordanians have gone shoulder to shoulder with us in places like Afghanistan and Haiti, and our relationship contains all the bells and whistles that you wouldn't normally associate with such a small country."
Canadian Foreign Affairs official

"Our treatment here is already starting to be awful. It is because we are considered people who are taking away people's jobs, and taking away their needs. Rents are going up, and people blame us. People need work, and clothes, and they are getting into debt.
"There is a pain in our hearts. We were peacefully living. Now our country is being torn apart. And there is nothing we can do."
Jihad Saleh, Syrian English teacher, refugee in Jordan

The number of homeless refugees, both those remaining within Syrian borders, forced to leave their homes, their towns, their city suburbs as a result of deadly attacks threatening their lives, and with the pain of having lost relatives, continues to grow. Currently that number, according to the United Nations, is seven million traumatized Syrian civilians, desperate and torn with the reality of their desperate situation.

That number can be compared with the number of Palestinians who originally fled when Israel declared itself a State with the blessing of the United Nations in 1948, and was immediately attacked by a combined Arab army determined to dislodge them from the Middle East. While the United Nations has kept the original 700,000 Palestinian refugees and their generational descendants on permanent refugee status, in 'refugee camps' which are really cities with all the amenities of city living in a permanent welfare state, ten times that number have been made homeless by a government willing to slaughter its own.

In Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon, millions of Syrian men, women and children have fled their country of birth to take refuge from conflict and deprivation, oppression and menacing government attacks. Jordan, whose population already consists of Palestinians who had migrated there in 1948 and never left -- though Jordan's military fought a brutal war to dislodge the PLO -- has taken in an estimated million Syrian refugees and is doing its best to manage their needs.

With the help of the United Nations, and with the willing assistance of other countries with which Jordan has agreements, Jordan is managing its burden. Canada is one of those countries, having signed a Canada-Jordan Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, a free-trade agreement and a Canada-Jordan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. Direct support to Jordan for assistance with budget relief and refugee care has come from Canada in the sum of $130-million.

In this Monday, Oct. 21, 2013 photo, a Syrian refugee girl is seen through the window of her family home as she plays on the street the outskirts of Zarqa, Jordan's industrial center where thousands of Syrian refugees are living, northeast of the capital Amman. More than 420,000 Syrian refugees have settled in Jordan's cities, struggling for survival on U.N. foods stamps and straining the meager resources of a country that absorbed millions of exiles from the region's hotspots in the past.(AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
AP Photo, Manu Brabo

Along with the Palestinians, the Hashemite Kingdom ruled by King Abdullah II, has also given refuge to Iraqis who fled their country after the U.S.-allied invasion to remove Saddam Hussein. Its ancient heritage included the capital Amman having been conquered by biblical King David before it was ruled by the Greek Ptolemies, then Rome, and its emergence as a Byzantine Christian city. The eighth Century saw it invaded by Islam, and that is its status to the present day, with Jordan being one of only two Islamic countries in the Middle East sharing a peace treaty with Israel.

Jihad Saleh, the refugee from Syria living in Amman, was once a man of modest substance in his home country. "Of course, we are beggars now. I brought my wife and five children here from Damascus because I had to, for their safety.  Now, all our savings are gone, and I do not know what we are going to do." Unlike the Syrians living in tented refugee camps with basic amenities, Mr. Saleh is among those Syrian refugees who were able to pay for rent, for food and other necessities.

Syrian refugee children work in fields to support families
AP Photo - Manu Brabo

Now, however, his family's savings have been depleted, and he is concerned about how they will manage to survive. Because of the huge influx of refugees, an influx that continues, the small country of Jordan is hard put to accommodate them all. It is not a wealthy country, and depends on the goodwill and understanding of the international community to aid it in meeting expenses relating to the refugees' needs. When goods and services are in high demand difficult to meet, stress occurs as prices rise and scarcity looms.

And while Jordanians have been helpful and accommodating, sympathetic to the plight of the refugees, they too are under everyday living pressures of providing for their own families. It is inevitable, always has been and always will be, that when a country is overrun with an overabundance of refugees fleeing war in nearby countries the first reaction is to help, before resentment at rising prices and employment challenges kick in.

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Japanese whale hunts threaten smaller species with extinction: EIA

Itsuo Inouye/AP A Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru leaves a Tokyo port in 2011.
TOKYO – Japan’s hunts of smaller whales, dolphins and porpoises threaten some species with extinction, an environmental group said Thursday.

Catch quotas are based on data collected as much as 20 years ago and some species have been overhunted beyond the point of recovery, the Environmental Investigation Agency said in its report.
The lucrative market in live catches for aquariums, especially in China, poses another risk, the report said. Live animals can sell for between $8,400 and $98,000, sometimes more than the roughly $50,000 from sales of meat for a single bottlenose dolphin.
Japan set its catch limit for small cetaceans at 16,655 in 2013, far below the 30,000 caught annually before limits were set in 1993 but still the largest hunt in the world.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency wouldn’t comment on the EIA report because it hasn’t seen it. Japan defends its coastal whaling as a longstanding tradition, source of livelihood and as necessary for scientific research.

The London-based independent conservation group said Japan is failing to observe its stated goal of sustainability and urged the country to phase out the hunts over the next decade.

“The government has a responsibility to restore and maintain cetacean species at their former levels,” said Jennifer Lonsdale, a founding director of the EIA.

The small cetaceans are among a number of species facing severe declines in Japan. They include Japanese eels, a delicacy usually served roasted with a savory sauce over rice, and torafugu, or puffer fish.

The status of each species varies, depending on its range and hunting practices. Catch limits for Dall’s porpoises are 4.7-4.8 times higher than the safe threshold, the report said.

For the striped dolphin, once the mainstay of the industry but now endangered and disappearing from some areas, catches have dropped from over 1,800 in the 1980s to about 100.

That is still four times the sustainable limit, the report said. It urged that the government update its data on the abundance of it and other species and stop transferring quotas from already overfished areas to areas that exceed their quotas.

Under a 1946 treaty regulating whaling, nations can grant permits to kill whales for scientific research.

In July, Japan defended its annual harpooning of hundreds of whales in the icy seas around Antarctica, insisting the hunt is legal because it gathers valuable scientific data that could pave the way to a resumption of sustainable whaling in the future.

Australia has appealed to the World Court to have the whaling outlawed.

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Japan dolphins and other sea species 'face extinction'

BBC News online -- 31 October 2013
Dolphins in Japan The EIA says that dolphins are trapped and then sold to aquaria or slaughtered for consumption
Japan's hunting of dolphins, smaller whales and porpoises is threatening some species with extinction in its coastal waters, a report by a British environmental group has said.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report says that more than a million such creatures have been killed in Japanese hunts in the past 70 years.
It says that each year thousands are killed despite conservation concerns.
The Japanese government has not commented on the report.

But it has consistently defended its coastal whaling as a longstanding tradition, a source of livelihood and necessary for scientific research.

The government has also argued that small cetaceans should be excluded from the International Convention on Whaling.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo says that the Japanese practice of driving many dolphins and porpoises onto beaches to be slaughtered has drawn international condemnation.

Japanese hand-harpoon hunting vessel The EIA says that porpoises, dolphins and small whales are often chased until they become exhausted and within range of hand-held harpoons
The EIA says that it is also unsustainable, and a danger to human health. Studies have found high levels of mercury and industrial chemicals like PCBs in dolphin and porpoise meat.

One study found people living in one dolphin-eating community in central Japan have mercury levels five times higher than normal.

"A comprehensive analysis of the available scientific data demonstrates unequivocally that there are grave concerns regarding the sustainability of these hunts," the EIA report says.

It goes on to accuse the government of "displaying a lack of responsibility" in ensuring the sustainability of small cetacean populations in Japanese waters - warning that its annual quota of 16,000 dolphins is far too high.

The EIA says that the quota is based on 20-year-old data and that dolphin populations are much lower now.

The conservation status of each species varies, the report says, depending on its range and hunting practices.

Catch limits for Dall's porpoises are 4.7-4.8 times higher than the safe threshold, it claims.
For the striped dolphin, once the mainstay of the industry but now endangered and disappearing from some areas, catches have dropped from more than 1,800 in the 1980s to about 100 today.

Our correspondent says that anyone who has seen the documentary The Cove will know how controversial Japan's annual dolphin hunt can be.

Hundreds of animals are driven into a bay where men jump into the water and cut their throats, turning the sea red.
A Dall's porpoise The EIA says there is a long history of unregulated exploitation of Dall's porpoises in Japan

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Witch Head Nebula

Witch Head Nebula

Witch Head Nebula

October 31, 2013
A witch appears to be screaming out into space in this new image from NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The infrared portrait shows the Witch Head nebula, named after its resemblance to the profile of a wicked witch. Astronomers say the billowy clouds of the nebula, where baby stars are brewing, are being lit up by massive stars. Dust in the cloud is being hit with starlight, causing it to glow with infrared light, which was picked up by WISE's detectors.

The Witch Head nebula is estimated to be hundreds of light-years away in the Orion constellation, just off the famous hunter's knee.

WISE was recently "awakened" to hunt for asteroids in a program called NEOWISE. The reactivation came after the spacecraft was put into hibernation in 2011, when it completed two full scans of the sky, as planned.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Portuguese Roma?

"I'm still having trouble sleeping, it was a horrifying sight, seeing this little girl in her own excrement, not able to hold up her head, white as a sheet.
"We were deeply shocked because she didn't find this abnormal. We told her to remove the little girl [from the trunk] and give her something to drink right away."
Guillaume Iguacel, mechanic
Seems it might be time to give Europe's Roma a break. They raise their children in poverty, vulnerable to degraded living conditions and the contempt of the general society which views them as expendable, not fit for genteel company. Deserving of their state of unemployed welfare-seeking. A society and a culture whose customs and values are not fit to mingle with decent people.

Where the greater society suspects child abduction and human trafficking if a dark-hued mother is seen with a light-skinned child. A condition that clearly marks the adult as a criminal, and the child needing rescue from the malevolent keep of the only family she has ever known, to be taken from the parents who love her. Even if albinism created a genetic inheritance of light skin, or a child was given to parents whose biological parents pleaded for them to care for her.

In giving the Roma a temporary break from accusations, perhaps it's time to mark all Portuguese as cruelly child-abusing. Since a Portuguese mother of  three children, two boys aged nine and ten, and a four-year-old girl, also gave birth to a fourth child. Whom she decided -- on giving birth on her own, without, she claims, her husband suspecting she was pregnant -- not to produce; to hide, and where else than the trunk of the family car.

There she kept the baby, unclothed, uncovered, unloved and neglected, never taking it out of the car trunk for any reason.  "The car always stayed outside at night so if the little girl was inside it, we didn't see anything" said one neighbour in the couple's village of Brignac-la-Plaine, Correze, in France.

The condition of the child was discovered by automobile mechanics who were repairing the vehicle. Hearing strange noises from the trunk that the mother claimed were emanating from "toys" in the vehicle, they insisted on opening the trunk. And there they saw a small, dehydrated, feverish child, naked, lying in excrement she had extruded.

They called paramedics who took the two-year-old child to a hospital. "It appears that the child had been hidden from her birth, and even worse is seriously retarded", explained the prosecutor in nearby Brive-La-Gaillarde. The child's height, weight and mental development did not reflect normal conditions, appropriate to her chronological age. Nor can she speak. "It's a situation that defies the imagination", he said.

How can it be wondered that the child hasn't developed normally  -- physically, mentally. The baby had no exposure to normal child care, no opportunities to develop normally. If the child survives its ordeal it is possible that at her age steps can still be taken to encourage normal growth and human development.

She may be somewhat retarded in development, it may take awhile, but it is still possible that with the love and attention and emotional investment of a caring family she will develop. Unsurprisingly the couple's other three children have been taken into care.

The father, the mother claimed, was kept in the dark about the presence of the baby in the car trunk. Knowing nothing of her birth or of her presence, or her condition. An unemployed builder whom the mother appeared not to want to burden with the reality of another mouth to feed. So while the child may have been fed, it would not have been generously.

One must ask of the intelligence, the emotional stability, the psychological state of a woman who could endure the very thought of depriving a helpless child of comfort, warmth, love and care. The police were unable to question the father when he was taken into custody, since they claim him to have been inebriated.

"We didn't have much contact with them. She barely said hello, and they didn't really want to integrate into the neighbourhood. How could we have known?" said a pensioner living opposite the couple. How indeed....

Clearly, the Portuguese have much to answer for....

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"Anyone Who Would Love Me"

"We are following through with every offer, explaining the process to people and directing them to have home studies done. I have no doubt that, because of these enquiries, we will find a family for him."

Davion Only, 15, gets some last-minute help with his tie from his case worker Connie Going before nervously making his speech before the congregation
Davion Only, 15, gets some last-minute help with his tie from his case worker Connie Going before nervously making his speech before the congregation 
"We have more than 100,000 kids in foster care across the country, just waiting for someone to take them in. We have been encouraging everyone to look at all the other kids who need them."
Connie Going, caseworker Florida Child Welfare
In his fifteen years of life, Davion Navar Henry Only has never known the comfort and security of family life. He has always been a ward of the state. Born in prison, raised in foster care, living now with a dozen other boys whose life mirrors his own, in a group home. They can take a certain measure of comfort that in their plight they are not alone. They form a legion of the deprived and the lonely sufferers of parentless situations.

There are innumerable accounts of children growing up in similar situations, yearning for the loving emotional support of being valued by adults who care deeply about their welfare, struggling to provide them with opportunities that will allow them to make the most of their life-potential. If there is no one in the cheering section for these children, how will they be motivated? Absent familial support and love they feel valueless.

And Davion Only would like to be of value to someone, so that he can feel himself to be valuable. With that comfort he will attempt to achieve a future for himself. Without it, he will be passively amenable to letting life flow him into any kind of situation without himself taking any assertive part in the play that proceeds; an 'extra' in the main action where other primary actors make decisions for him that he is disinterested in.

He is anything but disinterested at this juncture in his life, when the desire to have someone love him and care for him and guide and motivate him is uppermost in mind. Unlike most other children who eventually give up on their dreams, it appears that Davion Only still dreams. "I know God hasn't given up on me. So I'm not giving up either", he said, addressing the congregation at St.Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg.

It was an address that his social worker Connie Going had arranged on his behalf. To help him realize his dream. To help him achieve a condition of life that would defy the feelings that suffuse his being of never having felt wanted, never having his own room, never knowing the love of an adult who might consider him a son. Following his opening up to the congregants, people hugged him, congratulated him, expressed interest in his well-being.

They were moved, as  how could they not be? The Tampa Times wrote about him, and local people began contacting Davion Only's social worker to ask whether they could adopt him. "I've never seen anything like this. His simple plea just struck a chord with the world", Ms. Going said. Barbara Walters asked to interview Davion Only on television. When she asked him to describe his imagined perfect family he responded: "Anyone who would love me".

We can hope that new trend has been born; the awakening of a social conscience to rescue children from the oblivion of despair.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Medical Science Progress, Regression

"The implication is less brain death equals less organ donors, frankly. This is at a time when the need for organ transplants is at an all-time high. A patient has a horrible brain injury. Everybody agrees the prognosis is horrible. But they're not brain-dead -- their brain hasn't swollen to this point where they've actually progressed to being brain-dead.
"Doctors aren't always completely unanimous about things. In most cases, it's clear that the prognosis is hopeless. But, what if there isn't complete agreement?
Dr. Andreas Kramer, Calgary critical-care doctor, medical director of Southern Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Program
"The question that people have is, is it possible for somebody to suffer after their heart stops? Can they feel anything? The data that we have is that, in fact, in most instances the brain stops working before the heart stops in ICU patients who are dying.
"So, the answer to the question is no -- patients cannot feel or suffer or be awake. They are completely and irreversibly unconscious within seconds after their heart stops beating."
Dr. Sam Shemie, McGill University medical director for donation at Canadian Blood Services

The incidence of "brain-dead" declarations leading to the recently deceased's body parts becoming a useful tool enabling others whose organs have collapsed due to disease, accident or medical mishap, to receive a lease on a longer life than anticipated is controversial. One man's death is another man's chance at prolongation of life. A finding just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal announces a "stagnant or even declining rate of deceased organ donation".

The finding results from a ten-year study of almost three thousand brain-injured adults in southern Alberta. The proportion of the total who succumbed to their condition leading to a diagnosis of "brain -death" has plummeted from 8% in 2002 to 4% by 2012 (lower still in 2010 at 2.2%). This is a reflection of fewer traffic deaths and non-fatal accidents. Advances in treating head trauma also plays a part in the diminished incidence of "brain-death".

"Patients get their CT scans more quickly, they go to the operating room more quickly", explained lead author of the study, Dr. Andreas Kramer, medical director of the Southern Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Program, a Calgary critical-care doctor. Thanks also to greater emphasis within the medical community "on protecting the brain in this vulnerable state when it's injured." Good news for the injured, sad news for the patient awaiting organ transplantation.

Brain death is recognized as complete and irreversible loss of all brain function. Even though a patient's heart remains beating and a ventilator circulates air in and out of their lungs, they can be legally declared death. A patient normally halts the breathing process when the brain no longer functions. Life support, however, can maintain oxygen and blood circulation through the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and other organs.

If a family makes a decision to halt life support, the organs can be retrieved in five minutes after the heart has stopped beating. All the patient's organs with the exception of the heart can be harvested for transplant. "When the decision to consider organ donation is made, the patient isn't dead yet", observed Dr. Kramer. There is controversy over how long doctors should wait to retrieve organs.

In Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, the wait is a minimum of five minutes. It can be twice as long in some other countries. The knowledge is there that the longer doctors wait to retrieve the organs the more deterioration of potential functionality sets in. In some American jurisdictions the ait is 2 minutes before declaring death.

Never, cautioned Dr. Shamie, should thought of organ donation influence the decision to withdraw life support. "That's sacrosanct. Transplant doctors can have no role in the care of dying patients -- they can have no role in the determination of death prior to organ donation. ... That is a legal and moral and strict separation in all our work."

And thank heavens for that.

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Richard Dawkins Perplexed by High Number of Jewish Nobel Prize Winners

Richard Dawkins Perplexed by High Number of Jewish Nobel Prize Winners

October 29, 2013 2:30 pm
Richard Dawkins. Photo: Wikipedia.
The usually self-assured biologist, author and atheist Richard Dawkins expressed his bewilderment at the disproportionate amount of Nobel prizes won by Jews in a recent interview with the New Republic, saying he is “intrigued by” the  “phenomenally high” number of Jewish laureates.

Addressing the controversy surrounding a Tweet he wrote during the conferment of Nobel prizes earlier this month, Dawkins offered up something of a mea culpa, stating: “That was unfortunate. I should have compared religion with religion and compared Islam not with Trinity College but with Jews, because the number of Jews who have won Nobel Prizes is phenomenally high.”

Continuing, he said: “Race does not come into it. It is pure religion and culture. Something about the cultural tradition of Jews is way, way more sympathetic to science and learning and intellectual pursuits than Islam. That would have been a fair comparison. Ironically, I originally wrote the tweet with Jews and thought, That might give offense. And so I thought I better change it.”

Asked why he thought it is that Jews have won so many Nobel Prizes, Dawkins was forthright with his uncertainty.

“I haven’t thought it through. I don’t know. But I don’t think it is a minor thing; it is colossal. I think more than 20 percent of Nobel Prizes have been won by Jews.”

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, since the Nobel was first awarded in 1901 approximately 193 of the 855 honorees have been Jewish (22%). Jews make up less than 0.2% of the global population.

This year 6 of 12 laureates were Jewish. The 13th laureate, for the Nobel Peace Prize, was awarded to an organization and not an individual.

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NYC Deliveryman Wins $900,000 Verdict in Anti-Semitic Harassment Suit

October 29, 2013 12:32 pm The Algemeiner
Adam Wiercinski. Photo: NY Post. 

A New York City deliveryman has won a $900,000 jury verdict, payback for the anti-Semitic harassment he endured while working at a Midtown eatery for more than a decade-and-a-half, the New York Post reported. 

“It’s a very happy ending — I’m in another world,” said Adam Wiercinski, who worked at Mangia 57.

According to the lawsuit filed by Wiercinski, supervisors would call him a “Jewish pederast,” throw pennies at him, and make other anti-Semitic jokes.

One manager, Artur Zbozien, was particularly brutal, often passing gas in front of Wiercinski, and then joking that the gas was Zyklon B, the poison used in Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust, the lawsuit claimed.

“How can I explain to you — he passed wind, loudly,” Wiercinski told The Post of Zbozien.
“Everybody laughed, and then he said, ‘See, this is your Zyklon B, you stupid Jew.’”

According to the Post, Wiercinski worked at the West 57th Street restaurant from 1992 until 2008, staying despite the abuse because, “He was 50 years old,” explained his lawyer, Matthew Blit. “He said, ‘Who else is going to hire a 50-year-old deliveryman.’ He was afraid.”

Jurors heard just three days of testimony last week and reached a verdict Thursday in just four hours, Blit said.

“He’s in shock,” the lawyer said of Wiercinski’s reaction to the hefty jury award. “He was so happy. It’s a moral victory for him.”

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Vet’s family saves dog by shaving off half of its weight in matted fur


The dog "Shrek", who was found abandoned in the country near Brantford, Ontario, Brenda Gough, a veterinarian, and her husband spotted a stray dog, all alone and barely able to walk because of his heavily matted fur, near the Southern Cross Equestrian Facility just outside Brantford, Ontario. He was shaved of his large and bushy overgrown fur.
BRENDA GOUGH    The dog "Shrek", who was found abandoned in the country near Brantford, Ontario, Brenda Gough, a veterinarian, and her husband spotted a stray dog, all alone and barely able to walk because of his heavily matted fur, near the Southern Cross Equestrian Facility just outside Brantford, Ontario. He was shaved of his large and bushy overgrown fur.
At first glance, the timid Maltese poodle appears to have nothing at all in common with his animated-ogre namesake, Shrek. But when he first stumbled into the lives of veterinarian Brenda Gough and her family, the dog looked like a swamp creature, his long white fur greyed and matted and packed with feces. Now, after his unlikely rescue two weeks ago, Shrek is also an international celebrity —  photos before and after Dr. Gough and colleagues shaved off half his body weight in fur are being widely distributed online. Dr. Gough spoke Monday with the Post’s Sarah Boesveld from her clinic in Brantford, Ont.:

Q: So how did this little guy cross paths with your family?
A: Pretty amazing, really, because we live on a 100-acre farm in the middle of nowhere. You don’t get to our place unless you’re hopelessly lost and you certainly don’t end up at the back of our property in a field near the pond unless something awful has happened to you. If you look at the property, it’s a beautiful view. But if you look down at the pond you think ‘How the hell did he get there?’

BRENDA GOUGH    The dog "Shrek" before shearing
Q: It’s still a mystery?
A: Well, yes and no. We’re positive that he’s a puppy mill dog. There’s no question from his behaviour that he basically had little to no human contact for his entire life. He has dental disease, and was anemic and hypoproteinemic and had whipworm. But we fixed all of that.

Q: How long do you think he was in that shape?
A: Months to years, absolutely. This is not a dog who could survive on his own in the forest, though, so I don’t believe that based on his body condition that he would have been [wandering] more than a week or two at most.

Q: Have you been able to trace the steps?
A: An investigation is ongoing.

BRENDA GOUGH     Shrek after being sheered with Brenda Gough's son Andrew, 13.
Q: So your husband spotted him first. What did he think when he found Shrek?
A: He thought it was honestly an old piece of carpet or maybe a dead coyote. He wasn’t sure. All he saw was this blob. He was driving out to the pond and Shrek wasn’t that far from the lane-way.

Q: What time of day?
A: This is the part that really breaks my heart. It was morning and it was after that horrible drenching, torrential downpour the night before. I think back to waking up at 2 a.m. thinking ‘Wow that sounds bad.’ And he was out there. He was scared when we found him, so he wasn’t easy to approach and we didn’t know if he had rabies or if he was injured, so we put a blanket over him and put him in a kennel. He tried to run away a little bit, but he couldn’t move. If you think about it, you’re in prison for the first six years of your life, and you finally escape with 50% of your body weight in fecal matted hair on your back and if you don’t know what to do when you get into the big outdoors, you just go until you can’t go anymore.

Q: And now, two weeks later, people were lined up outside the door of the Brantford SPCA’s open house Sunday to say hello.
A: He’s kind of a big deal.

BRENDA GOUGH    The hair taken off.
Q: He’s kind of a miracle — coming out of the woods and surviving the way he did.
A: Yeah. To me that suggests that inside that terrified little body, there’s a whole lot of determination.

Q: How long did it take to shave all that fur off?
A: Three to four hours. We weren’t really timing. Hang on one second…there’s someone from New York on line one?

Q: You’re getting media calls from New York?
A: Yes we are. And we’re on Animal Planet today. The piece in Metro in the U.K. got shared 7,000 times. We’ve had reports from as far away as Brazil and Australia. MSN, Yahoo.

Q: He stumbled into the right backyard, didn’t he?
A: Yeah for sure!

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity
National Post

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Milky Way Monster



Milky Way Monster
Red Orbit

Milky Way Monster

October 29, 2013
This image shows the star-studded center of the Milky Way towards the constellation of Sagittarius. The crowded center of our galaxy contains numerous complex and mysterious objects that are usually hidden at optical wavelengths by clouds of dust — but many are visible here in these infrared observations from Hubble.

However, the most famous cosmic object in this image still remains invisible: the monster at our galaxy’s heart called Sagittarius A*. Astronomers have observed stars spinning around this supermassive black hole (located right in the center of the image), and the black hole consuming clouds of dust as it affects its environment with its enormous gravitational pull.

Infrared observations can pierce through thick obscuring material to reveal information that is usually hidden to the optical observer. This is the best infrared image of this region ever taken with Hubble, and uses infrared archive data from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, taken in September 2011.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Brammer

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Considering Options

Depending on one's choice of religion, death's sting might not be as deadly as claimed. Not when there is promise of an afterlife. Of course whether one abodes in heaven or hell might be a concern. Resurrection as a choice relating to particular religion; well, all things considered who might wish to return as a cow, a chicken, a pig, to be transformed into some manner of edible on someone's dinner plate. Or, conversely, another person whose life-performance is nothing whatever to relish; say a mass murderer, a child predator, a war criminal, a bloody tyrant.

In Christianity, heaven is a concept that exists to entice the faithful to good behaviour during their lifetimes. After life? Well, it's said that heaven can be construed as a 'state of being', or a place, but since no one can have certain knowledge of which it is, how would that play out? An anxiously hovering spirit, never seen, but in constant anguish if they're in the state of being of hell, or perhaps lounging on a cloud, up in heaven, watching entertaining scenes below.

Mormonism persuades its faithful to believe they will, at death, be reunited in a long, unbroken line with their families and their ancestors for eternity. Apostates excepted. One tries to imagine those long, interminable, bitter family arguments from which there is never, ever any escape. Everywhere one turns, there is yet another family member waiting for an argument over borrowed finances, or critical comments they've taken umbrage with.

Ah, now, Zoroastrianism also promises the Catholic version of heaven and hell. If one has been very bad as a result of forgivable human weakness contributing to ill deeds and sins, confession will help, or mercy offered to others, a kind of indulgence that will transfer the soul from the fires of hell to the plush accommodations to be found in heaven. All one needs do is be intrinsically good; if there's any doubt you can end up mired in an intermediate state; neither heaven nor hell. Which sounds rather like life itself.

As for Judaism, "This world is compared to an ante-chamber that leads to the World-to-Come", a phrase uttered by the venerable Rabbi Ya'akov. There may be a 'next life', an afterlife whatever that might be to strain the hopeful imagination. It appears also that the souls of the departed may stand a fairly good chance of being resurrected after the coming of the Messiah; yet to appear, anticipated over the ages, but extremely shy of presentation.

Hinduism offers another kind of panacea to death; reincarnation; a series of new lives. The catch? Each one of those new lives offers the opportunity to do penance and correct sins committed during each of the previous lifetimes. This protocol could quite conceivably leave a whole lot of sinners extremely busy for an eternity of atonement. A thief returns as a victim, for example, and the never-ending scenario goes into endless repetition mode.

Oh yes, and there's also Scientology which recognizes the soul (mind?) as life's most vital aspect. In this religion there's no fuss, no muss, no restrictions on behaviour other than to sign that one-billion-year contract with the church leadership. Behave as you will, ethics have no bearing on how the soul presents on reincarnation. Commitment to authority in the current sense is critical; sounds like a tyranny of faith.

Buddhism offers reincarnation as well, but escaping all human desire is required to bring the soul beyond the birth-death-rebirth cycle to achieve the most elite goal of nirvana. And that is? Liberation. Experiencing nothing but a great deep vacuum of emotions. Nirvana permits the successful aspirant to be entirely extinguished. To become a vapour of nothing whatever. A free spirit that will no longer exist.

In Shintoism, the religion of Japan, birth is celebrated, but death is left to others to dispose of; the dead are not to be touched, though that condition creates freedom for the spirit. And in that freedom the spirit joins with the divine. In that absorption into the divine, what was once a human becomes the essence of a spirit which in joining the divine becomes ... well, the divine.

Islam believes that a waiting game exists with the dead patiently waiting where they are buried, for the advent of final judgement. The fires of hell await those who deserve the torture they will endure there, while paradise awaits those who have distinguished themselves by good deeds and fealty to the spirit of Islam during their lifetime. Infidels need not apply.


Despite Diligent Care

"There was some sort of medically trained person with the military and a number of good Samaritans and eyewitnesses provided some aid, so it was nice to see."
Adam Loria, Calgary EMS

"The bystanders were really good. They had the scene contained and controlled. They were looking after the victims and they were here on scene prior to EMS and fire department and seemed to have it well in hand."
RCMP Sergeant Glen Demmon 

School buses are universally painted bright yellow. That is because this is acknowledged as the most readily seen-and-identified shade in the colour spectrum. The colour brings instant attention and recognition. And municipal laws are in effect that stringently support safety measures with the conveyance of any country's most treasured resources; it's children, vulnerable to harm on any nation's highways and byways.

School bus operators must comply with  Regulation 612  of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA).  School buses are compliant with the Canadian Standards Association Standard, CSA Standard D250, a prescriptive manufacturing standard that school buses must be built and maintained to throughout the service life of a school bus.  
  • The Highway Traffic Act
  • Dangerous Goods Transportation Act
  • Public Vehicles Act
  • Motor Vehicle Transport Act
  • Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act
  • Environmental Protection Act 

Section 175 of the HTA helps keep children safe by requiring motorists to stop when a school bus is stopped with its overhead red signal-lights flashing.  Motorists must not proceed until the bus moves or the lights have stopped flashing.  Failing to stop can result in heavy fines and demerit points.
Parents trustingly send their children off to school through the medium of school buses, whether living in the city, a town, or rurally. School bus drivers are trained to take care of their charges' safety. They must themselves rigidly tend to rules and regulations in the Highway Traffic Safety Act in the operation of a commercial vehicle, with especial emphasis on their role of bringing children safely to their school destination.

Drivers and operators of other road vehicles must acknowledge that they are aware of the presence of a school bus by adhering to all the rules about stopping when a school bus is stopped, and never passing it when a mechanical arm is outstretched indicating the egress or ingress to a bus of local children. Everyone concerned with the transfer of children through a commercial medium in the absence of their parents feels fairly secure in the atmosphere of safety.

And when an accident occurs, and it has disastrous impacts on the children entrusted to the care of a commercial bus operator, all that emphasis on safety and security suddenly plummets into the sphere of concern that nowhere is completely safe of threats to a child's well-being. Which is precisely what occurred near Crossfield, north of Calgary last Friday morning.

When a female bus driver experienced the misfortune of crashing the school bus she was driving into a truck, hitting it head on. Children aged 5 to 13 on their way to a nearby elementary school were treated by paramedics and firefighters and then sent on to hospital. "They were all very brave and ... my heart goes out to them. They were trying not to cry and [were] very shook by what was happening", according to the Deputy Fire Chief with Rocky View County.

The bus driver was in serious condition. Of the three children whose condition was considered to be serious, the little boy whose condition was most serious is the son of the bus driver. What greater assurance of care and responsibility can be implied under those circumstances, of a driver? Six children were considered to be in serious but stable condition, and the remaining four children came out of the event relatively unscathed physically.

The bus remained upright, stuck against a guardrail after the collision, its windshield gone, its front end crushed. A large pickup truck was positioned nose down in a ravine. It had smashed through a reinforced guardrail.
"We're not quite sure what the contributing factor to this collision was, whether that's limited visibility or road conditions or what's actually there. We've contacted our collision reconstructionists out of Calgary to attend and determine that." 
RCMP Constable Robert Frizzell

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

What Are Their Chances?

"I like her very much. She looks very much like me, and I want her back home. We will take care of her, and I can help my mother."
Minka Ruseva, 14, Nikolaevo, Bulgaria
Minka Ruseva, daughter of Sasha Ruseva,  covers her face in a Roma neighborhood of Nikolaevo, Bulgaria, Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. Sasha Ruseva, a Bulgarian Roma woman, is  under investigation by Bulgarian authorities trying to find out  if she is the mother of a suspected abduction victim in neighboring Greece known as "Maria" whose case has triggered a global search for her real parents. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Minka Ruseva, daughter of Sasha Ruseva, covers her face in a Roma neighborhood of Nikolaevo, Bulgaria, Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. Sasha Ruseva, a Bulgarian Roma woman, is under investigation by Bulgarian authorities trying to find out if she is the mother of a suspected abduction victim in neighboring Greece known as "Maria" whose case has triggered a global search for her real parents. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) / AP
"We are very, very happy with this outcome, because we have proved what we said from the outset. ... The adoption, as it happened, was not of a legal nature but it was not abduction."
Costas Katsavos, lawyer for Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou
Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou experienced the profound misfortune of having their intimate family relations with their five children -- one of whom was informally adopted as a baby -- viciously disrupted by a state authority accustomed to hounding Roma and suspecting them of every manner of brutality and criminality possible to impose upon an ethnic group of huge unpopularity.

They had taken in a newborn whom its mother, an impoverished Roma woman working temporarily in Greece from Bulgaria, was unable to take back home with her, out of the goodness of their hearts. They had young children of their own, but they willingly responded to the pleas of the desperate Bulgarian mother of the newborn, to care for the child along with their own, as if she were their own.

And they did just that until government agency workers, noting that the four-year-old child living with the other children of the Greek Roma couple bore no resemblance to them, and leaped to the conclusion that she was with them as a result of criminal child trafficking. Their repeated reassurances that she was their own were ignored, and they were accused of criminality, and jailed.
Mother Sasha Ruseva holds two-year-old Penka, one of her ten children, whom she claims is albino with father Atanas, right, as they talk to journalists in the town of Nikolaevo , Bulgaria, Thursday Oct. 24, 2013. DNA tests have confirmed that a Bulgarian Roma couple living in the impoverished village with their nine other children are the biological parents of the girl found in Greece with another Roma couple, authorities said Friday. Genetic profiles of Sasha Ruseva, 35, and her husband, Atanas, matched that of Maria, Interior Ministry official Svetlozar Lazarov said Friday. Ruseva says she gave birth to a baby girl four years ago in Greece while working as an olive picker but gave the child away because she was too poor to care for her. She since has had two more children after Maria. Maria has been in a charity's care since authorities raided a Roma settlement in Greece last week and found she was not related to the Greek Roma couple she was living with. (AP Photo/BGNES) BULGARIA OUT
The Canadian Press
But their story of having taken the child in, responding to the desperation of a Bulgarian Roma mother has proven to be true. Sasha Ruseva, 35, and her 37-year-old husband Atanas, stepped forward to declare themselves the biological parents of the little girl the news media in their frenzy to support the theory of Roma malfeasance, named "Maria".

There are six million Roma living in Europe. Racist bigotry against them is endemic in the countries of their birth where they are relentlessly slighted, and constantly vulnerable to violations of their human rights. They live in high unemployment, poverty and social dislocation, viewed with distaste for their cultural habits and accused of criminality, their children maltreated and their future prospects dim.

Sasha Ruseva explained she had given birth to a baby girl while in Greece working as an olive picker, but was too poverty-stricken to care for the little girl. She has since given birth to two more children, and is mother to a total of ten. Some of her other children bear a striking resemblance to the child found with the Greek couple. The inference on the little girl's 'discovery' was that she was abducted from some 'white' European family.

Both Greek authorities and the Bulgarian prosecutor's office are trying to establish whether there are  grounds to prosecute both parties on the theory that the mother sold the child. Despite that the Greek family love the little girl, raising her as their own, Bulgarian social services say the little girl is to be returned to Bulgaria for adoption. "Maria will first be brought to a family crisis centre, and after, they (authorities) will seek for suitable foster family."

Fourteen-year-old Minka Ruseva, one of the Rusev family's ten children saw pictures of Maria on television and thinks of her as being her sister. In pre-trial incarceration, charged with abducting Maria and committing document fraud, Christos Salis 39, and Eleftheria Dimopoulou 40, plan to seek legal custody of the little girl who has been their daughter for the first four years of her young life.

With so many "authorities" determined to wrest the child from those who love the little girl, one can only wish them the very best of luck.

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Humour In Spycraft

"Would you like a real interview?" (Michael V. Hayden)

"I'm not a reporter." (Tom Matzzie)

"Everybody's a reporter." (Michael V. Hayden)

In the modern age of instant communications, the ubiquity of cellphones with their photograph-taking capabilities and their ready use of Twitter's accounts, everyone has become a reporter, a photographer, an instant news-taker and journalist. News rooms are now dependent on instant photography by onlookers at the scene of disasters or unusual events and natural phenomena to enhance their news stories with the punch of a picture speaking a thousand words.

In the instance of former National Security Agency chief Michael Hayden, casually speaking on his cellphone aboard an Amtrak train on its way to Newark, that was the lesson that was brought home to him with a punch of clarity. It might be assumed that someone of his experience and his presumed knowledge of human nature, might be aware that name-recognition and human curiosity might present as a problem.

He was, after all, on a public transportation conveyance, speaking of high-level intelligence matters in a normal tone of voice that carried over to surrounding seats, piquing the curiosity of others armed with the requisite tools of reportage. So that when Mr. Hayden spoke of President Barack Obama's Blackberry, modified to block the possibility of foreign eavesdropping (Angela Merkel, take note!), passenger Tom Matzzie pricked up his ears and began texting.

Recognizing just who Michael V. Hayden was, he tweeted: "Former NSA spy boss Michael Hayden on Acela behind me blabbing 'on background as a former senior admin official'". And, he added: "Sounds defensive." Mr. Matzzie, surprise, just happened to be a former Washington director of

He continued tweeting for another fifteen minutes as Mr. Hayden continued his blissfully oblivious dialogue with someone referred to as "Massimi". Mr. Matzzie experienced no difficulty putting the clues together; that the former national security agency chief was unloading to Time's national security reporter, Massimo Calabresi.

"Michael Hayden on Acela giving reporters disparaging quotes about admin. Remember, just refer as former senior admin." Mr. Matzzie breezily tweeted to his audience. His audience evidently included someone who took the trouble to alert Mr. Hayden, by the very same medium, evidently. Which spurred Mr. Hayden to complete his call and approach Mr. Matzzie.

After their brief question-and-answer (as above), they chatted amicably about the Fourth Amendment, prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures, and NSA surveillance. And then the two posed together for a friendly photo.

"I didn't criticize the president. I actually said these are very difficult issues. I said I had political guidance, too, that limited the things that I did when I was director of NSA. Now that political guidance is going to be more robust." 

Yessir, Mr. LooseLips.

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