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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Justice Unravelled

"There is no single case in the jurisprudence with such an overwhelming evidentiary record of bias, partiality, lack of independence, lack of credibility. The only possible remedy that could address the fatal flaws in the proposed experts' qualifications is the exclusion of their evidence."
Lawyers Michael Edelson, Vince Clifford, Solomon Friedman, defence

"The body of evidence before the court does not support the exclusion of any, let alone all, of their evidence. They are not biased. They are sufficiently independent. They are not partial. Their conclusions are supported by the documented physical evidence."
Crown prosecutorial team

Natsis crash photo
Court evidence photos from the trial of Pembroke dentist Christy Natsis show the fatat accident scene in the WB lane of Hwy. 417 near Arnprior just after 8 p.m.. on March 31, 2011. Natsis is charged with impaired driving causing death. Bryan Casey of Ottawa died in the crash. Court evidence photos.
The trial of Dr. Christy Natsis is an original. It stands apart from most other such trials, when someone is held responsible for the death of another motorist because the accused chose to drink to inebriation and then drive a vehicle, placing themselves and anyone else on the highway at risk, resulting from the alcoholic effect on the human system in related impairment of perception and reaction while operating a motor vehicle.

This case is different; it points out how uneven justice can be when skilled and experienced high-priced lawyers are given the opportunity to use case law and pick apart evidence they claim to have been illegally or sloppily gathered, infringing on the constitutional rights of an individual whose choices made of free will somewhat impacted by inebriation, placed others at risk of injury and death.

Pembroke dentist Christy Natsis is on trial charged with the crimes of impaired driving and dangerous driving causing death. Impaired driving carries a minimum thousand-dollar fine with no minimum jail time and a one year licence suspension, while conviction in the more serious offence could result in a prison sentence of between two and five years; inadequate for the cost of a life. She has pleaded not guilty on both counts.

It is a potential sentence that Ms. Natsis has employed a skilled and costly legal firm for the purpose of aiding her to evade the consequences of her actions.  Her actions led to the March 31, 2011 highway impact that killed another driver, Brian Casey, travelling home from his engineering job at Chalk River. Ms. Natsis, in her drunk state, crossed the centre line, hitting Mr. Casey's truck. He went into cardiac arrest en route to hospital.

Witnesses at the crash scene identified the condition that Ms. Natsis was in, reflective of her drunken state. She had initially left the parking lot of the retail establishment where she had consumed too much alcohol, backing her car up into another parked vehicle before erratically speeding off to gain the highway. After the accident, she exhibited all the symptoms of inebriation. She insisted on personal attention, displaying no concern for the condition her driving had left her victim in.

Her arrogance and narcissism was described in testimony by a wide variety of witnesses in the manner of her behaviour. Her law team was able to successfully persuade Ontario Court Justice Neil Kozloff to set aside breath samples indicating a blood-alcohol level almost two-and-a-half times the legal limit, by alleging that her rights had been violated by the arresting officer who waited an hour while she spoke incoherently with a lawyer over her cellphone.

And now, this trial that has been successfully put off for one recess after another by Ms. Natsis's law team, has once again been placed in suspension as the defence lawyers attempt to assemble an argument persuasive enough to lead the judge hearing this impossibly compromised case to dismiss it entirely, enabling Ms. Natsis to return to her pre-accident life, and the family of Mr. Casey to mourn not only his death but the absence of justice.

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War and Famine

"The world should not wait for a famine to be announced while children here are dying. We all have to do more, and quickly, to keep more children alive."
UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake

"Whether or not it is a famine, the point of our job is trying to prevent it from becoming a famine. And if we have to wait where conditions are so bad that it's a famine, it's too late."
Challiss McDonough, World Food Program spokeswoman

"If it's as bad as famine a declaration can have a significant impact on the level of support that goes toward the crisis."
"[Experts wonder if there are regions] people aren't reaching, that the information is even worse than what we're seeing."
Chris Hillbruner, lead food security analyst, FEWSNET
FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 file photo, 7-month-old boy Dhieu Ding Chol, left, and 5-month-old boy Thuch Jong Kuch, right, are held by their mothers as they receive treatment for dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea, likely caused by the lack of any sanitation where they are now living, at a clinic run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) set up in a school building in the town of Awerial, South Sudan. The U.N.'s top official for human rights Navi Pillay told a news conference in South Sudan's capital Juba on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 that the country is on the verge of catastrophe because of a deadly mix of recrimination, hate speech and revenge killings since December and that she is appalled by the apparent lack of concern by leaders in South Sudan over the risk of a potential famine. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)
In this Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 file photo, 7-month-old boy Dhieu Ding Chol, left, and 5-month-old boy Thuch Jong Kuch, 
right, are held by their mothers as they receive treatment for dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea, likely caused by the lack 
of any sanitation where they are now living, at a clinic run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) set up 
in a school building in the town of Awerial, South Sudan. The U.N.’s top official for human rights Navi Pillay told a news 
 conference in South Sudan’s capital Juba on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 that the country is on the verge of catastrophe 
because of a deadly mix of recrimination, hate speech and revenge killings since December and that she is appalled by the 
apparent lack of concern by leaders in South Sudan over the risk of a potential famine. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

FEWSNET is a famine early warning system that was put into place by the American government's aid agency, USAID. And Mr. Hillbruner is in Juba, South Sudan's capital, taking part in an analysis of the situation afflicting the word's newest country, that broke off from greater Sudan through a mutually-agreed-upon secession, after years of conflict and countless lives lost.

He and other health experts have sequestered themselves in a hotel conference room in the capital of South Sudan, deliberating over how severe the hunger situation is in the country, and whether the situation was caused by the violence that broke out in December, qualifying it as a famine situation which would motivate aid agencies and governments to view the situation as dire as it is, not one to set aside until it becomes even more urgent.

Even if the humanitarian emergency that currently presents does not provide sufficient hard data from field studies to accelerate the condition to that of an officially-acknowledged famine, the situation of hunger as currently exemplified by a shortage of food and starvation resulting "is still the worst food security emergency in the world ... there is still huge need", emphasized Mr. Hillbruner.

The more remote locations in South Sudan are not readily accessible in a country with little highway infrastructure other than dirt roads and dirt airstrips that seasonal rains plunge into a morass impossible to navigate. Moreover, because of the conflict situation, aid groups must provide military and political leaders on both the government and rebel sides, of their travel plans, in search of safe passage.

The global heads of the World Food Program and UNICEF made their way to South Sudan to confer with FEWSNET, on the situation. Almost a million children under the age of five live on the verge of starvation, requiring humanitarian food deliveries to address acute malnutrition. At risk of imminent death is an estimated 50,000 children.

In the last famine in Somalia in 2011, an estimated 260,000 people died, half of them perishing even before the formal famine status was officially declared. Along with WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin, Anthony Lake expresses their fear that the world is standing by silently while a repeat of the Somalia tragedy occurs. WFP urgently requires $143-million to maintain the urgent aid flow.

Complicating the urgency of food provision by aid organizations are issues relating to whether food markets are operating and how many crops families plant while violence displacing over a million people destabilize normal lifestyles. Even yet, a similar problem is overtaking Somalia, where 50,000 children are once again in danger of malnutrition in that conflict-rent country.

Analysts working in the field for the agencies collect data on rainfall, livestock numbers, nutrition levels and mortality rates; the data prepared for presentation as the groups set to meet in August for discussions, according to Nina Dodd, nutrition specialist for the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FAO) of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

A famine is defined as two deaths daily per ten thousand people, along with malnutrition rates of over 30 percent, and a near complete loss of livelihoods and assets. "The last thing we want to be accused of is coming out with spicy messages that would help us get more support", stated Rudi Van Aaken, acting head of FAO in Somalia.

"[Still], if the coming season is problematic with too little rain or too much rain ... if that happens the situation will get worse."

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014


"I understood why they took out the mouth-to-mouth breathing part by lay people, mainly because it delays initiation of chest compression."
"When you push the chest down, you're exhaling; when you let the chest recoil, air goes in. But that's only if the airway is unobstructed. [The head-tilt, chin-lift may help buy more time] that the patient desperately needs."
"It's basically pulling the chin upwards and backwards. As you do that, the head will tilt to some extent as well. We do that on a daily basis as anesthesiologists."
Dr. Anthony Ho, department of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine, Queen's University, Kingston General Hospital, Kingston, Ontario
A man opens the airway on a mannequin while learning CPR. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
"We always advocate airway manoeuvres and all the other bits and pieces of the chain of survival. But never at the expense of poor chest compressions."
"So asking an average person who is at home -- commonly alone -- who has witnessed the arrest of collapse of their spouse, husband or family member to now do two things without sacrificing CPR quality is really pushing it. [If the same person can't do both] what do you want me to do? Hold the airway open or do chest compressions? There's only one of me here."
"It's missing a little bit of the focus on, where do untrained bystanders respond to a cardiac arrest? Most of those, 95 percent, are in a person's home, not in a public location where there may be multiple responders."
"What we're talking about is, in the moment, for people who have never had any (CPR) training, we want you to keep it simple: Push hard, push fast."
Dr. Andrew Travers, International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR) 
cpr technique wordpress CPR guidelines should encourage previously dismissed technique, experts say

Over 20,000 Canadians will experience an out-of-hospital heart attack (cardiac arrest) each and every year. With no one around to administer CPR and defibrillation, fewer than five percent of people experiencing that emergency health collapse will survive their experience. When there are others around, in a public arena, or just in a home setting, there are those who will respond in a desperate effort to keep the person experiencing that heart-failing situation alive.

It is a daunting experience, both for the person who is suffering the attack, through for them, possibly at that point not entirely aware of how their heart is critically failing them, full awareness would be faint if at all present, while it is the onlooker who is horrified and galvanized into action. That is, an attempt to usefully restore breathing function and normalize as much as possible the heart response. Even those who have undergone basic emergency CPR training in reaction to such events, will be fearful of the outcome.

Those who have a more dim awareness of the procedure requiring the traditional two-step approach of breathing into the person's mouth, then pumping the chest and repeating those two steps interminably until expert help will have arrived, will find the physical let alone mental requirement to pace themselves, be fully aware of the person in distress, and muster somehow the determination to forge on, hoping for help, have a far more difficult experience.

In 2010, the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation -- and Dr. Travers is one of the expert co-authors of the most recent CPR guidelines, as well as co-chair of the basic life support task force for the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR) -- issued new North American guidelines recommending that bystanders with no training in CPR methodology bypass the mouth-to-mouth "rescue breathing" in the presence of an adult collapse, focusing instead in performing rapid chest compressions.

Recently, Dr. Anthony Ho of Queen's University and some of his colleagues argued in this week's edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, that skipping mouth-to-mouth may be inimical to the rescue attempt. "Rescue breathing" is represented by two manoeuvres; one, tilting the head and chin back, and two, blowing into the mouth. The first step has its own benefits, helping to keep the airway open, allowing passive air entrance.

Dr. Ho's conclusion was that the "wholesale elimination" of mouth-to-mouth ventilation advised in the new adult CPR protocol for the use of untrained lay people "may be misguided". This contradicts other experts who found in their studies that stopping to blow into someone's mouth detracts time away from the chest compressions that maintain blood flow to the heart and brain. Additionally many people feel an unwillingness to perform CPR in the fear of contracting an infection through mouth-to-mouth.

Eliminating the head-tilt, chin-lift "was like throwing out the baby with the bath water", as far as Dr. Ho is concerned. The manoeuvre aids in the maintenance of airway "patency" (openness), and as such can still be viable in delivering air into the chest. A simple procedure, easier to learn and to perform in a crisis that traditional mouth-to-mouth with its two-step approach.

A review of three randomized controlled trials demonstrating chest-compression-only CPR to be associated with an improved chance of survival compared with conventional mouth-to-mouth CPR, supported by three randomized controlled trials, (14% versus 12%), led to the decision to eliminate rescue breathing from the CPR protocol. "It's a small but significant improvement. But it's still only 14%", cautioned Dr. Ho.

"There is much room for improvement, and perhaps we can affect that improvement by making certain that airway patency is maintained." For children and infants, however, the most recent CPR guidelines include rescue breathing. When children experience cardiac arrest it is not the result of a heart problem, but a respiratory problem, and there lies the difference. The attack may have resulted from an asthmatic attack or allergy reaction.
— Before starting, shake the victim's shoulders and shout to see if he responds.
— If the victim is not breathing, yell for someone to call 911. If you're alone, call 911.
— Begin chest compressions. Push hard and fast on the center of the chest at a rate of at least 100 compressions a minute.
— Push down on the chest at least 2 inches with each compression. Make sure you fully release the chest before beginning the next compression.
— If you have not been trained in CPR, continue chest compressions until help arrives.
— If you have been trained, after 30 chest compressions open an airway and begin mouth-to-mouth breathing. Give two breaths, then resume chest compressions. Continue sets of 30 chest compressions and two breaths until help arrives.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

African Ebola Crisis

"The first week I worked in the Ebola treatment centre in Gueckedou, a forest region of Guinea at the border of Sierra Leone and Liberia, I learned how to put the (protective) gear on, how to remove the gear and deal with the patients on a day-to-day basis. No skin is exposed to the outside world. Under tropical conditions, it gets very hot, very quickly. It's like being in a sauna."
"I did training in tropical medicine in England, so I knew about Ebola. I had friends from MSF who did missions with previous Ebola outbreaks. But I had never seen a patient. The patients came (to the treatment centre) in waves. We had 16 admissions in one single day. We were overwhelmed, we were struggling to get things done."
Dr. Marc Forget, Montreal physician
Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) wearing protective gear walk outside the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital, on July 23, 2014 in Conakry.
Members of Medicins Sans Frontieres dressed in protective gear, in Guinea, AFP/Getty Images
Dr. Forget, whose training as a general practitioner took place at Laval University, mostly works in emergency medicine. He recently spent seven weeks in Guinea with Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders. His mission was to travel to remote forest villages assessing people who presented with symptoms of Ebola, to try to convince them to seek treatment; mostly to persuade them to allow themselves to be taken to isolation in a hospital setting, to prevent communicating the disease more widely.

It is fairly easy to infect other people by contact; with the advent of international air travel. It takes weeks after coming in contact with someone suffering from Ebola before symptoms appear. Take the case of a man whose name was Patrick Sawyer, who boarded a flight in Liberia, stopped over in Ghana, changed planes in Togo, then arrived in Nigeria where he died in a period of days from Ebola, known to be one of the deadliest of diseases with a huge mortality rate, killing up to 90% of those infected.
A health agent checks a passenger leaving Guinea at Conakry's airport. Protection and healthcare material were set up at the airport to fight the spread of the Ebola virus.

A health agent checks a passenger leaving Guinea at Conakry's airport. Protection and healthcare material were set up at the airport to fight the spread of the Ebola virus.   Cellou Binani, AFP, Getty Images

Liberia has become the latest West African country now to seal its borders resulting from the latest outbreak of the Ebola virus, which has catastrophically taken 670 lives. International air travel has become a certain vector for the spread of disease worldwide. No one has any idea how many people Mr. Sawyer infected on his own unknown death journey. Health workers are attempting to trace anyone who may have been exposed to him as he flew across West Africa.

Ebola's initial symptoms appear innocuous enough, just like a flu; with fever, muscle and joint pain, leading to gastric upset, then vomiting and diarrhea, and things go quickly downhill from there. Most people die from the effects of dehydration and shock to their system, sometimes with neurological involvement. People's ability to communicate at that point is so compromised it is as though their minds are absent to response, and most die.

Dr. Forget, during his time in Guinea, assessed what appeared to him and his colleagues those whose presentations appeared suspicious. They decontaminated areas when it became clear patients were assessed as positive for Ebola. Once assessed as positive through a blood test, an outreach team comprising water and sanitation specialists along with hygienists, arrive at a home  to burn mattresses and spray chlorine everywhere to ensure the home can be occupied with safety.

"The co-operation was good in some places; in other places it was simply impossible. There was hostility to our presence. They associated MSF wit the disease. They said it was brought by 'foreigners'," he explained in an interview. In some villages rocks were thrown at their cars leading to 'red zones' where the MSF team knew they couldn't enter in safety. In those regions when someone becomes ill, the family attempts to care for the person with local treatments. Which will fail, and transmission from one person to the other occurs, resulting in increased numbers of victims.

The thought of being isolated would be enough to alert villagers with patients among them that they would be taken to a strange place, and there they would die. In a very real sense, this was true; the concept of isolation to halt transmission as a preventive, was unknown to them. What was known to them was that to be taken away was to be consigned to death. Added to that was the firm conviction that foreigners were taking internal organs to sell to the United States.

There were some patients who survived the disease, and that was what gave Dr. Forget and other volunteer medics who work under MSF, the impetus to continue their work. That, and the fact that their efforts, when they succeeded in influencing people to seek help, would have the greater effect of stemming the tide of greater infection rates. Two American doctors in Liberia have contracted the disease.

Yet the World Health Organization (WHO) is not yet recommending any travel restrictions in prevention of spreading the infection, so international flights continued to depart from Liberia and other affected countries, such as Guinea and Sierra Leone. Dr. Forget experienced one personal time when he felt that he too might have become infected when his stomach had begun acting up; a normal enough fear of physicians attending morbidly affected patients.

"I will join forces again", he said. "This is an unprecedented Ebola outbreak, in terms of the numbers of people affected and geographic distribution. It's the worst crisis we've ever had." Last week in Sierra Leone, that country's top doctor who had treated a hundred Ebola cases, contracted the dread disease himself, and succumbed to its awful effect.
Sheik Umar Khan, Sierra Leone's top Ebola doctor credited with treating more than 100 patients, has died after being infected with the virus
Sheik Umar Khan, Sierra Leone's top Ebola doctor credited with treating more than 100 patients, has died after being infected with the virus

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Autism Spectrum Disorder Struggles

"We are setting up a situation where we're scaring people and we're scaring people unnecessarily."
"It could be that these expert clinicians who are reviewing the chart have more insight into what constitutes autism and are making an appropriate decision. But I would need more evidence before I really believed that."
"[But] if it's increased awareness and better resources, then we're not talking about prevalence. [Regardless of which prevalence number is right, that's] a lot of kids either way, and we have a tremendous amount of work to do to improve the care we provide to them and the support we provide to their families."
Dr. David Mandell co-editor Autism journal
Description: Data Chart 1

Tracking the Number of Children Identified with Autism Spectrum Disorders: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities

"[There is pressure] to have an autism diagnosis because it offers more support for services for those who have the diagnosis versus (for) those who don't, even though the functional challenges each child might face could be very similar or equally difficult."
Whether one in 68 is a perfect estimate or not, it doesn't really matter to me. The bottom line is we're seeing an increase."
Suzanne Lewis, director, autism research, University of British Columbia; board member, Autism Society Canada
Description: Data Chart 2
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network

"Everything in developmental psychology or what I know about genetic influence is that [such increases] don't happen with such alarming rapidity as we've found in autism. My main thing that comes out in my book is that we have to be very careful in making a diagnosis that is so unreliable."
Dr. June Pimm, psychologist, Carleton University: author, The Autism Story

Photo: Prevalence of ASDs with 8 Year olds
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network

A new set of statistics has been recently published in the United States on the onset and prevalence of autism spectrum disorder; the most widely reported statistic, that one in 68 children presents with autism spectrum disorder creating a controversy. ASD itself covers a wide patient spectrum; those with severe forms accompanied with other disabilities, and milder forms considered "high-functioning" variations. Basically confronting problems in communication leading to difficulties in social and emotional skills.

Since the Centers for Disease Control began publishing its data in 2003; from 1 in 294, to 1in 150 resulting from a multi-site study published in 2007, to 1 in 88 in 2012 and finally in this year of 2014, the questioned 1 ASD onset in 68 children. Autism journal editors Drs. David Mandell and Luc Lecavalier feel the results represent "a mistake" in the use of the CDC's surveillance studies to "provide meaningful estimates" of ASD prevalence since they feel the study results have been disabled by flaws.

Dr. Mandell is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and associate director for the Center for Autism Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, while his colleague Dr. Luc Lecavalier is a Canadian psychologist specializing in autism diagnosis and treatment, working out of Ohio State University. Between them they have a formidable background in autism spectrum disorder detection and treatment, And they feel that the numbers quoted represent estimates.

They feel that the problem with the CDC methodology in the studies is its two-step records review rather than a face-to-face real-time evaluation with a child, an expensive procedure, and time-consuming Firstly, researchers screen children's health and school records to determine the pre-existence of an autism diagnosis or professionals' notes pointing to potential for the disorder; details such lone play, or avoidance of social interaction.

At that point, trained assessors review the records and decide whether they represent a common cause definition. The study reviewed over 47,000 children's records across sites in 11 U.S. states for surveillance purposes, and the subjects were eight-year-olds, since most children by then have been flagged for autism. About 20% of those studied and brought into the CDC statistics had no previous diagnosis or autism classification.

The study reviewer, wrote the two doctors in their criticism, is "overriding" a decision by the child's own practitioner on occasion, determining not to diagnosis them with ASD. Results varied from state to state; in Alabama for example, prevalence was identified at 1 child in 175, whereas in New Jersey the conclusion reached was 1 in 45; variation, it is speculated, possibly due to increased awareness of autism and its presentation, along with variations in health care and services access specific to autism.

As far as the CDC itself is concerned, their study methods are reliable as "providing the most complete picture of autism in communities across the United States", even while acknowledging differences in study approaches, yet pointing out a 2011 study it considers to have validated its methodology. Still, diagnosing autism remains an imperfect science and a complex process lacking objective tests.

In Canada, work has begun in the creation of a national system for tracking autism information. There is little reason not to think that what prevails in the incidence of autism in children in the U.S. relates as well to its North American neighbour. A limited Canadian study that searched diagnosed cases of autism in 2012 found it to be on the rise. Southeastern Ontario was held to have a 1 in 63 autism prevalence rate for 5- to 9-year-olds in 2010, a 108% rise from data acquired in 2003.

"I don't think we're going to see a big difference in Canadian numbers. We're pretty confident that [Canada's surveillance system is] going to show that 1 in 68 is a very relevant number", stated Jill Farber, executive director of Autism Speaks Canada. And Dr. Lewis is "absolutely" becoming accustomed to seeing greater numbers of children show up in her own autism practise.

As for Dr. Pimm of Carleton University, the release of her book, The Autism Story, where she encourages parents to make use of whatever combination of therapeutic aids that are available and their experience tells them works well for their children, rather than allow themselves to be ushered toward a single type of treatment; a combination approach as far as she is concerned, from her experience seems to work best for autistic children rather than one-treatment fixation.

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Sole Israeli national on downed Malaysian airliner was son of Christian evangelist

Ithamar Avnon, the sole Israeli national aboard the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, pictured in Jerusalem in 2008. (Shai Penn Eisenman)
Ithamar Avnon, the sole Israeli national aboard the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, pictured in Jerusalem in 2008. (Shai Penn Eisenman)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — A few hours before he departed Amsterdam for Australia on July 17, Ithamar Avnon was praying for peace with his parents at their home in the Netherlands.
That evening, pro-Russian separatists shot down Avnon’s flight, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew. Avnon, 26, was the sole Israeli national on board.

The son of a Dutchwoman and an Israeli who became a Christian evangelist, Avnon loved peace because of how well he and his family knew war.

His father, Dov, served for three years in the Israel Defense Forces before moving to the Netherlands in the 1970s. His older brother, Jonathan, was an Israeli paratrooper. Following his brother’s lead, Avnon voluntarily joined the paratroopers and fought with that unit in the 2009 Cast Lead operation in Gaza.

Friends and family say that Avnon, who was born in the Netherlands in 1988, was a fun-loving man with a penchant for buffoonery who was looking forward to completing his international business degree at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia.

“Ithamar liked horsing around, he wasn’t a stern guy,” his mother, Jeannet, told JTA. “I never thought Ithamar would join the army, but he was inspired to do it by his brother. Ithamar completed the training and got that red beret.”

One of his former commanders, Shlomi Biton, said Avnon — Ito, to his friends — was a forgetful soldier who would often lose pieces of gear, including that red beret, just moments after receiving it. Avnon got away with it because of how well-liked he was by his peers and commanders.

“I really loved Ithamar,” Biton wrote on a Facebook page in Avnon’s memory. “I wanted to be the one to give Ithamar the beret — and then another one after he lost the first one, which was typical.”
Dov Avnon moved to Holland after meeting Dutch Christians in Eilat in the 1970s. Even as an ex-Jewish Christian living in Holland, Dov Avnon and his wife raised their children with a love of the Jewish state.

After Avnon’s death, Dov wrote on Facebook: “I am happy that he grew up with the bible and the faith that Christ died for him on the cross.”

Avnon had been in the Netherlands to attend the wedding of his sister, Ruth, who learned of the flight’s demise on the radio.

“I knew immediately that it was my little brother’s flight and it felt as though I was sinking and the world around me was falling apart,” Ruth Avnon said.

In their home near Utrecht, Avnon’s parents were waiting last week for a Dutch forensics team to finish identifying the remains of the dead in the hope of recovering their son’s body.

Though the final remains found at the crash site arrived in Holland last week, the search is ongoing. Full identification of the victims could take months and it’s not yet clear whether all the bodies have been recovered. Dov has little hope of recovering his son’s remains, since he was sitting close to the engine.

“It’s a strange sort of mourning because we have no body,” Jeannet said. “I’m afraid that when and if a body is recovered, we would need to mourn all over again.”

Avnon had a knack for comedy and impersonations and had a face he would make by puckering his lips. “We called it the Berrie face,” Jeannet said.

His thespian skills also helped him at work, according to Nata Sapuga, Avnon’s former boss at a recycling company. During a business trip to India, Avnon got an upset stomach and had to run to the bathroom every few minutes while working at a business fair.

“He would tell visitors to his booth, ‘Excuse me, sir, but I just figured out that I need to exchange a few urgent words with my biggest buyer, who just passed by,’” Spuga recalled.

Holland lost 194 of its citizens on board MH17, prompting the government to declare a day of mourning — the first in a century. The national outpouring of grief has provided some consolation to Avnon’s parents.

“We are consoled by the feeling of a community, by the respect the Netherlands is showing to all victims,” Jeannet said. “It dulls the pain, as did the powerful speech of our foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, at the United Nations.”

In that speech, Timmermans condemned pro-Russian separatists for delaying access to the bodies and urged delegates to imagine they were parents of the victims “and then two or three days later see some thug steal their wedding ring from their remains.”

Western leaders also criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of supplying the separatists with the weapons used to bring down the plane and for failing to expedite the return of the bodies. Dov Avnon wrote Putin a scathing letter, accusing him of harboring “people who have lost all humanity.”

On Wednesday, Dov was at the ceremony in Eindhoven Airport, where the first bodies were returned. Organizers had placed a flag for every nation that lost civilians in the crash, including Israel.

“I know that flag is especially for Ithamar,” Dov Avnon said. “I am proud to be an Israeli and a Dutch citizen and grateful for this treatment.”

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Repurposing Cathedrals

"A church closes every week. It is a huge phenomenon. Everyone needs to make a compromise so the buildings find a useful life in society and continue to convey their historical significance."
"Today we speak a lot more about finding uses for churches."
Denis Boucher, project manager, Religious Heritage Council, Quebec

"It becomes almost a religion for some people. I see it with yoga, with taking care of yourself, being careful about what you eat, having a healthy lifestyle."
Sonya Audrey Bonon, general manager, Saint-Jude Espace Tonus gym

"Of course there are a lot of churches for the number of people who go to church, but that's not a reason to close everything. Yes, people don't go, but that doesn't mean they will never go. There are ups and downs. It isn't always going to go down."
Alain Walhin, assistant to vicar general, archdiocese of Montreal

"Churches are important because they are intimately tied to the identity of Quebecers. When a church is privatized, it's as if former parishioners who contributed to its construction are dispossessed. They are losing their own heritage."
"It just pushes back the problem [resisting repurposing]. [Msgr. Lepine] thinks that Quebecers are going to return to church, which is completely out of the question. There may be sporadic returns by certain small groups, but the loss of interest is widespread and it's irreversible. It's not just limited to Quebec; it's in Europe and in all western countries in general."
Lyne Bernier, researcher, Canada research chair on urban heritage, Universite du Quebec a Montreal
Old churches seeking new vocationsBoarded up and abandoned for years, a wall of this former Methodist church collapsed last weekend. Once the home of the Negro Community Centre in Little Burgundy, it has been empty since 1989 and was home to squatters. The Sud-Ouest borough is struggling to develop a plan that would see vacant churches turned into something useful.   Photograph by: Allen McInnis , Montreal Gazette

There was a time, not so distant in memory when attending church was balm for the soul, when faithfully showing up at church throughout the week demonstrated one's dedication to a hallowed spiritual figure and to secure the faithful's place in the eternity of Heaven after death. The church represented the temple of the soul; now, when so many churches are going begging for parishioners and the church can no longer afford its own upkeep, surrendering to selling its structures, it becomes a temple dedicated to the welfare of the body.

On St.-Denis Street in Montreal, Dominican St. Jude's Shrine has metamorphosed into the Sainte-Jude Espace Tonus gym, and it no longer wants for enthusiastic, dedicated attendees. Now, on Sundays throughout the land, church parking lots are no longer filled with the vehicles of the faithful. On the other hand, all manner of gyms and fitness clubs must ensure they have adequate parking spaces for the numbers of people thronging to them.

Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec; Saint-Jude Espace Tonu
Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec; Saint-Jude Espace TonuSt. Jude’s, before its transformation at top, and after. Graeme Hamilton

Once, people valued the opportunity to speak with their parish priest. More latterly, people speak with casual pride of their "personal trainer". Society has transformed itself from a once-heartily religious one, to the religion of ensuring that the temple of their body is well cared for. This is the manner in which people now aspire to an eternity of longer, healthier life-spans. The churches, mostly Roman Catholic, that have undergone transformations to theatres and social clubs are valued for their architectural heritage as much as for their social/religious heritage.

In an attempt by municipal and provincial authorities to fully respect the architectural heritage of a province whose politics were once inescapably intertwined with religion but which has since become passionately secular, there is seen a cultural obligation to respect the architectural heritage value of beautiful old churches, not so much what those churches were built to achieve. This led to the creation of Quebec's Religious Heritage Council.

Joëlle Saint-Louis/Théâtre Paradoxe
Joëlle Saint-Louis/Théâtre ParadoxeMontreal's Théatre Paradoxe preserved much of the original interior, right down to wood from the confessionals that was used to make the bar.
The Council was created in 1995 with funding from provincial coffers, its mission to repair the churches falling into disrepair. Diminishing congregations led to parishes struggling to pay for repairs and this is where the Council helpfully stepped in, identifying those buildings representing the greatest heritage value and subsidizing their maintenance. To the present, $371-million was invested over those 18 years, leading the Council to the conclusion that it made little sense to repair buildings as empty mausoleums dedicated to the past, little used by the present generation.

"The issue has changed. Today we speak a lot more about finding uses for churches", explained Mr. Boucher, for the Council. Last year the Council altered its mandate reserved for churches remaining places of worship to assisting non-profit organizations, municipalities and private owners as well, involved in transforming former churches into useful locations for other social enterprises. The Council took an inventory in 2003, identifying 2,751 houses of worship, mostly Catholic churches. Some 400 have since closed, those numbers accelerating.

In Montreal's Rosemount, the former Eglise Saint-Eugene presents now as a community centre for new subsidized housing units built adjacent the church, for senior citizens. The Theatre Paradoxe in southwestern Montreal is located now within the Century-old Elgise Notre-Dame-du-Perpetuel-Secours. The church's exterior and its interior were largely preserved; the wood of the confessionals was used to make the bar and the nave is where concerts and conferences take place.

Handout   The Saint-Jude Espace Tonus gym and spa, built located in a former church. A healthy lifestyle “almost a religion for some people,” general manager Sonya Audrey Bonin says.
But then Christian Lepine was appointed Roman Catholic archbishop of Montreal in 2012, declaring a moratorium on the sale of churches. With that moratorium projects installing daycare facilities and community centres in closed churches were placed in suspension. Mr. Walhin, assistant to the vicar general, explains that the moratorium will remain in place until the archdiocese identifies its praishioners' needs and assesses the physical state of its 200 buildings.

A former French-Canadian church in Montreal, he points out last year was presented to a Catholic congregation of African origin, and renamed Notre-Dame d'Afrique. At Saint-Jude, where once Dominican brothers prayed and received the faithful, a new kind of community has emerged, one that charges membership of $200 monthly, perhaps somewhat resembling the weekly offering plates and tithing. The latter aided the faithful's souls; the former assures their recreational-health membership is in order.

According to one client in her 60s, joining Saint-Jude has meant the world to her: "Before, I went to mass on Sunday morning. Now I come to the Saint-Jude." Where previously she attended occasional mass she no longer feels the need to. "People don't go to church any more" said Marie-Claire Mayers, 60. "We have to find something to do with our heritage, or else they will all be demolished."

In their minds the new societal connection is to the stones-and-mortar of the saintly old churches, not so much the religious devotional faith that drove them to those churches and which dominated the Quebec way of life. The perishing soul was the first concern, aspiring to please god who in his divine pleasure would grant eternity to the faithful. Now, it seems, it is Mother Nature in the ascendancy, people taking matters into their own hands to prolong their survival.

Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec
Conseil du patrimoine religieux du QuébecThe nearly 100-year-old Église Notre-Dame-du-Perpétuel-Secours before its transformation into a theatre and conference centre.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

First Pakistan team of climbers scale K2 summit

The first team of Pakistani climbers to scale the world's second tallest mountain, K2, has arrived at the summit.

K2 lies in Pakistan, near the northern border with China. The climbers made it to the summit at 02:30 (22:30 GMT on Friday).

Mountaineers regard K2 as more challenging to conquer than Mount Everest, the world's highest peak.

Correspondents, however, say descending from the top is more dangerous.
The Pakistani climbers were undertaking their expedition on the 60th anniversary of the first successful ascent of K2.

Two Italians - Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli - reached the top of K2 on 31 July 1954.
View from the top of the mountain Individual Pakistanis have reached the top before
The current expedition - called K2 60 Years Later - includes six Pakistanis: Hassan Jan, Ali Durani, Rahmat Ullah Baig, Ghulam Mehdi, Ali and Muhammad Sadiq. Three Italians are also part of the group.

Individual Pakistan climbers have reached the top before - but this is Pakistan's first successful team attempt.

The BBC's Shahzeb Jillani in Islamabad says many have died returning to the base camp in the past as the descent is trickier.

In June, the Italian organisation supporting the Pakistani effort announced it had installed a weather station feeding data to the climbers and researchers monitoring activity in high mountain regions.


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"Terror Tourists"

"Terrorists are the worst kinds of cowards because they deliberately target innocent members of the public who are not prepared for combat."
"The message needs to be sent out that anyone who aspires to become part of such evil must pay a heavy price."
"Offenders with Canadian passports, like Mr. Hersi can easily return to Canada further radicalized, ready to carry out terrorist acts within our borders. [He was] poised to become a terror tourist, bringing back with him untold dangers. The courts must take a strong role in discouraging such activities."
"After fleeing his native land because it was torn by civil war, and receiving refuge in Canada, Mr. Hersi decided to break Canadian laws so he could return to Somalia and perpetuate violence. And despite being the recipient of a privileged Western education, with its emphasis on free thought, Mr. Hersi aspired to join a terrorist group that seeks to annihilate those who think differently."
"Al-Shabab is lock, stock and barrel a terrorist organization ... [a] fanatical group that indiscriminately ills innocent civilians [a group] prepared to twist the Koran into a killing manual."
"He was going to personally wage violent jihad against disbelievers. He wanted to fight in a holy war. ... He was not joining Al-Shabab to stuff envelopes or help out on a bake sale."
Ontario Superior Court Justice Deena Baltman

One can only now assume that the smiles of sneering indifference have at least for the time being been wiped off Mohamed Hersi's face and those of his supporters. Former security guard Mohamed Hersi at age 28 was handed down a ten-year prison term to compensate him for his attempts to make common cause with a terrorist group, and in the process attempt as well to persuade others he thought to be sympathetic to the same cause.
Mohamed Hersi
Mohamed Hersi, outside Brampton court in April. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun files)
As the first Canadian to stand convicted of those crimes his sentence was stiff, given the fact that he had not yet embarked on his mission. But the presiding justice felt the sentence expressed this country's determination to dissuade any others who might feel similarly inclined. Not that there haven't been previous instances where young Canadians have embarked on such journeys.
However, alerted to the threat that a significant number of young men have been suborned, recruited as jihadists to join terror international in the name of serving viciously fundamentalist Islam, Canada's intelligence agencies have launched special investigations for the purpose of waylaying them before they depart the country.

Those who have broken away and were subjected to terrorist training, and taken part in conflict may wish to return, bringing their newfound skills and attitudes with them. To be avoided at all costs, so CSIS and the RCMP have a double task, to prevent the aspiring jihadist from leaving Canada and moving on to jihadist training camps, then to the conflicts taking place in North Africa and the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and returning back home to Canada to further jihad in the very place which nurtured them in the alter-ideologies of Western democracies.

Born in Mogadishu, he arrived in Canada at the age of five with his family. Granted refugee status, Mohamed Hersi became a Canadian citizen in 2000. Enrolled at the University of Toronto he achieved a BA in health studies and psychology. What a huge assist that was to him and to Canada. Like many other young people graduating with an arts degree he was unable to find employment in his field.

He found employment with Intercon Security as a security guard and it was when he dropped his uniform off at a dry cleaner's who found a USB drive in that uniform that police were alerted to discover a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook, Department of National Defence documents, Islamic texts and internal Intercon reports, on that USB drive. On his way to board a flight to Cairo he was arrested "minutes away from flying out of the country, beyond our grasp", said Judge Baltman.

"He has been a committed jihadist for many years, and he is prepared to renounce his mother's love for the cause. How do you rehabilitate an already privileged man for whom neither love nor learning has any meaning", asked the judge. "It is very harsh and we were not expecting this kind of decision from the judge, but we still believe in the Canadian justice", said Mr. Hersi's uncle, Mohamed Tabit.

"As a family we see that this is a political trial and nothing to do with the justice system. We believe this has been orchestrated and fabricated by the police. ... An innocent person is in custody now", said Mr. Tabit more than adequately demonstrating his profound belief in Canadian justice.Govern

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Friday, July 25, 2014

The Medical Marijuana Debate

"I'm actually quite frightened. They've got product [Canada's 13 licensed marijuana producers] they have to move."
"So they've hired the best advertising firms. Now, they've got very professional, well-dressed men and women knocking on doctors' offices."
"There would have to be a clinical trial for its effect on depression, for its effect on joint pain. You'd have to have probably a thousand trials that would have to be repeated. If marijuana is so magical, then how come the trials aren't out there?"
"What started out as a cute little story about marijuana is turning into a frickin' [doctor...language!] nightmare. We just need one doctor to get killed over this, then it would make a great movie. I hope it's not me. I hope it's not any doctor. Or reporter."
"Maybe the best thing that could happen is Trudeau [Liberal leader who promises, if elected prime minister, to make marijuana growth and possession legal] gets elected and he legalizes it. We'd have a doped-up nation. We' probably have an increase in the sales of chips, so I guess I'd buy some stocks in chips and nachos. That's about the only good that would come of this."
Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, president, Canadian Medical Association

"We are not out there putting a hard sell on medical marijuana. There is information out there, and we're not making it up. It's to make doctors aware of that information. How they want to integrate it into their practise is up to them."
Chris Murray, director of business and medical development, Tweed, publicly traded medical marijuana producer

"The average family doctor has never learned how to prescribe medical marijuana. It's not taught in medical school."
"These people have an agenda, they want to sell it, they want to make money. They're not pushy. They're professional people. ... They're trying their best, but it's the wrong way to approach it."
Dr. Alykhan Abdulla, president, Academy of Medicine, Ottawa
World map of cannabis legality

Dr. Francescutti obviously is approaching the issue from a rather conservative perspective. Feeling that when appellate and Superior courts ruled that although federally marijuana remains illegal, its use for medical purposes for the relief of health-impairment symptoms, is legal, it turned a responsibility headache over to the health profession. Health Canada has acknowledged this, and though it began authorizing its use for specific individuals whose doctors confirmed marijuana proved useful to them, turned authorization directly over to the medical profession when the numbers of applicants overwhelmed their bureaucracy.

As far as he is concerned, the court system fell for a ruse meant to persuade them that marijuana possesses health benefits for disease sufferers. He considers the current situation where doctors are now free to prescribe medical marijuana for patients asking for such prescriptions to alleviate unbearable health-impacting symptoms and pain, is nothing less than "legalized dope pushing". Moreover, his well-known personal views have garnered him threatening emails.

In their own defence, Tweed, which produces and markets medical marijuana, has hired three "academic detailers" to routinely visit the offices of doctors and acquaint them with the product and its perceived benefits to patients. Its executive vice-president states that their detailers are "out there hitting the pavement, introducing who we are." Who they are is not quite pharmaceutical representatives: "We're a little different". Low key, eager and willing to inform.

Dr. Alykhan Abdulla, who has himself prescribed medical marijuana for some of his patients whom he deems it might be useful for, observes that over 90% of physicians would hesitate to prescribe it, uncertain of its benefits, and how it might impact on their patients. And he speaks of his experience with lobbying medical marijuana representatives, calls, emails and faxes; two or three of which he receives each week.

While Tweed has not developed formal trials, it is busy putting together a database listing the chemical contents of its different marijuana strains and adding to it feedback from both patients and doctors. To this, Dr. Francescutti claims the industry has "got nothing to do with medical properties. It's got everything to do with people wanting to smoke dope."

MedReleaf, another medical marijuana producer and distributor, also with official recognition through government authorization, is running 20 clinical trials. As well, it draws upon data from an international partner, Tikun Olam whose record stands behind its superior product, treating thousands of patients under Israel's medical marijuana system. When that data is made available to the medical profession through MedReleaf's representatives who attend conferences and physician-attendance events, many of those doctors "end up walking away converted".

Somewhere in this pull-me, push-you tangle lies the truth. And the truth may be precisely what each of the principles in this debate claims it to be.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Mother's Anguished Torment

"I should have listened to him. I should have listened to him."
Samira Calehr, Amsterdam, Holland

"How would you choose to die? What would happen to my body if I was buried? Would I not feel anything because our souls go back to God?"
Miguel Panduwinata, 11, perished

"Mama, I'm going to miss you. What will happen if the airplane crashes?"

"Don't say that. Everything will be OK."

Everything is not OK, it never will be OK again. Samira Calehr watched as two of her sons walked away from her. They were meant to walk away from her. They were, after all, at the airport and were seeing the two boys off, on a trip to Bali, to visit with their grandmother. It was a trip they had taken often enough, a trip familiar to them, and the pleasure of being in that fabulous natural wonderland was always alluring.

Miguel Panduwinata, left, Mika Panduwinata, Samira Calehr, second from right, and Shaka Panduwinata, right, pose for a photo
Miguel Panduwinata, left, Mika Panduwinata, Samira Calehr, second from right, and Shaka Panduwinata, right, pose for a photo

Middle brother, sixteen year old Mika, was meant to accompany his two brothers. There hadn't been enough seats available on the flight leaving Amsterdam on July 17. So Mika Panduwinata would travel to Bali the following day and there catch up with his brothers, to spend quality time with their grandmother, enjoying the beaches in Bali.

Samira Calehr, as she kissed her sons good-bye, and watched their backs slowly receding, was startled to see little Miguel run back to her for another hug. 'What was this all about?' she wondered. She did, in her heart, know what it was all about. Her youngest child had been behaving uncharacteristically concerned about the trip.

Where he should have been excited at the prospect, he was instead moodily concerned.

"I will take care of him", his older brother reassured their mother. "He's my baby." And then they walked off, while Miguel turned again and again to look back at his mother. She will no doubt always be haunted by the memory of his sad eyes regarding her before they both finally vanished from view. And then Flight 17 took off from Schiphol Airport for its 11-hour, 45-minute flight at 12:15.

On Wednesday night, the evening before the flight, Miguel was so troubled, so needed his mother to hug him and stay with him, she did hold him and stay with him. She slept with him that night, her presence reassuring her little boy. They had been well packed and prepared the night before. And when morning came Samira and her friend Aan took the boys to the train headed for the airport.

Shaka, 19, with his first year of college completed studying textile engineering, promised he would keep an eye on Miguel. As Samira looked after the boys' luggage at the airport check-in, Shaka suddenly remembered he hadn't packed his socks. So his it was his mother's turn to reassure him, she would buy some new socks for him and when Mika left the following day, they would be in his luggage.

And that's just where she was, shopping for socks for Shaka two hours later. When her cellphone rang, it was Aan on the line. "Where are you?" His voice was loud and panicked: "The plane crashed!", he informed her, as her world crumbled around her. Now, she recalls Miguel's fear and sadness. She believes he had a premonition.

A pro-Russian separatist looks at wreckage from the nose section of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane which was downed near the village of Rozsypne
A pro-Russian separatist looks at wreckage from the nose section of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane which was downed near the village of Rozsypne -AP

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014


"It's so hard that he could do that to someone where ... I mean, like I said, we came from [homelessness] there."
"We're not there now, but that's where we were. ... We got out of there."
Victor Prieto, father of two young defendants, Albuquerque, New Mexico

"I, personally, after reading that complaint, was sick to my stomach because of the nature of the violence and the age of the offenders."
Simon Drobik, Albuquerque police spokesman
(AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Roberto E. Rosales). Concerned citizens observe a moment of silence, Monday, July 21, 2014 in the field where two homeless men were bludgeoned to death by teenagers over the weekend near in Albuquerque, N.M.
(AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Roberto E. Rosales). Concerned citizens observe a moment of silence, Monday, July 21, 2014 in the field where two homeless men were bludgeoned to death by teenagers over the weekend near in Albuquerque, N.M.
"Everybody here seems to be pretty shocked. They seem to find it deplorable."
"Like I said, most people around here have the same opinion I do. They [the homeless] don't cause any trouble."
William Toyama, 29, neighbourhood homeowner
It is a neighbourhood where homeless transients are known to camp out at night, having nowhere else to go. People have become accustomed to their nightly presence. Mr. Toyama, whose house backs up to an empty lot, more or less a rough field, acknowledged that area homeless people slept behind his house, on the empty lot, and never has anyone complained they'd been bothered by their presence.

(AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Jim Thompson). In a Saturday, July 19, 2014 photo, Albuquerque police work at the scene where two men were found dead in a open area just north of Central Avenue at 60th Street.
(AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Jim Thompson). In a Saturday, July 19, 2014 photo, Albuquerque police work at the scene where two men were found dead in a open area just north of Central Avenue at 60th Street.

Those homeless people, however, are easy prey for others disposed to viewing them with the contempt for human flotsam that they represent to them. And as fodder for a way that they can release their violent aggression without fear of attacking those in good enough shape to fight back. Who can the homeless complain to? Who would take their complaints seriously?

In the neighbourhood, however, it must have been known there were young predators who preyed upon those unable to defend themselves. Spirits are low when one is homeless, hungry, a vagrant whom most ordinary homeowners would prefer not to observe too close to their properties for fear of contamination of some kind. Or feelings of guilt. It's an ordinary human reaction to failure.

Victor Prieto, the father of two boys, age 16 and 15, who in the company of an older teen, violently abused the homeless, had heard rumours his sons were violent. It seems he had no reaction to knowing this, because of his assumption that the violence was representative of normal interactions between boys proving their masculinity in tough neighbourhoods.

(AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Roberto E. Rosales)
(AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Roberto E. Rosales) 18-year-old Alex Rios

Now, 18-year-old Alex Rios and the two younger teens have been arrested, accused of fatally beating two vagrants with cinder blocks, bricks and a metal fence pole. In fact, it has been revealed that the boys had been attacking homeless people over the space of a year. Beating them, not yet killing them. Until one of the boys, in a bad mood over a breakup with his girlfriend felt like going further.

All three were ordered held on a US$5-million bond each, at their initial court appearances Monday. They have been charged with murder, a result of their vicious attack in an Albuquerque empty lot used by transients as a resting place at night. The 15-year-old informed police that the attack took place over a period of at least an hour, the teens taking turns smashing cinder blocks into the faces of the men whom they had attacked while they were sleeping.

There was a third transient at the scene, fortunate enough to escape, who led police to the accused. He knew who they were; many people in his situation knew them, for their penchant for attacking homeless people. Around 8 a.m. on Saturday police received a 911 call reporting two bodies lying in a field. One victim was on a mattress, another on the ground. The homeless man who had escaped, Jerome Eskeets, was hospitalized for his injuries.

In his defence, 18-year-old Alex Rios claimed that he was only the lookout. It was the other, younger teens, who engaged in the violence. The other two boys contradicted his version of events stating that their older companion took part in the attacks as well. While the anguished father of the two younger boys cannot understand why or how his sons could do such things, he recalls that at one time in his life he too was homeless.

One of the boys informed police that the trio had attacked, he said, at least 50 homeless people over the last few months. It is worth thinking about, that young boys could be raised to a level of maturity yet utterly lacking compassion for other human beings. To be so void of empathy for others, to be so given to shared, violently psychotic episodes is beyond the understanding of most people.

Young men often do many things they look back upon in adult maturity with regret, with shame, with pain in the full realization that at one time in their young lives they fit the definition of psychopaths. This trio may do so from the confines of incarceration, over quite a long period of time. A tragedy of multiple dimensions.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Brother, Why Art Thou?

"The false and malicious statements had the intended effect of destroying not just the profitability of the [brothers'] medical practices and businesses, but their entire professional stature. Politi went out of his way to fulfill his threat to 'crush' the plaintiffs."
Ontario Superior Court Justice Ed Morgan

"They were horrified. People are putting their lives in [Uri's] hands and here was someone questioning his credentials."
Milton David, lawyer for plaintiffs Uri and Doron Sagman, Toronto

"While I am experiencing physical pain at the present time brought on by my illness, the [legal] action filed by Politi adds a new dimension of anguish. It represents a final gesture of ungratefulness by a son who has always been showered with generosity and second chances by myself and his family despite his never-ending acts of betrayal."
Sadok Sagman, family patriarch, 2007 legal affidavit
Primary photo of Cite L'Acadie Phase II

Before his death from pancreatic cancer in 2007, Sadok Sagman, a chartered accountant, economist, Montreal businessman, asked his oldest son Paul, who had taken on the name Paul Politi to place his Montreal real-estate holdings in a trust for the purpose of protecting the estate and the heirs of his estate. His son responded to his father's request by setting up what he named the "Belleville Trust" in such a manner that the valuable properties it held would benefit himself and his children only.

When the elder Mr. Sagman discovered what had occurred he transferred the real estate out of his son's trust account. And then what followed, while the terminally ill father was undergoing cancer treatment, was the oldest son's decision to sue his father. Lawyers acting for the son, Mr. Politi, questioned Sadok Sagman even as he was undergoing chemotherapy. In response, the father wrote a scathing denouncement of this son, the eldest of his five children.

He described his son as never having maintained a stable livelihood, focusing instead on quick-profit schemes and in the process inflicting financial and emotional harm "without moral compunction", on others around him. The end result was that before he died, Mr. Sagman saw fit to cut his son out of an inheritance, stating him to be "unworthy" of being named in his will as an heir. Toxic family ties extraordinaire -- or perhaps not.

As testament to the fair-minded forgiveness of the four other children, two sons, two daughters, the family members managed to agree on the dispersal of the estate months after their father's death, with his apartment block, Place l'Acadie in Montreal, ending up in Mr. Politi's trust. The later sale of the apartment block netted Mr. Politi $6.8-million.

The two younger brothers were both doctors and successful business people. Uri Sagman is a pediatric oncologist and prominent in the nanotechnology industry. His brother Doron Sagman is a psychiatrist, and vice-president of of Eli Lilly Canada. Their older brother Paul Politi pursued his avocation as the family's "black sheep", known to commit "never-ending acts of betrayal".

Technion Canada
Technion Canada  Dr. Uri Sagman

Paul Politi created websites accusing his physician brothers of fraud, theft and medical incompetence, in an obvious bid to destroy their reputations, their livelihoods and their satisfaction in their life endeavours. In turn his brothers sued for libel. This was not the first time that they had engaged in legal activity against one another.

Their father had left Uri Sagman his Montreal penthouse condominium in the city's Sanctuaire complex. Uri Sagman put the property up for sale for $1.1-million, when his brother offered him $100,000 over the agreed-upon sale price to someone prepared to purchase the property. The funding was to come from the proceeds of the Acadie building sale, so Uri cancelled the other transaction, and accepted his brother's offer.

He agreed in the process to list the purchase price on the deed as $1 to benefit his brother by limiting the property tax assessment. Which gave his brother the opportunity to refuse payment of the agreed-upon $1.2-million, claiming the condo was given him as a gift. But Dr. Sagman, aware of his brother's perfidious inclinations, had recorded a conversation proving the transaction was as he claimed it to be; a legitimately-agreed-upon sale between the two, no "gift".

In the court case that followed Justice Dionysia Zerbisias ruled that Mr. Politi had fraudulently taken the condominium, ordering it to be returned to his brother, and with it $282,000 in legal costs. "He lacks credibility, lies with impunity and without any conscience. [Politi] ... is vengeful, manipulative and malicious", remarked the judge in his ruling, rejecting Paul Politi's insistence that the condominium was a gift, not a sale agreement.

Even as this situation unfolded, Mr. Politi launched two websites where he implied his brothers had falsified documents to enable them to get into the University of Alberta. He claimed they had been convicted of fraud and theft, and that they lied for the purpose of obtaining government grants. Although the allegations had no basis in truth, even once the sites were removed from the Internet, Justice Morgan noted, they affected the two brothers' lives deleteriously.

Justice Morgan ordered Mr. Politi to pay $350,000 in damages for defaming his brothers. The Black Sheep had also levelled accusations against one of his brothers in a complaint that he filed with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, found by the regulating body to be completely unfounded and dismissed.

In 2012 Mr. Politi had declared personal bankruptcy. Two years earlier he had applied to transform his 180-acre property north of Toronto into a "$75-million" solar-energy farm.

Stolen Uxbridge tractor found after tip by Times-Journal reader
Celia Klemenz / Metroland    UXBRIDGE -- Posing with his tractor on October 26, Paul Politi, a landowner in Goodwood, was tipped off by a Times-Journal reader as to the whereabouts of his missing tractor. The tractor was found in the woods near Goodwood Kartways. October 26, 2010

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