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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Crossing the Human-Canine Divide With Love and Trust

"If you take a dog with the weight of a pit bull and particularly when you cross it with something like a Rottweiler, you have a very powerful animal."
"People who cross breeds like that probably have no idea what they are bringing into the world."
Barbara Watt, president, Victoria City (B.C.) Kennel Club

"[Fat Boy, who attacked and killed owner Edward Cahill was] extremely aggressive and unpredictable [particularly when he had a bone to defend]."
"I don’t want people to think bad of pit bulls. They were playful dogs. One slept with the girls and the other slept with me and my husband. It was just a freak accident. He loved his dogs. That’s all I can say, and I think it’s something that just went wrong. He was a great man."
Blanca Rodriguez, Indiana

"Pit bulls get a bad rep. I think this incident has nothing to do with the dog’s breed. I’ve worked with some pit bulls that are therapy dogs and they’re great. An aggressive dog can be any breed. I’ve seen just as many good pit bulls as bad pit bulls."
Toni Bianchi, professional dog trainer
Most kennel clubs have refused to recognize pit bulls as an established breed. Amateur breeders have selected and promoted the animals for their fighting prowess.
Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg    Most kennel clubs have refused to recognize pit bulls as an established breed. Amateur breeders have selected and promoted the animals for their fighting prowess.

Yes, of course there are 'good' pit bulls. But how many 'bad' pit bulls can a society afford in terms of the potential harm they are capable of wreaking on the vulnerable and the unaware? These are muscular animals governed by an inbred instinct to be aggressive, and if something seemingly innocuous triggers their fighting spirit they don't differentiate and hesitate, but go into attack mode, but it against their owner, a stranger or a child. Their attacks are terrifying and often terminal.

Pit bulls and rottweilers and Staffordshire bull terriers are the types of dog, like bulldogs, whose muscular grip is difficult to dislodge. These are powerful animals, and like any such animals, can be unpredictable. Some people love their dogs, irrespective of their breed, because they are familiar with them, communicate with them, value their company, and feel their presence enriches their lives. Some people acquire dogs whose breed is known to be aggressive as a prestige item, one that helps them project a certain type of image.

And this last type most certainly does know what results when two such dogs are interbred; they hope that the characteristics that attract them to the breed are enhanced, the outcome being an even more fearsomely aggressive animal. One that they alone can control, is loyal to themselves alone, and will follow their direction, providing both assurance of 'respect' in the community in which they move, and a threat within that same community, a threat that they can keep in check, or not.

Although all dogs, regardless of breed, may have their breed-specific instincts kept in check with loving nurturance and direction, they can, given the right/wrong set of circumstances, surrender to the kind of instinctual reaction that will result in massively harmful aggression. Those people who treasure pit bulls for whatever they represent to them, and feel them to be harmless, enough so to entrust the safety of very young children to their presence, delude themselves.

Should nothing untoward happen with close proximity between dog and child, all to the good. But to rely on nothing happening, ever, that would endanger the child is to deliberately overlook the potential that it could. While even very small dogs are capable of biting and inflicting some measure of injury, some breeds simply go on the attack more frequently, inflicting immeasurably more harm than others. To leave a child unattended with such an animal, actually any animal without taking measures to ensure that no close encounter can take place, is to dally with danger.

In the same day that a family elderly pit bull mauled that family's newborn in the Vancouver Island community of Saanich, an elderly man was attacked by two pit bulls in Langley, British Columbia. Less than three weeks old, the tiny girl had been attacked by the family's 17-year-old pit bull-Rottweiler cross. While the infant is recovering, the future will hold reconstructive plastic surgery for her. The child's parents likely raised their pet and lived with it for all those years, trusted it and loved it.

A 17-year-old dog, like an elderly human, can become very miserable-tempered when its physical and mental faculties have disintegrated into the fog of advanced age and impaired health. The combination of youth and age, health and declining health do not make for a felicitous introduction. The parents of the baby may face a charge of criminal negligence, a hard lesson to learn, but one that simple common sense should have avoided. Their neglect harmed their child and the animal they loved. It could have been much worse.

Moreover, when dogs have lived within a comfortable household for many years, the object of their owners' attention for all those years, lavishing care and love on it, to introduce another creature into the household can be guaranteed result in some level of resentment perhaps leading to an effort to harm the interloper, on the part of an animal suddenly realizing that someone else is getting all the attention that used to be directed toward it. Not to be aware of such tensions arising, on the part of parents, is mind-boggling in its naivete.

According to the Canadian Veterinary Journal, a study of dog attacks that turned fatal  between 1990 and 2007 found that 85% of victims were children, the youngest one month of age. It is no surprise to veterinarians that such events occur, and more often than they should. Most veterinarians take an active interest in the puppies whose owners bring them in for initial health examinations, annual shots and other care. They talk to people, explaining what can go wrong, and how to avoid such complications.

Half of non-fatal dog attacks in the United States involved pit bull breeds or Rottweilers, followed by German shepherds and huskies; big dogs all of them, and conditioned by nature to be aggressive, a conditioning that is all too often enhanced by dog owners wanting to encourage that trait in their dogs, but not necessarily by all owner. How many have to indulge these childish whims for society to be badly impacted? With or without encouragement, the breeds do own those characteristics; with owners' encouragement they simply become more obviously overt.

The experience in Canada is that pit bulls are involved more frequently in non-fatal attacks than any other breed. Resulting in many jurisdictions banning the breed, to the anguish of those who defend pit bulls, insisting it is people, not dogs, at fault. To an extent that may be true, but we cannot control people whereas we can dogs. People trust the dogs they love and have lived with for many years.

As did 40-year-old Edward Cahill of Indiana. He and his wife had two pit bulls living with them and their four children, as beloved and trusted family pets. Mr. Cahill was found dead on Christmas Day. He had been home alone and eight-year-old Fat Boy, one of the two family pit bulls, attacked Mr. Cahill, who bled to death on the floor of his living room from multiple bites on his face and arms. There he was discovered by his wife.

Who, though admitting the short temper and aggressiveness she was aware of, permitted the dogs to sleep with their children and with her and her husband. Is this not the attention oblivion of blind love and arrogant dismissal of reality?

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Monday, December 29, 2014

The Arab Heritage of Jesus' Divinity

"Palestine is here, exactly where it always was. It has been lived in for 4000 years, by Arabs, Christians, Jews and anyone else who showed up. The Roman Emperor Augustus called it Iudaea. Later, in 135 CE, the Romans renamed it Syria Palaestina in an attempt to sever all connection to it by the Jews.  It was part of the Ottoman Empire until its dissolution in 1918, then called Palestine again under the British Mandate. After Israel's war of Independence in 1948, it was and still is called Israel."
"There never has been a Palestinian state. Ever. The West Bank was Jordanian, the Golan Heights were Syrian and the Gaza Strip was Egyptian."
Bassam Tawil, Palestinian Journalist, The Gatestone Institute, 28 December 2014

Mahmoud Abbas, Pope Francis
Mahmoud Abbas, Pope Francis
Atta Jaber/Flash 90

A re-writing of history, however, has Palestinians living since forever in "Palestine". It's true that they did live there, only they weren't then Palestinian Arabs, they were Jews living in "Palestine". There never has been a time when Jews didn't live there. The Palestinian Arabs who now claim to have their heritage firmly lodged in Palestine are relatively recent migrants, having moved from Egypt and Jordan into the area that once was Judea. The ancient place names are familiar to anyone reading the Old Testament, as a geography familiar for its Jewish presence.

But now, not only did those Palestinian Arabs originate from the area, they are also responsible for the presence of Jesus of Nazareth, the God's tender gift to humankind. How in error the world has been from antiquity to the present to attribute the birth of Jesus the Christ to a Jewish mother, Mary, and a Jewish father, Joseph. Mary and Joseph may have been Jewish, and even that must be questioned, according to the new Palestinian narrative, but their son was most certainly of Palestinian Arab origin.

The Palestinian Authority has authorized a "Christmas tradition"  to enrich the Palestinian claim to exceptionalism in the geography, to be honoured by the international community and Christianity in particular. Jesus was no Jew; he was an Arab Palestinian. Senior figures of the Palestinian Authority, along with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas declare it thus, and so it must be; Jesus was "Palestinian". A new art exhibit demonstrates these claims through artistic license and the examples below are testament to their sincerity.
Here’s the original by Raphael:
Raphael The Deposition (1507)
In what has become a "Christmas tradition" for the Palestinian Authority (PA), PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other senior figures of the group once again made the ahistorical claim that Jesus was "Palestinian." This is a historical truth dating back to the year before which was the first time that claim was made; at the time the Israeli Foreign Ministry responded by declaring: "We forgive him because he knows not what he does."

But, again, a week ago the official PA newspaper WAFA was informed by Mahmoud Abbas officially that: "We celebrate the birth of Jesus, a Palestinian messenger of love, justice and peace"; decoded by Palestinian Media Watch. Poor History; it has the parentage and ethnic roots of the most influential prophet in religious history all wrong; how utterly incongruously ignominious. Christianity itself must now look to somehow making amends by recognizing Christ as an Arab, not an accursed Jew.

Ignoring at the same time the inconvenient other bit of history that it was hundreds of years after the death of Jesus that the Roman Empire, still occupying the geography of the Middle East, thought to alter the name of that particular region from Judea to "Palestina". The name itself resurrected thousands of year afterward during the British mandate when after World War I the name change from Israel to "Palestine" took place.

Another update to history and looking forward into the future had the Palestinian Authority Supreme Sharia Judge Mahmound Al-Habbash authoritatively announce the soon-to-occur disappearance of Israel, for a religious war, incited by Mahmoud Abbas is on the near horizon. "Christmas is also a Palestinian holiday because Jesus, peace be upon him, was Palestinian. He was born in Palestine; lived and was sent (as prophet) to Palestine. Therefore Christmas has a special Palestinian flavour."

As though all of this doesn't appear firm enough in validating the historical correction, District Governor of Ramallah and El-Bireh, Laila Ghannam, announced on official PA TV that "We are standing here, Muslims and Christians, in Yasser Arafat Square (named after) the symbol of our cause, to celebrate Christmas. So too we will stand united to celebrate victory, far off as it may be. Merry Christmas, let's celebrate and be merry; Jesus the Messiah is Palestinian, and we are Palestinians and will continue to hold our heads high."

To clinch this new version of religious historical transfiguration, Adnan Al-Damiri, official spokesman for the PA Security Forces celebrated on his December 25 Facebook entry: "The anniversary of love and peace, the birth day of Jesus the Palestinian", while PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat of Fatah's Central Committee, spoke of "the first Martyr, the first Palestinian, Jesus." Not to be outdone, Tawfiq Tiraw, another Fatah Central Committee member wished the "united Palestinian people a new Christmas that will herald liberty as did Jesus, the first Palestinian."

Jesus -- who knew? -- ordained that the Palestinian Arabs had first place in God's love, and it was they who were chosen to be a light unto the world. We have it on the highest authority of the Palestinian Authority. And so, it is right and proper for Palestinian Arabs to host the world thronging as they do annually to Bethlehem, when tourism is at its height in adoration of a Palestinian Arab chosen by God Almighty as his only son to bring peace and tranquility to the world.

We can judge for ourselves how successful the Palestinian Arabs, anointed by God who sacrificed his only living son as a Palestinian Arab to the cause of world peace -- while the iniquitous Jews continue to claim what is not rightfully theirs; the State of Israel, somewhat truncated from its original, but if the Palestinian Authority has anything to say about it, and they do, soon to be no more -- have demonstrated by their brotherly forbearance that peace is preferable to slaughter..

Pope Francis appeared to keep his counsel to himself when during his visit to the Holy Land in May the Palestinian Authority entertained the pontiff with an extraordinary art exhibit presenting Jesus in his true historical persona as a "suffering Palestinian martyr."

Here’s the Palestinian version of the Rafael painting, from the current Palestine Museum exhibit:

"Jesus’ legs replaced by a photo of the wounded legs of a Palestinian, carried by a man as an Israeli soldier looks on".  The inference relating to 'violence committed by Israel against modern day Palestinians' by Israeli Jews; an historical line from Christ-the-Arab's divine agony to that of his present-day 'descendants'. Now that's artistic innovation for you, hugely aiding historical revisionism to sound success.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Love And Anguish

"It was love at first sight, and in my heart I knew she was my daughter."
"We didn't see Moriah as 'special needs', we saw her only as our daughter. We celebrated each one of Moriah's accomplishments for the struggle it took."
"I shined the dull flashlight on her and she didn't look good at all. I picked up her limp little body and started CPR as I ran to the living room to call 911. [Doing CPR on Moriah] was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life."
"Not a day didn't go by that I didn't think about her heart. For some reason, I had to know."
Russ Sovis, Grand Travers, Michigan
After her death, the Sovis family officially adopted their foster child Moriah, with special dispensation from a judge.
After her death, the Sovis family officially adopted their foster child Moriah, with special dispensation from a judge.
"It was an amazing transformation. Only about five days after the surgery, he laughed and smiled at us. Once he was home, the giggling never stopped."
"How do you thank someone who saves you when all hope is lost? All you need to do is send them a thank you ... and it is the hardest thank-you note you have ever written."
"I had been through so much, I just wanted to be happy. I didn't want to feel like I was enjoying the fact that another family had been through so much torment. It was such a struggle for me. I was so happy, but it almost seemed like it was at the expense of someone else."
"I desperately wanted the family to know what angels they are. How they single-handedly saved my son's life."
Mallory Olshenski, Petawawa, Ontario
Mallory Olsheski says reaching out to the family who gave her son Riley his new heart was one of the most difficult things she's had to do.
Mallory Olsheski says reaching out to the family who gave her son Riley his new heart was overwhelming at first.   Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen
The Sovis family of Grand Travers, Michigan; Russ and Kari, had welcomed into their home a ten-month-old little girl as a foster child, needing care. When they first saw the baby who won their hearts, she had epilepsy, low muscle tone and a lack of muscle control. Little Moriah was unable to sit, laugh, roll over or produce any sounds from her mouth. What a resilient, determined family those two parents were, to take on such a huge challenge as to care for a child with such monumental disabilities.

But they did, and they came to love the child to the extent that they were reluctant to surrender her to the possibility that someone would want to adopt the little girl. They set out to do just that, themselves. A year after Moriah came into the Sovis household she was able to climb, dance and play, physical limitations aside. She could say "Mom", "Dad" and "Dora", happily living among the Sovis family's two older daughters.

Adoption proceedings were initiated; even while Moriah had made wonderful progress she was in fact a very sick little girl. She could experience hundreds of seizures during the course of some days, requiring a feeding tube to keep her weight from diminishing from what might be considered a safe level. In the winter of 2012, a heavy snowstorm hit the area around Grand Travers. Kari was working the overnight shift at the local hospital as an emergency room nurse.

Russ was at home with the family's three children, and when he awoke just before daylight the house was cold and dark. A video monitor was maintained to monitor two-year-old Moriah and when Russ glanced at it the screen was dark. He took a flashlight and went to the child's bedroom, where he found her lifeless. Paramedics would not have been able to drive to the house had a snowplow not cleared the way.

Moriah was rushed to the very hospital where her mother was at work, but nothing could be done, the little girl was lost to life. She had succumbed, concluded doctors, to respiratory and cardiac failure. At three years of age, "She just went to bed and ended up in heaven", said Kari Sovis. Because the adoption process hadn't yet been finalized, the family appealed for permission to donate her organs, and that permission was granted. "We didn't want her to die as a ward of the court. We wanted her to die our daughter", said Kari.

Despite their overwhelming grief they wanted to donate her organs to others. A man in Michigan was the recipient of the little girl's kidneys. And a little boy in Ontario whose heart had failed, who had been born in 2011 with aortic stenosis, was in critical condition at Toronto Sick Children's hospital where an MRI showed him to be in severe heart failure. He had been placed on a candidate list for a heart transplant. His heart was so feeble he could barely be touched; his parents could only speak to him. And then came word that a heart was being flown to Toronto so Riley could live.

Days after the transplant the little boy's prognosis had entirely changed. Taken home from hospital almost a month after his heart transplant, Riley began to thrive. His mother wanted to write a note of appreciation to the donor family, unknown to her, but hesitated. And then Mallory and Adam Olsheski received letters through the Trillium Gift of Life Network, from the Sovis family, written to the recipient of their little girl's heart, but their identities withheld. They wanted to know if the transplant had succeeded.

The Olsheski family procrastinated, wanted to respond, but were fearful. But they continued to think of the donor family, and Riley's grandmother had gone off on an investigation of her own, reaching the conclusion that she knew the identity of the donor family. Months had passed since the transplant surgery when Russ received a 'friend' request on Facebook. "How do I know you?" he asked. "You don't" was the answer, "but let me tell you who I am."

"It has helped with the grieving process. Just to know he [Riley] is OK and Moriah's heart beats is so amazing. I struggled with flashbacks of seeing Moriah in her crib and the CPR. Seeing Riley helps, knowing that it was for God's glory", explained Russ Sovis, finally coming to terms, as much as possible, with the death of their young daughter, and the salvation of an even younger boy in dire need of a new heart.

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Waiting For The "Big One"

"In some places there will be maybe 20 minutes before the wave hits."
"The gold standard is what was done in Oregon and that's what we should aim for."
"There is a very clearly defined set of tsunami problems that need to be solved."
Garry Rogers, senior research scientist, Pacific Geoscience Centre, Victoria

"There would be widespread damage, including thousands of injuries and fatalities and the destruction of hundreds of buildings."
"Overall the province [British Columbia] is still at a significant risk if a catastrophic earthquake were to occur today."
British Columbia auditor general report

The dreadful earthquake and following tsunami of horrendous proportions, took the lives of a quarter of a million people in fourteen countries on what was for those countries a truly fateful day in 2004 when Indonesia [200,000 dead, 37,000 missing], India [11,000 dead, 3,000 missing], Sri Lanka [31,000 dead, 4,000 missing] and Thailand [5,400 dead, 3,000 missing] suffered a tragedy of monumental proportions in the Indian Ocean tsunami.

A village near the coast of Sumatra lies in ruins
In the modern era, that incredible loss of life resulting from an upheaval deep within the bowels of the Earth's crust, leading to the aftermath of giant waves washing ashore, was almost matched in intensity by the 2011 earthquake that struck offshore with a 9.0-magnitude force, second to the Indian Ocean's quake that registered 9.1. Japan lies in a well-known earthquake zone; the country uses high-value technology to monitor such events, and the result was a still-considerable loss of 18,000 lives. The situation hugely compounded by a meltdown of five nuclear reactors.

This is an aerial view of damage to Sukuiso, Japan, a week after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the area in March, 2011.                                                       Credit: Dylan McCord. U.S. Navy

In the Pacific, where tectonic plates on the Cascadia subduction zone slide past one another on their 1,13-kilometre cascade, geologists say that a mega-thrust quake is inevitable. Killer quakes occur in the area every 500 years. It is now 300 years since the last one according to scientists who have found evidence of 19 giant Cascadia quakes in the past ten thousand years. Those experts now predict such a cataclysmic quake is possible in the next fifty years.

"We should be as well prepared as Japan", agrees John Clague, an expert from Simon Fraser University, in recognition of Canada's lag in mapping areas most potentially threatened by tsunamis and "seismic microzonation". Identifying pockets within cities and districts more prone to shaking, liquefaction and damage is vital to protecting the population living along the B.C. coast, particularly the vulnerable area of Vancouver Island.

TRANSITIONS - Pacific Rim National Park (British Columbia)
Pacific Rim National Park (British Columbia) (CNW Group/Transitions)

Like Japan and countries lying off the Indian Ocean, the West Coast of North America is vulnerable to earthquakes which regularly occur. No expert can predict with any reliability when the next large quake of magnitude 9 or more will occur, but they do stick with the 12 percent probability of a megathrust earthquake within the next fifty years.

When that happens, the ground will shake with an intensity sufficient to crack and collapse bridges and unreinforced buildings. Landslides will occur, cutting off roads, railways, and leaving millions of people without power, water, telephone service. A wall of water will race ashore to flood out of existence resorts, campgrounds, and any kind of human habitation, while altering shipping channels and severing major undersea cables.

And now the auditor general of British Columbia has launched a full critical review of Emergency Management BC, responsible for the response to such catastrophes, which has failed to treat the issue as a priority; devising comprehensive plans to deal with the possibility of an immense quake and the following tsunami to make certain that as many people are alerted, to head for shelter on high ground, as possible.

While North America is not likely to experience the intensity of a phenomenon leading to the horrors that resulted from the Sumatra quake, a major disaster could still develop. Emergency planners in B.C. and the U.S. consider it likely that deaths could exceed 10,000, with another 30,000 injured. Aging buildings and infrastructure in Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle and Portland are clearly at risk. Damage, should such a quake and tsunami occur, is estimated to cost Canada up to $75-billion.

A metres-height tsunami crashing ashore and racing up inlets would destroy coastal communities, fish farms, resorts and logging operations. A detailed analysis superior to anything that has as yet been undertaken is required to understand where the giant waves, capable of travelling at jet-flight speed, might break land, to result in the most damage. Inlets and channels are capable of amplifying five-metre walls of water for maximum destructive effect.

Canadian geologists point to the work by the state of Oregon in this direction, where tsunami inundation zones have been mapped out in detail to enable communities to plan evacuation routes, and identify and shape safe havens for people to flock to. And at the same time work on devising methods for the reinforcement of coastal highway bridges to withstand such a tsunami.

westcoast_quake_wordpress (1)

Five-metre waves, which are expected to result from a Cascadia tsunamis, while potentially destructive are not quite the threat seen by the size of the 40-metre monster waves the Tohoku quake off the coast of Japan presented in 2011. Canadian scientists feel it is necessary that sensors be placed on the sea floor along the Cascadian fault for finer estimates of tsunami wave heights. Japan has done just that off their coast.

"We know the on-land measurements, but we don't know what is happening under the water. That is the important part for tsunamis", according to research scientist Dr. Garry Rogers. Living in a wonderful country in a province with breathtaking and varied landscapes does have its risks as a result of natural geology for which the province is justifiably famous.

Credit John Clague

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Personal Tragedies, Christmas Mourning

"I said to his father Mark, 'Your son's a hero. He died a hero because of this, giving the gift of life'."
"It's never going to bring him back, but knowing that he helped other people has brought some comfort to the family."
Yvonne McKinnon, Ottawa

"He was the love of his parents' life, and now he's gone."
Krysia Kurylowicz, acting executive director, Parkway House

Cameron McKinnon suffered a fatal brain aneurysm this week.

A few days ago, 14-year old Cameron McKinnon, beloved son of Heather and Mark McKinnon, gave the ultimate gift to society. His organs were harvested to enable other people to live, where fate ordained that he would not. Last week he had planned to help out at a food bank, along with his class. He wasn't able to, as it happened, because he had a cold and was feeling ill, so he remained at home.

This was a young man whose parents have devoted their working lives to the care of others. Heather McKinnon has worked for over twenty years as a caregiver at Parkway House, a home for disabled adults. Cameron had been going to the home since he was an infant, so he was well known by both the staff and the residents of Parkway House.

Mark McKinnon worked as well as a caregiver for the disabled. He has suffered serious health problems of his own the past four years, and has been unable to work. Mark and Heather's only son suffered a devastatingly fatal brain aneurysm this week. His parents decided their son's organs would be used to enable others to live, where their son could not.

To allow that to happen, since inclement weather had closed in, making it impossible to transport the organs to waiting recipients, Cameron was kept on life-support for days. "You knew he was gone but to do it for that many hours was very courageous of them", stated Cameron's great aunt, Yvonne McKinnon. His parents had spent days at the hospital, holding the hand of their clinically dead son for comfort.

On Christmas Eve around 6:40 p.m., Cameron underwent surgery to remove his organs for transplant. Just before midnight, his parents were informed that the surgery had been completed. He was a shy, quiet, gentle boy, according to his great-aunt, given to helping others. Helping others is what he most certainly did as his last legacy in life, with his untimely death.

It just is not possible to have any inkling of the depths of despair of parents when such an incredibly calamitous occurrence takes the life of a child. It would be as though the future had suddenly and irretrievably dimmed, the joy sucked out of life, a miasma of dread and foreboding, anguish and misery overtaking life. And although compassionate and caring family members and friends do their best to give comfort, it is an impossible task.

On Christmas Day, we ourselves experienced a horribly unforeseen event. We lost a beloved little animal. One day he was well, the next he was in organ failure. He was fourteen years old, a toy Apricot poodle who was our companion, sharing our lives, every moment of it, for we went nowhere without him.

On Tuesday we took him to our local veterinarian hospital. Blood tests and X-rays revealed something dreadfully wrong. From there we took him directly to another veterinarian hospital with more advanced diagnostic equipment and an ultrasound was done. We had consultations with the veterinarian surgeons.

The following day, Christmas Eve, he underwent surgery to remove his gall bladder. Nodules were found on his enlarged liver, one was removed for a biopsy. By Christmas Day he had been placed on life support. Trying to modulate his blood pressure, intubated for rehydration, pain relief, breathing assist. His vital signs were poor, and aggressive methods were taken to try to resuscitate him.

He was not a child, but he was as a child to us. We are devastated. How much more so must be the parents of that young boy. Their home will never again be what it once was.

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Small Town Parenthood

"It was just an all-around awful situation."
"These people seemed to be stopping at nothing to get close to my child, and that's a really scary thing. ...It's a Pandora's box."
"Once they say, 'Hi, I'm your grandmother', or 'I'm your father', you can't undo that."
Lesbian parents of four-year-old boy, Cochrane, Ontario

"We won't see him, I guess, unless maybe he comes back 20 years from now, or something."
"We didn't have much of a say, even if we are grandparents. We would have liked to see him once in a while, even if it was just maybe once or twice a year or something."
Lesbian parents' son's grandparents
Video thumbnail for Inside a fertility clinic
Fertility Clinic

This situation can be considered a 'complication' arising out of an agreement by a high-school friend agreeing to a request from a former classmate years on, both living in the same northern Ontario community, to donate his sperm to that former classmate, a young woman with no biological interest in partnering with a man. The young man's agreement led to a home insemination procedure. And the donor had signed a document that he had no intention of intruding in the child's life.

He experienced a changed attitude, however, once the child was born, and did want access to the child, which the two mothers of the child he had helped father denied him. In Ontario there is no legislation that speaks to the rights of the parties in such arrangements. That being the case the young man brought a lawsuit to obtain access to the child, claiming pressure was responsible by one of the women leading to his initial, uninvolved attitude.

A trial was scheduled and then the case was settled. Part of the agreement in the settlement was that the sperm donor and his parents were permitted a one-hour meeting with the child, but at no time were they to make reference to their relationship to the child. And the meeting was to be a one-time concession; it would never be repeated. Quite the settlement, that. The parents of the sperm donor, stated he had little option, having run out of funding for the lawsuit, other than to reach a settlement.

One can imagine that that brief one-off meeting only served to whet their emotional appetite to somehow be present in the life of a child they had shared bloodlines with. And following that one-time meeting, the mothers of the child in question insist they became aware of the grandparents repeatedly driving past their rural home, located 13 kilometres outside the town of Cochrane.

The biological grandparents of the little boy, according to the child's mothers, followed them as well, while they were driving through the community. They claimed as well that their life was made difficult in the community by the interference of other people. "It got to be so absurd. I was constantly looking over my shoulder, constantly scanning the crowd at the store, at a mall, at an event."

When they contacted police about what they claimed was stalking and the discomfort they felt when strangers would approach them and behave inappropriately, authorities informed the two mothers that nothing could be done, unless someone actually trespassed on their property. One imagines the tender emotional anxiety of grandparents hoping to catch a glimpse of a child whose biological inheritance was part of theirs.

And it is made abundantly clear by the complaints registered by the two mothers of the little boy that they feel completely entitled to privacy, in the righteous belief that their child has nothing whatever to do with the three people who have been haunting the child's presence. A father and his parents, yearning to simply have some contact, however slight, with a child of one, grandchild of the others.

If the two mothers in that cozy little family of three had a wish for privacy, to be left alone, they had the option of some other manner of assisted reproduction offered to same-sex couples, where donations can be obtained anonymously from sperm banks. Their right to privacy would never have been contested, since an anonymous donor would have no interest in any offspring his sperm would be responsible for.

Instead, they extracted a promise from a man willing to help out in an unusual situation with the expectation that he would remain uninterested in the welfare and maturation of a child he had a profound connection to. The women's attitude of selfish refusals to allow any contact between the three people and the child born of their lineage represents an astonishing level of egotistical meanness of character.

Living in a small town of 5,300 people it would be inevitable that there would often be times when all five of the individuals involved, including the child, might come across one another from time to time. At such times, the father and his parents would be expected to completely ignore the presence of their son/grandson? The grandparents in fact, insisted that they had never deliberately trailed the couple and the child.

Although the lawsuit had been abandoned, their acute disappointment in never having permission to interact with the child, however, minimally, represented a blow to people who hardly deserved to be isolated from a child they considered partially their own by parentage. That no accommodation to their desires would be entertained by the two women represents a hard-hearted selfishness that leaves questions in the quality of the nurturance of that child

If society is so agreeable to the necessity of children adopted by parents who don't share the ethnic background of the child they adopt having exposure to their cultural heritage as part of their sensitive upbringing, why is it so different when someone living in a small town having fathered a child and wanting to have a presence in that child's life is denied the opportunity?

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Freeing The Mind With Movement

"It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth."
"[Being able to] walk in the mountains for seven or eight hours without a trace of weariness [enables philosophical composition]."
"The suppleness of my muscles has always been greatest when my creative energies were flowing most abundantly."
Friedrich Nietzsche, In Twilight of the Idols (1889)

"If I couldn't walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish."
Charles Dickens letter from Boulogne, France, 1850

"The only friend to walk with is one who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared."
C.S. Lewis, Author of  The Chronicles of Narnia

"There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively."
"Your senses are sharpened. As a writer, I also use it as a form of problem solving. I'm far more likely to find a solution by going for a walk than sitting at my desk and 'thinking'."
Geoff Nicholson, The Lost Art of Walking

It was observed of Steve Jobs who used the mind-clearing exercise of walking to tease his mind toward clarity and inspiration, that "Taking a long walk was his preferred way to have a serious conversation", as stated in the biography of Apple's co-founder, written by Walter Isaacson. Taking inspiration from a man whose inventive genius was an example to many others in the field, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is also credited with adopting the walking-to-think example.

Charles Darwin is reputed to have walked constantly along what he termed his "thinking path", a road called Sandwalk Wood located close to his home in southeast England. He developed a habit of three-45-minute walks each day; before breakfast, lunch, and the third post-prandially, in the early evening. His son attested to his father's rarely straying from the routine. And it was that routine he relied upon to aid him in finalizing his theory of natural selection and random mutation.

Ludwig van Beethoven, deaf at 40, had his own regimented routine that included regular walking. He would intersperse his composition time with swift forays out of doors to refresh his mind. Once his working day was completed, he would take long, solitary walks carrying with him a pencil and notepad to stroll the Viennese woods. There to find inspiration, then recording them. His sixth symphony the "Pastoral" is complete with woodwind sounds of various birds he heard during his rambles.

Henry David Thoreau, George Orwell, Thomas De Quincy, Constantin Brancuso, Bruce Chatwin and Vladimir Nabokov all indulged in walking to release themselves from the stress of life and work, allowing their minds to roam creatively, indulging their natural creativity and in the process enriching their originality, unleashed through the serenity and mind-wandering that captivated their inner consciousness, gifting society with the results.

And now researchers with Stanford University have validated the process of unleashing creativity through the act and art of walking. The study results, conducted by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology resulted from an experiment where participants were tasked with undertaking Guilford's Alternative Uses Test.

This is a timed activity meant to measure creative thinking; while sitting, and alternatively while walking on a treadmill. The two researchers discovered that walking did indeed increase creativity for 82% of the research participants, with increases of output averaging 60%. The test evaluates the quantity of ideas, but also their quality; the originality of ideas and specificity of those ideas. Additional ideas were generated while walking, of a high quality; innovative and practical.

The advice of those who engage in walking is simply to go out and do it. The benefits endowed by so doing are just too numerous to overlook, from the simple enjoyment of exercising limbs, to the freedom to look about and appreciate a landscape, to the freeing of the mind while taking in prevailing clues of light, distance, fragrances and activities taking place all about; whether in an urban streetscape or a woodland landscape ramble, the results are manifold.

Human beings were not designed to sit for interminable hours at desks staring at computer screens and exercising their cerebral matter through forced communication without some manner of inspirational motivation interrupting the stagnation of movement and boredom. Walking does that, the ingestion of the scene through fresh air to stimulate the brain along with the physical momentum of striding along and appreciating the sensations that surround and impress.

From those stimulations come the urge to indulge in performing some measure of expression, for we are creatures meant to communicate, whatever the tools we use at our disposal; words, paint, sculpture, music, or dance.  

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Protecting Vulnerable Women

"It's like a little bodyguard in my pocket. It preserves the victim. It saves us."
"Once I realized that was all in response to my alarm [police response to alarm], I had mixed emotions. Relief and comfort knowing that's how seriously they take the matter, but also a bit of terror realizing that it's this serious."
Janet [last name withheld], Ottawa

"I'm going to go out in style. I'm going to go out big."
"I'm going to take people down with me. I haven't decided if you will be the person I take down with me."
Janet's ex-husband

"If the accused put her in the car and went on the 417 [highway], it will track her."
"They have a live eye on her so she can be intercepted by police."
Lisa Warriner, executive director, Victims Services of Hastings, Prince Edward, Lennox and Addington County

"The hope was that if we were to provide them with that quick access to services and mitigate those barriers they [abusers] were facing, they would be less likely to re-offend."

Traci Bowen, team leader, Ottawa police victim crisis unit

"It resonates not only for me but for our community."
"Far too many women have died or have been injured through domestic violence."
Chief Charles Bordeleau, Ottawa Police Services
Free Ottawa west mental health services at PQCHC

Janet wears an alarm device especially designed to be used by women who are in danger of domestic or spousal violence She began wearing it three years ago. Wearing the device gave her the confidence to leave her home, to resume a normal life. She felt comfortable in going out with her children, knowing that with the touch of a button police would respond swiftly. She was, in fact, a pioneer in the use of the mobile tracking device; the first in Ontario to use one.

At the present time there are about 150 trackers being used across the province.There is now provincial funding for emergency cellphones in calling 911. In Janet's experience, her husband was twice arrested after their separation. First it was for criminal harassment, uttering death threats and stalking. On the second occasion he was charged with criminal harassment and breach of probation. Janet is thankful police are at her back, thanks to the alarm system.

And, as it happens, Janet's former husband was in fact a policeman.

Soon after their separation her ex-husband stalked her and their children at a public park. His intention was, he informed her, to say goodbye. And that's when he expressed the threat that threw her into a panic. The moment he drove off she dropped the children over to a friend's home, and visited the police. The mobile tracking program that helped Janet was initiated by the Victims Services of Hastings, Prince Edward, Lennox and Addington County.

Even the Ottawa Humane Society is called upon on occasion when women are considering separating from an abusive intimate relationship. There are times when companion pets' lives are in danger at the hands of a vindictive abuser. Women are as reluctant to leave an intimate partner when there are animals involved, as they are when there are children in the picture. A program was put together by the Ottawa Humane Society to hold animals in trust until such time as a woman can retrieve them.

The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association has a very similar program they call SafePet, established in 2003 where women are enabled to drop off their animals at a local veterinary clinic. The association claims that 48 percent of women, because of concerns over a pet's welfare, delayed leaving an abusive relationship.

There is also an active program to help the men who have been charged with domestic violence. Their needs are assessed, taking into account housing, financial matters and emotional counselling. Donna Watson-Elliott, who manages the Ottawa police victim crisis unit says her office tracked 86 domestic violence cases early in the year to discover that of the total, ten men had accepted assistance and had been referred to New Directions, a program set up for abusers.

A criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, Holly Johnson, analyzes data from domestic violence cases as well as data from an online survey of survivors taking into account race, religion, sexual orientation, living situation, eduction, occupation, income and the kind of violence experienced to determine how best police should respond. Nancy Worsfold, executive director of Crime Prevention Ottawa leads a subcommittee examining how domestic violence can be prevented.

Early education was pinpointed as an effective means of teaching youth about violence against women. Hoping to prevent dating violence, in 2006 Ottawa schools added a curriculum section on developing healthy relationships to grades 7 to 9 physical education courses. But in teaching mutual respect between the genders, there is nothing quite as effective as a child observing the interaction and affection between soundly-functioning parents.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

The Broader Issues at Dalhousie

"They're using their entitlement and prestige and their positions as dentists, they're exploiting that."
"It's not enough to just say we're going to give them sensitivity training. They need to look at some of these broader issues of concern."
Jackie Stevens, Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, Halifax

"People are deeply disappointed and concerned. People find the language and the conversation entirely unacceptable."
"My mind is sort of at root causes, which is why are people saying the things they're saying? What is it about the environment that seems to be fostering this?"
"The route we’ve taken is the route the women have selected. We will also hold the men accountable for participation in this process."
"We all know some redress needs to be made. Our objective is to create some space to create what they think the effective redress is."
"I’m struck by the maturity and grace of the women I’ve talked with. I’m struck by the horror and regret I hear from some of the men involved that have corresponded with me. It doesn’t excuse it. It doesn’t remedy the situation. But it’s a fact."
"This incident is particularly saddening because it shows how much more work we have to do, as an institution and a society, to create an environment free from harassment, discrimination and sexualized violence."
Richard Florizone, president, Dalhousie University, Halifax

"It does give them a lot of control [restorative justice] … in terms of how they handle the process, but with that control comes a lot of pressure and in some ways the potential for revictimization".
"The message has to be clearly sent that this is taken seriously that this kind of conduct is not acceptable and will not be tolerated and whatever process they’re using, that message has to be out there."
Wayne MacKay, law professor, expert on cyberbullying, Dalhousie University
dal dentistry
Dalhousie University in Halifax has postponed some exams and launched an investigation into disturbing, sexually explicit Facebook posts attributed to male students in the faculty of dentistry. (CBC)

Dentistry is an elite medical profession, a very remunerative one, appealing to people who are capable of amassing grades good enough to admit them to the dentistry school. A graduating class of Dalhousie dentistry students has fired up Canada-wide indignation through their inexcusable juvenile
crudity in discussing their male preoccupation with female students whom they find appealing. Not appealing in the sense that they'd like to date them in a respectful manner, but rather that they relish scenes of degrading, violent sex with these women.

And nor did the 13 men set to graduate out of the class of 47, keep their obnoxiously psychopathic sexism to themselves, in the secret of a tell-no-one dark chamber of embarrassment and guffaws; they chose to post their stupid comments on Facebook. How's that for the scholarly minds of mature fourth-year dentistry students letting off frat steam? The Facebook Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen(!) page posted a vote to select which female student on campus they'd prefer for "hate" sex, joking about the very professional use of chloroform, and other odious comments.

Little wonder university president Florizone is upset over the episode of male maturity sliding into the realm of bathroom humour that is bleak, black and sexist beyond rationale. Little wonder he spoke to some of the men involved who were, Mr. Florizone said, effecting an attitude of "horror" and regret at the situation. Presumably at all the backlash to their unspeakable stupidity, not necessarily their actions which precipitated the public outrage. So, President Florizone decided to postpone final exams, possibly until things simmer down.

The question is, why are the thirteen involved not being expelled completely from the program, and the final tests carried out for those of the class who were not involved? The public would be grateful if such an action were to be taken, to remove the potential of these men in their twenties who haven't the grace and intelligence not to indulge in such disgustingly antisocial antics, becoming accredited professionals and plying a profession upon which they have brought shame. Better they might be led to pursue a career as bar bouncers.

Before they even get to that point, consider the harm done to the women students, knowing that among them male counterparts viewed them in such a despicably cynical sexist manner. They have embarked on a profession respected in society, and find it difficult to respect others...? And should the affair be dismissed with a pantomime of bringing offender and offended together to calmly talk things through to everyone's satisfaction, who in the process will be satisfied? The women, knowing that under that kind of pressure to redeem themselves the men involved will grovel, but not repent?

The kind of mentality that finds pleasure and humour in degrading other people will find no moral lesson in those discussions admitting their social failures as human beings. The penalty is simply too ambivalent and slack, too readily shrugged off. Certainly not sufficiently compelling to persuade them of the gratuitous harm they have committed to the well-being of women on campus.

Root causes, Mr. Florizone? Generalized societal disinclination to hold to account the gross indecency of people, thankfully in a minority, who see nothing amiss in patronizingly declaring their superiority over others through gender determination, persuading themselves that sexual violence is a matter of huge amusement. President Florizone should heed his own university's students' code of conduct, the penalties for which range from a warning to a suspension or expulsion, reflecting violation of behavioral expectations.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Society and Alcohol

In Canada, there is no federally defined legal drinking age — each province and territory sets its own limits. The legal age for purchasing, possessing, consuming and supplying alcohol is 18 in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, and 19 in all other provinces and territories.Alcohol: Social drinking and the family
Canadians on aggregate, it most certainly appears, enjoy alcoholic beverages. Statistics hold that about 80 percent of Canadians engage in recreational drinking. And although alcohol is the source cause of many social ills, not the least of which is its impact on crime and on human health which itself costs dearly in policing and court costs let alone medical costs burdening the universal health care system, alcohol consumption cannot be criminally regulated, making it an offense to have and consume it.

It does face a host of regulations of a more political and social nature, however. In Canada it is not purveyed outside of provincial government agencies set up for the very purpose of regulating sale and collecting sales taxes. When GST, duties, provincial sales taxes, liquor licensing fees and profits from provincially owned liquor stores are taken into account, federal and provincial governments are enriched to the tune of $9-billion annually.

Sounds like an acceptable solution for a drug that is addictive and the source of so many problems within society, both public and private, from driving while under the influence, to the social-health decline of alcoholics. Prohibition doesn't work; does control? Drinking alcohol has been linked to over 200 diseases and injuries. Canada's expenses in dealing with health care and law enforcement amount to a $14-billion a year commitment.

Prohibition didn't work, and publicizing the deleterious social, public and personal harm that alcohol can and does cause among the general public also doesn't work. And it seems from a perspective of social, public and health advantage that the use of alcohol far outweighs the pleasure it gives people in the burden of the misery it imposes on those same people, that government compromises itself by garnering profit from that misery; it's an reality hard to argue against.

Most people, nonetheless, view alcohol as a genteel, pleasurable assist in social situations, one that represents a civilizing effect on people in social situations, one that gives additional pleasure to the practise of social gathering and of sharing meals and of complementing sports events and of aiding in celebrations, be they weddings, anniversaries, public holidays or business deals.

Where once provincially owned facilities that stock and sell alcohol did so almost covertly in a semi-embarrassed manner, such liquor outlets now take to flaunting their stock, advertising what is on offer in the most persuasively colourful language and photographs, even to publishing glossy magazines offering menu recipes and accompanying alcoholic beverages in support of the aura of liquor equalling good times.

We far prefer bypassing, if not entirely overlooking that people all too often tend to drink when they are unhappy, depressed and miserable. That the alcohol then acts as a further prod to isolation, black moods and misery in a spiral of loss of control, civility and autonomy. That many people are genetically geared toward alcoholism is an unspoken and unfortunate reality, one that infamously ruins lives. These are people said to be 'abusing' alcohol; not that the alcohol is abusing them.

And what is quite interesting is that research appears to validate that people begin drinking at a very young age, despite that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 in most provinces to be served liquor.

"I lost my children to Children's Aid for six years. That was my bottom. I knew if I didn't quit, I would die and then my children would not have a mother. I don't go to bars. I have been to parties where they drink and they get silly and sticky. ... It turns me off." Now 49, began drinking at 14.

"I was unhappy. ... It was an illness of the soul. I finally realized, I wasn't right. ... I went to AA with a close friend. I have never been thirsty again. When I accepted I had a problem with drinking, half the battle was done. Now being sober is part of my life." Now 70, began drinking at 14, attempted suicide.

"I fell apart, losing my memory. I was isolating. I hit my bottom, I didn't care if I lived or not. I gave up. One day, I walked out of work and ended up ... at Queensway Carleton Hospital's psychiatric ward. Nurses there, they brought me to my first AA meeting." Now 75, began drinking at 16, stopped 23 years ago.

"It was too much. I couldn't function. ... When I drink, I'm saying I'm not responsible. ... But I'm not like that anymore, I am responsible for what I do. It's a life full of excuses. ... If you are weak ... you'll end up losing days. ... You go until you can't go anymore." Began drinking at 6 or 7; drank "morning, noon and night"; stopped cocaine, heroin and alcohol 21 years ago; now 56.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

At-Risk Psyches

"As described in a recent editorial, 'Conveying that bullying alone causes suicide at best minimizes, and at worst ignores, the other factors that may contribute to death by suicide."
"Bullying was present in six deaths and it was the only identified contributing factor in fewer than five deaths."
"There were no deaths [in the study of coroner records] where online or cyberbullying was detected."
"It may be that bullying victims in large cities such as Toronto are less isolated, have more options in their social sphere and better access to mental health treatment, all of which may be protective."
Researchers, Toronto Sunnybrook Health Science Centre

"...And it's no surprise that in almost half of the cases [of suicide] these kids had a depression."
"If you do a psychological autopsy, what you learn is that these kids were struggling -- they may not have been on people's radars, but they were clearly struggling with mood disorders."
"[Conflicts with family or peers may push youth to] where they become quite hopeless, or they become overwhelmed with the stresses that they're managing. That's when they start to think of suicide as an option to deal with the overwhelming stress."
Dr. Hazen Gandy, psychiatrist, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario
Amanda Todd's twitter+facebook profile and Kody Maxson's twitter+facebook

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth between the ages of 15 to 25 in Canada, after accidents. Researchers collected data from charts of the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario to study the death by suicide of young people in Toronto between 1998 and 2011. Charts consisting of a coroner's investigation report and pathology report, alongside interviews made up the research material.

The search was conducted for tell-tale stressors that might hint at the desperation to come: being "teased, ridiculed, tormented, assaulted, or otherwise harassed by peers", along with disagreements with parental authority, school grades status, relationships sundered and diagnoses of mental health problems. More than two-thirds of the suicide victims were male; the mean age was 16.8-years.

The records of 94 youth who had committed suicide in Toronto over that fourteen-year period found that bullying alone factored in at 6.4% of the deaths. Depression, on the other hand, and conflicts with parents played a much larger role in the decision by a teen to end life, according to the study conclusion. At 21 percent struggles with parents represented the most common stressor, followed by 17 percent for problems with girl/boyfriends, school problems at 11 percent, and criminal or legal troubles at a matching 11 percent.

In forty percent of the suicides, depression was a motivating factor. Bullying as a causative was "relatively rare", according to the study, published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. No family members of those committing suicide were interviewed for the study for a possible deeper understanding of circumstances. The study acknowledged the possibility that parents might have been unaware of their child's exposure to bullying.

It was established, however, that bullying remains a risk factor for depression or suicidal thinking "months or years after it occurs"; in that the torment experienced by bullying may surface at some future time, though related to the past, leading to depression. Of vital importance, since depression was cited as a 38% factor in committing suicide among the young.

A possible source of misunderstanding or misattribution could be held to the fact that all the study subjects came from the Toronto area. Where in reality, most of the recent cases of bullying in the news that have been held responsible for teens taking their own lives have taken place in smaller, sometimes rural communities. Toronto, they stated, presumably gives youth more options in social spheres and access to mental health treatment, which may lead to more positive outcomes.

The obvious vectors of bullying that are noted in today's technical world of social media, are Twitter, Facebook and other sites, leading to the thought that cyberbullying may now play a larger role in and beyond 2014 than it did in 1998, data for which the study began its examination into the prevalence of youth suicides and its causes. "But I think bullying in the big picture will still remain one of -- and only one of -- several other factors", added Dr. Gandy.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Beaver Habitat

"It has long been known the release of methane from beaver ponds is more intense than for other types of wetlands. With the species' re-establishment and population growth in regions where beavers have been introduced, we set out to quantify whether the methane produced would be large enough to be significant."
"We found that valuable habitat area has been established by beavers over the last century. While this habitat contributes to the global methane gas emissions, the magnitude of this methane source is lower than many other natural sources and unlikely to be a dominant climate change driver."
"The growth of wetland habitats represents a re-naturalization of ecosystems to what they were in 1900."
Dr. Colin Whitefield, applied bio-geochemist
Intro to BWW

There was a time, decades ago when we would tie our canoe to the car roof and set off with our two boys for a day of canoeing in Gatineau Park, Quebec, just over the Ottawa River from the nation's capital. Paddling about Lac Philippe as we often did in the evening hours during a week day, and in the early afternoon hours on weekends we would often see beaver huts and around them as we sat in our canoes would come one those sharp slaps on the water as beaver warned others of our presence.

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Hiking into the interior of the park as we also often did we once came across a small lake that didn't amount to very much, on our way to climb a height we were familiar with. We stopped briefly at the sound of strange voices, then discovered those high-pitched sounds were that of beaver kits hauling themselves onto a log then flipping off from the log into the lake, having one whale of a time.

Hard by the street where we live in an outer suburb of the city, lies a ravined forested area, and through it runs a creek tending to become fairly low in the summer months, freezing over in the coldest winter months, and released to a roaring meltwater river in the spring. On occasion beaver find their way into the creek and they build a dam and a lodge for themselves, usually in quite out-of-the-way areas.

They munch down on poplars, their presence so close to human habitation a delight to some of the regular trail walkers in that woodland, but an offence in the eyes of others who complain to the municipality that they must be removed, and eventually they are captured and re-located and we miss them. Decades ago we used to see foxes roaming the woods, grouse and raccoons and the occasional skunk. Now, rarely.

Once, when spring floods quite inundated the creek the resident beavers, an adult and two cubs for some reason panicked as their lodge got swamped. Some of the nearby streets were flooded by heavy rains that added to the snowmelt and it turned out to be quite the environmental incident. All the more so when we saw the juvenile beavers waddling up driveways presumably looking for some kind of haven.

That's the human interaction story on a personal level, with beavers, those industrious, social animals whose architectural ability and aquatic homes are so fascinating. But this was a research project funded partially by a Natural Science & Engineering Research Council of Canada post-doctoral fellowship, published recently in the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences journal AMBIO.

Algonquin Park, Sec Lake

The results of the research reported pond habitats and natural watercourses have been expanding, resulting from the global increase of beavers. The study covered the period from 1900 to the present, focusing on the effect of beaver population increase, relative habitat growth resulting in global methane gas emissions.

Beaver population increase since 1900 has resulted in about 42,000 square kilometres of new pond habitats in Eurasia and the Americas, along with over 200,000 kilometres of shore-line habitat. A hundred years on it was estimated that activities relating to beaver habitat had contributed up to 800 million kilograms of methane to the atmosphere annually, representing a 200-times growth from 1900.

From the 16th to the 19th Centuries the fate of beavers was a most unpleasant one. They were hunted to near extinction, thanks to the fur trade. Since then, however, laws regulating beaver harvesting through trapping, assisted species introduction into new environments and natural migration have led to a global population growth of about 30 million beavers.

The building of dams creates water-based eco-systems contributing to the development of methane-emitting ecosystems. In those ecosystems carbon-rich aquatic plant matter decompose on the pond bottoms where little oxygen exists, the end result being the release of methane into the atmosphere. It was found that methane emissions from wetlands account for less than 1% of total emissions released by fossil fuels combustion, by humans.

When we paddled about rivers and lakes as we did so often and manoeuvred into swampy areas, the rotten-eggs stench of swamp gas (methane) would greet our nostrils. And there is where we might see turtles, black water snakes, nesting waterbirds, wild rice growing, and cranberry bushes, and small carnivorous sundews among the rushes, sedges, horsetails and flowering plants crowding the narrow aisles of water permitting us entry to the swamps.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Biological Therapies for a Biological Killer

"Too often Canadian discoveries have to leave our country in order to be clinically tested. But today with the announcement of the formation of BioCanRX we have the opportunity to take Canada's efforts to find cancer cures to a whole new level."
"For 50 years we have been treating people with chemotherapy and radiation therapy and it is not as good as it needs to be. Lots of people are cured but they have lots of side effects which are not very pleasant and may impair them for the rest of their lives."
"As a Canadian, I am very proud of the role our country has played and continues to play in the fight against cancer using biological therapeutic approaches."
"Biologically based cancer therapies hold the potential to be both curative and less toxic than many of our current treatment strategies. That in itself is very exciting. But what is really unique about this funding is it allows Canadian scientists to work together to develop several therapeutic strategies in parallel and then to test these both alone and in combination with each other with the goal of finding the most effective way to help our bodies' own defences fight cancer. In this case, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts."
Dr. John Bell, scientific director, BioCanRX, national network
Dr. John bell
Dr. John Bell     | Photo Credit: P.Doyle, CP Images
Managing the health and future outcomes of Canadians diagnosed with cancer costs the Canadian economy roughly $20 billion annually. Recovery from cancer surgeries and allied protocols such as chemotherapy and radiation treatments is a long, slow progression to recouping health after cancer.
Dr. John Bell, newly named head of a new national research network for biologically based therapies thinks we can do better.

Dr. Bell is thinking of successful new therapies yet to be discovered that would have little to no side effects, capable of treating patients and having them recover from their ordeals far more quickly, to enable them to get on with their lives once again. Not only would these emerging new therapies reliant on biological bases, vastly improve quality of life, but they would have economic benefits as well.

Scientists around the globe are working on experimental biologically based therapies, and some of the results of their research are incredibly promising. A recent trial, pointed out Dr. Bell, involving immune therapy carried out in Germany performed the once-unbelievable; a patient's cancerous lung was transformed through that therapy to become once again, a perfectly normal lung, absent cancer.

Results such as this, says Dr. Bell, are "unbelievably dramatic. Our challenge is to make it happen all the time in all patients." Dr. Bell is also counting on the fact that Canada is home to scientists of internationally recognized calibre, who are busy developing potential therapies. In the process, a key challenge has been moving laboratory results into clinical therapies.

The network that Dr. Bell is set to lead is expected to usher the result of that work to patients, permitting scientists to work with one another in the creation of combinant therapies that appear the most promising as future cancer treatments. Dr. Bell is the scientist associated with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, leading research into cancer-fighting viruses for over a decade.

Bio-therapeutics for Cancer Treatment (BioCanRX) has been initiated with a $25-million federal five-year investment, with an additional $35-million flowing from partners which include the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, and other non-profits and industries.

The network is geared to bring researchers working on three primary areas of biotherapeutics for cancer treatments in touch with one another, with business and others working alongside to provide promising new cancer therapies to patients safely and quickly. Teams of social scientists are set to work with the researchers ensuring that those treatments will be affordable.

"We read in the newspapers every day of new promising drugs with price tags that make them beyond the reach of most of the population. We want our new therapies to be affordable to all Canadians", explained Dr. Bell. The therapies he makes allusion to include immune cell therapy to attack cancer, antibody therapy to prime the immune system in the fight, and oncolytic virus therapy to kill tumour cells and prime those anti-tumour immune responses.

The potential of these new therapies and their efficacy in sparing patients the dreaded side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation will conceivably lead some day in the near (dare we hope) future to a dramatic change in the medical-scientific battle against the pernicious affliction that is the disease many people refer to as 'the big C'.

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