Ruminations

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

Thursday, March 29, 2007

To the Fore Once More!

Here it is surfacing again, another debate on the pros and cons of circumcision. From a situation where health professionals were once in general agreement that male circumcision was a health and personal hygiene practicality, and most baby boys underwent the procedure shortly after birth as an accepted practise, we turned full circle where the general population began to denounce the practise as unnecessary and even a brutal imposition on helpless babes.

So fewer and fewer baby boys underwent circumcision as their parents for one reason or another accepted the idea of circumcision was no longer a necessity to future good health and hygiene ease. In fact there was a restive and most definite backlash, with public opinion weighing in on both sides, along with health professionals siding with one opinion or the other. The prevailing opinion, however, was that the procedure was unnecessary. Along with a condemnation of its past popularity.

Cosmetic surgeons began doing a booming business in foreskin restoration, as men swallowed the idea that they had been somehow made lesser by the removal of their foreskins, had suffered a cruel punishment for having been born male. People can be so very silly. The fact was that intact foreskins were always acknowledged to be a safe and moist harbour for all manner of bacterial infections.

Men with foreskins intact had a far higher incidence of penile cancer. The transmission of disease from partner to partner is facilitated handily by an intact foreskin. Now another dimension has been added to the debate with the World Health Organization weighing in by recommending that countries promote male circumcision as an effective preventive measure against HIV/AIDS. Yes indeed; why would that be surprising, after all?

"Absolutely, parents should consider it," advised Dr. Kevin De Cock (oh, isn't that too utterly serendipitous?!) WHO's HIV/AIDS department director. "Male circumcision should now be recognized as an efficacious intervention for HIV prevention" concludes the trials review to which Canada provided some funding, along with the U.S. and France. The conclusion is that a causal association exists between HIV/AIDS infection and intact foreskins.

The foreskin is susceptible to tearing, and also contains certain cells considered to act as a "doorway" to infection. "Scaling up male circumcision will result in immediate benefit to individuals." It is estimated that 30% of men worldwide are circumcised. In Canada the percentage of infant circumcisions fell by 36% over 30 years to 14% in 2003. Recent Statistics Canada data suggest the downward trend continues, but the WHO declaration could turn the trend around.

In any even, case closed.

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Child Obesity

Why wouldn't we be facing an epidemic of child obesity? After all, these children live in families with parents who raise them in the manner to which they become accustomed. If the parents are overweight and far too many also morbidly obese, it's little wonder the children are as well. A familial inheritance of indolence and over-indulgence, of neglect, lack of values and acceptance of the quick-and-easy.

We're now informed that Canada's younger generations are expected to live shorter lives than their parents, on the evidence being presented today with respect to the health of young Canadians. Too little exercise, too much fast-food, too little concerned parental oversight; too much time dedicated to house-bound activities like watching television, playing computer games.

It's the easy life. But it's a life devoid of some fairly basic values. Children are born to be active young animals, although they do need encouragement from time to time to remind them of their natural need to use their physical resources in a constructive and entertaining way. As growing young animals children also require nutritional meals to help them along the way to good health in maturity.

We live in a world where too little value is now invested in raising children, in making economic sacrifices for that very purpose. Within families it is now accepted practise that children be shopped out to child-tenders while both parents work. Where once it was enough to have basic shelter, to provide a range of basic nutritional foods for the family table, with sufficient clothing to cover all the seasons, no one is now satisfied with what is currently considered to be an acquisitively-meagre lifestyle.

Possessions are equated with quality of life. That's where the drive is, to have the economic wherewithal to acquire ever greater treasures with which to share one's life, to enhance lifestyles. Forgotten are the needs of children, to have a secure and trusting oversight through their formative years, to engender in them an appreciation of morals, ethics, values and a fundamental way of life that appreciates what truly matters.

Children are exposed to advertising that entices them to eat junk food, and their parents are happy to oblige, since it's more difficult to explain to them that empty calories don't equate with nutrition. High fat and salt and sugar content appeals to human taste, including that of the parents of these children who don't have the time in their busy lives to actually cook healthy meals for themselves and their children.

Rather than spend quality time as a family, reading, going on nature outings, visiting museums, galleries, zoos, musical or dance events, bowling alleys and the like, it's less time-consuming in busy lives and more relaxing for everyone to just sit around and watch inane television programmes which further instill a lack of real-life values to all concerned. During which more junk food can be eaten, instead of fresh fruit.

Now the state of the country's health has been impacted to the point where those who govern are worried. After all, the health care system, already over-burdened as it is, can hardly accept additional strain. And when people are unhealthy they don't constitute a reliable workforce. And if the workforce isn't there, how can business and corporations further themselves, enhancing the GDP, and adequate taxes be collected?

Well, municipal authorities have something to answer for in not finding the wherewithal to replace condemned playground equipment in public parks and in schools, leaving the children little to do to work off steam, so they wander aimlessly around during school breaks at lunch and recess along with off-times. By placing soft drink and candy dispensing machines within schools as money-making ventures they've added to the problems.

Yes, people should know better, they should care a whole lot more, but in today's busy world there isn't enough time for too much introspection in the race to keep up with whatever is popular. And advertising plays such an incredibly invasive and mendacious part in our lives; the allure of owning the latest technological gadgets and vehicles is just too much for people to ignore.

This is the society we've made together, these are the values we uphold, this is the lifestyle we aspire to. This is the result.

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The Garden!

Cry the beloved garden

Well, I didn't, not at all. I knew very well it was still there, all the beds and borders, the trees and shrubs, the perennials, the vines, all there under the winter blanket of snow, awaiting spring. Yes, spring arrived by the calendar as it is wont to do, since there are some truths in life that never disappoint and nature is by her very nature regular in her habit.

When we came down to breakfast this morning the thermometer read well below freezing. But the sky was clear and blue and the sun shone brightly through our windows. Our little dogs settled themselves at the front of the house where the morning sun shines its early warmth through the dining room windows and the day began its slow progress toward spring warmth.

It is at this time of year that we are beguiled by possibilities, by the eventuality of the promise of rebirth, the glory of spring. The air is different; warmer, promising, redolent of awakening life. When we first open the sliding glass doors onto the deck to let our little dogs out in the morning we hear robins, cardinals, even red-wing blackbirds now, thrilling to their own beckoning opportunities.

Mid-morning I interrupted my laundry chores and ventured out of doors in shirt sleeves. I can do that at this time of year when the temperature reaches up to the single-digit plus, and today it was 2 degrees when I let myself into the backyard. I've been neglecting it; from spending hours daily throughout the spring, summer and fall, to little-to-no-time at all during the long dark days of winter.

We've still got snow and ice, but it is fast receding. There's perhaps one-third of the accumulation left to melt under warmer temperatures and the growing heat of the sun. I walked about the backyard for a few moments, then began looking at the newly-revealed gardens and could hardly credit my eyes. For there, creeping boldly out of the still-frozen garden soil were tulips, lilies, hyacinths, irises, sending their fresh green [and red] tips upward.

Amazing, wonderful, hardly credible, but there was all the evidence I needed that winter is evaporating slowly and surely. There! leafbuds fattening on the Corkscrew hazel! In the rock garden the french strawberry plant is reaching out its fresh, bright leaves, the lime-rickey heuchera is ablaze, the bleeding heart beginning its ascent into early flower. Good grief, the chives have started, the Canterbury bells as well.

The eonymous shrubs, the Monarda, the honeysuckle vine, they're all beginning their spring journey to summer. I try to peek under a few rose cones, but they're still fast frozen to the ground; I'll try in a few days' time again. But I retrieve a pair of gardening scissors from the shed and snip a bit here and there and uncover the globe cedars, the columnar cedars and fold the burlap away.

The ornamental weeping willow is sending out buds and I can see its soft grey pussies unfurling; even the weeping mulberry has some early buds. The honeysuckle vine growing up the arbour has sent out some early green shoots along its length. Is this to be believed? There's a sweet fragrance in the air and it envelopes me as I look about, wondering where it emanates from. I stoop to crumble a bit of dry lavender, and it's not that. I uncover the Japanese cut-leaf maple and it looks just fine.

I wander along the path, through the gate, toward the front gardens. Far more snow still left on the ground than in the back; it's nowhere near as protected. Still, large grey flower buds on the Magnolia offer promise of a splendid floral display, as do the rhododendrons and the azalea, carefully removed from their covering, the white blankets pulled open to expose the large evergreen leaves.

The yucca looks in fine form, as does the Japanese spurge. Coral bells look as fresh and beautiful as they did when the snow first fell, blanketing and readying them for their winter hiatus. No tulips or narcissus yet starting to emerge in the front, though the grape hyacinths are, along with miniature irises - quick and early to bloom in spring.

I feel anticipatory now, warmly expectant. Our gardens never disappoint, always thrill us with their determined seasonal thrusts and wonderful displays. Bring it on!

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Stop, That's Banned!

Amazing what an authoritarian government can come up with. For the good of its citizens, to be sure. And we think we're getting to be a nagging nanny-state! The government of New Delhi, a city of fourteen million people, has tagged some egregious habits people foist upon themselves and others.

Lots of others, given that staggering population. Wouldn't think there would be much elbow room; every time you turn around you'd be whacking into someone. Hard to imagine, but one supposes there's a lot of 'pardon-me' and 'oops' and 'sorreee' being flung around. Unlike a similar population density in Tokyo, for example, where overt politeness is the order of the day, and no one bumps into anyone else but if it does happen, one bows from the waist.

To keep the peace. To maintain a modicum of civility. You know how it is; don't we all. I'm the type that will hold a door open for anyone behind me. And when the person for whom I've extended this courtesy swaggers right through without so much as a brief nod or a verbal acknowledgement of my politesse, I respond for him/her with an exaggerated "you're welcome". (And don't feel too kindly disposed toward them as a result.)

But we were discussing New Delhi, India, and that's not Ottawa, Canada. Two New Delhi judges have taken it upon themselves for the greater good of the community to bar smoking while navigating/operating a motor vehicle. No kidding. They've decided that since smoking poses serious health risks, and driving in New Delhi is considered to be "dangerous to human life", the juxtaposition of same become legally prohibited.

This is a nod to the fact of life in New Delhi that they suffer a surfeit of habitually bad drivers. They've that at least in common with most other communities. Those emotional, argumentative, politically-savvy and mad-for-the-law litigious-prone Indians being put on full notice. Moreover, the evil of cellphone use while under the influence of a car wheel now also falls under the weight of this new prohibition.

"Anything that distracts the attention of driver is dangerous. The human mind cannot do two things simultaneously", said New Delhi's traffic commissioner, Qamar Ahmed, welcoming the ruling for New Delhi which comes into effect on April 9. Right on. Those caught in the act of puffing will be fined the equivalent of about $37 Cdn, a hefty fine by New Delhi standards.

And whoa! offenders with more than five citations will have their driving license revoked. Similar fines apply to cellphone use while driving, along with the offence of "dangerous driving". Wouldn't mind a little of that vigilance imported here, matter of fact. The cellphone-and-driving part, in any event. Anyone who wants to puff themselves silly, who cares?

Odd nothing mentioned about the use of drugs or alcohol imperilling the roads of New Delhi. If smoking and cellphone use is the worst of humanly-adapted bad behaviours they're in fine shape. No road rage problems? Gee, wonder if they've given adequate thought to chewing gum while driving?

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Minimum Wage: Living Wage

What a contrast the world presents us with between those that have the wherewithal to live their lives in comfort and those who struggle to provide the necessities of life to their families. The well-off as opposed to the impoverished. Observed on a large scale we can look at North America and European countries as having gained an incredible momentum in economic progress since the industrial revolution. They represent the populations on this sphere whose day-to-day lives are devoid of the intolerable stress that indigent populations in the third world face.

By and large Western societies observe an obligation to those societies outside their social and cultural and political fabric, struggling to overcome mass poverty - by supporting their economic needs at a very basic level while also delivering support through agencies from the United Nations and NGOs to provide services, the wherewithal for technological advancement, and medical aid to suppress the effects of endemic disease, and the fallout of local wars.

We're the better off for it. We assuage our consciences with the thought that our little efforts, our minor interventions, our insufficient international aid funding does offer hope and help to those great suffering masses. We know they're out there, we know how impossibly miserable their lives can be, the odds against survival in many of the communities in emerging economies - the have-not countries of the world.

But how about the people living in our very midst, those countless unseen faces in our own communities to whom opportunity and good fortune has somehow been denied? We see around us what we're comfortable in observing, looking handily beyond the needs of others. Yet knowing, because we're reminded time and again, that among us live children, and single-parent families, the elderly and the working poor whose status in life is one of continual want.

Not the kind of want that we experience out of sheer boredom, looking for the next popular event or product to entertain us, but the kind of want that sees young children going to bed hungry, going to school with inadequate nutrition, improperly clad for the weather, and their parents desperate with worry for the future of their young. Food banks do a brisk business in our very wealthy society; we routinely write cheques to salve our sense of the unfairness of it all.

Fully 4.1% of workers earn the minimum wage in Canada, which can range from a low of $7 an hour in our wealthiest province - Alberta, to a high of $8.95 in our wildest territory - Yukon. Provinces are grappling with the need to meet the most basic of living requirements for the working poor; wage-earners whose distinct and direct needs glue them to jobs with incomes that come in between $4,000 to $6,000 below the official poverty line.

There is a recognition that low-wage workers are overdue for a rise in the minimum wage, but business and politics are both shy of accepting the inevitable, a rise to $10 an hour linked to the rate of inflation. Business argues that a higher minimum wage will translate in substantial job losses. The historical record tells us otherwise; raising the minimum wage has had little impact on employment levels.

Canadians in general are of the opinion and fully supportive of the need to raise the minimum wage as a necessary step to reducing the level of need among low-income Canadians. Statistics Canada warns of the growing gap between rich and poor, as the rich become wealthier and the poor more mired down in the affliction of dire need. A rise in the minimum wage won't solve that problem, but it will have the effect of somewhat easing the intolerable burden of insufficiency that poor families face.

Then there's the unassailable issue of morality. Quite simply, no Canadian should have to work for wages that don't offer them the capability to lead a decent life.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Protective Profession

Despite the manner in which genteel society views the oldest profession in the world, it exists quite obviously because there is a need for its services. We can look down our noses at the thought that anyone, male or female, would sell their bodies in service to others, but the conditions that cause the profession to exist are part of human nature and until and unless we are prepared to undergo a wholesale alteration in our profoundly physical needs altering that which nature has endowed us with, the profession is destined to remain with us evermore.

We don't really have to like the profession whereby one human being prostitutes him/herself to the bodily needs of another. Prostitution has always been shunted aside, shut out of view of 'decent' people whose instincts and predilections and social instincts mitigate against their taking part in that age-old ritual of exchanging sex for favour. But society has never been able to completely expunge its need or its presence. For all manner of reasons. The least of which is that the most 'decent' and 'upstanding' members of society often surreptitiously resort to the use of prostitutes.

Because we hold those in the profession of dealing sex for money in such low esteem, feel them to be living evidence of the most degraded practises in human society, we fail to recognize the humanity of those who practise the avails of prostitution. We find them beneath contempt, unworthy of any kind of social consideration. Or the protection of the law and society at large normally granted most other citizens. And that attitude is really beneath contempt, for these are people no less worthy than the rest of us of human regard.

These women - since it is mostly females who practise prostitution - ignored and shunned by society, live out their careers and their lives in the shadows of the norm; they represent the demi-monde, the dark underworld of society. Laws exist to punish and restrict and restrain their activities, but not to protect them. A humane and humanly-generous society would recognize the necessity to help these women, to recognize the social legitimacy of their profession, as some enlightened countries do.

The women could be registered as legitimate businesses, pay taxes and be permitted to regulate themselves, set themselves up in safe areas in accredited buildings, with regular medical check-ups to ensure their health and that of their paying customers. They should have the same rights of prosecution of their business as any other members of our society. They should be permitted to reap the same benefits which accrue to others within a fair and equitable society. The full strength of the law and justice would prevail for them as it does for all other members of society. Their lives would not be as casually forfeit and unlamented as they are now, where, as the underbelly of society they are prey to a form of deliberate violence not suffered by any other class of professionals.

Their need to operate in a climate of discretion and fear, an underground service of shame leaves them vulnerable to the worst physical abuses that sociopathic men can visit upon helpless women. In our society countless women working in the sex trade go missing, are found dead, and little concern is expressed by society at large and our policing agencies in general. Women are economically disadvantaged in most societies, and ours is no different. Affording women who wish to practise this dangerous profession a modicum of protection under the law would only make ours a better society.

We owe this at the very least to these women. If they prefer to continue their profession we should be able to guarantee them the same access to fair and equitable treatment under the law as those who commit to any other living professions.

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Down Under In KiwiLand




He's been in New Zealand for over a month. Quite the adventure travelling to the other end of the world, just about. He was excited about the prospect of his visit, but slightly bemoaned the carbon footprint he'd be leaving through air transit. The alternative is to sit about and twiddle thumbs; he just isn't the type. Purpose of the trip was to attend a stream ecology conference in Christchurch. Since he was going all that long way from Canada he decided he would take advantage of the opportunity and stick around awhile. Much as he did a year earlier attending a conference in Sweden then taking more than a month to travel that country and Italy as well.

He made reservations at a great-looking hostel in Christchurch. Hostels in New Zealand bear little resemblance to those in North America; they're by no means bare-bones operations and evidently they're called 'backpackers' with at least two or three present in every little town. At the stop-over in Fiji on the way there his luggage somehow got mislaid and he had to wait five days before it was restored to him. But the conference was a great success, and he met up with colleagues from around Canada, some he had met at a conference in Alaska last year, those he had met previously in Sweden, and many from New Zealand whose studies echo his own.

They did some socializing, some scientific cross-fertilization, some exploration at the conference through the local environment. Once the conference concluded he bought a car. There are listings on bulletin boards at the backpackers' hostels as well as a "backpackers car market". Travellers to New Zealand planning on spending some time hauling their bods and possession a round the geography purchase used cars then put them up for sale again pre-departure. The cars are relatively inexpensive: used-car imports from Japan. The Japanese government has a tidy agreement with its car manufacturers through legislation demanding frequent stringent inspections the results of which are that the population finds it convenient to continually buy new car models and the country has a thriving export industry of used vehicles as a result.

So the vehicle he bought was a sedan in fairly good shape, a 1992 Nissan with 174,000 kms. Before he bought it he took it to a local garage for a mechanical inspection. Its shocks leave something to be desired but mechanically it's in fine shape. For $1600 he figured he got a good enough deal, and it gets about 7.5-l per 100km. The washboarded gravel roads leading to trailheads account for the condition of its shocks.

First trip was to the north end of the South Island to a town called Nelson, a jumping-off spot for a four-day backpacking trip along a coastal trail (Abel-Tasman). A scenic, fairly flat trail next to the ocean, shared by a lot of determined hikers. Huts are spaced out along the trail for crashing. He carried a 30-lb pack. Anyone wanting to cut their trek short can take a water taxi out; they traverse the routes regularly to all portions of the trail to pick up and drop off day hikers. The ocean tends to be fairly rough so the boats appear to be airborne half the time. A thrill in itself. On that trail he came across one of his friends from Sweden, with his wife doing some sight-seeing of their own. He also experienced some fairly crushing heat, along with of all nuisances, blackflies.

Trip over he stayed in Nelson with a friend from New Zealand who had attended the conference, then went out for dinner with four kiwi biologists also at the conference. From there he headed out to the west coast from a place called Westport, staying at one of those great little hostels. He did a day hike on another coastal trail; very few people there, with a native palm tree forest fringing the coastline. It was sub-tropical, very warm, although it's fall in New Zealand now.

From there he proceeded south-central through a place called Arthurs Pass in the Southern Alps, the mountain range running the length of the South Island like a spine, and did a day-hike in the pass, and another at Mount Cook (tallest mountain in Australasia) National Park further south. Another day-hike took him to Mt.Aspiring National Park, near a town called Wanaka, where he stayed over at a hostel. That hike he found similar to being in the Rockies, with a lower treeline full of New Zealand beech; gnarled old hardwoods with tiny blueberry-like leaves. That trail come up to a glacier with spectacular waterfalls off the rockface from glacial meltwater streams. Sheep were quietly grazing on the valley bottom.

Hostel stay-overs provided the opportunity of meeting all kinds of interesting people; characters from just about everywhere. Both home-grown and huge volumes of tourists all eager to share in the wonder of the landscape. Then he left the South Island and made his way via a long drive and a ferry ride through to the North Island. There he found quite a few changes; the roads are more frequent and in better shape because there are far more people living on the North Island. North Islanders have a habit of making the South Island their recreational destination, although there's plenty to see on the North Island as well.

The pace of life is generally more bucolic, he found, people not rushed, more than willing to stand around and socialize; talking as a form of social-emotional recreation. People are far less canted toward material acquisition. Far more satisfied to live a more modest lifestyle, valuing life itself, not the accoutrements which we in North America construe as having meaning in their ownership as indicative of the quality of our lives. At one town he read an advertisement in one of the hostels and signed himself up for a workshop. There he learned the intricacies of fashioning rough steel to forge your own handmade knives.

He listened, observed and produced, with the painstaking direction and assistance of the instructor how to harden steel in a forge, using a low-grade steel which would absorb carbon from the hardening process itself. Another process he plans to study now on his own and to perfect for his own satisfaction, much as he creates pieces of furniture with hand tools, eschewing the use of nails, using old tried-and-true methods of cabinetry at a time when it was an honourable and honoured profession. He had produced his own moulding planes in the past, but this instruction took him beyond the crude hardening process he had himself devised.

He has now another week left to spend in New Zealand. And then a week in Australia, before he returns home to Vancouver. Another trip under his belt, another venue to appreciate the diversity of geographical landscapes, human settlements and their social fabrics, along with the flora and fauna of their environments.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Spring for Sure

Finally, unmistakable signposts of Spring's arrival. The thermometer reached up, up, up and even higher yesterday until it sat at a balmy 8 degrees. No sun, to be sure, but regardless the snow began to melt, and once that starts, you know you're well on the way to warmer weather, sprouting things and plenty of future sunny days. Besides which, I had a telephone call from Kaye Brown, asking if I would do the usual door-to-door canvass on our street for the Canadian Cancer Society.

That's been my sure-fire sign of spring for many years; come April and off I go with the #@%^*&! canvass kit. I hate the bloody thing, detest going door to door, always have, but always will. Just one of those things. It's like doing anything you regret having to do but know you have to since someone's got to do it; afterward, when you're finished it feels so good to know it's done and over with.

A month ago, just as I had completed and handed in my canvass kit for the January March of Dimes campaign, there was a telephone call that my husband picked up. Asking if I would agree to canvass this year again for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. He, knowing how much I hate canvassing, responded on my behalf and stated I would not, to my great regret. He meant well, but I do that canvass because of the good work they do. My sister is legally blind.

Anyway, when we were in the ravine today on our usual jaunt it was amazing to see how much the snowpack had decreased since the day before. And the trails! Forget going in there without cleats, you just wouldn't be able to; slithering, slipping, sliding ass-over-backwards the order of the day. The ground is still hard frozen, it'll take a while for it to warm up. But since it's frozen it can't absorb all the run-off of the melting snow. So the meltwater slips downhill into the creek and it's running dark and furious.

On the flatter portions of the trail, those areas that don't dip into the ravine, water just sits complacently where it melts, right on top of the ice. By the time we get home after our hour in the ravine, Button's legs are wet and so is her underbelly, while Riley, shorter than her, is completely drenched, the underportion of his little coat quite sodden. But they're clean withal; just wait until the ground finally melts and everything turns to muck.

Plenty of springtime activity in the ravine now - oddly absent yesterday, but for the birds singing everywhere. They're still there, entertaining us, but as of today we had an additional spectacle heralding spring - squirrels and chipmunks are running amok, two by frantic two. 'Tis the season for the reason to multiply and they take this onus placed by Nature upon them very seriously indeed. They skitter over the ground, up onto tree trunks, through the branches, tails twitching in the frantic fun of it all.

No sign of the raccoons. They're holed up elsewhere. Occasionally we see them in one or another of the really old pines, recumbent on those thick branches, peering down at us. They follow the route, my husband always says, of the garbage pick-up. Locating themselves handily closest to the street outlets in the ravine in concert with the days of pick-up. They're clever little fellows, and have my personal admiration.

Cooler today than yesterday, but no rain. The landscape is changing, but slowly enough that I can take a long look at certain points on our jaunt and see trees marching up hillsides, framed by the still-thick-and-white snowpack. And when I set the table in the dining room this evening for dinner much later in the day, I could see a portion of our front lawn revealed as the snow recedes. The sun came out briefly and sent a wide shaft of light over the exposed lawn.

It's still light now at dinnertime, and that's a change associated with spring and longer daylight hours. Just as I'm about to begin serving dinner, there's the telephone. It's someone else calling from CNIB, remarking that someone had called awhile ago, but they're calling again just in case I changed my mind. Would I assent to canvassing for them mid-May to mid-June? You bet.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Landscape Aspiring to Spring


Hard to believe spring is on its way, but yesterday marked the onset of the spring equinox. Two days earlier we forged through the after-effects of a sizeable snowstorm, plunging through the snow, feeling the wind whipping it against our faces throughout the course of our walk in the ravine, so cold that even the new snow crunched underfoot. A week earlier the creek down in the ravine was frozen solid, overladen with a thick blanket of snow.

Yesterday we barely edged above freezing on the thermometer and without the cleats over our boots we would have slithered all over the icy trail. Our faces knew that the spring that brings warmth and new life had not yet arrived. But overnight the temperature gradually rose and the skies opened to a robust downpour that continued all night. In the morning we were treated to a thunderstorm with claps that rocked the house.

Our little dogs ventured uncertainly out into the rain to relieve themselves post-sleep and as we opened the doors the trill of a cardinal carried into the house. Later we heard a red-winged blackbird, and saw a robin again sitting on a branch of one of our Sargentii crab trees, nibbling on a tiny crabapple. They have trust that spring has arrived and if their cheerful faith doesn't smooth over the edges of our misgivings, what will?

On our way up the street the air was alive with birdsong, that of a flock of purple finches flirting in the branches of a tall spruce. The sky was heavily overcast, but the rain had stopped for now. As we dipped into the ravine, the wind soughed, sifted, sighed through the trees. Treetops shifted their balance in one direction, then the other, under the wind's insistent influence.

Where a day earlier this wind slapped our faces with cold, everything now seems to have changed. It's now a balmy wind, caressing our faces, our heads now bare of winter covering. The snow in the ravine is still deep; it will take more than one heavy rain event to wash it away, but before we're halfway down into the ravine we begin to hear the creek heavy with rainwater and meltwater swishing downstream.

The water is dark and muddy, whirling determinedly past all obstacles in its way, taking with it light bits of detritus the wind has brought down from overhanging boughs. Overhead, crows swirl and display themselves on the wind, enjoying their free ride, cawing triumphantly. There's a far-off repetitive call of a woodpecker punctuating the interstices of the forest trees.

The pine and poplar trunks are dark and sodden with rain. The bleached leaves of immature beech and ironwood still flag their presence; at winter's onset signalling surrender to the inevitable, now at winter's departure indicating the truce it has signed with spring. There's a teasingly-brief flicker of sun before it's once again obscured by fast-moving clouds and we wonder whether we'll complete this walk before another rainfall.

Button moves jauntily along the trail before us, skipping from time to time as she is wont to do, indicative, we always think, of feelings of happiness in her favourite landscape. She wears a bright red sweater today against the black of her hair, flaunting her presence on this white-and-dark arras. Riley too wears only one coat, not the usual sweater-under-coat and he too is moving along with sprightly alacrity, happy to be out.

The snow beside the trunks of some trees has begun to shrunk and has been coloured with tannin leached from the trunk; last fall's leaves puddling around the trunk as they decay. Red osier dogwood leap into our vision in colour-contrast to the dark trunks, the white underlay.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Humanization?"

Well, that's an interesting bit of nomenclature to describe something we've always previously known as anthropomorphism. But perhaps the authors of the word humanization meant something entirely different. In that in anthropomorphism we attribute to animals other than humans traits that human beings appear to believe that they and they only are privileged to bear. "Humanization" on the other hand, is meant to convey the meaning that - what? we treat animals as we would human beings? The distinction is probably there all right, but it still escapes me.

As William Shakespeare had Shylock passionately declare: If I bleed, am I not human? In the case of animals bleeding doesn't make them human to be sure, but does it not confer on them equal consideration as living, thinking, feeling creatures, just like man? And when human beings feel empathy and affection for warm-blooded animals that have the ability to reciprocate attention and obviously feel affection and trust for those who care for them do they not have their value to us as creatures worthy of our attention?

Not that animals owe us anything. They are as useful in this world and as much a part of this world as human beings are; by their very nature perhaps more so. Certainly they cause less damage than humankind tends to. Their value as living creatures tend, however, to be understated by us, their attributes unrecognized, their function within the ecosystem nature has devised unrealized by us. Still, animals fascinate people, who seem to generally feel that these creatures were placed on earth mostly for our entertainment as oddities.

So we cage them, feed them, and display them. In zoos, of course. We live in an enlightened age where we realize that if we undertake to cage, feed and display animals we also have an obligation to be cognizant of all their needs, to be sensitive to their emotions, since they have long proven they have earned our empathy as living creatures. Yet there are animal specialists who believe we do animals a grave disservice by bringing them into our world, and with the exception of domesticated animals they are likely correct.

It is not animal liberationists who decry the neglect, misuse and exploitation of animals by humankind that I refer to here, but rather zoologists who study the physiology and physiognomy of animals, their habits and lifestyles, their habitats and needs. They would prefer humankind remain distant from the animals whom they describe as "wildlife" - and for the good of the animals themselves. Wild animals, be they birds or mammals need not be fed by people; they should be able to forage on their own, and to feed them distracts them and destroys their innate abilities.

That makes good, sound sense. But here is a conundrum, one worthy of the wisdom of King Solomon. what to do when a baby bear cub is birthed in a zoo and its mother rejects it, leaving it exposed to die? Well, in the Berlin zoo just such an occurrence transpired, and the zoo keepers scooped two cubs out of the bear compound with a fishing net and placed them in an incubator, feeding them with human milk and cod liver oil every half hour. One, named Knut, a tiny white fluff of a cub, survived.

Knut quickly became a city mascot, beloved of zoo visitors who will soon strain to catch a glimpse of him at his forthcoming first public appearance. He has become a beloved and pampered resident of the zoo, fed chicken puree, given his own Christmas tree. He sleeps with a teddy bear, plays with a football, and his keeper plays a guitar and sings to him to put him to sleep. Sounds quite wonderful, does it not? Trouble is, it is not.

Frank Albrecht, an animal rights campaigner states: "Legally speaking, the zoo should kill the baby bear. Otherwise, it is condemning the bear to a dysfunctional life and that is a breach of the law". The director of Aachen's zoo, Wolfram Ludwig, believes that Berliners are wrong to want to save this bear cub. "It is not correct to bottle-feed a small polar bear. He will always be fixated on his keeper." It is his contention that the cub should have been killed when its mother rejected it. "One should have had the courage to kill him much earlier."

In light of the fact that environmentalists are increasingly of the belief that Arctic species are facing possible extinction due to the shrinking Arctic ice mass and the inevitability of their habitat loss, zoos around the world are grappling with the problem of saving species like Knut from extinction. In any event, most zoos do keep polar bears. It defies intelligence that this tiny bear should be treated as a "humanized threat to normal wildlife" when it seems the expedient thing to do is to retain him in the environment he was born to, in any event.

The cub, now weighing in at 8 hefty kilograms should be seen as the gift that he is and cherished for his growing presence. To do otherwise is simply counter-humanization in quite another manner.

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Just Imagine

Just imagine this: you're sitting in your assigned plane seat. It was an exhausting business trip. You're glad to be returning home. These business trips are a right royal pain in the backside, but you've got a job to do and travel is a big part of what you do as a business executive. You're thinking how good it will be to get home, see your wife and children, feel comfortable, even though you're jet-lagged. But business is business and it takes you all over the world; in this particular instance, to India. And back again.

You don't even want to think about what your jetting about is doing to the environment, since you do have a conscience, after all. You're sick of eating food you're not all that familiar with; it's not even remotely close to the kind of Indian food you've been accustomed to eating back home in London. You're fed up with having to remind yourself continually of what you can safely eat or drink, and what you may not - not being so dreadfully fond of prolonged and rather painful stays in the loo.

And although India is such a booming place offering opportunities to conduct business on a scale not even remotely similar to what you experienced a mere two years earlier, you're fed up with viewing all those indicators of obvious wealth juxtaposed with children begging on the streets. Heaven knows, no country stands out as a beacon of righteousness when it comes to looking after its most vulnerable, but what you've seen and heard of while in India makes you glad to leave it. Until the next visit.

You're just about ready to nod off to sleep. You're in business class, you thank your lucky business-affiliated plenitude, plus the fact that there are empty seats, one in fact right beside your own, affording you the additional pleasure of a sprawl. And then suddenly, there are two stewards, ferrying a passenger down the aisle and before you know it, the elderly emaciated-looking woman is seated directly beside you. Good thing you gathered yourself back into your own seat as they were proceeding down the aisle.

The woman doesn't look well. And little wonder. It appears she has succumbed to that very same life-long disease that imperils us all. You turn half-sympathetically to the now-departing stewards, who, having seen the woman safely to her seat are withdrawing their presence wordlessly. You kind of wonder why, in mid-flight, the seat has suddenly been claimed. So you kind of 'ahem' to their departing backs, causing them to turn back toward you, in a strange unison. That's when they half-whisper that she is dead.

That's when the shock sets in. That's when you are informed by the sweat-browed steward who has remained beside you, speaking in a confidentially-low voice that the woman just suddenly expired, and the cabin crew, sensitive to the situation, wanted to place her somewhere where the rest of her family could grieve around her, in some semblance of privacy. You protest that you are a sensitive human being too, that you have some rights of privacy too, don't you? Why beside you?

The seat, sir. The empty seat. But seats were found for the other family members, you protest weakly, why couldn't one of them be seated beside you? That's how it goes, sir. We have problems like this infrequently, but we have to deal with them, when passengers expire in flight. Be reasonable, sir, we cannot, after all, place the deceased in the galley, can we? Or blocking an aisle, or the exits, now can we?

Sorry for the inconvenience, sir. Be a good sort and just lie back, try to sleep.

You vow never to fly British Airways again.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Kindly Neighbours

Really, where would we be without our good neighbours? Lonely, perhaps. Or, in the case of neighbours whom we'd prefer not seeing too often, glad that we don't have to. You can't pick your neighbours, they're just there. Who, when contemplating the purchase of a house, walks next door to introduce themselves to their potential new neighbours, after all? And, in any event, would a brief acquaintance with people you'd never before seen alert you to the fact that they're either raving lunatics or wonderfully kind people? You take your chances.

Then if, upon moving and becoming familiar with your next-door neighbours or even those living several houses beyond, you find yourself living amongst people whose values and mores match your own, aren't you fortunate! Chances are, in any event, when people live among those whose traditions and values have been informed by similar backgrounds there will be much in common between them. All right, there's also the issue of personalities, and often enough they can grate; can't please everyone.

Still, neighbours don't really like to annoy one another for the very simple reason that they themselves don't like to be annoyed. So most people go out of their way to be at least civil to their neighbours and sometimes friendships develop so that the street can take on the characteristics of a true neighbourhood with neighbourly friendships and trust a healthy by-product. Neighbours will help one another, offer tools to one another, share evenings together on occasion. Makes for a nice warm atmosphere.

Pity the homeowners or even the apartment dwellers who have neighbours-from-hell. More common, doubtless, than those of us blessed with good neighbours can imagine. The neighbours who think nothing of infringing on the rights of others, who impose and demand and feel entitlement where none is actually there. The people who, if they're not hosting all-night parties of their own, permit their offspring to do so in the out-of-doors with pool parties and flinging beer bottles at random, voices raised high in the spirit of the occasion.

Wait, there are other kinds of neighbours too. Countries living side by side or adjacent one another are also neighbours, right? And sometimes things can go awry there too. Here's the example of several countries as neighbours. Tiny Singapore, with a population of 4.5 million people, located at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula has long-term plans to ease its crowded conditions by reclaiming land from the sea - ah, the sea around it, all around it.

When Singapore declared its independence from Malaysia in 1965 it was comprised of 581 square kilometres of swampy, malaria-infested jungle out of which it managed to create an affluent, highly-educated society. At present the island is 650 square kilometre with plans to 'acquire' another 100 square kilometres within 30 years, using 1.5 billion cubic metres of dredged silica a year. So where is Singapore obtaining the sand so necessary to its reclamation efforts? Why, from its neighbour.

Indonesia is comprised of 17,000 islands, some hugely sizeable, some minute with no feasible life forms on them. But gigantic Indonesia is apoplectic about its tiny neighbour's purchase of sand, building materials and landfill. Indonesia has levelled a very serious charge against its neighbour; that Singapore has been busy stealing their land. Last week 24 tugs and barges full of granite chips were stopped by the Indonesian authorities as they sailed toward Singapore.

Indonesia announced a ban on the sale of sand to its neighbour, claiming that its islands were being loaded onto ships to be carried away to Singapore. Yes, these fragments of islands jutting out into the sea all around Indonesia appear to have no practical function as they're not large enough to support human activities, let alone people. Yet Indonesia claims "Some of these islands are reduced to islets, and could even disappear below the surface."

"This could theoretically lead to a cartographic zero-sum game in which Singapore's gain could be at Indonesia's territorial loss", claims Indonesia's former intelligence chief. Oh dear, contrasting Singapore's obvious need and the disparity in size between the two, it's fairly simple to deduce that grumpy giant Indonesia is behaving like the baddest of bad neighbours. Grudging a tiny nation the wherewithal to build its surface resource through the reduction of minute islands of no value to its current owner.

Oh, right, with the potential disappearance of a few tiny islets out of the gigantic total comprising Indonesia's surface resource, there is the risk they might lose ocean rights according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Yet Indonesia should see its way through to being a good neighbour within reasonable bounds. Relinquish what is not practicably useful for a good cause.

Give a little, gain a lot. Neighbourly civility.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Revisiting Connections


We missed her as soon as we left her behind in her mother's house. The drive back to our own home seemed quieter, less eventful, somehow lacking some critical element of satisfaction, signaling a loss. Yes, I was a little apprehensive beforehand. How to keep a ten-year-old little girl busy, engaged and happy? Now I know. Just let it happen. And it does.

She followed me around like a little puppy. Always curious, renewing old habits, reacquainting herself with what was once so familiar to her everyday life. Wherever I was, there she would be too. In the kitchen, offering to help with the baking, the cooking, the cleaning up. Relaxing in the family room, sitting with us, engrossed in one of her books while we read the newspapers.

On the last full day she was with us the weather had turned icy again and the trails in the ravine followed suit. So she pulled on the cleats over her boots and set out with us for this new experience, and enjoyed clambering wherever she wanted over the ice. Despite the inclement weather we saw robins finally returned after their winter getaway.

At breakfast I sectioned her grapefruit, set it alongside a banana, broke two eggs into a little bowl, so she could beat them with a fork, add a slight amount of milk, warm up the pan, melt butter in it to fizzle, then drizzle her eggs into the pan, and methodically move them about until they were as dry and well cooked as she liked. And then she ground fresh pepper on the eggs and brought them to table.

Toasted challah, thank you Bubbe. And then spread it liberally with smoked-salmon cream cheese spread. She had oven-roasted potato slices with fresh salmon and loved it. She enjoyed breaded chicken cutlets along with rosti potatoes and onions. She thought highly of chicken fricassee, and panzerotto. We made vegetable-filled egg rolls together, and chocolate-chip cookies.

She ate candied carrots, buttered corn, oven-baked asparagus, and green peas, but rejected tomatoes and avocados. We ran out of chocolate milk. No plain yoghurt, thanks, but the fruit-bottomed is just fine. Food is just so very important to her, and it's always what're we having for lunch, dinner, breakfast?

She won't eat bacon, but did eat bacon slices made of chicken. And she enjoyed the process of making waffles. I can hardly believe the amount of food a child her age can consume. She loves strawberries and fresh pineapple, apples and nectarines. She even enjoyed overseeing the dogs' special treats after breakfast when each is given a tiny bowl of doggy biscuits.

She's now able to shower on her own, wash her own hair, look after her own needs in regularly changing her clothing, and rushing to do little things like opening the doors for the dogs' ingress and egress. She still loves climbing into the big tub in our bathroom and sliding about in it as she did when she was little.

Although she really wasn't all that interested in the chapters I read to her from a book of insights and experiences of various children living in war zones, she listened and then we had small discussions. She likes discussions; she is an incessant babbler, like her grandmother.

She's now companionable, a sensitive and sensible human being.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

March Break Week

She's here. It's been a long time, but now she's here again with us. Just the three of us, two old dodderers and one little girl, along with two spoiled little dogs. Weren't we surprised. But when the opportunity reared its head we rose to meet the challenge. Besides, she's a full year older and at that age children gain maturity at an exponential rate. She's had a multitude of new experiences, met many new friends, been subject to entirely new situations which she's had to deal with and has met with great success in all those areas.

Some things don't change. She still paddles about after me wherever I go, whatever I do, and occasionally chimes "what're we going to do now, Bubbe?" But that's all right, because she's gained in maturity and with it a sensitivity to the needs of others, and she understands that sometimes she has to rely on herself, not others. When she'd reminded she does just that. And isn't it a pleasure to have her around us. To be able to view this wonderful creature at our leisure.

She's able to daintily wear the clothing she has carefully selected for this visit, having informed us beforehand that she was intent on packing enough for a year's stay. Not that she would ever agree to anything so monumental, for to leave her beloved mother for any length of time in excess of a few days would wreak havoc with her well-being and that of her mother's. She's taller than me now, and willowy, and blooms with good health.

And all of a sudden this child who once had such a picky appetite is fully prepared to eat just about everything in sight. She knows I approve of any amount of fruit she wants to consume, at any time of the day and finally she is also eating cooked vegetables as well. She won't eat red meat, but does eat poultry and cheese and for heaven's sake, she even insists on making her own scrambled eggs for breakfast. Wonderful beyond words.

When we visited a local bookstore she had a fairly good idea the books she wanted to acquire and set about doing just that. It was my additional choice to select one other book than the four she had chosen, for the purpose of introducing her to another kind of world, a real world of trauma to children just like her, living in the Middle East. Out of which book I read to her in the evening, and speak to her of what I read, with the purpose of instilling in her a curiosity and understanding of worlds outside her own.

She ambled along with us on our daily ravine walk, the snow fast melting around us, her boots not meant for this terrain coming back rather damp. She recommended that we take a shorter walk because, after all, she'd already had an earlier walk that same day and who in the world really needs all that exercise? But we revisited old haunts with her, and she was quickly able to identify the changes that had taken place in the wooded ravine since the last time she'd been there. Mostly a lot of bank collapses alongside the creek, taking trees with the crumbling clay to litter the bed of the creek.

And today, among other things, I gave her a haircut. She always takes readily to this kind of ministration, having discovered that shorter hair makes for less tangled hair. Since she has an extremely unruly/curly head of hair, this is an intelligent decision on her part, to permit me to cut her hair. And she comes out of this exercise looking like the original Gibson Girl, natural beauty incarnate. Her medium-brown hair with its red highlights tumbles into the waste basket and when it has accumulated there the auburn gleams back at me, breaking my heart.

We had a shopping expedition today, to select a few items of clothing for her. She tried on several pieces in the dressing room of the shop we were in, and unselfconsciously showed me how they fit her, and I felt a pang of remembrance - is it really that long since I was such a one as she? Later, she helped me prepare eggrolls for dinner, painting the edges of the pastry squares with a wet brush so they could be folded over the stir-fried vegetable mixture they were stuffed with.

When we read the newspapers, she read one of her books, one chapter after another. Her mother is worried she will be too much of a burden for us for these few days, and we tell our daughter to just relax and enjoy a short respite from constant attendance on her daughter. This is our holiday, too.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Teaching Money-Sense

When our children were young, we opened a bank account for each of them. Actually, guided them at the bank closest to where we lived through the mechanical process of opening their bank accounts, and we were co-signatories because of their young age. We taught them how to fill out deposit slips and sign over cheques to be deposited to their accounts. All of the baby-bonus cheques our family received for our three children were to be deposited to their personal accounts.

If they earned money eventually, and if they saved money from their allowance it would be their choice whether or not to deposit any of that too, to their accounts. It was a prosaic, although perhaps slightly affirming project for them, not yet in their teen years, but for me it was an exciting event, for as a young person, let alone a child I had never been given such an opportunity.

Having a bank account and talking to one's children about the disposition of money at their disposal is a fine introduction to teaching them about economic transit; from our pockets to theirs and then to the bank. And it engenders within them a sense of satisfaction that they have attained to this position in life of acquiring the wherewithal which might permit them, should they wish it, to become purchasers of goods.

A whiff of independence, a push toward responsibility in decision making. An introduction on a small scale to the world of commerce. So when I read about an accountant (doesn't it figure an accountant would be so obsessed with numbers/money...?) determined to give her three children a financial start by teaching them about money management, she established six bank accounts in each of their names.

Sounds to me more as though she is gifting them with a life-long money neurosis. Each child with six bank accounts, ranging from long-term savings and investments to everyday needs. Two in their direct control; one designated for necessities and one for play. This is serious financial management. These children will most certainly learn the lesson their mother is determined to teach them, but what will this be teaching them other than leaving them with the indelible impression that financial management has truly critical proportions in one's life.

Which is fine, but not in one's emerging life as an adult, for these are mere children; lessons should be geared to the suitability of learning at the appropriate time in life. Money management as an obsession for young children will result in adults with a money psychosis; her youngest child, after all, is a mere five years of age. Yes, it helps with their math skills, yes it can teach discipline, but for all things there is a season.

Children can be taught a certain level of responsibility for their spending decisions quite apart from such minute compartmentalizing of income and management to the degree that each child requires six bank accounts. Children learn things almost by osmosis, listening, watching, repeating, emulating, and when they hear discussions between their parents about financial issues and money management they begin to understand the basics of both.

Gradually introducing children to saving and spending and eventually earning to save and spend is part of giving them some of life's integral lessons. Good habits are learned as they become more mature and understanding of what options are placed before them. Intense regimentation satisfies only the rigid accountant residing in the breasts of those who invest too much importance in financial issues.

It's amazing how quickly children learn that the money they acquired by saving allowances, for example over a long period of time can simply evaporate in the euphoria of a single determined purchase. When the child cools down and balances the length of time the purchase cost him in savings against the true value of the purchase, this can be a very powerful learning experience.

Making money valuation a intense exercise at a young age isn't the wisest course, but it most certainly will result in an over-valuation of money in a world where so many other issues should take precedence.

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Visiting With The Old Folks


She says she is excited, really looking forward to Tuesday. She's already packed her bags. Two bags, one for her favourite little blankies, worn now from so many years of use, but still security-functional. And oh yes, her favourite Teddy Bear. Decided against her soft fluffy pillow; she'll take her chances with what we've got here. Besides which, she reminded me, we've got some of her old blankies from when she was a toddler on the top shelf of the linen closet closest to the room she'll be sleeping in.

That room, not the one she always used to sleep in when she was an infant, then a toddler, when I put her down for a blessed afternoon nap, giving me a chance to catch my breath. She prefers to sleep in the room with the double-size bed. Twin-size beds are anathema to her. That's fine, I don't mind where she sleeps, as long as she's comfortable and comforted. It's March break next week and at ten and a half years of age she's not old enough to be left at home alone.

Her mother has to go to work, and her mother's companion has decided to take his son to Toronto with him, to stay with family there for a few days. He doesn't want his son to lose touch with his extended family on his father's side, now that he and his mother have been long separated. It's no longer as simple as it once was for families now that it's become so common for families to separate, to become blended families. It's no longer as simple as it once was for her mother to drop her off at our place daily, on her way to work. She lives now at the opposite end of the city.

So we'll go downtown on Tuesday and pick our grandchild up at her mother's place of work, bring her back here with us and have her sleep over for the next three or four days, until the following week-end. It's been slightly more than a year since we looked after her on a daily basis. She misses being at our house, but not all that much. She has a different life now, one that doesn't include us on the daily menu.

But she remembers so many things about her recent past when we were together each week day. She is excited that her memories will be refreshed, she can re-acquaint herself with this house that she so loves. Wanted to know if that old square wood box is still in the black lacquer court cupboard, the one she used to put her weekly allowance in. I reminded her she had gone on a spending spree at Winners and there wasn't much left in the box, but it's still there.

Only pennies left, and she generously tells me that's all right, why don't we use the money for ourselves? However, in anticipation of her visit we've already loaded it down with toonies and loonies, about $15-worth which she'll be able to spend on books when we take her on a shopping expedition. She reminded me last night of her favourite lunch, spicy breadcrumb-coated chicken breast strips and grated onion-potato, stir-fried.

I've already loaded up on fruit-bottom yoghurt, chocolate milk, almond-chocolate bars, for treats, but I plan to bake cookies when she's here, so she can 'help', clean out the bottom of the mixing bowl and spatula of the batter left over. We'll prepare a dinner consisting of egg-rolls filled with snowpeas, bean sprouts, grated onion, carrot, potatoes. I'll discuss some elements of the dinner-time menu with her; she likes anything with chicken and I'll make chicken-balls with a mushroom sauce served over rice for another meal.

I've loaded up on her favourite fruit, Royal Gala apples, fresh pineapple, loads of luscious strawberries, so she can chomp away to her heart's content. Food plays a very large role in her conscious well-being and the important things of life. Here's hoping I can convince her that a side-dish of asparagus won't hurt her, that she can leave the grape tomatoes if she wants to, but she really has to eat the rest of her salad ingredients. She's the kid, I'm the granma.

There's a new family on our street with children she's never seen nor met, and I have high hopes that she and they may want to spend some time together. On the telephone last night I mentioned their names: Tessa, Michaela, Alexei. Names unfamiliar to her, and she queried them, but when I said they're children of mixed parentage she thought that was a perfectly acceptable explanation; another culture, another tradition, different names.

I've pre-warned her that I wasn't put on this earth to entertain her. We'll do things together of course, but she has to keep herself busy too. She also has to go up to bed at a decent time, and not fall asleep on the sofa downstairs, something she often does at home. She has agreed to these house-rules. All the games we used to play together, the old board games are now at her house, not ours. And most of her beloved books to which we've been adding over the past year as she matures as a reader.

And we've always got the ravine for recreation. When she was a baby I used to carry her through the ravine in a baby backpack strapped on my back. And for most of the years of her life she toddled, then walked, then strode through the pathways and trails of the ravine with us each day. We're hoping she'll want to spend time in there too with Alexei, Michaela and Tessa, since we saw them there at the last bridge yesterday just as we completed our circuit.

Michaela always wants to come to our house, since we first met her with her mother and siblings after they moved in and took them on a tour. I've told her all about our Angelyne. We'll see what transpires.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Take a Pass - Go Right to Failure

We're always looking for good news. Especially good news on the medical/health front. And sometimes we're rewarded. As when it was announced not all that long ago that a vaccine has successfully been tested on young women against HPV. Successful in that it has demonstrated an astronomically high rate of cure. If that isn't honking good news what would be?

The HPV vaccine, named Gardasil, came on the market in Canada last July. It's been universally recognized as a breakthrough preventive tool for one of the most common cancers among young women. Last year alone saw 1,350 new cervical cancer cases resulting in 390 deaths. So far, about 15,000 Gardasil prescriptions have been sold by retail pharmacies.

While there is still much debate in the United States with respect to the product, Texas and Virginia are offering the vaccine to grade 6 girls, and several other states are considering enacting enabling legislation to do likewise. The debate revolves around the fact that some conservative factions feel that to offer the life-saving vaccine is tantamount to promoting pre-marital sex among young women.

No one has yet debated the efficacy of enacting legislation to offer high-style chastity belts to young girls to let them become accustomed to the discipline involved in self-control. Education is fairly effective, but not with all young people and by simply doing nothing at all when a life-saving tool has finally been placed at our disposal can also been seen as condoning the survival of the fittest - or the most cautious.

In Canada a government advisory committee recommended in January that this human papillomavirus vaccine be provided to all girls aged nine to 13 for the purpose of preventing the sexually-transmitted virus, the cause of most cases of cervical cancer. Yet no provincial governments responsible for immunization programs have so far decided to underwrite distribution of the shots.

Some indicate they are still awaiting responses from their own experts, others are discussing the issue within their health departments. And all of them are more or less sitting back, hoping the federal government will take the initiative and announce a national program to fund all such vaccines.

All of the provinces cite the costs involved. For a province like Saskatchewan $170 for each of three shots per recipient translates to roughly $3 million annually, whereas the province's total vaccine budget of $10 million to pay out for universal immunization programs for meningitis, chicken pox and other diseases makes the prospect of paying out for the HPV vaccine seem excessive.

The Canadian Cancer Society is unequivocal in its support for the need to begin these vaccination programmes as soon as possible country-wide. They suggest creative financing, which might include negotiations with Merck, the manufacturer of Gardasil, to lower prices, as has been done in Texas. "It's the first of a kind, it's very effective for a specific type of cancer. It is a tool women should have available".

And at $400 per person the treatment is held to be too high an expense to be borne by most families with children. This would be the perfect time for the federal government to step in and demonstrate the responsibility which the provinces appear to be shirking.

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Cops and Victims

The public altogether has a rather robust idea of the way in which police authorities conduct their business in protecting the best interests of society. We should know, after all, we've had the business of policing thrown at us front and centre for a good many years through action films and avidly-viewed television series that everyone seems to adore watching.

Of course art copies life, and then of course life turns things around and copies the art of the possible. Extremes become a fact of life and violence its essence. Thus we have stories in the newspapers relating how police squads have from time to time violently erupted into a dwelling where suspected drug trafficking is taking place and oh dear, some old granny whose home it happens to be is killed in the general melee.

Whoops, wrong apartment. It needn't be an old woman involved, and most frequently isn't. Sometimes it's the wrong address, sometimes it's the right address but the wrong intelligence. And most often intelligence is just simply absent. Nice to know that an affronted public while content to watch imaginary drug busts on television shows thinks their police in real life should not emulate art.

That because of the really bad press police have been garnering for offing innocent people in the pursuit of law and order, they're now re-thinking their methodologies. So adrenaline and testosterone have been placed on the back burner - not too far since sometimes they're still called upon - but responsible police work is back in style.

Still, it sometimes takes a while before these reconstructed techniques make their way to the back and beyond. And since Canadian forces often look to their big brothers to the south for guidance, it would seem that some Canadian police forces haven't yet caught up to those in the U.S. Take, for example, the recent event in Brossard, Quebec where police stormed into a private home late at night.

A 'surprise' raid it most certainly was. On a suspected drug trafficker. Who just happens to be a family man with several young children, all of whom were fast asleep as most normal families are, in the wee hours. The family was rudely brought out of the comfort of sleep by the sound of their front door being crashed in. The man of the house, needless to say, thought first it was a home invasion, in reflection of many which had occurred in the neighbourhood.

He sought his legally registered firearm in defence of his family (albeit illegally loaded) and a gunfight ensued. His wife was critically shot in the uproar, one of his children made a panic call for help, dialling 911 in the next room. All the while the father was exchanging gunfire with the armed intruders. And then shot one. Fatally.

This kind of police drama is called a "dynamic entrance" and that it most certainly was. Who might suspect, living in a suburban family home with their children that police might have a a reason to think they are doing something illegal and as a result would plan to invade the sanctity of their family home at a time when people are generally fast asleep?

No charges have been laid against the home owner, Basile Parasiris, for drug possession, evidence of ill-gotten gains, not even for unlawful firearms storage. Leading one to the conclusion that there was no reason to do so for no evidence of any such was discovered in the course of the raid and its after-conclusion.

But Mr. Parasiris is now in prison and will stand to be charged in the death of Constable Daniel Tessier, the Laval police officer shot dead as a result of his tactical squad's decision to invade a family's home.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Exemplary? Not On Your Life!

One supposes there will always exist people for whom the great priority in their lives is to be noticed. And for these people to be noticed is to be admired. These ego-driven self-absorbed people among us who feel their presence is somehow outstanding by virtue of their sterling qualities, most often fed by a physical appearance of beauty and a personality that seeks to make the most of it. These people are also imbued, it would seem, with an adamant need to "become someone" and to that end are capable of employing wiles any thespian might envy and emulate.

Margaret Kemper, or Margaret Trudeau, select whichever name exemplifies the persona (and it will always be Margaret Trudeau, former wife of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) has always been captivated by herself and anything and everything that has to do with herself. Above all, she is a woman whose pursuit of herself has kept her busy inventing and re-inventing herself as a personage of great interest.

From marrying a prime minister to bearing three seasonally-blessed children, to partying with the hippest band in town, writing a self-adoring book replete with whines of misunderstandings to thinking herself above the law and placing other people at risk through her belief in her own superiority in her station in life she has provided the public with a sad and sorry picture of failure.

But wait, how wrong could I possibly be, for only yesterday this woman was presented with an award for inspiring others through her courage. Among three other recipients, she has been recognized by the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health at their 2007 Inspiration Award gala at the Congress Centre in Ottawa.

The three award recipients, aside from Margaret Trudeau appear to have earned their recognition for the work they have engaged upon and the commitment they have given to mental health awareness. This they have done quietly and with the best intentions, hoping to give value to the work of mental health workers, and hope to those suffering from mental health conditions.

One can only wonder how much value they themselves place in this recognition of their work, devalued as it has been in connection with Margaret Trudeau lumped in alongside them. Mrs. Trudeau is extensively quoted in a gushing newspaper article describing the event and the recognition given to her. A year earlier she had announced that she suffers from bi-polar disease.

She and countless other sufferers. But she stands head and shoulders above the throng for she is, after all, Margaret Trudeau, ex-spouse of the late P.E.T. She has lived, she recounts "without hope" and with an "emptiness" for a long time, as "low self esteem and lack of motivation" contributed to her depression. In her various incarnations as a photographer, a first lady, a flower child, one of the beautiful hip people we were given ample opportunity to witness her low self esteem.

She has had a trying life; it isn't everyone who has had to battle the deprivation which results from an early childhood of wealth and opportunity, an adulthood of admiration and public esteem, a mature life filled with assorted marriages while basking in the limelight of notoriety. She has made attempts to use her name well with the Watercan project and the B.C. Landslides awareness project.

However, Margaret Trudeau states that her involvement with mental health awareness stems from the fact that "I wanted a sense of social responsibility and a feeling that I could help others" to explain her presence at the award ceremony. Are we to believe that this woman has finally discovered herself?

Might this be the same woman who contested a charge of driving while under the influence of alcohol, otherwise known as driving blind drunk? Margaret Trudeau now stands to be retried on a charge of drinking and driving, since an appeal court has ruled that her Charter rights had not been violated at the time of her arrest two years earlier, as claimed by her lawyer.

How very peculiar; society abhors and for good reason, sociopaths who consume alcohol and then think nothing of getting behind the wheel of an automobile, turning it from a convenient conveyance to a potential instrument of death. And there have been more than sufficient deaths and maimings caused by drunk drivers. Most people with any sense of decency apologize under these circumstances.

But Margaret Trudeau, not even blushing in shame, had her lawyer invoke the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Surely her late husband whose child the Charter was would not have been amused at this further evidence that his wife's childish antics follow her into a riper age. To be held accountable through a law which protects other citizens her Charter rights are invoked. And the right to life and limb of others, are they of no moment?

Not, however, according to socially responsible Margaret Trudeau. The judge who originally acquitted her two years ago despite that she had failed two procedures attesting to her intoxication has been over-ruled. Both samples of the breath analyzers demonstrated her blood-alcohol level was well above the permissible level under the law.

Not exemplary, not at all; how about despicable?

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Gardening's New Challenge

Avast, you gardeners! Heard the latest? Well, there's a new challenge out there in the gardening world and anyone who is interested can take advantage of it. With patience. Of course that's something true gardeners have a lot of, patience. We're also a greedy bunch wanting it all, every new cultivar, any new colours of favourite flowers, double or single, in our growing zone or out of it.

It takes patience, after all, and no little amount of faith to invest all that time and gentleness on the flora of our area and those which come from thousands of miles away, to gladden our hearts in seasonal bloom. Flowers which are perennials in their home territory are fragile annuals in our great frozen north, and we tend to them lovingly.

Do we hesitate to invest healthy sums on the acquisition of an exotic species not meant for our growing season and winter cold? Not at all. When it comes to standard roses, for example, whose glory in the summer months we adore, we adapt to their needs by carefully digging these beauties out of the garden in the fall.

These are wonderful rose varieties grafted onto the trunk of an apple tree, so that the roses grow in little bush-like clumps at the top of the slender trunk, and they've been around in their glory for hundreds of years, having graced gardens in Victorian England and likely before. Wouldn't be surprised that they thrived in ancient Persia.

Once dug up, they're carefully wrapped in their entire length in burlap, after the soil has been gently shaken off the roots, and the leaves carefully plucked off the branches. Then in a clear area of the garden where no perennials are planted, a trough is dug, the burlap-wrapped standard rose laid to rest, and the soil shovelled neatly over top to wait out the winter.

Mustn't wait too long in the spring to dig it up again and re-plant it in the garden soil, lest it begin to become mouldy. And don't forget the saucer magnolias planted here where they don't belong, and the rhododendrons too, along with the azaleas and the Japanese maples. They all have to be carefully wrapped (in situ) against the cold of this climate.

So we're accustomed to challenges. We know how to prune our rose bushes, our apple trees. And now, look here, we can grow our very own homes. Tree Habs. Honestly; the "Fab Tree Hab" is an all-green concept home. It grows from a few seedlings into a two-storey, water-recycling, energy-efficient abode.

Truly, I kid you not. "The intention is to create a home that is a positive contributor to the climate as opposed to something that's taking away," said architect Mitchell Joachim, who helped craft the concept as an MIT doctoral student. "Not only are these zero-emission homes, but they are healthy for the environment."

Powered by a combination of solar energy and wind turbines, the structures blend naturally into their surrounding ecosystems. Plantware, an Israeli arboriculture firm is to test techniques for growing the lattice-like weave of vines and roots that would help form the walls of the homes.

Wooden jigs are placed at key portions of young saplings to guide the formation of the walls and roof. A dense layer of vines and other plants are grown to reinforce the exterior, featuring soy-based plastic windows. Almost any kind of tree in its natural habitat can be used. The Tree Hab is expected to have a lifespan of 100 years.

Despite the all-natural exterior the homes will look 'normal' in the interior with walls lined in clay and plastered. Tree Habs will include modern technical luxuries with a roof-top water collector and recycling system to provide water for bathing, cooking and an eco-friendly sanitary system.

Sounds, um, challenging, all right. Yup, finally gardeners get to live in their gardens.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Little Beggars!

Well no, not beggars. Mobsters, gangsters, unprincipled feathered mafia. What else can you call birds who behave in such an unethical manner? Those strutting little feathered monsters, always pushing and shoving the other birds out of the way at bird feeders. Not that they're so preciously picky about their food, either. Why do you think they're called cowbirds? Cow birds, get it?

No, they don't like to hang around cows because of an affinity between those large warm cud-chewing four-footed beasts and themselves. Where, after all, would be the connection? They hang around pastures where cows are wont to ramble, feed on pasturage and then finally eject the waste. You've got it, they're after the cow patties.

All right, we've established that they're not little shrinking violets, they're discerning connoisseurs. That's not all they are, they're too proud to sit on their own eggs. It's a drag, that's why. And not only are they unwilling to sit on their own eggs, but they also demonstrate no facility in motherhood, in feeding and raising their offspring. But, I can hear you spluttering...they're doomed to extinction.

No. Have I mentioned how cunningly extortionist they can be? You've heard about the protection racket where criminals are paid a set fee monthly by poor shop owners to ensure that their businesses won't be ransacked? Cowbirds heard about that and thought it was pretty cute. They decided to create their own protection racket and they've got pretty good at it.

Here's the secret: Cowbirds pick on innocent sweet little birds smaller than themselves. No kidding. Would I kid you? They do. They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. If there are other eggs in the nests they handily dispose of them - whoops! over the side, splat. And there are their eggs, to be sat on, the fledglings looked after and fed - by other species of birds.

Aren't birds stupid that they'll be so accommodating? That they cannot tell their own eggs from those of another species? That they're so willing and eager to do such an existential favour for birds of another species? Um, actually no. There's coersion at work here. Honestly.

A new study out of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals the unspeakable: if the host birds reject the strange eggs the cowbirds come back and trash the place.

Bloody damn!

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Monday, March 05, 2007

The Ultimate Disarmer - Laughter

How brilliant can a solution be? Well, some can be quite outstandingly so. Make people laugh and you disarm them. Take a belligerent who spouts arrogant rhetoric designed to culminate in a physical attack: tickle his funny bone, make him laugh. No one can be aggressive when they're laughing.

People brood on injustices, real or imagined, knead their victimization close to their hearts, swear revenge plot just that. But show them that the people they think have done them ill are just like them in every possible way, from the most emotionally serious to the trivial and they're seen differently.

To become a comic is to deliver the message of angels. Or doves, take your pick. Or take the situation between Israel and the Palestinians, each of whom claim they are the victim in their intractable war of words, territorial disputes, Jihadist suicidalists, and bomb-lobbers.

Tribal enmity, hatred of the outsider, the insult of the presence of another version of the Holy One are issues immune to reason, rationality, discussion and agreement. Anyone hoping to arrange for a peace conference between the antagonists has the option of locking their representatives up in a room they cannot depart until they come to a mutually acceptable agreement.

Or they can take those representatives, strip them naked and attack them with ostrich feathers to produce convulsions of laughter instead of hate, and while they're trembling with the exhaustion of uncontrolled laughing, each seeing the absurd in the other, make them embrace one another in the realization that the idiot standing beside them is exactly like themselves.

Or, do what a art project "Face to Face" is doing in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, to try to promote a better understanding between the two peoples. Take photographs of people representing either side, including religious figures all of whom have been encouraged to contort their facial features into silly, outrageous poses.

Post these blown-up, ridiculous portraits in the most prominent public places and allow them to be viewed at leisure by members of either group for prolonged periods of time. The sting of enmity will certainly be reduced in serious contention with awarding absurdly-human prizes.

Repeat as required.

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