Ruminations

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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Manipulating Democratic Freedoms

One supposes it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Islamic and Arab groups purporting to represent the majority opinion and needs of Muslims living in liberal democracies like Canada have recognized that the tools to corrupt the guaranteed freedom of expression are available to them through the subversion of the original designs of Canada’s Human Rights Commissions.

Those quasi-legal bodies whose original function was to protect the civic, legal entitlements of visible minorities in situations of discrimination in the workplace and in social settings such as denial of accommodation due to racial prejudice.

Canada has in place a set of legal hate-law guarantees through which charges can be made when required, and a legal suit brought against promoters of discriminatory hate against minorities in a court of law. It should be recognized as being beyond the mandate of Human Rights Commissions to investigate and present determinations with respect to the promulgation of hate against visible minorities.

Yet various Muslim and Arab organizations have taken it upon themselves to register complaints with federal and provincial commissions because it costs them nothing. And in the process the reputations of people and entities accused of hate-mongering are deleteriously impacted upon, their lives disrupted, and they must pick up any costs associated with defending themselves whereas the complainants have a free ride, courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer.

The organized Islamic groups taking umbrage at perceived slights against their religion feel fully justified in manipulating the right to freedom of expression under the apprehension that they can, so they do. They also support the isolation of the Canadian Muslim society from the rest of society in their ongoing complaints about Islamophobia and their harsh criticisms of anyone who questions their fundamentalist Islamic ideals.

Not all Muslims feel complacent about this appropriation of their voice by groups who claim to represent their best interests. Canadian Muslims like Tarek Fatah, who co-founded the reformist Muslim Canadian Congress, regularly criticize groups like the Canadian Islamic Congress, and their anti-Canadian agendas at their peril. Yet they do continue to criticize the oppositional direction and the trajectory taken by these fundamentalist groups.

With the full understanding that the Islamists in the Canadian population are using western values and guarantees of freedom for their own purposes; taking the direction of attacking those values in the pretense that they’re inimical to the well-being and comfort of groups such as themselves, claiming to be the targets of hate crimes. Tarek Fatah points out his utter exasperation at the situation whereby Islamist groups have been partially successful in muffling the voices of free speech.

He is vocal in criticizing the lax attitude of Canadian politicians, loathe to defend traditional Canadian freedoms of expression in the very real fear of being labelled racist themselves. Bending backwards to ensure they don’t offend the prickly pretensions of the fundamentalist Muslim groups, they permit themselves to be silenced, blackmailed into compliance.

Critics of Islam who are not Muslim are awarded the nomenclature of Islamophobes, while Muslims critical of the offensive backwardness of Islamists are labelled apostates. Which, Mr. Fatah points out, is the equivalent of issuing a fatwah, having the decided effect of issuing a “hidden death threat”. He should know, he’s received them, and he’s been on the receiving end of physical violence as well for his forthright outspokenness.

Canadian Muslim groups have taken a page out of the success of such international organizations as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, in its successful manipulation of United Nations institutions, to ensure that their message is on track and that their aggressive labelling of a singular nation as a racist entity is approved and echoed through the auspices of the UN Human Rights Commissions.

Anti-Semitism successfully practised through an highly visible and ostensibly legitimate creation of the United Nations, set up for the purpose of defending human rights; completely suborned to the racist and belligerent needs of Islamic groups. How's that for the ultimate manipulation and corruption of a human-rights-representative body? If it works, repeat it elsewhere.

Turn it around and use it as a defence. It's past time that Liberal MP Keith Martin's private member bill to eliminate Canada's human rights commissions, or at the very least, take away their self-entitled mandate to accept all accusations of hate speech as part of their purpose for existence. Should they be kept intact and insist on hearing and investigating such cases, some signal changes should take place.

The accused should be given all the information available to the commissions, including the names of their accusers. Enabling them to defend themselves. Costs associated with lodging complaints should not be borne by the taxpayer, but should be billed to the accuser. Defendants who succeed in defending themselves should have their costs restored. If commissions insist on pursuing these avenues, they should be tasked with doing so with due process under the law.

That might just persuade accusers to refrain from launching their flimsy and self-serving civil-rights complaints and investigations at no cost to themselves. They have the right, under Canadian law, to launch formal criminal prosecutions, to hire lawyers and underwrite the costs associated with legal proceedings in a Canadian court of law. They might then, re-evaluate the substance of their complaints.

Which are undeniably unsubstantive in true measure, and amount to deliberately nasty mischief.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

There, It's Done

Worse thinking about it than doing it. Past time, however. Our little dogs needed a haircut. That was more than obvious by the simple fact that each and every time we take them out for a ravine walk they return from the outing hosting on their coats more than we bargain for. Detritus of all kinds; but what's far worse is that with the hair on their paws having grown so long, they pick up pitch from the pines and once they've that on their paws, everything else clings to them.

Like those little hairy bombs; miniature thistle-like objects that refuse to be handily plucked away, and minuscule stones that fix their way down into their tender pads. When we bring them back home they get dipped into a sinkful of warm water to dislodge all of this mess, but it isn't always completely successful, try as we may.

So it was time for a haircut, and while I snipped away at the paws, there was always those unruly bits of hair growing around their eyes and their lips. And if I did those, then why not pay some attention to the rest of their bodies? So it turns into a laborious and sensitive task, one they dread, and so do I.

The alternative is always to take them in to a pet salon, and neither they nor I care to do that. We've heard of too many horror stories. We possess blunt-nosed tiny scissors for the interior of their ears, sharp, short ones for close work on face and paws, and longer scissors for the body work. Not to mention clippers for their claws.

Oh, how they suffer throughout the process. I've got to chide Button, our 15-year-old black poodle because she tends to struggle throughout,incensed at the attack on her dignity. Seven-year-old Riley, an apricot toy, rather abundantly overweight, though he eats a fraction of the food Button does, is far more biddable, although throughout the process he alternates between fear and dozing.

Finally, they're both done; each in their turn they scamper away from the scene of the hair-massacre, making themselves scarce, lest I relent, deciding they are not, after all, free to go, and each requires an additional bit of snipping. It has happened that way, but not today. It's a hot day, and I figure since they've had their hair cut, they could also use baths.

And so we prepare for their bath, filling up the spare-bathroom tub, assembling their shampoo, and towels and finally hunting them down. Button, a lover-of-water, is pleased at this turn of events, while Riley shivers in apprehension, his tiny body lost in the large space of the tub. They're bathed, and vigorously scrubbed as dry as we can manage, and they rush off to rub themselves further on the area rugs.

Now all that's left is to collect their towels and their bedding, and give everything a good, hot wash. They look more than slightly presentable, and we're certain they also feel a lot better, cooling off and looking at life from a renewed perspective.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Will The Defendant Please Stand?

Fascinating; B'nai Brith, the original anti-discrimination group whose singular but not sole purpose it is to defend Jewry against the manifest anti-Semitism that tends to poke its ugly head up now and again and too-often-again, has now been accused of fomenting hatred against another identifiable group: Muslims. In Canada, in any event. Which tells us yet again that one can never be too careful, never too cautious in any kind of undertaking lest one be labelled racist.

Or, in this particular instance, anti-religion - since it is Islam and Muslims and their place in society, and in particular instance the undeniable phenomenon of fundamentalist Muslims harbouring a none-too-secret desire to wreak havoc on any and all vestiges of Western imperialism evinced by the United States and her allies playing the heavy in Arab and Muslim countries.

Of course, that too is not quite correct, since the occurrence of jihad against non-believers, Jews and Infidels superseded the war in Afghanistan and the following Iraq war. Each of which owed to the spectacularly disastrous (for America) destruction of New York's World Trade Towers, the attack on the Pentagon, and the foiled attempt on the White House.

Not to mention attacks on western interests elsewhere in the world. Muslim rage at the West and most particularly so against the United States has been taken seriously since 9-11; it is no longer a sidebar in unsettling world events. The terrorists whose militias and whose single-minded dedication to wreaking havoc on ordinary Muslims, Jews and "infidels" are overwhelmingly Muslim.

These dedicated Islamist attackers, suicide bombers, bloody-minded shaheeds have brought the rest of the world to regard Muslims with no little alarm. They have - in their fanatical embrace of death deliverance in the name of Islam, in purported obeisance to Allah and the dictums of the Prophet - demonstrated the militant jihad-bent side of Islam, not the peace-loving side its faithful declare it to represent.

Which is why it presents as absurd in the extreme that B'nai Brith Canada now stands accused of Islamaphobia for having set up a conference in Winnipeg in 2003 for the purpose of educating first-responders to terrorist-inspired disasters. The Higgins Counter-terrorism Research Center of Arlington, Virginia, was the presenter, and while B'nai Brith had a representative at the conference, not all sessions were attended by them.

Some one, or some individuals who did attend all the sessions of the conference, must have come away from the experience personally convinced that Muslims were unfairly targeted. Absurd in and of itself, in that it cannot be denied on the evidence that most terrorists espouse Islamic jihad, and prosecute their death-dealing in the name of Islam. Yet those individuals, or that single individual expressed outrage at the perceived slight to Islam.

The result of which was the Manitoba Human Rights Commission received a complaint from Shahina Siddiqui, Winnipeg executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association of the United States and Canada, who is also a member of the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-Canada), insisting that B'nai Brith's initiative resulted in a violation of the Manitoba Human Rights Act, prohibiting statements that "incite, advocate or counsel discrimination".

This complaint was lodged on the basis of hearsay, but furthermore on the basis of isolated, perhaps out-of-context, comments relating to the delivery of some of the information sessions at the conference. The exact wording of which has not been revealed to the defendants, nor have the defendants been given the identities of the original complainers. In other words, it is impossible for them to investigate the incident themselves, and in the process to defend themselves.

In Shahina Siddiqui's complaint she claims "Based on comments from some in attendance that the presentation was biased against Muslims, I conclude that the content of the seminar presented a negative prejudice about Muslims in terms of being probable terrorists. This prejudiced picture would encourage and support racial profiling by first responders and law-enforcement agencies dealing with possible terrorist incidents".

This is mind-bogglingly incoherent. If most terrorists have proven, on verifiable evidence, to represent their version of Islam, as Muslim jihadists, one would have to be blind, deaf and completely incompetent not to recognize that simple fact; that most terrorists that now bedevil the world at large, within Muslim countries and countries that are liberal democracies alike, are Muslim, whatever their origin.

How that simple recognition can be equated with prejudice rather than represent simple reality is beyond comprehension. It's disingenuous beyond belief to expect intelligent people to buy that message of religious aggrievement. In the name of social emancipation of all people from all backgrounds to shuffle one's feet in agreement, overlooking the obvious, in an absurd salute to political correctness.

More to the point is why organizations such as those this woman represents are not actively involved in educating their own constituents - and most particularly young Muslim men to recognize that Islam that most claim to be respectful of others and desirous of peace among peoples - to reject the overtures of hardened jihadists looking to recruit young men to their murderous agenda.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Feeding The World

Coca-Cola and McDonald's had it all wrapped up at Beijing's official Olympic sites. Want to eat or drink something? Take your pick. McDonald's or Coca-Cola. That's the deal that Beijing struck with the two American fast-food giants, and money talks. China might have spent $43-billion on mounting their impeccable version of the Olympics, but even a moneyed giant like China appreciates all the help it could get.

Besides which, they entertained the international community, and there is comfort in familiarity, is there not? What's more familiar to the world at large, particularly those who move in exalted economic circles, albeit plebeian at that, than the ubiquitous presence of that giant purveyor of sugared drinks, and that other that feeds us heart-constricting hamburgers?

Life can be a gastronomic bore at times. Tourists and locals who bought seats for the events were not permitted to import their own food and drink to the official sites. Hungry? Buy a Big Mac. Thirsty? Quench it with Coca-Cola. Burden your arteries and rot your gut. But there are countries out there that are food-conscious and discriminating in their tastes.

Think, for example, of France, and its reputation for outstanding cuisine, the quality-demanding French who would not besmirch their palates with comestibles that owe more to artificial chemical interacting with ingredients that were once representative of the food chain, but now resemble artificial nutrition-less "food" of unpalatable derivation.

Oops, so much for reality in today's global culture and economy. Paris alone, it would appear, hosts no fewer than 70 sets of golden arches, and that doesn't count those in the outer suburbs. The world simply cannot get along without McDonald's. Difficult as it is to credit, revenues in France are astounding, challenging those of the United States.

And do the French admit that they frequent these eating-out establishments? Not very likely; they are, after all, foodists, and proud of their reputation. True, the French have their standards, and they do demand a certain quality. So how is McDonald's different in France than it represents itself in, say, the United States?

The exterior looks remotely up-market, not at all resembling the vision-crazed architectural scrawlings of a hungry teen. But the food? Clones of what is offered in North America. Unlike there, however, beer can be had to wash down that Big Mac and the French fries; no pedestrian Coca-Cola for them.

And eating out at McDonald's has become more of a family affair, than a quick dash-and-bite in North America. A treat for the entire family. They're catching up, those French. The incidence of obesity is raising its ugly head there, though they've a way to go yet to challenge the U.S. and Canada.

Only 11% of the French are obese; a mere 40% overweight. They're getting there. It's hard work, puff-puff, but they're working at it.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pricking Pretensions

How the snobs among us cling to the belief that what is proclaimed to be rare, and that which carries a hefty price tag is in and of itself precious. To partake of the rare is to elevate oneself to the status of a connoisseur. An elevated self-regard, becoming one with the cognoscenti of the world. One-upsmanship of privilege and refined taste.

Not all is always what it seems, and when this is pointed out publicly in a manner that provokes humour, some level of sarcasm and irony, the practitioners of elitism should take notice. But human nature being what it is, designer labels, celebrity and those who emulate the buying habits and behaviours of the world's wealthy class will go on trying to be like them.

For example, people who value class and priorities of extreme privilege would always make their reservations at Milan's Osteria L'Intrepido. Where a 1998 Amarone Classico La Fabriseria can be had for $285, the better to enjoy your incomparably-prepared meal there. This outstanding restaurant has been featured in the latest issue of Wine Spectator, largely because of its list of vintage wines.

The American magazine, considered the ultimate and most followed magazine for wine snobs, has fallen flat on its snub-nosed face. It exists for the purpose of offering the potential to high-class eating establishments of being awarded one of the magazine's coveted awards of excellence.

Close to five thousand restaurants paid $250 each to apply for such an award. Out of which some 319 managed to win an award, a process of discernment in restaurant fare and wine excellence that earned the magazine over a million dollars. Now the magazine's reputation of being one of the most trusted authorities in the country is faltering.

One Robin Goldstein, the author of"The Wine Trials: 100 Everyday Wines under $15 that Beat $50 to $150 Wines in Brown-Bag Blind Tastings", turned his jaundiced eye on the magazine and its pretensions. Fully cognizant of the placebo effect, he set up a fake website for Osteria L'Intrepido, sent off the requisite $250 along with a copy of the menu to apply for one of the magazine's awards.

Wine Spectator awarded the non-existent restaurant and its bogus menu one of its coveted awards, resulting in an award plaque which most award-struck restauranteurs proudly hang in their premises.

Ho, ha, fooled you.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Solomon's Wisdom Revisited

How to judge the unflinching resolve to dedicate one's life to another? State the intent to take a loved one's life if a solution is not found to demands for recognition. Challenge the individual who claims rights by informing them that their continued demand for recognition will result in the death of loved ones.

Isn't that, after all, what heartless terrorists do, hold someone for ransom in the certain knowledge that those who love them will do everything in their power to have them restored? It's a primitively time-honoured expedient, one practised by unprincipled antagonists determined to have their way. Innocents held to ransom to extract information from recalcitrant family members, for example.

It's what we witness, for example, with Hamas threatening Israel that unless it accedes to demands made by the Islamist terrorists, the life of captured IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit will be forfeit. Knowing full well how seriously the country takes its obligation to its people to shelter them from harm, to retrieve them at whatever cost from capture, even when to do so results in doing harm to the country's own interests.

And here is Robert Mugabe, the triumphant, South Africa-supported tyrant of Zimbabwe, willing to "share" power with his political adversary as long as Morgan Tsvangerai accepts a minor government position void of political power. To emphasize his determination, Mugabe refuses to allow transport of international relief into his country from its temporary warehousing in South Africa.

This prime example of an egotistically delusional despot determined to hang on to power in Zimbabwe despite the catastrophic effects of his misrule which have left his country, formerly one of the breadbaskets of Africa in ruin, poses that age-old conundrum in yet another permutation. Aid agencies were accused by Robert Mugabe of actively taking part in campaigns on behalf of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Irrespective of the staunch denials of humanitarian groups which remain politically neutral, with the certain knowledge that they will be marked as an enemy otherwise; tailoring their activities to ensure that emergency food and medicines will get through to the starving in Zimbabwe, the internally displaced, the rural indigent. Yet a ravening and violent dictator decreed that this aid will not reach his people.

With a world-record, truly staggering inflation rate sweeping the value entirely away from that collapsed economy, leaving its population in dire straits, Mugabe remains obdurately unmoved. Despite that he had promised, as a signatory to a memorandum of understanding between his party and his antagonist's, he steadfastly refuses to lift the ban on permitting life-saving supplies to reach his countrymen.

The talks between Mugabe and Tsvangerai remain deadlocked. And will remain so until and unless Mr. Tsvangerai ceases to insist that his is the democratic right to either co-rule in equal measure, or take over the administration of his forlorn country completely. Yet were he to value as his personal responsibility the desperate condition in which Zimbabweans are now struggling, he has the means to transform the situation.

If he agreed to give up his opposition to Mr. Mugabe, permitting him to continue his ruinous administration, raping the country completely of its resources, leaving his people destitute and starving, Mugabe will relent, and permit those emergency supplies to reach Zimbabweans in desperate need. Mugabe and his supporters, along with the army and the police will continue to live in style, while the country desiccates.

Obviously a sacrifice of personal ambition allied with the fervent desire to rescue his country from immediate disaster that Mr. Tsvangerai is not prepared to submit to. What would result from such a move would be of transitory value, in any event, perhaps. The country would continue to limp along, its economic immune system in complete decline, its people left with no hope for the future.

As a complex moral issue, a criminal, violent, self-availingly mercenary president, exerting inhumane pressure on his people through a political adversary anxious to save his country in its dying paroxysms accepting a tenuously temporary solution, the outcome is nothing short of fascinating.

That is, if the onlooker can detach himself from the horrendous matter of peoples' lives forfeit to the gamble of criminal persuasion.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dirty Pennies Coming Up For Air

One can only hope that old political warhorses, unseated from their perches of governance will simply fade into the background, never to be heard from again. Invariably, those who have left office in the miasma of disgrace have the good sense and grace to leave and be done with it. They had their opportunity to administer the affairs of the country.

Unfortunately, it's not to be. The departing government can be certified incompetent and even corrupt in the opinion of the wider public, but this does little to erase the self-entitled belief of supreme authority on the part of one of the ilk of Jean Chretien.

The simple matter is,to attain the highest office of the land candidates must all too often become transformed through the process - or the syndrome pre-existing the process of attainment - into an egotistical monster. And so it is that once again the voice of Jean Chretien is heard throughout the land.

Our former prime minister who vastly overstayed his usefulness to the country and in the process besmirched his party, and revealed himself for the mercenary acquisitor that he is, has pronounced his opinion of his successor's performance.

It is his considered opinion that the current office holder has erred drastically in throwing the cautionary principle he exemplified to the winds, by not currying favour with Beijing.

To have determined that it is not his place, nor representative of his office as prime minister of Canada to attend the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Stephen Harper, in the opinion of Jean Chretien, has let opportunities slip through Canada's trade fingers. Of course most heads of most countries do not routinely attend the Olympic events when they take place outside their own countries.

That China went out of its way to entice, encourage, beseech the presence of as many heads of government to its coming-out-party as possible, did garner it the presence of many political hierarchical Illuminati, but not our prime minister, although a high-enough ranking cabinet minister was dispatched to the event to represent Canada.

"I would have been at the Olympics myself", chafed Mr. Chretien, who feels that this Conservative-led government currently in office has acted ignobly in criticizing China for its human-rights record, and which has, as a result, held itself diplomatically aloof rather than opt for friendlier relations.

As indeed Mr. Chretien himself did, revelling in putting together a series of high-profile trade missions to China, accompanied by any number of representative Canadian corporate heads, all paid for by the Canadian taxpayer. And here goes Stephen Harper et al, ruining all the foundation-work of future trade and mutual economic enhancement potentials.

Mind, the Right Honourable Mr. Jean Chretien ensured his own financial future in setting the stage for further, non-governmental entries into China. He made the right contacts while in office, opened doors for himself and for the corporations he would represent after leaving office, vastly increasing opportunities to make inroads based on his reputation as a former prime minister of Canada.

And that paid off handsomely for Jean Chretien, enabling him to rake in the proceeds, to famously process his plans, glad-handing his way through Beijing, enjoying lavish courtesies as doors open to his business overtures, and living as lavishly as his dark little heart desires.

Now he looks on, glowering with disapproval at the stance of his successor who, he claims, has been churlishly solely responsible for sinking Canada's esteem and trade potential with China through his stubborn adherence to ethical and moral positions in response to China's behaviour on the world stage.

Jean Chretien's sanctimoniously self-serving,self-congratulating hindsight does him no great credit. Canada, however, does not really have to sacrifice its need to express its condemnation or disappointment in the actions a trading partner takes, which does great discredit to a great country whose people deserve far better.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Are You Lonely Tonight?

There's always food for thought. You just have to look for it. Sometimes not very far, in fact. For me, it was an article in my local newspaper, re-printed from the New York Times. Written by David Brooks from Chengdu, China, it was entitled "A lavish statement in resurgent collectivism", and it super-charged my thought processes. It made such good sense.

Three is a life-affirming crowd. One, a sadly solitary emotional chasm. People are by their very basic nature, tied to other people for their emotional needs. We take naturally to crowds, although there are of course many people who do find themselves conflicted in the company of others; those who prefer their own silent presence, the hermits among us.

Like other animals we are gregarious in nature and primal temperament. We find comfort and emotional support in the company of others. Admittedly, others like ourselves. Or those others to whom we are inextricably bound, through bloodlines or tribal affiliation. Those links can be further extended to ethnic groups, shared cultures, nationalities.

David Brooks's article was an enticing read because it points out the differences in populations and in their countries' prevailing social cultures. There are, he wrote, collectivist countries and individualist countries. Those countries of the world where the collective ideal reigns supreme, and those where individuality does. Where, in one, the individual is subject to the collective, and those where it is not.

Oriental countries are by their nature collectivist. People are bonded to the group, they work in harmony, they share, they tend to think in terms of their relationships. Whereas countries for whom the collective ideal is a foreign social concept, celebrate the rights of the individual, as opposed to that of the collective. The social engineering political movement known as Communism based itself on the collective ideal.

It took root readily in countries other than where it originated, mostly Asian countries, where it still maintains its brooding presence. Asian countries of the world; China, Japan, Indonesia, Burma, India, for example, are highly pressed for geography, monumentally blessed with people. People crowded together in huge numbers where privacy and isolation of the person is simply not possible.

Their social convention takes its cue from the collective ideal. Countries such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, for example, have great wide open geographic spaces and relatively sparse populations. Where Asian countries can boast of ancient traditions and cultures, these new-world countries were based on the pioneer model of home-steading.

They were populated in large part from Europe; courageous emigrants setting out to discover their own brave new worlds in geographic spaces already populated, but relatively sparsely, by primitive tribes whom they overwhelmed and took charge of. The European-derived populations were the flotsam of their original homelands. As Europe shed its extraneous, indigent peoples, and sought to empty its overpopulated prisons.

In these new-world places the pioneer spirit that settled the country, tended to be self-reliant, individualistic, determined to succeed on the strength of their own belief in self; that they could overcome all obstacles that nature and happenstance could place in their path to fulfillment. They could do this, they had to do this, where geographic space was not at a premium and they carved out a place for themselves in the wilderness.

In countries like Japan and China and India with their overwhelmingly large populations versus their finite geographies, religious and political social order - as opposed to law and order - insisted that people accommodate one another's near presence. And that closeness also meant that the country prospered when the people worked willingly, in tandem with each another.

In Japan, crime as it is known in the countries of the Western Hemisphere is virtually absent. People are safe to walk anywhere they wish, at any time of day or night. Of course that is also because people do walk everywhere and anywhere at any time of day or night. Day-time, night-time, there are crowds of people out and about, going about their business.

In the United States and in Canada, close proximity to others is a matter of choice, not necessity. There is ample room for everyone. People are less dependent upon one another. And they become, in these societies, alienated from one another, reliant on their own devices, driving themselves in their personal vehicles from place to place.

People are not seen on the streets where they live, engaged in any kind of activity. They remain in their houses. Children are not permitted to play untended in the outdoors. Crime is too present. There is a disconnect, not seen in immigrant societies that settle there, who bring their comfort of clannishness with them.

Egos loom large in individualistic societies. People believe in their singularity in a way that people from collective societies do not. Individuals are infused with a sense of their own importance, whereas in collectivist societies people are aware of the importance of their society, and their place within that society. In collectivist societies the pegboard is round, and so are the pegs. Square pegs are hammered into place.

In collectivist societies there is a general air of humility. Even grumpily. There is an appreciation for the whole. It is comforting, and the shared values and traditions give meaning to life. People rarely feel abandoned or alone, to face life's vicissitudes on their own. They are reliant on others surrounding them, on the constructs of the collective; social, political or religious.

In singularly individualistic countries where people are felt to be empowered to do as they wish as long as they adhere to society's laws that are put in place for the protection of individual rights, people are able to pursue their own agendas. At least those who are capable of doing that. Those who fall through the cracks of missed opportunities are bereft of comfort, but advanced state assistance.

Little wonder at the runaway success of social networking Internet sites to fill the emotional and social gaps people in North America, for example, feel are missing in their lives. Emotional and social support at a remove; a virtual collectivity. On sites such as Facebook, people can have it both ways; enhancing their ego, while at the same time achieving the comforting satisfaction of friendly support.

The consequences of the individual framework of national social life as opposed to the collectivist one are grave and unsettling, but perfectly understandable. As David Brooks's article points out: "People who live in the densest social networks tend to flourish, while people who live with few social bonds are much more prone to depression and suicide."

We like to think of ourselves as responsible, individualistic, capable, and able to get on with our lives without the interference and aggravation of too much social-emotional inter-relationships. And when we're young and vibrant and life is urgently demanding that we live it to the fullest, we are anxious to forge on, on our own, leaving childhood and entanglements behind.

Then the years having passed and our lives fleeting behind us, with scant few years before us, we recall the friends we made along the way and wonder whatever happened to them. We're not surrounded by family members, we've become distant, and often estranged. Friends come and go, and most of them have gone on to other interests, just as we have.

Suddenly there are no social supports, no familiar and comforting entanglements to engage us and comfort us. Not that this could not occur, and must most certainly in some respects, in collectivist societies. As gregarious as we are by nature, we are also self-absorbed, selfish, and we tend to distance ourselves from others when there are no social traditions in place to bond us.

Life, though we scarcely recognize it when we are young, is a long search for meaning, fulfillment, satisfaction and companionship.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Loss and Retrieval

It was with some sense of relief that we read, in today's newspaper, that the man whom yesterday's paper explained had lost his companion dog, had been re-united with it. An elderly man of 83, formerly a paediatrician, now long retired, whose wife had died two years previously.

His current constant companion was a mixed-breed Jack Russell-corgi, an overweight little dog, by the newspaper's account, to whom the man was very much attached. So very nice he was re-united with his dog.

When we read the original story our hearts went out to the plight of the dog. According to the original report, the elderly man had driven as usual, to a shopping centre he frequented. He parked his vehicle, a 2004-model Hyundai Sante Fe SUV, at a handicapped spot at the St.Laurent Shopping Mall, intending to do a bank transaction.

He locked the car doors, leaving the windows slightly rolled down to ensure his dog had sufficient air for his brief foray into the bank. When he returned shortly afterward his vehicle was gone, his dog with it.

The SUV was a silver-coloured vehicle, lots of those around, but with a personalized licence plate reading MED 47, indicating the year this former medical practitioner had graduated from Queen's University. The retired man's son hazarded the opinion that only professional thieves could have stolen his father's vehicle, to strip it for parts.

"I'm afraid if that is the case then the dog is probably dead. We're not worried about the car whatsoever, it's the dog", he said. Evidently, the 83-year-old retiree had fainted while in his son's presence a few days after the theft and abduction, then was taken to the hospital for a check-up.

He described his beloved pet as being "...a very obedient dog, and he loves to go in the car. I almost always take him with me, and I just hope he's all right." What a miserable thing to happen to a lonely old man and his valued canine companion. But they were re-united. Four days later. The dog, it would seem, no worse for wear, but undoubtedly more than a little anxious.

There had been water made available for him in the SUV, and the veterinarian who checked out his physical condition after his ordeal, pronounced him fit and healthy. Conjecturing that the little dog was so overweight the lack of food for those four days did him no real harm. So, wasn't it fortunate that the little dog was discovered still in the vehicle when it was recovered?

And where was the vehicle discovered to have been sitting for those four days? Why, at the very shopping centre where it had been parked. Not in the usual place where the retired man was wont to park it, but a little way off. Not recalling that he had parked it elsewhere, he immediately assumed it had been stolen.

The question here is should this man be driving a motor vehicle to begin with? His memory and judgement are obviously impaired. How about his mechanical responses, his ability to calculate distance and safety? This is an educated, elderly man, a medical doctor, yet incapable of evaluating his own condition of fitness.

A motor vehicle is a potentially dangerous object. Its weight, size and momentum all relate to the damage it is capable of inflicting if and when its driver is incapable of operating it safely. We've seen events where elderly drivers have run down and dragged victims along to their death without even being aware they'd hit someone.

Elsewhere, events where elderly drivers have lost control and ploughed into pedestrians or people waiting at bus stops, with predictable results. Time to take seriously the common-sense view that driving is a privilege, not a right. And there comes a time when certain individuals have lost that privilege.

Through no real fault of their own, unfortunately, but that's life.

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Here's Why....

Because he makes an effort to notice things that matter to me. And this, after 53 years of marriage. Quite apart from his noticing what I wear and commenting on how it appears. Usually complimentary, but occasionally not so. And for all the hugs and kisses that are offered through the course of an ordinary day. For his sheer presence in my life.

For his endless curiosity about everything. His speculation leading to his active efforts to discover more about what it is that has intrigued and perhaps puzzled him. And when he feels he understands, then he communicates to me what he has discovered. For his determination to teach himself any number of things; painting, art-glass, cabinetry, hardscaping.

For his fascination with history and his enduring love of books. For the delight he takes in surprising me with thoughtful gestures. Including presenting me with an object he has carefully chosen that he feels would be useful to me in the kitchen, or one that I would take pleasure in wearing. For our shared love of incandescently beautiful music of the world's great composers.

He has taken notice of all the growing things in our garden that so delight me. And they now, by extension, give great pleasure to him, as well. He will make the effort to be helpful, offering to water our many garden pots, and he readily agrees, when the mood takes me - and that is often, during the spring season - to go along with me to the various neighbourhood gardening centres.

When we're out on a woodland trail and he sees a spider, a bee, or a caterpillar that appears to be in distress, or where it's obvious it soon will be trod upon by another, more nature-unaware hiker, he will gently lift the tiny creature out of harm's way. He is as pleased as I am when we see a butterfly, each of us doing our utmost to identify which type it is, harking back to those decades ago when our younger son was involved in netting and cataloguing them.

Two days ago there was a wasp caught in the side screen door of our house, between the screen and the window portions. He patiently manipulated the sliding glass until the wasp finally flew to freedom. If I discover the presence of a earwig in the house somewhere, as I did the day before - in one of the pantry cupboards of all places - he will wrap it loosely in a tissue to release it unharmed back into the garden.

Today, after we roamed about in the back garden after breakfast, observing all the changes that have taken place there since the day before - and there are many; some we perhaps hadn't taken the time to note yesterday, since we were fairly busy otherwise - I found a small black ant roaming about on the breakfast-room floor and called his attention to it.

It had been on his arm, he explained, when we came back into the house and he meant to release it on the deck but somehow lost it on his way back through the sliding doors. Now that it was located he bent under the table - where it had taken itself on its journey across a ceramic tile floor, wondering where the turf it's far more familiar with had gone - and lifted it with care.

Speaking reassuringly to the minute creature, he brought it back to the out-of-doors. That's why; that, and very many other reasons, but those listed above will do.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Human Machine

Everyone has their own idea of perfection in the ideal human face and body. Our ideals conform to our ethno-geographic groupings as human beings, but some elements of how we view perfection remain universal. Strength and agility in the human male, expressed by a powerful musculature, and voluptuous hints of fecundity in the human female body.

And that's quite aside from personality characteristics of humour, sensitivity to others, integrity and curiosity.

When one considers the ideal in the male physiognomy we look for kindness of expression, a balance of equal spacing between the eyes, a firm chin and wide mouth, narrow nose and spacious forehead. And then there's the ideal in human anatomy, latterly upset somewhat by the unequivocal triumph of an American-born male whose trunk is so elongated as to make his legs appear proportionally short; an obvious mismatch of nature's balance.

Michael Phelps, a whippet of 23, whose height is 6'4", but those arms and hands-length give him an additional stretch-advantage of 3". One visualizes lop-sidedness, another of nature's miscalculations in the attainment of balanced physical perfection. On the aesthetically plus-side is the contrast between his broad shoulders and narrow waist.

He has a decidedly slender-shaped head for such a massive trunk, and owns size-14 feet, flipper-sized and -natured. His hands have been described as paddle-shaped. In the lottery of physical attributes he hasn't been poorly equipped by his genetic endowment. But he's hardly the ultimate expression of physical perfection through the lens of aesthetic balance.

Yet there's far more, obviously, than meets the critical eye, since he's also been endowed with an extraordinarily efficient heart-lung combination, and an ability to process his oxygen intake in a manner that produces little blood lactate. He has become one of the modern marvels of the athletic world. Building upon his natural physical physiological endowments through endless practise, he has become the ultimate Olympiad warrior.

He was born physically and mechanically advantaged, and was granted the opportunity to hone his natural proclivities to the kind of exquisite perfection that quite has no peer. His energy-output, his incredible endurance levels, his mastery of the swimming form, his ability to muster from his deep sources of physical stores the additional stamina he needs at critical performance times has become legendary.

Where does all that energy derive from? Apart from the mental fitness, the fixation on surmounting any difficulties he may encounter, the absolute control he exhibits, the superior assurance he feels that he is capable of bettering the advances of his competitors. The lean and muscled man weighs 195 pounds. And eats the equivalent of 12,000 calories each day. Six times what a normal adult male consumes.

He consumes simple carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Fried egg sandwiches with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. Make that three, please. While you're at it, include a five-egg omelette. Throw in a bowl of grits, and three slices of French toast, and powder some sugar on top. Oh yes, three chocolate chip pancakes and two cups of coffee.

Lunch is a modest half kilogram of enriched pasta, two large ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise, and a thousand-calories-worth of energy drinks. As for dinner, another half kilo of enriched pasta, along with a whole pizza, and ditto for lunch's energy drinks. Got that? Try that and you won't be able to move for a week. Other than to the thunder pot.

Work yourself up to consuming anything remotely similar for an extended period of time and you're preparing yourself for an early grave. One can only assume this is Michael Phelps's very particular Olympics energy-power diet, not truly representative of the kind of food choices he routinely makes throughout the course of his everyday life experiences.

Unless, that is, his swimming prowess and the constant need to practise has become his very particular lifetime neurosis, and he has no other life than attaining his current level of Olympic-grade and hitherto unparalleled expertise as the world's greatest swimming champion. But apart from that, what a boring diet. No fresh fruits and vegetables, utterly colourless, lacking in some basic nutrients and vitamins.

To envision any human being ingesting that very precise type of food on a continual basis, and the concomitant level of energy-output required to sustain his level of fitness and expert physical professionalism, is also to conceive of a future breakdown of that body.

Aside from the gargantuan food portions and the huge energy output in facilitating Mr. Phelps's level of physical perfection, there is the question of how long the human anatomy can sustain such abuse? There is no balance of moderation in any of this; everything is in excess of what we believe humans can conceivably attain to.

In the process of which, Michael Phelps's success in becoming the most celebrated, most gold-medalled athlete in the history of the Olympics has set the bar at a super-human elevation perhaps never to be repeated.

So, whatever else obtains from this 2008 Beijing Olympics and Michael Phelps part in it, good on him. But have a care.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Timeless Embrace

Haven't we evolved from brutish human-like creatures descended from the flotsam that rose out of the roiling seas to become what we now are. Presumably we are still evolving. Certainly Nature cannot see satisfaction in our current state of awareness. Our emotions are not yet sufficiently matured, for one thing. Our life-span is likely enough of a patience-ebbing irritation to her; witnessing our inability to live together in harmony.

Not with the other creatures with which she has inhabited this Earth of ours, nor with one another. Surely her patience with us owes largely to her ownership of time and space and history. Our time and space and history to be certain. We have no idea how far her realm reaches, whether Nature is herself responsible on a far larger scale for the forms that revolve as they evolve in the very heavens above.

It was, to be sure, kind of her - although to attribute anthropoid-like actions and human emotions to a force beyond our understanding, responsible for our having gradually appeared on the world stage, let alone our inability to comprehend the unflinching balance of nature, and her exquisite indifference to any of the life-forms she has created - to allow humankind the ability to think, to envision, to create and to forge our own environment within hers.

She's doubtless complacent witnessing in her own way our advances and our dreadful errors along the way to becoming what we now are. Highly faulted creatures of unbearable aggravation toward one another, incapable of living in peace, as she initially mandated. But then, perhaps from boredom, perhaps impelled by her own mischievous fascination with possibilities, all her creatures have reacted on their environment, the strong devouring the weak.

All of us, from the minuscule, uncomplicated amoeba, to the complex Great Apes of which humankind is one, were instilled with our most critical visceral instinct; survival. One of whose instruments is to secure a mate, ensure ownership of territory sufficient unto quotidian-survival needs. The second is the genetic instilling of parental protective emotions toward one's offspring.

This is a primary emotion which remains as intact as when it was first imprinted on living organisms, those that were meant to support the needs of frail young. What greater confirmation do we need than the Stone-age remains discovered in the Sahara Desert by American paleontologists. A highly meaningful, acutely telling trio of human skeleton remains, buried for discovery, five thousand years later.

One skeleton, that of a small woman. She faces the skeletal remains of two young children. Her bony arms stretched toward those of her young, as though to encircle, comfort and protect them through time immemorial.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Advertorial Collusion?

The Canadian Medical Association has released new findings on the environment and its impact on the health of Canadians. Its calculations relating to air pollution and its deleterious effects on the health of people inform that the number of premature deaths now caused by air pollution is set to rise steeply over the next two decades. At the present time, eleven thousand Canadians, mostly the elderly and those with compromised health are admitted to hospital yearly.

The number of premature deaths caused by smog and our besmirched air altogether sits at approximately two thousand, seven hundred Canadians, yearly. At an estimated cost to the economy and to the health-care system of $1-billion, according to the nation's premier health association. Out of a population of well over thirty million, approaching 33-million, one supposes that to be an unfortunate but "acceptable" number of people mortally afflicted by pollution.

On the other hand, it's also estimated by our health-providers that twice that many lives will be impacted on yearly in the future, and the burdensome cost to the country through lost productivity and the onerous health care cost will rise concomitantly. With, it would appear, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec coming out the winners in this race to cull the elderly and the ill through dirty air.

Smog triggers problems with the human lungs, is responsible for heart attacks and stroke. Air pollution is responsible for over 60% of heart attack and stroke admissions to hospital. Who even knew? It's a safe bet most of us feel that it isn't the air we breathe but the food we eat and the exercise we deign not to partake of that are the culprits, along with unfortunate genetic inheritance.

But, the study tells us airborne pollutants such as nitrous oxide do foul damage to the human heart through the debilitation of blood vessels, which invariably leads to atherosclerosis which in turn makes us inordinately susceptible - poor us - to heart attack and stroke. There are some potential solutions. Look after yourself a little better. Get out in the clear open air, away from traffic-congested areas, and where green-growth areas scrub the air clean.

Take especial note of the food you eat; shun fast-food like the plague, since that's actually what it is, in our modern society; a plague. Along with our penchant to scoot about hither and yon in motorcars which themselves spew unending carbon dioxide and particulate matter into the atmosphere. Heat with lesser-polluting gas, give up oil heating. Don't burn wood in your fireplace, get yourself some gas-burning "logs". Get out of your house and get moving, walk, stumble, just get out there and exercise your limbs, your lungs.

If all else fails, move to the country, grow your own vegetables, shake a leg on country trails through forested areas, and learn to love Nature. You may or you may not lengthen your life-span but you will develop a new appreciation for all things natural that surround us, but from which we're hidden in our concrete jungles. Alternatively, stay where you are, and respond to the Big Three North American automakers.

On the very same page that published the article setting out this finding published by the Canadian Medical Association, just directly below it in fact, there's an intriguing advertisement from Ford ('powered by you'), labeled "Family Pricing". Highlighted are two vehicles, a 2008 Mustang V6 Coupe, and a 2008 Mustang V6 Convertible. The heading over both, in large letters reads: "Price isn't the only thing that'll kickstart your heart".

Cause and effect. Go for it.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Working Neighbourhood

Guess that's just what happens when a society is so developed, so enterprising and forward looking, so wealthy. When, after all, bare necessities are well in hand and disposable income is such that a minuscule portion of it is expended on needs, leaving a whole lot more weighing down peoples' pockets, begging to be spent.

Yes, there's always a demographic everywhere that is far less entitled and capable of providing for itself. That's why we have a good, solid welfare system that allows those unfortunates to eke out an existence-level lifestyle for themselves.

As for the others, they are in the enviable position of acquiring whatever their little hearts desire. Costly day-care for the offspring? No problem, there are ample resources available for those given to paying surrogates for parental responsibilities. Leaving the parents free to pursue other avenues of satisfaction.

And no home could be really complete without one of those ubiquitous swimming pools for two months of summer delight in our winter-heavy environment. Those of our neighbours who can afford in-ground pools simply install living green fences to hide the unappealing shape of their back-yard neighbours' above-ground pools.

Feel like spending a little time in your house, finding shade in there and a deep cool reprieve from the hot sun because you are one of the rare ones without a pool? Fling those patio doors wide open and breathe in that fresh clean air.

Or slam them shut because the neighbours are puttering about on their deck with that greasy barbecue at lunch time. Oops, too late; the house has been irredeemably invaded and will reek from that greasy odour for the remainder of the day.

There's always the option of going out to your own back deck, lolling about on the glider, your little dog beside you. You've got the day's newspapers spread out, and you're deep in the day's news. And what on earth is that ungodly racket?

Well, it's an industrial-size tractor-mower cutting the small backyard grass directly behind you, its owners having contracted out the pleasure of lawn management. In the tractor's wake is another crew of two, each with an industrial-size weed whacker.

Why it takes so long to mow and trim a middling-sized backyard is beyond your understanding, since with your own modest instruments of lawn care you've been capably able to perform those functions in a far less space of time. Life offers many conundrums.

Like the intelligence of those neighbours who persist in contracting with lawn-care companies to spray pesticides and herbicides on their lawns. These being the very people, with pets and infants who then run about on the lawns, seemingly oblivious to harmful chemical use.

Who observe you blankly when you suggest it mightn't be too healthy to allow the children and the pets to romp on the turf that has just been sprayed. Reasonable, since you took great haste to close all your open windows, lest the spray circulate within your home, let alone your outdoor spaces.

It's the grubs, they explain, they can't stand the grubs, they make a mess of their lawns. You ask them then: is it really such a reasonable trade-off, health for facade? Besides which, you have no problems with grubs and you've a healthy lawn.

And what's with these people whose exterior spaces always seem so neglected, yet they bring in contractors to rip up perfectly sound paved driveways in favour of installing costly interlock?

For that matter, how about the householders who can't bother ensuring that their exterior window woodwork is in good shape and regularly painted to protect it against the elements. When rot sets in they simply contract for replacement windows.

Those are the questions; the answers elude.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Abdication of Municipal Responsibility

Over 40 years ago when we lived in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, when our children were infants, I well recall one very hot summer night when the windows of our living room were thrown wide open as we hoped to catch stray night time breezes to cool off the house, we were abruptly whipped away from our comfortable relaxation with the sound of a huge !!whump!! that simultaneously seemed to lift the draperies on either side of the windows straight up to the ceiling.

We were thrown into instant panic, heading straight for the children's bedrooms to see if they were all right, awaiting with great trepidation any following night-sky thumps, wondering if we were being invaded by some alien military force. Tuning into the radio, turning on the television, telephoning the town hall, made us no wiser. Telephone calls were exchanged with neighbours. No one could deduce the source of the immense impact.

We discovered the following day that a propane installation in Maple, Ontario, had blown up, and with it several lives. Presumably its placement in a small town was far away from peoples' homes, but that was so long ago, we can barely recall what transpired in the news after that event. But the memory of the panic we felt when we were assailed by that huge report and the rude wind that impacted on our home, so far from the source, instilled a sense of respect for potential danger with such installations.

And so it should have also with municipal authorities whose job it is among other things, to determine zoning for industrial placements of highly inflammable materials - as far from residential zoning as possible lest a catastrophic event such as the week-end's blast after a propane plant exploded might take place. It's a minor miracle that there was one sad death related to the immense explosion; that of the sole employee of Sunrise Propane present there at the time.

Miraculously, nearby residents - as close as the houses facing the plant across the roadway - escaped unscathed but for a few minor injuries. People were forced to flee from their homes in their nightwear, shoeless, some carrying pets, and told to evacuate the area - just keep walking, they were told. So much for emergency preparedness; it took some while before emergency personnel had buses on the scene to take people to various safe-haven destinations.

Such as York University which opened its doors to evacuees, preparing with the help of emergency workers to bed them down there for the night. While most others who evacuated fled to the homes of family members and friends. In the end, it took fire crews a full 16 hours to control the blaze that ensued in the wake of the explosion and fireball that levelled the propane plant. The Ontario Fire Marshall's office is sifting through the remains to ascertain the cause.

Regardless of the cause, it's incredible that such a depot was permitted to locate in that area. Everyone living within a 1.6 kilometre radius of the scene was urged to vacate their premises. Homes and nearby businesses were damaged by the blast. People were traumatized by the impact of the explosion, fearing for their lives as they fled what they didn't understand what was occurring. An earthquake, many thought, while others thought the area had been struck by a massive bomb.

The area around Keele and Wilson became a dead zone as police, rescue workers and firefighters attempted to deal with the issue of a still-undetermined number of explosions that had rocked the area. An important section of Highway 401 was shut down for the better part of the day, while the situation was being evaluated, in fears that there might be additional explosions. Yorkdale Mall, a huge shopping infrastructure, was shut down.

Bystanders took photographs of the huge mushroom cloud that rose above the scene following the red-hot incandescent bloom of explosive fire. The propane company installed at that junction was not always there; its presence did not precede the building of the homes and businesses surrounding it. For some truly idiotic reason they were permitted to position themselves there, legally; the municipality later said they had all the requisite permits.

Long-time residents had complained to the city when, a mere four years earlier, Sunrise Propane had installed itself directly within their residential enclave. Obviously, to no avail. The company stored and distributed highly flammable welding supplies, along with gases such as acetylene, argon, nitrogen, propane and oxygen. All highly explosive elements. This was an accident waiting to happen. Despite which authorities say the cause has not yet been determined.

The sheer idiocy of permitting such an installation within the city, in the midst of a residential-business neighbourhood is mind-boggling, to say the very least. In the United States and much of Europe this would never be permitted. An installation such as a propane gas depot must be located at least two miles away from residences. Time for the City of Toronto - along with all other responsible municipal governing bodies in the country - to visit the issue and produce remedial zoning bylaws.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Workplace Misogyny

It's sad, in a way, that so many men feel so uncomfortably embattled by the struggle of women to attain commensurate employment opportunities with men. And to be paid equally for the fruits of their labour. In a truly egalitarian society there should be few professions where women might not, alongside men, dedicate themselves to their life's work in employment. Some few exceptions where sheer physical strength and endurance make men solely equipped to handle physically arduous work may apply, but not too many.

So when the news highlights a situation which should have become a rarity in western democracies it's interesting to know how society handles it. There are many occupations which men consider to be outside of a woman's ability to handle. Logging, fire-fighting, iron-smelting works, heavy-machinery construction come to mind. But one might not think that management might be among them. Delorie Walsh, an Alberta woman with a B.Sc. in agriculture, applied for a position as a land agent with Canadian Superior (Mobil Oil), in 1984.

The position was one that necessitated an agent be capable of negotiating contracts between landowners and oil companies. She was hired, but not in the position she wanted to perform in. She worked for seven years on mapping and clerical work in the company's surface department. Reasoning that if she demonstrated her capability and was sufficiently patient, an opportunity to achieve success in landing the job she really wanted would surface.

She was informed by her superior at the company that "no damn woman will be a land man (agent) in the surface department". She filed a gender discrimination complaint, fed up with having been passed over repeatedly for promotions. Based, obviously, not on her competence and ability, but simply on the fact that it was not in the company tradition to give a woman a job that men coveted. And the men that the company hired were of the shared mind-set that resented a woman even considering the position.

Her job with Exxon Mobil turned out in the end to be a learning experience of a type she never felt she would encounter in the modern working world. She had chosen a profession that simply was not amenable to the presence of a woman in what was considered to be a man's occupation. She watched men brought into the company straight out of school being hired to do the job she wanted. She kept filing complaints, arguing she was the victim of discriminatory practises.

The company fired her in 1995, in evident retaliation against her incessant complaints. At no time did they appear concerned that they were in error in refusing her entreaties to give her the opportunity to perform in a position she was qualified for, and eager to do. After her firing she continued to perform similar work for other companies. And she also taught land agency and land administration classes at Olds College in Alberta. In other words, she was eminently qualified, but consistently overlooked.

Finally, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Marina Paperny released her judgement in the case, fully 17 years after Ms. Walsh had launched her first complaint against Mobil Oil Canada. Over the years a series of decisions, dismissals, appeals and other proceedings had taken place. Justice Paperny wrote: "Ms. Walsh's termination from employment came after she had already spent four years seeking redress for the discriminatory treatment to which she was subjected...

"A complainant of less fortitude may well have abandoned the complaint, not because it lacked merit, but because Mobil had decided to play hardball in its response to the complaints. That approach is not one that should be encouraged." (How's that for restrained understatement?) "Despite her ongoing efforts to gain a position in the field and, in spite of her consistently good performance evaluations, Walsh was held back from a field position, where similarly situated men were not."

The Alberta court judges also found that Ms. Walsh's remuneration was inadequate, consistently at the low end of Mobil's compensation grid, despite her performance throughout her career at the company located at the high end. And once she had launched her initial complaint, her work life at the company was fraught with aggressive monitoring of her work in an obvious effort to find cause for complaint on the company's part.

Now the woman awaits a hearing to determine the amount of her damages. For her part she anticipates equal pay to what males earned in her position, along with compensation for lost wages, post-termination. It's a Pyrrhic victory though, since so many years of her life were tied up in a frustrating attempt to achieve rightful parity with men in the workplace.

A seriously stupid waste of time for everyone involved, but most importantly for one dissatisfied and undervalued woman who did her utmost to be accepted for what she was truly worth.


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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Eh? Louder, Please

Ain't diplomacy interesting? To avoid the perception of insult, of casual obliviousness to the courtesies to be extended while visiting another country, politicians, bureaucrats, businesspeople and diplomats inform themselves of the niceties of human interaction obtaining in the country they're travelling to.

Briefing notes are put together by knowledgeable interveners, and distributed to those who can best make use of them. To ensure few embarrassing incidents occur. People don't, after all, want to appear boorish when visiting abroad. You wouldn't think that Canadian civil tradition is that markedly different from that in the United States, however.

We share, in some part, similar values and customs. We do have different political systems and those of our judiciary, as befits different countries with different cultural and political exposures in their developing years as singular nations. By and large, however, it's often more our accents that give us away as visitors, rather than our cultural behaviours.

And although the guide advises that a firm handshake on introduction is anticipated; that sunglasses should be removed indoors, along with hats, one might reasonably anticipate that these niceties are prevalent anywhere in the West, not just in Canada. And as for the descriptions of Canadians placing importance on education, skill, modesty and politeness, is that too not universal?

Still, the U.S. State Department must have felt it a requirement to prepare briefing notes for those American diplomatic and political functionaries that would be accompanying President G.W. Bush to Canada a few years back. His delegation was provided with a protocol guide to ensure that the foreigners in Canada they would be exposed to did not completely flummox them by their curious use of language.

One signal piece of advice was how to interpret Canadians' favourite sentence-suffix. As in nice day, eh? As though affirmation was required, but is in fact redundant; the speaker assuming the hearer to be in complete agreement with the obvious. "Eh", the guide explains, should be pronounced "ay". As in "aye aye", captain. But not "I"; "A". Got that?

"Used mostly in rural areas", explains the guide, the expression is roughly translated as "You know?", or "Isn't it?". To which I say, oh, really? In fact, "eh" can mean just about anything, but it does mean acquiescent agreement to anything that has been stated. And funny thing that; with the acknowledgement that it's a rural colloquialism, why bother entering that quaint expression into the guide to begin with?

It isn't as though President Bush or his entourage would be travelling in the countryside being exposed to Canadian rubes, in any event. Or has someone concluded in their great good wisdom that all Canadians, wherever they reside are residually rurally backward linguists?

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

In Defiance of Nature

The allure is simply too irresistible to adventurous spirits, those to whom the physical effort, the emotional need, the attachment to mountain climbing, ascending impossible heights against uncertain odds is worth the effort. The effort is worth it to them, in the certainty of their reward for the effort; success in summitting.

For they think of themselves as being impervious to the danger that confronts others less dedicated to the task, less aware of the risks, less experienced at meeting nature on her terms.
Those who live with the certainty that they will survive while others will not. And often enough they do survive, while others do not.

And then, those superior athletes of the climbing world, with the admirable reputations for care and physical finesse, find themselves incapable of telling themselves they've done it often enough, they've achieved what others could not, and perhaps there are other occupations they could turn their minds and their finely-honed physiques to.

The mountains call and they are incapable of failing to respond. The mystique of the mountains has settled deep in their bones, it has invaded their reason, it haunts their dreams, it tempts them to tempt fate. And so they return, and when they return they once again dream their dreams of fulfilment while knowing full well that nature can turn opportunity in a moment that will seem like an eternity, into failure.

And so, once again tragedy strikes in the Himalaya. The second tallest mountain on this Earth of ours. It's an inevitability. Eleven climbers no longer urging their bodies to respond to the need to surmount all the difficulties that confront them ascending and descending K2. An ice wall shearing away and with it the climber-dependent ropes carefully positioned to ensure they will live to see another day.

So they now will not. They've tumbled off the sides of an impossibly-steep mountainside in an avalanche of snow, ice and rock. And those among them whom fate spared on this occasion, carefully replay the scenario in their minds, finding fault with the lack of clear thinking on the part of many of those who perished. Clear thinking? Rational decision-making at that oxygen-starved height?

The human brain running on the overdrive of instinct to survive does not carefully evaluate, nor heed the experienced advice of those shouting infallible directions, those still capable of discerning the potential for safe decision-making against the chaos of blind reaction. It is frail humankind struggling with the neutrality of nature which controls everything and nothing.

It's a personal disaster for the families of those who have lost their loved ones. Toward whom no amount of intimately personal appeal or rational discussion was able to penetrate the resolve of those they saw off on their journey to personal fulfilment. The appeal of high adventure stifling the reality of difficulties certain to be encountered en route to the destination.

Of difficulties sufficiently severe to deliver other determined adventurers to irreversible misadventure, that of life's termination. But never them. Yet when the mission turns abruptly from advantage and success to visceral recovery of life's potential, the fortunate ones decry those whose lack of presence was their undoing.

Panic overtakes reason; it will do so when the human brain's capabilities have been compromised. In the face of disaster, more imminent than immediate, the primitive compulsion to deflect death intervenes. After which shocked rescue parties begin their search for those not yet accounted for. While a legendary alpinist understands the futility of the search.

"On K2 when they're missing, they're dead."

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Violations Perspective

Really, sometimes people are just so self-involved, so convinced they're entitled to whatever it is they're intent on obtaining for themselves, they are capable of overlooking what should seem obvious to anyone with an ounce of brains. That if, as a thinking adult, one has committed a criminal offence, there may be certain professions that would not go out of their way to embrace them as a representative of, for example, law and order....?

Yet even though it seems to the ordinary mind to make good common sense that if you violate the public trust, if you commit an indictable offence, if you engage in illicit activities, you may be considered thereafter as untrustworthy, it would appear that human rights may transcend the obvious.

The Supreme Court of Canada recently brought down a 6-2 decision in favour of a woman's right to be accepted for training with the police, despite having admitted to and being convicted of shoplifting.

She was of the age of majority at 21, when she pleaded guilty after being apprehended, of stealing several hundred dollars' worth of goods from a department store. She was fortunate in having been given a lenient sentence; a conditional discharge. Yet nothing could wipe out the fact that she had admitted to stealing goods, worth a fairly substantial amount of money.

How could someone like this be trusted to herself uphold the law and be tasked with the position of ensuring that others did, too? Apart from the very fact that it's rather an ignominious use of discipline to grant a thief the authority to apprehend other thieves. Surely when society authorizes individuals through training and legal appointment to uphold the law, they should themselves be capable of doing as much?

Yet five years after her conviction and conditional discharge the woman made application to the Montreal police and was informed that her application had been rejected. Those making the decision informed her that a background check of her criminal record indicated that she could not satisfy the "good moral character" pre-requisite for the position. Makes sense, right? Well, obviously not to the woman.

She felt that since she had received a pardon for the crime she had committed and time had passed since her offence, she should be deemed eligible for the position. The police force did not agree, and the case went before Quebec's human rights tribunal which ruled she had been discriminated against, ordering the City to pay $5,000 in damages to her.

When the police appealed to the Quebec Court of Appeal and lost, the case went to the Supreme Court of Canada. With the resulting verdict that her human rights had been violated.

And now that she has succeeded in establishing her grievance against society in screening her out for a position she was obviously not suited for, she has lost interest in policing as a career.

Perhaps a law degree, leading to a position on the bench at some future time?

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Late Out Of The Gate

It's been at least fifty years that the medical community has been aware that smoking causes cancer. Granted, it's been a long uphill battle to convince government to sacrifice its tax dependence on cigarettes in the best interests of educating and protecting its citizens against the health hazards related to smoking. But we've had decades of mass education, of bringing the tobacco industry to heel, of persuading people that its in their own best interests to desist from using tobacco products.

And during those decades of the public slowly accepting that tobacco companies embarked on a deliberate course of enticing ever greater numbers of people to smoke, through glamorous advertising aimed directly at women and at young people, deliberately withholding scientific evidence that smoking is egregiously injurious to human health, people have slowly taken steps to withdraw from that habit, difficult as it has been for many.

Logically enough, the demand of tobacco leaf has plunged. Many tobacco farmers who once made a handsome living off the reliable sale of high-grade tobacco leaf have long since made the transition themselves, opting, gradually, to grow other, edible crops. Many no doubt saw a substantial drop in their income, but they had little other choice than to switch to growing soybeans, corn, wheat and oats.

Yet there have been stalwart holdouts - those farming communities that simply refused to believe that their crops, now non-essential, and indeed harmful to society - who kept on doing what their fathers had done before them, expecting to be able to continue living well through the process. Should they then be rescued for their own lack of vision, their singular inability to view reality and take necessary action?

Seems so, because the Ontario government has announced it is prepared to hand over funds in the range of $300-million to the province's tobacco farmers still addicted to growing tobacco and facing a predictable decline in their fortunes. The funding to come from the in-excess-of $1-billion fine the federal government has agreed to accept in settling a legal action against Imperial Tobacco and Rothman's Benson & Hedges.

It's not that government hasn't attempted to economically assist and encourage tobacco farmers in the past to withdraw from their own habitual dependence on tobacco, for they have. Seems too many tobacco farmers are slow learners, much slower than the general public which has, by and large in the majority, been fairly successful in weaning themselves away from tobacco dependency.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

A Summer Day

It hasn't been very hot throughout the nights yet this summer, but for a few weeks earlier, before we resigned ourselves to the reality that we could expect, this extraordinary summer of hastening climate change, rain each and every day.

No complaints; besides the rain we've also experienced almost-daily episodes of almost-clear sky with plentiful sun, and the gardens are happy. To a certain extent, so are we; no really hot days, although plenty of humid ones, and far less need to water the gardens - in fact, little at all.

The gardens are blooming wonderfully. They're lush and colourful, wonderful to behold. So much so that when we wander in them we can hardly believe they're real; all that colour, texture, shape, fragrance, in our own little piece of Paradise.

Our hidden gardens, known only to ourselves, and just occasionally opened to the gaze of others, by invitation or when we have visitors staying over with us. At night, the fragrance of the lilies, the phlox and the petunias waft through the windows of the house, overwhelming us with their rapturous exuberance.

At breakfast this morning - a late breakfast, reminiscent of our working days when Saturday mornings automatically translated into luxuriant late mornings in bed - we were heralded by the precisely exquisite trill of a song sparrow.

He must be nesting nearby; we thought we were certain in the spring that a family of song sparrows had made their nest in our large pine on the front lawn. Now, much later in the summer, we see the male often in the backyard. And it was he who perched on top of the lattice surrounding our deck, singing his little heart out.

In the ravine, vines, encouraged by the ongoing rain events, grow rampantly over all the other, more moderate-to-respond wild plants. There, also, the various types of fungi are erupting, delighting us with their variance in size, shape and colour.

Not to mention the lichen covering the damp tree trunks, littering the ground, shaping into unlikely similarities to other growing things. The mushrooms are amazingly prolific, and wondrous to behold. From the slender white strings racing along the damp ground, to the large dinner-plate-size disks.

Their colours and their shapes are truly fascinating. The tiny bright yellow buttons, maturing into flat, more muted yellows, sometimes nibbled by the wildlife enliven the dank earth. We see crimson, purple, white, blue, beige, mahogany toadstools popping up as though overnight, there to entertain us during our hike.

Above the muddy creek there are pairs of dragonflies circling about one another. Less attractive, there are moths, and we're fairly certain they're the spruce budworm variety. We'll keep an eye on our spruces in our gardens; forewarned. Off in a near copse of trees we hear the cardinal's trill.

A rabbit sits on the trail as we turn the corner, unconcerned at our approach, even though Button strides ahead of us. The rabbit continues to hold his ground, enabling us to see him full on, his fur, that grey-beige, ruffled with white, as he stays right there - because it is, after all, his home turf - until Button is a mere two metres away, and he decides finally to make for the underbrush.

Button spurts a tentative, halfhearted run, then subsides, as the rabbit's white tail quickly disappears. Too hot, too humid for pursuit. The sun is out and it's a hot sun. Even while we're sheltered from its heat by the leafy canopy above.

From above and seemingly at a close distance, there's the first clap of a thunderhead and we wonder whether we'll complete our hour's hike before rain descends. But there's still sun, still clear spots between the clouds, and we take heart, decide to continue, not double back. As we proceed, thunder continues to rumble, but the sky has not yet succumbed to the dark promise.

We can still amble on with a good degree of confidence, we feel. As long as those rays shine down on the goldenrod, the bright blue cornflowers, the white Queen Anne's lace, the purple loosestrife, the orange lilies, and yellow loosestrife.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Human Ingenuity

What art was to the ancient world,
science is to the modern.
Benjamin Disraeli


Just another example of human hubris, in fact. That statement represents the incautious thought of a fine mind, one that still could not bend itself around the reality that human capability, foresight, wisdom and manual dexterity was not just the purview of his time, but was within the ownership of timeless humankind. Human beings were capable of distinguishing themselves intellectually, creatively, millennia before the advent of modernity.

There are no studies that would even suggest that the human mind has developed in capacity beyond what it was capable of demonstrating through observation, repetition and knowledgeable hypothesis in the ancient world. Well before the modern era, before the advent of Christianity, the ancient Egyptians advanced technologies modern science still cannot fathom. Of course in the really ancient world of hunting-gathering, humankind already expressed its timeless ability to create and to manage, to prosper.

From their trepanning techniques in relieving pressure on the brain through bold surgical expedients, to building the Pyramids using technology still hypothesized about by modern architecture, to using still little-understood chemical combinations to mummify human remains ancient Egyptian application to modify their environment amazes. Their fabulous work in the fields of alchemy, biology, chemistry, dentistry, anaesthesiology, and electromagnetic energies still awe modern science.

Men love to wonder,
and that is the seed of our science.
Emerson, Society and Solitude

The ancient Greeks are said to have produced the first philosopher to attempt an explanation for the physical world around us as constructed by nature, not by a powerful heaven-seated god. Greek philosophy had its base in logic and the science of mathematics, technology and nature. Millennia before the 15th century when Europeans were convinced the earth was flat and a ship could fall off the earth if it sailed too far, they knew the earth was round. In fact, Eratosthenes of Alexandria (194 b.c.) actually measured the Earth's circumference.

Botany, agriculture, the study and classification of plants; geology, the form and origin of Earth, volcanoes and earthquakes were given logical explanations through close study; close enough to rival current geologists' and vulcanologist's' knowledge of Earth's eruptions and upheavals.
Greeks knew of atoms, conceiving of their existence as the smallest indivisible particle possibly to be conceived; its very name, "atom" means indivisible. We do know now, a result of our Pandora's-curiosity, that the atom can be split, cataclysmically.

Philosophy, and the study of the human mind, human emotions and behaviours were all part of the Greek tradition of learning and understanding about ourselves and the world about us. Biology was studied by Hippocrates and Aristotle and Galen, said to be the father of modern medicine. From 7000 to 3300 B.C.E. the sciences were pursued in India; astronomy and mathematics, building techniques, farming, metalwork, flint knapping, tanning, bead production and dentistry. Along with hydrography, meteorology and sewage collection and disposal.

Equipped with his five senses,
man explores the universe around him
and calls the adventure Science.
Edwin Powell Hubble

All of this represents, from the ancient world to the present, humankind's capacity to derive knowledge from the natural world that surrounds us, to reflect on the near-perfection of nature, to manifest understanding of the events that impact upon our lives, to lead to methods by which we would not only learn to respect nature and our place within it, but also manipulate to some great degree the opportunities that nature exposes us to. Then, unfortunately, transcend the reasonable. We are by our very nature, immoderate.

It's humbling to realize just how little we have advanced, in fact, from the reality of the powerful minds that have superseded us, from ancient times to the present. Our lives are different, we have progressed exponentially; we exploit resources to manipulate our environment to create ever greater comforts and luxuries for ourselves, reaping the benefits of the technologies that have come before us, building upon them and reaching ever higher, for satisfaction in achievement - and excess.

Economics, the science of
managing one's own household
Seneca

But we've done a rather too-enthusiastic managing of the various opportunities we've seized, grasping too greedily resources that enhance our lives but will never again be available, once we've exhausted their treasury. We've been extraordinarily busy on this globe we inhabit, like mischievous and clever children left alone in a candy shop while the owner slips out for a moment of relief from the boisterous activities of unsocialized, uncivil brats.

Scientific reorganization of national energy
and resources, co-ordinating industrial democracy
to effect the will of the people
William H. Smyth; definition of technocracy

It's amazing, though, to realize how incredibly enterprising and capable the human mind is, in utilizing its skilfully manipulative appendages to produce amazing pieces of scientific machinery. We feel so utterly superior in all that we've accomplished, through our modern design and architecture and technical expertise gleaned over thousands of years through metal extraction and refining, through machining and production.

We should sit back and take notice, take a deep breath, and come to the realization that we're still those mischievous children. Our predecessors have done most of the heavy lifting in the cerebral department. Their intelligent theorizing and study have paved the way for modern understanding and further examination of everything that surrounds us.

And when we learn, for example, that there is in existence a mechanical piece of astronomical machinery dating to the 5th Century B.C. that surpasses in intelligent design and artistic purpose what can be produced today, we should witness that with appropriate awe. An ancient bronze mechanical device that had been recovered from a Roman-era shipwreck; Greek in origin and manufacture, used to predict eclipses and planetary movement.

Precision-made, of 82 bronze wheels and dials and plates. A clockwork mechanism to turn hands on a dial demonstrating the movement of heavenly bodies. Inscribed carefully with the names of the Greek Nemean, Isthmia, Pythia and Olympic Games. Its maker some obscure scientific-mechanical genius, enthralled by the heavens above, enraptured by humankind's place under the mantle of stars, celebrating civilization's excellence in physical performance.

The Antikythera Mechanism. Its maker long forgotten, its mechanism now corroded and incapable of producing its clockwork design. Its marvellous construction, connoting the marvel of humankind's prescience and creative imagination teach us perspective, tell us we are but part of a continuum, a hugely vast and infintely long voyage of discovery. Informing us also not to take ourselves too seriously, for time passes and so do we.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Percy Bysshe Shelley

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