Ruminations

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Exhilarating Enthusiasms

People have their employment, where they trudge to work, perform up to expectations to earn a living wage. And then they have their enthusiasms, recreational activities that they await the free time to indulge in. In the winter, in Canada, in far-flung communities, small towns and villages in the countryside, that often relates to zipping around the landscape in snowmobiles. And if they're living in a place of spectacular geography with immense vistas, the urge to get out there and enjoy themselves is overwhelming.

It becomes a fun bonding experience between young men, between fathers and sons, between whole families. But there are dangers inherent in all human activities that correspond to challenging nature on her home turf. Nature is indomitable, neutral to our activities, while humankind views nature as an immense adventure to be explored, exploited and enjoyed whenever and wherever possible. In the winter, in the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia, the snowpack accumulates and, according to conditions, can be extremely unstable.

Daily alerts go out warning skiers, snowmobilers, snowboarders, of the various levels of conditions. Avalanche warnings are commonplace. People become aware, on various levels of attention, of the risks they undertake in exposing themselves to backcountry adventures, in anticipating the tantalizing prospects of exploration and adventure, and just loving it all, cheating danger because of their alertness and skillful manoeuvrability.

They're entranced by the opportunity, the adventure, the vastness of the landscape, the breathtaking beauty that unfolds all around them. Their fluid, uninterrupted movement through the still, white and deep blanket of snow that comforts the earth's mantle is mesmerizing, exhilarating, powerful, haunting. If you live in a small town in southeastern British Columbia and you're young and manly and adventurous, then snowmobiling becomes the winter sport of greatest attraction.

And that encapsulates the genesis of the tragedy that befell the small mining town of Sparwood last week-end. Resulting in eight mourned sons of the town, and the grief and guilt absorbed by the three survivors of a series of avalanches that disrupted the carefree abandon of steering snowmobiles through Harvey Pass. Aware of the risks where, before departing on their shared adventure they received the avalanche-risk warning for the Elk Valley to be moderate below the treeline, considerable at and above the treeline, they were geared with shovels and beacons.

One of the grieving townsfolk, brother to the 33-year-old Warren Rothel leaving behind two young children and his pregnant wife, spoke of sledding as being in their blood; a sport handed down from father to son. Describing how his brother had already survived three previous avalanches before dying this time in the series of slides that occurred this week, taking his life and that of seven others, all friends, companions.

They called themselves the "Valley Boys", craving the excitement of extreme sport. But, the brother now recalls sadly, he decided for himself that the risks were no longer worth the excited thrill they evoked, and removed himself from sledding, while his brother carried on. And finally he received that dreaded telephone call informing him of the devastating occurrence; a call he had visualized many times over the years, become reality.

Dead and gone, not yet buried, their families and friends in deep shock and mourning.

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Good Faith Personified

The City of Ottawa, personalized by its redoubtable mayor awaiting due process in a court proceeding, charged with voting malfeasance, is in charge of the negotiations between the Amalgamated Transit Union's Ottawa branch and the municipality. Do we have confidence in this mayor? Certainly not. On the other hand, is sympathy extended to the striking OC Transpo drivers, mechanics and dispatchers by the city's tens of thousands of regular transit users being held hostage by the two sides' intransigence? Most certainly not.

Furthermore, since the service crosses provincial borders, it comes under the purview of the federal government, not the provincial government which could order the strikers back to work. All that we can expect from the intervention of the federal government is that the Minister of Transport, Rona Ambrose, order the parties to break their current impasse only in regard to bringing the latest contract offer from the city to the union for a vote.

The union head has steadfastly refused to bring the city's latest offer to the union membership. And likely with good reason. It's entirely feasible that union members, in a closed vote, would deny their president his day. Union president Andre Cornellier isn't in the business of losing face, nor does he feel that the Minister should be intervening. Mr. Cornellier, in fact, feels the city should roll over and play dead, leaving the field to the union, triumphant.

There is no need, he avers, to bring the city's latest offer back to the membership. "We don't have to, so why should we? Just because the city says to take it back, we should? Because the city thinks they have a good offer? Who are they? We're negotiating with them. We don't believe it's a good offer, so we don't bring it back to our members and that's our right as a union."

Sigh. Would that it were not so. The latest offer is a real humdinger of a good contract. The bus drivers already make good money, and given the fiscal constraints bordering on dire that the City is labouring under, the original offer of 7.5% over three years looks good, sounds good, is good, to a whole lot of people wishing they had the job security and benefits that the OC Transpo employees enjoy.

Not to mention the generosity of the signing bonus, in excess of $2,000. The union's lawyer argues that the city has an obligation to resolve the strike by negotiating in good faith with the union's bargaining committee. The city, doubtless, believes it is doing just that. The major sticking point being that the city has every intention of reserving the right to work-scheduling, as occurs in all other cities.

The union refuses to give up that hard-won and treasured perquisite that represents the interests of senior drivers, some 230 personnel whose entitlements are holding the other 2,070 OC Transpo employees in thrall to those very specific demands. Solidarity forever, even if it means that in the process, the strikers will end up losing weeks of salaries that the best of contracts won't make up within the course of a year.

Even if it means that, in the process, the union head's belligerent stance does far more than merely inconvenience people dependent on public transit. Yes, it strikes at the core of the city's workforce who represent a higher percentage of transit users than most other cities. Many, if not most of those nine-to-fivers have taken to using their personal vehicles, clogging up traffic, desperately looking for increasingly rare parking spots.

Those forced by necessity of lower wages to walk, bicycle, hitchhike, carpool eventually make it to their destinations. Or not. There've been a whole lot of health care appointment cancellations. The city's elderly cannot quite get around as handsomely as formerly, so they sit at home, unable to visit their usual haunts. Students find it difficult to get to classes, to write exams.

Volunteers with charitable organizations, lacking the means of arriving and departing, leave those organizations unable to provide the full services to those who depend upon them that they normally provide, with the considerable assistance of volunteer help. All of this is as nothing, utterly irrelevant, when weighed against the greater good to the community of the union's ongoing control over scheduling and route assignment.

There are an awful lot of people in the city who would gladly change places with the OC Transpo employees, considering them to be a selfish, coddled lot. Those who are currently unemployed, or contemplating the very real possibility of losing employment would jump at the opportunity to replace the current lot of dissatisfied workers, embracing the opportunity to take up what OC Transpo has rejected.

Pity that exchange couldn't be somehow managed.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Enterprise is a Skateboarder

The sub-prime mortgage debacle in the United States which began the avalanche of financial failures with worthless paper scattered throughout the international community of interrelated money markets has proven to be a dreadful scourge. Real estate marketers, construction companies, banks, all bought into the scheme of enticing people with scant financial means to believe they could be home-owners, thanks in part to government-sponsored programs determined to persuade a non-secure population they could buy into the American dream.

The U.S. market is now flooded with failed mortgages, people walking away from homes that they could only afford to dream of, never afford to pay for to begin with, leaving in their wake unsecured loans, and banks re-possessing homes they cannot sell in a critically depressed market. Neighbourhoods have been effectively gutted of their home-owners, and houses sit, one after another, empty, forlorn, and decaying. Subject to break-ins, and to having electrical, plumbing, fixtures spirited away, leaving empty, destroyed shells.

And in some parts of the country, where backyard swimming pools are seen as an essential part of home ownership, those pools are also neglected and turning into a different type of problem to municipalities. In California alone tens of thousands of backyard swimming pools with their houses fronting them, have been abandoned, with the suburbs' bubble having gone bust. There are fines of up to $1,000 a day for pools left with standing water, but sheer numbers mitigate against success.

The pools, full of fetid water, represent a happily-uninterrupted breeding ground for mosquitoes, and with the threat of West Nile disease, the fall-out from this neglect becomes even more serious. Mosquito-abatement programs in various counties see the necessity for personnel to take to the skies to identify abandoned homes and pools. Once identified, workers treat the pools with insecticide and mosquitofish - tiny carp that thrive on mosquito larvae - a natural ecosystem.

Pools are not emptied, however, for to do so is to invite another kind of problem altogether. After a heavy rain event - of which there must be fairly few in California - empty pools have been seen to be lifted by groundwater out of their placements, floating up to a foot or two. Even people who somehow manage to pay their mortgages, find it expedient to shut off power in the newly-tight economy, or to stop operating the pool motor, or pay for water treatment chemicals.

Enter the intrepid, imaginative and enterprising skateboarders. They scope out abandoned homes and their pools, and initiate a process of purpose-recovery bearing no resemblance to the original function of all those abandoned pools. Kidney shaped pools are preferred, but any will do nicely, in fact. They bring in pool pumps, drain water into the street gutter - cleverly setting up orange cones on sidewalks to give the procedure an official air - then shovel out the remaining muck.

And presto! The result is a magnificent skateboarding rink. Word has got around. It's become a really popular sport: abandoned pool = skateboard park; fun and games. Just imagine, an abandoned street of high-end homes, each with a pool, offering the opportunity to empty a series of pools, and the fun of a lifetime, heading down from the first on to the following pools for entertainment par excellence.

Real estate tracking sites such as realquest.com and realtor.com lists foreclosed houses with pools. Satellite images from Google Earth are also helpful. And there's a Web site, skateandannoy.com which is replete with skater tips about how to go about discovering and draining abandoned pools. A poster at one site reads: "God bless Greenspan, patron saint of pool skatin'." Does life get any better than this?

These pleasure-tingling opportunities beckon to hard-core skateboarders from abroad as well, bringing people from as far as Germany and Australia to the United States to bunk up with skating pals, so they can all embark on the mission to create these skate parks, out of abandoned pools. A different kind of holiday adventure altogether, and one supremely enticing to people dedicated to skateboarding.

After all, what's worse, an abandoned pool full of algae, dead leaves, stinking up the neighbourhood, bringing rats and other nuisances, or a useful playground? Of course there are spoilers in this little scheme of skateboard Paradise. Despite skaters' adherence to their rules of honourable conduct - no graffiti, trash left behind, nor intent to enter the abandoned houses - they do on occasion get caught by law and order authorities.

Police hand out warnings, but as yet no citations. In fact, the skateboarders should be cited favourably for their advanced civic awareness in cleaning up messes and emptying nasty pools of stagnant water.

We're so sour-faced and our values are just so incredibly skewed.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Techno Wonders

Imagine tricking your latest-model must-have camera cellphone with a 'reader software' program designed to enable instant linkage to bar codes that produce instantly identifiable messages like details about the latest entertainment production, the list of ingredients in various edible products, the country of origin and materials employed in the production of various consumer goods, and you're in the bright new world of emerging consumer-information technology.

QR codes, as in "quick response", invented in the mid-1990s by a Japanese corporation, Denso-Wave, to track vehicle manufacturing parts, is a concept that has been broadened and expanded to bring to the digital world of human-technological interaction, an entirely new adaptation. Product-embossed QR codes capable of instantly, when scanned by a camera-telephone, producing advertisements, restaurant menus, shopping information and public transit timetables.

These special bar codes, appearing increasingly in consumer products in Japan have proven to be both useful and popular. Imagine scanning a pack of tomatoes with a mobile telephone, and immediately data appears for the interested shopper, detailing where the fruit was grown, the size of the farm and additional details: organic or conventionally grown, type of tomato, perhaps even recipes best suited to that particular type. Amazing, isn't it?

The small square pattern - in reality an edible bar code of chocolate - appears on an ever-growing list of Japanese products. The ChocoQR represents a major code marketing campaign. Britain is beginning to see these codes emerge on countless products, whereby consumers can be offered instant access to games, videos, Web sites and prizes, after the code has been swiped with a cellphone.

Innovative, you bet. All those young techno-whiz-kids out there will love it. The old fogies will grumble about new-fangled and complex technologies that leave them out in the cold, but they'll adapt. Life becoming more interesting - and complicated - day by fascinating day.

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Retail Woes

Little wonder consumers are fearful of spending whatever discretionary funds they may have. They're worried about the future, about finding themselves short of the wherewithal to get by. They're fearful of losing their employment, and with that, the security of their homes, their quality of material life-comforts. And there's little wonder that insecurity has fallen so heavily upon one country after another. Their economies truly are in dire straits, with governments frantically attempting one strategy after another to rescue their finances from further plummets.

If Canada's situation is anything to go by - and in a sense it is, in another it isn't entirely, since Canada's financial and lending institutions are in far more secure shape than most of the G8 and indeed, of the developed world, given its legendarily conservative money management - there's a culprit at play here. Consumers have been discouraged, and heavily so, by the elevation through the news media of a component of hysteria unmatched by any other catastrophe, natural or man-made, we've faced of late.

You can hit people in many places; the fear of impending climatic doom, that of the very real threat of fanatical Islamists scheming to bring down Western society in a cataclysmic rain of bloodshed, and it's worrying, but people bounce back, trusting to the state security apparatus to kick in. Strike them with a direct threat against their more immediate well-being, their quality of life granted them by a fluid and ever-growing economy, and the compulsion to hold back, save what they have, brings on the quality of withdrawal.

Withdrawal from the marketplace, that is. The hoarding instinct begins to surface. And the more worried people become, the more the news media appears to revel in producing one story after another of financial catastrophic doom. The emphasis that no one is immune, the endlessly woebegone descriptions of the growing ranks of the unemployed, the collapse of international trade, the constrained lending situation, and people withdraw, seeking comfort in hoping to be able to stay the course.

Of course that impacts heavily on the retail industry, the commercial hub of a country's economic activities. Construction begins to slow, as people are no longer eagerly in pursuit of new homes, and resale properties begin to slump as well. Manufacturing is hit, hard, as consumables sit on shelves far longer than considered normal. Corporations begin to worry about inventory, and close down their enterprises, many filing for bankruptcy, others migrating to offshore placements to decrease operating costs.

Along with the government's attempts to secure security in financing, and lending capacity for the financial sector, campaigns to entice and comfort the large consumer base in their countries, to encourage people to understand that if they don't spend, they're impacting further deleteriously on the situation, is falling on deaf ears. All those news items rife with unequivocal fear-mongering, so helpful to sales and ratings, have continued to undermine consumer confidence.

The wary, fearful public is more than slightly aware of the discomfiting reality that their government and its various agencies, striving for recovery in an interrelated world of financial collapse, is straining resources normally set aside in prudently conservative treasuries to ensure government coffers don't fall away from the comfort of surplus status. But this is a recognized recession, and it's been well bandied about that even the experts have been stunned at the collapse of global finance. And the particulars behind this failure of capitalism.

The fear of an ongoing recession and tightening credit, along with the steadily growing unemployment rate has encouraged people instead to gear themselves toward spending far less than they normally would, particularly at the most consumer-conscious time of the year, the Christmas season of gift-giving. Profit margins among commercial retailers have hit rock bottom. And the economies of various countries continue to sink like a cement block in a deep-running stream of fear.

It's necessities only now, as people hunker down to wait out the current economic storm, with the hope that it won't last longer than their anxieties can cope with.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oh Dear, That's Tough Times

Who ever heard of such a thing? CEOs having to tighten their money belts? With all the news redolent of a stink of self-availment in industry boardrooms, CEOs departing with a hearty thanks and a hefty bonus, leaving companies' shareholders holding the bag of failure? It's become a universal story. Even while the U.S. Federal Reserve was being empowered to rescue the American financial industry, stories leaked about bonuses flying left, right and centre.

Appreciation for jobs so well done that the Chief Executive officers were being rewarded for management so ill done that they weren't able to foresee the wreckage they were leading their companies into. Or, if they were astute enough to recognize the signs of failure, they kept it close to the vest, and insisted that their signed contracts replete with hefty bonuses were honoured, before they walked away from the mess they left for others to pick up.

We've seen this tired old story of rewarding poor management with whopping departure fees In Canada, at Nortel, at Ontario Hydro, even in the offices of municipalities. Not merely the usual bonuses, but high-priced memberships at private clubs, personal high-end vehicles, golf memberships, even, on some occasions perquisites so out of whack with executive compensation it's mind-boggling: like yachts, full-time nannies and other emoluments to executive privilege.

Compensation for heads of companies and other elite executives have traditionally been different from the level of remuneration ordinary workers could anticipate - to the extent that millionaire row exemplified the princely bonuses casually ladled out to the big names in corporate management; an industry of obeisance to the demi-gods of industry management, who in fact did little to earn their vast salaries, let alone bonuses.

But under the new public scrutiny where tax dollars have been offered by governments anxious to do anything within their discretionary-tax-spending powers to alleviate the collapse of industry, business and financial institutions, a new awareness has finally intruded on the business-as-usual-in-the-boardroom annual payouts. Mostly because it isn't quite business as usual - it's now a panic scene of hanging on by pared fingernails.

Industry critics have long complained about skewed compensation incentives which were endowed regularly as clockwork by firms who tended to reward their elite employees in a premature manner and often for unsustainably risky manoeuvres. Some companies have begun to see the light, and have been shifting over to the more reasonable method of paying out a percentage of what their top earners have contributed to earnings for their companies.

Reasonable, isn't it? Why this has eluded the practical intelligence of most boards of directors is amazing. Frugal with their top-echelon employees they have not been. Mostly because, in the past, they've been anxious to be able to hold out richly palatable contracts to high-end earners who've somehow garnered the reputation of representing excellent management. Outbidding one another to entice the business celebrities of the corporate world to their executive suites.

The huge bonuses generously given to bankers and traders through a scheme where companies initiated these compensations to vie for talented staff in a competitive market truly skewed the system out of all proportion to value. Now the tide is turning, and about time. High-level corporate heads will now have to demonstrate that through their guidance and excellent management, the companies' earnings have accelerated, before those hefty bonuses pad their managers' bank accounts.

Top executives will even be looking at being rewarded with non-liquid junk bonds, mortgage-backed securities and corporate loans, that their past practise has brought into their companies. Anticipating that at some future date their value may return or increase, and they'll offer a reasonable value once more. Another system to be employed may be a type of clawback, where, if failure to produce good results occurs, bonuses can be taken back.

I can just see it now; a company CEO squirrelling away his bonus and defying the company to take it away, taking it to court and insisting their human rights have been attacked. Of course if the bonus funds are placed in an escrow account to be delivered at some future date, should the CEO's activities prove not to have harmed the company by causing financial losses, that's another thing altogether.

Far more cautionary, prudent and up-to-the-moment. If it becomes common practise then executives may have no option but to accept these new provisions in compensatory practise. Their greed and mismanagement, after all, put them in this newly-awkward place to begin with.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Arbitrary Bargaining

Settlements of disagreements require good faith, the suspension of aggressive demands and denials, and the observable intent to create an atmosphere where a solution may be possible. In the case of the OC Transpo transit strike in Ottawa, now in its third week and ongoing, relations between the municipality and the transit union remain bitterly uncompromising, leaving the city's transit users in a real lurch of uncertainty and anger-provoking trials trying to cope with alternative means of transit, traffic congestion, long waits, and winter weather conditions.

Not a very consolable situation for people having to balance home and work life, nor those heavily dependent on the practical use of public transportation to enable them to live normal and healthy lives. The municipality erred in leaving the matter of a new contract, to come to such a pass. The union leadership appears to live on another planetary dimension altogether, completely out of touch with the current economic straits facing the country, the world at large, and in fact, people whose means of employment have suddenly evaporated.

The transit employees earn a decent wage and they enjoy good benefits. Everyone feels they're underpaid and under-resourced. But you're truly underpaid when you're out of a job, and in a financial atmosphere such as this which has devastated so many sectors of employment, it's prudent to accept a good offer, and await opportunities in the future to do better, while holding on to a secure job. Everyone can find fault with certain aspects of their employment, there's nothing completely suited in all details to everyone's expectations.

But there is a time and a place for everything to be resolved. Right now is not the time or the place for unions to do battle on behalf of their employment-secure members. Too many of the people whose property taxes pay the wages of these service providers and who are themselves dependent on these services, are facing their own straitened circumstances; why should they have a further burden imposed on them?

In the latest round of negotiations, now broken off, the city's mayor claimed that an offer to the union of binding arbitration was summarily dismissed. The local head of the Amalgamated Transit Unit claims no such offer was ever mentioned. Yet notes taken at a news conference following the meeting had local union president Andre Cornellier declining to respond to the query put to him; whether he would in fact acquiesce to binding arbitration.

The union demands guarantees that the municipality will not agree to providing; the city's response is that workers must work a full shift to be paid for a full shift. The critical issue of scheduling being handed over to the city rather than being left in the hands of the union just isn't flying; neither side will relent. And as for the union loftily stating when the strike was called on December 10th, that the issue is not about money, it's sticking to its insistence of a 9.25% wage settlement over three years, not the 7.25% offered.

The union wants it all their way, before it will permit buses to roll again on the highway. It will not permit the members to take part in a free and secret-ballot vote on the city's last offer. Being out on strike in an Ottawa winter is no fun for anyone, it's a brutal form of protest. Not bringing home a weekly pay cheque is even worse. Raising the ire of the public through the union's intransigence gains the workers no friends and supporters among the public. It's not a nice place to be in.

The matter of booking doesn't affect the entire 2,300 drivers, mechanics and dispatchers. They've gone out on principle, in support of their union's demand that seniority in booking is a critical issue that requires their co-operation. In fact, the issue will benefit a mere few hundred workers. Given the opportunity to vote for the reasonable contract offer proffered by the city, in light of the pressures involved of a tight city budget, it's entirely likely the union membership would vote to accept the offer.

"I am not going to bring it to my membership", avows Mr. Cornellier..."There is no law that says we should." And in the meanwhile, hard-pressed former transit users have desperately sought out alternative means of transport, from the rigours of winter-walking great distances, to bicycling when possible, car-pooling and generally gritting their teeth in aggravation. They're unhappy but reconciled in part to the idea that this strike could continue and they must cope with that reality.

When faced with reality, reasonable people should react in a reasonable and mutually beneficial manner. There's something fundamentally amiss with that equation as practised by the Amalgamated Transit Unit's Ottawa local.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

e-Trashing The Planet

We are so besotted with electronic gadgetry, we simply cannot get enough of them; the latest versions of all manner of electronic toys we've already had in various upgrades continually making way for the very newest to come onto the market. People are so anxious to acquire these new versions with all manner of cute and cleverly appealing details that they line up before dawn - occasionally even camping out overnight in front of the electronics superstores to be first in line to acquire 'limited' numbers - that their acquisition becomes a seriously integral issue of perception of quality of life.

The chagrin, downright embarrassment when one's friends and acquaintances have taken possession of the very latest, in delivering the grim news that one hasn't yet taken possession of one's own is enough to label one definitely uncool. Expense be damned, who can wait for the newest versions to settle into the easily-acquisitioned niche once the first enthusiasm has abated after market introduction. The eagerness to avail oneself of these items is so great that nothing else seems to matter.

And so we burden ourselves with the latest flat-screen television, tossing out the still-functioning old set, ditto the slacker computer with insufficient operating speed and while we're at it those 'old' cell phones not tricked out with futuristic upgrades that everyone just simply must have to remain credibly in the game. What to do with the old models - 'old' often being consonant with a year or so, but lamentably without the very latest features - becomes a question.

All those printers, cellphones, audio and video equipment, high-tech home appliances, computers, television, have become a worrying burden on our waste management systems. These items, with plenty of life left in them, can often be given to charitable groups who sell them at a modest price to those who cannot afford the newer, pricier, latest models. But if they're set aside at home and just hoarded until such a time erupts as they become an outdated nagging nuisance one is anxious to be shed of, they can end up in the dump.

Out of sight, out of mind. Despite that there are small shops set up by enterprising individuals determined to recycle society's e-technology detritus to avoid the growing problem of improperly disposing of hazardous waste, by re-use when possible, disassembling and removing toxic materials for proper disposal. It's an immense problem, and a steadily growing one, in our societies besotted with the allure of new and advanced technologies available for personal use.

Statistics Canada points out that over a third of households country-wide discard unused or obsolete computers and other communication devices in cleaning house, with very few taken to special waste depots or returned to suppliers, and a proportion of one in five simply placing these e-waste objects out for normal garbage dumps. The result - potentially lethal substances leach into the soil, groundwater and the atmosphere. Their cavalier disposal has been directly linked to reproductive, neurological and developmental disorders - in animals and in people, according to Environment Canada.

We live in such a self-absorbed and busy world, people seem to find the time to ensure they're able to afford and acquire expensive gadgetry, which soon enough become useless e-junk. In the process of acquiring and discarding, little intelligent thought is given to the incredible waste of resources involved in the cost of the raw materials, the labour, the production and transportation of these items. Advertising ensures that these are possessions people crave, wanting to own the very creatively latest.

No thought wasted in the sterile and irritating obligation to ensure proper disposal. Let alone some introspection about why anyone could possibly need all that stuff to begin with. Are our lives, otherwise devoid of these electronic items, so void of meaning? If anything their serial possession and discarding, diminishes the consumer to a purchasing automaton, one valued by the manufacturer, and, in fact, to the producing country for aiding their GDP. In environmental and value terms, their usefulness to society is close to nil.

Provinces across the country are beginning to wake up to the very real problems inherent in lax attitudes toward recycling and proper storage of contaminating elements in these products. A responsively needed stewardship program is being initiated aimed at proper recycling of electronics, 27% of which is now reused or recycled on an annual basis, with the remainder being landfilled or exported overseas. No one appears to be keeping tabs on the inimical effects of these environmental and human health implications.

Along with the new recycling programs a tracking and audit system will perform a needed complementary task to ensure responsible safety standards are recognized and adhered to. We owe it, collectively, to ourselves, to future generations, to ensure that we don't end up irremediably contaminating our soil, water and air. As to how or whether it's possible to wean the public away from its love affair with this constant, short-life turnover of electronics, that's another matter.

Whatever became of that practical and useful dedication to use a product to the end of its useful life? We're an incredibly bored and acquisitive society, incapable of recognizing life's value and the quality that living in balance with our environment brings to us. Much as I disliked the nagging message contained in that neat little film, 'e-Wall', there's an unmistakably wry truth to humankind's absorption with trashing this Planet, our only home.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Odds Are - It's Winter-White

Climatic and meteorology experts have delivered the news that all those hoped-for "white Christmas" events will soon become a cherished memory of days long past. Owing to the reality of climate change, once termed "global warming", due to greenhouse gases impacting on our atmosphere.

'Climate change', given the seemingly increasing untoward weather and climatic events we're being treated to, seems that much more expressive of what's occurring than 'global warming'.

We don't, in fact, see too many indications of a warming atmosphere in our daily lives. Seems, in fact, that we've been treated to increasing cold, at times when we anticipate, given the season of the year, normal temperatures or what passes for normal in our memories.

We've experienced rainier summers, cooler summers. And cooler fall temperatures, and downright frigid winter temperatures - so much for global warming. Whereas, on the other hand, there's general agreement on the troubling and startling symptoms of climate change.

Still, global warming appears to be an undeniable fact. Sea ice in the Arctic is rapidly disappearing, and thousand-year-old glaciers are gradually breaking off, plopping into the ocean, and drifting off, melting in warmer seas.

The 0.7-degree Celsius rise in world temperatures since records have been kept, dating from 1900 - along with anticipated greater rises within the century speak of inexorability.

Meanwhile, a heavy blanket of snow this Christmas in the winter of 2008 has come to rest in much of Asia, Europe and North America. This is the first time in about a half-century that the entire vast geography of Canada has been snow-covered for Christmas. In fact, the celebrated semi-tropical city of Victoria on Vancouver Island is so snow-bound its ground pack was measured as the thickest in the country.

Enjoy it while we can, we're told. Climate researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research confirm that "The probability of snow on the ground at Christmas is already lower than it was even 50 years ago but it will become an even greater rarity many places by the latter half of the century".

Mind, there are many Canadians who would stand up and swear that we're experiencing greater snowfall episodes, more frequently, resulting in heavier snowpacks on the ground than at any other time in living memory - last year in Canada's capital city the snowfall came close to equalling a monster snow-year in the winter of 1971-72.

We remain to be convinced.

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Reward: Lost Ducks - Contact NASA

What's that caution, again? When things seem too good to be true, they usually are, right. An adage whose worth is demonstrated on a regular basis, from economics to politics, to social engineering, to scientific experimentation. There doesn't appear to be any easy roads to accomplishing a desired outcome.

Some bright light thought how functional it would be, aside from quirky, to utilize an everyday object beloved of children, to assist science in ascertaining ocean movement and Arctic ice-melt. A marriage of low-tech with high science. And so it was that NASA went shopping and bought up about a hundred of those cute yellow ducks that kiddies play with in their bath.

Scientists thought the ducks would turn up, be turned in, and through determining where they showed up from where they had been deposited into holes in the ice of Greenland, their long sea voyage could be interpreted, at low cost, little physical effort, low dollar expenditure.

Makes good sense, after all. Whatever winds up in the ocean will be sent on a long journey, pushed onward by variable winds and the action of the waves; held hostage on occasion by forces of nature that entrap small bobbing objects, but eventually loosed, and who knows where they might turn up?

It was a tantalizing prospect, an exciting one, proving that you don't have to be a tech-wizard, or require heavy funding, or wrack the scientific mind to coax nature to arrive at a practical solution which in turn would surrender valuable data. Trouble is, the hoped-for break-through that would allow environmental scientists to track the manner of Arctic ice melt, isn't materializing.

Those duckies have proven to be ultra-elusive. None of the 90 insouciant bobbing objects have yet turned up, anywhere that can be determined. Their colourful buoyancy and durability hasn't yet delivered information useful to glaciologists because it would appear no fortuitous helper in the great wide world has yet picked one up, seen the email address and that irresistible promise of a reward to clock in.

You might think that the likeliest individuals to come across these bobbers might be an northern-dweller; well, among the languages stamped on the duckies was Inuktitut. Could be that people in the Far North have become accustomed to noting the presence of exotic flotsam in their once-pristine waters, and simply ignore them.

They'd perhaps be more inclined to notice the floating robotic probe with its GPS positioning transmitter. It too has proved itself to be in the dud category, since no communications have been received through the auspices of its hi-tech batteries. It's assumed the probe has somehow got stuck under the ice.

Back to the drawing board. Nature continues to hold her secrets close to her irritated bosom.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Season Of Giving

Something about the season. Seeing all around, not just the frantic faces of those determined to buy suitable gifts for friends and family, but despite the pressure of this particular social contract, people tend, perplexingly, to relax their habitual tendency to ignore the presence of others. They're frenetically shopping, it's true, but they also tend to smilingly acknowledge the presence of others, far more than they ordinarily do.

To exhibit a more caring attitude in recognition of our common heritage as human beings. Distracted, to be sure, but mindful at this special time to Christians that the season also obligates them to be somehow kinder and gentler, more generous to one another. It's at this time of the year that charities, depending on the goodwill of those who have, to spare something for those who haven't, manage to collect donations in excess of those received otherwise throughout the year.

And it's also the time of year that, no matter whether one is a member of a minority group whose religion is entirely other than that of Christianity, others within the community become infected with the spirit of good cheer. It's hard to step aside and ignore the sounds and colours, the anticipatory atmosphere. It isn't all that hard under the circumstances to willingly return "Merry Christmas" when strangers offer the common greeting.

And those who truly practise what their traditions preach are a special group unto themselves. When people, year after year, go out of their way to ensure that children living in poverty are also able to share in the general light-headiness of the season. Take, for example, Rene and Sue Baril of Hawkesbury. He's a retired military man, and she's his devoted partner in delivering toys and stuffed animals to their town's needy children.

The weather in eastern Ontario, just as it's presented throughout the country, this year, has been extraordinarily wintry; windy, snowy, extremely cold. People perish in this kind of weather - if they're lost, disoriented, giving themselves up to the warmth and comfort that a still-descending snow cover provides when they've expended all their energy in trying to reach safety - falling into the deep sleep of death.

Just such an accident occurred to a woman living in a small town near Toronto this past week-end. She set out in the family vehicle to search for some baking supplies. Her vehicle broke down, and she began walking, walking. Her husband reported her missing later that night. Several days later a search party discovered her, thanks to a search dog, buried deep in snow, a small breathing hole her salvation.

The homeless, resisting entreaties to come in out of the killing cold at night, risk frostbite, hypothermia, and death. They're discovered, later, lifeless, and society has lost another of its members to the cruelty of a winter beautiful beyond belief with newfallen snow muffling the landscape, ice crystals winking back catching the light from the myriad stars in a velvet-black night, and not a sound to be heard anywhere.

People out for an evening stroll, despite the difficulty of slogging through deep drifts of newfallen snow can occasionally never return. Which is just what happened to a 66-year-old man, now on life support with a grim prognosis. Sue and Rene Baril, with their driver, Richard Giroux, were halfway through their mission to provide children with toys, when Mr. Baril shouted at Mr. Giroux that he must immediately stop.

A bulky object lying by the side of the road which they automatically took to be an abandoned bag of some kind, was the body of a man who had fallen forward, his face hidden in the deep snow. Wearing his Santa regalia, Mr. Baril leaped from the vehicle, and rushed to give assistance. No pulse, no breath. A protocol of chest pumping was initiated, while Mr. Giroux called 911.

As he frantically pumped the inert man's chest, Mr. Baril realized the unmistakable symptoms of heart attack, pain spreading from his chest to his arms, a sensation he had experienced previously, which required emergency angioplasty and a stent to prop an artery in his heart. He understood well what was occurring, but he continued trying to save another man's life. Mr. Giroux intervened, and they took turns pumping, finally accomplishing a faint, irregular pulse.

Another man, living close by who had heard the frantic commotion outside, emerged from his home, identifying himself as a paramedic, and commenced to take control, keeping the unconscious man's pulse going until the ambulance and police arrived. The ambulance sped the man to hospital, and very soon afterward, the police did the same with Mr. Baril.

Mr. Baril was finally dispatched to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, where he underwent another angioplasty and the replacement of his clogged stent. The unfortunate 66-year-old who had collapsed with a heart attack, shows no signs of brain activity and is not expected to outlast Christmas Day.

But his family have the comfort of knowing that there are kind people in their community, and their beloved father, grandfather was not left to perish alone and uncared for.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Lump of Coal

'Tis the season of good fellowship, of embracing one's fellow man, of shared joy in the recognition that December 25 represents for the larger Christian community, an advent of historically amazing and life-succouring proportions; the salvation of those who believe.

It's a time of bright, shining riotous colour slapped over the prevailing winter white of these northern climes. When even we appreciate no end the classical seasonal hymns. (Handel's Messiah would melt anyone's resolve to remain without.) When jingly music meant to gladden the hearts of children, along with the promises of new playthings entrances them and gladdens their parents.

Well, for those in any population who represent a minority, an ethnic or religious group not sharing the customs, traditions and hysteria of the prevailing majority it's a time to observe and to draw back slightly, ensuring that one does not intrude on the celebrations of others, but to proffer respect for other traditions.

For those who remain in the general population as indigenous but irreligious, the fun and folly can be accepted as a seasonal holiday, colouring everyone's world. And just kind of lay low. The inconvenience of battling intrepid holiday shoppers, anxious to round out their gift-giving is better left to the shoppers, and we stay clear of shopping malls.

Thus it is, as secular Jews that we have absorbed a lesson in cultural and traditional acceptance. That we will be surrounded by the sounds and lights and frenetic scrambling that represent the Christmas festival.

In keeping of which, we too surrender to the mores of the time by extending appropriate and very particular greetings, and offering gifts to those whose service to us increases the quality of our lives in some significant ways.

For us, it is to offer cash gifts to the mailman who daily deposits our mail in a group mailbox down our street, and to do the same with the individual who delivers our two daily newspapers, early every morning, well before the sun rises. The days when we sent our children to school with little gifts for their teachers is long passed.

Not so long ago, when we heartfully gave gifts to the school bus driver who picked up and deposited our granddaughter on our street when we acted as her daily caregiver through the working week. And gratefully, admiringly, accepted the little handmade gifts that our child crafted in school to celebrate Christmas.

Most often, when we renew our newspaper subscription, we also include a modest sum as a 'tip' for the paper delivery person at year-end. We didn't this year. Why? Who knows? Perhaps fed up with the nuisance that occurred too often of not receiving both papers and having to call about it.

I happen to be a newshound. My morning isn't a relaxed nor completely satisfying one without the prospect of our two newspapers to read at leisure. One in the morning, the other in the late afternoon. My husband is more interested in the financial news portion of the papers, but he's also keen on knowing the latest news.

In any event, late last night, my husband hung a piece of cardboard from the hooks where our newspapers are deposited, with the legend "for the paper delivery person" writ in block letters, appended to which was an envelope containing a card and a $20 bill.

On scrutiny the next morning, the card was gone, and in its place was one, single newspaper. Third time in a week and a half that this has occurred, occasioning our having to contact the newspaper to ensure we'd receive a tardily-delivered paper.

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The Accomplished

There are those people in society who rise above the mediocre through their personal interest in life and their outlook on their place in society.

These are those people, rare enough in number, who achieve status through their enterprise, sociability, empathy for others. They spark briefly - for, after all, how long is a human life before it is snuffed by inevitability - then fade, like a bright star lighting its atmosphere, collapsing into the black hole of eternity.

Such, it would appear, were two people from Alberta, a geophysicist and his wife, a family physician. Gerrit Maureau and Sheila Malm appear to have been quite special individuals. He was acknowledged as one of Calgary's experts on international petroleum exploration. His working life encompassed a globe-trotting career that took him from Algeria to Holland and Atlantic Canada.

He was responsible for developing business models for Memorial University in St.John's Newfoundland, and was the CEO of the Canadian Petroleum Institute before its dissolution.

Dr. Malm taught bioethics and family medicine at the University of Calgary, and was also council president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta in the 1990s. Her patients, over the three decades that she served as their family doctor, will recall her with gratitude.

She and her husband, having made the most of a valued academic education that prepared them to face life with capable assurance, served their community and the wider world very well indeed. They found time for their own recreational pleasures, among which was her decision to undertake flying lessons, to become her husband's co-pilot.

Perhaps it's somehow fitting that they did fly tandem, in a 58 Beechcraft Baron aircraft, registered to Mauroil International. Their flight took them to southeastern Colorado for refuelling, and they then set course for Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Federal Aviation Administration in Seattle gave the alert when their plane disappeared from radar.

Search and rescue helicopters scouring the area in the Culebra mountain range were unable to find any indication of wreckage due to a winter snowstorm and high winds. With improved weather the search will continue.

Resquiescat in pace.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Adventurous Spirit

Another one down and out. The spirit of adventure lives on in women who respond to their inner voice urging that they take every opportunity that life offers them to live it to the full. Here is a 41-year-old woman, a longtime firefighter in Vancouver, one of the last professional bastions to fall in women's stride forward to share all manner of occupations once held to be suitable for men only.

She shared with all those other women who aspire to challenging positions in life and life's adventures an indomitable spirit, a love of adventure, an enjoyment of life. She leaves behind a legacy of a spirited woman fondly remembered, who did her best to bring happiness to others, while living her life as she would have it. And, she would have it as she deemed it should be.

She was vacationing in India, driving a motorcycle in the state of Goa, when she was hit by a bus. A British tourist whom she had met previously, came across the accident, discovered her lying by the side of the road and ferried the injured Canadian woman to four hospitals.

The first three turned her away; presumably because she was a foreigner, possibly because they operate on a slender budget and could not be certain they'd receive payment for their services.

At the fourth hospital, where she was accepted, the medical staff did their utmost to restore her chances for life, inducing a coma in a desperate attempt to save her. But four to eight hours had elapsed since the accident, and her injuries were simply too severe for their ministrations and skill to have any meaningful life-saving effect.

She died of her injuries after several days.

Her robust joy in life, and her abiding interest in the people around her, her fascination with the world at large, lent great meaning to her life, and in her travels she added to her store of experiences that led her to value life.

Her body was flown home to Vancouver from India, where the city's fire department's ceremonial honour guard met her arrival.

Farewell to another intrepid adventurer.

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Refined Aesthetes

Who do they think they are, anyway? Do we really need this deliberate shove toward the Season of Light? Our local newspaper - obviously feeling that their readers deserve and require a refreshing change from the financial doom-and-gloom news that has been capturing headlines for these dreary months - has taken it upon themselves to shine a radiant glimmer of joy to brighten our days.

It is, after all, bitterly cold out, we've been blessed with too much of a white Christmas - we're sick and tired of shovelling and battling traffic bunged up as a result of adverse weather conditions and a transit strike. And Christmas somehow doesn't seem quite as joyful with fewer people able, as a result of the economic chaos and uncertainty, to shop to their hearts' content.

Right! Thought some enterprising editor, time to give those poor folks a break. Something to smile at, to laugh about, to nudge memories and reminiscences. Top of the fold, in bright colour and excruciating detail, a huge photograph of an enterprising elderly pair of Ottawans who have devoted years of avid assembling to present to the world a vision of refined aesthetics.

Their home of thirty-six years of happy ownership, is packed, inside and out with memorabilia, bright and tawdry plush animals, plastic flowers, cut glass, photographs, posters, plastic angels, hobby horses, plaster creches, and any other kind of imperishable junk imaginable.

Imagine a mixture, if you will, of baby Jesus, the wise men, Santas in various guises, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, the 7 Dwarfs, model trains, plastic animals.

This really is a "festive" spectacle. And it's not just for this holiday season, to encourage the Christmas mood, but one for all seasons; the display altered to reflect and highlight whatever festival or special occasion presents itself. Their collection is a celebration of excess, assaulting bruised sensibilities.

But it should be pointed out this is an innocent offence to good taste, one that elicits chuckles, some genuinely appreciative, some undoubtedly patronizing.

But look at these two, this devoted pair, married for a half-century, raising three children in a loving, emotionally supportive environment. They revel in the garishness of their seasonal and year-round presentation to their neighbours, their gift to the community, where cars slow down to take a second and third look.

Where during Easter, plastic bunnies romp on the lawn, and at other milder, seasons 200 goldfish swim happily in huge outdoor aquariums.

Lights festooned everywhere, they rack up very robust hydro bills. But it's worth every penny it takes, they say, for they love their display, and add to it continually. Although it's hard to imagine where there's any space left to display anything.

This tradition obviously gives them purpose and delight in life. The festooned Christmas trees, the Santa, sleighs and reindeer, the nutcrackers, plastic pumpkins and skulls.

It's a family tradition, a community heritage project which, in fact, the community appears to appreciate, relishing the existence of the hula dolls, the Lion King, Miss Piggy, dolphins and doves. Sparking an indelible note of bonhomie and festivity every day of the year. It's a movable feast, and all are invited.

So much for the delicacy of aristocratic taste.

Good neighbours, a happy family, extending a tradition for all to enjoy.

Oh well, doubtless there are some exceptions. Hands up, you over there.

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The Cherished Abducted

Parents cherish their children, do they not? Not, perhaps. It's entirely likely they cherish, for example, tradition, their expectations, family honour, and religious precepts. Forced marriages as a result of parents' inability to imagine without a distinct sense of horror and personal tragedy, a child's choice that runs counter to parental, customary and religiously obligatory expectations, render some women, and girls, victims of their families' intentions for them to conform.

In Bangladesh, as occurs elsewhere in the Muslim world, women and girls are expected to marry the man of their parents' choice. Bearing in mind, needless to say, that the parents, in the goodness of their hearts, have the very best interests of their female offspring at heart. Which is precisely why they prefer, hugely, monumentally, on pain of distraction and death, to have their girls marry a Muslim man. It is so ordained and so shall it be.

Even if that man happens to be inordinately unappealing to their daughters, even if he is aged and decrepit. For customs and traditions and religious imperatives are not to be denied. All are sacred. A girl's desires and hopes for her own future are distinguishing characteristics to be sure, but hardly aspirational fodder to be sustained in a society whose customs are not to be denied, lest family honour be irremediably tarnished.

Britain has undertaken to arm itself legally with the means by which its courts can successfully thwart the intentions of such parental obligations to their offspring. There have been, latterly, a number of young girls who have been spirited out of Britain by their parents for the purpose of marrying them off to parental-approved men of suitable heritage. Once a reality, presumably, the girls will submit to their fate and become, as their parents and their society wills them to; submissive wives. Tradition demands no less.

And here's the case of a 32-year-old Bangladeshi woman, one with a mind of her own, and a very distinguished one at that, having acquired a medical degree. She studied in England and was undergoing an internship there when she received an emergency call from her parents to return home to Bangladesh as her beloved and loving mother was ill. Dr. Humayra Abedin did as any devoted daughter would; she returned and the ruse commenced to play out according to the fate her parents designed for her.

When she arrived at her family's home in August, she was physically bundled by a group of very determined parental helpers into a room and locked in there. She was not permitted to leave the house, and was supervised by guards, up to five at a time. Little did they imagine she had her own, modern SOS resources, sending text messages to friends in Britain, to appeal for their help in rescuing her from an unwanted fate.

When her tactic for rescue was discovered she was informed she was expected at the local police station for a passport inspection. Her captors instead installed her in an ambulance, where, her head covered, she was gagged and taken to a clinic, the Hi Tech Modern Psychiatric Hospital. Nice; in socially backward, religiously strictured Bangladesh, there exists a "hi tech, modern" psychiatric hospital. Talk about doublespeak.

There she was kept, in a drugged condition until November, injected with what she surmised were mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic drugs which she was helpless to struggle against. Her parents helpfully informed her that she had been dismissed from her position in Britain and would be barred from re-entry to the country. Shortly afterward she was taken to another house, and from there to Khuina for her wedding.

She was married, according to custom and tradition - under medication to ensure compliance - to a very respectable and educated man, a good Muslim, and just incidentally, another medical practitioner, Dr. Khondokar Mohammad Abdul Jalal. Dr. Abedin, it would appear, had astonished, offended and distressed her parents greatly by informing them that she had a relationship back in England, with a practising Hindu Oh, heaven forfend!

British justice to the rescue! Under the Forced Marriage Protection Act, in effect in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as of last month, British nationals, along with those resident in Britain are protected from forced marriages being imposed upon them. Bearing in mind that, despite Dr. Abedin's more mature age of 32, young Muslim girls are often forced into such arranged marriages, a situation seen by the authorities in Britain as unlawful and harmful coersion.

When an injunction was issued by a British justice against Mohammad Joynal Abedin, and Begum Sofia Kamal, the young woman's parents, as well as against an uncle, and the man whom she was forced to marry, a Bangladeshi court saw fit to obey the British High Court order. Dr. Abedin has made it abundantly clear she is relieved to have been removed from her ordeal, but she has no wish to have her parents punished.

She has taken steps to have her lawyers see that her marriage is annulled. She also feel it it within her rights to instruct her lawyers to take "whatever steps they think appropriate" against the clinic that held her by force, against her wishes, complicit with her parents' desires. "If they can do that to a trained doctor, God knows what they could do to a 19-year-old", said one of her lawyers.

As for Dr. Abedin, now back in Britain, her life re-commences.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Plight of the Homeless

If the reputation of a country's humane treatment of the unfortunates in its population rested on the quality of care and attention given the increasing numbers of homeless people in Canadian towns and cities, Canada would earn a pitiably failing grade. While governments at every level have been incapable of forming policies and protocols whereby the homeless can be adequately looked after in decent accommodation, with health care and job-training opportunities, people and private agencies in the community have attempted to fill the gaps.

Government, to begin with, must bear some responsibility for the growing numbers of homeless. Where once governments at various levels supported public institutions which looked after the interests of those with impaired mental health, in a downsizing frenzy of hypocrisy the public was informed that it was anti-humane to incarcerate people struggling with issues of mental health. That they would be far better off in the community. As though they would be capable of working and looking after themselves.

Now they wander the streets of the cities as homeless people, befuddled and incapable of looking after their most basic needs. Joined by young runaways, adolescents who have left home to experience freedom from parental authority, and who find themselves trapped in street life. Along with alcoholics and those struggling with drug addictions. Street life becomes their only way of living, and eventually their preferred way of life. They find companionship with one another.

Pilot projects to try to solve the ongoing problems of homelessness in some areas in the United States have been devised and a protocol of assisted housing, public health and social services have seen notable success in weaning people off living on the streets. These initiatives have been seen to be highly successful in improving the health and quality of life of the homeless, offering them some semblance of normalcy.

This intervention has also saved money for governments at various levels, with decreased need for policing and hospital stays. Quite apart from the fact that the homeless are gradually able to achieve a measure of self-respect and worthiness and become truly integrated into the larger society. Yet we remain plagued with a situation that remains unchanged, as we ponder the viability of such intervention.

Canadian winters are hostile and dreadfully unkind to those who live on the streets. Social service agencies, church groups, and concerned citizens try to encourage the homeless to converge on their socially sterile, but functional and safe accommodations, to sleep on cots in their basements or buildings suited to group accommodation through bitterly cold nights.

Soup kitchens offer hot meals to sustain health. Yet there are many homeless people who will not take advantage of those offers. Drugs and alcohol are not permitted in places offering shelter, like the Mission or Salvation Army, or various church basements. And for whatever reason, people often feel safer on their own, on the streets, rather than being thrown together with strangers, resisting proffered help.

And often enough those who resist the help offered by conscientiously thoughtful people concerned for the welfare of these social outcasts, end up dead through misadventure, or the cruelty of a winter night. Like the 47-year-old woman in Vancouver who, having repeatedly refused the invitation of various charities to come in from the cold, in favour of remaining in her own little place on the street.

Workers from a nearby church repeatedly attempted to pry her away from her makeshift shelter. An overturned shopping cart, lined with cardboard. Finally, they gave up, leaving her with a thick quilt, a coat and some hot chocolate. Refusing to give her the candles she also wanted, to stay warm. She refused to go with them to the church because she feared leaving her possessions behind, returning to find them gone.

Many shelters, short of room, refuse to allow their clients to bring along their possessions, including pet dogs. Enough of a reason for those with so little in life, to refuse to accept the charity offered them. In recognizing the limitations that these rules offer to the homeless a new shelter ready to open will drop those exclusions, inviting people to bring along their shopping carts, their pets.

Meanwhile, the woman - whom some who knew her, described as "sweet" and accommodating - had been successful in pleading with a policeman who checked in on her, to leave her with a lighter to light candles she had wheedled from another source. She proceeded to light the candles under the tarp over her shopping cart, then fell asleep.

A passenger in a taxi telephoned 911 after seeing a figure engulfed in flames.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Simply to Meet the Challenge

And of course, for the love of adventure. That powerful draw to experience opportunities that proves so irresistible is not ordained particularly toward the male of the species. There are women too, who are given to wonder at the world around them, compelled to explore and to advantage themselves in ways quite out of the ordinary. By exerting themselves in so many enterprises, of the spirit and will and physical challenges that most people see as beyond their capabilities or willingness to expend the charged energy or to submit to the allure of adventure.

There are women who will brave the elements, aspiring to become the first to climb a trio of formidable, weather-stricken mountain heights, alone but for their adventurous spirit. And others who will undertake solo flights in the frigid and lonely atmosphere, while other women, determined to meet the challenges they themselves place before themselves, indomitably paddle across vast ocean spaces. And of course there are those who will forge a way for themselves to traverse vast deserts of dry, wind-drifting sand; others who ski across huge tracts of frozen tundra.

Some succeed in their personal missions to test their physical mettle, their adventurous prowess and intellectual curiosity, some do not. Some are heard of and celebrated for their perseverance and spirit, and others are simply mourned by their distraught families and wistful friends, remembering them as they were, when last they saw them, laughed with them, shared personal childhood reminiscences together, and now miss their close presence.

There are other categories of adventurers, women who are given to the love of seeing exotic new places, geographies where history has left its mark, traditions and cultures excitingly different than those loved and familiar. These are people who open themselves to new experiences, exulting in achieving what few others aspire to, and not because they want to be different, but simply because they are spurred on by their inner urging to know more of the world they inhabit.

One such is a young woman by the name of Ani Ashekian, an adventurer of the spirit, a 30-year-old paralegal from Toronto, who never, it appears, tired of travelling the world. With friends, when that kind of serendipitous opportunity presented itself, but solo when adventure called, not to be denied. Ms. Ashekian submitted to a whim to join two of her friends who had planned a trip to Beijing. This was a last-minute decision, a spontaneous desire to continue her deepest pleasures in life.

She had returned only days earlier from a trip with her boyfriend, to Costa Rica. She remained with her friends for a while then decided she would go off on her own, to see Hong Kong, keeping in touch with her family from time to time through telephone contact or text messaging. The last contact with her family, assuring them that all was well, was on November 10. As an inveterate and dedicated traveller, she had previously been through Europe, South America and Canada on her peregrinations. Her family trusted to her past experience.

Her goal was to have visited 30 countries by the time she reached 30. Her China trip would have completed that initial inspiration. That they hadn't heard from her was cause for a niggling worry, but she was expected home by December 15, and her family was at the airport to greet her, right on schedule. She never did arrive home. Since then, authorities in Canada and Hong Kong have been alerted, and the search is on to pick up the elusive trail of this enthusiastic traveller.

In Hong Kong, authorities have activated their missing persons' department to avidly search for clues, including looking through hospital records, and that of morgues. Nothing has thus far come to the attention of those searching for her whereabouts, not even from a private security agent hired by the family, in Hong Kong. She is assuredly somewhere, no one can quite imagine where. This kind of mysterious occurrence is not entirely unknown; when a world traveller, often enough a single woman travelling on her own, seems to disappear.

Lone travel can be a dangerous thing for anyone. One could legitimately question whether it is more potentially dangerous to travel now, in the 21st Century, than it was, say during the 19th Century. When, in fact, many adventurous women from Europe or North American undertook long and sometimes physically arduous journeys abroad to far-flung places to satisfy their curiosity about other societies, traditions, climes and peoples. Travel and social-history literature has been enriched by their chronicling of their adventures, experiences and observations.

Ms. Ashekian may yet turn up to soothe the concerns of her worried family and friends. Perhaps simply delayed as a result of having been pulled by her curiosity in a direction she hadn't anticipated. The uncertainty of knowing where she is, whether she's in good health and not having been abducted, or something awry having befallen her, will ensure those who love her will spend many sleepless nights until the mystery of her absence is cleared.

Her family and friends now rise to meet their own challenge, anxiously awaiting the outcome of their loved one's absence.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Public School Religious Education

Isn't that amazing - for a change, the Province of Quebec has embarked on a social enterprise that is timely and needed; promising for the future in an increasingly multicultural society that welcomes immigrants from all over the world. In the process of which, the indigenous society of mostly French Canadian Quebecois whose Roman Catholic background still informs their values and ethics (although formal religion has been relinquished to the greater goal of sovereignty), irritations have erupted from time to time between the Quebecois and the immigrant communities.

In the interests of attempting a solution to that ongoing situation of social irritations, the government of Quebec has determined that it might be provident to ensure that all elements of society become more familiar with one another's cultural and religious traditions. To encourage enlightenment and understanding between currently semi-hostile groups. It's a mature decision, a wise one. To expose young people from an early age to the history and background and living presence of people like themselves, but with different views.

To emancipate young minds from the indoctrination that many receive through the rigid auspices of a particular religion, given to excluding the possibility that other religions and their adherents might be as legitimate as their own. Given the human propensity to believe that whatever group one is a part of is, ipso facto, preferable and superior to others, beyond question. So, predictably, this initiative hasn't been received with favour by all those targeted.

And so it is that the president of the Quebec Association of Catholic Parents has proclaimed that the Ethics and Religious Culture course recently introduced into the Quebec educational system "is forcing children to learn the content of other religions". Oh dear, how perfectly awful, to prod receptively curious and resilient young minds to consider the world around them of human relations and social interactions and how they may best understand both.

"Therefore" Jean Morse-Chevrier thundered "it is the state deciding what religious content will be learned, at what age, and that is totally overriding the parents' authority and role." Why, however, would any well-balanced, intelligent parent not wish his children to become intelligently versed in these surface differences between people? Why denounce a perfectly good initiative undertaken by the authorities who devise curriculum to stimulate discussion and thoughtful consideration of others?

This represents as a useful attempt at enlightening a future generation of citizens within a free and pluralistic society that celebrates equality and balance of opportunities. The curriculum has been devised to be presented to children from grades 1 through 11. Placing the greatest emphasis, fairly enough, on what presents as Quebec's traditional religious heritage; Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism and traditional aboriginal spirituality.

Introducing to this original grouping, the full spectrum of religious and belief systems encompassing the world order. This was not meant to be a religious instruction course, but rather a course in understanding and appreciating other cultures than one's own, seen through the lens of religious teaching. For the ultimate purpose of teaching respect for others, through the exercise of intelligent observation and conscience; piquing an interest in others, not stultifying in an ignorant absorption of the familiar, with a smug disinterest in others.

While most students and their parents in the province find this new curriculum useful as a social integrating tool, and at the same time advancing children's education in many ways, there are those who are outraged at what they determine to be a usurping of parental responsibilities. And who encourage their children - generally those in the upper grades, and of high school age - to dissent, and to absent themselves from these classes.

Some, indeed, have undertaken to not only boycott the mandatory course, but to launch legal challenges to the right of the province and the school boards to introduce the program and insist that all children take part in it. The course is also mandatory in private schools. Loyola High School in Montreal has launched its own court challenge, after parents of hundreds of students sought course exemptions which were denied.

Small minds, closed minds refusing to admit to the usefulness of opening their children's minds to the complexity of the social world we all inhabit.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Re-Building Canada

As countries go, Canada is a fairly young one. But in terms of infrastructure we're kind of sagging under the influence of age, the disability of overuse of now-fragile structures that have managed to outlive their best-before dates, and which now beg for replacement, updating, and attention to public safety. That's what comes of complacency, of leaving things too long; public procrastination, and the annoyance of having to spend big money on restoration and replacement.

Nothing lasts forever. And aging infrastructure has a habit of deteriorating, sometimes in a manner that isn't adequately detected beforehand, then collapsing and surprising everyone. Especially those who are caught in the event. Of, for example, a bridge collapsing, or a public service building parking garage suddenly breaking down, or roads suddenly washing out as a result of tardiness in updating sewer systems. Whatever can go wrong, most certainly will, given enough time and neglect.

Yet, in Canada, it's been revealed that the federal government was given warning two years ago of the critical shape of the country's infrastructure, particularly in light of climate change, where the physical condition of water infrastructure, roadways, bridges, public buildings were in such a critical state that the public's health along with the economy were being placed in imminent jeopardy.

An obviously intolerable situation for a wealthy country to simply submit to this kind of neglect. And Canada's cities and towns are now looking to the federal government for guidance and commitment. New research and analysis has pointed out the increased risks of flooding, and sewage overflow, leading to vulnerabilities in the quality of potable water as a result of municipal infrastructures incapable of meeting the demands of a growing population.

The engineering community within Canada has alerted municipalities, provinces and the federal government to the rapidly increasing deterioration of roads and bridges, helped along by the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. Cities now face an enormous remedial task related to the replacement or upgrading of water mains and sewers.

The cost to remediate waste water treatment plants, sewer systems, and ensure clean drinking water is estimated at roughly $31-billion. In Montreal alone fully one-third of the sewer mains have reached the end of their life expectancy, with another third ready for replacement by 2020. Add to that the fact that in the city - as occurs regularly elsewhere given aging infrastructure - fully 40% of potable water leaks out of age-faulty underground water mains.

Toronto must replace 462,00 water meters for improved efficiency and the reduction of operating costs, at a rough estimation of $7.7-billion. In Ottawa the House of Commons was forced to close early as a fire safety precaution one recent afternoon because of a critical drop in water pressure in the downtown area. All of these needed upgrades rest on the ability of the population to absorb the necessity of increased taxes.

And then there are other issues of quality of life in cities and towns across the country, those items dear to everyone's heart that offer recreational opportunities to residents; public parks, skating rinks, public pools, libraries, art and community centres. These social facilities are considered the expendable "cream"; when expenses are being cut back and programs deleted, these are the first considered to let go.

Or they would be, if taxpayers refused to pay an ever-increasing freight to keep them alive. While recognizing the indispensability of critical services, from water and hydro, public transit, policing and fire departments, public health services and ambulance services, people also agonize over the need of other social services that offer another type of quality experience to give meaning to our lives.

Well balanced municipalities recognize the utter necessity of supporting public housing and assisting organizations that work for poverty reduction.

We're increasingly looking at the feasibility of public-private partnerships, where private funding works in tandem with public funding; where public services are leased out to private concerns to run them efficiently, with a modest profit for the private company.

These efforts don't always work, when on occasion private companies realize they aren't earning the returns they require to make a profit, and then the operation of the facility in question - a skating rink, an art and theatre complex, a community recreation complex - is turned back over to the municipality.

We're looking for ways in which we can maximize the return on our investments with the least pain.

In the U.S. engineers there feel it will take about $1.6 trillion to restore its infrastructure to needed working condition. In Canada, the total figure given for overall infrastructure reconstruction stands at $123 billion. There's no way out, it's a hard reality that the quality of life is dependent on the country committing itself to these upgrades.

Led by the federal government which has committed billions of dollars for that very purpose, to kick-start the country into a broad, sweeping fix-up to face the future with confidence.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Collateral Impacts

The transit strike in Ottawa continues through its second week. The striking transit drivers, technicians, dispatchers and their union are defiant, more determined than ever to triumph over the intent of the municipality to re-gain control of transit employee deployment through fine-tuning the system whereby those with seniority select their own time-tables, among other issues. The enhanced pay packet offered, along with a signing bonus has been summarily rejected.

Pity that, since it is an effective renunciation of their obligation toward those whose taxes pay their generous salaries surfeit with dental, extended medical insurance, life insurance and long-term disability insurance, not to mention very hefty bonuses in retirement benefits denied so many other workers in the larger workplace, many of whom now face the dire prospect of job-loss.

Low-wage service workers, high-school and university students, the elderly, volunteers, are all paying the price that the transit union is exacting through this strike action of ATU 279's intransigent union spokesmen, and the municipality's lack of acumen in being able to settle differences. Without the availability of transit during an Ottawa winter of bitter cold and deep snow events, people anxiously seek other methods of travel.

Difficult as it is, through slush-thick streets, many attempt to bicycle; others, after fresh snowfalls, try skiing. Many walk long distances up to an hour each way to try to reach their places of employment. Medical and doctor and dental appointments are cancelled by the elderly, without transportation. Even the city's taxi industry is unable to respond to a surge of calls because they cannot move through the crush of traffic occasioned by more private vehicles on the road.

When the local school board wanted to increase their yellow school bus traffic to accommodate students attending classes in schools far from their homes - their access usually serviced by OC Transpo through school board-provided bus passes - the union threatened to begin picketing schools in protest against this desperation move to aid students. Teachers, and students living far from the schools they normally teach at and attend, are now absent.

The Ottawa Food Bank finds itself desperately short of volunteers to help deliver foodstuffs to various locations; their volunteer base suddenly shrunken as people have no alternate means of travel. The Shepherds of Good Hope, find their soup kitchen, homeless shelter and assisted living programs deleteriously affected through the inability of their volunteers to arrive at their sites without public transit.

The Salvation Army's seasonal funding drive through their Christmas kettles are facing a critical shortfall, because most of their volunteers cannot attend due to lack of public transit. The Ottawa Distress helpline, with its 24/7 critical service is hard pressed to operate as usual, with a 15% decline in volunteers as a result of the strike, keeping people at home who would otherwise use public transit.

Retailers in the city, so dependent on the Christmas season to help them make a decent profit to enable them to remain in business through an economic downturn now face the reality of far fewer shoppers and a quieter, emptier till. The Canadian Stroke Network relied on an advertising campaign they paid $38,000 to see put in place through advertising on OC Transpo buses; now forfeit for the targeted season.

Traffic snarl-ups and the sheer pressure placed on people through the new reality of travel times dramatically in excess of normal - from two to three times longer than usual - find their lives up-ended. They arrive back home from their workplace, much later than usual, then face additional long hours in attending to their children's needs. Many families must now find additional child-minding services.

Many people choose now to wake a whole lot earlier of a morning, to set out to work two hours earlier than usual, hoping to encounter less traffic, and yet to arrive at their workplace at a decent time. Many do so in the hopes of being able to find a parking spot, since parking too is now so tight that many, having driven long hours, simply cannot find parking accommodation.

The people who pay the taxes that make up the salaries of public servants whose job it is to provide a critical service are at the mercy of those we have elected, and those others whose salaries we also pay. Pity we couldn't fire the lot.

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Incidental Fall-Out

Imagine this, if you will; a series of unerringly unforgivable improbabilities. Science and technology have gifted humankind in hugely magnificent ways over the millennia with the clever creativity of brilliant minds discovering one advantage to the human race after another, gradually building to a crescendo of accomplishment, where we find ourselves now, in the 21st Century.

We have been incredibly enriched by medical discoveries and mechanical devices which enable us to manipulate our surroundings to an incalculable degree, advancing human life and enriching the human experience by permitting us to live in a manner our forbears would never have been able to imagine. We have become - almost - lords over our very near universe.

Not, admittedly, the Universe, nor even our little Constellation, not yet even our meagre Globe, one among many in the vastness of the great unknown atmosphere that surrounds us, holding us in thrall to our brilliant Sun, itself a minuscule portion of the hugeness and imponderability of the entire Universe.

Given the audacity of human nature in its never-ending quest to conquer all unknowns by furthering knowledge, anything, however, is possible.

We are, as a species, so assured of our supreme abilities to use our intuition, the genius of our enquiry, the determination of our assertiveness in discovery, that we assume, at times, to control the truly unconquerable: divine Nature. Nature, which holds its supremacy over all and therefore truly divine, as opposed to the nature of a Divine supranatural Being of whose presence we merely extend faith.

Would any human being seek to control God? That omniscient, omnipresent Being whose existence remains a mystery never to be taken too lightly by believers? Yet here is Mother Nature whose temperamental ways are such that on the slightest of her whims she is capable of destroying our puerile physical constructs, our very selves. Nature can be beneficent, for she kindly permits us to partake of abundant harvests.

But she can also become baleful, malicious, utterly destructive. She, and her assistants; fire, wind, rain, earthquakes, are capable of cataclysmic upheavals. The symbols and symptoms of her over-archingly stern majesty are manifestly present, their destructive influence on our environment clearly seen, if not quite understood.

Yet while none seek to offer insult to God, we challenge the supreme authority of Nature.

Chinese scientists have perfected a methodology of altering weather systems; if not "perfected", then assuring themselves that they've developed a formula by which they seek to thwart Nature's intent. Not in any truly substantive manner, but in such a way as to be sufficient unto the day. In the province of Inner Mongolia, the local weather bureau, foreseeing the probability of heavy hail, took remedial action.

They undertook an action often practised for any number of reasons; occasionally to clear up liquid-sodden clouds to avert heavy rains which might impact on some ceremonial occasion: the recent Olympics in Beijing, for example. This time, it was for the purpose of breaking up the threat of impending hail, to protect the local tobacco crop. One supposes they were successful in their purpose.

But to all actions, however slight, there are aftermaths and often consequences not quite foreseen. There is an intersection, an interaction between that interruption in Nature's intended hailstorm, and the fortunes of a man, Wang Diange, who had been overseeing the wake ceremony of a family funeral. He, and other mourners were conscious of an explosion, and then the roof of the dwelling collapsed.

The effect of a lightning strike. Nature again; not to be trifled with, always mischievous, surprising humanity by the spontaneity of Her climate-altering feints. It was assumed that Wang Diange had died as a result of a natural catastrophe. Caused by the hugely thunderous impact of the storm raging overhead, and the resulting lightning strike that ravaged his body.

At his funeral a few days later, his body was in preparation of insertion into a cremation chamber. When suddenly, Wang Diange's body appeared to explode, the force of which burst the oven doors. The fire that resulted was extinguished, and the astounded people present saw a small piece of twisted metal, hot and glowing. There was their lightning.

Investigators came to the realization that one of the shells that had been fired into the sky hadn't exploded, fell to earth, impacted on the house occasioning the thunderous crash, and deposited itself into Mr. Wang's body. Its presence undetected because of the dreadful injuries done his body by the presumed lightning strike.

Nature's casual response to heedless hubris.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hard Times Etiquette

These are hard economic times. And from what we read, hear, and occasionally experience, times will get tougher before they become alleviated so that we can breathe a collective sigh of relief and get on with life as normal. Meanwhile, massive job losses are being announced on a daily basis, with whole industries shutting down, retail businesses filing for bankruptcy, construction of homes on a downswing, and unemployment figures creeping to alarming rates.

Family breadwinners begin to join the already vast numbers of unemployed, searching for employment and dignity. Those whose jobs are still intact worry that if conditions continue to deteriorate, their jobs too will be on the line. As a result of the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the United States, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes, and they will inevitably be joined by others whose personal circumstances have suddenly soured.

Lending institutions have become more self-protectively parsimonious about extending credit. Impacting deleteriously, deeply so, on the fortunes of small companies unable to raise the currency required for their immediate and ongoing day-to-day coping mechanisms to ride out this storm of economic misery. Imports and exports have declined as demand dries up because goods aren't moving.

Governments hardly know where to turn to help their populations, their industries, ride out the storm of market re-structuring. They pledge, magnanimously, to proffer tax-payer funds to rescue the waning fortunes of large corporations, in an attempt to ensure that some jobs may yet be saved. They extend financial support to financial institutions whose professional oversight has been severely wanting.

And some segments of the population face a truly delicate human-interaction conundrum: how to impart their regrets to their personal assistants in various fields of endeavour, that they may no longer be able to enjoy their invaluable services. It's not that large underbelly of the population for whom scarce dollars won't adequately stretch to provide enough food for their families.

We're talking about another demographic altogether. Those who employ the services of personal trainers, house cleaners, nutritionists, therapists, pedicurists, manicurists, interior designers, aestheticians, and masseurs. Life will become ever so dreary for these precious individuals, no longer able to while away the time by indulging their creature comforts.

In the meantime, they fret about the proper etiquette, the means by which they can inform these hard-working and recently-concerned service providers that their newly straitened circumstances, real or imagined, mitigate against such luxuries as they provide. Text-messaging? Email? Telephone call?

Send along a little gift with a note indicating temporary absence, with the resolve to return as soon as the indignity of this temporary fissure in normalcy dissolves.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Union Heft

What a conundrum for any country, much less one obliged to the automotive industry for a significant proportion of its manufacturing and export and employment stability. The Big Three automakers of the United States, with its branch manufactories in Canada, has, in the past, been responsible, particularly in Ontario, for presenting as a signal industry employing a large labour pool, one that produced saleable products and enhanced the bottom line of both the province and the country.

This has also been an industry that hasn't kept apace with foreign standards of quality production, one that was wedded to its own unassailable sub-standards, inclusive of poor engineering and built-in obsolescence. Its well-earned reputation for shoddy workmanship, sub-prime engineering and product unreliability is what, largely, has placed it in the squeezed position it finds itself today. Foreign auto makers from Japan and Korea whose reliable and quality products informed automotive owners that they'd made the right choice, out-performed the Big Three in their home market.

Little difference it makes now that in the last several years domestic automakers have seen the light and instituted a higher degree of quality control, had their engineers and designers produce more reliable products of an improved calibre than previously; their degraded reputation lives on. They've been an important and stabilizing factor, for all their faults, in the industrial heartland of the country for many decades. Bringing along with them a thriving automotive parts industry.

Now all of it set to collapse with the near collapse of the industry itself. Turning tens of thousands of industry employees out of their secure, nicely padded- and-remunerated positions as factory workers. They're bidding for more time to get a grip on the problems they themselves have engineered, now more than ever critical to their survival in the face of a global financial turndown complemented by a slowdown in purchasing power, with fewer potential buyers on the near horizon.

They're overstocked in inventory and cannot move their vehicles in a market that's suddenly shut down as people hunker in for an unpleasantly long and painful economic recovery, unwilling to commit funds they aren't certain they can sustain in hefty car payments. People whose own questionable employment stability haunts their every waking hour. And the automakers have gone, cap in hand, to the U.S. and Canadian governments, appealing to them to open their treasuries to keep them afloat.

A little while longer, until they're no longer fiscally tenable, and final closures occur, anyway? Until they declare bankruptcy, and slowly, painfully, at least two of the three may be capable of restructuring and rising again like the fabled Phoenix? Humiliated in the marketplace, but somewhat wiser in the design and production of product lines that people will commit to? More leery of signing rich union contracts that in the final analysis have helped lead to their demise?

The Canadian public, like its counterpart in the United States, the home country of the Big Three, is anything but enthralled at the prospect of their hard-earned tax funding going to the support of the automakers. After all, if we respond to their need, then why not Nortel, why not the forestry industry, and any number of other struggling industries actually based and home-grown in the country, giving employment to more hundreds of thousands of Canadians?

It isn't as though the government of Canada hasn't, in the past, been generous in offering tax breaks, incentives and loans to the automakers. But the governments of both the country and the province have reluctantly come to the conclusion that they've scant other options, and in concert with a reluctant U.S. Congress, must offer some support. Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty are struggling with a $2.8-billion loan to complement that of the U.S.'s commitment to the longevity of the automakers.

And while the American Autoworkers Union has agreed to some concessions as a sacrifice to the greater good of saving American jobs, Ken Lewenza of the Canadian Autoworkers Union is adamant that no concessions should be looked for by his members. The pure gold of their contract of rich hourly wages and benefits far outweighing those of any other industry standards are precisely responsible for much of the financial quandary the Big Three now find themselves struggling with.

Active employees in the industry are outnumbered by retirees, basking in the surety of their privileged retirement incomes, through the extreme generosity of their pensions, alongside other benefits. Autoworkers in Canada number roughly 27,000, while retirees number 40,000. What industry could logically support such an imbalance of wealth-deriving against wealth-depriving economies?

It seems it's quite all right for the taxpaying public to make the sacrifice of lending out financing in a last-ditch effort to stabilize a faltering trio of employers who may just, despite the loans, still default and leave the taxpayers holding worthless pay-back promises. Quite another entirely for unionized employees, most of whom earn salaries lavish by comparison to most other Canadians, to sacrifice something meaningful.

Moreover, Mr. Lewenza has the unmitigated gall to castigate the two governments for their bail-out offer; not enough, in his estimation. The amount should at least be doubled, in his view. Union heft equates with union theft of taxpayer funding.

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