Ruminations

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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

An Awakening Response

Kind of interesting to become aware of a bit of discomfiture being experienced at Ottawa's Northwestern Avenue mosque. Since the departure of their last imam, Gamal Solaiman, a seasoned and fairly cosmopolitan man whose advancing years informed him it was time to depart, the Ottawa Muslim Association has been searching ever since for a replacement. They secured a temporary imam, and he was serviceable, but he had other plans for his future.

What the leaders of the mosque were looking for was a replacement with North American credits, someone preferably who has lived in North America, who knows what life is like here, rather than preaching Islam from a purely historical Middle Eastern perspective. Their search was unproductive, and they appealed to the Egyptian Department of Religious Affairs, which responds to such requests by sending clerics around the world, paying their salaries.

The current imam, a young Egyptian man trained at the most prestigious Islamic religious academy in Egypt, arrived in Ottawa last summer with his family. Abdul Hamid Khaled Syed had little English-language proficiency; he was, quite simply, an Islamic scholar. His contract was for a one-year period, after which the 617-member mosque community would evaluate his performance whereupon his contract could be extended.

It would appear that some factions - mostly young Muslims in the community - are dissatisfied with the young imam. Considering him too distant, standoffish, with an inability to communicate verbally in an adequate manner. They want someone who understands life in Canada, who is capable of empathizing, of recognizing their problems in the context of society and religion.

A small but determined coterie of people began to agitate for his removal. Their determination was matched by that of older Muslims who felt the imam was doing a fine job, that he was working hard at improving his language skills, and that it is his scholarship that is of utmost importance. And just when disagreements became increasingly public, the retain-the-imam faction scored an underhanded coup with 99 of the members voting for his retention.

The thing about this controversy is that it seems to indicate a growing awareness within the Muslim community that their faith needs to be expressed and interpreted in the context of where it is they live, and the society, the politics of the country they are an integral part of. That can only be a good thing. Hitherto, clerics have been brought into the country to preach a rigid code of Islamic precepts seemingly bereft of modern enlightenment.

That a significant segment of the mosque community rejects the status quo, and seeks to impose upon themselves the reality of an obligation to retain their faith while at the same time fulfilling their obligations as citizens of the country is telling. This is a state of affairs that only someone who has lived in this country and who appreciates the difficulties of balancing faith and social life beyond the prescribed can comprehend.

Canadian values and an appreciation of Canada's social contract with all its disparate peoples should form a basis for the manner in which people are able to see and practise their faith; see it from the perspective of the faithful, fully conscious of its place within a geography far different, representing an era quite beyond that which prevailed at its inception.

And finally, it would appear that in one province of this country the Islamic Social Services Association has instituted an imam-training program inclusive of full knowledge of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Surely a full understanding of the Canadian Constitution will furnish any new Islamic clerics with a starting point where the Koran and the Hadiths can be interpreted for a new audience in a new place and time.

Seen through the lens of Canadian values, the country's system of legal obligations, its multi-faith collective of various ethnic and traditional backgrounds, it should prove increasingly unlikely that hostile and divisive forces would continue to instill controversially dangerous ideas in the minds of the socially vulnerable, antagonistic to full participation in Canadian life.

In the larger context, it can be interpreted by a majority of asserting their need to disassociate themselves from the reality of the importation of values inconsistent with that of the larger Canadian community. Inclusive of introducing to the faithful the unfortunate obligation to continue an adversarial tradition of violent jihad against those whom fanatical Islamists deem have been insufficiently respectful of Islam.

And by extension bringing into the community an heightened and damaging atmosphere of tribal heritage; importing and honing resentment against other groups against whom fundamentalist Islamists have traditionally been hostile, condemning them as humanly and religiously inferior; practitioners of other faiths, representatives of other ethnic groups.

To deny that and at the same time affirm their faith, is to become Canadian in the fullest sense.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pandemic Panic

Mexico has closed all schools country-wide for the time being. And in Mexico City bars, movie theatres, restaurants, sports stadiums have also been shut, in the hopes that additional infections of the Swine virus can be limited by these measures. It hasn't been all that long that the world was alerted to this new flu virus, a strain that went from birds to swine to people. The strain is new to the medical-scientific community, but to the community of La Gloria near the Gulf of Mexico it's been known for a while.

There, on a huge U.S.-based industrial pig farm with 907 workers and 560,000 swine, the residents had long complained about pollution. Where hundreds of the town's residents have fallen ill, and three children have died. The stench of the manure lagoons from the pig farm was overwhelming for the people living there. People were being infected with severe respiratory conditions. Complaints of swarms of flies attracted to the manure and infecting people went unheeded.

The people resident in La Gloria know the symptoms of fever, coughing, aching joints, severe headaches; vomiting and diarrhea. "It all came from here ... the symptoms they are suffering are the same that we had here", said one resident. "When we saw it on the television, we said to ourselves, 'This is what we had'." Well, what Mexico has in this new strain of Swine flu is a deadly virus.

Now Canada, the United States and the European Union have officially advised their populations to avoid travelling to Mexico. The U.S. has identified 68 cases of Swine flu, Canada 13, with new cases being confirmed in Israel and New Zealand. Suspected cases have been identified in Spain, Britain, Australia, Brazil, France, Chile, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, South Korea, Colombia, Germany, Norway, Guatemala.

Nowhere yet but in Mexico has the flu revealed itself to be deadly. Over 159 people have died in Mexico; nowhere else yet, other than a Mexican infant visiting Texas. Transmission now has been identified as human-to-human, making the strain potentially more virulent. Yet where it has struck outside Mexico - almost all with people who have recently travelled to Mexico - it has resulted in moderate flu symptoms.

Few patients have been admitted to hospital. Most are isolated at home and recovering at home. One public-health official in Canada characterized the Canadian cases as being more mild than the symptoms evidenced by people experiencing regular seasonal flu - influenza-A, that strikes annually in fall and winter and which takes about 4,000 lives in Canada every year, mostly among the elderly and immune-system-compromised.

Now the World Health Organization has issued warnings for countries to anticipate the worst, to prepare for a pandemic situation. The WHO has elevated its pandemic warning to its penultimate status of '5'. With the international community already enfeebled by a global recession, this new situation is likely to put the world further behind in economic recovery.

Countries are scrambling to ensure they are provisioned with sufficient quantities of Tamiflu to administer to their populations. Some countries have erected trade barriers to the importation of pork and swine products, even though transmission is not possible through merely eating those products.

As a new strain of virus, we have had no previous exposure to, we have no immunity to the Swine flu. There is no vaccine as yet formulated to prevent its onset. The best line of defence remains - as it proved to be the most effectual, during the SARS outbreak - to wash hands repeatedly, thoroughly. Wear a surgical mask in public. Sneeze, if you must, into the crook of your arm. And stay home, as much as possible.

Finally, hope for the best of all possible scenarios; that it will fizzle out without spreading more widely and virulently, avoiding the necessity of the WHO upgrading the situation of the final risk assessment in alerting the international community to '6' on the pandemic scale.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Self Respect?

It is intellectually wearying, tediously infuriating reading about the plight of those poor souls incapable of controlling their self-destructive impulses, demanding that society enact rules and regulations to save them from themselves. As though liberal democracies don't sufficiently go out of their way to save these hopeless cretins from as much self-imposed disadvantages to longevity as they possibly can, to begin with.

Health ministries producing propaganda to try to convince people to exercise, to eat healthily, to desist from driving while inebriated, to wear helmets when bicycling and skiing, to remember to see a doctor, a dentist, to protect their infants from background swimming pools, to deny the opportunity to enhance the environment by spreading deadly toxins.

There seems to be no end to the ways in which human beings can devise methods by which they can shorten their lives.

We are all gifted with free will. We all, ostensibly, have inherited the capacity to prefer life over death, to reach decisions that will enhance our lives, not shorten them. We decide that we will take up a smoking habit while we're young because it's cool. We decide to begin drinking hard alcohol because it's the thing to do, everyone does it, and it's a social relaxant. And recreational drugs, ditto.

So a 14-year-old kid, wanting to be like all her peers impulsively pops six double-strength Ecstasy pills. And it's the last thing she will ever voluntarily do. She involuntarily leaves the land of the living. Yet another sacrifice to curiosity and 'enjoyment' and social entitlements. And who to blame? Society, of course, and government too, and private agencies who entice and corrupt.

Which is why a man from Ottawa is suing Loto-Quebec, with the allegation that its Lac Leamy Casino is responsible for his lack of self-esteem and propensity to drunken stupors that compel him to gamble, even when he has indelibly indicated that this is not really what he wishes to do, by registering for the casino's self-exclusion list.

This man deliberately and with full confidence that it is his right to do so, enters the casino and insists that they have the responsibility to deny him.

Because he managed to access the casino and gamble to his heart's content, drunk and sober, he blames the casino for allowing him to do so. Filing a 60-page suit of claim in Quebec Superior Court, Kent Glowinski, a federal government lawyer, insists that it is the responsibility of the casino to control his impulses, not his own will power and determination as befits a free agent.

He's also suing National Bank for allowing him to withdraw more than his allowable ATV limit, and additionally for permitting him cash advances even while he was drunk. Those ATV machines have obviously not been taught to ignore the demands of inebriated customers. Self-awareness, control, discipline, conscience are all concepts that this man obviously has no understanding of.

Die-hard smokers addicted to their fixes have little responsibility to themselves in cancer avoidance; far easier to sue tobacco companies. Alcoholics are not responsible for their dependence; they're ill. The morbidly overweight whose health has been compromised by their inability to control their eating impulses suffer from a social disease. Problem gamblers have a problem with a society that encourages them to gamble.

They've graduated from church Bingo parlours to hard-core gambling casinos; both in existence because people demand them as a form of entertainment. The only question here is why these immoderate victims of their own compulsions feel confident in blaming everyone but themselves.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Nothing Much Going Right

Mexico is getting hammered by circumstances, many beyond control, others amenable to control if the political will is there, but all together marking the country as a dismal nation assailed by both natural phenomenon, biological pandemic terror, a drug-related outbreak of gangland murders, and a financial mess shared by the world at large. Now Mexico is sharing with the world at large its steadily-growing threat of death-by-swine-flu infection.

As though its venue as a vacation spot hadn't been assailed sufficiently by the well armed thugs roaming the streets, murdering other thugs at will and passersby at random. Now Mexico City, one of the world's largest, most populous metropolises with 20-million people is slowly shutting down in a desperate bid to bring the infection to a halt. Over one hundred and fifty people have died so far. People are confining themselves to their homes.

In public they wear surgical masks, handed out by soldiers, across the city. Schools, movie theatres and a whole host of public venues have been closed down. In a sports-enthusiastic country, the huge Aztec Stadium, seating 105,000 will play to empty seats when clubs America and Tecos face off. Mass is cancelled at churches throughout the city, televised for the faithful.

The mayor of the city is seriously considering shutting down the mass transit system. Restaurants are no longer busy serving the usual throngs; extended families out for traditional Sunday dinners. The World Health Organization is now resigned to the reality that containment of a recognized new strain of swine flu "is not a feasible option". The deadly virus has spread, to the United States, to Canada, and a handful of other countries.

A popular tourist spot, people are arriving home to discover they're exhibiting symptoms of flu, feeling miserable, and fearful. Several cases as far afield as Israel have been isolated. Causing the WHO to raise its alert to a level short of declaring a full pandemic state, with its acting assistant director general for health, security and the environment warning of the seriousness of the situation.

And in the midst of all this misfortune, in steps capricious nature to produce an earthquake in the magnitude of 5.6, jolting people to instant attention and evacuation from the hoped-for-safety of their homes, reminding the population of their vulnerability from a host of sources. No damage from the quake, other than severely frayed nerves.

The economy already reeling from the fall-out of the world financial collapse has seen tourism drop as sun-and-beach-seekers evince their uncertainty over Mexico's well-publicized and growing murder rate. Now, with tourists bringing home more than was anticipated from their brief holiday sojourn, it isn't likely that tourism will be picking up again anytime soon.

Those brave - or foolhardy - souls arriving and departing Mexico sport a new fashion at the international airport, surgical face masks handed out for instant use, and a reminder over loudspeakers that anyone recognizing flu-like symptoms in their newly-ailing bodies should change their travel plans makes for more excitement than people really want.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Turning On A Dime




The weather in this country can turn on a dime. Certainly in the Ottawa area it can and it does, regularly. Two days ago, as an example, it was cool enough to require that we wear jackets and even gloves on our usual daily hike in the ravine. Yesterday it was short-sleeved tops and shorts, and even then we were extremely warm, the humidity was oppressive. And today? As the sage says, don't ask. But since you did, today we bounced right back to the cold again; lined jackets.

In between, though, there occurred an interesting weather phenomenon. Yesterday was very warm, unseasonably so, at 28 centigrade. Had the sun been full out all day it would have seemed even hotter, if that was at all possible, since the high humidity had its enervating effect, plus the heat. The sky was full of grey ragged clouds that parted occasionally long enough for the sun to blaze through for brief, blessedly-brief periods.

It seemed peculiar beyond belief, that two evenings before the night-time temperature had plunged to minus-4 degrees, and gave us a cold morning and a slightly less cold day. The night after and again the following night we were able to keep our bedroom windows - we had to keep our bedroom windows - wide open for fresh air lest we suffocate in the accumulated heat of the day, suffusing our home.

Yesterday it was so warm, our little dogs weren't able to stay out for long periods of time. I'd taken them out to the backyard after our ravine walk, to give them long-overdue haircuts. It seemed somehow surreal, being able to do that while the gardens are still entrenched in spring-recovery mode. But, sitting on the grass, there were ants, stumbling brazenly over my bare legs as I trimmed our two poodles.

Soon as she was aware I was finished snipping, the older one insisted on being let back inside, promptly. This is an occasional ordeal that I impose upon her, snipping her Pomeranian-Poodle profile back to a semblance of neatness. During which time she resists with all her conniving cleverness. Pointless, since I'm accustomed to it, but in the process both she and I become pantingly irritated.

Once she's back in the house and I go back to where I've set up my al fresco hair-design-studio there he is, the dutiful, biddable younger one; male, of course. He has the eminent good sense to snooze off while I've got him on his back, snipping away - his face, chest, paws, legs. Then she gets her reward for behaving abominably since she adores being bathed. And he receives his punishment for behaving so well, because he detests being immersed in water.

A few hours later the sun had exercised all its options for the day and dark cloud formations took possession of the sky. They were angry, ragged-looking clouds, moving quickly, only to be replaced by darker, moodier-appearing clouds, prefacing some additional alterations in our atmosphere. And just as we might have suspected, the wind began imposing itself aggressively, blowing up that proverbial storm.

No thunder, no lightning, just all-of-a-sudden drenching, downpour, flapping against the windows, sending us flying upstairs to bang the windows shut up there. Thoughts turned to other things, and we more or less ignored the weather raging out there. The next morning's newspapers brought us up to snuff on all that; power lines out, trees uprooted, roofs sailing off toward the nearest large body of water.

And this time when we entered the ravine for our walk, we wore jackets again. It was cool, and remained moderately windy. Things had changed. At least in some parts of the ravine. There were two sizeable bank collapses on the near side of the creek, taking fair-sized trees with them, settling them on the creek bottom, or given the larger size of some of the trees,flinging them across to the opposite side of the creek.

Another fifteen minutes of trekking brought us to the scene of a huge old pine that had been ringed with gaping Pileated woodpecker intrusions - downed from its stolid perch to crash its length across another bowl of earth, coming to ground precisely where one of the rustic bridges - gapping the ravine it grew within - invited the hiker's first tread. There the tree lay, majestic still, but broken, piteous in its hideous plight.

One day, one hour, one moment away from the stalwart sentinel that it has been for generations, reduced to a fallen giant; a totem of nature's splendour on the one hand, her terrible destructiveness on the other. And, as we continued to pick our way across the bridge, we could see in the forested area before us the sight of other stark-white and broken trunks, the luxurious green boughs of the pines scattered, silent witness to the disaster that befell the night before.

Another ten-minute trek and there, and there, and there, additional casualties; great pines that had withstood the test of whatever inclemencies nature had thrown their way, succumbed to this one, brief but powerful symbol of her disposal of her kingdom. Hers the glory, the might and the right. There is no wrong in nature; simply outcomes.

Nature the powerful, all other things within her kingdom, living or simply existing as inert objects, hers to dispose of as she will.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Garbage, Really!

The amount of packaging we haul home from the supermarket encasing, encapsulating, protecting and displaying the various food items that we purchase is quite simply astounding. Even for people like me who don't buy fast food items, foods already prepared in some way (processed). Purchasing basic foodstuffs, keeping a wide berth from those edibles that have undergone some kind of alterations is no guarantee of bringing home food in an unpackaged state.

We've kept compost bins going for about twenty years. Everything goes into them in the way of kitchen waste, with the exception of fish and meat, and although we eat plenty of fish, it's rarely whole fish, and we don't eat much meat, to create waste from those sources. There was a time - it doesn't seem all that long ago - that the amount of weekly garbage we put at the end of our driveway wouldn't fill one quarter of a garbage bag. And even at that, it was comprised mostly of packaging.

We do the usual recycling of paper products and of tins, glass and plastics. Yet we now put out to the curb for garbage pick-up almost a full bag of waste. Virtually all of it comprising packaging of one kind or another, that cannot be recycled. Materials that at one time were accepted in the blue box for recycling, no longer accommodated there, must be placed in the garbage.

How the hell did we ever get along before, without all this excess packaging? We managed, didn't we, and in the process produced one whack of a lot less waste. Packaging has become such a raging industry of its own that it cleverly markets its products as absolutely necessity to sustain the viability of product-life, to protect food from contamination, and to transfer it safely from supermarket to kitchen.

What a crock. I haul along on grocery shopping expeditions three large black bins so I won't have to use bags, and I've been doing this for a dozen years. Yet somehow, despite that I fill up with fresh fruits and vegetables, my shopping cart is also 50% full of other products - liquids requiring wax-paper cartons, eggs in plastic cartons, meat and fish products using polystyrene.

Come to think of it, some tomatoes and cucumbers to name a few fresh products are packaged in Styrofoam or plastic crates, or wooden crates as well, all requiring disposal, all filling up waste land-fill sites. We've become so accustomed - addicted perhaps - to the use of these lightweight, protective coverings on our foodstuffs we hardly give them a second thought.

Until we read that millions of tons of discarded packaging ends up in the globe's oceans, where it breaks down eventually into small bits, and turns into a floating continent of garbage. It's estimated in one area of the Pacific, an area the size of a continent, there are three kilograms of plastic garbage for every half-kilo of plankton. Aquatic life feeds on plankton. The garbage kills them.

In those areas where an attempt is made to recycle polystyrene, it is so expensive that it has no scrap value whatever - negative value through recycling; unlike glass which costs $89 a tonne to recycle, polystyrene costs $3,000 per tonne. Less than one percent of the plastic is recycled in the U.S., and that fairly well reflects what occurs in Canada, as well.

When nasty things happen in this world, whether it's the kind of fertilizer that proves inimical over a long period of use to the organic health of the soil, or cosmetic-use pesticides that make people severely ill, and pollute the environment, killing off wildlife and fish stocks. Or producing plastics that refuse to break down in the environment, where huge conscienceless, profit-driven corporations like Dow Chemical prove the culprits.

Invention, production, enterprise and sales are important to a growing economy, but not that vital that we imperil our environment and our health. How about we outlaw Dow Chemical?

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Pushing Back

Jewish groups learned a great deal from the original 2001 Durban Conference against Racism. Once they got over the shock of witnessing and experiencing first-hand the bitter renaissance of anti-Semitism, that is. And got beyond the stunned disbelief that a United Nations-sponsored conference mounted for the purpose of battling the scourge of racism turned against the very people who have historically suffered the greatest from its existence.

After being pushed around, verbally and physically assaulted by NGO participants under the auspices of the UN, Jewish participants in the original Durban vowed there would be no repeat without adequate preparation to respond effectively, assertively, honourably. One of the assurances Jewish groups received from the UN was that the successor, the Durban Review Conference, would be held in a venue other than a third-world environment where control might be better assured.

In Geneva, Swiss authorities were prepared to deal with violent and vile protests of the type that visited physical abuse on Jews, assaulted their sensibilities with banners equating Zionism with Fascism, with piles of literature that vilified Israel, and slandered Jews as sub-human vectors of pathological pandemics. This time around, such protesters were forcefully removed before they could deliver their abuse and distribute their pamphlets.

Jewish, Israeli and pro-Israel activists represented by dozens of Jewish groups converged on Geneva to prevent a repeat of the original Durban conference which was, in reality a conference to celebrate the dehumanization of world Jewry, and the demonization of Israel to wild acclaim from the greater audience. The presence of NGOs whose sole purpose was to slur Israel as a racist society were far less in evidence in Geneva.

In the audience, in fact, were two Arabs, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who just also happened to be elected Knesset members. They were inspired to loudly applaud Iran's mild-mannered, personable, and peace-loving President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, forced by his ideals of honesty and religious conviction to do honour to all of humankind, to regretfully label Israel a racist state.

And in later proceedings, it was fascinating to become aware that Libya, one of the principal countries on the organizing committee of the conference, was forced by the misfortune of unanticipated consequences to have its representative, Libyan Chair Najat Al-hajjaji, be somewhat embarrassed when faced with a stubborn witness, none other than the Palestinian doctor who, along with five Bulgarian nurses was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death in Libya.

Dr. Ashraf Ahmed El-Hojouj and the nurses were made scapegoats as a result of an HIV epidemic at Bengazi Hospital in 1999, where they were practising. They were accused of deliberately infecting patients, and were tortured, convicted of the charges against them, and sentenced to death. As foreigners they were considered dispensable, a sop to the pride of the country whose unheigenic hospital and poor medical practices led to the HIV outbreak.

The Libyan Chair objected to the witness testimony of Dr. El-Hojouj, insisting that he was deviating from "the principles and objectives of the conference", in opening his remarks by describing his incarceration, torture and death sentence in Libya. On the resumption of his testimony, Dr. El-Hojouj continued: "Section 1 of the draft declaration for this conference speaks about victims of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.

"Based on my own suffering, I wish to offer some proposals. Starting in 1999, as you know, the five nurses and I were falsely arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned, brutally tortured, convicted and sentenced to death." At which point Madam Al-hajjaji, once again intervened to call the witness to order: "...either you commit yourself to the subject matter of racism, racial discrimination, intolerance, xenophobia and I will give you a chance and an opportunity to take the floor..."

Whereupon the witness, Dr. El-Hojouj continued: "All of this, which lasted for nearly a decade, was for only one reason: because the Libyan government was looking to scapegoat foreigners. Madame Chair, if that is not discrimination, then what is? On the basis of my personal experience, I would like to propose the following amendments regarding remedies, redress and compensatory measures: One: the United Nations should condemn countries that scapegoat, falsely arrest and torture vulnerable minorities.

"Two: countries that have committed such crimes must recognize their past, and issue an official, public and unequivocal apology to the victims. Three: In accordance with Article 2, paragraph 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, such countries must provide victims of discrimination with an appropriate remedy, including adequate compensation for material and immaterial damage.

"Madame chair, Libya told this conference that it practises no inequality or discrimination. But then how do you account for what was done to me, to my colleagues and to my family, who gave over 30 years serving your country, only to be kicked out from their home, threatened with death and subjected to state terrorism?"

Supreme irony, and a quite wonderful comeuppance; reality finally meets reality, rather than malicious fantasy. A human-rights abusing country that has found satisfaction in falsely accusing another UN member-country of racism and human-rights abuse has finally been brought to task in the very body and the very mechanism it devised for accusing others.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Done, Another Year

That effectively wraps up the door-to-door canvass on my part for the Canadian Cancer Society, for yet another year. Glad I am that it is now behind me. I've one house to return to, and that will be it. Except for writing my own cheque for the campaign. Then I'll complete the paperwork, enclose all the donations in the envelope provided, account for everything, matching the receipts handed out for income tax purposes with the cheques and cash received, hand it over to the area captain, and tip my hat to another obligation fulfilled.

It's the street I live on that I canvass. Most of my neighbours greet me with great civility, even though they saw me doing the very same thing in February for the Heart & Stroke Association, even though they will likely see me calling at their doorstep again for CNIB and perhaps The Arthritis Society, as they do every year. But for now I feel great relief, a burden has been lifted from the shoulders of my societal responsibility to volunteer in a way I've long been accustomed to.

Being accustomed to doing it doesn't make it any easier. I always procrastinate, and I'm not a procrastinating kind of person. I need to mentally shove myself out the door, canvass kit in hand, and determination solidly propelling me to visit each house on the street. Actually there are a number of houses where it is futile to continue knocking on the door, introducing myself and enquiring whether the residents are amenable to lending themselves to this exercise.

They never have been agreeable to parting with a scintilla of their disposable funds and on the evidence, never will be. There are those houses where I personally know these recalcitrant residents and enjoy a casual and friendly relationship with them, and to those houses I may still return on occasion. Impossible to break through their resolve to give nothing, whatever the cause. Hope springs eternal. Tonight I stopped by a house where I know one of the residents is still recovering from cancer.

Last year, during my canvass, his wife broke down in tears at the door, telling me brokenly that her husband was undergoing chemotherapy post-surgery. I did my best to comfort her, although this is a woman who has always faced me with great disinterest, seemingly pleased to take part in the charade where I introduce my mission of the moment, and she then looks down from her height, and curtly responds in the negative. This evening was no different. Her husband has responded well to his treatment.

It's disheartening, I can hardly understand how it is that people can take advantage of the very charitable institutions that we will all depend upon at one time or another - or members of our families will - and still refuse to be accountable as a member of society. I quite simply cannot fathom that mindset. These are people who regularly hire gardeners to look after their property, pay thousands of dollars for professionals to install decks, brickwork, swimming pools. But they've not a $5 donation to spare.

They, along with those who just never seem to have any cash lying handily around, and when it's recommended that a cheque is a more secure way to give, why the chequebook has gone missing. Still, they're not quite as bad as those who ask that I return another time, when it's more convenient for them, and when I do, why it still isn't convenient. Or those who earnestly promise to drop by our house along with a donation, rather than have me come by their house again.

Somehow, they never get around to making that trek over to my house. On the positive side, happily, there are those neighbours in abundance who thank me for dropping by, chat about neighbourhood or family events, and routinely write cheques for the charity of the moment. Invariably, the socially responsible, warm-hearted people are those with whom one feels most comfortable, as though there is a shared wisdom or value system between us, and of course, there is.

For now, I'm greatly relieved, I'm finished for the time being, and that's that.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pesticide Ban in Ontario, hurrah!

At long last the pesticide ban in Ontario has become law. Joining Quebec, however tardily. Now we can walk down the street without having to involuntarily inhale those abhorrently-invasive chemicals on the lawns of some of our neighbours. Still can't believe those people with small children and pets of their own can't make the connection between heedlessly spreading harmful solutions known to be carcinogens on the landscape, to seep down into the water table.

But before it does that, it spreads itself in the air, in the ground, killing off insects and and worms, then birds who feed on them. It kills fish by contaminating water sources that spread into rivers and lakes. Household pets, cats and dogs, who prowl around on the treated lawns, bring the chemicals indoors with them, spreading it everywhere, imperilling their health, and ours. And above all, it makes children ill, and their parents as well.

They're impervious to reason and reasonableness, insisting on the necessity of presenting an immaculate lawn, as though a smooth green lawn has precedence over the health of the environment, and us, as well. They insist it is their right to do as they wish with their property, heedless of the effect on others unwilling to be exposed to the risk of vexing our health; actually not giving a damn for anyone else, truth be told.

Now, with the pesticide/herbicide ban in effect, they can still have their lawns professionally treated and looked after, but it will be organically, without the use of harmful chemicals. The stench of which we won't miss. One can only wonder why these chemical-addicted home owners have never queried themselves why it is that their neighbours who don't resort to the use of pesticides have finer lawns than they do, but they don't tend to second-guess themselves.

It does represent a huge relief to no longer be concerned about exposure to the deleterious effects of the stuff. Even if we're still bedevilled by unendingly irritating telephone solicitations, and front-door enquiries by lawn-care company representatives who seem to feel everyone should take advantage of their wonderful services. Now, just a nuisance, no longer a threat.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Pope Benedict! Prince Charles!

The past may be history, but it is not forgotten. It is often overlooked, assumptions made that what is past must remain in the past. And we carry on, toward the future. With a certain amount of equanimity. We do, after all, learn from the past. And there are certain inexorable alterations that must, after centuries, be accepted. For time has a habit of marching on, and bringing us all to new and different interpretations of the fitness of things.

On the other hand, there are institutions of humankind that seem incapable of adjusting themselves to reality, regardless of the passage of time. Resentment appears to simmer, close to the surface, ready to erupt at the earliest opportunity. Wrongs done - perceived or otherwise - rankle, beg to be confronted and the sinner urged to recant. Or, on occasion, observe the original event, bring it into focus and make amends to suit the tender feelings of the sinned against.

In the instance of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution of longevity and arcane practises true sins are those that give short shrift to what is held most dearly by the Church. One must not sin against the precepts of the Church, for they are immutable, undeniably the expression of the will of God. Sin one may against other human beings, but those are sins that are forgivable, for a confession will allay guilt and condemnation is withheld, the spirit is free.

On the other hand there are certain indiscretions on the part of clergy committed to the fastidious rejection of sex and marriage as they have pledged themselves to total abstinence, primal urges submerged and sublimated in the greater need to commit unquestioningly to God's word, a celibate and sacrificing life. What to do with those priests who feel no great urge to sublimate, and submit to the greater urge to commit sins against those in their charge?

Why, forgive them, Father, for they know well what they do, but they are of our House and must needs be protected from the rage of the mob. Or the long, often disinterested arm of legality. Until public rage becomes too urgent to be denied and the law extends its arm to the extent where justice must be seen to be done. The Roman Catholic Church finds itself of late in a very unpleasant position, having long protected those among its clergy who preyed on the innocent.

They may, withal, be forgiven, the priests who despoiled the innocence of childhood, who hungrily, greedily, unconscionably, ruined the lives of little boys and little girls by their unbridled lust. They soiled the priesthood, but it is a house that looks to its own, shuffles those who succumbed to their inner urgings to other parishes where they broke the faith again, and moved on to newer pastures.

Unless they were clearly gay, and that indeed was intolerable.

So here is Prince Charles preparing for another papal visit. The last one was a jovial affair, when he presented his then-wife Diana, the peoples' princess, to the Pope's predecessor, and all was sweetness and light. On this occasion, the prince and the duchess, his new wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Anglicans both - resulting from the 500-year-old schism born of royal rage against Catholic defiance of a king's demand for divorce - will meet a new pope.

Who views divorce askance, as he does abortion, as he does birth control, as he does the order of severity of offences against the Holy Catholic Church. Prince Charles will be gifted with an object of great significance. A facsimile of the original parchment 1530 'appeal' by peers of the realm to Pope Clement VII appealing for the annulment of Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, to clear the way for his serial marriages.

The Prince will, doubtless, accept the gift with good grace. He hasn't his father's acerbic tongue and quick wit. Pope Benedict will doubtless be inordinately pleased with himself. He hasn't Pope John Paul's humanity and kind spirit.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Community

Three little girls, suddenly orphaned. The oldest just become 14, her siblings 12 and 10. To the fourteen-year-old rests the responsibilities of an elder sister toward the younger children. In days long gone the three children would have been forced to seek the charity of their community to assist them to survive their fate.

Their youth notwithstanding, they would have been pressed into a workforce, labouring to earn the pittance that would permit them to eke out the wherewithal for shelter and food.

If they survived to young adulthood they would then be dependent on the hope that some strong and capable - or, perversely, elderly widower - might cast an eye on their availability, giving them thereafter shelter and food in exchange for wifely and motherly duties.

And then there would result a perpetuation of precisely what had befallen them, since many young women died of sepsis during childbirth, and their bereaved husband would then seek replacement.

In our modern era, when communities are no longer rural outposts of poverty, with the poorhouse or the weaving mills or the coalmines offering respite to those who could find no other means of survival, things are different.

Nothing can expunge from these three young girls' hearts and souls their dread losses. Mother gone, her struggle with cancer a lost cause. And father, their sole parent, suddenly gone too, the result of a heart attack.

Dependent on a sole surviving family member; an elderly grandmother living elsewhere in another rural community, but too advanced in age and health-compromised to look after their needs.

Their father, a Scottish immigrant, had owned and operated a pub in downtown Perth, Ontario. But he was so deeply in debt that even the sale of the family home and the family business will accrue insufficient funds to pay off that debt.

The community of which they are an integral part has responded. Granted, the girls are now separated, each having gone to live with a different family, but this is a small town and they will see one another often. The families with whom they are now living, and who look to their care, and give them emotional support, feel the children are adjusting well to their loss and their new lives.

The town itself is responding, mounting a campaign to collect funds to implement a trust fund for the girls. People respond with charity and compassion. The girls will learn to adapt themselves to their altered familial state. They will attend schools and complete their education. They will develop a huge affection and appreciation for those who have taken them in.

They will survive their ordeal. They too represent the future of Canada. Imbibing Canadian values and support for one another. Bringing out the best of what human beings are capable of, given the challenge.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Canvassing, Again

Not all that long since I was out canvassing this street, back in February for the Heart & Stroke Foundation. I've had the canvass kit from the Canadian Cancer Society nagging at me for weeks, now. I've finally succumbed, to the compelling need to fulfil my obligations, and off I toddled down the street I live on, to knock once again on my neighbours' doors.

I've been doing this for so long, for so many different charitable organizations, over the course of many years that I've become acutely knowledgeable about the welcome, or lack of, I'll receive at each and every house. And before the 20 years' residence on this street there was a similar ritual enacted year after year where our previous home was located.

Some of those houses on this street I now avoid entirely, well aware of the hostile greeting my presence will evoke. Thesr are people I don't personally know, the kind of people who prefer a distance between themselves and their neighbours, who take affront at the nerve some people have, to impose themselves upon others who wish nothing whatever to do with them, or with the greater needs of the society they inhabit.

There is nothing to be gained by confronting them with my canvass kit and the invitation to support my mission. Logically enough that part of the street furthest to where our own house is located is where I receive the least warm welcomes. Even though at some houses at the very end of the street I'm warmly greeted and handsomely remunerated on behalf of the charity I'm temporarily representing.

Still, on occasion, I do succumb to a tad of recklessness and knock at those singular doors, offering once again the opportunity to these recalcitrant house-holders to fulfil their own obligations. Rarely does this result in a welcome and a concomitant cheerfully-donated sum to any charity.

Happily, there are an equal number of residents on the street comfortable with the prospect of welcoming me, or other door-to-door canvassers back, year after year.
Those who recognize that we all have something to add to society's need to bring us into a common social pact, be it to provide practical and educational assistance to people living with blindness, crippling arthritis, the fear of heart attacks, or dread cancer.

Assistance to those who require the larger society's largess in assisting with food, housing and homelessness another great issue to be confronted and mutually acknowledged.

Donations range from the modest to the generous, and all are equally appreciated. Responses run the gamut from sincere thanks to the canvasser for donating time, energy and dedication to helping close the gap between the enablers and the needy, and those who genuinely welcome another opportunity, whatever the impetus, to visit, chat and exchange neighbourhood news.

Needless to say, the neighbourhood pets will not be ignored; their need too, to be acknowledged, greeted and fussed with is paramount to the process.

Best of all, my conscience is temporarily relieved of the burden of procrastination, knowing that at last I've made a start, begun the process, which another few determined jaunts on my street will soon conclude in a mission completed.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Rites of Spring



We've been leaving unshelled peanuts in the ravine on our daily walks for quite some time now. Along with whole-wheat-type bread bits, baked in our own kitchen, when we've got too much to deal with. And since I also began cleaning out the kitchen cupboards for the usual spring cleaning ritual, I isolated a bag of wheat puffs, and another of cheese-flavoured corn chips, meaning to take them along as well; sprinkle them along the rails of the bridges in the ravine, and leave them in niches and crannies here and there.

I always peer into those places the following day where the offerings have been left to assure myself that I haven't scattered these little delicacies in vain. Invariably, by next day they're gone, taken by birds, squirrels, chipmunks and the occasional raccoon happening by them. In the winter I occasionally take a bagel out and hang it on a bare branch. Bagels last about two or three days; first the top portion is nibbled at, and next day I turn it around, revealing the opposite side for the delectation of the takers.

When we first descend into the ravine there's a huge old pine at the intersection of the trail, which veers off either to the left or the right. A tiny red squirrel is resident there in the pine, in a series of openings he escapes into. It would appear he has become accustomed to our daily visits, for he sits up on a branch calmly observing us, not resorting to the usual scolding they keep in reserve for interlopers to their territory.

That little squirrel knows that when he hears our voices, or sees us, he will invariably discover the presence of peanuts under his tree, directly beside one of the lower entrance holes. So fearless has he become that we've seen him prowl around the back of the tree to wait until we've gone past, then stealthily steal the peanut lying nearest to him, and haul it back up to the lowest branch to eat.

On occasion, just as we're descending into the ravine, approaching that huge old pine, we'll see the squirrel hurrying over to his tree, anxious to gain its fastness just as we're coming abreast of it, to then sit patiently above, waiting for his daily reward. He's obviously been off somewhere, and checked his timer to ensure he won't miss our arrival, hurrying to meet and greet.

He's even gone down below to the base of the tree to begin feasting when we've only gone a dozen feet from the area, and we stand and watch him. A beautiful little creature of the woods. Our two dogs have become accustomed to this, and they stand quietly with us, not reacting as they so often do, to the piquant presence of squirrels demanding to be chased.

Since my husband has begun demolition work on the deck in our backyard outside our breakfast room, he has taken to leaving small piles of shelled blanched peanuts on the deck. We've been amply rewarded. A tiny resident chipmunk often comes to visit and we watch in awe as he stuffs an unbelievable number of peanuts into his suddenly-capacious maw, to spirit them away to his lair.

We've noticed lately the presence of chickadees, become aware of the cache of peanuts to be taken advantage of, and watch as they too, avail themselves. Today we also observed a male cardinal cautiously sitting in wait on the weeping mulberry tree beside the deck before finally making his audacious move onto the deck, to take for himself one of the peanuts, fly with it to the back fence, and enjoy it.

Black squirrels and a red squirrel quite bit larger than our tiny friend in the ravine also come to visit. We give preferential treatment to the red squirrel, and that makes me feel rather guilty. But we'd watched, annoyed, when the black squirrel - the one with the bushy tail, not the ratty tail - chased our tiny chipmunk away from the peanuts, earning our enmity.

There are so many rites of spring, and we have ours.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Battling Racism, UN-Style

What have we here? Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the only 'prominent' head of state thus far registered for attendance at the Durban II conference set to take place in Geneva in five days' time? What possibly, might that auger? Moreover, that of 150 countries expected to attend the conference a mere 40 have confirmed their participation? How utterly rude.

Tardiness, procrastination is not to be countenanced, in accepting the vital nature of this UN-sponsored event.

There has been much controversy over the wording of the draft text of the declaration to be introduced (Durban Declaration), given the sole focus for condemnation of a single nation at the initial Durban Conference on racism was Israel, identified as racist, a brutal oppressor and a scourge to world society.

Not all those present at the first Durban event were impressed by the proceedings, and not all those expected to attend the current one are anxious for a repeat, however subdued.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urges all member countries of the United Nations to attend, as a duty to combat racism and discriminatory practises, and human rights abuses. "Eight years on, anti-racism pledges and measures have not yet succeeded in relegating discriminatory practises and intolerance to the heap of history's repugnant debris" railed Navi Pillay.

Perhaps the reason may be revealed in the structure of the committee, of which human-rights-abusing countries comprise the leading edge...? Western countries express doubt, are somewhat edgily concerned about the outcome of yet another finger-pointing exercise of blame and shame, despite the assurances of Ban Ki-Moon that all will be different this time around.

"Definitely we will not allow what happened in Durban to happen here", vowed Marie Heuze, head of public information at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva. "While respecting freedom of speech, within the precincts of the United Nations, we will be vigilant to prevent hate speech, verbal abuse and insults against people of different races and creeds." Sounds compellingly sincere.

Despite which, Canada long ago made the decision that it would not be in a position to present itself at a gathering that promises to re-package its hateful anti-Semitic diatribe yet again. Israel, Italy, Australia and the United States expressed similar doubt. The European Union is chafing under the weight of its collective moral conscience, not quite knowing how it will react.

It is abundantly clear, however, that the new, revised, fair-minded and acceptable 17-page document re-affirms the resolutions of the first World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in South Africa in 2001. It is far more discreet, rather less transparent, inferring rather than outright condemning Israel of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

As an occupying force.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spreading Goodwill

President Barak Obama is the shining example of a cosmopolitan, easy-going, fair-minded individual. That he also occupies the White House is an anomaly. Politicians, and more particularly heads of state, have also to be imbued with a certain hard-headed recognition of realpolitik. Conveying good feelings of good fellowship universally is all very well and good, but it won't always be met with mirror-image conviviality.

Heads of state cannot afford to be too limp in their presentation of their countries' imperatives, their values, their authority. Becoming too accommodating ensures that counterparts will, as human nature has us do, become more assured of their own investment in their singular national aspirations. And very often those aspirations are functionally inward-looking, occasionally tinged with xenophobia, and a modicum of resentment and hostility.

This is where minds divert, not diverge. A position diagnosed as lack of firm resolve is interpreted as weak and therefore readily ignored. In some cultures, particularly those still very close to their tribal and clan traditions, eagerness to co-operate is seen as a distinct vulnerability bespeaking lack of identity, vision and determination. Give an inch and it won't stop at a mile.

So Washington's new vision of accommodation for the nuclear aspirations of the Islamic Republic of Iran resembles nothing so much as a placatory gesture, a humbling one, received disdainfully but with a full degree of empowerment by Tehran. As a diplomatic ploy for gaining trust that might eventually lead to an agreement by Iran to stop with the attainment of domestic-use nuclear, it is not likely to succeed.

Does the United States take it as meaningless bluster when the president of Iran boasts that the country is capable of attaining weapons-grade plutonium and in the second breath warns that Iran means to destroy the State of Israel? Does Barak Obama really believe that politely constructive engagement will be met with the same? Has he not studied that same engagement with North Korea's nuclear ambitions?

Assenting to Tehran proceeding with its uranium enrichment plans, while insisting on proceeding with nuclear talks serves to validate the country's progress and legitimacy in their estimation, encouraging it to continue its program, despite the many censures it has received through the UN Security Council. It's a new tack, to be certain, but appeasement has never worked, and it's highly unlikely to now.

The reaction to Iran is far out of whack with President Obama's cautious loosening of strained relations with Cuba, a country that poses no real existential threat to the United States, whose government is a mere irritant, not a threat.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"The Gravitas of Death"

Dignitas is a Swiss-based humanitarian group whose mission is to assist people with incurable illnesses. Dignitas counsels suicidal people, recommending continuing with life, but they will humanely assist in suicide if all else fails. It offers professionally supervised assisted suicide to people who feel their lives are no longer worthwhile living, who cannot see any solution to overwhelming illness.

After intense discussion, they will offer non-judgemental assistance to those who insist this is their considered desire.

A Canadian couple has, for years, been trying to establish and conclude their wish to die together. Betty Coumbias, an elderly woman resident in Vancouver, has determined that she cannot live without the presence of her husband, and wants to die alongside him. George Coumbias suffers from heart disease.

Not everyone agrees in assisted suicide, although there are many who do. A Toronto euthanasia advocate claims people have the right to determine when and where they will die, with dignity and without regret, a decision made with a sound mind. An ethics professor at McGill University opposes euthanasia: "We lose the gravitas of death. Death is no longer put in a moral context."

Ludwig Minelli, director of Swiss-based Dignitas, is in the process of asking officials of the Canton of Zurich to give doctors the authority to provide lethal drugs in accordance with the wishes of the Coumbias, husband and wife. "She told us, here in my living room, 'If my husband goes with Dignitas, I would go at the same time with him'" Mr. Minelli informed an interviewer.

A 2007 documentary by an Oscar-winning Canadian film-maker highlighted the-then 71-year-olds attempting to arrange a joint assisted suicide, in a visit to Switzerland. In The Suicide Tourist, Mrs. Coumbias explained: "From the day we got married, [my husband] was all my life. I love my two daughters, but I love him more, and I don't think I can face life without him, and since we read about Dignitas, we felt what would be better than to die together, you know, to die in each other's arms?"

Mr. Coumbias is severely ill. Mrs. Coumbias still enjoys perfectly good health. They love one another deeply, and she is dependent upon his presence for meaning in her life. Without him, life would have no meaning. Why go on living a meaningless existence, a painful, tortured long night of memory of love, affection, companionship and joy in life transported elsewhere?

These are mature, intelligent people, more than capable of recognizing what they want of life, and death. They don't need the state to intervene, to 'protect' them from themselves. They need the dignity of respect for their choice. They will be mourned by their children, but they have the right to determine for themselves how they wish to dispose of what is left of their lives.

And so be it.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Be Aware, Shun Stupidity

You might think that people would exercise some common sense, make themselves aware and informed before setting out to spend a large whack of funds on things they know little about. On the other hand, people buy cars known as lemons all the time, when they might sensibly scan consumer reports to determine beforehand which poorly performing vehicles to avoid. People spend inordinate amounts of money on designer labels, when perfectly good alternates can be found for far less.

It's a matter of personal awareness, adaptability to the marketplace, priorities and choices. If a home appliance proves to have been a poor choice, and the owner discovers that others have had similar problems, a kind of boycott ensues, where people look elsewhere for reliability. It's a learning process. And when it comes to the purchase of art and antiques, isn't it kind of sensible to learn something about what purports to be the genuine thing before embarking on a buying spree?

It's hard to get exercised as a result of the experience that an ostensibly well educated professional couple underwent because of their lack of due diligence. Want to go to an auction to avail yourself of bargains in jewellery, furniture, rugs, original art, then do some homework. Know something about identifying objects of real virtue and value. The people who hawk them famously are out to make money, not to educate the ignorant.

Here's the complaint of an Ontario couple, she a medical professional, he a businessman who, looking for something to do, decided to attend an advertised auction. Where, ostensibly, estate objects were to be auctioned off and where they might take possession of valuable objects at a fraction of their evaluated values.
It's caveat emptor, all the way. Know nothing, do nothing. Above all, don't commit to what you're ignorant about.

Instead, this couple attended an auction at an exclusive golf club in Milton, Ontario, where they saw paintings, rugs and jewellery that struck their fancy. And they bid, handsomely enough, on a number of those items, for two consecutive auction days. First day the woman bought three original oil paintings, a black Pearl necklace and three Beluch rugs, spending $8,400 in the process.

On the second day of attendance the husband bought a pastel and a pen-and-ink drawing, a heliogravure, a necklace of freshwater pearls, and two more 'antique' Beluch rugs, totalling an additional $8,800. They asked the vendor/auctioneer for certificates of authentication for the artwork; none were to be had. They, presumably, were had.

But in the world of art, antiques, and jewellery, a total of $17,218.38 doesn't represent a huge investment. They bought what they liked. And then thought better of it. A series of emails went back and forth between the dissatisfied purchasers and the vendor/auctioneer. Some people buy to satisfy their personal aesthetic, to surround themselves with objects of beauty. Some for investment purposes.

The auctioneer had some unfortunate, but isolated instances of bad faith bargaining with previous customers, all of which were settled to the customers' satisfaction. The peripatetic game of presenting auction opportunities to the public is a fairly unregulated one. But if you're going shopping for pricey objects, know something about them. And once committed, be satisfied with your purchase. Or stay home.

No one forces people to attend these auctions, to avail themselves of desirable objects. Just as no one forces people to invest in creative and 'genuine' oil paintings on velvet. Our public institutions cannot rescue people from their own stupidity. People do have an obligation to inform themselves before setting out on any venture. If they feel they've been conned, made a bad deal for themselves, consider it a learning experience.

But this couple is screaming loud and long, and insisting that government get involved. To protect innocents like themselves from getting burned. In fact, some of the items they took possession of proved to be genuine enough, some of them professionally evaluated after the fact, given a far higher value than what they paid. They've simply thought twice about the enterprise they brought themselves into.

Trouble is, there's no real cure for lack of attention to details. Of mental laziness, of credulous stupidity.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Re-Examining the Jesus Chronicles

Not a legend, but documented history, at a considerable remove in time. Not a god, but a man of his people and of his time. One who may have aspired to be recognized as above the human clay and who succumbed to the vengeance of the powers, of those whose authority he challenged.

Two millennia in human history is a prodigiously lengthy period of time; a mere nano-second in astrophysical or geological terms - but a considerable gap exists between the 21st Century and the biblical era of the New Testament.

Legends, even if they owe their existence in part to dim memories of a recollected human past of some drama and significance, have a tendency to divert from what actually occurred, since humankind have a propensity to embellish that which they wish to allocate great moment to.

There have been quite a few re-writes of late, theories that appear more acceptable than the written word speaking of miracles and God's word and His anguish over his son's suffering in the name of humanity.

Now a Jerusalem-based archaeologist has brought us fresh hypotheses, alterations in the historicity of this fabled figure of ardent devotion, unleashed at a time when the Christian world surrenders to the renewed belief in the divine, clasping the hope that a messenger of the word on high willingly sacrificed himself to demonstrate honour, courage, truthfulness and ineffable belief in the Almighty.

Even while, suffering the agonies of crucifixion, he appealed to God the Father for release, begging to know why he had been thus abandoned to the cruelties of human lust for power and revenge. Leaving a populace transfixed with the knowledge that they observed God's child suffering to absolve them of their own sins.

God bade Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to test his loyalty, then offered a sheep instead. A sterner God would not release his own son Yeshua, from his bitter fate.

Little wonder, at the time, that Jews, Greeks and Romans would give no credence to the growing legend. What powerful almighty Spiritual Redeemer, after all, would send his own and only offspring to walk the Earth, preach godliness among humankind, then sacrifice him in his human shape to suffer the gruesome tortures of crucifixion?

The Final Days of Jesus releases to a world audience the educated theories of Shimon Gibson, its author. The result of many long years of intense study, archaeological activities and expert knowledge of the archaic times during which which Jesus strode the land of Israel. Among other items revealed; the Via Dolorosa has been long in error, its route elsewhere, gleaned from records and intuition.

One may read of the common Roman practise of disposing of criminals and in the process ensuring that restive peoples under the Roman yoke understood what might await them through crucifixion. The condemned scourged with whips, forced to heave a weighted crossbeam to the crucifixion site; the nailing of feet and hands, and the agonizingly slow welcome of the final frontier toward which all humankind advances.

The Gospel forgiveness of Pontius Pilate as a basically decent and compassionate overseer, forced to succumb to the demands of the vengeful Pharisees in the Sanhedrin is placed in doubt, and with fairly good reason. "This is not at all credible. He was undoubtedly a hard and manipulative man", explained Mr. Gibson illustrated by the massacre of Samaritans so atrocious he was recalled to Rome.

As for the momentous occurrence leading to the jubilation on the discovery of the empty tomb and the sturdy belief that Christ had risen, Mr. Gibson claims himself to be without knowledge or faith, utterly agnostic. "The reality is that there is no historical explanation for the empty tomb, other than if we adopt a theological one; i.e., the resurrection.

"I leave it up to the reader to make up his own mind." And billions do, venerating Easter for the promise of sacrifice and renewed life.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Becoming Overwhelmed

Recognition of priorities, feeling forced to make choices can often become cruel experiences. When people are hard-pressed by circumstances, particularly financial straits that force them to search for what can be sacrificed and what kept, the decisions are often brutal and nasty. Rising unemployment and the need to keep a family's head above steadily rising waters of poverty have meant an increase in the numbers of people using homeless shelters.

It's hard for people who live comfortably and financially securely to even begin to imagine the misery of those whose fortunes have taken such a downturn that they become homeless. Area food banks are serving larger numbers of desperate people, among them children, to a far greater degree than formerly. The economic downturn that has universally struck far and near has taken its toll in ways hard to imagine. Families with children struggling to survive.

Homeless shelters now hosting children, their families, not merely single loners, men and women of all ages whom personal circumstances have brought them to live on the streets of our cities. Shelters so newly crowded that people have been forced to sleep on their floors. Municipalities recognizing the imperatives resting on their decisions to make more assisted housing available.

And the other victims of financial collapse? Family pets. Abandoned, or brought to local animal shelters. When public appeals go out those who are able to, respond and rescue young animals, puppies and smaller breeds to adopt and bring into their homes. The older dogs, and those suffering ill health because their owners were unable to afford veterinarian care, languish.

They are quietly distraught, confused. They turn away, bewildered. Refuse food and water. Their needs are emotional stability, affection, attention. They have been in a home where they were once comfortable and appreciated, and suddenly their life support system has been removed, and they are caged, unwanted, rejected.

Reflecting in some part the afflictions that fortune has visited on their humans.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Our Bacterial Ancestors

Primordial seas did not part and disgorge a sea-creature destined to shed its fins and gain limbs, instead learning to breathe the ambient oxygen and swing from trees. There were antecedents, needless to say, although few of us can claim to have any real insider knowledge about the process through direct observation.

It would appear that 2.7-billion years ago volcanic lava in our cooling planet invested our already mineral-rich seas with nickel. So, nickel, so what? Inanimate minerals have nothing in common with animate life. But it seems there was a connection, new research from a geomicrobiologist at the University of Alberta has revealed.

Kurt Konhauser and his colleagues have hypothesized that the nickel conveyed into the seas contained in lava from volcanic eruptions indeed had an impact on the life-forms that eventually crawled out of the primordial muck that inevitably gave rise to land creatures.

Rocks, up to 3.8 billion years in age, collected from Canada and Australia divulged information that these scientists analyzed, reaching the conclusion on the evidence that nickel levels in sea waters eventually diminished as the earth cooled, resulting in microbes infesting those ancient seas flourishing on the nickel and producing methane, gave over to other microbes that produced oxygen, leading to multi-cellular life.

The microbes producing methane, named methanogens, consumed nickel; without it they could not survive. How's that for early adaptation? Isn't nature incredible? This was obviously a stop-gap creation of hers. Just practising for the real event, yet to come. With the demise of the methanogens due to a growing paucity of nickel, the oxygen-producing microbes began to thrive, as the dominant species.

They worked like the devil to pump oxygen into the oceans and into the air. "You affect one part of the Earth's system and it has ramifications on another", according to Mr. Konhauser. These findings are enthusing other scientists; marine scientist Mak Saito of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution says the findings suggest "a single geological change can starve a major oceanic microbial community and thereby change the trajectory of life on Earth".

Yep, yep. But guess what also happened as the core of the planet cooled and volcanoes ceased their incessant eruptions, and nickel no longer spilled so lavishly into the oceans? Glaciation, that began about 2.3 billion years ago, resulting in 'Snowball Earth'. A large drop in atmospheric levels of methane gas might have cooled the atmosphere to the extent that massive glaciation occurred.

Global warming anyone?

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Well, Which Is It?

Canadian teens, which is to say high school graduates, are once again scrutinized and found wanting. A new academic survey of professors and librarians measuring the literary/academic maturity of secondary students appears to discover that alas, they are immature. Incapable of thinking deeply, of stirring themselves to develop a much-needed discipline of investigatory skills to achieve laudable research papers, reflective of intelligent thought and synthesizing ability.

They are, unfortunately, said to be incapable of resourcefulness, of independent action, seeking out the easy way rather than overly troublling themselves. Unwilling to make the effort, they yet anticipate that all good will come to them. Thus saith the survey mounted by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. "...it appears that secondary students are not receiving the requisite skills that they need to be successful in university studies."

What an astounding revelation. They're too lazily reliant on the Internet for source materials, specifically dependent on sites like Wikipedia whose data tends not to be completely reliable, since its an open-source data-house of individual (albeit informed) input, inadequately edited and policed, it would appear. Wow! it doesn't seem all that long ago that universities bemoaned the fact that secondary schools were passing along students incapable of reading.

We've somehow managed to produce graduates who can read now, but who are not literate; disinterested in acquiring very basic investigative skills for research purposes. At least that's an advance and a definite advantage over what was highlighted a mere decade earlier, if memory serves. Still, there isn't quite total agreement on the intellectual laziness of secondary graduates, since 27% of respondents felt students were adequately prepared.

Or at least, in their judgement, as capable as the cohorts that had preceded them. And it's also interesting that 15% of respondents had no opinion on the matter. Likely little interest, as well, since it may seem a piddling matter that university instructors, doing their mentoring thing, might readily be capable of turning around, impressing on their first-year students the imperatives of adequate research.

"There's a lot of cut-and-pasting and students who don't cross-reference. They see what's on the Internet and they just run with it", according to Brian Brown, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. Given cut-backs in the education portfolios of late, and less attention given to the need to acquire an adequate number of books in-house, with school libraries taking third place to other student needs, and often lacking librarians as well, little wonder.

The focus in most schools now, from elementary to secondary, is to bring students up to grade on computer use and Internet familiarity to a certain degree. With that focus, isn't it little wonder, given the ubiquity of computers at home and in the workplace that it's seen as a sturdy, reliable tool, time-saving and data-producing to the satisfaction of unenthusiastic students? Might part of the problem be teachers' inability to enthuse?

Well, on the plus side, another survey has discovered some pretty nifty realities about today's teens. They're becoming increasingly socially and civilly virtuous, and that's saying a whole lot. Eschewing smoking, drinking and drugs - even sex! At least to the degree that was formerly in fashion. Today's teens appear more amenable to being well behaved, listening to their parents' admonitions.

Now that's cause for celebration...right?

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Another Soul-Searing Memorial

The month of April, that long-awaited month heralding spring and new beginnings, when frozen earth thaws and living things begin to thrust their way out of the monochromatic winter months toward the strengthening warmth of the sun and an experience of life re-visited, survivors of the Rwandan genocide, shrink from the newly-awakened memory of their dreadful loss.

For those survivors, the Tutsi people of Rwanda, many of whom scattered as refugees from the horrors they experienced, the re-awakening of spring and new life, recalls the unforgettable trauma of their experiences when Hutu tribesmen, formerly neighbours and friends, and occasionally extended family members, turned on their Tutsi fellows and slaughtered them in a bloody exuberance of rekindled hatred and tribal vengeance.

Refugee-survivors could escape their home country where their countless dead are buried, but they cannot escape the memory of what occurred, the gruesome murder spree, the endless blood-letting. Their memories are full of hiding from the murderous mob, and occasionally being witness to the slaughter unfolding around them. A slaughter that might include grandparents, parents, siblings.

"I lost my family to the genocide and for me April is a month I do not look forward to" said one survivor living in Canada. Richard Nsanzabaganwa, president of Humura, a self-help group for Rwandans explains: "Our mission is to ensure justice is done, preserve the memories and help all victims of the genocide. We want to fight those groups of people who try to deny the fact that it was genocide and bring up insulting comparatives."

The parliament of Canada passed a motion four years ago urging all Canadian institutions to observe April 7 as a significant date, one that commemorates the Rwanda genocide. "Getting institutions involved is not to please the survivors" said Mr. Nsanzabaganwa, "but to ensure this crime never happens again."

Commemorative ceremonies have been planned; masses, silent marches, flowers to be thrown into the Ottawa River to remember those who were thrown into the Nyabarongo River. All gestures of remembrance, regret, humility and self-awareness.

"We try to heal people and this usually happens when a person speaks out. Some of them have never talked about what they saw and what happened to them and we give them the opportunity to do that. However, sometimes we are satisfied with pure silence because it tells much and in a way we feel like we are in this together", Mr. Nsanzabaganwa explained.

One survivor who attends the Humura meetings explains their purpose to himself; that through them he finally understood he was not grieving in isolation, that what occurred to him happened also to a great many others. "Some people have very sad stories, a lot worse than mine, and yet they have moved on to become great people. I am inspired by them and this is what has pushed me to become what I am today."

The enmity between Hutu and Tutsi is over in Rwanda, as the country struggles to convince the population, members of each tribe, that they are cousins to one another, not enemies, and must learn to get along with one another, to appreciate what they have in common, and leave behind the perceived differences.

Tribal animosities, however, are difficult to eradicate. Tribalism equates with exclusion, separation, suspicion, distrust, blame and hatred. In Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Hutu leaders of the genocide who escaped Rwanda and justice, seek out the Tutsi populations living there, with a view to continuing their work of extermination.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Self-Preservation Abandoned

Perhaps it's not promiscuity, but it certainly may indicate a lack of awareness, and a distinct lack of a sense of self-preservation in these times when unselectivity in a sex partner may very well spell a lifetime of chronic illness, and in a worst-case scenario, death.

Sexually transmitted diseases span the spectrum from extremely serious leading to death, to life-debilitating, leading to a protocol of medical intervention and routine medication to forestall the condition becoming life-threatening, and just plain inconvenient, nuisance-variety conditions; treatable but nasty.

Most people are gregarious in nature, and trusting as well. Besides which, it can be embarrassing to some people to insist that they require background information before engaging in sex; it takes the spontaneity and therefore, much of the pleasure, out of sexual engagements.

On the other hand, one risks much in engaging in sex without full disclosure. Then there's the very real possibility that one of the partners of a prospective and generally brief union, whether male or female, may not be willing to divulge their medical condition.

And under earlier circumstances that might have been all right, since as in all other matters, those of the heart - or flaring passions - it is really up to both partners, consenting to temporarily join flesh in the most primitive of all animal rituals, to take personal responsibility.

It's just latterly that the long arm of the law has entrenched a safety mechanism for the unwary, insisting that it is the responsibility of the individual with HIV/AIDS to inform a partner before engaging in sex.

A Hamilton, Ontario jury deliberated over a three-day period to finally reach consensus in accepting the prosecution's argument that an HIV-infected person who has unprotected sex with someone unaware of his medical condition has as surely condemned that person to death as though he had injected a "slow acting poison". Accepted too the prosecution's assertion that Mr. Aziga had demonstrated "total disregard" for the health and safety of his sex partners.

None of whom had been aware that he was HIV-positive, for he deliberately withheld that vital information from them. Johnson Aziga has been convicted, found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, ten counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of attempted aggravated sexual assault. He has distinguished himself mightily, presenting as the first person in Canada to be convicted of murder for deliberately, fatally infecting a sexual partner.

Formerly a research analyst with the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney-General, he cannot have been without social intelligence, although clearly a social conscience was quite absent from his character. He deliberately, as a result of failing to alert the eleven women with whom he had sex, exposed these women to a deadly infection. Causing the death of two of his former co-workers; one of whom died in 2003, the other in 2004.

HIV advocacy groups are aghast at this delivery of justice, claiming that a precedent has been set whereby those afflicted with HIV/AIDS will somehow suffer, become unwilling to seek help. Perhaps their concerns are misplaced. There are psychopaths in all avenues of society; this one just happened to be HIV-infected. His criminal misadventure needn't be diagnosed as one that impacts on all HIV-AIDS sufferers, unless they believe also that this kind of disregard for the safety of others is universal among HIV-AIDS-infected.

Which is hardly likely. The cavilling expressed by a representative with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, that "We need to figure out why these charges have escalated from criminal negligence to assault to aggravated sexual assault and now murder without there ever having been an informed public debate" only serves the self-interested, and seems to trivialize the horrendous potential residing in an HIV-infected person freely spreading his malignancy.

Alison Symington, representing the HIV/AIDS Legal Network asks rhetorically, "Do we as a society think not telling someone you're living with a sexually transmitted infection is the equivalent of murder?" Well, the answer is a clear and resounding "yes". The Supreme Court brought down a 1998 ruling that a defendant may be convicted of aggravated sexual assault if the accused knew they were HIV-positive, did not inform a partner and proceeded with unprotected sex.

There's that issue, and then there's another issue of the responsibility of the victim in all of this. This cannot have been a very kind and gracious personality, one would imagine; rather an exemplar of selfish, egotistical self-empowerment. What on earth might have appealed to these poor women about this man? Two of whom died, seven who now test positive for HIV; four escaping infection.

His lawyers describe him as a heavy drinker with a brain disorder, post-traumatic stress, and lacking the "mental wherewithal" to realize the affliction he might be exposing innocent people to. If that description is only partially correct, where was the discernment, the evaluation of character evidenced by these women, before exposing themselves to intimacies that might have viciously cruel repercussions on their well-being?

Finally, there is this unambiguous statement of responsibility from the Supreme Court of Canada: "The failure to disclose HIV-positive status can lead to a devastating illness with fatal consequences. In those circumstances there exists a positive duty to disclose". In the Criminal Code aggravated sexual assault is raised to murder if a death results by the commission of the offence.

Small comfort to the dead women, to the HIV-infected partners of this conscienceless predator.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Following Conscience

The need for people to follow the dictates of their moral consciousness is a powerful drive, and one not to be disregarded easily. Society does need to recognize that people of conscience for whom some societal acceptances of previously-unimaginable social practises represents personal distress, should be permitted to opt out. To do otherwise represents an assault on their perceptions of what should be permissible in civilized society.

And, in a decent and just society, those people whose religion or whose personal ethics exert a powerful pull on their conscience to reject abortion rights or same-gender marriages, should still receive respect for following their conscience. Not everyone in any society could possibly agree that certain freedoms make good social and moral sense.

Some practises grate against the grain of tradition and religion. Extending a social courtesy to members of society who previously suffered misery through traditional social strictures and outright abuse, need not cost those who disagree their conscience. Affording safe and legal abortions to women who require them is a matter of fairness in offering women the choice, should they wish to use it.

Accepting the concept of same-sex marriage between two males or two females rather than confining that ceremony and the legal entitlements that accompany it to the traditional 'one man, one woman' social contract becomes a matter, as some see it, of social justice, an egalitarian opening of tradition. It comes down to personal choices, the availability of options. Options seen as anathema to others.

Most people simply shrug things off in an effort to be tolerant in a pluralist society. To do so in the general social realm ensures that everyone's public rights are respected. The trouble lies in the insistence of the morally liberated that those who would prefer old prohibitions and social restraints to prevail, shed their conscientious objections for the greater good.

But it's not that easy, and it is not entirely just, either. People should be free to express their opinions in a free and open society, and they should be free to remove themselves from situations that compromise their beliefs and conscience. In Canada, the various instances where Human Rights Commissions have been called upon to rule on purported human rights offences when professionals refuse to give service rather than compromise their conscious moral objections oversteps a even hand.

In insisting on bringing justice to the plaintiffs, they impose injustice upon those whose rights are being infringed upon in naming them as social offenders, intolerant of human rights. There's no need to haul people onto the carpet of public humiliation and shame and burden them with censure because they stood their ground and refused to submit to unreasonable demands of people feeling themselves entitled.

A doctor who refuses to provide abortion services, a pharmacist who refuses to provide contraception devices, a cleric who refuses to perform a marriage ceremony for same-sex couples, and any other combination of service providers for whom the service requested runs strictly counter to their beliefs should be free to refuse involvement.

The simple fact is, if a caterer feels his or her religious beliefs are more important to them than the business they could profit from by providing catering services to celebrate the joyful occasion of a same-sex marriage, he should be free to do so. There are other caterers hose services can be had. The disgruntled couple who take sufficient umbrage to seek 'justice' are really looking for revenge.

In a tolerant society all views and consciences should be equally entitled. We've more than sufficient doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, caterers, to go around, most of whom are willing to provide services a minority of others will not. When, in seeking to advance society's re-adjusted sense of equality to all, some nay-sayers are victimized in the process, we're punishing people unjustly.

It is not fair, and it's absurd that the stretch toward tolerance toward all results in intolerance toward some.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Aye, Robot!

Yes there was Hal, and he kind of took over from the helpless humans dependent upon him, but he represents an anomaly; besides, he was not a robot, merely a cerebral computer. Computer scientists have now gone a few steps further. They've constructed a robot whose mechanical synapses match and best those of the finest human brains.

Weren't we once solemnly informed that computers, or robots, or robot-computers could never think, only regurgitate what they were inputted with?

Wrong, oh so wrong! Humans are nature-made, and we are fabulous constructions, to be sure, but humans have managed, through their inventive genius to fashion a robot, a robot-computer capable of cerebrally outmanoeuvring the brightly inventive thought processes of scientists themselves. Now that is difficult to believe, but it would appear to be the truth.

British researchers have published their experiences and have entertainingly informed the world at large that they've been successful in producing a machine - oh, all right - an intelligent robot that proved capable of reasoning, formulating independent theories and through that process discovering scientific knowledge that had previously eluded scientists for the past 40 years.

No kidding, this is no April Fool's twist. The robot's name? Adam. Cute, isn't it? Adam, it would appear, thought out where a specific gene within yeast might be found and then developed his own experiments to prove the theory. The gene in question reveals new facts about the genetic makeup of that most common of baker's secrets: baking yeast.

"On its own it can think of hypotheses and then do the experiments, and we've checked that it's got the results correct", according to Ross King, professor at Aberystwyth University in Wales, lead researcher on this project. The findings have been published in the respected journal Science. Along with another paper from Cornell University in New York.

Where Hod Lipson and Michael Schmidt developed a computer program able to work out fundamental physical laws behind a swinging double pendulum. The Cornell robot was able to decipher the laws of motion and other properties brought to us by Sir Isaac Newton. Input? Without any prior instruction in physics, the Cornell robot crunched numbers to arrive at the right answers.

What this robot effectively did was accelerate the rate - through carrying out repetitive tests that would drive a researcher crazy - at which scientific principles can be highlighted behind the data. The Aberystwyth scientists are planning another robot - name? Why, Eve. And don't you know it, she'll be brainier than Adam; and will be tasked with searching out new medicines.

Our Brave New World.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

"He Wants To Be Home"

The human psyche is a fragile, easily-tipped vessel of competing emotions and yearnings. As people mature they become socialized, more aware of themselves within a larger human community and they learn, to some degree, to exert control over those emotional needs. To harness them toward what is possible, and what is reasonable, with some measure of success. For a child balance is not so readily achievable, and they can present as seething firebrands of resentment.

Sometimes there's an outlet for that resentment, sometimes one doesn't present itself. When a parent is faced with a child whose trust and emotional support system has already been compromised through separation of father and mother and attempts to make amends to help his child adjust become paramount, he does not always - with competing interests for his attention - make wise decisions.

It is the parent's responsibility to make a reasonable effort to assess, analyze and conclude what might be the best course of action to help his child over jealousy, resentment and aggrieved aggression when he brings into the family home a replacement for the missing mother. That situation, needless to say, can likewise become a reality when it is the mother bringing home an alternate father-figure.

And the resentful child might as easily present as a young girl. Boys, however, are controversially more direct in their search for a solution in a physical manner, while girls tend to simmer and resent, whine and pout about things they can't change although this is not an immutable human rule. An eleven-year-old boy is a child, not yet an emerging adult, not quite yet struggling with hormonal adjustments.

And in a society where violence is readily seen on television screens and films, it may present to young children - as it most certainly does to older youths - as a solution to a problem that they've been beset with. Direct action inclusive of doing real physical harm to those whose presence is an abiding, insufferable insult to their emotional balance.

A boy living in a farm house in Wampum, Pennsylvania, Jordan Brown, was given a Christmas gift by his father, a youth-model 20-bore shotgun.

It's possible that in the U.S. a boy of eleven would be refused the purchase of such a device. In Canada many merchandisers advertise that they will not sell an air rifle to anyone under 18 years of age. Despite which, parents succumb to the pleadings of their young children and buy these things for them. And heaven help the wildlife, and in some instances, other children.

In Jordan Brown's case heaven welcomed his father's pregnant fiancee, and along with her the child she was carrying. Kenzie Houk, the young woman whom Jordan Brown shot in the head as she slept - first taking the precaution of covering the shotgun with a blanket to muffle sound as he shot her at close range - was, as well, the mother of two young girls who also lived at the farmhouse.

One of the dead woman's daughters, aged seven, asked her step-brother as they were both leaving to catch their school bus what the 'big boom' had been. He did not respond, and they both left for school. Once Ms. Houk's body was discovered, clear evidence led to her step-son, and he was taken into custody at a juvenile detection centre, attending school at classes there, now.

It transpired that some of Ms. Houk's relatives had overheard Jordan claim he wanted to "pop Kenzie in the head". In addition to which he had confided a plan to shoot his step-mother and her two children, to a cousin. It's clear that the boy's hostility to his step-mother and step-sisters was well know, but not, politely, overtly agonized over and acknowledged.

"He looked at [Ms.Houk] like she was a problem, like here is someone about to take my father away from me and have a baby boy", the dead woman's sister reported to authorities. "Life was all about him before." That being so, where was a measure of restraint, an effort to understand the situation and attempt to turn it around?

The result of the boy's aggrieved resentment to this challenger for his father's love and attention is a tragedy of loss, pain and grief that time cannot ameliorate. The boy initially denied any part in the death of his step-mother, and does not appear to fully understand proceedings in the charges against him. A judge has ruled that he not be tried as a minor.

If he is convicted as an adult he would face a mandatory life sentence. An 11-year-old boy living out his life in prison. That's medieval justice. The lawyer representing the boy explains: "He's OK. He wants to be with his dad. He wants to be home."

What do you do in this kind of bizarre case, to fulfill the obligations of legal justice, and in so doing create an intolerable human-rights-abuse against a minor?

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