Ruminations

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

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ontario Medical Care Incentives

Ontario has discovered another way to please physicians and to encourage them to practise their profession as one might feel they would or should in any event, be prepared to do. Although the province hasn't moved to increase the regular rates for specific medical procedures, it has embarked upon a plan that appears to have been tried elsewhere in the world in an effort to increase medical treatment effectiveness.

It's not only Ontario, but Nova Scotia, Manitoba and British Columbia which have all turned to incentive-payment schemes in the past several years, to mostly affect family practitioners. "Performance pay" has been introduced throughout the United States, with mixed results; a study undertaken by the Rand Corp. found the incentive scheme for California's doctors had not resulted in improvement in the quality of health care.

As well, the United Kingdom has also introduced this type of incentive program, and it would appear that the experience has proven a negative effect. "It has been a large expense and didn't lead to a lot of change", according to a Dalhousie University health economist, studying the concept. The bonuses can add up over time for doctors who sign on:
  • $40 for each diabetic patient managed according to care guidelines;
  • $2,000 for continuing education on adopting electronic health records.
  • 25% premium for treating patients evenings or week-ends;
  • $500 bonus per year for signing up 15 - 49 patients on provincial diabetes registry; additional $500 for 50 or more.
  • $350 for attaching a vulnerable/complex patient to practise;
  • $350 for taking on an unattached mother within two weeks of birth and caring for newborn;
  • $2,000 annually for making at least 24 house calls to six or more patients;
  • $5,000 annual bonus for delivering babies for five or more patients;
  • $2,000 bonus for providing palliative care to four or more patients;
  • $125 for each diabetes or congestive-heart-failure patient managed according to guidelines.
These incentives are peculiar to and vary with the provinces involved. Additional bonuses can be had for convincing patients to accept flu shots; for adopting more efficient treatment of high blood pressure, as well as simply accepting new patients without family doctors. These bonus payments top up regular specific-services fees.

And while there is mixed opinion elsewhere where the concept has been experimented with, doctors in some of the four provinces who have engaged with the concept claim the bonuses have already been seen to be effective. "This stuff works. What these incentives do is translate into better outcomes.

"You've got the funding to do the extra work ... to start chasing down the [patients] who don't come in", according to one Ontario doctor involved with the program. Doctors agree they are able to earn in the range of $4,000 to $8,000 on top of what they already receive for regular performance, by meeting these extra-quality goals.

There are still enough people around who can vividly recall doctors making house calls, knowing their patients sufficiently well to encourage them to accept beneficial treatments; doctors who went out of their way to be fully concerned about the welfare of their patients' health outcomes. They did this on this own, without any additional monetary incentives.

On the other hand, any new initiatives that could have the effect of keeping general practitioners on track as family doctors responsive to the needs of their patients, rather than signing up for turnstyle-type walk-in clinic physician care, or venturing off to become higher-paid specialists cannot do too much harm to an overstressed medical situation in Canada.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hope Deflated

But not aspirations. It was a truly amazing social and political phenomenon, to be caught up in the drama of a highly intelligent, resolute, self-confident bi-racial politician prevailing over the best attempts of his white, establishment challengers for the presidency of the United States actually winning that Golden Grail. He became the Great Black Hope.

He inspired his listeners - who swiftly became his dedicated supporters - with his vision of a new America, one that the vast social-conscienced public could reclaim for themselves, angered by the machinations of a Republican government whose chief executive hauled his country and that of its allies into a bloody war whose morality many questioned.

He told his supporters that their vision of America was his, and he was prepared to bring about the changes that they yearned for. He would restore the United States to its position of international respect, which experienced severe slippage in the past decade. He would be fair, he would be accountable, he would be their executive-advocate.

And he meant what he said, and those who heard him believed what he said. He was an accomplished orator and a passionate, albeit calm speaker whose self-confidence and quiet demeanor betrayed not one hint of hyperbole or of the charlatan. Barack Obama won the confidence and the hearts of Middle America.

Something inevitably happens on the way to the forum...it is pre-destined, it is part of human history, and cannot be forestalled.

Battling two foreign wars is immensely costly. Giving free rein to the nation's free-enterprise capitalist great financial houses to do the bidding of two presidents, concerned with inadequate home ownership for those who simply could not afford it created the whisper of an eventual nightmare.

President Barack Obama never did intend, despite his charismatic appeal, to appeal to people as a political mastermind, a necromancer capable of communing with unseen forces for societal good who would quickly and decisively heal the nation's ills ... from rising unemployment, to homelessness and hunger, and an exclusive medical-insurance establishment.

It soon became clear to his detractors that this rational man was not a great student of human nature, nor knowledgeable about the great divide between reasonable people and those tending toward psychopathy, so numerous within any society, and particularly weighty in the administrations of some nations and societies. Where he felt extending a hand of friendly co-operation would elicit the same, events proved otherwise.

And those who tended to weary of his ubiquitous speeches and declarations of intent which repeated again and again those erstwhile-magical words of comfort, began to notice and to complain of style lacking substance. Began to notice as well, how much of himself-as-unique was invested in his unique position.

Public perception of his capabilities, his direction, his lack of awareness, his propensity toward making decisions that benefited Industry, Corporate Business, Finance to the detriment of the little man, dipped his popularity levels to dismal depths. Very little seemed to quite pan out for his man with his indestructible sense of self-sufficiency.

He could, literally, take the Nobel Peace Prize to the bank, however. But this investment of the Nobel-awarding committee in his future prospects and the overarching achievements that would result from his perceived extraordinary exceptionality in understanding and grasping his role and acting decisively, seems, in the short run, elusive at best.

He spoke magisterially, tantalizingly challenging doubters: "I campaigned on the promise of change - change we can believe in - and right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change - or that I can deliver it. ...when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn't just do what was necessary. So, no, I will not give up on trying to change the tone of our politics.

"The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people. We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don't quit. I don't quit. Let's seize this moment - to start anew, to carry the dream forward,and to strengthen our union once more."

Successfully formulaic, silver-tongued promises for the future. And why not? What has he to lose? Much to gain, on the other hand.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

That Writing Life

Imagine, being a celebrated author, a genius of a writer whose creative prose and disaffection with life combined to produce a work of fiction that swept the imagination of a generation. And then another generation. And a generation after that.

J.D. Salinger was that person, and he has died, age 91. A rich life, and a long one, gifting the world of literature with some significant, yet paltry few pieces of literature exemplifying a time long past. But in human nature and society and peoples' place in society, and in the traditions of coming-of-age, there is no past but a reiteration into the present.

He was reported to have been a happy man, a man well satisfied with his lot in life, a man totally given over to the mind of a writer, one whose creative muse was a whimsical one for he pioneered his own writing style, and the bold new horizon he breached both amazed and stimulated others to adapt their writing style to his.

Is there a deeper form of gratifying compliment than that?

He lived to write, and write he did. But not that much for actual publication. He appears to have become well soured of that experience, and preferred to seclude himself, become a recluse, and still continued to write. But for himself, not for publication. He hoarded his treasure and kept it safe from public scrutiny.

But that treasure is said to be out there yet, in rural New Hampshire, where he lived his cloistered, satisfying life. And publishers and the reading public are salivating at the prospect of these novels, novellas, short stories being revealed and released for possible publication.

His will will be revealed in his will.

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Look - Up There!

So what is it? A missile, most have hazarded. There's a photograph an observer took, of an odd object streaking across the sky, seen from Harbour Mille, Newfoundland.

Newfoundland is a strange place, odd things happen there. The people are different, too. Certain of themselves, of who they are and what life's meaning is. But is there any meaning to an object that streaks across the sky, with a long line of flame behind it, that looks most definitely man-made?

Not an unidentified flying object, nothing from outer space, nothing that looks as though it could represent a natural phenomenon. This looks like something large, metallic, fired from somewhere, and making its way across Canada's sovereign territory.

Boredom loves mysteries. And this appears to be a genuine mystery.

This was thought at first - correction - these were thought at first to have been French-fired missiles. These, yes, that's right. Three such missiles were observed to have emanated from some source as yet unconfirmed

Thought perhaps to have been fired from the French islands of St.Pierre and Miquelon, 25 kilometres off the southern coast of Newfoundland.

The Newfoundlander Darlene Stewart, who observed these objects described three of them on the horizon; one that appeared to fly straight into the air, the others at odd angles.

Neither NORAD nor the United States claims to have been involved. The French military stated submarine-based missile testing was being conducted off the northwest coast of France, but the timing and days did not coincide.

"There's a credible body of evidence that suggests there's something spectacular happened off of our shore" said the MP representing the riding of Humber-St.Barbe-Baie Verte, darkly. "Before this goes any farther, I think the government needs to actually respond very quickly with a straightforward, factual statement."

And so they have: "Dunno."

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blocking The Sun

People living in northern latitudes are particularly susceptible to low levels of vitamin D in their bodies. Medical science has latterly advised that people should make an effort to increase their vitamin D intake. We have adequate opportunity during summer to expose our bare skin to the sun, which produces vitamin D, but the body does not manufacture it as it might other needed vitamins and minerals, through food uptake.

Without exposure to sun in the growing season it's obvious plant life languishes. Full sun during the summer, at least sufficient exposure to sun aids plants in their growing cycles, through photosynthesis, just as photosynthesis gives colour to fish in the oceans. All living, growing organisms are dependent on radiation from the sun to flourish, although too much exposure can also be harmful. Nature generally strikes a balance.

So what's this? A research paper out of the University of Calgary, by researcher David Keith, published in the science journal Nature suggests that blocking out some of the sun's rays may prove an efficient way of controlling Earth's temperature. As opposed to the current problems and solutions relating to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Is this wise? Don't we tamper with nature more than enough as it is? Haven't we, by our various machinations and intemperate manipulations of nature caused more than enough problems? Is it even feasible that radiation from the sun can be blocked on a scale sufficient to counteract greenhouse gas emissions?

Climate manipulation has gone on for quite a long time, since humankind introduced modern technology to enhance our way of enjoying our presence on this Globe. But manipulation on this kind of scale? Of course the manipulation has been unintended. We have altered our environment without meaning to.

The sun, after all, is our single more important attribute, benefiting life on Earth in ways we haven't entirely grasped. Life on Earth, in fact, would not exist without the sun.

But Mr. Keith speaks of the potential for reflecting solar radiation back into space by releasing megatonnes of light-scattering aerosol particles. Although there are other sun-reflecting techniques that will be explored. Bankrolled by the world's wealthiest man, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.

Geoengineering is a new science exploring possibilities never before imagined. Isn't that just like human beings? The hubris of whom cannot be overestimated. Greek legend had Icarus rebuked for Daedalus's ambition. Might we not be better off leaving such monumental aspirations on the drawing board?

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sheltering the Impressionable Young

Adults scarcely can imagine how readily children take up the challenge of learning new things. Their inevitable exposure to words, to situations, to things that go !ouch! in the night would astonish their parents if they only knew the degree to which their verboten-clever children have more than a simple impression of concepts their parents would never dream they know of.

The natural enough wish to shelter the innocence of their children from becoming besmirched with knowledge of the world as it is, is doomed to failure. But the sincere, and often misguided attempts by parents, politicians and educators to ensure that children are not "stimulated" by concepts surely beyond their understanding is invariably on the failing end of successful.

For one thing, when silence surrounds a topic of conversation innocently enough introduced at the family dinner table, the precocious child pricks up his consciousness of something odd, something denied, and that child is intrigued beyond belief. And becomes determined to somehow procure information that will clear up that little mystery.

Before heading off to the next challenge of discovery. Another book being banned. From a school library. In southwestern California.

This time a book that classifies, offers correct spelling of and explains the very meaning of words. Yes, a dictionary. "The idea that children can be protected from even things like a dictionary, just is - well, I can think of no better word than it makes me sad", offered the CEO of the Canadian Education Association.

The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, from its title obviously intended for use by a relatively mature audience has been removed - perhaps on a temporary basis, until the matter is finally sorted out - from grade 4 and 5 classrooms in Menifee, California, at Oak Meadows Elementary School.

"A growing concern among the parents" that their children were being exposed to words, concepts, acts that were recognized as not being "age appropriate" led to the dictionaries' removal. Parents did not feel comfortable with their nine- and ten-year-olds looking up, let's see, "oral sex"?

A committee comprised of principals, teachers and community members has been convened, and given thirty days to review the situation to reach a final determination whether they should be returned to the classrooms or permanently removed. The 'advanced' dictionaries were placed there to begin with to assist students in learning root languages for preparation for spelling bees.

The students will not be entirely bereft of dictionaries should the adult-types be removed permanently, for they will still have the benefit of elementary-level dictionaries. Containing fewer words, and cleansed of those their parents and educational guardians consider to be too provocative and "sexually related".

Little do they know. Forbid it and they will hasten to learn of it.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Storms



We woke to teeming rain yesterday morning. It had rained all night, beginning with freezing rain. Overnight the temperature steadily rose and the freezing rain turned to ordinary rain, and plenty of it. While still in bed we heard the peculiar sound of a toilet gurgling. Then rose to discover that on our street were two huge trucks. The municipality was obviously attempting to forestall the potential for sewer back-ups and was draining the sewers. When we checked our toilets we found them to have been drained of standing water.

The rain continued, heavily, until mid-afternoon, when it finally relented. At which point, since it was relatively mild and the footing fairly good, we took ourselves off to the ravine for our daily walk. The packed snow on the trails had succumbed somewhat to the pounding rain, but they were fairly intact; our boots sunk slightly into the softened snowpack. Before we got halfway down the first long hill reaching into the ravine we could hear the creek raging below.

The creek had assumed proportions seen only with spring thaw; it was wide, and deep, and muddy and smelled strongly of marsh gas. Our jaunt in the ravine yesterday was fairly unremarkable, but for the fact that, on approaching our egress point to our street, after the hour or so we were out, we happened to spot, sitting on a bare branch halfway up the length of a tall old poplar, a great barred owl.

Water was still falling from the overhead tree canopy. And it was clear that the owl was continuing to be drenched, likely from the water dripping now off the conifers surrounding the poplar. He looked huge and bedraggled-miserable, his large wings hanging in a downward position as though trying to get them to shed water faster. And then he ruffled himself vigorously and positioned himself alertly, as one might anticipate a raptor would.

In the late afternoon there was the usual telephone call from our granddaughter. For reasons of her own she calls regularly on arriving home after school, even though her mother is usually at home. We speak for various lengths of time discussing matters of interest to her. Yesterday she was, she said, sad and depressed, and we spoke at length about that. Her best girlfriend, whom she had known for years, was behaving, she said, awfully toward her.

Nothing all that new in that news; on occasion this occurs. Her girlfriend will speak rudely to her, tattle about her to mutual friends, treat her unkindly. And she is not inclined to return the favour. She takes exception when I suggest to her that a solution exists; behave to her friend precisely the way she does her, and the message will get across. The message, she informed me, was given directly and there was no interest on the part of the receiver.

When she telephoned today things were no better. But more of the story began to reveal itself. The girls are in grade 8, they are thirteen years old, they live semi-rurally, and enjoy a circle of friends at the school they attend. This particular girl was the first one to greet and be friendly with my granddaughter when she attended the school for the first time, and felt herself to be an outsider simply because she was meant to feel that way, by her reception.

We had another ravine walk this morning, of course. It was still relatively mild for late January, but then this is anticipated, our annual January thaw. The creek in the ravine was still running wild and high. Today we saw chickadees, crows, nuthatches, and woodpeckers through the length of our ravine walk. No owl anywhere in sight. We'd had a short spate of overnight snow; huge clumps of soft crystals that glued themselves to everything, looking magnificent.

I heard, today, more of the same. How awful her friend is behaving toward her, when all she wants is to be her friend, to enjoy being with her, to ... help her. Help her? She's cutting herself, I was told. Cutting herself? What on earth might that mean? You know! she responded angrily, you know what it means, she said. I did, but could not connect the dots. Why would she? I asked. Because she's crazy, responded my granddaughter.

Crazy! She's not, she's just socially awkward at times, I said. Well, there's something else... What? I asked. I don't want to tell you, she said. Well, you should, and I'd like you to, I told her. I certainly asked for it, but better to know, after all. She was raped, said my thirteen-year-old granddaughter. What! Her brother, my grandchild said. I can't believe it, this innocent grandmother said, lying through her teeth.

She had, after all, occasionally given way to wonder. Her friend's parents are ardent church-goers, confirmed in their fundamentalist faith. They had 'adopted' a troubled young man whom the church had itself brought into the tender fold of their concern. They had taken this young man into their home, to live alongside their natural children, two young men slightly younger than he, and the girl, a dozen years younger.

Is there a moral to this story? Heaven only knows. I know now that our granddaughter is growing up faster than I might have thought possible, but then what do I know, after all? She is aggrieved that her friend has placed a distance between them. I told her, she said to me, that she shouldn't feel guilty about it all, it wasn't her fault, after all, she was just a kid.

Just a kid that was repeatedly and regularly taken advantage of, her trust violated. Now in her teens she has a better sense of what occurred between herself and her 'brother', and she is deeply ashamed and doubtless dreadfully guilty, feeling worthless and soiled. She is undergoing psychiatric treatment, while still attending school. She finally spoke out, informed her mother. She spoke of it to her teacher. She told her classmates.

She has been living, my grandchild tells me, at the home of a friend of her mother's, on the week-ends. Her brother has been banished from the family home. Charges, she tells me, have been laid; he may go to prison. I am confused. She is not. She is calm, collected, and angry with her friend for not letting her lead her to a place of comfort.

We take comfort in our daily ravine walks. Take little comfort in our granddaughter learning what a mad world we inhabit. That would have been inevitable, in any event. We can only hope that she meets with enough sanity to balance the psychopathy with which we seem to be surrounded.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Canada-Iran Relations, Ugh

The insiders have the inside story. Not that there's all that often much to be gained by airing the inside story. And in the case of the three-decades-old escapade revolving around the Canadian-aided rescue of American diplomats from newly-revolutionary Iran, the story lives on. As though former Canadian Ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor hasn't dined out sufficiently on that brief moment with destiny...

Comes a newly-published revelation of that time in 1980 when a Canadian ambassador earned the love and adulation of the American public, revealing that that selfsame ambassador turned diplomacy into a risky, risque stab at intrigue, and intelligence-gathering on behalf of its North American neighbour. A tell-all book, Our Man in Tehran, by a former diplomatic colleague of Mr. Taylor is revelatory, and possibly troublesome.

It would appear that one of Canada's diplomats engaged in espionage. And while famously many countries do just that - political and commercial and military espionage when they can get away with it and not be detected - it is always officially and strenuously denied. For it is, after all, a forbidden activity according to diplomatic convention. Diplomats act in trust and extend trust, country-to-country.

That, at least, is the observable and officially-sanctioned international accord.
.1. The functions of a diplomatic mission consist inter alia in:
(a) representing the sending State in the receiving State;
(b) protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State
and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international
law;
(c) negotiating with the Government of the receiving State;
(d) ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the
receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the
sending State;
(e) promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the
receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and
scientific relations.

2. Nothing in the present Convention shall be construed as preventing the
performance of consular functions by a diplomatic mission.


Somehow, events conspired to overturn diplomatic niceties; for after all, wasn't the sparkling new Islamic Republic of Iran behaving in an extremely uncivil, undiplomatic manner in encouraging its students and its Republican Guard to behave in such an unseemly manner toward the official embassy of another country toward whose personnel and the status of its 'territory' Iran had an obligation of protection under the Geneva Convention?

In any event, what's that old saying? Two wrongs do not a right make? Piffle.

"I was ready to do what they asked", a much older and perhaps still less-wise Ken Taylor informed Canwest News Service. "I was working within the framework of my traditional Canadian diplomatic operations." Not so, says a professor at the Munk Centre of International Studies at the University of Toronto, a well-respected international affairs expert. Official diplomacy and espionage do not mix well.

"Embassy staff may find themselves in a situation like the Canadian Embassy in Moscow during the Cold War. Things are going to get a lot more complicated." Harassment, for example of Canadian officials within Iran. Now that's rich. Canada has been on Iran's case since Canadian-Iranian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi died in Iranian custody on July 11, 2003.

And has, ever since, publicly deplored that country's egregious human rights abuses. Famously bringing one annual condemnation of Iran after another to the General Assembly of the United Nations, and just managing, through strenuous lobbying, to get them passed. So the countries are at moral loggerheads, and there is no diplomatic respect lost between them.

With this added information to Iran's irate arsenal of charges against Canada, in response to Canada's against it, it's entirely likely that Canada's effectiveness within Iran is now placed in jeopardy. Freedom of information has no limits, but discretion occasionally indeed is the better part of valour.

Given, of course, certain untidy circumstances.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Role Reversal

What's happened to proud, populous, wealthy Ontario? The one-time engine of the Canadian economy is staggering under the weight of its massive deficit. Its unemployment rate is nothing to be proud of, in this recovering economy. Under its current Liberal government leadership the province has stumbled from one misfortune to another. Not attributable necessarily to the inadequate governance of Dalton McGuinty entirely, but sufficiently so.

The candidate who pledged no new taxes if he were to be elected premier, wasted no time in saddling Ontarians with a new tax they hardly believed they'd see re-visited, once the province had freed itself of health-care insurance premiums. We've been paying them again for years, without seeing one iota of improvement in our health-care delivery. But children barely removed from infancy will now attend junior and senior kindergartens full time.

We'll be feeling the pinch soon of the harmonized sales tax, a necessary evil, but necessary at this particular time in the economic situation? The province has so mismanaged its coffers that it is no position now either to relay to the municipalities badly needed funding to assist cities through the heavy lifting since Mike Harris' common-sense revolution left municipalities holding social services' bags the province once picked up.

And now, struggling provincial business entrepreneurs attempting to enter the alternate-energy market with their brilliantly devised, but lack-of-funding and -opportunity-impaired initiatives now stand the real danger of going under, instead of moving up. Their own government hesitates to invest in their home-grown green-energy initiatives.

Instead it's gone out of its way to invest taxpayer funding to invite foreign energy companies to move right in. The truly exciting $7-billion 'green energy' deal that Ontario has signed with Samsung and its partners to bring their business to Ontario at the mere cost of $303,000 for each of the 1,440 manufacturing jobs that will be brought to the province is Ontario's bid for congratulations.

Ontario's Green Energy Act, which pays out to producers of alternate energy sources like wind power four times the market rate and 15 times the rate for electricity through solar power delivery is an incentive to Ontario start-ups, if they could get the foothold they're looking for. But there's a problem in an availability shortage of transmission capacity.

So bringing Samsung into the picture as the officially sanctioned first-opportunity-user of existing wires, will effectively trample on the potential for Ontario's home-grown entrepreneurs. Aren't we clever? Where South Korea has hardened its market against competition by outsiders and build its industry into a world-class one with heft, we do the opposite.

There was a time not all that long ago when countries with the technological advances sent work over to less advantaged countries to produce parts. Ontario is now on the receiving end of what used to be the status of less developed economies, while South Korea stands loftily in the position of calling the control shots.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Unequal Psychoses

Twenty-four-year-old profoundly dysfunctional Trevor LaPierre has been sentenced to a life sentence that far more resembles what a sentence to life imprisonment might look like, than those dispensed as justice to members of the 'Toronto 18'. True, their foul plan to murder and maim as many innocent Canadians as their bomb plots could manage never reached fruition. Nor did their wish to destroy signal Canadian government infrastructure.

Not, however, due to lack of commitment and intent. But as the result of a bit of bad luck for them, and good fortune for Canada and its citizens. There but for the scrutiny and security practised by Canada's security agencies, and the good citizenship of a presumed fellow traveller who saw his duty foremost to the country that he felt indebted to, Canada would have been seized with a debilitating blow, and too many funerals to count.

One must not, of course, overlook the ameliorating, soothing emolument-effect of cold, hard cash. It does assist, sometimes immeasurably, in helping to focus the determination and obligations of anyone teetering on the brink of social stigma, political defence, religious disfavour, and economic uncertainty.

So much for the meting out of justice in response to a very real and very dangerous plot to warn the Government of Canada that some of its citizens have split loyalties and some of them are not averse to demonstrating the extremely explosive level of their consternation, commitment and conflicted ideals.

For Trevor LaPierre, who deliberately plotted with malice aforethought to seek out a helpless victim and destroy his life by sending a hunting knife into his helpless face with 46 stab wounds, there were no extenuating excuses for the manner in which his young life plummeted from rationality to murderous psychosis.

He was held to have been deliberately manipulative, scorning the intelligence of the court-appointed psychiatrists by presenting an exaggerated and feigned manner symptomatic of a depth of psychiatric illness reality denied. "The most consistent diagnosis is malingering", stated Judge Glithero. Who also admitted the undeniable fact that the young man is possessed of a warped mind.

A diseased mind that planned to murder, but planned also, even before committing that murder, to present as non-responsible due to mental incapacity. His distressed mother will attest to her son's mental incapacity. She remembers and mourns the loss of the son he was, and despairs hopelessly over the son he has become. Trevor LaPierre's planned act of murder was successfully carried out.

For that crime, he will be ineligibility to seek parole for the next seventeen years of his life. For the crime of apprehended mass murder, the Toronto 18 members, as a group of young men susceptible to the allure of violet jihad and determined to succeed in their planned atrocity, justice is far more lenient.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Canadian Immigration Responses, Haiti

Canada's opposition parties, because they are not the government and can therefore recommend anything that appeals to them at any given moment, and because they are not responsible, since they are not the sitting government, are pressing for the government to open its immigration to all Haitians with sponsors who wish to enter Canada and become landed immigrants. It's the compassionate thing to do.

For Haitians today, for any other national group tomorrow which suffers tragically from war or natural disasters; the list is potentially endless. One can conceive of some difficulties resulting from such a wholesale welcome to the indigent deprived and humanitarially assaulted. Someone will inherit it, no doubt about that. Actually, the entire country will, and the immigrants' struggle will become the country's struggle in ways none might have imagined.

Straining resources and capabilities and setting the country back on its economic and social heels for some time to come. Wait; forever, if this becomes standard policy. In a spirit of humanitarian compassion welcome all and sundry. Forget about security checks, health problems, ability to integrate into Canadian society and public treasury affordability in terms of settlement, training, financial support, strains on social welfare.

Oops, it's a no-go? Apparently. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, as reasonable and capable a minister in that particular portfolio as Canada has ever had, has characterized the opposition parties and their demands as "totally irresponsible". Take that. He will not consider sponsorship eligibility to be extended to aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews and cousins of Canadian Haitians.

On the grounds that to do such a thing would represent an unprecedented occurrence, and be patently unfair to other countries. Mind, the government has accelerated procedures for completion of adoptions of 150 Haitian orphans and they will be airlifted to their Canadian adoptive parents as speedily as possible; a week perhaps.

As it is, new fast-tracking will permit roughly five thousand Haitians to arrive in Canada under family sponsorships, representing those who are "directly and significantly affected by the earthquake in Haiti". Those eligible are spouses, dependent or adoptive children, parents, grandparents and orphaned children under 18 who are siblings, nieces, nephews or grandchildren of a sponsor.

Generous. To a fault.

Canada has many obligations, as do many other developed countries which have pledged assistance to Haiti. Chief among them in the short term is to aid and assist as many of those afflicted by the catastrophic earthquake as humanly possible. Following that, long-term commitments to guide the Haitian government and its people toward sustainable, long-term advance as a stable country must be addressed.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

PRISM Magazine

There's a highly respected literary magazine published out of University of British Columbia. It's been publishing for fifty years. Makes for good reading. Creative writing, poetry, literary criticism. A perfect venue for aspiring and arrived, accomplished Canadian writers. It has earned its place on the Canadian literary scene, as a premier publication of its time and genre. Its name is Prism International. Read it if you get a chance.

Must be something about the word prism:
Main Entry: prism
Pronunciation: \ˈpri-zəm\
Function: noun
Etymology: Late Latin prismat-, prisma, from Greek, literally, anything sawn, from priein to saw
Date: 1570

1 : a polyhedron with two polygonal faces lying in parallel planes and with the other faces parallelograms
2 a : a transparent body that is bounded in part by two nonparallel plane faces and is used to refract or disperse a beam of light b : a prism-shaped decorative glass luster
3 : a crystal form whose faces are parallel to one axis; especially : one whose faces are parallel to the vertical axis
4 : a medium that distorts, slants, or colors whatever is viewed through it

There, then, we are advised of what it means, what constitutes the properties of a prism. It can also be taken to be a kind of visual jewel. Certainly, the Aga Khan Development Network's new building on Sussex Drive in Ottawa is a jewel of architecture, with its sparkling prism of a glass dome, catching the light from the sky and its surroundings.


Now another kind of prism has entered the lexicon of our vocabulary, an on-line magazine dedicated to "in-depth coverage of national security issues", titled PRISM Magazine. Its publisher latterly completed a PhD in wireless communications at University of Ottawa, felt it would be timely to produce a magazine dedicated to "security practises" monitoring.

This not-for-profit online journal appears set to take a deep, dark look at government agencies tasked with monitoring the security of the country and its citizens.

"I've been thinking about starting a magazine for a year or two. ... I think (national security issues need a little more in-depth coverage and analyses ... how it affects our rights and civil liberties", explained its publisher, none other than !surprise! Maher Arar. He chose this very particular nomenclature because it "is something that takes one type of light and defuses into many lights, emphasizing the analyses. Prism means transparency, too. That's the kind of impression we want to portray."

Doubtless. Mr. Arar's misfortune in being erroneously ear-marked as a possible terror suspect led to his incarceration and torture in the land of his birth, Syria. He travelled on a Canadian/Syrian passport. And he had been airlifted directly to Syria by United States intelligence agents when he had stopped over in New York on his way home to Canada from visiting with his wife's family in Tunisia.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, along with former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli both apologized to Mr. Arar for Canada's unfortunate part in his dreadful ordeal. And handed over to him a federal legal settlement for wrongful compromise of the integrity of his freedom in the sum of $10.5-million, representing the largest compensation package in Canadian history, to an individual.

This country has gone out of its way to apologize and to attempt to remedy an unfortunate situation - understandable completely in its execution given the historical context of the times. That Mr. Arar, grateful for his Canadian citizenship, happy enough to be shed of his birth country's brutish regime, harbours his own very special (and understandable) grievances resulting in this recent initiative does not auger well for his relationship with the country.

He is free to do as he wishes, in this liberal, democratic country whose laws have, in the final analysis seen justice done. He is battling his inner demons, doubtless, taking up a special cudgel in the belief that, though exonerated, Canada's security agencies owe him much, much more. In the process he may do harm to this country's capabilities to defend itself.

Not recommended.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pleasing Satan

There are social deviants, the psychopaths living within society, and the mentally health-afflicted who circulate and form part of the population of any country. All of whom while representing a relatively small proportion of any given society, present as a distinct problem to those larger members of a society who live normal, law-abiding lives. And since virtually anyone could be in any of those disturbed and disturbing categories at various levels of dysfunction, we hardly know how to defend ourselves against their predations upon us.

And it's just as well that within general society we don't become fixated on that problem. Very few people bother giving a second thought to the fact that society generally is afflicted with those unwilling or incapable of living alongside one another without impinging on the human rights of the majority. We are aware that there is a fringe group of people who present as the homeless among us. Many of these people are in the dreadful category of the truly unfortunate; there because of mental illness or they are alcohol- or drug-afflicted.

They are a nuisance to general society, but also a symptom of our unwillingness to treat their problems as our problems. For a society that overlooks the needs of those whose own abilities to cope with life has eluded them, also eludes a collective, enlightened responsibility. But it isn't always easy to deal with peoples' mental-health needs. They must themselves be willing to be open to treatment. And treatment is not always successful in stilling the demons that haunt the mentally ill.

A sad example is that of a young man, Trevor Lapierre, who stabbed a 74-year-old grandfather to death, delivering 45 stabs to the elderly man who was delivering Christmas cards in his Kitchener, Ontario neighbourhood. The now-24-year-old stands accused of second-degree murder carrying an automatic life sentence. He had informed police that he had walked around the neighbourhood looking for a victim, to "please Satan."

He had also assaulted another neighbourhood man who was shovelling snow in his driveway, two days later. He pleaded guilty to both incidents, and his lawyer described him as an intelligent, troubled man whose history of mental illness had not been properly diagnosed. The elderly man whom he had stabbed in the face, arms and hands on December 15, 2007, had been preparing to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary with his wife.

Beverly Brown and Hunter Brown had been married since shortly after they met at church when she was 19. They had purchased travel tickets to Jamaica to include their entire family as an anniversary celebration. Mrs. Brown cannot bear to expunge her husband's voice on their answering machine, nor to sleep in the bed they shared, nor to remove his clothing still hanging in their bedroom closet.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter Cherry Blossoms

That's what they were wryly called, in Japan. They were so common, winter house fires. Hardly surprising in a country whose housing was so fragile, wood and rice-paper. Which went up so often into glorious winter-time blazes. The Japanese celebrate nature, and they're inordinately fond of anything natural.

What could be more natural than fire, one of the elements of this Earth and our habitation as well. In the spring much ceremony of welcome and delight is expended on the appearance of cherry blossoms. Real cherry blossoms, not winter-time fires. When families spread blankets out under cherry trees in blossom, and enjoy picnics.

Still, it's surprising, in a country like Canada, to note the prevalence of fires during the winter months. Heating season, for one thing. But more than that, too, since people tend sometimes to be lax when it comes to their own safety and that of others around them. Forgetfulness leaves cooking pots on stoves over high lights. Cooking with oil, and overlooking the need to carefully monitor it, particularly over high heat. Fire occurs.

As it does when people smoke incessantly, forgetting to take precautions with cigarette butts. As, for example, someone nodding off to sleep, cigarette in hand, while in bed, or dozing on a sofa, and then all hell breaks out. One supposes it's a wonder that more fires don't occur, to wreak true upheaval in peoples' lives. At least we're forewarned, with working fire alarms. To make good our exists.

And so often these fires take place in multiple dwellings, resulting sometimes in one or two apartments being burned out. The residents suddenly made homeless. And on a recent occasion in downtown Ottawa, in the Glebe area, an 18-apartment building was entirely devastated, and all those families bereft of their home.

Why, one must wonder also, do people neglect the necessity of taking out household insurance, for many of those affected did not have insurance. One of the residents, a young woman who had lived in her apartment for four years, mentioned a recent spate of false alarms. Which may explain why many residents drifted back to their apartments after having been roused by the alert building caretaker.

She also spoke of the irony of having just taken a shower, and settled down in front of the television set, viewing scenes from the devastating earthquake that had shattered Haiti. Feeling immensely sympathetic for the plight of the Haitians, the survivors, their anguish, the wounded, and the vast numbers of homeless people. "...and then I heard the alarm", she said. Doing her part to rouse her neighbours, particularly those who had returned.

The bad news is that so many families face the plight of homelessness during the winter, temporary though it may be. The trauma of losing all one's possessions can be dreadful. For the young woman who hadn't had time to think, and react, the thought of her three cats left on their own in her apartment. The good news is there were no other casualties.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Saturday Drive







Pleasant, on an unusually mild winter day, to divert from the usual. Of necessity, regardless. We took pleasure in driving uptown on Saturday because we needed some items procurable only in specific places. Stained glass and lead which are available only in those few shops in the uptown area that sell them. And the latest issue of a favourite art magazine whose last several issues have been missed.

So after our usual Saturday-morning rituals, and following our morning ravine walk with our two little dogs, littering peanuts in all the usual cache-places for the woodland's squirrel population, all patiently awaiting us this benign weather-day, off we embarked for an uptown drive. No more pleasant drive actually than one along the Ottawa River parkway.

Where all manner of conifers and deciduous trees grow in the parkland alongside both the river and the parkway, and where, occasionally, we can see deer or red foxes heading into the heavily wooded areas. Where people are wont to picnic or bicycle, or run or sunbathe in the summer months, and ski and walk their dogs in the winter.

We pass the RCMP stables and there is one lone black horse out in the pasture, all others padlocked. We pass the odd new building warehousing Canada's aeronautical museum displays, the winged-white colour of the structure melding with the pewter sky and the surrounding snowfields.

Accessing uptown, we drive along Sussex Drive, passing the Peace Memorial, the Royal Mint, the Agha Khan's sparkling new crystal-domed architectural bow to Islamic history. We are both amused and amazed to see the numbers of tourists circling around the Eternal Flame in front of the Parliament Buildings and heading off to various other sites.

The broad and mighty Ottawa River is ice- and snow-covered for much of its length and width, and there are ice huts sitting on it at various locations. And when we pass the Chaudiere Falls the river is wide open, roiling, blue-black and thunderous. Beside the river, alongside its banks, there are ribbons of parkland, and lovely old trees.

We pass the new War Museum at LeBreton Flats, and before too much longer, arrive at our destination. A pleasant diversion, this occasional drive, but particularly so in winter with its monochromatic scenery off the river, and its lively presence through downtown Ottawa.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haitian Anguish - and Impending Danger

Every society has them, the ravaging scum who emerge from the dusk of cities' dank alleyways to advantage themselves whenever law and order have been dimmed by some catastrophic occurrence. Haiti, a poverty-stricken country, the most indigently-sunk of the Western Hemisphere, has more than its share of thugs. Seems a tradition in that misbegotten place where even its government has been comprised of self-availing thugs.

Some countries just seem to have no luck, none whatever. Haiti's colonial past was a miserable one, of African-voyaged slaves settled on Hispaniola to serve their French masters. Much as Haitians wanted their independence, hoping for an upturn in their fortunes and the human need to live as free people, their aspirations continued to be foiled by one corrupt government after another, conspiring to deliver to exterior interests its valuable natural resources.

Now this piteously sad country delivered yet another devastating blow by yet another debilitating natural phenomenon is attempting to gather its human resources to find its way out of the latest torment. Its almost-absent government states through its Interior Minister that 50,000 bodies have been collected and 40,000 buried in a mass grave. And it is expected that a total between 100,00o to 200,000 will eventually be numbered among the dead.

If this is indeed so, it will represent one of the deadliest earthquakes ever recorded globally in the wake of 7.0 magnitude quake that demolished the capital city, Port-au-Prince. In the near-total absence of government action doing what it normally should to ameliorate the dread conditions the people find themselves in, along with the absence of police, gangs of robbers wielding machetes have emerged to prey on others.

They seek out destroyed homes and shops to gather anything at all, clothing, toys lost in the rubble. They enter makeshift camps arrayed along sidewalks and streets hosting the survivors and threaten people, extorting whatever paltry sums of money they may have, or any commodities they can extract from already-traumatized Haitians. Police are elsewhere engaged, perhaps it has been said, digging out their own loved ones.

Because the vast mass of the affected population, days after the earthquake, have not been given humanitarian aid; medical treatment, food, potable water, shelter, the mood of the survivors has the potential to turn desperate and ugly, resulting in angry demonstrations of futile rage. Aid has been slow in presenting itself; despite the efforts of the international community, life-saving equipment and emergency supplies have not been distributed.

"Men suddenly appeared with machetes to steal money", a young woman working in a beauty parlour not far from the ruined city centre, explained. Radio Metropole has tried to energize people to present a united front in their own defence against the marauders: "Organize neighbourhood committees to avoid chaos! To prevent people looting shops and houses."

Concern is growing that desperation is turning to violence. And then a duel pestilence will present its opportunistic Janus face; on one side heartless looters, preying on the helpless, on the other an epidemic of disease, as peoples' injuries are not treated, and unburied cadavers rot, spreading another kind of corruption.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Haitian Notes

Haitians living elsewhere than in their country of birth gather in worried numbers, hoping to hear from kith and kin, hoping that their family members will have been spared. Depends, one imagines, on where they live. Since it's mostly the capital, Port-au-Prince that was cataclysmically struck, not the countryside outside the capital.

In yesterday's paper, a photograph of young men gathered for comfort at a local hair salon, anxious to hear something positive. One of the men complained, said the Government of Canada, instead of going off on a responsive tangent by sending off the emergency-trained and -equipped DART team to help rescue desperate survivors from the ruins of public and private buildings in the capital, they should first have consulted with them, the Haitian community in Ottawa. They were young, and strong, and motivated, they should be sent over there by Ottawa, to help their countrymen.

Seems those who have the governmental initiative, the professional skills and the official wherewithal to assist are never quite given credit for what they are capable of accomplishing. In Haiti itself, the government and the police appear to be mostly absent. While international humanitarian and emergency groups, both governmental and NGOs are desperately attempting to reach the city there little evidence of Haitian government agencies at work.

Even a corrupt government, one more concerned with its own entitlements than its peoples' existence, is expected to do something practical to assist its people in torment of survival. One would think. And how about neighbours, even poor ones like the Dominican Republic, like Cuba, with all its well trained doctors? What about closer neighbours, say for example, Haitians themselves, not affected by the earthquake?

Oddly, eerily, in the countryside, as described by Peter Goodspeed from Port-au-Prince, life goes on as though nothing untoward had occurred. He describes aid workers, journalists, ambulance crews attempting to cross into Haiti from the Dominican Republic - routed there because Haiti's airport and its control tower cannot handle the traffic - are up against cab drivers trying to charge $400 for the 45-minute drive from the border to the capital.

Clearing Haitian immigration, a guard insists on knowing what hotel those seeking to pass through will be staying at. All the hotels in the devastated capital have been destroyed. This reporter describes the outskirts of the city as appearing normal despite a cloud of grey dust, with crowds of people thronging the streets, vendors selling noodles, shoes, plastic packages of water from makeshift stalls. Traffic snarls and drivers are irritated.

The God's Love Beauty Studio, he writes, is still functioning; its owner and a customer "casually watching the funeral process" that embarked from a severely damaged house, after having collected a casket. Those within the city under severe duress, snarl they would prefer to see more doctors, fewer journalists from the international community. In fact, there appear to be more reporters circulating than rescue crews.

Everything is chaotic. Bodies are piled everywhere, and angry Haitians, frantic with grief and angry beyond normal comprehension have piled up cadavers to form a barricade across major roadways as an expression of their rage and contempt. There are claims that foreign rescue crews are focused on rescuing foreigners primarily. News filters directly to the outside world and newspapers devote pages upon pages of reportage, of photographs of the grim disaster.

Shocked individuals are quick to donate to any number of charitable groups, advertising, cajoling, anxious to collect funding to enable them to mount their rescue operations. Governments pledge substantial sums for infrastructure reconstruction, and ship huge containers of water and food and tents and medical supplies. Once arrived, they cannot be unloaded, there are no available mechanisms for unloading and safe storage. Looting is a problem.

Haitians, two days after that devastating movement of the earth underneath them, are still using bare hands and crude implements in desperate attempts to save those whose weakening voices may soon be stilled. The potential for the scourge of dread diseases that so often follow these disasters looms large. And children, comprising a huge number of the city's population are the most vulnerable.

It is to weep, and to wail, and to wring helpless hands. Hoping to rescue people who inhabit hell from yet another hell.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Discharge Him

Boot him out, remove him from public duty, for he no longer presents as a reliable, honourable officer of the law whose integrity and personal dedication to an onerous and necessary profession he has defiled. Chief Vern White is quite correct in his analysis of the fitness of Constable Jeffrey Gulick to return to duty as an Ottawa police officer.

His behaviour stands as a disgrace to the force he represented, and he presents as a potential danger to the public.

The fellow police officers who arrived at his home in response to an emergency call recognized the psychotic state this man was in. How to ignore it? They were, after all, skilled professionals, assigned to the very special unit that Constable Gulick himself was assigned to, the spousal assault response team. A highly stressful occupation to be certain. Little did they imagine that they would confront one of their own.

In his own home, an obviously demoralized, out-of-control man who turned to the abuse of drugs and alcohol to stem the tide of his own incapacity to serve, succumbing to stresses he was incapable of adequately dealing with, was on a path of violent destruction, when he was apprehended. The violence of his response to the arrival of fellow officers took them aback.

Constable Gulick turned his rage on those officers, he assaulted them, attempted to take into his possession the firearm of one of the officers, was stunned by a Taser in an attempt to take control of the situation by the officers. He was arrested, but managed to escape, before his final capture and incarceration.

Stunningly, despite this incredible behaviour, other officers on the Force stand with Constable Gulick, defending him.

And while they defend this disgrace to their uniform and pledged purpose to protect and defend, they have singled out the arresting officers as traitors, shunning and isolating them. One of whom is now on a prolonged sick leave as a result of the violent encounter, another despondent over her isolated status.

Constable Gulick is now on trial, facing a charge of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act for his violent assault of brother officers. A court order had mandated that this man see his wife only during supervised visits, once he was released from custody. He underwent drug addiction counselling and completed treatment.

Ottawa Police Chief Vern White, after his own testimony, gave his opinion outside the courtroom that this man must be held accountable for the dreadful choices he made. "...he chose to drink, he chose to assault officers, he chose to try to rip the gun out of the holster." He would not, he said, permit a police officer convicted of assaulting four colleagues to carry a gun even if he is reinstated.

Chief White's opinion is that Constable Gulick has no further "usefulness to the police service", and it was his further opinion that the public would be outraged if this man were permitted to carry a gun. Needless to say, Chief White faces opposition from the Ottawa Police Association, the police union.

The public stands staunchly in favour of Chief White's position. We do not need such an individual on the Force, ostensibly 'protecting' us from people just like himself. He must seek another profession.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bomb Shelter Capital of the World

Too bad about people whose daily lives are stressed through the constant anticipation that they will involuntarily host another one, two or three deadly rockets - lethal, should they reach their target, as has happened - lobbed over the border by their inconsiderate neighbours.

It was just such constant bombardments, numbering close to a thousand over the space of years counted by the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlements from Gaza, that resulted in the IDF's reactive assault on Gaza against Hamas terrorists in 2008. World public opinion succeeded in startling the Government of Israel out of its intention to uproot Hamas terrorists along with others like the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade well before the job was completed.

The horrified denunciations of the Israeli intention to make the geography safe for its population certainly saved the day for militant Hamas, and ensured that it felt gratified by the support it received through concern for civilian Palestinians by the world at large. Israel's response to the constant bombardments was slammed as being 'disproportionate' in nature.

While Hamas's standard techniques of sheltering militants behind civilians was simply seen as, well, meeting expectations.

Back to square one. Residents of the small city of Sderot existing one kilometre from the northeastern tip of Gaza found relief from constant bombardment brief and rather unsatisfactory. Given that a year after Israel's three-week-long military intervention, Sderot along with other Israeli communities in the Negev Desert are once again being targeted.

A sum total of three hundred rockets were propelled in or near Sderot since the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza offensive. And while this is still, relatively speaking, modest compared to previous years' rocket launches, these near-daily attacks continue to traumatize the vulnerable people living there. Where is world opinion on this little subject of deadly intimidation?

The greater majority of the town's four thousand school children suffer from post-traumatic stress. "You have two- or three- or five-year-olds who are being brought up with tranquilizers as part of their daily diets", said Noam Bedein, director of the Sderot Media Centre. Residents of those Israeli border communities have a scant 15 seconds to respond to sirens warning of impending attacks.

"We are the bomb-shelter capital of the world", said Mr. Bedein. "It is so fragile. It's just a matter of time before this entire region is under rocket fire", he said. "You know the first lesson of criminology is silence. Everyone knows when there is silence the other side is getting prepared, getting ready for the next escalation."

Hello, out there. Anyone listening?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Holy Cow!

At the very least it's the wholesome liquid product that we depend upon from cows to feed our young that should be holy, in the sense that its constituents are completely reliable. Yet during an inspection of baby formula to determine whether claims used in advertisements and labels violated nutrient content claims of diet-related health claims in Canada's food and drug regulations, problems were noted.

The inspections represented a joint venture of Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in response to a year's-worth of complains about advertising and labelling of infant formula in a industry-wide gambit to win the loyalty of new parents. New parents anxious to obtain the very best nutritive advantages for their children. Who succumb to the blandishments of manufacturers, believing what they read to be true.

Internal records of CFIA documents found inspectors to have focused on the largest industry groups in the business: Nestle Canada Inc., Mead Johnson Nutritionals Inc. and Abbott Laboratories Ltd. This close scrutiny of infant-formula manufacturers took place with the realization that there exists "a current high level of non-compliance within the industry".

And since we're discussing infant formula and the gullibility of their parents in believing industry claims, this is pretty serious stuff. "Prosecution is a very likely option", was the written opinion of the project manager of the joint CFIA and Health Canada inspections after their infant formula marketing scrutiny was concluded.

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Auto-Igloos

First time I've ever heard of them, those mobile igloos, though I've seen them often enough. You know what it's like; driving along a winter roadway when suddenly a hard snow pancake hits your windshield and glances off. You look around and notice that there's a vehicle in front of you utterly snow-covered, only a portion of its windshield scraped clean of snow. And you wonder about people. It's not just personal vehicles, but trucks as well.

If it isn't downright illegal, it's utterly stupid. That anyone would be so careless as to embark on a trip without taking steps to ensure that the vehicle he's about to drive has been cleared of snow; all the windows, the roof of the vehicle, the trunk and the hood. When there's a layer of ice, covered with snow, or vice-versa, it's even worse. Wind and motion will inevitably dislodge those layers and send them flying.

Oddly enough, when it comes to this kind of neglect of road responsibility, it seems that men are the major culprits, not women. What that tells us isn't clear, but what is abundantly clear is that people are a) in too much of a hurry, b) too damn lazy. The impact of a flying snow-and-ice pancake can be considerable, depending on the size of the combination. The deleterious effect of such a flying object hitting a windshield can cause, at the very least, a brief interruption in driver attention.

In the worse-case scenario, and it's been adequately documented, such a flying object can be lethal, smashing through a car windshield, causing accidents. A quoted example was that of an Illinois man who required reconstructive surgery to his face as a result of one flying snow projectile smashing through his windshield. The Canadian Automobile Association, co-operating with Transport Canada, pinpoints a lack of attention clearing snow and ice off cars before embarking on a trip as one of winter driving's most pervasive problems.

"Men appear to be worse offenders than women, and are a staggering 129% more likely ... to have had a near-miss on the roads in the winter because they set off before clearing their windscreen properly", according to Tim Bailey, head of safety at Continental Tires. And one unfortunate individual who had the misfortune of having his windshield struck by a "flying crust of crusty snow" is enraged by that kind of negligence.

"They're lazy morons who need to be fined - heavily." Right on.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Abduction In A Walmart Store

Seems impossible that the manager of a Walmart store and her security team could hold two fourteen year old girls incommunicado because of suspected theft, but that's exactly what occurred when Sydney Robinson, 14, and a friend of the same age were shopping at the Barrhaven Market Place. Security personnel claim they had their eyes on the two girls and observed them to have lifted - a package of chewing gum.

Sydney Robinson claimed (and her mother confirmed) that the chewing gum had been in her Christmas stocking. It was, in fact, half-empty. But she and her friend were apprehended, taken into custody by the zealous Walmart security staff for a full six hours, while awaiting the arrival of Ottawa police.

Who, when contacted, warned that it might be hours before they would be able to arrive. When they did, after a six-hour interval, they listened to the girls and then the Walmart staff, and departed. The parents of Sydney Robinson, both federal civil servants informed the Ottawa Citizen that the girls were treated like criminals.

The parents stayed at the store, having failed to persuade the store's security to release the girls to them. Scott Robinson, Sydney's father, pledged to return the girls the following day when police would presumably be less busy, but the offer was refused.

The girls were kept in a small room at the back of the store, with two security guards keeping them under close scrutiny from 4 in the afternoon to 10 in the evening. Interrogating the girls, refusing to believe Sydney's version that the half-used packet of chewing gum had been in her pocket, dropped to the floor and she had retrieved it.

The security guards insisted they had watched her stealing the gum. They claimed she would be placed in jail if she didn't admit to having stolen the item. Worth all of one dollar. For the four hours they were kept in that little back room they were given nothing to eat or to drink, although a Walmart spokesperson said the parents "had the option" of purchasing food from the store restaurant for them.

Diane Robinson, Sydney's mother, attempted to speak to the store manager, was shunted off to the assistant manager, who was also unavailable. "I was left dealing with these silly security guards who basically ignored me the whole time and refused to have any kind of compassion for the situation." She described her daughter as being shocked and fearful, and little wonder.

When the police officer who questioned the girls left, they were released. A spokesman for the store's Toronto head office described shoplifting as a serious issue, that "we also have a protocol that is designed to be sensitive and firm". They did allow, however that the issue warranted a review of what had occurred "...to ensure that we are indeed providing the sensitivity necessary".

It seems incredible that Sherry Clouthier, the Walmart store manager, would permit such a travesty to occur. These girls were as good as abducted, held helpless victims to a store vendetta against shoplifting. As though presumably 'catching' two young girls in the commission of a $1 crime justified treating them as adult malefactors found in the commission of a major crime, lifting hundreds of dollars-worth of goods.

It's puzzling, actually, why the parents of the girls did not explore the possibility with the police officer who responded, of charging the store and its personnel with the illegal detaining of two minors. If it isn't illegal, because it occurred on private property, it is most certainly egregiously wrong. It is also horrendously insulting to the parents as well as the girls that they would be deemed criminals.

Good reason to boycott the store. Something the Robinsons should proceed with, encouraging friends, relatives, co-workers to express society's disapproval over such nasty and unethical tactics.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Depressed? Oh Dear!

The leading story in the Ottawa Citizen simply breaks one's heart. The writer describing a sad pathology of depression in the public service, representing a "public health crisis". This is Canada's public service cadre, no less. Where the pay schedule is extremely kindly to those whose positions a powerful set of unions virtually guarantee. Ample sick time, and holiday times. As for vacation time, why what more could possibly be asked for, it's beyond generous.

And then of course there is that immense perquisite, the gold-plated pension linked to the cost of living.

And these people are depressed. Living in a country which has seen a lower unemployment rate than elsewhere in the international community. There are indeed more than enough people living in the country who are among the unfortunate for whom depression is an explicable state of being. The low-waged, the unemployed, the unemployable, those on welfare, struggling to get by.

But the professionals are depressed. Somewhat, one might imagine, like the singularly unfortunate heir to a family fortune who has no pecuniary worries, but is so sanguine about life, so utterly bored with the meaningless of his existence that his boredom becomes a wedge between himself and life's invaluable continuance. But no, this misfortune impinges all areas of public service; "the country's nurses, teachers, police, military and bureaucrats at all levels of government".

To the extent, the articles goes on of "undermining innovation, productivity, quality of service, policy-making and even the relevance of our democratic institutions". So saith founder of Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Mental Health, Bill Wilkerson. Mr. Wilkerson, it seems to this casual observer, is desirous of bringing attention to his expert observations and as a corollary, to his remedial services....?

Contending that in all workplaces stress, burnout and depression is depressingly evident. So, do we Canadians just have it too good? Do we really need a brief stint - say about two or three years - working and struggling to get along in some Third World country? Are we that utterly spoiled that we need a yardstick for comparison to assure ourselves of precisely how fortunate we are as a society?

Requiring the reassurance that the stress of attending meetings, being distracted by details, having to meet deadlines, being insecure in our positions is worth the effort? The stress of expectations and competition in the workplace is simply too much for coddled Canadian workers? We're not sufficiently self-motivated? Sad, sad.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Intimations Ignored

A stitch in time does, truly save nine. When something is seen to be awry, it is best to identify its cause and take steps to remedy it before it gets out of hand and becomes even more difficult to restore to balance. And nowhere is that lesson more obvious than when dealing with human nature; in observing the very obvious indicators that a human being has lost the balance of reason, attempts should be made as soon as possible to ensure that remedial treatment is advanced.

The work-suspended RCMP constable who now stands accused of the murder of an Ottawa police officer demonstrated amply and on a continual basis that he had succumbed to psycho-social imbalance. His hostile attitude, his physical aggression, his deliberate abdication of personal responsibility, his outright defiance of professional authority, were all blatant and obvious indicators of mental instability and social distancing through unlawful and disturbing acts.

In November 2009 a disciplinary hearing was held with respect to RCMP Const. Kevin Gregson's violations of the conditions of his earlier suspension from the Force, under the RCMP Code of Conduct. This man was informed that he was expected to resign from the national police force within two weeks, or he would be fined. For years he had been suspended from active duty, on full pay.

All the warning signs were there that this man - professionally trained in all aspects of policing and public security - had descended into a mental state of troubling disequilibrium. His verbal and physical violence was alarming to those who knew him professionally, and even more frightening to the members of the public whom he threatened and abused. Yet nothing useful was done to apprehend his growing psychopathy.

On the other hand the RCMP, recognizing the man's fragile state of self-discipline and fearing that he might possibly grossly overstep the boundaries of explicable behaviour, had issued a condition to him that he was disallowed from contact with members of the RCMP, and not permitted to visit the home of any RCMP employee. When he ventured upon the doorstep of RCMP Commissioner William Elliott that should have represented the final urgency to act to apprehend further problems.

Instead, nothing was done to halt his further mental disintegration. And it became obvious after the fact that 43-year-old Kevin Gregson was determined to extract revenge for some imagined insult or assault against his integrity or honour or professional conduct, by his policing agency. And, it would appear in retrospect, any representative of any policing agency would be acceptable as a target of his anger.

This rogue police officer went to great lengths to attract the attention of police, hoping for a confrontation. Theft of a motor vehicle, and then presenting the vehicle as possible bait drew no official attention. Finally, he decided to manoeuvre himself into a confrontation of his own devising and that resulted in the sudden stabbing death of a Ottawa police constable, Eric Czapnik.

This is a sad and miserable conclusion to a puzzlingly inadequate response to an obvious public threat. Lessons learned? Will time tell?

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Lucre: Happiness?

There is the recently-published story of a young, reclusive Brit, Stuart Donnelly, 17 when he celebrated winning three million dollars in a lottery. Prior to his win the young man was a trainee pharmacist. With his winnings he bought a house for his mother who was estranged from his father. He gave a sizeable sum of money to a Glasgow hospital where his younger brother was being treated for a genetic disorder.

And he bought a house in the countryside, not far from where he had been born. He lived in that house with his father, who suffered from the effects of having contracted poliomyelitis. He looked after his father assiduously. Doing his utmost all the while to maintain a distance from strangers who importuned him, as the recipient through good fortune, of a good fortune.

"It was very hard to deal with all the attention I got. I even had people camping outside my house. It put a huge strain on me and my family", he said in an interview. His unearned wealth earned him the resolute determination to seal himself away from the public. And he spent his time "sleeping, watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Net. Basically anything that involves not leaving the house." In a sense, a life not all that much different from many people who for other causes choose to opt out of a public life.

His father died of a heart attack in 1999, a mere two years after his generous son's win. With no one left to share life with, he hardly bothered to respond even when his mother telephoned: "I phone him, but most times I get his answer phone", she said. Now she won't even get that. He was discovered to have died, age 29, alone in his house, after being checked on by a relative.

His story is not as rare as one might think. It is no urban legend that people who come into great sums of money hardly know what to do with it, burning through the acquired wealth, and in the end, left destitute. As happened with a New York man who won $5-million in 1981 and spent it on a luxury condo, vacations and a series of marriages. And now he lives in a mobile home on a small pension and social security.

Like a man from East Anglia who won $16.9-million in a lottery which enabled him to leave his job as a 'garbage collector, in 2002. It took him all of a year and a half to pour that wealth into houses, drugs, demolition derby car races (in his own back garden), and jewellery. Alienating his neighbours in the process. After which he spent time in jail for petty crime.

There are, of course, quite a number of such sad stories; people overwhelmed by what they believe at first to be good fortune - found money! - unable to deal with their winnings, finding their lives turned upside down. And in the final analysis, finding themselves estranged from the world they had known before their wins; down and out of luck.

And then there are others, people who have inherited or earned their millions, intent on keeping it all, unwilling to part with any of it for any reason, good or otherwise. Resorting to under-handed and illegal and socially uncouth tactics to ensure that no portion of their wealth is removed from them.

Like the 53-year-old Swiss multi-millionaire who racked up a string of convictions driving his red Ferrari Testarossa at high speed through residential areas. He had originally been fined $90,100 for his illegal indiscretions, but claiming he was a diplomat from Guinea-Bissau, insisted that the fine be withdrawn due to diplomatic immunity.

Unfortunately for him, it was discovered that the man held a personal fortune of over $20-million, was no diplomat, owned a multi-million-dollar mansion, a luxe apartment, and five rather costly vehicles. Judges near Zurich levied a fine of $299,000 on the man. Representing just desserts.

And then there is the instance of Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson, living a celebrity-sleaze life along with the ilk of Paris Hilton, addicted to drugs and alcohol, whose mother restricted her access to the family fortune, and removed her baby daughter from her care, claiming her to be 'too crazy' to care for the adopted child. The 30-year-old woman was found dead three days ago, from 'natural causes'.

Now, is everyone happy!?

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