Ruminations

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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Funding Crisis at The Ottawa Hospital

Well, that's not too thrilling. The Ottawa Hospital prepared to cut nursing staff. Bearing in mind that at current strength nurses are overworked. And if these cuts do take place, 70 nursing jobs will be lost and 120 current vacancies unfilled. That's a whole whack of jobs. It may not sound like much, given that there are 3,900 registered nurses with the hospital, but the president of the Ontario Nurses Association claims that amounts to 300,000 hours of lost nursing care to patients.

So we're looking at longer emergency care delays, and the same for elective surgery. Seems the hospital spokesperson for human resources is seeking to downplay the process, reassuring the public. How be reassured with 133 positions being eliminated? "Under the current economic circumstances, hospitals, like every other sector, must provide responsible stewardship of scarce public resources. That is why certain vacancies have been closed."

Sounds very responsible. Little wonder a recent Ipsos Reid survey paid for by the Canadian Medical Association indicates 83% of Canadians find themselves with a common concern, that health-care programs that all Ontarians rely upon will suffer if the deficit reduction attempt relies too heavily on cutting costs and services to the public. The federal government claims it has no intention in its new budget of decreasing transfer payments for health care to the provinces.

Otherwise, it sounds like a reprise of former Liberal governments' cost-cutting to arm wrestle the-then deficit down to manageable proportions. This time the decision-making coming from the provincial government. "We're still trying to recover from some of the bad decision s that were made in the 1990s and health human resources is the best example I can give of that", according to the current president of the Canadian Medical Association.

Sure, Canadians are worried about the rising deficit and that miserably large debt. Sure, we aren't thrilled with the thought that if it isn't controlled and diminished the burden will hang heavily into the future. But that same poll found 84% of respondents surveyed are heartily opposed to lowering health-care spending because of the deficit.

The Ottawa Hospital faces an operating cost shortfall of $19-million, if it receives a 2% funding increase from the province, as should happen. The current operating budget of $970-million has proven to be slightly under what annual rising costs represent. The end result, given a transfer cut, will be already-stressed nursing staff unable to cope with an increased work load. And that's when errors are made.

Paramedical staff representing therapists most of whom work with patients in the mental-health program will also be impacted. That more hospital beds will be phased out as well, all bode ill for the future of Ottawa's hospitals in their ability to offer city residents the best possible care. That's nothing short of alarming, particularly given the already-fragile state our medical/hospital care is in.

We have the former Conservative government of Mike Harris, with his closing of provincial hospitals and amalgamation of others under his 'common sense revolution' to thank for the mess our hospitals now find themselves in. And now we can look forward to our current Liberal government under Dalton McGuinty to thank for compounding the mess.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Vancouver's Pride, Canada's Success

Aren't Canadian women athletes something? Don't we ache with pride for their accomplishments? And haven't they abundantly demonstrated that women are capable of excelling in arduous, extreme athletic disciplines, every bit as much as men. In their own way. And not to take anything away from men's accomplishments which are themselves astonishing in proving what the human body is capable of doing in the exertion of training the body to obey the mind.

Canada's female athletes have displayed their precise techniques, their ability to perform under great duress - all the more so given the absurd "Own the Podium" determination of VANOC to illustrate what Canada's best can accomplish and in the process placing a dreadful burden on already-overburdened athletes - in strength, control and finesse managing through sheer force of will to break their own previous records.

Men's sports are geared to men's greater physical strength and endurance, and it has been pointed out that fewer seconds pass between the three medal winners in men's competition than in women's in illustration of the fine calibration and the closer competition between men than that which exists between women where the competition is seen in tens of seconds rather than in divisions of single seconds.

Women rejoice in their freedom to be themselves, female competitors involved in extreme athletic competitions, earning the privilege of representing their countries by dint of their dedication to practise and sacrifice of personal lifestyles to achieve their dreams of Olympics glory. Where once men dominated the games and women sat on the sidelines but for a relative few events they were permitted, women, competing against other women, shine.

Perhaps there is truth in the fact that Canada's commitment to equality of the genders has produced equal funding and encouragement for both sexes, resulting in women pulling ahead in their game, leaving men struggling to achieve the medals totals that women appear to be piling up, while men's success languishes.

But another day brings other opportunities, and Canada's male athletes were given another chance to display their athletic prowess and resolute determination to bring home medals of their own, complementing those their female counterparts succeeded with. The result, that Canada stands solely in the position of having earned, through the sweat and tears of its athletes, the most gold medals of any other country.

Whatever the reason, it is remarkable and marvellous that young men and women whose personal agility, strength, facility and brilliance in athletic performance encourage one another and find sponsors willing to assist them in achieving their goals of achieving elite status as national sports figures.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Canada's "Fake Farmers"

So what's a fake farmer? Well, it's a complex situation. But basically a fake farmer is one who applies for a license to grow tobacco; someone say who has a full time job, is an urban dweller, but whose father or uncle for example, owns a farm formerly growing tobacco crops but sworn off because they took advantage of a government offer they couldn't resist.

So the license-taker owns the license, and the father or uncle with the farm uses that license to grow crops he took a buy-out of a quarter-million dollars or more to ensure he would plant other crops.

The Government of Canada was successful, with its anti-smoking efforts in a bid to convince Canadians that the state of their health was important to the government, and since nicotine is known to have truly dreadful effects on the human body, it made good sense to swear off tobacco.

Smoking cessation became another industry. So did the importation of overseas raw tobacco and contraband cigarettes that bypassed government taxation.

In the goodness of their governing hearts government decided to assist farmers to shift to different crops and initiated a buy-out program in recognition of the debt loads many farmers were stifling under. After the federal government reached its settlement with the country's largest tobacco companies over smuggling charges, $400-million in fines were reaped and government decided to plough that money into buy-outs to tobacco farmers.

Of the 1,084 tobacco quota holders a mere 18 were hold-outs, the others taking the payments, through the government's Tobacco Transition Program with some farmers receiving up to $1-million, as incentive to look elsewhere for labouring remuneration. In total the program cost the treasury $286-million.

As a promising 'exit' from the tobacco-growing industry it looked like a win for both government and tobacco farmers.

Those who accepted the buy-out, according to government documents, would not re-enter tobacco production, simple as that. "This program is available to help producers exit the industry, transition to other crops or find new opportunities outside agriculture", went the promotion line by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.

Something, however, went awry on the way to achieving full success.

There were enough holes discovered by diligent pokers to permit tobacco farmers who accepted the buyout to continue with the business they knew so well. Encouraged by a growing demand from cigarette manufacturers, as matters now stand more tobacco may be harvested in the season to come than the year before, and a whole lot of it coming from farms owned and operated by recipients of buy-out payments.

"The reality of the situation is that tobacco is grown on a tobacco farm and there were no new tobacco farms miraculously created. People who took the buyout are left with farmland that needs something to do, stranded equipment, perhaps stranded debt ... and in this economy they've got to feed their family." This explanation courtesy of the chairman of the Ontario Flue-cured Tobacco Marketing Board.

A spokesman for Agriculture and Agri-food Canada also had something to say about this unfortunate misunderstanding, that the marketing board was expected to implement the licensing regime, the government will conduct audits of buyout recipients, and "Program participants who are found in breach of their commitment will have to repay the assistance, plus interest."

One would think.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cancer Free? Oops, Sorry About That

What could be more dreadful than facing a diagnosis of breast cancer, and then undergoing a radical mastectomy on the advice of the operating surgeon. An operating surgeon with a long practise as an experienced and reliable practitioner-surgeon in a highly respected hospital. It is the stuff of most women's nightmares. The threat that hangs over most women's consciousness, particularly as they grow older.

And after having undergone that experience, the raging internal fears, the loss of confidence in the future, the fears of lost feminine appeal, the thought ever-present that cancer may return and then the entire nightmare would be repeated. Well, perhaps there are worse things, in a sense; the experience of being informed that the surgical removal of a woman's breast was all in error, that cancer was not actually present, that all that dread and misery was an illusion.

Except that it wasn't an illusion. It occurred, because of an erroneous diagnosis, and it occurred because a surgeon, an experienced oncologist, failed to properly read the data she had been given, and proceeded with the operation, because, possibly, she was a very busy person and had little time to waste on mere details. Which appears to be precisely what occurred in a number of Dr. Barbara Heartwell's cases in misreading pathology reports.

Where this surgeon who has practised her profession as one of the most experienced surgeons at Windsor's Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital, in two acknowledge instances having removed the healthy breasts of two different women who were incorrectly diagnosed with having cancer. There are yet another five questionable cases pending further investigation in which Dr. Heartwell is involved.

And there may well be many more, since an investigation has revealed that a pathologist who has performed work in three hospitals in the Windsor area, including the one where Dr. Heartwell practised, is being investigated for errors in producing pathology reports. It would appear, further, that Dr. Heartwell was well aware that she misread pathology reports, and so informed her superiors on investigation.

These 'adverse medical events' have led to a more thorough investigation of both the unnamed pathologist and Dr. Heartwell, whose practising privileges have been withdrawn, and who has been reported to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. The entire pathology review will back up to 2003, and possibly involve 15,000 cases.

As though right on cue, and certainly long overdue, the Province of Ontario has unveiled a mandatory 32-point pre-surgical safety checklist through the Ontario Ministry of Health, designed to prevent errors in surgery, to be implemented on April Fool's Day.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Arrr, Have a Heart, Canada!

David Barlagne, his wife Sophie and his daughter Rachel have suffered a miserable disappointment; their application for permanent residency in Canada has been rejected. Rachel, suffering from cerebral palsy has been deemed by immigration officials as being "medically inadmissible".

The reason, reflecting documents filed in Federal Court in Montreal is the "excessive burden" she would impose on Canada's social welfare system, since they appear to fear an imposition on society of $5,200 annually in special education costs for her. A paltry sum that her father who operates a computer software business is well able to pay.

Mr. Barlagne moved his family from the French island of Guadeloupe in 2005 on a work permit when a Canadian embassy staffer in Paris informed him that Montreal was just waiting for his entrepreneurial spirit. His wife volunteers, teaching French to immigrants in the city.

He was informed before moving to Montreal that he had no need to worry about Rachel's condition, the family would have no difficulty becoming permanent residents.

Mr. Barlagne had made it clear to the Canadian embassy staff in Paris that his daughter had cerebral palsy, a congenital neurological disorder that would accompany her throughout life. The family's immigration lawyers point out that Mr. Barlagne's ability to pay for his daughter's future care hadn't been adequately assessed, leading to the refusal of their application.

The case has been made public, appearing in newspapers for the purpose of alerting the Canadian public to a humanitarian crisis for this family. Canada's current Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney, is well recognized and admired for his knowledgeability, his professionalism in his portfolio and his understanding of immigration issues.

Members of the public who are concerned about the well-being of this family, and particularly the future of Rachel Barlagne, might wish to communicate their concern for a humanitarian compassionate response to their dilemma.

They are encouraged to alert Minister Kenney to their feelings on this issue by emailing him at: kennej@parl.gc.ca.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Home At Last

Not that they'd been away all that long. But theirs was a harrowing experience. Not quite the exotic adventure in learning they had anticipated. But it was most definitely a learning experience. Those 64 students, teachers and crew aboard their floating school, the 57-metre steel tall ship with its 11-storey height masts, the SV Concordia, comprising their Class Afloat, learned that all is not as it often seems, and it is never good to give up hope.

And they had the adventure of their lives, one that might very well have taken their lives, but in the end, did not. And that in and of itself seems a miracle, so they learned about miracles, as well, in their floating classroom. They learned about nature's tantrums, her tendency to spring surprises whenever and wherever she deems them advisable to ease her pique, and how vulnerable puny humans are in contrast to her might.

They learned endurance and the practicality of taking certain lessons, such as evacuation procedures very seriously indeed. They learned that they were capable of enduring 40 fearful hours adrift on the high seas. They learned first-hand how a microburst with tornado-like emphasis could capsize a steel tall ship in 20 seconds, and flood and sink it within a half-hour.

But that half hour gave them the opportunity to practise what their teachers had preached in awareness and action, giving them the impetus to pull on their emergency suits, and leap overboard into the rafts that the ship's captain had dived into the water to free from their moorings. And then they witnessed the amazing spectacle of that huge vessel declining into the sea.

Did they, might they ever have been able, in their wildest dreams - or nightmares as the case may be - imagine that they might have the fortitude to remain hopeful and alert for 40 miserable hours of wondering whether the beacon that their ship had emitted would be picked up to enable their rescue?

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Men, Women, Longevity, Decisions...

Men, so goes the theory - and it's a fairly good one - have shorter life spans than women partly explained by the fact that they're risk-takers and women are not. To the same degree as men, that is - on average. Men are fearless adventurers, intrigued by challenges that they do not spurn to meet. Partly biology, partly legend; men feeling that they must prove themselves as being adequately masculine, interested in all things that men are supposed to be interested in.

Of course it's more than that. It's also that men are physically stronger than women and partly through biological inheritance, partly through social convention, they do things that women do not, although that too is changing and boundaries are being breached all the time - in construction, engineering, the healing arts, sports and adventure. But by and large it is true that women in general tend to be more conservative in their enthusiasms.

It is as though women have the ability to foresee consequences and men haven't the patience to do so. Or they're usually disinterested in consequences, more driven by the opportunities before them to action of one kind or another. In any event, in the winter, in Canada, men, particularly rural dwellers, love various types of winter sports, from snowmobiling to ice fishing. During those same months there are many newspaper reports of deaths due to snowmobiling accidents.

Men, and boys driving at high speeds, losing control, smashing into irresistible objects. And occasionally driving out onto a lake they feel certain is more than sufficiently frozen to take the weight of their vehicle - and that's inclusive of trucks as well - then discovering, too late unfortunately, that this is not the case. Sometimes, passengers die along with the drivers; sometimes someone survives.

"There were dozens of people out enjoying the river", said the distraught man. "There were fishermen, with their own vehicles and huts, and kite surfers, whizzing by at high speed." And there was Lee Bourdon and his girlfriend Rachel Taylor. Who had known one another as kids when they both lived in Aylmer, close to the Ottawa River. But Rachel's family had moved and they lost touch with one another.

Until contact was made through Facebook. That was not at all fortunate for Rachel. At the time they both thought, doubtless it was. They'd been going out together for months, and things were looking seriously interesting. And then came this past week-end, when they'd been out together after a day having fun out on the ice, with Dusty the dog and they drove smack to the centre of the river.

"I've been on the river hundreds of times in the winter with my vehicles and I've never had anything close to this. It was like quicksand. It was unbelievable. I never thought that the ice at this time of year would be so weak". But it was, and he felt, when relating the dreadful incident later, that it had taken less than 5 seconds from the time he heard the ice crack to full submersion.

He understood perfectly what was occurring, and immediately freed himself, calling to Rachel to do the same from the passenger seat. Then realized she was unable to open her door, so he went back for her, and attempted to pull her out of the sinking vehicle. "I yanked at her and I tried to pull her out, but it wasn't working", he said. Three times he tried, he said.

"I couldn't pull her anymore, and the truck was going under, so I had to come back up." And then he ran the two kilometres back to shore to his mother's home on the Aylmer waterfront, and from there he called police. Her body was recovered a day later. And the body of the dog as well, from where it had been seated, in the back of the GMC Blazer.

"It was going really well", he described their blossoming relationship. The last words she spoke to him as he struggled to free her from the truck were "I don't want to die like this". And he, Lee Bourdon, feels responsible. "...deep down...it's going to be hard. It's going to be hard to get over this one. Oh God, I feel responsible."

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Coyote Hysteria

You know that things have got out of hand when people attend meetings to discuss the problem of how to cope in rural and suburban areas with an increasing coyote population, and the majority are in favour of extraordinary extermination methods to rid themselves of a wild resident of a natural environment. Those choosing to live in areas surrounded by wildlife considerate enough to remain hidden and not to feast on peoples' pets are overlooked.

But natural predators are another thing. Owls are all right, and ravens, because they don't really pose much of a threat. But something on four legs that prowls about looking for mealtime opportunities is another thing altogether. It somehow escapes peoples' notice that humans are encroaching on the natural habitat of wild animals, who are forced to adjust their habits to fit into an environment once theirs, now shared.

It could be argued that coyotes were not always present in these parts, but they have been for quite a long time; long before people moved in greater numbers into the areas they now prowl, sharing space. When the shoe's on the other foot and people leave their house pets like cats and dogs free to stray, and they kill wildlife, no one really cares all that much and a metaphorical shrug ensues.

It should be common enough knowledge among rural dwellers - and urban dwellers as well, particularly those living on the outskirts of a city - that care should be taken that edible garbage is not left lying around, nor animal feed, to tempt scavengers. Bears, though far less often seen up close, as well as raccoons, deer and coyotes are drawn to areas where they are aware food is to be readily had.

People in those situations, owning small pets who may be vulnerable to the hunting instincts of predators or raptors should be mindful of their safety and take appropriate steps to ensure their pets do not become a wild animal's next meal. It is not logical nor humane to want to trap and exterminate animals from their natural surroundings to give ease to people worried about their presence.

Truly stupid reactions to the problem of people encroaching in ever greater numbers on traditional wild animal territory are fraught with other problems, some of them potentially deadly. People cannot ethically let alone legally, stalk and attempt to eradicate these animals using firearms, thus placing in danger other people out walking with their children or their pet animals.

And whoever the truly idiotic moron was who set three leghold traps securely on a 55-kilogram log nicely hidden from view along a snowmobile trail, should be obliged to be placed in the very same position that his stupidity forced upon a 19-year-old woman out walking her dog near Casselman this week. Krystie Morrow and her dog Koby had a dreadful experience, and they're recovering from it.

But it is inexcusable that some twit thought he would solve a problem he felt was intolerable by creating a far larger problem.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mutant Pig, Anyone?

Well perhaps not quite mutant; rather, biologically engineered. Coming to a dinner plate near you. Perhaps your very own home. We're already eating, in Canada, genetically modified grain crops, so it's only a matter of time, logically, that the livestock-product we consume will also undergo biological alterations to endow them with a wide range of positives for human consumption. Creepy, isn't it?

But genetically engineered pigs are on our horizon. Environment Canada is involved, because the University of Guelph bio-engineers have been hard at work to develop a strain of Yorkshire pigs whose waste is less inimical to the environment. Once the hurdles are cleared under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, it will be up to Health Canada to approve an application submitted by University of Guelph.

After which the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will get in on the act. Aren't we well cared for? Should matters progress as planned, the University of Guelph's break-through in producing what is termed the world's first transgenic animal, the 'Enviropig' may result in a new era in livestock production techniques. The animal in question, or the concept leading to it, was created in 1999 from a piece of mouse DNA introduced into the Yorkshire-breed pigs' chromosomes.

The result is pigs that emit low-phosphorus feces. By the creation of a special composite gene enabling digestion of an otherwise-unavailable form of phosphorus, allowing the pigs to produce manure 30% to 65% lower in phosphorus than that of normal pigs. Which have borne the brunt of environmental accusations that they pollute surface and groundwater, raised in intensive livestock operations.

"The university has successfully satisfied the requirements to allow the line of transgenic pigs to be produced and farmed using appropriate containment procedures. So that's the step we're at right now", Steven Liss, associate vice-president for research at University of Guelph, explained.

"As part of an overall goal, I think it's fair to say, yes, absolutely, the university researchers involved were very driven and passionate about addressing an important environment problem at the same time supporting production of food stock and to bring forward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly option to do that."

The approval process may be a long time in bringing the research to the reality of production. Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may get around eventually to approving the technology and its results, but consumers generally may be more than a little standoffish in their attitudes toward accepting the product.

That'll be one huge hurdle. People don't like to actually think about the fact that the meat products they so enjoy consuming does not, in reality, appear, preparation-ready on supermarket freezer shelves without having first come from a purpose-slaughtered animal. This is not something people like to focus their minds on. It takes away from the appetite.

Digesting the information that the meat they're about to consume is the result of an animal scientifically tampered with may result in the unfortunate focus that will propel people away from enjoying their morning bacon and dinner ham steaks.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Great Men, Their Mistakes

Of course that's a matter of opinion. Not that even great men - particularly great men, for who would otherwise take note? - do not make their own errors in judgement, but that Rene Levesque that much-gloried founder of Quebec's Parti Quebecois and anointed by wild enthusiasts the 23rd Premier of Quebec was a great man.

That's an entirely selective superlative reflecting Quebecers' heritage and lugubriously profound sense of both entitlement and bitterness toward Canada.

This was the man - lauded as a great political-ideological-separatist leader even by some deluded Canadians outside the province, who first attempted to negotiate political dependence for Quebec. And whose exploits throughout that attempt and his harangues and his emotionally-wrought resentment of confederation found favour with Quebec's big brother, culminating in the infamous cry of Vive le Quebec libre! by General Charles de Gaulle.

Galling the rest of Canada no end. But the pur laine and separatist-devoted demographic in Quebec hailed their saviour as their - saviour - and his name is forever blessed. All this by way of commenting on former founder of the Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois premier, Lucien Bouchard who has loomed back into public view.

And his most recent pronouncement has not been received favourably by his successors.

Top front of Le Devoir, the considered opinion of Mr. Bouchard, the result of his own personal struggle and that of the parties he has been associated with (no, not the Progressive Conservative party of former PM Brian Mulroney) that "Sovereignty is not achievable". Can we then, lay it to rest? Please...?

Not bloody likely, not as long as a full-blue-blooded French-language-and-tradition patriot still breathes his fiery resentment.

The now-redeemed-and-esteemed (in the writer's personal opinion) Mr. Bouchard informed his Quebec City audience that the Parti Quebecois's sovereignty complex and its compulsion to 'save' Quebec's unique character from the onslaught of dilution by English Canada does not reflect the spirit of its founder. (Could've fooled me with that one, but life is an ongoing learning experience.)

Pauline Marois must have been frothing at the mouth with furious indignation, but prepared to accept Mr. Bouchard at his word as a firm independantist, and that it is with deep sorrow that he voices his conclusion. "This wish for sovereignty can be practised in different ways", she responded.

And most certainly not by allowing the Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest to move forward with its preparedness to accommodate ethnic and religious minorities.

"Her former leader, former premier of Quebec, is reminding [Ms. Marois] that it is not a good idea to try to take over from the radicalism of the ADQ in these matters and to resort to demagogy on such an important question", responded Premier Charest.

That 'important question' being proposed alterations to the province's school calendar which would permit private Orthodox Jewish schools to teach on Sundays. Why the PQ would resist such an accommodation is peculiar. Spite? In a spirit of peevish nastiness?

Where once the province was heavily religious as practising Roman Catholics, Sunday is no longer regarded as the traditional 'day of rest', and certainly for Jews it never has been; as for them, Saturday is considered to be the traditional day of rest.

There are those in the know who believe that Mr. Bouchard's resignation from active politics resulted from vital inter-party disagreements. PQ members who saw nothing amiss in overt anti-Semitism; one in particular who helpfully pointed out the unfortunate failure of Jewish neighbourhoods to cast their vote for Quebec sovereignty, thus effectively proving their disloyalty to the province.

Why then, should the province go out of its way for Jews? Or, for that matter, English-speaking Quebecers? Come to think of it, immigrants? For their failure to instantly learn French, for their eagerness to illegally enroll their children in English-language schools, for their yearning to cleave to their own (exotic...foreign) traditions.

Some track Mr. Bouchard's critical comments this past week to the 2008 report by historian Gerard Bouchard and Charles Taylor on the reasonable accommodation of minorities, a report synthesizing testimony that the duo had heard while conducting province-wide hearings open to all Quebecers.

And where more than a tinge of xenophobia was evident among the greater mass of more tolerant Quebecers.

Whom, of course, the Parti Quebecois does not represent. Really.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

We Implore You, Holy Father

Pope Benedict is no counterpart to his predecessor. He hasn't quite the humanity, the humility and the gentle kindly presence of Pope John-Paul II. He seems not quite to fully understand the consequences of many of his decisions, the manner in which they impact on the Church itself, nor the ripples of consternation they send out to the world at large.

He is the most highly-recognized religious authority in the world and duly respected as such.

Yet some of his initiatives have caused great alarm both within his own institution and within those of others. In particular, his relationship with the Jewish community has suffered a set-back directly related to a number of steps he has taken in the past several years, from bringing back the traditional Latin mass with its references to Jews, to his rehabilitation of a traditionalist Holocaust-denying bishop.

Yet it is the pope's insistent determination to achieve sainthood for WWII-era Pope Pius XII that is causing the most dismay, and threatening to create an unbridgeable schism between the Catholic and the Jewish communities, taking that relationship back in time to a place where unease and lack of communication marked their perceptions of one another.

All the advances that Pope John-Paul had worked so diligently to achieve will have been undone. Simply because the Vatican refuses to release the historical records that could achieve clarification of Pope Pius's position during the Holocaust years.

Now, eighteen Catholic scholars from the United States, Germany and Australia have issued a letter to Pope Benedict, asking him for a more measured process. To pause in the two steps yet remaining; beatification and canonization, preparatory to declaring sainthood for Pope Pius XII.

"Holy Father, we implore you, acting on your wisdom as a renowned scholar, professor and teacher, to be patient with the cause of Pius XII. Currently, existing research leads us to the view that Pope Pius XII did not issue a clearly worded statement, unconditionally condemning the wholesale slaughter and murder of European Jews", the letter states.

"We implore you to ensure that such a historical investigation takes place before proceeding with the [sainthood] cause of Pope Pius XII", pointing out that in their opinion it seemed on the available evidence that Pius represented a "symbol of Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism" and that "Proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII without an exhaustive study of his action during the Holocaust might harm Jewish-Catholic relations in a way that cannot be overcome in the foreseeable future".

Those who co-signed this cautionary letter represent leading theologians in the Roman Catholic Church, most of whom have intensively studied the Holocaust, and who have become acknowledged experts on Judaism and Jewish relations with the Catholic Church. They take the position of Jewish scholars who have repeatedly requested the Vatican to open its archives for study.

When he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, his ascension to the position of pope caused a mild flurry of concern from within the Jewish community when it became known that as a youth he had been drafted into the Hitler Youth and served as a young man in the German army during the Second world War.

It would be beyond unfortunate if this pope proceeded with his plan to confer sainthood on an earlier pope - whose seeming inability to transcend a tepid concern for a desperate population of European Jews destined for annihilation - when the very people whose plight he ignored now call for a just conclusion to an occurrence that blighted the reputation of the Church.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

School Bullying

What never fails to amaze is that parents don't realize, or don't want to know that their children bully other peoples' children. Their focus is on their children, with little regard given to how their children's behaviour may impact deleteriously - to the point of critically - on the mental health; at the very least the emotional stability of other, vulnerable children. When school authorities are cognizant that one of their students is a bully, they have an obligation to ameliorate the situation.

And not by helping the bullied child avoid confrontation by delaying tactics, but by holding the offending child to account. By contacting the bullying child's parents, by informing them that they are responsible for their child's behaviour. By letting them know in no uncertain terms that this behaviour will not be condoned nor countenanced, and it is their intention to deny that child further access to the school, unless and until the intolerable behaviour ceases.

There are alternatives, such as private schools, or schools in the public system which are geared to look after socially-offensive or problem children. There have been well-publicized incidents of young kids, frustrated and frightened by incessant bullying, who have preferred to die rather than continue living under those conditions. No child should have to fear attending school because he or she is the victim of bullies.

At the most emotionally needy, impressionable times of their lives, no child should be exposed to ridicule and shame and violence expressed against them, setting them aside from other children, effectively forcing them to be fearful hermits scuttling from one presumed place of safety to another to avoid verbal or physical violence.

A 14-year-old boy who had been continuously bullied at his elementary school, then at Camille Lavoie High School near Alma, Quebec, deliberately took the step of abandoning his family, running away from his detested condition as a victim, in 2009. And now, a full year later, his grieving parents and younger sister have no idea where their son and brother might possibly be.

He was teased mercilessly because he was taking Ritalin to control his diagnosed condition of ADD, and things escalated to the point where he feared school. His teachers would dismiss him a few minutes earlier than the rest of the class to avoid his being beaten. What kind of absurd solution would that be? In high school kids lay in wait for him in thuggish clusters, during lunch and after school.

He was taunted, kicked, his belongings vandalized or stolen. "I don't know how many times we had to buy new bicycles. They came and stole them from our yard", David Fortin's mother recalled. Before he ran away from home to escape the predators who were his school peers, he told his older cousin "I'm really at the end of my rope. I can't take it anymore."

He couldn't, and could not adequately communicate the extent of his fear, and has been missing from his family for a year. Only when his parents understood their child had abandoned all hope for rescue from his dreaded condition at school did they see something happen that should have occurred much earlier. The school contacted the parents of some of the bullies and two students were reassigned to a special-education class.

In the Ottawa area, a mother of an elementary-school child is now suing the Ottawa Catholic School Board for not taking steps to protect her daughter from a bully. She has launched a $325,000 lawsuit naming the board, the child's grade 3 teacher, and the administration of St. Isidore Catholic School.

"This is a kid who sees the bus and vomits", the child's mother said after filing a statement of claim in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Jaclyn Stanton attended St. Isidore school from 2003 to 2008. During the Fall of 2007 the child began to weep in anguished fear when she saw her school bus, saying she was ill, refusing to attend school.

Her mother then became aware that a new child who had entered the class had been tripping her daughter, calling her names in front of others, pulling Jaclyn's hair and making her entirely miserable. Krisha Stanton, Jaclyn's mother, spoke to the child's teacher who agreed to move the children's desks to separate them, without taking any trouble to prevent the ongoing bullying during recess or lunch periods.

The teacher informed the child's mother that she was too sensitive, that her daughter was simply overreacting, that what was occurring was simply another instance of "girls being girls". Wasn't that what society used to say when young men became social misfits and brought heartburn to their communities by their destructive anti-social antics: Boys will be boys?

Just forget about it, endure it while it lasts. But these are children, and when other children conspire to make their lives a living hell, a durable solution must be sought and implemented. There is widespread talk about bullying. Psychologists have said that bullied children become desperate and if pushed hard enough, some of them seek revenge. That vengeance, as has been noted, can take the form of school violence using firearms.

It would be the best of all possible outcomes if the suit being brought against the school board succeeds, and if the pain of paying the victim for anguish caused by school neglect made all teachers, school administrators and school boards sit up and take note.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Canada's Arctic Entitlements

Ownership over Canada's Northwest Passage is proving to be a difficult issue between Canada and the United States. Most Arctic-nation countries, in fact, give short shrift to Canada's claim of the passage as being within the country's internal waters. Outside Canada the Northwest Passage is considered to be an international strait, with right of passage to all maritime nations.

Canada continues to differ in that interpretation, claiming for herself what has always been hers to govern.

And no previous Canadian government seems to have been so beleaguered, nor as much involved with the issue as the current one, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. If he is successfully in finally persuading the international community, and particularly the Arctic nations - Russia, Norway, Denmark and the United States, to acknowledge Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic, that would be quite the legacy.

Troublesome enough that Canada has delicate Arctic sovereignty relations with countries like Denmark and Norway, let alone the United States, her closest neighbour.

It is Canada's relationship with a truculent Russia, eager and anxious to claim for itself as much of the Arctic as possible under the UN's Convention of the Law of the Sea, for all the valuable mineral and mining rights, including undersea exploration for oil and gas properties that claims most of that country's focus.

Russia's claims and its hardball execution of some fairly impressive sorties into the area, from flag-planting to bomber expeditions, to suggestive ownership rights and territorial imperatives have Canada on edge. Still, it is Canada's relationship vis a vis Arctic claims with the United States that forms the most challenging of these claims.

And while, in the interests of self-availment, countries like Norway and Denmark have taken steps to beef up their maritime fleet, Canada still has not quite closed the gap on what it intends and what it will accomplish in the same arena.
looking northeast, up Otto Fiord, northwest Ellesmere Island. A glacier at the end of the fiord has calved icebergs, many of which are stranded in the shallow fiord. July, 1987.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

OHIP IVF Payment

Despite the risk of appearing churlishly unsympathetic, there are many Ontarians who feel that the health care system has more than enough to cover under its shrinking economic canopy - that it should not too cover in vitro fertilization for all sterile couples who feel it is their entitled right to have such treatment paid for. The choice to have children is a very personal one. It is a costly venture, when a lifetime of raising children and tending to their needs is considered, in parental time, energy and affordability. And it remains a personal decision.

While it is true that society in general benefits hugely from a population that raises children in a healthy family environment, those people who find they are unable to conceive naturally and require the assistance of medical science, should be prepared to pay their own way, and if in vitro fertilization is the way they choose, it should be their monetary investment, not that of the entire social system. The health program is set up to care for medical and health conditions, and artificially assisted childbirth is not one of those.

The Province of Ontario through the Ontario Health Insurance Plan pays for some IVF procedures representing roughly 25% of people wishing to obtain it, if they qualify according to guidelines set down by Ministry of Health. The argument that supporting all IVF procedures for couples wishing to take advantage of them is needful to ensure that only single births result because research has determined that people paying on their own implant multiple embryos is a non-issue.

The theory being that Ontario would save money in the long run because couples, not having to pay out of their own pockets would be less likely to try to increase their chances of success by implanting a multiplicity of embryos, resulting in premature babies tending toward increased defects at birth, disabilities and death. All these being more costly to the public health system to deal with, including maternal health in undergoing multiple births.

The solution is simple enough. Educate people of the folly of insisting on stretching opportunities by implanting more than one embryo; teach them that the outcome may be more than they bargained for. And as far as the clinics that exist for the purpose of of providing in vitro fertilization, they should be provincially regulated to make it illegal to implant more than two embryos at any one time in any one person.

As it is, the procedure becomes questionable to the point of unethical when the medical personnel involved agree to implant a greater number than two embryos. Make the prohibition against multiple implantations well understood and supported by specific legislation that would fine the attending physicians and their clinics, and if they err on more than one occasion, withdraw their license to practise in the province.

The argument that OHIP would 'save' more by paying for all IVF procedures at $6,000 a crack, taking into account the relatively low success rate, as opposed to insisting that those not covered under OHIP pay their own way, ending up with the disasters of triplets and quadruplets and associated potential health problems which could themselves be costly to the public purse is not sufficiently persuasive.

Figures produced by the IVF-clinic industry (and it is just that; an industry) indicate that the overall live birth rate per cycle is 26%. Furthermore, 69% of the live births are single babies, while of the remainder 95% of multiple births represent twins. For women under 35 the live birth rate stands at roughly 32%; women 35 - 39, 24%; 40 and over, 12%.

Nature does it better.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Whose Business Is It?

Private indiscretions are one's personal events, and as such to be kept personal, unless the individual in question deliberately invites public scrutiny. Most people - other than those in the public eye with 'celebrity' status who may enjoy the notoriety that accompanies multiple indiscretions because they feel it enhances their rogue status - would prefer to keep such things under wraps.

Fact is, though, when you're a public figure there will always be those in the media whose scruples are as compromised as the people whom they stalk.

And then there's that large question: if one is a public figure does one forego privacy? Not, perhaps, necessarily. But when errors of judgement are revealed in one's personal life leading to the conclusion that judgement may be equally impaired when making decisions impacting to a large degree on the well-being of others, say in the matter of a politician with the responsibility to act in the public interest, then perhaps so.

Even though individuals - particularly, but not necessarily only men - may feel entitled and/or empowered because of their achieved public status to prowl about for sexual gratification outside the confines of monogamous marriage or partnership, there is an awareness that such behaviour stands outside the confines of generally-sanctioned public morals. Best kept tight to the chest, and reveal no suspicious behaviour.

On the other hand, people in high political office often succumb to hubris of a type that convinces them that they are invulnerable, that their elite position and the public regard they imagine is due them will more than adequately shield them from prying eyes, while in fact, the reverse is true. The public will always be curious about the private lives of those in public view. The higher they stand, the greater the curiosity.

And when it is revealed, as it so often sordidly is, that those who revel in public pronouncements in favour of "family values" - and who so often bring their personal particularly outraged sense of censure down upon those who stray from those values - have betrayed their own families' trust, then public disdain, derision and disgust knows no bounds.

Yet here comes an industry anxious to grow and to identify 'legitimate' ailments which only they are capable of healing, whose professional pronouncements have the effect of convincing the public that shameful displays of infantile self-availment are not the result of lack of restraint and personal values, but rather a medical problem.

In one fell stroke they provide an acceptable 'excuse' for lapsed morals and a growing opportunity for themselves in enhanced services offerings.

The esteemed professionals who are hard at work on the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, to which every 15 to 20 years new socially-forgivable pathologies are added have now deemed juvenile sexual adventures in multiple serial partners is an illness, a mental illness capturing the frailties of people incapable of restraining their urgent desires.

The syndrome of sexual adventurism may now be understood as being recognized as a psychiatric disorder; "hypersexuality". An exceptional and unavoidable need to indulge in sex, leading otherwise intelligent and capable individuals toward seeking sex-fulfillment with a growing number of partners to fully satisfy their priapic need.

Psychiatrists are working feverishly to mount a defence against many types of atypical behaviours of the undisciplined, unbalanced self-availers among us. Rape as a result of unaware sleep-walking is one of those. Murder as a result of temporary hormonal imbalance another.

It's a nice crutch for those incapable or unwilling to restrain their baser instincts, and a very nice advantage to an ever-growing discipline hungry for an increasing number of clients. Free enterprise at its finest.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Failing Parenting - Seriously

We don't hear much about all those parents whose daily parenting responsibilities result in well-balanced children with healthy attitudes toward life, secure within the family home with supportive, caring parents anxious to provide their children with all the opportunities life affords them; stimulating them to learn and to become responsive and caring individuals, a credit to their society.

And then we read about children being raised by severely deranged parents whose pathological hatred of other 'racial' groups is so deeply entrenched that they must not only convey their dreadful beliefs to their children, but also write in permanent marker on their child's arms and legs incendiarily hateful messages of racist rubbish. Bringing attention to the child on the part of her teacher and the school administration.

The school sent home a seven year old girl when she showed up at her school with a swastika and racist slogans written on her body. Representing personal graffiti of an extremely odious variety. Which the child was meant to be proud of, as a proud declaration of social intent decorating her body, since she knew no better, and felt what those messages conveyed was important and just.

Sent home, she was told she was expected to wash away the markings. She returned the day following with additional such messages written on her body. In permanent ink. Adolf Hitler an exemplary public figure of great esteem, and the message "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children". Children know and believe, after all, what they are taught by those they most trust.

The child and her brother were living at the time with her step-father, the younger boy's natural father. Their mother had abandoned them to the care of her second husband; her first husband lived elsewhere and was estranged from all of them. "Black people don't belong. What people don't understand is that black people should die", the little girl said gravely, when she was interviewed.

Interviewed by a Child and Family Services worker. Repeating to the worker what her parents had carefully taught her. When she was asked if those messages caused her to be fearful, she responded: "No, black people just need to die. That's not scary. This is a white man's world."

The girl's stepfather insists his right to freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been violated. "I don't believe in interracial breeding", he explained, adding that people representing different 'races' should be "separated". He is proud of having membership in the "white pride" movement. And he taught his children that the sign of the Swastika was a sign of "love and peace".

Can't get much more twisted than that. The Court of Queen's Bench in Manitoba has now formally granted Child and Family Services of the Province "permanent guardianship" of the children, even though their mother has returned to the province and stated her wish to be re-united with her children.

The Judge, Marianne Rivoalen, made note of other of the step-father's lessons to his children, setting up a backyard bird feeder to attract and shoot birds and squirrels to feed them to the family dog. She remarked that this kind of atmosphere is not exactly conducive to encouraging healthy minds to prosper.

She concluded that "These children have a right to be protected from these things." And so, justice has been done, but it's sadly possible these children's minds have been warped, perhaps irremediably. Still, we can hope not, we can hope that despite the reality that children very much need the love and protection of their natural parents, some loving and patient adults will help them to develop in ways their parents failed.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Tale of Two Weather Extremes

In Washington, D.C., still desperately attempting to dig itself out from under two huge winter snowstorms, the Capital remains shut down, with government employees granted the fourth day in a row of weather-leave; each day of which costs the government approximately one million dollars.

Schools remain closed, as do businesses, as major traffic arteries remain unpassable due to the simple fact that the District of Columbia does not possess adequate-to-this-occasion weather-inclemency snow-clearing machinery. Why would they? These are truly 'storms of the century'.

And so, normal life has wound down temporarily, while people try to cope with their lack of mobility, with the fact that a quarter-million people in the area are trying to get along without electricity, with their isolation due to their inability to go anywhere calling upon resilience and patience.

The weather conditions have stormed right on into the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, with cities like Boston also experiencing white-outs and clogged streets and huge snow dumps.

But these weather systems will pass, and go into the archives as the successive storm systems of the century, and people will marvel in hindsight about how they were able to cope with that adversity, and how, in retrospect, it really was an exciting adventure that got their adrenalin going, even though it was dreary, back-breaking work to do all that shovelling that never seemed to end....

What has occurred in Afghanistan's northern Salang Pass in the Hindu Kush is a little more in the nature of weather-related tragedy. There, a series of no fewer than 17 avalanches cleared that major route linking the country's north and south of cars and buses carrying thousands of people on a regularly-travelled route. The 3.5-kilometre pass at about the 3,400-metre above sea level carries up to 16,000 vehicles each day.

The avalanches had shoved vehicles travelling on the road deep into the valley below, some now lying upside down on the floor of the valley. Passengers could be seen from above, and heard, crying for help. Some vehicles remained on the road, simply swamped by the burden of snow that fell over them, and their occupants were discovered frozen to death. There were dozens of buses on the route, each capable of carrying 40 to 50 passengers.

Most of these were swept off the road by the force of the avalanche, and down the side of the mountain. Buses were crushed, or ripped open like sardine cans, windows smashed. The latest figures of those found dead were roughly in the 170 range, with 1,600 people rescued. But hundreds of vehicles remain trapped in the pass and many people are believed to be stranded helpless, in their vehicles.

"It is a miracle these people survived buried under the snow for 37 hours", said the governor of Parwan province, the scene of the disaster, speaking of people rescued from one bus, where they had been trapped under the force of the avalanche.

Now that's a grand-scale catastrophe, with a weather system trapping helpless travellers far from immediate rescue. One for a far different set of environment-weather annals.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

World Refuge For Sociopaths: Canada

Come one, come all, it so often seems. Canada opens its friendly, welcoming arms to all who seek refuge from the travails of the world outside our Dominion. The country absorbs one quarter of a million immigrants every year. Little wonder, then, that immigration officers cannot always detect when an emigrating candidate is being frank and honest, or when he/she commits casual perjury in declaring themselves to be other than what they truly are.

Such false declarations, under Canadian law, exempt applicants from remaining in the country as landed immigrants. If sufficient time has passed for landed immigrants to embrace Canadian citizenship, that citizenship can legally be revoked if it is discovered that the application was false in any notable dimension. Canada has done some clearly fascinating things of late; placing a former Rwandan on trial for crimes against humanity.

On the other hand, when a friendly country like France issues a request for extradition of one suspected of having indulged in other crimes, like the bombing of a synagogue in that country where people died as a result, and where that very suspect entered Canada illegally, not fully divulging background details that would have restricted him from entry to the country, our laws permit him to vigorously defend himself.

When the Government of Canada has every intention of deporting an immigrant to his native country because both CSIS and the RCMP consider him to be a potential threat to the safety and security of the country, he is enabled to hold up proceedings by appealing to the justice system on the grounds that his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are being eroded.

Canada has, now, on a number of occasions, been forced to repatriate violent criminal offenders whom it has deported to their country of birth because our laws permit such individuals to employ lawyers on their behalf to contest the will and determination of federal government agencies such as the Canada Border Services Agency or the Immigration Ministry determined to rid the country of them.

We are to feel concerned that the human rights of people like Parminder Singh Saini who served a 10-year truncated life-sentence penalty in Pakistan for having been a brutally active member of the militant India Sikh Student Federation who enthusiastically undertook to lead a hijacking of an Air India flight with 264 passengers and crew, forcing the plane to land in Pakistan.

Parminder Singh Saini and his crew threatened to murder the hostages, demanding the release of imprisoned Sikh militants, asylum for themselves and a paltry pay-off of $23-million to assuage their thunderously furious sentiments against their country of birth. Which was more than happy to take him into custody after a two-decade-long absence - but never too late to pay the piper.

This man entered Canada under false identity, claiming to be an Afghan, with an entirely different name than his own. Living in Canada for 15 years before being discovered, he fought ferociously against deportation, ably aided by his Canadian lawyers. He even gained a law degree from University of Windsor; unfortunately for him the Law Society of Upper Canada deeming him to be 'not of good character' ruled him ineligible to practise.

Simply being successful at practising deceit, he learned, does not enable one to practise law in this country. A puzzling conundrum, he must feel, given the amazing support he has received from some Canadian lawyers who feel, obviously, that they are upholding the right of a decent citizen to full justice under the law. Their conception of how the law should be practised and arbitrated, obviously.

And they are appealing his removal from Canadian soil, and being deposited directly on arrival in India in prison there. To serve out his time on Indian soil for a crime committed there. It's fascinating that people whose activities are criminal and socially offensive seek out haven under false pretenses in a country like Canada, doubtless recognized internationally as a soft touch.

His deportation was seen to be a minor victory for the country in ridding itself of yet another leech, representing, in the opinion of two federal Ministers of the Crown, Vic Toews and Jason Kenney, "a victory for the rule of law, the integrity of our immigration system, and the safety and security of Canadians".

Not so fast, say the cadre of lawyers lingering in the background, awaiting their opportunity to render service to scoundrels, criminals and outcasts.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Rash Impulse, Fortunate Outcome


People continue to throw caution overboard and submit to the seemingly irresistible invitation to place themselves in danger by ignoring warning signs designed for their safety, advising that to venture beyond safe ski areas into what is essentially terra incognita is to invite disaster.

Off-limits sites where the snow is loftier, untouched and just waiting for some intrepid skier to happily advantage himself by opening new vistas to his art of gliding over fresh snow intices those who simply cannot visualize themselves lifeless, their bodies well wrapped in a thick covering of avalanche-snow until spring.

Which is why, every year, year after year, snowmobilers and skiers in Alberta and British Columbia take no heed of weather conditions and posted avalanche warnings, and signage meant to turn back dauntless skiers from sites where they will be essentially left to their own devices should disaster strike. These disastrous occurrences, occasionally involving multiple deaths at a time in the event of a catastrophic avalanche seem to resonate for a brief period of time, and then the awareness dissipates.

Survival chances for those trapped under tonnes of snow is judged in minutes. If someone else is present and able to hastily dig out the overwhelmed skier survival is a possibility. If a buried skier has no nearby human resources to rely upon his life is forfeit. The potential for physical injury, suffocation, trauma and hypothermia all too often carry the day. Rescue searches may find bodies, the corporeal essence of a person, his spirit and soul fled.

But there are always rare exceptions to anything, and one such exception survived an avalanche in the Swiss Alps, even though he was buried in a solid vault of snow completely immobilizing his body for a period of 17 hours. "After the event I realize I took a childish and ill-considered risk", said Cedric Genaud, lying in a hospital bed being treated for mild hypothermia after his "long cold night".

Mountain rescuers consider his escape from otherwise-certain death nothing but a "miracle"; his burial under an avalanche while skiing off-site alone in Evolene resulting in no one being aware of where he might be located. "I couldn't move my legs or hands, I could just move my head ... It was like a sarcophagus, like having concrete around me", the 21-year-old Swiss skier explained.

His rescuers said he was one fortunate man. Once he left the secure ski runs, even though there was a well-publicized avalanche risk, it was just sheer luck that a rescue helicopter's searchlights enabled searchers to make out his tracks. Still, because of dangerous conditions, they'd had to abandon the rescue attempt overnight. A helicopter team at first light saw his barely-visible helmet.

It is a certainty that Mr. Genoud will always remember, vividly, his lonely 17 hours covered with frozen snow at the 2,000-metre mark up a mountainside, able to move his head only enough to create an air pocket enabling him to breathe and to nourish himself with snow.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Um, Thanks, But No Thanks...

Whoops, here's another don't. One I can live with, as long as I don't think too deeply about its larger implications. Soft drinks. Who needs them? They're chemical concoctions heavily laced with sugar. Kid stuff. Unhealthy kid stuff. Yet everyone seems to enjoy them; virtually everyone. Go into any supermarket and invariably the carts will contain soft drinks to haul home to the waiting crowd.

The corrosive quality of the ingredients of something like a cola drink are well known. It always fascinated me that people would deliberately pour that junk into their bodies. There are so many other liquids to quaff, why soda pop? It's wet and thirst-quenching to be sure, but so full of garbage that our bodies don't need it's just not a sensible choice.

Especially with all the alternatives, ranging from all manner of fruit juices to milk products of an astonishing variety, and liquid soy products. And, of course, tea, and coffee. Both of which are said by those who claim to know because of their degrees in the nutritional sciences, to actually be good for you. Oh yes, there's alcohol too, and as long as it's used moderately, well and good.

Would you eat or drink something that gives you a hearty-good chance of shortening your life in a rather painfully abrupt manner? Statistics are telling; about 3,900 Canadians were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year. A type of cancer difficult to detect because of symptoms that are so likely to lead diagnosis long after the cancer has spread.

And the symptoms don't read like a leisurely walk in the park: nausea, vomiting, pain in the upper abdomen or upper back, describing the carnage being done to one's body in the later stages of infection and spread. "By the time you do detect this type of cancer, it has often spread to different parts of the body, making it difficult to treat".

Not good news. Risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include smoking, diabetes and obesity, according to a senior manager of cancer control policy at the Canadian Cancer Society. So what's this all about? This new conclusion rating soda pop as enemy number Incipient Grief?

Well, this week a new study was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention which found that people consuming 3 or more sugar-sweetened drinks a week had a 57% greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those who drank say, one soft drink per month.

The study concluded that drinking two or more soft drinks a week may nearly double an individual's risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Ingesting an excess of sugar, it appears, increases insulin levels. And the researchers conjectured that sugar in soft drinks represented the culprit. High insulin concentrations are thougt to encourage the growth of pancreatic cancer cells.

Whoa! There's a whole lot of people out there drinking pop. It's become an accepted way of life for a huge proportion of the population. In the country that gave the world Coca Cola, that drink is often imbibed from breakfast to lunch to dinnertime and snacks in between. And what about people who eschew soft drinks?

People say, who prefer to take their liquid delights in the form of tea and coffee. And drink pots of both each and every day. And add dollops of sugar to sweeten their tea and coffee. Sugar, lots of it, right?

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

It's a Dog's Life






























The weather in the Ottawa region warmed up more nicely than the forecast gave us cause to anticipate. With full sun and slight wind and the temperature rising to -5 C. we were able to take our two little dogs out into the ravine for our quotidian trail ramble without their having to wear boots, for a nice change. It's a bother putting those boots on them, and taking them off, as well; a bit of a complication on top of their wearing little coats to keep them unfrosted, given their size, one a miniature- the other a toy-size poodle.

So off we went, and found to our delight, that Stumpy, our bold little ravine squirrel was out scrambling along with other black squirrels, but they fully tailed, underneath one of the bird feeders that a kind soul had put in place. We see the squirrels swinging from time to time, from the feeders, extracting as much seed as they can. The couple who supply the seeds whenever the feeders run empty - and that's often enough - have finally wryly agreed there is nothing more they can do to dissuade the squirrels.

Because it's a Sunday we came across other people using the ravine trails from time to time, most of them with dogs of their own. One older woman alone, walking a little Welsh-terrier mix as small as our toy poodle and wearing an identical coat for warmth, kept us talking for a while, clearly as pleased to see us enjoying the wonderful resource we share, as we were to come across her. And, of course, it's always fascinating to see the dogs interact. Her little dog was lively and engaged, ours clearly unwilling.

We came across a young pair of girls walking a Nova Scotia duck toller and since that breed is very often hostile, we figured it best to keep our own hostile little dog away from another who might very well reciprocate bad feelings. The larger dog would have the clear advantage; always best to avoid unpleasant encounters, though our encounter with the young dog walkers was pleasant enough.

But then came along a bumptious puppy, just a tad larger than our miniature poodle and more heavily haired with swirls of caramel and soft white, and I instantly snapped up our black miniature poodle. She has always been inoffensive, never given to fending for herself against other dogs' unwanted close contacts and now that she is fully seventeen years of age, we prefer to protect her from misadventure.

Such as the one that occurred yesterday during our ravine walk when that same excited puppy danced all over her, actually flattening her to the ground and once pinned there, continued to prance all over her in its frantic-antic display of puppy-affectionate playfulness. Yesterday, her rescue was belated and she was rather dishevelled and perhaps also a trifle miserable over the encounter, because when I picked her up she was trembling, poor thing.

Today, there was no repeat of yesterday's occurrence. We didn't bother doing anything about our toy poodle, but let him toddle along at his own pace, to confront the happy-go-lucky puppy. Our toy poodle is ten years old, and while not grumpy, not given to heartily and cheerfully greeting other canines. Confronted by a squirrel, a cat, a rabbit, he's amenable and kindly; by a dog, completely otherwise.

The happy puppy found itself confronting a cantankerous elder, and quickly backed off. I meant to speak quietly to its owner, to suggest she make an effort to socialize her puppy to its own advantage, and hers. Because it is a very small dog, and its habit of jumping up repeatedly at and over and around other dogs might very well land it in hot water some day when some large, mean dog might take violent exception.

Besides which, it's really hard not to laugh out loud at this little dog's enthusiastic antics. He's so blissed out on life. Doesn't want to miss anything, including greeting strange dogs and inviting them to some boisterous playtime with him. Dogs really are like people in so many ways, with their little idiosyncrasies and habits and feelings of prerogative and entitlements needing to be constrained for their own good.

Our daughter is now experiencing some difficulties with one of her small dogs, a Sheltie. She has encountered a number of difficulties with this little dog. From the time he was young he had problems with his back legs; a genetic legacy of shallow sockets and joints, resulting in easy dislocation. Occasionally his leg would slip out of the socket, but not badly enough to cause problems.

Glucosamine helps ours with this same problem, but Stevie's problem is far more urgent.
The original veterinarian who examined Stevie in fact mis-diagnosed his problem. And now that he is eight years old, he has become more susceptible to really serious dislocations. One of which occurred a month ago, leaving him in pain ever since. Our daughter thought that things would clear up as they usually did.

Stevie is a rambunctious, excitable, energetic little dog, and he’s likely to expend too much vibrant energy in places that might present as dangerous to him in particular. That’s what appears to have happened. Perhaps on one of their daily walks. Our daughter's dogs, large and small, all ten of them, are also accustomed to wrestling among themselves, fairly strenuously, and it’s possible that one of those events took its toll on him.

When his condition did not clear of its own, despite that our daughter kept him isolated from the others to try to give him space and time to recuperate, she finally took him to a veterinarian whom she trusts. This woman gave a diagnosis that seemed to explain all of Stevie’s problems. The prognosis doesn’t look good, however.

It’s highly likely he will require surgery to try to ameliorate his problem and permit him to regain mobility. In the interim, hoping that less stringent measures might still be useful, the vet fixed his leg back into the socket, immobilized his leg, binding it toward his stomach area, and he’s not to use it for the next week, at which time our daughter will return him to the veterinarian and she will assess his progress, if any has occurred.

In the meantime, she has had to devise a sling to put over him, to help him with his balance when she takes him out to allow him to defecate or urinate. In contrast to that kind of misfortune, we've been fairly fortunate with our older dog, Button. She has lost some of her front teeth, her hearing is impaired and her eyesight not as keen as formerly. But she remains energetic and interested in everything.

She eats well, and heartily. She is uncompromisingly herself. She leaps effortlessly onto the sofa when she wants to, although from time to time she will 'miss'. We're hoping for as many more years as possible yet to share life with her.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Strings Attached

Dog lovers quite often admit they dislike cats. And cat fanciers feel that felines are superior to dogs. In intelligence surely; and they also value the independence of cats. Cats aren't helpless, as dogs appear; they're not dependent on the presence of their human companions to be happy. And the aloof nature of cats appeals to many people, preferring that to the sloppy emotionalism and needfulness of dogs.

That quaint old term 'fighting like cats and dogs' has its genesis in the reality that, most often, dogs and cats prefer the company of their own, they take umbrage at the presence of the other. Dogs love to chase cats and cats most often hold their own in a never-ending battle. Dog owners likely feel superior to cat owners, and the reverse is also true. But is the intelligence question and answer reliable?

Here's a twist on that old conundrum. Researchers at the University of Bristol claim through the results of a survey of pet ownership that cat owners are more intelligent than dog owners. How's that? Well, it would appear that they claim better educated people have a tendency to work long hours which compels them to select a pet that can thrive on its own.

The result being that cat owners turn out to be more likely to have had a university degree as opposed to people with dogs who, as a class, spend more time with their pets, because they have more time to spend; ordinary working stiffs, not time-twisted over-achievers. Working overtime? no stress, the cat doesn't need to be walked.

"Cats require less time per day than a dog, so they are more popular with educated people who work late and have long commutes", according to a lecturer in feline epidemiology who led the study. "We don't think it is associated with income because that was one of the variables we looked at, and there was little difference."

And another finding seems to corroborate what any casual onlooker might have guessed: that it was more likely that older, female pet owners would be involved with cat ownership. The study, published in the Veterinary Record journal also pointed out that a mere 7% of households came complete with pets of both species.

For most pet owners, the pre-existence in the household of a cat would diminish the chances that a dog would be introduced into the house, and vice versa. Dogs, the research concluded were to be found more often in larger households where the potential of dog-walking duties being shared was a constant.

However, the more interesting finding of the survey, respecting which of the species is more intelligent, may yet have dog owners crooning victory. The publication of an earlier study demonstrated that dogs are superior in their ability to reason out simple tasks, in contrast to cats' failure to do likewise.

The task was simple enough and appealed to the animals' instincts to secure food for themselves. Two pieces of string, one of which was attached to a food reward, had dogs responding with a high degree of accuracy. Whereas cats presented with the same sturdy little task were unable to discern which of the strings to pull to obtain their treat.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Tragedy On The Ski Slopes

Schools go out of their way to provide all manner of interesting opportunities for the children in their tutelage. Trips are proposed with a view to exposing children to different learning and recreational situations to enhance the educational process and to inject a little bit of excitement in the school day. Stock permission forms are taken home by students to be read by their parents, and signed, permitting their children to take part in school activities outside the normal day-to-day classroom tedium.

Parents are also expected to sign waivers, when they permit their child to accompany their friends and co-students on these jaunts outside the classroom. While the school board in question and the school's administration and teaching staff promise to do everything in their power to protect and guide the children out of harm's way, the parents are asked to indicate their trust by signing the responsibility waiver. Parents are also invited to accompany children on these trips, as chaperones.

Without doubt, there are never enough adults present on trips, wherever they take place, to adequately keep tab on all the children under their care. Accidents will, and do occur. And they often result in tragedies. Not all tragedies can be prevented. Children are taken out to areas where they can indulge happily in winter-time sports like tobogganing, sledding, ice-skating, skiing. And children, to ensure they have a survivable opportunity, are urged to wear protective helmets.

Helmets are such a good idea as a way to aid in preventing catastrophic head injuries that a study released in the Canadian Medical Association Journal asserts that when skiing or snowboarding there is a significant risk reduction of 35% with the use of helmets. Statistics also inform that tragic accidents resulting in death are rare. Of the 12.3-million skier visits in Canada in 2005-2006, there were 138 head injuries requiring hospitalization.

Those are comforting odds. Put another way, someone who skies 20 winter days annually has a lifetime chance of dying from a ski-related head injury of one in 23,500. Favourably compared to the lifetime odds of dying in a vehicle crash, at roughly one in 250. (?!!) But statistics are mere numbers, cold hard facts that may or may not be quite accurate. That rare accident that results in a death is a reality, an emotional, not a rational catastrophe that should not happen.

But it did to an eleven-year-old girl who attended a Perth elementary school in the Upper Canada District School Board. She, along with other students from her school went on a ski trip with teachers and parent volunteers to the Calabogie Peaks Resort for a day of fun and recreation. The girl had skied previously, she was wearing a helmet, there were ski instructors available. Somehow, the girl skied down a slope, one of many, from beginner to expert runs, and went directly into a tree.

Her injuries were fatal. First aid was provided on site, she was airlifted to Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and there was pronounced dead. There is no moral to this story.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Persistent Vegetative State (PVS)

Relatives of unfortunate victims of accidents so severe that they have been left in what is termed a 'vegetative state' characterized by extended periods of unconsciousness - by an inability to communicate leading to the conclusion that there was no brain function, often - after years of deteriorating physical condition have either requested that life-support be removed, or struggled to convince medical experts that they were certain their loved ones were aware, and defied intentions to remove them from life support.

Mothers, looking into the open, but vacant eyes of their children, could still see a spark of intelligence and awareness when medical experts could not. They would appeal to the humanity of the professionals whose decision it might be to remove life-support to enable the stricken person to die. Now it would appear that there is indeed truth to their belief, that some of those patients given up to die - through the conviction that their life-force had elapsed and extraordinary measures to maintain their bodies were futile - are salvageable.

It wasn't all that long ago, in fact, that a sensitive and discerning neuroscientist made the intuitive leap that what had been taken by others in the profession as a brain-dead patient on life-support was in fact a still-brain-functional, fully aware and intelligent human being trapped in a body that tragedy left incapable of functioning. That neuroscientist worked with the patient until he made contact, firmly establishing that the man could function, with the assistance of modern scientific-health technology.

And now with the use of brain scans, medical professionals unequivocally demonstrated that some victims from whom no outward signs of awareness can be detected, are capable of comprehending and communicating, albeit with great difficulty. The physical trauma they suffered resulting in catastrophic brain damage along with damage to the functioning of their motor muscles left them locked in a seemingly non-communicative state.

One that a team at the Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, U.K. found was not entirely unbridgeable. They carried out research which resulted in their understanding that brain scans could reveal much, hitherto unrevealed to them. "Not only did these scans tell us that the patient was not in a vegetative state but, more importantly, for the first time in five years, it provided the patient with a way of communicating his thoughts to the outside world.

"We can be pretty confident he is entirely conscious. He has to understand the instructions, comprehend speech, and then make a decision." That decision being to make use of a codified response to personal questions geared to establish his capability of understanding and response. The patient was instructed to imagine a certain physical movement; one for "yes", another for "no", and then imagine those movements in response to questions.

The thought processes were picked up in spatial areas at the top of the brain, to enable the researchers to transcribe the "navigational tasks" assigned as "yes" and "no" responses and match those responses to the questions asked, establishing the accuracy and veracity of the responses. More than adequately proving by the unerring quality of the responses that the patient who had formerly been given up as lost to life, was still functioning.

The patient in question was 28, brain-damaged as a result of a vehicle crash which left him in a coma leading to persistent vegetative state for fully two years. He appeared awake, occasionally blinking his eyes, but no other sign of awareness was evident. It is now assumed that perhaps one in five PVS patients may be capable of communicating. And this brings the medical community to the conundrum of how and when life-support systems should be removed.

Obviously, only after each and every such patient has undergone use of the functional magnetic resonance scanner measuring their brain response.

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Extreme Bravery

On this day at Rideau Hall, Governor-General Michaelle Jean was pleased to confer Canada's Star of Courage in recognition of "acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril", to an American U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer. What this man, Drew Dazzo, and his flying partner in their Coast Guard H60 Jayhawk helicopter did - flying 150 metres above three sailors whose 44-ft sailboat had capsized in sub-tropical storm Andrea off the coast of North Carolina - was a miracle of a rescue.

The sea below the helicopter was a raging maelstrom with gale-force winds gusting close to 150 kilometres an hour, turning the Atlantic Ocean into a sailor's nightmare. The three capsized sailors had been in the water for eight hours clinging to what was left of their life-raft in May of 2007. The men had long since given up hope that they would survive their ordeal, and then suddenly, above them was a red-and-white Coast Guard helicopter.

While flight mechanic Petty Officer Scott Higgins was at the controls of the whirlybird, his partner, (second class) Petty Officer Drew Dazzo prepared himself for an Herculean effort that he wasn't certain would result in the rescue they hoped to accomplish. Within the period of an anguished half-hour Scott Higgins had lowered had raised his partner Drew Dazzo from the helicopter to the raging seas below enough times to effect the rescue.

The three men ,whose lives were in imminent peril; 62-year-old Rudy Snel of Ottawa, Jean Pierre de Lutz, a 58-year-old Frenchman, and Britisher Ben Tye, 31 years of age, had finally been lifted aboard the helicopter, soaked and violently shivering. Lowered into raging seas at the end of 30 to 40 metres of cable and tossed about by violent winds there was no guarantee that the rescuer would not himself lose his life.

But he managed to get one man after another into the metal basket, and to haul them to safety into the helicopter. Between each rescue, the raft the men were on drifted further and further away. "It was extremely dangerous. It scared me that we'd made a bad mistake. I thought, what was I going to tell his wife?" said Petty Officer Higgins, fearing his partner would be knocked unconscious by one of the huge waves.

"There wasn't any fear in my mind, I was all pumped up on adrenaline. But I said to myself, 'Man, are we going to be able to do this?' At one point I couldn't see the helicopter on the horizon. That's how big the waves were. I just didn't know if we were going to get the other two guys and myself out", reminisced Petty Officer Dazzo. But they did, and then it was time to hoist him out of danger and into the hovering aircraft.

Just as Petty Officer Dazzo began to slip the collar of the lowered cable under his legs a huge wave hit, twisting him into a violent spasm. "I honestly thought he'd broke his back", the pilot said, explaining that when they later inspected the cable they found that 15 of its strands had snapped. When the diver was finally hauled to safety, in pain from his wrenched back, exhausted from his superhuman efforts and vomiting seawater, the ordeal was almost over.

The three rescued sailors were taken immediately to hospital, and so was the rescue swimmer. "That was a once-in-a-career rescue. One's enough for me", said Dazzo. His heroism urgently required official recognition in gratitude for courage beyond the call of duty.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

"Extreme Overcrowding"

Bad news from Ontario's fiscal discomfiture with its nasty deficit threatening to withhold funding from the province's hospitals. And hospital administrators already feeling themselves between a rock and a hard place - to offer the public services they require with current funding levels, hoping to receive something in excess of a 2% funding increase - are collectively wincing.

There are enough people who complain that the health care system in the province is not even close to matching their elected standards. On the other hand, there are more than enough on the other end of the scale who profess themselves satisfied with the level of care they receive in that same system. It's just that none of us would like to see any slippage occur.

Bad enough when hospitals were merged, and we lost a lot of beds and operating time in that unfortunate finance-deliberated squeeze. Tighter budgets all around, and more inventive use of what was available. Resulting in overworked nursing staff, low morale, inadequate hygiene practises within hospitals with less cleaning staff, and not enough surgical times.

Now the results of a planning exercise, described by Dr. Robert Cushman, chief executive of the Champlain LHIN has hospital administrators reeling with its results undertaken to "describe how shocking it would be and what the domino effect would be", should area hospitals proceed with cuts without peer consultation to avoid deleterious impacts on the entire system.

"The whole message was, 'We're in this together, and you have to plan together", explained Dr. Cushman. The results of the documents saw the Queensway Carleton Hospital projecting a $7.7-million deficit on a $151-million budget which would mean eliminating 17 beds and 500 blocks of operating-room time.

While the Ottawa Hospital, the region's largest, would need to close six to eight operating rooms to make up for a $43-million funding short-fall along with the related loss of 100 beds. In a system already struggling to accommodate patients, where many are even now placed in beds temporarily set up in hospital corridors.

The wait time for elective and urgent surgeries would inevitably swell to impossible, impacting further on peoples' waning health conditions. Ontario's projected $24.7-billion deficit will mitigate against fully funding hospitals to the extent that might be anticipated under normal circumstances.

The unfortunate truth is roughly 43% of the Ontario budget is already dedicated to health concerns. With a rash of industrial-production losses over the last few years, and a rising level of provincial unemployment figures resulting in lower tax revenues in an strained economy, hospitals will bless their good fortune if their hoped-for 2% funding increase materializes.

But even with that funding increase The Ottawa Hospital faces a shortfall of between $20- to $25-million. Hard times in a precarious economy impacting on a fragile health system.

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