Ruminations

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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sad Nobility

Highway travel inspires people to drive too quickly. And to leave too little room between them and the vehicle ahead. It's a simple fact of peoples' attention to where they want to go, not how they're negotiating the getting-there. People drive too fast, and take little heed all too often of the need to maintain a reasonable distance.

And you might think that people driving motorcycles would be even more aware of this kind of danger, but too many simply do not give any evidence that they do.

That being said, tragedies occur, with or without human fault involved, although usually there is some attribution to someone involved, of inattention at the best, neglect at the worst. There is a high price to pay in highway accident injuries and all too often, mortal injuries leading directly to death.

When that happens it is a horribly dreadful thing, and to mete out judgement respecting responsibility is also difficult.

So when a woman, involved in a highway traffic accident which has caused the tragic deaths of her husband and her daughter, pleads leniency for the driver of the vehicle which was in part or whole responsible for her loss, this represents an act of bereaved nobility.
"She saw them die, both of them. that's enough of a punishment for a young woman of only 20 years old. You can punish her until she is 60 years old, but it won't bring my family back. She's been through enough." Pauline Volikakis.
Mrs. Volikakis was driving a motorcycle on Highway 30 near Candiac on Montreal's South Shore. Also driving his own motorcycle was her husband, Andre Roy, and with him their daughter, 16-year-0ld Jessie. The driver of the vehicle in front of them stopped suddenly, because she noted a family of ducks crossing the road.

Both motorcycles crashed into the suddenly-stopped car.

Mrs. Volikakis cradled her daughter in her arms, and believes that her child died on impact. She briefly saw a flicker of life in her husband's eyes as he passed into death. There is nothing that can console such grief. "I was trying to comfort Jessie, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn't help her", she said. "Andre opened one eye, but that was all."

This will be her memory for life.

Having witnessed the young driver's reaction to what she saw as the outcome of her reflexive action to avoid harming a family of ducks, by becoming the agent of death for two people, she has no wish to prolong the misery and agony for that young woman, four years older than her own child.

Mrs. Volikakis was also mindful of the generosity of a handful of strangers who stopped to try to help. "They were there from the very moment it happened until the very end. Certainly, it was very unsettling for them to witness."

What an enormously warm and humane spirit.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Innovative Solutions

That is, innovative in respect to one highly capable and skilled individual capable of conveying to a wide audience of would-be-learners lessons in achievement. That achievement being understanding of a topic through the initiator's capable instruction. This is a new kind of classroom, entirely. One geared to assist those who are interested in helping themselves. The self-motivated. Like himself, but lacking the genius he displays.

Self-starters, those who are compelled by their own sense of curiosity and adventure in learning to attend this virtual classroom to avail themselves of the knowledge contained therein.

The "teacher" in that "classroom" is unique for his degree of intelligence, his self-confidence, his own personal quest for knowledge, and for his wishes to aid others in their quests to become more knowledgeable. About any number of topics, in fact. Including mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, finance and history. There was a time when someone so gifted would be called a polymath.

But Salman Khan, who lives in Mountain View, California, a 33-year-old who chose to leave his job as a hedge-fund analyst in favour of producing a myriad of lectures on a myriad of topics is also something else exceedingly rare. He is an altruist. Someone who, while not entirely anonymous, is willing to spend his time and his knowledge and his availability, thanks to his website: www.khanacademy.org, teaching others.

"I'm starting a virtual school for the world, teaching things the way I wanted to be taught", he explained as the only faculty of his nonprofit Khan Academy, modestly operating from the small ranch house where his wife and infant son live with him. Teaching credentials? No graduation from teachers' college, no significant 'papers' to be framed as proof, only the outstanding success of his efforts. Each day, his lectures are viewed 70,000 times.

His students run the gamut from preschoolers to well-paid professionals. From its inception in 2006, the Khan Academy has recorded over sixteen million views. And he has impressed people who have the wherewithal to invest in his venture, to aid in providing Mr. Khan with a salary. A high degree of achievement and intelligence is extended to his wife, who studied medicine at Stanford, while Mr. Khan received a computer science degree from MIT, an MBA from Harvard.

His students learn that they can begin their studies wherever they wish, within the curriculum. They proceed at a pace to match their comfort level. Mr. Khan immerses himself in study material to produce lectures on topics that are of interest to him and meaningful, but which do not fall under his studied expertise. "I just ponder things, until they're clear", he explains, and this is how he also presents his lectures for the edification of his on-line pupils.

"I'm the 'Dear Abby' of math problems. But if you understand something, shouldn't you be able to explain it? Isn't that the whole point?" He enjoys the topics he teaches, and feels an obligation to aid others in achieving success in understanding them. "I've already got a beautiful wife, a great son and a house. What else do you need? I get to learn all this stuff. It's what makes me happy", he says.

"This is the operating system for a whole new school."

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Social Activism

Doesn't the public absolutely thrill to the spectacle of authority derided, punctured, denied and flouted? There just appears to be something about some segments of society, which would of course, include the rejectionist youth, already fatigued with the idea of a bureaucracy of global partnership in control of the world's wealth, national interactions, trade and currency supply.

What most appeals to the middle-class youth demographic, tipping their brains into various aspects of social-responsibility-enhanced educational opportunities, is the need to display their rejection of norms, and their embrace of equality as defined by draining funding and opportunities from an upper strata of society and re-distributing it in a downward spiral of generous inclination.

As though that would, in effect, prove that their idealism is the response to the world's ills. As though by filtering down to the lower middle class and the poverty stricken the avails of profits taken by a socialist-type government edict through heavily taxing the wealthy, the world would become magically balanced.

Depriving those within a population of the urge to become enterprisingly successful, in attaining a height of prosperity through hard work, would result in a dispiriting lack of interest in self-aspiration. And those to whom funding is doled out for the purpose of achieving societal balance would have no reason to make an effort on their own behalf.

Look no further than those countries of the world for whom the social-political compact exemplified by communism have failed to product equality for their populations, either of social or economic or political standing. Even if the theory behind the communist ideal made sense on an abstract scale, those seeking to practise the reality come face to face with the reality that human beings are discrete animals with their own individual emotions and needs.

The concept of a social-political construct that would benefit all of its organisms equally, irrespective of the work and time and skill-investment of each and every member of that society, is one that resembles the quintessential mechanistic-equal society, that of ants or of bees. But even there, in those colonies, there is no complete equality, since there are strata of achievement and of command. True altruism is simply not to be found in nature's creatures.

Denied, in fact, since Nature has imbued all of her living organisms with the selfish concern of self-perpetuation, the survival imperative, which instructs those creatures to seek the initiative by which they will be individually, and singly, able to survive, if not themselves, then their offspring; their genetic code will continue to live. Nature's original plan for the survival of the fittest; those that are successful in altering themselves to best suit their environment.

In any event, those without experience of the world, who believe, because of their youth and their idealism, and their brief intellectual forays into ideological concepts readily embraced, surrender readily to the easy fix. And the euphoric belief that all will be well once the greed of corporate interests and global finances have been drained of the wealth that has accrued to them, and equally distributed to those within society disinterested or incapable of, or unwilling to make themselves responsible for their own well being.

The reality that there will always be a strata of society for whom an individual fate has decreed they will remain on the lower edge of economic struggle, and a larger middle bulge of those who become capable of fending for themselves and their families, and a smaller yet demographic of those whom fortune, or their own ambitions and opportunities have enabled to become wealthy will not be altered by the dreams of juvenile minds.

But the club of the righteous is an expansive one and their isolation of those who are to blame for the ills of the world, and their battle to reveal the world's unjust and unfair human condition becomes their passion. An idealistic world view from people for whom the answers are simple, but the solutions anything but.

And these are the people who form groups of like-minded activists whose function is to decry the condition of the impoverished the overlooked, the welfare recipients, the indigent populations of the capitalist world, that great harrowed underbelly of society whom society in fact, does its best to look after, if only from a spirit of ill conscience.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pink, Frilly Echinacea!





















How perfectly ... well, perfect. What more could we conceivably ask for? Two telephone calls in less than a week, one from Barcelona, the other from Lourdes. Just to keep in touch. To let us know. How wonderfully thoughtful. He told us about his week in Genoa, the mountains he climbed, what he saw there, and his impressions. And after a month away in Spain, Italy and France, he will be returning home. And our granddaughter, her class valedictorian, was hugely praised at the commencement ceremonies - grade eight to high school. We can hardly believe so much time has elapsed.

Our daily walk in the ravine, always itself its own reward, gave us further reward when we were accosted several times during our daily jaunt by our favourite little squirrel, Stumpy. Thus named for the simple reason that instead of owning a long, sweeping furry tail he has but a stump of one. There is another little black squirrel in the ravine also tailless like Stumpy, but not as bold as he. There are some grey and some red squirrels whose bravery and recognition of our regular route as we drop off peanuts in various places, is noted, but not extraordinary.

For Stumpy tracks us, and approaches us, coming as close as he dares. He knows our voices. When we call, he often appears, although he could be just about anywhere in the ravined woods. He will occasionally accost us two or three times during the course of our hike, each time quite far from the place previous. He is a delightful little creature, brave and clever. He does not entirely surrender his need to ensure his safety but he cannot ever be certain he is not in imminent danger.

There are owls and hawks in the woods and he could be seen as prey. Let alone the many dogs who walk through with their humans, most of them willing and eager to chase squirrels. Our two little dogs are little different, other than for the fact that they know Stumpy and accept his calm presence. While he cannot let down his guard he will come to within five feet of us and stand alert before us, awaiting his peanut. Always a three-chamber peanut for Stumpy.

And then, in the afternoon, my husband suggested it would be interesting to go along to a local family-operated plant nursery, one we have been frequenting for many years. I was initially reluctant, even though he's heard me say frequently enough lately that I would like to have a few new perennials to fill in some garden spots. In that nursery, one of the area's largest, and certainly one of the best-stocked and best-cared for, I felt as though I was running amok with desire and greed.

Everything looked compellingly attractive, and we rummaged about here and there, expressing admiration for the varied and colourful perennials and annuals. Who even knew there were now annual galliardia? We now have annual blanket flower in our garden beds. And more asters and dahlias. And a new type of Hibiscus, hardy to our 5a growing zone. And a huge Astilbe, a new cultivar, with graceful foliage and a wonderful floral crop. And a new type of Echinacea, one with bright pink, frilly flower heads.

I managed to happily plant the annuals, didn't even bother changing out of my long skirt. Our garden soil is incredibly rich as a result of all the compost we've spread over the years, from our kitchen and garden waste. And the addition of a combination of bone- and blood-meal helped in the planting. Later, I snipped some sweet basil and oregano out of the herb garden, and we began to assemble a pizza, for our evening meal. A fragrant conclusion to a fantastic day.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Growing Canada?

True, Canada represents a huge territorial geography. The Canadian landscape is varied and magnificent. from our boreal forests to our maritime provinces, our industrial heartland to our thriving prairies, bordered by the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Arctic. The country's natural resources, from minerals to lumber, natural gas and oil deposits to fish stocks and inland lakes, our great prairies and agricultural lands, and our productive and entrepreneurial population, reflect abundance and good stewardship.

Do we really need to think about improving on what we have to the extent of planning to increase our population from its current 34-million to double, triple that? While it is true any economy needs a growing, educated and capable workforce to ensure that production of goods and services remain equal to our needs and that our industrial capabilities keep pace with our need to export to balance our imports, and to grow our markets, domestic and international, at a modest rate to reflect positively on our GDP, there are limits to be cognizant of.

Canada is basically a northern country, and as a result of that geographic reality its population consumes a large share of the world's energy for heating and cooling and production needs. Our large geographic area means more energy is used in transporting goods across the country. Technological advances and new sources of energy may, in the future, ameliorate the harmful effects of traditional energy usage and the spewing of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but in the short term a larger population does translate as one that requires more of everything.

At one time when Canada accepted immigrants to swell its population, those immigrants were left to their own devices. To adjust to the climate, the society, the politics, the entitlements as landed immigrants and citizens, and above all, to the employment opportunities available. To do this, new immigrants had to learn a new language, new customs and shed the traditions and loyalties they left behind, embracing Canadian values and the need to integrate into the larger society.

In this new, enlightened world, newcomers to Canada no longer have to face the perils of a personal struggle to exist and to conquer adversity in a strange land. Tax dollars, administered by government agencies and by private concerns which are also largely funded through tax dollars, help immigrants adjust, learn a new language, prepare them for meaningful employment, teach their children, and offer health and social services as and when required. Immigrants take advantage of the opportunities availing them to sponsor extended family members; another cost to the taxpayer.

These costly and assistive devices to welcome new immigrants have their limits. Inviting much greater numbers of the world's migrant populations to Canada will impose an ever larger burden on the indigenous population before the newcomers can even begin to pay their way through becoming financially independent and through paying their own share of the tax burden. And then there is the reality that most immigrants seek to settle in large urban areas.

Canada's largest cities are already overburdened and close to being overwhelmed by a huge influx of immigrants from various parts of the world. Cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg and Ottawa are already groaning under the added civic burden to provide new housing and other needed civic infrastructure, (public transportation, sewage, hydro transmission) all of it costly, to adequately function. Crowded conditions in the country's major cities will impair their functionality with long transit times, and a need for new infrastructure.

Additionally, too many of those immigrants have not been instructed on entry of their obligation to assume the values and the customs that already prevail within the country. We see large enclaves of ethnic and religious groups setting themselves aside and apart from the prevailing society. People are wont to do this, seeking comfort in the familiarity of surrounding themselves with others of like background and traditions. But this does not aid integration. In earlier decades, people gradually assimilated, while still honouring their heritage, but this is occurring less and less.

The expectation for and pursuit of social cohesion is the defining force of a well functioning society, even while it acknowledges that the addition of a multiplicity of other authentic customs that can complement the original culture, can be desirable. A pluralistic society where all of its constituents love in mutual respect and harmony with one another is the goal. And while people will always have their differences, the goal is to offer equal opportunities to all, so that no one will feel ill done by and left out of the general pool of aspirants to success.

Indifference to the situation that exists now in Canada where immigrants from countries vastly unlike those of North America and Europe - people escaping intolerable social conditions, living under totalitarian governments, where rights are restricted, often arrive anxious to claim new liberties - yet insisting on importing their customs and traditions rather than melding them with those that already exist, and accepting that this country's laws and traditions and existing social customs apply to everyone equally, does us no credit.

The insistence from the liberal-left that everyone and everything is equally valuable with no discrimination against customs and traditions that run counter in value and priority to ours represents a harmful sanctimony. When one group of immigrants harbours a resentment against another that hearks back to traditions prevailing in their countries of origin and scurrilous attitudes demeaning one to the other prevail, civil society suffers. When customs are imported that run counter to Canada's, customs that are degrading and harmful, they must be apprehended.

It is one thing to be nostalgic for what has been left behind. It is another thing entirely to import customs and behaviours that are not socially acceptable in a country that has welcomed immigrants to be part of their future. Canada needs to welcome people who can demonstrate that they are capable of integrating, of valuing the social customs that prevail in the country. The social contract prevailing in Canada is one that prizes and protects the rights of the vulnerable in society; women, children, gays, the physically and mentally challenged.

This is an egalitarian society, and theoretically as well as practically, people are free to practise what they will, as long as no harm comes to others by so doing. These are freedoms guaranteed to Canadians under the law of the land; the Canadian Charger of Rights and Freedoms. Freedoms to practise one's religion, freedom of speech and assembly, and all other freedoms that flow from those, with respect to our democratic rights, our equality and legal rights.

All these and other issues should be carefully thought out before the bright lights of the intellectuals in academia and government muse about dramatically increasing the size of the Canadian population through a deliberate course of accelerated immigration.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Suddenly...

Tuesday turned out to be rather a remarkable day. Not that every day isn’t, in its own way, remarkable. For all days have something within them to qualify. On Tuesday, walking back from our daily ravine walk, when Stumpy appeared - whom we haven’t seen for the past several days accosted us for his usual three-chamber peanut - marking the first interesting, albeit not unusual event of the day.

And then we found, in our mailbox, a postcard from our peripatetic son. When he had telephoned from Barcelona, he mentioned he’d sent a postcard from Cordoba, and there was the postcard, awaiting our notice. Usually, when he’s away somewhere halfway across the world, the postcard he sends arrive some time after he’s returned home again. Not this time, obviously.

On the cover of the postcard, a wonderful photograph of the Cordoba mosque. I’d asked him at the time, when he explained to me that he’d been in the mosque, whether he had taken photographs. And he hadn’t, because he had forgotten to bring along his camera. In the event, we end up with a photograph of the mosque, anyway. He mentioned, when we spoke, how odd it was that the pillars stood firmly within Roman-era plinths, the architecture of the mosque, built over an ancient church, and then, when the Moors left Spain, re-built again to a cathedral, is a marvellous display of competing but melding styles.

And it’s downright amazing how much he can print in small cramped letters, in the space allotted for communication on a postcard. We had a glimpse of his itinerary which, of course, he had expanded upon greatly when last we spoke. Anyway, it was quite lovely to get that postcard. Now, we need another telephone call.

So that’s two rather fascinating, and pleasurable occurrences for the day.

And then, later, when we were both in the kitchen, just before two, more of an earth-shattering event. Nothing pleasurable about it, although it was remarkable and in its very own way, interesting. Recalled to us both that earthquake when we had been at the shrine of the 47 Ronin, in Tokyo?
How the Earth seemed to move beneath our very feet. As indeed, it had. How mystifying, mysterious and even frightening it was. That same trip we had later seen, because it was an extremely hot and humid day as it so often is in summertime Tokyo, mist rising from the grounds of the shrine, and thought how appropriate it was to see such a historical, cultural-almost-medieval place shrouded in mist. Anyway, that was my (lasting) impression.

When I first heard the clatter and rattle, the loud insistent sound, and felt the floor shaking under us, I simply thought to myself, what’s wrong with the washing machine? I felt compelled to rush into the laundry room and shut it off. And then in another instant I thought how perfectly insane; the washer wasn’t on, I wasn’t using it, and it most certainly was something loud and literally earth-shaking, but not the washing machine.

While I was entertaining these fleeting thoughts, my husband had visions of a huge dump truck rattling down the street and managing somehow to rumble over the lawn and toward the house. Another few seconds and the sound and the movement intensified and he called to me to get outside, it was an earthquake.

Even as he said that I recognized finally what it was, and we both took ourselves out on the deck, calling for our two little dogs to follow. They didn’t appear to be the least bit fazed, didn’t feel inclined to respond, so my husband rushed back into the house to pick them up and haul them outside.

I stood out there for a few moments, listening to the sound diminish and the shaking slowly lose its emphasis, then I turned to re-enter the house, while my husband kept urging me (from inside the house, still rounding up the dogs) to remain outside. I didn’t, at that point, and nor did he, since it became obvious that the event had concluded.

We tried to call our daughter, and found the telephones weren’t live. A short while afterward they came on stream again and there was no response from our daughter's house, either her land line or cellphone, only a business signal which we took to mean that service was out, there.
(We learned later that she had been in her vehicle, driving at the time of the quake, and had no notion that anything had been awry. There was no untoward sensation of earth movement, ensconced in a moving vehicle.)

We turned on the news since by that time the clock's hands were almost at 2:00 p.m., and heard the gushing tones of awe in an announcer describing the event with few details, other than to remark on the number of calls coming in to the station. Later, we learned the event was almost 2 kilometres underground, about 60 kilometres from Ottawa, hitting 5.0 on the Richter scale.

And that it had been felt in Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor, among other far-flung (relatively speaking) Ontario locations. Only later did we learn that residents of Boston were alarmed at the event, and that New York State and Vermont and New Hampshire also felt the shock.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'Calls To Action'

The restless and the righteous are at it again. It's a kind of party-time for individuals and for groups who revel in confronting authority. Who enjoy rejecting mainstream conventions and a social contract that they believe excludes the disadvantaged from the process of personal fulfilment through opportunities given only to those who value societal norms.

Well, in a sense they're right. Those who fall through the cracks of opportunities to advance their self-interests through ineptitude, or social adverseness, or lack of education or sheer disinterest, are not advantaged by a system that insists people be responsible for themselves. It is why responsible societies look after the needs of those incapable of doing so for themselves.

In any event, perhaps for some the attitude that they are invested in the well-being of the disadvantaged of the world and vengeful toward those who have responded to the opportunities within society and business to advantage themselves through succeeding at becoming an enterprising and self-disciplined member of society, really masks their own general disinterest in the social contract.

Some people just find fulfilment in being in disagreement with the status quo. There will also be those in society who find grievances to bolster their belief in a prevailing global injustice.

So confrontation is on the cusp of presenting itself. The opportunities are there for self-styled anarchists and protesters and activists to join in the fray that is certain to present, during the G8 and G20 summits. "We will take back our city from these exploitative profiteers, and in the streets we will be uncontrollable! This is a militant march where many forms of resistance and tactics are welcomed and respected", according to Internet postings in promotion of "anti-capitalism".

The belligerent threats of physical violence culminating in a paroxysm of rejection of global wealth and unequal distribution of same may be mostly rhetoric, but there will always be those whose penchant for chaos and violence will create an atmosphere of danger. The larger groups among the protesters will demonstrate loudly, but peacefully.

The grim determination of a minority to mount violent dissent will make the news and justify the expense related to a large law-enforcement presence.

All the protest groups are coming out of the closet of high dudgeon they like to grumblingly live within. They have a cause and they detest what they decry are global financial interests that feed off the misery of the poor and forgotten. When reality is that societies that live by profit represent populations that are capable of looking after themselves.

And those same societies, in recognition of the indigent demographics among them generally make a reasonable effort to see that the poor are not forgotten.

Canada is hosting the wealthy countries of the world, as one of those wealthy and developed countries. Which, among them, represent a whopping majority of the world's finances. And which, as a group, generally strong-arm one another to broaden and heighten their support of less-wealthy countries of the world. We will generally always be at fault in that those with wealth will never be seen to offer enough of what they attain to help those in need.

But the world does have a conscience. And that conscience is larger and more empathetic among wealthy, Western-originated democratic countries of the world than it is elsewhere. And because of that conscience and the ingrained need to exercise a decent degree of compassion toward the people of under-developed countries, there will always be an outreach to assist.

Together with the grim knowledge that assistance given to undeveloped countries too often find their way to the pockets of the 'entitled' of those countries, and too rarely reach the needily deserving underclass that need help.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Just Musing...

This really is a scientific-research, theoretical potential break-through for Canada. Having a theoretical physicist of the elevated status of Stephen Hawking taking up a new research position in Waterloo, at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. That is impressive, big-time scientific-academic stuff.
"Why popular fancy should seize me, a scientist dealing in abstract things and happy if left alone, is one of those manifestations of mass psychology that are beyond me. I think it is terrible that this should be so and I suffer more than anybody can imagine." Albert Einstein
The public awe and adulation directed toward Stephen Hawking for the mysterious working of a mind able to conceive of abstract imaginings beyond the understanding of all but a handful of the world's geniuses immersed in the close studies of science as it relates to molecular, astrophysical, physics, and engineering does not, however, appear to deter Mr. Hawking; he copes well indeed.

Aside from his amazing brain, he is also a study in ingratitude, in having left his first wife (and children) who supported him faithfully during the long years of his physical decline, suffering from motor neuron syndrome that has locked his body into a motionless prison, leaving his mind free to surmise and analyze and theorize.

The wife of the man who designed his voice box, enabling him to communicate his theories as a quantum mechanic engaged in cosmology, putting forth brave new theories based on an intense and deep knowledge and who was a professional nurse, became his second wife. Emotional betrayals do not mark the moral convictions of a man of high principle.

His personal failings aside, his professional qualifications and triumphs in discovery ensured he was well regarded in the world of astronomy, particle physics and quantum mechanics. Those in awe of his monumental brain power attribute to him monumental abilities. His theories and conclusions have been built on a succession of earlier intellectual-theoretical findings, from Galileo and Newton to Einstein.

Human knowledge of the physical world around us and our place within it owes everything to the groundwork and intellectual break-throughs pioneered by scientific minds that predated Stephen Hawking. Just as humankind's incredible leaps forward in technological advancement began with the discovery of the taming of fire and the uses of flints and ores, the world's scientists leap forward on the discoveries of their predecessors.

Professor Hawking must have impressed upon himself, for some reason best known to himself, that the RIM-funded Perimeter presents a unique opportunity to progress in his search for new theories that would help to explain the vast, often nameless mysteries of the universe. Leaving Cambridge's prestigious and grand hallowed halls of academe as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, for Waterloo, Ontario, might appear as a descent to some.

But Professor Hawking seems to feel that the funding he was unable to access at Cambridge is now available to him here in Canada, in modest, but beautiful Waterloo, Ontario. Thanks to a billionaire whose own brilliant forays into the fields of computer technology and communications earned him the vast riches that now enable him to further pure scientific enquiry.

From exploding stars, to collapsars, to black holes that swallow everything through the sheer magnetism of their powerful attractive qualities, but which leak radiation that will eventually cause them to disappear - and then what in the universe happens to all that those hungry black holes have swallowed? we, the public, cannot even begin to guess at the discoveries that may emerge, well beyond our basic brain-power to grasp.

One thing many people may, however, grasp: how much in the realm of science fiction of a rather tarnished variety it seems for a brilliant scientist like Professor Hawking to argue his position that mankind should refrain from its obsession with contacting aliens. Believing, it would appear, that any such aliens might prove to be hostile and dangerous; indeed, inimical to our prolonged existence.

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Free-Loaders Or Entitled?

Depends, one can accurately surmise, on whom one asks that question of. If the question is directed toward you and you happen to be the newly-blessed parents of twins or other multiple-birth quantifiers then you might just happen to feel it's a dandy idea that each of the parents involved in the happy occasion that has resulted in a doubling and more of their family size, should be rewarded with two paid parental leaves.

One for each parent, one for each child.

What might happen with triplets or quintuplets if we simply prolong taxpayers' agony, is double- or triple-leave for each parent. Why work outside the home to earn one's daily bread when the work associated with raising the children you have spirited into being should qualify you - according to the reckoning of a newly-minted pair of parents with their newborn twins in Halifax contesting the current EI rules on parental leave - to public largesse?

They are busy, very busy, Darek and Alexa Desaulniers, with their Yves and Cosette born mid-January. And they feel entitled to double-doubles. This is an entitled age, when people appear to feel that they qualify for any and every government initiative to enhance peoples' lives. There was a time - when Darek and Alexa's grandparents gave birth to Darek and Alexa's parents - when people took responsibility for themselves.

The care of their offspring was their personal business, their personal responsibility and theirs alone. Of course caring offers of assistance from their relatives was often gratefully accepted. But this is a busy world we live in and people are likely far less generous in their offers of practical assistance, even within families, than of yore. But one doubts that proud grandparents would even now hesitate to offer assistance.

Still, parents like the Desaulniers feel that it is society as a whole that should feel obligated to be responsible for their personal well-being, standing ready and willing to offer their own hard-earned tax-funding to afford a more relaxed manner of living for two new, apparently overwhelmed parents. Who can blame them? Most people will grab whatever is offered, like found treasure.

And this couple appears to be emulating an earlier, successful claim by an Ottawa couple who last year succeeded in having EI benefits awarded them for full parental leaves after having twin girls. Each parent was able to claim 35 weeks of parental benefits for one newborn child.

Since when was it required that the ordinary taxpayer accept that such elaborate tax-funded benefits become statutory?

The Canada Employment Insurance Commission which is appealing the decision, should point out that having a child is a personal choice; raising that child is a personal obligation. One the public purse need not defray.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Personal Celebrations







Celebratory events of a personal nature should be just that, personal in nature. Not the business of commercialized societal reminders of what we owe to one another. Intimate relationships should not require reminders. And those within society who happily succumb to the lures laid for them by public relations and advertising firms representing corporations intent on fattening their bottom line have bought into the commercialization of their very personal relationships. Somehow, it seems the thing to do. Everybody does it.

Not quite everyone. There are those who view these events, nationally-recognized quasi-'holidays' for what they are. Although even among those who readily acknowledge the manufacture by commercial interests of these 'special days', the great majority simply submit to the general feel-good atmosphere and conduct themselves like sheep herded into the corral.

It is, after all, human nature, to want to be like everyone else, not to miss out on doing things that others are recognizing as somehow important to their well-being; yet another social contract but one of dubious quality. And then there are others who have no interest in denying others the pleasure, if there is indeed pleasure in being reminded by commercial interests to thank those close to you for being there, close to you.

While at the same time, having no interest whatever in conforming to the general and loudly acclaimed status of the day. When we celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary earlier in the month, there was just two of us, the two intimates involved. The celebration consisted of a simple acknowledgement and a pre-arranged trip always taken this time of year that would get us into the out-of-doors taking our pleasure on vigorous mountain hikes.

Mother's Day, Father's Day, they're all the same; representing people who obediently conform to societal expectations that this is something to be participated in. What of the balance of the year, then, no acknowledgement to those closest to you of their meaning to you, through actions that most certainly speak far louder than a once-yearly gift? This is a Sunday celebrated by us much like other Sundays.

A lovely early summer day merits a long and vigorous walk in the woods, and this we had, together. It behooves us, together, to admire the work that nature allowed us to perform together in creating a garden that gives us enormous pleasure. And this morning the lawns were mowed, and the weeping caragena in the backyard was re-staked and pulled back to an erect position, from its creeping slump that threatened to envelope completely the birdbath beside it.

The afternoon invited us to relax on the deck in the backyard, and listen to the song of the neighbourhood cardinals, and to watch as robins and goldfinches flew from tree to tree. It enabled us also to read the newspapers in singular peace. And to exchange little tidbits from within those newspaper pages. He comments and I respond. Glancing at what I was reading, he saw a headline in the food section: "How to serve a centenarian". Which elicited his remark: open a jar of baby food.

He was reading the book reviews and his eyes lit upon one for The Best Sex of Your Life, reading from it aloud to me - as is his wont - "women should concentrate on what they like about their partners instead of what drives them crazy - and that ginger and leeks can have an aphrodisiacal effect...". Prompting him to enquire what precisely it is about him that drives me crazy, and I tell him everything, but mostly his ironic sense of humour. He nods his head and claims to have learned from reading that brief review why it is that when, during the night he leaks, it is followed by an irresistible urge to fondle me.

I am taken with an irresistible urge, because the sun is now behind clouds and it is not quite so hot, to hie myself into the garden to do a little bit of gardening. It is a perfectly splendid garden we have, giving us much pleasure. It seems that almost every day there is yet another surprise to make us catch our breath in admiration. It is time to prune back the roses that have faded. To snip off the heavy peony heads that have lost their petals. Everything in bloom is busy with bees and butterflies.

Later, at dinnertime, which our little dogs remind us is slightly overdue, we enjoy corn on the cob and so do they; a little treat after their own meal. And we have a lovely fresh vegetable salad, and beef patties, done on the barbecue, followed by fresh raspberries over vanilla ice cream. An especial treat for a lovely Sunday. He proudly points out to me later that the relish and mustard with which he embellishes his hamburger haven't ended up too prominently on the fresh towels I've put out in the powder room, when he washed his moustache.

When all the washing-up is done in the kitchen, he does recall, sheepishly, that he has forgotten a few barbecue tools, bringing them in to extend wash-up. And then his idea of participaction goes into play as he scoops up our little toy poodle to share the lounge with him, out on the deck, as the evening cools off, and I trudge upstairs to write this little paean to Father's Day.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Springing Good-Naturedly





It's early garden days yet. Plenty of warmth before us, to enjoy outdoor living. Not yet even summer by the calendar, although we're enjoying humid, hot and wet weather, perfect for the garden which, by the way is looking absolutely fabulous. I know, I know, I say that every year. Every year I tell myself that the garden has never looked better. And then the year following I have good reason to say that yet again.

Whatever the year, whatever the time, it's a simple fact of simple appreciation: the garden has never looked better.

I'm utterly besotted with the garden, no point trying to deny it, although I've never denied it. Mind, I try to present a casual air about it all when someone comes along admiring the garden and congratulating me for its appearance. I demur, say it has little to do with my paltry and amateurish ministrations, and everything to do with serendipity. Just something mysterious
about the trees, the shrubs, the perennials themselves, their zest for life.

They are, in point of fact, show-offs, all of them. Egotistically imperious, that's their outlook on life. Throughout the cold winter months when the garden is in the deep-freeze, they plan their strategy for the seasons to come. Mindful of the mischievous, good-natured surprise they plan to spring on us as soon as Nature relents, calls back winter and introduces the agonizingly slow advance to spring. When the bulbs become activated, and the perennials begin to stir, and blossoms appear everywhere.

Utterly ravishing, never, ever, underwhelming.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Cue The Violins

Toronto's Gabriela Nagy is a poor little orphan whose plight in life no one understands. And she feels that her hard-luck story should earn her some serious cash. Since, of course, the miserable experience she suffered; losing her marriage, her job, her health, has nothing whatever to do with the choices she made of her own free will, and everything to do with the nefarious interference in her life of a telecommunications company.

Sowing wild oats as a married woman and a mother of two young children is risky business. Particularly when one's husband was not too enamoured of the sordid details, brought to his attention serendipitously (or otherwise, depends on whose point of view is being perceived) that his trusted and loving wife was conducting a hot affair, because of her penchant to constantly contact her lover through a secret cellphone account.

Because she used her maiden name on the account, taken out with Rogers, it can safely be assumed that, absent her married name and the status it revealed, she could, with alacrity, pursue heated bedtime moments. After all, Rogers was 'supposed' to bill her for that set-apart cellphone in her maiden name, and she would intercept those billings. Who might have predicted that Rogers would do her family a favour and 'bundle' additional services her innocent husband had ordered?

Certainly not Mrs. Nagy. Now, she can use her maiden name to her heart's content, since Mr. Nagy took classic umbrage at being horned. Mr. Nagy obviously felt horribly unsettled to discover his wife's infidelity and decided to call it a day. Or, on this case, a failed marriage. It wasn't he, after all, who failed the covenant.

And Mrs. Nagy, having called a 'press conference', claims now that Rogers, whom she blames for her marriage break-up has interfered in other, innocent peoples' lives in a way similar to her own. "I'm not asking for sympathy. I am asking for truth and honesty", she informed those who responded to her newsy invitation.

Although 'impoverished (materially that is, her spiritual, moral impoverishment preceded that newer condition) now, and unemployed, she has created a Facebook group called Citizens Helping Individuals Reform Public Policy (CHIRP). Her number one concerned client is, needless to say, herself.

Truth and honesty will be fulfilled, according to her estimation, by a handover of $600,000 from Rogers in recognition of their vital role in despoiling her vision of her life. She considers this only just, in the interests of fair play, truth and honesty. Virtues she has somehow ignored in her life, and which she now feels inclined to demand of others.

Although how those virtues pertain to poor old Rogers is a mystery.

For their part, Rogers is insistent that it takes customers' privacy very seriously. Nor are they particularly interested in her Facebook group, nor yet again in handing over a cool $600,000 to Ms. Nagy to make her feel better. Better get used to it, Ms. Nagy. Choices have consequences, and you're living those consequences.

CHIRP, CHIRP.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Engaging Schoolkids

Young kids are taken with the verboten. And when you're really young, whatever is impolite is quietly treasured. This is before kids are old enough and bold enough to assert themselves and surreptitiously, among themselves, use the kind of language that their mothers would never utter. But when they're young enough kids adore the juicy language of the bathroom. It hits their collective funny-bones. And the truth is, it's not just kids; the truth is some men remain juvenile in their happy attraction to scatological references.

Want to get a guffaw out of a kid? Pump up the underarm and product a sound that seems suspiciously like a gusty bout of flatulence. Which, of course, belongs in the bathroom, not in the drawing room, or even at the kitchen table where the entire family is assembled, eating dinner. The offending child is embarrassed and excused. But when he's with his friends, in the schoolyard, that's another matter altogether. Then there's a conspiracy of bathroom humour that's funny to kids, tiresome to adults.

If you want to get a kid's attention, you use the secret language kids use. That unleashes it from its secret hideaway, gives it legitimacy without taking away its hilarity, and immediately impresses the kid that anyone who plays around with language and the hidden bathroom acts it describes is one of them. If you can also write kiddie literature aimed at youngsters who have to be enticed to read, and install a few scenarios that he (since it's mostly boys who love scatology) can thrill to, you're in the process of grooming a reader.

Of course most people in the teaching profession are too strait-laced to loosen up their language, or even bypass instances where kids forget where they are and to whom they're speaking and let fly with a questionable phrase. And even while too much of an emphasis on bathroom humour isn't a terrific idea, there's no point ignoring the fact that this is what engages kids. So when the principal at Manor Park elementary school yanked writer Kevin Bolger off his reading podium because of his kid-engaging language, you might say that was true to a certain form.

Of course that principal should be put in a corner with a dunce cap since clearly, he's an idiot. The writer in question, Ottawa teacher and kids' book author Kevin Bolger is someone obviously imbued with the love of teaching. He reaches out to kids in the language they understand and enjoy and piques their curiosity by his creative outreach. Writing stories that appeal to them, using language that they find hilariously appropriate to the story.

Sir Fartsalot and his sturdy minions and co-characters speak to the kids who need that extra pick-up to incite them to read. And those kids who will read anyway will also get a kick out of the clever word manipulation and ideas promotion that Mr. Bolger is skilled in producing. From his kid-lit to a wide, wide world of literature, old and new. There are too many people in the field of education who are stiff and not even remotely capable of empathizing with kids.

Insulting an invited and highly-appreciated writer because one has insufficiently done a minimum of homework bespeaks a puny mind. The children who witnessed a favourite author's reading being summarily halted by their principal will have no reason whatever to hold him in any kind of esteem. They will feel confused, cheated and annoyed.

The principal of Manor Park elementary school should have his knuckles rapped for extreme stupidity.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Equality Of Neglect

Severely psychopathic personalities do not suddenly emerge in otherwise normal people. A tendency to psychopathy is inbred, and develops as does the personality. Because sociopaths and psychopaths in particular are sorely missing some key personality elements through faulty DNA, above all the ability to empathize, to care, to form deep and meaningful emotional attachments they can become viciously destructive. Starting out at a relatively early age, experimenting on inflicting pain on animals, then graduating to other people.

How to diagnose and apprehend the developing extreme social and emotional dysfunction? No one, no parent, would eagerly admit any of their children could be categorized as severely dysfunctional to the point of constituting a threat to society. But clearly, those parents who have such children and who become aware of their harmful effect both within the family and in a wider social circle representing the community, and do nothing to try to discipline, teach and ameliorate anti-social tendencies are guilty of neglecting a double duty.

Psychologists often stress that psychopaths have a deep wish to control others, and that control extends to exerting physical harm and deliberate pain on others. They are unable to conceive of the pain their targets feel, so their conscience is not troubled, since they are without conscience, a constraint that warns normal-functioning people that they are harming others, and to desist. Those children, it is pointed out, who deliberately do harm to vulnerable creatures, will be those who as adults, do harm to other human beings.

A Newfoundland family is obviously grooming, through inaction and an obvious disinclination to guide their child with his obvious anti-social and psychotic tendencies, to his becoming a threat to society at large. Their 11-year-old son deliberately beat to death a defenceless little dog, a Pomeranian, not a breed that tends to viciousness, nor a size that would strike fear into any child. The little dog's owners who had ostensibly enjoyed its companionship for eight years, had left their pet out, tied to a clothesline in their yard overnight.

And this brings yet another issue into this macabre story. Why would any caring pet owners leave a small-breed dog - the type more accustomed to living its life in the protective confines of a home, and venturing out-of-doors on a leash, walking with its owners - out on its own, overnight? For one thing, small dogs are not equipped to protect themselves as are larger dogs. Most urban communities are vexed with the presence of urbanized raccoons, more than capable of doing harm to a small dog.

Other than raccoons, coyotes have become a problem of late in urban communities, accustoming themselves to easy garbage pickings. And then, of course, there is the issue of the possibility of a human being wishing ill to an animal. Which certainly proved to be the case in this instance. The owners of the little dog who decided to leave it out overnight, discovered its dead, mangled body in the morning and improbably assumed it to have died from natural causes. They saw the bloody barbecue fork the boy had used to kill it lying under the animal, but assumed nothing amiss.

They buried the small animal and were set to proceed with their lives. Until a neighbour informed the woman she had seen the boy whose violent behaviour toward others was well known in the community, jumping up and down in their yard, beating something with the fork that had been lying under the little dog. Didn't take a genius to re-think their assumption of death through natural causes.

A woman who is the manager of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Gander who heard of the atrocity, asked permission of the little dog's owners, Norman and Emma Hodder, to have an autopsy conducted, so the body was exhumed, and the cause of death verified as blunt force trauma. Whereupon Mr. Hodder had a confrontation with the boy's father. And the boy's father agreed to reimburse the original $500 price of the dog.

Which strikes one as rather despicably venal. As though the cost of the dog reimbursed wiped the slate clean. As for the boy's father, he appears fairly unconcerned that his child destroyed a living thing in such a horrible manner. "Yeah, it's not a very good thing for him to do. But the dog is dead, you can't bring him back", he has said. The parents of the boy are separated. The boy lives with his mother, along with two family dogs. His mother has no comment.

The community is both outraged and fearful. Since the boy's activities are well enough known, including his propensity to throw rocks at other kids in the neighbourhood. Because of his tender age, there will be no charges; no crime committed.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Get Out Of The Kitchen

"He knows how stressful it was, he chose to drink, he chose to assault officers, he chose to try to rip the gun out of the holster." Ottawa Police Chief Vern White
Every municipality and every community wants to be able to depend on the intelligent, trained professionals who make up their public security force to ensure public order and safety prevails. Police forces are comprised of people from the community which they serve. The individuals who serve as police officers are held in high regard by the community who depend upon their sense of duty to their profession to keep the public safe from harm.

When, as it happens on occasion, a police officer is found in default of his duty and the parameters of behaviour and honour assigned him through his professional persona, he is often disciplined and occasionally encouraged to leave the police force he has represented. Police officers are like any other individual within the community; some succumb to pressures and to avarice, to temptations that take them far from the call of duty to serve and protect.

These are not individuals whose judgement can any longer be trusted. When the crime that they perpetrate is severe enough to warrant a trial finding them guilty of gross misconduct the police force has little option but to remove such individuals from duty. The union representing the welfare of police generally makes an attempt to ameliorate the outcome for its accused members, pleading for leniency.

In the case of Ottawa police constable Jeffrey Gulick, with a history of drug and alcohol addiction and an inability to discipline and restrain himself - to control his temper resulting in violence, both against his wife in a situation of domestic abuse, and against his colleagues with whom there was a violent altercation when they attempted to apprehend him - there is no room to manoeuvre other than to see him leave the police force.

He has been charged with discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act, resulting from his assault on four of his fellow officers. A disciplinary hearing reviewed Constable Gulick's performance with the force's partner assault unit, and the stress associated with serving in that unit. His wife claims that working with that unit drained her husband of self control and he became abusive as a result of his stressful work environment.

But the fact was that her husband chose to work with that unit. He also, of his own volition, made an attempt to solve the stress he fell under by the misuse of drugs and alcohol. It was, similarly, a choice he made to become abusive, and to threaten the lives of fellow police officers, in a rage provoked by his own violent tendencies. This is not the kind of personality that the person on the street can trust, let alone his professional peers.

Chief Vern White is correct in denying this man the opportunity to continue in his chosen profession. Quite clearly it is not the profession that should embrace this kind of personality. To serve the public weal, he has been given the choice of either resigning, or being fired.

He is himself the architect of the choices that sit before him.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Raining On South Africa's Parade

I am surely in a minority position. In my take on the appropriateness of a country like South Africa spending a whopping six billion dollars to host the World Cup of Soccer. Does it make sense for a country that hasn't the required resources to bring a huge portion of its population out of poverty, to spend so recklessly on a series of games? Does it make sense for a country that boasts the world's most worrisome crime rate to invite the world to celebrate with it?

This is a country beset with all the evils and ills that HIV and AIDS brings to the world, a country with huge numbers of orphans, children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS, and whose grandmothers are desperately attempting to raise those children to maturity. This is a country battling endemic diseases like malaria and dread water-borne diseases, where people are unable to treat water to make it potable, because they haven't the elemental, inexpensive resources to do so.

This is a country whose president, Jacob Zuma, succeeded an earlier president, Thabo Mbeki, both of whom proved to be incompetently unaware of the causes of HIV/AIDS, unaware of its source, and avoidance. A current president, moreover, whose own over-heated sexual adventures leads him to the rape of an HIV-positive young woman who trusted him, and who 'protected' himself against infection by showering post-rape.

But then, human creatures living in a world of distorted and disturbing realities will seek some mode of comfort and for many, partying appeals as a method by which the ills of the world can be temporarily overlooked. And world-scale sport events represent partying on a grand scale. These sport events also represent contestants as combatants in a kind of surrogate war. Competitive sport events are as close to primal tugs of war as it is possible to get.

These are feel-good events shared by all who view them, who cheer on the adept sport professionalism of their favourite teams, representing their own countries or those most admired for the proficiency of their soccer players, reminiscent in a way of the 'sport' practised in ancient Rome when gladiators met their death through fierce competitive hand-to-hand combat with both humans and carnivorous animals.

We consider ourselves infinitely more refined, far less barbarous than in those days. A blatant misapprehension of reality if there ever was one. Yet people infected with the competitive, celebratory aspects of competitive sports like the World Cup of Soccer report high levels of boisterous self-satisfaction and collective happiness when such events occur. Even when, on the rare occasion, such competitive matches have been known to lead to actual war.

There exists some extremely interesting human dynamics that surface during these games. In 1930s Germany, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels issued an edict to the German national soccer team that they should perform only when it was obvious that they could achieve victory. A modern variant of that mind-set is that of North Korea which will broadcast only games where its team wins.

Unbelievably, in countries whose national soccer teams participate in the World Cup of Soccer, the rate of suicide declines. People are generally so embroiled in the excitement and the nationalistic fervour of such events that their own personal trials and tribulations are temporarily set aside in favour of cheering on their team. It has been estimated that during the games in South Africa, 1000 European lives will be saved through fewer suicide attempts.

In Chile, church officials have devised a World Cup prayer, beseeching God "always to grant fair play in football and life as a whole so that we may ... reach the eternal goal of eternal life in Him."

Mind boggling? You betcha.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sadly Senile

Accidents do happen. All the time. Stray incidents that tragically alter peoples' lives. That take peoples' lives. One sad story after another. There seems to be no end to them. Hard to imagine that an elderly couple, married for sixty years, with the older of the pair, the husband, at 88 years of age, becoming the care-taker of his health-frail younger wife of 79. A long marriage that produced three children, and doubtless a host of grandchildren.

A long-retired couple living out their lives quietly in a small Ontario town. Part of the small community, and respected and engaged in community life. On this momentous occasion that has caused them to part after a long life together, they were intent on taking part in a annual community event, to honour the dearly departed. The community gathered on its Decoration Day for the purpose of visiting gravesites, leaving flowers, and taking part in a church service.

The Sunday of June 6 the elderly couple arrived in the little hamlet of Douglas, where Mr. McLeod parked his vehicle. On exiting their vehicle, Mr. McLeod felt he had taken up too much space, potentially making it awkward for other drivers to park adequately. He re-entered his car with the intention of re-positioning it to better reflect his neighbourly intention. In doing just that he backed the car up, and in the process hit his wife.

The vehicle was said to have responded abnormally quickly, striking Mrs. McLeod, and continuing on to collide with another two vehicles, backing through a garden hedge and finally stopping beside a house. But there is some question about a stuck accelerator, and there will be an investigation respecting mechanical malfunction. Mrs. McLeod died of her injuries after she was taken to hospital.

When their eldest son arrived for the purpose of attending the same service as his parents, it was to find his father seated close to where the vehicle had stopped. "He was in shock", reported the son later, before his mother's funeral. "He didn't even know he'd hit Mom. He didn't even know. He didn't have a clue what was going on."

Shock will do that. Agedness helps.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Still In The Dark

So what does that mean, exactly? That she is a slow learner? Poor Helena Guergis, life really is unfair. She has divided loyalties, and that's understandable. She is a Conservative Member of Parliament and was honoured by being singled out as Cabinet material. In a government concerned to have women out front and active to demonstrate that it is as sensitive to certain issues as any other political party. And it didn't hurt that she was always camera-ready.

She is a loyal, if somewhat confused elected Member of Parliament representing the Conservative wing of Canadian politics. It's a family tradition, one she took up proudly and with estimable purpose. That was back then. Before matrimony divided her loyalties. Her ambition and her husband's ambition no longer quite meshed. Hers was a noble aspiration to serve her country and exert the power handed to her; quite heady stuff actually.

His, on the other hand, shunned by the voters who brought an alternative to office on their behalf, was to serve himself. And he continued to feel that his former colleagues and his former office with all its possibilities could still serve him well. Open doors, invite opportunities, that kind of thing. He was still a somebody. A somebody with a plus-factor, with a spouse who was most definitely a Somebody.

That Helena Guergis still maintains she has no idea why her Prime Minister invited her to leave the caucus after removing her cabinet posting, is a bit of a stretch. Or perhaps indicative that she is incapable of stretching her imagination a trifle to recall past events of incautious assistance to her self-promoting husband with money-making ambitions on the back of his former position and his then-current marriage partner's.

There is more than ample circumstantial and direct evidence of unethical tampering with the public trust and the moral responsibilities of an honourable Member of Parliament. It was put rather succinctly in the statement from Arthur Hamilton, actually.
"Mr. Jaffer was creating the illusion that he was ultra-connected with the Conservative government and that he could make funds available and effectively open doors to potential investors. Mrs. Guergis assisted and amplified that aura of connectedness."

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

With A Vengeance

You don't mess with the United States of America. Especially with a government on the ropes, as the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama currently is. Facing condemnation from the American people as being insufficiently alert and reactive to a vast environmental dilemma stemming in part from their own casual attitude toward the potential of disaster resulting from drilling for oil at a huge oceanic depth without requiring assurances of safety procedures in place prior to the fact.

An administration in such dire straits takes remedial action. Which is to take charge, advise its constituents that everything possible is being done to ameliorate an impossible situation, and that the pain they are suffering is felt by their government. A government which insists all the responsibility is to be laid at the feet of the pan-global corporation that did the behest of the government in exploratory drilling to ensure that America, as much as possible, becomes 'energy independent'.

British Petroleum Corporation is certainly suffering. In its own corporate, global-image, revenue-extracting way as much as the coastal residents of the U.S. where the gigantic oil spill is ravaging their livelihoods and the beauty of their surroundings, let alone the natural resources and the fish and fowl to which it is home. The corporation's stock shares are plummeting as confidence is quickly eroding in its ability to surmount the crisis it blundered into.

President Obama is demanding that BP hold off paying its stockholders, until it has fully discharged its fundamental monetary obligations to making good its promises on clean-up and remittances, an unheard-of intervention of a public office holder into a private industry's affairs. Unheard of in America, not so much so in autocratic or totalitarian states like Russia or Venezuela, perhaps.

BP's cleanup costs are enormous, its pledge to pay costs associated with loss of livelihood of U.S. coastal fishermen will further dredge its resources. There are rumours, that seem well founded enough given the circumstances, that it will not be able to avoid bankruptcy, as fanciful as that may seem for an aged, respected, successful, enormously wealthy corporation such as British Petroleum.

But the White House administration is livid with rage; little of it self-directed, for mea culpas do not go over too well with an electorate.

The moratorium on further well drilling is another set-back for U.S. administration plans and oil producers as well, resulting in a massive loss for oil industry workers as well. Which the White House insists in an incredible display of aggression, that BP must pay for, holding it completely liable for all costs associated with the misadventure.

President Obama has promised Americans that this disaster will cost them not one red penny.

The relative success of the company capturing almost 15,000 barrels of oil daily through the partial success of the last-ditch "top hat" containment system doesn't hold a patch on the outrage of the company-denied, scientist-confirmed huge plumes of raw oil contaminating the ocean, at a mile-depth and width the size of an American state, with its effects on shore birds and sea life alike.

And now, America has Great Britain's concern over the potential loss of one of its largest corporations' longevity to deal with. State-to-state conversations of mutual concern and un-mutual perceptions and sensibilities will most certainly make for some delicate diplomatic manoeuvres.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Mothers, and Their Children

Is it the temper of the times, or were dire instances of human instability always present, less noted and noticed, when news was not quite so instantaneous, and shameful little lapses in vital human relations overlooked, not to be remarked upon, hidden from view. Two stories in the news this day, both of them relating to parenthood and to the outcomes of less-than-stellar attention to the needs of offspring.

In one instance, a 17-year-old girl living in Quebec; a mother of a three-week-old child. Barely out of childhood herself, and looking after the needs of a little girl of her own. But much can perhaps be explained by the patterning this young girl was exposed to, with her own mother. Who happened to be visiting her young daughter and new granddaughter. Who had accompanied her daughter outside of the home, to have a smoke.

The child left in the kitchen, while its mother and grandmother were nearby, on the balcony, smoking. What could, after all, happen to a baby strapped securely into a car seat, left by herself in the kitchen, easily, readily accessed by her caregivers? Unfortunately, access was readily attained also by the husky dogs on the premises; dogs not known for their gentle temperaments. The baby was mauled to death in the brief absence of her caregivers.

Clearly, this 17-year-old child-mother could not foresee such a devastating loss being visited upon her, the cruel death of her new baby girl. Perhaps the girl's mother could have and should have, but this was not the case. The baby is dead, and the young mother has been charged with manslaughter. And that too, is horribly cruel. For without doubt the mother is grieving her loss. And her ordeal will be prolonged when she is placed on trial.

Then there is the report from British Columbia, of a 46-year-old man living in Kelowna, whose mother, under a new B.C. law, is suing her son for parental support. Perhaps there are many adults whose aged parents are unable to care for themselves, and haven't the wherewithal to pay their way through their retiring years. And perhaps those adults don't find it too onerous to help support their parents.

But how can an elderly woman feel herself entitled to forcing her son to support her in her old age, when she herself failed to support her son in his youth? A mother who saw fit to abandon her young son at age 15, to his own devices. "They left and I had to stay here and provide (for) myself so I had to quit school and go to work", explained Ken Anderson.

Abandoned by his parents at a vulnerable age, to look after himself. Yet because of the new law enacted with the broad stroke of generalization, with the presumption that children always owe their parents something and there might never be any reason acceptable that they do not, this man must, by law, agree to provide his mother with a monthly living stipend.

Two sad and sorry instances of human failure to be responsible for one's own, intimate issues.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

That Charmingly Impulsive Man

There are those among us who could be described as money grubs, those who will see fit to accentuate their presence by becoming, among other things, a money grubber, who see profit to themselves as commensurate with their status, if they also have power, for he who wields one may find it convenient to yield to the other. That, of course, describes the charming Karlheinz Schreiber for one, who found a soul-mate in the right-dishonourable Brian Mulroney, former prime minister of Canada.

As the representative of an international munitions manufacturer, Mr. Schreiber had the perceived power to influence people both with his outgoing personality and his gracious promises of money to be sprinkled about liberally toward those who cared to become involved with his intriguing schemes. And it was clear that those around Mr. Mulroney were indeed intrigued with such possibilities and they took the trouble to draw Mr. Mulroney into the enterprise, with no great trouble on their part.

Who might one believe; a twinkle-eyed rotund little snake-oil salesman, or the story of innocence proffered by a man with a corporate law degree, skilled in diplomatic finesse and the structure and strictures of governance who had the foresight to understand that there would come a time when he stepped down from his high office and thought it could be done in style, with cash to spare, because he owed it, after all, to his family who were accustomed to living in a certain measure of comfort...?

"I genuinely regret that my conduct after I left office gave rise to suspicions about the propriety of my personal business affairs as a private citizen", said the once-honourable. A:"after I left office"? Perhaps not quite 'after' as he claims, and the departed Mr. Schreiber described otherwise. B:"suspicions about the propriety?" these are no mere suspicions, they are a certainty. C:""personal business affairs as a private citizen"? Hardly that at all, having been voted into office as a public personage.

He hangs himself with the disingenuousness of his smarmy self-abnegation, a man seeking sympathy when none is due him. Justice Oliphant's conclusions were straightforward and restrained in his judgement, fulfilling his mandate to weigh the spoken evidence and the allegations and the realities that Mr. Mulroney could no longer conceal. Raw cash was passed on three separate occasions in three separate venues, in under-the-table deals whose portent remains a mystery.

This is conduct unbecoming a prime minister of any country, much less that of Canada's 17th prime minister. The man's greed became the undoing of an otherwise-credible career in the office, besmirching the legacy he so very much thought should be left to posterity. That the amount received is contested by this man is of little moment. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, whether two, or three, is substantial enough.

But it is a mean, sorry amount of cash to accept to dirty oneself, and if it is not too much of a stretch of imagination, there might have been more, much more, which an arduous RCMP investigation was unable to reveal. And which Mr. Mulroney took great pains to carefully conceal, as evidenced by his denials during the Airbus investigation when averred he had little-to-no knowledge of Mr. Schreiber. A man who had, in fact, easy and frequent access to his office.

Slimy politicians can claim innocence when being questioned by claiming the 'right question' to lead to an honest response was not raised, and this is precisely what Mr. Mulroney descended to. Revealing himself to be possessed of a tricky personal ethics code and a moral base that proved, in the end, to be incredibly base. And while Mr. Mulroney celebrates the conclusion of an unfortunate affair when he succumbed to "poor judgement", Canadians' dim view of the man has been validated.
"The conduct exhibited by Mr. Mulroney in accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from Mr. Schreiber on three separate occasions, failing to record the fact of the cash payments, failing to deposit the cash into a bank or other financial institution, and failing to disclose the fact of the cash payments when given the opportunity to do so, goes a long way, in my view, to supporting my position that the financial dealings between Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Mulroney were inappropriate."
Justice Jeffrey Oliphant, 1 June 2010

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