Ruminations

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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Harnessing Aggression

From the country that exemplifies thuggish aggression in organized sport comes a Christmas message from its head of state: play sports; it brings people together in harmony and good fellowship. Now that's pretty rich.

And it comes from a source rich in tradition, majesty and (usually) common good sense. Queen Elizabeth II has delivered her annual Christmas address. People around the world - beyond the Commonwealth countries - will have listened thoughtfully to her august recommendations.

And some of them will, without doubt, consider those words of considered wisdom fatuous piffle.

Who on Earth might have encouraged this woman of years and experience to indulge in this kind of absurdly pedestrian and obviously silly mental maundering? Her fun-loving grandchildren, perhaps? Might saner heads not have prevailed? Does she take counsel from anyone, or consider this annual tradition to be self-inspired and hers alone to determine?

The primitive roots of tribal and clannish adversarial wars present themselves in modern times as organized sport events. With teams and countries challenging one another for primacy in performance. In sport events, where once these challenges were brought to bear for territorial advantage, through wars.

Sports are the new war arenas to harness aggression in human nature where fit young men can swagger and perform.

Britain's soccer thugs certainly exemplify this scenario on the world stage. And the Queen has taken it upon herself to co-opt the phenomenon of sport and present it as a civilized compact and contest between competing teams of good sports who play a good game and don't mind losing one little bit.

The Queen's speech, we are informed, represents a rare occasion when this woman speaks in her 'own voice', addressing topics of clear moment to her and by extension, she must feel, to her subjects, and the world at large. When she spoke years ago of her annus horribilis, the trials and tribulations she suffered when her children's wedded alliances fell apart, she garnered much sympathy.

On this occasion, the banality of her topic as a pretext for full consideration of the world at peace and at war, the bringing together of communities in harmony and sports play, falls rather flat. Her assertion that sport activities give people "a sense of belonging to a wider family", appears to run counter to reality.

An opinion shared by some, by no means all, obviously.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

"It's Been Awful For Her"

There are some news stories to which people are drawn as though to a magnet. These are the stories that defy human imagination, in outlining how people who appear on the surface to be perfectly normal harbour deep within them a malignancy so vividly evil that the disbelieving public reads all it can relating to the sordid events in an attempt to understand just how seemingly ordinary people can in reality represent the troublingly extraordinary.

In some societies malevolent psychopaths attain positions of power and wield that power to great effect, destroying peoples' lives and populations' hope for a decent future. Those are the malefactors of ill repute like dictators and tyrants who manipulate their societies to reflect their values, disentitling any who protest; arresting, incarcerating, torturing and murdering them. These are obviously not advanced civil societies, but backward, tribal societies.

In advanced, free and democratic societies we can usually weed out personalities who are overtly anti-social and prevent them from achieving high political office. In these societies people whose orientation happens to be sociopathic and who succumb to psychotic behaviour are the criminal class, although there are also those who have become skilled in successfully shielding their sociopathic tendencies from public scrutiny.

Those like mass murderer Clifford Olson, Paul Bernardo and former Trenton base commander Russell Williams whose deep and fundamental downward spiral into the sadistic pleasures they derived from inflicting pain on helpless victims drove them to careers in multiple-murders, are thought to be just like anyone else until their arrogant carelessness betrays them and they are apprehended.

All of these men were married. All of these men, finally caught through incontrovertible evidence implicating them in merciless killings of helpless victims, lived seemingly normal lives on the surface, complicated by savagely distorted desires. In Bernardo's case, he was paired with a woman whose horrible fantasies complemented his own. In Olson's case, his wife seemed content to have her husband extort money on her behalf from the RCMP (taxpayers) to reveal where his victims' bodies might be found.

In the case of former Trenton commander Russell Williams, his wife appears on the evidence available, unwilling to allow her personal life to be too severely discommoded by her husband's revealed activities, and his subsequent murder sentence. What emerges from the brief public outline of Mary Elizabeth Harriman is a sketch of a not very engaged person. Is it even remotely possible for two people in a long-term intimate relationship not to know one another?

What emerges from what little public profile Ms. Harriman has allowed is a sketch of a very private person who hugely resents her private life made public. Any intrusion in the way of news coverage into her persona is unwelcome and understandably so. Yet there is an unmistakable outline of an entitled woman unwilling to proffer any public statement, and on the record inordinately concerned about her financial future.

This is not a woman who has been left bereft of a loving husband whose career supported her socially and financially. Ms. Harriman has her own career which is more than capable of sustaining her well into the future. The picture we have is that of a woman angry that her prize dream of a perfect home setting has been disturbed. In the police investigation that followed her husband's arrest for murder, she is irritated that scratches appear on the hardwood floors of her new home, insisting in tax-paid repairs.

A survivor of one of her predatory husband's horrible assaults on vulnerable women is in the process of suing her husband and by extension, herself. To protect her financial investments she colluded with her husband to transfer ownership of property to her name. She is now in the process of seeking a divorce from her life-sentenced husband, thus further separating their financial investments and shielding her from potentially being absorbed into the compensation that might arise from the lawsuit.

Her lawyer has requested of an Ottawa court that a sealing order be brought down to protect her client from the"voluminous" national media attention that revelations of a personal and financial nature as required by the proceedings for divorce may attract. Ms. Harriman's lawyer characterizes the proceedings as a "purely personal matter" between her client and her client's husband.

Appearing to overlook the reality that there is a consuming public interest in her husband, once a highly trusted member of the Canadian Armed Forces, on the fast-track to an elite command position at an even higher standing than his previous command. A man so highly respected that he was trusted discretely as an air force pilot to safely ferry diplomats and high-ranked politicians.

It is exceedingly difficult to have sympathy for Ms. Harriman's wish to be thought of as anonymous, for she is anything but that. Attention is given to her as the wife of a psychopathic murderer, someone who preyed savagely on woman and children for years. Perhaps it is possible for a woman to be oblivious to the inner mind and proclivities of her husband, but it is exceedingly curious.

So the "undue" interest that her lawyer alludes to her client having been subjected to is anything but undue, given the circumstances. And it is hardly surprising that a "lot of media has focused on her". And that it has "been awful for her", may be incontestable, but one has a tendency to focus rather on how awful it must have been for her husband's victims to plead for their lives unavailingly.

It is more than natural for people to muse on these circumstances and differences in those circumstances, and to feel that as a compassionate, concerned human being Ms. Harriman has come out looking quite wan indeed given her personal focus and seeming disinclination to demonstrate any manner of sympathy for her husband's many victims.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Charitable Exchanges

Christmas is a delightful holiday, a very special time of year, during a very dark season of cold and scant appearances of the sun. The sublime music of the season transports the listener with pleasure. The colourful displays of lights and the light-hearted expectation in the 'season of joy' encompasses the entire society, not only those who are of Christian belief. The happiness of children in anticipating fun and gifts and being surrounded by loving family members is immeasurable.

Of course there's a certain amount of pure drudgery involved in Christmas preparations. Not for the faithful doughty who regard baking and cooking and preparations to accommodate visiting family members, necessarily, but the personal obligations that the Christian community takes on to shop and purchase gifts for everyone.

Gifts - that people fortunate enough to live in a country like Canada are not required, because we're short of anything we need, but because we splurge generously toward those we love. These are 'feel-good' gifts, gifts meant to instill a sense of comfort and happiness, as though by the presentation of these gifts, it is proof-positive that people are loved and appreciated by those who present them.

Retailers embark on a frenzy of advertising, of retail coercion, advertising special sales and bonuses for the discriminating shopper. People become trapped in the mind-set that it is incumbent upon them to spend recklessly. Big ticket items and public relations enticements entrap the unwary consumer who tends to think in terms of "Christmas comes but once a year", and as a result they must be prepared to spend big - and spend the rest of the year paying for those expenditures.

Those expenditures are a necessary component, it is felt, to properly celebrating Christmas.
Of course there is also a charitable component, and at this time of year countless charities chime in to exhort Christmas revellers to remember the need of those less fortunate. Usually people do remember to send charitable donations to the charities of their choice.

On the other hand, this is also a winter of financial difficulties for many families. People who have lost their jobs, and who are just managing to squeeze by, with help from the municipality. The Ottawa Christmas Exchange has advised that its services are in such high demand this year, and matched with fewer donations from area residents, they're hard put to see how they'll be able to accommodate all the requests for food and assistance to families.

The United Way has raised a whopping $32.3 million in its 2010 fundraising for the community, just short of its target, which it will likely still reach. The problem is that because a record number of agencies are clamouring for support, even that amount of money will not be sufficient to cover community needs.

The simple fact of the matter is that people who once lent a hand in supporting such community agencies that reach out to those in need, are now themselves in need. What is seen in Ottawa is being reflected across Canada, with unemployment becoming a chronic problem in these times of a jobless economic recovery.

People who do have jobs and comfortable incomes find themselves suddenly responsible for assisting family members who are in dire financial straits, and their once-comfortable incomes are being stretched further than they might have imagined. Leaving, of necessity, less to be parcelled out at this time of year and throughout the year, for charitable enterprises.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

OHIP's Bureaucratic Wrangling

The Canadian health care system is not quite in a parlous state. Most Canadians from whichever province they receive their health care are assured of fairly timely interventions and surgeries. Hospitals are crowded and there are some inconveniences in the public system over strained by the burden of attending to the health needs of a large population, but by and large most Canadians would agree it's a good universal health care system.

And most Canadians who have made use of the system are at the very least reasonably satisfied with the care they've received. Recent statistics reveal that cancer outcomes in Canada are at the top of the international game; survival rates for various types of cancer, for heart attacks and stroke, are measurably good.

Emergency room waits are broadly speaking, too long and improvements should be made in that area.

But Canadians have access to top-notch health professionals and surgeons who really know their business. There may not be as many diagnostic high-profile, space-age technical devices available as there are in other countries like the United States, but the universal health care mandate in Canada remains one that most Canadians are proud of.

Every now and then, however, an incident occurs that makes the public shake its collective head in disbelief. As in the case of Suresh Kapur who was diagnosed with bleeding on the brain when he presented at a Toronto hospital with symptoms including headaches, vomiting and imbalance. And then was granted an "urgent" follow-up appointment with a neuro-surgeon - in three days' time.

Mr. Kapur did what any intelligent, informed and capable person would and should do; he sought an immediate 'second opinion'. He had the benefit of family members in the health profession, who also advised him. So the 70-year-old retired engineer went directly to Buffalo, New York within the same day, where doctors there rushed him immediately into an operating theatre, and thereby doubtless saved his life.

Post-surgery when Mr. Kapur applied to the Ontario Health Insurance Program to pay his hospital bills, they refused; his trip to Buffalo and the subsequent surgery had not been pre- authorized. OHIP, as it happens, routinely sends Ontario patients to Buffalo for emergency neurosurgery, but Mr. Kapur, whose medical bills came to roughly $100,000 hadn't been pre-authorized.

In a bureaucracy, this makes sense.

In a society that cares for its population requiring urgent medical care it does not. The government of Ontario has undertaken to provide an additional $400,000 to each of the province's neurological centres to assist in handling more patients, but the problem is insufficient operating theatres and associated hospital beds.

The good news story for Mr. Kapur is that he has succeeded in his year-long battle to have OHIP cover his U.S. medical-hospital costs. As though there would possibly be any other reasonable option.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Guilty of Impaired Driving, Guilty of Manslaughter

Yet again, a highly respected member of society, a woman whose husband is the head of a Christian denomination church, and whose members hold them in high esteem, is also a woman whose chosen entitlements have done grave, irreparable harm to society. This woman chose to imbibe alcohol, and then to drive her vehicle. In the company of another woman, she drove recklessly, under the influence of alcohol, struck a 16-year-old cyclist on his way home after his evening shift at a local grocery, and killed him.

She then kept driving, eluding her further responsibility to make an attempt to determine whether the boy who had been struck required help and medical attention. Her lawyer, however, insisted she had no knowledge of having struck the boy. She had driven on with her friend beside her, 'unaware' she had struck anyone with her vehicle which, in her inebriated state had become a lethal weapon.

She doubtless still has her defenders, those who will find excuses for her dreadful choices. Possibly because they would do the very same thing; drink and drive.

But the boy she hit with her vehicle on a rural stretch of Bank Street on September 9 can never recover his life. His family will have memories of the boy they loved all too briefly. They will live out their lives of pain, trying to stop themselves from imagining what life might have been like for him, with him, as he passed milestones of maturity and achievement in his future that was not to be.

What is even more shocking about this dreadfully fateful occurrence, is that the woman, Samira Mohamed Daoud, has had previous impaired-driving convictions.

A victim-impact statement from 16-year-old Alex Hayes' family will be entered at the sentencing hearing, along with other facts. Because she has pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death, the original charges of manslaughter, possession of a stolen vehicle, leaving the scene of a collision and driving with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit will likely be withdrawn.

This woman had been arrested kilometres from the crash site, when the truck she was driving broke down. She was driving with a suspended license, relating to her previous impaired-driving conviction. The young boy's body was discovered after midnight, along with his destroyed bicycle, three hours after Daoud was arrested.

Is it too much to hope that this woman will face a penalty commensurate with her crime?

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Monday, December 20, 2010

"This is for Respect of Worship and Belief"

So much for the civilizing atmosphere inherent in various cultures and religions making an attempt to be open and accepting to one another's values and sensitivities. Turkey, a large country whose geography places it on the cusp of demarcation between the worlds of the West and of the East, has long prided itself, thanks to its modern founder Kemal Ataturk, as a secular-governed country, while still a majority-Muslim country.

Before Kemal Ataturk decided that the only way for his country to meet modernity after its long history as a leading Islamic country following the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, the country was in decline, social, political and economic. In the years since, with its Western alliances, it has managed to modernize itself. Its educational system, its justice system, are modelled on Western ideals.

After the reforms introduced in 1926, the Republic of Turkey became a secular, democratic state, its religious schools abandoned in favour of a national school system, and its legal system based on the Italian penal code. Head scarves for women were forbidden in public, in an attempt to persuade the population to become more modern and westernized in their outlook.

Turkey is a member of NATO, and has been trying to enter the EU for years, improving their human rights record to qualify for EU inclusion. Germany and France have been reluctant to give their assent to Turkey's admission to the EU, occasioning no little resentment. In the last number of years, an Islamist-style government has been elected, moving Turkey closer to its Muslim neighbours.

Official Turkey has strengthened its weak connections to Muslim countries like Iran, Syria and Lebanon, while engaging in newfound hostilities with Israel, its long-time associate in the region. And just in the last week an international incident has occurred through what is being termed a 'religious dispute', which puts a quite ugly stamp on relations between the country, its people, and the West.

A retired Canadian diplomat who had moved with his Turkish wife to Turkey on his retirement, died recently, and was buried in a Christian ceremony at a cemetery in Bodrum, after his family had obtained permission from the municipality for a priest to perform the ceremony. Hans-Joachim Himmelsbach, a retired trade commissioner originally from Vancouver, who spoke Turkish among other languages, was familiar with Turkey.

He was the former deputy director of the Central and Eastern European Trade Development Division of the Canadian foreign affairs department. When he retired a decade earlier, he lived alternately in Vancouver and Turkey. He was 65 when he died, and he planned to be buried in Turkey, close to where his wife now lives without him. He died of a brain blood clot, recovering from an operation, three weeks ago.

A local Sunni Muslim family of social and political influence took umbrage at the fact that Mr. Himmelsbach's grave was too close to their family plot. They undertook to insist that the grave be removed and placed elsewhere in the cemetery where it would not offend their sensibilities. Mr. Himmelsbach's wife and family were not informed; the grave was summarily moved to another, remote cemetery site.

"If they told me this incident was going to happen 30 years ago, I wouldn't have believed them. My husband doesn't deserve this. He moved to Turkey to make me happy", Ms. Himmelsbach informed the Hurriyat Daily News and Economic Review.

In response, Sinan Dayioglu, whom the newspaper described as a businessman, representing "one of Bodrum's leading families", had this to say: In the world, people having different beliefs are separated with walls or wires, even though they are in the same cemetery.

"This is for the respect of worship and belief."

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holocaust Diminishment

In the planning for quite some time, now, because there is seen to be 'undue' attention to the Holocaust, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights whose purpose is to chronicle human rights abuses in a larger perspective, but also focus largely on the Holocaust, has come under fire from an organization which states it represents German-Canadians. And it seems that umbrella organization, speaking on behalf of 90 German-Canadian clubs, churches and businesses across the country, has taken umbrage with that purpose.

"We shouldn't have a Holocaust exhibit as a permanent exhibit if no one else has one", according to Tony Bergmeier, national president of the German-Canadian Congress.

Oops, why not? In fact, there are many countries of the world which have built stand-alone, single-purpose Holocaust memorials. The Holocaust stands out as a truly impressive over-arching, government-sponsored, national and during a time of war, international determination in Axis and occupied countries to destroy all living traces of a single ethnic human community. During that time of war in a world conflagration, time, energy and resources were deployed for the singular purpose of destroying Europe's Jews.

With the success of the Axis countries in establishing the Thousand-Year Reich under German rule, there would have been an extension of the ghettoes, the death camps, in the vanquished countries of the free world. Feeding Jews into the death chambers that Nazi Germany planned and worked so efficiently to exterminate a people they claimed were inferior and deserving of wholesale destruction. The minute attention and details paid to accomplishing this grotesque scheme to rid the world of Jews is surely deserving of close attention...?

But Mr. Bergmeier claims his organization strenuously objects to permanent galleries edifying the Holocaust, and those dedicated to the plight of Canada's aboriginal peoples in view of the fact as he saw it, that no other human-rights violation of human suffering will receive permanent display.
"The way it is, (it's) one type of exhibit for the Holocaust and one for the native people, and separate types of exhibits for the rest of the world. ..That's not the proper way."

Oh. Perhaps, on the other hand, it is justified and does represent the 'proper way'.

As the distinguishing international example of man's inhumanity to man in the 20th Century there are many who have no problem whatever disagreeing with Mr. Bergmeier and those whose interests he represents. And as Canada's singular blot on human rights, shared by other Western countries in their similar historical casual dismissal of aboriginal rights, the permanent displays on native justice certainly qualifies.

Mr. Bergmeier, on behalf of all the groups he represents, is willing to lend his particular expertise to demonstrate the proper way. The website for his umbrella group states it is dedicated to preserving German culture and "defend(ing) human rights within the laws of Canada, and the human rights declaration of the United Nations". Denying that he or his organization are "holocaust deniers", he feels entitled to contact the Government of Canada to relay his concerns.

His concerns appear blatantly designed to keeping a lid on further revelations and spreading greater information within Canada about the Holocaust, a German-designed and -prosecuted wholesale execution of a people, quite amazing in its scope and technical focus, let alone the bestiality of its intent and immense success.

The Holocaust information will inform that the mentally and physically impaired, gypsies, homosexuals, political dissenters, religious protesters, also were incarcerated and met their dreadful deaths as did six million European Jews. This was a unique event in the annals of human atrocity. It encompassed all the Axis and occupied countries of Europe with the demand that they remit their Jewish populations for transfer to death camps.

The horrendous event became known to the international community which itself did precious little to aid desperate Jews to escape the inevitable, when that could still be arranged. The League of Nations, later the United Nations, had the Holocaust largely in mind when it issued its human rights declaration. Post-Holocaust, guilt lay heavy on the consciences of countries and their leaders, and among vast numbers of people who could not believe the extent of the carnage.

Most certainly, with no equivocation required, this sole event is deserving of illumination on the world stage, with its solemn pledge that such dreadful human rights violations, plans for and execution of genocide, never again be allowed to occur. Regardless of the fact that that very pledge itself, although heartfully declared and dedicated to humanity, would see its resolve falter and dreadful events re-occur.

That, in fact, there were previous horrible events like the Ukrainian Holdomor, like the massacre of Armenians by the Turks, like the atrocities of Pol Pot, like the Rwandan genocide, Russia's slaughter of intellectuals and professionals and China's "cultural revolution", prior to and following the Holocaust, serve as good enough reason to memorialize the Holocaust in the manner in which it is being done, to instruct and caution.

The kind of vested interest that German-Canadians have in muffling attention to the Holocaust is obviously self-serving, and their oppressive denials of reality would never see the light of day in Germany itself which continues to serve its penance in deploring what its Nazi past represents; the absolute descent into the deepest recesses of human-devised evil possible, on this Earth.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Justified Tax-Paid Perks

There's no entitlements quite like the perceived freedom to ransack the public purse. It's as though that big pool of money, extracted from taxpayers is depthless, representing an opportunity of ongoing self-availment. The political elites and those who have been appointed because of their support of those who have attained the status of power, seem to feel that anything goes. That further emoluments are their due, over and above the extortionate salaries they gift themselves with.

It hardly seems to matter which political party is in the ascendancy. Something about human nature kicks in, so that those involved acquire the perception that their work on behalf of the electorate represents their very own sacrifice; their talent, experience and expertise is so unique that nothing quite suitably repays them for their efforts on behalf of the public weal. They are, therefore, quite justified in grasping more of whatever they can, to sweeten their recompense.

The current Liberal-led government of Ontario, under Premier Dalton McGuinty as good a case in point as any. Under previous governments it was largely Ontario Hydro that presented as an object lesson in bureaucracy gone wild, drunk on its own power and profligacy. That was before the current government stepped in to righteously declare it would prepare the province for green energy sources and gob-smacked Ontarians with the highest energy costs in the country.

Since the Liberals took office in the Province of Ontario in 2003, annual government spending rose precipitously, and now stands at $125.6-billion, representing a whopping 68.5% increase, over the last decade. Under this government Ontario saw free-wheeling spending with little-to-no-return on investment. The failed medical eHealth records as good an instance of tax-funding thrown to the winds as any. Benefiting those tasked with setting up the failed system, certainly not the funders.

Mismanagement has been legendary under this profligate-spending government that comes up with brilliant ideas for the sandbox, not the provincial legislature. Since the 2008 downturn, Ontario's net debt has increased 51% to $219.5-billion. Every man, woman and child in this province 'owes' $16,612 as a result of the province's poor administration, living beyond its, and our means through the deleterious choices and directions government has taken on 'our behalf'.

In a feeble attempt to 'manage' the debt, the government of Dalton McGuinty has introduced some measures of restraint, meant to placate any voters finally beginning to rear their outraged heads in realization of just how catastrophic this government's decision-making has been. A 5% reduction in the federal civil service; cuts in government agencies, even while this government continues to create new agencies to service their agenda.

But we are to believe they are sincere in a newly-recognized mission to more carefully regulate and scrutinize government spending. Perquisites to the elite among the bureaucrats, like sport season tickets, gym memberships and golf club dues, the gold standard for entitled MPPs and bureaucrats alike, are to be tightened, perhaps no longer to be (visibly) paid for by taxpayer dollars.

Because, simply put, it can be somewhat embarrassing when the government auditor goes in and has a good, close look at how taxes are being utilized. Where mean-minded, well-heeled government consultants felt free to bill for tea and muffins because their earnings of $2,750 daily were not generous enough to allow them to splurge out of their own pockets.

And where the executives of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, felt justified in billing the taxpayer for their nannies and their household expenses. Eleanor Clitheroe revisited. Some things just never change, do they?

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Europe's Priapic Clown

He visualizes himself as an irresistible stud. A prancing, elegantly mincing, muscle-bound aristocrat of the bedroom, irresistible to women, irrespective of their age. Of course, he does have his own preferences. He may be a little long in the tooth himself, but it's the fresh-faced, firm-bodied young women who attract him. He deserves no less.

This quipping, egocentric man, wealthy beyond the dreams of most Italians and as corrupt as can almost be imagined, relishes the combination of charm and power that he believes he exudes. He quite dotes on himself. It doesn't embarrass him one bit that he courts young women the same age as his own offspring.

Or that he sacrificed a long-time marriage to a beautiful and intelligent woman to the juvenile appeal of cavorting when the mood strikes him - and that appears to occur pathetically often - with his public displays of sex-laced narcissism. He simply cannot deny himself any opportunities to experience sexual liaisons with a fillip of illicit overtones.

He may be 74 years of age, but there's no diminishment of his appetites. He revels in the attention that his outrageous displays of exuberance in life's opportunities attract. He can never quite feel his time in the limelight does harm to his reputation, for he has no reputation left, to speak of, and he finds that more than acceptable.

The Italian voting public appears by turns bemused and amused at his antics. After all, what macho male doesn't find appeal in wealth, self-confidence, power and pulchritude? Silvio Berlusconi has all those and more, in abundance. What's more, who is there in the Italian parliament prepared to confront him?

Particularly when, if a non-confidence vote in Parliament did succeed in voting down the government, all those other lawmakers from his party and opposition parties would be involved of necessity in the dissolution of the current government, and an election to follow. Where many stand the risk of failing to be re-elected.

And if that happened, migod, there goes their extravagant salaries and pensions. There are some principles that are quite simply too costly to support. Outrage with the performance of a prime minister who insults the integrity and importance of his office, just doesn't cut it as a reason to risk losing all of that.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Tired Teens, Health-Vulnerable Children

Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the Royal Ottawa Hospital recently revealed how stressed they have become for space, time and professional attention to the recent spate of young people requiring care for depression. They're so short of beds and time to look after those already admitted for professional attention, they have had to call a halt to any further self-admissions.

It's already clear that teens are very vulnerable to depression and stress. And that symptoms of a life-long struggle with depression begin to show up in teens vulnerable to depression between the ages of 14 and 15. We're also advised that a dismal one out of five teens eventually get the help they require to enable them to combat their depression and live normal lives.

Young people also are susceptible to the kind of secret despair, kept from those closest to them, who live most intimately with them, that leads to thoughts of suicide. Recent such incidents, occurring with young people who appear to have everything right in their lives - intact families with father and mother and siblings, no financial concerns, good grades at school, a circle of friends, engagement in sports activities - and yet something integral to the balance of their mental health appears awry.

And no one aware of it.

Their deep-seated unhappiness is discovered only after they have taken their own lives. Then speculation abounds, and the family is stricken that they had no idea. And they had no idea; they had no suspicions, had no reason to even remotely consider that their child was battling depression, and had sunk into such a deep trench of misery that committing suicide seemed the only release from the bleak blackness of depression.

It is even possible that society expects too much of its young people. Teens have become notorious for complaining about a lack of energy, of being continually tired. There is so much busing to area schools now, and such a tight lid kept on school board expenses, that bus routes are doubled and tightened up, picking students up at earlier times to deposit them at their schools well before classes begin.

Where buses begin picking students up before 7:00am for the morning run into school, and there is dead time while students wait for classes to begin. Then when students return from school to their homes they are burdened with often excessive amounts of assigned homework, leaving them little time for leisure or sport-related activities, let alone for part-time work that some teens must take on.

Early bed times aren't always feasible, and most teens don't relish the thought of bedtime at 8:00pm, to enable themselves to catch enough sleep before having to rise at 6:00am to get the minimum amount of sleep a teen requires; far more than an adult, at between eight to ten hours a night for a needed rest period. Lack of sufficient rest can lead to a general state of debilitation from continued lack of energy and feelings of extreme sleep deprivation.

That state of exhaustion can lead to depression, and there's the formula for mental illness. While many teens complain they're continually tired, that they're fed up with the amounts of homework they're assigned, with a lack of leisure time for other types of activities, they don't get too much sympathy from the larger society.

But they should.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cash and Carry: Reproductive Tourism

Peoples' egocentricity, their investment in their personal aspirations can often take absurd turns. But then, it's human nature. It is human nature to long for what is not feasible. To dream of something unattainable. Its value lies predominantly in the fact that whatever it is that people happen to aspire to and which they cannot achieve, its value increases exponentially because it seems unattainable.

Something that is desired but not possible, assumes greater dimensions, and those who wish to obtain the desired object long for it beyond reason. While others, who have too much of a good thing, wish they could somehow rid themselves of it.

Too bad that people who conceive easily cannot share some of their good fortune with those whose ability to conceive has been physically impaired by some medical condition beyond their control. Even beyond the capacity of modern medical practise to ameliorate. As opposed to those who have children and find it difficult to make economic ends meet, who find their love and affection cannot be stretched any further to incorporate yet another unfortunate pregnancy, despair.

For a time there was something called surrogate motherhood, then the practise was deemed illegal in Canada. But not elsewhere in the world. People from wealthy countries with money to spare have indulged for some time in health tourism, finding it suits them to travel to countries in Europe and to Asia for medical procedures (at a reasonable cost) not available in Canada. And now there's reproductive tourism, where perplexed and determined couples who can afford the freight, pay for an impoverished woman to carry a baby to term for them.

Infertile couples from Canada, no longer enthralled with the now-passe and complex adoption of Chinese girl babies, now seek to fulfill their dreams of a baby of their own by travelling to India to make arrangements for the services of young Indian women living in poverty and unable to reject an offer to make more money they had ever dreamed of. To enable them to send their children to school, or to buy a home for themselves. Nine months of indentured motherhood, then release and payment.

The protocol also includes travelling to Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Romania or the Czech Republic for in vitro fertilization with the help of paid-for donor eggs. This is being termed by some who see the practise as the commercialization of reproduction - as exploitative, as immoral and unethical. Manipulating the dire needs of women living in poverty, to attain their own entitled ends.

In a sense, there's little difference between this extension of the cheap labour markets in the third world producing cheap goods for the bountiful retail markets in wealthy countries of the world, and the rationalization that at least indigent people are finding employment without which they would have nothing at all, and at the same time benefiting the grasping selfishness of the wealthy.

Except, of course, for that niggling, nagging reality that this is human life that is being traded - cash and carry.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Haitian Traditions

More violence in Haiti. Ongoing violence in Haiti. No clear prospect of the nightly, daily violence receding into dim memory. People go about their normal activities during the day and bulwark themselves as best they can, against the marauding gangs of protesters that come out like cockroaches, during the night. It is politely called "unrest".

Civil disobedience usually takes the form of quiet and peaceful protests, to bring home a message to a ruling elite. In free and democratic societies civil disobedience, while breaching established laws, is not seen to be anything other than a mild form of illegal protest. While it is not condoned, neither is it prosecuted to the full extent of the law, representing a minor misdemeanor.

One, however, generally heeded for the message it sends, by those toward whom it is directed. Not so much as the protesters would like it to be acknowledged, but sufficiently so in reflection of the fact that civil disobedience most often is a reflection of group thought of a minority of people, not reflective of the majority in the social contract.

In Haiti the opposite is true and the reason is more than obvious. It is an insidiously failed state. The country represents a state that has failed repeatedly, miserably, even impressively in the complete paralyzation of government to heed the will of the people, to establish itself as a free and just society, to implement useful and meaningful civil infrastructure and wield just laws.

Haiti is a nation that continually implodes into itself, succumbing to an inner anarchy, served by a political-social elite that benefit themselves through the purloined avails of international donations meant to assist the government in instituting real advances in governance, resulting in real change for the improvement of Haitian lives.

The viral and violent disagreement following the recent elections - following the basic hygiene-health failure resulting in a runaway cholera epidemic following the natural catastrophe of a dreadful earthquake that levelled much of the country and its already-weak infrastructure and killing tens of thousands of Haitians, leaving over a million people internal refugees - all relates to Haiti's failures.

The disputed election results overseen by the U.S., U.N., Canad and the E.U., all of which had expressed reservations about 'irregularities' resulting from government-sponsored ballot stuffing and more, saw the populist candidate, a Haitian entertainer of high repute shut out of the final run-off, and two other candidates, both establishment politicians, succeed in the final ballot count.

Presidential candidate Michel Martelly, a charismatic singing star who has no political experience whatever, has voiced values that Haitians are eager to see put into place: "the right to education, to health, to be able to drink clean water from a tap". Martelly has his own sense of responsibility, seemingly lacking elsewhere, that Haiti "put its own house in order".

Whether he is the one to enable that is unknowable, although his supporters are passionate that he be given the opportunity. But then there is certainly that about Haitians; they are passionate, they are spiritual, they are hopeful even while they are despondently desperate, and they enthuse readily.

But they are also impressionably volatile and manipulable, and given to violent reaction. And all of this along with the miserable past gives no reason for hope for progress in Haiti. The human spirit is inextinguishable, but it is also ill-equipped to transcend its own failings.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Gay Pride, "Sex Parade"?

Well, isn't it? Is that not precisely what the Gay Pride Parade indulges in? Very obvious sexual cavorting; more than innuendo, more than innocent posturing, but in-your-face, blatant sex. Amusing to many no doubt, but equally without doubt, rather offensive to many more. An extravaganza of excess, with rude gesturing and ruder implications.

Those who find it objectionable have the option of absenting themselves from the gayness of it all.

Those who delight in a colourful show of delinquent morals and the public vision of what should be kept decently private, seeing in it a celebration of alter-lifestyles have the option of attending and revelling in the freedom of it all. So be it. As long as the public in general accepts that this display of vulgarity is also an expression of freedom to confront life as a socially indulged alt-gendered adolescent with behavioural issues, that's that.

Well, that isn't quite that for some; for strait-laced and judgemental evangelicals for whom the entire event represents an assault on their sensibilities, their values and social-religious imperatives. They too have the right, however, to speak their minds. To a degree. That degree was over-extended, evidently, by Christian broadcaster Crossroads Television System. And they have been summarily disciplined, found in violation of broadcasting codes.

Evangelical minister and broadcaster Charles McVety, it would appear, implied a "malevolent, insidious and conspiratorial purpose" within the gay community. That implication is of course questionable, and also veers toward hate-mongering. Little surprising, since it's clear that Mr. McVety does hate everything revolving around the Gay Revolution and the very public exhibitionism that it has engendered.

But that's his opinion and he has a right to it, in a free and democratic society. It is offensive, actually, when displays that go against the grain of perceived normalcy are flaunted. After all, normative sexual behaviour is kept nicely behind closed doors, why should gay activities be seen as public displays so many conceive as distasteful? But Rev. McVety is said to have violated the clause that calls for "full, fair and proper representation" in broadcasting.

In his view, obviously, his incendiary remarks do indeed reveal "full, fair and proper representation", as he sees them. The broadcasting council, however, felt that in describing Gay Pride as a "sex parade", Rev. McVety was indulging in a "disparaging tone". Gulp. No! He wouldn't? And, on top of that, it was evident he felt skeptical about the parade's popularity. He also wasn't quite thrilled with the City of Toronto's tourism slogan.

"As gay as it gets" is kind of cute isn't it? But when, added to that there is this: "On any given day, hot boys and hot girls fill Church Street with energy, passion and opportunity", you've got a recipe for a kind of disgusting suggestibility. Representing as fairly repugnant to many, in fact. Obviously including Rev. McVety, but most certainly not exclusively. That kind of stupid messaging would offend many within the greater community.

But Charles McVety most certainly did require his knuckles to be rapped. When he stated: "We send little Johnny and little Jane to school, not to learn to be homosexuals and lesbians. We send them there to learn reading, writing and arithmetic and history and all these wonderful things, but unfortunately there is an activist group that is afoot that wants to change our curriculum. Why? Because unfortunately they have an insatiable appetite for sex, especially with young people. And there are not enough of them, so they want to proselytize your children and mine, our grandchildren and turn them into homosexuals", he crossed the red line.

Looks like there's an atmosphere redolent of stupidity all around, actually, fairly well balanced on both sides; the outrageously public gay community and the outraged public evangelical community.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Talent and Class to Spare!

Stephen Harper.
Stephen Harper performing with the accompaniment of three other musicians, at the annual Conservative Christmas party, delivering a set of rock songs and a short tribute to John Lennon.

The estimable primary resident of 24 Sussex Drive is a man of many talents. Does this look like a photograph of a dour, truculent, socially awkward man who needs to be propped up by his beautiful, socially comfortable wife? Irrespective of the well known fact that behind every successful man there is a guiding wife. And let's face it, a keyboard is simply far more elegant than a saxophone.

The man is a tour de force of capable abilities going off in all directions at once. His personality may not scintillate for his detractors, but his character, his values and his governing abilities are a credit to the country. This polymath who moves on the national stage with the firm hand we need, and on the international scene with the confidence we depend upon, makes us feel pretty good about ourselves.

Stephen Harper's rectitude, his recognition of the value of moral decision-making and his calm and deliberate governance leads this country to an even brighter future. Hail Harper!

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Passing Judgement

Roger Clement passed righteous judgement on society, and now society has returned the compliment. Ontario Court Justice Celynne Dorval summed up the attitude to justice in this particular case quite neatly, on behalf of the social contract and the citizens that respect it. Roger Clement of his own free will and arrogant decision-making violently disrupted what we as a society like to take for granted: peace and security.

In condemning the society of which he was an integral part, as a one-time and long-time federal civil servant, he chose to demonstrate in no uncertain terms just how he wished to divorce himself from the rest of society. He was described by friends as a 'generous man and principled humanitarian', but this generous man forsook his principled humanitarianism for violence in righteous indignation and bitter disagreement with this society.

His reasoned discourse as an anarchist was not sufficiently attended to by society disinterested in his message, so he resorted to shock tactics, an act of arson, resulting in the victory of a video and a statement much in the manner of terrorists who explain their suicide-murder pact with Islamism by such explanatory videos, justifying their actions and praising themselves as martyrs to their cause.

"Crimes of urban intimidation infringe on the rights of the majority" Justice Dorval informed Mr. Clement. He still does not, however, consider his action a crime but a legitimate protest. Obvious in his anguish over facing a four-year-prison term, reduced to three and a half years taking into account the months he has already spent incarcerated since his arrest following the $1.6-million blaze destroying the Royal Bank branch on Bank Street in May.

Mr. Clement complains that taxpayer-funded incarceration reflecting his judicial punishment for planning and carrying out a terror attack in Ottawa to highlight his malcontent-group's disaffection with society is money wasted. The ideological manifesto he authored, the pride of showmanship in posting it along with the arson video, speaks about his values, rejected by society.

Events such as the Vancouver Olympics and the G8 and G20 summits in Toronto were characterized by Mr. Clement and his colleagues-in-anarchy as assaultive acts against the citizens of the country. Many other people were of the opinion that massive amounts of public funding could be better spent on social housing, but they expressed their opinion in peaceful ways, not through violently subversive acts of sabotage.

It did not enhance the judge's opinion of him that he could manage only to utter regret for any 'inconvenience' his shockingly violent act caused. Not regret for the violence itself, nor the reasoning that led to it, nor his leadership role in the act. His pride would not permit that admission of wrong-doing, reflecting his continued commitment to his original course of action.

He will now have ample time to contemplate those values that led him to the conclusion that society needed his action to serve as a wake-up call to heed his message.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Pioneering Canada's Armed Forces

Women are amazing achievers. Some women, that is, who mobilize their resources and firm up their resolve to attain whatever it is they aspire to. Women working as general practitioners in the field of public health, yet they raise a family and manage somehow to juggle all the demands on their time. It comes with a cost, but it also has its rewards, obviously, or women would not struggle to achieve both professional careers and a family life.

Some women have to surmount incredible obstacles to achieve what they have aspired toward. An enduring will helps, as does self-confidence and a sense of capable willingness to complicate one's life. Occasionally a news story will highlight the career trajectory of an individual for the purpose of demonstrating the kinds of obstacles faced by people and the manner in which they have managed to reach their goals, obstacles notwithstanding.

One such instance was that of Lt.-Commander Wafa Dabbagh, represented as the first member of the Canadian military to wear a hijab. She has a fifteen-year experience with Canada's naval reserves. She is an observant Muslim of Palestinian descent, born in Egypt, raised in Kuwait, and who migrated to Canada at age 28, in 1990, with her family. At age 15 she reached a personal decision - though no one in her family wore traditional Muslim garb - to wear a hijab.

She did so, it would seem, to deflect attention from her physical characteristics as a woman. Finding privacy and the comfort of a kind of anonymity in concealing her hair, along with a modest form of dress that would not reveal her female contours. She evidently does not find that mode of dress constricting, and she is devoted to it. She has never married, which may reveal a streak of independence, or conversely, a discomfort with the traditional female role in society; her original one, and her current one.

She is an educated woman having attained a bachelor's degree in Kuwait, and an MBA from the United States. Her fluency in Arabic has been useful in her naval career trajectory, as when she was posted to the Middle East and her translation services represented a valuable resource. She is full of praise for the manner in which she was welcomed into Canada's armed services and the opportunities she found there that satisfied her needs. And she remains as yet the only Muslim woman in the services who wears a hijab.

She now works full time with the military, training naval cadets and latterly co-ordinating the Ottawa-based Future Security Analysis Directorate. She accepts that she is a role model for other Muslim women: "I want the Muslim community to know the door is open for them in the Forces. My experience has been 95% positive, and if I can do it, they can do it", she claims.

"And I want other Canadians to know that there are people serving Canada who are not white with blond hair and blue eyes. We are all working together, white, black, Asian, Arab, aboriginal - and I'm one small face among them." In fact, most Canadians are well aware, one would imagine, of the diversity in the make-up of Armed Forces personnel, since immigrants constitute a large and growing percentage of the Canadian population.

One reads of this woman's story with mixed feelings. Admiration for her resolute determination in mastering, at an already-relatively-mature age, training more suited to younger, more malleable minds and bodies. Her good-natured personality is what appealed to those who worked with her. She is obviously a conscientious and hard worker, and she has met with open minds, accepting her choice, to wear a hijab.

And found no difficulty in acceptance among her peers and her commanding officers that she required the opportunity to pray five times daily. Where her own family was puzzled by her decision as a teen to encumber herself with a hijab, her choice of headgear was accepted by the Forces.

It is a conundrum, however, that an independent and resourceful woman deliberately presents as both a pioneer and a traditionalist.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

The Wisdom of (the) Justice

Sometimes people who are highly respected for their mastery of certain prescribed formulae, as in a deep familiarity and knowledge with the law, for example, allow the respect in which they are held to lead them in directions where their lack of understanding of other matters betrays them as shallow thinkers. It is one thing to have a comfortable position as a leading authority in the meting out of justice through a thorough knowledge of jurisprudence; another to pose as being wise in other disciplines.

One who is wise generally knows enough to hold their counsel. The wise listen, they do not declaim unnecessarily or pose as knowledgeable even while protesting they have little knowledge of what they propose. In the instance of a public personality representing a high public office, someone whose pronouncements will most certainly be repeated ad nauseum through the news media, one would do well to be circumspect in offering opinions outside their field of expertise.

When Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin speaks publicly of the need for better representation within the law for those whose incomes preclude them from legal advice at times of need, she speaks with authority. When Ms. McLachlin speaks at a gathering of business elites and her topic verges off into trade and development and international trade agreements, linking their outcomes to the impact on women, the result was a puzzling question mark.

She issued a caveat, that she knew little about the subject. Yet she felt inclined to broach it. It is difficult to see why she led in that direction, although where she was coming from was readily determined. As a woman who has accomplished much in her field of expertise, she is recognized as a role model and a feminist. As a feminist she must on occasion lead as a woman and bring attention to issues revolving around the empowerment of women.

But international trade is not one such issue; it is a genderless issue. If her concern is the plight of women living in rural areas of under-developed countries why not concern for the entire populations living in rural areas of under-developed countries, men and women? If trade liberalization ends up benefiting emerging economies it is the entire workforce, whether urban or rural that will benefit.

In any case, increasingly people living in urban areas are invariably migrating to the large urban centres where most of the manufacturing opportunities arise. The world's populations that have traditionally lived impoverished lives have seen a gradual upturn in opportunities. Those who are involved in the issues of trade agreements claim knowledgeably that free trade brings gradual changes that benefit everyone.

For as long as consumers can recall there has been an increasing cornucopia of goods available, ranging from agricultural consumables to a wide variety of manufactured products on retail shelves at credible prices more available now than ever before, ensuring job prospects for greater numbers of people. The rising tide does lift all boats, inevitably.

There has been a wide enough reaction to Ms. McLachlin's throwaway lines to discredit her as an intellectual outside the sphere of her line of work. And this is something she has brought on herself, whether through a disrespect for the intelligence of others, or simply because she felt she had nothing better to toss in for discussions' sake.

Her reputation has suffered a bit of a bruise, thanks to her very own reckless abandonment of the principle of speaking only of what you can feel confident you know well enough to expand upon.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Solidarity with Palestinian Human Rights

Student unions and councils in various universities across Canada appear to have aligned themselves compassionately and passionately with the plight of Palestinians, living under the hard occupational boot of the Government of Israel. Or so the interpretation would have it. The inconvenient minutiae of history and politics is of no interest and simply confuses a simple issue: the brutal government Goliath and the cowering, helpless Palestinian victims.

So here's yet another student group, at University of British Columbia, with their Alma Mater Society happily sharing angst over the plight of the Palestinians, prepared to approve a donation of $700 of student funding to a charity responsible for organizing the Canadian Boat for Gaza. These are mature university students. One might imagine they have information at their fingertips, should they choose to exercise an option to look for a balanced view.

Doing so, they might discover that Gazan Palestinians are governed by a terrorist group, one that is identified as such by many governments, including that of Canada. They might learn that the charter of Hamas - a fundamentalist Islamist group dedicated to the eventual return of all land in the area to the Palestinians - contains a key provision for the destruction of Israel. They have a moral obligation to inform themselves that Israel suffers continual attacks from Gaza resulting in the need to control border crossings to restrict the importation of weapons.

Still, the students are invested with a humanitarian need to support a venture purporting to represent solidarity with Gaza Palestinians. That charity named Alternatives based in Montreal, has not been providing charitable receipts for this Gaza-blockade-running charter, though it has thus far collected $100,000 for the cause. Some saner heads on the UBC campus have cautioned the funding will support terrorism.

President of the Alma Mater Society, Bijan Ahmadian, has his doubts: "I think we've definitely got ourselves to a bit of a dilemma here", he concluded. And they have. Thanks largely to the successful infiltration of fundamentalist Arab- and sympathizer-groups like Solidarity with Palestinian Human Rights and the Canadian Arab Federation. Former CAF vice-president Omar Shaban presents as a typically type-cast principal. Taking the slander of Canada into his orbit, along with Israel-bashing.

The student government's Social Justice Centre takes its role seriously, with its budget of student money to be allocated for donations out of its $10,000 disposable income toward activist projects "that promote awareness about social justice issues on campus and supports students and student organizing". Which doesn't quite explain why it would send $700 to a radical-left group dedicated to opposing and slandering a foreign government.

But of course this group dedicated to opposing "capitalism and other authoritarian systems", also endorsed and promoting the recent speaking tour that permitted George Galloway to deliver his once-thwarted, twisted message about human rights and state apartheid, and enthusiastic support of terror groups.

It is interesting that the AMS president Mr. Ahmadian felt it might be wise to freeze the donation, claiming the need to produce "fiduciary duty to exercise due diligence in handling student fees", and for his pains the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights has accused him of being "anti-Palestinian", and "belligerent"; obviously "motivated by an inherent bias towards Israel's policies".

Mr. Ahmadian has now been labelled as being complicit in denying human rights to Palestinians. This is the kind of typically vicious intimidation that such solidarity-with-Palestinian groups exercise in a free exchange of their Charter-guaranteed rights and freedoms.

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Subversively Talented

From the descriptions published of the life and experiences, the temperament and character of young Bradley Manning, it would be amazing if he had turned out to be anything but a social deviant. He was adamant in his likes and dislikes and violent in his reactions to what displeased him, according to published description. And he was homosexual, which guaranteed that he would be seen as a social misfit and disliked by others for any number of reasons.

How personally traumatic it must have been to the man only now 23 years of age, but still a teen then, being thrown out of his home when his father became aware that the son was gay. This, after losing a job after dropping out of school at 16, because his employer swiftly recognized the rebelliousness of personality that would never get along with anyone. His intelligence was never challenged, he was never given the opportunity.

The first strike against his future might have been identified as his parents' broken marriage. The second that the young boy was challenged by his peers as a gay geek. "He was a funny little character, really on the ball, a really bright kid. [He] loved computers, absolutely loved them", according to an individual who knew him when he lived with his mother in her native Wales.

When his father turned him out and he lived in his car, working at minimum-wage jobs, he thought of entering the U.S. military as a means of extending his educational opportunities. With a security clearance and training as an intelligence agent, then assigned to a brigade that shipped out to Baghdad as a computer specialist, you'd think he'd have reached his goal. But he didn't take orders well, and he was utterly socially disaffected.

"Bradley Manning is not a piece of equipment", he fumed.

And he decided to take his revenge on society, his country, and anyone who had ever used him badly, and that would be just about everyone to his mind, quite obviously. He embarked on a personal mission to 'exfiltrate' U.S. data, copying hundreds of thousands of classified and unclassified files so he could hand them over to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.

Discovered when someone to whom he'd confided jubilantly about his covert escapade contacted authorities. And now charged with stealing secret information. He faces fifty years' incarceration. The U.S. is not amused at the furor the release of these documents has caused in diplomatic circles around the world.

And anticipates, with good cause, additional difficulties it faces in further communication with counterparts releasing mutually useful data to them. Making their mission to combat extremism and violent jihad a little more complicated. Conventionally, traditionally, the U.S. has been unforgiving of traitors.

Mr. Manning, who so deplores taking orders and being told what to do, will have a long time to adjust to all of that, and more.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

Goring Oxes

When someone's rights are being trampled on and corrective action is being undertaken as a result, it's inevitable that someone else, notably those doing the trampling to begin with, agonize that their rights are being trampled. Just can't please everyone.

But this is a matter that transcends pleasing everyone. It's a matter of supporting the security agencies that Canadians depend upon for our safety and security, while at the same time expecting that those engaged in the safety-and-security component of civil society recognize their obligations to respecting the safety and security of those whom they are tasked to protect.

Kind of circuitous reasoning, but reasonable nonetheless.

Police agencies are given certain powers of authority that are regulated by law to ensure that they uphold the very laws that they are tasked with enforcing. It's basic human nature that when people are empowered, given authority over others, they feel entitled and elevated and when a uniform is added to the equation, some of the representatives who have been inducted into safety and security have problems remembering their responsibilities to the public and to the laws that they uphold.

We can take comfort, as a general public, in believing, with good reason, that most police and security personnel know the functionality of acting within certain boundaries, both for themselves and for the purpose of acting in good faith for the wider protection of the public in recognition of lawful legislation and constitutional rights and freedoms.

The soft underbelly of society, those who are social misfits, the troublemakers, those engaged in illicit, in unethical or immoral behaviours try the patience of police and often are treated in a manner that ordinary law-abiding citizens are not. This is not supposed to happen, but it does and no one is under any illusions that it does not.

Racial profiling is also not really blessed by the authorities but it is inevitable, that it takes place when identifiable representatives of demographics that represent a disproportionate number of lawbreakers present themselves in suspicious circumstances. Or even in ordinary circumstances, which seems unfair and unjust, but it is difficult to work against human nature which through experience finds itself utilizing tried-and-true identification methods.

In the wake of a number of high-profile abusive arrests of citizens by police in Ottawa in Toronto and out West, where police have taken it upon themselves to be judge and executioner, not merely arresting agents, but also brutal oppressors, traumatizing and violently harming people, a pall of public censure has fallen over the police as the public is scandalized by videos clearly demonstrating police brutality.

And when the chiefs of police admit that they too are upset by these clear instances of police overstepping the boundaries of their office, the police unions join the fray.

The public is astute enough and appreciative enough of police and the service they offer to society, placing themselves in danger often enough in the pursuit of their activities to protect the public, to make distinctions between the majority and an unfortunate minority of malefactors in uniform.

Low morale among police forces when such instances of a small number of their members behaving badly is understandable. Investigations are launched and the police feel embattled and their efforts unappreciated. It is when police unions become involved and impugn the impressions left by judges as in the case of Stacy Bonds and Justice Richard Lajoie, that matters tend to get out of hand.

The unions may be less than pleased with Chief Vern White, but he has been a credit to the Ottawa Police Force and to the city at large. There are times when those in authority should be left to their devices, and the unions should sit back and wait matters out to their conclusion, and this is one of them.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Bias, or Experience?

Racial profiling sounds like a dreadfully discriminatory and unfair practise. Just as you cannot judge a book by its cover, you cannot judge an individual by physical characteristics that place them in a category. Or can you? Well, you can do just that. You may not always be correct in your discriminatory judgement, but you may indeed be right on the other hand.

It all depends, doesn't it, on what the prevailing situation is.

We are all imbued with our biases, born out of experience. That is, decent, normal people, not those who look for differences among people to support their propensity toward racial intolerance. But if specific demographics have become noted for a certain set of behaviours that are socially averse and dangerous, then if those whose physical characteristics fall into that category present themselves under suspicious circumstances, it is natural to wish to avoid them.

Or, if you're involved in public security, to confront them, if suspicious behaviour leads to that conclusion. None of us really wants to be anything but distantly friendly to strangers, it's the decent thing to do. We don't ordinarily go out of our way to be unpleasant and cold to those whom we don't know simply because they're different than we are; if we share a society we also share an obligation to be civil toward one another.

But it is natural for people to wish to separate themselves from those whom we suspect of social deviance, or those clearly involved in illicit behaviour. And if we also recognize that someone fits the profile of those who pose a danger to society, we're naturally suspicious of them. If immigrants in Toronto from the Caribbean are known to be involved in drugs and smuggling and violent crime, we avoid contact.

And the authorities may select them for careful scrutiny. If young aboriginal people, over-represented in Canada's prisons are given special attention it is because there has been ample experience with their maladjusted view of society and their unfortunate reaction to it. If the police pay special notice to young black males fitting a specific profile, it is because experience has alerted them to undeniable potentials.

It may be a black police officer, or one born in the Caribbean, or an oriental officer pulling over a young oriental man involved in street racing. We cannot clear our normal and very human penchant for identifying people who stand out on the basis of their ethnicity or skin colour if there is a generally identified incidence rate of actions particular to them.

It makes good sense for those who have been trained to detect behaviours geared to avoid suspicion to pay attention to those they are tasked with identifying, like professionals at airports who must seek to identify potential threats to ensure public safety. It is indeed racial profiling when a suspicious, nervous-appearing individual of Middle East extraction seeks to board a flight without baggage.

Without the background of readily identifiable groups engaging in criminal or violent activities there would be little utility in profiling. Under the circumstances where groups are identified with behaviours that are seen to be inimical to the greater majority, it makes good sense to apply careful attention to those who fit a profile.

Suspicious behaviour allied with a physically-identifiable profile points in a direction one should be alert to. That it has been labelled politically incorrect to succumb to racial profiling in an effort to protect society at any level is unfortunate, but a workable tool is just that.

As a society we have an obligation to see that the workable tool is not transformed into a blunt instrument of injustice. It's as simple as that.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Empathy Falters, and Ebbs

"She has been denied equal access to, and benefit from, government information and services provided online to the public on the Internet, and that this constitutes discrimination against her on the basis of her physical disability, namely that she is blind." Federal Court Justice Michael Kelen
The plight of the disempowered who are beset by the reality of physical impairment or mental impairment is one that all societies face. We generally regret, as a society, and as caring individuals, that many people face life disadvantaged. With congenital illnesses that impose many strictures upon life satisfaction and attainment of aspirations and life-goals. Those who face life with far more complications standing in the way of their achievements than those of the majority who are healthfully fully-functional and capable.

And advanced societies, particularly those that are wealthy with high educational standards like Canada, are mindful of the needs of those with special needs. We generally agree and take steps to ensure that people who are in any way handicapped are given special advances in opportunities to equalize as much as possible, their futures. Hearing-impaired and sight-impaired people can attend institutes of higher learning to enhance their future opportunities, and physical assists are generally built into structures to assist the physically impaired.

To do all of this is costly but meaningful, in asserting and competently assuring that all residents of a country are exposed to equal opportunities as a right, not a privilege. Disadvantages that can compromise equality are matched with initiatives that serve to alleviate those perceived barriers to equality. The majority makes an effort to accommodate the minority requiring additional assistance, and this is fair enough.

But, like the over-accommodation seen in many minority-rights efforts, such as favouring lesser-qualified women for posts over their more qualified male counterparts, situations can arise that simply exacerbate social conditions by creating victims out of the majority. One such questionable instance is represented by a woman, blind from birth, who brought suit against the federal government, claiming a "system-wide failure" to provide her with the opportunity to apply on line for government positions, and to fill out forms on line.

Specialized software that would accommodate the blind demographic in Canada who wish to access the identical type of services that their sighted counterparts can and may do, is now to be installed to service the visually impaired. Governments in Canada have long since made an effort to ensure that all minorities are represented in government hiring, and quotas representing visual minorities, women, and the physically impaired have long been put in place.

That federal services are available through other channels, such as by telephone, by appearing in person at a site, and by regular mail means that not being able to conduct business on the Internet through government web sites does not shut applicants out fully. But these traditional and alternate methods of useful application were of no interest to one particular applicant, a Toronto resident, blind from birth, who works as an accessibility consultant and is computer-proficient.

"I went to court to catch the government's attention because they were not paying attention to any of us when we said we could not access their websites, we could not apply for jobs, we can't do anything. I think it's sad that the government fought this for four years and a lot of taxpayers' money was wasted", complained the applicant, Donna Jodhan, after winning her legal battle.

On the other hand, the government cannot and should not be all things to all people all the time. There exist other, alternate methods of communication, either and any of which could be conveniently used. If Ms. Jodhan was so concerned about the use and misuse of taxpayers' funding, she might wish to give a thought to the installation of a new protocol to service this limited demographic and its associated costs in adaptive technology.

The design and implementation, the hiring of professionals to see it through to completion, to service the new program to the satisfaction of those, like her, who demand their equal rights absolutely equally at whatever the cost. Including tax-funded $150,000 to cover the legal costs which she incurred, and which the government has been ordered to refund to her.

There are Canadians who are not computer-literate. They cannot use the on-line services available to Canadians through federal Internet sites. Do they now have reason to complain that the federal government has shut them out of a convenient alternate method of completing forms, of applying for government positions?

Would a court assume their equal rights to be needful of an outreach by government to teach those with no computer-related knowledge how to be computer-literate and -capable?

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