Ruminations

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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Harry And Kate, Is it?

Well, what a delightful article in the 30 June edition of the National Post, by John Ivison. The man has a wonderful sense of proportion and a deep wellspring of humour. And he has encapsulated in his article, "Rejoice, all ye royal believers", precisely how many thinking Canadians feel about the increasingly silly tizzy that other Canadians are expressing because of the visit of two British Royals.

Two beautiful, wealthy, extremely aware children of privilege. And class, let us not forget class. For what else is royalty and aristocracy and social wealth, (including nowadays, nouveau riche) but the class system personified? And if Europe and particularly Great Britain know anything about society and who's up and who's down, the class system tells it all. Not to be spoken of in genteel company, of course.

Class is something people have or don't have. The mother of the groom had none; she may have been an aristocrat born, but class eluded her. She was a woman who craved notice and became notorious for her grubby attempts to bring the spotlight to her tawdry need of attention and public acclaim. Portraying herself as noble and hard done by, while working hard at being hard done by.

Now it's her sons' turn under the tutelage of their loving father whose specialty is disaffected grumbling about how the peasants are spoiling things for everyone, while he gets on with life, dabbling in art, architecture, environmental issues and clean living, nurturing organic fields of plenty. Gawd, that sounds dreadful. Not him, Prince Charles, and his favourite things but my cavilling.

Back to John Ivison, that delightful man. He was tasked with what seems to him to be a puzzling assignment. Given, that is, his lack of enthusiasm and regard for the Family Royal. And their exalted social hierarchy which does indeed celebrate the apex of a class system. And which Canadians are indulging in a mass cultural hyperventilation of ecstasy.

He was commissioned by his editor to work for his keep by writing a la Evelyn Waugh, of the people "rejoicing". And this they most certainly are doing, rather to excess in the opinion of some: me, for example. Who'm I? Nobody, actually, and admittedly.

Wait: I'm someone who is utterly thrilled by Ivison having mentioned the 1980 Socialist Worker headline on the marriage of Charles to Diana: "Parasite marries Scrounger". Priceless beyond words. And so, crowds, hordes of enthusiasts were up at the crack of dawn to begin to gather in anticipation of the 2:00 p.m. arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, this day.

And I am resigned to reading about, hearing about, viewing most reluctantly, all the tiddly little details of the visit until they finally depart. Our own class system has produced a Canadian counterpart in the personage of our (relatively) new Governor General David Johnston, former academic whose annual salary topped a blazing million bucks.

I trust the young couple whom I cannot quite recognize as "beautiful", will enjoy their brief stay. I am paying for it through my taxes, along with all other Canadians, those who swoon over the prospect of actually seeing a real, live royal (soon-to-be-majesty, mayhap) and those who couldn't really care less.

Should they feel inclined to express gratefulness to the tax funding I've been partially responsible for, they're welcome. But not too often, I daresay.
The Royal Family pictured with the newly married couple Prince William and Kate Middleton on the balcony at Buckingham Palace for their Royal Wedding. Thousands of supporters lined The Mall in London to congratulate the Royals as they travelled to Buckingham Palace.
The Royal Family Pictured at the Royal Wedding
The Royal Family pictured with the newly married couple Prince William and Kate Middleton on the balcony at Buckingham Palace for their Royal Wedding. Thousands of supporters lined The Mall in London to congratulate the Royals as they travelled to Buckingham Palace.
(April 29, 2011 - Photo by PacificCoastNews.com)

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

As Luck Had It

And it was pure, unadulterated luck.

Upon finding an envelope with twelve hundred-dollar bills would most people set it aside rather than take personal possession of it? Likely so, if it occurred with no clues whatever with respect to its ownership. This finding was somewhat different. The envelope was inadvertently dropped out of Elizabeth Rajanayagam's wallet where it had been placed so she could pay the moving company that was transporting her possessions to Ottawa.

And as luck had it for Ms. Rajanayagam, who had taken a job with the federal public service, and was herself driving to Ottawa, stopped for gas to fill up her vehicle at a place called, of all things, Welcome, near Port Hope. The gas stop was a family-owned-and-operated business with the name of The Village Variety Store and Esso, located on Highway 2.

She was being welcomed, as it were, in a way she could hardly imagine.

The man who served her was the son of the owner of the place, and it was to him, Rob Vaid, that she paid her bill for the gas she had pumped. It had been a busy day for the enterprise, a place that was open seven days a week, 15 hours daily. When the envelope containing $1,200 had dropped out of her wallet, neither she nor 40-year-old Rob Vaid noticed.

At first, that is. He eventually noticed an envelope lying on the counter of the shop. And when he saw what it contained he was stunned, but not that stunned that he hadn't the presence of mind to rewind the store's video recorder. And there he viewed the image of a woman at the cash, paying her bill, taking no notice when an envelope slipped out of her wallet.

Elizabeth Rajanayagam, meanwhile, met the movers at her arrival in Ottawa, and when she turned to extract the envelope, found it absent. She hurried to the bank to withdraw a like amount of cash for the movers, then raced her mind to try to recall what might have happened to the envelope; a costly misadventure.

For his part, Rob Vaid set the envelope aside, picked his children up from school and later when his mother mentioned that a woman had called asking about whether someone had found an envelope, the mystery was solved. In her gratefulness, Ms. Rajanavagam, gifted Mr. Vaid with $100, had a friend pick up her envelope and deposit it to her bank account.

A glow of appreciation for peoples' kindness to one another no doubt made everyone's day a little brighter.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Disability: Tragic Trend...?

Soaring disability claims in the federal public service. Now that's something. Public servants, with secure jobs, union backing, good pay scales, benefits that private sector employees can only dream of, are suffering inordinately from loss of confidence, the misery of holding down a position that most feel does not equate entirely with their level of competence, and anguish over their aspirations to become more upwardly mobile.

Those who become entitled to a certain level of perquisites become accustomed to them very easily. Generous annual sick days, equally generous holiday time, gold-plated pensions, medical, dental, drug insurance, and a pay scale that's superior to the insecure jobs available in the private sector. A dream come true, you'd think, and you'd think wrong.

The evidence is in, the Public Service Alliance of Canada has posted a report on 2010 disability trends and it tells quite the story. That the disability claims incidence per thousand union members (all federal public servants are ipso facto union members; membership is obligatory) zoomed to over 15 from its previous 13.78 for 2009.

Since the year 2000 the incidence rate of disability claims has risen by a whopping 35%, so that currently over eleven thousand public servants now collect disability benefits. Obviously many are genuine, and many more leave the question to the imagination of the doubting. Particularly when it's noted that depression and anxiety represent over 47% of all approved disability claims for 2010.

Cancer and spinal/musculoskeletal disorders are next in line. This is people getting on with their lives, living with mental and physical conditions that are somehow construed to be related to their jobs, leaving them incapable of working for a living, but with that work/health-failure condition entitling them to a disability wage.

A PSAC disability insurance and pensions officer warns that "The stress levels in the federal public service are escalating, and they're probably going to continue to do so." Why should that be so? Possible reasons range from workplace harassment and bullying, burnout and management turnover leading to insecurity with regard to priorities and restructuring.

Which leads one to wonder how it is that mature people in a responsible workplace serving the public interest as well as their own are not flexible enough to adjust to changing work environments. And one must assume that the prevalence of workplace harassment and bullying, noting the attention these situations are now given, have been much reduced.

Perhaps some of the psychological effects leading off from expectations for advancement not being matched by opportunities or personal investment in time, expertise and effort lead to disgruntlement and loss of self-confidence, leading to a grudge against the workplace environment and an unwillingness to deliver the goods. Demoralized by lack of mobility; understandable.

Surprisingly, given that the federal government has focused on the advancement of women in the workforce, female public servants file a disproportionate number of claims. In the last year for which statistics were gathered women filed fully 70.5% of the 3,088 approved claims, though they represent less than 55% of public service employees.

The federal public service is known as a soft touch. For generous benefits, buy-outs, and general coddling of its workforce under pressure from its powerful unions. While there are ample public servants who diligently put in a full-day's work for a full-day's salary, many more, reflecting society at large to a degree, have little pride in the obligations of professionalism.

It's all very well to blame a stifling atmosphere in the workplace, but application and initiative always reward those who practise those virtues. When people are brought into the public service it is assumed that they are emotionally stable as mature adults, resilient and capable of meeting the demands of the positions they agree to fulfill for the compensation they agree they appreciate.

Life happens. Both at the workplace and at home. People learn to cope with stress. And they know that if they are being pushed beyond endurance there are mechanisms whereby they are able to register complaints that will be considered. No one holds anyone hostage to a job. If the situation is truly untenable, transfers can take place, cross-stream assignments, whatever works.

Government does its best to ensure that its workforce is well invested with benefits commensurate with the effort expended and the professionalism realized. It is a huge, unwieldy enterprise, and there are lapses and there are successes. The growing numbers of workers claiming disability due to mental stress may owe more to how some view this may advantage them than actual need.

Perhaps a closer, more intimate look at parameters for acceptance and obliging doctors' reports on individual conditions might be in line. Those who have themselves worked in the realm of the public service can attest to their own experience among their peers, their observations and frustrations at witnessing the sloth and ill regard for their responsibilities evidenced all too often by too many in the workforce.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Third World Pregnancy Care

Canada, a first-world country with a first-world economy and first-world medical system. Errors can be made anywhere, one supposes.

There are often enough discrete and discreet little news items respecting surgical patients unfortunate to have discovered through a raging infection post-surgery that a sponge or a piece of surgical equipment was inadvertently left in their interior, necessitating not only another surgical procedure to remove the offending item, but a life-saving pharmaceutical protocol to battle the infection.

There are errors resulting from misdiagnoses, surgical tragedies when the wrong operation takes place. And there are dreadful occurrences where patients check into hospital emergency wards deathly ill only to be informed there's nothing wrong with them that an aspirin and a good night's rest won't cure - only to return the following day close to death. In some instances death does indeed occur, and the hospital and the doctors issue heartfelt mea culpas.

Doctors and nurses are understaffed in Canadian hospitals and assuredly over-worked. We've a growing population of elderly, vulnerable to diseases and frailties that accompany agedness. Hospital beds are taken needlessly by elderly patients who don't really require ongoing hospital care, but rather end-of-life or hospice care.

Surgeries are cancelled, regrettably but necessarily, due to a shortage of beds set aside for surgical recovery. But a fairly routine procedure, with a woman giving birth at a Montreal hospital?

There were complications, 38-year-old Christine Sasseville died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage as a result of high blood pressure. This is a common enough condition in some pregnancies and eminently treatable. But the doctors in attendance did not feel any urgency or emergency. And medical staff overlooked establish protocol for women with this condition.

The Quebec coroner's report specifically made reference to serious gaps in the care given to this pregnant woman. The coroner had reached the conclusion that this woman needn't have died had she received standard medical care available at any good hospital. The Quebec Public Protector fully agreed. Ms. Sasseville died needlessly, directly after the birth of her son.

She wasn't able, in her dire condition, to see her newborn child, to hold him, to enjoy her motherhood. She spent a night of pain and suffering in the hospital before succumbing to death. And her husband, Gondiel Ka, for the third time since his wife's death is once again requesting the Quebec College of Physicians to open an investigation into the affair.

Mr. Ka feels justified in that request, that, given the coroner's and the Public Protector's statement, the two doctors involved directly at Maisonneuve Rosemont Hospital on August 14, 2006 with his wife's care, should be charged with failure to provide medical standards of care. The College has so far twice dismissed the case on technical issues.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Provincial Subsidies

The welfare syndrome whereby people become so accustomed to having their living handed to them through 'social justice' re-distribution, sparing them the awkward necessity of actually taking responsibility for themselves as mature and independent salary-seekers works for groups just as it does for municipalities and for provinces.

It's tempting to rest easy and depend on the kindness of others. It may not, in the end, truly be a kindness. Sometimes generosity of spirit and forgiving attitudes result in a condition that halts initiative. Arrested adolescence ensues, and independence begins to look less attractive, more like a right royal pain in the job-seeking arse.

We've seen that Canadian political parties don't make the effort to raise their own working capital when taxpayer subsidies are generously provided. We've seen how generations of families become welfare recipients, seemingly unaware that they are themselves capable of providing for themselves, turning welfare from a temporary assist to a permanent need.

And then there's that brilliant idea of fair re-distribution of wealth from the 'have' provinces of the Canadian Confederation to the less well-endowed provinces. The concept of sharing, of ensuring that wherever one lived in Canada, services would be similar to all Canadians because the wealthy would be happy to subsidize all others.

It made us feel good, at first. That we were so generously inclined and more than prepared to give a hand up to our provincial peers. And those who took and never gave back began to view the arrangement as an expected entitlement, earned by default, simply because that was the way it worked. In the process, the vast amounts received relieved the 'have-not' provinces of making an effort to become self-reliant.

So what, really has been gained? Provinces that were deemed to be wealthy because of their natural resources, their established infrastructure and manufacturing base, the quality of their populations' entrepreneurial spirit, had much of what they earned drained off and transferred to those provinces who hadn't a clue about furthering their own enterprises.

Which also had the effect of not enabling the well-off provinces to invest in their own futures by updating and expanding and re-establishing their priorities. In a word, a well meaning federal-provincial initiative has become a drag and a drone, enabling the lazy and the unproductive to live beyond their means, and the enterprising and functioning to groan under an undeserved load.

Time to re-visit the purpose, structure and result of a social experiment that appears to have far outlived its perceived usefulness.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pride In What, Precisely?

Toronto's gay pride parade is set to launch its raucous stage on the city streets yet again. The city's gay, transgendered and etc. community prepared once again to present their colourful, raunchy and for many - among them gays themselves - totally inappropriate celebration of themselves as differently gendered. Who cares that men and women have gender orientations outside the mainstream?

Most people are indifferent to gayness as a fact of life. It is, after all, a fact of life, and as such accepted as an indelible presence and reality in peoples' lives. In all other respects gays and transgendered are just like any other human being. They have like needs, emotional and practical, and the general community is more than prepared to recognize that. We have more in common than what sets us apart, obviously.

We have come that far. Making life more bearable for gays, and for those who are not, lifting the burden of suspicion. But the burden of being accounted among the 'homophobic' within society remains. Levelled recklessly and spitefully against those in the straight community who view lavish gay pride parades with distaste at their uncivil tawdriness.

Perhaps tawdry and uncivil might be acceptable in a spirit of light-heartedness, but gay pride parades transcend even those parameters with their sexual exhibitionism and in-your-face lewd gestures and acting-out. Not everyone responds positively to that kind of scenario, and people prefer to absent themselves from the vulgar display.

Toronto's new Mayor, Rob Ford, evidently is one of those. Out of courtesy and diplomacy he asserted a need to respect his own family's tradition, by showing up for Canada Day at the family cottage. He has been rewarded by slanderous nomenclature and threats to his political future. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community's celebration of themselves is not all good-natured fun and games.

They have slid into politics of a nasty and utterly unforgiving kind, slurring the State of Israel, which although it recognizes gay rights and gay marriage and hosts gay pride parades of its own, nonetheless incurs the wrath of the LGBT community who appear to prefer to support regimes and social/cultural/religious countries that penalize gays with violent persecution and death sentences.

Having successfully managed, with the help and goodwill of the straight community to set the record straight about homosexuality, and having achieved equality and security recognition under the law, it seems the LGBT community is determined to entirely blanket public society with its silly little campaigns geared to wear away societal discrimination expressed as good taste and respect for others.

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Gaypride3 Thousands of people took part in the 2011 Edmonton Gay Pride Parade on Saturday, June 11, 2011. The parade is meant to raise awareness and acceptance for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and transsexuals. Photograph by Mathew White.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Degraded and Deadly

There's the school of thought led by those who believe that women are able to forestall unwanted attention of a truly serious nature leading to harassment at best, and violence and rape at worst - if only they would dress modestly and not draw the attention of men to themselves. And then there's the opposite school of thought that holds that irrespective of how modestly women dress, inclusive of their immature or advanced age, they will still inevitably draw attention that will imperil their safety from a certain stratum of males.

Women insist that they should be able to dress however they wish, however fits their mode of personal expression at any given time, be it with concealing layers of clothing, or removing layers and presenting themselves half-clad, given weather conditions. They're perfectly right. It shouldn't matter at all how women dress, whether this relates to their being safe within society, or conversely unsafe. The reality is, however, that dressing flamboyantly or piquantly does draw attention.

It's meant to draw attention to the wearer, although most women would claim that they're dressing to please themselves, not onlookers. Trouble is, if the onlooker feels that women are being deliberately provocative, and how they dress and how they look as a result of how they are dressed equals an invitation this is considered by many to be a valid argument. So men of a truly brutish or ignorant or aggressive or criminal persuasion feel compelled to respond to what they contend must be an invitation.

The world is comprised, after all, of a vast multitude of opinions and conclusions residing in some bright brains and a good many dull ones. Here's what a 63-year-old man, a former convict, who spent time in prison for a variety of criminal acts, ranging from armed robbery to murder, said to a 55-year-old woman whom he had abducted off the street in daylight as she was walking to her car at a Moncton mall parking lot: "What are you doing dressing the way you are dressing?"

He was angry, when he looked at her driver's license, and saw her age. He had forced her, at knifepoint, to accompany him to a room in the basement of a rooming house where he tied her hands, placed duct tape over her mouth and began verbally threatening her. "You're with the devil. I've done it all, murdered people, robbed banks, gotten rid of bodies", preparing her for what he proposed was life with him, as his sex slave.

She was held captive for 26 days and repeatedly sexually assaulted during that time. She was warned by her captor, Romeo Cormier, that he intended to kill her if he caught her attempting to escape. If he was going back to prison, he said, he might as well just kill her, since in prison respect is given to murderers by other inmates. During the time of her captivity the abductor watched television news coverage of the woman's abduction.

She was married, had grown daughters, one of whom was expecting a child of her own, and her family was frantic with worry over her absence, never able to imagine what had happened to absent their mother and wife from their lives. Seeing her family members on television strengthened the woman's resolve to somehow escape her abductor-rapist. On one occasion when he had tied her up a trifle carelessly, she was able to free herself in his absence, and fled the house wearing underwear, socks and a tee-shirt.

She stopped on the street directly in front of an oncoming Purolator truck, and frantically poured out her story to the driver. Who reached to take her hand, to comfort and calm her as he drove her to a police station. He told her everything would be all right. And, eventually, it was. But not even the kindness of a Purolator truck driver, who did his utmost to restore calm and confidence to the middle-aged woman would be able to banish future nightmares from this woman's mind.

Had she dressed less casually, less revealingly, less provocatively, would this man not have targeted her? Would she then never have heard the words: "Stop screaming or I'll drive this knife right through you"?

A woman named her newborn son Romeo. This was not the Romeo of legend. This Romeo is a degenerate monster.
About 1,500 people were summoned as potential jurors for the trial of Romeo Jacques Cormier, accused of kidnapping a woman from a Moncton shopping centre parking lot in February 2010.
About 1,500 people were summoned as potential jurors for the trial of Romeo Jacques Cormier, accused of kidnapping a woman from a Moncton shopping centre parking lot in February 2010.

Photograph by: Video Files, Global Maritimes

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Who, Me? No, Him

"All my life I have fought against prejudice, intolerance and discrimination, having been subjected to it myself. I can see that this whole affair has caused a lot of upset and sadness. I apologize because the man you see up there [in the video] is not John Galliano."
Who it is hasn't been revealed by Mr. Galliano. It looks like him, it has the sound of his voice, and the body language is a dead ringer for his, but it's not him. Because what's emanating from his voice is pure bile, hateful invective that the real John Galliano testifies he would never commit himself to. For he hasn't a racist cell in his body.

Besides which, although his abusive and threatening and insulting slurs which were directed at a number of women who were absolute strangers to him, have not lingered in his memory. He cannot recall ever having uttered such hateful slanders. On second thought, it might have been him, but he was obviously not in possession of his senses.

Those had been taken out of his possession by the evils of addictions to alcohol, to sleeping pills, to Valium. Nothing illegal about any of those substances. And nothing untoward about entering a bar conveniently located close to where he lives, even while under the influence. He wasn't driving, he was merely locating himself where others were also disporting themselves.

So the genius of haute couture behind Dior and the Galliano brand absolutely and without any equivocation in his part denies the charges levelled against him of racism and anti-Semitism. The damage wrought to his reputation, to his acceptance in polite, elite social circles, to his future as a designer and businessman, has been catastrophic.

He has suffered. Enormously.

Not least at the grief he suffered when his father and then his "dear friend" and business partner died an untimely death. Which was why he required the release from his anguished state of mind accessed with the ameliorating use of alcohol and barbiturates. So it was he, but not yet he who called one woman "dirty Jewish face" and "dirty whore a thousand times".

And it was John Galliano, but yet not John Galliano who told a museum curator at Le Perle that she was a "dirty whore", another a "f----- Asian bitch", and yet another during a previous incident, a "f----- ugly Jewish bitch". Not was it he who shouted at two Italian women "People like you would be dead. Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be f----- gassed."

Clearly an unfortunate instance of mistaken identity.

And the complainants? The real John Galliano has launched a counter-suit for defamation of character. Which character? Take your pick.

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Pathetic Self-Exoneration

In the wake of the unwelcome notoriety that Vancouver has suffered as a result of the Stanley Cup party fiasco, some of the young people who, to put it kindly, got 'carried away' by the momentum and thrill of acting out their bad-ass fantasies now understand in the bright light of public condemnation that they have been stupidly irresponsible.

That lack of attention to civility and acceptable social mores appears to have caught up with some, who have taken to the Internet and social networking to ask for public pardon while at the same time going to great lengths to excuse themselves.

So when is an apology definitely not an apology?

When it's conflicted to the point that while the individual has a vague idea that they haven't behaved well and as a result outraged the greater society, they still believe they haven't really done anything wrong. Not all that wrong. After all, it was just an exhibition of exhilaration. Yes that, despite the disappointment in not bringing home the Cup.

Exhilaration because here were all these young people gathered together and there was a lot of built-up expectation, and steam to be worked off. Sometimes young people think of themselves as 'just kids, having a great time', and at other times, 'sober-minded university students'. It's a technique geared to eliciting sympathy and understanding. Except that this time things got much too much out of hand.

Take, for example, the apology posted on line by a young woman who writes "I take full responsibility for my actions and am sincerely apologetic for what I did. What I did was completely out of character for me, but I did it because I was influenced by mob mentality." So she admits she behaved stupidly, but it really isn't her fault, because everyone was doing it, so she did, too.

If everyone is torching and looting and celebrating and having a great time, it can't be wrong, can it?

She considers herself to have become a victim of another kind of mob mentality. Those who are condemning what she and so many others took it upon themselves to wreak in damaging public and private property, in rioting, taunting police, brutalizing onlookers who attempted to talk reason to the marauding kids.

She doesn't deserve their condemnation. Because, she says, she has admitted the error of what she did.

She did not instigate the riot, she merely took pleasurable part in it. Because it gave her a sense of euphoria. "At the time, being a part of the riot was simply to fulfill the adrenaline rush I was looking and hoping for - an adrenaline rush that I previously got from post-winning games: hugging randoms, dancing on the streets, honking car horns non-stop, and high-fiving just about everybody."

It was fun, it was kids enjoying a street party. But these kids are a bit older and muscular and testosterone-laden, and alcohol- and drug-fuelled, and you get the picture? Just got carried away, the way kids do, you know? So Camille Cacnio took possession of a few pairs of large-sized men's trousers, with no intention of using them, selling them, giving them to the men in her life. Just doing it because it felt ... good.

"It was extremely hard to see the consequences in taking a couple pants, when around me people were lighting up cars, smashing windows and inflicting physical pain on one another. My train of thought was that "the place is already broken into, most of the contents of the store have already been stolen, so what difference does it make if I take a couple things?"

Ms. Cacnio just doesn't get it. Thugs and vandals doing what thugs and vandals do, and then there was little innocent her, just along for the thrill.

And then she quotes a sociology professor at University of British Columbia who specializes in mob mentality and criminology, to bolster her own explanation, completely validating as far as she's concerned that she was a victim of mob mentality, poor her. People lose their accountability as individuals, when they're in a mob situation driven by the hysteria of anger or euphoria. So it makes no sense whatever to blame her.

And that smile? It's a smile of someone who is utterly delighted with her actions and her interactions with her fellow mob-sters. Brilliant, that smile, happy, not at all berating herself as in "I'm such a badass I can't believe I'm doing this" negatively, but with a positive spin, kiddo.
A woman runs out of a store carrying merchandise during the Vancouver riot. A woman runs out of a store carrying merchandise during the Vancouver riot. (CBC)

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Becoming Canadian


For a quite different initiative to introduce new immigrants to Canada about traditions and culture, encouraging them to come along to national park sites to try their hand at camping was a brilliant idea on the part of Parks Canada. Not that most Canadians, as it happens, take advantage of this country's wonderful opportunities to view nature up close and personal.

Admittedly, it takes a certain mindset and love of nature and adventure.

Family-type adventure, for the most part. And what better place for parents and children to bond a love for nature than out camping together, with most of the comforts of urban living at a distance. Exposed to nature in the raw, to lakes and rivers, forests and their inhabitants. Canoe camping is the next step, and once that's been mastered more or less, than why not take a stab at alpine camping?

There's more than ample opportunity to do all of that in Canada's wide open spaces where nature is protected by law in celebration of a great heritage of geography and history. The new immigrants who responded to the invitation to try out camping as a family leisure activity had plenty of assistance in helping them understand how to proceed and what to look for.

That bare and initial introduction - despite what turned out to be for most, a camping experience complete with untoward weather, cold, windy and rainy - a venture that piqued the interest of many to repeat the adventure, at their own initiative, taking advantage of weather reports that might inform that the sun will be out and warmer temperatures would make a repeat infinitely more pleasurable.

Of course it isn't possible to always predict weather outcomes and it's a lesson to be absorbed for any who might consider camping, hiking, canoeing and mountain climbing irresistible, that they will also learn to be prepared to meet weather exigencies. Coping with the need to plan well, equip themselves adequately and be prepared to meet the weather head on can only enhance the experience.

And to those curious enough and courageous enough to turn out for the experience, may many more and pleasurable adventures await them in their future as new Canadians.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mourning Neda Soltan

During Iran's failed "green revolution" when hundreds of thousands of Iranians swept into the streets in Tehran and other cities of the Islamic Republic of Iran after the presidential vote that was so obviously corrupted and which returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power, one particularly vile incident seemed to stand out, arresting the attention of the world.

A young university student, curious about what was occurring on the streets, decided to go out for herself, with a few friends, to witness her country's latest upheaval. She hadn't been a part of the protest group. She was, in effect, a bystander. Her name was Neda Soltan, and her dying agony on the street, shot by a motorcycle basiji at random, was indelibly captured for posterity.

The Republican Guard and their helpers, the black-clad, motorcycle-driving, gun-wielding basiji eventually wore down the protesters. Thousands of protesters proudly wearing symbolic green signifying their determination to effect a social-political revolution, led by two main political figures, were arrested, placed in detention, many tortured, and some murdered.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was forcefully blunt and decisive; the protest was not to succeed and the people would simply have to accept that he decreed the vote was perfectly above board and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency was to continue. Battered and downcast, the revolutionaries withdrew their protests into simmering resentment that still resonates.

On the anniversary of their daughter's murder, her parents, Ali Agha Soltan and his wife Hajer, visited the cemetery where their daughter is buried. The cemetery was accessible only to the relatives; the public not permitted entry, and police were present to ensure that nothing untoward occurred that might disturb the peace.

When Neda Soltan's mother became anguished at the site in expressing her inconsolable grief, laying flowers at their child's gravesite, police intervened. Ali Agha Soltan was angered at the orders of the security forces for their hostile show of disrespect, and as he protested, he was shoved to the ground and placed in a headlock.

They lost their daughter and gained the enmity of the government. They are not to express grief in public; to do so is to risk being assaulted.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Parental Agony

Parental love is universal. How can it be otherwise? Regardless of ethnicity, religion, ideology, society and geography, the genetic inheritance all humans have inherited is to strive to preserve our personal genes. This translates emotionally into love and the cherishing of our children's well-being. It is integral to the preservation of the human species.

So what does a parent do, how react, when faced with an impossible decision? With huge anguish and difficulty. And sometimes the reaction is to do nothing. To simply continue to value what exists without making the attempt to move into the future with any kind of assurance.

If there are twins, in a family, and they are conjoined twins, and it becomes medically imperative to surgically separate them, and the knowledge is there that with that surgery there is a very good chance that one or both of the twins may not survive, that decision becomes virtually impossible. Is it remotely possible to choose one child over the other?

At the time, five years ago, when Saba and Fahar Shakeel, living in India with their parents and siblings, were given an offer by Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan that he would pay for the twins' separation surgery, their impoverished family thought deeply, but found they were constrained to reject the offer.

At that time in their lives the two little girls seemed relatively healthy, active and happy. This is what parents try to preserve. Even while knowing, because of being advised by medical experts, that they would not remain that way. Each child had her own separate brain, while being attached at their heads and necks.

Examining surgeons discovered the girls shared a vital blood vessel in the brain. And that one sister had two kidneys, and the other none. To proceed with the separation would have required five or six operations over a nine-month period. Each operational stage represented a one-in-five risk that either of the girls might not survive.

With that excruciating information to go by, their father, Mohammed Shakeel, opted to leave his beloved daughters as they were, hoping for the best. Don't we all do that, hope for the best? That somehow in the years to come some medical marvel would occur and all their concerns might be easily disposed of through a miraculous new form of surgery.

But that is fantasy, not reality. We put off decisions in the hope that something may occur in the interim to make that decision unnecessary. Now, it seems, it's no longer a case of putting off the decision to seek surgery. The girls are now fifteen and, according to their family, suffer horrible joint pain, blinding headaches, and their speech is becoming increasingly slurred.

The father has declared their lives to be unbearable. He has been pleading with the government of India to step in to assist them financially to allow for appropriate treatment, if such exists. Alternately, he would like permission to permit them to euthanize their children. "The girls want to live and enjoy life as others do but when they are in pain, they cry and ask for help.

"All we want is either the government should come and help us treat them or allow them to die, because they are in miserable condition", said their father. And their older brother Tamana Ahmad Malik has explained "They remain bed-ridden . . . Their fingers and ankles are also twisted. In last few months, they've suffered continuous headaches and body pain.

As for the girls themselves, their opinion is that they would wish to be separated to enable them to lead normal lives. While their family seems resigned to what appears to them to be the inevitable.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Earning Their Keep

The premier of Ontario has high respect for those in the teaching profession. It comes naturally to him, since his father was a professor, and Dalton Jr.'s wife an elementary school teacher. And Premier McGuinty likes to keep unions on board, so he favours them when contracts come up. Naturally enough, unions, particularly teachers' unions, return the favour by voting for a government that has supported them right handsomely in the past.

And will do so into the future as long as the Liberals are re-elected to further plague Ontario taxpayers by their free-handed doling out of tax funds to programs that go plop and unionists that say 'more!' It's been reported that teachers in the province plan to make themselves available to assist in the upcoming campaign for the fall provincial election. To do so, they plan to ask that they receive temporary release from duties.

Which means, of course, they will still draw their salaries, but be exempt, if their plans proceed, from actually working on staff at their local school boards. President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation Ottawa district explained that while the union remains undecided whom to endorse, it can be assumed that chosen candidates will not be Conservative.

"I mean, our working conditions, as a result of the initiatives that the Liberals have taken, are considerably better than when they were under the Harris regime. And certainly people who have been in the education business for any length of time have an appreciation for what the two things look like. One is definitely better than the other." A convincing enough argument, but short on details.

But here are some defining details; eight years of Liberal governance have given rise to a 24.5% increase in teachers' salaries. Bearing in mind that eight years ago and earlier, teachers' salaries were downright munificent compared to other professional work streams. And the gold-plated benefits; off on the summer months, professional development days, defined pension benefits, generous sick days and etcetera.

At the present time a teacher with ten years of experience earns $94,650 in the current year, with department heads bringing in an additional $5,853, and those with a postgraduate degree honoured with an additional $620 to $1,238 annually. Yes, it's a difficult, demanding job. Yes, a good teacher earns his/her salary.

But how many in the profession are truly effective at communicating with their pupils and enthusing and stimulating them to learn? The answer to that ticklish question is far too few.

Cooler heads may prevail and the provincial Liberals may have to make do with the sincere appreciation of the province's teachers, without their actual presence during the campaign. Loyalty to Premier McGuinty leading to abandoning the classroom for the drudgery of the campaign trail may be stifled before it's launched since the school boards don't seem to support the unions to allow teachers to absent themselves.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association is going another step further, announcing a $60 levy in the interests of funding a political action campaign in the interests of electing Liberals and defeating Conservative candidates. "They said the money was going to lobby for issues for teachers in the upcoming election. But I think ostensibly that means to lobby against the Conservatives", according to a civics and history teacher at an Ottawa High School.

Who points out how unfair he thinks it is that the union "is using my money to demonize someone who's legitimately trying to better Ontario" - that would be Conservative leader Tim Hudak who also comes from a family of teachers. Not that it seems in fact that the Conservatives, were they to come to power, would govern too much differently than the Liberals have.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

At-Risk Graduate Studies

World events or events that impact on a geographic area have many victims; not only those who are in the centre of the conflict, but those who attempt to bring order to disagreements, and those who find themselves stranded through no fault of their own, by events beyond their control. And so it is with nationals who travel outside their home country to take up temporary residence elsewhere, when their country suddenly becomes a vortex of civil conflict.

Libyan students who have travelled abroad to international destinations to further their education and whose studies and living arrangements are paid for by their governments have found themselves in an untenable economic position because funds have been delayed in reaching them as a result of the ongoing civil insecurity in that country. Made infinitely more complex by the fact that Canada, as part of NATO, is constraining their government in putting down the insurrection.

And complicated yet again by the fact that Canada's Parliament has given official recognition to the Libyan National Transition Council, and removing official recognition from the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. Diplomats representing the current regime are now persona non grata. At this time of national upheaval the mature students numbering roughly 700 studying at Canadian universities find themselves in financial straits.

The Ottawa-based Canadian Bureau for International Education which has served in the past to distribute scholarship funding from Libya's Ministry of Education and Scientific Research finds itself in a position where it cannot distribute funding that it does not receive from its regular source. Given the situation in Libya this isn't a surprising situation. Other, emergency funding sources were accessed for a while, but funding has run its course.

The advice that the stranded students and their families are receiving from the Canadian Bureau for International Education is that they should make formal application for work permits and begin to support themselves. Those students often have young children whom they must support. And it's obvious that Canadian universities cannot undertake the monumental additional expenses represented by tuition, living expenses and health insurance.

Some of these mature students have children requiring intensive medical care and surgery. It isn't quite reasonable to expect that alternate sources that will be unable to recoup the expenses involved will willingly come forward to financially support that number of students requiring assistance. An offer has been made to provide air fare back to Libya with the understanding that those who accept the offer will not be welcomed back for further studies.

The situation has left a lot of people with nowhere to turn. Some of the students are pregnant, expecting additional children in the near future, and without health insurance their problems are multiplied. It's clear that those who have no wish to interrupt their graduate studies may have to regardless, applying for work permits for husband and wife in an effort to fund their living expenses.

Some of the students are quite understandably aggravated and concerned. They have been advised, when approaching CBIE, that its hands are tied without further funding coming through from the Libyan government. They remain critical of the CBIE, feeling it has not done enough to assist them. In turn they have been advised to turn to other Libyans living in Canada for assistance.

These families do indeed face difficult choices. In the same token they must realize that they must become independently capable of fulfilling their obligations to themselves and their children, and not embrace the attitude that they can be reliant on the goodwill of others for their support. Some feel that special efforts should be made on their behalf because of their unusual situation being 'exceptional' in nature.

The trouble is, there are so many people living in arduous, worrying and exceptional situations, all requiring consideration for additional assistance.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Want It, Pay For It...

Amazing how it's all about perceived entitlements. Everyone believes themselves to be special. Being exceptional requires recognition. That recognition should result in benefit.

Except that there is nothing particularly exceptional about a man and a woman conceiving a child. Women have borne children since humankind evolved from ruder species in the animal kingdom. And they have raised their young from time immemorial; on their own, with the assistance of tribal members and sometimes with the help of the male who fathered the child.

In the present era the tribe has become the society in which we live. It wasn't all that long ago in Canada when, if you had a child, you paid for the hospital stay, the medical delivery, all associated costs with raising that child; through taxation society enabled that child a universal education. And then as the country became wealthier and developed its social programs, child benefits, universal health care and municipal outreach programs began to kick in, to assist families.

This has made a huge difference. We think. What it has done is enabled both parents to take advantage of entitlements guaranteed to everyone, and in the process decisions taken that in very many instances both parents will leave the family home during the working day with the child left in the care of a paid child-care worker. So Canada went a little further and decided to encourage parents to bond with their newborns, one or the other of the parents to devote full time to the child.

Parental leave, if the family was fortunate enough to qualify, would ensure that 35 weeks of supported time for one of the parents to take leave to spend with the child was available. This hugely beneficial entitlement, however, was not enough for some people who feel that both parents should be entitled to each have 35 weeks of paid time under employment insurance if, for example, there were twins born or adopted into the family.

A man by the name of Christian Martin struck a blow for multiple-birth families in 2009 when his argument for qualification for himself and his wife to care for their twins succeeded in convincing an employment insurance board of referees. The federal government, as is its wont, when its guidelines for entitlements are challenged, appealed that decision. And now, years later, an EI umpire has ruled against that original decision.

EI umpire Russell Zinn stuck to the original intent of the Employment Insurance Act: "The policy of the act is to grant a set amount of parental leave benefits after birth, regardless of need or burden imposed. It does not calibrate benefits according to the burden imposed by a particular child's birth." The original reasoning by the first panel that addressed the issue of sleep deprivation, fatigue and onerous household obligations, was thrown out.

Mr. Martin seems philosophical about the result. "We took a big hit, but it was worth it", he said, referring to his having decided to take the 35 weeks of leave before matters were ultimately decided, and now he will not receive that remuneration, and as a result self-financed his time off. Some might consider his actions to represent contempt for society when a family that is capable of paying its own way seeks to further ransack a public trust.

Simple fact is not everyone qualifies for that employment insurance entitlement. Those that do are usually fortunate enough to have solid, well-paid employment. No one would argue that raising children isn't a difficult task, and adjusting to the needs of a newborn in a family is a difficult transition. But this is a universal problem facing all new parents, and everyone someone manages to adjust to the demands.

"Leaving my wife home alone with twins was not a good option", he said. Kudos to him. But it should be on his dime, not the taxpayer's.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Sacrosanct Canadian Carcinogen

The question must be asked: Why is this Conservative-led majority government still licking the boots of Quebec? Is it a principled stand that the Conservatives take in assuring Quebec that the federal government fully supports the mining and export of chrysotile asbestos? There is a scant several hundred workers employed in asbestos extraction, so that's saving a relative handful of jobs for a material once used in construction but now recognized as a carcinogen.

Asbestos is recognized as being adverse to human health. Those who mine it and those who have been exposed to it have been horribly affected by ill health and early deaths thanks to the dread asbestosis. At the turn of the 20th Century it was discovered that Quebec had a huge cache of asbestos, and the raw product was shipped out in particularly large quantities to the United States where it was transformed into roof shingles and insulation.

Pipes and boilers were covered with asbestos, it made its way into battleships and car brakes, and fireproofed thousands of private and public buildings with shingles and siding coated with the asbestos. Even the ancients know of the properties of asbestos and used it for building purposes. Italian immigrants who travelled to America to begin new lives, away from their impoverished southern Italy roots were employed in the industry.

The American writer Gay Talese wrote about his grandfather after whom he was named, Gaetano Talese, who worked a double shift at the Keasbey & Mattison asbestos factory in Ambler, Pennsylvania. He described the breakdown of his grandfather's health, his breathing difficulties that culminated in his wasting away, returning to small-town Italy, and dying a miserable death there.

Canada continues to mine the stuff, although it's a dying industry; no advanced country of the world will use it, but it remains in use in countries where workers' health is not top-of-mind of their governments. Canada assuages its conscience by saying that chrysotile asbestos is perfectly safe if it's used with certain safeguards. Workers in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia have no safeguards.

It's utterly inexcusable that this government continues to defend the asbestos industry in Quebec, a dreadful black mark on the conscience of the country.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Another Incomprehensible Sentence

There are so many drunk driving charges laid, and yet those who choose to drink and drive seem immune to the reality of the danger they pose to society at large. If there was a way of ensuring that drunk drivers were a menace only to themselves perhaps we would care slightly less; for these are people making a choice to exercise their free will to unloose on society the potential for great harm.

But too many traffic accidents and vehicular homicide cases are being reported, with grieving families hardly knowing where to turn for comfort. Alcohol consumption is so much a part of our common lives. It is a social habit. It represents a way of celebrating, of socializing, of relaxing. We think little of downing a casual drink or two and then setting off for home or to run an errand from home.

Most people simply feel they pose no risk to themselves or to anyone else, that they are in complete control of their perceptions and reactions and fully capable of operating as they normally do. What seems to escape their notice is that they cannot themselves judge their capacity to think and react normally once they're under the influence of alcohol.

So here is Dominika Duris, whose confidence in her ability to drive after she had imbibed, led her to a situation where her impaired driving caused an accident which killed a passenger in her car, 20-year-old Cory Lockyer, a work colleague. Ms. Duris insisted that she was not impaired, though she had a blood-alcohol level exceeding the legal limit; it was her vehicle that was at mechanical fault.

This case has finally been concluded. Ontario Court Justice Robert Fournier reached the decision that Ms. Duris be given a two-year conditional sentence which would include 90 days of house arrest and six months of a strict curfew. She is banned from driving for a five-year period and will be on probation for a year following the two-year conditional sentence.

The parents of Cory Lockyer had been convinced that Ms. Duris was truly repentant, and they were prepared to accept the sentence handed down to her on that basis. "With her victim impact statement, she led me to believe that she was remorseful about it", Donna Lockyer stated. They have since been apprised of charges they had previously been unaware of.

The accident that killed their son took place in 2004. It has taken this long for justice to take its course. The new information that has been revealed is that two years ago Ms. Duris was detained in Calgary on two separate drunk driving charges; caught with blood-alcohol levels exceeding the legal limit. She is due to appear in a Calgary court on June 27.

In sentencing Ms. Duris, Judge Fournier made the observation that Ms. Duris has no criminal record, she has a family that supports her, she means to seek rehabilitation, (!) and she poses no threat to the public. His reasoning seems somewhat specious, given the fact that after having caused the death of a friend as a result of driving under the influence of alcohol, she still repeated the offence - twice.

How unaware is this woman when she did admit at trial to having driven impaired, but yet argued that the evidence was missing that would link her "slight" impairment with causing the crash that ensued. It is more than obvious that she refuses to take responsibility for her actions, despite that her actions took the life of a human being.

Yet the judge cited her suffering while awaiting the court's final decision. And the stigma she suffered having been charged with drunk driving. Overlooking entirely that she has not, in the interval between the accident and the present time - a matter of 7 years, she has not sought the rehabilitation that she claims she is committed to.

Is this not utterly perverse?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Find-The-Exit

News flash: Police throughout Europe are hunting for an English-speaking "IKEA bomber" after explosions at four of the Swedish group's stores in four countries.
Oops, how about that. Someone with a grudge, obviously. Alerting police throughout Europe to the phenomenon of someone really fed up with something about IKEA. Was it their sales techniques? Their public relations? Their huge, hulking presence in the marketplace? Is this some nutcase of an anarchist who has it in for corporate interests?

Or could it be someone who simply detests the enterprise's signature. Its tinkly-precious insistence on free language lessons in naming its various consumable items that are so intrinsically nauseating by their perky cuteness. Those names do grate on one's sensibilities.

Perhaps they're insensitive to the idea that if people were interested in learning Swedish, they would go about it on their own.

There's a visceral feeling of deep annoyance at sweeping one of their large-page newspaper advertisements with the unwary eye and coming up against that agonizingly stupid nomenclature. Still, would that be reason enough for someone to have set bombs triggered by cellphones simultaneously in Lille, France, Eindhoven, Netherlands, and Ghent, Belgium?

Must be a conspiracy of pissed-off customers. Who may have had the original, never-to-be-repeated experience of wandering into an IKEA emporium, curious about what all the fuss relates to as a go-to shopping destination. Only to discover, when making an attempt to leave the premises that leaving isn't as easy as entering.

For the designer of these huge enterprises was obviously given the task of constructing a maze. One that was meant to entrap consumers. Wander about at your leisure, from department to department, looking at neat rows of shelves and items for sale. Feel you've seen enough and want to leave? Good luck, chum.

For those who wish to leave the premises must undergo a process to entitle them to exit. Arrows point the way, from aisle to aisle, and no short-cuts. Each corridor and goods-stocked aisle taking you to the next, then the next, until you've traversed all the footage of the interior and are permitted to finally reach the cash desks, and the exit doors.

This irritatingly diabolic scheme to ensure that customers wade through all the merchandise on display, geared to expose them to everything that a well-stocked store has for sale, and that a well-decored home should own, maximizing the company's opportunities for higher receipts once the cash has been reached, deserves an explosion of anger.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bad Decision-Making = Responsibility

It's kind of hard to square certain things, like the sense of responsibility of an independent individual making use of free will to arrive at decisions that might not represent as wholly prudent given prevailing circumstances, then howling that someone else is responsible for the misfortune that befalls him when his plans go awry.

Here's a man living in Cap-Pele, New Brunswick, petitioning Veterans Affairs Canada, in Charlottetown, P.E.I., and resorting to a hunger strike because, he claims, he is owed "justice". It would appear that Veterans Affairs somehow failed to follow through as they should have, in ensuring that this man's pension came through on time and as expected.

Instead, what transpired is that a clerical error that occurred somewhere deep in their bureaucracy was responsible for five months' worth of waiting to no avail. The cheque definitely wasn't in the mail. Nor did it end up as it should have, in his bank account. And without that funding that he was entitled to, his best-laid plans went phhht!

Fabien Melanson is 40 years of age. He served with the Canadian Forces for fifteen years, doing a stint in Bosnia and Croatia during the Balkans War. He was discharged, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2004. While waiting to be transitioned out of the Forces he decided to engage contractors to renovate his house.

When it came to his notice that his pension wasn't appearing in his bank account, and he was unable to pay the contractors he had hired, work was stopped on the house, he was unable to pay his mortgage and credit card bills, and gave up his 3 cats to a shelter knowing "they were going to be put down". He claims to have attempted suicide.

His repeated calls upon Veterans Affairs weren't immediately answered. After five months of back-and-forth he convinced Veterans Affairs to give him the bank number of the account where his pension payments had been deposited. Obviously a miscommunication, one his bank helped with when they communicated with Veterans Affairs and within a week the owing $3000 was deposited to his account.

However, he now insists that because the renovation work on his elderly house had to be stopped, mould developed in the interim because the house had been left sans heat and insulation through winter and he was forced to declare bankruptcy. Which is why he is exerting pressure on Veterans Affairs for an apology and a commitment to fully fund the renovations on his house.

Mr. Melanson made some impetuous, imprudent decisions when he proceeded to hire contractors without the firm assurance that he was in possession of the funding he required to go ahead with his plans. Due to an inadvertency, Veterans Affairs was five months in arrears of his pension; surely that hiatus wasn't sufficient to drive a man into bankruptcy?

And if it was, perhaps he should find himself responsible for the fall-out of poor planning, and not call upon the taxpayer to haul him out of a situation he himself created?

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Have a Care for Them, Too

Sometimes society just has to hold its nose, in all fairness, to be decent and fair and to guarantee for a vulnerable group the same security that all of society relies upon. Prostitution is an industry that grew with humankind. Sex as a commodity to be traded. As sordid as it is, it sure as hell beats rape. And the most respected members of society are among those who regularly seek out this kind of sex.

Which is no reason to respect either them or the practise, but it does point to a simple fact of life: prostitution is a fact of life.

Its extirpation as a representation of low-lifing misery that often captures helpless and vulnerable women and young girls who may turn to prostitution as a last desperate attempt to support themselves, would be a perceived bonus to society. But no society has ever yet been successful in legislating prostitution out of existence.

Which is why the trade carries on, with public distaste for its presence, and the law breathing down the necks of those who ply that trade.

If men did not actively, continually and determinedly seek out sex-for-hire, there would be no such sex trade. Where there is a market, there will arise a contingent anxious to serve that market for a profit. And even when we speak of a marketplace fraught with danger, physical and psychological stress, health concerns with the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, there are buyers and there are sellers.

Women who prostitute themselves are held in general societal contempt. They have fallen so far there is no esteem for them as human beings. And because they are viewed as fallen creatures when they come to harm, it seems society barely blinks. And that's just wrong.

You don't have to feel that prostitution is a good thing, that it services an industry and serves a practical purpose, to feel that women in the trade are deserving of protection. Decency demands it.

Denying them that protection under the law because we deem their pursuit disgusting is demeaning to us as human beings. They are human beings worthy of being cared about and for. What is it precisely that makes them less worthwhile and worth caring about than the world-famous cardiac surgeon who seeks to have himself serviced by a street prostitute?

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Suffering Remorse...?

There we go again, one set of standards for men who cannot behave themselves and treat women with the respect they're due, and another for women who just happen to be the victims in these tawdry cases. We live in a supposedly enlightened time when it is general knowledge that plaguing women with unwanted sexual advances is not countenanced. It is unlawful, as well as socially obnoxious.

Perhaps traditionally men who thought of themselves as being entitled to harass women, because women would be flattered by the attention, not insulted by being verbally or physically assaulted, managed to get away with it. The 'boys will be boys' chuckle rescued a lot of situations. But that no longer pertains, women like to think.

Except that, sometimes, in some situations and in some venues, it seems to.

A Hudson, Quebec immigration consultant who seemed to feel it was all in good fun and his entitlement as an employer to make the women whom he employed in his office uncomfortable with his sexual advances, was given a free trip recently. The women who testified at trial about the many instances where Dennis Brazolot groped them and embarrassed and molested them, had had enough of their humiliations.

So they thought. His defence claimed that he had taken "responsibility for the regrettable events, which occurred concerning former employees". But the father of two hadn't impressed the women he harassed with regret for his violations. "If he'd done any soul searching, there would have been an apology", said one of the women.

"I don't think he feels any remorse. He's not capable of that", said another. But the presiding judge, Collette Perron, came to the conclusion that it made sense to dismiss his charges of sexual assault, granting him an unconditional discharge. He will have no criminal record, and because the charges were dismissed he is considered not to have been convicted.

His lawyer, another female, expressed her opinion that he had "already suffered enough". His victims felt convinced that they had.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

School Homework

It's an impossible situation to come to terms with. How could the parents of Eric Leighton not be anguished over the death of their 18-year-old son. Eric was in the safety of an ordinary school day. His parents both at work. He was busy doing things at school that appealed to him, working at a class shop at Mother Teresa High School in Barrhaven.

How casually it seems, that those in authority seem to feel about the manner in which they expose students to new and unusual situations. Teaching them practical applications. How to take discarded items and render them into something useful. Who could find fault with that? Certainly not the young people who are delighted with the end-product of their work.

Isn't it neat? Take a steel drum and transform it into a barbecue. Simply cut it in half. And there's the receptacle. Re-fashion something that is no longer useful into something that is differently conceived and represents an environmental challenge. Trouble was the 55-gallon oil drum Eric was slicing through exploded and killed him.

Well, why wouldn't it be known that something that held a volatile substance would be dangerous because of leftovers and because of fumes and because chemistry teaches basic lessons that could not be lost on even the casual observer. And teachers at a high school who take charge of shop classes should be in possession of that basic knowledge.

Shouldn't it be generally known, and shouldn't there be a note of caution, an expectation that adults have the facility and responsibility to guide their charges?

After the fact, Eric's father looked on the Internet and discovered that there was a notable presence there: "I googled oil drum explosions. It's unbelievable the number of people who have been killed or injured in explosions. You can count them all day long."

Elemental, my dear watchman; tasked with the care and security of certain charges, take it seriously. Do your homework.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

First Amendment Rights?

A woman has an affair with a young man. She becomes pregnant. She asks that he marry her. He refuses. She decides it might not be in her best interests to carry on with the pregnancy. She might like to have an abortion, but fate or fortune has decided for her. While she is out of town on a work assignment elsewhere she experiences a miscarriage.

On her return to the state where she and her erstwhile boyfriend live, he observes that she is no longer pregnant. He takes huge moral and very personal umbrage. How dare she? And he takes it upon himself to inform the world that as a once-prospective father, he now mourns the opportunity denied him.

He arranges for a billboard upon which is a photograph of himself, Greg Fultz, purporting to hold what is to be construed as a two-month-old infant, in lieu of the child that will not be born. The message reads: "This Would Have Been A Picture of My 2-month-Old Baby If the Mother Had Decided to NOT Kill Our Child!"

For her part, the much-put-upon former girlfriend, Nani Lawrence, has launched a suit under the New Mexico Family Violence Protection Act; her petition claims a pattern of stalking and harassment, "including posting intimate cyber shots of me from one of our cyber dates". The petition requests the billboard be removed, harassment stopped.

The response came in a hearing where the presiding judge ordered the billboard, which has been up since mid-May to be removed by mid-June. Mr. Fultz, who had no interest in marrying Ms. Lawrence, but insists on his inalienable right to be a father, is prepared to go to prison to keep the billboard in place.

Mr. Fultz had the support of New Mexico's Right to Life Committee which has since backed off in the wake of information from friends who explained Ms. Lawrence had suffered a miscarriage, not undertaken an abortion.

In view of these sad and sorry details, Mr. Fultz should have his wishes respected, and be firmly ordered to spend an appropriate length of time in jail.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Driver Beware

"What a great day outside. Time for some 3 wheelin' and possibly some fishin' today. Who says Mondays suck!!! LOL" Steven Leon, Gatineau
It wasn't a great day. It was a disaster of a day. Particularly but not exclusively for Mr. Leon, 40, of Gatineau who was a backseat passenger in a Nissan Pathfinder being driven by a 25-year-old woman acquaintance who has not yet been named. Her boyfriend, also not named, was seated at the front of the SUV, on the passenger side. He escaped this highly unusual and pretty dreadful accident fairly unscathed.

They were driving on Highway 148, close to Luskville, Quebec. Which is very close to that wonderful National Capital Commission-preserved greenspace, and wildlife preserve, Gatineau Park. Where there happens to be plenty of wildlife. Where, often enough, deer run out into traffic, causing grief to themselves and occasionally to unsuspecting drivers.

In this instance it was a black bear. There are, of course, black bears in Gatineau Park. And the two young men in the Pontiac Sunfire were likely driving much too fast. It was ten o'clock at night, and they were driving in the vicinity of a large forested area. They hit the 300-pound black bear at full speed - whatever that happened to be has not yet been determined.

Their velocity and the impact sent the poor beast flying - literally, virtually flying. The bear was flung through the windshield of the SUV on the driver's side, and exited the back window, where the passenger was seated. Both the SUV driver and the passenger, Mr. Leon, were killed instantly by the double impact.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Teen Bullying, Assaults

There are issues among young people today that speak to a degraded society. One where the parents have seemed to excuse themselves of the responsibility to teach ethics and values and obligations toward society. It's hard to believe the extent to which people can be cruel to one another. On the other hand, it's well enough recognized that children can be unthinking, cruel and exclusionary.

It is up to parents to guide their children to become decent, compassionate people.

If not by direct example, then by any means possible. Direct example upon which their children can model themselves after the respect and consideration they see their parents extending toward others in the community being the best possible modelling.

Perhaps we live in a too-busy world. Everyone has to deal with a multitude of tasks and problems, needing to make financial ends meet, to pay attention to everything that distracts and motivates their interest. On the other hand, raising responsible integral members of society is without doubt the most important task that any parent has.

Failing to meet that fundamental obligation by guiding a young person toward social maturity represents an intolerable waste of opportunity and obligation. Parents should know how their children behave in society and in public and they should be concerned that they behave acceptably.

Yet bullying has become a group sport among young people. It's no longer the instance that was a traditional problem of a young lout whom manners were bypassed and whose anti-social outlook on life led him to bully others because he felt awkward in his own persona, and resented those around him who did not.

A case in point is six teen-age girls from Grey Highlands Secondary School in Flesherton, Ontario.

The girls, in the parking lot behind their school attacked and beat a fifteen year old student. They were surrounded by dozens of other students from the school. No one initially came to the aid of the girl who was being attacked. The attack was caught on video. Onlookers were heard on the video to encourage the girls in their attack.

Another girl eventually did try to aid the attacked girl, only to become the object of another attack herself.

The crowd gathered, they watched what was happening and did nothing to stop the violence. If there was any compassion for the teen-age girl who was targeted it wasn't visible in the video that was placed on YouTube, as though it was something to be proud of. The video has since become an investigative tool, leading to the identification of the six students, age 15 to 17, who took part in the attack.

They were charged under the Criminal Code with assault, counselling an indictable offence and causing a disturbance. The individual who was responsible for the video has also been charged. What is profoundly disturbing is that such a violent attack could take place, to begin with, and that onlookers would not trouble themselves to make an effort to stop it, but gathered as though to witness an entertaining spectacle.

What is also concerning here is not only the memory that the targeted girl will carry for the rest of her life of the trauma and humiliation she was subjected to, but how to get through to the girls who took part in the attack how dreadful their act of violence against another girl was. How, in fact, it succeeded in diminishing their humanity.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

Just Fed Up


SlutWalk RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR

They're fed up with all the avuncular advice from the very authorities whose job it is to ensure safety for women in their homes, walking in the streets, becoming hapless victims. They're fed up with being unsafe, a target, victimized. That's how it is, live with it just doesn't cut it. Women do know enough to be cautious, to be aware; that's not the solution. And repeating it ad infinitum doesn't solve anything.

Above all - and who needs it - women are fed up with society silently blaming women for attacks they haven't provoked at all. Dress like a slut, be treated like one. It's that old blame-the-victim attitude that excuses men for picking up the 'wrong signals' a woman's body language, speech pattern, mode of dress unerringly (to him) telegraphs. That's the kind of signal that overrides an emphatic verbal "No!".

It's also the signal that judges in this country make reference to in excusing the inexcusable while dispensing justice. It's the signal that police officers, going out of their way to address vulnerable women make clear; that it's entirely up to women to protect themselves by dressing in a manner that will clearly state to a potential rapist that they're not a welcome target.

And as long as that message keeps getting put out there that women 'deserve' what they get because a man cannot be held responsible for his brutal passions and simple misunderstandings, those men will feel justified in the popular conceit of stupidity that it's not their fault; the message was the medium that invited them to act and the message was clear; bare skin equals invite.

So telling women to 'travel in groups, stick to well-lit areas, be mindful of your drink, where you leave it, and who you accept a drink from' is moronic. This is a description of a sport, one that the males who practise it think is wholesomely male-centric and acceptable. And they do this because they think they can get away with it. Society condones female provocation, overlooks male violence. One begets the other has always been the excuse.

The guy was confused, he was 'led to believe' that whatever he felt like imposing on the woman was her fault; women are coy, saying one thing, meaning another. But it ain't so, fellas, and never was. It's past time that a public campaign focused on errant male behaviour was undertaken. The guys who would never even dream of imposing themselves on women don't need it, sure.

They champion this new initiative, because they detest the brutes who violate women's human rights themselves. What's incredible is that there are enough men within society whose conscience doesn't trouble them about taking what hasn't been given. They're the insults to their own gender who need to restructure their mindsets and behaviour.

Nice touch, actually, to place posters above urinals in bars informing men to keep their hands to themselves and their flies zipped. About time it became official advice.

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Unfit To Print

Khartoum, Sudan
Five Sudanese journalists have gone on trial in Khartoum for publishing articles on the alleged rape of a female opposition activist by security force personnel. "We had a very short hearing ... and then the trial was postponed until June 28 ... Up to now, we know that there are five of us being tried", Faisal Mohammed Saleh said Friday. On March 1, he wrote a column in the Sudanese daily Al-Akbar about Safiya Ishaq, a youth activist who says she was raped repeatedly by three security officers after her arrest in Khartoum. Mr. Saleh and four other journalists were investigated for allegedly defaming Sudan's security services in writing about the case. Agence France-Presse
Warsaw, Poland
A lack of funds has forced a museum housing the former Nazi death camp of Sobibor to close, drawing protests from Jewish groups over the fate of a site where up to 350,000 Jews perished. Poland's culture ministry said Friday it would take charge of the museum from next year, but it was not clear who would care for the 10-hectare site in the interim. "We have ceased all activity at the site. We cannot afford to keep the place orderly and tidy, it's been completely abandoned. It's hard to accept this", said Marek Bem, spokesman for the museum he co-founded in 1994. The museum needs up to $1.10-million annually to function and to conduct research. Reuters

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
A group of Malaysian Muslim women is forming The Obedient Wife Club with the aim of curbing social ills such as divorce, domestic violence and prostitution. Members will be given instruction in how to "obey, serve and entertain" their husbands to promote marital harmony and cut the risk of their spouses straying or misbehaving. Maznah Taufik, one of the club's founders, said much marital discord was the result of disobedient wives failing to bring joy to their husbands. "Domestic abuse happens because wives don't obey their husband's orders", she said. The group would stress they had to provide husbands with a fulfilling sex life to prevent them from straying. The Daily Telegraph

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Pump-and-Run

You wouldn't think the rising price of gas at the pumps would encourage some elements of society to criminal acts of 'pump-and-dash'. Evidently this is just what is happening with increasing, although still relatively-rare frequency. Serious enough in and of itself, made all the more so when gas station attendants have been physically harmed in the process.

The amount of money concerned isn't that great, likely between $50 and $80. But for people who haven't the ready cash perhaps it's enough to convince them that it's worth the risk to pump gas into their guzzlers and speed the scene. Perhaps because the honour system is there, has been in effect ever since self-pumping has been in effect, makes those gambling they can get away with it, think less of it.

The reasoning usually goes that it's not a big deal, they're only ripping off big corporations. Who don't give a damn after all, about the consumers. Aren't they the ones who change the pump prices at a whim; one price in the morning, another in the afternoon? Pricing that doesn't really reflect the cost of a barrel of oil, since when that rises there's still cheaper oil in storage facilities.

Perhaps the reasoning goes that if the big oil producers can rip off the public with impunity, some members of the public can get back at them, taking what they've already paid for in over-pricing. Except that it's unlawful, it constitutes property theft, and it endangers the lives of other people. And, of course, it steers those who are impacted by profit loss to consider pre-charging.

It's already done routinely throughout the United States, which faced this phenomenon of pump-and-flee before it became a problem in Canada. People found it offensive at first, the implication being that they weren't trustworthy. No way to treat customers, to insult them and grab their money before allowing them the product.

But, in fact, that's how commerce usually works. You pay first for what you're shopping for, then you're allowed to take possession of it. Of course in the case of gas pumping you don't know in advance what a fill-up will total. So you hazard a guess, and come in low, pay the freight and off you go.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Stricter Driving Penalties

An interesting and timely conclusion reached by the World Health Organization, based on research carried out in Spain. The Spanish government had introduced a new law in 2007 that put teeth in legislation to enforce more stringent requirements on law enforcement agencies and the judicial system to ensure that driving offenders paid a penalty commensurate with the damage they inflicted on society.

Driving at high speed, driving under the influence of alcohol, careless driving, all associated with higher risk of accident-causing events were to be given penalties that ensured the offenders paid a price they considered to be painful. The laws were there but they weren't enforced. The new legislation changed that, and made people aware that they would henceforth face stricter penalties for bad driving decisions.

Initiatives were undertaken to make certain that men between the ages of 18 and 44 who represented 70% of the men responsible for motor vehicle accidents through careless driving, understood they would be held criminally responsible. Getting that information through to the target age group saw a 14% drop in serious road traffic accidents.

It was ascertained that male drivers represented 80% of the at-fault vehicle accidents. Women simply tend to be more cautious drivers. Once the public became aware that driving infractions of that nature causing serious accidents were to be treated in the courts as serious criminal offences, drivers became more attentive to the potential of serious legal consequences impacting on their future.

The WHO pointed out that despite the success seen in effective legislation backed up by determination to follow through by strict enforcement, only 15% of countries make an effort to reduce traffic deaths caused by speeding motorists and drunk drivers. Let alone investing in nation-wide campaigns to inform people about those laws and their civil obligations.

Fear of the consequences of wrong-doing through criminal prosecution is what usually convinces people that it is in their best interests to obey the law. It would be even better if people were invested in the quaint notion that they should be prepared to behave in a responsible manner as good citizens, but the allure of speed and alcohol for young males seems irresistible.

So the next-best-methodology appears to be putting the fear of criminal prosecution into peoples' minds, to offset and even replace the attractiveness of careless driving as an adventure in male juvenile behaviour.

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