Ruminations

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"This Worked. He Listened."

Well, this would certainly rank as a memorable occasion for one little boy. A little boy who has been rather weighted with psychiatric problems, no less. Rather a heavy burden for a nine-year-old, to have been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

He would, then, be rather sensitive to remarks by other children designed to degrade him, to diminish himself in their regard, and perhaps his own.

Who wouldn't lash out in anger at the unfairness of it all?

And one would have to wonder why this sensitive child would be in the company of his peers well known for cruelty to others when they sense someone being different, and picking away at the difference like a scab, revealing a sore that becomes more sensitive the more it's picked at.

Might the child-care workers at the Learning Enrichment Foundation have been completely oblivious to the situation?

Had they not been, surely they would have nipped it in the bud, firmly and kindly guided other children away from picking on the 9-year-old with Asperger-plus? It seems reasonable, after all, does it not?

The boy, understandably disagreed furiously with the other children bullying him and calling him names. Who wouldn't? And so he reacted, and according to the day-care personnel "became uncontrollable".

And then the day-care team at the Learning Enrichment Foundation demonstrated their ability to respond to the situation as responsible adults by calling in the police.

The boy, by this time had locked himself into an empty classroom, and in his rage at the unfairness of the world, began tossing about chairs, tables - and, it was claimed, paint. That might have been satisfying to his enraged condition.

Police when they arrived took stock of the situation and they also took immediate charge. Doing what police do, they ordered the child to lie prone on the floor to enable them to place him in handcuffs. That more or less calmed him down.

Police uniforms covering burly bodies of authority have that kind of effect on little kids.

Enabling them to remove the handcuffs, set the little boy upright, whereupon a steady stream of information on his preferred hobbies ensued. "When he left, he hugged the officers and the nurse. This worked. He listened", said Toronto police Const. Victor Kwong.

You betcha.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bit of a Puzzler

Now that Canadians held in custody in federal prisons to serve out their punishment for crimes they have committed are able to exercise their franchise as citizens of Canada, despite incarceration, they are increasingly doing so. Elections Canada has revealed that the fastest-growing vote came from among those behind bars.

Over 17,000 incarcerated inmates cast ballots in the last federal election in May. The votes for inmates were included among those collected from Canadians living outside the country, those in the military, on diplomatic postings. From researching the votes it became clear that this group of voters seemed to vote overwhelmingly Conservative.

Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand, while releasing some of the data crunched after the last election doesn't hazard an informed guess with respect to why more prisoners voted, other than to mention that a new elector registration tool assisted prison authorities to identify correct ridings for the inmates, making it easier to complete registration.

Given the fact that the Conservative government is on track to introduce tougher crime legislation that will most certainly impact on the prison population, and that more tax dollars will be evaporating in the process, primarily to build more prisons and extend capacity in existing prisons, it comes as somewhat of a mystery as to why prison inmates would vote Conservative.

But the increase in prison votes from the 2008 election represents the largest number of such votes recorded since the Supreme Court upheld the right of federal inmates to vote, in 2002. Can we construe these results to imagine that those who have committed crimes punishable by over 2 years' imprisonment in federal institutions agree that the punishment meted out is too soft?

That's a bit of a puzzler.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Earning a Doctorate

Critics of an education system in the primary and secondary grades have complained that children have for too long been encouraged to think of themselves as 'special', as 'individuals', and as such deserving of self-esteem and confidence in themselves. Which isn't a bad thing altogether. Except when it diminishes children's sense of responsibility, of a recognition that with self-esteem and confidence comes the obligation to extend themselves, to make an effort on their own behalf.

Schools have, instead, somehow often missed the boat on that one. Which has caused universities to complain that incoming students often are unready to take up studies in higher learning. That too many students are incapable of thinking for themselves, of conducting basic research, of expressing themselves lucidly, and above all, of communicating adequately with a good command of language, through the written word. In which case, their schooling has failed them.

But it's when the universities themselves bend over backward and make special, forgiving contracts with students who can not 'prove' that they are worthy of being awarded the degrees they have studied to achieve - and which they have dedicated their university years to obtain, but opt to gain through individual covenants which overlook the usual method of audit - that they too are proving to be inadequate to the task of teaching, evaluating and rewarding.

A singular case in point: the University of Manitoba designating a doctoral student as "handicapped" because, after he had failed his courses due to "extreme exam anxiety". Making the decision not to encourage him to backtrack and try again, but to award him with the sought-after PhD regardless. The university defended its decision, and the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Deborah McCawley upheld the university's right to award the doctorate.

A mathematics professor at the university, Gabor Lukacs, protested the awarding of the PhD, taking issue with the university, emphasizing that the mathematics student only revealed his "disability" after having failed the two exams. Pointing out that the university could have pursued other avenues, to encourage the student to make another effort.

The university's readiness to accommodate the student's desire to achieve his doctorate without properly earning it presents as a true problem.

Waiving the normal requirements for achievement of a degree in favour of accommodating a student who claims a "disability" seems a dubious way for an academic institution to advance knowledge and achievement. Professor Lukacs, on the other hand, was disciplined for having made a public issue of the matter and accusing the university of becoming a "diploma mill".

Not so strangely, his colleagues at the university, along with a multitude of other supporters from the international academic community, supported Professor Lukacs. Mathematicians from around the world signed a letter of support for his stance. The faculty association of the university took up his cause in support of his contentions and objecting to his having been disciplined.

The graduate students association, however, chose the alternate course and applauded his temporary suspension from the university. Predictable.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Second Time Around

For those in the profession of public security when soundness of judgement and reasonable reactions are requisites there should be an inflexible rule of 'one strike' out. When an individual has been accepted into a policing role, trained and presumably become professionally adept at the trade of providing safety and security to the public, that person should be expected to behave beyond reproach at all times.

At those hopefully rare times when police officers trade in their law-abiding status as officers of the peace and opt to become stealth or public law-breakers, they should be summarily removed from office, once an investigation has been concluded that affirms they have chosen to disgrace their pledge of public protection. There simply is no room for equivocation.

Anyone whose professional job it is to protect the public, uphold the laws of the land, must undertake to behave personally circumspectly in the pursuit of their occupation and their personal lives. Those individuals must be held to a standard that reflects the trust in which they are held. Someone, like Constable Griffin Gillan of the Vancouver police, who engaged in an unprovoked assault on a civilian, cannot be excused.

In 2009, Const. Gillan who was 24-years-of-age at the time, and a Vancouver police officer, launched an unprovoked attack on a newspaper carrier, Firoz Khan, in downtown Vancouver. Const. Gillan had been involved in a binge drinking night out with two other police officers. This kind of activity, even minus the attack represents excessively poor judgement on the part of all three police officers.

Const Gillan, who later estimated that he had downed roughly 25 drinks that evening, went on to assault Firoz Khan, outside a downtown hotel, and while he was so engaged, he called for police backup. A professional standards investigation by West Vancouver Police Department Staff Sgt.Paul Skelton had initially recommended dismissal for Gillan.

Staff Sgt. Skelton gave testimony during the public hearing that took place on Friday into Const. Gillan's actions, before police complaints adjudicator Harry Boyle. Mr. Boyle was informed that it was Staff Sgt. Skelton's current opinion that Const. Gillan was redeemable because he had 'taken responsibility' for his actions.

In the end the adjudicator decided for lighter punishment than ending Mr. Gillan's police career. Concluding that a 30-day suspension and one-year demotion was to be imposed. Which was costly to Mr. Gillan, having lost $70,000 as a result of suspension and lost work opportunities, as well as an additional $20,000 relating to his punishment.

Whether the man deserves to be given a second chance to demonstrate his renewed capabilities in self-discipline and sound judgement is now moot. The public, which was ill served by Mr. Gillan's violence inflicted on a victim who happened to raise his ire, will now have the opportunity to either see a repeat of the original lack of restraint and exceedingly poor judgement, or conversely a chastened and restrained police officer.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

An Admirable Asset

It seemed to be all about him. His need and his life fulfilled. It seemed her efforts produced the fulfillment of his life's aspiration. He seemed demanding, in expectation that his will prevail. But it was her indomitable will that prevailed, and ensured that their joint venture was the success it turned out to be. They might have travelled far into dangerous waters, coming ashore in far corners of the world, but who would have known?

It was her invitation to the world to look inside, to vicariously share their adventure that enthused and piqued peoples' interests. Her bold and sometimes wry narrative of the problems they faced, the experiences they shared, the difficulties and the triumphs all, enraptured her reading audience. An audience that grew with each successive dispatch as the months grew into years, and people became familiar with the Steumer family.

Their life aboard Northern Magic, their travails along their journey that seemed impossible, foolhardy and absolutely mad to parents of young children, brought those parents and others along with them, into the inner sanctorums of Diane Steumer's concerns for her three children, and for the safety of the journey they had agreed to undertake with their parents, because their father Herbert aspired to travel the world's oceans.

The parents and their three sons, Michael, Jonathan and Christopher, 5, 7 and 11 years of age when they set out on this unusually arduous and ambitious family adventure, had an addicted audience, anxious to read each week's newspaper-published installment of their progress, the environment they faced, the dangers of storms, the frustrations of mechanical breakdowns aboard their ship, the stresses and strains of dealing with unforeseen events.

And the housekeeping type of details; home-schooling, exposing the children to the way other, obviously-less-fortunate children their age lived in material-and-opportunity-deprived areas of the world, particularly Africa. Where small gestures of encouragement and assistance inspired the adults in their little group to invite their readers to help them fund educational opportunities for indigent youngsters in Kenya.

On their return to Canada, and the city in which they still maintained a home, the boys returned to a normal school life and suffered for their absence by being held apart by their peers, friendless and scorned. Diane Steumer's malignant cancer for which she'd had surgery five years earlier returned to invade her body beyond surgical intervention, leaving her young boys motherless.

Herbert Steumer took up the cause that his wife had initiated, of funding elementary schools and an advanced education for a substantial number of fortunate young Kenyans. His restless spirit robbed his three children of a normal upbringing, and his wife of the comfort of living a stress-free life. Their four year sailing adventure, on the other hand, taught the children a life lesson of independence.

And demonstrated to Diane Steumer that she could prevail to overcome any obstacles, including that of close confinement with a Teutonic taskmaster. Theirs was a tale of plucky children, a gallant mother who proved her mettle, and a father who realized his ambition at some cost to those who loved him.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Beyond Merely Despicable

A recent story out of Penticton, British Columbia is enough to make any sane, decent individual grit their teeth with disbelieving anger.

Bad enough that young girls are preyed upon, that women and girls must be alert to ensure that they are in a safe environment, being careful that they are not exposed to danger from predators. How horrible it must be for young girls whose fathers prey on them. And do so with the intention of using their daughters as prostitutes, then availing themselves of the earnings.

That some individuals could resort to such atrociously disgusting tactics is beyond belief.

The very thought of a young girl living such an utterly degraded life, leaving her with no childhood worth recalling, with the certain knowledge that she was never loved, valued and protected from harm by her parents, and with the overwhelming thought that she is worthless as a human being, must be a life-crushing experience.

The 46-year-old father, unnamed to protect his daughter from public disclosure and shame, has been charged with three counts of sexual assault, two counts of sexual interference, two counts of living on the avails of prostitution, one count of sexual exploitation, and one count of a parent or guardian procuring sexual activity. He has been a target of an RCMP investigation since May.

And three other men whose ages are 34, 63 and 67 have also been arrested. On suspicion of having received sexual services from the girl. In other words, three mature men saw fit to have sex with an underage child.

Their defence predictably enough; that they were under the impression she was older than she appeared. Which is some defence, on the face of it. Men aged 34, 63 and 67 having no more common sense and decency than to engage in sexual relations with a girl child.

The oldest of these disgusting perverts has been named. As he should be, since he is a candidate for the mayor's office of the city. Benny Wolfe explained he had met the girl and her father at a bus-stop, asked the girl's age, and was assured she was legally of age.

A man old enough to be the girl's grandfather, noting her youth, seeking assurance she was legally 'available'. "She was reasonable, $100 for an hour of her time", he commented.

And he still plans to run for the mayor's chair come the fall. It's a pity that the old method of a town expressing its displeasure with townsfolk who outraged public decency is no longer in vogue; he at least should be tarred and feathered and run out of town.

The unfortunate girl's father should be incarcerated for a very long period of time.

And the girl, what will become of a disconsolate child who realizes that she has been valued by her father only for the potential of requiring her to take part in degraded acts of predation by sociopaths, to satisfy her father's demands that she earn a living for him as a pimp.

Police, while not divulging her identity, have expressed the opinion that she has demonstrated great "resiliency and strength" ... both of which she will require in abundance to make a new life for herself.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Natural Climate Shifts

The environment obviously does have a profound impact on life. Not too much new about that bald statement. Climate and natural resources go hand-in-hand to impact on the manner in which human settlements can manage to feed themselves. Along with the need to protect themselves against the incidences of disease in climate-vulnerable populations.

Recent study results clarify the impact of natural phenomena like El Nino and La Nina weather patterns that blow into the upper atmosphere, causing climate alterations affecting arable land, agricultural growing conditions with unalleviated heat and dryness alternating with excessive rain events washing away seeds before they can germinate, reflecting successive years-worth of one or the other - creates stress both on the environment and the human condition.

A new study has come to the conclusion that there is sufficient evidence to back an often-contested theory, that in tropical and semi-tropical countries of the world El Nino weather events; invariably overheated and dry, are likely to cause internal societal unrest, as opposed to La Nina's heralding of cooler, wet conditions.

The El Nino Southern Oscillation occurs between two to seven years, lasting from nine months to two years.

Under El Nino conditions warm water on the western side of the tropical Pacific shifts across the ocean, causing dramatic alterations in rainfall patterns and prevailing temperatures. The result is scorching heat and drying winds that afflict Africa, South and south-east Asia, and Australia. And those countries have been suffering an extended drought for quite a period of time.

Impacting deleteriously on the wildlife suffering lack of water, and agriculture with irrigation completely lacking, as the once-fertile fields become dust that the high, fierce, hot winds lift and disperse. And in those conditions nothing will grow. The failure of crops means that drought conditions have caused a distortion in normal growth patterns resulting in a dearth of food grains.

Malnutrition begins to soar in countries with populations heavily dependent on small-scale subsistence farming, whose governments cannot afford to import costly grains, particularly feeble governments incapable of providing the civic infrastructure that a country requires to prosper; furthermore governments like those in Somalia battling a civil war, along with Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda.

Scientists at Columbia's Earth Institute claim El Nino to be an invisible but responsible factor in the dramatic upheavels that have, in the past, caused countries to go to war when supplies of food became scarce and territorial advantage was sought. Currently, the crop losses, hurricane damage, and the epidemic spread of water-borne disease complements hunger, unemployment and inequality.

The conclusion reached by synthesizing the data included representing 175 countries and 234 regional conflicts was that where countries whose weather cycles are caused by El Nino Southern Oscillation, the risks of civil war occurring during La Nina was held to be 3%, while during prolonged El Nino events, civil conflict doubled to 6%.

Leading the scientists, extracting data from their study, to express their opinion that El Nino may have been responsible in 21% of the civil wars fought around the world, and that figure rose to almost 30% of the conflicts in those countries specifically affected by El Nino. When local food harvests are disrupted by nature's intervention causing drought conditions, restive governments face uprisings.

"What it does show and show beyond any doubt is that even in this modern world, climate variations have an impact on the propensity of people to fight. It's difficult to see why that won't carry over to a world that's disrupted by global warming." The study's authors cite the current situation in the Horn of Africa as a "perfect example" of the destruction caused by an El Nino event.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Self Defense and Implacable Neglect

We do not, as a society, wish to sit in moral judgement upon others. And when others suffer dreadful calamities leading to loss of precious human lives where family members sit in stunned mourning at the loss of loved ones, no one in society takes it upon themselves to point out how avoidable those deaths are.

When news reportage reveals just how casually those who should be involved in securing the safety of those closest to them, it's as a good a time as any to remind people of their responsibilities. In the case of fire consuming a household and taking with it the lives of children, all too often it is discovered that the simplest method to protect that family has been ignored.

The purchase and installation of an inexpensive, common commodity like a smoke detector can work wonders in alerting residents to the danger they are in when fire breaks out. Yet family after family suffers the agony of lost lives because of failure to provide this most useful tool in alerting people how they may escape from harm.

Parents who simply ignore the continued pleas of civil authorities to install smoke detectors are actually guilty of failing to provide the necessities of life to their vulnerable children. It takes very little time and disposable income to install a detector and speak with children, to lay out an escape plan in the event of fire.

Children are exposed to the topic at their elementary school, where mock exercises in evacuation are carried out. This is the school administration carrying out its responsibility to its day-time charges should the school building become involved with a fire situation. The children are taught how to respond, calmly, and with safety in mind.

Those same children may go home oblivious to the fact that their parents have failed to provide warning of impending danger in the case of a fire. They likely do not feel any loss of confidence in their parents, since most children instinctively believe their parents will protect and shield them from harm.

The Ottawa area has just recently seen a funeral for a young mother and her three very young children, dead as a result of a home fire. It was discovered by the responding firemen that the home's smoke alarm had no working batteries rendering it utterly useless.

Worse, one supposes, was the fact that the two-story house the family lived in, had only a front entrance and none other. The home likely did not accord to current building codes. Since the fire began on the porch consuming the front of the house there was no rear or side exit, only windows, one from which the father leaped with a young son who later died of his trauma.

The extended family of those who died in the Alexandria fire are in mourning. The father, who suffered grave burns and is being treated in hospital, will eventually be released to resume his life. It will certainly be a far different life than he has known up until the present, with the absence of his partner and their three children.

Perhaps our fire and police departments, those whom we call upon in such desperate situations as house fires to render assistance, and who view the tragedies that unfold through human careless, should take the issue of violations of the law with respect to ignoring the need to install and maintain smoke alarms far more seriously. These simple-minded lapses of judgement should be fined, heavily.

Better to proceed with fining people to the extent that the law permits, if they disregard the need to protect themselves and their families, than deal with these ongoing and unnecessary tragedies.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Deadly Leaches

They are in their twilight years, as it is so fancifully put. They require special care in many instances, their health failing, not only physical but psychological as well. Some of them want to continue to be independent. Others agree to enable their families to place them in 'retirement' homes. Some of these institutions are government-approved and inspected and others simply are not, because they are private enterprises, after all.

There are certain standards to be met, but in some of these places it is up to friends and family to be alert on behalf of those being cared for. People suddenly disappear, and other people wonder where they may have gone to. Sometimes missing persons' reports are filed with the authorities and sometimes they are not. Occasionally the fact that people are simply not where they are supposed to be goes unnoticed until a significant amount of time has passed.

When authorities are alerted after a lengthy passage of time between when they are informed and when the people in question have last been seen, clues and potential evidence may not be available. But sometimes there are connections to vanishings, and sometimes those connections are very revelatory.

One thing is notable; when a retirement home places "Christian" into their title, they immediately become reliable, trustworthy.

Words are weighted with meaning. How could anyone operating a retirement home with the word Christian incorporated into the name of the place ever be suspect of ill deeds? There were two retirement homes operating in the Huntsville, Ontario area. The Fernglen Manor and Cedar Pines Christian Retirement Home, owned by the same family.

As people age and become frail, their health requiring more attention than relatives can spare, the presence of such guilt-alleviating, care-giving places becomes tempting. When three men who had been admitted to the Fernglen Manor and Cedar Pines Christian Retirement Home disappeared, no one noticed.

Additionally, the owners, named Laan, had a habit of taking in elders from Toronto-area shelters.

The disappearances of three men were not reported to police. And when authorities did become aware of the residents' absence, they thought their investigation would be related to homicides. They searched for remains, but found nothing relating to a violent crime. But they did discover something amiss with the Old Age Security and Pension Plan benefits accruing to the now-absent seniors.

Whose total value came to $120,000; and which were being drawn from the bank accounts of three missing seniors along with those of three deceased seniors who had lived in the retirement homes operated by the Laan family. Walter, Paul and Catherine Laan were eventually convicted of unlawfully taking possession of the seniors' government-issued cheques.

One of the brothers had been sentenced to 13 years in prison for several home invasions; during one of which he robbed a 90-year-old woman. The Laan family's retirement homes were shut down. They were unscrupulous predators who had discovered a certain source of income through the operation of retirement homes for seniors, along with a formula to assure relatives that all was well.

And when greed got the better of them they simply went too far in attempting to secure for themselves government funding meant for individual seniors, under clearly criminal conditions. None of them have been accused yet of murder, although there remains the mystery of what might have occurred to the missing men.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Direct Line

Nature must be delivering a rather dreadful message to us. She is not enthralled, perhaps, with the kind of popular music to which people tend to throng, outside of theatres and concert halls which tend for the most part to indulge in the kind of music we acclaim as classical. It is the outdoor theatres with their massive knock-down stages that enthuse the young who vibrate to the music of their times that the atmosphere appears to be taking exception to.

In the process, causing inadvertent deaths among concert-attendees who thought they were turning out in their droves for entertainment, and the time of their lives, little understanding that some of them would, in the process, be giving up their lives. And while it's true that weather events across the world have become unpredictably and extremely violent, who might anticipate such a series of innocent events would turn so horribly deadly?

The first such event occurred in Canada, at the site of Ottawa's annual, successful Bluesfest on July 17th, when a sudden storm chugging down the Ottawa River overtook events as the sky turned darker by the second and a monstrous wind blew down the main stage while a band named Cheap Trick was concluding their performance.

Three people suffered the misfortune of injury as the crowd of thousands made their mildly panicked, but orderly progression to safety, to wait out the storm's conclusion. The manufacturer of the rented stage admitted to having had a previous stage collapse, even though the design of the stage was said to have been guaranteed to be able to withstand high winds.

In the United States a week ago, at the Indiana State Fair, a heavy wind gust had the similar effect of bringing down the stage rigging for a Sugarland country music concert. On that occasion, five people were killed, and another 45 people were injured. The deaths and injuries far surpassed the fearsome outcome of the Ottawa Bluesfest's catastrophe; in Indiana carnage ensued.

And just a few days ago a horrendously violent windstorm complete with hail destroyed what was to have been an outdoor rock music festival in northern Belgium. There, three people were killed outright as two stages collapsed, one of which fell on the concert-goers. Forty other people were injured, eleven of them seriously.

In each of these events there were tens of thousands of people who had come out to annual outdoor concerts. In each of these events people explained:
"The sky suddenly turned pitch black and we took shelter waiting for the rain. Then suddenly, there was a downpour. The wind blew violently. There were hailstones bigger than a centimetre falling. Trees toppled over. It was unbelievable, the end of the world."
And then, there is this other event, in Spain, billed as World Youth Day, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered from across the world to converge on Madrid, to greet Pope Benedict XVI. He was to have led a prayer vigil on an immense esplanade just outside the city. The esplanade the size of 48 football fields. People gathered there were assailed by extreme heat.

"Water, Water, Water!" pilgrims shouted as firemen sprayed the tiny field hospital tending to people who had suffered dizziness, fainting and heatstroke as a result of the torrid temperature. When the pope ascended the stage to speak to the faithful, the heavens parted to unleash a storm of hugely torrential proportions. There was wind too that lashed the area.

When the rain finally ended, the Pope exclaimed: "Thank you for your joy and endurance. Your strength is greater than the rain. The Lord with the rain has given us many blessings. In this, too, you are an example. The crowd chanted "Long live the Pope", while a 200-member choir and orchestra played the event's special anthem.

Nature moves in mysterious ways.Walking Faithful

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

In the Name of ...

It's difficult for the ordinary person not exposed to values unknown traditionally in democratic, North American or European society to understand quite how it is possible for a wide-spread, somewhat unified religious inheritance to become so unhinged from life's existential absolutes. It does not matter where a human being lives, we are human beings.

We share, as Shakespeare's Shylock so acutely poignantly put it, human needs and characteristics:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands,
organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same
food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases,
heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter
and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If
you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the
rest, we will resemble you in that.
Shylock was deploring an age and a system and a society that set Jews apart, held them to be different, inferior, with values unlike those of the superior society they were surrounded by; Jews held to be imbued with with ulterior, crassly rapacious motives. He was bemoaning a misery that he must live with, despised and deprived of equal treatment given others, the lack of respect and honour that was meted out to him.

In this modern world we live in, we inhabit the early years of the 21st Century, an enlightened age, one where increasingly countries of the world are adapting to some form of democratic rule and ethics. Yet of course there are other countries of the world that remain mired in 16th Century social and religious habits and values. Where the value of human life is minimized, empathy and compassion absent; life brutish and short.

What is amazing is that a world religion of approximately 1.4-billion followers whose faithful cling to its belief, its precepts and its values as a religion of peace and harmony, has spawned a significant following within the larger body of those who have dedicated themselves to violent jihad under the conceived impression that this is how they may best serve their sacred beliefs in a high spiritual order.

And so, suicide bombers during the sacred month of Ramadan enter mosques full of worshippers, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iraq, and liquidate into oblivion men, women and children who hold their faith in Islam. Men wear the protective coverings of women's garments to shield them from suspicion and enter the sacred precincts with suicide vests. Men place explosives in the cavity of their turbans to blow themselves and dozens of innocents with them into smithereens.

Hundreds of innocent Muslims are injured horribly in one incident after another. In the name of the religion that they share with those whose having accepted their obligation to please Allah by indulging in violent jihad to make the world a better place, worshipping children who attend mosque with their fathers and their mothers suffer grave injuries, and death.

These atrocities, a hideous affront to humanity, are said to represent, by their followers, an esteemed and cherished entry by the perpetrators, the martyrs, the 'shaheed', to Paradise, where beautiful virgins await their presence, to help them celebrate their divine victory.
Pakistan: mosque suicide bomb kills 43
A child injured in a blast lies on a bed at a hospital in Peshawar Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES/Hasham Ahmed

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Most Awful Scream

There are not many who will have experienced the horror of losing a spouse a mere few weeks after marriage, far fewer who will have done so with the gruesomely dreadful memory of hearing that loved one screaming in pain and terror as life ebbed from him, after a deadly shark attack. This, though, is the legacy that has been left to the wife of Ian Redmond, Gemma 27, after an ill-fated honeymoon in the Seychelles.

His funeral is to be held at the church were they married several weeks earlier. For 30-year-old Ian, married life was short and his end brutal. For his teacher wife, left now a widow, their choice of honeymoon may not appear to have been such a wonderful idea, after all. Sometimes what passes as Paradise-on-Earth may really be Hell-on-Earth.

It certainly was that way for Nicolas Virolle, a 36-year-old French teacher on August 1st, when he too was attacked and killed by a shark at the same beach. Although the first reports that came out in the local media were that the unfortunate death had been caused by a boat's propeller.

It is understandable that local authorities would wish to maintain a tight-lipped silence about anything that threatens their tourism industry. Is it ethical? Responsible? Trustworthy?

The couple was sunbathing on the beach on Praslin Island. Earlier there had been talk of killer sharks at large in the area. When Mrs. Redmond had asked the hotel receptionist what she knew of sharks posing a danger on the beach, she had been confidently given assurance that there were none in the waters off the island.

And her husband had laughed off the merest suggestion that there might be danger lurking in those awesomely beautiful waters. People do have a fanciful propensity to believe what they prefer to believe, not to succumb to a suspicion that would have the effect of ruining their expectations, so looked forward to.

"One of the reasons that we picked to come to the Seychelles was the beautiful waters, the fact that it's like an underwater aquarium and there's not really any dangerous animals", explained the bereft widow.

And though she is in mourning, she is also forgiving. "The last thing I would want is for any of these events to affect the Seychellois people, their livelihoods and the tourism in the area. It's a beautiful place, people must come. It's a one-off accident and I know that everyone is doing everything they can to ensure that the island is safe."

One must suppose that the previous death earlier that same month was another one-off accident. And that the deaths are incidental, unfortunate occurrences that must not interfere with the livelihoods of the people who live nearby, dependent on tourism.

This attitude ranks as typically forgiving noblesse oblige. Does it not occur to this woman that her husband's death might have been averted had they been fully apprised of the previous 'incident'?

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ill Done By

We must no longer sit in judgement upon others. There but for the grace of the exercise of restraint and common sense, go we. Stick in there a bit of self-preservation and self-respect as well.

These are all notable and required elements in making free-will choices for ourselves. Those who succumb to the presumed attractions of drug and alcohol addictions are to be considered, perversely, victims. Victims of circumstances, errant values, poor choices and of course, victims of "addiction".

They are disabled by their addictions, and therefore not to be held responsible for their actions that may result in criminal offences, and very often do.

In the case of a former Toronto Transit Commission electrician and union-local president, add to that little roster the decision he made not to waste his own money of which he had ample, on the purchase of the drugs he craved, but that he would much prefer to steal thousands of dollars' worth of copper wire from his employer.

As the former head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, local two, who represented the workplace well-being of 500 maintenance workers at the transit agency, he might seem to have been misplaced as a CUPE official, given his propensity toward drugs and his further decision regarding thievery.

His addiction was costly, about $1,000 monthly for cocaine,and $900 on sports-bets.

His addictions to drugs and gambling did not leave him penurious by any means. He owned a suburban house in Toronto with a swimming pool, and he also owned a 18-foot fishing boat. But he had no intention of beggaring himself by using his own earnings which were ample, to fund his addictions.

And because he was addicted, he was "disabled".

CUPE came to the defence of its union member. The union lawyer who handled the case defended the union's decision to oppose the transit authority's firing of a CUPE leader. Even though that leader was convicted of a criminal offence. "When someone's job is on the line, a union has to do what they can to ensure that every step is taken to protect that employee's interests.

"While some members of the public might not see it as a disability, it is fairly clear that the courts, human rights and labour adjudicators do see addiction as a disability." Hmm, clearly that is so. Human rights and labour adjudicators. It was this man's human right to make decisions injurious to his health, his longevity, his employer and his reputation.

Mike Santos's dismissal was upheld by an adjudicator who rejected CUPE's argument that the transit commission discriminated against their former employee based on his addiction 'disability'. The former union head testified that he had stolen copper cable from his employer on three occasions, worth thousands of dollars, resold to a recycling depot.

This union representative and trusted employee also pocketed his $320 boot allowance from the transit commission rather than use it for what it was meant for; designated footwear. He only sought addiction counselling once he had been informed he was under police investigation for wire theft.

TTC management reached the conclusion that the 'disabled' addict they employed who requested sick leave and addiction treatment represented a late effort on his part to appear remorseful and to forestall consequences of his thieving.

Isn't that just like management, unresponsive to the silent pleas of a worker who has been ill done by?

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"...And Then Go Home..."

"Where she fell was directly at the base of the falls; the water comes down and churns, just like a vortex."
It's one of the natural wonders of the geological world we live in, straddling the borders of two countries on the North American Continent. Visitors come to Niagara Falls from around the world, eager to see for themselves the height, breadth, and mighty power of those falling waters, churning themselves into a far-flung spray. It is indeed a sight to behold.

City of Niagara Falls

The force of the water, the majesty of nature, the deafening roaring sound coupled with the sight engulfs the senses of the viewers in a dramatic display of nature's diversity and natural wonders. One assumes that a natural sense of caution must overtake most viewers' perceptions as they watch the tumbling water swish over the falls and onto the Niagara river below.

The Falls have held a fascination for most people who travel there to witness their aquatic performance of endless renewal. And some of that fascination is channelled into a personal challenge for some, who have sought to perform life-challenging acts of acrobatic skills as though to defy the power of the Falls.

And then there is another category of people who see, but do not seem quite to understand the level and extent of danger they place themselves in when they confront the Falls and vie with one another for the challenge of courting accidents by going where they should not, where signage clearly warns of the dangers involved.

Sweeping the unwary to their deaths. It is usually young men who express reckless behaviour, making an attempt to demonstrate their braggadocio, their arrogant cockiness, in the casual manner in which they approach the potential for doing themselves real harm. On this latest occasion, it was a young woman tourist from Japan who lost her life.
"She chose to put herself in harm's way. She was holding an umbrella while she was straddling the railing. She was a slight woman; that may have played a part." Chief Doug Mann, Niagara Falls Fire Department
The Niagara Parks Police and Niagara Regional Police and Niagara Falls Fire Department, all of which first-responder organizations are accustomed to these incidents, along with an emergency medical services group scoured the area where she was seen plunging into the river from a height about 20 metres from the top of the falls.
"On the one hand we need an ability to view the falls. And o matter what structure we put around it, people will still attempt to beat it. In contrast, if you look at the American side, most of the area has direct-water access." Chief Doug Kane, Niagara Parks Police
As it was, even with the use of special lights and thermal-imaging-rescue equipment no signs of the woman were discovered. They did discover the body of an unidentified man whose body was found in the lower Niagara River whirlpool. And the day previous Niagara police were busy in a 4-hour rescue operation involving a man who fell into the gorge, breaking his leg.

He was among a few other men, hikers who had climbed over a safety wall. "He was navigating in the dark", police said. Tourists love the Falls, but they try the patience and the professional rescue skills of first-responders hoping to retrieve the too-eager and reckless tourists from traps they have made for themselves.
"There's the discussion from time to time (about more security around the falls), but we have 11 million people here yearly. and almost all of them are able to view the falls safely and then go home."
It is what most prudent people would aspire to do; view the falls safely, and return home with memory aided by photographs taken without resorting to putting oneself into mortal danger.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How Many Billion ... ?

The world is growing by veritable leaps and bounds. Our Globe has proven capable of sustaining human life in numbers beyond expectations of only a few decades earlier. Improvements in growing and harvesting new types of crops have resulted in more available food, despite wastage on feeding livestock and producing ethanol and inadequate storage facilities.

More human beings are moving out of the malnourished category into the nourished category. People are living longer, better, healthier lives. And more countries of the world are edging themselves out of Third World conditions and into conditions that lift them into the categories of emerging economies, however slowly.

The world is preparing to welcome the birth of its 7 billionth human life. On October 12, 1999 a baby was born in Sarajevo and his birth was celebrated as the advent of the six-billionth life on Earth. He was born to poor parents, but he was a tiny celebrity. The then-UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, was enlisted to pose with the baby just after his birth.

That was over a decade ago. That baby is now a young boy attending sixth grade in school, and doing exceptionally well in his studies. He and his parents occupy a tiny apartment in Visoko, central Bosnia. Theirs is a materially poor family. The father of Adnan Nevic, Jasmin, is no longer able to work, suffering from bowel cancer.

At the time of Adnan's birth there was great international celebration on the appearance of the world's six billionth person. In recognizing his special status, the city of Sarajevo subsidizes the family with $140 monthly. Adnan loves soccer, and dogs, but his family can afford neither, to enrich his life.

When he was born there were many lavish promises to assist the family, to allow them to live better lives. The six-billionth person to be born on Earth is still waiting. "They stroke my head and then they disappear", he said, describing people who continue to celebrate the anniversary of his birth as a signal moment on Earth.

Some day, perhaps Adnan will get his dog, and treasure his very own loyal companion animal. He may eventually have the pleasure of a generous benefactor who will enroll him in a local soccer league. The boy may perhaps grow into a profession, one that will allow him to help his family live better lives.

The 7 billionth person on Earth is due to arrive any time soon. Adnan will graciously move over and make room for that additional individual.

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Canada's Asbestos Shame

It's a real conundrum. Why would the Government of Canada be complicit with the Province of Quebec in furthering plans for the asbestos industry in that province to re-open and re-invest in an old asbestos mine? There are not that many jobs that will result from such a move.

The use of asbestos, even chrysotile asbestos, which its backers insist is perfectly safe, when used properly, is prohibited in Canada. Those who support the mining and export of chrysotile asbestos claim it to be a 'safe' type of asbestos, with guidelines for use that render it without deleterious consequences.

The government itself spares no expense to remove existing asbestos from government buildings to ensure worker safety. Homes that have had asbestos used for insulation purposes must by law reveal the presence of asbestos when a house is put up for sale. Asbestos has been proven unequivocally to be dangerous to human health.

Inhaling asbestos fibres leads directly to mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that attacks the internal walls of the lungs. Those who worked in mining and extracting the substance were subjected to the deadly disease, experienced great suffering, culminating in an early death.

Before its lethal nature was known, asbestos was commonly used in vehicle brake linings, to cover plumbing pipes and for a host of other uses. Asbestos use long predated the common era. Its use for a wide variety of purposes was common a thousand years ago.

Medical science has long ago given us reason to shun the dangerous product. That Canada still exports chrysotile asbestos to countries like India where it is mixed with cement in building, used as a fire retardant, and where workers are exposed to it because there are no safety standards in countries with emerging economies, is inexplicable.

And that the widow of a man who had suffered the fatal lung disease as a result of his exposure to it forty years earlier when he was a naval cadet, is now being informed that she will be sued if she does not cease using the Conservative Party logo in her online adds for her anti-asbestos website, is puzzling indeed.

Michaela Keyserlingk has dedicated her efforts to try to put a stop to the export of Canadian asbestos to other countries that still use the material, even though most advanced countries of the world have, like Canada, banned its importation and use. She has a simple request; to hear from someone in authority in the government, giving her a plausible explanation that would explain why the Government of Canada continues to support the mining and export of asbestos.

It's an issue that should concern Canadians. And it's a disgrace that Canada continues to see fit to allow this substance to be exported and shipped abroad where workers who have no protective rights in the workplace will be exposed to it and suffer as a result of their exposure.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Oops, Gone Missing

It's not the kind of thing you want to misplace. After all, it's downright expensive. Say, $320-million-worth of expensive. Not to mention all the technological expertise that has gone into its design and execution. In the current U.S. economy $320-million isn't readily replaceable. So it's a good bet there'll be some frantic searches for the errant aircraft.

Somewhere over the Pacific. That huge body of water, you know? A relatively modest-sized aircraft, bobbing about somewhere in the Pacific.

It's designed to glide from the upper atmosphere at 20 times the speed of sound. On its second test flight it got kind of lost. Didn't after all, meet expectations in performing as it was meant to do. Hypersonic aircraft cannot possibly have a mind of its own now, can it? Like don't mess with me, I'm powerful and I'll do as I please ...?

The Falcon HTV-2 was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, sitting astride a rocket. The separation from the launch vehicle was successful. But the plane was expected to separate from the rocket at the peak of ascent and decided perhaps not to.

Went off on a tangent instead of gliding back to earth. Think we tweet irrelevancies? Well, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency tweets too:
  • ...on track entering glide phase
  • Downrange assets did not reacquire tracking or telemetry
  • HTV-2 has an autonomous flight termination capacity
  • We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight
  • It's vexing: I'm confident there is a solution. We have to find it
Right. This glider aircraft is a critical part of the Defence Department's design to build a "prompt global strike" defense element so targets could be hit anywhere in the world about an hour after take-off with conventional, or with nuclear warheads.

The speed that can be reached is Mach 17 to Mach 20 - about 20,000 kilometres an hour. Now that's fast. Blink and it's outta sight. It's out of sight, in any event. And that's the problem, for the time being.

Amazing, isn't it; such a flight, for example, from New York to Los Angeles would take under twelve minutes. Not that New York would want to bomb Los Angeles; merely an example of lapsed time in transit.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Offensively Defensive

Ask someone how to spell 'shame' and they may tell you they've never heard of the word. So few people feel it nowadays. Anything seems to go. No one will accept censure or criticism of any kind of behaviour irrespective of its harm or potential harm to others. It's how children behave when they're caught out: "not my fault!", "or I didn't do it!", or the defiant "what's wrong with that?".

And when they reach adulthood they have learned the lesson of successful denial; when attacked, attack right back. Offensive-defensive.

Unions are great at doing that kind of thing; police unions will close ranks to protect their members. Public service unions have become adept at denying their members have done anything that might run counter to their contract. And no sin appears too grave not to have a union solidly behind their members, who are "overworked" and vastly "underpaid", "misunderstood"; their "human rights" having been abridged.

Imagine being a passenger in a public transit bus, along with a whole host of other passengers, on a busy road, and the bus is speeding along in traffic during rush hour. Most of us have experienced that kind of thing; jerking stop-and-starts and drivers who seem to think they're race-car operators or highway cowboys. It's not the most comfortable drive in the world.

Imagine idly glancing over at the driver if you're seated at the front of the bus, and witnessing the driver, steering the bus casually although it's eating up the miles in heavy but steady traffic and the driver is double-tasking. Attending to filling out paperwork. Fixing his eyes on the road ahead when he feels he really has to, but otherwise attending to the paperwork.

Seemingly oblivious to his obligation to provide safe passage to his passengers. Seeming not to care overmuch that his actions with pen, paper, briefcase, dashboard and wheel appear to the person observing him to be manifestations of reckless inattention with the potential to deliver harm to those whom he is conveying. And who have paid handsomely for that privilege.

Imagine an enterprising passenger capturing it all on video and posting it online where it receives thousands of hits and makes the news. Imagine how angry this makes the Gatineau bus drivers' union, insisting that the YouTube video represents an unforgivable intrusion into the privacy owed the errant bus driver and they won't have it.

The STO union insisting that it be made a by-law offence with a fine attached, for anyone to carry a camera on board a bus for the purpose of filming the actions of a bus driver who is entitled to the dignity of his privacy. The bus driver has his immutable rights, the trusting passengers are obviously incidental to the occasion.

Imagine the cynical manipulation.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sweetly Forgiving of the Unforgivable

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Ashraf Haziq (photo: BBC)
What could represent as more of a nightmare than a young man far from home in a foreign country, determined to take advantage of the recognition of his scholarship through funding to enable him to study at a prestigious university abroad, suddenly facing a hostile and violent world with no one to support him?

Ashraf Haziq, a young Malaysian student just arrived in London to begin studies in accounting, looking forward to breaking his fast for Ramadan, riding his bicycle over a London bridge, when he is accosted by a mob of young people intent on ravaging whoever they can, because they can. Because the police are nowhere about, and there are a few vulnerable people they can focus on.

And Ashraf was one of them. He describes being surrounded by young people, "They threatened to stab me, they told me they had knives. Some of them were quite young, maybe still in primary school. They had their hoods on and demanded my bicycle." Which must have been inordinately frightening.

How do you respond, what do you do, when faced with this kind of horror? You're beaten, and dazed, wondering how this could possibly be happening to you, and what kind of people are these who confront a stranger and threaten and beat him for no possible reason?

Then, as though to restore his faith in the goodness of people, a helping hand up, while blood flows freely from his facial wounds.

The helping hand becomes quite a few helping hands, all helping themselves to whatever they think is of value that is contained in his backpack, while he is still dazed and uncomprehending, unable to respond, simply submitting to having his belongings ransacked, until he is finally left alone, wounded, to seek help.

He required an operation to repair his broken jaw, and he now has missing teeth as a result of the beating he sustained. "Britain is great. Before I came here I was very eager and I haven't got any ill feeling about what happened", he has declared. "I feel very sorry for the people who did this. It was really sad because among them were children."

The young man is as sweetly forgiving as his attackers are disgustingly vile.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Wait For the Movie...

Good for that juvenile delinquent whose rejection of normalcy and societal mores took him on a rather unusual jaunt across parts of the United States and Canada while he performed antics that drew the attention of the world and got him rave reviews among the raving youth who glorified him on Facebook.

Colton Harris-Moore, now 20, was a rebellious teenager who scoffed at society's values and demonstrated how adept he was at dodging the law while performing daringly audacious and sometimes dangerous acts of social malfeasance. He might have thrilled a lot of kids who followed his exploits but there's little doubt that his two-year crime spree also hurt a lot of people.

Break-ins, thefts and boldly taking off with private property like cars, airplanes and motorboats in an excess of dauntless "catch-me-if-you-can" scenarios, left a real trail of anxiety that sooner or later a life would be lost and ever more dangerous exploits might make that lost life either his own or some innocent bystander's.

His defiance of authority appears to have been supported by his mother, herself possibly more than a little delinquent in the raising of this young man. He is now securely ensconced in an American prison. But his exploits continue to fascinate people, and he does have a story to tell, and isn't shy, evidently, about telling it.

He has signed, it would appear, a movie deal worth over a million with 20th Century Fox. It figures that Hollywood wouldn't let this one get away. But perhaps a little bit of maturity has made its late arrival in Colton Harris-Moore's agreeing to forego profiting from his story and the movie portraying him in action, to benefit those whom his criminal activities victimized.

There's hope for the young man, yet. And perhaps, in the final analysis, with his plea bargain abetted by this restitution decision, he won't face a full decade in prison, when he is finally sentenced.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Insurer Conscience: Absent

Now that's a bit of stunning news. What a revelation. What dishonesty. What a travesty. Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Co. has a very convenient exit to committing to honour their insurance responsibility in a traffic accident caused by a drunk driver that took the lives of two people. A man and his wife who had been out for an evening of entertainment, standing at a bus stop when a driver plowed into them, killing the husband, the wife dying four days later.

There are now three orphaned children, three young girls whom fate decreed that they suffer an extreme tragedy of untenable proportions in the loss of their parents. On the positive side, the three girls have a supportive, emotionally- and practically-involved extended family. It is almost a year since Leo Paul and Sherianne Regnier died after Simon Banke's vehicle struck them. Yet the tragedy that orphaned the girls threatens to victimize them yet again.

They were to have received a $800,000 payout from insurance which might have helped enormously to ensure their future education would include university and a head-start into security and maturity for the girls, being cared for by relatives. Raising ten, fourteen and sixteen-year-olds comes with emotional and material costs which constitute an additional burden for people without extraordinary financial means.

But, thanks to government legislation permitting insurance companies to get away with citing criminal offence as an opt-out clause, permitting them to pay out no more than $200,000 as the statutory minimum in the Province of Ontario, the expectation is - verified by a lawyer for the insurance company - that this is all that the girls and their relatives can anticipate receiving. They have the option of launching a private lawsuit against the driver.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada states: "As a matter of public policy, individuals suffering severe damages as a result of motor vehicle accidents are generally entitled to the minimum statutory liability limits ($200,000) regardless of whether the insured driver's conduct has breached a condition of the policy (i.e. street racing) thereby rendering the policy itself void. The injured party can still recover any excess amounts against the driver personally."

So good luck suing an individual who is experiencing his own demonic problems with addictions and who, as a result of that and extremely bad judgement in choosing to drink and drive, appears to have a fairly dismal future before him, rather excluding the potential for hugely gainful employment that might allow for him to pay out of wages what a lawsuit might award the three girls.

Does it make any kind of sense that victims of those who choose to drink and drive are not adequately compensated because of the criminal behaviour of the very person who victimized them to begin with? Why in heaven's name would the provincial government lend itself to this kind of insane reckoning to allow insurers to shirk their responsibility?

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Flash Mob" Solution?

"Flash-mob" activities appear to represent as a bold new initiative by bored teens to shake up the world they live in and provide a little fun and entertainment for themselves. Challenging society to do something about it if they don't like it. Kids are entitled to their fun, after all. And adults recall that they were bored teens once, too, making fairly stupid choices to inject a little excitement into their lives. Enraging the mature people around them; their parents, police, the neighbours.

But that's how it goes. Somehow, though, teens from an earlier era, while they joined neighbourhood gangs, and hoisted cars for mischief and mayhem, driving them erratically until police stopped them and trooped them to their front doors, turning them over to their irate parents for discipline, never seemed quite as deliberately and profoundly contemptful of society as these kids are. Tweeting one another to show up for some fun.

Fun being comprised of terrifying people by their anti-social, self-entitled, sociopathic and deliberately vicious attitudes, quite obviously not giving a damn about those people whom their activities do harm to. Their utter lack of empathy for those whom they prey upon, their lack of concern for the destruction they cause, and the delight they take in availing themselves of 'free' goods looted from targeted shops are cause for real concern.

Because these young people present as a modern-day dilemma, and because they're 'just kids', society has attempted to be reasonable, to excuse their excesses, to adjust laws that protect society against its predators and criminal elements, to separate youth crime from crime committed by adults, with commensurately modest punishment meted out as disciplinary measures to turn the young people in the 'right' direction.

Doesn't work, though, because of course that too creates a further impression of entitlements, and contempt for the law that will not adequately and proportionately punish law-breakers simply because of their youth, irrespective of the severity of their crimes. No one in society feels comfortable in committing young people to long incarcerations where they will be exposed further to criminal elements and thought-processes, and their bitterness against society inflated through the experience.

What to do? Perhaps nip it in the bud. Perhaps impose a societally-protective, proactive youth-crime-de-stimulating limitation decreasing the potential for such current activities as "flash-mob" gatherings with their destructive intent and society-bashing values in the aftermath of which society feels helpless to react and the youth feel free to continue. Restrain them, keep them at home, and make it the law to do so.

Although imposing a curfew on young people with related penalties should they flaunt this by-law might seem like an imposition that tyrants use to truncate freedoms, sometimes it is justified, useful and needful. The mayor of Philadelphia has chosen to combat the growing incidence of marauding groups of teens and pre-teens in his bailiwick, as the duly authorized, democratically elected law-maker in his municipality by doing just that.

He has ordered that anyone in his jurisdiction under 18 must be off the streets by 9:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights in areas of the city plagued by collective youth outbreaks of casually organized violence. Caused, he stressed by a "relatively small number of complete knuckleheads". Mayor Michael Nutter (forget making anything punny of that surname) announced that increased police patrols are prepared to round up minors caught in the out-of-doors during curfew hours.

Their parents will be summoned to pick up their darlings, and could additionally face fines of $500 as a manner of public chastisement if their kids are picked up. To round out the penalties imposed upon the lack of parenting skills, charges of child neglect may snap them to attention if they fail to collect their children after notification.

Swarming kids up to no good to alleviate their burden or boredom have become a serious problem. Kids as young as 11 responding with alacrity and much feverish anticipation to the invitation to come out and join the mob to converge on some unfortunate venue to wreak havoc to their dear little hearts' content.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Of Sound Mind

Developed countries have a real problem with the health of their populations. We've become too sedentary, too greedily omnivorous. With the availability of so much food, and food moreover that has been processed so it no longer resembles the basic nutritious foodstuffs of an earlier time, loaded down with fats, sugars and salt, we're eating ourselves into ill health.

Certainly eating ourselves into well-larded bodies, singularly unattractive, not given to healthful outcomes.

There are solutions to rising rates of obesity. Abstaining from over-eating, exercising a body become unaccustomed to muscular challenges would help enormously. Disciplining one's appetite. Urging a change of lifestyle and habit on oneself. Because we owe it to ourselves. Because we have been given only one body to live out what we hope will be a normal lifespan. Because we would like to be able to enjoy that lifespan in reasonably good health.

We have certain options we can choose because we are imbued with free will. But exercising that free will often takes a mighty exercise of will to commit to. And in a busy world when we're so attuned to making so many decisions about so many things this one isn't seen as a priority nor is it particularly pleasant to deny ourselves the comfort and pleasure of eating what we wish to, when we want to.

And how about those pasty, rotund individuals who waddle about with ticking-time-bomb bodies, who cannot seem to put a halt to stuffing themselves incessantly? The people who require that sturdier chairs and beds be installed in hospitals because those designed and produced for people of normal weight simply cannot be accommodated with what's normal.

People who become spatially confined because of their enormous size.

They began life as normal human beings. Through familial habit or individual choice things went awry. That's the people in youth and mid-life who challenge the weight scales at 350, 400 pounds and more. Whose internal organs are suffocated in visceral fat, and thick layers of subcutaneous fat as well. Who labour mightily to lumber along a few steps.

And who suffer from a degraded health conditions; asthma, high blood pressure, heart condition, diabetes, sleep apnea.

There are solutions that can be attempted through surgery. Through procedures called gastric banding. But because there are so many people presenting as truly mortally obese, scheduling surgery with a limited number of specialist surgeons and limited hospital bed availability presents as an additional problem.

It's a costly enterprise, as well, that the tax-funded universal health care system will have to pick up.

And it's an old story of personal failure and the resulting dilemma. Overeating, and not just food, but ingredients passing themselves off as food; the ubiquitous fast-food outlets with their 'enhanced' taste of mouth-pleasing fats, for example. Encouraging people to eat even more. Once that weight goes on, it accumulates and continues to do so.

Until the urgency of the situation is so evident that people stare and rudely comment, and the morbidly obese will no longer consult a medical practitioner who may regard them as responsible for their condition and contemptible for their lack of discipline. There's nothing winning about this situation; nor the decision to embark on the 'cure' of surgery.

Nor the admission that they take 'full responsibility' for what they have become, when they declined to take responsible action when it was needed. We're not to stand in judgement, however. We don't, so much, when the adventurous require surgery to repair the results of accidents in their self-imposed rituals of challenging nature, for example.

Or when surgeons work frantically to save the life of a drunk driver. Or a drug addict is placed on a life-saving regimen and health practitioners devote themselves to saving that life. And there's the unfortunate fact that fully 15% of Canadians are considered to be obese. In Nova Scotia that rises to 25%.

Are we of sound mind when we do these things to ourselves?

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Reading-Obsessed


Our world has been transformed. It won't do a bit of good for the readers of the world to unite and protest the Internet taking over the world of literature. Google has already done it, and intends to continue doing it; encouraging the posting of all the great literature of the world so it can be accessed on line. It really is a new, information-accessible world out there.

You have to know how, but it's easy enough; user-friendly as they say. Even for cranky old dodderers. Those are the ones who've been long accustomed to hefting a publication in their wrinkled old hands, and viewing the offerings page by page with their age-impacted, failing eyesight. What do the elderly know anyway?

They think they know what they like, but they're delusional.

Libraries will never be the same again. Unless they're personal libraries, set up in the homes of those fortunate enough to have the space and the wherewithal to collect enough books to present as a personal library. We're one of them. Since we're just one elderly couple living in a house much too large for merely two people, a bedroom has been transformed into a library.

We've got books that we've had in our possession, following us from house to house, since we were kids, both of us. There was a time, when we were, let's see, about eighteen, both of us, and we joined the Book-of-the-Month Club. We also used to visit our local library branch often as well, but it was thrilling to be able to have a collection of our very own, personal books.

We're older now, and somewhat wiser. What's the difference, really, between borrowing books from a library, and buying second-hand books? A diligent searcher will discover books of every variety, from popular mysteries and novels to award-winning non-fiction books. Classics and the most recent publications, they're all to be had for a veritable song.

We buy new books only for our granddaughter. For us, it's used books all the way. Some of them downright venerable, some of them gently used, and some of them appear previously untouched by human hands. Our library shelves (my husband built bookshelves all over that bedroom transformed to a library) bulge with books.

We haven't read them all, but plan to. We're obsessed by books, want to read as much as we can, of all genres, all ages. We have those aspirations, to continue educating and entertaining ourselves as long as possible. Failing eyesight on my part merely means increased-visual-strength prescriptions, a right royal pain in the arse, but a necessary one.

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Nuclear Disasters

In 1950, when I was thirteen years old, I had a copy of John Hersey's The Wall. That is when I read the details about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, as a child. When I was married at 18, that book became the first in a long succession of books that eventually became our family library. I venerated the writer.

I think now, all those years later, that perhaps I did not fully understand everything that was described. Largely, I believe, because as a child I simply could not believe that such dreadful carnage of humankind's devising could occur in a civilized world.

In 1986 I lived in Tokyo, Japan. It was most certainly a civilized world. Replete with history, culture, heritage, and indescribable beauty. Living there, my literary reading expeditions took another turn as I read Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, Dream of the Red Chamber by Tsao Hsueh-Chin (Cao Xuegin), and finally, among other books that moved me greatly, John Hersey's Hiroshima.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was well known to me. The enormity of the human tragedy it represented was much written of, discussed and regretted. But reading the book while living in Japan was an unforgettable experience.

I used to walk often past the Japanese Defence Department, never once seeing anyone entering or leaving, in uniform. Later learning that Japanese shunned public displays of the military. That those belonging to the military wore civilian clothing in public, in transit to and from the building, only changing into uniform once safely inside.

The Japanese public seemed to much prefer it that way. Memories of the war, though long past, were not fondly recalled.

So it is more than a little ironic that this nation gave shelter to Jewish refugees. While they fled the long tentacles of fascism and while Nazi Germany was dedicated to their extermination, even as Japan was a member of the Axis war machine, it saved Jewish lives.

And it is additionally ironic that the sole country on Earth that suffered horribly through two atomic bomb attacks based its energy needs and its economic strength on nuclear energy production. Practicality trumping the anguish of profoundly dreadful experience.

Only to find that dependence, and the illusion that any potential danger from operating nuclear reactors could be controlled with diligence and scientific best-methods applied turned out to be illusory indeed.

Earthquake events are common in Japan, and one learns to live with them and more or less overlook them. That the quake that brought the destructive tsunami that destroyed the nuclear plants at Fukushima was a catastrophic one on a never-before-seen scale, was an event waiting to happen.

And Japan, one of the strongest economies in the world (that has been suffering from a series of economic downturns for decades) - a country the United States had first devastated with two nuclear attacks, then aided immeasurably to discover democracy and social equality along with financial security - finds itself now mired in misery.

Pledging now to mothball its many nuclear plants, and permanently shelve plans for new ones.
Its 30% reliance for its energy needs on nuclear, with plans to upgrade that to 50% reliance, a matter of past government policy.

No longer feasible in the face of a province whose geography has been irremediably contaminated with radiation. Its people made homeless, its industry and agriculture dreadfully impacted.

The unknowable ways of nature, physics, geography, geology and human fallibility can create situations so profoundly affecting as to be beyond belief.

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Saturday, August 06, 2011

"Simply No Excuses"

Yes, that is true. There are times when behaviour is excusable on certain explicable grounds. But far more times when excessive stupidity repeated too many times, despite unhappy consequences can no longer be excused. Nor might they have been once the first repeat occurred. Once represented bad, really bad judgement, and perhaps a screw or two temporarily loose up in the cerebellum.

Repeats became in and of themselves beyond excuse.

And these were serious incidents. Serious enough to bring the judgement of the law into play. And it is quite simply indefensible that young people in their early adulthood cannot recognize the serious stupidity of actions that they seem to consider to be juvenile fun. What takes them so long to recognize that risk-taking involving the lives of others can never be considered 'fun' or amusing is beyond understanding.

Perhaps understanding of a sort can be found in the fact that these young people are bored, they come from privileged backgrounds, they have never been challenged to discipline themselves, they are not sufficiently respectful of society and of the safety and security of others, and they have been for far too long indulged in whatever lame-brained schemes they seem to cook up.

The victim impact statements of Alex Zolpis's mother, his sister and his betrothed are undeniably heartfelt and grief-laden. His death by misadventure of an avoidable kind has changed their lives forever, and laden the remainder of their days with the most profound misery.

While the young man who was his best friend, and whose jackanapes boisterousness aided by alcohol was the instrument of his death, professes his own never-ending grief.

When 25-year-old Jack Tobin decided to entertain himself and his friends by driving a vehicle recklessly on a roof-top parking garage on Christmas Eve following a night of partying and imbibing, some of those friends had the guts and the good sense to excuse themselves from participating.

Jack Tobin's inebriated condition and his proposed hi-jinks did not, evidently, stop Alex Zolpis and Owen Seay from indulging in stupidity along with their friend.

Owen Seay survived the ordeal that ensued, and Alex Zolpis did not. Decent young people, all of them, with glowing futures ahead of them, and loving families that cherished them. But all of society's warnings and their parents' concerns for them did not dissuade them from engaging in stupid and risky behaviour.

One young man is dead, his future obliterated, and his family left to recall endlessly what was and might have been. Families that were once friends are now irremediably estranged. Another young man will always have the shadow of his grave errors in choices weighing down his spirit and his destiny in life. That man is now a convert to the realities of drinking and driving.

The conversion was immensely costly, and need not have been. Simply no excuses.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

In Harm's Way

flashrob
The swarming of an Ottawa store resulted in about $800 dollars of lost merchandise.
Teen-age goons at it again. The incidents of "flashmobs" appearing at various public places to cause problems, advising one another beforehand, with the use of social media seems to have developed another kind of mass phenomenon: "flashrobs". Anything to amuse small minds with nasty attitudes toward law and order and societally acceptable behaviour.

It wouldn't be considered humane, of course, to round up these social mischief-makers and maintain them in human zoos, feeding them as required, and teaching them how to entertain the greater public with their juvenile antics, much as primates do. Surely what is humane for humankind's little brothers is humane enough for teens in a perpetual state of arrested adolescence?

Idle stupidity that results in disregard and contempt for reasonable social behaviour should result in some kind of penalty, after all. Respect for others in society and for private property appears in too many instances, to have been overlooked in their home settings. So now that school is out for the summer holidays those nasty little temperaments require thrills to keep them from having at one another.

Police seem stumped as far as identifying the 40-or-so teens who converted on a Quickie convenience store in mid-July The store security camera has footage of the teens dashing into the store at the corner of Parkdale Avenue and Scott Street, but thus far no one has made any identification in assistance of police efforts.

They did commit a crime, pilfering an estimated $800 worth of goods on the store shelves.

The police are aware that this event and one other may represent the birth of a new type of 'social event' in the busy calender of teens looking for something to do to relieve the boredom of their long summer days. Local store owners may have nightmares about the possibility of being a victim of one of these events. And they're being advised to just stand back, not to attempt to restrain the jolly fun-seekers.

"Don't get in harm's way or anything like that" is the advice of Police spokesperson, Constable Marc Soucy.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

He Who Hesitates...

What is the single most vital element that makes a good doctor? The ability to ask the right questions, observe symptoms and make a speedy and accurate diagnosis. That diagnoses can make the difference between life and death, health and collapse. The doctor who is unable to put all the clues together to convince himself that he recognizes the symptoms to identify a condition requiring immediate care, simply does not qualify for the provision of emergency care when time is of the essence.

On the other hand, in small rural communities, hospitals must make do with the talent they have at their disposal. If, to bolster their emergency staff they must take advantage of medical professionals whose ability to diagnose is less than good, they are left with little choice. Most people trust that, on accessing a hospital and seeing a doctor and presenting their symptoms they will be accurately and expeditiously diagnosed and treatment will commence.

Wayne Forsberg, a farmer from rural Alberta who himself suspected his own symptoms might qualify him as a candidate for immediate treatment to reverse the effects of bacterial meningitis, did a far better job of identifying his problem than the doctor who subsequently examined him. The examining physician was uncertain, and had to be convinced before committing to a diagnosis.

In the end, after consultations with an infectious-disease expert, after failed attempts to conduct a spinal tap as recommended, and after over three hours had elapsed since Mr. Forsberg had presented with fever, headache, stiff neck, skin covered with spots, he was finally given a protocol of antibiotics. But it was too late to adequately treat the infection. Amputations of both legs and an arm were required.

And a malpractise lawsuit was launched against the attending physician, Dr. Dadi Naidoo.
"When faced with a 'very ill man', Dr. Naidoo knew that a probable cause was bacterial infection, and that there was literally nothing to lose by a very prompt attempt to treat that possible infection with antibiotics. Any medical professional should clearly have known that was the case." Court of Queen's Bench Justice Dennis Thomas.
Extenuating circumstances. Previous notice had been advanced. Public health officials in the area had been warning of an uptick in cases of bacterial meningitis in the Edmonton area. Mr. Forsberg's wife, Shirley, had raised the possibility that her husband had been infected. The nurse who saw Mr. Forsberg initially recognized the spots as signs of bleeding under the skin and drew the doctor's attention to those symptoms.

Nurse Joanne Ward who felt certain that Mr. Forsberg was presenting with a blood infection, twice asked Dr. Naidoo for permission to start the patient on antibiotics. On both occasions he informed her she must wait. Dr. Naidoo testified that he realized septicemia was present, but still needed to be convinced, and would have preferred the patient be treated at a larger hospital.

Judge Thomas reached the conclusion that if a drug regimen had been initiated in good time, the farmer might have lost digits and required some skin grafting, but major amputations would not have been required. He was inspired, therefore, to award over $1-million to Mr. Forsberg to cover business losses, $270,000 for pain and suffering and additional sums to compensate his wife.

Not that money can compensate for pain and suffering and lost limbs, nor ameliorate the misery, frustration and angst of an unnecessary trauma.

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