Ruminations

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lucky Neophytes

"We flew them up to a beautiful spot so that they could say their last goodbyes."
"We were looking right down and over the U.S. border, and anytime there was a wisp of smoke, we descended on it rapidly."
"They were disoriented ... lost, they didn't know which direction to go."
Paul Berry, Comox (B.C.) Search & Rescue

"We've had people break legs and we've found them the next day, but we've never really had anybody go missing like this."
"I honestly don't know what they did."
Cathedral Lakes Lodge employee

"[There is] no sign of these people whatsoever, no signs left for us, no material tied to a tree. ... It is just kind of like they vanished."
Cpl. Dave Tyreman, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

"For them to actually go down and move into the trees would have been really strange to do, so we spent most of our efforts searching the alpine areas."
Alan Hobler, search coordinator

Lynne Carmody, from North Bay, is shown in this handout image. Search-and-rescue crews were shocked when an Ontario couple missing for seven days walked out of the backcountry in southern British Columbia. Carmody, 61, and Rick Moynan, 59, of North Bay, Ont., turned up virtually unharmed on Sunday around 4 p.m., just hours before crews were going to call off the search for them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Two people from North Bay, Ontario were vacationing in British Columbia, staying over at a popular place that usually hosts serious hikers, the Cathedral Lakes Lodge. Lynne Carmody, 61, and Rick Monan, 59, informed people at the Lodge they planned to do a hike over to Glacier Lake, a two-kilometre distance which should take only 30 minutes each way.

When dinnertime arrived and they hadn't returned the lodge dispatched a search party to scan nearby trails, but they weren't successful in finding the pair. The lodge then took the step to alert the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Three days passed with the RCMP looking for the missing hikers, and there were other rescue groups attempting to discover what had become of the pair as well.

They were novices at hiking, but outdoor life was not completely unknown to both of them. Lynne Carmody's deceased husband had himself worked in search and rescue and Rick Monan, according to family and friends, had some outdoors experience of his own. But people can and do become lost and this couple certainly did when they took a detour then found themselves far from their starting point.

Rescuers assumed that the two, if indeed lost, would gravitate to places where they could be spotted overhead by search and rescue aircraft. But they had decided evidently to remain in the woods. There they built a temporary shelter and remained in close distance to a stream for water. Should they have moved to high ground where treeless alpine tundra dominates, they might have been able to get their bearings.

They had embarked with no gear at all. No food, no appropriate clothing or survival gear, having to cope with temperatures soaring to 40-degrees Celsius. They decided to find shelter in densely wooded areas, where none of the three helicopters buzzing about could possibly detect their presence. It cannot have been too pleasant, since nasty devil's club is part of the understory, and biting insects have a field day with warm flesh.


Finally, rescuers assumed they had met with misfortune, perhaps fallen off a cliff and in the remote wilderness area it would be unlikely their bodies would be found anytime soon. The search had gone on for seven days, and hope they might have survived whatever their ordeal had been had waned; they were presumed dead.

Then just as the last of the search teams proceeded to wrap up their fruitless search where they had gathered with family members of the two missing hikers to enable them to have a last look at the final resting place of the two absent hikers, it just happened that two figures emerged from the woods to approach an idling rescue helicopter.

They were in fine shape; perhaps a little dishevelled, exhausted, hungry and thirsty, insect-bitten, but basically fine. They even decided to return to the lodge before being taken to hospital for a check-up, so they could enjoy dinner, to the amazement of other guests.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Children of Marriage Breakdown

"This is one of the worst. On the scale of deadbeats it's probably the worst deadbeat that I could imagine in any family law case."
"Tens of millions of dollars have disappeared. He [Vrege Armoyan] is not living in a cave. ... My client can't afford groceries She can't afford to fly here for this hearing."
"Mr. Armoyan is many things, but one thing he is not is stupid. He knows exactly what he is doing."
"Not one case in Canada matches this case. Not one. This is the worst possible contempt. He is thumbing his nose at the court process."
Harold Niman, Toronto family lawyer

"We're thinking of framing Lisa's story as an illustration of how the growing problem of deadbeat dads can affect families in every socio-economic strata."
"During their 16-year marriage, Lisa's standard of living was substantial, including ownership of boats, a variety of luxury automobiles, at their palatial residences in the U.S. and Canada, with millions of dollars at their disposal, and lived the life of extremely high income earners." 
Lisa Armoyan.  (PRNewsFoto/TransMedia Group)
Lisa Armoyan. (PRNewsFoto/TransMedia Group)
"Lisa is not only beautiful, but highly educated, a talented fitness model and trainer. She has developed through education, training and personal experience a high sense of wellness, regardless of life's stressors."
"Our goal is to see that Lisa achieves the same standard of living that she had during her 16 years of marriage to prominent Halifax developer husband and Armco Capital Founder Vrege Armoyan, who according to court records, has been so exasperatingly elusive and difficult to pin down during their high-profile cross-border legal battle."
TransMedia Group CEO Tom Madden
Beauty is as beauty does. This beauty happened to have married herself to a man whose conscience is somewhat lacking, and now she is paying the consequences. The couple separated and the husband, a Nova Scotia real estate businessman and developer, withheld court-ordered child and spouse support. Certainly not because, like many men he struggled financially and was unable to meet his obligations. This man, Vrege Armoyan, chose to flee Canada for an unknown destination.

Correction: not completely unknown; the Syrian-born man is somewhere in the Middle East where his wealth ensures he will live well, and where the cross-border attempts between Canada and the United States to achieve justice in spouse and child support for his ex-wife and his three children cannot reach. The man signed over legal rights to grant sole custody of their three children to his wife. Having done which, he has also obviously decided to wash his hands of financial responsibility for their well-being.

The Circuit Court in Palm Beach County, Florida, found that during their marriage the Armoyans accumulated a net worth in excess of $50 million. Mr. Armoyan was given ten days by a Florida family court in 2012 to pay support he had withheld for three years. Following the 2009 dissolution of the marriage, the man appears to have attempted to hide his holdings in an effort to avoid paying support for his children, aged 20, 18 and 15.

Nova Scotia Family Court Judge Therese Forgeron said from the Halifax courthouse that his "defiance spanned many years", leading to the situation at present where he owes a "shameful amount of arrears. His children struggle to survive while Mr. Armoyan has millions", commented the justice, and she sentenced him to four years in prison and levied a fine of $384,000 for having fled the country in his support avoidance scheme.

Dozens of court appearances between the once-married couple were made in Canada and Florida with Armoyan ordered to pay $29,000 a month in child and spousal support in 2012. The full amount was never forthcoming. Leaving a total arrears outstanding of $1,714,684.00. An additional $1-million is owing in court costs. He had been sentenced to 60 days in jail when a Florida court sentenced him for failing to obey a court order on support.

Armoyan sold his luxury yacht in Lebanon in 2013, placed his Lamborghini on sale for $105,000 and a Corvette for $62,000, while receiving a $2-million tax-free capital dividend and over $1-million from his mother. Found guilty of contempt of court last month, Friday he was meant to attend court for a sentencing hearing. Shortly after the scheduled time when the hearing was to commence it became clear the man was not in attendance.

He will, however, be arrested if and when he returns to Canada and will have to serve the four-year sentence imposed by the court though should he pay the fine and the arrears of spousal and child support he would be released from prison. Doubtless he has managed to dissolve his Canadian holdings, or accepted a buy-out from his brother with whom he has partnered in the various businesses that have made him so wealthy, requiring no return to wrap up his business interests.

The issue of child support in separations and divorces is a real and problematical one. In both Canada and the United States women and children are often left to fend for themselves when their former husbands and fathers of their children refuse to pay the financial costs of raising children as they are morally and legally obligated to do. Most women and children don't come from well-off backgrounds like Lisa Armoyan and her children.

However, married to a wealthy businessman whom her efforts on different levels helped in part in his achieving success should have garnered her the financial consideration she is entitled to, had her ex-husband been a responsible individual expressing goodwill and a natural paternal affection for his offspring.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Raising The Alarm

"The situation is quite critical."
"The water table is dropping all over the world. There's not an infinite supply of water."
"We need to get our heads together on how we manage groundwater, because we're running out of it."
Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Cracked ground along the shore of Lake Mead is seen in Boulder City, Nevada, another symptom of drought research shows is becoming a global problem.
U.S., on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is building a three-mile (five-kilometer), $817 million tunnel under Lake Mead to retain access to its Colorado River supply as the reservoir declines to 40 percent of capacity. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg   Cracked ground along the shore of Lake Mead is seen in Boulder City, Nevada, another symptom of drought research shows is becoming a global problem.

There are some areas of the world in truly critical need of water. The situation in North America is nowhere near as desperate as some areas of the world, say for example, the North Caucasus Basin, the Arabian Aquifer System, the Ganges-Brahmaputra Basin. But in the country where the report from NASA emanates, of which Mr. Famiglietti was the senior author, water has always been wasted. In some areas of the country like the south-east there are few natural lakes, and the Army Corps of Engineers operates vast numbers of reservoirs.

In Florida, the Everglades are slowly being drained to irrigate vast sugar and beef plantations; how's that for inappropriate use of natural resources? And how about the new 'independence' in oil and gas that has favoured the United States with its growing exploitation of fossil fuel resources deep underground through fracking? Fracking requires an enormous amount of water in the process of breaking up rock formations deep underground to deeply hidden natural resources of fossil fuels.

Then take California, an enormous state with a population that alone matches that of Canada's in its entirety, its neighbour to the north which is blessed with a huge number of freshwater lakes and an abundance of rivers. California is a state that grows a heftily major proportion of the country's fresh fruits and vegetables, much of used domestically, but a large proportion exported abroad as well. Irrigation is required for the growth and export of nuts, fruits and vegetables that make the state so wealthy.

Californians live in a hot, dry atmosphere and so backyard swimming pools are a common commodity among home-owners. Americans are wedded to their smooth green lawns, and grass needs lots of water particularly in that climate, to thrive. The state has stumbled through one year after another of drought, just as drought has visited other areas of the country, mostly prairie states, requiring municipalities and states to pass bylaws restricting water use.

But it isn't only drought-stricken California that has been steadily draining its reservoirs of underground aquifers, the very same thing is occurring world-wide, according to two new studies recently released by American researchers. Who point out that twenty-one of the world's 37 largest aquifers, from India and China to France and the U.S., have gone well beyond sustainability tipping points. Translated, this means that more water is being taken from underground reservoirs than nature can replace.

It takes millennia, thousands of years for aquifers to build up their accumulation. They are gradually recharged with meltwater from seasonally melting snow and from rain events. A global scarcity of fresh water has led to the disastrous draining of underground reservoirs which supply 35 percent of water used by the worldwide community. And during times of drought more emergency drilling for water occurs, compounding the problem.



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Take California's example; whereas it normally uses 40% of its groundwater reservoirs, it has been draining 60% for its water use latterly. Matters have spiralled to such a level of water scarcity that for the first time in its history water availability has been reduced for agricultural irrigation purposes. Flat, arable land that is warm and sunny is great for growing fruits and vegetables, but the required water component comprises a complication in the equation.

Unprecedentedly precise measures of groundwater reservoirs deep within the Earth were taken with the use of NASA's GRACE satellites to show subtle alterations in the gravitational influence of the earth's surface. The satellites flying overhead showed slight changes in aquifer water levels charged over the past ten years, from 2003 to 2013. The Canning Basin of Australia held the third-highest depletion rate in the world.

While to the east of it the Great Artesian Basin was found among the healthiest, attributable, it was found likely, to heavy mining near the Canning Basin; a water-intensive activity. California's Central Valley Aquifer is struggling, being drained for the irrigation of farm fields. A new state law was passed a year ago allowing for local control over groundwater, a law whose effects may take decades to discern.

In North Korea, said to be suffering its worst drought in a century, extensive damage to the production of rice and potatoes has been noted. Drought has caused about 30 percent of rice paddies to dry up. Threatening the hermit kingdom with another flirtation with famine, necessitating humanitarian aid to flow through to the country whose tyrant threatens military destabilization in the region and beyond.

A child rides on a donkey as they migrate due to lack of water at Sami town in the western Indian state of Gujarat
Armed with the latest monsoon rainfall data, weather experts finally conceded this month that India is facing a drought, confirming what millions of livestock farmers around the country had known for weeks. Above, a child rides on a donkey as they migrate due to lack of water at Sami town in the western Indian state of Gujarat.  Source: Al Jazeera

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Infanticide as a Routine

"I never gave first names to the babies. The first one, I saw he was a baby boy. The others, I didn’t look, I didn’t want to."
"But when they were in the garage, when it was cold, I went there and covered them with a blanket."
Dominique Cottrez, 51, Douai, France
AP Photo / Michel Spingler
AP Photo / Michel Spingler  The worst infanticide case in modern French history stunned the country when the babies were discovered in the family garden in 2010.

What a horror story of a life. A woman who lives with the knowledge that the life she was forced to live was imposed brutally upon her by the very man whom young girls are enraptured by, look up to for guidance and love, entrust  themselves wholly to without any reservations, and whose characteristics they look hopefully to in other men when they become adults in the aspiration of finding as a husband a man as kind and concerned, caring and devoted as their own fathers.

In Dominique Cottrez's case it is doubtful she found such a man. She had no actual need to, since her own father was always around in her life and by that time as an adult she had long grown accustomed to the incestuous relations he had imposed upon her since the age of eight. By that time in her life as an adult, while she was a married woman and the mother of two growing girls, she had succumbed to a victim's syndrome of dependency, renewed trust and willingness to continue that relationship.

Her moral compass had been permanently skewed. Little wonder, when a young girl experiences her own father feeling free to rob her of the innocence of childhood, forcing himself intimately and repeatedly on her. If it is her father how can it be wrong? If her mother does nothing to intervene and to protect her daughter then nothing can be wrong, just ... odd. If from the age of 8 she is raped, then taking the lives of newborns cannot be too wrong, can it?

By that time she had conceived repeatedly, as her father impregnated her time and again. Not that he had no knowledge he was doing this on top of sexually molesting his own child, but he seemed disinterested in his daughter's plight, having to carry through pregnancies to bear a child of incest.
Since he died before it was ever discovered by outside sources that all of these babies, eight in number, were killed and disposed of, he will never be brought to account.

Instead, his daughter, her own two girls now in their 20s, and her husband who presumably knew nothing of the deadly acts his wife used to dispose of these unwanted babies of tainted genetic inheritance, has stood by her. It cannot be a simple thing to absorb the knowledge that someone you have lived with intimately for decades harboured such a shameful secret, lived with such desperation of a moral vacuum.

And to have to anticipate the burden of knowing that the woman you love despite all these revelations may be sentenced to a prison term for these murders  that will never see her emerge a free woman must be beyond discouraging. She has already spent two years in detention. In 2010 a man digging in his garden in northern France discovered a buried trash bag; within the skeletal remains of an infant.

When police responded to his summons they found six additional tiny corpses. The explanation soon emerged, along with the realization that in all, eight babies had been smothered to death at birth and buried by their mother. As an obese woman, the pregnancies ha gone unnoticed; even doctors had no idea. Dominique worked as a nurse's aide.

The constant rapes she was subjected to from age eight forward must have destroyed an inner core of self-respect and independence to the point where she eventually willingly joined the conspiracy of a long incestuous relationship with her father that persisted into her mature years until his death in 2007. She herself, once the first two infants were unearthed in the garden, led investigators to where the others would be discovered.

The disposal of the babies had been a "means of contraception" for she admitted to never having used contraceptives, and never considered abortions due to her phobia of the medical profession; a supreme irony given her work as a nurse's aide, or perhaps even explicable as a result of her line of work.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

No Newfie Joke This One

"I had to stop him, one way or another. I don't know how he stayed on the road."
"I blowed me horn and I jumped out and I ran towards him. I said, 'Hey buddy"! Hey buddy! You got no roof on your car.' That's the words I said. And he stopped. ...He was buried in blood. He was horrible to look at. Terrible mess."
"Then I realized, it's Steve Bromley from Conche ... I used to buy my codfish from him."
"He was saying things that didn't really make sense. I said, 'What happened?' and he said, 'I can't remember a thing. I must have felled asleep." (Newfoundland vernacular)
Tom Canning, Newfoundland
Stephen Bromley drove this tattered vehicle for 18 kilometres after hitting a moose. He has no recollection of the accident or his harrowing drive afterward.
Photo: Jonathan Bromley    Stephen Bromley drove this tattered vehicle for 18 kilometres after hitting a moose. He has no recollection of the accident or his harrowing drive afterward.
 
"To tell you the truth, I didn't even know I hit [the moose]. I drove 18 kilometres with the window bit out of her. I thought the air conditioning was left on with the cold air."
"It's strange."
Steve Bromley, northern Newfoundland
"[Post-traumatic amnesia]. What that means is they're not really laying down memories. The brain isn't able to create a stable memory for the events, even though they can act and carry out action sequences, like, for example driving."
Dr. Brian Levine, neuropsychologist, Baycrest Hospital, Toronto

The 49-year-old Stephen Bromley was driving home to Conche on Monday. And as happens all too often on Newfoundland highways, a moose appeared and there was a collision; an event that Mr. Bromley has no memory whatever of having occurred. A moose is a very large, heavy animal; an encounter between a moose and a vehicle in a head-on collision would leave both animal and car in a parlous state. Often the poor animal might drag itself off into the woods to die.

Mr. Bromley, on the other hand, went into a state of shock and just kept driving, seemingly completely unaware of the state of his vehicle -- that he was now sharing it with a moose carcase -- much less his own state, both physical and psychological; he was oblivious and was operating on overdrive. While he was driving, he passed Tom Canning, himself on his way to a spot where he meant to fish for salmon. When Mr. Canning saw the car passing him, he viewed it with disbelief.

The windshield was smashed, the roof was mostly ripped asunder, but the driver was cruising along in the vehicle at 100 km/h. Mr. Canning's swift visual inspection as the car passed him was the impression that whoever was driving the car had no head, a gruesomely grotesque conclusion which didn't stop him, however, from turning around and chasing the smashed blue Toyota that was swerving in and out of traffic.

Following for two kilometres, speeding to try to catch up, he winced instinctively as he saw a tractor-trailer driving toward them and thought it was game over as the car in front wandered over the yellow dividing line directly into the path of the truck. At the very last moment the car driven by Mr. Bromley returned to the right lane, then stopped  to await the truck passing with the intention of making a left turn onto a gravel road.

Finally Mr. Canning approached the car as it paused, and he realized that the head was there all right, lavishly smeared with blood and moose manure, so it was a puzzle the driver could even see ahead of him. Moose organs lay in the car and a moose hide large enough to cover a good-sized area was also in the car. Mr. Bromley was treated in hospital for cuts on his head and a concussion. He can recall being pulled out of his car by Mr. Canning, but not much else.

As the local RCMP tells it, this kind of situation is not all that uncommon; for motorists suffering a head injury to pass into a state of disassociative trance and continue driving to reach their original destination. Which is precisely what Mr. Bromley meant to do, and did in fact do, though he was intercepted by Mr. Canning, fearful that this was an accident waiting to happen, when in fact an accident had occurred and another fended off.

Newfoundland's problem with an expanding moose population thus illustrated in the saga of Mr. Bromley and his unfortunate encounter. Moose were not native to Newfoundland; they were introduced from elsewhere in Canada and finding the environment to their liking, being reproducing. In the process representing such a problem that Newfoundland found itself encouraging a hunting program to diminish their numbers.


Bull Moose (Alces alces)c. W. Montevecchi

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Despicable Professionalism

"After five minutes of talking to you in pre-op I wanted to punch you in the face and man you up a little bit."
"I've done the fake page before. Round and round we go. Where it'll land, nobody knows."
"I'm going to mark 'hemorrhoids' even though we don't see them and probably won't."
"People are into their medical problems. They need to have medical problems."
Tiffany Ingham, Anesthesiologist, Vienna, Virginia
Dr. Tiffany Ingham. (Photo: ABC News)
Ever wonder what snippets of conversation pass between the health professionals whose experience and capability you trust when you're undergoing an operation and unable to hear them because you've been anesthetized? Better, perhaps, that we don't know. On the other hand, the conversation that passed between a gastroenterologist and an anesthesiologist during a colonoscopy would not represent, we dare hope, a normal exchange between two professionals while working on a patient.

The patient undergoing surgery on this particular occasion, when Soloman Shah, the gastroenterologist who performed the colonoscopy and who responded to Tiffany Ingham, the anesthesiologist by saying "I call it the Northern Virginia syndrome" of patients presenting as too intimidated by the thought of cancer, and fearful of surgery, while hoping it will successfully eradicate the cells trying to kill them, hadn't set out to record what he couldn't hear.

Before entering surgery he happened to press 'record' on his smartphone, hoping that post-surgery instructions would not entirely elude him in his worried frame of mind; that he could always refer back to them after the fact. He soon discovered that he had inadvertently made a recording of the entire medical procedure. And he listened later in shock as he heard the surgical team mocking and insulting him as he slept under the influence of anesthetic.

Picture the suffocating humiliation a person must feel when health professionals observe a patient and evaluate that patient's level of fear of a disease and a surgical procedure that they are familiar with at a remove, but which the patient finds overwhelmingly frightening. It is a reality of human nature that our imaginations fill in any blanks; having a diagnosis of cancer leads us to think: death; undergoing surgery is a frightening prospect on its own since anything can go wrong, including anesthesia-induced coma and death.

He listened to the recording with increasing mortification and outrage to a medical assistant remarking that he, a man unconscious to the conversation, but being operated upon, had a rash on his penis, whereupon the anesthesiologist stated the assistant should be careful not to touch the area or she might contract "some syphilis on your arm or something", adding for good measure: "It's probably tuberculosis in the penis, so you'll be all right".

The man decided to sue the doctors and their practices for defamation and medical malpractise. A three-day trial ensued and resulted in a Fairfax County, Va. jury ordering the anesthesiologist and her practise to pay the patient a half-million in compensation for her insultingly cavalier remarks. The gastroenterologist was dismissed from the case, though his remarks such as "As long as it's not Ebola, you're OK", characterized him as little better than his surgical partner.

The man, who wanted to remain anonymous, was identified in court documents as "D.B.". The jury awarded him $100,000 for defamation; $50,000 each for the comments of having syphilis and tuberculosis; and $200,000 in punitive damages. Experts in libel and slander held that defamation need not be widely disseminated; being stated by one party to another and understood by the second party to be credible when it is not, will do the trick.

Both doctors derided the man undergoing surgery as a "wuss", with the surgeon commenting that another doctor known to both "would eat him for lunch". The rash on the man's penis was discussed leading them to consider "misleading and avoiding" the patient once he gained consciousness. The gastroenterologist joined the anesthesiologist in plotting a "fake page" featuring a deliberately incorrect diagnosis.

The 42-year-old woman, Tiffany Ingham, made a mockery of the man for having attended Mary Washington College, at one time an all-female academic institution, musing aloud whether the patient was gay, and she wrote a diagnosis of hemorrhoids in the man's chart; a disgraceful episode that the lawsuit claimed to be a falsification of medical records, and with good reason.

"We finally came to a conclusion", said one of the jurors, of a case before them which had no defense, since the evidence was entirely recorded and irrefutable. The juror, Farid Khairzada, was firmly of the opinion "that we have to give him something, just to make sure that this doesn't happen again." And perhaps the threat of financial liability in the face of such a lapse of judgement by medical professionals will have a fear-reaching impression.

No one likes getting hit in their pocketbook, not even highly-recompensed professionals whose work is vital to the health and well-being of society, and who, being human, may from time to time forget their humanity, too invested in their exalted status as miraculous healers.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Redesigning Gender

"Each parent needs to permit S. a variety of ways of expressing himself and S. should be supported but not encouraged towards any gender preference."
"If the mother is forcing S. to be a stereotypical girl against his wishes, then this no doubt will cause him emotional harm. If the father is forcing S. to be a stereotypical boy against his wishes, then this no doubt will also cause him emotional harm."
"Neither parent shall unilaterally dress S. as a girl or force S. to take on certain gender roles against his wishes."
"In the event that S. expresses a desire to dress as a girl, then the parent in whose care S. is shall respect S.'s desire but shall contact the other parent and the society immediately to notify them of S.'s wishes and the parties shall agree as to how to proceed."
"In many respects, they are both loving and dedicated parents. However, each parent needs to permit S. a variety of ways of expressing himself and S. should be supported but not encouraged toward any gender preference."
"S. has the right to express himself the way he so chooses and it is hoped that each parent will accept, respect and support S. as he develops, in whatever way he develops."
Justice Sheilah O'Connell, Halton Provincial Court

"It needs to be seen in the context in which it occurred [parents' separation], which was a two-year, extremely high-conflict divorce. The disagreement was related to distrust between the parties. They agreed that it needs to be the child's choice — they just couldn't agree on what the child's choice was because of the context they were in." 
Geoffrey Carpenter, lawyer for S.'s father
Photo courtesy of the author.
The author’s son as Wonder Woman -- Photo courtesy of Kate Cohen, Slate

This is a little boy being discussed, a kindergarten-age child whose name cannot be released to the public to protect his privacy. The little boy's parents were involved in a nasty custody struggle; threats were used and girls' clothing that the mother of the child prepared for her son to wear as a girl, were burned by the father. Both the father and the mother of the boy accused one another of forcing the boy to be the gender of their choice. In the father's case, it was felt that the child should be what he is.

The mother obviously felt differently, felt that she was sensitive to her child's innermost desires, and that was to be a girl, not the boy he was born as. The little boy referred to as "S." to protect his identity, was referred to as "she" by his mother. The mother of the child painted his nails as one would a little girl's. His father insisted his 4-year-old son be sent to school wearing boys' clothing as befitted his birth identity as a male child.

But the mother, who lives in Oakville, Ontario explained that it had come to her notice that her son was attracted to girls' clothing, to items such as "sparkly pink shoes", just as he was also interested in conventional girl-type activities, with no intervention on her part; he just gravitated naturally, and she was merely satisfying his inclinations. And the father who lives in Burlington, Ontario insisted that his child was a "normal boy" whom his mother forced to dress like a girl.

The little boy's father said that he had burned girls' clothing in a backyard bonfire at the request of his son. And he was concerned that his son was being bullied at school as a direct result of the confusion over his attire and his behaviour. This, despite descriptions of the boy as being well-adjusted and friendly and well-liked by his classmates, according to the school administration and Children's Aid Society workers assigned to the case.

The Halton Children's Aid Society based on reports from S. (while in his father's care), filed a protection order, responding to the little boy saying his mother hit him on the knee and forced him to be a girl when he had no wish to be a girl. Justice O'Connell came to the conclusion on the evidence presented to her that neither parent was more credible than the other, ruling the child be given equal time with each parent, and the parents must attend counselling and be supervised by the Children's Aid Society.

The parents had consulted with a general pediatrician and adolescent medicine physician at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. Dr. Joey Bonifacio specializes in gender issues. His meeting with S. left him with the impression that the child was indeed interested in feminine clothing and activities. But he was as well interested in toys like Transformers and Captain America, traditionally marketed to boys, even while he liked the colours purple, pink and admired long hair.

Finding the boy intelligent and articulate, he expressed the opinion that "S. only expressed affective statements that were tied to gender expression such as, 'I want to be a girl. Girls have long hair'." Dr. Bonifacio is in charge of the Transgender Youth Clinic at Sick Kids; his report on his meeting with the child noted that gender expression and gender identity are not to be confused. That the child should be exposed to both feminine and masculine toys, activities and clothing and allowed to make his choice while still being referred to as a boy.

The child's father was initially belligerent over the recommendation, sending the doctor threatening emails stating "I'm going to get a degree in social media and make sure that you are my special project. Because you abuse children and make money off it..." The father lost no time in apologizing while revealing that he had himself struggled with gender association as a child: "so happy when my grandma dressed me in a dress and makeup".

Little angel? Unlike Lorraine's son, five-year-old Sasha is being raised as 'gender neutral'
Little angel? Five-year-old Sasha is being raised as 'gender neutral' -- www.dailymail.co.uk



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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Exhale and Inch Your Way Up

Experienced tall-peak mountain climbers know to look out for crevasses. They know well, some from personal experience, and some from mourning the deaths of fellow climbers and acquaintances that a misstep leading out of a relaxation of diligence could result in a fall into a crevice, so deep, dark, cold and closely embracing they will never see light and life again. Some have fallen and managed to dangle from a rope long enough for companion climbers to rescue them. On the odd occasion some have managed through sheer physical stamina and strength to rescue themselves.

Sometimes, a fascination for the unknown and a relentless search for dangerous and exciting experiences end in tragedy.

Seth Rowe, 30, a married father of two young children yet in their infancy, was one of the lucky ones. He had his experience, one that will surely be seared into his memory, and through sheer serendipity, lives to tell his story and to resume being a father to his two young children. It is more possible that he could have been one of those people who mysteriously manage to 'drop off the face of the Earth', for all anyone knows what happens to them when they're never again seen, but Fortune smiled on him.
"I had gone into one [crevice] and looked around and thought it was pretty cool. I always keep an eye out for [First Nations] artifacts … I would love to find an arrowhead, or anything, and these spots that I go to - I'm skinny, and I can get into places where others can't. Unfortunately, nobody could on this one."
"I just plummeted. My strength just left me. I couldn't feel my hands anymore, and when you can't feel you're hands, you can't grab the rocks."
"It pinched in so quick it actually brought me to a stop right at the ground. Intermittently I had been yelling, 'hello, help' … I could hear things moving around, and it wasn't human sounds, and I'm bleeding and hurt and started to get kind of worried." "I knew I had no way to defend myself. Ever put a ring on your finger and it won't come off? That's the same thing. I was pretty screwed."
"I've been in some pretty nasty spots in my scope of work. [Death could have ensued] I just shut that part of my brain off."
"Every last bit of it [his extraction from the narrow rocky crevice] was pain. I knew going up was going to be excruciating, and I got through it by just thinking, 'It's got to be done, exhale as far as you can and slowly inch your way up'."
"These guys [firefighters and mine rescue teams] saved my life, and they had to work and work and work to do it."
Seth Rowe, Glen Huron, Ontario
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Clearview Fire Department
Out with some friends to hike the the Bruce Trail on Saturday morning in a section of the Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area, they were reconnoitering some of the fissures in the Niagara Escarpment. His friends decided to call it a day, but Rowe thought he would just go on to have another look at an area that he'd once before come across. One misstep was all it took, as he found himself slipping inexorably into a crevice. And he just kept slipping further in, the dripping cold dark walls closing around him, the light of day disappearing.

The process left him battered and bleeding, his skin on his back and chest badly abraded. And he felt cold, very cold, since at that depth, dark and hidden where sun and warmth do not intrude, there is still ice. His chin had struck the ledge as he fell, knocking his head back. He jammed his knees into the crevice in a vain effort to break the fall. He proceeded beyond a second tight spot, scrapping the skin off his chest and back when he fainally came to a stop after hitting the final tight spot.

He found himself mired, unable to grip his way up, some 20 metres under the ground; trapped in a narrow "pinchpoint" with barely room for his width to be accommodated; firmly caught in a trap he was unable to manoeuvre himself out of.

In total, he ended up in that tight enclosure, in the dark and the cold, for 22 hours. Life can seem so unfair; intrepid mountaineers travel thousands of miles from their homes to face the commanding siren call of nature and attempt to mount the world's tallest peaks. He was a mere few kilometres from his home in central Ontario, and had meant to be out for an afternoon hike, nothing more, in an environment he was fascinated with, and had become somewhat familiar with. 

He had seen a 'slit' in the forest floor. Curious, he approached closer, when the ground under his feet gave way and he plummeted into the hellhole he swiftly found himself in with no way to extricate himself. Hours passed and he began going into hypothermia with the shock of his fall, and the trauma of being wet and freezing, and sleep began to overtake him. Sleep is an enemy at this point; the 'little death' morphing into the 'big sleep'. And he was entombed; he would die and his skeleton would never be found, his family deprived of his presence.

Looking up at the dim appearance of surface light he thought he could see the form of an animal hovering at the entrance to his catacomb. He took inspiration from sighting it to try again to call for help. And then as it happened someone had been passing by and heard his dim voice. Gilbert McInnis had taken the wrong trail when suddenly he heard a faint "hello!" emanating from a gap in the ground. "It wasn't a loud voice ... it was kind of muffled", he said later.

The local Clearview Fire Department arrived at 8:30 p.m. and they were soon joined by firefighters from across the province, all acutely aware of just how complex the problem would be to extract a hypothermic man from an awkwardly inaccessible granite slit deep underground. Toronto firefighters hung from harnesses to chip relentlessly away at the granite walls by hand. First responders themselves were succumbing to hypothermia, crouching in the narrow crevice, attempting to persuade Rowe to remain awake.

After a while, dawn hours snaked by as the trapped man was slowly yanked up to freedom through the jagged, narrow gaps in the cold rock wall. The pain being experienced by the trapped man was so intense, with the previously sheared walls of his chest and back being abraded once again by his movement in reverse, that his screams of agony unnerved his rescuers who were forced to ignore his pain and to continue efforts to save his life.

He recalls having a conversation with a firefighter who had an Australian accent, who was trying to keep him from sleeping. "He asked if I came down with a helmet or any rope. I said no. [He said] that’s either incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid. He said, 'well, I hope this is not your last caving experience and you’ll be more careful in the future'. I said, 'Right now I’m not going into another cave again'."

"Where I came out was not where I went in. These caves have a million entrances, vertical fissures that run for miles. I’m always on the lookout for new ones – you can look for years, and you’d still be surprised at how many there are."

Victor Biro for National Post
Victor Biro for National Post   Seth Rowe shows the abrasions on his back after being rescued from a granite crevice.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Enterprising People of a Feather

"It will be a big deal. We've already had a fair influx of people selling us [eider duck] down."
"That's a big deal [the opening of 15 jobs in full-time employment]  in a town of 850 people."
"I wasn't going to do this unless I knew, long term, it was going to be feasible."
Daryl Dibblee, administrator, Sanikiluaq, Nunavut
With no caribou on their islands, Inuit on the Belcher Islands have relied on eider ducks for food and clothing for generations. Here, an Inuit woman wearing a traditional eider skin parka collects duck eggs in a still photo from the film People of a Feather.
With no caribou on their islands, Inuit on the Belcher Islands have relied on eider ducks for food and clothing for generations. Here, an Inuit woman wearing a traditional eider skin parka collects duck eggs in a still photo from the film People of a Feather. (Joel Heath/Handout photo/Canadian Press)

"How do they use their skills to come up with jobs that are meaningful to them? The eiderdown factory is a great example of that."
"Having long-term jobs for Inuit, working together to try and understand what's happening in Hudson Bay ... the idea is, in the long term (southerners) don't need to be there."
"The communities have enough knowledge to run the programs themselves."
Joel Heath, Canadian scientist
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Dr. Heath has made it his interest to study the local Inuit culture on the Belcher Islands. The Inuit living there are called "people of a feather" reflecting their reliance on the birds that nest there in great abundance. The Nunavut community of Sanikuluaq has valued their proximity to nesting seabirds. They have used them as a survival resource for centuries, eating the birds for sustenance and making use of their feathers for comfort and warmth, made into parkas to enable the Inuit to survive the harsh climate that is their home.

A documentary titled People of a Feather was produced by Dr. Heath, demonstrating the reliance and relationship that the town has with the ducks in their provision of food and clothing. Perhaps the larger purpose of the film was to track changes gradually occurring to the environment. Immense hydro reservoirs in Quebec store freshwater that once teemed into Hudson Bay during the spring. Kept in reservoirs now, the water is released in the winter for the generation of power for cities in the south.

According to Dr. Heath, a 24 metre-deep layer of freshwater exists along all of Hudson Bay's eastern coast, as a result of this manipulation of nature. Ice is known to form earlier in the fall since freshwater freezes more quickly than sea water. The result is large flocks of ducks trapped on shrinking pools of open water. It occurred to Dr. Heath that since the Inuit communities are right there on site, observing the changes to their environment, who better to monitor the changes?
Inuit Hunter
Inuit man wearing traditional eiderdown parka

With the use of Google Maps technology, Dr. Heath has taught the locals how to gather and share real-time information along the coast. That information is timely and useful for dissemination, to alert hunters. Above all, it is increasingly critical to disseminate the information gleaned about weather and environment conditions to alert people planning to travel on the sea ice. Knowing the condition of the sea ice can avert tragedies.

While the indigenous residents are making use of that information they are also now reinvigorating an earlier eiderdown industry. In the town of Sanikiluaq an existing eider factory has begun buying up eiderdown that has been collected by Inuit families from the proliferation of nests nearby the town, built by the birds. The two are interrelated, since the birds are affected by ice conditions, and in turn the Inuit are affected by any deleterious effects on the birds which they rely upon.

The large seabirds nest in immense numbers in the Belcher Islands. The female duck plucks down from her breast to line her nest which will contain the eggs she lays. Down collectors pluck down from the nests before the eggs have hatched, taking care to take only a portion of the fluff. The down that is collected makes its way to the factory, is cleaned, sterilized and sewn into parkas and duvets. One nest is capable of producing 70 grams of eiderdown.
Photo from Sanikiluaq Hamlet website

And eiderdown just happens to represent the warmest, most durable insulation produced by nature. Iceland produces most of the world's eiderdown production, estimated at four tonnes. Its relative rarity accounts for its sky-high price. Uncleaned down brings in $330 a kilogram with finished duvets priced at up to $10,000. The hamlet located on Flaherty Island, the southeast corner of Hudson Bay, plans to sell cleaned down to manufacturers in Europe, along with parkas and duvets sewn traditionally by local women.

Belcher Islands Designs operates the eiderdown factory. The plant is forecasted to break even by its second year of operation and is expected to produce a $200,000 profit by its third operating year. To run the operation, fifteen full-time jobs will be created. People skilled traditionally are the fulcrum of the enterprise. The down sterilizers and the eight industrial sewing machines were imported into the community.

A map of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Alfred's Pathologically Obsessed Mind

"[Donna was] kneeling at her father's head, covered in blood, Kim kneeling at Brendon's head."
"I'll never forget her pleading with me."
"How will I ever forget having to be the person that tells her that her husband, the father of her three children and soon to be fourth, is gone from this world?"
Janessa McCabe, neighbour; emergency-room nurse

"I grew up in a house, just misery."
"All the drinking, the fighting, the sickness. There wasn't a second of happiness."
Alfred Vuozzo, convicted murderer, Montague, Prince Edward Island

"He wasn't really talkative, unless you got to know him. He really appreciated when people came and visited him at work, because the nights get long. But I think he was a bit of a loner."
"He'd said, you know, 'Most of my friends have gone on to have families ... or they've died on me."
Sheila Bourgeois, Montague marina supervisor

"He has no close friends and when asked he describes that his best friend is his dog."
"When arrested, Mr. Vuozzo's greatest concern was the impact that his actions would have on this mother and the loss of contact that he would have with his dog."
"Such individuals ... are generally unforgiving and moralistic, and tend to brood or obsess over issues. Mr. Vuozzo reports that 'I dwell on the past' and acknowledges that he becomes preoccupied by things and has trouble letting things go."
"He began to rationalize his intent, indicating that he felt 'my sister would have wanted me to'."
Dr. Peter Theriault, forensic psychiatrist
The McGuigan family has provided this photo of Brent McGuigan, 68 and his son, 39-year-old Brendon McGuigan.
It began as many such tragedies do; a man had too much to drink and was alcohol-impaired yet drove his vehicle in such a manner as to endanger the lives of others. On this occasion on the evening of November 19, 1970, The Vuozzo family was driving home along a rural road on Prince Edward Island when a half-ton truck ran a stop sign just as the van with the Vuozzo family was in the process of passing through the intersection. The truck hit the van and nine-year-old Kathy Vuozzo was catapulted through the windshield.

Alfred Vuozzo, the father of the little family was utterly traumatized by the outcome of the accident. The scene that included his two-year-old son named after him, saw his son safe in his wife's arms, but Kathy's body lay in the ditch and a doctor soon pronounced her dead. "I came up to the intersection and I just seen lights coming and a vehicle coming", a coroner's inquest was informed by Alfred Vuozzo Sr. Herb McGuigan was the name of the driver of the truck. He was alive, found lying on the floor of his truck, beer caps surrounding him.

"I opened the door and he asked me, 'Had there been an accident? There was a strong odour of alcohol and his eyes were watery, and he gave me the impression that he knew little of what happened", recounted Constable Robert Thorne, at the inquest. And indeed, Mr. McGuigan pleaded not guilty and went to trial in 1971. He was sentenced to nine months in prison and a driving ban was instituted for a year. The man died in 1975 of causes having nothing to do with the accident.

As it happened, the two families both regularly attended church, but different churches. Fr. Gerard Chaisson officiates as pastor at both of the churches and knew both families. He is hard put to understand how so many years later, the two-year-old brother of the little girl who died in the accident nursed a grievance so mind-consuming that he would plan revenge, to expunge from his mind the thought that his sister could find no rest in her grave until justice was done. And he planned to deliver justice, of a truly warped kind.

On the evening of August 20, 2014, Alfred Vuozzo Jr. felt the time had come for him to manipulate the rage that had consumed him all his life into action, convinced his sister's spirit called him to avenge her. He parked outside the house where he knew that the son of the man who had slammed his truck into the Vuozzo family van so long ago, lived. Memory of his own father succumbing to total dysfunction, becoming an alcoholic, unable to hold a job, being institutionalized for a psychiatric illness brought on by the tragedy fuelled his unappeasable rage.

As it happened that evening, Brendan McGuigan, grandson of long-dead Herbert was visiting his father, Brent McGuigan 68. His mother Marie, Brent's wife, was in the next room. She hadn't noticed that someone had entered her house through an unlocked door. She would soon know, however, that Albert Vuozzo Jr., a spectre from the past, was that man, and he fatally shot her 39-year-old son and 68-year-old husband, expending a total of thirteen bullets.

"He was a good father, and a good grandfather and a good husband", Marie said later of her husband. "We never had anything to do with the Vuozzos. We paid for it all anyway", she grieved. From the McGuigan house, Alfred Vuozzo drove to his brother's house in Charlottetown to tell him "I did it, I got them", before leaving. He left to return to the house in Montague which he shared with his mother. In the meanwhile, his brother Jeremy had called police informing them of what his brother had done. And when police arrived at the Vuozzo home, Alfred greeted them, guiding them to where he had hid the weapon and a pair of gloves.

Brendon, the grandson of the man whose drunk driving had set off this generational tragedy, was about to become a father for the fourth time. His wife Kim was pregnant. She gave birth to another baby girl whom the father of the child would never see. Kim was left to raise her family of four children alone. It was a complicated birth, one where doctors "nearly lost" both mother and child. "Some like to say this was a family feud. It wasn't. We had no idea who this man was or even what he looks like. I know Brendon never heard the story of the accident 44 years ago", said Kim.

"As I held her [her new baby daughter] in my arms for the first time and looked into her innocent eyes, I could see Brendon. I was so angry. He should have been with me. Many times I think that I can't do this without him", the mother of the four fatherless children stated bitterly. "There were no tensions between the Vuozzo family and the McGuigan family", explained Fr. Ferard. "I believe the tensions were in (Alfred's) mind."

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Mystery Not Exactly Solved

"There's some kind of irony there."
"It is very clear that genome sequence shows he is most closely related to contemporary Native Americans."
"We can see very clearly that Kennewick Man is more closely related to present day Native Americans than he is to anybody else,"
"We probably will never be able to say who is, in fact, the closest living relative of Kennewick Man."
Eske Willerslev, University of Copenhagen

"We're just glad the findings are able to prove what we've maintained all along. For us, it's great news."
"... We want him back in the ground for his final resting place, and not to be poked and prodded."
Jim Boyd, chairman, Colville tribal council, Washington State, U.S.A.

This clay facial reconstruction of Kennewick Man, who died about 8,500 years ago in what's now southeast Washington, was based on forensic scientists' study of the morphological features of his skull.
This clay facial reconstruction of Kennewick Man, who died about 8,500 years ago in what's now southeast Washington, was based on forensic scientists' study of the morphological features of his skull.   Brittney Tatchell/Smithsonian Institution 
 
"It is a much narrower and longer — relatively longer — cranium, and the way the base of the cranium is configured it is different from what we see in Native Americans."
Physical anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution
In times long distant from our own, of prehistory, a land bridge is held to have linked Siberia across the Bering Sea, enabling early proto humans to reach North America from Asia. Some 25,000 years ago early populations moved southward along the Pacific Coast, then spread east to the Atlantic, and south into South America. Human life is held by anthropologists to have originated in Africa across time immemorial.

And from Africa, man bipedalled his way elsewhere in the world, to finally arrive on the North American continent. Migrations continued to spread humankind by sea over the Pacific, and much later from Europe by Vikings until Columbus 'discovered' America. Moving from vast aeons ago to the present, in 1996 a young man made his way into mud flats on the Columbia River and found a rock, dislodging it to realize that it had vestigial teeth and was in fact a skull.

Well preserved remains of a 9,000-year-old man had been found. Excavation led to the finding of an almost complete prehistoric skeleton, revealing the presence of nearly 400 bones. A stone spear point was embedded in the skeleton's hip, revealing new bone growth in the healing process. This skeleton was named Kennewick Man. He was found to have been 5-foot 8-inches in height, judged to be between 40 or 50 years old, and right-handed.

From the condition of his muscular-skeleton remains it was ascertained he had spent his lifetime spear hunting, his bone chemistry leading to the conclusion he had spent most of his life on the Pacific Coast on a diet of fish and related marine life. And he had been ceremoniously buried, on his back, arms at his sides, palms down. He was found because erosion of recent vintage had revealed his remains.

He was named by modern local indigenous people, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the "Ancient One', and claimed as one of their ancestors. And it was their intention to take possession of the remains and to bury them once again, with ceremony not unlike the original interment proceedings. Understandably, the Native American claims were opposed by anthropologists; scientists wanted to delve deeper into the mystery of what and who he was.

Such revelation might have indicated the migration of a white European, of an Asian, a Polynesian, the possibilities endless, and the re-shaping of the understanding of the migration process perhaps enhanced in the final analysis. Initial attempts in the extraction of DNA were fruitless due to contamination. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers control the area where Kennewick Man's remains were discovered; the government supported the native claims.

In 2000 the U.S. Interior Department ruled in favour of the five tribes' claims that he was one of their own. And preparations were underway to hand the remains over under laws protecting native grave sites. Anthropologists, wanting the opportunity to conduct DNA investigations sued for access. In 2004 a court ordered the remains be made available for scientific enquiry on the basis that the government and native tribes had not succeeded in proving kinship.

A later experiment succeeded in extracting a full genome from a minuscule piece of bone from Kennewick Man's hand. Using DNA samples from the local Colville tribe, and that small part of a hand bone, it was proven that Kennewick Man was indeed of Native American heritage representing either as an ancestor of modern native populations or a related specimen with a common ancestor.

As a result of that skeletal discovery, each side in the dispute; one the native population wishing to honour a ancestor had their claims proven but not entirely to the satisfaction of still-unconvinced scientists; secondly, the scientists were given the opportunity to proceed with their investigation looking for linkage and time frame, before The Ancient One was buried once again, with all due ceremonies attending him.

Still, not everyone is satisfied that scientific enquiry has been fulfilled in its mission. And there's at least one scientist who isn't convinced by the genetic evidence. Physical anthropologist Douglas Owsley, an expert on bones, displays a cast of Kennewick Man's skull in his laboratory — alongside skulls of three Native Americans. Kennewick Man appears decidedly different. To bury him now would be precipitate, and unfair to science, feels Dr. Owsley.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Alerting Sensibilities

"Although I don't remember most of the math equations I worked on (in Grade 6), I do remember the profound lessons I learned from that day. I can say I wouldn't be the person I am today without that. It is the foundation of my outlook on life."
"He [former teacher Patrick Mascoe] always tries to empower children and young people to build on their character and to be kind to one another and understand each other on a deep level. I was really moved by that, and that is why I always come back."
Sophia Mirzayee, 21, student, Carleton University, Ottawa
Sophie Mirzayee, now 21 and attending Carleton University, says her view of the world changed after listening to a Holocaust survivor.
Sophie Mirzayee, now 21 and attending Carleton University, says her view of the world changed after listening to a Holocaust survivor.    Julie Oliver / Ottawa Citizen
"After 9/11, they were saying they couldn't teach Holocaust education in Grade 10 because the kids were walking out of the classroom saying the Holocaust never happened and the Jews are our enemies. There was a lot of turmoil."
Patrick Mascoe, Grade 6 teacher, Charles H. Hulse Public School, Ottawa

"We have a lot more things in common than we do have differences."
"I guess we learned that it doesn't really matter what religion you are, we can all be friends."
Haley Miller, 12, student, Ottawa Jewish Community School
Sometimes one person's vision put into action, making the right contacts and the remedial moves that situations require, does make a huge difference in society. Patrick Mascoe's perplexed reaction to what he saw around him with a bitter hardening of attitudes from young Muslim students who attend the Charles H. Hulse elementary school in Ottawa led him to consider what he might do as one person to effect a change in attitude. What he witnessed happening at his school meant to him that lack of experience led to ignorance.
Pat Mascoe, a Grade 6 teacher at Charles H. Hulse, started the program 11 years ago because of increasing intolerance among young people in the years  following 9/11.
Patrick Mascoe, a Grade 6 teacher at Charles H. Hulse, started the program 11 years ago because of increasing intolerance among young people in the years following 9/11.   Julie Oliver / Ottawa Citizen
He felt that the person-to-person interpersonal introduction of students from one parochial Jewish school to students of another public school with a majority Muslim presence could and should teach the children at both schools that there is indeed more that unites them as young people living in Canada, despite their religious conflicts than what it is that sets them apart. Bigotry and a lack of openness is what set them apart; hearing conversations between adults whose attitudes had already hardened is what set them apart.

Patrick Mascoe decided he would contact some of the teachers from the Ottawa Jewish Community School and persuade them to help him connect Grade 6 students at his predominately Muslim school with their peers at the Jewish school. The contact began with a degree of separation, in that letters were initially exchanged, with the children at each of the schools writing about themselves. This gave them the first inkling that they were quite alike, after all.

Out of that initial contact grew a Day of Cultural Understanding, eleven years ago. Students met and they played games together. And then they listened to David Shentow, an elderly Jewish man, speak about his background as a Holocaust survivor. Since then, the surface issues that led to the initiation of the program have dissipated; students from each of the schools no longer viewed one another with suspicion, casting aspersions one on the other, as cultural-religious enemies.

Video thumbnail for Day of Cultural Understanding opens minds, changes lives
Sumaya Al-Idrissi, left, Haley Miller, right. Julie Oliver/Ottawa Citizen

Haley Miller who attends classes at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, discovered the pleasure of a close friendship with Sumaya Al-Idrissi, from the Charles H. Hulse public school. The twelve-year-olds speak about their shared interests. Their discovery that knowing someone personally and finding them open to sharing themselves in friendship represented a far better emotional and maturing experience than simply accepting an atmosphere of animosity toward those whom one has no knowledge of, relying on a hateful narrative on which to base hostility.

When Sophia Mirzayee, as a student at the public school first was exposed to the Annual Day of Cultural Understanding, she listened to David Shentow speak of his painful background. "It really sparked something in me. I was crying. I was a total wreck. I felt despair", she explained much later, at the 11th annual such event, events she takes care to return to, though she is now older and a university student. She feels compelled to commit herself to the cause of mutual acceptance and understanding.

Her family origins are as Afghans. She had never met a Jewish person, her knowledge of the Holocaust was utterly lacking before she became part of the program. She remains in touch with her original pen pal from the program. Her own grandfather had been involved in human rights campaigns in Afghanistan. And she now studies human rights at university. Now, speaking at the latest Annual Day of Cultural Understanding, Sophia Mirzayee tells the younger students how Mr. Shentov, now too ill to appear in public, told students they have the power to change the course of history.

His charge to the students when Ms. Mirzayee first heard him speak remains one of the motivating inspirations for her chosen course in life. She speaks with gratitude of her old teacher, Patrick Mascoe, encouraging his students and those from the parochial school to become leaders; to indulge in the introspection of prodding themselves as to whether their presence in any situation helps to ensure "it is a better place".

Jewish, Christian and Muslim boys Noah Thompson, Jared Scheinberg, Keith Sarazin, Boris Livshits, Hussam Alhoumud and Noor Maher horse around before a basketball match.
Jewish, Christian and Muslim boys Noah Thompson, Jared Scheinberg, Keith Sarazin, Boris Livshits, Hussam Alhoumud and Noor Maher horse around before a basketball match.  Julie Oliver / Ottawa Citizen

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