Ruminations

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

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Beware and Be Cautious

"We believe that most authors are not necessarily tricked into publishing in predatory journals; they probably submit to them well aware of the circumstances and take a calculated  risk that experts who evaluate their publication lists will not bother to check the journal credentials in detail. Hence we do not uncritically see the authors as unknowing victims."
"The universities or funding agencies in a number of countries that strongly emphasize publishing in 'international' journals for evaluating researchers, but without monitoring the quality of the journals in question, are partly responsible for the rise of this type of publishing."
From  study published in journal BMC Medicine: authors Cenyu Shen and Bo-Christer Bjork, Hanken School of Economics, Finland

"Academic fraud has reached a new level of deceit as a "predatory" journal that prints low-quality research for cash has stolen the identities of a dead doctor and the head of a Canadian science funding agency."
"Sir Richard Doll was an eminent British epidemiologist who was among the first to realize that smoking causes lung cancer. He died in 2005, aged 92. Now his photo has popped up with an altered surname -- Turner -- on the list of people who supposedly edit a shady academic journal, Journal of Spectroscopy and Molecular Physics."
Tom Spears, science journalist, Ottawa Citizen
The world wide web of the Internet with its vast store of  data interconnecting people from around the world has proven an invaluable source of communication, commercialization, connection, information-sharing and remains the foremost venue for the general public to learn and to gather information. Data is accessible to everyone, from the ordinary person looking for mundane information to scientists and academics searching for research that might prove of interest to them.

For most people, Internet searches are conducted innumerable times daily; ranging from map and location searches, to on-line market sales item listings, to verifying symptoms impacting on health. Of those categories, the third may or may not render correct data, entirely dependent on the source being used and its reliability, so it becomes obvious that caution on the part of the searcher is required to ensure that information being sourced comes from a site that can be trusted.

Researchers, specialists in various fields of science require no less vigilance in scoping out data for their reliability, for much can depend on the venues from which data is extracted. Sites identified with credentials that testify to their trustworthiness are often connected with government agencies, with recognized universities, and with journals themselves which have built their reputation over time, qualifying for recognition as sites that can be trusted.

In the great wide world of the Internet and universal connectivity, predators too recognize a wide scope of opportunities that have opened to them, since most people tend to be both trusting and gullible. Stories abound about people who have been taken advantage of, cheated, done irreparable harm because they have guilelessly trusted those who claim to be what they are not.

The world of science is no stranger to deception, to the presence of scurrilous charlatans who claim to have discovered world-shattering formulae and treatments whose application is capable of curing the most dread diseases that ruin people's health and cut short their lives. These are psychopaths with no regard for the harm they do, but who focus instead on building a reputation of trust among the naive, and in the process drain them of their financial resources, and eventually their hope.

New information is always surfacing about frauds of one type of another, and the field of academic research is no different, with new journals popping up on line frequently, distinguishing themselves as predators printing worthless research in exchange for cash payment. Academics, scholars, and most people in the fields of science are anxious to have their papers proving or disproving theories published and cited to build their reputations also fall prey in the press to publish.

It might be said that a new low has been reached with a shady academic journal titled Journal of Spectroscope and Molecular Physics which has been publishing 'research', signing them off as reliable findings of highly successful and respected scientists who hope to gain influence for their futures. Even the editorial board of the journal is comprised of faux names comprised of stolen identities of people in the field of science, still living, but unaware their names (and their reputations) have been appropriated; others the names of people who have left this mortal coil long since..

Of the ersatz editorial board of the physics journal, most listed don't reflect the field of physics research; one is a professor of chemistry at Simon Fraser University, another a hematologist in Michigan; an anthropologist in Little Rock specializing in Micronesia; and a dermatologist living in Singapore. Yet another is an obesity expert at Boston University School of Medicine. All unaware their names are being used to bolster the reputation of a false journal, as Tom Spears points out in a recent revelatory article.

The journal BMC Medicine, an authentic and trustworthy journal, has published a new study disclosing that 420,000 articles were published in 2014 in such predatory journals, a huge increase from the 53,000 published five years previously. In total, the study outlines that 8,000 predatory journals  were responsible for publishing that breathtaking number of faulty, unreliable articles.

Mainstream academic journals annually publish a likewise not-inconsiderable number of research papers: between 1.4 million to two million genuine research articles. The conclusion reached by Cenyi Shen and Bo-Christer Bjork of the Hanken School of Economics in Finland was that academics throughout Asia and Africa, widely excluded from Europe and North American journal publications, choose sometimes to publish in bogus journals.

In defending itself, an anonymous person on staff at the Journal of Spectroscopy and Molecular Physics claimed it was the victim of  website hackers who sabotaged them with incorrect data about the editorial board and the journal was unable to  remove the offending posts.

Academic publishing fraud has seen explosive growth; small operations for the most part, purloining identities of real researchers to make it appear as though theirs is an established, trustworthy endeavour. Predatory journals skip the peer review process, printing anything submitted as long as the article is one which its author is prepared to pay a handsome fee to publish.


Journal of Spectroscopy and Molecular Physics promotes a better world!

About JSMP  [from journal website]

Journal of Spectroscopy and Molecular Physics (JSMP) presents experimental and theoretical articles on all subjects relevant to spectroscopy and molecular physics and its modern applications. An international medium for the publication of some of the most significant research in the field, the Journal of Spectroscopy and Molecular Physics is an invaluable resource for astrophysicists, chemists, physicists, engineers, and others involved in molecular spectroscopy research and practice.
The Journal of Spectroscopy and Molecular Physics (JSMP) is a peer reviewed journal of high quality devoted to the publication of original research papers from applied physics and their broad range of applications. JSMP is sponsored and published by the European Society for Applied Spectroscopy (E.S.A.S.).

Our Work

JSMP publishes quality original research papers, comprehensive review articles, survey articles, book reviews, dissertation abstracts in sputtering science and its applications in the broadest sense. It is intended that the journal may act as an interdisciplinary forum for Spectroscopy and Molecular Physics and their technologies. Innovative applications and material that brings together diverse areas of spectroscopy science and molecular physics are particularly welcome. Review articles in selected areas are published from time to time. It aims to disseminate knowledge; provide a learned reference in the field; and establish channels of communication between academic and research experts, policy makers and executives in industry, commerce and investment institutions.
Feature Articles
It is planned to have several peer reviewed Feature articles in the Journal of Spectroscopy and Molecular Physicseach year. These articles will overview areas of particular significance in molecular spectroscopy. They may review and consolidate an area of theoretical development or a collection of experimental data, in each case offering some new insights. The articles may also summarize the present status of a rapidly developing and/or evolving field. All the articles should serve as introductions to areas of spectroscopy other than one's specialty and should be particularly valuable to students entering the field.
Feature articles will be solicited by invitation of the Editor. However, the Editor invites suggestions, with a reasonable level of detail, about topics that could be of interest. Self suggestions by potential authors are particularly encouraged.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Familial Terror

"You can't terrorize your son."
"The parents saw him [young boy] as a delinquent. I did not."
Xavier Plaus, child psychologist, criminal trial testimony

"You will pray that Jesus will take you back after all of this. And that your parents will take you back,” the father says in French. "You’ve not repented yet. You will weep blood for what you have done."
“I will do everything you say, everything you say." the child responds in French. "I’ll never lie. I want my family back. I am going to keep my lock as tight as possible on my feet. I’ve sinned so much."
"What else did you do? Always interested in sex. Next time you lie to me, even for the smallest thing ... then I will know. Do you hear me?"
"Yes. I don’t want to go to hell."
"You’re a thief. You’re a manipulator. You’re a liar. You’re saying whatever you want to get out of here. You’ll be quiet? You’ll be quiet? Good."

The father is a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He is a strict disciplinarian. His son is eleven years of age. The boy has been shackled, he has been beaten, he has been starved. His father accuses the son of sexual misconduct; the boy is said to have kissed a girl when they were together in a tree house. They live with the father's second wife, the boy's stepmother. There are other, younger children in the household, from this later union. These children are loved, they are not mistreated.

The stepmother appears to have done nothing whatever to convince her husband that his treatment of the young boy is cruel and represents abusive torture. The boy is left for days, naked, in the basement of the house in an Ottawa suburb, shackled. He is given very little to eat; mostly pita and peanut butter and Gatorade. He lives in squalid filth, and weighs very little for a boy of eleven. In February of 2013, the boy managed to free himself and make his way outside.

He asked a neighbour for water. His plight became known, and he was taken by child welfare authorities and police from the home that was a prison for him. Both parents, biological father and stepmother, face charges of aggravated, forcible confinement and failing to provide the necessities of life. The woman is also charged with assaulting the boy with a weapon, while the man faces other charges of sexual assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon.

When the emaciated boy was taken to hospital he weighed 50 pounds. His wrists were scarred from being shackled for months at a time.  "[This was] by far the worst case of inflicted injury, abuse or neglect in a child who managed to survive," said Dr. Leigh Fraser-Roberts, a pediatrician with 22 years of experience, who looked after the boy at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. She testified later at trial that the boy's clavicle was exposed; there was no fat in his face or neck.

His eyes were sunken, his knees swollen, the result of "far too few calories", exhibiting signs of "wasting and severe malnutrition". There were "irregular lesions and scars" on the boy's back, buttocks, groin and inner thigh that were deep purple and red. Later in the trial child psychologist Xavier Plaus stated he could detect no signs of sexual pathology in the boy's character, despite his father's conviction at age eight, the boy would become a sexual predator.

The boy fell under suspicion by his father for exhibiting 'abnormal sexual behaviour' through hugging teachers -- and students who had been bullied at school. The psychologist testified that the boy was intelligent, despite living in a chaotic, hostile and poisonous environment, that the boy's father had taken to interrogating the boy daily about his school routine. Nothing the psychologist could say would convince the man, a former counter-terrorism RCMP officer, that there was "absolutely no evidence of sexual pre-occupation" in the boy's character.

In response, the father insisted his son was manipulating the doctor, telling him only what he felt the psychologist expected and wanted to hear. The psychologist was hired by the father during a custody battle when the boy was eight. He was concerned, he testified, about the punishments meted out to the boy; pushups and cold showers -- saying that if he became aware of such behaviour on the father's part being repeated he would contact child-protection workers.

He had interviewed the boy on fourteen occasions, coming to the conclusion that years of chaos, conflict and hostility in the home had caused the boy to no longer expect that anyone in the world would love him. The punishments intensified until in 2013 the boy escaped the basement. He has himself testified at the trial of his parents, speaking of starvation and torture, how as the family pursued their daily routine upstairs he remained chained to a post in the basement.

That boy might have been spared three additional years of privation and torture at the hands of his psychopathic father had the psychologist been alert and responsible enough to proceed with his threat of calling in child welfare.

Ottawa courthouse on Elgin Street


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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Reefer Mania

"Actually, the initial plan was to have this documentary aired before the [Canadian] election, to give people an understanding of what might be ahead. But because of network programming, it was pushed back to after. That turned out to be a good thing, because now it's even more relevant."
"I think it really does come down to a health problem. It seems simple enough. But what we do is take money away from prevention and treatment. It just doesn't make sense."
"I saw it as a black-and-white issue, because you want to get rid of the black market and you want to make tax revenue. It seemed like a win-win situation. But then I felt like a Ping-Pong ball. Someone would say something and I would go: 'Of course, legalize it'. Then someone else would say something and I would go: 'Oh, maybe we had better look at this more closely again'."
"...Somewhere between prohibition and full outright alcohol-type commercialization [might work in the legalization of marijuana]."
"But I hope it will take awhile, because I believe this is complex. I hope Trudeau [Canada's prime minister-elect] will listen to law enforcement officers, health officials and public-policy people. And pro-pot advocates as well as industry people from the States, who do not want to harm people or increase youth consumption -- they just want to open it up to the adult market."
"Fact is, I don't think there are a lot of people up here [in Canada] who have been studying this."
Cynthia Banks, Toronto film documentarian

Cynthia Banks interview CIUT 89.5 FM culturalmining 1
Daniel Garber at the Movies

In the United States, the states of Washington and Colorado have brought in legalized marijuana. In Canada, the incoming Liberal government headed by Justin Trudeau has stated, discreetly, that it is interested in legalizing marijuana. Film documentarian Cynthia Banks felt compelled to do some investigating on her own, to speak with and document opinion makers' concerns. She is herself somewhat conflicted over whether the legalization of this commonly used social drug should proceed or whether more caution is required to formulate public-interest policies to protect vulnerable portions of the population.

In Canada, marijuana is legally and openly for sale, for medicinal purposes, prescribed by physicians for patients whose health condition and/or pain suffered is mitigated with the use of marijuana. The issue is whether or not Parliament should pass a law making it legal to grow, buy and sell marijuana for commercial purposes as a legally-acquired herb with certain properties that have up until now placed it out of reach as a social ill; a mind-altering drug.

RR Vancouver 420 Legalize Banner

The filmmaker travelled first to Colorado where legalization has created a binge of celebratory marijuana use. Specialty shops have appeared everywhere in Colorado, specializing in the sale of a vast array of edible pot products. In some places like restaurants a policy of open BYOC exists, in the spirit of 'bring your own wine/beer/alcohol/cannabis'. Pot entrepreneurs have taken marijuana and married it as a flavour to mints, caviar, lamb chops; anything that appeals.

Pot users can make their selection among various choices of vaping, drinking, or smoking cannabis. Pot users have arrived at the pot version of the veritable candy shop. Pot dealers no longer represent shady, money-hungry thugs; they now are university graduates with degrees; no less money-hungry as they dispense the product that has created an atmosphere that some liken to an updated gold rush. In its first year of business, over $700 million was created in profit, and the State of Colorado was favoured with the resulting taxes heaping its coffers high.

Washington State? Same thing. A former narcotics officer with 40 years behind policing for drug possession remarked that before legalization, demand and supply of pot was never much hampered by the fact that it was an illegal drug. With the introduction of its new legal status, nothing much has changed. And then the documentary maker went to Ontario, visiting Smiths Falls where one of the largest marijuana facilities in the country has been established in an old abandoned Hershey's factory, in Smiths Falls.
Master grower Ryan Douglas inspects plants at the Tweed marijuana facility in Smiths Falls in 2014. The business has been a boon to the Ontario town. JULIE OLIVER / POSTMEDIA NETWORK

The Tweed facility has given new life to the town, and certainly new employment opportunities. The establishment represents in fact, one of the largest growers and suppliers of medical marijuana in North America. Along with the Tweed plant over two dozen producers of legal pot are situated in Canada. And with the introduction of legalized pot for social consumption, not only medical use, those grow operations are set to expand exponentially.

The film maker also interviewed researchers who point out among other issues that marijuana has been developed by growers to become a far more potent product. There are a number of concerns, all of them revolving around health outcomes from the consumption of the powerful new cultivars having their effect on people, both physically and psychologically. the psychotropic element in pot is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), but the plant also has over 400 other chemicals in its makeup. Research has demonstrated, as well, that adolescents and young adults can be susceptible to brain damage with the constant use of pot.

RR Vancouver 420 Big Joint

Add that to the fact that marijuana is likely to become an agent of addiction for young people. And others worry that it also becomes a portal for experimentation, with more powerful and even more potentially harmful, let alone addictive drugs. The documentary that Cynthia Banks has produced is called Reefer Riches, premiering on the new CBC series Firsthand today. The film serves as a thoughtful introspective look at a drug many consider harmless and which gives many others concern over its long-term effect on the vulnerable.

It seems inevitable that marijuana will become a legal drug in Canada, just as tobacco and spirits are. The government will take its cut of commercialization through taxes, and the proportion of the population, young and old, who use it will feel themselves well served. Only time will tell whether legalization has, in fact, been a positive social choice to advance lifestyle choices.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How Many Helpings?

"For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed."
"In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance."
Kurt Straif, MD, PhD, head, IARC Monographs Program

"IARC's [International Agency for Research on Cancer] panel was given the basic task of looking at hazards that meat could pose at some level, under circumstance, but was not asked to consider any off-setting benefits, like the nutrition that meat delivers or the implications of drastically reducing or removing meat from the diet altogether."
"Scientific evidence shows cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods and that a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle choices are essential to good health."
Barry Carpenter, president, North American Meat Institute


IARC, an agency of the World Health Organization reached the conclusion that "eating meat has known health benefits," but points out as well in a study published in the journal The Lancet that the cancer risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.The IARC also pointed out that high-temperature cooking methods (in direct contact with a flame) produce more carcinogenic compounds. Despite which, the group felt there were not enough data "to reach a conclusion about whether the way meat is cooked affects the risk of cancer."

The Lancet paper points out that red meat also contains "high biological-value proteins and important micronutrients such as B vitamins, iron and zinc." So don't abandon red meat entirely if you're not a vegetarian by conviction. Cancer research findings are notoriously questionable in that they seem difficult to test through reproduction. The American biotechnology company Amgen in 2012 found itself in the embarrassing position of being unable to reproduced 89 percent of its cancer research findings.


And an editorial published in The Lancet in August of this year made the suggestion that "much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue". In other words, intelligent conjecture based on difficult-to-assign proofs, resistant to settling the issues in question. The newly released WHO study on meat, processed meat and cancer undertaken by a 22-member global research team did not reach a unanimous decision.

"Experiments to test whether a food causes cancer poses a massive logistical challenge; they require controlling the diets of thousands of test subjects over a course of many years", observed The Washington Post, addressing the controversial issue. The British Medical Journal discovered that a third of the press releases relating to British university studies implied causation when the findings concluding the research demonstrated correlation only.

But we've all read the headlines resulting from those press releases. And they have cautioned us repeatedly not to overdo a diet heavy on processed meats, on red meats, on cooking meats over high temperatures (bacon in particular; high heat transforms chemicals used in their processing), and directly over flames as in barbecuing. Burned portions of barbecued red meat has been marked by implication in being a carcinogen. Conjecture, but reasonably so.

The thing of it is, we are required to use our common sense in evaluating the health and nutrition benefits of what we eat. Eating too much of anything tempts the gods of excess to wreak their sinister designs on the perfection of the human biological mechanism. If we mistreat our body organs they will falter and serve us ill, in turn. Our choices matter. They should be informed ones, and they should be logical ones; we know that excess of any kind is harmful, and to be avoided, for there are penalties to pay.

So, we should be aware, and many of us certainly are, and have been for an awfully long time, that occasional feeds of bacon, sausages and processed meats of the 'lunch' or 'deli' variety are to be taken frugally. The inference is made that they likely increase the risk of colorectal cancer. As does red meat; it has been pounded into our heads for long enough by nutritionists and other scientists that going heavy on a red meat diet has its consequences; not to be entirely avoided, but taken sparingly.

Three times a week doesn't sound too bad. And mind those portion sizes. "We are not saying people have to stop eating bacon, but they really should be conscious of how much they are eating. If you like bacon, try not to have three pieces. Have two, or save it for a special occasion", recommends Katie Wright, senior manager of research communications at the Canadian Cancer Society. The findings are of no surprise to Ms. Wright nor the Canadian Cancer Society, linking with the results of previous studies.

The World Health Organization had recommended the red meat and processed meat evaluation by the IARC "based on  epidemiological studies suggesting that small increases in the risk of several cancers may be associated with high consumption of red meat or processed meat. Although these risks are small, they could be important for public health because many people worldwide eat meat and meat consumption is increasing in low- and middle-income countries."

Null

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Leviathan II Tragedy

"This vessel has operated for 20 years with an absolutely perfect safety record. This is something just totally out of the blue. We just don't understand and we won't know the answers until the Transportation Safety Board finishes their investigations."
"On larger vessels [like Leviathan II] we're not required to have the passengers wear the life jackets. On smaller open boats they are."
Jamie Bray, owner, Jamie's Whaling Station, Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

"They must have got swamped by a huge wave and it flipped their boat completely. I don't think they had time to do anything."
"Whatever happened, happened so quick."
Alec Dick, first responder

"It wasn't even blowing hard. This is the largest boat in Tofino, and I was really surprised that it went down."
"They [rescuers] grabbed on to a body and while they were doing that another body popped up and surfaced in the water. They grabbed two and said they had a difficult time because their bodies were covered in diesel. There was three of them they [relatives] brought in."
Joe Martin, carver, Tal-o-qui-aht tribal member
Brian Hutchinson/National Post
Brian Hutchinson/National Post  Clarence Smith, from the Ahousaht First Nation, describes the rescue effort in Tofino
 
It was fishing boats from the nearby Ahousaht First Nation that first arrived near Plover Reefs, west of Vargas Island when the whale-watching boat Leviathan II, a 65-foot covered cruiser, suddenly capsized in a 30-foot depth, after four in the afternoon on Sunday afternoon. In total, 27 people were aboard the tour boat, including tourists and crew. Of that number 21 were rescued; five bodies were recovered and one person was missing.

At that point -- where sea lions are often seen, an attraction for tourists who take such tours in hopes of seeing wild sea creatures like orcas and grey whales -- an area called Sea Lion Rocks by locals, there was nothing, evidently, to warn anyone, crew or tourists, that they would shortly be in trouble. When the ship had left the harbour in Tofino the waters were glassy-calm. But past the tip of Vargas Island, swells are more common, with two-metre waves plowing onto the rocks, the sea lions undisturbed by it all.

The first sign that something was wrong was when two men [Clarence Smith and Kenny Brown] fishing in their small boat from the Ahousaht First Nation, suddenly saw a flare reach for the sky; a distress signal, but when they dialled their radio there was no emergency call. The two men turned their fishing boat toward Sea Lion Rocks, and soon screaming was audible from panicked people. They were incredulous to see the Leviathan II close to fully capsized, its bow above water.

Albert Titian/Facebook
Albert Titian/Facebook  The Leviathan II whale-watching boat capsized near Tofino, B.C., Sunday, with 27 people aboard. Five Britons died, and one person remains missing

And then they saw people in the water, some on liferafts, and they began the difficult task of trying to retrieve as many as they could from the frigid, choppy water, relieved to soon see other fishing boats arrive to offer their assistance in the calamity as well, hauling frightened and freezing people out of the sea, and bodies as well of those who had died. A traumatic experience for everyone, the tourists whose furthest thought would have been they would be in danger, the rescuers, and the boat owners.

Later, the BC Coroners Service verified that three of the dead had come to Canada as tourists; one person came from Ontario, and the other lived in British Columbia; four men and one woman died, between the ages of 18 and 76. The search had been called off late Sunday night, a statement from the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre revealed. With Mounties taking charge afterward, of the search for the missing passenger.

And the fisherfolk of the Ahousaht First Nation determined to give aid to the search launched by the RCMP, as is their custom. "They know these waters. They have a custom not to leave a body out at sea", said volunteer Robert Burridge.


THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito   Ahousaht First Nation boats patrol an area on Monday, Oct.26, 2015 where the whale-watching boat Leviathan II capsized near Tofino, B.C. Sunday afternoon.



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Monday, October 26, 2015

The Final Parting

"Jesus, what is it with these doctors? On the one hand they say the patient has the right to identify 'intolerable suffering' and on the other hand they say it is within the doctor's gift to decide what is 'grievous'."
"So are we to infer, then, that there could be intolerable but not grievous suffering, where the doctor is entitled not to act?"
"These colleges think that they're not simply God, but that they're an assembly of gods. They simply do not understand that in the eyes of the law, they're not gods, they're service providers."
Amir Attaran, professor of law, University of Ottawa, Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health and Global Development Policy

"[It is incorrect and] ethically unsustainable [for the colleges to state doctors are to decide what is in a mentally competent patient's best interests]. That is the role and the right of the patient."
"But I think we have to be very careful not to see slippage of some kind of judgement going into the assessment of grievous."
"If you say there is a higher standard with respect to consent -- meaning you have to be more rational, more reasonable than you do when making a decision about something that's not 'divisive' -- then fewer people are going to have access."
Jocelyn Downie, professor, faculties of law and medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax

"This is our first stab at this [draft advice to doctors]. In the consideration of whether you assist a patient to end his or her life, there has to be a balancing of these competing interests, and an understanding that, just because the patient wants it, in not every circumstance is that the right decision."
Dr. Trevor Theman, registrar, College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta 

"In some cases, the physician and patient will have a different understanding of whether PAD [physician assisted death] is in the patient's best interests. [Such situations may require] reconciliation through the courts."
"To be explicit: in some situations a physician may offer the opinion the patient does not suffer from a grievous and irremediable condition in which case physician-assisted death should not be offered."
Draft advice, The College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta
As the provinces wrestle with who decides when a patient is ready to depart this world, ethicists say the regulators are playing God.
Fotolia   As the provinces wrestle with who decides when a patient is ready to depart this world, ethicists say the regulators are playing God

The issue is end-of-life decision-making. The Supreme Court of Canada gave notice of the right of severely ill people facing end of life situations to hasten their deaths through their identification of "intolerable" suffering from which they wish to escape life, prematurely to what might be considered the natural process of reaching death. On the premise that who is better positioned to identify "intolerable suffering"; the very people hastening death by their decision to request the assistance to die, yet there is an onus to demonstrate such a decision is "reasoned".

While various provincial medical associations have made an effort to guide their medical membership, some experts in the field of ethics believe that in so doing, they are co-opting authorization from the patients themselves.  Saskatchewan feels that competent adults should be free to make their decisions about their body; "to the extent possible, all those who meet the criteria for physician-assisted dying and request it", should have unquestioned access.

Dr. Theman, college registrar for Alberta, agrees but equivocates; claiming the fundamental value of the Supreme Court ruling; patient autonomy -- still comes up and competes against a physician's professional duty to be aware and act in the patient's best interests; the two are sometimes at odds; patient autonomy and a doctor's duty, and a balancing act then results to adequately and fairly reflect both sides of the same issue.

The Province of Quebec comes up hard against the Alberta interpretation respecting who is to determine whether assisted death is in an individual's "best interests". Quebec's position is that suffering is the fundamental relating to the patient's perception. While Manitoba would like to institute a regimen whereby a psychiatric assessment would be mandatory of anyone seeking assisted death whose condition is not terminal.

Looming close on the horizon in Canada is the legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia law, and with doctors concerned at the impact this will have on their profession and their new and in many instances,  unwanted [some go so far as to claim unwarranted] obligations, the medical colleges have stepped in to provide guidelines. The result of which may be a mixed bag, depending on where anyone lives, with one province providing access at the patient's determination, others requiring specific affirming tests.

The Criminal Code ban on doctor-assisted death is set to expire in Canada on February 6, 2016. The provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have proposed policies relating to the issue, and are looking for useful responses. Ontario is in the preparation mode on interim advice to Ontario doctors. Quebec, on the other hand, has produced a precise euthanasia guide, a step-by-step instruction manual on administering life-ending injections reflecting the gravity of the end result.


Bringing this new ruling into law will not result in legislation favoured by most Canadian doctors who have no wish to be complicit in ending life when their profession gears them toward prolonging life. Even when they are guided toward a gently compassionate ethos reminding them of the links between life and death, the vitality and hope in the former, the inevitability of the latter. It is the suffering and pain and fear that people undergo and wish to terminate that leads society to this kind of intervention.

Where, according to the Quebec-sourced instructions, doctors are urged to perform euthanasia within a "peaceful and appropriate" setting, having turned off intrusively disturbing pagers and cellphones, informing colleagues they will be temporarily unavailable, their intention being to remain with the patient as a comfort and partner in the solemnity of life's end, until death do them part.

Brittany Maynard with her dog Charley in San Francisco. Maynard, a 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer, has died, advocacy group Compassion and Choices said in a Facebook post on Sunday. Click through to see more photos of Maynard's life. Brittany Maynard with her dog Charley in San Francisco. Maynard, a 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer, has died, advocacy group Compassion and Choices said in a Facebook post on Sunday -- CNN November 2014

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Born To Farm

'We never talked about our incident and these things do happen. Grain is dangerous ... Things turn dirty and real nasty in an awful hurry before you even know what's happening."
"Had I said that back then, when I had a chance, [spoken publicly to warn other farming families] who knows?"
Barry Becker, Burstall, Saskatchewan

Dennis Becker and Layne Langridge
Dennis Becker, left, and his grandson Layne Langridge, right, are shown in family handout photos. Becker and Langridge both died on the family's farm near Burstall, Sask., on Aug. 31, 2015. 

"Having had a long career off the farm and returned to it, Dad is a little intimidated by the speed with which they fill grain trucks now. The equipment has changed and gotten bigger, because farming is a business. But rural culture encourages children to hang around when the work is being done. Because farming is not just a business."
"I chatted a bit with my father, who is back on our family's Saskatchewan homestead tending cattle and shooting gophers in retirement ... He observed that a child wouldn't have had to worry about being suffocated in grain by the augers of his  younger days. [Mainly those kids would be warned to keep their fragile extremities away from the auger, as the farm kids I went to school with incessantly had to be.]"
Colby Cosh, "Against the Family Farm", National Post


"Our kids died living life on the farm. It is a family farm. We do not regret raising and involving our kids Catie, aged 13, Dara, aged 11 and Jana, aged 11, on our farm. It was our life."
"Thank you for all the overwhelming support we have received from all of the first responders, neighbours and friends. We would ask media to respect our privacy at this time of grief."
Roger and Bonita Bott, Alberta

It is beyond difficult to believe that farming communities, the very farming families who grow great fields of grain in Canada's Prairie Provinces are not completely familiar with all of the dangers inherent in farm living, and most particularly the dangers that farm living poses for children. All the more so when people far removed from farms, living in urban centres, are sometimes aware of those dangers, and primarily because of tragic news stories that relate them.

From tractors overturning and trapping farmers, to noxious gases from grains going through the process of fermentation in silos, asphyxiating farm workers, and the occasions when farmers, workers and children lose digits and limbs getting disastrously caught in the mechanical devices designed to make farm work more efficient, there is danger lurking in the primary industry of farming. So the first lessons children should be exposed to is to be alert, have a care, avoid exposure to danger.

The Becker family of Saskatchewan lost two of its members in an inter-generational tragedy that took place on grandfather Dennis Becker's farm when the 63-year-old man attempted to free his 14-year-old grandson Layne Langridge who had fallen into a hopper and sunk into a semi-trailer filling with grain. Southwestern Saskatchewan mourned two deaths; one a seasoned farmer, the second his grandson, familiar with farm labour.

Is it that familiarity and love of agricultural output breeds carelessness? A sense of over-confidence? The boy's father attempted to open a slide gate under the truck, to rescue both his son and his father. But both son and father had become victims, their life-breath swallowed by spilling grain sucking them into the truck interior and filling their every orifice until they could breathe no longer.

And a week ago yet another tragedy of dreadful proportions, when an Alberta farming family lost three of their four young children in a very similar accident. When 13-year-old Catriona, and her 11-year-old twin sisters Dara and Jana, playing in a transport truck loaded with canola seeds on their family farm near Withrow, Alberta, drowned in the seeds, asphyxiating to death before anyone noticed what was happening.


Parents Roger and Bonita Bott sit with their children Caleb, 9, Catie, 13, Jana, 11 and Dara, 11.
Parents Roger and Bonita Bott sit with their children Caleb, 9, Catie, 13, Jana, 11 and Dara, 11.


The girls' funeral took place a week later, with thousands of people attending, at the Red Deer CrossRoads Church. It wasn't called a funeral. It was termed a life celebration, an opportunity for extended family to come together with their neighbours and supporters, to speak in one voice of their shared grief. Where other young girls, cousins of those who had died, memorialized the dead girls in stories about who and what they were and cared about.

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Take Your Pick: Heart/Stroke or Cancer

"Our study shows that ramipril provides no significant benefit to high-risk kidney transplant patients. We expect that this will change medical practice around the world and spare patients from taking unnecessary and potentially harmful medication."
"These studies will save lives, improve quality of life, and save the health-care system money."
Dean Fergusson, senior researcher, The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute/University of Ottawa

"We've made great strides in kidney transplants. More than 95 percent of transplants work after a year. ... But we have been less effective at improving long-term survival of the transplant patient."
"We've always seen this slow attrition of kidneys that fail for a variety of reasons. That was my interest. How can we improve things so we're not losing kidney transplant function down the road and patients having to go back on dialysis?"
"That's a major change in their quality of life and, in fact, in their survival."
Greg Knoll, lead co-researcher in drug tests, The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

About 20,000 kidney transplants are done in Canada on an annual basis, five times that number performed in the United States, and "thousands and thousands more around the world", according to Dr. Knoll, who along with his colleague, Dr. Fergusson, both are authors of a study on the effectiveness of certain drugs in transplants, which was published in The Lancet, and Diabetes & Endocrinology, this week.

They were studying the drug ramipril. This is a drug used with success for over two decades, meant to slow the progression of kidney disease and to lower blood pressure of patients at risk of kidney failure. The assumption was made by health professionals that if the drug is useful for non-transplant patients, then it must by inference be seen as a dug that would help transplant patients.

The two researchers were concerned over kidney transplant outcomes. Acknowledging that the transplants make great strides in improving the quality of life for people in kidney failure, the need to take various pills daily to ensure the transplanted kidney will function as it should, and prevent any complications, presented additional problems. The two researchers, through a series of three new studies demonstrated that the drugs' outcomes do not produce the successes they were assumed to be useful for.

In fact, the reverse appears to occur. There are serious side-effects. Of course, there are side-effects whenever drugs are taken; these are potentials for ongoing problems. The side-effects can be minor and they can be major, and not everyone responds the same way to medications. But the doctors showed that some of those side-effects are serious enough to increase risk of death. The series of drug studies were funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Dr. Knoll is a kidney transplant specialist. In explaining what motivated them to study the impact of these commonly used drugs, he pointed out that about 80 percent of kidney transplants remain functional by their fifth year; heaving 20 percent that do not. Over the course of the study the two researchers discovered no difference in several key markers of kidney health between those who received the drug ramipril as compared with those who took a placebo.

 "Patients who received ramipril were more likely to experience side-effects, such as low blood counts [anemia], which can contribute to transplant failure and death", explained Dr. Knoll. And of the outcome of yet another study: "We showed, in fact, that this drug was not very effective" in preventing infection in transplant patients, he commented speaking of yet another drug called levofloxacin, often used to prevent infections from a virus related to kidney transplants.

Then another study published in the British Medical Journal  and funded by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, looked at a drug known as sirolimus, used to suppress the immune system, to prevent transplant rejection. Immune-suppressing drugs can also elevate the risk of cancer onset. Widely thought that sirolimus, on the market for 15 years, did not do this, the drug was commonly prescribed to transplant patients who already had a higher risk of cancer.

After a large-scale analysis of sirolimus used with about six thousand kidney transplants around the world, the two researchers concluded, while the drug does lower the risk of cancer, "patients who took the drug were 43 percent more likely to die overall" from heart attacks, strokes and infections. “It’s quite astounding that in the last year, we’ve found that three drugs commonly used in kidney transplant patients either don’t work at all, or don’t work nearly as well as we thought. This shows how essential it is to conduct rigorous research to evaluate drug treatments.”

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Putting On A Christmas Face

"It's news you don't even know how to grasp. When you know the inevitable, you have to make the best of every day."
"It means waking up every day and putting on a happy face; we're bound and determined to not let it take away the joy and fun we have until the end."
"Cancer is a monster and I can't just leave it up to chance that he'll have one last Christmas and that he'll be in a state to enjoy it."
"We wanted to give him a little bit more of the atmosphere of Christmas."
"It's been quite the emotional roller-coaster. It's a huge response to a simple wish. It really is a Christmas miracle."
Nicole Wellwood, St.George, Ontario
Evan Leversage
Nicole Wellwood holds her son, Evan Leversage, in this photo posted to her Facebook page on May 27, 2015.

Nicole's son Evan Leversage is seven years old. Unlike most little boys his age he tires easily these days. But these are the days that are left to him. His mother, in speaking of miracles, wishes she could choose the miracle she really wants, but she has to settle for minor miracles. It's miraculous enough if what is being planned will make Evan happy. He had a happy-list, and most of it was fulfilled. Whatever made Even happy made his family happy.

His brothers Logan, 9, and Tyson, 5, are involved with their mother in seeing to it that their brother has some good experiences. Everyone imagines he's had more than enough of the other kind. Before Evan was even two years old, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, so he knows what chemotherapy and radiation treatment are like. He also knows what it's like to go to school, and he much prefers that, though he's had but two years of it.

Back then, when he was going to school, it's likely that no one thought he would soon have to leave school, for good. But that's what happened when the tumour returned with a vengeance. Hard to imagine how anything could have a vengeance against a seven-year-old child, but that's the thing about cancer, it's heartless, makes no compromises, barges into a life turning it inside out and upside down and then, sometimes, leaves with the life on a journey to death.

Seven-year old Evan Leversage, who is battling cancer, at his home with his mother, Nicole Wellwood in St. George, Ont., on Oct. 21, 2015.
Peter Power for National Post   Seven-year old Evan Leversage, who is battling cancer, at his home with his mother, Nicole Wellwood in St. George, Ont., on Oct. 21, 2015.

And this is what is happening with Evan. When he began Grade 2 he had two weeks of classes and then his right arm and leg weren't responding as they should, a signal that the tumour had reappeared, grown, and spread, and the doctors had nothing left to offer. Evan's wishes? He wanted to see Niagara Falls, to eat at Chuck E.Cheese, to see the new film Hotel Transylvania 2, to be a policeman, and to have the pleasure of a wonderful family Christmas.

All that's left is the Christmas; the family had gone to Niagara Falls for the weekend and Evan saw the movie with a friend. The local police force arranged to make Evan an honorary officer and would provide him with a pint-size uniform. And his mother organized a big family Christmas dinner with extended family and friends in attendance at their house decorated for Christmas Eve.

Christmas in St. George
A home is shown decorated with Christmas lights in this cover image promoting a campaign for a terminally ill boy in St. George, Ont. (Facebook / Christmas in St. George)

Even their neighbours decorated their places for Christmas as well, putting up lights so that when Evan looked out the windows of his house he'd see the bright colours. Nicole's cousin distributed flyers in the neighbourhood and it wasn't long before others got involved, local businesses as well as private homes all decorating for Christmas in October. And then the flyer was posted on Facebook and it was noticed beyond the country's borders.

Signs wishing Evan a Merry Christmas have been put up in the downtown core of the village. And cards and messages and gifts and photographs of houses lit up with Christmas lights have arrived from around the world. Evan has given all of this some thought. He's quite aware that Christmas doesn't arrive until late December. And wonders why people who don't know him bring him gifts.

He asked his mother why that is. "I told him, 'Because  you have a whole town that loves you'," his mother responded. "This is how I want to remember him -- happy and excited", she said.

Peter Power for National Post
Peter Power for National Post    Seven-year old Evan Leversage, who is battling cancer, looks at the family Christmas tree with his mother, Nicole Wellwood in St. George, Ont., on Oct. 21, 2015.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Primate Slave Labour

"As his parents were coconut farmers, Somporn experienced the traditional use of monkeys for the harvest of coconuts. These monkeys were often beaten by their owners when they didn't perform as expected."
"This gave him the idea to teach monkeys in a better way. His Buddhist teacher encouraged him to teach monkeys positively, without the use of force or violence."
Monkey Training School, Surat, Thani, Thailand
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"What I find most distressing is that they take them from [the] wild, keep them tethered and keep them that way their whole life."
"Monkeys should stay in the wild."
Marji Beach, education director, Animal Place farm sanctuary, California

"[Monkeys are] strong, enjoy climbing, are not afraid of heights, do not complain, do not call for higher wages ... and are not corrupt. They do not require social security and accident insurance."
"Monkeys are therefore considered a 'living machine' that is very valuable for coconut farmers."
Monkey training school, Bangkok
"Instead of living fulfilling, autonomous lives in deference to their natural instincts and will -- lives that would include social interaction with others of their kind, mating, raising young, moving about freely and resting whenever they choose -- these monkeys spend their lives in endless toil and forced obedience to the will of humans."
All American Vegan website
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Monkeys are undeniably agile and intelligent, so intelligent that they can communicate in a meaningful way with humans when patiently taught symbolic languages and the manner in which their preferences can be understood by humans. In the monkey training schools in Thailand, however, monkeys are taught to harvest coconuts, they are not asked if they are satisfied to be of service to human taskmasters.

Monkeys have proven to be outstandingly competent as pickers. Their skills -- taught to them from a young age in the interests of coconut farms and their historical trade utilizing maximum capacities of these hugely adaptable creatures comfortable living in trees and negotiating their way around them to pluck the fruits that humans value -- represent a bonus for their owners.

Male macaque monkeys are capable of harvesting approximately1,600 coconuts daily. Females are able to harvest a still-considerable 600 coconuts each day. The female monkeys are not as outstandingly oriented to gathering huge numbers of coconut on a daily basis, but compared to the ability of humans to harvest 80 at most each day, even their haul is far advanced of human labour.

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"It would be difficult to find a coconut produce made in Thailand that wasn't picked by a monkey", remarked Arjen Schroevers of the Monkey Training school in Surat Thani,. The school was founded in 1957; its founder, Somporn Saekhow, developed a relationship with his worker monkeys unlike most others, treating them gently: "Do it quickly son, and when we finish this, you can go home", he would say of the need to be kind.

"The monkeys are innocent. If we beat them, it's a sin", he explained. How gently? Well, not without a leash that remains a permanent fixture, ensuring that the clever macaques never take it into their heads to simply leave the slave labour to which they have been introduced and remain captive to. The pig-tailed macaques are viewed as indispensable to Thailand coconut producers.

The industry of the monkeys are the fulcrum upon which the industry of coconut farming is predicated. Their labour is dependable and produced on demand to the satisfaction of their owners. The once-wild animals, once caught at a young age and exposed to the rigours of slavery with its unending expectations have no purpose in life of their own volition, but to obey the demand that they fulfill the human will to gather coconuts to earn their keep.

It isn't just people in the West who find it distasteful that monkeys are kept as slave labour with little quality to their lives other than for their capacity to cleverly gather consumer items, but Thais themselves who have no idea how the coconut availability they take for granted comes at a cost to the dignity and freedom of other animal species.

"We were shocked as we’d always imagined the coconuts were picked by men. These monkeys were made to work such long hours, tethered cruelly by a rope." 
"We used to love coconuts – but seeing this has made us realize that the demand has sparked a cruel trade. The monkeys looked sad and tired", remarked one Thai tourist coming across a coconut farm for the first time.

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Even if the Monkey Training schools claim they practise showing the macaques kindness and never punishing them for mistakes, the animals are not free, ever. The monkeys are taught how to disentangle themselves from ropes and how to select ripe fruit. Some are taught to collect grounded coconuts and to place them into sacks; saving their owner from back-breaking labour, their only reward the food required to sustain them.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Drowning In A Swamp of Self-Pity

"It was like the last thing she could take from me and she took it. I couldn't believe it [estranged wife changed home locks]. You want a war, you'll get one."
"I'm feeling sad [describing his mental state in February 2009]. I sit in the living room with them [Olivier 5, Anne-Sophie 3], and the tears just flow, in silence ... I cry."
"He [Olivier] comes over, gives me a hug and takes me in his arms ... Anne-Sophie does the same thing."
"A sledgehammer to the forehead wouldn't have hurt as much. Then I realize I am absent, that I am no longer there. That Martin [wife's boyfriend] is taking my place. I hang up and I start bawling, I'm bawling ... I'm losing my place in my kids' family life."
"I can't believe it. I am shattered."
Dr. Guy Turcotte, Quebec cardiologist, Saint-Jerome, Quebec
Guy Turcotte leaves the Saint Jerome courthouse in Saint Jerome, Que., Monday, September 14, 2015, where jury selection began in his re-trial in the deaths of his children Anne-Sophie and and Olivier in 2009. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Guy Turcotte leaves the Saint Jerome courthouse in Saint Jerome, Que., Monday, September 14, 2015, where jury selection began in his re-trial in the deaths of his children Anne-Sophie and and Olivier in 2009.
(Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
"Condemning a person who is not criminally responsible would shake the legal foundations and strike a blow to the integrity of the judicial system."
"It would be horrible to be condemned for acts that are not the acts of a person of sound mind."
Pierre Poupart, lawyer for the defence, Montreal

"I told him ‘Guy, don’t take it the wrong way or get mad, but I had the locks changed. He started yelling … 'You want war? I’ll give you war!’"
"I never thought he could kill them. It was a difficult year [of skirmishes, harsh words and strife, in 2009]."
"He did not hit me, but there was verbal and psychological violence. I was also verbally abusive. It was like a spiral. We had a toxic dynamic."
"You never think before losing your kids that you’ll survive it. That day [of her children's murder] I thought I was going to hang myself."
Isabelle Gaston, courtroom testimony
Isabelle Gaston, ex-wife of Guy Turcotte, arrives to testify at the courthouse in Saint Jerome, Que., on Monday. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Isabelle Gaston, ex-wife of Guy Turcotte, arrives to testify at the courthouse in Saint Jerome, Que., on Monday.
(Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

In testifying at his murder trial, the second trial in which he stands accused of first-degree murder in the killing of his two young children, this man reveals the depths of his forlorn realization that the life he so valued is moving beyond his reach; the little family of wife and two young children that meant the world to him hadirreversibly shattered, and his psyche shattered with that understanding.

Paternal love should be capable of overcoming the obstacles of enforced separation. What is more common in today's world of the sundering of the marriage compact than children spending time with both parents, separately, and the parents adjusting to their new reality. Not necessarily appreciating the change in their lives, the complications and the personal pain, but dealing with it.

The marriage was unstable from 2001 forward, with husband and wife reconciling before the birth of the children. Isabelle Gaston, an emergency-room physician, spoke of her fears of physical abuse, of becoming sick and tired of being controlled in her marriage. But by early 2009 the couple engaged in continual arguments, leading to their permanent separation period. 

It is not as though this man came from an underprivileged background, suffering from uncivilized reactions of savage revenge appearing appropriate to avenge himself on a wife who no longer loved him, deciding to separate, and finally to begin divorce proceedings because she realized she loved someone else. Most fathers continue to be important anchors in their children's futures, despite separation from their daily lives.

Wallowing in a cesspool of self-pity for his loss, overwhelmed by the finality of his wife's declared decision to seek a divorce, he collapsed in a heap of quivering resentment. Resenting that another man was paramount in his wife's life, that another man would be acting in his stead as head of that little family. And in a paroxysm of malice, intending to deprive his wife of what she denied him, murdered the children.

His wife informed him that she had consulted a lawyer. She had changed the locks on the doors of the family home which she and the children still inhabited. She feared his unannounced incursions; he had previously confronted his rival and assaulted him, in the house. And he had discovered that his wife had taken a trip to Quebec City for winter carnival with her lover, Martin Huot, taking the children with them. In a jealous rage the father described his pain.

The children, witnessing their father in a turmoil of weeping, moved to comfort him. It was that afternoon that he prepared to entertain the two children, stopping to rent films, to buy chips, picking them up and preparing dinner for the children while they watched a video. The 43-year-old Turcotte has pleaded not guilty to the two murder charges he was charged with, even while admitting he caused those stabbing deaths.

This is his second trial. A jury at the conclusion of the first trial found him not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. He was pretty well free to get on with his life. Until on appeal it was decided that the judge in the first trial had erred, and a new trial was ordered. His lawyer helped this man appeal to the Supreme Court to stop the proceedings toward a new trial, but they refused to hear his case.

Before this pitifully loving father of two small defenceless children, vulnerable in their father's care decided to deprive them of life and their mother of her children, a meeting had been arranged with a mediator to work out custody arrangements. "We never met, the children were dead", his wife commented, leaving the courthouse, as the trial convened for the day. 
Oliver and Anne-Sophie Turcotte
Guy Turcotte's children Oliver and Anne-Sophie are seen in this file photo. (Supplied Photo)

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What's At Stake

"I was driving 70 mph on the edge of downtown St. Louis when the exploit began to take hold. Though I hadn’t touched the dashboard, the vents in the Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting, chilling the sweat on my back through the in-seat climate control system. Next the radio switched to the local hip hop station and began blaring Skee-lo at full volume. I spun the control knob left and hit the power button, to no avail. Then the windshield wipers turned on, and wiper fluid blurred the glass."
"As I tried to cope with all this, a picture of the two hackers performing these stunts appeared on the car’s digital display: Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, wearing their trademark track suits. A nice touch, I thought."
"The Jeep’s strange behavior wasn’t entirely unexpected. I’d come to St. Louis to be Miller and Valasek’s digital crash-test dummy, a willing subject on whom they could test the car-hacking research they’d been doing over the past year. The result of their work was a hacking technique—what the security industry calls a zero-day exploit—that can target Jeep Cherokees and give the attacker wireless control, via the Internet, to any of thousands of vehicles. Their code is an automaker’s nightmare: software that lets hackers send commands through the Jeep’s entertainment system to its dashboard functions, steering, brakes, and transmission, all from a laptop that may be across the country."
Andy Greenberg, Wired magazine, July 21, 2015 
Charlie Miller (left) and Chris Valasek hacking into a Jeep Cherokee from Miller's basement as I drove the SUV on a highway ten miles away.

"The focus of car manufacturers remains selling as many high-margin, connected-car options packages as possible, and not necessarily in keeping the bad guys out."
"The time for governments to step in and tighten the rules in the interest of safety is long overdue.
The electronics revolution in your car isn't just limited to the big navigation screen in the middle of the dash. Virtually every system in the average modern car has been touched in one way or another by technology in recent years, and anything electronic is potentially hackable."
"The throttle, for example, which used to be a cable connected to a mechanical system, has largely been replaced by an electronic throttle that completely severs the physical connection between the gas pedal and the engine."
Carmi Levy, technology analyst, London, Ontario

"We're working to keep pace with the dynamic nature of cyber threats by incorporating security by design, developing internal expertise, and cultivating procedural and operational partnerships with organizations specializing in cyber defence."
Wade Newton, spokesman, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Washington, D.C.

"[The accident that killed gonzo journalist Michael Hastings in Los Angeles that was featured on 60 Minutes was] consistent with a car cyber attack."
"You can do some really highly destructive things now, through hacking a car, and it’s not that hard. So if there were a cyber attack on the car—and I’m not saying there was—I think whoever did it would probably get away with it."
Richard Clarke, counterterrorism adviser to Clinton and G.W. Bush administrations  
The wreckage of the car crash that killed journalist Michael Hastings.
The wreckage of the car crash that killed journalist Michael Hastings.

From metaphorically 'killing' the computer controls on a jeep, as described in July's Wired magazine, to a hacker dialing in to the computer system of a journalist's vehicle to put the vehicle out of commission and the man driving it permanently out of commission, the vulnerability of vehicles and their drivers to the malicious attacks possible when those with terrorist intentions hack, threatening the safety of motorists at large, has become a growing concern to governments.

The Canadian Defence Department's research arm has undertaken a study into the vulnerability of vehicles to the possibility of remote hacking, given the few incidents where it has been demonstrated that interference of this kind dangerously threatens people from cyber-intrusions as a potential menace as yet little appreciated. Government intervention in the matter is required, according to one technology expert, since the automobile industry is lagging in its concern for secure vehicles.

These are vehicles being sold with advanced computer packages glowingly advertised as selling points in persuading the driving public that they incorporate not only convenience but safety features enhanced by the latest technologies. Manufacturers think of their products as "rolling smart phones", and encourage the buying public to value them for their multiple gimmickry. With built-in connectivity through computers and Internet connections guaranteed, what could go wrong?

The D.C.-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers claims it is preparing to advance an information-sharing hub and have it in operation by the end of 2015, enabling auto-industry companies to exchange details relating to emerging threats and real-time countermeasures. The suite of computer systems built into vehicles, stresses the industry, has aided in making vehicles more driver-safe, cleaner to operate, harder to steal.

And though the word has gone out about the potential vulnerability of the computer systems to hacking, the industry points out that no documented, real-world instances of moving vehicle hacking has been presented, as yet. Which disregards the reality that the on-board Internet-connectivity is a portal, yet one which can be opened only by those with heavy experience at hacking. Should someone with malice aforethought succeed in manipulating a vehicle's steering and braking, a worst-case scenario could occur.

When American cyber-security researchers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek hacked into a Jeep Cherokee's entertainment system, then ventured to the radio, air-conditioning and windshield wipers, they expanded their operation by cutting the transmission and its brakes in a convincing demonstration of just how effective their skills were in dismantling the safety features of industry that encourages motorists to believe that the skillful driver had full command of his vehicle.

Fiat Chrysler was moved as a result of that convincing and controlled experiment to recall 1.4 million vehicles to hurriedly patch up the vulnerable areas. Defence Research and Development Canada has put a tender out on a government procurement website looking for a consultant capable of studying the vulnerability of vehicles, and measures that can be taken to mitigate the pending problem before it becomes a living nightmare.

Their document states, of the modern vehicles which incorporate up to 200 computers, that "the hacking community has demonstrated many times the possibility to compromise the cyber security of cars" and that cyberattacks on cars represent "a more important concern [than that of information- and money-theft through computer hacking] since the safety of their users or the other users on the road might be at stake".


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