This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Intra-Sectarian Peace?

One guesses there comes a time when even the most rabid insurrectionist has had his fill of savagery. So here is Muqtada al-Sadr washing his hands of his out-of-control militia's hand in the latest scene of carnage that took the lives of 52 Muslims and injured 300 others. It was his Mahdi militia in battle against their rivals - both incidentally Shia.

Oops. Not enough that Sunni battle, brutalize and murder Shia and vice versa, but we also see Sunnis battling Sunni, and Shia fighting Shia. How very instructive about the pacifying effects of a peace-loving religion. No, it isn't Islam, it's the various allegiances and interpretations seen as blasphemous in nature and just deadly unacceptable. Discourse, anyone?

And like all families that don't always get along, there are differences in opinion. Just that Muslims appear to gravitate toward the unorthodoxy of murder more frequently than do others; unorthodox since there aren't many religions that officially subscribe to murder as a handy device through which to solve inter-denominational differences. In this modern age.

It's the excitable nature of the beast. Something about the air and ancient grievances incapable of nicely dissolving into the past. Aided and abetted by self-serving Ayatollahs, Imams, Mullahs, and imperiously reigning monarchs and brutally demagogic dictators too, one supposes. Which should lead us to believe that all is well with the world, since such matters are in such capable hands.

It's been said that the carnage hit the proverbial fan when pilgrims left Karbala in fear for their lives, interrupting a sacred yearly pilgrimage. And let's face it, bombing mosques and the faithful is simply not a nice way to go about settling multifactional disagreements. Imam al-Sadr agrees, having ordered his army to suspend all 'activities'. Paving the way for the pilgrims to resume their sacred duty.

And lending him the opportunity to attempt to cleanse his organization of those he claims have infiltrated as rogue elements, immune to his charges, respecting nothing, it would seem, but their nihilistic aims. Of course it is both the Mahdi and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council's militias preparing to gain ascendancy in Basra.

Soon as that vacuum has been created by the pull-out of British troops, that is. To secure for themselves the oil riches from those wonderful fossilized deposits that have so enriched the area. It's even possible that in their zest for oil and war the two opposing Shia entities may deliver to the region a searing wind of war the like of which has not yet been seen in Iraq.

As though the current rate of murder and atrocities haven't been enough to persuade the world that severe dysfunction exists in the potential for human relations in this part of the world.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lapsed Civility

There can be serious, long-lasting consequences to an acceptance of lack of civility as a normal way in which a society goes about its business. A lapse in civility can fairly swiftly lead to degraded values altogether. Which leads invariably to something else, such as a lapse in moral values. One collapse leads inevitably, it would seem, to another.

And that's truly a pity. Since a civil society is much easier to take and to appreciate than one that lacks civility. Something as simple as politeness. As concern, even on a superficial level, for others. We do live, after all, in communities. Smaller communities placed within larger, extended ones.

And each community has its own defined, distinct character. People inhabiting their small communities get along well together when they observe civil behaviour. Something as ordinary as acknowledging the presence of another human being. A nod, a smile, a brief greeting. It's enough to make anyone feel part of a civil order.

Stare straight ahead, fail to offer to open a door, or to express appreciation for someone who did that for you, and you're uncivil. Refuse to acknowledge someone's presence. Light up a cigarette in an enclosed bus stop. Don't bother offering to help someone who obviously could use some. Have pesticides sprayed on your lawn so the chemical can drift into your neighbour's house.

Good anti-social formulas for disassociation and lack of social responsiveness. All of them. So if you choose not to know your neighbour on the most superficial of levels, you don't owe them anything. You owe nothing to anyone; not your neighbour, your neighbour's children, your neighbourhood.

Small acts of defiance, of dislike at the presence of people who live adjacent where you do, because you choose not to become involved, seem all right. Young people, because they have no 'connection', following the example of their parents, see nothing wrong in destroying public property; see no connection in their act and the diminishment of public trust.

No respect for other people translates to dislike for others. Dislike can be quickly transformed to resentment and aggression. With no constraints of civil discourse and responsibility there is no emotional investment, no sense of personal responsibility. Infringing on the rights of others is simply translated as assertively protecting your own rights.

Driving too fast, imperilling others is one indication. Not far from that to driving aggressively, to exhibiting real loss of control with what is considered to be public rage. And inflicting real physical damage on others. Don't like the thumping of loud music? Don't complain, you might get your windows smashed.

Lax attitudes toward once mandatory societal norms of civility has led through the intervention of cultural liberalism, to the degradation of normal modes of civility.

When children, for example, are no longer taught to address their elderly neighbours by their properly respectful surnames, but given permission instead to address them by first name, it's a loss of civility that grows with them.

Casual is fine, but it should be mutually agreed upon, and there is a right time for expressing it and a decidedly wrong time. A receptionist in a medical professional office takes the short step of addressing a client by first name, without invitation to do so. Elementary school children addressing a teacher by first name. Wrong, wrong.

Basic respect is lacking, and with it the opportunity to learn reciprocally respectful interchange between people. It's nice to feel free and relaxed, without restraints imposed by a Victorian mind-set, but moderation is the key to success in all things, and relaxation of social mores should take place when it's appropriate.

Otherwise we end up with distrustful individuals who don't know how to interact respectfully with others. Society becomes disorderly, vandalism occurs, and everyone loses.


Monday, August 27, 2007

The Glory That Was Greece

What would the ancient Greek philosophers think of their modern counterparts, could they but look down from the heavenly Olympus and see what has befallen their ancient country, one wonders. Would they muse on the quality of moral values that they were so fond of expounding upon?

Would they laugh in derision or truly grieve at the seeming collapse of judgement and choices, the utter moral chaos that appears to have overtaken a people who were taught the beneficence and great utility of living by the Golden Rule?

The Athenians and the Spartans who held no great love for one another's great city states, their quite different but still similar values, no longer seeming to be upheld as a standard for living life to its greatest opportunities, would themselves surely have despaired and joined forces, could they but do so, to turn the tide of moral decline back to its true path.

Greek art and architecture, as well as its moral teachings informed the world and shone the light of reason and beauty for the rest of the world, both ancient and modern, to admire and attempt to emulate. Yet here is a country so suddenly beset by a chaotic, deadly drama by which nature and environment have been embroiled in a scheme to aid pecuniary interests of a few, happy enough to sacrifice the lives and properties of innocents.

Entire villages have been emptied of their residents. Forests, crops and livestock are consumed by countless fires, many of which have been deliberately set by arsonists. Arson in the name of clearing the way to provide the spaces required for the building of uncontracted-for and un-permitted tract housing whose developers are so anxious to pave the way into creation that they have imperilled the country.

From Olympia to the Temple of Athena, fire is raging, sweeping through the Peloponnese peninsula. Athens is covered in ashes, a fitting mode of grief for a bereaved city and a grieving country, in near memory of mothers and children burned to ashes, of desperate people attempting desperately to flee the deadly flames flaring their homes, only to have the fires catch and consume them in their vehicles.

All is in disarray. The politicians look to blame their adversaries. The people blame the inaction of their politicians to have taken a lead much earlier when the first sporadic, yet deadly fires were set. This is yet another kind of home-bred terror visited upon people, on civilizations which appear to have forgotten or perhaps temporarily set aside the values handed down to them from their honoured forbears.

Is this truly what we've been reduced to? That we are willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the opportunity to make greater amounts of profit available to prospectors? Nothing, it would seem, is sacred any longer. Not honour, not humanitarian concerns, not balance in pride of ownership and public responsibility.

Zeus would not approve, nor would the panoply of the Greek gods looking down from above. As poorly as were many of their own choices in instructing their human wards, one doubts they would take ownership of the crass materialism and lack of concern for others that now appear rampant everywhere.

Like God and gods everywhere, they sought to instruct. But as with all human constructs, our gods are only as vital and necessary, as humanely understanding and deliberate as the human creatures that created them.

Failures, all.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

One Dose of Reality Too Much

It's nothing if not fascinating to read recently-revealed doubts hosted by none other than Mother Teresa, about the presence of a Holy Spirit, a guiding light leading humankind to the salvation of recognition and a higher modality in the spirit of life. "How painful is this unknown pain - I have no Faith", she wrote in one of her many letters expressing her anguished doubt.

Her outer demeanor was one of positive serenity, and her actions in the slums of India, caring for the truly lost and neglected, the flotsam of humanity, was testament to her selflessness as a human being. Everyone assumed she was inspired by God, by a vision brought down to her through His intervention, drawing her to her life-time of work on behalf of the indigent and the ill, the homeless and the lunatic.

Well, she was initially inspired by God, by a vision, by a holy demand which she took immediate steps to meet. But somewhere along the way the vision dimmed and her trust was shattered. One might imagine that she, as an Albanian woman living in Macedonia, would have had reason to doubt long before her immersion in her life work in India.

To witness the acerbic suspicion, hatred, vulgarity of expression and demeanor; the reasonless brutality that was manifest between resident Serbs, Macedonians, Albanians must surely have given her pause. To have knowledge of the restive relations, often expressed in the most surly, ungovernably-violent ways between Christians and Muslims must surely have troubled her.

But it was in India, in the clasp of its endemic poverty, among the lost of the earth, the dross of an ancient and fabled civilization, where she experienced her epiphany of loss, when she discovered not a vision but a total collapse of faith. Who could blame her? This woman worked assiduously, tirelessly, sometimes with ill grace, but always with purpose, toward alleviating the plight of the ill, the downtrodden, the homeless, the starving.

Although the Roman Catholic Church is in the speedy process of delivering her into sainthood in an expression of appreciation of her devotion, the truth appeared to be that her devotion was to the plight of the needy - of her own tender volition - not to the Church. Yet the very fact that she struggled so bitterly with her loss of faith, is, in the end, a tribute to her.

For the very fact that she was motivated not through faith and her belief in the Almighty and His direction of her life, but rather because of her own fragile humanity, speaks volumes about the strength of purpose and character of this indomitable woman. She worked on behalf of those whose miserable presence on earth was of no moment, and certainly of no concern to anyone but herself.

All the trappings of religion, of serving God, of performing of miracles, of endowing this woman with piety and a heavenly vision are trite manipulations, but useful to the church she was said to be part of and performed on behalf of. Reality is, as so often happens, quite different. And for that reason, she is due a greater degree of respect than formerly envisaged.

Mother Teresa was a remarkable personage in her own right. Thrust into action by the pitiable of the world. Her own sense of compassion and duty led her to sacrifice herself to their well-being.

She was misunderstood. But she understood well what she required of herself.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Free To Protest

Canadians are assured, living in a free and Democratic society, that they may protest, gather lawfully in the streets if need be, to utter their dissatisfaction and distrust of government policies should they so desire. Freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom to march in protest or stand silently with signage leaving no mystery about what the matter at hand is concerned with, guaranteed to Canadians by law.

When protest groups comprised of union members, of ordinary Canadians who simply dislike the secrecy surrounding high-level talks between the heads of government representing Canada, Mexico and the United States organized for the purpose of revealing publicly their disgruntlement at the perceived direction our government is leading this country toward, they had every right, enshrined in law, to do so.

When the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States met for a summit discussion to argue matters of importance and great interest to all the citizens of Canada, they had no intention of publicly airing the topics under discussion, the direction of the talks, and the consensus or lack of, reached by the leaders. This is not open and transparent government.

It is one thing to declare for public consumption that the matters being discussed - ranging from travel restrictions to new identification papers required to ensure transit across borders, to harmonization of the ingredients lists in consumer products - merely constitute streamlining of government policies to ensure smoother flow of trade. We can swallow that, to a degree.

It's the other, allied albeit hidden agenda where harmonization may result in the downgrading of our own carefully, scientifically declared, potentially hazardous ingredients in the products we consume, that has us worried. It's the possibility of losing even greater control over what we produce, along with the assurance of producing them ourselves, not losing jobs as an offshoot of harmonization that has us concerned.

It's the possibility that already-vulnerable fresh-water systems that Canadians rely upon, may become compromised in ways that seemed inconceivable years ago, being piped or shipped elsewhere, leaving Canadians with a water deficit. It's the ongoing push by American corporations aided and abetted by their Canadian counterparts to completely obliterate borders to enhance production and sales that give us the creeps.

It's the ever-growing push-and-shove, along with industry-related investments in accordance with the perceived needs of a neighbour whose government recognizes our country as a nearby and reliable source of energy that imperils our own energy-source stability, let alone our ability to better govern our extraction procedures, leaving us with an increased environmental mess at a time when we should be working toward clean-up.

So these, and other matters concerning to Canadians from all walks of life ensured that a representative portion of those concerned would show up at Montebello, Quebec to voice their concerns and grievances. The behaviour of the Surete du Quebec facing off with protesters during this event belies the Democratic enablement of Canadians to peaceful protest.

When Quebec provincial police decided they would infiltrate the peaceful protesters with members of their police force dressed in a manner that, they thought, would shield them from identification as police officers and enable them to melt into the crowd for the purpose of provocation they demonstrated a severe lack of judgement.

In fact, when peaceful demonstrators comprised of families with children, of elderly participants, of idealistic young people were quietly gathered in designated areas around Chateau Montebello, they were harassed and exposed to insulting and potentially physically harmful shoving and jostling by riot-geared police.

Whose purpose appeared to be to unleash a backlash from the assembled protesters which could then be construed as violent action necessitating that the police clear them away from their pre-approved position near the conference, through the use of direct police action, including the use of pepper spray and truncheons.

That when three members of the Quebec police geared in black, with bandanna-covered faces infiltrated a gathering of union protesters in an ugly demonstration of pretense of belonging to anarchists intent on brewing trouble, rocks in hand, they were confronted by a union leader and ordered to decamp. They were, in fact, recognized by union protesters as nothing less than agents provocateur.

"People have the right to peacefully protest something they don't like", said a labour official. In fact the very same man, Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada who was shoved and sworn at by one of the three undercover police agents, when he confronted them and demanded they set down their rocks, remove their face coverings and identify themselves.

They fled into the ranks of provincial police officers in riot gear and were seen to be arrested. All a shameful show in a shameful attempt to hide their identities. "They think that they have the right to infiltrate us as they've done before. But to be packing large boulders, they were going to do something with those rocks and it wasn't peaceful", according to Dave Coles.

Yet, according to a spokesperson for the Quebec police force who, after several days of derisory scorn from onlookers who had no problems identifying from video footage footgear worn by the three infiltrators as being identical to those worn by the Surete du Quebec, there was no intention on the part of the police force to instigate a violent confrontation.

No explanation, however, why the three were there, were wearing disguises, were obviously attempting to foist a riot upon peaceful protesters.

For shame.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Physician, Heal The System

Well, he's not likely to. Why on earth would Canada's medical community elect from among themselves a proponent of medical free enterprise in a country dedicated to universal accessibility as a lodestone of public policy? Where every citizen of this country is entitled through legislation access to publicly-funded medical and hospital care?

The universality of Canada's public health system is sufficiently stressed through the wear and tear of rising costs and lingering wait times for needed surgery. It it those issues which should be addressed. Not that of urging the government to assent to the gradual opening up to private medical facilities. Dr. Day's own for-profit clinics ensure he has prospered, not the community of health-care-requiring Canadians.

We're already burdened with such facilities which have the effect of undercutting the availability of medical specialists in publicly funded facilities as they stream toward the unregulated and higher-remuneration private medical industry. Dr. Brian Day, the incoming president of The Canadian Medical Association has the distinction of having been named "Dr. Profit".

Just what we all need. The Canadian system does already recognize the efficiency of some private-sector medical involvement in the health of Canadians, through the existence of privately-operated therapeutic units, X-ray, scanning and blood-testing facilities to augment those offered by over-worked and over-run hospital installations.

The introduction of greater numbers of private clinics offering access to faster medical service has the very real potential to destroy the universality of health care in Canada. Those who can afford to pay the fees for service up-front without feeling the economic pinch of costly medical services suborn the current system.

There are those who argue that those who can afford such services do an additional service to the universal system by freeing up wait times, but that's just a tad precious.

Fact is, we've got a fairly good universal health care system in Canada. It's over-burdened and some would say under-funded, although much of what ails the system can also be attributed to a failure in administration. Long wait-times for services can also be attributed to the fact that provincial governments have seen fit to close hospitals and integrate procedures in central institutions.

Added to the provinces having mandated fewer doctors be trained through our universities in the past finally catching up with us and leaving us lamentably short of medical professionals, we've got the situation we're currently chafing under. That the best the president-elect of the CMA has to offer is a pay-for-service model for our hospitals is fairly miserable to say the least.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Legacy of Corruption

Ineptitude can be excused. There is always the hope that expertise can be acquired, with good will and determination, to function properly, to do the job at hand. But outright corruption? Another story altogether. That some elite members of Canada's aboriginal communities feel a sense of entitlement to whatever they can grasp, any funds they can make off with for their own enrichment at the expense of the larger native community is beyond contempt.

It's been known for quite a while that the Winnipeg-based Anishinaabe Mino-Ayaawin, initiated in 1996 with great expectations that it would represent a model for First Nations health care failed miserably. In that millions of dollars funnelled into the network was used for personal vacations and visits to spas, none of which had anything whatever to do with health care services for the people they represented, but rather a lavish spending spree for administrators.

Trips to Norway, Hawaii, Israel and New Zealand; pedicures, massages, facials; all high-living "extras" for those on the inside. While aboriginal communities they were meant to serve faced ongoing deficits in struggling to pay for dental benefits and other health-related procedures for their people. Instead of functioning as it was set up to do, overseeing community nursing stations and providing pharmacare and vision care to 7,500 Aboriginal residents living on and off reserve in Manitoba's Interlake region, millions slipped into the wrong hands.

It was revealed by a Health Canada audit that former CEO of the AMA Daryl Cote, somehow swifted $2-million in unrecorded payments to Manitoba chiefs and band councils. Spending habits of the AMA first came under federal suspicion following a 1998 audit. The Virginia Fontaine Addictions Foundation erupted into a scandal in 2000 when it was discovered that millions were spent on trips, cars and jewellery. Address the problem of addiction in native communities? Trips, cars and jewellery took precedence, had infinitely more appeal.

Later investigations by Health Canada revealed that Paul Cochrane, head of the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch had accepted over $200,000 in bribes. For his help in permitting millions of dollars to enrich the Virginia Fontaine Centre. Does this make Phil Fontaine wince?

The RCMP is investigating. Health care funding is now going directly to Interlake native communities. Let's all hope their administrators care to care.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Boyz In The 'Hood

Meeting right on schedule for the North American Leaders' summit and the protesters are lining right up alongside the summit organizers, intent on having their place and their say in the proceedings. And good luck to all. We'll need it. The North American Security and Prosperity Partnership has a robust and nice sound to it, but it's those devilish little details that has most of us more than a little concerned.

This is NATO carried to the next stage. We're talking economic integration of a manner we haven't yet quite seen. And from a purely Canadian perspective, given the foul play Canada has experienced on the part of U.S. Congressional decisions vis a vis Canadian interests we're not holding our breath that fairness will be the order of the day. It's the U.S. that calls the shots, and that's that. Just about.

Do we really want to fully integrate the Canadian economy with that of the United States? True, they're our biggest trading partner, always have been, always will be. But somehow we keep ending up with the short end of the stick. It's a stick that has been used as a cudgel too often. And sure, when the U.S. sneezes we get a cold: witness the sub-prime rate mortgage breakdown and how it's been affecting our stock exchange as well as the rest of the world's.

But this is following along the wishes of North America's business and political elites; making money has no borders, although governments cling to them, and so do their societies. We've got untold natural resources to rely upon as a country wealthy in geography, and we'd like to retain as much of it as we possibly can for our own careful use in perpetuity.

Security integration? Sounds good. Who are the major beneficiaries? What are the sacrifices, and upon whom will the greater burden of those sacrifices fall? Mmmmmee? asked that hesitant little representative? Wouldn't the citizens of the countries involved; the United States, Canada, Mexico, like to have their considered opinions sought, after due explanation of all the details?

But no: agreement, executive-to-executive, requires no legislative change, nor parliamentary involvement. How can this be!? wails the confused elector. This is the privilege of B I G business, of complicit government. Stand back.

The government of Canada has no problems with rapidly expanding Alberta's tarsands production. We get the environmental fall-out, the critical degradation of our atmosphere, and the U.S. gets our energy reserves exported south for their uninhibited use at favourable rates. Canada's Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union has produced a study underlining thousands of jobs lost here, migrating south.

Our trusty leaders are working toward a regulatory framework for harmonization. Sounds very friendly. The process may have the unpalatable result of weakening Canada's health, safety and environmental regulations and standards, to descend to the level enjoyed by Americans. One of whom, in desperation at the mounting uninsured health costs associated with treating his wife's incurable disease, hugged and kissed her and threw her off their balcony.

At the present time because of lack of harmonization in toxic substances some U.S. products are being withheld from sale in the Canadian market. A SPP committee is working diligently to 'resolve differences' in maximum pesticide residue limits. Canada has stricter limits than the U.S. in about 40% of commonly utilized pesticides. We don't need relaxation of allowable limits into Canada; we need to retain this 'trade barrier' and strengthen it!!

Because a Republican, rules-averse, corporate-loving administration in the United States is busy dismantling that country's consumer protection regulatory systems, there is no good reason why Canada should do likewise. Have harmonization reflect higher levels of consumer care and let the U.S. follow Canada's example. Mexico won't complain too much.

When President Felipe Calderon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and President George W. Bush get together at Montebello they will most likely determine they will bypass the live video footage of the protest lobbying nearby for reason and fairness to prevail. They have that choice.

What choice do we have?

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Blame Where It's Due

Another isolated native reserve come to the fore with the horrifying bullying death by young aboriginal children of an even younger child. A six-year-old boy bullied by three slightly older boys into disrobing, into entering a lake, into death by drowning. The community of Pauingassi in Manitoba is an dreadfully troubled one, reflecting a situation seen in many other Native reserves in Canada.

The vast majority of the adults are alcoholics, although Pauingassi is a 'dry' reserve. A former band councilor was found guilty of selling banned liquor to residents. Solvent abuse is endemic among the reserve's youth. A large percentage of the children are welfare wards because of parental indifference and neglect. Including abuse while the parents are under the influence of alcohol - which appears to be always.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a common affliction among young people on the reserve. Children, thirteen years of age and older have commonly acquired sexually transmitted diseases. The rate of domestic violence, sexual abuse, promiscuity, family break-ups and deviant sexual behaviour is endemic and wide-spread. It's 'normal' for the reserve.

This is a reserve that has gone into receivership. A reserve where a former chief was convicted of fraud. This is the ultimate dystopian society. What hope is there for children born into such a society? Children are born to young women who have no interest in them, and who have no parenting skills, let alone sense of responsibility toward their children.

Children have become so accustomed to being in the presence of violence, of witnessing violent acts that there is nothing unusual about it, in their perception. Violence is the way differences in opinion are settled. They're accustomed to suicides on the reserve as well as murder. One former resident explains that unlike urban children who are exposed to violence second-hand through television, these children live in an ongoing atmosphere of violence.

"People want to blame Child and Family Services, blame the leadership, blame poverty", said this former resident. "But you don't always need more money to solve a problem. You just need people to start caring, to have a focus." All three young boys who bullied the 6-year-old child into his drowning death have had previous contact with Child and Family Services.

Of the trio, the 9-year-old was born with fetal alcohol syndrome to a 15-year-old mother. He has a short attention span and is prone to ungovernable anger. The 8-year-old's 13-year-old sister has been arrested for involvement in the death by beating of a young woman on the reserve. The 7-year-old's diabetic mother is in a Winnipeg hospital, his father is absent.

The dead child, 6-year-old Adam Keeper was stripped naked and drowned last week after being pushed off a rocky embankment into deep water.

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Getting It Wrong

We believe in science, in the intelligence of scientists to inform us of the right way in which to solve our problems. We believe that those whom we elect in a free democracy to govern intelligently are imbued with sufficient intelligence to comprehend the extent of the problems we face, and to take the good advice of scientists to help solve those problems.

Take for example, the dual problems facing mankind today. That of the threat constituted by climate change, by the harm human behaviours are visiting on our planet, and our need to reduce our harmful practises. And the other, related problem of energy, of fuels required to make our everyday lives continue on the path to prosperity. Trouble is, the burning of fossil fuels is one of the signal problems leading to environmental degradation.

The government of Canada decided to throw in its lot, as one way of dealing with the crisis, with changing the face of agriculture. From growing crops to feed people and animals, to growing crops to extract energy potential. In the process Canada and the United States - and elsewhere in the world - have given over valuable agricultural land to 'bio-energy'.

In the process ensuring that some crops, vital crops like corn, are becoming more expensive as a food source, as a food additive in countless products taken for granted, as a source for feeding cattle, poultry, thus making certain that such crops, as food, become scarcer and much more expensive.

Yet this counter-productive exercise is still being touted as a partial answer to diverting energy use away from fossil-fuels. Now comes a study out of the University of Leeds that has reached the conclusion that "the emissions cost of liquid bio-fuels exceeds that of fossil fuels". Oh dear, big surprise.

Energy crops, it is noted, require huge amounts of land. As a replacement for a mere 10% of gasoline and diesel fuel, fully 43% of crop land in the United States alone and 38% in Europe would be needed. That's an immense diversion for the more immediate need of setting aside agricultural land for the purpose of growing crops to feed people.

Moreover, the very act of clearing grasslands and forests for the purpose of acquiring new fields suitable for growing bio-fuels would release carbon hitherto stored in existing vegetation and soil. Creating in the process large up-front emissions that would have the ultimate effect of outweighing the 'avoided' emissions.

A colossal screw-up.

Instead, the careful monitoring of the health of our forests and the restoration of forests becomes in and of itself an infinitely more effective way of cutting carbon emissions. As compared to devoting vast land tracts to the growing of bio-fuels. It's the conservation of precious grasslands and forests that is required.

And prime agricultural land should be utilized for one purpose only; the complete dedication of growing foods for human consumption. And all the allied off-shoots. What we need to do is to conserve our use of non-renewable fuel sources, not waste them by over-use as we've been wont to do. In fact, the transport of foods over great distances is itself one of the problems.

Science knows. Published, in fact, in the latest edition of

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Whose Denial? Gimme a Break

Who is responsible when a woman makes the decision to have a child, but also decides she wants to be a part of the workforce? Aside from those women who have little choice because they haven't adequate financial support to help raise children. We're talking professional class woman here. A woman, who as a lawyer, has taken umbrage because when she adopted her two children she was not given equal benefits the Government of Canada legislated on behalf of biological mothers.

A woman in British Columbia has gone to the Supreme Court of Canada to hear her appeal after a lower court ruled she wasn't entitled to maternity benefits because of her status as an adopter of children, not a biological mother. The ruling brought down last week was not in her favour. Patti Tomasson, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled, was not entitled to 15 weeks of additional employment insurance benefits in the wake of the adoption process.

Current provisions for biological parents grant 35 weeks of paid leave. Mothers have the option of combining parental and maternity benefits for a total of up to 50 weeks of paid leave. I'd have thought I'd died and gone to heaven if, forty years ago when I had my children, anything remotely similar to these benefits were offered. Somehow, we managed.

But Ms. Tomasson, the mother of an 8 and a 3-year old feels this ruling to be acutely unfair. She claims the ruling 'challenges her to explain to her daughters why they were not allowed to spend as much time with their mother at birth' compared with non-adopted children. The mind boggles. This woman feels she has to explain to her daughters why she wasn't paid out of employment benefits to enable her to spend more time with her children?

This was not her decision? She opted to return to the workplace rather than stay at home longer with her daughters. This was a value judgement. She quite obviously felt it was more important for her to be at her office, pursuing her career, than spending time with her children. Yet she is placing responsibility for her own shortcomings as a value-oriented mother anywhere but with herself.

"I am disappointed [with the decision]. I started this action because I couldn't tell my first daughter about how adoption was perceived in Canada without saying that I had been discriminated against because I was an adoptive mother." How disingenuous can you get, how utterly without social conscience, how self-servingly, cloyingly hypocritical!

These children came to her as newborns. She had a generous amount of employment insurance time with them. Then it was her decision to return to work for whatever her reasons. But they were her reasons. It was her decision. Just as it was her decision to adopt children. The State is not, cannot be, responsible for all aspects of peoples' lives. People must assume responsibility for their choices, for their values, and not ascribe responsibility where it does not lie.

I don't want my tax dollars to support the vain and irresponsible decisions of other people, who see more value in leaving their children to pursue a career than in remaining with them for the 15 additional weeks they claim were owing them."What's most critical is that there is a special thing occurring between the mother and the child at that time - that is, the attachment and the bonding process.

"That is happening between mother and child regardless of whether or not the mother is recovering from pregnancy", stated Ms. Tomasson's lawyer. No one contests that argument. But bonding with one's children and the time taken to achieve that state is in the decision-making hands of the mother. The mother, in this particular instance, whose professional life made claims that appeared to supersede the needs of her children.

Bloody cheek.

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Gawd, Whose Fault Is It?

Really, whose fault is it? If you narrow your options because of short-sightedness, you take what results and lump it. Or you get smart, become informed and involved.

If, for example, modern agricultural techniques embrace the use of fewer types of grains because through genetic manipulation a single species seems to offer attributes seen as more favourable, such as more reliable crops
through the use of more successful seeds impervious to insect, mould or weed infestation, it may be a formula for future disaster. When mono-species are wiped out by a catastrophic insect invasion.

Without the option of diversity we're vulnerable. We've gone the route of placing all our eggs in one basket of productivity. Where once goods were manufactured proudly all over the world, and the reliability of the product in question was assured by a good track record from the country of origin, we've placed ourselves in an untenable position through our demands to have it all; goods and cheap goods.

Human beings are greedy, they want it all. We insist on having the availability of all manner of products once undreamed of but now widely approachable through anyone's income, because the goods and products come cheap. Manufacturers and growers look for less expensive sources, and they lower their quality control expectations in the process. Just giving consumers what they want, they insist. And they're right, really they are.

Not always, though. In some countries where people really cannot afford badly needed medicines, and cheap fakes are introduced into the marketplace their deleterious effects on peoples' health makes this a far more serious matter. People become more ill because they're using a formula that contains too little of the key ingredient that they need to aid them. People die because the constituents of the 'medicine' they've bought cheaply include harmful chemicals.

On the other hand there's an incredible proliferation of all manner of consumer goods, from the mundane to the more consumer-elevated that are now produced and manufactured in China, that steadily emerging giant of industry. China's immense population and highly adaptable working demographic has proven itself more than capable of providing the world with products ranging from cheap food to inexpensive electronics, pharmaceuticals to toys.

And because we're looking for cheap, we look for these avenues where cheap wages exploit the workers while enlarging the country's economy and satisfying the acquisitive urges of consumers around the world. A newly-emerging realization that all is not quite what it seems has shaken the world's confidence in the quality of products coming out of China. But is that China's fault entirely?

Why aren't the quality standards of the receiving countries observed? Why aren't the receiving countries ensuring that the quality of their standards are recognized and an agreement to supply quality goods assured? Because the fact of the matter is, the responsibility to ensure that base quality needs are met is the responsibility of that government that permits its importers and manufacturers to bring goods to their public.

And if matters continue to proceed on this same frightening trajectory of contaminated foods and tainted pharmaceuticals, replacement of approved ingredients with potentially dangerous ones, lead-laden cheap jewellery and children's toys, consumers have to start getting more involved in protecting the quality of their lives through judicious purchasing. It's certainly not that good quality goods aren't available through Chinese production sources; they most certainly are.

We have to begin demanding not cheap, but quality. Due diligence is lacking. We're all responsible.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Give The Man Credit

In a politically volatile geography, Pakistan and Afghanistan are continually at odds with one another. Nor are relations between Pakistan and India much better. Although growing fears of terrorism in these countries are forcing them to the realization that co-operation in an effort to combat the stark realization of violence inherent in fundamentalist jihadism is making for greater efforts at controlling the situation.

That Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, with all his country's internal problems, could finally be persuaded to meet with his Afghanistan counterpart to discuss the continual problems both face with religious fundamentalists intent on bringing shariah-type fundamentalist Islam to the fore in their countries gives cause for hope.

"The joint peace jirga strongly recognizes the fact that terrorism is a common threat to both countries and the war on terror should continue to be an integral part of the national policies and security strategies of both countries" read a declaration jointly agreed to by 700 jirga delegates, meeting in Kabul.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have traditionally been at loggerheads with one another, each suspicious of the other, each blaming the other for instability in their countries. Pakistan was singled out as hosting religious schools that excelled at preparing students to accept extreme religious concepts, ideals and precepts, and that prepared them also to sacrifice themselves to the ideal of holy jihad.

The tribal areas of Pakistan, on the Afghanistan border, has given shelter to extremists of the ilk of al-Qaeda, and their zealous counterparts, the Taliban. Both of which situations have exacerbated and encouraged greater levels of extremism and ultimately challenges to the administrations of both countries to deal with the Islamist terrorists on their soil, intent on overturning moderate governments.

"There is no other option for both countries other than peace and unity, trust and co-operation, General Musharraf told the closing session of the jirga. "There is no justification for resorting to terrorism." Which must surely have delighted Hamid Karzai and rewarded the President of Afghanistan for his personal calls to General Musharraf, pleading with him to attend the jirga.

And finally, when General Musharraf made the statement that belied all of his previous denials, there could be no question that the two might now become fast allies in the war against terror. "There is no doubt Afghan militants are supported from Pakistan soil. The problem that you have in your region is because support is provided from our side", he finally admitted.

"It is a very happy event that the jirga between two countries was convened," Afghan President Hamid Karzai, announced, convening the jirga. "It is ending with good results, achievements and a message for both countries."

Amen. And hallelujah!

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Misplaced Compassion

Visiting Lieutenant-Commander William Kuebler, an American military lawyer who has been assigned the unenviable task of defending Omar Khadr, has successfully lectured the Canadian Bar Association meeting in Calgary on the weekend. "I think that the Canadian legal community, like the Canadian government, like the Canadian people, has given the United States, their good ally and neighbour, the benefit of the doubt", said Lieut.-Cmdr. Kuebler.

Think what he may, when a Canadian citizen commits a crime in the United States he becomes subject to American law. He is arrested, tried and imprisoned in the country in which that crime was committed. Unless there is a very compelling reason for his government to become involved; whether a question of a fair trial, or for humanitarian and health reasons a case could be made that he might serve his time in his country of origin; a matter of diplomacy between these neighbours.

In the instance of Omar Khadr, the youngest member of the notorious Khadr clan, stationed in Canada, granted citizenship in Canada, where the parents condemned the values that Canadians hold dear along with this society's degraded morals, and took their family to Pakistan for training and an Islamist lifestyle, the onus for protecting any member of this family is not quite as for an ordinary Canadian. This young man was groomed as a jihadist, and young as he was, at 15, he fought among other terrorists as an equal.

He was observed to have thrown a grenade that took the life of a U.S. army medic while in the process of engaging in fundamentalist religious-inspired guerrilla war with American troops. He was captured in Afghanistan after a skirmish with American troops, as an enemy combatant, one who had successfully taken the life of another person. He has spent five years in the infamous military compound in Cuba, yet to be dealt with by the courts.

He faces a military trial for what are alleged to be war crimes, but there is no disputing that his actions of free will in the prosecution of a holy war against infidels directly caused the death of a human being. Human rights groups claim that U.S. treatment of enemy combatants represent an affront to justice. And they are possibly correct in this assessment.

Grooming a young boy, along with his siblings, to become skilled at warfare with the intent of killing in recognition of a religious duty may also be confronted as an affront to humanity.

"It would be unimaginable that this could happen to a 15-year-old in Canada", said Parker MacCarthy, president of the Canadian Bar Association, explaining his newfound support of bringing Mr. Khadr, now 20 years of age, back to Canada. If he were to be tried in Canada, for a crime committed as a young offender, the stiffest sentence he might face under the Youth Criminal Justice Act would be six years.

But this man does not represent an ordinary run-of-the-mill Canadian youth who offended, even one who killed another person.

And if, at the age of 15, even an ordinary run-of-the-mill Canadian youth hadn't the intellectual and emotional maturity to understand that killing another human being is an action that is final, with no chance at reversal, one might have good reason to feel this is the act of an individual whose intellectual apprehension has been retarded and a light sentence might be appropriate with certain provisos.

There are also many who, in the face of rising violence among youth and the rising phenomenon of urban gang killings, that the Youth Criminal Justice Act should be revisited and revised. But that too is another story.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

You Must Be Mad!

Mad, as in insane. As in losing one's senses. As in courting danger.

Individuals, or groups, who seek to dissent from authoritarian views and actions taken by their country's administrators in representation of the country's purported values are granted the privilege of doing so, of belonging to opposition parties able and capable of freely stating their views in free societies. Such individuals who seek to do this while living in dictatorships risk their freedoms, their very lives.

Under the Soviet system in the old USSR shipping dissenters to the Gulag was a matter of course. Books have been written about that insult to humanity, authors celebrated and supported by the international community. Demonstrators, dissenters, those who actively worked against the repressive actions of the state were given 'medical examinations', declared unfit to mingle in society and incarcerated in mental asylums.

Both of which methods were quite effective in stilling unrest among its people, although it did instill great resentment. And fear. But fear was the operative device here, and it proved essentially effective as a deterrent. As did outright murder, which the administration of the old USSR engaged in when it was deemed necessary, and in the old Stalinist days it was considered necessary exceedingly frequently. Fear works.

But this is the new Russia. A new, fresh-faced, confident and economy-booming country, resurgent in pride and determination. Ask Vladimir Putin. This is one steely-nerved and capable leader. Enjoying great popularity in a country whose tradition and comfort lies in authoritarian rule. For Russians are more than willing to trade in their 'freedom' for the certainty of no untoward surprises and the comfort of predictability.

Yet who might have predicted there would be a return to state-sanctioned murder as a handy-dandy expedient to offset dissent of a too-strident nature? Or the determined unveiling of government corruption? And who could possibly have imagined that the state would decide to resort again to punish dissent by locking up dissidents in insane asylums? Psychiatry tarnished and its reputation purloined for use as a legitimate state tool for stifling dissidents.

"We're returning to this Soviet scenario when psychiatric institutions are used as punitive instruments", according to Yuri Savenko, president of the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia. "I call this not even punitive psychiatry but police psychiatry, when the main aim is to protect the state rather than to treat sick people." Once again, in Russia, as in the Soviet Union, the definitions of mental illness have been re-written: paranoia equates as an obsession with the 'struggle for truth and justice'.

Challengers to the current system of governance end up in prison for extended incarcerations: think Yukos. Others, like human-rights protesters who own businesses are locked away, their once-thriving businesses fall apart and they become bankrupt. All extremely powerful methods of persuasion.

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Posturing in Bad Faith

Ugh, politicians. We elect them and ‘trust’ that they will administer in the best interests of the country and the people who elected them. Although, when they turn out to be really truly lousy administrators no one will ever admit to having voted for them. The thing of it is, there erupts on the scene from time to time a politician who earns the respect of their electorate by sincerity, hard work and determination. Unfortunately there aren’t too many of them around.

On the other hand, the politician who garners a good reputation and has the support of his/her constituents isn’t doing the country or those whom he/she represents justice, if governing is done in a vacuum, as though neighbours or economic partners don’t exist to whom accountability is due. In Canada an illogically stupid situation prevails whereby trade barriers are set up between provinces making it awkward when not downright difficult to do business with a neighbouring province.

Provincial governments protecting their industries and local economies, and trade unions doing their utmost to put up barriers to deter easy trade between provincial borders. The situation is so absurd that it becomes easier for a province in Canada to effect trade with an adjoining state in the United States and that’s quite simply insane. We have a free trade agreement with the United States that breaks down barriers to easy trade, but not inter-provincially.

We have a situation where it’s difficult to have one’s professional accreditation recognized from province to province. Where there’s a variation in academic credits. Where universal health insurance provisions can differ from province to province. Where production and industry standards don’t match, province to province. Talk about deliberate lack of co-operation in the interests of shutting out competition and in the end doing no one any good.

Yet the provincial premiers talk up a good line about inter-provincial co-operation, as though they’re sincere in making a long-overdue effort to achieve consanguinity in trade and the economy, health and education. At the just-concluded annual provincial premiers’ meeting in New Brunswick the highlight of the meeting was to be a general agreement on how to battle climate-change, to gain a consensus on workable measures to ameliorate the corrupted atmosphere surrounding us - in every conceivable manner.

Predictably, each premier went on the record defending their own province’s need to continue emitting high carbon levels, linked to the prosperity of their singular province. They are joined in a union, representing the country at large, yet none of them can see beyond their own selfish interests in their own bailiwicks. Alberta’s oil sands projects exact a dreadful toll on the environment, with greater levels of carbon emissions yet to come, but Premier Ed Stelmach takes exception to singling Alberta out for a special hit.

As for Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty and his promise to bite a bitter pill in exchange for Alberta’s agreement to lower carbon emissions or/and sign on to a carbon tax knowing full well that Alberta would stand back, and Ontario would never have to make good on its tentative offer to implement a California-style auto emission standard, he’s fairly contemptible. It's simply that the implementation of auto emission standards would add an awkward additional hefty charge to standard vehicle prices, handily dampening the industry. Short term visions prevail.

The next meeting of premiers and territorial leaders will take place in Quebec City, July of 2008. Why bother?

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People get bored. They reach a pinnacle of success, look down, then up and decide they’ll reach outward toward another challenge. After all, if acclaim in one’s chosen field has been achieved, and sufficient confidence gained, other fields beckon. Once an intellectual, an academic, not always one. Yes, there is great respect accorded scholars. Their opinion sought, their insights respected, their values honoured. But the real power seems to lay in politics. Or should that be lie in politics? The two words seem to go together so complementarily; one wonders why.

And then, if you’ve been an academic whose speciality has been politics and human rights, it might seem a natural fit to divert one’s career trajectory into the field you’ve long examined and pontificated upon. Certainly there were some obstacles to Michael Ignatieff’s returning to Canada after such a long self-imposed absence, a haitus during which, in England and the United States he became a much-celebrated political pundit of the academic variety.

It takes some degree of belief in one’s self to suddenly veer off from one’s chosen path and determine to aspire through sheer force of will - aided and abetted by the high esteem one has garnered through academic credentials and a personality not shy of public utterances well received - to nothing less than the premier politician of the country to which you were born but have long been absent from. To vault oneself from the complacent comfort of the ivory tower into the confines of the Peace Tower in Ottawa.

But then, this is one dogmatically-determined man. So, without a scintilla of political experience, but with a trailer-load of ambition to achieve to the highest position of the land, he famously positioned himself within the Liberal Party as a candidate for election. Immodestly, not as a member of Parliament during an election, but as an aspirant to leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, challenging other high-flying prime-ministerial wannabees.

He almost did it, he had garnered what appeared to be the leading majority vote, but in the end, was foiled by a surprise up-the-back-alley comeuppance by a more legitimate aspirant to the throne. Now, as a firm supporter of Stephane Dion, he is still there, now an elected member of Parliament, awaiting opportunity to launch himself into another attempt. And in the process grooming himself still further for greater acceptability in a country that refused to fit itself into the U.S. scheme of invasion into Iraq.

On this grave issue, Professor Ignatieff was singing from a different hymnal than other Canadians. He was, he said, convinced that Saddam Hussein must be removed from power, a conclusion he reached after a trip to Iraq when he visited first-hand the destruction visited upon the Kurdish population. No mention that he believed the Bush administration’s contention that Saddam was complicit with al-Qaeda and involved in 9/11, building up another arsenal with which to attack the U.S.

Now, he is handily recanting, offering a great gulp of a mea culpa. His humanity simply got in the way of his reason. His compassion for the poor oppressed of Iraq confused him into acquiescing, even celebrating the invasion. Had he been in the world of politics, not in the world of academia, he might have decided otherwise, he now claims. As a politician, then, he would have discerned matters differently - particularly within Canada, where there was so much public resistance to joining the invasion, even at the cost of offending our near neighbour.

Now that’s reason over passion. Timely poll results do result in compelling decision-making.

But complaining in his New York Times Magazine essay that he was misunderstood, in that what he said publicly was taken too literally; that although what he said was clear, it was not quite what he meant, is a bit much. Re-inventing oneself for political advantage, taking into account the pulse of public sentiment is one thing, completely re-writing one’s personal performance on the record to produce a better fit as a candidate for high office is another.

Welcome to politics, the politics of convenience and cause-and-consequence: that learning curve passed with flying colours.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Controlling AIDS in South Africa

The high and ever-soaring rate of HIV/AIDS in South Africa continues to devastate the country, much as it does the entire Continent. No amount of AIDS-prevention education seems to help in a society given to treating its women as possessions, to be taken at will.

A society where a good proportion of the men see not much amiss in forcing women into non-consensual sex. And where an antidote to AIDS is seen in having sex with a virgin, as under-age as possible, for greater efficacy.

And finally, where the incidence of rape is high and growing even higher, as the very administration of the country denies the obvious.

Even in instances where men are married, they see nothing wrong in doing what seems to come naturally to men in this society; look around for other conquests, the more the better, the more often the better. Whether a new partner is willing or not. It’s become the societal norm for at least half of the population.

It’s such an accepted practise that a contender for the office of President was able to get away with raping an AIDS activist, a long-time friend of his family, a woman who trusted him as one would a respected elder - who is herself HIV-positive. His denial was to defend himself claiming that the woman consented to having sex with him.

That Mr. Zuma was acquitted was a travesty of justice. But his supporters don’t seem much unsettled by the fact he admitted he had sex with the 31-year-old AIDS activist, but it was all right, because he showered right afterward. Monumental ignorance goes hand in glove with the spread of the disease, and the societal problem of the frequency of rapes in the country adds to the roster of the afflicted.

Still, Mr. Zuma is a popular member of the ruling African National Congress.

Now South Africa’s genuinely knowledgeable and combative deputy health minister has been sacked by President Thabo Mbeki. For refusing to resign her post. Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge had the unmitigated gall to attend a conference on AIDS in Spain without presidential approval.

President Mbeki does not take kindly to any criticism against his administration for its lack of action on combating AIDS and the prevalence of rape in South African society. He denies both allegations, vehemently. And does himself no credit by so doing.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge had previously fallen afoul of the health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, and had so enraged the minister that she promised she would ‘get her’. And so, it appears, she has.

This is the health minister who functions in her important position by advocating the efficacy of a diet of garlic and beetroot to fight HIV. Whereas her deputy health minister spoke forthrightly and publicly about the country’s health crisis and the dreadful conditions prevailing in some of the country's public hospitals.

After an unannounced visit to a public hospital, Ms. Madlala-Routledge spoke of the conditions she saw there as representing a national emergency, a statement that was rejected outright by Mr. Mbeki.

South Africa has the distinction of having about 5.5 million HIV-positive among her population, one of the most densely-affected populations in the world. Approximately one thousand people die each day of AIDS-related illnesses.

The country’s problems are certain to be ameliorated swiftly with this bold action on the part of its president. Sacking the only high-profile bureaucrat in the administration who recognizes the crisis for what it is, and who is capable of steering the country toward remedial action will certainly solve the problem of too many sick people.

They will all die, the country will become severely de-populated, and who needs well-run hospitals anyway?

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Offensive Profession

There's got to be some very good reasons why such an important profession enjoys such low public esteem. Practitioners of the law appear in the minds of most people to be perniciously pre-occupied with building their bank accounts in as speedy a manner as possible. As do doctors of one stripe or another. And, of course, bankers and investment counsellors, and heads of large corporations. All of them studiously working their professions and salting away savings. And/or spending it prodigiously.

Somehow, though, it's lawyers who get the rap for it. Perhaps it's because physicians earn their keep by practising medicine and in so doing leave the impression that they care about their patients and do their utmost to diagnose well and prescribe efficaciously with the interests of the best health outcome uppermost in mind. After all, a physician whose lack of attention to his craft causing too great misadventure to befall his patients will soon become known as a misfit in his profession and lose his caseload as well as his patients.

Lawyers, though, have the reputation of being the raptors, the carrion-eaters of the professional world. They thrive on peoples' misfortunes. The impression the public has is that those in the law profession are a cold-blooded lot, eager for custom and charging outrageous fees by the minute. That each and every precious minute one's lawyer is on the job ensures that one's savings slowly flow from your pocket into their deep and capacious pockets.

Lawyers often seem to defend the indefensible, when it comes to criminal law. They will use every trick in the lawbooks to try to ensure their client gets away with murder, and they're often successful. It's as though law becomes a game at such times, the game being to be cleverer at what you're doing than your adversary, to discover and play upon precedents that appear applicable, to cajole and charge a jury through facile eloquence.

It's doubtful that there are many other comparable professions where a charge of $170 to $260 an hour for the privilege of hiring one's legal expertise is levied. Where away back in 2005 a contested divorce might come in at over $8,000, and where two court days in a civil trial might ring up to over $20,000. These are crippling costs, and they don't represent current costs, since surveys attempted in 2006 and 2007 were inconclusive because not enough lawyers bothered responding.

Little wonder then that middle-class Canadians are no longer dialling lawyers' numbers and are opting instead to represent themselves in legal cases. While there are some lawyers who provide pro bono services, and others who are court-appointed to represent low-income people through an admittedly inadequate legal aid system, the need for lawyers to cut consumers some fee slack is critical.

The cost of legal services is out of reach for most middle-class families, and it's escalating to the point where even greater numbers of people than the current 40% will begin cluttering the court system to represent themselves, as adequately as they can, sometimes with the patchy assistance of court-appointed interlocutors.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada obliquely warned lawyers in Canada that their high fee structures are leading to an inaccessible system of justice for Canadians. And just recently Justice John Gomery (he of Adscam fame) after 25 years on the Quebec Superior Court, has stated on his retirement that "I don't think the legal profession is giving the proper attention to the problem and it's suicidal, the direction that we're going now."

Lawyers are defending their reputation by writing articles detailing how hard-working they are, what a service their profession offers to the well-being of the justice system in Canada, and they reject the charges brought against the profession that they're ready, willing and eager to sell out to the highest bidder.

Experience tells us otherwise.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Victims' Plight

One catastrophe after another visited on the vulnerable of the world. Weather systems gone truly awry. Violent windstorms, severely unprecedented flooding, cataclysmic earth tremors, sweeping tsunamis, unrelenting rains, severely debilitating heat waves, and sometimes combinations of these events of nature.

No sooner, it seems, does the world hear of one country reeling under the onslaught of a severe weather event ascribed to global warming, climate change, and just sheer unadulterated misfortune of geography, than another erupts and we hear about, read about countless victims.

Now, 31 million people across South Asia have been hit with the heaviest flooding experienced in the region in decades.

Thousands have died, drowned in the eddying flood waters. In India's northern Bihar state countless desperate people are marooned on the roofs of their houses, hoping to receive emergency supplies, dropped by helicopter. The emergency packages sometimes missing their targets and sinking into the murky floodwaters.

Over six thousand villages have been submerged in the floodwaters. In several districts rainfall has been 250 to 300 percent higher than the average for the last thirty years. India is blaming hard-flood-hit Nepal and Nepal claims overflowing Indian border dams have flooded the country's low-lying regions.

Nature remains mute in this human dispute, although she's the cause of it.

And here we are in Canada, enjoying a lovely month of August in the summer of 2007. The headlines in Canada's national newspapers trumpet: "Canada to give $1M in relief"! Won't that be a great big help, considering the overwhelming size of the catastrophe?

Canada's foreign affairs minister grandly proclaims "Canada stands with these countries as they carry out their relief efforts."

A whopping $1M in relief funds.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Urgent Priorities

Despite ongoing and difficult expenditures on security issues Israel's economy is in fairly good shape; in fact, it's been described as 'booming'. Which, in and of itself, is very reassuring for a country beset by so many other kinds of problems. Israel has a substantial middle class and a nice smattering of wealthy people, as well as a social underclass of needy groups reliant on government agencies for their wherewithal.

Despite which, Israel does not appear to be delivering on her social aid obligations to her people. Private charities run soup kitchens to feed the deprived, poverty-stricken Israelis whose plight seems to have passed the notice of the government. Evacuation and housing and medical care and summer camps for traumatized children in the border areas during the Israel-Hezbollah war of last summer had to be funded by private charity.

Underprivileged children are given the opportunity to attend summer camps through the fund-raising auspices of private charity. Former Gazan settlers, forcibly removed from their erstwhile homes, remain unsettled in greater Israel, still mouldering in temporary urban encampments. Why? Where are priorities?

Yes, this is an embattled nation, constantly under outside attack, ever vigilant. But much is owed to the vulnerable in its society, and too little has been brought forward for far too long by the government in a serious effort to address these needs, and the government's shortcomings. Elderly Israelis who cannot afford motorized wheelchairs will not be given them through government social agencies if they are deemed to be 'too old'.

For shame. where is the national consensus and will to bring a solution to this national shame? And now the plight of Holocaust survivors, elderly and often impecunious Israelis, has been brought to the fore - with a new government initiative to offer them the grand sum of $20 per month in assistance. What exactly is this survival pittance likely to assure these people in their penurious existence?

This is Israel of which we speak, the nation whose sole purpose was to provide a haven, a refuge for world Jewry, for no other country offered that in their time of need. This is the very country whose existence owes itself to the to the horrors of the Holocaust and the overwhelming sense of international shame and compassion that resulted on its revelation. A world-shattering event whose memory the country still evokes for political gain.

Yet here is this cavalier neglect of her most vulnerable citizens, poverty-stricken Holocaust survivors. What values are these? Israel should cringe in shame at this national disgrace. This should be an issue that unites Israelis, that should compel them to move toward a self-extracting and exacting level of public will and conscience, to demand accountability on behalf of the social needs of survivors, of their government.

Yes, there is gathering support for the elderly survivors, to face the opposition of government recalcitrance in observation of the stark need. There should be a groundswell of public opinion to completely swamp the government in public indignation at this arbitrarily insulting offer of inadequate assistance. And Ehud Olmert, who indignantly bridled at aspersions cast upon him, citing that his own parents fled the Nazis is beyond contempt.

What gall. It's heartening that the media and student groups and Knesset members of various political stripes are supporting the protest. The Holocaust Survivors Welfare Fund is right, that the Prime Minister and his cohorts have an obligation to meet with survivor groups for direct negotiations in the matter. If there has to be a differentiation between survivors of death camps and those fortunate enough to have fled the Nazis, so be it. There should also be a recognition that survivors with wherewithal be differentiated from those without.

A new, reasonably acceptable offer that upholds the dignity of needy survivors and the government itself cannot be brought to the table soon enough. In the interim, the government has done itself limitless damage, irrespective of the fact that this happens to be the first government that has made any kind of offer of assistance. What this says about the nation's priorities is unfortunate.

Too little, too late.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Publicly-Subsidized Religion

Please, no. Most definitely not. Yes, Canada is the very epitome of a mixed society, a true polyglot of cultures and traditions, a veritable Babel of mother-tongues, an multicultural, pluralistic, freedom-loving, life-enhancing society enriched by its vast immigrant population, the wonderful sum of all its parts. Let's keep religion out of this, please. Please?

True, we have the two founding nations of this young country, the French and the English. And true, the vanquished French were promised by a generous and tolerant victor that their language would enjoy rights equal to those of the greater English-speaking population among whom they lived. True too, thanks to Pierre Elliot Trudeau, that right has been enshrined in the Constitution.

Giving the impetus for the continuation of governments at every level to pay up front through sometimes-disgruntled taxpayers' funding of bilingual texts in just about everything imaginable at every level of government to satisfy the perceived needs of the Francophone minority, who insist on their right to be served and serviced in their mother tongue, however geographically and demographically inappropriate.

Fact of the matter is Canada has changed enormously in the last several decades. There are many tongues spoken in this country now. In many large urban centres there is recognition of that, with municipalities instituting their own method of tipping its hat to large ethnic communities. There are Italian and Chinese and Portuguese and Sudanese and East Indian and Pakistani, and Vietnamese and Arab populations settled in large numbers and sometimes in specific areas, to name but a few.

As recognition of the place these communities have in our country, their importance to our dual futures, their economic, social and voting strengths, neighbourhoods reflect the value of their presence, and occasionally even reflect their presence with street signs present in the language that remains their first. Local governments even fund social and sport centres specific to those groups and that's good. Not, however their religious institutions: full stop.

And then we have the separation of the education system. In a decidedly secular country it is sensible to have a unified public education system, funded by taxpayers. Instead, Canada has long been burdened with the need to fund a secular public education system alongside a private separate school system for Catholic children. As part of another, allied guarantee to a once-minority religious group at a time when Catholicism smothered the life of Francophones.

Old habits die hard. And the recipients of exceptional guarantees and privileges are always loathe to 'give up' what they have become accustomed to receiving as their 'right'. Canada, though, is no longer a country comprised of two major religious groupings; Protestant and Roman Catholic with a sprinkling of other, incidental religions through immigration. The great mass of immigrants who have peopled this country in the past decades have seen to that.

If it's fair to provide public funds in support of one religious-based school system augmenting the public school system, then it is also fair to fund the religion-oriented schools of the multitude of other religions now based in Canada. And in this way accustom Canadian children to separation in every aspect of their lives, from the schools they attend, to the social and sport centres, on to their places of worship.

This is a peculiar method by which the young in Canada will grow to become well integrated citizens of this country, sharing values, ideals and social mores. In fact, it's a wonderful way to ensure that children from specific ethnic groups will never come into contact with others representing ethnic groups apart from their own, guaranteeing that they will always view the others as 'others' separate and apart, and different from themselves.

If these are all Canadians, what exactly then, is it that brings them together in harmony in a common purpose, in a love for this country?

We're overdue for a change, to amend the Constitution that ensures our separation if need be, a 19th century construct that was true to its time, but no longer is. Religious instruction is a private matter and should be treated as such. A public school system is one that has been designed to produce an overall education system treating all children alike.

A child's heritage, ethnic and traditional background should have no impact on the manner in which that child is taught the basics of education, which should include the history of this country, which should include a gradual introduction to the values and social system and government of the country in which they and their families live.

Children should be free to mingle with one another, to discover through their contact with each other their compatibility as individuals.

The Charter of Rights, which is also involved, has the saving grace of "amendment", a method by which matters which are not as they should be can be turned around.

It's past time.

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Friday, August 03, 2007


Seems the Russian expedition to the bottom of the Arctic at the North Pole has met with success. Nice work. I guess. A descent of 4,200m. after all is quite the feat. And now there sits that titanium Russian flag, on the seabed. Wonder what the aquatic life will think of that intruder?

The editorial cartoon of our local newspaper put it pretty nicely. The cartoon pictures the flag not on the sea floor but rather situated on the ice itself, over the pole. The caption reads: "No doubt, Russia's territorial claim on the North Pole will be challenged." And beside the flag there is a large white polar bear, lifting one of its hind legs and doing what challenged males will do.

It's not only that polar bear who feels a trifle umbraged over that challenge, however. It's Canada, the United States, Denmark and Norway, all of whom feel they have a claim over the billions of dollars in oil and gas deposits, along with vast mineral resources under the sea. All feel they too have a stake in subsurface rights.

After all, all five nations border on the area, and all five feel they have a valid claim. But for some, like Canada, the claim goes beyond that disputed area. What Russia has declared is that the Lomonsov Ridge which extends from continental Russia into the northern tip of Canada, gives it legitimacy of ownership of an area Canada has always claimed as its own.

Canada claims sovereignty over the continental shelf, extending 200 miles northward from Canada's Arctic archipelago. And of that area, it is not only the Russians but the Americans and Denmark as well, who would like to claim it to be international waters eventually ice-free and open to shipping and clear access by anyone. Russia's challenge is that of ownership due to the extended Ridge.

But listen up everyone. Canada's claim is historic and indomitable. Clear off.

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Sudden Mobilization of Responsibility

France and Britain have acceded to Khartoum's demand and watered down the mandate of the UN-approved peacekeeping mission in Sudan, more or less de-fanging the mission of its ability to defend black Sudanese if need be by extraordinary means. Such as picking up a firearm and threatening marauding janjaweed in their ongoing affliction of Darfurians.

But the agreement to permit the UN peace-keeping mission is finally on track, and the UN is confident it can raise sufficient troops from member-states for the purpose at hand; some 26,000 in all. And not a moment too soon, since the violence in Southern Darfur is not abating, claiming an additional 140 lives in the latest outbreak.

Perhaps the attention of the world at large to what is taking place in Sudan has finally embarrassed the African Union sufficiently to mobilize them into offering to place additional troops into the mission in Darfur. Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Mauritania and many others have come forward to pledge additional peacekeepers.

To augment their current 7,000 combined AU peacekeepers currently stationed in Darfur. All of whom, the world knows, have been under-trained, ill equipped and incapable of stemming the violence. So what took them so long, and why didn't they step in long ago with this additional offer allied with a determination to protect Darfurians?


Animal Rights Activism

It's hard to believe that there are people who go well beyond having a deficit in compassion for animals, who see no value in their presence in the world we share. So many people have a true and abiding love for companion animals, the dogs and cats who share their very personal lives. Which isn't to say there aren't more than enough people who own cats or dogs and neglect their needs to the point of criminal intent. They're not, though, in the majority.

Most people do see value in the animals who inhabit our world, whether they're our family pets or the wild creatures who live in urban or rural settings, or in the great forests of this country. The multitudes of birds, of small forest creatures, of urbanized 'pest' animals like squirrels and raccoons all have their value. As do other domesticated animals whose presence on farms provide us with a source of food.

So it's hard to believe there are people who deliberately and with full intent make an effort to destroy animals they happen to come across. From a snake on a rural property whose presence brings revulsion to a property-owner, to a beaver whom an angry property owner traps to stop it bringing down his trees. Still, they can likely rationalize the inimical nature of the animals' relationships to their properties.

What possible excuse could there be for the 3% of motorists whom an Ontario study has found - mostly men - who will deliberately swerve on a road to intentionally run over a snake, a turtle, a small mammal. The May issue of the
Human Dimensions of Wildlife journal conducted a controlled experiment that illustrated drivers run reptiles over deliberately.

And then there's the 'on the other hand', those people whose emotional connection to animals as equal to humans leads them to behave in violent and illegal ways to bring home their point. Most of us are complicit in the use of animals for our own needs, like food and footwear, clothing - and alas, scientific experiments.

Nature has constructed us this way; animals of one kind or another, including humans, are predators, using other animals to fulfil their own needs.

A new film, has just been launched titled "Your Mommy Kills Animals"; a take-off of PETA's mock comic book. In the film a physician and trauma surgeon defends the idea of killing scientists who make use of animals in research. He obviously represents the lunatic fringe of the animal rights movement. On the other hand, when computer models can be used for scientific experiments rather than animal models, the choice is obvious.

Yet the world owes a great debt in many instances to medical scientists whose work was completed with the use of animal models, for there are many instances where only live animals used in experimental ways can bring results that are of value to mankind. The experiments of Banting and Best which brought much-needed results in insulin production in 1921 to enable those with insulin-dependent diabetes to live with their affliction, is a case in point.

Animal rights activists who 'liberate' animals from their cages so their pelts cannot be used in the fur industry may feel they're doing a great service to the animal world, but what they're managing to do is 'free' animals that are functionally incapable of living on their own in an alien environment, animals bred in captivity, never having had to hunt for themselves, never knowing that predators can imperil their existence.

And the fact is, not everyone is willing to forego eating meat to satisfy the anger of animal activists.

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