Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Wot? Never Enuff!

Well, from all accounts it does really appear that there is never enough. Enough opportunities to divest oneself of hard-earned wages on items that beckon, that promise to make life 'better'. Who doesn't want to improve the quality of their lives in any event? This come-hither promise of a better life can be seen in advertisements from beer to holidays abroad. Everything is for sale, you've just got to want it enough. And don't we want it. All of it. Now.

Public Relations and Advertising companies have us down pat. They know how to appeal to the greed in all of us. If we're unhappy with our lot in life everything can be made better by acquiring a better way of life. That doesn't include of course, a more understanding partner, one who will cherish your every idiot impulse, nor does it include a guarantee of good health, a lifestyle more compatible with a healthy environment, nor does it include a formula for a more compassionate understanding and helpful personality, nor does it include some kindly, avuncular advice on how to optimize the scarce dollars you earn. That's for losers, after all, people who get touchy-feely about life and get all introspective and doubtful about the whirlwind of the rat race.

Nope, that won't do it. A new car travelling at the speed of light over a landscape resembling the Alberta badlands? Hmm, holds promise. A getaway to a Caribbean vacation hot spot? Kind of gets you right here; that'll do, lots of photo opportunities and rest and relaxation on a gleaming sand-covered beach reaching out to aquamarine warm waters; isn't that the life? Beer to loosen up those awkward social moments and aid and assist in letting go of inhibitions? A new wardrobe reflecting the latest trends and fads would surely make you over into the most desirable with-it catch of the season, right? Electronics, the newest flat-screen plasma screens to enjoy all those blockbuster films coming out of Hollywood; the fastest computer on the market to download all those Internet games. You name it, it's available. Why deny yourself?

And look you can actually save money by getting these things when they're "on sale"! Sure, they're always for sale, but when they're on sale you can save, save, save big time. You aren't certain you want to go to Antigua for a blockbuster holiday? Why not, think of all the money you'd save. How about that new, pricey, but so lovely butter-soft leather sofa set? Expensive, ouch! But it's on sale, think of all the money you'll save by buying it now.

That's it, isn't it? You'll be much happier, far more fulfilled if you could only fill your life with these excruciatingly wonderful tidbits of ownership. And they're on sale! If you think you can't afford these things, you're just not with it. Think instead of all the money you'll be saving buying them now, while they're on sale! And you can live with these life-enhancing products for free for a full year, before payments begin to kick in. Hey, almost forgot: no GST, no PST spells bargain!

What better time than Boxing Day? Never mind, you don't really feel exhausted, all played out from shopping endlessly for the Christmas Day that just passed. Remember, it's going to come baaaack! You can get ahead of the game by starting your shopping for Christmas 2006 right now. Just think of that warm and cozy feeling you'll have knowing you've started out on the right track!

Were you one of those thousands upon thousands of people across this country who lined up before dawn for a super-duper chance at one of that chain's door-crasher specials? Good on you! You and all the other smart shoppers you exemplify will have spent well in excess of another $400 after spending all that other money in the months leading up to Christmas! Good on you! Did you mind that lineup to the cashier's checkout that took you three-quarters of an hour to get through to pay for your purchase/s? No? Good on you! How about that hour and a half to even get into the store to get to all those beckoning items you just can't live without? Did you mind that wait? You didn't? Good on you!

Hey, what a fabulous opportunity all of this represents. Good thing you know value when you hear about it, see it, touch it, pay for it. And how about those five, six, eight and nine-year-old kids accompanying their parents for this fun occasion? They've saved up their allowance, have a fairly good idea what they'll be looking for, don't plan on being confused at all the turmoil, and they'll come away from this really, really positive experience confirmed shoppers. Good on them!

Opportunities. Taking advantage of opportunities, that's what it's all about. I understand now what eluded me before. My neighbour who went out Boxing Day morning nice and early to 'take advantage' of all the bargains kept repeating this satisfying mantra: "take advantage". It isn't retail operations aided and abetted handily by the advertising industry taking advantage of gullible, dissatisfied people who already own too much 'stuff''. Not at all, this is an obvious instance of discriminating shoppers dedicated to the task at hand: taking advantage of opportunities.


Monday, December 26, 2005

What's Enough?

Speaking of greed and we were, just the day before, one has to wonder when does a realization kick in that enough is enough? Does it ever? If not, why not? Most people have just undergone a kind of consumer orgy of acquisition. Lots of wear and tear on frazzled nerves, scant time available for all of the search-and-buy excursions that people have undertaken in the last month or so. And then, in one fell swoop, in comes December 25, and it is o.v.e.r. Isn't it? Isn't everyone kind of relaxed and happy feeling that the holiday has come, everyone has celebrated and can now relax for another year?

Fact is, if I were as involved as most people, which I am not, since Christmas is not my holiday, even though like most other people who like me are not of the Christian faith, I enjoy the spirit of the season, the colourful displays, while gladly eschewing the holidays excesses, particularly those of frantic shopping and gifting. Mind, I do enjoy the baking of edible treats, and we do also plan for and enjoy a turkey dinner with all the trimmings we deem fit to indulge in. But I would be ever so relieved that all of this frantic activity had come to a blessed close for another year if this were indeed 'my holiday'.

As we were ambling down the long hill to access the ravine for our daily walk with Button and Riley this afternoon, we came across one of our neighbours with his dog on the way out. Fact is, as we had come down our driveway, we noted that he was just about to enter the ravine, before us. We had stopped to talk for a few minutes with another of our neighbours, so I'd reckon he was in the ravine with his dog for all of ten minutes before starting on his way out.

When we met mid-trail, we spoke of genial generalities related to Christmas, and he informed us that he and his wife were happy shoppers that day. We were rather incredulous to hear this, knowing that they had frantically shopped in the run-up to Christmas, but here he was, cheerily informing us that they had gone out before eight this morning to shop at a number of stores, among them Canadian Tire, WalMart and Sears. They were, he said, "taking advantage" of the Boxing Day sales. Half price for Christmas-related goods, like cards, wrapping paper, CDs, that kind of thing.

The mind boggles. What is this? Are people so let down that the great holiday day has passed that they require reassurance that it will return again to test their shopping mettle before too long? Does the after-Christmas attendance on sales ensure that for them, like a blankie comforts a whining child? He described for us the throngs of eager shoppers they came across this morning, the packed parking lots, the frantic searches for just what they needed.

What kind of miserable values does this kind of activity bespeak? Do they ever read the newspapers, about all the people who volunteer their time helping to feed the homeless, of charities needing more support than ever on an ongoing basis? Yet he stood there and described their delight at "finding" an air hockey game on sale at half price for $400, his daughter excitedly encouraging its purchase, and his bemused "wonder where we'll put it?".

Surely, surely this is unspeakable excess. What do these people live for? Ah, conspicuous consumption, evidenced by their never-ending hiring of trade workers to do one project after another in and around their house, the trade's sign left proudly on the lawn long after the work has been completed. Are these rare creatures in our society? Is this what we need to maintain the GDP, keep the cash registers ringing? Er, could we spread some of that around a little bit? Oops, that's the socialist in me, sorry.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Greed Unlimited

What on earth can possibly be wrong with some people? Is too much just not enough? Does greed trump human warmth and compassion? I guess so. Just ask this London, Ontario fellow, Ray Sobeski. From what I've read he wrote the manual on greed unlimited.

This is a man, three times married, which bespeaks some kind of subliminal conflict to begin with, who, having won an incredible amount of money in a lottery sought to ensure that no one, none of his ex-wives, regardless of their financial condition, would ever have the opportunity to acquire any of his new-found riches.

Hey, thirty million dollars is a lot of money. That's the jackpot he hit, this depraved specimen of humanity. Two years ago he won that amount in a Super 7 draw. He must have been surprised, he must have celebrated somehow, at his turn of good fortune. But, look how the man plotted to make certain that no one would come between him and one dollar of that thirty million.

Cautiously sneaky, unnervingly so, I would say. He waited one full year with his winning ticket in hand before the deadline erupted, and he presented the ticket for verification of his win. Why wait so long. After all, most people would be ecstatic, would have to be tied down and brought back to the sanity of everyday life. But this guy, he was cool. In that period before claiming his prize he lived his life as usual, which meant continuing his visits to wife number 3 to claim marital relations.

Evidently when he married this woman to whom he was obviously physically attracted, he stipulated that they would continue to live at separate residences; she with her three children, he feeling free to visit her at any time to claim conjugal rights. This woman, Nynna Ionson, claims to have loved this egotistical selfish cad, while who knows what he felt for her, aside from coveting her body for his own use.

Mr. Sobeski took steps to divorce this woman who loved him, three months before claiming his win. When reporters enquired of him why he had waited a full year before turning in his winning ticket his response was that he wanted to ensure that he "had everything sorted out". What that 'everything' happened to be became clear when, upon claiming his win, he denied his wife a penny of his win despite the fact that she and her children lived in a state of poverty and she became severely depressed as a result of her estrangement from the man whom she loved.

Ms. Ionson had to take Mr. Sobeski to court in an effort to claim a portion of his winnings, as his lawful, loving wife. She testified that she had believed they had a loving relationship, and his having insisted on a divorce left her emotionally distraught, a physical mess. Quite aside from the fact that she was also left destitute.

Where is this man's humanity, for heaven's sake? To use and abuse someone who trusted him and believed in him and accepted his conditions of marriage, is beyond belief. Makes one wonder about peoples' strange motivations, what they really want out of life. Too many people are emotionally needy and willing to grasp any potential for happiness and a meaningful partnership, while the other half seem to be only too willing to take whatever advantage they can from others without a commitment on their part.

Justice is served, however; an Ontario Superior Court Judge hearing the case, in some manner instructed the lawyers for the two adversaries, once husband and wife, to agree to a partial settlement. While Mr. Sobeski continues to fight his odious case, his winnings remain frozen until the case is settled. But there's a mean kind of justice in the lawyers' agreement for a partial settlement, for now Ms. Ionson will be funded by her former husband and lover to continue her struggle for a just settlement.

This is one instance where a lot of people would be more than glad to have this poor excuse for a human being taken to the cleaners. He deserves no less.

The authority of the Palestinian Authority

It's a moot point; the Palestinian Authority is struggling to maintain the fiction of its authority in the face of belligerent intransigence on the part of the youth group of its own military contingent. In a way it would be surprising, given the history of the area, if that were not the case. After all, the evil of the Israeli government and military's oversight of the Palestinian Territories is an everyday fact of life for Palestinians, right? In this viewpoint Israel is not a neighbouring country to those others of the Middle East whose right to exist goes uncontested. Hamas and Islamic Jihad and others of their ilk owe their existence to their success in persuading Palestinians that Israel is an interloper in the area and has, through its evil manipulations, managed to wrest land from the Palestinians which is rightfully theirs.

No matter that Jews have a time-honoured history in the area, no matter that Jews have always lived in the area, both in what is now Israel itself, and in other countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, for example, from which they have been expelled, their goods and properties seized by the very governments which claim that Israel displaced native Palestinians from land long their ancestors'. This exchange of Palestinians into the general Middle East countries surrounding Israel, for a like number of Jews who sought refuge in Israel was fairly even population-wise, but whereas Israel gladly absorbed these homeless Jews, the Arab countries surrounding it refused to absorb the Palestinians, preferring to leave them a festering sore of discontent whose support was left to the world body to accept.

Palestinian children have been fed a vicious menu of hate against Jews and Israel through the medium of their school textbooks and bitter oral accounts of land wrested from their parents and grandparents. The truth that the combined Arab armies of the surrounding hostile countries chose to attack the nascent State of Israel, recommending to the Paltestinians that they temporarily flee until it would be safe to return after the destruction of the State of Israel, has never formed part of any curriculum.

The PLO under Yasser Arrafat found it expedient to preserve their own version of the truth. The truth was, after all, as they perceived it, and so it was presented and continues to be presented to the present time. When Israel made its agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization to assist it to become the Palestinian Authority and welcomed it however cautiously to begin the long process of establishing itself as a neighbouring country it did so with hope and trust that the PLO was finally sincere in its acceptance of the existence of the State of Israel. The two Intifadas proved the extent of the sincerity. Both of these 'uprisings' were deliberately engineered with a view to destabilizing Israel's security in the region and the world well knows the disasters that unfolded as a reslt.

Now the Palestinian Authority is striving to maintain control of its fractious Palestinian groups. In the middle is the weary general population of Palestinians who wish nothing better than to be able to live their lives with dignity in the pursuit of a decent mode of life, absent the carnage visited upon them by the disruptions of armed militants taunting Israel. Whether there is sincere regret among this mass of misery who surely deserve a better existence, for the brutality of suicide bombings against innocent Israelis is questionable. After all, those who have been found to be complicit in any way with the Israelis have died quick and brutal deaths as traitors to the general Palestinian cause of revenge and the wish to take back the land ceded to Israel through the United Nations.

If any society can be thought to be dystopian surely the Palestinian one would qualify with flying colours. The vast majority wish to be allowed to live their lives in peace, hoping for some modicum of prosperity to be visited upon them in some fabled future. The Palestinian Authority is committed to see that future come to fruition. Yet there are so many die-hard factions of murderous intransigence whose sole purpose appears to be to maintain the untenable situation of destruction - of lives, of hope in the future - that its purpose is continually thwarted.

It's a truly vicious cycle. Until some order can be brought to bear on the society as a whole, where its neighbour can feel a degree of comfort in security then there can be no forward momentum toward statehood and respectable co-existence. Poverty will continue to embitter Palestinians as the insecurity of this no-win position continues to keep them in thrall to the status quo. Foreign investment will be slow to come, opportunities will not present themselves, unemployment will be unabated by failing to open the gates to cross-border commerce.

There is the good-will example of Jewish philanthropists having bought out the deserted greenhouses abandoned by Jewish settlers in their displacement from the Gaza Strip. These greenhouses were earmarked as a starting point for Palestinians living in Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority was glad to have them for the support of thousands of indigent families. While the greenhouses are now being worked by thousands of workers now producing cash crops, they face an uncertain future. Some Palestinians began plundering the greenhouses of their integral parts immediately after the Gaza withdrawal, and they have not abandoned their criminal activities since then, even though the greenhouses are providing invaluable support both to the Authority and to the thousands dependent upon them as a resource.

Is this a society working toward the common good, or one that is determined to extinguish all hope for a better future in its determination to fully savour revenge for wrongs real and imagined? When do cooler heads prevail against the dire passions of hate? Israels have long become inured to the devastating hatred. The world has turned its head away, rather than deploring unequivocally the destructiveness of the Palestinian terrorists' intentions.

If the Palestinians are well and truly sick of death and destruction, of a future that continues to be bleak with worry and disappointment, then they must take steps themselves to convince their youth that the path to the future can be joined through co-operation, not ongoing murderous belligerence. Freedom to live decent and rewarding lives will depend on noting less than ending the terrorist attacks continually launched on Israel.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Sex Club, Anyone?

So, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that clubs existing for the express purpose of hosting group sex parties and partner-swapping are legal, private establishments. Oh, the mind boggles. One's imagination runs into overtime. Fun and games? Suppose so. For some, in any event.

Big deal. Perhaps it is for those whose wont is to frequent such establishments, whose tastes in recreation don't at all reflect mine, for example, or those many nice people who catch their breath in disbelief at the very thought that others seek enjoyment in that manner.

I suppose there is a sizeable enough community of fun-seekers who would take advantage of the opportunities presented to them to experiment and seek a kind of pleasure in what the rest of society considers illicit sex. Well, why not, if that's what they want, what they enjoy, what they anticipate and go out of their way to achieve. Why not?

With the assumption that people are mature enough to make these decisions for themselves, that they feel comfortable with their decisions and the outcome, why is it anyone else's business to begin with? It takes two to tango, and I'm fairly well convinced that this is not only a man's game, but a woman's also. Some men, some women. What the proportion of men and women attracted to this kind of naughty sex would be from among the general population is anyone's guess, but it's possible that a surprisingly large percentage, say, and I'm being really bold here: 20%. Dunno, who does?

In the privacy of one's boudoir many things are done, and they are private, and no one else's concern. When it comes to sex, controversial sex which does not meet the general mores of society, people do tend to be reasonably discreet in any event. No one goes out of their way to advertise their preferences and with good reason. Most of us tend to be on the prudish side in comparison.

Personally I have no interest, truly, in what other people do in the privacy of their bedrooms. Or in the privacy of their private clubs. It can be titillating to some, and irritating to others; best not to know. There, everything's all right, don't be alarmed, don't be offended, don't feel threatened.

One person's view of normalcy may very well be another person's alert to indecency. But let's not forget, people are curious by nature, given to exploration, offended by society's limitations on what is considered decent and that which offends public taste. The operational word here is public, and again, this is a private matter. Consensual conduct behind closed doors is private.

The Supreme Court has spoken. So be it. And why not?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Don't Shop Zellers

For heaven's sake, is it believable, conceivable, forgiveable that a large company like Zellers, part of the Hudson's Bay Co. could be so heartless as to fire a sole family breadwinner for the sin of making off with products which have been discarded?

Hard-hearted? You bet. Consumable merchandise that has been rejected because of stale-dating is destroyed. Yet someone whose children have been denied the pleasures of themselves receiving and consuming chocolates may not take advantage of the fact that they have been removed from public sale.

Picture this: a single father of young children, struggling to make ends meet in a low paying job with a large corporation sees a provocative vision of three boxes of chocolates destined to be returned to the manufacturer as they're beyond their best-before sale date. This man thinks of his children, thinks about the delight on their faces when he presents these chocolates to them, and he succumbs to the allure of spiriting them away, no one any the wiser.

Alas, his unfelicitous exploit is discovered by a manager who informs him that he has violated company policy. Evidently this is company policy, strictly company policy, no interpretation or re-interpretation permitted. Under this company policy it does not matter that the chocolates in question were destined for destruction. Bear in mind that this man's act in deciding to take the discarded chocolates away home with him would bring no cost to the company he worked for. Discipline, that's the word. Unforgiving discipline.

In the true spirit of the season, and with a view, obviously to helping this man, Guy Masse, celebrate Christmas with his children, Hudson's Bay Co. fired this man. He worked in the delivery bay of the St-Hyacinthe, Quebec Zeller's store so his salary would not, in any event, have been particularly munificent. But company policy, you know.

So this single father of three young children now faces a jobless future. What harm was there in his lifting three boxes of discarded chocolates because he wanted to give something special to his children? Might his supervisor not have spoken with him about it, informed him that company policy was unrelenting in this type of thing, and that he should take care in future never to repeat his error? And let it go at that?

Anyone for a shopping expedition at Zellers? How about shopping for some of those delicious boxed chocolates? Forget about yet another family left destitute. Bad things happen at any time, not just at Christmas. Let's hear it for Zellers and Hudson Bay Co., a heritage Canadian company of such sterling repute.

The Triumph of Intelligent Judgement

Canadians have watched the comedy unfolding from our little pond, to the far stretches of the big lake on the other side with no little amount of bemusement and much incredulity. Canadians are not, proportion-wise, as religious as our cousins in North America, where a much greater percentage of the United States' population adheres passionately to their version of the one true religion. There are, to be sure, many churches in Canada, old ones particularly, in little towns throughout the land. But religious observation has fallen off quite dramatically in Canada, whereas it has not in the United States, and the ubiquitous church of any denomination standing on each and every corner of small-town and big-city America is amazing to behold, to an outsider.

I've nothing personally against anyone's belief in an almighty god. People appear to need such beliefs for whatever personal reason, whether by familial habit or a sincere requirement to believe that a higher power looks down benevolently over believers, gently leading them to the paths of righteous living and in the process guaranteeing them a comfortable place in the great hereafter. So if that's what someone wants or needs to adhere to, that's fine with me. Doing so likely makes life more liveable for these people and also makes them perforce better human beings if they truly believe in the dictums of their religion and take steps to practise them.

But the observance of a literal belief in the bible, old and new testaments? That's stretching things a bit. Oh sure, it's all right, those who wish to believe, to cherish their faith should do so, but for heaven's sake, do not, please do not anticipate that others around you wish to do likewise. Do believe that other people who choose not to believe in an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful spirit are resolved to believe in themselves and the basic goodness (often dreadfully lacking) in those with whom they share this planet. It is possible to draw inspiration from sources other than the traditional belief in a god. That should by now be a recognized fact, that a different kind of belief can still render human beings capable of believing in the possibilities and potentials inherent in living a decent, a practical and a useful life. People can also believe that they are responsible for what happens to them, not some higher power. These are choices we all make, whether to be a realist or to remain in perpetual spiritual bondage to a higher order of myth.

We have come far since frightened humans observed the elements and the darkness of the sky above and attributed natural phenomena to powers beyond their understanding, embodied in fabled creatures from on high. Technology has gradually advanced our standard of living, a greater understanding of medical science has given us a longer life span, and scientific enquiry has given us reason to believe a good many theories which uber-intelligent humans have gifted to human enquiry. We understand now, as an educated group that phenomena which so puzzled our predecessors have a scientifically observable and reproducible reason in nature.

That is what science is all about: curiosity, introspection, theory, investigation and an ongoing search for answers sometimes reached by results which prove beyond all doubt that a correct theory does beget a reproducible response. The mysteries of and within nature abound. The most basic questions about humankind itself elude researchers, but they forge on determined to break all barriers to full understanding of ourselves, our world. Will we ever know the answers to all the problems which puzzle us? Perhaps not, but human curiosity and creatively talented scientists will continue searching.

Wouldn't we be surprised if scientific enquiry knocked at god's door and asked him to explain himself? Not too likely, is it? But scientific enquiry in all manner of disciplines is breaking down all manner of barriers to a fuller understanding of the world around us. These are mysteries only until they are solved. The world and its inhabitants are not mysterious creatures of a powerful overseer, a being beyond our normal ken who in idle hours works clay into creatures of amusement which he can then send out to war against one another to relieve his boredom in a vast universe which he dominates.

How, one wonders, can intelligent human beings possibly believe in the Creation of the bible? Call it Intelligent Design, call it Creationism, it is lifted directly from a written source compiled by human beings through a tradition of oral story- and myth-making. These fantastic myths cannot be proven, there is no observable, believable history, nor is there a traceable archeological source which could prove or disprove events other than to agree that certain critical points in biblical evolution echo myths common to a great many disparate peoples throughout the world.

Advanced scientific enquiry, on the other hand, can prove itself, and does regularly to the extent that results which one group of scientists claim can be reproduced by other observers lending full credibility to the original claim of discovery. The 'theory' of Intelligent Design is a backward and childish attempt to return to the comforting history of a great and loving spirit who dotes on and looks after those who believe in his existence. The scientific understanding of man's evolution and the evolution of all other creatures in a world we share can be frightening to such people because of its very randomness. We could be very lonely accidents in a huge chemical pudding we call the universe.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

We're Training Psychopaths?

Well, we must be, it says so, right in today's newspaper. Soldiers in Canada's special forces unit, JTF2, have been trained in what is euphemistically termed "anti-social" behaviours. Anti-social? As in avoiding civil social contact with others? Not quite. It appears that these specially selected soldiers are trained in various ways how to kill other people. Presumably "bad people", so that makes it all right? Well, is it all right for a government to set aside a group of soldiers to indoctrinate them in the dark art of murder? Oh, I forgot: if soldiers kill other combatants it isn't murder, of course not. It's self defence, it's defence of country, it's defence of our higher morals and ethical standards, our way of life. Well, I can see that, although I do shudder at the very thought of it, while still recalling the mass murderers who've wrought havoc on civilization throughout history to the present day, and often with complete impunity while the world looked the other way.

Still. Still, if a country can deliberately remove itself from the spectre of state-sanctioned murder in the practise of capital punishment, how can it possibly, albeit secretly, take steps to purposely and purposfully train select members of the armed forces for the purpose of tracking down other human beings for the sole purpose of killing them? It boggles the mind. If this isn't hypocrisy on the darkest scale I don't know what anyone could name it so it could be acceptable.

Here we have an ex-general sounding the alarm about having a military base dedicated to the training and upkeep of this special forces unit, JTF2 in a setting where they could be exposed in daily life to ordinary civilians. Because, he claims, they are so anti-social, so dedicated to their chosen task of hunt-and-kill that they pose a direct threat to those around them. They should, this secret unit, this ex-general claims, be isolated in a military base where they can be continually monitored under "iron-tight discipline".

So, we have created a monster to serve us at the country's behest. A monster which we cannot really trust, cannot control at all times, but still expect that monster to live peacefully with us until we haul it out to do its dirty tasks. Where would recruits who would willingly have themselves transformed from ordinary peace-loving individuals to life-destroying monsters possibly come from? Think about it: those most likely to be recruited are those among us who already harbour dark feelings about mankind, and who feel naturally attracted to the military, to the discipline, to the physical expectations, the mental shortcomings. A very special breed indeed. And the military takes this rough clay and moulds it into a shape that reflects the military's dire expectations, resulting in a human being with 'natural' inclinations toward misanthropy, but magnified exponentially, into a creature with no misgivings whatever about its dedication to the job at hand: hunt-and-kill.

Why is this ex-general coming forward at this time? Why, if he is so concerned about the presumed well being of the population at large when such a unit is plunked down into its midst without adequate oversight, is he now pointing out the shortcomings of the secret brigade? Why, it would appear that this ex-general has located himself in his retirement in the direct proximity of the current location of the JKTF2 base. Presumably he has fears based on knowledge and experience having been long in the military; long enough to have reached a post of responsibility.

Is it responsible for such a man to voice his opinion at this time when it appears the peace of his own existence might at some time be shattered by the collective anti-social aspects of this group? Is it responsible for those ensconced in high places within the Canadian military to have knowledge of this highly secret "combat" group and accept and approve of their mission? How about our Minister of Defence, our various such ministers who have come and gone? How about our government which is so wedded to the humane treatment of the criminal element in our prisons?

How can we excuse, let alone accept the creation of such a military body whose sole purpose is to train personnel to the extent that there will be no compunction, no normal human shrinking-back at the combat-necessity-of-the-time-taking-of-a-life. Talk to any veteran and he will always remark, thinking back on his military career during a time of war when circumstances found him no other option than to kill an opposing soldier and you will hear regret in that voice.

Has human nature come so far in the wrong direction that there are so many psychopaths among us, among various population groups and countries that they unhesitatingly react with murder to solve an immediate crisis? One wonders. We have undergone a worldwide alert in the last several decades of terrorist attacks. Terrorists: people who believe so fanatically in 'their' way of life, 'their' religion, that they find no difficulty in annihilating tens, hundreds, thousands of others who have done them no harm, in the name of their vision of how the world should unfold. And we, claiming ourselves to be decent, law-abiding, humane, trusting of others, become so fearful that we accept our governments' training of our very own (ah, now they're protective of us, these, our special psychopaths) terrorists.

What has the world come to? At a guess, not much. We are as we always have been. We just know more now than we ever have. The human condition is a sad and sorry one, to be sure.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

She's a Lovely Woman

There were a few seasonal greeting cards waiting for us in our mailbox yesterday morning. One envelope was addressed in gold ink, and the return address didn't ring a bell at all, for we know no one residing on Old Montreal Road. The mystery was solved later when I slit the envelope open and discovered a Christmas card with greetings, from someone whose name we couldn't recognize. Then the note explained that this was a note of appreciation from a man whose mother-in-law had given him boxes and bags of softback detective, crime and spy novels which my husband had read and decided to give away. This giveaway became a yearly ritual. We were happy as we were able to dispose of books my husband had read, since we had more than sufficient books lining the shelves of our library, downstairs study and studio, all of which we saw fit to keep, but not those of that genre.

Each year in April, a lovely woman who is the area captain for the Canadian Cancer Society contacts me to ask whether I would agree to once again to conduct a volunteer canvass door-to-door for donations from our neighbours on the street. And each year, as I've done for decades I agree that I will, and proceed to go door to door. Our neighbours obligingly donate what they see fit and the sum total of my efforts and their generosity place this street among the most generous in this yearly campaign. When, at the conclusion of the canvass, Kay Browne comes to pick up my kit, we usually ask if she would be willing once again to take these books off our hands. She had once explained to us that her son-in-law is a detective/crime/spy novel fanatic like my husband. A dilemma we faced was solved by her happily carting away dozens upon dozens of these novels to give to her son-in-law, although, she confided in us, her daughter threatened that their house was becoming rather crowded with all these novels.

So, if we have so many books we'd like to be rid of what's the problem anyway? I had tried, unsuccessfully, to talk my husband into donating them to the Salvation Army Thrift Store. After all, that's exactly where so many of these novels came from to begin with. Trouble was, my husband explained to me, he would simply forget he'd once read them and purchase them all over again. Mark the inside front cover with his initials, I suggested, and that would clue him in, but to no avail. So, in this manner Kay came to our rescue, obligingly taking away these books, gifting them to her son-in-law who in turn would pass on the once-read books to others with similar tastes in literature. And everyone is happy.

The very day that we received this unexpected acknowledgement from Kay's son-in-law, we headed out to the Sally Ann Thrift Store ourselves, as we often do on Tuesdays when we can take advantage of the 20% off bargain for seniors. And who did we see when we parked the car? None other than Kay herself, just leaving the store, occasioning us the opportunity to tell her we had received this card and I meant to write back to her son-in-law with our telephone number so he could, if he wished, telephone us at his convenience and we would arrange to pull together a sizeable load of detective novels for him to pick up at his leisure.

Kay is a very attractive, very nicely preserved as the saying goes, woman. She is always impeccably dressed. Her demeanor is one of kindness and sweetness of character, truly a lovely person. She has a gently waved cap of pure white hair, she is on the slender side of overweight and carries herself proudly. Her husband died about ten years ago, of cancer. She has involved herself energetically with fundraising efforts for the Cancer Society ever since. She told us yesterday that she had just turned 80 years of age. Amazing, truly it is. She had undergone operations last August for cataracts and other than that her health appears to be holding, she laughed. No one in her family background, she said, had ever had cataracts, but then, she added, they probably died in their early 70s from heart problems or something similar, so the cataracts never had the chance to develop.

Yes, we're living longer, for the most part. Medical science, advanced treatments and a greater understanding of the necessity of living a healthy lifestyle has enabled many of the older generation to live more productive and happy, not to mention healthy lives. Kay is just one example, and she's a shining example, to be sure.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Home of Her Dreams

Which is to say, she thinks, she feels, she believes this is the home of her dreams. She is a realist, for the most part. With the understanding that her means are limited, within the limits which the reality of economics places upon her, this is the home of her dreams. For the present, in any event. And doesn't everyone who works hard and dreams large in our society, financial constraints recognized, deserve the home of their dreams?

Among her many virtues patience is not one. Well, how many among us is truly patient in any event? She obtained the services of a local real estate agent, a very nice man. Better than very nice; she has described him as being 'like her father'. He reminds her, she told me, of her father. Music to mine ears. This is an older man with two young grandchildren who was once a detective in the Ottawa Police Force, now long retired. His wife is a real estate agent and he decided upon retirement that he would begin doing the same thing. His personability and kindness are what convinced our daughter to retain him, and to trust him.

Her instincts did not serve her wrong. She despaired at the quality of the homes on the market within her price range. She started off modestly, thinking she might find something suitable, in a country setting from $150,000 to $180,000. This man encouraged her, did his best to bring her spirits up when she became severely disappointed at the run-down condition of the properties on offer. Truth is, she did not really go out to see that many houses with him, but each time she did she came back depressed at the seeming fruitlessness of the experience. He kept telling her she would find something, not to worry.

She was looking for something appropriate in the east end, where we live. Mostly because we have always been the before- and after-hours care givers for our granddaughter who is now 9 and a half years old. But all the east end properties seemed lacking. She was looking for a house in good repair sitting on its own acreage. She has, after all, seven dogs, a cat, eight rabbits and is unable to move into an urban setting with all these animals. In any event, she has found herself to be drawn to country living, despite the long commutes which can be truly miserable in inclement weather of which we have more than plenty in the winter months.

She would reel from one experience to another in her search, hitherto futile. Her good friend Michelle finally forwarded an email containing 9 potential properties on the market - all located in the far west end, where Michelle herself had just finished building a home of her own. Michelle, who besides being her best friend is also her employer, and she has no problem with cash flow, is very comfortably well off. Not so our daughter who is awaiting the results of the Family Court settlement which would see her compensated to the tune of $27,500. to enable her to purchase a home. The fact is all of the properties that Michelle had sent to her to peruse were superior indeed. They were also priced on the average of $20,000 to $40,000 more than our daughter had been looking for.

Of this lot, although she appreciated the fact that these properties were far better than those she had up to now seen, there was one house and property that stood out for her.

This was her dream home. This was a story and a half log home built in 1868, set on its own six acres of Canadian shield. It is embraced by geologic scenery that would gladden the heart of any land-loving Canadian, close to White Lake, an area beloved of summer tourists as a gateway to relaxed fishing and woodland hikes. A perfect spot for someone who loves the out-of-doors and animals. She has seen photographs of deer coming right up to the living room windows. Mind, as an avid gardener that may pose somewhat of a problem for her as well, but given the presence of her seven dogs, the deer may wisely prefer to browse elsewhere.

Ah, the house. Well, for a dwelling having seen more than a century and a half of history pass it by, it is in remarkably good condition. Better than that, it is in excellent shape, inside and out. The main house has a large living room, large kitchen, bathroom, study and small bedroom. The second story has a very large bedroom and bathroom with original fixtures. There is a recently constructed fully enclosed breezeway which is used also as a family room. Connected to the breezeway is a 'guest cottage' with bedroom and a small balcony, full bathroom, den, small kitchen, rendering it a separate and fully functional unit. The roof was recently replaced, as was the hot water tank; electricals upgraded as well as plumbing. This has been a much cherished home to many who have, over the years, considered it their special piece of heaven on earth. There is also a large two-car garage and workshop as a separate building, recently built, alongside the main house.

Mature trees sit close by, as does a secondary road leading, in a ten-minute drive to a recently-opened four-lane main highway to bring her as expeditiously as possible into the city core where she works. An elementary school whose web site we've visited is a ten-minute drive from the house, as is a day care whose operators walk their charges to and from school.

A small refrigerator and microwave will remain in the tiny kitchen of the guest cottage. A small freezer, small dishwasher, stove top, convection/microwave oven stays in the main kitchen. A set of stackable washer and drier machines also remain with the house.

Our daughter was immediately drawn to this house and property, much as she withdrew her interest just as immediately from the houses she had previously been shown. Without hesitation she appeared to know that this would be where she would begin a new and infinitely more promising phase of her life.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

This Man as Prime Minister?

He is stiff of demeanor, there is no human warmth exuded from his personality. He is, I have no doubt, embued with a sense of mission. He has dedicated at least this part of his life to politics, ostensibly for the purpose of leading this country into a direction which he considers to be its just due. Trouble is, his direction is not reflective of that considered by most of his fellow Canadians to be a just, socially responsible, and mature society for the 21st century.

He claims to be an honest man, and by his guiding lights, perhaps he is, but what politician can honestly claim true rectitude? Politics, by its very nature is a social game of one-upsmanship, of insisting that your particular vision should prevail. That which is expedient is the path taken. Real agendas can be cleverly concealed, to be brought out at the appropriate time. The appropriate time being once a politician has been safely elected and ensconced in the ultimate seat of political power. Mr. Harper's path is one of religious righteousness, a kind of moral imperative that is reflective of an unbending, unyielding, dare I say unChristian mind? It is not the politics of inclusivity. In a kind, mature and understanding society there is an attempt to work toward the wider good, to ensure that no one based on his or her condition in life and orientation is excluded. Gender, economic conditions, ethnicity, sexual or religious orientation should not exclude people from sharing in the same opportunities given to those who fit easily into the categories of normalcy reflecting a majority population.

Right-wing idealogues are rather unbending by temperament and orientation, convinced as they are that their rigid standards of normalcy are to be observed, and the rest can fall by the wayside. To the fair-minded, the socially aware, the average citizen of Canada, no one among us should be exempt from partaking of the opportunities that this society offers its citizens. It is why, although most Canadians, myself included, feel that same-sex marriage is in the nature of a silly conceit since by its very nature it is not reflective of what can be termed the tradition of marriage as a covenant between two (reproductively capable or otherwise heterosexuals) people, and that a legally-recognized and protected civil union would have very well sufficed, we still insist on the legality of same-sex marriages, because this is what those involved wish to have, to bless their union. Equal opportunity, equal recognition, equal status.

Stephen Harper and his ilk are somewhat less generous in this regard, and although same-sex unions are now recognized within the legal framework in Canada, he would take steps to reverse the irreversible. This is not the kind of tolerance that Canadians pride themselves on.

Stephen Harper and his supporters have very little tolerance for the socially and economically inept, those who through ill fortune of one kind or another have been unable to be fully self-supportive. He considers the wide social support network within Canada to be reflective of a welfare state. I see nothing wrong, nor do most Canadians, of providing well being and the means to an adequate existence to fellow Canadians who require that help. Mr. Harper does not speak for me, nor does he speak for the gross majority of Canadians who are more than willing to offer a helping hand to others within our communities.

Our economic growth has not been stunted, as right-wing ideologues like to put forward, by the 'burden' of caring for our brothers and sisters. Our standard of living is equal to and surpasses that of most industrialized countries, our education system second to none, the opportunities offered to our people more than adequate to meet current needs. Yes, we have some problems in the administration of huge unwieldy social programmes, and there is much room for improvement, but abandoning those programmes which have served us well and continue to do so, is not the answer. It will take far wiser heads than mine and than Mr. Harper's to find the solutions to many of our social delivery problems, but those solutions can and will be found.

Winter Walk

Yesterday the first big snow storm of the season blew into Eastern Ontario. The city received about 24 c. of snow, and I guess we had another several where we're located. That's a lot of snow, enough to cause complete chaos on the roads as road crews tried to cope with the ongoing snowfall, while clearing away that which had fallen overnight, a mixture of snow and pellets. The night sky, when we looked out during the night, was a glory of pink, with white gently drifting through the sky to settle sweetly on the roofs and the ground below. In past years, while we were still both working, we would often go out for our walks in the ravine in the evening; sometimes before, sometimes after dinner. That same pink glow suffused the entire ravine, lighting up the arras surrounding us and giving us complete visual perspective, so we could see exactly where we were treading through the many trails.

Whereas walking on the street in the evening was dark, and you could see with the help of the overhead street lights, once you dipped down into the ravine and the forested trails were laid out before you, the glowing pink light resembled a magic world only imagined, somehow come to life. This pink aura could be seen illuminating the ravine, the trails, the trees any evening when the skies were overcast, or when it was snowing, creating of the experience a thing of exquisite beauty. On brightly moonlit nights there would be light to be sure, but the colour was absent, the light dim, and perspective almost absent. A joy to behold, but only during the winter months, a special time of year in the ravine.

But today, following yesterday's snowstorm we set off for the ravine. Today was mild, the high temperature getting up to minus 2 c. Which meant coats for our two little dogs, but no boots, a nice break for them, although they haven't been complaining when they've had to wear them lately in the minus 10, 12 and 14 degree highs we've been experiencing throughout the earlier part of the week.

The snow was soft and high, stark white and beautiful. We could have used snowshoes, since conditions were perfect for them, but we tend not to, when we've got the little dogs with us. Consequently, because the snow was so high on the trails, not yet tamped down as will eventually happen, walking through it is difficult, the end result being as though one has gone three times the normal distance by the time the hike is over with. And the soft, new snow clings to the hair on our little dogs' legs, becoming small round white ornaments on their black or apricot-coloured hair. They're happy to be out, however, and run expectantly, joyfully ahead on the trail, even where they have to plow through the height of snow.

Another dog, somewhat larger than ours suddenly appears, clambering up the same hill we're climbing, and makes directly for our two dogs, sniffing and snuffling. His name is Scooter, and he's a nice little fellow with whom our belligerent toy Poodle has long ago made peace, so the three dogs meet with great conviviality. Scooter has obviously scooted far ahead of his human companion.

We see no birds at all this day, which does happen on occasion, but not too often. Another hiker climbs another hill which we're descending, his long-haired, sociable dog slightly ahead of him. I scoop up our snarling Riley, and we stop to speak briefly with this hitherto unknown ravine hiker, while his dog leaps happily around Button, a more reasonably socialized female who scorns the strange dog, but does not threaten it as her companion so eagerly does, as that is not her way.

The evergreen trees we pass are limned with the soft new snow, and we regret not having thought to bring along our camera. But then, we console ourselves, there's always tomorrow. The snow will still look fresh, still burden the trees, and we will take advantage of that opportunity. On our weary climb back up the last of the hills, my husband sees a black wiry jumble on the trail and stoops to observe it closer, then picks it up gently and cradles it in the ungloved palm of his hand. It's a spider, somehow knocked loose from its safe winter haven, he says; cold, but perhaps still alive. And alive it is, as the warmth soon gives it strength. My husband continues to carry the spider - quite a good size it is - until he finds what he thinks is a promising place offering shelter, where he can leave it. He clears away a small hollow under an old tree trunk and deposits the now-active spider in it and moves a portion of the loose trunk over the hollow.

Can it be any wonder why I love this man so very much?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Abusive Mothers

There was a recent article in the newspaper about a Montreal mother who had, over a period of 20 years, visited horrible abuse upon her three children. This abuse was ongoing and sadistic. A domestic travesty of atrocity, and how it could have gone on without exterior detection, without anyone at the schools these poor children attended at least in their primary years is beyond comprehension. Then, of course, there is the father, where on earth was he while his wife and the mother of their three children visited such unbelievable suffering upon their offspring?

During the recently concluded court case the three children testified that their mother, now 56 years old, punched and kicked them on a daily basis; she pushed them down stairs, gave them inedible food, or else neglected to give them anything at all to eat; abandoned them in surroundings other than their home for days at a time withoutout adequate clothing. She would follow them to school to ridicule them before their schoolmates. If they cried their mother would straddle their chests, cover their mouths and noses to cut off their breathing.

The mother denies this abuse ever happened. She plans to appeal the guilty verdict. For this inhumane treatment of her children the mother was sentenced to two years less a day under house arrest. What manner of punishment might be deemed adequate for making children's lives a living hell? To withhold from children emotional support, the kind of unconditional love and attention to their needs that growing children require is unspeakably cruel. Yet it would appear that these children have grown into well-adjusted adulthood, are well educated and have been able to deal with their psychological scars.

It is fairly clear cut that in this case the woman involved was unfit for motherhood. Her children suffered during their most needy periods of growth and adjustment to the world around them. That they emerged from their dreadful ordeal to become meaningful members of a society which clearly failed them in not taking steps to arrest the abuse they suffered is nothing less than a miracle, for it's fairly well accepted that children who have been unwanted and suffered neglect throughout childhood so often turn out to be anti-social, even psychopathic.

I too am an abusive mother. I never thought of myself that way. My husband and I have always loved our three children. We felt we loved them all equally and treated them equally as well, with equal regard and attention. I would be the first to admit that we were always over-protective as parents, and likely still are, although our three children are in their mid-40s. As a young mother I recalled how much I yearned as a child for my mother to love me; perhaps she did in her own way but I found it difficult to accept that she did, for she was possessed of an incendiary temperament and screaming and shouting abuse was a normal part of my upbringing. I vowed my own children would never have their emotional needs neglected by me.

It was natural for me and my husband to lavish love and attention on our children. It simply was just what we did. We wanted nothing other than to shelter them, encourage them to learn about the world and their place in it. We were always there, fluttering in the background, anxious that they come to no harm while establishing their personas, their interests in life. That might have seemed stifling in a sense to sensitive children. We went nowhere without our children, and because their father had a passion for exploring places and I had a passion for the outdoors we were always out and about in the natural world. We wished for nothing less than every opportunity to be open to our children, to expand their minds and their horizons, to reach their full potentials. And we had no doubt about their potentials. Life has proven us right in that regard, and we are proud of them all, of their achievements and their focus in life, their values and their orientations.

Yet, I am to one of our children an abusive mother. I say that because when hard pressed, when feeling her back to the wall, our daughter will regurgitate the same claims over and over again. Not so her brothers, and this being the case I can only conclude they feel otherwise. Our daughter claims, in any event, to have been held to a different standard than her brothers, and to have been treated differently. But it is our recollection that we required the same basic elements of behaviour of all three: that we know where they were when they were in their teens, that they observe a reasonable time to be at home in the evening.

Our daughter, however, zeros in bitterly on the fact that we, and me in particular, made her life miserable by protesting the type of music she listened to. Both she and her older brother played musical instruments, both played in orchestras, both took music lessons. But as she matured into her mid-teens she began listening to other types of music, and I can recall asking her to go through the lyrics of some Alice Cooper songs which I took to be severely misogynistic and to ask her if she agreed with the sentiments expressed. Which she did not. But the type of music and the decibel level continued to be an irritant between us. She chafed under our need to know where she was at all times; if at a friend's home we would require a telephone call informing us of her whereabouts. Our requirement that she be in the house at ten in the evening on a school night was also a source of contention between us.

She began to feel, she told us in later years, as though she was being deprived of oxygen, that her life was too fettered with our needs with no consideration for her own. Throughout her adult life our daughter has had one intimate relationship after another with men whom we always felt did not match her intelligence or background. Her ongoing relationships with these men was always troublesome, always wrought with disagreement and discontent. Her "abusive" relationships, she calls them, while bewailing the fact that she has been unable to meet kind and considerate men who would cherish her as she would wish to do them. Why, she has asked me, did I think she succumbed to such relationships? Well, her response is that because of her abused youth at my hands she is inclined to pair with men who will similarly abuse her. She considers herself to be irremediably burdened with low self esteem, and I believe her. I simply cannot understand why she sells herself so short, though, and have talked about this with her time and again emphasizing her acute intelligence, creativity, physical beauty and capability to excel at anything she puts her mind and hand to.

I don't for one minute doubt her pain. It is genuine. And while I have felt that she continues to shirk responsibility for her own actions, and uses this blame as an excuse, I also now feel that she did suffer trauma, and it has lasted, ensuring she has been unable to become fully adult. Perception, I have no doubt at all, is reality. And the reality is that she was a difficult, complaining and demanding child whom I treated in the same manner as I did her brothers whose personalities were nothing like hers. I thought I was right, perhaps I was not. Perhaps she required a freer rein, but I cannot convince myself of that.

Our family always vigorously debated items in the news, the state of the world, the country's politics, and in so doing our voices might become raised in the excitement of verbal exchange, although we always respected one another's opinions, and encouraged each other to explore, to raise questions, to weigh answers. But our raised voices vexed and frightened her, and to this day should I ever become exasperated sufficiently with her to raise my voice the result is an always-surprising venting of emotions. When one thinks of what parents now have to contend with: drugs, alcohol, tobacco use, I wonder how they cope and remain sane. None of our children ever had the slightest interest in using drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

To sum up: I failed, somehow I became, in my daughter's estimation, an abusive mother. All things being equal, there is no comparison whatever to how I behaved with my beloved children and the manner in which this dreadful woman deprived her children of a loving childhood. But the end result? Her children have survived reasonably intact, and my wonderful child was maimed. That old mantra of mothers' pain: "What did I do wrong?" It's mine.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iran: the World's Newest Mad Dog

What can one say about Iran and it's new President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Not much, it seems, since the pundits generally have it that the world is so shocked by his pronouncements that it is "speechless". Well, not quite. Most responsible world leaders have wasted no time condemning Mr. Ahmadinejad and his unbelievably stupid statements outright, demanding retractions that no one really expects to hear. Mind, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the United Nation's nuclear watch agency stated that the world is losing patience with Iran over it's nuclear programme, which it claims is for domestic energy use only. Mr. ElBaradei, who recently received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo has 'put Iran on notice' that it must convince the world it has only peaceful intentions with its nuclear programme. But how could we believe otherwise, after all?

Well, we could have at one time, perhaps when the Shah of Iran ruled the country as a benevolent dictator. The prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear knowledge and technology at that time would have been extremely remote in anyone's estimation. Shah Rezi Pahlevi, scorned as a puppet of the United States ruled Iran with the kind of pomp and ceremony accepted for eastern potentates. But he was also a little bit more than that; he did care about his country and his people. He went to great lengths to institute reforms in modernizing his country, and under his rule women were free to obtain academic accreditation, free to take jobs, free to become respected partners in their society. Shah Pahlevi opened schools and hospitals at a rate never before seen in Iran, and scarcely reflected elsewhere in the neighbouring countries, Israel aside. But he was deposed, he was dethroned, and, sad to say, Iran changed dramatically from a monarchy to a brutal theocracy.

Grand Ayatolla Khomenei and his lesser ayatollas and religious fundamentalists hurried back to Iran from their safe haven in France, and swiftly took the reins of political power, turning the country toward uncompromising Islam. All the old strictures against women in public life were restored. Khomenei declared the United States "the Great Satan" and the people, feeling newly liberated took up the chant while the newly-instituted Revolutionary Guard did their utmost to overturn all the modernizing undertaken to bring the country into the 20th century. A religion-based war of morals and ethics was declared against the western world, and no one can quite forget the long siege of the American Embassy in Tehran. Westerners became persona non grata in the country and they were, after all, eager to depart, in any event.

It was not all that difficult, nor is it ever, to manipulate a general population into believing they have become the world's victims, that their way of life, their sacred religion is under siege. Ayatolla Khomeini in the name of Islam and the devoutness of the Shia brand, cleverly engineered a crisis of embattlement, and his people lined up squarely behind him. Except for the thousands who fled their home country for other welcoming countries willing to give them succour in the west and elsewhere. Walking the downtown streets of Ottawa decades ago one could come across groups of expatriate Iranians conducting "marches", handing out literature to inform the world of what was happening in their beloved country.

Cultivated, educated upper-middle class intellectuals left the country in droves. Wealthy businesspeople, academics joined them for greener pastures in the open societies represented by Europe and North America. We met highly intelligent Iranians eager to begin life anew in an atmosphere of toleration, and found much in common with them in their regard for freedom of speech and their reverence for higher learning, their pride in their country's history, its contribution to the arts and culture. The Iran they hurriedly left was not their Iran, and from within the country they could do nothing to further the welfare of their late, lamented country.

There was some hope in the last decade as a so-called more moderate President who continually locked horns with the rigid ayatollahs took tentative steps to move the country forward, but that appeared to be more in the realm of smoke and mirrors than actual forward momentum. The world no longer holds any illusions regarding Iran's direction, in its focus on pursuing nuclear power for means other than domestic use, in the ferocity of its anti-Semitic declarations; both endangering the peace of the world at large. New York-based Human Rights Watch has outlined the fact that Mr. Ahmadinejad's new Cabinet is comprised of severely compromised security and intelligence officials who are known to be responsible for the killing of thousands of jailed dissidents. But guess what? Iranians thought so highly of their former mayor of Tehran, Mr. Ahmanadinejad that they elected him with a huge majority. Have they victimized themselves, or us?

President Ahmadinejad's insistence that the Holocaust simply never occurred, that Jews as such have no place in the Middle East, which is to say no history there at all, that if Europeans and North Americans are so convinced that Jews require a homeland they should take steps to partition their own countries and thus offer space for relocation of the State of Israel leaves one gasping in disbelief. He believes, and seems convinced he will be able to handily bring about the obliteration of the State of Israel from the map of the Middle East. Quaint idea is that not? He has convinced his own people that Israel poses a threat to the very existence of the Middle East; this tiny country surrounded by hostile neighbours. And Iran's population seems more than willing to accept this truth that the United States and Israel are inimical to the existence of their own country.

Certainly a blood-curdling proposition that in this continually less-than-civilized world that we inhabit with such trust and hope for the future, one backward country ruled by a group of hard line theocrats could pose such a danger to the existence of its neighbours, and by extension to the world at large. Lest anyone breathe a sigh of relief that sanity will prevail, consider this: A video viewed by Iranian exiles shows Mr. Ahmadinejad explaining that he was bathed in a celestial light when he spoke to world leaders at the opening of the United Nations in September. He believed his audience of world leaders to be mezmerized by his presence, by the miraculous light which shone about him at his invocation of the name of God. Does Allah permit a lunatic to rule over millions of gullible people perceiving themselves to be embattled by the world? Experience leads us to admit that this is indeed what occurs.

Should anyone be concerned enough to try to do something, however meagre, about this horrendous state of affairs, one can always access www.wiesenthal.com to sign their on-line petition of protest against this insanely despotic theocrat for presentation to the United Nations Security Council.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Red Cross/Magen David Adom

At last, at long last, Israel's version of the (International) Red Cross, the Magen David Adom has received long-overdue recognition. With the proviso that the red Star of David be flown only internally, within the country itself, and externally that it be positioned within a recently-approved "red crystal" emblem, signifying that it is part of the International Red Cross, a long-festering injustice has been rectified. Without the steadfast support of the American Red Cross it is doubtful whether this would ever have come to pass. The American Red Cross has long worked behind the scenes to ensure that Israel's version of the Red Cross, utilizing the symbolic Star of David, would be accepted. To add additional emphasis the American Red Cross has withheld its yearly membership payments toward the International Red Cross in protest.

But finally, delegates to an international conference tackled the injustice head on and accepted the new Red Cross emblem, enabling the Society to get around the troubling and persistent problem of too many symbols undermining the original one which was Christian in orientation and as such unacceptable to other countries whose religious underpinning was other than Christianity. The largest religious body next to that of Christianity of course being Islam, and in the countries of the world for which Islam was their guiding religious light, it was the Red Crescent which signified the humanitarian work of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Society.

Because of unbridled animosity of most Muslim countries against the State of Israel and its symbol, it had been almost impossible to reach any kind of meaningful agreement to permit Israel's Magen David Adom Society into the larger umbrella of the Red Cross. This hatred toward another society, another religion has never worked in any country's favour. When Pakistan suffered a dreadful disaster in Kashmir and thousands of its people perished or were buried in landslides post-earthquake, relief poured in from Christian countries, and citizens of other countries, including Jews, sent generous personal donations in response to the tragedy. When Israel offered the services of its Disaster Relief teams, internationall recognized for the quality of its work, it was refused, as is always the case by Muslim countries in response to such offers.

And it was Pakistan which headed the delegation of the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, to deny Israel's Magen David Adom's recognition and induction under the greater umbrella of the International Red Cross. Despite which the Jewish Society was successfully admitted, with 94 (out of 192 signatories) countries approving the move, 27 Muslim countries rejecting, the balance abstaining.

It's also instructive to know that on occasion within the West Bank and Gaza, the most recent areas of Islamic 'irritation' against Israel, Red Crescent Ambulances have been known to be used to ferry terrorists belonging to Hamas and other such organizations to and from sites to avoid detection by Israeli authorities. It has also happened that UN ambulances have been used to transport rockets and used against Israeli troops and settlements; easy to understand because UNRWA's secretary general divulged that many of their paid employees are Hamas members.

The double standards continue, they are ongoing and unfettered, but occasionally there arises demands that things be straightened out to level the so-called playing field. And in the process, occasionally, Justice is done.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Human Tragedy? Take Your Pick

In Pakistan, villagers living in remote mountain areas which were so hard struck by a devastating earthquake a scant few months ago are facing dreadfully uncertain futures. Winter is upon these poor people who still have not received adequate shelter to face the season; their food and water supplies are still uncertain, despite the herculean and ongoing efforts of relief agencies. Children and adults are beginning to suffer medical and health conditions related to their miserable, untenable living conditions, and overall it is a human tragedy on an inhuman scale. The world responded with generosity in the immediate fallout but relief is slow and their futures irremediably compromised.

In Iraq ordinary citizens, anxious to resume some semblance of normal life, hopeful against all odds for the future and their children's futures, are facing dreadful realities that we in our controlled and safe societies would never dream of living through. Although the world's attention is focused on the plight of a handful of western-based Christian Peacemaker Teams volunteers who have come to the area for the purpose of offering moral and religious support, and who were subsequently abducted by an insurgent/terrorist (take your pick) group for a ransom of prisoner release, most Iraqis face the potential of abduction and murder daily. Iraqi men, women and children are being murdered on a daily basis by suicide bombers, they are also abducted and killed by merciless functionaries intent on establishing an Islamist state against the wishes of most Iraqis.

In Darfur African farmers continue to be hunted, displaced, raped and murdered by the Janjaweed, Muslims who have long coveted the land farmed by the Sudanese, and with whom for generations an uneasy truce with the Muslims had worked. Nothing now satisfies the Muslim-Sudanese component of the country but to move the farmers and their families out of their land by any and all means, including mass murder, so that they alone will now control that land. Even huddled within refugee camps the Sudanese, ostensibly with the protection of aid agencies, are continuing to be hounded, the women raped.

In Africa a number of countries have been unable to bring in harvest sufficient to feed their people. In some countries, like Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, the lack of food is directly related to the dictator's land grab in illegally shoving out its population of white farmers so that the farmland which had been formerly efficiently operated and generously productive enabling the population to be properly fed, no longer exists as it once did. Many of its white farmers have been murdered, and their land taken by former soldiers in a land re-distribution effort by the government whose only true interest was in ridding the country of its white farm owners. The fallout has been that hundreds of thousands of black farm workers who had laboured in white-owned farms are now without work. The former soldiers who have claimed the farm land have no idea how to farm it, nor do many appear to be interested in farming the land. The result being a famine of horrendous proportions.

The people of Afghanistan are still struggling to make themselves a working country, with the assistance of the United States with its NATO coalition members who drove the Taliban out of the major cities and whose troops, along with those of Britain, Canada and others have their work cut out for them trying to track down and disarm the scattered Taliban, those fundamentalists who made of Afghanistan a centre of Islamic intolerance. The women of Afghanistan suffered miserably under the iron grip of the fanatical Muslims who used Islam for their own purposes, to create a country living in constant fear, whose women were never to be seen in public without a male escort, whose women and girl children were always in danger of rape and murder, where music and dancing were strictly forbidden as works of the devil. There is hope in the future for Afghans, however tenuous it might seem, with young Afghan girls now being able to attend school, women free now to go about in public and hopes that the state will now be able to administer the country to offer its people a reasonable hope for the future.

Then there is the vast numbers of refugees from cities and communities around the U.S. Gulf States in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and later Rita. People, mostly black and poor, although certainly not confined to that category, are still without homes and without much hope for their immediate future. Thousands of displaced people are housed in hotel rooms, community centres, living a life which is far from normal; common in third-world countries in the wake of major catastrophies, but certainly nothing one would connect with life in the wealthy United States of America. People are waiting to resume their lives, and fearing for their futures. FEMA has informed these people that their rent will be paid only up to February, and while the refugees are desperately searching out permanent accommodations, scant few are to be found. People wishing to re-build their former homes now have to face new, and perhaps long-overdue restrictions on building in flood plains, restrictions which should have been in place in their municipalities long ago, but whose imposition at this time has created another disaster for the desperate and the homeless.

The spirit which originally moved people to attempt to assist wherever they could to ameliorate the brutal conditions which all of these world-wide disaster scenarios occasisoned, has been muted, as memory of these world-shattering events fade, and people turn to go on with their own lives. A reflection of the human condition writ large.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Burt Lancaster

Remember him? Some actor he was, a peer among his coevals. He was galvanized by life and in turn galvanized everyone, everything around him. The perfect animal, human though he was. He was the embodiment of masculinity; virile, handsome, action-oriented, endowed with a physical grace to match his perfect physique.

Well, that's going back a bit. But then I do, we both do, my husband and I. When we were young teenaged kids going out together this was our favourite actor. He embodied, we thought, all that was noble in being human. He expressed compassion, wonder, sensitivity, curiosity, bravery, curiosity, and did so believably and with utter aplomb. He could be hilariously sardonic, seductive, he was a cunning master of any situation; every fibre of that man's body and being was vital, alive with energy. No one could come close to him for perfection of being as expressed by the Big Screen.

So why Burt Lancaster? As in why think of him now, why bring him up, he's dead and gone, after all. Well, his screen presence is still there and it can be accessed and admired at any time. And sure enough, we watched a Saturday night playing of his 1960 film "Elmer Gantry", for which he received a well-deserved Academy Award. Even back then he wasn't anyone's idea of a spring chicken, but regardless he exhibited all of those wonderful traits and attributes one expected of him. It was an excellent movie, imbued with many facets, and it was a treat to watch.

I didn't always think that way, for when I was young and originally saw the film, I was disappointed. Not in his acting or his magnetic presence, but in the portrayal, however wonderfully well done it was, of what was to me, a far lesser being than he was himself. But that too is reflective of his art, his abilities, if not his personal orientation. At that time, nothing could have revulsed me more than the portral of a bumptious, slimy, however lovable, purveyor of Free Enterprise Christianity, a sly master of Christian Revivalism.

Older and wiser I am now, and more able to appreciate various facets of reality and the world about me than I was then. My vision of the world is somewhat larger and far more inclusive than it was when I was so young. This man, this elegant actor was superb as a showbusiness rabble-rouser offering a needy public entertainment in salvation. The unfortunate viewpoint of religion as a money-generating business may be anathema to true believers, but that too is so often yet another fact of life, lamentable as it may be.

This bigger than life, charismatic, seductive actor portrayed a character type that is not entirely unknown to the community at large. A lovable scoundrel, more than a deliberate and outright crook, although the latter description serves well also to describe that complex yet simple personality type. Who could possibly have offered such skills as had this wonderful actor to bring that character alive than Burt Lancaster? Even his excesses are forgivable.

This man with a coiled spring for a spinal cord, oozing self confidence and yes, a kind of universal love (God is love/Love is god) was one of a kind, and we will never again see anyone who could mesmerize as he was able, with his ability to perform. Yet, there is also an element of the unknown here, a bit of smoke and mirrors. He was said to have stated that people thought he shaved with a blowtorch, but in fact he was bookish, problematic. You could indeed see thoughtful introspection, sorrow in the pain of existence from some of his roles, and that too may well have reflected who he was. Take what you will from that.

It was said that before he became a film actor he was employed as a circus performer, a high-wire act. It was also said that when he made his name as an actor, he brought along with him his former circus partner, and this man appeared in some guise or another in every film that Burt Lancaster made.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

So what is it with people? Seems nothing is done by half-measures, there appears to be no moderation in the way people behave with respect to borrowing. And lenders, do they get what they deserve by being generous with their possessions? Possessions are, after all, replaceable, although we do tend to become, well, possessive about them.

We know from practical experience that there are people who would never relinquish to others for a moment's modest use the most inconsequential of their possessions. Fact is, we simply do not, as a general rule, ever ask anyone for the use of anything they own, even for a small space of time, even for the most basic of tasks. I suppose it's because we don't want to be in the position of 'owing' anyone anything. Fact is, in a weak moment, seeing our next-door neighbour a few years back using a very rudimentary tool he'd recently acquired to aerate his lawn, we asked if we could give it a try. This, a neighbour to whom over the years we have loaned out various tools when asked. Well, this little tool, which cost him all of $3 was not to leave his possession for anyone else's use, even for a try-out. Of course we went out and bought one of our own and used it a few times, while his was laid away never to be used again, for the truth is, its use represented an awful lot of labour for little reward. Funny, he has since never asked to borrow anything of ours.

On the other hand, many of our neighbours, and I should hasten to add here, we have very good neighbours for the most part, and are kindly disposed toward all of them, and hope that this spirit of neighbourly appreciation is reciprocated - ask often if they may make use of various of our household tools. It is a rare occasion when anyone's such request is denied. But more about denial later.

My husband, being the handyman that he is, and capable of performing miracles with home repairs and renovations sees great value in owning a wide variety of tools, all of which he uses at one time and another, repeatedly. Whether the tool be various types of ladders for specific jobs, or wrenches specific to various uses, or saws, he has them all. Often he will offer the use of some of his tools unasked, when he observes a neighbour attempting to perform a bit of work that he seems unprepared for. Not only does he offer tools, he also offers his physical assistance at times as well.

Like the time, for example, when one of our neighbours asked for his help installing a replacement door frame and my husband ended up doing most of the work because our neighbour hadn't had much experience. When it was discovered that they were in need of a segment of the frame my husband, using his own wood, cut the needed piece to size. Our neighbour complained that my husband had taken down the dimensions wrong and consequently cut the wood to the incorrect dimensions. Then later apologized, when he realized that he had himself given the dimensions to my husband. And a month later that same neighbour left a long piece of wood on our porch with written instructions on how he would like my husband to use his router to shape it for a job he had in mind in his home. Nothing like being appreciated, although to be fair, this same neighbour has offered, unlike many others, to be of help himself to us should my husband ever require assistance with something.

With rare exceptions, we have found that when someone takes temporary possession of a tool be it valuable or otherwise, they somehow appear to suffer from owner-amnesia. After a period of time when it has become obvious the use of the tool is past and gone we've had to approach various neighbours to enquire with respect to the whereabouts of a tool, whereupon the neighbour has experienced a sudden memory jolt, and retrieved the tool for us. It has also happened that a neighbour will see us walking down the street, hail us and attempt to hand over to us a pair of long-handled garden tools. I will gently inform this hale and hearty individual, many years our junior, that it will be appreciated if he walks the tools down to our home, encumbered as we are with our dogs' leashes and freshly retrieved mail.

On occasion my husband will struggle with a large and heavy ladder that one of our neighbours is in need of, but her husband happens to be absent at the critical time, and mine will haul it over to her home. When the promised return date elapses, some neighbours are cognizant enough of responsibility to inform us that the job is not yet done, and might they retain the ladder for another week or so and that's perfectly fine. But when the very same neighbour calls some months later asking for the use of the ladder once again, this time to assist professional window installers they have retained whose own ladders appear to be insufficient for the job at hand, we must demur. Fact is, we also at times have need of our own tools, and that particular ladder, along with others, happened to be in active use at the time of request.

Yet we're still dazzled at the fact that professional window installers will arrive at a domestic job site without a requisite tool of their trade, so that their client will turn to a neighbour to supply for these professionals this vital tool which will enable them to get on with their job.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Her Day in Court: Family Court

This was the day. As scheduled we got up early, drove over to our daughter's house to pick up our granddaughter and drive her to school. We were going in the opposite direction to the prevailing rush-hour traffic, so it took us only one hour to accomplish this. I told our daughter she looked good, confident, kissed her and wished her luck. She would meet up with her best friend and confidant in an hour's time and they would then drive together to the Family Court in l'Orignal. A long drive. A long time it has taken for this day to arrive, since she placed her deposition with the court about two months ago, and has waited with great trepidation since. Her former partner, through the lawyer he hired, responded to her claims. He denied he owed her anything, despite that she had handed him $24K in cash toward co-ownership of the house they shared. Moreover, he claimed she would have to pay his legal fees. And, of course, leave 'his' house instanter. He claimed through his lawyer that he was the sole owner of the house and property, and that was because he had deliberately failed to register her as co-owner despite their agreement six years earlier, when they began co-habiting. He claimed that her pets, 7 dogs, 1 cat, 7 rabbits had trashed his house, despite the fact that he had himself allowed the house to become run down simply through his unwillingness to enact ordinary household repairs when needed. She had painted and decorated, cleaned and brightened the house. When a window in the garage shattered because his nephew threw a ball, the window remained broken. When one of the double panes of the glass sliding doors leading to the deck shattered, leaving only one layer in place, it remained like that, even though cold winter days caused ice formation to build in the interior of the house. When the sink countertop in the main bathroom began to wear badly it was left that way, despite the fact that she had offered to pay for a replacement if he would install it.

So this was her day to prove to the Family Court judge that her claims were above-board, and his were not. Yesterday while at work she had received a telephone call from his lawyer, wanting to know when she planned to file her deposition. It had long ago been done, she said. He hadn't a copy he said. She had hand-delivered a copy to her former partner upon initial filing, before the lawyer had been hired. How, she wondered, was he able to proceed professionally without the documents? She offered to make a copy, and he could have them picked up by a courier. Could she fax them to him? he asked. Yes, she could, she did so. It is to wonder: if he hadn't been in possession of these documents how could he have sent her those dunning, damning letters of demand to vacate the premises?

They arrived at the courthouse for a scheduled ten o'clock hearing, but due to the press of other cases they waited in the corridor. And waited. On enquiry it was established by the court personnel that she had not availed herself of the services of a lawyer, so a court lawyer was directed to speak with her, to prepare her for what was to come. This young man, she said, was kind and considerate, said she was not to be alarmed, but he was going to prepare her for a worst-case scenario. As an aside, he mentioned he had seen her former partner, who had arrived with his lawyer, wearing his postie uniform. In his words: "I saw the bastard, it looks as though he has a good job, why is he trying to screw you?". She would be entitled, he said to her $24K investment in the property, that was assured, but if things did not go entirely well, she should be prepared to engage the services of a lawyer, and if matters went to court, she might lose a sizeable portion of that money in payment of lawyers' fees. It was important, he cautioned her, to obtain a favourable impression, to have the judge notice and care about her as a person. He apologized for giving her information which might intimidate her, but she thanked him and said she needed that as a reality check.

While they waited, his lawyer approached her for a private chat. She left her friend and joined the lawyer's immediate space. He continued his demeaning, intimidating manner which she had experienced when he had spoken on the telephone with her the day before, trying to prod her into an impromptou settlement between themselves, telling her that he and his client had a good case against her receiving all the monies she felt should be coming to her, that they would whittle it down unless she agreed to his terms. She cut him off, told him he was presumptuous and it was not up to his discretion to determine the outcome of the matter; rather it would be the judge who would weigh the matter and reach a decision which she would accept. He tried again, she dismissed him again, then rejoined her friend.

At 2:00 p.m. they were ushered into the judge's chambers. His lawyer began an initial verbal submission, and the judge cut him off short, turning to our daughter, inviting her to present a statement. She had prepared just such a statement, a precis of her deposition two days earlier and now she handed a copy to the judge and began to read from her original. When her presentation was complete, the judge turned to the lawyer and informed him that he had read all of the material deposited with the court, and he knew what was happening here. The lawyer said nothing, her former partner mumbled something under his breath. The judge asked her if her former partner had ever acted in the capacity of a parent to her daughter, and she said no he had not. The lawyer interjected with a protest, indicating the difficult living conditions which included a coterie of animals filling up the house. The judge looked startled and slightly askance: "rabbits, living in the house, along with the dogs?". Yes sir, she responded, at which time her companion spoke in her defence, to inform the judge that our daughter had photographs she could show him.

These were the photographs our daughter had taken earlier in the week, and which I thought were completely inconsequential. The judge asked to see them, and our daughter handed them to him, the first being a recently-received school photograph of her daughter. The judge smiled, looked impressed, then began looking through the other photographs, while his smile broadened as he saw the neatness and cleanliness of the house, the healthy vivacity of the animals in it, and he swept any concerns off the table. What, he asked my daughter, was the value of the house and property? It was stated as $130K by her former partner and was thusly reflected in the papers filed. But our daughter had had two real estate agents evaluate the house and property the previous Saturday, one of whom concurred, while the other had assayed $159K. And the mortgage, how did it stand? Upon which he tallied by using an intermediate figure for value, deducting the outstanding mortgage and arrived at the figure he determined was owing our daughter: $27,500.

But, protested the lawyer, the house and property is registered solely in my client's name! The judge looked askance at the man, and commented that registration clearly was not everything in this case, and the facts spoke for themselves. He turned to our daughter's former partner and asked if he agreed to the payment owing, and he responded with a dull 'yes'. The lawyer said our daughter should vacate the property, and by the first week in February at the very latest. Our daughter demurred, it would not give her sufficient time to find a replacement house, and the judge agreed, stating she would have until the first week of March to leave the house. I don't want that judgement whittled down, she said, I don't want him to be able to say that I owe him rent toward the mortgage and deduct it from the total. And the judge agreed, telling the lawyer and our daughter's former partner that since she was paying the bills, she was entitled to stay and no additional payments should be extracted from her.

For the first time her former partner spoke, whining about the changed locks in the house and that he was unable to retrieve his belongings, his winter clothing. Our daughter calmly reminded him that she had offered to permit him entry to the house with prior notice and in the presence of an observer. The judge, after turning to our daughter felt that the locks should remain, given that her former partner had demonstrated he was capable of being physically violent. And there the matter stands.

Without a lawyer, and admittedly with the encouragement of her good friend who had herself gone through similar failed partnerships with abusive men, our daughter had prevailed. She had represented herself in the most professional of ways, both written and verbally, had refused to be intimidated by a lawyer seeking to represent his client's interests despite a slight trifle of confused ethics. She had dispassionately and calmly presented her case and obdurately refused condescension. She had indeed made a good impression on the Family Court judge who had felt compelled to deal fairly with her.

Clouds do sometimes have silver linings. There are still many details to be resolved, but she will overcome them too, and her future awaits her with security of person and encouraging promises of better to come.

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