Friday, March 31, 2006

What's for Lunch?

Hi Boob!

Hi Honey, how do you feel? You sound pretty bouncy!

Hey, how did you know?

Your mother told me earlier today when she called. She said you called her from school on her cell phone while she was driving, on the way to work. That's how I know. But obviously you feel fine now, right?

I'm fine. I'm outside, playing. Can you hear the dogs? I've got a new ball. Mommy bought it for me on Wednesday when she did the shopping.

That reminds me, we'll have to get your basketball over to you. And your scooter, and your bicycle. And what else? Right, I almost forgot, your skateboard. More use to you there than they are here, since you're not going to be able to use them here any more.

That's all right, Bubbe, I'll look for the basketball when I'm over at your place tomorrow

How was school today?

Good. We had a big spelling test, about fifty words, and I'm sure I got them all right. It was easy. And guess what? No homework this week-end! It's our teacher's birthday tomorrow, April 1st, April Fool's Day! She said she would give us a birthday gift for her birthday, so no homework. And guess how old she is? Thirty-four years old. Mom is ten years older than that.

Right, your teacher's just a kid. Do you realize that I'm more than twice the age of your teacher? Wow, that's some age differential. No wonder you like her so much, she's almost a coeval; that means just about your age.

Bubbe! She's a lot older than me. She's my teacher.... Did I tell you we saw a lot of deer droppings on the trail in back of the garage this morning? Ewww!

Lucky you, kiddie. And remind me while you're here to have a look for that tee-shirt I promised you, the one with the front all full of coloured rhinestones in a basket-of-fruit design.

Okay, Boob. Bubbe, what's for lunch tomorrow?

Lunch? Whatever you feel like. How about a bowl of chicken soup and rice. Would you like a grilled cheese sandwich? I baked a coconut cream pie for Zayde today, you can have some of that. What do you think you'd like to have?

All that stuff sounds good to me. I was thinking about a grilled cheese sandwich. I'm staying with you tomorrow until Mom and Zayde are finished loading up the summer furniture, aren't I? And then we're all driving back together to our place?

Right, Baby.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


It's spring. No longer any doubt about it. No more prevaricating. There's lots of spring cleaning to be done, and it doesn't get done by wishing. So I set about spring cleaning, tackling the kitchen first, as usual. Cleaning out all the kitchen cupboards, starting with the pantry and in the process discovering food items that had grown venerable, but not wise. So I bagged shelled peanuts and on one of our forays into the ravine early this week I scattered them about on tree stumps and wide rails of our wood ravine bridges. Next day, gone. We've lots of squirrels and although Bluejays also love peanuts, we haven't seen many of them around of late.

Yesterday's cleaning foray left me with a bag of small round crusty rusks for ravine distribution. I laid them here and there in fairly much the same places as with the peanuts. Button and Riley evinced some early interest in this strange new ritual which, although food was involved, appeared to preclude them so I offered one each to them and they sniffed, tentatively, mouthed, then politely declined. Later in our walk I crumbled one into my hand and they happily lapped the more manageable-sized tidbits.

It was a balmy 12 degrees celcius, with full sun; sublimely beautiful to our winter-hardened hearts. A slight breeze brought seductive fragrances to the noses of our two little dogs and they busied themselves running about to check out all the potentials-for-pleasure. Irving brought my notice to a small orange moth fluttering past. Up high in a pine tree came the rubber-ducky call of a nuthatch, sidekick to a small flock of chickadees.

Yesterday the crows were mobbing and their rough cacophony echoed over the treetops. Today, silence. But high above a small hawk circled on the wind, possibly looking for what was left of the sad cadaver of a grey squirrel which we'd sighted the day before, but not likely since they're raptors, not carrion-hunters like the crows. Poor thing had managed to survive winter, but spring denied him the pleasure of life.

The snowpack, thick though it still is in many places has receded on the slopes of the hills and the dark, stark and dirty-looking earth and undergrowth are a promise of things to come. Already we can see the bright green of ferns newly released from their winter purgatory, and clover, and violets, anxious to greet a new season. Rivulets of meltwater course through the now-rotten snowpack. The ice has turned to mush; not much of a challenge now to clamber uphill and sidle downhill.

A bright orange, black-spotted skipper floats past, to our amazement. Surely it's much too early for these beautiful little creatures to hatch out yet? A middling-size terrier-cross by the name of Rachel whom we occasionally see in the ravine rushes toward us excitedly and Riley, though recognizing her, growls his displeasure at her presumption. She has long, straight grey hair covering even her face which gives her the visage of a werewolf. Rachel deftly flies over Riley, further alarming and incensing him.

A whoop from Irving and darned if there isn't a cream-edged, charcoal-grey-winged Mourning Cloak drifting slowly across the trail. Just exactly where we tend to see them every spring. Just yesterday Irving had mentioned them, wondering when we'd begin to see them, and I'd laughed, telling him it was much too early for them to make their presence. Aren't I the knowing one?

Seems that the woods have lost so many trees this winter. The freeze-and-thaw, freezing rain followed by heavy snows, the ice storms and high winds have taken more than their usual toll, crashing down old firs, lopping the tops off pines, so that the floor of the ravine is heavily littered with those and smaller boughs, still hosting bright green needles. Irving laughs at me, teases that I'm always "discovering" fresh instances of tree loss, forgetting from one day, from one week, one month to another what I've seen before. Of course he's right, but the carnage is still there.

A newly-emerged fly flicks past and somehow manages to stumble en route right into Irving's ear. Serves him right. The fly. Him too.

Suffer the Children

Soon after the Palestinian vote brought in a hefty victory for Hamas at the expense of Fatah, it was made abundantly clear by the spokespeople for Hamas that it was their intention to govern in the name of Allah to bring the sacred territory occupied by Israel back into the purview of Islam. When prodded by western interlocutors about the potential of a change in Hamas's policy in light of their new political responsibility to the Palestinians, that they might reconsider the utility of making peace with their neighbours, it was rejected outright and the founding principles of Hamas quoted fondly.

But it was pointed out that Hamas had enacted a truce and maintained it for a full year, and was prepared to extend it, if need be, the better to serve out their mandate on behalf of the Palestinians, before the execution of its full purpose in expunging the State of Israel from the map of the Middle East. They might, it was conceded, be amenable to extending the truce, and that was as far as "peace" could be expected to exist. And of course the extended truce would only become a reality once Israel agreed to two firm demands: a) to accept all Palestinian returnees to their former land, and b) to hand over Jerusalem in its entirety to the new Palestinian Authority so that when the new Palestinian State is established Jerusalem would become its capital.

Barring that, nothing. Of course, even if the truce were extended under those circumstances, it would be a truce, nothing more, nothing less. Not to be confused with peaceful co-existence in perpetuity. For, it was explained, the ultimate decision would be made by the Palestinian people themselves. For the time being the Palestinians may feel like living however uneasily, under the truce. But who could tell, they averred, what the future might bring in that a future Palestinian population (children now, adults later) might determine otherwise. In that case, the truce would be lifted, the holy war continued.

Such confidence in the ability of present-day Palestinian children to make the "right" decision in the name of Allah, to commence deadly hostilities. And why would that be? Talk about long-range planning. For, as Matthew Levitt, author of HAMAS: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad writes:
In the Islamist society idealized by Hamas, the martyr is the most revered citizen: Palestinian children who are caught up in the Hamas movement are taught to recognize the supreme virtue of death-for-Allah. Once indoctrinated into this belief system, they are more easily exploited as grade-school terrorists.

This deliberate grooming of children is termed by Levitt "early education radicalization", and it has proven to be eminently successful. For Hamas has an invaluable ally in these plans and that ally is the mothers of these children, themselves enamoured of Hamas's vision and utterly dedicated to the Islamist cause. This is what one woman, speaking to a group of Muslim women at a conference had to say:

It's important that our children have a passion for jihad. Make sure that you nurture your children. A Muslim woman will say to [the children]: "We don't have friendship with the infidel. We want to put fear into the hearts of the enemy. We want to make sure that our children carry the spirit of jihad in their hearts".

There is one Muslim woman in the new Hamas governing council. This is Mariam Saleh, named Women's Affairs Minister. This new guiding light for Palestinian women and by extension their children practices what Hamas preaches. She groomed her children as martyrs and takes pride in their deaths as suicide bombers. Who better than she to take over as the authoritative voice of Hamas for women?

Pity the children.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Biology, Religion and Humanity

All living organisms obey the ultimate biological imperative of survival, self-preservation, the biologically-imprinted requirement to pass on one's genes from one generation to the next. The successful organism is the one which manages to generate as many offspring as possible. Oddly, though perhaps not, most religions too offer a fundamental dictum to adherents: to "be fruitful and multiply". Procreation in the human species is seen as serious business, and to the religious faithful the act of procreation is meant specifically for the purpose of begetting. Not pleasure. Yet nature has equipped humans, as she has done with other species to feel pleasure in the act of procreation, a not-too-subtle encouragement.

Nature would have us happily humping and producing offspring here, there and everywhere. Good thing she has also equipped us with various types of ameliorating emotions as well as some intelligence and a modicum of free will so that we are also able to make choices, once we realize that lack of temperance leads to complications of varied and many types. While other animals have their definite seasons for indulging, geared to the compatability of weather and the raising of young, we have no such constraints; did Nature in her all-seeing wisdom foresee that humankind would be capable of altering its environment to the extent that we do, providing for ourselves personal havens from the elements?

Well, in stepped religion, and the dictates from that direction are somewhat measured; while recognizing that males and females are opposite sides of the same race, it also sees that the genders are quite at variance with one another, in capabilities, emotions and priorities, let alone the ease with which the female gender reaches intellectial and social maturity, as opposed to her slower race-partner. Still, both nature and religion urge rapid reproduction on humankind. Neither appears to worry that the breadth and fruits of the earth will not be sufficient to to provide for an ever-expanding humankind.

And why should they? Both appear to have relied historically on the inevitable appearance of the Three Horseman of the Apolcalpyse: war, famine and pestilence. And these three disasters have always been in evidence; the first the product of humankind's egregious shortcomings, part and parcel of its primal imperative, the need to secure territory which in turn provides shelter and the potential wherewith to feed oneself. Famine and pestilence is what nature throws in for good measure; can't have mankind too complacent, after all.

Talk about conflicted, that's humankind. We get all these messages, and they really do control our biologies. Women feel an utter compulsion to bear children, to nurture them and prepare them for their place within the world men and women and religion have made, to receive them. Men work out their aggressions one way or another; in advanced societies with unbridled enthusiasm for organized sports, in more elemental societies, by waging constant warfare upon other tribes. So, on the one hand, we have the "be fruitful and multiply" dictum (for the greater glory of nature/God). And on the other there is the impulse of belligerence, whereupon mankind visits either kindly humiliation or miserable death and destruction upon his fellows.

Still, most men in most cultures regardless of where they are geographically generally prefer to preserve their own lives for brief posterity, while with varying degrees of hesitance or determination proceeding to take the lives of their perceived adversaries. The single outstanding variation in this generalized pattern appears to be that of men representing fundamentalist Islam, where passionate adherents not only are eagerly fired to wage war on unbelievers, but in the process they are also persuaded to give up that most precious element which most hold dear: their very lives (for the greater glory of Allah/God).

Women are a constant and reliable baby-making enterprise ensuring the appearance of an ongoing stream of humankind, while men are expendable in the nature of things Islam, wedded to the imperative of upholding Allah's expectations of his human flock.

People who live in the West, or in Western-oriented and emulating countries which tend to be publicly secular, and privately religious or without religion as the case may be, tend to govern their natures and the demands of nature. Emotions are far less likely to be extrovertly displayed in pyrrhic flashes in recall of ancient animosities. Reason is a core value, overwhelming tendencies to fall back toward Neanderthal tendencies. Intelligent discourse is more likely to follow in the wake of disagreements, as people agree to disagree, and personal education levels along with upwardly-mobile social and business plans tend to produce fewer offspring. So, level-headed, intelligent and knowledgeable individuals are less likely to populate the world in comparison to their more religiously-inspired, less educated counterparts elsewhere.

Who wins in the end? Intelligent, socially mature individuals capable of accepting variables amongst cultures; conscience-stricken environmentalists who eschew war if at all possible? Or backward-looking, fiercely religious conformists who condemn lifestyles and allegiances unlike their own?

Suddenly the future doesn't look all that appealing.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Malice in Wonderland

Something about religion as happy delusion, that if you spiral sufficiently deeply into the mysticism of absolute belief it acts as a hallucinogen. People go to great lengths to experience that kind of sublime high, that utter trust in the unknowable. Which Marx labelled "the opiate of the masses".

So here is Ismail Haniyeh, confident in the knowledge that he is an anointed of Allah (Praise be to Him) in his declaration that it is against everything dear to Islam to permit a non-Muslim entity to exist in Allah's declared holy land, and the ongoing purpose of Hamas is to extinguish the State of Israel, obliterate it, cleanse the holy land of its impure presence. We understand that, and that, precisely, is why much of the world sees their ascension as reason for alarm, and why Hamas is given the official status of pariah, a terrorist group, among non-Muslim nations.

But in the Middle East nothing is as it seems; did Lewis Carroll model Alice's tumble down the rabbit-hole into Wonderland with just such irony in mind? The mindless double-speak that issues from the mouth of Haniyeh and others like him is certainly reminiscent of that spoken by Wonderland's strange creatures; meaningless gobbledygook.

On the verge of Israel's election Hamas states it is prepared to discuss peace with the Middle East Quartet of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia. Why? Is Hamas directly threatening them with annihilation? Will it extend its latent goodwill gesture to its near neighbour and discuss peace with Israel? Not a cease-fire, not a temporary truce, but a peace pact? Oops, now that's going a little too far.

Haniyeh, with unblinking candour states that Hamas has "never been callers for terrorism and bloodshed". Oh, could've fooled us. All those murderous attacks in Israel upon civilians, not combatants, with the understanding that civilians are combatants; they're Jewish, aren't they? Now they're ready all of a sudden for dialogue - with the quartet- "to look into all ways to end the state of struggle and achieve calm in the region". Would this be before or after Israel has been smashed to smithereens?

Oh, this would be once Israel has ageed to voluntarily dissolve its statehood, and its citizens agree to become head-tax-paying citizens of a Muslim country, none other than Palestine, which would comfortably spread itself over its nemesis's former dearly-held, protected and fought-for territory. How reasonable, how perfectly rational.

Who could ever have doubted that Hamas was ever anything but moderate in its outlook, its actions, its purpose and claims for territorial imperative in the name of Allah. Did they say they would live peacefully alongside the State of Israel, as a responsible neighbour, willing to offer lasting peace and the opportunity for the Palestinian population to finally pull themselves up from the state of hopelessness they find themselves in?

Um, isn't this the same Hamas leadership which avowed a mere few days back that in taking over the helm they were not obligated to halt any attacks on their neighbour? That, indeed, as good Muslims they had an obligation to encourage Islamic Jihad or any other Islamists, or excitement-seeking Palestinians-at-large to embark on murder missions in the name of Allah?

Have another magic mushroom.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Chow Time!

Now let' s see. How many do I have to prepare? All right, a few little ones, some medium-sized and a couple big, big and bigger.

All right, just a minute! What's with all that pushing and shoving? Give me a chance, all right? I'm cutting up the veggies as fast as I can.

No, this isn't dinner. This is post-dinner. Treat time. Treats? Well, salad, you know, cut-up vegetables. If they're good for us, they're good for them, too.

And they love getting their salads. Don't have to call them, they come running. Before I even begin the operation. It's hard for you to make them all out, so you'll have to take my word for it. The guy in back, Jordy, weighs about 95 pounds, he's from Iqaluit, a rescue. Left as a three-month-old pup to fend for himself and destined likely to be shot as a nuisance.

You can just make out Tasha, the Australian Shepherd, she's kind of on the left, and she's really easy-going. She spends a lot of time grooming Karman, the little Chihuahua, who loves to snuggle up close into her body, for warmth. That's Stevie, our Sheltie, on the right, with his bushy tail, swinging to the right. Beside him on the left, well, that might be Zoe, the miniature Pomeranian who loves wrestling with Stevie, and everyone else, come to think of it.

Don't know where Abby is, she's part German Shepherd, part Malamute, and given to snarling and barking at strangers, particularly men. She and Zoe are other rescues, thanks to BARK. I trust Abby, she's protective of my daughter, but she scares the hell out of everyone else, with her basic distrust of people.

Can't see tiny Jakie in that mess of fur and legs, but it's not hard for him to escape notice, at only 3 and a half pounds, our little toy Pomeranian. Tibby is likely close by, although not in that photograph; though he's the lone cat in the menagerie (another Human Society rescue) he likes his salads too; he'll eat anything, come to think of it.

When Tibby and Karman take to playing together, wrestling and rolling over one another on the floor, that's some sight. Lots of work, lots of love.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Home Cooking

Home cooking; nothing quite like it. Baking too: who doesn't crave home-baked goods and goodies? How hard can it be, after all? Not very. Like everything else people contemplate doing it takes a little getting used to, some little determination, and a willingness to give it a try. Else you're stuck with a whole lot of drek in the manner of what's normally called "fast food", convenience foods, pre-prepared food.

I'd have to take issue with some of that wording, in particular food, as in quality-of, much of which is lacking, but you get used to anything in this fast-fast world. Besides which, for so many food preparation is mind-daunting and task-apprehensive. This is likely the second- or third-generation throng whose own mothers and fathers knew little of proper food preparation and became happily accustomed to eating out or taking out.

My own mother prepared everything from scratch. I'd sometimes watch her, wielding a really wicked-looking curved knife with a handle that covered the entire knife, chopping onions and liver in a well-used wooden bowl. She raised dough to bake things like cinnamon buns. She roasted meat in the oven, she cooked chickens, prepared all manner of traditional European dishes. And she was one truly lousy cook.

I had my mother's example. Which is why, when I became a very young bride at 18 with my very own mini-kitchen in an upstairs flat in someone else's house, I had no idea whatever how to prepare food. My idea of boiling water was to put a pot on the stove, then tentatively reach a finger into the water to determine whether it was "hot enough". My darling young husband, in a desperate bid of self-defence surprised me one happy day with a gift titled "American-Jewish Cooking". And we never looked back.

In fact, I used that book so much, starting a half-century ago, that once, when I had it propped up open on back of the stove so I could follow technique and ingredients all the better, it caught fire. The book is well foxed and tattered, its index pages hanging on by a thread, and at the bottom in the middle, there is a half-moon of burnt paper. But the book and I evolved into a devout brace of cooking acolytes and thereafter my husband thrived on its sterling results.

As did our children when that eventuality became reality. I had watched my mother's older sister in her kitchen on occasion, my child's mouth slack with disbelief as she performed seemingly impossible magic with the same ingredients that my mother heartlessly murdered. My love for my aunt and her magical cooking/baking abilities set me up for later emulation, determined to feed my family as creatively and lovingly as she did hers.

Odd, I did not teach our children how to cook, how to bake. I prided myself on providing nutritious, colourful and good-tasting meals, avoiding monotony like the plague. And desserts became my speciality, from baking cakes and pies to gingerbread castles which they could take turns hauling off to school. I was determined that when our children came home after school they would long afterward recall the fragrance of good things baking in the oven.

Imagine my surprise to discover that our children in their turn as adults eschewed what has become the norm and prefer to eat real food, food they are able to prepare on their own. They bake bread, cakes, cookies, muffins, pies. They prepare food as it should be, aware of what they're preparing and its impact on their health. I'm not messianic about food, I never preached to my children; they chose to adapt themselves to the "rigours" of kitchen life.

Our youngest son makes his own jam, sometimes from fruit he picks himself. He bakes bread, he bakes cookies and muffins. He makes Greek dishes, Mexican-inspired dishes, and is willing to try his hand at cuisines of other cultures and countries using basic ingredients of known value. Our daughter bakes rings around her mother, and her daughter watches as her mother produces magic from her oven for their gustatory delectation, taking pleasure in carrying fresh-baked goods over to neighbours as gifts from the heart.

Our older boy quickly learned to fend for himself in his first little kitchen, and he did a fine job of it, although as the first child away from home for the first several years I baked small meat pies by the dozen, freezing them for transport to him in another city. As luck would have it, he married a young woman whose ease in the kitchen far surpasses even my own. All of our children are busy with jobs, recreational and hobby-related activities, but they manage to adhere to this most vital aspect of their lives for quality of life and good health.

The fact is, once anyone is open to the experience, willing to learn the basics of food preparation, appreciates the true taste of good food well prepared, they enhance their lives and their enjoyment of that most aesthetic and sensual of our primary needs. It doesn't in fact, take all that much time. What it takes is discipline and determination, with a soupcon of enterprise.

It's amazing the difference it can make in your life.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

Christian Peacemaker Teams are celebrating, and that's all very nice. Most particularly for those three members of the CPT recently released after months of being held captive in Iraq by a group of insurgent Iraqis. These religiously-motivated people, driven by their personal beliefs deliberately placed themselves in harm's way for the purpose of drawing public attention to the ongoing harm being done to Iraqis at a time of war. As though without their presence in that war-torn theatre most people might not have noticed.

Most normal people admire the idea of pacifism, as most people are by nature anti-war. We deplore the horrors of war and the many victims that conflicts claim. Some of us even voice our alarm over these events, and some others of us become quite vocal and take part in public displays advocating cessation of war. We feel committed to ideals as well. Christian Peacemaker Teams take this kind of activity a huge step forward, seemingly willing to sacrifice their very beings for the sake of their beliefs.

We can understand to a degree, then experience a failure in total comprehension. Just as we find it somewhat difficult to understand the mindset of some individuals who deliberately seek out danger to prove to themselves that they are capable of overcoming adversities. Like devoted bungee-jumpers, recreational parachutists, hang gliders, and determined Everest trekkers, all of whom are dimly aware that a definite percentage of such enterprises end calamitously. Obdurate ego and determination brings them to the challenge.

Reminiscent of that little cartoon creature we all loved and laughed over in the L'il Abner comic strips, the Shmoo, whose self-sacrificial and very brief lives dedicated to providing gustatory pleasures to humans remained their sole reason for existence. They died happily fulfilling their purpose in life; whether it be scrambled, fried, oven-baked or barbecued.

It is as though these people cannot find their place, as though they seek a higher meaning for themselves in this life and the sacrifice of their place on this earth is but a small price to pay for their compulsion. They appear willing, even eager to offer the sublime sacrifice of self for their ideal, their search. Whether to achieve in the process their vision of a better world, or a world record of personal achievement.

These people may well be in a state of arrested adolescence, where with youth's keen eye everything that is wrong about the world is observed and rejected, and everything that is right about the world is theory, and it is their duty to bring the rest of the world's inhabitants into their sphere of surety to achieve their ideal. And the rest of the world is obliged to accompany them on their trip of discovery, like it or not. At the proper time rescue may or may not be appreciated.

These peace-loving and humble people so willing to give their lives for their ideals tend to scorn their protectors, particularly if they are coincidentally those seen as waging war upon the innocents. In this instance as in so many others the innocents are simply a figment of their febrile imaginations; the civilians whose lives are so miserably disrupted, sometimes irrecovably, are not truly being favoured by the Christian Peacemaker Teams' initiatives.

Who will withdrawal now favour? The Sunnis, the Shi'as, the Kurds, for whom internecine warfare is now a real fear? Will the ordinary Iraqi who can be any of those groups benefit from the total withdrawal of foreign troops attempting now to create an environment conducive to Iraqi self rule? Certainly Iraq's Ambassador to Canada, loyal to the new Iraqi governing council doesn't think so, and places them squarely in their religious zeal, in the al-Qaeda camp as far as results from their tactics are concerned.

So the CPTs' zeal, as intent as that of the Islamists to bring the world around to their way, their ideals, has no place in Iraq; they can and should protest should they desire to do so, in Chicago, Washington, London or Ottawa. Where coalition troops need not worry about their welfare, and the lives of soldiers need not be placed at risk by their vainglorious attempts to alter a world they know simplisticly little of.

Friday, March 24, 2006

That's the Taste He's Been Missing!

They get their teeth brushed every two days. Our two little dogs, that is. We have second-tier health insurance for them, should some dreadful misfortune strike them into ill health or an unforeseen accident plunge them into some kind of catastrophe. It is adequate coverage. It's only the gold-plated pet insurance plan that covers dental procedures for dogs. And since small dogs in particular and some breeds like our own, are particularly susceptible to health problems related to their teeth and/or gums, it's in our best interests, and theirs, to do what we can to ensure their teeth are clean, and well taken care of. Hence, teeth get brushed, regularly.

Sounds kind of nutty, but you get used to it, and so do they. And they're healthier for it, and we (he) get to feel fairly virtuous about the routine, like we're doing them a great big favour. The toy poodle has a tendency to hide under the wing chair in the family room, until he's enticed out for his tooth brushing. The miniature poodle is smarter; she knows it's inevitable, so she makes herself available and toughs it out. Both of them enjoy the clincher, which is once the serious business of the brushing itself is done and over with, each gets to lick the remaining tooth paste off their respective tooth brush.

In fact, they're both surprisingly obliging, and sit still while the brushing process is progressing. I don't brush their teeth, he does it. He has the patience and the confidence to do it, I just don't. I confine myself to brushing their hairy little coats in the evening. And they don't mind those ministrations either. But shoving a little toothbrush into a tiny dog's mouth and vigorously applying it upper and lower, just isn't my thing.

We usually try to get them a doggy toothpaste that most appeals to them, and that, normally, is chicken-flavoured. So the after-licks are treats, you see? However, last time we shopped (he shopped) for doggy toothpaste the only type available was vanilla flavoured. We needed it, so he opted for it, and they don't seem to mind at all, finding the taste agreeable. Like us, they also have a sweet tooth...ha-ha.

Sometimes when I look for our toothpaste in the holder where it belongs, and cannot find it, I will discover that it's been mistakenly placed into the mug that holds the dogs' toothpaste and brushes. So I guess it shouldn't have come as one big surprise when, this evening after dinner when he was brushing his teeth for what seemed an inordinately long time (I was awaiting my turn at the electric brush) he suddenly laughed out loud and said, "no wonder!".

The toothpaste, he thought, tasted much better than the Colgate we use generally does, so he took his time brushing. Then realized that the sweet taste he was so relishing was not Colgate at all, but rather the dogs' toothpaste. Well, seems it did the job.

Glad we don't also share electric tooth brush heads. Ugh.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

It Must Be Spring! Almost

Spring is Sprung, the Grass is Riz, I Wonder Where the Birdies Is?
Not quite yet. But on the way. I believe. We saw a robin last week, sitting in one of our Sargenti flowering crab trees. We keep hearing the lilting, teasing song of the cardinal, and occasionally have the good fortune to even spot him in his scarlet attire looping through the trees. Poor robin. What can he possibly find to nourish him between now and the final melt? The crows are mobbing high in the trees of the ravine, their loud raucous cawing bringing promise to the near future. Squirrels have been chasing one another up tree trunks and around and about, leaping from branch to branch - catch me!

We've a stubborn and deep snowpack, not going anywhere in a great big hurry. We have lots and lots of ice everywhere, packing down the snow, doing its obvious best to ensure winter lingers. But the sun, when it is out, is palpably warmer, and it sends its comfortable rays deep into our wellspring of winter discontent. It's on the way, spring is coming.

A few weeks ago I set aside space in our sunny furnace room in the basement and set about potting up all of the begonia bulbs I'd wintered over from last year's garden. Some of the bulbs had already sprouted, and now there are green/red leaves on the stalks. I planted a potato vine, another holdover from last year's planting. Today I planted giant dahlias, one a cactus variety. To get a headstart on the garden, of course. So that, come the second week of May I can boldly set them out into the garden, already started, to make for a longer summer of bloom and colour.

The dread chill and winds of the past few weeks have suddenly abated and today we had sun and moderate temperatures, how wonderful. It isn't apochryphal then, spring really will come in soon; not the calendar spring, but the actual one we relish and enjoy. In our protected backyard I wandered coatless on the snow-free pathway peering down at the newly-liberated edges of the garden beds, and sure enough there are the icicle pansies, the heucheras, the grape hyachinths, crisp-green and ready to spring into action.

Button and Riley wandered about as well, sniffing and snuffling at the newly-released odours of seasons past. They know things are changing, and even though it's still too cold for them to be out for too long they agitate continually on sunny mornings to be let out onto the deck, where they search out the first little square of sun-illumined wood to lay upon and soak up the sun's warmth. As the snow melts off the deck they are able to do this earlier and earlier in the day, and it has become an absolute need for them.

We're all, I think, a little spring-feverish.

Canada's Very Own: Jihadists

Yes Canada has its own version of the pestilence that has spread inexorably throughout the world. Nice us. As yet but a springboard from which to launch into other areas of the world more deserving of that deadly attention from fanatic Islamists. So we are harbouring at our gentle bosom people utterly convinced that the world is ripe for a complete revolution.

Allah, not the benign, compassionate and fair presence which pricks the conscience of devout and kind Muslims, content to live within a world which has ample room for other faiths and customs, but the implacable Allah of the Infidel-hating, revenge-seeking jihadists, exhorts his warriors to craft his bloody revolution. The response from the bitterly disaffected, the vital, corrupted youth has been overwhelming in its singleness of purpose.

New York and Washington can testify to that, as can Indonesia, Spain and Great Britain, among others. Home-grown jihadists, ready, eager and willing to do the bidding of their version of the Prophets' (may they rest in peace) message, in honour of their jealous god who will have no others worshipped above him. The message is familiar, the messengers are not, nor is their handiwork.

So Canada had/has the infamous Khadr family whose arrogance of entitlement knew/knows no bounds. From their safe haven in Canada they raised funds for al Qaeda, operated training camps for jihadists abroad and spread their hate and their fearful purpose. Lest we forget, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien even prevailed upon Pakistan's former Prime Minister to free the Kadhr patriarch from a prison in Pakistan where he was being held on suspicion of involvement in terrorism.

Even the Khadr women made no secret of their loathing for the lifestyles and customs they abhor within secular Canada, but return to Canada they did, for what other country would offer them the tender care that Canada does? This is the family that enjoyed a comfortable friendship with Osama bin Laden and his family. Kindred spirits. Equally dedicated to the glorious task of elevating Islam to world domination. Their interpretation of Islam, be it noted.

Yes, there are a score of others held on Security Certificates, none against whom the federal government has a tighter body of evidence than on Momin Khawaja, arrested in 2004 in a quiet, leafy suburb of Ottawa, and currently awaiting trial on federal terrorism charges. This lovely young man was arrested by the RCMP at no other more unlikely venue than his contract workplace, Foreign Affairs; how apt. His traceable connections to like young radical hatred-mongers and carnage-seekers in Great Britain currently on trial there brought him to his current status.

But the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree. His father, Mahboob, another contract worker whose talents placed him in Saudi Arabia, claims the police misinterpreted telephone conversations that he himself had with his son. Concerning the most innocent of business plans, the development and sales of customized cellphone jammers for sale to Saudi telecom agencies.

Given the testimony coming out of the British trials citing e-mail messages of total incrimination and telephone conversations in which murderous intent is laid out, this pallid explanation of the truth wouldn't be absorbed by the village idiot. Father Khawaja's own web site describes his palpable hatred for Jews, a trait his willing son was quick to adopt as his own, happy to contemplate blowing up synagogues with his dedicated death-crew.

From ammonium nitrate bombs to radioisotrope bombs; from upscale shopping centres in London to crowded trains and buses; to electrical grids and natural gas systems, all were fodder for the imaginations of this group of eager jihadists. They prepared well, attending terrorist training camps in Pakistan, learning to craft explosive devices, to use ricin.

Canada, safe haven for wannabe world-class fanatics. Death messengers.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Case for Shooting the Messenger

George W. Bush listened to God and determined that Iraq needed rescue, and by gawd, he was the one to do it, where his Daddy failed (to go all the way, rescuing Kuwait only dear, dear). God must have told Dubya that weapons of mass destruction not of his own celestial making were an affront to his dignity and a threat to his flock, something he had already discussed at some length with his near and dear cousin, Allah, but they were unable to reach a compromise.

Allah thought it was nice and decent of God to be concerned, but that he could handle his own flock, thank you very much. The thing of it is, when you get around to family relations between two such giants of nature/nurture, each is certain that he is right, the other wrong. That's where human beings get that similar trait, don't you know? The laws of inheritance. Genetic laws, that is. Not that we can claim that close a genetic connection, since we're but mortal and they, good heavens, we all know they're immortal, all-seeing, all-powerful, but compassionate and thoughtful. Like we'd appreciate being, but aren't.

Well, God didn't tell Dubya what his close kin had said, so Dubya felt pretty safe going ahead with that little enterprise, and assured a skeptical world that he knew what he was doing, and those dratted weapons of mass destruction had to be - well, destroyed. Along with Saddam Hussein, of course, who thumbed his nose at Daddy. Besides which, he was a bloodthirsty beast, that Saddam. Who gave him permission, after all, to spread mayhem, murder at will? (Bear in mind Dubya hasn't a direct connection to Allah, for he is not Muslim, he is most definitely, I have it in great confidence by authorative sources who cannot be named, a Christian of the First Order.

So Dubya invaded, and speedily declared War Over. Guess no one informed the Iraqis, they were too busy mourning their dead to notice. And they keep being distracted by all those funerals, and haven't had the time to realize that they're finally free, free at last! See, it was like this: Dubya delegates, and he delegated a trusted buddy, name of Paul Bremer to go in there and kick ass, oops I mean clean things up. Clear the way for Democracy in Iraq. A signpost in a largely what shall we say? Arab world not noted for its attraction to democratic reform?

So in comes Paul, and this man is, like his boss, one helluva Christian. On speaking terms with God, just so you know. God told him, God said: "Paul, you go in there and do your thing". And he did, what else would you expect him to do? This is a man of honour, determination, and gall. Well, throw a little bit of naivette in there too. You know the mindset that in children we call innocence, and we just love it to pieces?

So Paul went in there, a true Soldier of God, determined not to let his old friend Dubya down, another Great and True Soldier of God. Paul set about his task, he "dismantled" everything. Oh yes, he did, yes he did, because everything needed dismantling. It was all wrong, you see. (Well, all right, maybe some things got a little mangled in the general dismantling, but you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, now can you? Who said that, anyway?)

  • Political system? Wrong. Dismantle.
  • Military? Wrong. Dismantle.
  • Security infrastructure? Wrong. Dismantle.
  • Defence Ministry? Wrong. Dismantle.
  • National Security Ministries? Wrong. Dismantle.
  • National Security offices? Wrong. Dismantle.
  • Military formations? Wrong. Dismantle.
Guess those Muslims don't know how to do anything right, they lack the Right Stuff. Paul got real busy setting out directives on governance, and regulations on bankruptcy, on traffic conditions, restrictions on child labour and copyright of movies (hey, American culture!) were drawn up. Funny thing happened on the way to normalization. With all those people formerly in defence of their country, in policing, in security, out of jobs, they just didn't care about traffic conditions, child labour and heisting movies. Bankruptcy? don't make me laugh.

For one thing the U.S. forces blasted hell out of civic infrastructure; no electricity, no potable water, but the important thing of course, was to get those wells pumping again, protect the oil, ship it out, that's the key! Liberation, freedom!

Meanwhile, all those disaffected ingrates with nothing to do did their patriotic duty and joined the insurgents. And Allah was experiencing some problems of his own while gently chiding his cousin God. For Allah's flock was dissolving into definite "us and thems" and when they weren't busy trying to blow up U.S. forces safely (they hoped) ensconced in their cozy walled enclaves, they turned to enthusiastically blowing each other to itty-bitty pieces.

Wow, wotamess.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Well, Why Are We in Afghanistan?

Because, stupid, it's a human-rights issue. Because we were dragged into this issue, like it or not. Because the Taliban were so unspeakably dreadful. Because we felt such great compassion for the plight of Afghani women and children under the Taliban's disgustingly-brutal regime. Because, in fact, we had little choice, given who our friends are, and how they are deployed. Because we have a conscience, and we like to be able to live with it. Because we actually feel that with some sacrifice on our part we can help deliver that poor benighted country into the modern world.

I don't know about you, but I sincerely believe all of the above. With one notable exception; the very last sentence in the paragraph above.

Canadian soldiers have been deployed, at the behest of their government, in an acridly nasty battlefield of a country. The long-suffering inhabitants of that country want peace, stability, some promise of a decent future for themselves, their children. Whether that will ever be attainable by Western standards is a moot point, but for the present, the misery visited upon Afghan women and girls has been lifted.

We have sent our young men into danger. For the purpose of being of assistance to a badly bruised population. Danger lurks around every bend of the road, and they are aware of this. At a safe distance, we are too, and expect no less of our soldiers than that they will rise above their natural fears and aid and assist where they can. While remaining alert to the potential spectre of death set into the roadside wherever their vehicles travel.

Democracy, don't even think about it. If anything approximating democracy ever takes root there, it will not be of a variety readily identifiable by any Canadian. Democracy under Sharia law? Perhaps, after all, democracy is the will of the people. A people steeped in the overarching laws of Islam. To practise a religion other than Islam is a crime under Islamic law. This is a version of freedom of thought, of association, of choice, of speech that we are quite unfamiliar with.

In the capital of Afghanistan a man will be sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity. The judge in this case says that this poor man will be "invited" to reverse himself and once again adopt Islam, shedding Christianity. Because, said the judge "Islam is one of tolerance", and "we will forgive him". Meanwhile the state prosecutor, somewhat less kind, insists that the man, Abdul Rahman, "must get the death penalty".

So much for that last sentence up there in the first paragraph. Unless, by some future miracle, the struggle in Afghanistan between religious conservatives and reformers has the latter shaping the country's destiny. That is, if foreign troops currently stationed there are ultimately successful in defanging the resurgent Taliban forces.

The Better to Bite You With, My Dear!

Well, would you look at that! This kitten has teeth, no, fangs, and claws too, if you please. Back into the limelight, this time to plead once again on behalf of those sweet little white thingies, what're they called? oh yes, Whitecoat seals.

Brigette is coming to Ottawa, hurrah! She wants to meet with our new prime minister? Oh, gee whiz. Whatever for? She's heard that celebrities have the ear of the highest placed in this land? Oh Brigette dear, that was before, that was back when we had our own touchy-feely Paul Martin as prime minister. Brigette, you would not want to meet this new one, trust me.

And guess wot? Even Bono discovered that you can make friends in high political places, and extract promises from them, even truly worthwhile promises on behalf of sterling causes, but you cannot make them deliver. Honestly, good intentions don't always fly when it comes to hard decision-making. And Brigette, most Canadians would have been glad to deliver on Bono's pet cause; to deliver a greater percentage of Canadian GDP in aid to developing countries.

But your cause? Forget it. Not for your eponymous Foundation, nor the many others with which yours is allied. You may be a very nice old (albeit, one imagines slightly dotty) bird, suffering paroxysms of anxiety about the welfare of animals, but it just isn't on, dearie. Not because you're a has-been and our new prime minister is a sour, leaden approximation of a human being, but because there are other causes which have precedence.

Besides which, why would this man, the official representative of this lovely country want to meet with somone who calls for a total boycott of Canadian products? He wouldn't be serving his country very well to do so, would he? You're begging "all consumers in all countries to stop buying Canadian products!" as goes your memo. Whoa! that's one big beg, kitten-lady.

You aver that the Canadian "state" is insensitive to the suffering of massacred seals, despite protests from the whole world. Your economic boycott is intended to bring this country to its senses, if not its financial knees, since, as you so authoratatively say, "money seems to be its only interest". Ah, so. I mean kiddo, if you say it, it must be so. No?

Speaking of business and economic bulldozers, how about those animal welfare groups? Smacking successes, no less. Talk about thriving businesses! How about those worldwide revenues? Zowie!

Well, guess what? Most people do care about the welfare of animals, and in fact go out of their way to make life pleasant as possible for many animals, particularly those of the pet persuasion. And, guess what? Most people on this globe actually eat animals of one kind or another, it's their preferred diet, when available. Horrible, isn't it? Yes, none of us like to think about it.

And, guess what also? Also, people in the northern Hemisphere often wear animal skins; have done so for an eternity, continue to do so. Ugh! Hey, animals are a renewable resource. We're not using petroleum products to manufacture garments here; we're using an available, renewable, natural resource. This too has been done since time immemorial.

Do yourself and everyone else a favour; find another cause, say for example, collect funds to feed the starving children in the Congo. Now there's a cause, one that no one could credibly criticize. Trust your fellow human beings to express kindness and concern toward the lessser creatures on this earth and turn your energies where they might actually help make a better world.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Incendiary Little Thugs

A highly respected institution, The Salvation Army. We send charitable donations to them in support of their valuable work assisting the homeless, the troubled, the indigent within our population. I will also go out and do a door-to-door canvass on their behalf, asking my neighbours for their charitable dollars in support of this worthwhile institution.

Whenever we have items we no longer have any practical use for we donate them to the shops. I've never quite understood why middle-class households will hold "garage sales" instead of donating their unwanted goods to this worthwhile enterprise. We have even, on the rare occasion, rescued perfectly good items set out for garbage collection and transferred them to the Salvation Army Thrift Shop.

The Salvation Army operates many Thrift Shops throughout the country. These shops are an ongoing source of funds for the institution, and they are also a provider of jobs for people who are themselves on the lower economic echelon in our society. In fact, we've found that these thrift shops (we call them Sally Anns) are an excellent source of hard goods, mostly used, sometimes new. Fact is, in those shops which operate in upscale neighbourhoods even gently used designer garments can be found.

Our own neighbourhood shop, a sizeable and very well stocked building employing quite a number of individuals is a source of purchasing inspiration for a wide range of clients, not only those on fixed and limited incomes. Ourselves included. This place has been, in fact, my most favourite shopping venue for some number of years.

So why on earth would anyone, even stupidly bored teen-age slugs deliberately undertake the destruction of such a place? Looking for excitement. Planning on some action of their own, if none can be found otherwise. So in the space of an hour a community institution, a good employer, a highly respected charitable enterprise is completely gutted.

The police are looking for a gaggle of dimwits who, upon wreaking their stupidity upon the community hastily took off in a black SUV. People in the neighbouring houses surrounding the Sally Ann had witnessed their presence pre-fire.

My hope is that these crepescular swine be found and their parents be made to realize the extent of their cretinous offsprings' disaffection with society. A nice hefty family fine would fit the bill quite nicely.

Family visits to the local lock-up can be handily arranged.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Damning Consequences of Child Neglect

We Canadians are truly a rough, tough breed. Northerners, that's us. We can take the weather that this hemisphere throws up at us every winter, no question. Where once our pioneers struggled against the elements as a necessary evil to be faced daily throughout our unforgiving winters, we live now in comfort and play.

Comfort because of modern technology which allows us to erect superlative shelters which are easily heated and electrified. Play because to survive the psychological effects of facing relentlessly dark, cold, windy and snowy weather, day after dogged day, we must perforce entertain ourselves in the elements with play.

So clever inventors have brought us snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and watercraft to zip and zoom over the landscape, in summer, frozen winter and everything in between. We no longer lose rugged individuals to the rigours of surviving in an inhospitable land as formerly. Now we lose countless frolicking young people who enjoy nothing more than to drink and drive, whether it be watercraft or land rovers.

And every time we have a report of someone mortally hitting a tree in a snowmobile, or driving across a frozen lake which wasn't, or overturning in a motorized watercraft, or driving an all-terrain vehicle into the side of a barn, or a tractor, or turning it over on themselves and dying, we sigh. What a waste. And the papers are full of superlatives describing their unalloyed joy in life, their sense of adventure. Tedious, tiresome, but hey, that's life, and these are, generally speaking, adults capable of living their lives or wasting them.

But bloody hell! An eight-year-old farm boy permitted to drive an ATV? His parents were chopping wood and he was assigned to bring them water? Oh, it's all right, he was wearing a helmet. What do people use for brains? Doesn't this kind of child neglect warrant censure? Instead, we read: "family members, friends remember keen hockey player who loved machines". Right.

This little kid, a whole eight years old, was driving a full-size ATV. His family remembers him as a spirited and adventurous boy who loved the outdoors. No kidding. Spirited and adventurous. Do we extrapolate from there, reach an opinion that this was the child's own doing? He was spirited and adventurous, it was his decision, his parents had no influence on the child, to let him know he was too young for this kind of spirited and adventurous undertaking?

Nothing new about this type of thing. Young teens have been killed in similar crashes right across the country. There was even, previously an 11-year-old boy crushed to death when the ATV he was driving fell on him. That child had permission from his father and uncle to use their four-wheel ATV. Oh yes, there was also a 7-year-old also near Ottawa who slammed into a hydro pole.

What are we thinking? We actually commisserate with these people who willingly, happily endanger their children by permitting them to operate machines they cannot possibly control. Why aren't they being charged for Child Endangerment, Child Neglect, Child Abandonment?

Are we all totally insane?

The Transparency of Glass Houses

Oops, yet another cross-border disagreement. Another little tempest caused by an American family going to all the trouble of writing each of the members of the Canadian Chamber of Sober Second Thought. That's what they get, for taking such a sobriquet at face value. In their personal protest at their disgust with Canada's annual seal hunt the McLellans have warned that if Canada does not cease and desist they will take their estimated eight-grand travel holiday elsewhere. Do so, do so.

I know we've often thought of doing the very same thing. Oh, not the seal hunt, we can live with that, and we do. Uneasily, but who are we to cast stones at the Inuit Tapirisat who tell us loud and clear that the seal hunt is an integral part of their ancient way of life, still proudly practised. Nor the Newfoundland sealers who depend upon the funds generated by the seal pelts to help their families struggle through another year's living expenses. No, what I meant was our own personal disgust at many of the initiatives that the United States takes upon itself as the undeniably-only existing world power, and our yearly decisions, half-reluctantly, to clamber about in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Thing is, we admire Americans, we just deplore the current (and sometimes-previous) administration. Let's face it, much of the world does. Unjustly, often enough, but that's life. The United States has always been a force to be reckoned with, one capable of delivering to the world great good particularly during troubled and critically fractionalized times. It has also been guilty of devious meddling in the affairs of other countries when its interference has been directly against the best interests of those countries.

The thing of it is, countries are like people, they have complex personalities and sometimes the better halves of their psyches shine through, and sometimes the darkly egotistically selfish personas gain the upper hand. Hell, even the American people themselves deplore, loudly and with gusto, their disapproval of the direction their government has taken them. Say, for example, for their much-celebrated traits of making nice with foreign tyrants and dictators when the fallout for so doing has been favourable for the U.S. Or the CIA's not-so-secret involvement in the affairs of other countries' destinies when they run counter to the self-perceived interest of the U.S. government.

There is a strong national conscience but it has been known to be suborned, and a pity that is, to be sure. Because, in the end, there are likely more conscience-stricken and decent individuals in that country, doing their utmost to guide it toward the light of reason and model diplomacy than exists on average in just about any other country in the world.

But back to that little protest which engendered a rather intemperate response (hear! hear!) from one of Canada's Senators. Senator Hervieux-Payette deplored this hapless (who, after all, do they think they are?) family's attempt at emotional blackmail by comparing the plight of baby harp seals being harvested to thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq having lost their lives over the past three years of U.S. intervention (war, invasion, oversight, take your pick) in that miserable country.

Do I chide thee? Let me enumerate the many reasons...
  • The passion of American hunters to track down and shoot (sometimes mutilate) game in that country and in ours; (even unto tiny wee passels of birds who seek their revenge by staging shoot-outs between highly-placed administration types and their shooting buds)
  • Antsy religios in State governments making a go at challenging Abortion Rights for wimmin;
  • The squirrely worship of unbridled Capitalism and the inevitable fall-out;
  • Consumerism beyond conscience;
  • The ubiquity of exhortations to do one better than the neighbours;
  • The ongoing inability of observing and honouring commitments between neighbouring, friendly countries, then grousing when the neighbours throw the garbage back at them;
  • Human rights condemnations abroad, while practising same abroad in U.S. interests;
  • Targeting for censure international graft and corruption within foreign governments, neatly overlooking U.S. domestic same;
  • The lack of zeal in attending to the plight of the poor, the underprivileged within the Country That Has It All.
Hey, in other words, just like us and all the other neighbours, neither as honourable, as decent or as caringly compassionate as we would like to believe of ourselves.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Cold Comfort

Katrina refugees and survivors are back to square one. Hurricane season is once again upon these hapless victims of nature's fury. And speaking of fury, that's how they should be feeling about now. They survived one of the worst weather-related disasters to be visited upon the United States, when a hurricane of unprecedented proportions caused a fallout that wrought horrendous havoc in the Gulf Coast. Now they face the same potential again. As though their constant nightmares haven't caused them to re-live that nightmare night after night.

The black former residents of the lower-middle class and poor sections of New Orleans don't know whether conditions will ever be right for their return. Once-secure homes, whether of sound construction or livable hovels remain uninhabitable, and even those returned residents who are in the process of attempting to restore habitability to their former homes remain in a quandary. The power grid has not yet been completely restored. There is still the question of potable water. There appears to be little-to-no federal funds made available to help people move back into their former homes and lives.

And the latest? the temporary shelters in lieu of homes that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided for the wretched victims of Katrina are just that; temporary shelters unable to withstand the rigours of a light weather system, let alone the return of the violent hurricanes which the new season is certain to bring. These are lightweight units akin to travel trailers, not at all to be lcompared to the relative robustness of mobile homes. Which themselves have proven time and again to be particularly susceptible to withstanding the challenges of nature's excesses.

In high winds these trailers rock violently, reminding their temporary and worried inhabitants of the tenuous nature of their circumstances. These trailers are thin-sheathed aluminum, a step up from sturdy tents, hardly the type of accommodation to inspire confidence in their ability to withstand hurricane-force winds. The government has set standards for new coastal homes, that they must be able to withstand winds of up to 170 to 200 km/h, depending on their location. So why did government agencies improvidently make available these inadequate shelters to begin with?

The Army Corps of Engineers have worked diligently to achieve the standards considered adequate for the levees to withstand moderate-forced hurricane strength. It remains debatable whether or not another hurricane with the force of Katrina would again be successful in breaching the levees. Given the fact that the natural absorptive abilities of the bayous were severeley compromised after Katrina, that is another consideration.

If, if and if. If a portion of the funds set aside for interplanetary exploration were used instead to secure the Gulf Coast and other areas within the U.S. to provide security from a growing incidence of increasingly violent weather systems, might that not be a wise investment? Had the United States maintained its position in Afghanistan after the initial routing of the Taliban and the subsequent search for Al Qaeda, and remained there, instead of prosecuting a war in Iraq which subsequent intelligence has called into question, the result might have been vastly different in terms of success of mission and outlay of vast sums of money.

Which money might very well also have been used in part for such vital infrastructure goals as securing fragile protective systems such as those along the Gulf Coast.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Citizenship for the Masses

And here we're talking serious masses; what's the population of China now? Quick! before another few thousands are born...! Around one point 3 billion? Yup, that's a mind-boggling number, all right. Question is, how does one govern such an ever burgeoning host, a multitude of that scope?

Well, 'way back when, there was the Imperial elite and then there was everyone-dreary-else. No empowerment of the masses back then. However, modernity and the 20th century erupted, and then when the great saviours of the great unwashed washed ashore on a tidal wave of change the impoverished became the overseers, while the formerly elite became history.

But for several decades China has embraced Socialist Capitalism, and they like it, they really do. The consumers in the rest of the world like it too. From what other source, save India, are such great numbers of the population engaged in cottage industries producing consumables of every and all varieties, including artwork of one kind or another for export abroad where eager purchasers snap up the spoils at a fraction of the cost it would take to produce their kind locally? Hell forget that! The markets hungry for Chinese imports aren't capable of producing that picky quality or quantity.

So China's economy began to grow, and grow and grow. Hong Kong and Singapore showed them how. Their vast human resources enabled this experiment to become a resounding (hear the clink of cash registers?) success. Now there's an ever-growing social-economic elite but grow as they might, this is one huuuuge population and left behind in the race to prosperity are countless (we're talking hundreds of millions, folks) others, who haven't yet caught up.

Time for a pep talk. President Hu Jintao has issued a series of what? adminishments? blandishments? They're certainly not couched in the language of grim Communist ideals, nor in the biblical language of the 10 Commandments. Still, who could possibly argue with this sterling list for good citizenship:
  • Love, do not harm the motherland.
  • Serve, don't disserve the people.
  • Uphold science; don't be ignorant and unenlightened.
  • Work hard; don't be lazy and hate work.
  • Be united and help each other; don't gain benefits at the expense of others.
  • Be honest and trustworthy, not profit-mongering at the expense of your values.
  • Be disciplined and law-abiding, instead of chaotic and lawless.
  • Know plain living and hard struggle; do not wallow in luxuries and pleasures.
To which awesome set of Rules for Living one can only gasp Bravo! (And ain't that a classic case of Do as I Say, Not as I Do? Bravo again!)

And in the best of all possible worlds humanoid automatons whose computer-assisted cerebral circuitry finely honed to accept these aphoristic dicta for Life In The Chinalane, the outcome would be guaranteed. But, um, all these people, that teeming mass of Chinese aspirants are determined to achieve the optimum that life has to offer in comfort, personal security and dare we say, luxuries and pleasures?

How ya gonna keep them down on the farm once they've seen the New Economy?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

So what is it about those to whom we mere mortals look up to in the assurance that all will be set straight, that those responsible for war carnage will be brought to justice, with the full determining force of the combined United Nations' intent? What is it, come to think of it, that compels the forthrightly intelligent, moralistic international elite to behave on behalf of the rest of us with punctilious observation of the law and justice? To the extent that sympathetic consideration appears to be lavished upon specific individuals whose rule of law has been so egregiously at odds with that of a civilized society that we consider them brutally indefensible.

Thus it is that a clever psychopath who has attained the highest civil position in his country and uses that position to kindle a deep-seated and incendiary hatred of those of another ethnic group on the basis of an ancient humiliation of defeat can still be treated with a tender deference by those whom we depend upon to restore order to a world gone wrong.

In the Balkans, as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, ethnic, tribal hostilities seem to hover close to the surface, in any event. In the former Yugoslavia the Serbs, Croats and Albanians managed to live together in some kind of workable harmony under an overseeing dictator. Once those constraints to enmity were removed with the dissolution of the countries' alliance under the Tito umbrella, each group was ripe for revenge. There in particular the veneer of civilization appears to have been trowelled particularly stingily.

Slobodan Milosevic became a heroic leader to his people, encouraging them to relive past grievances and to restore the former glory of Serbia. And how to achieve that end? Simple: go on a murderous rampage. His challenge to his people was warmly embraced and they attacked their Albanian neighbours, along with Croats and Bosnian Muslims, all in the name of their ancient besmirched honour. And didn't they do themselves proud as blood ran in the streets? And wasn't Milosevic the darling of the West, wooing them with his civilized behaviour, until his adventures became too much for anyone to stomach?

Milosevic was an indicted war criminal. The newly-instituted War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, yet another ineffectual creature of the United Nations lodged him in a prison as they set about prosecuting him for war crimes, crimes against humanity. Some prison. This murderous monster was given his own office complete with fax, computer and telephone. Other amenities included use of a "comfort room" for conjugal visits with his estimable wife. He was permitted guests, as well as his legal representatives. Please to remember, he never accepted the "legality" of this court, protesting they had no right to try him for anything.

Why is it that those in the West bend over backwards, upside-down and topsy-turvey to accommodate the unspeakable? Why is it that highly regarded members of the legal community in Western countries go out of their way to personally represent the "interests" in due process under the law on behalf of some of the world's most detested mass murderers? These are people who did not so much as blink an eye let alone have a moment of compassion for those whose lives they summarily extinguished.

Yet every courtesy of civilized discourse and protection is offered such offenders of humanity. What kind of universal justice is seen to be done on behalf of the victims of their mad reigns? Milosevic and his equally brutal henchmen killed without compunction in the name of their vision of a greater Serbia, a country restored to its full honour. Honour gained at the expense of countless lives. How the language suffers.

This man was cosseted by a judicial system said to be representative of the wishes of the world community under the auspices of that august body, the United Nations. Apart from his savagely undetected mental illness, his physical ailments were scrupulously treated by medical doctors in the Hague. But he managed to evade justice, dying well before a verdict could be brought in and the trial brought to a long-awaited conclusion. His death was a fairly kind one, something he denied his countless victims.

Isn't life something? The families of his victims are twice victimized as they know that justice was not achieved on behalf of their loved ones. The incredulous world community looks on at the absurd spectacle of a trial five years in the making, costing millions upon millions of dollars to prosecute, with nothing at all to show for it.

And Serbian nationals are rending their garments in sorrow at the sad end of their one-time leader.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Gander, The Goose

Go ahead, shoot me. It gets my ire up to even contemplate the stark incompetency of it all. We The Taxpayer are the country's repository of every potential. Which is to say, in my awkward way (I know, I should've been a poet) without the funds generated by the taxes imposed upon that great protesting proletariate that makes up this country the gears would get stuck, nothing would run, right?

Yes, we do, in our democtric country have the illusion of making choices. We, in our great and diverse wisdom assist in the election of chief governing officers and their retinue, be they at the municipal, provincial or federal level. Elections are called, the politicians of every stripe profer their earnestly unbelievable platforms and we make our unfortunate decisions. And, when things go really awry, it is downright next to impossible to find someone, anyone, who will admit to having voted for that particular government in bad, very bad odour.

Still, there is the illusion, and we accept it. And there is this large, very governable, prosperous and free country. Which we are so very fortunate to inhabit. And which, when we become, from time to time, sufficiently irate about the state of its internal governing capacity, can become precious indeed when we view the alternatives outside our borders. We are indeed a proud country comprised of multifarious groupings from east to west, north to south, sea to sea to sea.

We have been undeniably enriched by our huge immigrant population. This country is, indeed, a country of immigrants. The two founding constituents of which come immediately to mind. Followed, guiltily and in haste, by this country's original native inhabitants. It is, however, the French-English divide that has guided this country through its formation to the present time. Our grudging acceptance to live together as though in true consanguinty has served us well.
But even siblings come to blows from time to time, and we have also accepted that.

What becomes more and more difficult to accept, however, is that one venerable, respected, lively and dominant member of this family fulminates against this ancient alliance, demanding to be recognized as master of its own house. They don't want to move out necessarily, just to move on. They deem the time ripe for a friendly divorce; the rest of the family resists. Still, they're not averse to receiving their share and more than their share of the housekeeping money. It's like being bit in the arse continually by a little asp you keep as a pet, and never suspect that it really dislikes you for your lack of regard of its true stature. (There, there.)

Which is why I and so many others like me, taxpaying citizens all, reasonably integrated into the mainstream of All Things Canadian, feel no little amount of consternation and yes lots of resentment at the fact that our tax dollars are spent lavishly on the upkeep of an avowedly separatist party in the House of Commons. I know all about bending backwards, and it's very nice that we're sufficiently supple to be able to achieve that little feat, but what is the point? Blackmail by sedition?

But it certainly sets a precedent. Here goes: A federal government employee is fired because she works for Heritage Canada which department among other things, attempts to raise the appreciation level of the French fact in other parts of Canada. However, this government employee, name of Edith Gendron, who never made any secret of her affiliation with the separatist movement, saw nothing morally questionable in pushing the government's course in interdependence within the country by day, and by night pursuing the course of independence.

She was fired in 2004 after having been elected president of the group Quebec un Pays whose sole reason for existence is the pursuit of separation. So the woman is morally bankrupt; she does the government's work for the excellent paycheque, and sees nothing ironic about the fact that despite this she insists the Province of Quebec is its own, independent country. A nice affiliation with Canada would be perfectly acceptable and then she could continue to enrich herself with her government paycheque. Why not? After all, this is just exactly what the province itself is aiming for.

What's this? She challenged her dismissal, filing a grievance supported by the PSAC. Now there's a morally challenged group, too. During the recent federal election, after all, they saw the brilliant utility of endorsing separatist candidates. If that isn't a head-scratcher what is? A public service union that represents government employees throughout the entire country finding just cause with separatists because, they say, individual candidates' platforms more closely parallel their way of thinking. Indeed.

The pain of it. And how very Canadian. Forbearance. Slap me again. An adjudicator, although noting the iniquity of this woman's politically challenged life, ruled that Heritage Canada must find a position for this woman and has also awarded her two years of retroactive back pay.

Our tax dollars.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Dear Cuz:

How I loved your mother. She was everything mine was not. She was gentle, soft-spoken and loving, while my mother, her sister, was abrupt, loudly accusative and never offered her children the emotional suppor they craved. Sisters: how odd.

Your mother was older than mine. Strange, the incredible difference in temperaments. Just to be in your mother's presence was to feel cared for, a valued loved one. I would just bask in her attention and obvious regard for me, a tentative child. Her manner was so at odds with that of her sister.

I loved watching her do things around the house. Most particularly in the kitchen. I was in awe of the magic she would perform in her well appointed kitchen. Everything she did, including the food she prepared for her family was done with love and concern for their well being. She had a calming effect on everyone. On occasion your second-older brother would tease me, and I would weep with frustration, for I adored him. She would take him to task for upsetting me.

I was older than you by one year. Your mother used to joke in a manner I did not then quite understand; something about my being brought into the world a year earlier had provided the inspiration for your birth, a year later. I was my mother's first child, and I take it she was fearful about the experience of giving birth. She had travelled from Toronto to Hamilton where your mother and father lived with their two small boys, so she might have the comfort of her sister's presence during my birth.

I always thought that odd. That my no-nonsense mother should have felt so vulnerable about doing something so natural as giving birth to a child. When it became my turn to carry and give birth to my first child, I harboured no fears at all, but felt completely comfortable about what I considered to be the most natural thing in the world. Obviously, since every human on earth was introduced in just such a biological sequence, it was.

I did envy you. The neat little house you lived in, on Mary Street in Hamilton was nothing like the flat my parents lived in on Manning Avenue in Toronto. You had the luxury of a house all to yourselves, a proper home. You never had to share a sole bathroom with another family, along with another tenant; nine people sharing that utility.

That house, with its clean white exterior, red roses in bloom in front of the verandah, its closed-in backyard, all your own. The milkman knocked at the back door of the house, inside the backyard, with his daily milk delivery. That was the door to the kitchen, located at the back of the house. The kitchen, with its pantry holding, among other things, the electric mixer that your mother used to whip up cakes, pastries and other goodies my mother never had any success with.

Your father was a silent, strict man. I don't recall seeing him smile. Your parents were observant Jews, mine were secular. I used to feel so uncomfortable when other children were absent from school during the High Holidays, and my parents sent me to school. I felt defensive, ashamed, as though I were somehow less a Jew than they. Occasionally my family would take the train to Hamilton to stay over for a day or two, to share Passover with your family.

I recall how unbelievingly desolate I felt at first, when I was informed by my parents that your family was planning to move permanently to Atlanta, Georgia. I knew I would miss you, my little boy-cousin, but the complete removal of my beloved aunt to another country was more than I could envisage. I remember before you finally left that I spoke with you about the plight of the Black population in the States, that I engineered a promise from you to never become a racist.

While my parents were secular, they were also religiously socialist in orientation, and I knew, from the time I was a small child, of the many injustices in the world, including the sad history of Blacks in the United States. Well, you and your family moved to Atlanta. That was 60 years ago. My parents would go for extended trips on occasion when their children were older, and it seemed like an exotic place to me.

I lived there myself, with my husband, some fifty years later, for several years. The Atlanta I had been introduced to, with its red soil, Civil War memorials, Stone Mountain, shambling black population, and socially removed whites were still there among the modern buildings and throughways, the palatially gracious homes, golf courses and obvious wealth. Then, there was also a black aristocracy, politicians, preachers of note and a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr.

The racial divide is still there, flourishing mightily. I met it twice, dear Cuz.

Living for that period in your city I became intimately re-acquainted with my distant cousins, my now-widowed and still-dear aunt. She lived well, and she lived long. She reaped what she had sown; the love and care she lavished upon her children were bestowed on her in turn and without stint.

A life well lived.

Elusive Ethics

Is it a question of elusive ethics on the part of the once seeingly-straight-up (albeit colourless) character of Prime Minister Stephen Harper whose personal rectitude was never in question, yet now is? If so, and I would certainly say it is undeniable that this man's ethical behaviour has been brought into question of late, the catalyst for this about-face in public opinion comes from his own lack of perception, that what we see is what we believe.

There's little doubt that Mr. Harper has kept a tight ship, both as leader of his party and now as the newly-minted Prime Minister of Canada. But it hasn't been any of his Members of Parliament and Cabinet members who have slipped up (with some obvious exceptions), but himself. From where I sit he appears to have developed an instant, more casual outlook on ethics. Seeming to believe, and even publicly articulating so, that as prime minister he has the authority to do as he will.

Yes, he may indeed have that authority, and may also in the legal prosecution of that authority appear to be a trifle lacking in wisdom, but what he is succeeding admirably in doing is making more of us believe that this former champion of truth and justice is neither. That having achieved the pinnacle that he laboured so mightily to ascend, the bar has been lowered and he is allowing himself the luxury of behaving just as badly as his much-criticized (chiefly by him) predecessors. Same old, same old. Trust politicians? Ha, and more ha.

Here we have the chief governing officer of this country thumbing his nose at the high level of expectations which he himself led us to believe would be a result of his ascent to power. Everything above board, no flaunting of the rules, gone the democratic deficit. The Senate would be reformed, no more sleazy political shenanigans. Good grief, we're right back where we started. Imagine, did we expect otherwise?

A personal friend and political supporter who just didn't feel like upsetting his life/style by bothering to run for elected office brought on board anyway; spirited into the Senate, gifted with a Cabinet position. Hey, just like magic. The enticement of a Cabinet position dangled before a successful, promising high-profile candidate on the other slate resulting in an immediate post-election cross-over. No apologies, no hems and haws, this was done, he avers stonily to achieve the best possible results for Canada, for Canadians. Gee, thanks.

This Prime Minister appears not to be above flicking a finger of dismissal at one of Parliament's distinguished officers set in place for the very task of ensuring ethical conduct be pursued by all who venture into those sacrosanct corridors as elected representatives of We The People. The Ethics Commissioner's request for explanation of the Emmerson affair has been summarily dismissed with the tag of being irrelevant; this from an erstwhile crusader for ethics in government.

That's the diminishment in opinion of the public persona. What about the private one, the guy who loves his kids, walks them to school, profers a formal handshake into the day ahead. What about that really nice guy who likes and enjoys cats in his close environment? Dang! anyone who likes animals has just got to be a good guy.

Whoops, along comes this nasty little staffing issue and we do a double take. This up-front, Honest John appears to have behaved rather questionably toward a member of his household staff. And that's a shame. Really. Summarily dismissing, without stated cause, a gentleman of the kitchen who has gone out of his way to serve his employers well. To the extent that he accepted the professional humiliation of having his services truncated, hived off to do duty as a baby-sitter, chauffeur, vehicle attendant, pet undertaker. All undertaken as commanded without complaint in an effort to ingratiate himself with his employer. To no avail.

Mr. Harper has developed an instant authoritarianism, he feels no compulsion to explain himself, for he is numero uno in the House of Commons. Should he continue on in this vein, his emerging vanity may yet trip him up, the results being a long and hard fall. I can hardly wait.

Follow @rheytah Tweet