Sunday, April 30, 2006

Trilliums are a'Coming!

It's Sunday and a beautiful one at that. The cold of last week has receded, as have the wind and the rain. The sky is a clear cerulean blue and the still-bare branches of the deciduous are outlined against the sky as we approach the entrance to the ravine. There is new fuzz on the Sumachs, the trails have dried out very nicely, and we marvel at the yearly surprise inherent in the Poplars' speediness at leafing out in tender new canopies of luscious lime. We untether our little dogs from their leashes and off we go. We do, that is; they prefer to sniff and snuffle their way through all the fragrances on the way down the first long hill into the valley below. We call: they come when they're ready.

The water level in the creek is much diminished. Despite which, a quick movement on the opposite bank reveals a Muskrat delving into its rush, to begin swimming energetically upstream. To its home, surprisingly distant from where we see him. Surprised too are we to see him here, where we have never seen him before. But why not, it's spring, and we've seen Great Blue Herons, and pairs of Mallards too, on their migratory routes in the spring. The dogs haven't noticed, and we watch his vigorous passage until the creek bends and he's lost to sight.

We're now seeing Trilliums rising out of the damp earth, and it seems to us, although perhaps it's not really so, that they're early this year. Everything seems to be early this year, a testament perhaps to the phenomenon of global warming. A universal worry we quickly banish from our minds. For the moment, in any event. We want to relish this gift of nature, this mid-spring pleasure before the blackflies and the ubiquitous mosquitoes tarnish some of the pleasure in these leisure walks.

Along with the Trilliums come also Trout lilies, although none are yet in flower. We see the occasional Serviceberry tree, small and large, on the cusp of breaking into full bloom. Poplars have dropped their fuzzy grey catkins, the maples their tiny red floral clusters. That was last week, and things have progressed enormously since then. Hemlock, Fir and Spruce needles have taken on a deeper green; the low-growing native Yew along the creek bank off-shoots
have taken on a glossy hue. These are the very plants which are carefully cultivated on farms so the new-grown Yew tips can be harvested to produce Tamoxifen.

A young couple pass us, along with their graceful, deep-chested Doberman. They grin as they see me lift our combative, snarling Toy-breed dog, to keep him from harm's way of his own doing. Riley's reputation is by now well known by regular ravine hikers. Ascending a hill, a song sparrow's lilt follows us. Ahah! the first tentative flowering of wild Strawberry, as well as pale purple woodland Violets. In the understory of the bush the Alder are shooting out their tender red/green shoots, and under them the first of the Horsetails.

A young man, accompanied by his son, jog past. The boy wears a tee shirt with the logo "Number 007"; the man appearing to jog in his child's wake. They haven't penetrated very far into the ravine and we come across them again, this time approaching in our direction. "Well, 007", says my companion, "is your Dad keeping up with you?". The boy grins, his father responds: "I jogged over to the ravine, he rode his bicycle".

As we turn a long curve in the trail, I note a quick movement at the corner of my eye, and turn to gesture silently toward a large Raccoon making its hurried way to the base of a large pine. The Raccoon hesitates as we watch, seeming reluctant to clamber up the tree, but waiting beside it for a sign that all is well and he needn't panic. Indeed, our two little dogs have not noticed its presence 200 feet beyond the trail. The Raccoon, seeming to note this, decides to stay put, and just stands there, watching as we progress further along, leaving him to his solitude, wondering why this usually-nocturnal creature is out in mid-afternoon.

As we progress on our walk, seeing black and red squirrels reveal themselves in the underbrush, and quickly flip up into surrounding trees, our dogs make quick, notional runs toward the taunting squirrels, then return to our sides. Odd that they entirely missed the presence of both the Muskrat and the Raccoon. We've noted on other occasions when we've seen snakes that the dogs appear to overlook their near presence, as well. Although they do take a little run at a robin well ahead on the trail, scuttling about, looking for live prey.

Here and there we see Trilliums in groups, some of them already sporting the nodding heads of immature flowers. We even see one slightly lifted carmine flowerhead, not yet fully mature. Although the immature heads look white, as though the flowers, when mature, will be white, they never are; a factor, we believe, of the clay-based soil. Clusters of foam flowers spring up here and there, and overnight nature has revealed another miracle of re-birth: rings of Lilies-of-the-Valley around the trunks of trees. Raspberry canes are leafing out, all this in contrast to the bare-branch condition of Elms, Maples, Oaks, Birches. But of course it's the spring sun warming the soil through the bare branches which produce the proliferation of early spring flowers.

A woodpecker's teasing call resounds from the woods. A crow skims the sky, to land on the spire of a tall pine, and from its perch it caws raucously as we approach the descent, its calls softening and muting as we pass into the valley beyond. The sun-warmed odour of baking pine needles on the trail reminds us of all those past years of emerging spring days when we keep "discovering" re-birth, as though for the very first time.

As we approach another of the wood bridges crossing the main creek the sounds of children's voices below lofts up toward us. Three little girls in colourful shirts are carefully making their way under the bridge. One child bemoans the state of her new shoes. They are ankle-deep at the edge of the clay-bottomed creek, its muddy waters rushing over them, eliciting giggles of cold sensation. The eldest among them encourages the youngest, reluctant one, telling her where to place her feet: on this protrusion, on that rock, as they slowly make their way to the opposite side under the bridge, looking for water-washed deposits of perfectly-rounded clay "rocks".

Friday, April 28, 2006

Charity Comes From the Heart

Doesn't it? In that it is a natural urge with many people. Those with inborn compassion. People who are not so self-absorbed as to be selective about their empathy for others. It is inherent to some personalities. Those, I feel, who are themselves loved and cherished. It is these people, secure in themselves and their place in the world who have no hesitation in extending a hand to others.

On the other hand, compassion and charity, the two sisters of humanity, can be taught by example, and often are. They are fostered as an integral part of being of and within a community. Bedfellows, the foundation of humanity.

I remember when we were very, very young. First married, proud owners of a small, very basic semi-detached bungalow. Stretching every hard-earned penny to pay for everything we owned. We pooled our meager salaries, and never seemed to have enough. Or, put another way, had just enough to see us through to another payday. That was a half-century ago.

At that time door-to-door canvassing for charitable purposes was completely unknown to me. When the first canvasser explained who she represented, what the purpose of the canvass was, I understood. And I cowered, shame flooded over me, embarrassment, and misery drowned me. I hadn't any money to donate, nothing. There were times when, between us, we shared twenty-five cents and waited for the next day's big event: pay day.

I've been a regular canvasser for door-to-door charitable events for the last thirty years. I find it extremely difficult not to agree to canvass, when I receive those telephone enquiries. I've been on the other end myself, calling one prospect after another, asking, begging for volunteers, and I know how difficult it is. I've never quite reconciled myself to approaching someone's door to introduce myself and the charity I'm representing, to ask whether the homeowner could see his/her way through to donating. It's difficult.

It has to be done. It's the mark of the maturity of a population that its members understand that those who can, support the enterprises which make life palatable for so many among us whose very existence is a daily struggle to persevere. Whether it's for the support of food banks, church groups, medical/health institutions, without community support the quality of life for all becomes diminished.

When I receive a kind reception I'm grateful. When I'm shunned by a dismissive or rude gesture I'm somewhat crestfallen. To hear from some homeowners whose obvious style of living instructs that they can afford to give, that they will not, "this year"; a phrase heard from these particular residents year after year, makes me feel downright disdainful. But you never know; when I began canvassing this street upon which we live fifteen years ago, I was struck by one homeowner who informed me sweetly that her husband was "involved with cancer" but she declined to give. Similarly, some might inform me that their near and dear were close to death from cancer, and they too declined to give. I would try to understand this mindset, but failed each time.

But this same family, the husband of which is "involved with cancer" (he is an oncologist) now gives me $50 when I call, and last night a young man responded by informing me that his father was just diagnosed with fourth-stage lung cancer and he donated $20. Actually, in my neighbourhood $20 appears to be the average, although if and when I receive $5 or even $1 as a donation I'm grateful. A receipt for charitable claims on income tax is issued for all donations.

At one home I stopped at, a townhouse where a young family lives, the parents were sweet, but said they had no money to spare. I recall this family from previous years, when they had given. Modestly, but given nonetheless, what they could, at that particular time. Their 8-year-old son leaped to his feet, said he had something, rushed upstairs and brought down his savings, $2. His parents were proud of him, and little wonder, they had done their job well.

I see many neighbours, canvassing in the spring after a long winter, and they want to visit and talk, and discuss and gossip, so the process can be stretched out. To properly do the street I may have to go out four times, to do call-backs. From long and sorry experience I know the reception I'll receive at some houses whose inhabitants I don't know personally but whose reponse I recall, and I'll leave literature and a mail-in envelope.

There have been some years when I've gone out to this street on four separate occasions, four different months, four different causes, as diverse as Heart and Stroke, Salvation Army, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Arthritis, Canadian Cancer Society, Diabetes Association, and then I truly hate what I'm doing, because I understand there is such a thing as donor fatigue. For it's not just the door-to-door canvassing that we respond to, but Care Canada, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, and many others.

I know I'm judgemental, but then who is perfect? On the other hand, why should I not judge people by the manner in which they react to perfectly reasonable requests to respond to community needs? Those who have two and three vehicles in their drives. Whose backyards are replete with in-ground swimming pools. Those whose pride in their homes is obvious by the manner in which they embellish the exteriors, the painstaking care taken in grooming their manor, who nonetheless see no value in extending toward the community at large a caring hand. I can judge them, why not?

When I'm aware of the personal situation of some neighbours, those whose hold on their homes has become tenuous because of misfortune or a temporary set-back, I withhold my calls, and just skip over. Situations change from year to year, and when matters stabilize I will return to them. Some are happy to give, whatever they can, others are adamant that charity is not their concern; some with scorn or anger in their voices, others cheerily, as though group need has nothing to do with them, despite that they themselves have need from time to time and take what they feel entitled to.

Patience is another virtue. I should cultivate it. Sigh.

The Pony

It's a rescue animal. It's rather small, as ponies are wont to be. Its coat is excessively shaggy, and it's a dark brown hue. Its eyes are dark brown also, and there's a spark of curiosity in them, although he often appears to look sad. He's kept in a small paddock, where the geese are also kept, along with a few ducks and miniature goats and kids. There's a larger paddock, and the two full-grown horses, a gelding and a mare, are kept there. The pony isn't permitted to be in the larger paddock often because he has a habit of pestering the two larger horses. The mare in particular, although she towers over him. The pony has never been gelded.

His owner takes him for walks along their country road from time to time, just to give him the opportunity to walk a bit further than he's generally accustomed to. He behaves well, for the most part, but he does need a firm hand. He can be balky at times, even cantankerous, and that's likely because of hormones. When he becomes stubborn he gets a good talking-to and a no-nonsense pull on the bridle. Which he has been known to try to slip, from time to time.

Both paddocks, the smaller one and the larger, are in a state of disrepair. The larger one is in poorer shape than the smaller. In fact, one of its gates is held together, improbably, with the use of two old unused dog leashes. No matter, the horses are content where they are, and have no intention of bolting.

Because the pony had begun pacing its shared enclosure, its owner became concerned, was worried it might be becoming a little neurotic. The kids, full of life's young enthusiasm, seem to tease the pony at times. They're fully capable of leaping upon his back and balancing there while he moves about. They think it's great fun; it's debatable whether he shares this opinion.

His owner has a rather casual, laid-back attitude toward her wards. She loves them all dearly, no mistake. She decided she would put the little pony into the larger paddock for a bit, see how he made out there, if he'd settle down a bit, leave the horses alone. That was in the evening. In the morning he was nowhere to be seen. It hadn't presented much of a difficulty for him to tease his way out of the loose boards and off he'd gone. Obviously, for he was no longer there.

They, she and her partner, roamed about in the woods behind their little log cabin. They called, they shouted. They drove their truck up and down the country road, peering left and right, but no sign of the little devil. Her partner blamed her. He'd told her time and again the paddocks were ridiculous; she should stop by and pick up material and he'd re-build the paddocks. She hadn't; he hadn't. Her mouth grew tight. His mouth slacked off.

The following morning a neighbour spotted the pony about eight miles down the road, near the Campbell farm. She parked her vehicle, told her daughter to stay in the car, hauled out one of her larger dogs' heavy leashes, and started off toward the pony. A Hydro truck was just coming along the road, and she turned back, hailed it to a stop, explained the situation, and the two Hydro men agreed to help. They formed a triangle and went slowly toward the pony, the neighbour calling him softly. The younger of the two men was nervous; the neighbour told him the pony was stupid, but gentle, not to be afraid. As luck would have it, he reached the pony first, pulled its halter, but the pony reared back, and the man, frightened, let go. They watched it trot off back into the bush. She used her cell phone to call her neighbour's partner.

Later that afternoon when the pony's owner's partner was driving back along the road, after finishing his milk deliveries, he spotted the pony, not far from where his neighbour had said she'd seen him. He parked the large refrigerated vehicle, approached the pony, and kept approaching, as it deliberately backed off, time and again. Until he was finally secured.

It was a long walk back to their log house, with the pony. He was tired after the day's work, irritated at the pony's behaviour, but jubilant that it was he who had found him, and could present him, safe, to his partner. The pony collapsed in an exhausted heap as soon as he entered the compound.

The kids leaped gleefully around him.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Agendas of Convenience

Whose agendas might possibly be advanced by the ongoing situation across the world where fundamentalist Islamists pursue a course which they trust will eventually take them to world domination. That of Allah, who supposedly demands of his devout adherents that they evangelize and conquer? Or that of sly connivers who have hijacked the worship of a revered Prophet and his vision of a God whose tenets as set down in the Koran are to be read in Arabic, ensuring the predominance of one-time tribal Bedouins, Middle-eastern nomads, tribesmen, Caliphs?

Of Allah: A being whether human or divine whose capacity for compassion and goodness is legendary would hardly demand of followers that they destroy all others who refuse his way.

Of religious manipulators: Carefully programming suggestible children from an early age - eager to please and to earn praise, to become an honoured part of an admired group - out of their childhood, cleansing them of their humanity to become automatons; human sacrifices for Allah.

It is not God's will that atrocities in the name of divine conquest are pursued, but rather the raw ambitions of men in the guise of worshipful followers of Islam. They prey on the innocents around them, the confused, the shallow-minded, with promises of eternity. Seldom do they themselves willingly offer themselves up as martyrs for the cause. Rather, they make a public display of celebrating the martyrdom of those whom they groom to the cause.

These evil opportunists, religious hypocrites, teach the exaltation of sacrifice. They teach that divine belief in a paradoxical God of love and mercy demands an ultimate sacrifice: one's own, dispensible life. They imbue their teachings with an infectious enthusiasm that children so readily relate to.

These current religious zealots and imposters have not invented anything new. During the Middle Ages children were sent with the blessing of Almighty God from Europe to the Middle East in a Children's Crusade. China's Communist leaders groomed their young to turn on their elders, their parents, during the Cultural Revolution. During the Iran-Iraq war, Iran groomed young country children as human sacrifices to walk through fields of munitions en masse, to detonate them to clear the way for the more valuable services of the Armed Forces.

Palestinian suicide bombers haven't come by accident and suddenly to fear and hate their Jewish neighbours. A long process of child indoctrination beginning with detestable school textbooks has robbed them of the opportunity to ask questions and reject murder.

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

Imagine This:

All the lost souls. Jews recall the Holocaust, and mourn the six million men, women and children lost in a deliberate mass murder of unprecedented intent and proportion. Six million men and women of all ages. Including children of all ages whom fate decreed would never grow to adulthood. With their deaths the world lost countless potential additional lives, many of which, apart from sharing the wonder inherent in life on earth and our place in nature, may well have become singular individuals on the world stage, capable of gifting society at large with the results of their life's work.

This one spectacular intent, to cleanse the world of its Jewish population, and its partial success, shouts out to us of humankind's utter degredation, yet speaks soft volumes to us of the wondrous ability of survivors to exist on little else but hope and perseverence.

These are the same human emotions which Jews within the State of Israel demonstrate daily in their determination to turn events to their favour for survival, surrounded by a demonstrably hostile population countless times in excess of their own slender population. But the people of Israel, through its leaders' careful decisions and the courage of the population have manged to demonstrate to the world that they intend to stay, to flourish, and if the fates permit, to assist their neighbours to prosper where and when possible.

The entire Jewish population of the State of Israel numbers approximately that of the population of Jews from across Europe who perished in the Holocaust. But the six million who now populate the State of Israel are as determined to live life to its fullest in the security of their own country as many of their neighbours are to dislodge them geographically.

They have the memory of their predecessors, those whose lives were taken from them, to encourage their determination, they have pride of history, culture and collective intelligence, to hope and to anticipate a future of security. They will succeed.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Holocaust Remembrance

Do Jews need to set aside one particular day in the year to remember the Holocaust? Is the fact that this dreadful event occurred something we could ever forget? Might it be possible that among some Jews Holocaust denial could be a form of life-affirming possibility? That the Holocaust was the vile figment of some lunatic's imagination? I suppose we could respond in the affirmative to all of the above.

I don't for a moment doubt that most Jews think of the Holocaust on a continual basis. How could it be otherwise? That we are able to conduct our lives in what can only be considered normalcy is a miracle in and of itself. A testament to the resilience of the human spirit. If we think about the reason/cause of this difficult-to-apprehend monumental hate and its outcome, and the great numbers of individuals who would have had to be indifferent to the fate of millions of innocent people, that is what bogs us down almost as much as the fact that the Holocaust itself occurred.

Never again, we said. We would not go as sheep to the slaughter. Nor did we then, in fact. But when Jews averred that such an impossible event in world history could never be repeated, they meant not only for themselves. The world took little note when Armenians were slaughtered in huge numbers after the turn of the century. Thirty years is a long time in human history; perhaps we felt that what happened then was then, thirty years would have been a sufficient time-span to fully civilize people.

Man seeks to outdo himself at every opportunity. There are opportunities, they arise each time a territorial dispute erupts, a tribal war ensues, an ethnic or religious group feels itself disenfranchised, then feels perfectly justified in wreaking vengeance on a grand scale upon the transgressor. Africa and Eastern Europe have been excellent breeding grounds for ethnic cleansing on a grand scale. The Middle East is now breeding religious murderers on a breathtaking scale.

Just as the Nazis did, it is only necessary to begin dehumanizing the "other" in the perceptions of those who have the upper hand through politics or geography or economics or military might, or friends at court.

Time and again human groups transgress against one another in the most horrific ways. Time and again outsiders, onlookers, reporters, cannot fully trust their senses to believe that these atrocities will occur, are occurring. A slight hesitation, an unwillingness to intervene, to demand cessation for fear of retribution or even accusations of interference, appears to be a sufficient deterrence to becoming "involved".

When the first escapees from Nazi death camps reached Europe and safety, and desperately sought to engage the world in an attempt to secure intervention and rescue, they found themselves talking to the wind. Quite simply the stories they told of inhuman atrocities were not to be believed. And they simply weren't believed. The fact is what we term "inhuman atrocities" are actually quite human in nature, since we have amply proved ourselves to be fully capable of furnishing unending agony, of visiting dreadfully unspeakable torments, of imagining and acting on the most odious of behaviours toward one another.

We should remember this. We should also remember that we are imbued with free will and a knowledge of justice, that we are perfectly capable of behaviour in direct contradiction to that we so rightly abhor, and that mere condemnations of failures in humane behaviour are insufficient deterrents.

There are times when, much as one shudders to admit it, it is right and proper to intervene, even if it results in a war we do not want.

Monday, April 24, 2006

We've Given Offence?

We've been put on notice: Osama bin Laden is displeased with us. Which would not be such a bad thing, if we weren't placed in such odious company as Hamas. It would seem that Mr. bin Laden disapproves of the West's preoccupation with saving itself from the deadly ravages of terrorist intent. Whatever was good enough for Mahatma Ghandi, he figures, should be good enough for the Western world; take it on the chin.

We've got our collective nerve! Responding to terrorist attacks by mounting defensive, and even pre-emptive moves to secure a future in the here-and-now; heaven can wait. Unlike militantly determined Islamists, most of us don't believe in a paradise that awaits us with countless virgins at our disposal. Hell, we aren't interested in that version of paradise in any event, we like our lives just as they are: vital, engaged and ongoing.

Mr. bin Laden very well knows what is happening in Sudan. After all, it was his home base for quite a long time. He thinks everything is just hunky-dory there, and we, the West, are interfering bastards for viewing the mass murder, rape and dislocation of thousands upon thousands of black Sudanese as an atrocity against humanity. While we're flagellating ourselves for inaction, and desperately pleading with the government of Sudan to put an end to the Janjaweed massacres of fellow Sudanese, bin Laden accuses us of gross interference in the world of Islam. Well, yes.

Mr. bin Laden decries the wicked unfairness of Islam-baiting from Darfur to Denmark. Hey, we should keep our nasty cartoons to ourselves, and just accept that infidel-hating Islamists will, from time to time, launch people-live-missiles at us, whether in Tel Aviv, Madrid, London or New York. Clearly, we're a grave disappointment to this great man of the people. Obviously, we're doing something right.

Even Hamas isn't immune to incurring bin Laden's severe displeasure. Discount that Hamas clearly means to eliminate the Jewish State as soon as it possibly can to make way for a greater Islamic State, and that's just fine. But, dammit, they've taken on the trappings of Western society in accepting the mantle of civil authority, however uncivil they are about it. And that's a no-go. Even Islamic-style democracy is not acceptable; annihilation of the interlopers must be attained by the power of the sword, and with Allah guiding the smiting hand, success is guaranteed.

Naughty, naughty Hamas. Which is all well and fine, I don't see anything wrong with the likes of Osama bin Laden castigating a group like Hamas for trying to play the Islamic hand in the way of the West. Clearly, this will not work as planned, so revert to what you do best and gain the approval of your guide and mentor.

As for us, we'll continue honing our collective conscience coming to the aid of the persecuted whether they be poor Westerners or poor Muslims, and damn the consequences. Hear that, Osama?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Pope Who?

It boggles the mind. Just how different things could be. Matters that appear immutable, through long usage, through the historic record, through the firmness of prounouncements from the very most elevated level in the religious firmament. But it could have happened, instead of Cardinal Ratsinger, Carlo Cardinal Maria Martini could have been elected Pope. Why not? His was one of the names on the roster of prospectives.

Look, Pope Benedict, like his predecessor, has affirmed the basic position of the Roman Catholic church on many explosive issues of the day; female ordination, abortion, birth control, the ordination of gays, artificial insemination, the practise of liberation theology. A whole range of current-day issues dividing the Roman Catholic church, but upon whose refusal to grant liberalization the Vatican remains steadfast.

Well, what if Cardinal Martini had been elected Pope? What an upheaval would have taken place from within the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, inexorably reaching down into the outreaches, parish to parish, to alter the face of that venerable institution. For Cardinal Martini is at distinct odds with the Pope. He states that there is no reason why condoms and abortions, for example, should not be permitted when warranted. In the case, for example, of stopping AIDS transmission, or unwanted pregnancies. Total abstention, as Pope Benedit prescribes overlooks human nature.

Cardinal Martini, as Pope, would have agreed to the legalization within the church of abortions under certain circumstances; that single parents might be permitted to adopt children; that extra embryos created in the process of artificial insemnination could be frozen and used, if required. The Vatican has not responded to these provocative assertions.

Well, truth is, the Roman Catholic church, just like the Anglican Church and many others must look to their religious counterparts abroad, in Asia, in Africa, for whom conservative-based religious practise only can be acceptable, not a watered-down version of the unbending original. Ethnic Roman Catholic priests serving multitudes in third-world or emerging- economy countries would never endorse the relaxation of church strictures and mores to reflect a more Western-oriented religious aesthetic.

It was but a thought. Tantalizing, though.

Animal Farm

When you have a lot of animals, more than most people would assume to be reasonable, you hope that your neighbours won't complain. Who, after all, wants to live next door to someone who is so ga-ga about dogs that they have seven of them, even if they prove their heart is in the right place by adopting dogs abandoned by previous owners? Even if the dogs range from full-size German Shepherds to middling-sized Shelties, to pocket-size Pomeranians and Chihuahuas? Even if the dogs are never permitted out of doors other than in the presence of their owner? And to know that there is also a cat lurking about in the house in the midst of all those dogs...? Wait: there's also six house rabbits. The very thought of all those animals inhabiting a house next to yours is enough to make most people go into a tizzy of allergic reactions, and protests are on the way.

Well, what if you're the person who has all of those animals, and you move into a new home and directly across from your new abode is another belonging to a person whose love of animals is even more all-embracing than your own? What if this person has, in her personal menagerie, two horses, a pony, six dogs of various sizes, four geese, fifteen chickens, a cat, three miniature goats, four kids, and a parrot. And all of these animals were acquired as a result of the fact that their previous owners no longer wanted them?

Good thing your new neighbour was once employed as a veterinarian technician, so she has a fairly good idea what these animals need and how to maintain them. Sad that she once was a case worker for the Humane Society and got so discouraged, so burned out, so outraged at what she so commonly saw and confronted that she had to go on sick leave, never to return to her post, despite her passion for trying to make the lives of companion animals more humane, their owners more considerate and alert to animals' needs.

It's a classic: you've met your match. And then some.

The thing is, most people who don't love animals and do not live with any of them are likely unaware that each and every one of these animals has a singular personality. As alike as they may seem within species, each one behaves differently, perceives and reacts in their own inimitable way. You know the various personalities of your own little zoo, and slowly become aware of, accustomed to, and appreciative of, the personalities inherent in the zoo across the street. What an experience.

One of the horses is quite old and happy not to be noticed, other than having its creature needs met on time. The other, a two-year-old mare, is very standoffish and shy, but incredibly, is taken with you and wants to be around you, to nuzzle with you, to have you understand its need for attention from you, only you. The pony likes to be noticed too, and especially loves children, so it's a perfect match for your nine-year-old daughter.

The tiniest dog across the street, a lightweight poodle/maltese mix named Hiccough, needs you to pop her into the front of your jacket as you move about doing things, looking after all of them in the absence of their mistress who has gone to another province for a family funeral. One of the female goats, a sheepish-appearing angora, loves your attention, and willl gently butt your backside to get it. Two of the kids, rejected after birth by their mother, require to be fed by bottle. The smallest of them, with the colouration of a Jersey cow, has been so named, and Jersey trots after you like a fixated dog. He'd very much like you to ditch Hiccough and carry him about as you so often do.

The hens, both black barred-rock and Rhode Island red, are sitting on eggs. Got to watch out for the rooster, because he's one cantankerous trouble-maker, not averse to chasing and nipping when the mood takes him. And it does, often. As for the Muscovies, that drake has a downright murderous attitude. In fact, two weeks earlier he attacked and killed a smaller drake; nature red in claw.

The Basset hounds are three, one of whom hates this damp, cold wet weather and looks utterly miserable out in it, waiting anxiously to be able to rush back into the house. Two Daschounds as well, both of whose tempers can be sometimes volatile, sometimes doggy-happy; either of whom can be guaranteed to turn deadly against an animal they aren't familiar with, smaller than they are.

The parrot! We forgot the parrot! He wants attention too. He's still mourning the loss of his companion, in an unfortunate wood-stove fire, summer-before-last. They all want to be fed, to be noticed, to be cossetted, however briefly.

Damn! it's muck-thick in the horse paddock. Good thing you wore your tall green Wellies; you'll have to wash them up well afterward. Better check the kids' formula; will there be enough of it for the next three days before their owner returns? Running a bit low on the wet dog food; will have to dole it out a bit more carefully than the dry. Will have to telephone her partner's father to get a bale of hay down for the horses; running low, too.

Well, will you have a look at that? Just yesterday evening the ducks were still sitting on that egg, now here's a yolk-yellow gosling, chirping away frantically.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Islam, Religion of Peace and Tolerance

The Western world has suffered through a steep learning curve the past several years. If Islam even got a second thought in most peoples' minds, who were not Muslim themselves, it would have been rather astonishing. That religion, like all others, was considered a matter of personal, private adherence, not impinging in any way on others who did not practise the religion.

How times have changed. It is so very comforting to believe, to want to believe, that all religions of this world share a basic tenet of peace and goodwill toward others. Some do, and fairly basically, others obviously fall somewhere in between the opposite extreme, and at the very tip of that opposite extreme would sit Islam. That is, with the knowledge we have so painfully gained of late.

Islam appears now to be a religion based on fratricide, holy jihad, extreme xenophobia, homophobia, severely strict adherence to a narrow set of rules of worship of the one true god, excluding all others as mere imposters. Women's place in Islam is a sad and sorry one in that most patriarchal of societies, where to be seen is to be noticed and the corollary to that is to be in immediate danger. Women are either docile bearers of future generations whose physical presence is noted by full head-and-body coverings, or they are despised harlots, tainted by Western ideas and thus legitimate targets for violence.

Within most Muslim societies, particularly in the Middle East, the presence of religions other than Islam are barely tolerated, if at all. The mere presence of worshippers of religions other than Islam is considered a mortal affront to Allah, for he has bidden his worshipping flock to wield the sword of righteous anger upon infidels and convert them to Islam in his honour. Not only will Allah not accept graven images but he will not accept the presence of infidels in his geography.

Muslims demand respect from non-Muslims toward their sacred religion as they feel it is just and their due. But they have no compunction in withholding respect for others' religions for they feel that too is just and their due, since only Allah is the one true god, all others being imposters.

Proportionally to their populations, there are far more obdurately militant Muslims who embrace the concept of holy war than might be the case for any other religious population by far. A signal holdover from medieval times. It is well nigh impossible to argue reasonably with these people, to appeal to their innate sense of justice, for because they are fanatics that sense of justice if it ever truly existed has been irretrievably corrupted.

Only an intransigently narrow point of view remains, which informs the believer that his way is the only way, and all who practise another way are unworthy of any kind of consideration.

That inability to see beyond one's own beliefs and fundamentals of existence means that accepting such people into a broader society of basically Western beliefs and lifestyles as immigrants, is bound to fail. There is no classical give and take, there is only a one-sided demand of give and take.

The two worlds cannot even agree to live in peace, separately. To do so would mean an agreement would have to exist in theory and in practise that each is entitled to their own beliefs and life systems, not to the detriment of the other, but in isolation of one another. It is now too late for that kind of arrangement.

Islamists feel themselves historically hard done by, and they seek redemption through an avenging agenda. The hard-core fundamentalists insist that there will be a future where Islam is paramount and all other religions and peoples will be subject to Muslim rule. And when that happens, Muslims will relent and permit the infidel to live side by side with Muslims, with the important distinction that the infidels will be subject to the historical tax levied to ensure they know their place in this brave new world, and that they realize that they are permitted to live in peace, on sufferance, not on a basis of equality.

How do peaceful, intelligent, and sympathetic citizens of the world adapt to that kind of mind-set? They do not.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

When Does Incredulity Set In?

We're nervous, yes we certainly are. Iran edges closer to nuclear weapons. They're exultant about it. The rest of us are extremely nervous at the thought that raving lunatics may be in control at some near date of the means to extinguish life on this planet on a truly grand scale.

We're trying to get our heads around the fact that the procurement of oil is such a terrific lure that Russia and China are more than a trifle reluctant to chide Iran and its antic President for his hideous pronouncements and promises of a mushroom future for the country's perceived enemies.

Can intelligent beings actually take a regime that flouts international law and flaunts its threats to world stability seriously when it's done with such extravagent displays of idiocy? Mobilizing Iran's well-armed-and-ready troops in public displays of power. Mounting Iranian theatrical dances where the performers hold aloft for Allah's appreciation vials of enriched uranium. Painting a backdrop of the Statue of Liberty with a death's head in place of the Maiden of Liberty. Threatening to annihilate another Middle East state, and to do likewise with the United States.

Neither rational, responsible, nor statesmanlike, but certainly risibly theatrical. Which brings me to my point: Where are all the intelligent, schooled and worldly Iranians? Are they just sitting back in the comfort of their homes and laughing themselves silly at the spectacle their president and his ruling clique are presenting to the world at large?

I've had the pleasure of meeting some Iranians. They are worldly, kind, eager to please, intelligent and mindful of civility. Are they such a rarity? Have such Iranians all taken the opportunity to leave their country of birth to the balance of Iranians who are none of the above? What kind of cerebral world do these people live in? Are they so unbelievably suggestible that they find the truly incredible behaviour of their heads of state palatable, to their liking?

What gives?

So the Strolling Serpent Said:

What's all this business about Creationism versus Evolution anyway? Oh sure, Intelligent Design seeks to meld the two, right? Yes, I suppose we did evolve even as Charles Darwin posited, but he forgot that it occurred after God created the world and its creatures. Just a lapse, anyone is capable of a lapse.

And when God created man he thought it was a pretty nifty creature. But of course he was alone and looked kind of forlorn. Despite the fact that God had also created all manner of other creatures, creepy-crawly ones, four-legged toughies, thick-hided ones, furry ones, lots of creativity went into the variety, you know. And sure, man liked them well enough, even thought he might make pets of some of them.

Man was puzzled, though, because none of them looked like him, you see. God took pity as God is wont to do sometimes, although obviously not very often, since He is never averse to testing man, visiting all manner of unspeakable situations on him as we well know. On the other hand, he bethought himself of completing the work he had begun, told Adam, for such was first man's name (who do you think invented nomenclature, after all; God just let Eve think she could name the animals; he put their names in her mouth) to go have a rest. And he would do the rest.

Darned if he didn't! But the first one didn't turn out to Adam's liking. Well, truth to tell, he liked her well enough, but she had a mind of her own and no mere man was going to tell her what to do. She refused to take Adam's name, his orders or his mewling complaints seriously, and went her own way. A second try produced Eve, and a sore ribcage. Eve was biddable. Usually.

Then along came this serpent, just sauntering down the footpath between the olive trees. Sauntering, I said sauntering. Sometimes the serpent strolled, sometimes he sauntered. It just depended on his mood. No, the snake didn't crawl, didn't hang down from a tree. That was one great big huge egregious error.

Hey, don't believe me? Ask Hussam Zaher of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. He and an Argentine colleague found a Patagonian fossil of a primitive, and I emphasize primitive, snake with two legs and a sacrum supporting its pelvis. So there, skeptic!

Anyway, this serpent really liked Eve, a good-looking babe, and told her she was wasting her time with Adam, a real schlepper. Does he ever give you any nice gifts, he asked her? Nope. Here's a nice shiny red apple, Evie, said the serpent, and Eve really appreciated its thoughtfulness because she just hated the thought of seeing a doctor.

Gotcha! said the two-legged serpent. (Yes, it's true, God put him up to it, He was just bored out of His mighty skull at their tameness; he wanted some action.) Adam got peeved, picked up a handy club and whammo! hit the poor serpent so hard its legs fell off and it crept away, abashed. There's evolution for you.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Who? What!?!

Oh Wow! No kidding?

Prince Turki al-Faisal, in an obvious attempt to endear himself, as the newly-appointed Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington (that's in the United States; Washington, District of Columbia, you know them, of course you do) has scolded the U.S. administration for not allocating greater funds and military resources toward capturing Osama bin Laden, and putting al-Qaeda out of commission.

Four years after the attacks of September 11, 2001 (oh come on, you remember that series of events, sure you do, think about it, you've got it stored somewhere up there in your memory attic) "Mr." bin Laden and his sterling associates are still unsettling the world at large, and evidently, the world of Prince Turki al-Faisal in particular.

What the hell have you guys been doing? You call yourselves the strongest, wealthiest, most influential, most globally-responsive country in the world, and you're still sitting on your hands? Come on! Everyone is watching, there are expectations and you're not living up to them...

This from the country that gave birth to Mr. bin Laden and his esteemed family, not to mention most of the actors involved in the 9/11 attacks on New York, Washington, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania? Well, by default, remember? It wasn't only the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, but also the Prez targetted. Just that some of the airline passengers didn't feel like being highjacked missiles, and thought they'd upset those plans a little. Hey, now you remember!

Well, I'm trying to recall when the last time was I read that the House of Saud and their many billionaire princes handed out any of the proceeds of their oil-cash-flow to causes of any kind. I do read where they go about spending lavishly on personal pursuits. I do read where they place bids on delectable corporate holdings, like the most lavish of hotel chains in the world. But support of charitable causes? Hmm, memory fails.

Oops! Sauda Arabia may be willing to contribute troops to an enriched thrust in the pursuit of Mr. bin Laden. Well, well and well! Ain't that something? As I understand it, the United States in its pursuit of Islamic terrorists has put a new spin on breaking the bank. They now have an accumulated federal debt approaching $9 Trillion (U.S. one presumes). That's the equivalent of $30,000 for each American man, woman and child.

Hey Saudis, hey Prince al-Faisal, how about expressing some willingness to throw in a few billion (U.S. of course) to help out your old friends? All those American men, women and children feel just a trifle burdened with the weight of this undertaking that you feel isn't sufficiently dedicated to your point of view.

Feel threatened by your Wahabbist fall-out? After all, it's your country, your rulers who engineered this very pious return to the original Islam, this quite militant and righteous Islam determined not to be sullied by the rest of the world, determined to "convince" the rest of the world, by the sword if necessary, and necessarily by the sword to embrace the wisdom of accepting the One True God and His Blessed Prophet (peace be upon him; but upon no one else, apparently).

Do us the honour.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

World's Largest What?

It must be appropriate somehow, that the world's most successful country, in the sense of its being the wealthiest, the most powerful, the most respected/ hated, most secular/religious, most population-diverse, most opinionated, most responsible/irresponsible, most controlling/laissez-faire, most capitalist, would now be in the throes of construction of the most comprehensively complicated and largest embassy in the world.

Where do countries construct embassies of note with respect to size, mission, staffing other than in countries where they conduct the most external or cross-border business, consular, immigration, defence, cultural cross-fertilization. Stands to reason, of course.

Why then does reason elude one's reckoning on learning that the United States is in the throes of constructing the world's largest embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, a country that has been invaded by American forces, along with some signal U.S. allies in the "war against terror". A country, just coincidentally, which views itself as no particular friend of the United States, a country which is desperately attempting to save itself from deadly internecine, factional war.

While the United States has been good-heartedly investing untold billions of dollars in defence/offence within the borders of Iraq in a seemingly vain attempt to bring law and order to bear, while simultaneously trying to restore the elements of good governership of the country, along with its invasion-destroyed infrastructure, the vested enemies of the United States, both Shi'a and Sunni have been busy blowing up said restored infrastructure, and themselves as well.

Bringing democracy to a country accustomed to firm dictatorship is the order of the day, so we've been told. And while the currently-ruling and fractious factions appear to be willing to give democracy, Islam-style a good try, the vast numbers of insurgents representing either Sunni or Shi'a remain adamantly opposed to U.S.-style anything at all. The country, in fact, appears to be slowly self-destructing.

Everyone wants the occupying forces out. It's clear the occupying forces aren't entirely thrilled with the situation in Iraq. Not the governments which sent them there; let's be clear on that. No, it's the armed forces representing the various countries which signed on to this mission, but primarily that of the United States. We'll be gone, fellas, soon as you're capable of picking up the beat, they intone. Meanwhile, our troops stay put, just to make sure you don't implode. Guarantees? there are none.

But guys, if that's the plan, and an admirable one it may well be, why an embassy the size of Vatican City? With its soon-to0-be population of a small town, its own defence force, self-contained power and water? It is destined to have 100% independence from city utilities. A swimming pool, gymnasion, commissary, food court and American Club. Huh? 42 hectares, wow! Five and a half thousand embassy employees, wow! A little bit of U.S.-style heaven centered smack in the middle of a teeming, hostile host.

When the rest of Baghdad suffers from power outages, water shortages and continuing turmoil (which American soldiers, handily bunkered down, do not venture out into, until and unless they are compelled to) all the cozily happy residents of the embassy will go about their various duties in comfort and style. Designed to further endear them to the hearts and minds of their hosts.

Remind me: what's that agenda again?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Poverty's Children

Poverty rears its ugly head in the most peculiar of places. It exists where one would expect it to, in struggling third-world countries. But it also exists, on a scale hard to credit, in countries with booming economies whose citizens live for the most part with an excess of consumer goods. That we permit the degraded human condition of poverty to exist in countries with sufficient wealth to adequately care for all its citizens is a rather damning and alarming condemnation of universal lack of compassion.

The largest global survey yet conducted, which encompassed the querying of 53,749 individuals living in 68 countries on five continents has given us some surprising statistics related to those very individuals' perceptions regarding the situations in which they live and their studied opinions of their place in their society. Gallup International Association has given us, with the results of this massive survey, something to think about with its publication "Voices of the People 2006", released by Random House.

Overall, the five thousand pollsters gathered data from their thousands of contacts which indicate that the most pressing problem identified by their interviews is overwhelmingly that of the condition of poverty. The percentage of people in various countries underlining poverty as the single most worrisome issue they could identify tells us that this condition continues to be the most serious one facing today's world.

Setting aside the worrying spectre of terrorism and environmental collapse both of which have the enduring potential to make life as we know it on this planet even more of a trial than so many already find it, poverty leads even in countries such as France, Germany, Britain, Canada and the United States. The big surprise is that some countries whose indigent population is well known by reputation, rate poverty much lower than the above-noted countries, according to their interview-representatives.

India, for example, that wildly populous country of over a billion souls, identifies poverty only at 9% to Canada's 26%. And Thailand's responders gave poverty a trifling 4% rating, as opposed to the United States's 19%. Odd in the extreme, but the figures tell the story. Sometimes, one supposes, perception is reality. Worldwide, poverty is pointed out as the number one concern, at 26%, followed by terrorism at 12%, and in third place, unemployment at 9%. There's a wide differential in importance of concern between the number one and the number 2 concerns, leaving poverty at the top, seriously unchallenged by any other single issue of concern.

The issues of Wars and Conflicts, Economic Problems, Drugs and Drug Use, Environmental Issues, Globalization/Fairer World Trade, HIV/AIDS, Other Health Issues, Crime, Corruption, for example, are well behind the first three issues noted above. There is a surprising similarity country-to-country, in respondents' listings in the hierarchy of concerns.

Still, one of the most unexpected results comes perhaps tellingly, from the wealthiest nation on earth, and perhaps also the most indebted nation on earth, under its current administration. The proportion of citizens in the United States who complain of hunger reflects the global average. Fully 18% of Americans indicated they had insufficient food in the past year, placing the United States squarely in league with countries such as Guatemala, Croatia and Panama.

Americans, those who read these statistics should cringe. I know that as a Canadian, understanding that poverty strides the streets of our cities and countrysides, I am made a lesser human being by that fact.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Primary Producers? Who Cares?

Back in the mists of history we were all primary producers. Hunters, gatherers. We learned to grow crops, to feed ourselves and our fellows. We reaped just as we sowed.

The world was a large place with a small, struggling population. Where indeed, it was the survival of the fittest. If you could not find food in sufficient quantity for existence, existence evaded you.

The world is a smaller place, there are infinitely more of us. Despite which there are far fewer primary producers in agriculture. Scientific agricultural advancement has permitted us to feed more people with less effort. Feed more people with less land under cultivation. Giant farming operations with no allegiance to the countries in which they operate reap great profits, leaving local farming operations and indeed local consumers in the dust. Previously cultivated land for agriculture has given way to vast tracts of suburban houses.

Those teeming populations in all those urban and suburban areas are no longer cognizant of growing seasons and foods in season. We live in prosperous times and we demand more for less. What can be grown can be imported and distributed far from its origins. Farms have become fewer in numbers and farms which were once prosperous family operations encompassing generations of sweat are barely surviving. Huge multinationals are thriving. We revel in food bargains.

Our supermarkets are where we have been long accustomed to selecting our food choices. Farms appear to have little meaning to the vast majority of food consumers in this world (of developed nations) now. Food shoppers look for bargains, expect that the proportion of their incomes which go toward food purchase will be low, lower and even lower, and they're seldom disappointed.

We import, transport, distribute and consume in a void. If it makes good sense for a nation to ensure that its food dependency can be served well at home through domestic farming operations then we are all senseless idiots. Our farmers are struggling just to make ends meet. And the fact is many of them are now in the position of losing money on their farming operations. In essence, farmers are now in the position of subsidizing the food they grow for consumers. The middlemen, the handling and distribution agencies are doing all right. What's wrong with this picture?

As consumers we just don't want to know about it, don't seem to care about it. What happens when we no longer have sufficient home-grown farm operations that can assure us food supplies domestically? When for some unforeseen reason the food that we import can no longer be feasibly imported?

Who will do the crying then?

Another Serving?

U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld stated in an interview aired on Al-Arabiya television that he intended to continue serving. The question is: serving whom? He was responding to the recommendations from retired U.S. generals that he be replaced as steward of the Pentagon. And his president has affirmed that he has no intention of removing this man in favour of another, presumably more skilled, intelligent and amenable to reason.

As Supreme Commander of the U.S. Armed Forces Dwight Eisenhower knew all about the military, its hold on government and its ties to private agencies. As President of the United States Mr. Eisenhower warned of a potential future where a potent mixture of government, the military and arms suppliers and manufacturers could conceivably have free rein to operate as they wished to fill their coffers. "Beware the military-industrial complex."

Little did even he ever dream of oil revenues, armaments manufacturers, friends in high, high places, and the military as a force to circumvent the normal operations of government. Which is to govern the state in a manner befitting the holder of its highest office, sworn to uphold the constitution of the United States, to bring prosperity to all its various parts, ensure economic opportunities for its citizens, to ensure safety and security at home, to uphold freedom of the person, of expression and association. Assuredly, that's the best of all possible worlds.

The thing of the matter is, the United States of America has the wherewithal to establish itself as the best of all possible worlds. That it has succeeded thus far in providing much in the way of safety, security, freedom of expression, economic opportunities for most of its people is no mean feat. That it has, when required, been a mighty shoulder to lean on for much of the world during critical world upheavals has always been to its credit.

That it has its darker side, where it has aided and abetted right-wing military dictatorships in other countries, that it has sent out its CIA tentacles to spy on and entangle itself to deleterious effect for countries not espousing its version of liberty and freedom has never brought credit to its shores. That it has spent countless billions of its own taxpayer monies abroad pursuing its questionable hegemonic agendas, while choosing not to see the plight of its own unprivileged citizens within its own borders does it no credit.

That the American electorate permitted the ascension of a complex of which a past president warned of, is a sad, sad commentary on its precoccupation with the materialistic overtaking the moral imperative, despite the huge numbers of church-attending, religion-abiding Americans who believe in their country and its positive role for world order. The U.S. has more than its share of individuals of outstanding accomplishments in science and philosophy, engineering and the arts. High intellectual achievement and technological advancement does not, sadly, always steer a country toward excellence.

That electorate must answer to itself for the presence of a man in the oval office not even the equal of his father before him as president (himself a confidant and personal friend of Arab oil interests). A man of questionable cerebral inheritance, but unquestioned business smarts, who arrogantly took it upon himself to embroil the world in deadly carnage even beyond the control of the vaunted American military. But the oil interests and the armaments manufacturers are content; beside themselves with happiness more likely.

The cabal of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and all their supporters hold the world to ransom. True, they did not create al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, the insane hard-line Islamists in Iran and elsewhere whose sole reason for existence is an unvarnished goal of Islamic world domination. But one must wonder whether, while filling their coffers through the "war on terror" they are conversely, aiding, abetting and strengthening the Jihadist movement.

Short-sighted, unwilling, but pawns nonetheless.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Portable Citizenship/Flexible Allegiance

Well yes, Italian politics is kind of interesting, is it not? Not a staid institution, the Italian Parliament, at any time. And hasn't Italy been (in)famous for the short length of its parliaments in any event? Hasn't it been par for the course to change Prime Ministers seemingly at a moment's notice? Talk about a fractionalized society reflected in a ruling congress always on the move...! But then Italians don't seem to take themselves or their politicians too seriously, although they do seem to love politicking.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been entertaining Italy and the world for quite a long time (in the time/warp of Italian politics) with his preening vanity, his successful flirtation with ethics, and his unaccustomedly-long rule. Italians seem to have enjoyed a love/hate relationship with their billionaire media mogul Prime Minister who has provided them with scandals aplenty. And now, after an election that really split the electorate, Mr. Berlosconi continues to entertain, refusing to concede to Romano Prodi's squeak-of-a-win. Great theatrics, but would one expect less from someone who compares himself variously to Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ?

But hold on a minute, now. A new Italian law created four electoral districts meant to represent Italians living abroad, for twelve seats in the Chamber of Deputies and six seats in the Senate? How's that for a new take on the home country's unwillingness to sever ties with expatriate sons and daughters? Of course those same sons and daughters are equally unwilling to cut the umbilical since it is they who have been busily prodding the political system for decades to grant them a recognized political voice.

All right, we can accept that you prefer to live elsewhere because you're sick of Italian politics, because you prefer to raise your children elsewhere, because you fear the Mafia, because you don't like Italian taxation rates, because you see a rosier economic future in other countries, but look here, how about helping us to run this country you've just rejected for another?

That's certainly different, all right. Why live in another country then? It wouldn't strike you as a trifle er, interfering, or presumptuous, or just plain whacky to live abroad as a citizen of another country, yet to represent yourself and other expatriates on the political stage, (all of whom have left for greener pastures, deploring the country's weak economic status; in effect rejecting the country of origin) through electoral participation, in the country you've left?

So then, in the tipsy-topsy world of Italian politics we have a Dr. Gino Bucchino of Toronto reepresenting Romano Prodi's centre-left Union coalition, winning one of the two deputies' seats representing North and Central America. The second deputy seat now represented by Salvatore Ferrigno of the United States, while Renato Turano, an American actor is elected to the North American Senate seat for Mr. Prodi's coalition. An odd form of governance, embracing those who have left the homeland, and therefore, presumably know slightly less intimately the country's needs.

Wow, a new world community of electors and politicians. Will this be the brilliant social device which will eventually bring the world together under one biddable organization?

Viva Italy!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Demagogue, Heal Thineself, Serve Thy Country

Old leftist sympathies die hard. It's tough for an old leftie like me not to see the romance in a defiant hero of the poor and the downtrodden of this earth. But the righteous thunder of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is wearing a trifle thin of late. His very public feud with the United States, its values and its influence in the world at large begins to smack of opportunism and his personal venom in describing the U.S. capitalist system as "diabolic" is odd, coming from a man whose country, with one of the world's largest oil reserves is yet contradictorily host to a penurious population.

A population, withal, that is struggling not only with endemic poverty but with a staggering crime rate where abductions for ransom run rampant throughout society, and one never knows when one will meet one's fate through a clumsy criminal act gone awry. Mr. Chavez has much, much to do to aid his ailing society. To blame the influence of the United States and its capitalist system for the ills of his own country is stretching facts more than a tad. But this ploy does fit into his ongoing and very public tantrum against the giant in his hemisphere.

Mr. Chavez takes great pride in offering his own very peculiar kind of solutions to other Latin American areas suffering state insolvency, overall poverty and endemic crime.

While it seems that fully half the citizens of Venezuela live in poverty, despite their country's fabulous oil wealth, Hugo Chavez's attention turns in a most avuncular manner to assisting his regional cousin states. For someone who avers to detest capitalism and all its attendant ills, he is undertaking personally to distribute the wealth of his country by investing billions of dollars of oil revenue in Argentina (to relieve that country's debt), in Brazil (oil tanker investment), in Mexico providing eye surgery for poor Mexicans, and, as a very special poke in the eye, in the United States, providing home-heating oil for poor Americans.

He is ignoring the plight of the poor and the needy within Venezuela. While the crime rate soars in his country he eschews responsibility to bring about reform and beef up law and order, instead happily vilifying U.S.-imported capitalism, which has ostensibly been the cause of making his country "sick". Who says the left cannot produce insane dictators posing as their countries' saviours? North Korea, move over.

Three siblings from a wealthy family with Venezuelan-Canadian citizenship are abducted in Caracas, and later found murdered. In response throngs of Venezuelans gather in anger at the deadly lawlessness which has overtaken their country, demanding the government recognize a need for law and security. Yet instead of motivating this man into launching a crackdown on crime and related police corruption in his country he takes to his bully pulpit and blames U.S. capitalism for his country's state of affairs.

He trumpets his vibrant anti-Americanism as an antidote to his own frail response to his peoples' needs, to the delighted delectation of his supporters within his own country and those of nearby Latin American countries who share his disdain for the United States, as well as other countries abroad who share his ravening lunacy. He has polished relations with Iran in seeking nuclear technology advice from that pariah state. He has provided refuge to FARC whose criminal activities have been terrorizing Colombia.

None of which makes an awful lot of good sense. Other than polishing his image abroad as a dispenser of aid to the needy, in the process damaging diplomatic relations with other countries, he seems intent on fashioning a reputation as a challenger to the new world order. A world order that has left us with one super power which makes bad decisions at times impacting on the rest of the world, but whose intentions and responsibilities nonetheless place them on a pedestal somewhat elevated from that of such a crass opportunist.

His supporters may be delighted to hear him expound his mad theories and intentions, but to the rest of the world he is a sad and dangerous bore, badly in need of some introspection. Failing that, Venezuelans should seek the earliest opportunity to throw him onto the dust-heap of history.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Honouring The Prophet

Just how is it possible that in honouring the Prophet Muhammad, pious believers forget to honour all those around them? To be civil to one another, to respect the other's being and space is to do honour to one who brought the word of God among them.

To believe in Allah should reflect on this earth compassion and caring for others among whom one lives. Not to intone the words as they are expected, as verbal ritual, but to truly see others as they are, accept them and do them the honour of regarding them as worthy of respect.

In Pakisan a stampede took place after a religious gathering meant to honour the birth of Islam's Prophet. A stampede? Why the hurry? How is it that hordes of people can come together to mark an anniversary of great moment to their religion, yet there is no harmony among them as peaceful and loving souls? Does this do honour to the memory of their Prophet?

This stampede, this onrushing of thousands of women remains unexplained in the short news item that I read. What the item did indicate was that a child had fallen, and was crying. One of the women within that vast congregation of women leaving the Sunni Muslim Faizan-e-Medina centre in the city of Karachi heeded the child's distress and momentarily bent down to take the child into her arms.

Those women streaming directly behind this woman continued their progress unheedingly, swamping her, stepping right over her and the disaster grew proportionately with the mass of women and children seemingly blindly continuing to proceed, exacerbating the impossible crush of bodies and the tragedy of helpless women and children succumbing to the crush.

In all, twenty-nine women and children died in that meaningless push to exit the religious centre. One can only ask an anguished "why?".

Is this the manner in which one worships and does honour to the greatest symbol of Islamic triumph? What could possibly have been uppermost in most peoples' minds in exiting the centre post-sermon? Judging from their inability or unwillingness to govern themselves civilly perhaps nothing, nothing at all. Where kindly thoughts of others co-existing in peace should have reigned after the contemplation of the life of Muhammad, it would appear that a thoughtless haze existed.

Ritual has its place in religions and culture, but the sanctity of human life and the care taken to ensure its continuance should be uppermost in the minds of civil, peace-loving people everywhere, religious or not.

In this particular instance, regrettably it was not.

For Every Thing There Is a Season

And for every season there is an enterprise, a goal, an anticipation, a promissory note of intent. It's Spring, the month of April, Daffodils are pushing their bright green shoots out of the still-damp earth, all of this very symbolic. In fact, the Canadian Cancer Society has long established its major fund-raising drive throughout the month of April, with the bright yellow Daffodil the symbol of its presence, its place, its promise of hope for the future for so many who suffer both personally and by personal extension.

Yes, of course I agreed once again that I would conduct a door-to-door canvass on the street where I live. And when I had a call of enquiry from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to go out and canvass for the month of May on their behalf I agreed then too. Having pledged to myself months earlier that this year will be different; I will not, repeat, not! canvass again for four or five different charities, one hard upon the other as I have done the last several years.

I'm anxious about starting, wanting to begin, to get it over with, to leave as much time/space between one canvass and the next, so people won't get too annoyed seeing me time and again at their doors, asking for charitable contributions for these good causes. Good causes, in my estimation, perhaps not theirs, although I cannot really understand people refusing to contribute to such public enterprises reflecting the suffering of other human beings: The Heart and Stroke Association, The Canadian Diabetes Association, The Arthritis Association, The Salvation Army, to name but a few, not all of which are dear to my heart, but all of which do deserve a second thought. And what's a few dollars' worth of contribution really cost? In the aggregate it can mean a significant difference in terms of alleviating pain for sufferers, providing research funds for medical scientists. All geared toward making the world a better place for everyone.

Today we had perfect spring weather. It was mild by early afternoon after a frigid morning start. We had a gentle breeze, and plenty of clear skies. Birds were singing happily, we saw butterflies on the wing, neighbourhood lawns are just about completely released from their snow covering. So, after dinner, I collected my gear: Canvass kit - check; pen in working order - check; reading glasses - check; change in coin and bills - check.

First stop, directly next door. And can I recall whether the house numbers increase or decrease? not likely. So, while his father has gone off to retrieve some cash for his contribution, I check with the 12-year-old neighbour and he cannot remember his house number. This is one smart kid. I tell him to brush up on his fundamentals, otherwise should he ever get lost, how will he ever find his way back home? He blushed, fudged, said he had just finished his math homework and doing it kind of made mush of his memory. I can relate to that.

Next stop, the home of a young couple with three young children, all under six. Won't they be glad and happy this coming summer when the newly-released cheques to families for children under six find their delightful way into waiting mailboxes? Yes, indeed. Catherine is always good about donating, at least to the Cancer Society. Whenever I have the misfortune to ring up her happily charming and uxorious husband I hear the same sad sorry excuse: Oops, Catherine is out, she has the cash and the cheques; can you come back? I struck pay dirt this time, good on me.

Off I go again. Trundling down the street toward me is the Happy Giant Shaped Like A Bowling Pin. He's a lawyer with the Armed Forces, a truly genial chap. I chide him for not having called a neighbourhood get-together to forewarn us all of his intent to leave us for greener pastures. Victoria, he confirms, and I commiserate with him. Dear dear, leaving frigid Ottawa for benignly-beautiful Victoria, how pitiable. The "For Sale" sign went up on his front lawn only this afternoon. I miss the guy already, all seven feet-and-paunch of him.

I call next on Mohindar, against my better judgement, given the fact that he hasn't been able to work for more than a year, ever since he had that operation on his right shoulder which turned out to be somewhat less successful than he had been led to believe. It hadn't relieved the pain he suffered, in fact increased it, while proportionally decreasing his arm's mobility. So that he now has to enlist the help of his 14-year-old and very amiable son Imram, to help him do things around the house. His wife has a well-paying job, but still we're talking one salary. We exchange small pleasantries, second time today, and I resume my predatory pursuit.

The young couple who moved in a few years ago, both cheerfully friendly and as yet unanchored by children, although they did adopt an adorable beagle which exhibits all the character traits of its owners. Makes little matter which of the two I come across when canvassing for any cause. They each feel compelled to give back to their community, their society. All it costs me is the pleasure of seeing their young faces, and a few backstrokes for their excited little dog, sniffing our own on my clothing.

I'm on a roll, and despite my initial (as always) reluctance to launch out this evening (and do so anyway as a kind of penance to be paid ritually for the future enjoyment of the promise of late spring) I tell myself I'll do the entire upper half of the street this evening, scribble down house numbers where no one's home to call back a second evening out, then head back for home.

My own sacrifice of time won' be all that significant, and I'll manage to catch up and fill in whatever I've left undone for the evening. Like the letter I've got to complete to our grandchild. It's replete with all manner of little jokey one-liners for kids I got off a few Internet sites, coloured up with a number of cartoons and she'll enjoy it.

All in a day's work. Obligations and pleasures.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

So Glad I Asked

Well, he is now in Calgary, our youngest child; has been for the past month. He has a nice little apartment on the campus of the university, so he has only to walk over to the laboratory each morning. All very convenient. He's undertaking a research enterprise in collaboration with an associate professor in the biology department at the university. Thought it might prove to be an interesting break from his usual preoccupation with his job with the Province of British Columbia. And, he said, he is finding it most interesting, has discovered some fascinating new data through the experience.

Among other things he had taken along his skis, his bicycle, as he preferred mode of transportation, although he had driven his vehicle from Vancouver to Calgary, last month. He uses the bicycle for trips inter-city, although he found it more useful to buy a second-hand mountain bike to negotiate the snow-crusted steets of the city last month.

He's gone on a number of skiing expeditions, and as usual, on his own, although he did have a companion the last time he skiied on the Olympic hill situated inside the city borders itself. Far better, I moan to myself, to have companions skiing back-country. In my last email to him following on our telephone conversation where he described his latest skiing expedition around Jasper, I asked about the snow, the skiing conditions. And hesitantly enquired about the potential for avalanche problems.

His responding email described the lovely light-snow conditions high on the mountains, when skiing on powder is alike foating on air, whereas further down a crust develops and the skiing in somewhat more problematical. Check out this web site, he wrote, including an Internet address for the Canadian Avalanche Alert site. And, he said, he was, as it happened, attending (yet another) avalanche safety lecture on Sunday, and they'd find themselves up in Kannanaskis digging up plugs of snow to identify safety features.

I did have a gander at the Canadian Avalanche Alert site, and no matter where I pointed the cursor the same legend came up: Extra caution required for recreational skiiers; powdery ski conditions above, icy below; avalanche opportunities present.

How reassuring.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Away back in January we took them shopping, our daughter and our granddaughter. We wanted to buy them beds, for their new house. A housewarming gift from us, you might say. Our daughter chose a Queen-size bed, medium-firm, more expensive than she had imagined a mattress set might be. We explained that a hard-working professional woman and mother needed a good night's sleep to keep her sharp. She agreed, but decried the price it would take to achieve that purpose. Our granddaughter selected a mattress set not quite as firm as her mother's, and she knew what she wanted; anything but a single-size, so she opted for a double. And for both of them wrought-iron canopy-style beds in appropriate sizes.

We're now well into April. Our granddaughter has slept not one day in her new bed. Her bedroom is lovely, with large built-in pine closets, built-in pine desk and shelving. She has a nice large set of windows looking off behind their new house into the sloping woods and wetland beyond. She has a skylight so that, should she wish to look up, up, up during the night she can see, on a clear night a myriad of swirling stars, the Milky Way. She has lace curtains on the windows, a froth of sheer curtains on the canopy, sweet pastel-flowered quilts and cushions on her bed. She has shelves of soft plush toys, books and other childish paraphernalia dear and familiar to her. Yet, she fears to sleep alone, not yet accustomed to the long reach of nature beyond her window.

She sleeps yet in her mother's bed. Her mother doesn't really mind, although she would prefer the bed to herself, since her daughter, not quite ten, but almost as tall as she, takes up quite a bit of room in her tossing slumber. Still, she is in no hurry to insist her child leave the comfort and perceived safety of her mother's closeness throughout the long dark night.

But even if the child slept alone in her own bed, she would have ample company. Live company, not only the soft plush animals which surround her. There is Tibby the cat, who enjoys sleeping on her bed. There is gallumphing-big Abby, a German-Shepherd mix always protective of her. There is Jordie, an even bigger beast, at 95 pounds of goofy musculature German-Shepherd mix as well. And sleek little Stevie, the Sheltie, as well as Zoe the white Pomeranian yapper. They would all gladly share her bed.

On Friday she had a schoolchum over for the week-end. Where, I asked our grandchild, would she sleep on Friday night? In Mom's bed she promptly responded. And, I filled in, Eden will sleep in your bed? Yes, she affirmed, that's how it would be. Then, turning her head aside from the telephone to address Eden, our grandchild hooted "I just farted on the bed, and you're going to sleep in it!". Quietly, I groaned in appreciation of the fact that little boys are not the sole owners of scatological delight.

So when, on Saturday, we were over at their house we discovered that Eden was not at all agreeable to sleeping all alone in Angelyne's bed. She insisted that Angelyne sleep with her.
And here's the rub: neither little girl felt like sleeping in the new, as-yet-unslept-in double bed. They craved adventure. They wanted to "camp out". Well, in a manner of speaking. They determined that it would be a whole lot more fun to sleep on the floor. Yes, the floor. So our daughter obligingly piled the floor with quilts and blankets and lots and lots of pillows.

I imagine, although I didn't ask for confirmation, that the children muffled their shrieks of mock outrage at one another as each did her utmost to outdo the other in mock petards-and- tickles through the wee hours of the night. Which might perhaps explain the fact that they woke, rather bleary-eyed somewhat late into the next morning.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Garden is Coming Back to Life!

It is exciting, to see fresh green shoots here and there throughout the garden. We've still got snow to go and ice as well, but most of the lawns and gardens are now revealed and the experience, year after year, never fails to amaze me. It's such a life-affirming, cheerful event, a metaphor for all of life.

We reached a high of 8-degrees celcius yesterday with sun peeking through the clouds now and again, so after our morning ravine walk we stayed out of doors for a while. Took the last of the winter wraps off the bottom portion of the Magnolia, which I wasn't able to do earlier, as it was frozen fast to the ground. It's got masses of plump fuzzy buds. Got most of the holly uncovered as well, along with the large rhododendron. And finally cut back the clematis growing up the red brick garage wall; realized while I was in the process that it had already begun budding green shoots, which arrested any further cutting back, as I tenderly curled live tendrils of the vine back through the wrought-iron support.

Too early yet to unmound the roses and tree peonies, although I've no doubt they're much relieved to have had their winter mantle removed. I carefully (ouch, thorns!) removed as many of last year's leaves on each of the roses as I could manage. Cut back the Penstemon, and what was left of last year's irises and lilies, although most of it had been done in the fall.

Alliums are beginning to shove up, as are the tulips, the miniature iris. The Adams Needles look pretty good this spring, and I can only hope they'll deign to give us some showy blooms in August. The primroses are nice and green and I can see flower buds faintly beginning to appear. Crocuses too; there is one bright yellow bud ready to spring forth into full bloom and the rest of the crocuses will follow brightly.

The shaggy green tips of the grape hyacinths limn the flower beds and although it will take another month before the purple grape-flowers appear at least they're letting me know they're on the job. The climbing roses, front and back gardens are pretty flush looking, stems already red and ready to go; the tea roses and floribundas will take their time. I can see some light green buds already appearing on the apple trees, despite the early season.

Even the weeping Mulberries are budding along the lengths of their waterfall branches, although nothing can yet be seen on the weeping Caragena, and the dwarf weeping willow (not even a pussy). The Japanese maple made it through another winter, but it's plain to see that it will look somewhat different this summer. The soil in the garden is dark with moisture, wet to the touch, and visibly enriched by the compost that we pile on year after year from our three working composters.

The newly-installed honeysuckle on the brick wall is waiting for more temperate weather
but the one in the back is already shooting out buds. The lavender is a nice dark green and even some of the blue flax is green, and I could swear I can make out incipient flower buds. The Columbine in the rock garden, and the one in the shade garden have begun to shoot out leaves, but all those in the back garden are taking their time.

All of the heucheras, the bright green, the red, the pale yellow, the dark green ones are sporting fresh-looking leaves; the winter weight of the snow they hosted hardly appears to have dented them at all.

In the basement, the zinnias, the Portuguese vines, the Dahlias, and the Begonias that I potted up are all thriving, anticipating their placement in the gardens in another month or so. They're ready, we're ready.

Um, all-day rain today, and as the day progressed and the temperature plunged, a little snow. Forecast for this evening is snow flurries. We've a way to go, yet.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bankruptcy You Say? What Kind Might That Be?

Budget crisis grips Hamas cabinet is what I read. Really? Oh, really and truly? How can that be? After all, Iran has promised funds to Hamas, have they not? They have funded Hamas in its terrorist incarnation, just as they fund Hezbollah, so what's the problem?

It was a mere few days ago that Ismael Haniyeh cavalierly dismissed Canada's initiative to stop funding the Palestinian Authority on the basis that it is now headed by Hamas, a group which Canada recognizes as terrorist in origin, function and intent. Canada has promised to resume funding as soon as the new political Hamas promises to recognize and make peace with Israel. I paraphrase, but what Palestinian Prime Minister Haniyeh said was something to effect that Canada's paltry funding would not be missed; it would swiftly be replaced by funds promised to Hamas by other Arab governments.

Iran's new Prime Minister, he with direct linkage to Allah fulsomely pledged that Iran's glorious treasury would make more than sufficient operating funds available to Hamas in its ongoing struggle to oust Israel from Muslim territory, and restore Palestine to its rightful place in the geography of the Middle East. So, what's happened? The funds haven't come through yet? A trifle, no doubt. The cheque is in the mail. Wait for it.

Oops, is it possible? Could it be even remotely so that Iran, Saudi Arabia and other wealthy worthies are not really all that interested in ensuring the health and well-being of the Palestinian population? Say it isn't so! All right, it isn't so. It just appears to be so. It appears to the casual onlooker that Palestinians left adrift on a sea of ambiguous near-existence to fester as a reminder of the injustices that Israel, aided and abetted by the Western world visits upon Islam has more practical resonance than rescuing people from hunger and deprivation. Sometimes, appearances are everything, right?

The honourable Mr. Haniyeh has informed his Cabinet that the Palestinian Authority has run out of cash and is attempting to bring forth funds to pay its 140,000 government employees. The Authority's bankrupt state is Israel's fault, of course. Along with the previous administration, he says, who misused the funds. Bravely, all salaries of the Hamas ministers in the Authority will be suspended until such time as funds are available to pay government employees.

The Authority's Finance Ministry is bankrupt. Over a billion dollars annually has been received by the PA from Western sources. Odd, that, wouldn't you say? Why not financing through Islamic sources, through the kindly auspices of their neighbours? Mind-bending, isn't it? Foreign aid is required so that the Palestinian Authority can function as an overseeing entity for Palestinians. Oil wealth does not assist the Palestinians. Their near and dear relations with other Arab states have garnered them naught.

Bankrupt? Let me count the ways:
  1. Intellectually bankrupt, for not understanding that Allah does not rule the entire world, and that a firm, however reluctant declaration of peace with all of its neighbours is the only guarantor of funding from abroad;
  2. Morally bankrupt, for insisting that murder in all of its varying forms is fair game for 'occupation resistance' while it is anathema to most religions, and most people, wherever they happen to live, and that an agenda of elimination is simply not acceptable;
  3. Ethically bankrupt, for lunatic expectations that the rest of the world will continue bankrolling a regime intent on interpreting the Koran to justify spreading its virulent form of religious worship abroad;
  4. Religiously bankrupt, for interpreting a medieval viewpoint of religious fundamentalism by military conquest, no excesses of which are not tolerable to its adherents.
The issuance of feel-good statements deliberately designed to mislead while outwardly appearing to say all the right placatory things in an effort for recognition and cash may work sometimes, but not always. It is time to go beyond the feeble-minded issue of living at peace with other Islamic neighbours, deliberately ignoring the existence of Israel, with the final intent of destroying that particular state. Either by omission or comission.

Bankruptcy you say? Appeals to neighbours have not resulted in anything concrete? Still expecting the West to bail you out?

Oh. Dear. Perhaps not?

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