Friday, June 30, 2006

Found: a Home

He certainly deserved a good home. Only a year and a half old, a good-natured and very well mannered dog. Part German Shepherd, part Collie, although he resembled neither. He looked, actually, more like a very lean, black Labrador Retriever. His owner, a young man driving a very expensive vehicle, brought him over. The dog rescue group instructed him where to deliver his dog, to a volunteer foster home. He stayed awhile, talking with the woman who was to look after his dog until a successful adoption could be arranged. The very real affection between the man and his dog was obvious to the woman who would be looking after the young dog's interests for the interim. And finally, he left. The dog positioned himself at the front door, where he last saw his owner, settled down to wait for his return.

The woman wept to herself, relating to the animal's pain. She spoke softly to the dog. She encouraged him to approach her, so she could stroke him. He settled at her feet. Company there was aplenty for the dog. His good manners and gentle nature became swiftly apparent when he only sniffed curiously at the caged rabbits, then stood back. His interest in the other dogs belonging to the home was apparent. He was anything but aggressive. In fact, the alpha male of the pack belonging to the home, a very large German Shepherd spoke to him fairly sharply, repeatedly growling at him that he was welcome, but he had to know his place.

The cat now, that was another thing. The nice new resident of the house thought it was only right that dogs chase cats and he set about to do just that. He was gently chided, and for the next several days the cat made himself wisely scarce. The dog liked his new surroundings. He had been accustomed to living in an apartment, with his owner and his owner's girlfriend. They split, he was confused and unhappy. His owner moved from Toronto to Ottawa, then found he could no longer burden himself with his companion and so, took steps to disown him.

But here! he was living in the country, in a nice large house rife for exploration. And the property on which the house stood! A veritable paradise for a dog. Room to run, to explore, and a (sshhh!) wetland to indulge in on hot summer days. Food of a type he had never before been offered. And with it, a salad of fresh vegetables that he very quickly adapted to, in concert with the other dogs.

And there were children, and he loved children. There was the little girl who lived in the house, and then there were her little girl friends who often came over to spend the day, to stay overnight and through the week-end, so the house rang with the laughter of children, chasing the dogs, and the sound of dogs barking in delight, chasing the children.

A week or so later a chance encounter with a man who self-introduced in a public place, and indicated his interest in animals of the woman who had been shopping in the town and who had brought with her two of her very small dogs. Casual conversation led to his confession that he was on the look-out for a dog, having just lost one of his own, to old age. Such a happenstance, she just happened to have one ready for adoption. But, she warned, the rescue group she volunteered with had stringent rules for adoption suitability; character references were in order.

Finally, he arranged a meeting to assess how he and the dog presented to one another. He was attentive and interested and flattering, and spoke incessantly and endlessly. And none of this appeared to be related to the dog and possible acquisition, but rather to fluffing himself, ingratiating himself and arranging for another meeting. In the interim a character reference insinuated itself, since a neighbour knew the man and swiftly informed the woman that she had met an area predator, a known wife-batterer, and she divulged to the woman facts of the man's life which were completely at odds with what he had put forward. Big flunk.

But wait: only four days later a single mother of four children, 5 to 15 years of age, contacted the rescue group in response to their Web site presentation and professed interest in this dog. She came along with her children for an introduction to the dog, and she stayed for hours, talking about herself, her situation, her children. They already had one dog, wanted to have another for companionship; for themselves, for their dog. It seemed a perfect match; the dog would have a large backyard in a suburban area. He left, with the woman and her children, that very evening. Just settled himself down on the seat beside her in the family van. And off they went.

A happy ending. Almost. The little girl of the house felt bereft and cheated. She mourned the absence of the dog, her new friend. Her mother too, despite the relatively short stay, missed the companionship of the dog. For despite the fact that she had other dogs in the house, each of them is possessed of its own personality, and each is valued separately for what they represent. This dog had curled up beside the woman in her bed at night. "Finally" she had joked to her friends, "a male who wants to sleep with me".

This nice little story seems a trifle sexist. Like a metaphor for a larger societal apprehension of the genders. I trust not.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Carry a Big Stick. Use It.

When all else fails, what to do? Whatever you can. The end game is survival. Everything else the ingenuity of the human mind, the creativity of feverishly-desperate politicians can devise has been attempted. And failed. The world has not been shy, never has been, to demand palatable actions to demonstrate the fairness of the solution at hand.

Be a good boy, and don't fight with the neighbours. They're throwing garbage on the lawn? What's that? broken bottles, and you stepped on one, and suffered septiceamia? They tried to set your house on fire? They're ruining your reputation, telling outright lies about you? They've hired a hit man to kill you? Be patient. Talk it over with them. Tell them you're sorry for whatever you've done to them. You must have done something.

How to deal with people who willingly sacrifice their own people's safety, living conditions, health, and life itself to a cause they see as so intrinsic to their existence that there is no solution but total abdication of one's own safety, health and life. If you're not now prepared to completely relinquish all you hold dear, nationhood, public safety, the ability to live and to prosper, there will be no amenable agreement between you and the dissenting, implacable other.

They want, they say, only that which is owed them. Their land, their territory, their complete and utter right to complete ownership of that which you hold dear. Can we settle this amicably, civilly, talk things over, reach mutual agreements, even if we have to sacrifice some things here and there. We can live with some sacrifice if it means the goal of sharing can be achieved, if it means peace, if it means survival.

To the world one side presents the aggrieved mien of victimhood. That side finally agrees also to bargain in good faith for the ultimate purpose of conclusion. The world, after all, insisted on the creation of a Palestinian Authority as a first step to resolving the seemingly intractable situation. After that, the world assured Israel, things will fall into place. It will be a meeting of the mind, an agreement between equals. You, Israel, will create a situation of amicable trust, permitting, aiding and assisting the creation of the Palestinian Authority. And they, in trust and gratitude will recognize you as a partner in good faith.

It never happened. Perhaps it was never to be. One side opening the door to exchange, to the possibility of solving what appears to be an unsolvable dilemma. The other side agreeing, they always agree, they always profer the crocodile smile of agreement, and when the appeaser finally feels something concrete will come of "talks", "exchanges", "expressions of good will", the crocodile snaps.

What is it about Palestinians? Why do they so utterly cleave to bitterness, distrust, jealousy, hatred? A hatred so bred in the bones, seared into the soul, so virulent, so pathological, reason cannot penetrate its dark miasma. That same nauseous hatred that compels them to sacrifice peace, sacrifice livelihoods, sacrifice their children in a "holy" war of attrition they are determined to win. Win death? Win a scorched earth? Win the right to evermore beat their breasts in grief over all they have lost, while steadfastly eschewing the opportunity to gain legitimate nationhood, security, prosperity?

Moussa Abu Marzouk, aide to Khaled Mashaal, head of the military wing of Hamas declares: "The resistance fighters have displayed moral and operational superiority over the Israeli army. They carried out an act that...the Palestinian people greatly appreciate." Will ordinary Palestinians who wish nothing more than to be allowed to live their lives in peace and security ever display the uncommon courage to deny this? Perhaps they should, but that too would be at a great sacrifice; their lives, for they too suffer the revenge of dissent, named collaborators with the enemy.

The kidnapped soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, Mashaal insists is being well treated by his captors. "For sure, he's in the hands that will protect him and treat him well. Our morals and our religion dictate that we do this to every prisoner" he asserts for publication and wide distribution to the western press. Who could possibly doubt the validity of this assertion, the man speaks with authority, does he not? How then can the confused onlooker square that with the kidnapping and murder of an 18-year-old Israeli settler, Eliahu Asheri who was abducted almost concurrently, and whose tender ministrations by his abductors have left him dead. So much for morals and religious dictates.

Yet among Palestinians in general, the man on the street, there is approval for these actions. They cannot equate what is happening to diminish the quality of an already marginalized existence as a result of former PA activities, with the stepped-up assaults against Israeli settlements and civilians forcing the IDA to hit back, with the true genesis of their misery. "Give me a good life and I will not support actions like this" said Mustafa Raghib, director of Gaza's largest flour mill. And who exactly does he anticipate will give him the good life he yearns for?

When will Palestinians revolt against the horribly incendiary, miserably misguided, criminally pathological actions of their leaders in a realization that the good life they so ache to achieve will forever elude them until and unless their leaders not only express a reluctant willingness to deal fairly with Israel, but a whole-hearted determination to live together in mutual respect and harmony?

So here we are again, the momentum of response carrying this far-too-prolonged phase of Middle East history into yet another military action promising yet again to bring the combatants to another stale-mate, another dance of death, another historically futile attempt at what? reconciliation? Does that seem likely?
Do these crazed fanatics only recognize the big stick? They seem so enamoured of the toys of battle, the joys of jihad, the pleasures of perceived revenge that they are quite beyond redemption. They will never be fit to take their place among peoples in a civil union of trust.

They are legion, these hate-filled fanatics. Like the fabled monster of Greek legend that was felled only to give birth to relentless automatons whose function was to kill, and when they were finished, to kill again.

Trust Thine Enemy

Snakes get a really bad rap when the comment that someone speaks with a "forked tongue", is used to indicate the condition whereby public utterances don't reflect true intent, or when those who espouse certain conditions speak of them without having any intention of honouring them. It's a way of presenting one face to open scrutiny, while reserving another, hidden face, more reflective of true intent. Some call it hypocrisy. But what it really is, is public relations. Political public relations has overtaken decent diplomacy with frank intent to resolve problems. Snakes aren't really that bad at all. To imbue them with the worst elements of intractable human relations is to insult them gratuitously.

Palestinians have truly embraced the utility of public relations. To them goes the prize for presenting themselves as the aggrieved in a situation which they have themselves manufactured out of sheerly bitter intransigence, vituperative frustration, deadly intent. Matters which could be solved expeditiously because both parties to the dispute need to live in peace and a certain harmony respecting each other's autonomy and aspirations of prosperity to make life more palatable for their people, are instead festering to the point of deadly turn-abouts.

Time and again opportunity has arisen to settle differences, to make concessions, to bring hope to truly untenable situations of raw suspicion, hatred and willingness to wreak unspeakable havoc. Each time it seems to a waiting world that results might being a tenable peace, the hand of partnership is abruptly withdrawn, the dove flown. The hand, formerly proferred in peace, now carries deadly weaponry, and the battles begin anew.

The roller-coaster of emotions, uncontrollable rage, unspeakable carnage goes on and on. Where, at certain points in collaborative consultation it might appear that the elusive opportunities to give peace the opportunity to consolidate positions, radical elements foment situations which break down negotiations and hurl the opposing sides back into their corners of mutual distrust.

Each time Israel, fervently hoping to create a situation which might make peace the only solution acceptable to both sides, by withdrawing from protective positions taken in response to deadly incursions, their peace overtures, their withdrawals are taken by the Palestinian militants as faintness of heart, as a personal triumph reflecting their untiring, unstinting efforts to destroy the Jewish state. How to reach an agreement with an avowed enemy who has no intention of honouring peace talks and the potential for two states living side by side in harmony?

Now, we have the draft of an accord reached between Fatah and Hamas. Fatah, which claims to want to live as a world-recognized Palestinian State, alongside that of Israel, with full respect for the sovereignty of borders and the sanctity of human life; no more strife. Despite which, Fatah still had not proven that it fully intends to implement a state of full acceptance and ultimate peace, since their militant factions never did agree to lay down arms, and continued to do as much damage to the peace process as they could manage, including the perpetual bombing of Jewish settlements and killing of Israelis, when possible.

And then there is Hamas, the standard-bearer of ultimate hostility to the existence of Israel. The implacable enemy of the Jewish State, whose mandate states baldly that its intent is to drive the State of Israel out of the Middle East and regain, reclaim all the territories which had formerly existed as a free-for-all of tribal warfare for the surrounding Arab states. Those very same states that permitted the Palestinians the illusion, from time to time, that the land they lived upon was theirs, while plotting unremittingly, to bring it under their aegis, and to which purpose the neighbouring states held a perpetual state of war among themselves.

  • Hamas considers the entire territory upon which Israel stands to be "occupied" by the enemy.
  • Hamas considers that any agreement which might be made with Israel will be of a purely temporary nature; until such time as they can achieve their goal; the removal of the State of Israel from the geography of the Middle East.
  • The implicit agreement on the acceptance of Israel by a relatively small, politically unstable faction is not supported by the entire Fatah movement, and will never be accepted in total by the militant faction of Hamas.
  • Hamas will never consent to relinquish the "right to armed resistance" to the occupiers, Israel.
  • Hamas is prepared to unconditionally accept any and all conditions of an accord which recognizes Palestinian rights based on Arab legitimacy, rights that are seen by them to be fair to the people, in preservation of their rights. This obviously precludes the acceptance of the State of Israel, since to submit to the demands, Israel would have to (for the moment) give up lands taken after 1967, in protection of its existence from invading Arab armies; give up Jerusalem as its capital; permit the law of return, embracing the return of millions of Palestinians, most of whom were born after the initial dispersal. That is the short term; in the long term, once the Palestinians have completely established their "national aspirations" (something previously denied them by their neighbouring Arab states) Israel would be no more, fully absorbed by the press of the majority Palestinians among the population, and dissolved finally by popular demand (of their neighbours).
How's that for a solution?

Entrusting Parents

Society entrusts the welfare of children to their parents. Who best to ensure that children are raised in a loving, supportive, instructive environment than the parents of children? From whom else could it be anticipated that children would receive unstinted efforts to fulfill their every emotional need, to love them unconditionally, make certain that their lives are safe, their futures as assured as possible, after all.

The answer is a simple one: parents. Mothers and fathers who love their children, as indeed nature has intended them to do. The care-mechanisms that nature has instilled in her animals, including the human animal, to assure perpetuation of the species. Needless to say, human warmth for their own goes well beyond what nature had intended, since as creatively intelligent beings we not only want to ensure that our offspring prosper in their unfolding world, but that they take their place in said world as responsive, responsible and caring individuals. Like their parents.

And then we read of events made public through the reportage of news occurring here and there and elsewhere around the world, including our own very little corners of the world. We learn that there are parents who abandon their children for various reasons, the most obvious of which is the personal constrictions that raising children places on their lives. Not everyone is cut out to contemplate sacrificing certain aspects of lifestyles because they may be inimical to a child's welfare.

So there are parents who expose their children to risk, such as those who deem it a requirement for their lifestyles to succumb to the lure of excessive alcohol consumption which renders them from time to time incapable of adequately caring for their children. And there are parents who deny the evidence that medical science makes available that tobacco consumption is inimical to health. And then there are those parents whose idea of making a good living is to transform their living environment into a greenhouse to grow crops for sale to the pot-loving community, in the process exposing their vulnerable children to the deleterious effects of illegal activity, and the not-inconsiderable effects of living with mould conditions.

Oops, let's not forget the loving parents who value a nice green lawn above the health of their children, and see nothing wrong with the liberal applications of pesticides to make certain they have those nice green lawns, while disdaining to appreciate that they're exposing their children to future medical conditions some of which are fairly lethal, as a result.

There's no dearth of activities inviting to adults and to which children should never be exposed. A fairly innocuous one that is not given the serious thought that many sad outcomes might dictate is the family swimming pool, and the summertime tragedies of toddlers somehow transcending barriers inadequate to begin with, in their curiosity about forbidden activities. Speaking of summer, how about those personal watercraft that indulgent parents permit too-young children to operate, with sometimes truly disastrous results?

All-terrain vehicles, there's another transcendent experience that no pre-teen should have to miss; whizzing about at a speed previously unknown to the child who is physically and psychologically not yet capable of controlling the powerful instrument of 'fun' he has been permitted to operate. From rueful family members and friends of the family we learn through the media reports about what wonderful parents this kid had, and what a great little kid he was.

How about those fathers and mothers, singly, or twosomely, whose addiction to gambling has them gambling with the safety of their children by exposing them to situations certain to strain the incredulity of police and community at large. Children left to their own devices, to sit waiting in cars, or to wander about the parking lots of gambling casinoes? Belgium, it would seem, has recognized it has an especial problem with these, as a number of such semi-abandoned (albeit temporarily) children have consequently been abducted.

Then there's loving mothers like the young Vancouver woman, with landed immigrant status, a single mother of an infant who decided she was dreadfully bored, and needed, immediately, to get away for some fun. When she returned from a week-end of debauchery it was to discover the lifeless form of her child, dehydrated beyond help, in its crib. Charges were laid in that case, a trial held, and the mother convicted. The child is still dead.

But we're a tolerant society. In Wednesday's paper there was a brief news piece about a 32-year-old father who forgot where he had parked his car. With his sleeping 8-year-old daughter in it. He realized his lapse of memory later in the evening, after his downtown prowl for the services of a hooker. Another one who doesn't believe his lifestyle need be impacted upon by the needs of a child to be protected by its parent/s. The father flagged down a police car at half-past three in the morning to ask for help in finding his car. wherein his daughter still slept.

Incredibly, the man was not charged, but released, his daughter left to his "care". Why charge the man, after all? The constable was quoted as saying: "No criminal act was committed in this case".

Don't we have interesting standards relating to parental responsibilities.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

To Serve and Protect

Thank heavens for municipal police forces! Without them could we possibly believe in law and order? Without their presence wouldn't the criminal element go on their happily senseless sprees of crime? Without our police forces, we could be robbed, we could be murdered, we would worry incessantly about our safety and that of our children. Would we not? Well, wouldn't we? Most certainly, yes of course. So then, it's agreed every municipality should have the comfort of knowing their police force is above reproach, that its members can be relied upon to do their duty to the public, that above all, their head, the municipal Chief of Police knows what he is doing and uses all of his hard-earned policing law-and-order smarts along with his relatively newly-acquired executive intelligence to ensure that peace reigns on the land.

On the other hand, what do you do when your municipal police force, seemingly despite its best efforts has a lamentably low rate of crime solving under its belt, and doesn't appear to be headed for any great improvement? The City of Ottawa appears to be rather ill served, and that's a pity. No one might wish to contest Chief Vince Bevan's honesty, integrity and commitment to "serve and protect", but despite his cordial denials to the contrary he has a long, sad track record of proven incompetence. Doubt that? the evidence is there for all to see. His spectacular failures due to sheer incompetence compels one to ask why he was considered for the post, and certainly question his fitness for the position he currently holds.

This is the same senior officer with lots of experience behind him in the policing business who headed the Oakville police force, and whose most celebrated failure was that of the Paul Bernardo rampage of rape and murder. Chief Bevan's inability to apprehend a pattern relating to the serial nature of the Bernardo pair's vile sexual depravities is legend. Had Paul Bernardo been apprehended rather than half-heartedly interrogated as a casual suspect in a number of rapes, the horror surrounding the torture and murder of two young women and that of Bernardo's sister-in-law could have been averted. At some point in his pathologically predatory career the predator turned into a murderer. Aided and abetted by his wife who shared his deviant sexual fantasies. It was Chief Bevan's imcompetence in overseeing his officers and in failing to adequately search for and examine evidence that led to the infamous deal that permitted Bernardo's wife to escape the justice due her.

There were no credible challenges from law enforcement to Bernardo's dedicated raping forays, nothing to credibly convince him he could be found out, caught and charged. After all, he had been questioned several times as a potential suspect, as someone fitting a very particular profile, then he was dismissed. That pattern was to repeat itself time and again. Two spectacularly horrible murders of two young women in the Ottawa area, several years apart, where suspects were questioned, then dismissed have added to Chief Bevan's dismal record. It would take several years in the first case and almost a year in the second murder before they were solved, and not because the police did their work, but because of blind good luck.

A young woman, bicycling in east-end Ottawa on a National Capital Commission bicycling trail disappeared during a rain storm, early on a week-end day. Her body was later found in a state of partial decomposition, and it was clear she had been violently raped and murdered. The area was cordoned off, witnesses were interviewed, and by some great good luck an astute observer described the facial features of a suspect. A police drawing was produced and published at large. Information came in from the public, "individuals of interest" were interviewed, but the interviews led to nothing concrete. Years passed, yet during that time there were several rapes which bore a strange hallmark of familiarity, and the police shrugged off any intimation they could be connected. Finally, a North Bay detective recognized a man who had moved there recently, from the police drawing, someone who had already been interviewed by the Ottawa police, and this man had been implicated in a failed rape in North Bay. Even then the Ottawa police were slow to take up the challenge. Finally, when it became impossible to continue completely ignoring the facts of the case, a man was arrested for the murder of Ardeth Wood - and just incidentally also implicated in the unsolved area rapes.

Nine months ago in south-west Ottawa a young woman, on her way home from work at night, after her workshift at a local fast food stop disappeared. Friends she had been chatting with prior to her disappearance were interviewed. Useless-to-identify photographs taken from a nearby milk store surveillance camera were later published in a vain attempt at some sort of identification when police found they were unable to move forward on the case. Police interviewed countless "individuals of interest", but found no convincing evidence to implicate anyone. The murderer, a young man who lived nearby, made a spectacle of himself by running naked down a main thoroughfare under the influence of a narcotic, all the while shouting he had murdered Jennifer Teague. He was taken into detention, and when he had sobered up, denied he'd had anything to do with the case. He was released. A short while later, he spoke with neighbours telling them he was the murderer of the young woman, asking them to inform police. And in case police still didn't get it, he went himself to the closest (off-duty) police officer he could find and turned himself in. Another victory for the hard-working, enterprising, crime-solving Ottawa police force.

That same force that officially released statistics this week on their crime-fighting performance for the year. Fully 62% of crimes of violence were solved in the past year. Wow! that also happens to be a decrease in performance of 10% over the preceding year. That, despite an increase in the force, with more police officers on call, allied with a 6% drop in the number of violent crimes.

Do we feel well served? Do we feel protected?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Beast Among Us

The Beast takes many guises, but he prowls among us. While I note "he" when speaking of the Beast, this creature can also take the guise of a female. The Beast, in short, is those people living in society who are incapable of any deep-seated emotions other than those which express his or her own desires. The Beast feels no empathy for others, no compassion for the conditions which his or her actions impose upon those who become the victims of his/her baleful attentions. The Beast in fact, might be anyone who forgets what it is to be human, but far more likely is represented by those quasi-humans whose genetic inheritance absented care for others around them. The Beast is the psychopath who picks his/her way carefully around the detritus of the lives of those his/her machinations have destroyed. The Beast has no compunction against visiting grief and even death upon those whose presence constitutes to his/her baleful eye an impediment of any kind to his/her success in endeavours of any kind.

Yes, the Beast can be the woman who drugs her hapless husband and runs her vehicle over him, backs up and does it again. The Beast is the man who stabs his children to death, after doing the same to their mother, then sets the family home on fire. The Beast is the mother whose distress with life is such that she is determined to leave it, and to take her children with her. The Beast is the elderly neighbour who takes a shotgun to warn young neighbours off his lawn, after telling them time and again he won't brook shortcuts, then finally shooting to wound. The Beast is the young man who takes an automatic firearm to the engineering department of a university which has turned him down for enrolment and wreaks his vengeance by murdering young women aspring to a career in engineering, students at that same university. The Beast is the racist who spreads hatred against other members of society.

The Beast can also be the exorbitantly-remunerated Chief Executive Officer of a successful corporation who protects the bottom line by firing essential workers and drives the company into the ground, while temporarily pleasing shareholders. The Beast is the breeder of dogs who houses his/her charges inadequately, feeds them poorly, never pays for veterinarian services, and advertises widely to a public eager to obtain these poor neglected animals, little dreaming they will be stuck with a lifetime of neurotic behaviour and ill health on the part of the dog. The Beast is the woman who preys on men for the manner in which they can enhance her lifestyle, promising but never delivering. The Beast is the man who connives to persuade trusting women that he is the answer to their search for a life-long partner, while his intent is to continue his predatorily pleasurable pursuits.

She was shopping in the local hardware store of a small town close to where she lives. He approached her to ask admiringly about the tiny dog in her backpack. He was friendly and she was trusting, and he captivated her by his spontenaeity, the manner in which he so quickly introduced her to a synopsis of his life, even telling her in that small space of time about his father having given him rabbits of his own to care for. She too loved rabbits and had a few, she confided in him. He was, he said, interested in dogs because he loved them, and had just lost his long-time canine companion. She quickly informed him that he should look up a dog rescue group she belonged to, on the Internet, then remembered she was, at that very time, fostering a dog.

How fortuitous, might he drop by to look at the dog? She described where her house was located, and he knew where it was, indicating that he knew her neighbours. He would telephone her and make an appointment. And so it came about that he arrived at her home, complimented her on her lovely home, her many well-behaved dogs. And how much he liked the dog she was fostering; he was definitely interested, and she was pleased. He told her where his house was, right beside the river, and she was pleased with that, since the dog loved the water. She told him she envisaged the dog going with a household that already had one dog, since the dog loves canine company and he assured her that there was a companionable dog right next door.

He turned his attention to her in an obvious manner, complimenting her on the mode of her dress, her unusual jewellery. She had invited him into her house and he expressed his admiration for her obvious home-making skills, her decor, her wonderfully comfortable and well-cared-for environment, the obvious happiness and health of her canine dependents of which there were quite a few. I guess, he said, as he turned to leave, after asking if he could bring his 15-year-old daughter along in a few days' time to see if she too approved of the adoptive dog; I guess, you'll contact your neighbours to ask them about me. She most certainly would, she assured him; she meant for the dog to go to a good home.

She took her daughter with her and went across to see her neighbours, to ask them about this man who seemed just too good to be true. She was pleased with what she saw. She was flattered by his attentiveness, his obvious appreciation of everything that was so important to her. She was a little excited about the thought that she might have found the perfect home for the dog she was fostering. The female half of the couple was not home; she knew her partner had gone on a two-week trip and wouldn't return until the following week; gone to see family out west. The couple had animals of their own and it was clear they hadn't yet been looked after for the evening. Her neighbour's absence bothered her, and she checked again later in the evening.

The following morning there was still no sign of her neighbour and she was really worried. She had tried to contact her through her cell telephone the night before, but there was no response. On her return from work that afternoon, finally, there was her neighbour. Who, returning late from work the night before, had her car break down on the highway at 11:00 p.m. None of the passing motorists would stop. There had been no highway patrol. She spent the night in her car. That morning, finally, a young man driving in the opposite direction saw her, drove to the nearest exit, rejoined the highway in her direction and asked if she needed help. Is that to be believed? On the other hand, fear restrains people, keeps them from stopping, late at night, if they see what might appear to be a stranded motorist but might be something else.

Under no circumstances, said her neighbour, was she to allow that man entry to her house again. Under no circumstances should she speak with him beyond the necessity to inform him that her foster dog would not be placed under his protection. The man, her neighbour said, was an outright predator, a despoiler, a wife-batterer. One by one, her neighbour dispelled all the little myths about the man's life that he had offered to the trustingly unsuspecting target of his attentions, who, had she lived in that area longer, might have known about his reputation. As it was, she recalled the time a woman had driven to her neighbour's home, and she had crossed the street to ask if she might be of assistance in her neighbour's absence. She remembered, then, the despairing, weeping condition of the woman, and her relief when her neighbour finally returned and was able to comfort her. This had been her husband.

Liar. The Beast is an accomplished liar. He will go to any lengths to disarm his prey. The pleasure he derives from his predatory pursuits are not to be denied him. The distortion of truth, the portrayal of an openly trusting personality holds no difficulty for him. Even that small betrayal of humanity affords him great pleasure. When conditions are right, as they so often are, he can proceed from one step to another, to achieve the final victory over yet another trusting victim.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Stupidly Oblivious to Risk

Well, it's a moot point. Are people who insist on using pesticides (and herbicides) for cosmetic gardening totally ignorant of the deleterious effects on the environment? Or are they just so concerned about their lawns, so determined to have the perfect green lawn, so enamoured of the idea of all that grass reflecting on their pride of home ownership that they're perfectly willing to take the risk?

The use of pesticides has been linked to many health issues. But before we get into that, consider the fact that pesticides and herbicides are killers (from the Latin "cide" to kill, right?). People want to kill the weeds that detract from their perfect lawns, they want to murder the hapless insects and grubs that disturb their peace of mind. In the process they're starting a chain reaction that affects urban wildlife, from live-eating (worms, insects) birds to foraging squirrels, and their own household pets: cats and dogs.

Who could possibly find the concept of spreading deadly chemicals on a lawn an intelligent decision, in order to nurture it to attain a perfect carpeted aspect of bright green? Chemicals, in any event, won't necessarily do the trick. It's been amply proven that people whose lawns are thickly grassed and healthy put out a little energy, eschewing chemicals. You pull out weeds by hand in the spring before they can gain the upper hand; no mystery about that. When the lawn has dried out sufficiently after the winter thaw, it needs to be de-thatched with a proper rake. Then it can be fertilized, with commercially friendly stuff, or with a top-dressing of fine composted material, raked in. Mow lawns regularly, but no shorter than 2", so the grass can shade its roots from the heat of the sun, and thrive. That's the formula for perfect grass.

Invariably, the houses on most streets I've seen sporting the worst lawns are those which also sport those little warning flags that pesticides have been sprayed on. Passersby breathe in the deadly fumes, which have also wafted over onto the lawns, front and back of neighbours who will not use the deadly stuff, but have it forced upon them. It's a constant source of wonder to me that people who have small children and pets think nothing untoward about hiring lawn care companies to put down deadly chemicals on the grass their children and their pets will play upon.

Among the deadlier health disturbances caused by the use of pesticides is cancers of various kinds, to which, unfortunately, children are no more immune than adults. Municipalities and Medical Associations of one kind or another have been quick to point out the inimical nature of pesticide use, and to recommend a cessation. Consumers, wedded to their inviolable lifestyles which include The Perfect Lawn, refuse to abide by these recommendations. And craven City Councils too often put off time and again instituting a total ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides.

Now research has shown that pesticide use could compound the risk of Parkinson's disease. One of the largest epidemiological studies conducted to date into the effects of such chemicals has found that people regularly exposed to pesticides, even in relatively small doses had a 70% higher incidence of Parkinson's disease as opposed to those people with no exposure at all to the pesticides.

What does it take to make people realize that they are imperilling their health and that of their neighbours by the insistence of pesticide use? These are deadly toxins that damage the molecular structure of the human brain for heaven's sake! I can only conclude, personally, that those people, some of my neighbours among them, have been close to brain dead for a good many years, and are thus not amenable to changing their idiotic habits.

Fine, if they care nothing for themselves, but get those spectacularly feeble brains around the fact that they have no business contaminating the air that others breathe, nor to cause ill health to others around them because of their gross stupidity.

The perfect lawn has become a synonym for unadulterated idiocy.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Garden Party Birthday

Well, it happened after all. The longed-for resumption of an old friendship. Angie's girlfriend was destined, after all, to attend her little garden party. And since Stephanie lives but a five-minute walk from our house it was we who drove her over to the party. And she was just as excited as our granddaughter. She had bought a lovely mother-of-pearl-inlaid brass cuff for Angie, knowing how she loves jewellery. She was eager to go, happy to see us again, hug-hug. And she talked incessantly throughout that hour-long drive to get there. Never did we suspect that this child had such a lively and thoughful intelligence. She was bubbly company, happy at everything she saw, eager to introduce one subject after another, for full discussion.

When we arrived at the garden party, the other children were all in the pool, splashing about, raising their voices to the pines above. I felt pretty good about having thought to bring along Angie's bathing suit from last summer that we'd had at our house, yet another relic of our long years of looking after her. For although Stephanie is a year older than Angie, the suit fit her exactly and she soon joined the other girls in the pool. Eden had slept over with Angie, and Jade and her sister Faith had arrived in the early afternoon. A bit of a social dance ensued as the girls became acquainted.

It wasn't long before all were comfortably ensconced once again in the pool, flopping about, splashing one another, and engaging in gossip. Bringing Angie all up to date on the antics and tales surrounding the other children in her grade four class whom she had left behind, four months ago when she moved to this new house, this new environment, her new school, and new chums. And that was a perfect opportunity for all the others to chime in, claiming their turn to talk about others of their acquaintances whose behaviours, characteristics, eccentricities and appearance elicited comical comment and mild derision to be shared by all. Tch-tch.

Well before they were in danger of becoming water-logged, they exited the pool to dry up and change, then begin playing soccer (at least their version of it) and volleyball (ditto). Then it was time to play with the dogs, all eight of them. Then into the house to reveal the contents of their loot bags, compare the colours of the plush toy sheep (all the same animals to avoid jealousy, but they traded on the basis of colour anyway), compare the attributes of the little writing sets in each bag, then the hair ornaments, and finally the chocolate bars, which demanded to be eaten forthwith.

That done, they all sat around the dining table to watch as the birthday girl hauled out the clothing gifts she had received from Bubbe and Zayde, and they pursed their lips in oohs and ahhs, for the unfolding of each offering. The birthday girl offered to try each garment on, and she concluded the performance by selecting a red ruched top to wear then and there, matching her short red skort.

Cookies! Who wants fresh-baked cookies just out of the oven! Then it was large, warm, redolent cookies all around, the dogs frantically searching the floor below the laughing children for errant crumbs. Back out to the pool! Last one in is a poo-head! (Oh, really!) Wait, first some orange soda. Wait, let's have some strawberries. All right, everyone over to the guest cottage to change. Get your towels and suits off the line, they're dry by now.

Have I yet mentioned the pluperfect weather, especially ordered up for this auspicious day? Having not yet, I shall describe it as wonderfully sunny, dry, with a gentle breeze, hot enough, but not unbearably so. This little girl has everything going just right for this day in recognition of the signal event of her birth.

There's more, much more, but why go on, perfection can be so impossibly difficult to convey. Suffice it to say that the girls were in and out of the pool continually, between eating jags. They ran amok on the grounds, managing miraculously to avoid the flower beds and the ambient animals. They helped the lady of the house clean out the rabbit pens. They had their dinner out on the deck, sitting at little tables on little benches; well, adult tables, adult benches.

They had birthday cake, a rather disgusting-looking concoction of white/chocolate cake, festooned with icing and chocolate-sandwich cookies. Ugh.

Happy day.

Miami Arrest: Home-Grown Terrorist Cell?

Kind of hard to believe. Not hard to believe that there could be such an occurrence, but these poor louts? A glance at the photographs of those poor disaffected social misfits and anyone with an ounce of common sense would think otherwise. Not simply because they're obviously members of a sidelined minority within a minority, but other indicators as well, laid out (difficult to conceal, in fact) in the newspaper narrative.

Every society produces its embittered, underprivileged, forgotten youth whose response to that society is rabid anti-social behaviour. This group looks like a bevy of disillusioned kids sharing between them what must surely be the equivalent of a sub-normal brain. Clearly nature did not favour them, nor did happenstance.

These are society's disadvantaged and alienated kids grown up to become alienated and vengeful quasi-adults, but in fact they haven't matured very much from that time when they were old enough to share their personal tales of misery incarnate between one another, each mirroring the other, seeking and finding solace in the aggregate.

This is a disaffected, grudge-ridden group looking for a cause. Some uplifting charge of excitement in the barrenness of their socially unchallenged world view. And along comes, ta-Dum! Insults to Islam! Heaven sent, to be sure. Suddenly the sterility of their unproductive and forever-unpromising lives disappears and they find Purpose.

They too can dream, can they not? Of notoriety, of making the world stand up and take notice. And cheers! from the sources that count. Of the condemnation from the other sources, what difference, since that only echoes the stories of their lives up until now. Nothing like a sense of adventure to bring excitement to impoverished intelligence.

It's a boys' club. And like all boys' clubs there are certain appurtenances that must be obtained. Like, for example, boots, uniforms, machine-guns, radios, vehicles, binoculars, bullet-proof vests, and oh yes, $50,000 U.S. in cash. Without these embellishments nothing, needless to say, could conceivably be accomplished One must be dressed for the part, have all of the bells and whistles to proclaim legitimacy.

Think of all the disgruntled 13- and 14-year-old boys who promise to "get even" to make the world stand up and take notice. Often, lack of imagination will compel these little degenerates to contemplate suicide to get even, to "show them". And when several get together, to try to outdo one another in outrage at their lives, the times of their lives, the lives of their times, their eager attempts to outdo one another in potential escapades of deadly violence that go no further than their mouth to another's ear get lost in the reality of life.

Not this time. This time the U.S. authorities were on the case. Looking for just such Bad Boys. Secret clubhouses no longer keep secrets intact. Secret clubhouses on the Internet don't tend to be quite as secret as a little boarded up shack in the back woods, and the FBI is on the job, people! An operative posing as an al-Qaeda agent, oh the thrill of it!

Our little group of jihadists must have thought they'd died and gone to - where is it that they have all those virgins awaiting? This is big time, man! We made contact. So they asked Big Brother Jihadists International to supply all those important things that wannabe jihadists must have to succeed in this tough world: the uniforms, the gun-toys, the fast cars, the cash.

What a sting, what an operation, what success in the war against terror!

Friday, June 23, 2006

On Balance

When irritating little events occur it helps that they balance out with affirmative little events. That way we achieve the kind of balance that allows us to shrug off the irritations and focus instead on the little successes. Right? Mind, there are many among us who focus on the half-empty goblet and their levels of irritation build to the point of belief that life, somehow, has it in for them. Theirs is the three-strikes-out theory, that bad things happen in multiples of three. If, somehow, two nasty things happen throughout the space of a day, they await, with bated breath, for the third, then gloomily take ownership of any additional mishap as the third in the series. And sit back, awaiting a repeat the following day. Life cannot be a happy event overall for these unfortunates.

On the other hand, is it possible, and why not? that one's state of mind directly influences the quality of one's life, one's ability to absorb adversity? I'm certainly a firm believe in it. Just as our daughter, for example, believes that nothing comes easy in this world; that events occur beyond one's reckoning; that if one miserable event occurs just wait, the rest will follow. A well balanced personality, needless to say, obviates this form of belief. Some people are born with sunny personalities, some are born defeatist.

Here's the day's balance sheet of admittedly small irritations, nicely set off by little pick-me-ups.
  • I finally got around to emailing our summer-cottage-rental hosts enquiring about the possible whereabouts of my dear departed backpack. ** Our kindly hosts emailed back affirming that it was left behind, was in their possession and they held the firm intention of keeping it for us upon our return, be it for a short fall vacation, or next year's week away in the Waterville Valley.
  • Irving racked off the wine he's been brewing the last month or so for the final time, and bottled it. In the bottle-washing process beforehand he discovered the tiny corpse of a mouse in one of the bottles. Good grief, how is that possible? He cannot recall where he procured that particular set of bottles. ** On the plus side, the wine turned out really well, and he's inordinately pleased with his efforts.
  • After all had been done for the afternoon, I set about watering the many garden urns and pots and garden beds, and while doing so, immersed myself in the pure pleasure of admiring the floral displays. ** And then I discovered the neat, paper-brown conical nest of wasps, necessitating that I bring into action the garden guardian.
  • Peering out the glass panel of the front door early this morning I saw upon the floor of the porch what looked suspiciously like cat scat. And cat scat it was. The masculine half of the team cleaned it up, soaped and scrubbed down the porch. ** Good thing we'd just earlier enjoyed the perfect atmosphere for our morning ravine walk, noting the meadow rue beginning to flower, the candles on the stag-horn sumacs already prominent, and were serenaded by the raw caw of a crow.
  • Decided to prepare a vanilla custard for dinner dessert, and we'd have it with fresh raspberries and fresh-baked sugar cookies which I'd mixed up a batch of dough for earlier, after breakfast. Nice combination to finish off Friday-night dinner. Oops, why does this always seem to happen to me? The custard didn't set beyond wobbly. Hot damn! Toss it? ** No, freeze it, and that worked a miracle of sherbet-like custard.
  • The combination ceiling fan/light fixture we set out to buy for our daughter's kitchen ceiling to replace the one our granddaughter did in on the week-end turned out to be somewhat less the fabulous on-sale purchase than the advertisement led us to expect. The halogen bulbs burn too hot, too energy-intensive, too expensive to replace. ** A diligent search brings to light another one on sale, pricier, but with better features.
  • Just before dinnertime, a neighbour two houses down the street has one of those trucks back up to his house to clean out his ducts and the earth-shattering sucking noise coming through the dining room windows facing the front of the house is enough to take away anyone's appetite. ** We close the windows, diminish the sound, and look out on to the splendour of our garden, wedding two sensuous pleasures.
  • Ah, this one is more than a little difficult: our grandchild, whose birthday celebration will be tomorrow has been awaiting word from her erstwhile best friend with whom she has, for the past three months, been exchanging letters and telephone conversations cementing their best-friend status, since their separation as a result of a house move. On this occasion, the girlfriend has not returned calls asking if she would like to attend the birthday party, to which the grandparents (us) would be more than happy to ferry and chaperone her to. ** We will do our best, the rest of us, to make this child happy, to forget, if momentarily, the absence of her best friend who has chosen, for whatever reason, not to respond.
If only all of life's little irritations and large aggravations were so handily resolved.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Be Thou a Beacon Unto the World

That has a familiar ring. I know I've read it, or heard it somewhere, at some time. And if it was writ in some holy text as an ancient formulary for a golden rule to live amongst others with respect and with oneself in good conscience, the world has taken great care to remind Jews time and again, that they have a greater responsibility in compassionate comportment than any other group of people inhabiting this world.

The standard to which Jews hold themselves as decent and caring people, is as nothing compared to that which the world's expectations have led them to. As Job suffered and found no surcease, so has the Tribe of Israel been maltreated since time immemorial, while the injunction to be a beacon unto the world has prevailed, despite the deadly provocations of history.

Well, here's a Jew trying to live with history, and there are countless more like me. We do all right. We still believe in humankind. We manage to get on with life. We enrich the societies in which we live, through our inherited goodwill toward all. We practise a lifestyle of forgiveness; how else live alongside the inheritors of massive slaughters of historical Jewry?

There's another thing about Jews; like elephants they do not forget. There is a collective, painful memory of separateness, of massive hostility, of expulsion, of mass murder. Through it all, we have an inbred need to foster understanding, to do unto others not what they have done to us, but as we would have them do. Wishful thinking? Why is it that despite producing intellectual giants, embroidering the world around us with artistry and music and scientific discoveries, and medical breakthroughs well beyond the normative for a percentile of a population, Jews appear to be held in such universally low esteem?

We are a proud, but not immodest group. We value civility, generosity of spirit, the beauty that surrounds us. We stand ready to accept differences among people whose mores do not reflect ours. We hold valuable those practices which cherish life and the love of family. We urge upon our children the attainment of higher education, the better to take their productive place in society. We urge upon one another the practise of charity and compassion. We are not monolithic. We honour our traditions, whether within the religious context, or through a secular model.

It is doubly, triply painful for Jews to feel compelled as a simple matter of survival to take up arms, to wage war, to destroy lives. To do otherwise led to ethnic, cultural, religious annihilation. And not all that long ago, historically, we came close to the razor's edge. Now comes the old conundrum of what came first: the chicken or the egg? To turn the other cheek doesn't work very well, when your assailant happily slaps the opposite cheek before turning the Kalishnakov directly to your head.

What does a society do against one deadly provocation after another? When protest avails nothing. When discourse is not possible to challenge the motive of avenging a perceived wrong? When offers of compromise and sharing are rejected? When your civilian population is targetted time and again, and you are left to pick up the bloody sinews and shards of bone, what do you do? When your adversary is completely implacable and will not be satisfied with results other than utter desolation - of your society and their own?

You become what you most abhore. A deliverer of death. And hope for the future.

Peacefulness, tolerance and Goodwill

Nice sounding words, those. Designed to take the sting out of "unfortunate impressions" one might garner as fall-out from the actions worldwide of high-profile Islamists. Dear me, no! cry the Muslim apologists, the community leaders, imams, and such. Westerners simply do not understand Islam. Despite those unfortunate interpretations of resurrecting world-dominion intentions and bringing "honour back to Islam", aided and abetted by deadly attacks on Western symbols and unarmed, unaware civilians, countries completely unprepared for the venomous attacks directed toward them and their populations, we've got it all wrong. Islam is a religion of peace. A tolerant religion.

But be aware, Muslims take their religion seriously. There is no god but Allah, no prophet but Muhammed. Good Muslims live to do the will of Allah as prescribed by the Koran. There is nothing to be trifled with, here. To do so, to hold up a scintilla of Islamic belief and practise to ridicule, to public scorn, is to invite the wrath of Allah down upon the heads of infidels. Said wrath, needless to say, is handily delivered through the auspices of frenetically fundamentalist Islamists, determined to decimate the infidels in their lairs. To voice, to publish a slur in any manner of either Muhammed or Allah is to bring upon one's society a sentence of violent protest culminating in property destruction, reputation annihilation, and citizen deaths.

Ah, say the moderates, this is but the work of renegade Muslims. They do not represent our belief in Islam. We are peace-loving, content to live among people of other faiths in goodwill. And we trust them, and we believe them, because we must. Because to do otherwise is to reject the basic goodness in humanity. It then behooves these moderates to not only disclaim association with the psychopathic interpreters of Islam, but to shun and deny them access to their mosques, to their children, lest they be irredemiably corrupted as martyrs of Islam, as terrorists in civil society located in countries other than Muslim-dominated ones.

Because we have seen indelible proof that for too many followers of Islam this is not a society of peace and tolerance, we were aghast, not too many years back when ancient symbols of Buddhism in Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban, through the irrevocable decision of "conservative" Muslim clerics. These world-recognized and prized heritage statues of Buddha were determined to be of insult to Islam and they were destroyed. So much for goodwill, then.

What has changed in the intervening few years? Not an awful lot; in fact the worldwide situation appears to be deteriorating. We move now to Malaysia, a Muslim-dominated country where the destruction of Hindu temples by Malaysian authorities, the government, no less, is ongoing. The minority Hindu community in Malaysia has become rather upset at the destruction of their temples, many of which have historical religious value, as well as world heritage status.

These sacred precincts for the Hindu population are being destroyed at the rate of one every few weeks. Ostensibly, goes the government line, to make way for new developments.

This is the face of Islam the world sees, and which has become imprinted on the world's consciousness. Islamic conscience there is none.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Garden, Get Thee Stuffed

It's as though we abhore a vacuum. He in the house, so that every nook and cranny disappears under the weight of furniture, porcelains, statues; the walls weighted with one painting over another, under another. He is the aesthetic eye, voice and ear of this family, and I the curatorial staff. Cleaning staff? And then there's our gardens. I simply will not permit spaces to exist in our gardens. Banishing them with unremitting installations of trees, bushes, shrubs, perennials, annuals. He becomes the garden staff, eliminating creepy-crawlies that enjoy nothing better than to gnaw holes in rosebuds and helpless plants of one type or another, particularly lilies. He does a fine job of it, protesting all the while that it goes against the grain to take away the life of a caterpillar, a worm (and ugh to you, too).

Yes! Our perennials are thriving, aided immensely by the advent of a very wet spring, hot and humid weather and plenty of sun. Perennials? Did I forget the growth spurts of all the trees, deciduous and conifers alike? Clematis, roses, irises, Canterbury bells, peonies, poppies, lupines, they're blooming and proliferating as never before. I've carefully strung up the sweet peas, the nasturtiums and the morning glories, the black-eyed Susan vines, and their aspiring bloom time will yet come.

The garden pots, those great huge ceramic and stone urns and receptacles to embrace miniature gardens, have been filled. With tuberous begonias, million bells, nemisia, porculaca, ipomea, ivies, grasses, dahlias, bidens, lobelia, and much more, guaranteed to brighten the landscape and lighten the heart. I've plunked down zinnias, wax begonias, impatiens, cosmos, asters, snapdragons wherever so much as a space insinuated it could get along without colourful ornamentation.

We've already got little tomatoes hanging down off the tomato vine, and more, much more to come. I'm now able to snip fresh parsley for our soup and salad, chives for same, and sweet basil and oregano to brighten our taste buds in salads and home-made pizzas. And there's more, much more to come. It's only the third week of June, for heaven's sake! Summer is yet before us, a long, glorious summer.

Nothing quite like a turn in the garden, to note what's happening, to feel the sun on one's back, to snip off spent flowers, stake up storm-fallen stems, then sit back and delight in the architecture and colour of a canvass of our own.

The Ravine's Summer Wildflowers

Each season greets us with its own display of colourful flowers. We've said goodbye to the trilliums, foamflower, jack-in-the-pulpit, lilies-of-the-valley, red baneberry, bunchberry, Saskatoon berry flowers, trout lilies, to name those most familiar to sight. They've gone the way of spring, 2006. We've now greeted summer of 2006; the very first day of summer at that, and the longest day(light) of the year.

Now we've got a new crop of flowers, those of early summer, and they include cowvetch, potentilla, thimbleberries, hawkweed, fleabane, daisies, buttercups. We've got thistles growing so large they seem to reach to the sky, all thanks to the very wet, humid and often-sunny-and-hot weather we've been bouncing back and forth from. The weather may be exasperating to us, but it's the stuff of life to the flora abundant in the ravine (not to speak of our gardens, and farmers' crops).

This year there's a bumper crop of hazelnuts on the bushes proliferating throughout the ravine. Whereas last year, much drier, there was nary a nut to be seen. Those very same nuts that no doubt the resident squirrels will make haste to lay away in preparation the coming fall for the dire winter months. Those very same hazelnuts that we were too slow to action when our grandchild tried to clasp one in her then-little hands. Her visible distress, her obvious dismay at the treachery of nature! It was an impulse not likely to be repeated.

The ravine has become a high summer (early this year) jumble and jangle of understory plants like horsetails and false Solomon's Seal, of clover, and strawberry, blackberry and raspberry canes, American bittersweet winding their way around slender tree trunks. Those trees so badly bent out of normalcy by the 1998 Ice Storm still display those deadly arcs, but the trees refuse to give up the ghost and send up new branches reaching for the sun.

Song sparrows, robins and cardinals keep reminding us of their presence. An oven-bird is throbbing out those high notes that seem to celebrate oncoming rain. High in the overhead branches nestlings are quiveringly beseeching parents to do their duty: "I'm hungry, feed me! feed me!" Damselflies flit about, showing off their iridescent bodies as they search, like the dragonflies, for insects.

The bedding grasses are now also in bloom and send their heady fragrance throughout the ravine. The creek is now, finally, in decline, although a series of thunderstorms predicted for this evening will once again bring the level up, helping to wash out yet more of the detritus that gets deposited in the creek bed. And wash out the mosquitoe larvae as well, so good on that turn of events.

Our daily jaunts in the ravine provide us with the opportunity to observe nature at a certain urbanized level while offering us pleasant exercise, and our dogs the opportunity to feast on their first salad of the day.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Wasted Talents, Opportunities, Expectations

It defies practical intelligence that people with professional qualifications and experience who enter Canada from countries abroad as landed immigrants are not able to practise their professions once it has been established by committees representative of such professions that their experience and education reflects the very same qualities that Canadian-educated professionals practise.

We have an admittedly serious shortage of health professionals. We invite highly educated people with professional degrees and backgrounds to come to Canada to enrich themselves and the country with their presence. Yet we deny them the opportunity to freely practise these professions to to take their place in Canadian society as proud members of the society. While it may be true that Canadian Immigration officers will inform prospective immigrants that their qualifications will not be recognized as being commensurate with those of Canadian professionals, and that they will have to take steps once on Canadian soil to qualify for practise, there is still a gap of understanding.

People come to Canada for the opportunity to live in a free democracy, a progressive country with a culture and traditions which may appeal to them, in furthering a lifestyle more agreeable than that they have experienced elsewhere. Their level of education, perceived ability to integrate into the Canadian civil tradition and culture are what has enabled them to enter the country as prospective new citizens to begin with. Why would these people not believe that they would be given the opportunity to pursue the fruit of their education in making a place for themselves in the new country?

We need medical practitioners of every description, desperately. People with doctoral degrees in the teaching professions, in engineering, in physics, in medicine, come to Canada with the belief that they can live comfortably here with their families. Instead they discover that there are many bureaucratic roadblocks to professional access to positions, and they find themselves desperately looking for jobs, any kind of jobs, that will put food on the table for their families.

In the process they must find immediate work, they must learn a new language, fit into different societal mores and civic culture, and try to discover the key that will permit them access to their former professional status. We're doing something dreadfully wrong when for decade after decade people with higher education and professional capabilities find themselves working as orderlies in hospitals where in their home countries they ran hospital departments.

When we have engineers and former university lecturers driving taxis, delivering pizzas, we are not enabling these people to reach their full potential within the country and we are short-changing Canada, as well. If we have the will, we must find the wherewithal. Otherwise, this enormous waste of talent, expertise and goodwill will certainly evaporate and leave in its wake an embittered, hopeless and alienated sub-culture.

How does that help Canada?


Can it be possible, we ask ourselves. She'll be ten years old. Abundantly clear that it is possible, and she certainly will be. At her age, she's already as tall as I am. We likely weigh the same. She could, conceivably, wear the same size clothing that I do. Not the shoes, though. She will, eventually, grow into her feet. It seems to me that every day is a party for her. At least every week-end day, released from the predictability and work associated with school. When one or more of her girlfriends descend upon her home to run through it and its environs in gleeful oblivion to the presence of others possessing more tender ears.

What to give the child who has everything? I suppose one could characterize almost any child living in the western world as being possessed with "everything". So, using one's imagination, and relying on observation and past experience, one offers those things pleasing to a child, and on the other hand those things pleasing to a growing-up girl. Our neighbour, Wendy, always knows how to please either a child or a girl or a woman. Wendy has already presented our Angelyne with a birthday gift. From the Internet, as is her wont, she purchased two sets of notecards and envelopes complete with flowery stick-ons. The first card produced with the kit was one of thanks to Wendy.

The preliminary birthday gift from us, a large inflatable swimming pool with pump is still undergoing the filling-up stage, begun last Saturday, and slowly being allowed to fill, using the house well water. Cautiously, somewhat slowly, not wanting to drain the well precipitously, however unlikely that would seem. Although not yet completely full, it is now being happily utilized. I've been looking at little summer shirts, and will complement them with a frilly, girly skirt.

We've decided I won't bake a cake this year. We'll buy a pre-made birthday cake, replete with sprinkles and candies and frosted flowers. And I've got the job of assembling goody bags for the little girls who will be attending this girl-child's tenth birthday celebration. That will test my ability to remember back to when I was a child and what I would most likely have desired; a grab-bag of hair ornaments, books, stuffed animals.

She's attended a number of tenth-birthday celebrations for her school chums. She has a yardstick. She has expectations, but they are not at all difficult to fulfill; after all she has had no difficulty in meeting our expectations for the past decade.

The Dangers That Lurk

We decided to have barbecue. We would do sirloin um, sirloin hamburgers. Lean meat, no fat to speak of. Mindful of our intake of red meat. Of which we partake perhaps once a week. And at this time of year, when it's hot and humid why use the kitchen facilities? What've we got a barbecue for, anyway? Especially one that has a direct gasline. No muss, no fuss. Beloved of our little dogs. Who take second dibs, of course. Well, needless to say we're watching their waistlines too. Ours aren't too bad, but it's got to the point where I'm actually counting out kibble for the toy male Poodle. Sixteen kibbles for him, twice a day. Augmented, of course, with grated cheddar, chopped up (leftover) hamburger, and cooked chicken thigh (left over from making chicken soup).

So barbecue it was, sirloin hamburgers. To which we would add corn on the cob, (gotta share the corn too, since both the she and the he of the Poodles are wild about corn) sliced sweet onion (Vidalia of course), sliced plum tomatoes, and lettuce leaf. And for dessert, fresh blueberries sprinkled liberally over vanilla ice cream. Niiice! Good cool-off mechanism for such a hot day. Not only hot, my friend, but the smog! It's to kill, the highest on Saturday-Sunday of all of Ontario. Most unusual for the Ottawa area. But we have it on good authority that this dreadful, lung-murking smog arrived via nasty winds from south of our border. Industrial pollution from the great hew hes hay.

Have I yet mentioned how favourite a venue the barbecue is for our sniffing, snuffling little dogs, post-use? Ah, the delectable aromas, the frantic search for any wayward bits and pieces fallen to the floor of the deck. Generally a hopelessly vain search, but one our little dogs are compelled by their hopeful natures to pursue regardless. How were we to know that other animals pursue the same agenda?

No, we haven't been visited lately by any bears, although there have been sightings of late of just such creatures within the greater Ottawa area. The barbecue chef extraordinaire lit the gas and flash! Would you believe it! Of course not, nor did he, but he's a fast thinker, and immediately shut off the barbecue. Just in time to realize that a beautiful little mouse, sans whiskers, was running frantically amok in the belly of that aluminum beast.

And in the little movable crittur's frantic efforts to escape the clear and present danger, he made himself quite impossible to corner, lift and remove to safety. The game plan was swiftly altered (Irving is nothing if not nimble-minded), so hands were removed and the poor little thing settled down to his own rescue. Which was to evacuate that metal belly and take himself off to nurse his singed whisker-less face.

Nice little dinner-time story, isn't it? We all enjoyed our sirloinburgers.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Of Girls, Dogs, and Pools

What's the world coming to, when little girls become so officious, so enamoured of themselves and their entitlements that they hijack beloved properties belonging to others? Even if, especially if, those "others" happen to be miserably hot dogs. Who believe that they are entitled to the use of their own possessions, after all. But no, the girls feel their needs and desires take precedence. And from that unassailable belief in the rightness of their view of the order of things, they evict those poor hot dogs (mmm, hotdogs) from their teeny, tiny, albeit very wet pool.

Pool? Yes, a small, hard plastic, lipped pool filled with cool and very wet water. Whose very existence is meant for doggy relief from the heat. But no, the girls would have it otherwise. They are determined and their will prevails. The poor moaning-with-heat-prostration dogs look on with frustrated envy, with righteous indignation, but can do nothing. Is life fair? No, it most definitely is not, especially when one is rather low on the entitlement scale.

These girls have no conscience. What do they care if a dog's tongue is hanging out in desperate attempts to cool the inner core of that burning bod? Quite simply, they do not. Those pathetic glances of entreaty, those beseeching little yelps and yips of outrage do nothing to move the girls to pity and remorse. They will have their way. And that, poor dogs, is most certainly that.

Even the hose, the beloved garden hose! They've co-opted it too, for their nefarious purposes. There was a time when the hose would be directed toward those lolling tongues whereupon the dogs would jump with glee and purposeful attempt to capture the life-enhancing, cooling streams of jet-propelled water directly from the garden hose. Forget it! The girls, no longer satisfied with depriving the dogs of their beloved pool have now turned their attention to the hose! Justice, there is none.

But wait, what's this? A new kiddy pool is being taken out of its heavy, cumbersome container, the pump set up and primed, the pool laid out carefully, the upper ring of plastic filled from an electric air pump, and what's this? The garden hose placed gently within the confines of what will eventually become a large girls' pool where fun, frolic and gaeity will become the order of the day on hot summer days.

Share! Can we share? You took our pool, may we now share yours? Wot? Plastic and nails don't make for a good combination? Drat! Anything for an excuse. You just don't want to share with us. You take away our pool, you deprive us of our hot-weather comfort zone, you monopolize the garden hose, and don't give a care that we stand by miserable and excluded. Now you won't share with us this new toy of such promise?

We won't forget this! Next time we have upset stomaches, take care. Don't light any matches.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Moon Shares, Come and Get Them Now!

After the first landing on the moon so many years ago, humans felt invincible; science could conquer anything, even space. The moon belongs, as a celestial body orbiting the earth, to earthlings, for do we not inherit the earth, our world, and all that surrounds it? Well, perhaps we don't. Nature of course, is another story altogether, for all that exists and lives and thrives does belong to nature. But why split hairs? We also like to believe that we can tame nature itself, despite so many indelible instances to the contrary.

Are we the only beings of higher intellect in the universe? As playthings of course, of a universal spirit, an all-seeing, all-powerful force whose purpose, intent and compassion or lack thereof of cannot be known by mere humans. Carl Sagan felt that we were not alone. He and his wife sent into orbit a wonderful piece of artistry as a message to other intelligent beings, should they exist. Somehow, Carl Sagan could get away with this. And, unless there's an after-life, he will never now really know.

So what's the latest? Astrophysicist of note Stephen Hawking is stirring up a debate. Personally, where I enjoyed and respected Carl Sagan I have my doubts about Stephen Hawking. A brilliant theoritician he may be, but an integrity-laden man he may not claim to be. So when he claims that science must strive harder to enable mankind to abandon ship and colonize Mars and earth's moon, it elicits but a chuckle. Not even a good-humoured chuckle at that, but one overladen with scorn.

But who am I, after all?

When our children were young, very young, say three decades ago and even more, Kellogg's corn flakes had special inserts for shares of the moon. Silly entitlements that struck the fancy of many a young child, dazzled by space experimentation and potential travel adventures. After all, these same children watched bubble-headed space-clad men emerge from a space capsule to leave a footprint in the dust of the moon.

Now there is a self-styled Lunar Ambassador to Britain. Yes, lunar, not lunatic. His neat little business offers shares of the moon at $41.50 an acre and business has picked up considerably since Stephen Hawking's little admonishment on the state of the world and options before us. Wait a minute: Hawking is British, despite his American-sounding voicebox (designed and produced by an American whose nurse-wife is now Hawking's wife, he having left his university-days sweetheart-wife and mother of his children, but aw, gosh, that's another story - kind of). Is this possibly some scam; does Stephen Hawking have majority shares in this venture?

Listen, if you're really serious in prolonging human life indefinitely, beyond the possibility of existence on the planet we've already polluted beyond its endurance, and it's a toss-up whether nuclear winter will clear us out or greenhouses gases, you can also buy shares of Mars or Venus. How about that for an exotic re-location? Breathable air, potable water, food sources, heat prostration, frozen space be damned, why get in the way of a good thing?

Inter-planetary piracy, oops, ownership, how could that be anything but a sure bet, a good thing?

Pity old Barnum isn't around to relish this.

Exhausted? Pressed for Time? Foster!

Why, one might ask, would someone who has more work, more responsibilities than any single person should rightfull have, go seeking more of the same? Self-flagellation? Guilt, that the days are insufficiently compressed? An urge to see just how much more of a burden one can absorb before complete collapse becomes inevitable? All of the above?

So now, despite having a full-time job, a young daughter, a fair-size house to look after, plus seven dogs, one cat, six rabbits, we have obligated ourself to fostering a large dog whom its owner can no longer maintain. Giving said animal a safe and sympathetic home until such time as a compassionate dog-lover will come to the rescue and adopt the animal permanently.

You've got to feel for an animal whose comfortable world has suddenly collapsed. The people who have dedicated a year and a half to socializing, feeding and caring for him have parted ways. And finally, the man has determined he can no longer keep the dog. Confusion? Bereft, feelings of abandonment? Surely. In the interim, there can be some comfort, and hope for the future.

A group dedicated to the rescue and placement of unwanted and/or abandoned pets, B.A.R.K. in Ottawa reached out for volunteers and she responded. The owner brought his year-and-a-half-old black, 91-pound part German Shepherd, part Collie over on Friday evening. Her heart fairly broke as she witnessed the affection between owner and dog. The young man had recently moved from Toronto, in the wake of an emotional break-up with his girlfriend. He has tried, but finds it impossible to keep his dog. Then he left.

She spoke beyond my obvious exasperation: You've got to see him, Mom, he's a really lovely dog. He's affectionate and sweet tempered, well-adjusted and responsive. Yes, most animals do appear that way to her. She has a way with animals, they respond to her. But when we saw him the following day her descriptive praise was accurate beyond doubt.

The owner told her the dog is shedding copiously, and she told him that might be as a result of it being under considerable stress. And the dog indeed lent itself happily to the grooming process. And in response to her warm voice and kind words, showered its affectionate kisses on her.

Her big Iqaluit rescue German Shepherd-Malamute mix keeps telling the new one not to forget who is the Alpha male, and it isn't him. They do gambol together nicely, though. And he is gentle with the small dogs, also, evincing little interest in the caged rabbits, but making an awkward start with Tibby, the cat, by half-heartedly beginning a chase. Tibby became immediately incommunicado, most unlike bold, brash Tibby, but he'll adjust.

I've taken photos of this new dog, sent them to her, with a short narrative to be forwarded on to B.A.R.K. who will now post these on their web site for prospective dog owners. I can only hope the process will not be too prolonged. She urgently wants this "lovely" dog to find new owners who will appreciate his sterling qualities, and give him, in return for unrestrained loyalty and affection, the same in exchange.

This dog likes children, too. He had quite the introduction to a bevy of happily noisy little girls yesterday afternoon, cooling off on a hot summer day in a new swimming pool in the process of erection and filling. There doesn't seem to be much this amenable animal dislikes. Other than an uncertain future. Lack of love. In essence, its needs reflect quite accurately those of any animal, including the human animal.

Nice dog.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Preaching to the Converted

No sooner does one feel that things are changing, than one comes face-up to the realization that perhaps things may be changing, painfully, slowly, but on the other hand, change is a difficult construct to face, and words can be uttered, then forgotten, and perhaps there's no real need to change, after all.

It's like saying you're sorry, and all is forgiven. Perhaps you're sorry, and perhaps forgiven as well, but if no action is taken to alter the situation which occasioned the need for an apology, what, really, is the point? The point is that nothing will change, after all, and either apologies will be voiced time and again, and to no avail, or the situation of aggrievement will continue to fester and bad feelings resume.

In the aftermath of the arrest of seventeen Muslim men the collective cry of personal anguish and disbelief arose from the Muslim community. Disbelief, because the collective could not credit the fact that among them were Muslim Canadians who wished to do harm to the society which succoured them. Anguish, because those same disaffected accused of terrorism were someone's husbands, sons, relatives-at-large, and certainly members of their personal communities.

How could this happen? they asked themselves. And us. For some members of the Muslim community, some representatives of the community, have demanded of the Canadian government that steps be taken to discern why this happened. As though government has an obligation to a specific religious community to protect them from the predatory effects on youth caused by radical fundamentalists among them. Who is it in the Muslim community who tolerates fanatical Islam? Who is it within that community that invites such religious figures to contaminate the "peaceful nature" of their religion?

Now we hear that a former cleric of one of Britain's largest mosques, a man known to foment hatred against non-Muslims has been invited to speak to Muslim groups in Toronto and Montreal. Why are Muslim groups inviting hate-mongers to spew their radical discourses if they fear the radicalization of their youth? Sheik Riyadh ul-Haq is reputed to have a history of inciting hatred toward non-Muslims, of warning of plots against Islam and the Muslim world. He glorifies martyrdom for the greater glory of Allah. This all has a very familiar ring to it. Isn't it time we went beyond this?

Tarek Fatah, ever vigilant, has warned about the truly deleterious fall-out of permitting such a hate-monger to preach to impressionable young Muslim youth. Apart from the fact that one wonders why Muslim youth are so impressionable to begin with, so readily converted to fanaticism in the name of Allah, why are community leaders inviting such a harm upon their communities if they really wish to worship their god in peace, and live in harmony with others who share their world, if not their religion?

More to the point, why is there such resistance in the Muslim community to the voice of reason embodied in Tarek Fatah? Why, one might legitimately ask, is he not the favoured speaker, and not Sheik ul-Haq?

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