Monday, July 31, 2006

Bigots Are Everywhere

It hurts, it really does, to hear that a Canadian has become so fed up, so completely disheartened that he contemplates leaving the country of his birth for a safer haven. That respect for people has fallen to such a new low (or is it just now re-surfacing, at a time when we so love to congratulate ourselves that present-day Canada is truly race-blind and fully egalitarian?) is staggering to contemplate.

None other than Oscar Peterson whose home is located in Mississauga, Ontario has revealed he has been subjected to drive-by racial slurs; thugs calling out his name and shouting racial invective. "Bigots are everywhere" he is reported to have remarked. In Canada, in middle-class Mississauga, in Ontario? Why are we so complacent? Why have we been so comfortable with the notion that we had successfully laid that dragon to rest?

Must people of colour be forever destined to fight a rearguard action against racial prejudice? May they never be permitted the comfort and security of full acceptance, equality, among others in our mixed and integrated society? Will we forever be plagued by this virulent disease of racial bigotry? Sadly, although we would dearly love to believe otherwise, each of those purely rhetorical questions is answered in the affirmative.

That this truly odious intolerance continues to raise its ugly head, within a society that prides itself on inclusiveness goes beyond comprehension. I'd like to declare its practise inhuman but unfortunately the tendency toward racial bias is all too human. One despairs at the disheartening conclusion born of miserably-predictable experience. We seem never to be destined to overcome this dreadful impulse to consider others among us as being less worthy than ourselves and those whom we closely resemble.

Mr. Peterson recalls his young school years when he was commonly heckled because he is black. He has, he says, endured more than his share of personal attacks, in Canada, in the United States where he has performed over the years as a world-renowned musician. Until the present time, he said, he has never been targetted for insults in his Mississauga community. But this event has shaken his faith in his country, and he claims he is ready to leave - for the West Indies.

That would be our loss.

The United Nations, Poor Beleaguered Body of Good Intent

It was but a protest. But what a protest. And who would not protest the deaths of innocent women and children? In a quiet little unassuming town. No one, no one in this world we inhabit could conceivably think it just that innocent people should die as a result of hostilities between two warring factions. No one could possibly take joy from the deaths of so many young children. And these are children who have lived with fear. Fear of the concussions they heard all around them as bombs fell from the skies. Fear of the fear they could see on the faces of their mothers, their fathers, desperately anxious to protect their children. That their parents' worst fears were realized is the ultimate horror story.

War itself, the conditions which war brings upon humanity is not just. It claims many victims. And too often those victims are the innocent, the young, the children. Yet we wage war. Yet there are groups of insanely determined "defenders", "protectors" who bring war into intimate contact with the innocent, the young, the children. And claim that this is the fault of the attacker. That attacker who defends his own soil from an enemy who has seen fit to declare war, and against whom, in defence, he launches air strikes.

In Beirut grieving and angry protesters smashed the windows and ransacked the offices of the headquarters of the United Nations. This very same United Nations whose purpose and calling is the protection of innocents, of civilian life, of children. This United Nations whose officials have called time and again for a cessation to hostilities, admittedly doing so once the horse has bolted the barn, and not at an earlier, opportune time that would have circumvented the inevitable.

Ah, but the protesters wave Hezbollah flags and chant "Death to America! Death to Israel!". "Down with the UN who allow this Israeli murder," shouted one man. "This is Israeli murder, plain and simple. They are killing us the Lebanese people, taking our lives and homes. We will all fight them," said another whose family comes from Qana, the Hezbollah-protected town where the deaths of too many children occurred as a result of Israeli aerial bombing. A bombing mission brought about by the constant launching of rockets against Israeli targets.

Anti-Israeli patriotic Lebanese voices were raised in desperate anger and burning hatred against the Jewish State. Demonstrators smashed their way into the United Nations headquarters, wrecking offices and equipment. A fire was quickly contained, and no UN staffers were injured. As respect for the efforts of the United Nations has plumetted, Hezbollah continues to gain enormous popular support.

How predictable: not one shred of blame or responsibility levelled against Hezbollah, a triumphant Hezbollah which has garnered much in public relations as a result of this latest "atrocity" which they themselves so skilfully engineered.

Reporting From Lebanon

Another dreary, dreadful report from Lebanon. The town of Qana, yet another Hezbollah stronghold is witness to another disaster, another wholesale taking of human life. Evidently those Lebanese Shiites who had not fled this town close to the Bekaa Valley despite warnings by Israel to do so broadcast by radio and the dropping of leaflets, witnessed the war between Israel and Hezbollah close in around their town for the past three weeks, becoming its latest victims.

How could it be otherwise, given that Hezbollah claims the town as one of their own, and its residents claim Hezbollah as their protector? The protector who sets up ammunition storage in their places of worship, their civic centres, their very homes. The protector who sees it as entirely normal to enmesh themselves within the centre of civil life, launching rockets beside apartment buildings housing men, women and children going about their daily lives. And when their daily lives cease as a direct result of their protector's activities they hold no grudge, but rather celebrate Hezbollah yet again as their protector.
"I lost my wife. I lost my five kids, my mother and my brother's children", said Kassem Chalhoub, cradling his bandaged armes in the emergency room of Tyre's main hospital. Rahaab Yousef, who survived the blast with broken bones but lost four of her children, wept in the X-ray room as doctors examined her shattered hands. "The Israelis are criminals. They killed my children. Now I am dead inside," she said.
Completely lost to these poor unfortunate victims is the exculpatory nature of the attack; to halt deadly rocket attacks by their protectors against the population within Israel. Completely lost to these sad souls is the fact that their protector has deliberately, with forethought, placed them in harm's way for a purpose. That purpose, to draw Israel into retaliatory strikes and in the striking to cause the deaths of innocent civilians. Their heart-rending deaths, the survivors' pain reaches out to the hearts of all. And Israel becomes the prime culprit in the commission of death-dealing, not the protectors whose provocations are directly responsible for the consequences of their deliberate actions leading to the disaster.

Hezbollah taunts Israel, promises to deal it an ultimate death blow - on behalf of all Muslims, and with the express permission of a full 80% of the area's population - causing Israel to defensive action on behalf of its endangered population then points to Israel as the villain in the piece. It works every time. Despite that Israel does its utmost to give prior warning of its intent, despite its best efforts at curtailing fallout of strikes as much as humanly possible under conditions of war. Look, Ma, it's a great trick, people are truly gullible in their emotional connection with harm done to others, on the basis of the superficial evidence. Tried and true. It works.

Matthew Fisher, reporting from Marjayoun, Lebanon, six kilometres from the border and three kilometres from the fated UN observation post where four peacekeepers died five days earlier in an Israeli attack, himself a neutral observer brings to public attention very interesting observations of his own. As Israeli F-16 jets fly overhead and artillery shells fired by Israeli guns hit close to the town, members of Hezbollah's militia wander past Lebanese soldiers in the main square. And nothing is amiss. These members of the Party of God are not reluctant to pause, to speak with Western reporters.

And as they speak, Mr. Fisher reports seeing several cars, white truce flags streaming from their windows careen by, crammed full of young bearded men moving to and from the front lines. "We have prepared for this for a long time and will fight to the last. Israel is not allowed here," the apparent leader of the group tells the reporters. "Israel has the help of the United States, but God is with us. Whatever Sheik Hassan Nasrallah says, he will do," says another.

And while Lebanese soldiers man checkpoints, paying little attention to anyone on the road, Hezbollah political operatives stop outsiders in and near Marjayoun, demanding to know their identities and business. Other than the Hezbollah fighters and a handful of soldiers, most of the town's fifteen thousand inhabitants have fled. Those remaining say they have no means of departure. One of those remaining is the caretaker of the local Orthodox Catholic church whose stained glass windows had been shattered by a bomb that had struck a nearby home. The caretaker, identified as Simon Diab Singer, said the Israelis must have hit what they had been after because "the way it blew up, it sounded as if the house was full of ammunition."
Mr. Fisher, in his report states: "That multiple explosition in a residential area and the fact that Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization by some Western governments, has often moved its fighters around in cars bearing white flags, has highlighted how it has often been impossible for Israeli pilots and forward artillery observers to separate the enemy from the civilian population.
"Hezbollah is the people and this our land. That is why we don't leave", was how this Hezbollah agent speaking with the reporters responded to Israel's accusation that his group was using the local population as human shields. These are the protectors of Lebanon, those chivalric souls who could not see their way clear to removing those of the town's citizens who hadn't the means to leave, to take them to a safe haven, away from the danger they have created by launching rockets from their homes.

This speaks to the utter futility of suing for peace, for observing a ceasefire with an avowed Islamist/Jihadist Hezbollah who observes no humanely decent impulses to interfere with their sacred ambition to annihilate Israel. While Hezbollah publicly laments the loss of civilian life in Lebanon, it stealthily and with intent continues its tactics of the use of human shields, using the brainwashed, vulnerable population it immerses its war machine within to achieve its purpose.

Then, when the inevitable killing of women and children occurs as a byproduct of Israel being drawn into aerial bombardment of rocket sites, Hezbollah beats its breast in secret exultation, knowing full well the condemnation of Israel across the world will be swift and absolute. Another victory for Hezbollah, the inhumane, deliberate targeting of women and children. Mission accomplished.

It is not for their honourable fighting tactics that Kofi Annan's deputy Jan Egelund, no great admirer of Israel himself, named them cowards.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Fast, Easy, Colourful, Delicious Summertime Meal

Yep, yep, nothing to it. Pick a really hot day, picture yourself not expending too much energy and ending up with a nutritious meal certain to satisfy your energy requirements for yet another summer day. And here's the ingredients line-up: Serves two, one male, one female.

  • Half head of small-to-medium size cauliflower, divided into florets and steamed, then cooled
  • Quarter English cucumber, peeled and cut into quarter-size pieces
  • Two stalks of green onion, roughly chopped
  • Half-cup of grape tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Red wine vinegar, sparingly sprinkled over
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, about one tablespoon
  • Garden oregano, fresh, about two tablespoons
  • Garden thyme, fresh, about one tablespoon
Gently blend with a soft spatula, place into a glass bowl, cover with Saran wrap, refrigerate until mealtime for flavours to meld.

Main Course (poached eggs in fresh tomato sauce)
  • Two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • One large cooking onion, roughly chopped
  • Two cloves garlic, chopped
  • Two very large or three medium-sized fresh, ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • Quarter-cup of fresh Basil, snipped into large pieces
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • Three eggs, yolks unbroken
  • Shredded old cheddar cheese, about one-third cup
In large skillet, heat olive oil, stir in chopped garlic and onions; keep stirring from time to time until soft and transparent, then add the chopped tomatoes. Sprinkle over with salt and pepper, and stir, then cook gently until tomatoes become soft and tomato liquid appears. Add sweet basil, and stir gently. With the back of a wooden spoon, push the soft tomatoes to make three cavities and in each one gently deposit an egg. Cover with a lid, heat turned down and cook until the eggs become firm. Uncover and sprinkle cheddar cheese over, allow to melt. With a large serving spoon (slotted, if you prefer) lift out the poached eggs and their nest of tomatoes onto serving plates, and serve. This is a serving for two. If serving for additional people, simply increase ingredients accordingly.

For dessert: Fresh raspberries in season served over plain yogurt. Treat yourself to a honey, whole-wheat cookie topped with home-made raspberry jam.

Do I look overweight? It's the angle of the shot.

Israel's Right to Exist

In the modern history of mankind has any nation on earth, once established as a state among states, a nation among the world's other nations, had to defend itself on an ongoing basis against the active, military hostility of its neighbours? What other country on earth in our times has had to build its armed forces on the premise that without nurturing the ability, however unwilling, to strike back hard in defense, they would cease, forthwith, to exist. What other country's nationals have urged their leaders time and again to make peace with the enemy only to have that peace thrown back in their faces time after time?

What other country would, under these circumstances, be faced time and again with blanket censure from a world body set up to ensure peace between and among its member nations and which body itself had a hand in declaring the State of Israel a reality in 1948?. Censure unlimited for reacting to deadly aggression whose final purpose is to drive the country from the region. Israel alone is expected to absorb constant deadly assaults upon her sovereignty, her people, her government, her values, expectations and way of life.

Truth of the matter is, a bitterly undying conviction of the presence of a permanent alien occupying entity in what is perceived to be Arab and Muslim territory has led to the utter inability of Israel's neighbours to accept her presence in what they believe to be hallowed Islamic land. An ongoing and everpresent rage against the perplexing existence of an unacceptably foreign culture laid down in a geographical location which the Koran quite explicitly forbids. An insoluble dilemma? Well, as long as the mass tribal culture clinging to the dictates of a long-expired era in history continues to espouse and demand strict adherence to, and reverence for an original Code of Existence and Quest, yes.

Flying in the face of modernity, of subtle changes in peoples' apprehensions, of the expectations of modern societies. When to cling to a religious dictum of such humanly-damaging magnitude expresses a denial of all that history, philosophy and humanity strive to live with, the boundaries of human acceptance leading to an emerging universality of purpose and understanding. Instead, the xenophobia, suspicion and hatred of "the other" rages on leaving the world continually on edge, wondering when the sword of Islamic righteousness and justice will next smite the infidel.

We would all like to believe, simply because it is a rational belief that all humans are similarily endowed with the ability to learn, to adapt, to rely on the human instinct of hope for the future, that eventually that ingrained hatred and dance with death will join the fate of extinct animal species if our own race is ever to survive the outcome of our own frail sensibilities and emotional prejudices.

Does one hear Israel declaring that those who strive so mightily to destroy her are the devil's spawn, lesser than human, insects upon the earth? Does Israel issue official statements indicating her desire and intention to wipe any of her neighbours from the map of the region? Does Israel invite her declared enemies to war time and again, the very conditions which are imposed upon her? Those ignoble distinctions go to its implacable neighbours whose collective psychotic revulsion of her presence inures them to the possibility of peace.

Can such people ever move beyond the fondly held mantra of "Zionist aggression" linked with the piteously pious assertions of "Arab humiliation"? Was language, understanding and communication ever so perverted to indicate the exact opposite of historical truth?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Another Foster Dog Adopted

Almost two weeks ago, come to think of it. She had to drive downtown to the office of a veterinarian who had an agreement with BARK, the dog rescue group to which she volunteered her time. There, she and her little girl, and her daughter's friend who had accompanied them, met the dog. It was a female Border Collie, a tall, lanky, almost-starved dog whose ribcage was painfully prominent. According to sources (The Ingelligence of Dogs: Stanley Koren, UBC) this breed is the most intelligent of all dogs, a sheep-herding dog, a working dog.

This dog had no name. It was found wandering, a stray, a sad household outcast, around Montebello. It had recently given birth, the veterinarian told her. So it was bleeding, and that was a nuisance. But she would cope, she always did. She felt the urge to help, and was determined to do so. The veterinarian technical assistants gushed with gratitude for her willingness to help in this way, and she warmed to their obvious appreciation for what she and other volunteers were doing in agreeing to foster these homeless animals.

On the way home with the dog now named Bella by her daughter (inspired by the name of the place where she had been found), the dog snuggled up with the two young girls, obviously happy to be in the company of people again, and even happier it would seem, to be with children. The girls were equally happy to be with this new dog, despite that her own daughter had no fewer than seven dogs at home, and her daughter's girlfriend had three of her own.

All of the household's resident dogs were calm with the introduction of this poor starving dog. Bella was curious about the cat, but did nothing to upset it, as happened with the last foster dog. Bella followed her daughter around everywhere, wanting to be with her wherever she was, trying to catch the ball that the little girl threw to her girlfriend, out playing together.

Bella thought the food she was offered was pretty good, quite wonderful in fact. She finished it in record time, and looked around for more, and when she was offered more she ate it as swiftly. She had a lot of weight to put on. All of the dogs were offered fruit and vegetable salads after their evening meals, and Bella was offered one of her own. Despite this being an obviously new food experience for her Bella didn't hesitate, and wolfed the salad down as well. And swiftly recognized that this would be her pattern for food consumption for the next while, accepting it gratefully, lavishing on her new protector her gratefulness and exuberant appreciation.

It was a nuisance, having constantly to clean up after Bella, little drops of bright red blood, but she didn't mind all that much. It became more of a nuisance, though, when Bella expressed no interest in the large cushion which was placed out for her beside the upstairs bed and preferred instead to jump into the bed directly, for more emotional warmth and company. This had happened earlier in her daughter's bed and she really didn't need the extra work, having to strip both beds and do laundry before leaving for work.

And don't even ask how upsetting it was when she discovered the appearance of a long, flattish worm in Bella's scat one afternoon. That was a little harder to deal with, and after cleaning it away, she called BARK for reassurance, and the veterinarian for advice. But she dealt with it, just as she dealt with Bella getting into the unfortunate habit of urinating in a certain spot on the living room carpeting.

Her daughter knew that Bella would be with them until such time as a permanent home could be found for her. She knew it because they'd gone through it before, and when the previous foster dog had been given over to a warm-hearted new family who pledged to love him, she was outraged that her mother would so casually 'give away' her new dog. She's ten years old, knows the truth of matter, but emotionally she was unprepared for the parting.

As she was this time. A new home was found for Bella, with a family having two children, another dog, and several rabbits at home. The people, who responded to the BARK web site with the write-up on Bella and the photograph got high marks for adoption desirability. They dropped by, were introduced to Bella, stayed a while to talk and discuss Bella's needs. Then Bella was placed in their vehicle, with their children, and they drove off. And returned a few moments later, having forgotten to take with them the bag containing Bella's belongings: some toys, a collar and leash.

And Bella was gone

Another Day's Adventures - Part II

Still Saturday, our daily ravine hike is over, and the day is yet young. We decide to take a trip downtown. Driving down our street we see a young man, the oldest son of a neighbour living some ten houses from ours and we wave in greeting, then decide to turn back to ask whether he too is heading downtown. He isn't, he's on his way to work at a large supermarket, in the opposite direction to where we're headed. But he's invited in anyway, it's too hot to walk that far, and we drive him over. On the way he explains it's a part-time job, he's in his third year at University, studying electrical engineering. His younger brother, now 20, adopted as a baby, is a sad case; brain damaged as a baby, he wanders the neighbourhood looking for someone, anyone, to talk with, and often ends up playing games with an 8-year-old neighbour who ditches him as soon as a friend comes into sight.

Now on our way to the downtown area, we enjoy the drive in air conditioned comfort. Riley is sitting on my lap, looking out the window at the passing scene, while Button is dozing, halfway on me and the bulk of her on the cushion we place between the seats for her comfort. We pass the Rideau River at Bank Street and look for waterfowl, but the city has decided to keep their and our valued swans safely out of the river in a more protected area, for fear of their contracting West Nile disease.

We decide to look first at Ashley's, to see what new and old items they've got in stock. It's an intriguing place where you never quite know what you may come across. They have old prints, antique clocks (always in dreadful and non-working condition) garden statuary, animalia bronzes, porcelain pieces, but mostly new items: furniture, ornately-framed mirrors and "oil paintings" (copies of traditional European-style paintings), marble sculptures, reproduction Tiffany lamps, all manner of interesting, and sometimes-worthwhile objects d'art. Needless to say, most if not all of the various reproductions, come from China, and their prices reflect their provenance.

Each of us carries an over-the-shoulder bag, and in each bag is deposited a dog; he carries Button, I carry Riley, and each dog settles down and snoozes off for the duration of the enterprise at hand. While I'm walking about looking at the offerings, a woman notices Riley and stops to exclaim how sweet he is. Little does she know. But this is not destined to be a pleasantly brief encounter with a stranger, for she launches into a monologue about how awfully, reprehensibly, people treat animals, and I think I'm listening to a clone of our daughter.

This woman carries herself very well, she has a slightly over-ripe, but good figure, wears relaxed summer clothing, has a refined, elegant, but time-worn face, and her voice is confidential in tone, vibrant with passion - and something else. I soon learn much, much too much. She met her husband when they were 16, he's dead now, of lung cancer. She works for Indian Affairs, a high-ranking job, but while working on site she personally rescued hundreds of abandoned dogs, and with the help of others found good homes elsewhere for all of them. That was on the downstairs floor.

I made my way upstairs to the second floor, after having perused the basement floor (with its wonderful Remington copies, its baroque and Empire pedestals, its heavily "carved" framed mirrors half-room sized, its statuesque bronzes, large and wonderfully detailed sailing ships), and then the first floor. Upstairs whom did I come across again? None other than Marianne, for such was her name. There I learned that her mother had recently died, her mother whom she so much adored, and I learned that her mother had been a child prodigy, ready for university at age 12, when nuns took her under their personal care and tutelage.

I learned that her own father had died when she turned 5, that her sister, older by 2-1/2 years, constantly beat her, actually tortured her, and for her protection her beloved mother gave her into the care of a wealthy Ottawa family to raise as their own. Her sister never forgave her for the fact that their mother loved her more than she did her sister. Evidently when Marianne became old enough to attend university she was sent to France, and her mother accompanied her there, where they lived at the home of a friend, a wealthy Parisienne whose daughter was a model. Her sister conspired to keep her from her mother's deathbed. Her sister hired her mother's lawyer to re-write her will, never telling the lawyer that the mother was in the throes of dementia and was legally incapable of making the decision to disinherit the younger child, Marianne.

In telling me all of this, Marianne became increasingly distressed, tearful, and I attempted to console her, to tell her she had much to live for, and that she should try to put behind her all the miserable events of her past. I felt great compassion for this woman, as who would not? Whether or not her story was true, whether her interpretation of events was true, whether she had truly experienced such a wrenching life, becomes irrelevant, since I was but a stranger, and could do nothing less than attempt to give her solace.

While I was thus entrapped by the emotional need of another human being, my partner entertained himself by thoroughly investigating all of the appealing items on display in that little shop of wonders. And he found an item that beckoned to him, particularly as its original price had been slashed from $500 (vastly overpriced to be sure) to under $200, and this item spoke to him, convinced him that its true place was in his home with his other and varied treasures. And thus was the deal made.

From that venue we made our way up Bank Street toward Wallach's Art Supplies. For my lover had been anguishing about the lack of opportunity to purchase decent paint brushes in our close vicinity for far too long. Button, Riley and I awaited his return, slurping fresh water of recovery, while he delved into the on-sale offerings of this art-supply emporium. Traffic on Bank Street was fierce. Our open car windows emitted dust and noise extraordinaire, aided and abetted by the constant rush of bus traffic up and down the street. But there was more than enough for me to watch. People bustling along the street, people representing in appearance every country in the world, adjusting themselves to their new home, taking, I would hope, as much pleasure from being here as I did living temporarily elsewhere in the world.

Later, as we passed the Parliament Buildings along Wellington Street, I marvelled as always at the hordes of tourists ambling along the street, in front of the lawn of Parliament, before the eternal flame, taking photographs of one another, pushing on further toward Byward Market and generally amusing and instructing themselves on the multitudinous opportunities the venue afforded them for entertainment, sight-seeing, picture-taking, eating. Watching these crowds of people I was myself entertained at the thought that they represent people from all walks of life, all come together for a common purpose. Don't we humans love to rubber-neck, to do the tourist thing, to absorb the sights, smells and sounds of places?

My, but it was good to get home.

Another Day's Adventures - Part I

It's Saturday, another Saturday. Odd, how fossilized we become in our ways, taking comfort from the sameness of things, becoming true creatures of habit. Although we have been retired from an active work life for almost a decade, we have never considered retiring from life and all its multitude of activities open to us, intellectual and physical, yet we remain mired in the mindset of a working-day week, a recreational week-end. This, when life itself has become an exercise in recreational opportunities of every description at any time. And yes, we take advantage of all of these opportunities which appeal to us, revelling in this enticing still-newfound ability to act on impulse, the need to plan ahead no longer dictating our modus operandi.

We woke to greet a clear sunny sky and going downstairs to let Button and Riley out to the back garden for their morning deposit, saw on our way there the only sour note of the day, some feline having left her/his evil calling card on our porch. While I prepared a repaste suitable for a Saturday morning, the master of this abode cleaned up the wretched mess. Disgusting as it was, it didn't set the tone for the day. The neighbourhood cats will go on to contest and dispute right to consider our property their territory by night. We would like to mediate by setting up an official-looking sign denoting status to the cat next door.

It's fast becoming hot and muggy, with an Environment Canada forecast for possible rain in the afternoon or early evening. The garden looks glorious, viewed from indoors. We discuss, after breakfast, the day's itinerary and I get my messages mixed and crossed and later understand the suggestion that we forego a Gatineau hike this day; too hot. On our way up the street headed toward the ravine, we greet a near neighbour with her new puppy, an adorable smooth-coated cross between a beagle and a terrier, tugging unhappily at the collar-and-leash he is being introduced to.

The walk up the street is hot, directly in the sun, but as soon as we enter the trailhead to the ravine, a breeze and the shade from overhead trees soothe us very nicely, as we let Button and Riley off their leashes. Already, the sumach candles have turned red, just amazing. Everything seems early this year, mostly because everything is earlier-than-usual this year, given the hot, wet weather thus far this spring and summer. Button trots eagerly ahead as is her wont, while Riley radiates disinterest, straggling behind despite our urging to come along little guy, keep apace slow-poke, hurry up Fatty Rascoon; he's immune to all blandishments.

Underfoot, the ground is still wet. Although we haven't had rain the last few days, the ground is completely saturated and hasn't yet been able to successfully absorb the abnormal rainfalls we've been gifted with, of late. A pair of bluejays flit above us through the trees, calling to one another. As we ascend the first long hill the regular, high-pitched call of the hawk bounces back at us. It's just amazing how the Queen Anne's lace has proliferated, there are large sweeping drifts of it everywhere we look.

The globe thistles are also now in bloom, some daisies still, lots of purple and yellow loosestrife. Goldenrod and fleabane are everywhere, as is pink clover, held aloft by its larger neighbours. Already, fall asters are beginning to open their little flower heads. Thimbleweed is blooming nicely, promising nice ripe berries in the fall. Milkweed too is beginning to bloom, much to the delight of the black Admiral we see alighting on one. And there is the occasional tiny splat of brilliant orange, or yellow, or white mucilage on the damp ground, or cropping up on the carcass of an dead fallen tree.

We decide this day to go a little further, take a different trail for a change and immediately Riley's boredom is alleviated, as he and Button rush before us down the long slope leading to a differentiated set of trails. We turn a sharp left, can scarcely recognize an old, disused trail clothed in grown-up undergrowth, which leads directly to a large sewer output into another arm of Bilberry Creek, and continue on, hoping that the faint trail will have been continued by neighbourhood kids, and it has been, it leads directly to a large flat area which has obviously been operating as Party Central for some time. We're disgusted at all the trash, want to turn back, but we've come so far, we decide to forge on.

Then discover we can go no further, the creek intrudes, the landspace has disappeared. Before us to the right is a faint, truly perpendicular trail we recognize, and we groan in anticipation, yet scramble up it, in a determined motion to just get it over with, and eventually ascend to a bit of a plateau we're familiar with. No problem for Button and Riley; they've got twice our leg-power, and they're impressed anyway, at the new adventure, their daily old routine is truly passe. Once we've gained the upper trail again we're back on familiar, albeit not recently-taken territory and our hike continues.

Taking us on a meandering trail through juvenile pines and spruce, some overlapped with grape vines (native fox grape), sans grapes that we can see, old cherry trees, venerable apple trees hosting small, mean little apples which, come fall, we'll try out anyway, tossing the sour ones, revelling in the sweet ones. We dip into another descent taking us to a stand of really old cedars, with another arm of the creek just below, lined with limestone overtop the clay bottom, and now running with water, a phenomena not normally seen at this time of year.

As we ascend once again from this low point in the landscape, a group of four bright yellow goldfinches course and dip above and beyond us, and through the trees. We rise to the flattest most open portion of this adventure, to where of old we've picked raspberries galore with our grandchild hoisted on our backs, but it seems the neighbourhood children have been there well before us, and there are scant berries to be seen. We eventually double back on the trail, rising once again to the familiarity of the trails most commonly taken in our daily hikes and Button and Riley slow down, ennui setting in once again, and the heat demanding that they pant ceaselessly.

Eventually, back up on the street again, heading home, we see someone walking with determination and a middling-size black terrier toward the ravine. The dog is eager to enter the ravine, he carries a longish black stick in his mouth and walks lightly, gently on his long legs.

Riley barks his outrage at the dog's presumption, entering his very own space, the ravine.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Neat Heat, Sweet Eat

Well, maybe you can, after all, teach an old dog new tricks. Of course there's a limit to that, but let's see now: I've owned a toaster-oven of one kind or another for as long as I can think of. And I've used it to do our morning toast. Rarely have I ever put it to other uses. Uses for which it is designed, in fact. The very name itself implies its many potential uses.

It took our daughter-in-law, visiting and bringing with her green unroasted fair-trade coffee beans, and wishing to roast them in the toaster-oven, and doing that most successfully, then remarking she might just get one for her own kitchen, since it appears it might have many uses, including baking. Aha! Well, we bought her a toaster oven for a gift, and then my thoughts turned to our own little handy kitchen device.

It's been hot, really hot and humid of late. Sometimes when we don't want to put the oven on in the kitchen we go for the option of using the barbeque out on the deck. Like yesterday, when we did rainbow trout for dinner. But along with the high humidity and heat comes the likelihood of rain, and there's nothing like rain to foil plans for cooking out-of-doors.

It so happened on yet another one of those hot days I decided to make a corn chowder for dinner, along with a yeast flat bread topped with tomato sauce, shredded cheese and thyme. No problem about the chowder, it went on the stove top, and guess what? the bread was popped into the toaster oven. And dinner was really delicious; that little toaster oven baked the bread thoroughly, perfectly, delectably.

I like to bake on Fridays, something nice for dessert, but it was too hot to turn the oven on. I'd bought a basket of Ontario peaches earlier in the week and found them to be too unripe, too hard, and somewhat lacking in that fine fragrance and wonderful taste Ontario peaches are normally imbued with. I baked a nice, large, cinnamon-flavoured peach pie in that little toaster oven. I wasn't able to use my favourite pottery pie plate, the one our youngest son made for me, but a large pyrex pie plate slipped into the oven's cavity quite nicely.

The pastry baked wonderfully well, the interior fruit was well baked, and nestled in the flavourfully thickened juice of the fruit: perfection. Later (I was on a roll) I also baked in that modest little toaster oven a potato pudding (Friday night potatonik!) and it came out perfectly crusted, dark brown and crisply delicious. Oops! chicken breast halves, nicely seasoned came out moist and delicious.

But for the chicken soup that cooked on top of the stove, that little toaster oven slaved away all day on our behalf. And the house kept nice and cool.

Arf, Arf!

And Death Celebrates Life's Purpose

There is no god but Allah. And those who fervently believe in his essential goodness, his peaceful intent, his exhortations to his flock to live well and decently, respect one another and others, and live in peace, can scarcely recognize the Islam that they worship. For they worship an Islam that celebrates life lived well; intelligently, piously, respectfully.

Does Allah have a dear and close brother? One whose purpose is otherwise than that which all those peace-loving Muslims believe in? Could that brother be, like ancient believers in another god thought, Satan? A Satan, mind, who was at that time thought not to be diabolical at all, just somewhat removed from his good brother, the right-minded overseer of man - eventually moving downstairs to tend the ovens.

For these other lovers of Islam, fearing and adoring Allah and his precepts dedicate themselves to the service of Allah by blood sacrifice. And this is indeed different, is it not? Death has become the compelling motivator, not a life well lived in respect of Muhammad's teachings. War when need be, but not necessarily war. Instead we have war, conquest, bitterness, the delivery of death. Death has become the lingua franca of Muslim fanatics, for they wish to deliver it unto the infidel which category also includes those fellow Muslims seen to be unfit, as well as non-Muslims. Death is also the dearest wish, the most fervent sacrifice, of these killing-automaton Islamists.

The difference, of course, is that their ultimate, loving sacrifice of their personal deaths will result in their elevation to a finer place, a heavenly Eden, replete with countless serving maiden/angels. While the innumerable deaths they cause count as their total dedication to Allah, and those unworthies descend miserably to the shores of an endless sea of fire from which there is no escape.

So we have news again and yet again from Baghdad, of mass killings, of car bombs exploding in commercial and residential districts of that ancient city of lore, where in each event scores are killed outright and hundreds remain critically wounded, where horrified survivors mill about the wrecked streets and buildings, surveying the damage and blaming Sunni, if the Shia were the victims, or Shi'ites if Sunnis were this time targeted. And sometimes they will excuse one another, refusing to believe that a Muslim would kill another of his faith, and find the blame elsewhere; that the Jews have somehow caused this mayhem.
"We are not infidels. It seems that we are not even safe in our homes," said one man, who, like others on the street, refused to give his name because he was afraid.
And well might he be, for there appears to be no end to the violence, the carnage, the deaths.

Why does the world look on and see nothing totally abhorrent in this ongoing scene of death? Why do we not see condemnation from every pulpit, be it Muslim, Christian, Hindu or - forget it, Jews cannot denounce the cult of murder, for anything they have to say about it becomes tainted by the very fact that they are Jews. But the murders are Muslim-upon-Muslim, why cannot the highly-ranked, highly-respected representatives of each of these sects demand a cessation?

Why does the world not express its horror at the ongoing carnage? Why is it perfectly all right for Muslims to murder with total impunity, with a total abandonment of all that makes us human, and the West utters not a word of condemnation of such barbarity?

Well, there's always Israel to condemn for some violation of human rights or another. And those condemnations are very effective. Given the fact that Israel truly sorrows for each and every death its armies, in self-defence, causes. For like most of the rest of the world, Jews value life.

Sheik Nasrallah, Beloved of the Arab Street

Hatred for Israel, the infidel interloper in the Middle East Muslim community of communities has finally united Muslims. In some part, at least. Suddenly there looms a larger enemy in their midst than their ages-old enmity one to the other, Sunni against Shia. Israel, perpetually hated into eternity and beyond appears to have been momentarily been placed on the back burner of Islamic enmity. Now, thanks to the heroic efforts of Sheik Nasrallah, who has moved his Hezbollah Order of Death to a place in the Arab heart which had been long devoid of heroes, a celebration of victory over Israel is once again in the hearts and minds of its neighbours.

Yes, Osama bin Laden was a hero for a while. Still is, but the passion for him has long been burned out in the stretch of time it has taken for him to blend into the background from his once-pre-eminent position as the catalyst of Death to America. Mind, the Iranians were there first, and they are even now struggling to maintain their momentum, still lustily shouting Death to America and its puppet, Israel. But now even the mad mullahs of Iran and their lunatic president have been left in the dust, eclipsed by the worthy deathmeisters of Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan all of whom enjoy a nervous peace with Israel, all of whom fear a resurgent Islamism which might have the means to overthrow their regimes, offered a cagey but unmistakable slap on the wrist to Sheik Nesrallah and Hezbollah immediately upon Israel's response to their provocation, taunting Israel to a defensive war.

But look here, Hezbollah, that tight group of several thousand well-trained Islamist regulars dedicated and patterned on Iran's Revolutionary Guards, aided by their loyal civilian Lebanese Shia cohorts also trained as reserve deployment, ready and willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater glory of Allah, augmented substantially by a formidable build-up of Syrian and Iranian armaments, underground bunkers and passageways are holding the mighty Israeli army at bay.

This hard-bitten, proud and death-inviting, death-dealing group has managed to do what no regular Arab armed forces has yet succeeded in; putting Israel on its toes, blasting back measure for measure, capably and with measured aforethought teasing Israeli soldiers into situational traps meant to extract from them the greatest sacrifice to the Muslim cause; the death and disablement of that indomitable team of national defense.

Or so the apprehension of events goes. Wild with exultation the Arab street demonstrates in support of Sheik Nasrallah - he is routing the enemy! He fights on behalf of all of us! He is, verily, the right hand of Allah. In Egypt ebullient crowds carry large posters of Nasrallah alongside those of former President Gamel Abdel Nasser, comparing them, celebrating them, Muslim heroes. But where Nasser's Egypt was humbled in defeat by Israel and Nasser recognized the utility of living in peace with his neighbour and had the courage to visit his one-time enemy, then offer peace, Sheik Nasrallah is unlikely to do so. Nasser was an Egyptian war hero, a respected and seasoned fighter for his cause, but he was an intelligent pragmatist. Nasrallah revels in representing Death Stalking The Land of Israel. His dedication to wiping Israel off the Middle East map is absolute.

In response to this turn of events (the macro reflecting the micro: family members sniping at one another, dysfunctional as a harmonious group, but let an outsider criticize that family or offer harm to one of its members and nothing will draw the fractious family members together as solidly as that perceived threat to the whole) President Hosni Mubarak now subtly nuances his earlier condemnation of Hezbollah; Jordan now says it is sending along medical teams to aid "the victims of Israeli aggression".

Saudi Arabia is warning that its peace plan of 2002 which offers Israel full recognition of all Arab states in exchange for a return to pre-1967 borders could go by the books.

“If the peace option is rejected due to the Israeli arrogance,” it said, “then only the war option remains, and no one knows the repercussions befalling the region, including wars and conflict that will spare no one, including those whose military power is now tempting them to play with fire.”

How swiftly the tide turns in the Middle East. Reality is an illusion.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Giving Aid and Comfort to Hezbollah

What are we thinking, we in the West? Hezbollah, that very same organization extraordinaire encompassing social aid agency, extra-territorial defender of Islam and the Arab street, parliamentarians, Islamist jihadists whom we have named a terrorist organization - really is not. We have it, albeit for our digestion tacitly from none other than the newly-democratic Prime Minister of Iraq, we have it from Lebanon's Prime Minister who while he rejects terrorists on the one hand, like the PM of Iraq, Hezbollah is definitely not a terrorist group. Oops, our mistake.

Arab nations have their own, inscrutable-to-westerners ways of divining truth and reality. Look here...while Sunni and Shia groups are murdering one another in ever-increasing numbers within Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, held street demonstrations where protesters shouted "Death to Israel," and pledged support for Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. That's on the Shia side, right? The Sunni speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani pronounced that escalating violence in Iraq (not intra-tribal warfare or civil war, mind) is "not the work of Iraqis. I am sure that he who does this is a Jew and the son of a Jew." Right. Case made.

Now how about the suffering people of Lebanon, those who live in southern Lebanon, the stronghold of Hezbollah and whose places of worship and homes and businesses have been in the direct line of fire in Israel's attempts to protect itself from rocket attacks, because those launchers and the militants have embedded themselves directly within the civilian infrastructure? Do they hold Hezbollah accountable? Actually no, since Hezbollah is continuing its double-edged presence, giving succour to the Shia Muslim Lebanese displaced by their very own rash assaults on Israel.

Fleeing southern Lebanese are finding shelter, food and medical attention, all set up for them and operated by Hezbollah volunteers. "We are providing the refugees with everything they need," said Mahmoud Massoun the Hezbollah official in charge of shelter locally. "Nobody else is helping them" he added. Well, international aid cannot get through the embattled area; while Hezbollah has not stopped its rocket-launched war heads within Israel, Israel has not stopped its aerial bombardment of Hezbollah command posts and launching sites.

"When people are in need, they remember who helped them. It's human nature" said Rana Zein, who works with a local relief group that was rebuffed by Hezbollah when it offered help at a shelter. Not surprising at all, for it is indeed human nature to cleave to those to claim to care for you, who take steps to offer assistance (even if they were the cause of the disaster, which grateful Shia Lebanese do not, in any event, believe, nor care to believe). Clever, clever Hezbollah, and its diabolical leader, Sheik Nasrallah.

"We will live here for as long as Hezbollah needs us here", said one of the grateful refugees, finding temporary shelter with their protectors. "For them we will suffer with honour."

Diplomacy? Ceasefire?

Talks on the crisis in Lebanon which took place in Rome yesterday came to a sad conclusion. That is, if anything positive was anticipated to begin with. Hopes for a ceasfire remain elusive. Wonder why. Hezbollah, for one thing, isn't dreadfully inclined toward a ceasefire. And under current conditions, neither, it would seem, is Israel terribly entertained by the prospects of a ceasefire reflecting the urgent concerns of most of the meeting's delegates: "an immediate ceasefire without conditions".

Think about that: an immediate ceasefire without conditions. Back to square one. What will have been achieved? Yet another ceasefire. Think about this: Has Israel ever in its admittedly short history attacked any one of its neighbours? Has Israel ever initiated hostilities leading to war between/among its neighbours? Is it Israel who repeatedly issues death threats against any of its neighbours? Is it Israel whose provocative actions continually place the entire region on edge?

Has it not been that perpetually embattled state which has been forced to fight one defensive war after another. And try as they might, Mr. Annan, they have been unsuccessful in finding the correct formula for war-without-casualties despite your expectations, despite your urgings that Israel shed no blood. Israel has been forced to shed blood because of its unreasonable determination to protect itself and its citizens, to live to see another day, to live to fight another war in the hopes that some day their presence will be accepted and all in the region will live in peace. Perhaps not a peace of total acceptance, but one necessitated by the knowledge finally ingested by its enemies that it has no intention of leaving, and it will remain capable of defending itself - with the shedding of blood if need be.

An immediate ceasefire without conditions would profit no one, not Israel, not any of the surrounding countries of the Middle East, whether they be those who have resolved to live with an uneasy peace with Israel as neighbour, or those who yet harbour intentions of bringing about its ouster from the region, or in less polite terms, exterminating it. A ceasefire without conditions would mollify Lebanon and encourage Hezbollah which body would then claim triumphantly to have beaten the Israeli war machine. And then the Arab street could indulge in one of its much-loved celebrations of exultation over the Jewish interloper's comeuppance.

What manner of accomplishment is this? for the region? for Israel? for the world at large? An unconditional ceasefire, then an anticipated time for renewing resources of the extra-territorial Islamic fundamentalist war machine, until the time is deemed once again expedient to launch another series of attacks against the Jewish state. Well, that would certainly solve the immediate problem, what about a long-term solution?

Why is it not surprising that Arab foreign ministers attending this meeting, along with United Nations Secretary Generak Kofi Annan (ever hear of him?) pressed for an immediate ceasefire without conditions? In an impassioned speech Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said it was not enough to increase the flow of humanitarian aid to his beleaguered country: "Is the value of human rights in Lebanon less than that of citizens elsewhere?" he asked. Reiterating "we wanted a ceasefire, an immediate ceasefire." To which this observer asks: Why is the value of human rights in Lebanon seen by Mr. Siniora to be paramount over those of the citizens of Israel? Why did not Mr. Siniora, his ruling body, the citizens of Lebanon, not recognize the value of human rights in Israel long before this dreadful impasse?

Ah, here we have the respected Mr. Kofi Annan in his speech suggesting that Hezbollah could be trusted to not use any pause in Israel's offensive to its benefit, in the instance of a partial ceasefire to enable humanitarian goods to reach the embattled population under fire within southern Lebanon. Hezbollah "can be trusted" Mr. Annan avers? Oh, really? Is this not the very same militantly-aggressive, jihad-waging group of terrorists which unleashed this hell upon the civilian population of Lebanon to begin with, and with full knowledge of its horrible effects on the country, the people? Oh dear me, Mr. Annan, where does the logic of your position stem from?

Some might just consider your logic, your ideas rather bankrupt. You state that: "A key stipulation for such a halt in fighting would be that the parties must not, I repeat, must not take advantage of such a pause to conduct offensive operations, redeploy or re-supply." Sounds good, but exactly whom are you dealing with here? A democratic state on the one hand, a non-state terrorist group on the other. Honour? Whose definition of honour-bound, that of Hezbollah whose stated goal is the total destruction of the State of Israel, as dictated to it and amply funded by Syria and Iran?

What on earth has the United Nations been doing for the past decade? Yes, you ordered Lebanon to take charge of its own affairs, yes you charged that country with taking control of the terrorist groups acting with complete impunity within the confines of that unfortunate country to attack its neighbour. Your UN observers carefully noted all infractions on both sides, but what, exactly, was the point of their presence, unarmed, incapable of taking remedial action, biased in any event, alas. There's where the "bankrupt" designation comes in.

How about a more reasoned and reasonable position, say for example that of the U.S. and Canada, which stipulates that a cessation of violence be connected to a total dismantling of the terrorist group Hezbollah, a shedding of their parliamentary positions if they do not declare themselves ready and willing to abide their neighbour's presence, leading to a long-term ceasefire, leading to eventual peace and security for both sides, Mutual Assured Security, (MAS) how's that sound? In the interests of a truly durable peace. That too much to ask for?

And while we're at it, how about the United Nations using its good offices to persuade Syria to join the ranks of civilized countries. And let's go a little further yet and assure Iran that its present course of defying the expectations of civilized behaviour and official positions vis-a-vis its continual threats to expunge Israel from the face of the earth is, let's just say, not acceptable...?

In the meantime, one ponders Italian Prime Minister Roman Prodi's musing on the conference, where he remarked "what could be achieved was achieved".

Indeed, nothing, nada. Try a little harder, Mr. Annan.

Back on Black!?

Are we in the 21st Century? How is it possible that owners of a bar located in Longeueuil, Quebec harbour such inbelievably racist beliefs that they took steps to deny admission to their establishment to blacks? Are we back in the 1920s, the 1930s, 1940, when it was seen as perfectly legitimate to deny people of colour the same amenities the same rights to public services as whites? What on earth can possibly be the matter with some people? If an accident of fate denied them sufficient intelligence to recognize that there is but one race representing all of humankind, why do we suffer them to spread their bigotry heedlessly among us?

The owners of the Resto Bar le Surf in Longueuil evidently enforced a no-entry policy for blacks within their premises. Unwitting people of colour might enter the bar but they would soon discover to their immense discomfiture that their presence was troubling to the owner and they were invited to leave. How to deal with such indignity, such an offence against human rights? What about the reactions of the other customers in the bar? Would they become aware of the situation?

As though people of colour and blacks in particular represent an inferior alien race. The morally reprehensible claims of racial bigots that people of colour can be denigrated, kept separate and apart, that the purity of the white race surpasses in quality and value that of the rights of all others is quite simply criminally unacceptable. In our unambiguously egalitarian society that some could practise their vicious hatred of visible minorities with seeming inpunity is truly frightening.

Such barbaric social hold-outs of racial hatred cannot be conveniently overlooked as a quaintly semi-acceptable aberration by by-standers. If the rank publicity garnered by the Resto Bar le Surf and its owner, Christian Lemyre does not result in the bar and its odious policies going out of business because other residents refuse to comply with and recognize the 'legitimacy' of discrimination, something remains dreadfully wrong with society.

That the employees of this nasty establishment were compliant in refusing to serve the two men, responding to their queries by saying they were black and the bar's policy barred them entry and service is unspeakable. There is some solace to be had in the fact that all of those involved in this discriminatory debacle in civility were condemned by the Quebec human rights commission, and were ordered to pay damages to Seydou Boubacar Diallo and Mamadou El Bachir Gologo, two men of Malian origin.

But we should be collectively ashamed that such a situation could occur in the Province of Quebec, in Canada.


Odd how people at times of great historical moment, or under great personal stress tend to reveal themselves, their subliminal tendencies, despite the helpful cover of a public persona quite at odds with what can be revealed through an instinctual, unguarded response.

Thus we have Kofi Annan, currently the world's first-order diplomat, the United Nation's chief representative of peace uttering his belief that Israel deliberately and with full intent bombed a UN emplacement inside the border between Lebanon and Israel. Israel's immediate reaction was one of aghast incredulity that they could conceivably be so quickly condemned.

Why Israel remains so touchingly concerned about how representatives of the United Nations, that august body set up by a trusting world to oversee wordly matters in an attempt to bring about universal peace (not in our lifetimes, apparently, not with the current membership and set-up of yet another failed human enterprise) see it through their miasma of preconceived animus is beyond me personally.

(But that is another story. And like most people who hope for the best while still recognizing the beast living close to the surface of most human societies, the troubling failings residing within most political regimes regardless of their stripe, the all-too-human proclivity to emotional hysteria wiping out our ability to think and act logically, I still recognize the potential within that body whose mandate is to do its best for all of mankind. It is the only universal instrument we have, we tired and weak human beings, to attempt to live among one another with something approaching tolerance and goodwill.)

Yet here we have the elected head of the United Nations, its highly respected and trusted chief, pointing a rather impulsive finger of blame at the single state-entity within its membership which is perennially held to account for matters inconsistent with its vision, priorities and orientation among nations. To Canada's new Prime Minister's ongoing credit in his support of the State of Israel, Stephen Harper has expressed his sorrow at the tragic events, while still maintaining his belief that the bombing was inadvertent.

Among the four United Nations observers at the bombed southern Lebanese post was a Canadian, Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener of Kingston, evidently a much-admired, experienced exponent of peacekeeping, now dead as a result of the bombing. Yet Prime Minister Harper stated:
"This regrettable event underscores the dangers that our Canadian Forces members face in all the roles they undertake, to serve our country with distinction and honour and provide assistance to citizens in countries far from our shores."
Noble words of understanding and patience, to await an acceptable explanation from an official enquiry which Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in proferring his "deep regrets" to Canada's Prime Minister and the citizens of Canada, has promised would follow, promising also Israel's complete co-operation with other enquiries. Mr. Harper has made it quite clear, with no equivocation, that he does not share the opinion of Mr. Annan:
"I certainly doubt that to be the case (deliberate targetting of the UN post by Israel), given that Israel has been co-operating with us in our evacuation efforts, in our attempts to move Canadian citizens out of Lebanon, and also trying to keep our own troops that are on the ground involved in that evacuation out of harm's way. So, I seriously doubt that," he said, in response to pointed questioning by the media.
For that matter there have already been revelations which appear to set the stage for a fuller understanding of the situation. It has been revealed through the media that Major Hess-von Kruedener wrote an e-mail just days previous to the bombing that Hezbollah was using the post as a "shield" to fire rockets into Israel. Retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie characterizes Major Kruedener's e-mails as obvious allusions to Hezbollah's tactics.
"What I can tell you is this," he wrote in an e-mail to CTV dated July 18. "We have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both (Israeli) artillery and aerial bombing.
"The closest artillery has landed within 2 metres of our position and the closest 100 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 metres from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity."
These words, the final sentence in particular are obvious indications that Israeli strikes were poised at Hezbollah, explained Major-General MacKenzie: "What that means is, in plain English, "We've got Hezbollah fighters running around in our positions, taking our positions here and then using us for shields and then engaging the (Israeli Defence Forces)," he said. Major Hess-von Kruedener, a Canadian Forces infantry officer with the Edmonton-based Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the sole Canadian serving as a U military observer in Lebanon was no stranger to war and the conditions prevailing in war-time conditions.

Yet a senior UN official after being queried with respect to the observations and conclusions reached by Major Kruedener, denied that there had been a Hezbollah presence in the close vicinity of the UN base, effectively denying the obvious contradiction with the UN position.
"At the time, there had been no Hezbollah activity reported in the area", he said. "So it was quite clear they were not going after other targets; that, for whatever reason, our position was being fired upon...The position was clearly marked, and they pounded the hell out of us."
Clearly an inexplicable denial of the observations of his own UN observer. Retired Captain Peter Forsberg, who did two UN tours between 1993 and 1995 during the Bosnian war added his opinion that it seemed clear Hezbollah was using a terrorist tactic of purposely drawing out enemy forces near a neutral site. And the fall-out of that tactic is also clear: create a situation which places its adversary in an inambiguously deplorable light and which gains it the immediate censure of the UN.

At this juncture it would be most interesting to hear from United Nations representatives, Kofi Annan in particular exactly why it was not seen as an expedient move to remove all UN observers from their south Lebanon posts where the danger of just such an occurrence could have been foreseen by anyone who knows the likelihood of disaster being visited upon unarmed non-combatants in a war zone. A deliberate move to coerce Israel by maintaining a post sheltering vulnerable targets? If so, this is a situation clearly at odds with normal UN practise where in other war zones UN personnel evacuation is swift and unequivocal.

Explain these little condundrums, please do.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

There Are Protests and There Are Posters

When it comes to public relations, to expressing feelings of outrage, emotional hurt and the expectation of democratic privilege to free speech, there is nothing quite like the feeling of empowerment and entitlement exercised by people who come from a background of repression, totalitarianism, police states, and lack of personal freedom.

Taking deliciously full advantage of freedoms unknown in their countries of origin, those very same countries whose political structure, personal strictures, lack of economic opportunity led these now-entitled free people to opt for life in a promising new country, we see instances where freedom to insult, upbraid and threaten is flaunted in full view of the public and the media. A tolerant country and its freedom-worshipping citizens turn away. Quaint behaviour of strange people.

So, what are we treated to, as a bonus for welcoming such people to our protective shores, be they cities within European countries, or those within North America?
  • Islam will dominate the World
  • Slay those who insult Islam
  • Behead those who insult Islam
  • Butcher those who mock Islam
  • Europe is the Cancer, Islam is the Answer
  • Exterminate those who slander Islam
  • Massacre those who insult Islam
  • Freedom go to Hell
  • Europe, take some lessons from 9/11
  • Europe, you will pay. Your 9/11 is on its way
  • Be prepared for the real Holocaust!
These promising endearments are held proudly aloft, smiling faces, scowling faces. Faces completely covered with the folds of an Hamas scarf, leaving but a narrow slit for the eyes, reminiscent of the brave Islamist fundamentalists who march in protest on the streets of the Palestinian Territories before launching their rockets against civilian targets.

Not to be forgotten are the sweet sentiments which can also be seen on the backs of protest marchers in Los Angeles. How's this for the lyricism of traditional Arab poetry?
I Pledge
Allah is my lord
Quran is my guide
Sunnah is my practice
Jihad is my spirit
Righteousness is my character
And Paradise is my goal
For I command what is right
And forbid what is wrong
I will fight against oppression
And will die to establish Islam
Reason with people like this?

The Indelible Risks of Blind Faith

The best and only way to reach amicable agreement, or even the agreement of expediency in avoidance of truly nasty outcomes is to communicate, to reason intelligently one to the other until either all or most of the issues of disagreement are mutually understood and a joint decision to reach a general understanding resulting in peace is reached.

Reason: is defined as:
  1. Use argument with person by way of persuasion.
  2. Form or try to reach conclusions by connected thought silent or expressed (from premises about; of; upon subject; discuss what, whether, why, etc.; conclude, assume as step in argument.
  3. Express in logical or argumentative form (exposition, manifesto, article - in which reasons are embodied with a view to directing course of debate).
  4. Persuade by argument.
  5. Think out (consequences, etc.)
The question here becomes how to reason with people who insist, despite reality and living proof, that what they apprehend to be the truth simply is - their inalienable right to the truth as they see it. It is what they believe, what they perceive, ergo: it is. No need to trot out reasonable arguments or irrefutable evidence, for if it does not accord with their belief it is of its very nature misleading, irrelevant and false.

People who so passionately believe what they wish to believe cannot be successfully communicated with, they cannot be brought to reason, they cannot be persuaded to observe a situation in a neutral manner simply because they are incapable of neutrality, of backing away from their emotional and psychical need to believe what they believe.

What they believe so utterly, so beyond the ability of anyone to penetrate the psychological armour against truth, reason and adequate cerebral functioning, let alone personal responsibility is that what they believe is irrefutable; they are wronged and blameless.

A case in point: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's visit to the White House. Where he emphatically denied that a civil war is now being waged in Iraq, despite the ongoing, unstoppable carnage, Shi'ite against Sunni; total sectarian violence. "God willing" said Mr. al-Maliki during the White House conference, "there will be no civil war".

Last week Mr. al-Maliki, himself a Shi'ite Muslim, outright condemned Israeli air strikes, refusing to name Hezbollah a terrorist group, calling for an immediate ceasefire. It is Israel that is responsible for the crisis in Lebanon, certainly not Hezbollah, according to this man, the Prime Minister of Iraq. Yet it is terrorists, not Sunni and Shia militias who are attempting to destroy his country, according to his fine analysis.

Arabs believe what they believe, their beliefs will not be tempered or swayed by reality. An Islamist jihadist therefore is a terrorist only if he attacks one's own self-interest. In Iraq, dissidents, sectarian thugs are terrorists. Because Hezbollah acts in God's name against Israel they are not to be condemned as terrorists. Logic? There is none.
"Your failure to condemn Hezbollah's aggression and recognize Israel's right to defend itself raise serious questions about whether Iraq, under your leadership, can play a constructive role in resolving the current crisis and bringing (sic) stability to the Middle East", Democrats in the Senate wrote. "As you know, the American people have given so much in the name of fighting global terror and helping build a better future for the people of Iraq. Americans deserve to know whether Iraq is an ally in these fights."
The sacrifice of thousands of U.S. soldiers, killed in this ongoing conflict, the burden of supporting the fledgling Iraqi attempt at democracy has bled the U.S. treasury dry in the sum of 300 Billion U.S. to date. And for what? What, actually has been accomplished? While refusing to condemn terrorism as it raises its deadly head other than in Iraq, while tentative overtures are ongoing with Iran, Mr. al-Maliki still comes humbly, head-covering in hand, to praise the efforts of the United States and its people, and to insist that the U.S. needs to deliver to this utterly failed venture more troops, more money.

Risks? Risks for whom?

The Homogeneity of Our Heterogeneous Neighbourhood

I love Canada. This is my country, my home. I've no doubt I could adapt myself handily enough to live in almost any country that is at peace with its neighbours, has a reasonable standard of living, values its citizens and takes full responsibility for its place in the world. I have, indeed, lived in several countries other than Canada for several years at a time. I have valued the experience, enjoyed living in those countries, felt the privilege of being able to do so, but was more than glad to return to the country of my birth, the country I trust and feel pride in.

Yes, there are things about this country that sometimes don't seem as well adjusted as they should be, but these are small irritations, and not insurmountable obstacles toward striving to become a better place. Canadians are basically fair-minded people. We take pride, justifiably, in our collective ability to absorb people from other cultures, other countries, other religions. Where not all that long ago in historical terms this country had its share of rabid xenophobia resulting in maltreatment of visible-minority immigrants and even citizens of the country whose provenance did not echo that of the two founding majorities, the country and its population has long turned its back on that embarrassment.

My parents' countries of origin were Poland and Russia. They arrived in Canada in the late 1920s desperately seeking a better life than what was available to them in their countries of origin as Jews, abused stepchildren of the countries of their birth. When I was a child my father instructed me at an early age to consider myself first and foremost a Canadian. Any other identifying designations would flow from that first identity post. As I grew into a teen, then a young adult, I was puzzled when so often complete strangers would ask "where I came from", never satisfied with my responding "Canada". That was then, this is now.

We have many neighbours with whom we share warm relations, cordial recognitions of shared citizenship. I find comfort in the fact that where I live reflects a mini-focus of Canada at large, as this country is today. Everyone is welcome, everyone is accepted, everyone valued for the contributions they bring to society at large. Notably excluding those disaffected relatively few who view with suspicion any whose features don't reflect those of the slowly-dissolving majority; those whose allegiance is to a fond memory of religious, social and racial homogeneity where caucasian appearance and Sunday worship was the order of the day.

On our street live East Indian Sikhs, Hong Kong Christians, Bangladeshi-Indian Muslims, Egyptian Christians, French atheists, French-Canadian Catholics, British Anglicans, Jewish secularists, and Russian expatriats. There are our neighbours of Polish, Italian and German extraction whose friendship we also value. They are all Canadians, their children absorbed in Canadian schools, sports, summer camps, churches and community associations. We are assured when we stroll the street that we will be greeted with waves and smiles and small talk of weather, community and sometimes world affairs.

When I was looking for someone to accompany me to a downtown peace rally in the dead of winter, it was our Egyptian neighbour who agreed to accompany me. My Bangladeshi Muslim neighbour is not someone to be trifled with; if he sees a wrong he works to rectify it. The neighbourhood dollar store we frequent is owned by a Lebanese-Christian family whose hard work and pleasant manner, friendly interest and love of Lebanon does them credit.

Oops, I've forgotten the families whose origins were in Ireland or Scotland, or England and France, long-time Canadians of storied struggle from the early days of settlement in Canada's far reaches. Alas, these seem to be the people least interested in those others who now surround them. They seem not to be inclined to ignore, as much as be disinterested in the lives, characters, personalities and values of the many others among whom they live.

The neighbourhood doctor to whom we have entrusted our health and that of our growing family for the past 34 years, who has seen us through times of stress, times of calm, times of frightening uncertainty, is a small, quick gracious man with a huge capacity to commiserate, and he is Syrian-born, another Canadian. The physician to whom my Egyptian neighbour entrusts the disturbingly frail health of his son is Jewish. This is the Canadian way.

Who would ever have it otherwise?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Container Delight

I can scarcely contain my delight at the ongoing splendour throughout the summer of our garden containers. These are miniature gardens, full of form, structure, colour and fragrance. Each of these garden containers is invested with the beauty of a miniature landscape, held within the confines of its enclosure. They are not only beloved by me but also by all manner of flying insects, including butterflies, bees, wasps and wonder of wonders, hummingbirds.

There are large clay pots shaped like bell jars, some with ornamentation, some without. There are larger yet clay pots which have been glazed with bright colours ornamenting their exteriors, colours meant to complement nature and the flowers which adorn them.

There are classical stoneware urns of great size and those of a more modest size. Some of these urns are ornamented with Greek-copied classical dancing figures, some are faceted with classical faces.

All of them give us deep pleasure, and we treasure them all.

Please, be my guest.

See for yourself.

I invite you to take pleasure in the beauty of these wonderful works of nature.

The Comfort, Function and Beauty of Our Garden

What could be more rewarding, more comforting than to lose oneself in one's very own Garden of Eden?

There one contemplates nature's bounty as closely as desired, finding new surprises day after day, observing the speed with which organisms develop and grow. The fragrance of the garden, the colours of the flowers, the height to which some of our plants aspire, the manner in which they respond to weather conditions. The way they never fail to delight us. Every walk in the garden is a new delight, there are always new discoveries.

And, just incidentally, there is always something needing to be done. Sometimes simply because plants outgrow themselves, because flowers require encouragement to continue blooming, because weather conditions are occasionally inimical to susceptible plants. And let's not forget others of nature's creatures that somehow seem to conspire to spoil our enjoyment, while focusing on their own needs; insects that prosper by wreaking havoc on plants and flowers.

There are the apples and plums which fall prematurely, well before maturation and they must be collected and composted. And we hope that there will be sufficient left on the trees to mature and give us fall bounty. There are suckers to be cut back on tomato plants, and many of the herbs require de-flowering to ensure that they continue to produce for us. Oregano, chives, sweet basil, parsley and garlic chives, along with thyme, thyme, thyme. All of which do their delicious utmost to enhance the food we eat.

Then there is the sublime pleasure of sitting in the garden, contemplating the actions of butterflies, birds and beetles zipping in and around the plants, looking for treats or water from the birdbath. One can read at leisure in those surroundings, listening to the birdsong, or simply become engrossed by the continually-changing scene of peace and security in a world sadly lacking both for far too many people.

Whose recalled gardens reside in their memories.

What's With the French?

Seems it has always been that way. Not that the French are all that much different from other nationalities after all, particularly within Europe, the Continent. Somehow one expects the French might be perhaps more accepting, but such, apparently, is not to be, never was, despite everything. France, official France now agonizes over the Dreyfus affair, proclaiming that he was, after all, a patriotic Frenchman? Really, now really! French Jews, despite living in their beloved country from time immemorial (well, almost) will never be recognized as true "French", and will always live there in fear, despite the government's avowed dedication to their safety as true French citizens.

Talk is cheap, and France does a lot of it. As for Jacques Chirac it has been said of him that he never met a Middle East dictator that he didn't like. France's patience in putting up with its immigrant-and-citizen Algerian population, marginalized within France, and their occasional destructive rebellions against their dismal living conditions is cautionary. Its lack of zeal in protecting its Jewish population from hate-filled activities visited upon them by an ever-growing Arab-French population does it no credit. There remains an undying subliminal state of anti-Semitism within France and that truly is a pity. Official France is so conflicted about its emotions with respect to Jews it takes great umbrage at former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's invitation to embattled French Jews to emigrate to Israel, yet it takes no real steps to protect its Jewish population.

A love for the Middle East and for Arab nations seems to be bred in the bones of Frenchmen. Who can blame them? Who, really, can resist the lure of the Arab world? The history, geography and culture of Arab countries is compelling, from ancient Egypt and its historical gifts to the world, to the fabled Babylon. The Arab world, both ancient and current is multifaceted, exciting, romantic and singularly beautiful. Its art, music, poetry and dance, the dark beauty of its people, their history throughout time, their architecture and ancient writings.

Absent the current misery, the various struggles ongoing within the many countries making up that modern world of Arabism and Islam, the proud tradition is still there, the cultural heritage, the literary arts, music, and so much more. But then while one can "escape" history into the future, one cannot escape the future, it is here and now.

So, what is it with the French? Jacques Chirac expresses his outrage with the Israeli government for its "disproportionate" response to Hezbollah's deadly invitation to all-out war. What is proportionate? To tsk-tsk, warn that Israel is becoming sick and tired of the constant bombardments and incursions and sit back and wait for more? Failing that, to complain to the United Nations? It's been done, time and again, has it not? The United Nations has done its duty, informed Lebanon it must take charge of its borders, and it is incumbent upon it to remove Hezbollah, incapacitate it, disband it, take it out of business.

Disproportionate is bombing the hell out of the country, and in so doing causing the deaths of thousands of innocents, that's disproportionate. How would France and Jacques Chirac respond to such provocation? Presumably by targeting the launch sites of the various rockets hitting Israeli towns. Oops, the launch sites, the command centres have been placed within dense civilian populations. Well, better go home and forget about it, right?

As a Canadian I take some solace in the fact that polls indicate that two in three Canadians believe Israel's military action in Lebanon is justified. Despite which everyone mourns the loss of innocent civilian lives, the lives of children, the elderly, women and non-combatants. What could possibly be sadder? Perhaps a far greater loss of those innocent lives, that's what. Here's the kicker in the statistics: the Province of Quebec takes a more critical view of the situation with a slight majority of those polled opposed to the actions Israel has taken in Lebanon.

Why am I not surprised? Disappointed, certainly, but surprised: no. The columnist Brigette Pellerin wrote recently in the Ottawa Citizen of Quebec's "unfortunate history of anti-Semitism". She points out that the French-language media's coverage of the crisis in Lebanon is "overwhelmingly one-sided, with countless pictures and stories about anxious Lebanese-Canadians and very little on Israeli civilians deliberately targeted by the terrorists as opposed to being accidently hit by the Israeli military."

Ms. Pellerin also points out that journalists make little-to-no-effort to explain to Quebec readers the reason for this situation, nor do they appear to care whether the information they publish is complete or accurate in nature. In her article she further conveys the information that a number of high profile Quebec politicians made it their business to attend a Montreal rally against "Israel's attacks on Lebanon", where protestors "condemned the Canadian government for backing Israel's acts of war".

Why am I not surprised? Disappointed, yes, but surprised? That old adage about the apple not falling far from the tree - but why?

Monday, July 24, 2006

And On It Goes

The complaints keep coming. There is no end to them. There never will be in all likelihood, even when the story of escape becomes stale, an air of bitterness will prevail. These, surely, are people whose general dissatisfaction with life is constant. These surely are representative of those whose tendency it is to complain of anything and everything. These people are not representative of their group as a whole. But these are the people to whom Canadians are exposed and toward whom compassion has been soured to resentment. For people surely are entitled to certain things, but a sense of entitlement to that extreme degree does them no credit at all. They are an embarrassment to their ethnic, cultural group.

From the Lebanese-Canadian woman standing in line with countless others waiting to be evacuated from the port in Beirut who took advantage of a television camera to thrust her angry face into the camera to harshly introduce herself as being the most important personage present; giving her name, demanding unequivocally, no, stating baldly that she would be taken out at the earliest opportunity, which would be then and now, her face contorted beyond belief.

To the young woman situated in Montreal, giving a press conference, as a family member representing a Lebanese Canadian family who lost 7 members in Lebanon as a result of the retaliatory IDF bombing. It was, she said baldly, the Jews who did this, who were responsible. Hezbollah was innocent of all charges, the news reports had it all wrong, they were biased. Hezbollah was their protector. The children of that family who died in Lebanon were martyrs.

To the young man, an 18-year-old Lebanese Canadian being evacuated along with countless others, who stated bitterly and directly that Hezbollah was right in trying to destroy Israel. He was proud of Hezbollah. He planned to emulate their actions, to become a fully-accredited member of Hezbollah and to take up their battle with the foe. And then he was evacuated back to Montreal.

To the men and women disembarking in Cyprus from the Blue Dawn, describing their ordeal on that ship, inadequately equipped, crowded, no beds to sleep in, everyone throwing up from seasickness, no medical personnel on board to see to their well-being, inadequate food preparations and not sufficient water for their needs. This ship, the Blue Dawn, was a Lebanese ship. Is that not ironic? At such a time of confusion, dreadful congestion, thousands of people clamouring to be taken away from Lebanon, one takes comfort where one may.

To the men and women who complained about the lack of attention given to their needs in the stadium in Cyprus which the Government of Canada was using to house the evacuees until they could be flown back to Canada. Exhausted and badly overworked diplomatic staff labouring around the clock to secure their safety were no indication to these people that their needs are of paramount concern to the government. But the huge fans installed in the stadium in an attempt to introduce a measure of comfort in the stifling damp and hot atmosphere of a Cypriot summer was not to their liking, and sevacuee railed at the lack of organization.

To the outraged Lebanese-Canadian woman who described her ordeal, waiting on the dock in Beirut in the hot sun for evacuation for endless long hours with thousands of others. Her discomfort, her anger, her sharp criticism of Canada's lack of speedy evacuation planning, the stupidity of it all, her disdain for the Prime Minister of Canada, her misery at the discomfort she had experienced. She might just as well have stayed back in Beirut, she said; she was sorry she hadn't, for she had exchanged that unhappy experience for an even worse one.

The Lebanese-Canadian man from within Canada who called in to a talk show to express his disgust at the conditions his wife and children discovered themselves in, at the Cyprus stadium. His wife, he said, was calling him repeatedly, saying she could not stand the heat, the deprivation, the boredom, the waiting for embarkation from the island. She was ordering him from Cyprus to "do something". He had called the "help line" at the Department of Foreign Affairs and someone there on staff had verbally abused him. Was this how to behave to someone who called to ask for help?

When it was divulged that the Government of Canada had resolved not to request that it be repaid for passage for the evacuation of these Lebanese Canadians, that the total costs associated with this massive evacuation would be paid for by the Canadian taxpayer, many of the rescued felt mollified, and many expressed their gratitude to the government for the support they were given, the plans undertaken under such duress, their safe evacuation.

Yes, people in such stressful situations feel frightened, angry that fate conspired to place them in such fearful, untenable, life-threatening situations. If there is someone, some entity deserving blame, make certain you identify it or them properly. Render your appreciation for action taken on your behalf adequately.

Shame on all the complainers, the whiners, those for whom nothing would have been adequate.

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