Thursday, August 31, 2006


There are times when one reads news stories that instantly strike a chord of recognition needful of an immediate response. So, do you, as I do, begin to argue with the printed page? Assemble an argument for or against the posited position? How vigorous is your conversation, one-way as it is, how satisfying to your position as an aware interlocutor?
  1. Father Raymond J. de Souza writes knowingly of matters religious, he being of the Catholic faithful. He writes of the terrorist group in Gaza styling themselves the Holy Jihad Brigades, and their kidnapping of two Fox news people, a correspondent and a cameraman. (I must confess, personally, that although I have some empathy for anyone unfortunate enough to be in the position of kidnapee, particularly in the nasty care of Islamofascists, my sympathy eroded somewhat in hearing of their casual disregard for the immediate fact that they were forced to abjure their Christian faith in a temporary compromise, as a bargain for their lives left intact. On the other hand what matter dignity in faith, if there is no life to live, after all?) Father deSouza, learned religious that he is, observes in passing that the international furor raised about the purported event where American military personnel desecrated a Koran, was in marked contrast to the forced "conversion" of Christians to Islam. That there resulted no matched outrage over the Holy Jihad Brigades' evangelization tactics. Father deSouza waxes eloquent about the conviction shared by a doctrinally rigorous, zealously organized, well-financed Muslim minority that all others are infidels worthy of destruction if they will not covert, and that the Muslim majority in league with the infidel is also worthy of destruction. Nationalist movements, he points out, can be eventually accommodated with agreement on national institutions and national projects; Islamism does not seek such accommodation - only the capitulation of the infidel, at gunpoint, if necessary. (As in folks, death to the American imperialists! and above all, Kill Jews!)
  2. An item published in Slate magazine, written by William Saletan, points out that several months ago the World Health Organization reported that African women who have undergone genital mutiliation (culturally dictated) were up to 69% more likely to hemorrhage after childbirth and up to 55% more likely to deliver a dead or dying baby. More than 50 African nations have now signed a protocol against female mutilation, and it was reported that the practise was declining across the continent. (Of course women in the West have long condemned the practise of mutilation on their African sisters, particularly the nasty aftereffects that young girls have long been exposed to by a male-dominated society that insisted the procedure be done to ensure that females found little pleasure in the act of procreation and would thus be less likely to stray or extend sexual favours beyond the marital boudoir.) Now the issue of male circumcision comes into play as it has become clear through an analysis resulting from 38 studies by the U.S. Agency for International Development which concluded that circumcised men were less than half as likely as uncircumcised men to get HIV, apparently because of the susceptibility of foreskin infection. Scientist further found on a randomized controlled trial in South African that circumcision reduced female-to-male transmission by 60%. (Huh? What about the reverse? It is, after all the predeliction of African males to shop around for their sexual pleasure, thus infecting their unknowing, helpless wives, and in turn infecting their unborn children.) So here we have it: female genital mutilation is, thank the stars that blink, about to be obsolete. Male circumcision, against which righteous "intactivists" of many stripes rail, is to come back into vogue, as a safety, health measure against the scourge of AIDs. And just incidentally, in the interests of hygiene, and infections such as cancer as well.
  3. And lastly, it appears that a number of surveys conducted in Britain, the United States and Canada have reached the conclusion that men account for a paltry 20% of the market for fiction. Readers appear to be overwhelmingly female. A 2000 survey found that women comprised a greater percentage of readers than men across all genres: Espionage/Thriller (69%); General (88%); Mystery/Detective (86%) and Science Fiction (52%). There is no indication that men "hate reading" - women just read more fiction. Men out-read women by at least ten percentage points when it comes to non-fiction books. (In attempting to come to terms with these results sociologists suggest that women are more touchy-feely, more empathetic, more interested in trying to learn what makes people tick, how people live their lives, even if through fiction; women appear to be actively interested pseudo psychologists at heart. Men appear to aim higher, wanting to know the facts, M'am, just the facts. Take it or leave it.)
So there you have it. Food for thought. Or not.

State of the World - 31August-06

The world ever engaged with itself, in terror and in civility, in flux and completely static. We are doomed to repeat our mistakes over and over and over again. Man is a learning animal, has the potential to learn from his errors but unfortunately is all too fallible, falling prey to his own ungovernable emotions, forgetting the utility of brain power, creative thinking, and irreproachable acts of logic. We continue to learn things about ourselves but we never learn to learn about what we learn, and that's a pity.

Here, then, are news nuggets gleaned from the print media on this day, the last of the month of August, 2006 starting with the helpfully innocuous but vastly useful, and then on to rehash what utter fools we be:
  • It's long been known that folic acid cuts the risk of neural tube defects - defects of the brain and spine, including spina bifida. Researchers from Toronto and London, Canada, have found folic-acid fortified multivitamin supplements provide "consistent protection" against other congenital anomalies, including cardiovascular defects such as "holes in the heart", limb defects, cleft palate and hydrocephalus - water buildup on the brain that can lead to brain damage, as reported this week in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Canada. (Take those supplements pre-planning pregnancy.)
  • Religion is a "feeding ground" for obesity, claims a U.S. sociologist who has studied the relationship between fat and religion since the early 1990s. Those who practise religion through "media practise"; that is by reading, watching services on television or listening to them on the radio, were likely to be obese. The study, published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion analyzed the religious practises and body-mass index of more than 2,500 people from 1986 to 1994. Baptists most likely to be obese, with 24% obesity at the study start and 30% at its completion; fundamentalist Protestants (Pentecostals) had 18% of the group obese at the study start and 22% at the completion; a fairly high percentage of Catholics and pietistic Protestants (Methodists) were also obese, with Catholics stable at 17%, the others at 19%; those with no religious affiliations hovered around 6% obesity, and the lowest levels of obesity found among Jews and non-traditionalists such as Mormons and Christian Scientists. (Accurate to what percentile point of idiocy?)
  • Pinocchio, Tom Sawyer and other novelistic fictive characters have been converted to Islam, in new versions of 100 classic stories on the Turkish school curriculum. "Give me some bread, for Allah's sake", Pinocchio says to Gepetto his maker, in a book stamped with the crest of the Ministry of Education. "Thanks be to Allah,", the puppet later says. Heidi, the Swiss orphan, is told that praying to Allah will help her to relax. (In case Muslim children are not already sufficiently confused.)
  • A leading cardinal said the Vatican will excommunicate the doctors who performed Colombia's first legal abortion on an 11-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather. "Every Christian Catholic who submits to an abortion, whether it be directly or indirectly, will be excommunicated", stated Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family. (Let that be a lesson to those coy Lolitas of the Catholic world; transgress by victimization and pay the penalty; the cost of piety in a Catholic world is suffering and more suffering.)
  • The head of the U.S. House Middle East subcommittee yesterday protested the Bush administration's decision to let former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami visit the United States for speeches and conferences at the United Nations, where he is scheduled to attend in New York to promote dialogue, and to speak on religion's role in promoting peace at the Washington National Cathedral on September 7. (I've got a splitting headache. More proof that the left hand is never certain when the right hand plans to deliver a hard, sharp slap.)
  • Thousands of prisoners have been shaving their heads and chests to donate hair to help mop up the Philippines' worst oil spill, officials said yesterday. The collection was in response to a nationwide drive by the government to amass tonnes of hair and feathers to absorb more than 200,00 litres of industrial fuel that leaked from a tanker when it sank off the central island of Guimaras on
    August 11. (Low tech works?! Avast ye murderers on death row, all 1,000 of ye, repent and become shorn of your many locks; hope for a pardon.)
  • Bombers killed more than 60 Iraqis yesterday, mostly in Baghdad. But the top U.S. commander said a security drive in the capital was making progress and Iraqi forces could largely be running the country within 12 to 18 months. (Which calls to mind a story earlier in the week reporting that hours after the British turned over a military base to Iraqi control, looters picked it clean, driving up in trucks and making off with roofing, windows and plumbing after clashing with outnumbered Iraqi solders. Yes, one can certainly see into the near future, that stability will result and all will be well.)
  • Hurricane John grew into a dangerous Category 4 storm just off Mexico's Pacific coast yesterday threatening beach resorts with heavy rain and searing winds blowing down trees in Acapulco, home to about one million people, with sea surges of up to three metres. (Don't forget the Gulf of Mexico for plenty of excitement this hurricane season, folks.)
  • The ozone layer, the atmospheric shield that protects life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays, is on the mend after decades of decline tied to pollution, according to a September 9 study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. "Not only has the depletion stopped but, surprisingly, the level of ozone is rising slightly," said Ross Salawitch, co-author of the study, and an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Guess all we fearful citizens can break out the champagne and forget about Global Warming and the potential for WWIII. Get out there and get yourself a good (newly-protected) tan, guys!)
  • Seventeen aid workers who were murdered in eastern Sri Lanka this month were killed by government security forces, international peace monitors said yesterday. The allegation, rejected as "baseless" by the Sri Lankan government, will further strain already difficult relations between the Swedish-led ceasefire monitors and the island's government. (And here we thought the Tamil Tigers were the bad guys; on the other hand, doesn't the story smack familiar - over to the Middle East now.)
  • Kofi Annan left Jerusalem empty-handed last night after Israel refused his request to end its sea and air blockade of Lebanon. In a setback for the United Nations Secretary-General's efforts to stabilize the ceasefire, the Israelis demanded the return of the two soldiers seized by Hezbollah last month as the price for implementing a UN Security Council resolution ending the war with the Shi'ite militia. (As memory serves, correctly, it was the abduction of the two IDF soldiers and the killing of eight more which initiated the conflict to begin with - so let's get down to basics; you do this first, then we'll take the politely worded request under due consideration.)
  • Hugh Chavez, the Venezuelan President, hailed in Syria as a hero to the Arabs, began his first visit yesterday saying both countries reject American "imperialism and hegemony". "We have the same political vision: We are two countries and two peoples resisting and facing imperialist aggression." (How about that; an Islamofascist-Communist love-in!)
  • Major powers will begin discussing an Iran sanctions resolution at a meeting in Europe next week if Tehran continues to defy a UN Security Council demand to halt uranium enrichment. Iran was not expected to comply with UN demands, so U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and top officials from Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany would meet early next week. (And, accomplish precisely nothing, given the past inability of these great powers always at loggerheads with one another, to agree on anything too specific, too injurious to the subject-nation under review, too usefully capable of sending an unequivocal message substantiating Western fears of a nuclear-powered Islamofascist state.)
Enough already. You get the picture, the sublime to the ridiculous, the outright fearsome to the utterly useless, the hysterically nonsensical to the reality of world instability forevermore.

Apportioning Responsibility

It should not be surprising, but yet it is. Surprising and welcomed. That a highly-placed Hamas spokesman finally described the matter of Palestinian blame for their peoples' appalling condition and responsibility to themselves, their people, their part in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East is past time. Mr. Hamad's declarations of disgust at the situation of lack of self-awareness, and spiral into death and destruction are welcomed and certainly about time. It's a first step to sanity, to logical regard, to self-respect, to reality.

Ghazi Hamad states rhetorically, the unfathomable conditions that outsiders, those with unblinkered vision, have been realizing for quite a long time:
"When you walk in the streets of Gaza city, you cannot but close your eyes because of what you see there: unimaginable chaos, careless policemen, young men carrying guns and strutting with pride, and families receiving condolences for their dead in the middle of the street."
He speaks undeniable truth. Nature abhors a vacuum, and with no viable, respected leadership Palestinians have brought unspeakable anarchy to bear. Where there was opportunity to be a proud people, to build their own state and their own economy, to take responsibility for their own welfare, it has been rejected. In favour of lawlessness, of anger and enmity, of everlasting vows to destroy the enemy. But it wasn't the so-called enemy that brought the Palestinians to their present state of crisis. The enemy's intent and offer was to assist them in securing sovereignty, the responsibility of self-reliance and self-direction and self-pride. Rejected out of hand. Such is the power of hatred.

So when Mr. Hamad asked:
"What is the relationship between the chaos, anarchy, lawlessness, indiscriminate murders, theft of land, family rivalries, trangression on public lands and unorganized traffic, and the occupation? We are still trapped by the mentality of conspiracy theories - one that has limited our capability to think."
Exactly, and kudoes to Mr. Hamad for hammering that nail home. Pity, isn't it, that no one who should be hearing his words and digesting them, and discussing them, and learning from them is actually listening. He has certainly earned my (limited) respect, and no doubt that of others outside of the Gaza Strip and the the West Bank, but what has been the response of Palestinians?

Well, one reads further that the determination of the Palestinian intifada is undimmed; rather it has been rekindled with additional fervour in the wake of the "victory" and perceived unbridled success of Hezbollah in totally incapacitating and quelling the Jewish State. Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas alike, along with Islamic Jihad and others of their ilk, now are dedicating themselves to the utility of underground tunnels and bunkers, the storage of heavy-duty munitions and continued rocketing of Israel.

Mr. Hamad, do us all a favour. SPEAK LOUDER. Shout, berate, insult, rail, and keep addressing the issues. While you're doing that, do something concrete about the chaos; you're part of the government. Disarm the irregular militias; they are, after all, comprised also of your own people. If you feel so seriously about the topic at hand, and from your words it would seem you do, then go ahead and do more than talk.

If not you, then who?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Neighbourly Thing

We've lived next door to each other for the past fifteen years. They've seen us grow old, living next to them, and we've witnessed the miracle of their children becoming teen-agers. Truly amazing. We live next to each other amicably, never failing to greet one another in amiable familiarity, bringing one another up to date on what's been happening in each of our lives - to a point. We are, after all, of vastly different generations, backgrounds, values (to a very certain extent) and lifestyle orientations.

But friendly next-door neighbours we most certainly are. She has a sunny, happy temperament, a truly effervescent personality with a smile bright and wide enough to include anyone nearby. One who truly needs the presence of other people surrounding her to bring her nature out, to make her feel alive and valued as a person. He is withdrawn, reserved by nature, ungenerous in character and more suited to the life of a hermit than that of a sociable family man. But he has a good heart, and although reserved is capable of behaving in a friendly and socially responsible manner when the occasion demands.

Their personalities are so clearly oppositional one wonders how the twain could ever meet in any kind of agreement, but obviously they did, they have, and they do. One or the other makes concessions, perhaps after great discussion on the matter, perhaps merely to maintain a sense of married amicability - for the sake of the children, that tired old mantra trotted out yet again. He is the picture of an old-fashioned European paterfamilias, she more akin to a light-hearted free spirit reflecting current ideals of motherhood in the West.

They are an attractive pair, both large-boned but nicely toned and they have produced two children, a girl now approaching graceful womanhood, and a boy verging on teen-hood. Despite their mother's outgoing nature the children have inherited their father's distant social approach. Because of their mother's never-ending efforts verging on the prodigious they will become well-adjusted, responsible adults in time. The mother has always been a stay-at-home mom, something both agreed upon; he in keeping with his perhaps outdated outlook on family structure, she because she genuinely saw her calling as being thus, utterly responsive to her children's needs.

It's been our practise when either of us goes away on vacation to ask the other to keep on eye on the owner-absent property, to remove evidence of the owner's absence, such as advertising flyers left in the mailbox, and to take rudimentary care of the gardens, to ensure that planters and beds don't dry out completely in summer heat. I have been grateful to her for her conscientious care in that regard, in our occasional absences, and have been more than willing to return the neighbourly favour.

I've had occasions to do likewise for many other neighbours during the lifelong course of our own various home ownerships. The current arrangement is simply yet another neighbourly courtesy long practised and appreciated. Besides which, I've always taken great pleasure in perusing others' gardening techniques and their generally pleasing results. I take pleasure in viewing not only our own gardens but those of others. And this particular neighbour's back garden has always been a source of particular delight - to her, above all, and to me by default of occasional caretaker.

She is a creative person with a talented aesthetic, and she has worked long, enthusiastic hours in creating a restful, beautiful space in the back of her home. She planted a plum tree, a Norway red maple, a Spruce, all grown now to shadeful maturity, and underplanted with various shrubs and colourful perennials. Her garden had the requisite shade for shade-loving plants, and more than adequate sun for its areas of sun-loving flowers and a good-sized vegetable plot. She imaginatively and successfully hung Victorian-inspired birdcages from tree branches, and placed mirrors in the most ingenious way to create a wonderful illusion of an expanded garden.

Things are not always as they seem. Although we occasionally invite one another to cross our respective property lines to share a momentary delight in a newly-discovered floral gem, it isn't quite the same thing as taking one's time to drink in the mystery and beauty of an unfamiliar garden at one's will. So when I ventured into my neighbour's garden behind her house a day following her departurethis summer I was shocked to discover a garden completely unfamiliar to me.

The once-charming garden had descended into the chaos of neglect; anarchy rules. The beds were unkempt, unloved, and weed-littered. Each clump of flowering perennials struggling to assert its place in the aggregate. Small containers of wan flowers hung listlessly in their spent soil. An overabundance of garden trinkets, large and small, hung forlornly from tree branches, and littered the now-overgrown spaces in the beds and borders. The grass was being consumed by an embarrassment of flowering clover, but much worse, Ajuga was thriving, driving out the grass, even in the middle of the lawn.

Sloppy bushes were crying helplessly for judicious trimming. Opening the gate leading to the back garden one encounters directly and must somehow pass through an arbour impossibly, thickly covered with Morning Glory vines, vines grasping out to clasp the unwary passer-through. At the back of the yard the vegetable patch looked as though the plants were in their last, gasping throes of life. She had told me, regretfully, that because neighbourhood cats were depositing in the soil of her garden she had planted her tomatoes in plastic pails, and the result had been less than illustrious. Now I could see for myself.

A once-loved garden, obviously given a spring-time boost with the planting of annuals here and there, sitting in dismal decay and neglect. The effect was sobering, off-putting and more than a little sad. For it isn't just the condition of a once-treasured garden, repository of gardening pleasures, ambitions, and pride. There is obviously much more here, for the garden is but a symptom.

What has happened to the light of garden happiness which always impelled my neighbour to bury herself in the trials and pleasures of gardening? What is what I have observed a symptom of?

Consultants, What Consultants?

What perspicacious, opportunity-grasping, self-affirming women can think of - it's quite simply amazing. These self-starters - the self-confidence they display is, quite simply, incredible. They have such faith in themselves. They offer up their expertise in such arcane, inherently-difficult matters to most mortals as making the most of one's life, selecting opportunities for enhancing one's lifestyle, recognizing things that matter and focussing on them, being a satisfied member of society.

People, it would seem, cannot find their way in life without the expert steering of one whose insightful abilities enable them to bring forth the right answers to all perplexing problems of the day. These are self-styled consultants, middle-class women who foresee a career for themselves in smoothing the way of life for those countless others who lack their sense of self-awareness, self-fulfilment, self-satisfaction.

Lifestyle enablers, self-styled consultants.

We are honoured to have on the street where we live, two such luminaries of the new culture, the new economy, the new society. One is a younger woman imbued with sufficient confidence to suit up a team of players. Her husband works as a leasing agent for a large automobile sales company and seems to do very well out of his vocation. Like her, he is engagingly pleasant, a large man with a cheerful personality. Even better he is one of those rare fellows: an uxorious man. His pride in his wife's spirit of enterprise, her obvious energy and enthusiasm is more than a trifle in evidence.

His wife bills herself, advertises her services as a Scrapbook Consultant. Someone of my age might very well not be aware what a Scrapbook Consultant does, and why anyone would wish to consult someone who advertises themselves to be a professional scrapbookist, but that's another story. Her services, which obviously many young women consider to be invaluable, are accessible to any ambitiously aimless young mothers whose dedication to the focus on family is sharpened to the extent of requiring continual consultations on exactly how one uses newly-minted commercial products designed to highlight family memories.

Traffic to and from her house is sufficiently steady to maintain her position as an independent businesswoman. She could not perform in this manner without the staunch support of her proud husband, for they are parents to three lovely young children; the youngest now emerging from infancy. He is as capable of performing the parenthood chores and duties as is his wife and he prides himself justifiably on his capabilities, taking over from her when required to ensure she has the freedom to attend meetings of other consultants, whether in town or out of town for relatively extended periods.

Is this not the best of all possible worlds for an ambitious young couple, completely devoted to one another and their young family, but determined also to make the most of self-realizing opportunities that society offers to the bold and adventurous? Mind, there was a time when friendship and slight social occasions were the order of the day, when women could rely on even casual friends to offer much-needed social and emotional support. The social syndrom continues, but has become a paid-for event.


Our other neighbour, a generation advanced from the young couple described above, styles and advertises her services as that of a Lifestyles Consultant. She advertises in the local newspaper, effusively and enthusiastically describing her professional abilities to make life's satisfactions infinitely more available to people desirous of her assistance in discovering how to achieve the things that matter in their lives. I recall years earlier that she operated through her home as a conduit for the purchase of kitchenwares.

This woman, whose husband appears to have a good solid job, and who is obviously benignly tolerant of his wife's business acumen, bears little physical resemblance to her younger neighbour. The older woman is overweight to the edge of morbidly obese, but she is possessed of an obviously sweet and generous temperament, certainly self-assured in her manner. Her husband appears to be a kind and genuinely nice person, generally fitting the description of good neighbours. They've an older boy, now attending university and a truly nicer young man, obviously well balanced, could not be found.

They also have a younger son, adopted as an infant, now 19 years of age, who hasn't the mental and physical faculties of his step-brother. This young man attends high school and comes replete with stories of discrimination against him by other students because of his lack of mental agility/ability. He has worked from time to time through the summer months at a local MacDonald's, doing clean-up work. He wanders the neighbourhood endlessly, looking for people to speak with, to chat with, to socialize with. He plays with neighbourhood children, when they're available, who are 8 years old, and older children pick on him.

We've learned over the years how to indicate to him that our conversation is coming to a close, we've other things to attend to, to take us out of the public sphere (in our garden) into the private, where other matters await our attention, and he understands, moving on. There is a family down the street with a six-year-old boy who no longer plays with the young man but whose parents are so consumed with fear and guilt over the young man that they cannot bring themselves to inform him that they would appreciate it if he would return home. He will actually stand in their driveway for hours at a time awaiting the opportunity when they return from elsewhere, when he is able to inveigle himself into their home, share their meals, sit watching television, disinterested in leaving.

Neither the young man's father nor his mother appear to concerned about his behaviour. It's rare that one sees his mother calling him to return home for dinner. If they're aware that he's has placed himself into the unwilling care of a neighbour they ask no questions, make no enquiries as to his whereabouts, nor do they recommend he be sent home, nor take steps to secure his presence at home. The young family of the young child described above, are at their wits' end, but refuse to hurt the young man's feelings.

The mother of this young man serenely continues to bill herself as a Lifestyle Consultant, and to render unto people who have somehow lost their way in this world, discretionary and highly privileged information on how to succeed in life, how to recognize opportunities, how to grasp the good things in life, and let go of those of questionable value.

We have much to learn from self-styled social consultants. This new economy of social charlatanry of a rather odious variety; augmenting a family income, enriching oneself at the expense of others' desires, needs for rudimentary companionships, urgent requirements to be part of a social community.

Where is the humanity in this human presence?

They're Baaack!

They've grown dreadfully shaggy, our two little dogs. A grooming lasts only a month or so, before they begin to look unkempt. They're Poodles, after all, a breed which has a habit of growing its hair forever and a day. Somewhat like we humans. They do not, as most other breeds do, lose their hair. Someone was once heard to muse that if a Poodle's hair was not cut, it would outgrow and overgrow the poor animal's ability to cope. I can believe it. I can hardly believe it's been just a month since last I took scissors to hand and snipped, snipped.

As I did this afternoon. Setting up shop under the shade of our large old pine tree in the front garden. Laying out a black cotton cape, left over from some unfortunate Hallowe'en-suited child skipping merrily from house to house shouting "trick or treat". We found the treat on the driveway the following morning, and have ever since used it for barbering. I seat myself on a comfortable pillow, turn first Button, then Riley, upside down before me and select one size scissors after another to pursue the task at hand. Rendering them presentable. For at least one day - two days at most.

And thus were we occupied this afternoon, when a cheerful little voice brought me to the reality that we were performing thusly in a very public, albeit privately-owned space. The oldest of the three little sisters newly moved into the house down the street stood by the curb before where we sat some twenty feet distant and enquired whether we'd like some company. Heaven forfend that I might insult a child by denying her wish to present herself for lively conversation while I am busy concentrating on a task as tedious and as wrought with danger as that upon which I was engaged.

She joined us, sat on the fresh green grass beside us, and chatted amiably, commenting on how well Button was behaving (Button, meanwhile, desperately hating her helpless situation, on her back between my outstretched legs, my arms reaching forward with scissors, snipping at her facial hair, fetching a tiny blunt-edged scissors to cut the hair inside her ears, and then really irritating her beyond comprehension by beginning to cut the wild puffs of hair between her foot pads. She lifts her head toward my hand and snaps, but without determining to make physical contact. I get the message, and deliver one to her: "be still!", and she subsides, only to rise again at another provocation.

Meanwhile, our audience widens, as two more little girls happen upon the scene, not realizing that this is really a torture contest between the human and the canine. They're incredulous that someone would be doing such a thing: wielding a scissors and snipping at the hair of a defenceless little dog. One of the girls ventures the opinion that the hair could be collected, and "something nice" could conceivably be made of it. Well yes, I tell her, it makes excellent compost, we can put it into the compost pile and it will deteriorate just like the kitchen waste does, and the end result will be rich compostable material for the garden.

She looks perplexed, somewhat deflated; not quite what she meant. I know what she meant, the dear child, for her youngest sister had had her long tangled locks cut not long ago, the hair earmarked for the shop of a dedicated wig-maker, the ensuing wig meant to cover the naked head of a child undergoing chemotherapy. These truly are dear, aware, sociable and sweet children, and I am fortunate beyond belief to be able to chat with them, to delve into their awareness of the world about them.

Well, finally, the last two little girls arrive, the two young girls who live side by side, one half the size of the other, although only two years separate them. And again I sigh: where were these girls, this richness of childhood when we were helping to raise our granddaughter up until a scant six months ago, when we dreamed what heaven it would be if only there were nearby neighbours with young girls with whom she could play?

Finally, after an hour or so, and both dogs' haircuts complete, we end the session with the girls chasing Button, trying to catch her and wrest her beloved ball away so they could throw it for her, and watch her retrieval, catching the ball in flight. This never fails to amaze them, they want to watch her spot-on performance time and again. But Riley is smaller and, they think, cuter, and all of them want to hold him. He's heavier than he looks, I tell them, but they don't believe me, until I lift him and settle him into their uncertain arms, one after another, while he looks at me desperately, begging for immediate rescue.

Later, when we're in the house, me in the kitchen preparing dinner, and he in the family room, reading, there is the doorbell, calling out for response. My husband goes out to speak with the two little girls standing excitedly on the porch, telling him they just had to share an adventure with him. They had just caught a frog in the backyard - and, they proudly tell him - we let him go! Wonderful says he, he'll be certain to tell me all about it.

Before they leave, he asks what colour it was. Green, he tells them, is the colour most frogs are, and they live in water. It's more likely, he says, that they encountered a toad, and that's good news, since we haven't seen many lately, as a result of too many people in the area using pesticides and herbicides on their lawns.

The little girls nod sagely, happily, and turn to leave, shouting over their shoulders that they'll see us again. Yes we've no doubt they most certainly will.

Katrina Redux

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences maintains an exhibit called "Climate Change Hits Home", featuring a giant satellite map of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Push a button and this interactive device gives you a simulated view of the region succumbing to three feet of sea-level rise. That rise has the effect of enveloping most of the District of Columbia, including 28,000 acres of the entire Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Water pours into the suburbs of Baltimore and Washington; tidal rivers throughout the Bay system swell into much larger, wider versions of their former states.

Moreover, a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates that hurricane wind speeds have doubled in the last 30 years. While 100-year-frequency systems of Category 4 and 5 storms have doubled in the same period, becoming in the process more than four times likely to occur in that same time frame according to experts at the University of Maryland. In other words North America, as well as other continents will become very familiar with the "New Orleans" syndrome, a not very pretty picture for the future.

The one-year anniversary of Katrina gives us a picture of the city of New Orleans that is pretty hard to digest. Very little of that city has been restored to its former, storied presence. While billions of dollars worth of financial assistance from the federal level has been earmarked to help in reconstruction, a year after that monumental disaster no great overall plans for the total rehabilitation of the city have been developed, nor construction undertaken.

In the year that elapsed between the U.S. and the rest of the world with it, watching in disbelief as levies and floodwalls collapsed to allow an incredible inundation of surging seawaters, the reconstruction effort has been largely limited to the determined work of the U.S. Corps of Engineers to repair that same massive levee system - to pre-Katrina levels. Which means that in its current strength the levees might withstand a Category 3 Hurricane.

Think about that in the context of what environmental scientists have been modelling as the future for floodplains and low-lying areas which host great swaths of civic infrastructure. At any given time logic has it that if one builds on a floodplain, it isn't great planning to begin with, and level heads will advise against so doing. Responsible municipal authorities should never grant permission to build structures in these areas, but they do. While at one time in recent history this was taking an hopeful gamble that nothing untoward would result, recent studies show us otherwise for the future.

In any event, in the case of New Orleans, a colourful, elderly extravagance of a metropolis the damage was certainly done long before municipal authorities had any opportunity to judge otherwise. One wonders why, however, understanding the tenuous nature of the city's placement sufficient care and appropriate funds were not allocated to protect the vulnerable city from what would eventually become the inevitable. The construction of mechanical seawalls would certainly have been a prohibitively expensive proposition, but consider how expensive this disaster was in human lives, civic infrastructure, and national economic losses relating to temporary oil shortages and future reconstruction.

Post-Katrina the people of New Orleans still suffer unimaginably, particularly the hitherto-hidden poor Black elements of the city. The once-vibrant world-class city may never completely recover its colourful character that made it world famous. A sizeable percentage of the original inhabitants of the city will never return, for there is nothing for them to return to; their homes, what is left of them, sit mouldering and are beyond redemption.

While the city has made a tremendous effort to return to its former glory, what has returned in spades is the incidence of crimes of looting, and a return to an unrestricted trade in illegal drugs, resulting in a battle between gangsters and dealers in an effort to re-establish territories and networks. Violent crime is right up there as a civic concern, and people are hesitant to return to the city for that reason, as well.

The people of New Orleans felt abandoned, completely on their own, struggling to survive as best they could, seeing nothing at all of a federal government presence in their dire need of immediate support. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, their own state government, and the governing body of New Orleans itself, made decisions based on poor judgement, illustrating just how unprepared all these levels of government were, despite that such a vicious weather event hitting the city was always on the horizon.

People are still wearily awaiting the long-promised, temporary home sites. When reconstruction begins in earnest people may be permitted to build once again in more vulnerable areas on the floodplain with the proviso that any such homes or buildings be built on stilts in the hopes that this tactic will suffice should the levees give way minimally in the future. Unfortunately, there are too many if, ands, and buts, and too little in the way of surveys resulting in concrete recovery plans for the near future.

As for the more distant future, as long as we're given the information by scientists who should know that:
"Every resident within shouting distance of an ocean will become a de facto New Orleanian...imagine a giant floodgate spanning New York Harbour, there to hold back the tsunami-like surge tide of the next great storm. Imagine most of Miami and much of San Francisco well below sea level, completely at the mercy of "trust-us-they'll-hold" levees maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of engineers.
Imagine all of this because, thanks to global warming, it's our future. Mountain glaciers are vanishing worldwide, sending meltwater into oceans that are themselves warming and expanding in volume. the resulting sea-level rise - up to three feet by 2100 and much more if the Greenland ice sheet melts - will bring the big Easy "bowl" effect to Miami, New York, Seattle, and Canadian coastal cities large and small.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

About Time - Isn't It?

Seeing is believing, but I'm still having problems believing that I'm seeing it. "It" being a news story by reporter Steven Erlanger, reporting out of Jerusalem. Evidently, a Hamas official has been severely critical of the collapse of civil life in Gaza. Ghazi Hamad, a former Hamas newspaper editor and spokesman for the current Hamas government wrote an article published in the Sunday edition of the Palestinian newspaper Al Ayyam.

In the article he points out that "Gaza is suffering under the yoke of anarchy and the swords of thugs". Really, he wrote that. We could say that, and believe it, and insist that it is the truth and nothing but the truth, but who would believe us? Here, a high-placed Hamas official writes just that and although it is true, undeniably, I'm still left wondering who will believe his words? Why is he so unfairly turning against the poor maltreated, misunderstood Palestinians?

Mr. Hamad handily points out that there was such great optimism (not in Israel, whose political commentators anticipated just what has occurred) when Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza a year ago (egad, was it really a year ago? can hardly believe it!). But, he wrote: "life became a nightmare and an intolerable burden". Yes, it would seem so. Instead of order there was chaos, instead of Palestinians working together to forge a decent society, there were gun-toting factions, destroying everything they could, including the potential for peace with their neighbour.

There was the incredibly stupid example of the greenhouses left intact in Gaza, paid for by American-Jewish philanthropists in the hopes that it would provide a growing agricultural industrial opportunity and jobs for Palestinians - and it was instead looted of everything that was required to keep it a going concern, despite that some Palestinians truly appreciated the opportunity and did their utmost to keep it intact and operational. Their efforts were for naught.

Still, one must give the man credit, for he deserves it. He has urged Palestinians to look to themselves for the causes of the instability, the lawlessness, the frailty of the future for themselves. They should stop blaming Israel endlessly for their own failings. In particular, said Mr. Hamad, the disorder in the Gaza Strip was the fault of the various armed militant groups operating there. And here's a nice little dig: he attributes them all to Fatah, white-washing his own party, Hamas.

He's right on target with this assertion, though: "We've all been attacked by the bacteria of stupidity. We have lost our sense of direction." Truer words, said the old gentlewoman, were never said. He actually pleads with the multivarious armed groups to "Please have mercy on Gaza. Have mercy on us from your demagogues, chaos, guns, thugs, infighting. Let Gaza breathe a bit. Let it live."

And even more amazingly, Mr. Hamad questioned the utility of firing rockets into Israel, attacks that cause few Israeli casualties directly (but plenty of angst, agitation and outright fear) but lead inexorably to Palestinian deaths when the Israelis retaliate. It's nothing short of amazing. He gets it! He understands the situation. He pinpoints with unerring accuracy the source of the misery, conflict and unutterable hardships visited upon the Palestinian people.

Go one difficult step further, Mr. Hamad, denounce Hamas's stated intent to push Israel off the map of the Middle East, encourage your party to accept the State of Israel as an equal in the region, and do your utmost to reach a concensus, then prepare yourselves for a state of eternal peace with a neighbour.

The State of the World

This one is writ in black. The state of the world. Likely the world is always in a state of disarray, flux, war, but somehow it seems that of late we've become more frenzied in either our participation in such untoward events, or our willingness to publish their ubiquitous presence in all corners of the world. One reads endless reportage, some trifling, most perplexing, all troubling in the extremes of their nature. But read them we must, to remain informed.

Must we not? Were we not to read of these events happening throughout the world, and whose collective purport is enough to drive anyone half crazy would we not be ignorant clods? Are ignorant clods, innocent of the knowledge of natural disasters, ongoing wars, all manner of dire threats to societies happy people? Must one be ignorant to be happy? Heaven forfend.
  • It's hurricane season again. Tropical storms in alphabetical nomenclature, are posing ever more serious threats to human habitation, and in the process human sanity. Ernesto hit one of the poorest countries in the Americas with predictable results, killing several people and flooding out thousands in Haiti, then went on to eastern Cuba with hurricane-strength winds doing its utmost to make everyone terrified and dreadfully unhappy.
  • At Cape Canaveral, space shuttle Atlantis didn't see liftoff, delayed because of a week-end lightning storm, then was delayed again because of the onset of Ernesto.
  • Another space cookie, John Mark Karr, was cleared of the decade-old, as-yet-unsolved murder of a minuscule model; despite his proud declaration of accidently killing the 6-year-old child he was subsequently cleared by order of DNA sampling.
  • Iran has delivered due warning to its female citizenry to cover up decently in public for police there will no longer turn a blind eye to women wearing the flimsiest of veils or displaying painted toenails in open sandals. Thousands of women are being stopped, scolded and warned daily. Implementation of strict Islamic codes have been increased under Iran's President AhMADinejad.
  • In an article on Islamists headlined "Kashmir on the Thames", the New Republic has painted Britain's Muslim communities as a breeding ground for violent extremism, thus declaring Britain as posing the "biggest threat to U.S. security".
  • UNESCO, the UN organization that oversees 830 World Heritage sites has red-flagged its concerns about mining and other potentially disruptive activities near the world-famed Nahanni and rocky Mountain national parks in Canada.
  • Bomb blasts in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul and the coastal resort of Marmaris injured 27 people. A Kurdish rebel group believed to be linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party said yesterday it carried out those attacks.
  • Israeli foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, visiting Berlin, urged world leaders to confront the threat posed by Iran, saying the Islamic Republic is trying to buy time to build a nuclear weapon. The United States has raised the prospect of unilateral sanctions against Tehran if the Security Council fails to agree.
  • Commenting after the fall-out of the Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, Khalil Bou Azzedine, a Lebanese Druze who runs a dry-goods shop in the mountain town of Bakleen said: "We are different. We like life. We like to educate our kids. We like to grow old. Hezbollah loves death."
  • U.S. Senator Barack Obama, visiting his native Kenya, lamented studies that indicate corruption to be the largest obstacle to investment and a major complaint of Kenyan citizens in their daily lives, which has nefarious consequences for human rights and health.
  • The Sudanese government is ignoring U.S. and UN pressure to accept UN troops in Darfur, as the UN Security Council debated quelling violence in Sudan's western region. Seems it's quite all right with the Sudanese government that its Black Muslim population continues to be murdered at an unbelievable rate; they'll straighten things out themselves, and they definitely do not want the deployment of UN peacekeepers to the region. Infringement of sovereignty.
  • A suicide blast tore through a crowded bazaar in Lakshar Gah, southern Afghanistan, killing 17 people and wounding nearly 50. Witnesses said a man with bombs strapped to his body grabbed Khan Mohammad, a prominent businessman and former police chief, and detonated the explosives.
  • Sri Lanka's Liberation tigers of Tamil Eelam said at least 20 civilians were killed and 26 wounded in air force raids yesterday in the island's east, as the army launched a new push into Tiger territory. Eight soldiers were killed and 28 wounded during the fighting to take rebel-held villages. Hundreds of people have been killed in violence this month.
  • Somalia's powerful Islamists have sent a high-level delegation to meet the interim government at talks intended to defuse tensions between the two sides vying for authority in the lawless nation.
  • Ahmed Sheikh, editor-in-chief of al-Jazeera television ruminated in an interview that: "five years after the 9/11 anniversary the Arab world is much more divided than it used to be. the image of Islam has been tarnished to a great extent. We are weaker than we used to be against Israel. Development is absent." Jihadist battles have actually produced what the arabs call "fitna", or self-destructive internal strife.
  • Mike Tidwell, director of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council states that for every emergency preparedness oficial whose hair has turned white praying for good luck, global warming represents a state of permanent misfortune. With three feet of sea-level rise, we are in essence creating permanent high-tide conditions in the D.C. region and everywhere else in North America, guaranteeing that even Category 2 storms like Gloria will become surge-tide heavyweights.
  • In Ecuador a simple funeral was held yesterday for Maria Esther de Capovilla, the oldest person on earth according to Guinness World Records. She died of pneumonia Sunday at the age of 116. Shortly before she died, her granddaughte said, she kept repeating, "I want to be young again".
On the good news side (you really need this now, don't you?) nutrition science is telling us that all manner of berries, tomatoes, corn, peaches and plums to name but a few, are chock full of nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre. their phytochemicals - the disease-fighting compounds - are now at the centre of much research.

The significance of this, in case you missed it, is that if we survive massive flooding, nuclear detonations, all-out war, we can lengthen our life spans by eating healthily. Go to it.

The Designated Adult

Why am I surprised. I am surprised. I am not surprised. Am I ambivalent? No matter. Little girls simply should not hie themselves off unescorted by older children or the company of at least one adult, to areas where no one can come to their aid if needed.

I did, as a child, accepting an invitation from another child to embark on a bold adventure where we walked, and we walked and we walked for miles in a downtown city concrete landscape until we came to a train marshalling yard. It was huge, utterly foreign to my hitherto-life's experiences, and raw, dirty and noisome in the extreme. Scary, is the word children would use. Needless to say we had been gone for hours, leaving our parents frantic to know exactly where it was we had absented ourselves to. I don't recall who found us or how we were discovered, and reunited with our worried, scolding parents, but it certainly was an adventure. A day later, older and wiser, I would not so readily have assented to accompany anyone to anything resembling an adventure of that type.

That was then, this is now. It's entirely possible that danger lurked everywhere fifty, sixty years ago, and young children were abducted never to be seen again, or murdered, or nothing at all happened to them other than sore feet and a sore backside, suffering huge bear hugs of relief at their safe return alternating with frustrated slaps on their little adventurous arses. I was myself vigilant with our three children when they were young and accompanied them everywhere while they were young, but didn't suffer quite the agonies of suspicion and fear, I'm sure, that parents of today must undergo.

On the other hand, communications are not now what they were then. We hardly knew of such events, and if we did, considered them to be horrible aberrations in the societal mainstream of trust and security. Now everything is reported, any kind of mishap, scandal, accident and misadventure. People read about such things with omniverous fervour, whether to frighten themselves into ever greater vigilance, or to congratulate themselves that they had, thus far, managed to ensure no such misadventure befell them or their loved ones.

Where was I? Oh yes, I was surprised. We were relaxing, just before dinner, reading the newspapers, when the doorbell rang and our little dogs sprang into action, defending home and hearth. Our front door is fully glassed so even before I opened it I could see there was a delegation awaiting outside on the porch. A cheery, insouciant delegation of four little girls; one sucking on an elongated ice cube, the other three eating luscious-looking peaches. In between slurps and bites they chirped how much they liked the flowers in the garden.

Fatty rascoon had slipped out the door in my wake and had instantly turned upside down the better for the little girls to descend upon him, oohing and ahhing, and stroking his fat little belly. And then, they stood up straight and stalwart before me and asked the question of the day: Would you come with us to the ravine? Aha! Would I! Not. Though I found their blandishments irresistible, I also found it in me to remain sturdily resistible. Designated adult?

I iterated and reiterated. Still wearing flip-flops, thinking of going through the ravine with those? Can't run in flip-flops! Remember what I told you yesterday: shouldn't go anywhere as remote to human habitation as the ravine without either an adult or a semi-adult leading the pack. Obviously: that's why they've asked you, dimwit. Um, we'd already been, quite a bit earlier in the day, so no, it wouldn't be convenient for me to accompany them, particularly since it was edging up to five, and the little dogs needed their dinner, and I had to begin preparing ours.

Each of the girls in turn solemnly informed me what time they had dinner. The tiniest, at 6 years of age, small for her age, confided that her father and her mother both have told her that she is not to go to the ravine without the presence of an adult or a teen-ager. Yes, chimed in the second-youngest friend. The two other girls, sisters, wore that look of preternatural knowingness, nodding their heads in agreement, but between them a message unspoken that adults were to be politely listened to, but no one is the boss of them!

It's these last few days before the start of school, and everyone seems to be waiting for something significant to happen; reality is in abeyance.

Toss those peach cores under the large leaves of the plantain lilies in the garden, I tell them, it makes for compost and it's good for the garden - as they stood there, holding those naked little leftovers. Happy to oblige, I tell them that the flowers will find the leftovers as delectable as they had found the fruit, and because of that they will bloom happily and beautifully, eliciting a laugh of appreciation, a veritable chorus.

They turn to leave, wave happily back at me, tell me they'll see me again soon. They will, I'm sure.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Life's Like That

For nine years we looked after our granddaughter, from the time she was six months old to nine-and-a-half years of age. Easy it was not. We found ourselves doing things we had already done, raising three children of our own, but when we were young and willing and able. We were still willing and able, but we most certainly were not young when we set out on this additional child-raising venture when we were 60. Dealing with the needs of an infant was difficult, and no less difficult when she became a toddler. We loved her dearly as we do now, but she was possessed of a stubborn temperament inherited from her own mother.

Little did I realize that I would go through this process twice, for I distinctly recall the difficulties I faced as a young mother raising our middle child, a girl, sandwiched between two boys whose temperaments were diametrically opposed to hers. I suppose I should be grateful that all three children didn't pose equal difficulties, but at the time I wondered why she was so difficult to please, why her happiness was so fleeting, why she seemed so inclined to rail against life.

I hoped, needless to say, that her daughter would be different in that sense. I could never criticize my daughter for lack of intelligence, of creative drive, of openness to communication with others; nor can I this time around find criticism of her daughter's sterling attributes of which there are, like her mother, many and varied. All this for the purpose of developing background for the difficulties in offering emotional and practical support, for the demands inherent in ensuring that a young child becomes socialized, has the opportunities needed to find her way amongst others of her age.

We did our part in attempting to instil a sense of personal responsibility, discipline, love of life and adventure, into this second child as we did with the first. Reading appropriate child-centered books was always a priority, taking them to various venues of entertainment and learning experiences such as science museums, galleries, playgrounds was another. We become intimately acquainted with all the many parks in our close neighbourhood, along with the other mothers and caregivers and their charges.

We did whatever we could to enrich her learning experiences, taking her to organized play groups, enrolling her in a pre-school and then volunteering there to enrich the process. She was enrolled at a local community arena, and given swimming lessons, we enrolled her in acrobatic classes (which she detested), in pottery-making (which was fun), but she adamantly refused to go to summer camp of any kind, so we were left to fill in the summer months once she became of school age, and filled in time day hiking, canoeing, picnicking, visiting area attractions.

Above all, I wished, desperately, that there were children on the street where we live of her age and her gender with whom she might find companionship, and this simply did not materialize. Yes, the neighbours on one side had a boy and a girl, but the girl was 5 years older than our granddaughter, and the boy, a mere year older, was a serious study in future thuggery and couldn't be trusted with her. Yes, the neighbours on the other side had a boy and a girl but they were even older than the others, albeit infinitely friendlier.

Finally, now that our granddaughter has moved with her mother to another area sufficiently distant from where we live that it is no longer practical, let alone feasible, that she be left in our care. Need I go on to explain that a year ago a family moved in down the street with a girl and a boy, and for a fleetingly brief time our granddaughter had a play companion in the little girl, before moving? And then another family with a young boy and girl moved in next to this first little girl. Finally, directly across from the two new families a third moved in with no fewer than three little girls ranging in age from 5 to 10.

The little girls have become friends with one another, and they have befriended us too, me and my husband, closing in on 70 years of age. The little girls of the newest family love to espie us out in the front garden and skip over to chat and follow us about. They inherited some of the stuffed animals and books that our granddaughter decided to leave behind. They've had a tour of our house and ask repeatedly if we can repeat the tour. I took photographs of two of the little girls, standing in our library.

Today, three-quarters of the way through our daily ramble in the ravine accessed at the top of our street, we heard young voices from a nearby intersecting trail, and soon made out a group of colourfully-clad little girls. One called out to us and we realized it was a group of the little girls from our street. They asked to join us and we agreed, and all of us walked through the remainder of the circuit, in the process teaching the children this particular trail.

They agreed when I suggested that any future such walks would be far more comfortable for them if they eschewed flip-flops for firmer, fitted shoes. We wondered between us, me and my husband, why five little girls from three separate families, all under age 9 were allowed to wander in the ravine unsupervised, and tried to explain to them that it would be a good idea if they always remembered, if they were planning to go into the ravine, to go as a group, never singly, or even just two of them, alone together.

Parents are busy, but among the three homes surely one parent could have spared an hour, or might have delegated the chaperoning to an older, capable child. It's that kind of world. Talking about it later, we agreed between us, me and my husband, that things are not now as they were fifty years ago when it was deemed safe to permit young children to wander at will.

He suggested that perhaps we're a trifle over-protective. It's possible.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Agility Trials!

What to do when you're a little girl and you're bored. None of your friends are around, and it's a really nice day. You could read a book. You could play a game of some kind, oops best done with at least one other. You could use that neat walkie-talkie set you got as gift last year, gee that's a lot of fun with friends, not so good used by yourself. Um, you could ride your bicycle; well, there's lots of room to ride it around the property, but Mom won't let you venture onto the road with it.

Wow, look at all those dogs. Living with them day by day you so take them for granted. On the other hand, yesterday when your friends Jade and Faith were over didn't you have so much fun all of you, teaching the dogs to jump hurdles? Wasn't it a gas? Didn't all of you laugh until you had to stop because your stomaches started to ache? The dogs are still there, although your friends aren't over today, so do a repeat, right?

It's true not all of the dogs are fodder for this kind of thing, as you've discovered. It would seem that the two Pomeranians, Zoe, the 16-pounder, and Jakie, the 3-1/2-pounder seem to take to it most naturally, seem pleased to be included in the grand event, really lend themselves to the fun of it all. You've just got to decide who to pair up with first, one or the other: make up your mind?

All right, get Jakie's harness, put it on. Properly, please. Cripes! his legs aren't in properly. Give it another try. All right, that's a whole lot better. Just wait here, please, Jakie. Now go on into the garage and fetch two of those dark green milk crates, and set them up. Back into the garage again and bring back some spare garden stakes, and stick them into the sides of the crates, there, that's about the right height.

Get the short leash, plug it into the harness on Jakie, and off we go! Look Bubbe, look at me, look at Jakie. And let's give it a try with Zoe, Jakie's getting kind of tired. Don't forget to praise them for their wonderful co-operation and terrific skills as soon as they perform, now. Let them become aware that you're pleased with them, that you appreciate what they're doing.

That's our girl!

Antique Grubbing

Once bitten by that particular bug there is no surcease, never any relief, the search goes on. Occasionally met with success, more often not. Of course if one is blessed (or cursed as the case may be; you may be prepared to shell out big for objects of great beauty and originality but having done so this does not guarantee authenticity, just ask those stung by criminal collaboration of "innocent" dealers of great repute) with great gobs of cash, the wherewithal to acquire becomes extremely enabling. On the other hand, as a member of the great unwashed (all right, nicely washed but of middle-class economy-class) the search is the thing. "You never know" becomes the mantra of the ever-hopeful.

And guess what? You never know, truly, when you may just serendipidously come across an object of great value to you. Answering to your aesthetic, your deep and abiding interest in perhaps one particular avenue of the densely-populated roadmap of what is Antique Alley. Your interest may have been piqued, innocently enough, coming across a modest little 19th century painting whose quaintness in expression particularly appealed, and you bought it. Treasured it, hung it conspicuously in your home to be regarded at intervals, appreciated and never found wanting.

In which case, what are the odds you may find another? And another? Why stop there? Go on from appreciating 19th century landscapes to similarly-aged porcelains, or furniture, or sculptures; marble, bronze. All of these acquisitions would certainly make a statement would they not? Their polished age and beauty of execution, originality (or not) of realization would add greatly to the pleasure you take in observing items of great merit - and you own them, personally.

So it is that the seasoned antique hunter never fails to respond to the lure of the potential. While wearily acknowledging that most "antique shows" and "antique sales" are rarely that unless they're of a rather rarified type appealing to the comfortably-cashed elite. At the antique shows readily available to the public-at-large one is more likely to come across junk better suited to second-hand shops and even curbside awaiting garbage pick-up.

Never deterred, the die-hard antique hunter keeps searching. Bearing in mind as he/she does that others, perhaps among them genuine antique dealers have in all likelihood already trolled the offerings. But - one never knows. And never knowing one never gives up hope that someone may have overlooked an item of great merit and beauty and you will be the fortunate one who will inherit it. Of course, through a painful cash transaction.

So it was that yesterday since it was such a nice cool, sunny yet breezy day and we'd already had our morning commune with nature, that we decided to drive the sixty miles to the Jewel of the Rideau for their annual summer antique show. The Jewel of the Rideau (river) is a 19th century canal town transformed into a 20th century tourist town, named Merrickville. And indeed, it is a pretty place, within the precinct of the Rideau Canal, with its own locks, river-side park, and 19th century stone buildings now posing as hotels, restaurants, communal artist colonies, handicraft purveyors, and antique shops.

The antique show is always held in the community's fairgrounds, a nice enough venue. With the added allure of nearby train tracks so that now and again a ghostly whistle from the past is heard drifting on the air as a train on its regular run moves on. There is a low-rise outbuilding where some of the purveyors of questionable antiques pay slightly more to set up and at times items on the edge of collectables/antiques can be seen. Rarely any items of great value, but then again, who knows?

We considered the fact that it has been years since we were tempted by any single item set out on display for sale at this venue, but then that old mantra comes up: "you never know". We enjoyed the drive down there, passing nice little Ontario towns on the way, marvelling at the extent of new subdivisions popping up everywhere, bringing with them retail outlets as never before.

Ah, the offerings! What a splendid display. It becomes more and more obvious that thanks to the televised, ubiquitous Antique Road Show segments would-be dealers feel they have exercised priceless judgement in obtaining truly antique objects for which they are justified in asking an arm and a leg. Speaking of which, one item in particular stood out among the trash: legs of a tired old table, jointed together sans top, the wood of which looked as though it had been frozen, charred, scraped and tossed innumerable times - yours for the unprincely sum of $45.

Memorabilia, collectibles, bits and pieces of someone's disposable life at one time or another over the past fifty years. Disposable trash, objects the purpose of which is transitory display or entertainment, made of the shoddiest material known to clever entrepreneurs. Objects completely lacking in any manner of design, beauty, even functionality. The meanest of materials, the worst possible construction. Objects which even in their day utterly lacked grace and form. Yet they are priced, incredibly, as though these are items of value. What's that old P.T. Barnum saying?

Take your pick; they're yours for the asking - or rather the transfer of cash.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The UN Condemns

That bastion of human rights, that world-assembly of diplomats and functionaries dedicated to the betterment of mankind in our so imperfect world has pinpointed the agent responsible for unmitigated carnage and has condemned its inexcusable behaviour. Israel, seeking to protect itself from the deadly assaults of its eternally unfriendly neighbours is guilty of mass murder on a grand scale, of undeniable civic infrastructure destruction leaving a country reeling and in ruin.

No mention of the huge population of Israelis living in northern Israel who had to be evacuated, who were left homeless, who spent the duration of the war in underground shelters, nor those Israelis, both Jewish and Arab who lost their lives in rocket attacks, nor mention of the loss of huge swaths of acreage burned to a crisp, forests which had taken generations to grow and prosper, nor hospitals, schools, civic buildings, homes destroyed in rocket attacks.

Lebanon, in its helpless misery calls to the world for assistance, for funds for reconstruction, and the world responds, the United Nations hears and heeds. This same Lebanon which claims it had no hand in assaulting Israel, yet which refuses to repudiate the agent which did, the Islamist Hand of God Jew-haters, and which refuses also to agree to try to disarm that very entity which caused its current plight.

Israel, defending itself as best it can, taking steps to protect its vulnerable population surrounded by states disinterested in living in peace, some dedicated utterly to its ultimate destruction, is left to fend for itself. Israel will be taxed internally with raising needed funds for reconstruction, for assisting those left homeless, for Israel knows that to look elsewhere than within itself and its diaspora is futile.

Is this a world turned upside-down, inside-out, tangled in its apprehensions, incapable of recognizing reality, driven by credulous stupidity, totally disinterested in what is truly happening in the world all of humankind inhabits? It must be, it truly must be.

The government of Sudan is still aiding and abetting, some would state with conviction even initiated a genocide against its black Muslim population. Despite the fact that over three hundred thousand people have been murdered by Arab horsemen (Janjaweed) unleashed on poor black farmers by the Sudanese government, that over two million people are homeless, that thousands upon thousands of women and children have been raped, nothing has been done to stop the misery, the carnage.

Time and again world opinion has turned with brief concern to the situation and expressed its outrage. Time and again the United Nations has politely asked the Sudanese government to kindly do something to halt the murders, displacements, rapes. A tentative peace agreement was signed months ago, but never implemented. The Africa Union peacekeepers put in place to oversee the situation and attempt to ameliorate it, admits it is inadequately funded, armed, and prepared, and has asked the United Nations to intervene with a UN-mandated force.
Instead, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the Sudanese president insists Khartoum should be allowed to settle the Darfur crisis on its own. In the letter sent to the UN Security Council, Mr. Bashir urged the Security Council "to be patient and not to be in a hurry to adopt a new resolution [on Darfur], and to allow the government of Sudan to resolve hesitation and to concentrate on implementing the [Darfur] peace agreement...and to provide support to the forces of the African Union".
Is this to be believed? A disaster of such huge proportions, the suffering of untold thousands, millions of poor black farmers, and nothing is done, mere words being mouthed time and again, and Sudan insisting on its right to settle such internal matters as and when it sees fit. Where are the words of astouned condemnation from human rights groups? Where is the righteous indignation and brave determination of the United Nations?

Even in the camps set up to assist, support and protect the millions of refugees their enemies breach the barriers and continue assaulting and raping women and girls. In recent weeks nine humanitarian aid workers and two African Union peacekeepers have been killed. Aid organizations are planning to withdraw from the area in justifiable fear for their workers' lives.

Britain and the United States have been insisting that the United Nations send up to 18,000 UN peacekeepers to Darfur, presenting a draft resolution toward that end. And while the Security Council held closed-door talks on that draft, Sudan declined an "invitation" to send high level officials to the deliberations due to resume next week in New York.

In all of this where is the compassion of other Muslim countries? Where are their outcries, their protests against the murderous regime which has been practising its version of genocide against a helpless population? Why is the United Nations, in this particular instance, so loath to act with deliberation and forcefulness?

Might it be that in condemning Israel it is assured that Israel, though fighting a war it did not start, has taken steps to try to limit as much as possible the deaths that result from its attacks, and it takes seriously the censure of outsiders, while at the same time resolving to look after its own interests, knowing no one else will.

Might it be that in condemning Sudan, a Muslim country acting with complete disregard for humanity and clear impunity as it cannot take seriously any condemnation by an outside entity calling on it to express human compassion for others, the United Nations knows it will be ignored.

This is the kind of double standard that does no one any good, least of all an organization whose purpose is to treat all with complete neutrality in the expectation that its intervention in instances of dire necessity will be respected and honoured.

Disarming (clever) Hezbollah

Why speak of disarming Hezbollah? It should be clear to anyone with half a brain that they're already more than slightly disarming. They were, after all, right up on their public relations techniques during their rocket assaults on Israel designed to ensure that Israel's return fire would target the civilians they so handily hid behind, and then pointing outraged blame on Israel, weren't they? Didn't the international corps of reporters-from-the-war-zone fall all over themselves to file stories of Israeli atrocities? Didn't the news photographers lend themselves ever so willingly to the clever wiles of Hezbollah?

Hey, we ain't seen nothing. There's a new tack, and it's proving to be highly successful. Terrorists? What terrorists? These are freedom fighters. They must be, because they are the Party of God, and you can be assured that God would never lend his hallowed name (think of his shattered reputation) to a group that did not truly represent him, right? So here is this Party of God, doing the will of the Grand Master of the Universe, which is to expunge from the earth all beings claiming to be of Jewish heritage.

They're doing God's will, they cannot be wrong, they are mere messengers, the Party of God. If God demands it, they obey. Now, apparently, the Party of God feels it is finished for the time being with slandering and murdering Jews and more particularly at the moment, Israelis (Israeli Jews by intent, Israeli Arabs by default). The attention swivels from the evil Israeli agents who but do the work of their Satanic master, the United States as the fount of all evil.

Hezbollah has been falling all over themselves persuading the Lebanese population that the war which they perpetrated upon said population was for their own good, for the liberation of Lebanon from the evil tentacles of Israel. Not Iran, not Syria, but Israel which has no interest whatever in Lebanon but for it to sit still and behave itself. To that end, they grandly hand out gobs of cash (U.S. of course) to those whom they have deprived of their homes, businesses, belongings. I haven't yet read what a life is worth in cash (U.S. of course).

And Hezbollah's vaunted building crews are out there with bulldozers and cranes demolishing the already-destroyed, working to restore homes they so diligently engineered to be bombed, with or without residents. Civic centres, clinics, schools will be re-built by Hezbollah, which non-terrorist group has taken steps to forestall aid attempts by international organizations, telling them to get lost. After all, if any others than Hezbollah are seen to be doing the restorative work, who will the credit go to?

Hezbollah is also busy with tourism, which has suffered such a great blow in Lebanon. At the site of Haret Hreik, in the heart of Beirut, where Hezbollah's headquarters stood along with a dense population of Shia Muslims loyal to Hezbollah, they have set up a tourist attraction - guiding choreographed tours through the ruins they created. These excursions host the bulk of the international press corps, and they are led by Hezbollah public relation spokesman Hussein Haboulsi who hysterically shrieks blame on Israel/U.S.A.

As the press, both print and electronic, TV anchors, photographers, are led on this tour, every now and then a distraught man pops out from a destroyed building to scream his rage at what has befallen his home. Now, Hezbollah focuses blame directly on the United States - Israel being portrayed as a puppet - for to do otherwise would be once again to have someone indelicate enough to remind Hezbollah that Israel fought a war that Hezbollah began.

The detritus from the mangled concrete pushed into place by busy backhoes now host signs reading variously: "New Middle Beast", "The Divine Victory", "Made in U.S.A.", and lest one doubts the extent of Hezbollah's commitment to public relations, in small letters below the outraged captions one reads "trademark"; not to infringe, pray. This helpful distraction, compelling "tourists" to confront the carnage wrought by Israel/America is useful in assisting the public to overlook the $230M U.S. in aid for reconstruction from America.
"We've been broadcasting live from here all day, from ten in the morning until three," said Ahmed Naeem, the Hezbollah functionary in charge, with pride. "We had everyone! NGOs, ambassadors, even the Turkish foreign Minister."
Reporter Annia Ciezadlo, a Beirut-based writer for the New Republic went to search out Hezbollah's graphics unit, curious to see where all the colourful signs were being produced. She discovered a virtual army of graphic artists, sitting around, relaxing, while a team of young men passed out posters. She asked one of the designers why so many of the signs are in English, and he replied: "It's normal for them to be in several different languages, because there are foreign journalists here, asking questions," he replied. "People are receptive - especially Made in U.S.A."

Obviously, nothing succeeds like excess in brazen chutzpah.

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