Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Moral Imperative

I want to see "An Inconvenient Truth". I read a review of it in "Wired" magazine's July 2006 issue that firmly states, "You and your 10,000 best friends should see this movie." It's a film adaptation of a slide show that Al Gore has been presenting here, there and everywhere on the subject of global warming.
In his review, Wired's Lawrence Lessig quotes Gore as saying that an inconvenient truth is one we "hold at arm's length because if we acknowledge it and recognize it, then the moral imperative to make big changes is inescapable." Gore's film looks at global warming, but the feeling suggested to me by that quote would seem to be a one-size-fits-all description of many a situation that needs action. Taking action is most often eschewed, especially if it means putting out an effort that would require upsetting even the tiniest detail of one's own personal little journey along life's pathways. Certainly, that quote perfectly sums up the attitudinal brick walls surrounding racism and bullying, against which I bashed my head over and over again during my years in education.
I have the impression that this film could serve as an eye-opener. Obviously, the U.S. government is concerned about it doing just that. Otherwise, why would they waste their time issuing rebuttal-style statements. Why bother denying the patently untrue? Gore is right to categorize this as an issue of morals, but it is a truth that will be acted on only if people are willing to listen and believe. In order to have that state of affairs prevail, more people need to be made aware of the practice of guiding public perception as engaged in by big business. More people need to question if their governments have already been signed on the multinationals' payroll.
Remember the Pacific Gas & Electric cover-up of hexavalent chromium dumped by them into groundwater? You might have heard of that because of the film "Erin Brockovich" Maybe Julia Roberts' portrayal of the lead character made the story behind the film seem like just so much Hollywood, but the real character saw an injustice and felt a moral imperative to get involved. Her pursuit of right led to the biggest settlement paid in a direct-action lawsuit in U. S. history. Big Business never pays out such amounts unless the cover is blown off of some inconvenient truth.
Brockovich discovered the truth behind the company's manipulation of the truth. The health of PG&E's wallet depended upon the people they were victimizing not realizing that their health was willfully being compromised. The company publicly declared that, yes, they were releasing chromium into the water system, but told the locals not to worry since chromium is used in many multivitamins. They actually suggested thereby that the chromium was good for the people drinking the water. What they purposefully omitted from their "disclosure" was the fact that there was more than one form of this substance and that the one in their effluence was one linked to cancers, birth defects, and organ failure. Lessig says Gore makes great use of a paraphrased quote from Upton Sinclair, when he talks about corporate interests "depend on the public's not understanding" the facts. He's right.
To make sure the public stays blissfully unaware, big business hires spin doctors and pays them mega-bucks to ensure that non-questioning public acceptance of their actions continues. The bonuses roll in when the spin is laid on just right, and the public is persuaded to believe that the actions being taken are to further the good of ... (fill in the blank). Celestial choirs intoning the praise of whatever corporation is in question are what they want the viewer to see. How many versions of this emperor's clothes scenario must play out before people finally begin to question? If you're becoming a little suspicious of who's paying the choirmaster, you might find some disturbing answers in "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man". The jacket promises you "real-life details - nasty, manipulative, plain evil - of international corporate skullduggery" and comes through with them in spades. Written by John Perkins, himself a former economic hit man, the book exposes the tricks of the trade used by such men and women to "cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars."
The name of the game Perkins was involved in is to convince developing countries to accept huge loans for various "development" projects, like the upgrading of their electricity grid, and insisting the borrowers hire U.S. expertise to do the work. This little move means the loan dollars are really never even leaving the country, but they serve to indebt those on the other side of the deal. Of course, since the countries are most often unable to repay the loan, the requisite "pound of flesh" is then taken from them, in the form of guaranteed, privileged access to coveted resources. This in turn pushes the people of the indebted country further and further into grinding poverty and hopelessness. "They will have to allow our corporations to ravage their natural resources and will have to forego education, health, and other social services merely to pay us back." Perkins declares that the ruin visited on these LDC's (less developed countries) is of no concern to the "corporatocracy" (corporations, banks, and governments, collectively) who take their profits and share them out among those perched at the top of the economic pyramid. They see no moral imperative to change the situation.
The author claims to have been troubled by misgivings about his actions from the get-go, but says he took refuge from his troublesome conscience by telling himself that he was "doing the right thing in the eyes of (his) culture), and thinking of himself as "a Merlin who could wave his wand over a country, causing it suddenly to light up, industries sprouting like flowers". Now he looks to his book to be his redemption, after his years of facilitating the greed and corruption rampant in corporate America.
Perkins details several deals in which he played a role, like the one in Jakarta. When he arrived, he was housed in a luxury hotel, but it did not prevent him from witnessing the "ugly, tragic side of the city". He talks about looking out of the window of an office and watching the scene at a canal where a young woman draped in a sarong was washing herself while an older man defecated in the water not far from her. While this was going on, the boss was trotting out the justification for the evil deal they were about to strike. Admonishing Perkins to get the Indonesians to sign the deal, the boss said, "You don't want the blood of Indonesian children - or our own - on your hands. You don't want them to live under the ... Red Flag of China."
Indeed. How much better for them to be impossibly indebted to capitalism. Not much later, Perkins found himself in the company of a young woman who told him, "Stop being so greedy and so selfish. People are starving and you worry about oil for your cars. Babies are dying of thirst and you search the fashion magazines for the latest styles. Nations like ours are drowning in poverty, but your people don't even hear our cries for help. You shut your ears to the voices of those who try to tell you these things.. You label them radicals or communists. ... There's not much time left. If you don't change, you're doomed."
This impassioned speech; the old man who told Perkins, "You have sold your soul to the devil.", the sights of unalleviated poverty all around the projects he took part in; his fear for his own daughter living in "a time of terrible crisis"; all of this finally brought the author to the point where he decided to tell his own inconvenient truth. It all brought him to question whether foreign aid is ever altruistic, and if that could ever be changed. He feels sure that the U.S. and other DC's (developed countries, in World Bank jargon) can take decisive action to help the less privileged of the world, but he doubts that such help is ever "the prime motivation" for foreign aid. He questions why we should want the LDC's to emulate our society with the stats that we have on violence, depression, drug abuse, divorce and crime.
He raises a very good question when he asks if anyone in the western world can actually declare themselves innocent by hiding behind an ignorance of the devastation being visited on the LDC's. After all, we all know about the starving babies. Talking about the dirty dealing going on, Perkins asks, "Does the excuse that most ... are unaware of this constitute innocence? Uninformed and intentionally misinformed, yes - but innocent?" Before you begin to splutter in protest, remember that it would not be the only situation where claimed ignorance is not a defense. In our own courts, ignorance of a law will not help anyone to establish innocence.
There is no let-up in Perkins recitation of indictments against our way of life. "The income ratio of the one-fifth of the world's population in the wealthiest countries to the one-fifth in the poorest went from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1995" he informs his readers, and then lets them know that the United Nations has estimated the cost of providing "clean water, adequate diets, sanitation services, and basic education to every person on the planet" to be less than half of the United States' budget for waging war on Iraq.
Maybe we all need to read "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man". Maybe we should all see "An Inconvenient Truth", along with our 10,000 best friends. Maybe every one of us needs to accept the moral imperative to make some big changes - now - so that we can escape the doom.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Couldn't We Skip the Dumpster Diving?

   I had never heard of "freegans" before. Had you? I encountered the term first at this blog I wander past every now and again. Since the blogger provided the link to the Freegan website, I toodled on over for a look-see. There I found a group who describe themselves as people who "embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed." It all sounds good, and there is a great deal of good in what they espouse, but I can not get past the "dumpster diving" they delight in. I share with them the conviction that there are alternatives to the constant consumerism pushed at us, but I'm not ready to make dumpster diving one of mine. I am definitely not good Freegan material.

Turning the Pages

   The Diamond Sutra, printed in China; the first Atlas of Europe, compiled by Mercator in the 1570's; Leonardo's notebook; the original Alice in Wonderland, written and illustrated by Lewis Carroll - any of those catch your interest? If you wish you could take a peek at any of those, and more, then you need to check out this website. New software at the British Library's Online Gallery will allow you to "turn the pages" in 15 priceless volumes, and magnify the details. The Diamond Sutra, for instance, is the world's earliest dated, printed book.
   You might have to be patient while the program loads, so get a cup of coffee and sip while you wait. It's worth the time.

Friday, June 23, 2006

You Gotta' See This!

   You're bound to get a kick out of this perfectly wonderful website whether you're a kid in calendar years or a kid-at-heart. Although the bulk of it deals with all things astronomical, accessing home page will have you being greeted by the roar of a T-Rex. Follow the roar to "A Dinosaur Website for Kids", or stay with the home page and begin your exploration of the solar system. There are lots of fascinating facts and pictures, an astronomy dictionary, and other cool stuff, including the most absotively, posolutely wonderful-est - "Make-A-Solar-System" which starts you off with the Sun and allows you to add the planets one at a time, as well as a comet and the asteroid belt. If you're like me, you'll try dragging the planets out of their orbits and wreaking cosmic havoc, for the fun of it all. You can even add in multiples of any of the planets and have a really "out of this world" system by the time you're finished. If you have a son or daughter who has to do a project on space travel or the solar system, or if you just want to be a kid again for a little while, follow the link above. BTW, that includes you educators out there, too. You'll like the "Teachers' Corner" and you don't have to admit anything to your students about playing around with the Solar System before you made up their worksheet!

A Very Tiny Rescue

Last night, my handsome other half and I were down on Bloor Street West at a favourite eatery. We had a table that turned to front-row centre seating for the little drama that was about to play itself out. This particular spot has "roll-away" windows so that the summer breezes are free to come in and play with the patrons, grabbing napkins and blowing them away sometimes, and other times behaving themselves and simply fanning the diners gently.
As I said, we were at the table that looked right out onto the sidewalk, so had great seats for people watching and for hearing the neighbourhood birds trill their pleasure at the evening's warmth. One bird seemed to be calling a little more insistently, a little more worriedly. When we looked, we saw him - Papa Sparrow - hopping concernedly around his chick, on the sidewalk just in front of us. This little one was not a hatchling, but neither was it capable of flight. We immediately began to share the father bird's concern. I broke up some bread and dropped small pieces in front of the adult bird. He pecked at them to break off some crumbs and take them to offspring. The little one seemed not to know what to do with them.
Again the father came to take some bread, for himself, and while he was busy, the little one hopped down off the sidewalk and right into a lane of traffic. My husband's lifesaving instincts took over, and he ran out to the bird. No cars were approaching right at that moment so he bent down to the wee one and extended his hand. The chick hopped right up onto it. For those of you who will protest, "parents won't take back a baby handled by humans", we figured that was a better chance to take than simply wait for it to be flattened by some car's tires.
He nestled the baby into the flower box right at my elbow. The baby was quiet at first, but Papa was calling loudly for it. Finally, the little one called out and the adult bird flew down to perch beside it. Papa chirped loudly to the baby and then flew away, and the little one hopped out of the flower box and down the the sidewalk. People walking by pointed to it and walked around it, or simply ignored it totally. One woman came thundering along, however, absorbed in her own thoughts and not looking where her purposeful strides were landing. Just when she seemed about to step right on the helpless youngster, my hubby shot his hand out into the field of vision. She stopped short, looked down in amazement and stepped around the wee scrap of life.
As she walked away, another man approached. He bent down to the little one and scooped it up into his hand, cradling it gently on his palm. Then he began to look around and up, obviously searching for the nest the baby had come from. At that point, another 'front row' diner called out to him that he had seen the adult bird flying in and out of a nest above a store on the other side of the street. The rescuer walked across, found the nest and also saw that it was too high up for him to reach by himself.
Again my husband took action. When the man came back to our side of the street, expressing his concern and uncertainty as to what he could do next, hubby said he would ask for a ladder. The cafe owners had none to offer. The two men crossed the street together, the one still holding the bird after leaving his briefcase with me. A newspaper box was commandeered and dragged the length of several stores to be positioned beneath the nest. Hubby steadied the box and the other gentleman climbed up, only to find that his reach still fell short of the nest.
By this point, there was steely determination in the eyes of both men. Nothing would do but that they get the wee one safely back home. My husband went running into another store and reemerged with a plastic crate. With the crate atop the newspaper box, the other man took a step up on it and found he could finally reach the nest. With one quick motion, baby was home. Several people who had been watching the whole scene clapped their approval of the happy ending. The adult bird flew into the nest in short order.
When the two men had returned the impromptu ladders, they came back to the diner and the other gent introduced himself as Peter. Having grown up in an area of B.C where he was surrounded by a rich variety of lifeforms, he said he acquired a lifelong reverence for life. Peter told us that he extends his respect for animal life even to those killed on the roads. If he sees an animal hit and killed while he is on foot, he will move it over to the side so it is not repeatedly run over. He said, " That bird may have been a very little life, but it was a life nonetheless, and he deserved the chance to survive." Last night, here in the big, cold, uncaring metropolis I call home, it seemed that there were so many people who did care about a little life. That one baby bird took several complete strangers and united them for a moment or two in a rescue that gave then all a chance to feel good; to feel just for a moment like Toronto isn't quite so cold and unfeeling as everyone says it is.
Today, I went as usual to volunteer at the CNIB. At coffee break, the conversation was desultory and too many of us were sitting quiet, not connecting with each other, so I said I had a story for them. I recounted the events of last night, using my best storyteller techniques. Everyone was quiet and listening carefully. When I reached the point where the first attempt to reach into the nest failed, some of them exclaimed their disappointment and one woman said, "That bird better have made it safely home. I want to hear that." When I told of the final success, the reaction was the same as it was last night. Everyone was smiling, ad several of my listeners broke into applause. People need to hear sometimes that others care, that even the littlest, seemingly most unimportant among us can hope for help in our time of need. I was glad I had that story to share.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

   An addendum to yesterday's entry about animal life and humankind's often cavalier attitude toward it. Check out these pictures of primates, by Steve Bloom, and ask yourself how anyone could deny they are seeing active intellect.

Let Them Eat Chocolate

   I just find this one worth a sad little chuckle or two . Nestle, the food and drink giant, has announced it will acquire the Jenny Craig diet chain in a $600 million deal. Sing with me now - "N-E-S-T-L-E-S! Nestle makes the very best, chaw-klet!" Do you remember the dog-puppet and his big, soulful eyes staring into yours from the TV screen as he 'sang' that ditty? Although there's a good chance that most people think first of chocolate when they think of Nestle, the Swiss company also owns the "Lean Cuisine" line. Nestle chairman and CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe expresses an altruistic desire for his company to do good for humankind, to become a "nutrition, health and wellness company". Says Brabeck-Letmathe, "The rise of obesity and the resulting metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, is a major public health concern, not only in the USA but also the world over. The Jenny Craig acquisition puts us in a privileged position to help many of our consumers." That last quote is the chuckle.
   First, I guess Mr. Chocolate has never heard of the 24,00 to 30,00 people who die each day from starvation. Second, I get this image of the "help" that will be offered. I picture someone with a girth wide enough to obliterate the view of their own toes, settling into another sedentary evening and ripping open the giant bar of chocolate bought in one of those movie-house up-sizing deals. As the lights go down, our consumer sees a paper flutter from the candy wrapping and slide down their protuberant middle. They grab it just before it disappears into the no-man's land below their bulk and eye it curiously. Lo and behold! they find themselves holding a coupon for a discount membership at Jenny Craig's. With a snort of disdain, the coupon is tossed onto the floor and forgotten. After Gigantico has gone home, the cleaner finds it, and so begins the surprising trend of amazingly svelte theatre cleaners that sweeps North America. Mr. CEO can go to bed at night feeling all self-righteous about the "consumers" he has helped, and the 24 to 30 thousand can go on their way, unnoticed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Capable of Feeling Pain?

   In doing some research for the entry below, I came across this little nugget: The Animals Act 1986 (UK) regulates scientific procedures which may cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to "protected animals", defined in the Act as all living vertebrate animals, except man, and one invertebrate species, the common octopus."
   Apparently, the octopus was added to the list when ongoing debate concluded that its well developed nervous system "might" make it capable of feeling pain. I know it wouldn't quite be good form, grammatically speaking old chap, but I do feel an almost uncontrollable urge to end that last statement with at least five exclamation marks. Are we talking human arrogance here, or what?    I'm not venturing into the murky waters of debate over whether or not to use lab animals in experiments. I'm only talking about the unbelievable conceit in which the world of medicine and science indulges when it presumes to question which life forms will or will not experience pain when subjected to painful procedures. Who hasn't seen a cat or dog cry out if their tail has been stepped on? If you've ever seen an animal that was hit by a cat but not killed, you have seen unmistakable evidence of the experience of pain.
   Any and all animals are capable of feeling pain. We humans all know it, too. That's why there is positive response to product lines that declare "No Animal Testing". Couldn't we get over the biblical bullshit about god supposedly giving man dominion over the animals of the world? After all, we're animals, too. Pray that a mutant strain of lab rats never sets out to even the score.
    At the moment, lab animals are victims of our superior ability to set traps and raise other creatures in captivity. Let's not cavil about their experience of pain as a justification of our use of them.

Should We Listen to the Rats?

   The idea of keeping lab rats is to learn valuable data relevant to human health. So goes the theory. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has quite an interesting article for you to read about how just relevant rat test results might actually be to humans. We all know, however, that lab rats are used routinely to test efficiency and safety of new medicines before they are approved for human clinical trials, so the jury still seems to be out on the question of how much attention we should pay to the latest "rat news". Having said that, I'll point out one of the latest news flashes to you and then let you make up your own mind.
   A new study published Friday in the Scandanavian Journal of Immunology seems to indicate that too much "clean" can actually make you sick. The theory is based on differences in the immune systems between euthanized lab rats and their wild cousins. Those of the lab rats had far too protected a living environment, causing their systems to overreact to "minor irritants", while those of the wild creatures had as much as four times the level of immunoglobulins and yet they were not sick. Their systems seemed freer to ignore the minor irritants and save their strength for fighting the big battles.
   The findings lend weight to the theory that the western world is overly sanitized, a condition thought to contribute to the ever-increasing rates of allergies, asthma, and some autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. This theory, the "hygiene theory" hypothesizes that if a person's immune system is insufficiently challenged by dirt in their early years, it will overreact later on to such minor irritants as pollen.
    Scientists currently theorize that early exposure to "dirt" explains the much lower incidence of allergies in developing countries. Certainly there is growing concern about the routine overuse of antibiotics in the western world. Giving out prescriptions for antibiotics at the first sign of a cough has been commonplace for too many years, as has the practice of including them in animal feed. All this is resulting in drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis, and salmonella, among others.
   It's time for a few changes. Letting baby crawl is actually a good thing! Throwing out the "anti-bacterial" soaps around your home is good too. Obviously, some bacteria are nothing but nasty, but lots of them will do you no real harm at all. Ease up a little on the cleaning.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Four to Nada, Zip, Zilch, Absolutely Nothing!

   Well, the hockey game just ended with a shut-out for the Oilers; 4-0 to be exact. The Edmonton fans were ecstatic, and so was I. I've come upstairs to make my way to bed with a smile on my face that just won't rub off. I can picture God right now, as a matter of fact, making her way out to her porch swing, smiling to herself, too, as she settles into her rocking chair. She'll be reaching out to pluck a fluffy cloud out of the heavens so she can whittle it into the shape of the Stanley Cup. As she works, I imagine she'll be humming the Canadian anthem to herself and carefully brushing away any wisps of white that land on the sleeves of her Oilers' jersey.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

   Josef Furman, 87 years old, and Jura Skomatchuk, 85, will be counting on their years to help them out, I am sure. They are currently facing charges that they served as Nazi guards during the Second World War, and concealed this fact when they applied for Canadian residency in the 1950's. If the charges are proven, the two will be stripped of their citizenship and face deportation.
   Obviously, the case must be conducted with all due care, and the guilt be determined beyond the shadow of a doubt. If the guilty verdict is reached, however, action should follow with lightning speed. The age of the various people murdered in the Warsaw ghetto uprising was never considered. The age of those judged too young or too old to produce sufficient arbeit at the various camps was never considered. They were simply ordered into the lines to be marched off to their immediate death. The age of these two should mean nothing either. They should simply be loaded into the hold of the very next cargo ship leaving Canadian shores and dumped on the docks of Warnemunde.

   On a like theme, yesterday I was listening to a story told by a friend of mine who works in a large department store. She was telling me about someone else who was relying on a personal characteristic to elicit a response of pity, and a lessening of otherwise harsh legal consequences. The main character of her story rode a motorized scooter, as though infirm. Perhaps she genuinely was unable to walk, but being in the scooter had not impaired her ability to steal. When she was confronted upon leaving the store, a bag positioned in front of her on the scooter was found to be loaded with stolen merchandise. She had been touring the store, making careful selection of the items she intended to purloin. The law should land every bit as heavily on this miscreant as it should on the two in the story above. Age and infirmity should be no excuse for those who have broken the laws of decency and morality.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Lung Glue?

   I saw an ad this morning for a new wonder glue, 3M Super Spray Adhesive. The ad was making it perfectly clear to even the slowest of viewers that your life would never be the same once you had tried their product. Gluing problems that had formerly defied you would now be conquered in a matter of seconds, allowing you to make yourself a name in the annals of adhesive history.
   I took note, however, of the fact that the wunderkind of stickum is an aerosol. Visions of lung cells being glued forever in place began to form up rank and march their way through my mind, so I went to the appropriate site to read up on the product and found nothing there to assuage my concerns. Although they say it is a "low mist" spray, that still does not guarantee that inhalation will not occur. 3M assures us the product contains "no methylene chloride trichloroethane or chlorofluorocarbons" but did say it would "bond virtually any material". Does that include lung tissue? The sales blurb ends with a four-point summary of the glue's wonder attributes, the last one being "fast, aggressive tack". If you follow this link, you'll see that the URL includes the word, "BADhesive". The emphasis is mine, but it might be just the right way to read this.
   I wonder why the ad I saw neglected to show the users wearing a face mask. Maybe it was because using their adherent once will glue all air passages shut anyway, precluding any further need to worry about overexposure.

Friday, June 09, 2006

   While white Canada can take pride in its results in Harvard's comparative study on the health of Canadians and Americans (see the entry below), we need to collectively hang our heads in shame over a report just released by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. The Aboriginal Identity Concept, (that is people identifying themselves as either North American Indian, Metis, or Inuit), used in the 1996 census put Canada's aboriginal population at 3% of the country's total population. Close to a million people number themselves in this group, and that is far too large a group to be appearing in certain statistics. 40% of all Aboriginals find themselves being victimized by violent crime, compared to the national average of 28%. Only 3% of the Aboriginal population achieves university education, compared to the 13% of the non-Aboriginal population, while unemployment troubles Aboriginals at almost twice the rate it does non-Aboriginals.
   In a country that so busily sells itself to prospective immigrants as the best country in which to build a wonderful new life, there is something very wrong with the picture that excludes our first inhabitants from the rosy scenario. Contrary to what you might first think, I am not about to indulge in a non-sequitur in the next paragraph. Bear with me for a moment.
    I was reading about the Juno Awards the other day, and the "loot bags" given there to presenters and other stars. These awards are meant to celebrate Canadian achievement in the world of music. At previous ceremonies, cheques have been given to various schools, like the $10,000. one presented by Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy to a Hamilton school. Let's get these loot bags involved in the statistics quoted above, since education can go such a long way toward making the wrong right.
   The "coveted" bags presented to performers and presenters are each worth thousands of dollars. Canada needs to make a start somewhere, somehow, to change those stats, so why not start with the loot bags? They're going to people who can afford their own bedding, eyewear, "cool" clothes, cosmetics, and gadgets (only some of this year's contents), so why not hand them out next year with just a little difference in their content? Give the performers and presenters bags that have one little piece of paper in them; a paper that says the purchase price of a loot bag's contents has been given to a school on a reservation, here in Canada. Make sure that each donation is credited as having been given in a particular celebrity's name. What do you think? Would those bags still be "coveted"?
   We need to make a start on bettering the lives of our country's original peoples. It's never right for the privileged to be complacent about the situations faced by the underprivileged. White Canada owes the Aboriginal people so much, after all we have stolen from them through history. Privileged Canada owes the People a helping hand. They are our neighbours.

Better Health Care?

   Here are a couple of interesting little posers for you. Why do you suppose it is that life expectancy in Canada is three years longer than it is in the land of the brave and the free? Why are Americans 42% more likely to have diabetes, 32% more likely to have high blood pressure, and 12% more likely to have arthritis than the sons and daughters of the true north strong and free?
   Want a few more stats? 20.7% of Americans are obese compared to 15.3% of Canadians, and 13.6% of Americans do no exercise at all, while only 6.55 of Canadians are such slugs. All of these stats are in the results of a study just released by researchers at the Harvard Medical School.
   Of course, any issue has its share of grey tones between the simple white and black, so there were negatives found in Canada and positives found in the States. It's just that the negatives reported for the States loom vary large indeed in comparison. For instance, 7% of all U.S. respondents in the study cite cost as an obstacle to their obtaining needed medical care, while the number for Canada was only 0.8%. As Doctor David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard points out, "These findings raise serious questions about what we're getting for the $2.1 trillion (Americans) are spending on health care this year." If America is spending almost twice what we do, then we must be doing something just exactly right, while they've got something really wrong going on there.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

There Will Be No-one Left

   Yesterday I was browsing my way through a newspaper, thoughtfully digesting articles that delivered cognizance and confusion all at the same time. I first ingested a summary of the hate being taught in the texts used in the schools of Saudi Arabia. Let me show you just a few examples. From the grade 5 text, "It is forbidden to a Muslim to be a loyal friend to someone who does not believe in God and His Prophet." From the grade 8 text, "The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus." From the grade 11 text, "Do not yield to them (Christians and Jews) on a narrrow road out of honour and respect." From the grade 12 text, "(Jihad) is one of the noblest acts ... one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God."
   That this hate is being indoctrinated at all is major cause for concern, but that it exists after a supposed revising of the texts in order to "eliminate what might be perceived as intolerance" and "remove any element inconsistent with a modern education" is confusing to the Nth degree. According to the declarations of Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., the texts and the curricula have been revised to "remove materials that are inciteful or intolerant towards people of other faiths."
   The Muslim world cried out for revenge for the perceived lack of respect shown in the cartoons earlier this year, yet they are busily teaching their children that respect is a commodity limited to themselves only. They are quick to charge the non-Muslim world with inciting hatred toward them, and yet, in spite of the deceitful bleatings of al-Faisal, those texts continue to teach hatred against all non-Muslims. How is this a justifiable stance? Why does anyone continue with such teachings when they can only lead to bloodshed and death? I do not understand.
   With an upset stomach and a mind filled with confusion, I turned the page and found myself looking at the smiling face of Stephen Appleton, a Canadian engineer and retired Canadian Forces army colonel working with a UN program to pave and improve roads in rural Afghanistan. The program's goal is to transform 900 kilometres of animal tracks and dirt paths into blacktop that will connect remote communities to the country's highways, and thereby, to a little easier access to the modern world. When completed, the new roads will allow people to reach hospitals more readily and children to get to schools that they have never before been able to attend, among other things. The $311 million project is intended to create jobs and expand trade and businesses.
   How are these UN workers supposedly spreading hate? How do they merit the disdain with which far too many Muslim children are taught to view them? Since the project's inception in 2004, more than 200 Afghan and international workers have been killed, including some who were beheaded by Taliban members. Why are any of them being repaid in spilled blood, rather than the thanks they deserve? How is this supposed to better relations between the Muslims and anyone else?
   Finally I saw a short article discussing reaction from leaders in Canadian Muslim communities after the 17 arrests made here last Friday. Said Ahmud Kutty, a senior lecturer at the Islamic Institute in Toronto, "I don't know where these ideas come to them, who is implanting these kinds of ideas in their heads." Give you own head a shake, Kutty. With the internet, the distance between those who teach hatred and those who hunger for such fare has shrunk to easily bridged gaps. A response such as that from Kutty is a cop-out, an attempt to say, this problem is not of my making, and I want nothing to do with it.
   As I always tried to get across to all the students I ever taught, if you are not a part of the solution, then you are a part of the problem. For those in the Muslim world who claim a distance between themselves and the radicals, I have a question. What are you doing to make things better? What active steps are you taking to light a candle against the darkness that the radicals seek to spread? Simply to say "tsk! tsk!" is not enough. Remember the words of the pastor and social activist Martin Niemoller:

"First they came for the Communists and I said nothing; after all I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews and I said nothing; after all I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I said nothing; after all I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

   These powerful words thunder their way across the years since Niemoller first spoke them in reference to those who did nothing to oppose Hitler. They reverberate with special meaning now. If you do nothing to combat the hate being directed against others, who will there be left to speak out when the hatemongers finally turn their gaze on you?

Mafia Cops

   U.S District Court Judge Jack Weinstein has "promised" life sentences to Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, two former NYPD detectives convicted on April 6th of being on the public's payroll at the same time as they were on the payroll of Mafia underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, from 1986 to 1990. During that time, they participated in the commission of murder, kidnapping, drug dealing and obstruction of justice.
   A family member of one of their victims said to them, "We hope you will spend an eternity in hell." I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. I just wonder why the judge is delaying their departure for their afterlife fate. These two men wore badges that declared them to be in positions of authority and public trust. They were convicted of wilfully, repeatedly betraying that trust. How could there be anything that entitles them to even one more day of life? What could there be to justify their costing the public they betrayed the price of even one more meal?
   Why not give these men what they asked for? Hang 'em high.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

How Tall Do You Have To Be?

   There's a petition drive being conducted in Lincoln, Nebraska, calling for the resignation of Cheyenne County District Judge Kristine Cecava. This mountain of intellect sentenced Richard Thompson last week to 10 years "intensive probation", rather than to any jail time. Why was Thompson in front of the judge's bench? He was facing two felony child assault charges. Why did the judge pass the sentence she did? Apparently Ms-Bleeding-Heart-Cecava worried that the vicious animal in front of her was "too short" at five-foot-one to "survive in prison". Judge Cecava is obviously seriously short on brains.
    I wonder how much time this pervert spent worrying about the height of his victim before he committed the heinous deeds that will haunt her the rest of her life? He stole her childhood. He brutalized her soul. Who gives a good goddamn what happens to Thompson behind bars? It would be nothing more than what he asked for when he perpetrated his crimes.
   I've shared tidbits with you before about coffee. Let me percolate another one for you now. Maybe you could ruminate on it while you down a cup of joe tomorrow at Tim Hortons "Camp Day". See the entry below for more on that.
   Pearl Martin and her team of researchers at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia have conducted a study which they feel suggests a morning cup of coffee could make you more open to persuasion. 200 milligrams, or approximately two cups of coffee is regarded as the optimal dose, allowing the drinker to reap the benefits of the brew's ability to improve their attention and enhance their cognitive performance. Martin theorized that a dose of java "primes people to agree with statements that go against their typical views because it improves their ability to understand the reasoning behind the statements."
   If Martin is correct and coffee can make a person more easily persuaded to another point of view, then calling a morning meeting where you present your proposal over big, aromatic cups of perk all around might be the best way to guarantee your idea will sell. Of course, you'll just have to hope that the boss hasn't seen the results of Martin's study, or s/he'll be on to you.
    Give it a try, tomorrow. Strike while the coffee is hot!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Make Mine a Double-Double!

   Allow me to revisit a favourite cause of mine. Tim Horton's Camp Day is coming up again. This year, Camp Day will be on Wednesday June 7th. This is the day when the store owners give every penny from every coffee sale during the 24-hour period to the Tim Horton's Children's Foundation. Since 1975, more than 83,000 economically disadvantaged children have attended one of the six Foundation camps at no expense to their families. If you like their brew, there's just no better day to indulge in some than on Camp Day.
   Follow this link to to see pictures and info on Camp Day as well as facts about the six Foundation Camps. Check out this site for some quick facts on the totally worthwhile cause. Get some co-workers or buddies together this coming Wednesday and head out to your local Timmie's. Buy yourself a large and feel extra good while you sip it, picturing the smile your money will help to put on some youngster's face.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Inanity Commission

   OK, it wasn't really called that. It was the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, mandated in 1982 by Pope John Paul ll and Archbishop Robert Runcie. Mary has been the source of much controversy between the two churches, so in 1999 the Commission began work on the "consideration of the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life and doctrine of the Church," in order to establish commonality on the subject of Jesus' mom.
   At the end of the meeting, a 43-page joint statement was issued to detail those points on which the two religions actually felt they could agree. One of them was that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a "suffering mother".
   Now, forgive me if I'm overreacting here, but ... duh! Jesus was crucified. Forget whether or not he was the saviour to you. Just the fact that his demise came about in such a fashion makes it a damn good likelihood that she suffered the same agony any mother would when her son underwent such torture.
    How many men were needed to reach this pinnacle of wisdom and understanding? Was there nothing else more worthwhile to which they could have given the same amount of time, like tending a cabbage patch, for instance, in some third world country? If they had given the time instead to such activity, they could have used the fruits of their labour to make nourishing soup. That could help to stave off the grim reaper who comes all too often for the babies in developing countries. In that way they would spare some of today's mothers the suffering that the idiots had to debate whether or not to attribute to Mary. That would seem to me to be something much better on which to spend their time and effort.